I’ve read a lot of history in my lifetime and I’ve interacted with thousands of fellow humans in a wide variety of circumstances. It’s pretty clear to me that while there are occasional conspiracies, most of the time things happen because the human brain isn’t evolved to do much reasoning and has zero capacity for consistency-checking. Thus people believe in nonsense and don’t realize when two of their beliefs are mutually incompatible and we reliably do foolish things over and over and over again.
So I have a simple axiom: Any question of the form “Why do people…?” can generally be answered with “Because people are basically stupid.”
History is little more than an endless series of blunders caused by our intellectual incompetence. Today our amazing technologies amplify our native stupidity, so we get Trump and Brexit and Bolsonaro and Salvini and Babic and AfD and PiS and all the rest of the mindless populist horde that is sweeping away the thin veneer of civilization we thought would magically persist despite our failure to provide the necessary care and attention.
What this means is that whenever people start blaming some abstraction for the ills they resent, I become worried.
I become worried for three main reasons.
The first reason is because pointing at an abstraction is useless. You can wage a campaign to secure equal pay for equal work, you can wage a campaign to secure votes for women, you can wage a campaign to rectify pretty much any harm you see being perpetuated by an unreformed legal system. But you can’t rectify an abstraction. The USA with its mindless “war on drugs” is a great example of how trying to wage war against an abstraction is a stupid and futile waste of time and money and lives.
The second reason is because when you blame some all-powerful abstraction, you rob yourself of agency. It’s like being against capitalism. Sure, you can feel all warm and fuzzy as you indulge in virtue signaling to people who think the same way you do, but you aren’t achieving anything. In fact, you’re excusing yourself from the need to come up with practical solutions to mitigate the problem or injustice you’re protesting against. If something ought to be changed then merely posturing instead of looking for practical solutions is abdicating responsibility in favor of feel-good empty gestures. And that’s morally deplorable.
Finally, when you are engaged in raging against an abstraction it’s very easy to slip into a kind of paranoid opposition to anything and anyone you believe somehow embodies one or more qualities you associate with the abstraction. And this always leads to very bad things happening in the world.
Blaming “the Patriarchy” for something is no different from blaming the forces of darkness, the Freemasons, International Jewry, Capitalism, or any other vague abstraction. It is self-indulgent reality-avoidance dressed up in transiently fashionable empty phrases, or in today’s parlance it is “Politically Correct.” But at best it leads nowhere and at worst it leads to great harm.
One only has to think of the many people burned by the Inquisition, the bourgeoisie killed during the French Terror, the millions of “kulaks” slaughtered under Stalin, the Holocaust and the Holodomor, and the millions of bourgeois killed in Mao’s Cultural Revolution and in Pol Pot’s killing fields to realize that it’s too easy for people to label others as part of some evil abstraction and then do great harm as part of their supposed “struggle against the enemy.” Remember what happened in the 1950s in the USA with the Campaign Against Un-American Activities?
So for all these reasons I become deeply worried whenever I read or hear anything about “the Patriarchy.” It seems we humans rarely learn the painful lessons of history, and while I doubt that many women will go out into the streets and slaughter men at random I have no doubt whatsoever that a great deal of less media-worthy harm will be done, including to the psyches of those who indulge in this fanciful nonsense. Because when you’re convinced some invisible all-powerful force is oppressing you, it’s difficult not to lose touch with reality and end up in a damaging mirror-world in which all you can see is your fears and beliefs reflecting back at you.
Yes, there are still a great many injustices remaining to be eradicated. We can eradicate them by (a) identifying them precisely, and then (b) proposing feasible solutions.
When we approach matters in this way we can achieve great things: the West is already an infinitely better place for women than any other society on Earth. And we didn’t get here because the Suffragettes railed against “the Patriarchy” and saw conspiracy around every corner. We got here because people identified problems and proposed practical solutions. This may not be as easy and as satisfying as self-righteously railing against an invisible abstraction but it’s a hell of a lot more worthy and does a great deal more good in the real world.
And surely that is what we all really ought to be trying to accomplish?