Wednesday, December 09, 2009

CAROL GILLIGAN: A BIT MORE

This will be a brief Post, just to follow-up on a thought I had put into the Post on Janet Halley a couple back.

You may recall that I wrote about Carol Gilligan’s 1982 distinction between boys and their ‘ethic of justice’ and girls and their ‘ethic of caring’. If you don’t recall it, I am reproducing it here and then offer another line of thought about it.

In the Halley Post I wrote:

“In 1982 the psychologist Carol Gilligan wrote the book “In a Different Voice”. She asserted that the moral development of females and males differed. The boys developed an “ethic of justice, predicated on the understanding of human beings as individuated and separate, and on the rule of logic and the rule of law”.

The girls, however, “saw that the world is not made up of separated, self-seeking individuals but rather of interrelations, connections webbing everyone together in communities of concern”; further, that “they made moral decisions not through abstract reasoning from rules but by balancing the infinitesimal and acute needs of everybody concerned” (p69). (Italics mine) This, Gilligan said, is an ‘ethic of caring’.

The boys’ “ethic of justice” was contrasted to the girls’ “ethic of caring”.

THIS, as the kids would say, is HUGE.

If you think you can hear oblique echoes of the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, I think what you have here is the American start of it all.

But more fundamentally, I think what you have here is the dark beating heart of the intensifying Constitutional corrosion that has been going on for decades, for which the Bush Era skullduggery is not a cause or source, but merely a symptom and a result.

If you look at what the boys are doing, you will see the essential philosophy underlying the Constitutional ethos: individual persons, responsible for themselves and their development, responsible as well for their actions, but they will be judged – if such be required – according to the logic of cause and effect and according to the rules of the applicable laws. The government, of course, is as contained in its powers and the responsible use of them as the individual citizens are contained by their responsibilities under the laws.

The girls – in Gilligan’s schematic – entertain a vision that is hell and gone from that. It’s a more maternal (!) approach: whichever baby is crying is to be helped along and soothed, regardless of whether there is a ‘reason’ for it to be crying. It’s a fine approach for dealing with still undeveloped infants still helplessly subject to the waves of their passions and emotions’ they can’t be expected to use their ‘reason’ to self-modulate their emotions. But a nation is comprised of adults who are responsible. Or should be. Or perhaps must be.

The ‘ethic of caring’ works perfectly well for infants. But the ‘ethic of justice’ is what works for adults ... If you’re going to have a Constitutionally envisioned limited government, grounded by a Constitutionally envisioned mature Citizenry. Any government that is going to appoint itself as the Fixer of All Pain is going to be taking on the role of God and the angels – and will demand that much authority (it can never attain that much wisdom). Bill Clinton’s nifty soundbite – I feel your pain – stems ultimately from this schematic of Gilligan’s, I think.

I think it’s clear here how the ‘ethic of caring’ – when raised to the level of national policy on the highest and most profound levels – is a perfect vehicle to justify the sex-offense laws: the government must ‘protect’ and the best way to do that is to ‘prevent’ – and, bingo, the sex-offense Registration and Notification schemes and the civil-commitment schemes and the residency-restriction schemes and all the rest.

And I hope I don’t have to say it too loudly: I am not ‘un-caring’ and I think that ‘care’ is a profoundly valuable and indeed a vital element in the quality of personal and societal life.

Indeed, for anyone who does find him/herself engaging in sex-offenses, this may be an excellent starting point for self-repair: to inflict a genuine sex-offense is clear indication that the offender doesn’t care enough about him/herself as a human being, nor about the victim as a human being.”

Now I want to follow-up on what I wrote.

Gilligan’s observation is an interesting one, and I think it’s quite worth some study. Around the kitchen table or in the domestic, familial, child-raising setting, I think Gilligan accurately depicts what the maternal (not totally determined by the sex of the parent) input and influence is and how it works.

The maternal or 'care' approach is that the first priority is to help the kid(s) master emotions and feel accepted and ‘listened to’. Matters of ‘reason’ and ‘justice’ are secondary, not least because a child doesn’t yet have the fully-developed brain-parts that can process ‘abstractions’.

Postponement of gratification, impulse control, and self-sacrifice are not immediately available to humans in their young stages, and cannot be presumed. So the 'care approach' exercises a somewhat arbitrary and absolute authority – although ideally in a non-repressive way – in order to help the tyke(s) through this storm of emotion. This is perfectly appropriate and necessary when dealing with tykes and such ‘parental authority’ is in this context not only appropriately exercised but also absolutely necessary if tykes are to have any chance at growing into a genuine and effective maturity.

But now, in the public setting, things get more complicated, and hugely so.

In the American Constitutional vision you cannot have a government exercising the arbitrary omnipotence that a parent naturally and necessarily enjoys over the tykes. In the Framers’ vision, no government – composed of human beings (male or female) – can be allowed to possess that much authority. Human beings cannot be trusted with it on such a large and powerful scale.

Thus the ‘ethic of caring’ – quite accurately described by Gilligan – cannot be transferred from the kitchen table to the legislative and governance forum, from child-raising to public affairs.

Because then you wind up with a Nanny State, as it were. And you can see how easily a National Nanny State (NNS) trends necessarily to an anti-Constitutional mode of governance. And the NNS does so just as quickly and surely as the more widely acknowledged National Security State (NSS).

