Faruk At.eş


The Scott Adams Fallacy

“… society is organized as a virtual prison for men’s natural desires. I don’t have a solution in mind. It’s a zero sum game. If men get everything they want, women lose, and vice versa.”

This quote stems from a somewhat recent blog post by Dilbert-cartoonist Scott Adams, wherein he displays a deep lack of nuance and sensitivity on the issue of gender theory. Adams took turns writing about rape, adultery, discrimination and plain old juvenile “boys will be boys”-style behavior, and managed to offend all but those whom he calls his “regular readers”—people who, according to Adams, have an “unusually high reading comprehension” but who are, by any discernible fashion, merely people who happen to agree with his views.

Adams begins his piece with a metaphor to the titular “pegs and holes”—unintentionally ambiguous, to be interpreted as either reductionist, sexist or both—and remaps it to the animal kingdom, from where he next journeys onto a path of flawed conclusions, unrepentant generalizations and outlandish claims. The rapid succession of offenses are weaved together through baffling twists of logic, which surface to the realm of common sense just occasionally enough that you would be forgiven for wondering at times whether he’s serious or just writing an incredibly clever piece of satire. Unfortunately, his conclusion reveals the former is the case, putting him into the spotlight as a high-profile sexist writer.

But Adams is hardly unique in his views, as his frequently-referenced “regular readers” prove. What, then, makes his argument so persuasive that it blinds so many from the more obvious truths? Regrettably we needn’t look far, nor possess a degree in psychology to understand it.

What makes Adams’ rants on these matters compelling to some people—and thankfully it truly is just “some” people, not “most” or even “many”—are the various kernels of truth that can be found amidst the nonsense. Adams’ tactic, conscious or not, is to first make you more agreeable with him by seeding you with an obvious and thus highly-agreeable truth. (You can see this more clearly in a later follow-up he posted) Then, he feeds you with dilemmas that intrinsically favor his argument rather than a fair and scientific hypothesis, and presents them in extremes so that you’re nearly forced to agree with him (because disagreeing would be agreeing with the unthinkable). By this time, a less-critical mind will be all buttered up and ready to agree with just about any conclusion, and that’s when Adams presents you with… a drug that keeps all men chemically castrated.

So much for rationality.

Perhaps Adams thinks that most men’s sex lives are so unrewarding that they wouldn’t mind abandoning sex altogether in favor of suppressing the “unfulfilled urges” he claims all men have in our society. A society which, as cited above, is apparently “organized as a virtual prison for men’s natural desires”. Whatever the reasoning is, and however it might reflect on Adams himself, it brings to light the fundamental fallacy he propagates.

Boiled down simply, Adams’ rhetoric is this: “Men are animals that can’t help themselves. I don’t misbehave, and can therefore state without remorse: it is up to other people to fix the ongoing gender problem in our society.”

Adams pats himself on the shoulder about donating to women’s causes, being pro-choice, et cetera. But donating to women’s causes does not preclude you from being sexist; it just means you have a healthy mix of empathy, generosity and wealth—and thankfully not so much misogyny that you’d actively choose against women’s causes. When it comes to people like Adams, such proclamations of support are little more than paying lip-service to absolve oneself from accusations of sexism.

So what does Adams do when he then is called a sexist for his writing? He maturely reaches out to, and eventually has two interviews with, women from some of the online publications that accused him. Unfortunately, that maturity didn’t last long because throughout both interviews, Adams displayed such a high level of evasiveness and hypocrisy that the only noteworthy outcomes of the interviews were the women’s patience.

Let’s be clear on something: being sexist is not a binary matter. It’s not an either/or character trait; it’s a scale. You can be a little sexist, and you can be a lot sexist. You can even be a paradoxical sexist, wherein you honestly, deeply believe that you’re not sexist at all, yet still say or do things that are sexist in some way.

And another thing: sexism has worse connotations than are truly implied. Being accused of sexism does not mean you’re being accused of being a rapist or murderer, but many men, throughout online discourse, react and behave as if that’s the case. It’s not.

Sexism is predominantly a problem of awareness (more specifically, a lack thereof); not one of nefarious scheming by the collective male demographic. More often than not, the accusation of sexism is short for “you don’t know what you’re talking about and have clearly not spent much time researching or understanding these matters, yet you are behaving as if you are an authority on them and in doing so you are being quite offensive.”

The accusations of sexism at Adams’ address are directly aimed at the sexist post he wrote, which was a piece in which he took to the stand as if he had any authority on the matter at all (he doesn’t), and proclaimed “The Truth” of the situation. Really, all he did was name the common fallacy after himself by being the most high-profile example of it.

The core of the Scott Adams Fallacy is the notion that the onus can be placed upon others. The idea that “science will come up with a drug” to solve the problem of rape and “men’s natural desires” is merely a cowardly step back, a way to avoid having any responsibility in the matter.

Well here’s some news for Mr. Adams: he’s responsible, too.

We all are.

Society is not a carefully crafted concoction by the world’s combined legal systems; that’s merely what keeps it all running. Society is us. You and me and the people around us. We are all responsible for what it looks like. We are all responsible for how it acts, behaves and treats the individuals that are a part of it.

Our society is not designed as some sort of prison, least of all one for men’s desires. It is, however, still heavily skewed towards gender stereotypes. Young girls are to be clad in pretty pink dresses that must be kept pristine, while young boys are allowed to play in the mud and get themselves dirty. Girls can expect dolls for Christmas; only boys want toy cars, trains or woodworking tools.

From a very young age, our society encourages predetermined roles for each gender, casually building people up to fit in as invisibly as possible. But equality is not about fitting in. Equality is about being able to be yourself, whoever, however and whatever you want that identity to be, and have the exact same opportunities in life as the person besides you.

Cliché as it is, society is what we make of it, and that includes how willing we position ourselves to understand, respect, and, treat as equals, the people of a different gender.

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About me

Faruk Ateş

Faruk Ateş is a designer, developer, and entreprenerd. He is the creator of Modernizr, and co-founder of Presentate. He lives in Vancouver, B.C. and writes and speaks about technology, social justice, design and business.

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