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Archive for the ‘Camus’ Category

Why Can’t Critical Theory Be More . . . Critical?

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Jean-Christophe Lurenbaum, self-described “militant au planning familial” (which I totally want on my business cards), recently published his master’s thesis, entitled Naître est-il dans l’intérêt de l’enfant? (Is birth in the interest of the baby?) at the Université Pierre Mendès France.

M. Lurenbaum makes a very important point: the modern value of preventing suffering is at odds with the ancient value of procreation. We as human beings use various strategies to avoid confronting this conflict, including outright denial of science.

But Lurenbaum is writing critical theory (French feminist critical theory, no less), not science, and he denies science (or makes bullshit assumptions that elide scientific thinking) in his own way. Here is an exemplary claim (p. 25):

Ces indices attestent une création tardive du concept de père, suivie de la mise en place d’un contrôle masculin sur le pouvoir de reproduction des femmes après l’invention de l’élevage : le moment de l’invention de l’élevage focalise donc le soupçon d’une découverte d’un rôle masculin dans la reproduction. [Emphasis in original.]

These observations attest to a relatively late creation of the concept of the father, followed by the development of male control over the reproductive power of women after the invention of agriculture: the moment of invention of agriculture is the moment when mankind first suspects that men have a role in reproduction. [Translation mine.]

Essentially, the claim is that pre-agricultural people did not understand how sexual reproduction works. (Lurenbaum maintains that there are cultures to this day that lack the concept of a father.) This is at odds with the evidence that pre-agricultural peoples do, in fact, understand where babies come from, as evidenced not only directly by ethnographic records, but indirectly by the universality of punishment of female adultery and other means of proprietary control of female sexual capacity by men.

I think that even “true stories” are dangerous, because a “story” is a way of thinking about events (a particularly human, conscious way) that implies that events may be meaningful. “True” “stories” are dangerous because life is actually meaningless, and “stories” make us falsely believe that life is meaningful, and that the actual fact of suffering can be justified by subsequent events, the attitude of the sufferer, etc. But this story of Lurenbaum’s, while deployed toward a noble conclusion, is a false one. I will be the first to admit that humans are stupid monkeys, but even the behavior of literal monkeys reflects the importance of genetic paternity.

Lurenbaum’s entire text is steeped in the myth that, because representations of goddesses are more common in some ancient cultures than representations of male gods, ancient societies must have been literally female-dominated. This is so retarded that it makes the baby Jesus cry, yet it is a core belief of science-denying academic feminist critical theory. It’s just as stupid and falsifiable as a claim of a weeping statue, and it is protected from rational analysis in the way that other culturally important myths are protected.

The idea that the imperative to reproduce is a patriarchal human construction is one that can only be held by a denier of evolutionary biology – or at least someone whose understanding of human evolutionary history is confused.

I will give Lurenbaum props for reminding me that Hitler was an unashamed pronatalist (p. 130). Do you love Hitler? Yes? Then have more babies!

Thanks to Chip for sending me this article, and to Jim for independently posting it at

Written by Sister Y

December 7, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Mismatch and Meaning

with 14 comments

In my earlier post, I mentioned that the lack of inherent meaning of life functions as a limit on human happiness. It is more accurate to say that the mismatch between the lack of inherent meaning in life and the human desire for meaning is what limits happiness and causes suffering. All of the limits on human happiness I proposed in the earlier post are products of some sort of a mismatch.

That the mismatch between the lack of meaning and the desire for meaning, rather than meaninglessness itself, is the cause of human suffering is a major point in Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus. Camus is interested in the question of suicide; specifically, he appears to be investigating the question of whether intellectual honesty and consistency require suicide, the way a certain view of animal suffering might be said to require vegetarianism. He is concerned with what might be called authenticity. He argues that nearly every philosophical response to the inherent meaninglessness of life takes what he calls a “leap” – toward a belief in God, or even deification of the absurd itself, to escape from the suffering (and contradiction) that meaninglessness, coupled with a desire for meaning, produce.

Camus ultimately concludes that suicide is not the only intellectually honest response to absurdity. The authentic path, he says, is to live at every moment aware of absurdity – not to lose sight of meaninglessness – but to also scrupulously avoid “leaping” into mysticism or some other escape from absurdity. In terms of terror management theory, Camus feels that the only intellectually honest way to live is to be mortality salient at all times, but never to retreat into worldview defense.

It may be true that this could be an intellectually honest life. I certainly don’t think that suicide is required. But it is not a path that is realistically available to very many people. In addition, intellectual honesty and consistency cannot be the only things of value in life, in all cases. For many, they do not take precedence over suffering, or even over the subjective value of many “leaps” Camus advises against.

Nonetheless, I think realistic awareness of the many mismatches that guarantee human suffering – not least the simultaneous lack of, and desire for, inherent meaning – is required for intellectual honesty.

Written by Sister Y

June 12, 2008 at 9:09 pm