Gilligan’s ‘male’ ethic was cartoonishly taken up as a clear sign of what was ‘wrong’, and her ‘female’ ethic was touted as a sign of what was always right but for so long repressed. Cartoons require a certain mature reading in order to be constructive; otherwise folks simply get their yuks and think that they ‘know’ something that – really – they don’t.

Of course, given the need of certain Identity advocacies to ‘deconstruct’ the political and cultural authority of ‘the family’ – among other deep and dense societal and cultural institutions – then this ‘maternal’ role was cheeribly transferred to the government (and to the criminal law).

This was one of those sleights-of-thought that occurred in ominous numbers during the decades – especially the 1980s and 1990s – that many Identity advocacies are now touting as their salad days and the days of their greatest influence, success, and ‘victory’.

And as I’ve said, the Perfect Storm synergy was comprised of several interacting dynamics: the desire of certain Identity Advocacies to replace long-standing cultural institutions and ways of looking at things; the eagerness of first the Democrats and then also the Republicans to get and keep new ‘demographics’; the traditional American optimism about the ‘change’ always being positive and without-downsides or consequences; and the aura (or miasm) of ‘urgency’ and ‘emergency’ that was created by a far too shrewd PR campaign waged by the hired guns and committed ‘advocates’ of both the ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ Left and the ‘conservative’ law-and-order Right.

And, in a dark neatness, the decreasing status and authority and competence of ‘the family’ and of ‘marriage’ and of ‘adulthood’ and ‘maturity’ did indeed start producing very large numbers of under-raised children who entered chronological adulthood inadequately prepared to exercise r adult and Citizen responsibilities. (I would say that this is the most prevalent and lethal form of ‘child abuse’ in the country at this point, and has been now for so long that many of the children thus abused are now well into chronological adulthood but genuinely ‘unripe’ – nor am I trying here to ‘blame the victim’.)

The mainstream media, of course, were happy for a melodramatic script that was guaranteed to attract viewers and last a reliably long time (sort of like the later Long War(s) in Southwest Asia).

I think it’s clear that the Constitutional vision and ethos cannot survive without a mature Citizenry. Which means that each individual Citizen (or as many as possible) must have reached a certain level of adult maturity in order to participate in the People-wide task of governing the government. And that this maturity would include that ‘abstract’ justice described by Gilligan as an ‘ethic of justice’.

That ethic is not a ‘boys’ or ‘male’ ethic; it is a mature adult ethic suited for and required when mature adults govern themselves and interact among each other. The ‘ethic of caring’ is appropriately deployed in the family setting when raising tykes who by very definition are not yet adults able to exercise the active responsibilities of Citizens.

I am not at all suggesting that mature adults should not ‘care’. But I am saying that the primary ground-rule and frame for envisioning and conducting public affairs and ensuring the common weal has to be an ‘ethic of justice’ (which, as I said, is not just a ‘guy thing’ but is rather an ‘adult’ thing required of both sexes).

No government can be allowed to have and exercise the type of arbitrary authority that the ‘ethic of caring’ requires. Indeed, in the ‘ethic of caring’, the parent acts very much as the old 18th century ‘benevolent despot’ – and you may recall that the Framers specifically rejected such a form of government, realizing that human beings are far too flawed as a species to presume that a wise and benevolent despot would always be available – and elected – to important government office.

So you can see that – intended or not – much of what has passed for ‘change’ and ‘reform’ in the past few decades is really a) old stuff already rejected by the Framers and b) in its essence and in its consequences anti-Constitutional.

The Nanny State requires - not to put too fine a point on it - 'children', not Citizens. And 'victims' as well, as things have evolved over the past decades. This cannot end well for any society or nation - and I think you can see where so much has gone wrong in the past decades because the government has treated Americans like children and the Americans have - not to put too fine a point on it - accepted that role and that identity.

Oy.

And from this purportedly ‘benevolently despotic’ Nanny government has flowed ‘preventive law’ and ‘risk-averse governance’ and the assorted Constitutional deformities – sex offense laws being only the most recent and egregious – that precisely presume – without daring to say so – that a) ‘the government’ can be trusted to exercise such despotic police powers wisely and that b) the ‘emergency’ doesn’t really allow Us to ask whether it can or it can’t, should or shouldn’t – but rather ‘we just have to do it’ or else ‘we just don’t get it’.

That sort of thing.

And of course, with all that 'preventive' and 'caring' groundwork laid in the domestic setting during the profoundly de-formative (not just transformative, as those who 'get it' like to bray) 1990s, then the 2000s saw all of it deployed overseas: Afghanistan was originally invaded to 'prevent' terrorist attacks, then Iraq, and now back to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Prisoners have been tortured, children locked up in military prisons, in order to 'prevent' more terrorism (however that is defined and distinguished). And now one Congressman wants to apply the marvelous blessings of the US domestic violence-against-women police state tactics to all the nations of the earth (at least, those Third World ones not big enough to fight back or call in their loans to Us).**

We need to roll back the profoundly anti-Constitutional trend that has gripped the nation for several long and frakked decades.*

NOTES

*As if the Constitutional threats posed by the National Security State aren’t bad enough.

**I'll be Posting shortly on Rep. Delahunt's promise to re-introduce the twice or thrice failed International Violence Against Women Act in this session of Congress.

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