Losing sight of the individual

Last week’s comments by Erick Erickson of RedState caused quite a stir – very understandably.  Many took the comments as a personal insult, especially those who had family arrangements other than the one Erickson was describing as “ideal.”  They saw the comments as denigrating their choices and implying that they were somehow creating a poor environment for their children.  Others, like myself, saw it as playing right into the Democrat “War on Women” meme, since Erick justified his comments using faulty science and references to the animal kingdom, as if those would justify anything.

But the real failure in all of this lies in the fact that this is even a debate at all.  In order for this debate to have any logical purpose, one must accept the assumption that men and women are, by their very nature, vastly different creatures.  From a biological point of view, they clearly are different.  And there are certain traits that TEND to be masculine or feminine.  Men tend to be more assertive, while women tend to be more nurturing.

However, these macroscopic differences pale in comparison to those between individual people.  One man might be more “typically male” – likes sports, video games, beer, and women.  But another male might be very different, and exhibit more “feminine” tendencies.  He might be more intuitive, more caring, and less competitive.  The same applies to women as well.  So while there may be general differences between men and women, they are just that – general differences.  They are not hard-and-fast rules that you can’t bend or break.

Both liberals and conservatives fall into a number of traps when discussing men and women.  To both sides, men and women fall into preset groups regardless of individual differences.  Liberals are largely animated by the “victim/victimizer” mindset and see aggressiveness, largely considered a “masculine” trait, in a very negative light.  They see women as perpetually treated as second-class citizens – sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly.  Look at the long-standing liberal belief that women make 73 cents for every dollar a male makes – despite this being proven to not be the case once all factors are considered.

Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to favor the idea that men should be strong, bold, and confident.  They tend to see women as largely in a supporting role – taking care of the children and the household, either staying home or working a less demanding job.  So it’s not shocking in the least that many defended the Erickson comments, since they reinforce the conservative idea of gender roles, largely based on Biblical guidelines.  This mindset also explains the inherent aversion conservatives often have to any “non-traditional lifestyle”, such as homosexuality.

So by even having this debate, we are accepting the idea that men and women have certain prescribed roles to play.  This may have some basis in biology and psychology, but when it comes to applying it to actual policy, it’s bunk.  Even if you could show that 90% of men and women acted a certain way, the law should still be primarily focused on the smallest minority of all – the individual.  That 10% of men and women who act differently than the norm are deserving of as much respect as those who are “normal”.  As long as their behavior causes others no harm, it must be tolerated.

Instead, conservatives like Erickson love to sit and tell those who don’t live a certain way that they are immoral and wrong.  In doing so, they put to a lie the idea that they truly care about “individual liberty”.  Someone truly concerned with the individual would never look down on anyone for not behaving in a certain set way.  They would see that person as a unique entity, not subject to play a defined role.  The individual should only have one duty in a free society – to seek happiness and fulfillment for himself without harming others.  How he does this is no one else’s business.

It’s a trap they always accuse liberals of falling into – seeing people as groups rather than individuals.  Yet when it comes to how men and women should act, they do the exact same thing.  It’s the year 2013, and it’s time to rid ourselves the notion that ladies must act some way and men another.  To hold on to such notions is to deny the special, unique nature of each person.

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