It doesn’t look like anything to me: Confronting Willful Blindness Against Men’s Issues.

In HBO’s “Westworld” advanced robots, verging on human intelligence, live in an old-West theme park, hundreds of them making up a cast to entertain visiting human tourists.  These robots believe themselves to be humans living in an authentic, 19th-century environment.  The tourists play dress-up, but occasionally slip and reveal to the robots a glimmer of the outside world–a photograph taken at Times Square dropped in the dirt, an out-of-place reference to some modern invention.

The robots’ designers anticipated such lapses, and programmed a filter over their perceptions, blinding them to ideas they are not supposed to know.  When confronted with these incongruous crumbs, the robots give a rote response, “It doesn’t look like anything to me,” and simply move on, the forbidden knowledge sliding past them like water off a Teflon pan.[1]

This eerie inability to perceive the obvious is familiar to anyone who speaks about men’s issues.  Indeed, a normal part of a person’s men’s-issues awakening happens after they latch onto an isolated fact, a part of the hidden truth.  The fact often takes the form of recognizing a media distortion.  It could be seeing through the wage gap myth, or noticing the definitional manipulations used to arrive at the supposed 1-in-4 sexual assault number, or learning that Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 10,000 boys while all the media covers is outraged pleas to “bring back” 276 girls.[2]  Or it could be any other of countless similar discrepancies.  That first realization feels like a stroke of enlightenment, like they have noticed a glitch in the Matrix.

A second moment for revelation often comes when they try to explain the issue to someone who adheres to the mainstream narrative.  They initiate the conversation confidently, armed with the facts, so it comes as a surprise when the other person reacts with an awkwardness, dismissiveness, or even derision.  The new men’s advocate feels like Prometheus, having discovered fire and returned to Earth with it, only to be told, “It doesn’t feel hot to me.”  This predictable callousness and the media distortion both arise from the same psychological cause.

Professor Jonathan Haidt is a moral psychologist who has grown so concerned over the ideological narrowing and fixation of the supposedly educated circles of society that he joined in the 2015 founding of “Heterodox Academy,” aimed at steering American universities away from left-leaning political orthodoxy, and towards free expression and viewpoint diversity.

Dr. Haidt researches the psychology of how people make moral judgments.  He uses the metaphor of a person riding an elephant, where the person symbolizes conscious reasoning, while the elephant represents unconscious intuition. The elephant is made up of “[a]utomatic processes [which] run the human mind, just as they have been running animal minds for 500 million years. . . .  When human beings evolved the capacity for language and reasoning at some point in the last million years, the brain did not rewire itself to hand over the reins to a new and inexperienced charioteer.  Rather, the rider (language-based reasoning) evolved because it did something useful for the elephant.”  In particular, “[t]he rider is skilled at fabricating post hoc explanations for whatever the elephant has just done, and is good at finding reasons to justify whatever the elephant wants to do next.”

In other words, while our conscious mind has some limited ability to guide us, more often our intuitions take us where they like, and we then try to justify why that was a good idea.  Rather than being guided by the rider, the elephants seek to move in packs, observing where others are going and staying with the crowd.  Haidt noted, “Many of us believe that we follow an inner moral compass, but the history of social psychology richly demonstrates that other people exert a powerful force, able to make cruelty seem acceptable and altruism seem embarrassing. . . .” [3]

When wondering how society could be enraged by Boko Haram’s kidnapping of 276 girls while ignoring over 10,000 boys, the correct answer is the obvious one: people do not care about men and boys.  For evolutionary and historical reasons, our intuitive minds are tuned to view males as disposable.  Upon hearing news of those poor kidnapped boys, most people’s elephants would barely twitch.

Most people value women highly simply for being alive, while men and boy’s only chance of being similarly valued lies in their occupying a significant role or position.  For example, a parent loves their son because that particular boy fills an important role for them.  We also value leaders, which causes many men to strive with single-minded, self-sacrificial obsession to win leadership roles, and thereby gain validation.  A tiny percentage of these strivers actually achieve, at least temporarily, an apex position.  For our intuitive elephants, these few come to signify all men–illustrating a logical fallacy known as the “availability heuristic,” in which examples that easily come to mind are assumed to represent the whole.

If the space of possible moral attitudes were a two-dimensional field, most of the elephants would be massed together in a herd, squarely in the concern-for-women zone.  Men’s advocates can scream themselves hoarse about male suffering, and not a single animal will budge.  The riders will invent ad hoc explanations, tortuous logic to justify the non-response.  They may argue that men have done bad things in history, or point out that some men sit on corporate boards, or accuse the men’s advocates of harboring sinister ulterior motives to subjugate women.  The riders cannot admit to themselves that their elephants care more about females, and so they lie, blinding themselves with excuses.

Men’s advocates spent decades trying to politely and carefully explain obvious issues, and then being surprised when people dismissed and vilified them for their efforts.  The mainstream/feminist elephants simply feel very comfortable right where they are, surrounded by a large herd, occupying terrain that they believe to be the moral high ground.  One cannot argue with uncaring, because each level falls back into the same recursive loop: they don’t care; they don’t care that they don’t care; they don’t care that they don’t care that they don’t care.  To insist that men’s advocates should further hone their arguments for presentation to the feminist-dominated mainstream is like urging Charlie Brown to man up and keep trying to kick Lucy’s football.

In “Westworld,” one robot finds an outside-world picture and mysteriously recognizes its significance, overcoming his programmed blindness.  The experience drives him mad.[4]  The consequences for nascent men’s advocates are less dire.  Their elephants break off from the herd and wander to a more egalitarian tract of pasture.  There, they find a small but growing group who had preceded them.  The riders here are much happier, no longer needing to perform illogical tap-dances, done living with the cognitive dissonance of claiming to value human beings of all groups equally, while at the same time being dismissive of men’s hardships. The more this offshoot group grows, the more attractive it will become to members of the larger herd, and the more will join, happy to stop lying to themselves.  The larger it becomes, the faster it will grow, as its success depends upon welcoming newcomers and keeping them engaged.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Txed66nXsUE#t=0m55s

[2] https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-kidnapped-boys-of-boko-haram-1471013062

[3] Quoted from, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion,” 2012, Jonathan Haidt, Random House, LLC

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkr-pj7HiqY

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