Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle

Gloria Steinem once famously said that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.

Point taken, but let’s play with it a bit.

Let’s ask whether a woman needs a bicycle.

Depends on what you mean by “need,” doesn’t it? I mean, if all a woman does all day is swim, or even walk around, eat a bit, and poop from time to time, I wouldn’t suppose she would need a bicycle, either. But, of course, if that were all she did, she would surely be very bored. If she had a bicycle, though, and she lived in my neighborhood, she could go over to The Cloisters, a museum of medieval art, and look at the pictures, or the sculptures, or the wonderful tapestries, almost all of  which, including the museum that contains them and the roads leading up to it, were created by men.

But as far as that goes, let’s ask whether a fish needs a bicycle. Well, obviously, as things stand, it does not. But let’s suppose that fish had a bit more capability than we usually give them credit for having. Let’s suppose that the fish were capable of creating a bicycle. They had the imagination, let us say, to imagine a way of creating an object that would fit with their anatomical characteristics and could be used to take them from place to place on the ocean floor. They could create a bicycle with panniers, in which could be carried a variety of things from far afield that they otherwise would not be able to carry to one place. Then the fish could go to one place on the ocean floor where Romaine lettuce grows, another place where heirloom tomatoes grow, a place where cucumbers grow, and even a place where red onions grow. Then, they could all be put together making a nice salad.

Does a fish need a salad? Well, not really, obviously, but it could be a pleasant change of pace from eating the plankton or whatever crap floats around in the water, and which must get pretty boring. More than that, though, is that the fish had a project. An idea was imagined, a vague plan was conceived, ideas were implemented and refined, as contact with reality taught them what they needed to know, in the course of which much about reality, and about their own capacity to engage with and manipulated it, was learned. But fabricating a bicycle would have been very hard for a fish, what with the mining that had to be learned and done, the engineering that would have been part of the design, the manufacturing itself, and so on. It would have had to be the work of many fish, each of whom had a specific job, which was designed to come together with the other jobs, and performed by fish each of whom had their own reason for participating in the project. There would have had to be, in other words, organization, up to and including an HR, that is to say FR, department, and we haven’t even started talking about marketing.

And look at all the capacities that all this has developed among the fish: imagination, planning, technical skills, self-governance, even the development of a sense of time. These are different fish than we started out with. Did they need any of that?

But let’s take the matter back home? Gloria Steinem, as we have said, enlightened us that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Was that an important message to convey? I would suppose that she thought it was. But what went into its conveyance?

Begin with the typewriter on which it was typed,, and think of the technology, developed and produced by men, that went into that? I don’t even know where you start, but I do recall the name Johannes Gutenberg, who invented movable type. The means of mass communication? Television? Mass publication of printed material? All dependent on electricity. I looked up electricity on Wikipedia. In the section on History, there are thirty names mentioned. They are all male.

All told, it took the efforts, creative and mundane, of millions of men, over many centuries,  to provide the means through which Ms. Steinem could amuse us with the message of  their uselessness.

The question is, does a fish need Gloria Steinem?


What is the meaning of an accusation of racism?

Guy comes up to you on the street and says: “I know who you are. You may look like a human, but I know that’s a disguise. You have taken over the body of a human, but you are really a spy from Alpha Centauri who has come to Earth to spy on us in preparation for an invasion. You may have everybody else fooled, but you can’t fool me.”

“That’s crazy,” you say. “I’m not a spy from Alpha Centauri’ I’m just an ordinary human.”

“Prove it,” he says.

But, of course, you can’t prove it. All you could do is point to your human body, but he’s got that covered. He has acknowledged that you have a human body; his claim is just that it isn’t really your body, you just inhabit it. You could provide him with a full-body MRI scan and it wouldn’t matter.

What can you do that will convince him?

Now let’s play this game over in another, more familiar, register.

Guy comes up to you on the street and says you are a racist.

“That’s crazy,” you say. “I’m not a racist. I’m colorblind. I treat everybody equally. Some of my best friends are black.”

He says, “See how racist you are? Those are all things that racists say. You are a racist.”

What can you do that will convince him?”

The point here is one with which many of us are familiar. It’s unlikely anyone has accused us of being spies from Alpha Centauri, but many of us have been accused, often by people who don’t know us at all, of being racist, or sexist, or whatever, and there are no grounds that we can assert that will convince the accuser otherwise. What does one do?

I know what one wants to do. One wants to lay out the contents of one’s mind on a table and point to each piece saying, in turn, “this is not racist,” “that is not racist,” and so on until the end, knowing, all the while, that it will have no effect. And this is so, even while it is acknowledged that widespread conscious racism is pretty much a thing of the past; so much so that its place has had to been taken by unconscious or  “implicit racism,” as measured in a way that is strikingly dubious. So what is one to do?


Erasing Men

You might think that the winner of a race would be the first person to cross the finish line, or the person with the shortest time, but that would be naïve.

