The race to unimportance

Everybody now knows that President Larry Summers of Harvard, leader of an institution devoted both to truth and phonics (VE—RI—TAS, it says on the Harvard crest), is in serious trouble for pursuing truth.  It is a situation beyond parody.  But inquiring minds are bound to wonder what is really behind all the sound and fury.  Suppose the attack on Summers were not just a power play by leading women in science?  It could have deep philosophical significance.

As sophisticated thinkers we should not eliminate the most likely possibility: mindless liberal wreckers at work.  Liberals have already wrecked K—12 education, and they have wrecked the little platoons of civil society with their welfare state.  They wrecked the working class, turning it into the underclass.  They are doing their darndest to wreck the nuclear 'heteronormative' family.  Why not wreck the university, too? 

But why should liberal women want to wreck Harvard over the issue of jobs for women in science?  As so often the case, Jane Austen has the answer.  Her heroines Fanny Price (of Mansfield Park) and Anne Elliott (of Persuasion) can tell us what is going down at Harvard. 

Reviled and ignored by their snobbish families, Jane Austen's two 'good—girl' heroines seem to be superfluous; they are women of no consequence.  In Fanny Price and Anne Elliott, according to C.S. Lewis, the 'consciousness of mattering which is necessary even to the humblest woman is denied.'  Men, we know, are expendable, but women, even the humblest, are important: they matter.  Fortunately, the compassionate Jane Austen rescues her heroines from the denial of mattering in a traditional novelistic dénouement.  But the faculty females in Cambridge lack such a guiding author. Perhaps the distinguished scientific women of Harvard are telling us that they are afraid they don't matter.

A century ago, science was simple.  Ten thousand eager young male German physicists (OK, twenty) were pondering over the problem of measuring the speed of light.  No doubt every one of them was brilliant and deserving.  But one day one of them solved the problem, and the rest are forgotten.  Nobody cares.  Why should they?  But imagine now ten thousand female American scientists at this very moment working in university research laboratories all across America to solve spinal injuries using embryonic stem cells.  If some man solves the enigma tomorrow and becomes the toast of Democrats everywhere, what will happen to all those worthy female scientists?  Will they be reduced to doing research on adult stem cells?  Should they retrain in nursing?   Might they become homemakers?  They cannot just be ignored.  They are women.  They matter, as Larry Summers now agrees.  

Women matter for a simple reason.  We need them to make children.  Historically, men have been peripheral to this activity, as biogenetic researchers recently discovered. Down the ages, only about half of the men in each generation have succeeded in inserting their genes into the next generation, whereas almost all women have succeeded in this endeavor.  In compensation, men have focused their interest on less important activities, like making war and making science.  The recent entry of women into historically less important activities like science is therefore important.  It implies that the generation problem has at last been solved.  What matters now is not the generation of children, but the generation of science.

Now that science has become necessary, the men that once dominated the academy are deserting it for less important activities.  Whereas a century ago the vast majority of college graduates were men, today only about 40 percent of each graduating cohort is male and even that proportion is expected to decline.

In fact, males seem to be going off education altogether.  They are becoming so inattentive that up to 17 percent of boys (the exact figure is in dispute, so go ahead, pick your favorite number) are now being drugged in the government's public schools in order to keep their 'bums on seats,' as the British say, and their minds focused 'on task.'

We know why boys are going off education.  They have less important things to do.  They are engrossed in the current Big Thing: video games.  All across America, at this very minute, millions of teenage boys have their bums on seats in front of their Xboxes, Game Cubes, and Play Station 2s, playing the first—person shooter game Halo 2.  It's an international phenomenon, of course.  One all—American boy recently discovered that the Halo shooters around him were all speaking German. 

On weekends, American kids are getting their fathers to take them into the office so they can play Halo 2 using big screen conference room monitors. 

There are those that worry about this race to unimportance.  They worry that the generation problem has not been solved, for modern women have shown such distaste for generation that population decline is now inevitable, at least in Old Europe And Japan.

But however hard they try, women will never be as unimportant as men.  Whether they like it or not, women matter.  Even women of science.

Christopher Chantrill (mailto:chrischantrill@msn.com) blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.  His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.

