It’s time to take the Red Pill and change your mind

Are you afraid of changing your mind about a deeply held belief, about an emotionally strong conviction that you have? A few years ago, I changed – as an environmentalist – my mind about GMOs. Since then, and due to my contacts with the effective altruism movement, I changed my mind about many beliefs that I had (e.g. about organic food, wild animal suffering, the moral value of biodiversity, animal advocacy strategies and economic issues). In the political spectrum I consider myself as a progressive left liberal, meaning that I value social justice and I am against all kinds of unwanted arbitrariness such as discrimination (racism, sexism, speciesism,…). I am part of the left, criticizing the right. Criticizing the right is easy, because right wing ideologies contain a lot of irrationalities (such as unwanted arbitrariness that violate the moral golden rule) and pseudoscience (such as climate denialism). However, I start to realize that also in my left wing camp there are a considerable amount of irrationalities (such as the opposition against GMOs amongst leftist environmentalists, the criticism against vaccines or the strategies used by some animal rights activists, social justice warriors or people from the so called regressive left). As a rational ethicist, I not only want right winged people to become more rational, but I also want to improve rationality amongst leftist people. Therefore I also criticize irrational beliefs amongst left-wingers.

It is unlikely that all your beliefs are true. Even the beliefs that you strongly, emotionally care about may be wrong. I can say this, because that is what I experienced in my own life. Ten years ago I would have underestimated the amount of false beliefs that I strongly believed. I would have underestimated the number of moral mistakes I made. Now I realize that I should not trust my convictions based on emotions and gut feelings. So now I try to become less emotionally attached to my beliefs. When I am confronted with new evidence that contradicts my belief and I feel a strong emotional reaction that attempts to defend my belief, I become more alert and I try to suppress that emotional response, because I’ve learned that those emotional responses are unreliable. They have deceived me so many times. I should not have trusted them. These emotions generate all kinds of cognitive biases such as confirmation bias and desirability bias. As a consequence of avoiding emotional reactions, I became much more flexible to update my beliefs in the light of new evidence, ideas and arguments. And as a consequence, I changed my mind about many things. This strongly improved my rationality and my effective altruism.

So I want to create a culture where changing one’s mind is socially accepted and admirable. A culture where we dare to change our minds, to become more rational (meaning accurate in our beliefs, effective in our means and consistent in our ends). If you believe that all your currently strongly held beliefs are true, you are most likely wrong. If you believe that your strong emotions do not generate cognitive biases, you probably have a cognitive bias: the bias blind spot. If you want to become more effective in doing good, you will probably have to experience changing your mind about beliefs that you hold dear. You will probably have to swallow the red pill (as in the movie The Matrix).

Speaking about the red pill: I recently saw a documentary that I highly recommend: The Red Pill by Cassie Jaye. It is about a feminist’s journey into the men’s rights movement. The documentary is interesting because of two facts: first it tells about interesting facts and arguments made by men’s rights activists. Second, it follows the director Cassie Jaye in her struggle to change her mind about feminism and the men’s rights movement. She started as a feminist being very critical about this new movement that in her eyes was highly misogynist. But interviewing those men’s rights activists, it eventually resulted in Cassie Jaye saying that she no longer calls herself a feminist, even though she off course still shares the leftist values of gender equality and antidiscrimination (antisexism). Cassie Jaye is a prime example of a leftist person with good moral values, but who dared to change her mind about a topic that she held dear. She interviews people like Warren Farrell and Erin Pizzey, two persons who were deeply involved in the feminist movement but changed their minds about men’s rights issues (which resulted in receiving threats by feminists). In the documentary, we see emotionally strong reactions by feminists protesting against men’s rights activists. In a similar way, the documentary itself became highly controversial after its release, resulting in boycotts and feminist protests against its screening.

So, the documentary also changed my mind about gender issues. First, I believe that the feminist movement’s reaction against men’s rights issues is irrational, with feminists misrepresenting a lot of men’s rights activists as rape apologists. Second, I now no longer believe in something like a patriarchal system that systematically privileges men and suppresses women. The existence of a patriarchal system is a core belief in many feminist theories, so in that sense I no longer call myself that kind of feminist. The documentary gives a lot of examples that indicate that if there were such a thing as a patriarchal system, then that system is highly inconsistent. It becomes reasonable to doubt the existence of such an inconsistent system. Here are some examples.