The November 6 New York Times coverage of the New York marathon, by Lindsay Crouse, begins with the headline “Mary Keitany of Kenya Wins 3rd Straight New York City Marathon.” It celebrates a 34 year old mother of two, who finished in “2 hours 24 minutes 26 seconds, with the second-place finisher [at 2:28.01, three and a half minutes back] nowhere in sight.” Her dominance was shown by the fact that “She was so far in front of her competitors that she could have taken a stroll through the Sheep Meadow in Central Park on her way to the finish line.”

It is not until we are seven paragraphs into this 32 paragraph article that we find that the fastest time was set by a 20-year-old from Eritrea, Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, who finished in 2:07:51, almost 17 minutes faster than Keitany. So, presumably, he could have taken almost five strolls around Sheep Meadow before she showed up. In fact, Abdi Abdirahman, who placed third among the men at 2:11:23, could have taken almost four. But that was in what was identified as the “men’s race,” not, evidently, the Marathon itself. To be sure, there is one use, in paragraph 17, of the designation “women’s marathon”, but that was run in 1984, and who knows what’s happened since. In every other case, the term “Marathon,” without modifier, refers to the race among the women.

Overall, less than 300 words of this 1400 word article are devoted to men.

Not infrequently, one runs into the feminist fantasy of a world without men. On the symbolic level, it appears that this has largely happened.

Killing the Scorpion


Once upon a time, when I was living in a little house on the edge of the desert, a scorpion came out from underneath the refrigerator. It was pure white, I believe, though my imagination sometimes gives a red tinge to the end of the sting, which, upon seeing me, it raised.

I knew it was deadly, but I could not take my eyes from it. It was exquisite: highly articulated and other worldly, with all of its parts perfectly configured to do what they were supposed to do, which was, at that moment, to sting me.

What would I do about it? In those days I rode a motorcycle and wore heavy-souled engineer boots. I knew that I could step on it without any danger, but I didn’t want to kill something so beautiful. I could get a broom and brush it out the door, but I had no idea how fast scorpions moved. What if it hid someplace while I was looking for the broom? I certainly did not want that creature loose in the house.

Anyway, the dog solved the problem. He came around and started to investigate. The scorpion turned his sting in the dog’s direction and resolved my uncertainty. I stepped on him and that was that.

I feel about political correctness the way I felt about that scorpion. In its way, it is also beautiful: changing all the time, but staying the same. So elaborate and articulated, but nothing is wasted. Some of the best minds of my generation, to paraphrase Alan Ginsburgh, have been destroyed by political correctness, but they have given their full measure, mobilizing the enormous power of their often impressive imaginations, in its creation. Think of it as a work of art; it is exquisite.

But there should be no doubt about its deadliness. The creativity that has gone into the development of political correctness increasingly stifles  all other creativity. Through this collective brilliant act of social creation, we have made ourselves stupid. No one made us do it; we did it freely, and made ourselves slavish. Who could not be fascinated?

Would I kill this scorpion if I could?  Realistically speaking, that is not an issue.  For one thing, I don’t have the boots. But at a deeper level, I would have to raise a question about the wisdom of suppressing political correctness by force majeure. It is often said that you cannot kill an idea, but killing political correctness would be more than that. PC is not just an idea, but a fount of ideas. It represents a deep structural tendency that is central to human being: the maternal principle. Where it has brought us to grief is in the fact that it has crippled the opposing  tendency, with which it has always been in productive tension: the paternal principle. In that way, it has warped us.

The task, then, is not to kill it. That would simply warp and cripple us even more. The idea is to understand how it has gotten us where we are. For that purpose, my own fascination stands me in good stead.

But ultimately this understanding must help us to bring the paternal principle back to life, and in that way recreate the relationship between the two.

For that purpose, we must all rediscover, and many of us must choose, the voice of our fathers.

Choosing my father’s voice

I’ve been trying to make sense of the psychology underlying political correctness for almost thirty years, now. For the first several years it was quite difficult, emotionally. I was very depressed much of the time, which made it difficult to pursue the work, and I did not know why. I had never felt that way in developing theory.

One day, I began to understand what it was about. Up until that time, I had been answering to the voice of my father, and he said “I don’t care what you say, as long as you can prove it.” But this was a different voice. I realized it was the voice of my mother, and she was saying “I don’t care what you can prove, you are a terrible person even to be thinking these thoughts.”

I chose the voice of my father. I went back over my reasoning and my evidence and I concluded they were sound. On the strength of that, I maintained my explorations.

I cannot say that my mother gave up. I still hear from her from time to time. But I do believe she became a bit less noisy, and certainly less shrill.  She seemed to resign herself to going through the motions. Good for her; my mother was certainly not stupid.

But I think there is a lesson to be learned from this; a generalization, as it were.

Why, we ask, do people, especially men, have such a hard time standing up to the insanities of political correctness? The answer is that their mothers won’t let them.