Everybody now knows that President Larry Summers of Harvard, leader of an institution devoted both to truth and phonics (VE—RI—TAS, it says on the Harvard crest), is in serious trouble for pursuing truth.  It is a situation beyond parody.  But inquiring minds are bound to wonder what is really behind all the sound and fury.  Suppose the attack on Summers were not just a power play by leading women in science?  It could have deep philosophical significance.

As sophisticated thinkers we should not eliminate the most likely possibility: mindless liberal wreckers at work.  Liberals have already wrecked K—12 education, and they have wrecked the little platoons of civil society with their welfare state.  They wrecked the working class, turning it into the underclass.  They are doing their darndest to wreck the nuclear 'heteronormative' family.  Why not wreck the university, too? 

But why should liberal women want to wreck Harvard over the issue of jobs for women in science?  As so often the case, Jane Austen has the answer.  Her heroines Fanny Price (of Mansfield Park) and Anne Elliott (of Persuasion) can tell us what is going down at Harvard. 

Reviled and ignored by their snobbish families, Jane Austen's two 'good—girl' heroines seem to be superfluous; they are women of no consequence.  In Fanny Price and Anne Elliott, according to C.S. Lewis, the 'consciousness of mattering which is necessary even to the humblest woman is denied.'  Men, we know, are expendable, but women, even the humblest, are important: they matter.  Fortunately, the compassionate Jane Austen rescues her heroines from the denial of mattering in a traditional novelistic dénouement.  But the faculty females in Cambridge lack such a guiding author. Perhaps the distinguished scientific women of Harvard are telling us that they are afraid they don't matter.

A century ago, science was simple.  Ten thousand eager young male German physicists (OK, twenty) were pondering over the problem of measuring the speed of light.  No doubt every one of them was brilliant and deserving.  But one day one of them solved the problem, and the rest are forgotten.  Nobody cares.  Why should they?  But imagine now ten thousand female American scientists at this very moment working in university research laboratories all across America to solve spinal injuries using embryonic stem cells.  If some man solves the enigma tomorrow and becomes the toast of Democrats everywhere, what will happen to all those worthy female scientists?  Will they be reduced to doing research on adult stem cells?  Should they retrain in nursing?   Might they become homemakers?  They cannot just be ignored.  They are women.  They matter, as Larry Summers now agrees.  

Women matter for a simple reason.  We need them to make children.  Historically, men have been peripheral to this activity, as biogenetic researchers recently discovered. Down the ages, only about half of the men in each generation have succeeded in inserting their genes into the next generation, whereas almost all women have succeeded in this endeavor.  In compensation, men have focused their interest on less important activities, like making war and making science.  The recent entry of women into historically less important activities like science is therefore important.  It implies that the generation problem has at last been solved.  What matters now is not the generation of children, but the generation of science.

Now that science has become necessary, the men that once dominated the academy are deserting it for less important activities.  Whereas a century ago the vast majority of college graduates were men, today only about 40 percent of each graduating cohort is male and even that proportion is expected to decline.

In fact, males seem to be going off education altogether.  They are becoming so inattentive that up to 17 percent of boys (the exact figure is in dispute, so go ahead, pick your favorite number) are now being drugged in the government's public schools in order to keep their 'bums on seats,' as the British say, and their minds focused 'on task.'

We know why boys are going off education.  They have less important things to do.  They are engrossed in the current Big Thing: video games.  All across America, at this very minute, millions of teenage boys have their bums on seats in front of their Xboxes, Game Cubes, and Play Station 2s, playing the first—person shooter game Halo 2.  It's an international phenomenon, of course.  One all—American boy recently discovered that the Halo shooters around him were all speaking German. 

On weekends, American kids are getting their fathers to take them into the office so they can play Halo 2 using big screen conference room monitors. 

There are those that worry about this race to unimportance.  They worry that the generation problem has not been solved, for modern women have shown such distaste for generation that population decline is now inevitable, at least in Old Europe And Japan.

But however hard they try, women will never be as unimportant as men.  Whether they like it or not, women matter.  Even women of science.

Christopher Chantrill (mailto:chrischantrill@msn.com) blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.  His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.