-Child custody: if the judicial system were dominated by patriarchal, male judges, then why are children so often assigned to the mothers in cases of divorce, even when the fathers clearly state that they strongly prefer custody over the children? (It reminds me of the movie Mrs. Doubtfire that I recently saw.)

-Criminal sentencing: if the judicial system were dominated by patriarchal, male judges, then why do men receive 60% higher sentences than women for equal crimes? Arrested women are more likely to avoid convictions and are twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted.

-Health: if the scientific research and health systems were dominated by patriarchal, male researchers, then why does breast cancer receive twice as much funding than prostate cancer, even when prostate cancer is almost has deadly as breast cancer? The burden of disease, in terms of loss of healthy life years (DALY), premature deaths (mortality) and loss of health (morbidity), both globally and in the rich, western countries, is higher for men than for women.

-Military: if the military were dominated by patriarchal males, then why are men drafted? Why would those privileged men send men to die at the front? More than 95% of soldiers that die in war are men.

-Disasters: if there was a patriarchal system that privileges men, then why “women and children first” in case of a sinking ship?

-Dangers: if the man was in charge in the house, then why would the man risk his life to go downstairs at night when there is a burglar in the house? Why send men on dangerous exploration missions?

-Work: if the economy were dominated by patriarchal males, then why are more men doing the dangerous jobs? The death rate on the job is 11 times higher for men than for women. It is as if men are more expendable. And why would men allow women to be in charge of education, risking their own children being indoctrinated with feminist ideas? Wouldn’t it be better for men if men did the education part and women did the dangerous jobs?

-Media: if the news media were dominated by patriarchal male journalists, then why did the abduction of about 200 girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria receive much more attention than the kidnapping and killing of thousands of boys by Boko Haram?

-Interpersonal violence: if men create a patriarchal system, then why are more men than women victim of interpersonal violence (in terms of deaths and loss of healthy life years, both globally and in rich, Western countries)?

-Domestic violence: if politics were dominated by patriarchal male politicians, then why are there 2000 times more women shelters than men shelters in the US, for victims who want to escape from situations of domestic violence, even if domestic violence is close to gender symmetric? There are almost as much male victims and female perpetrators of non-reciprocal (no self defense) domestic violence. If the police were dominated by patriarchal male policemen, then why are women who assault their male partners more likely to avoid arrest than men who attack their female partners? When a woman calls the police to report domestic violence, the man is often arrested or ordered to leave the house, but if a man calls, the woman is almost never arrested or ordered out of the house, and even worse: the man who calls has a more than 10% probability of being arrested himself. Why would a man call the police if he risks being arrested himself?

All of this doesn’t make any sense in a patriarchal system that systematically privileges men. There are too much weird inconsistencies. And worse: if feminists target a patriarchal system, it might harm men even when those men are not the real problem. The real problem is gender roles that systematically disadvantage women in some ways and men in other ways. We should avoid a simplistic black-white male-female dichotomy where men are the privileged evil-doers. We should simply focus on eliminating all kinds of sexism and gender discrimination, of both men and women. And feminists should acknowledge that the men’s rights movement does not need to be silenced and that a lot of men’s rights activists raise valid concerns and are not rape apologists who hate women. Some but not all men’s rights activists hate women, but also some but not all women’s rights activists hate men.


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5 reacties op It’s time to take the Red Pill and change your mind

  1. eva zegt:

    all those examples are in fact a proof of patriarchal believes/gender-roles: women should take care of children, men should do the most dangerous jobs, girls are more shown as victimes, “men are strong, women are weak”, men should not be shown as weak or sensitive or sick (on their prostate even less),

    • stijnbruers zegt:

      I agree, except that I would just call it gender roles, not patriarchal beliefs. Both genders suffer from those gender roles, so it is not necessary to point the finger to men by refering to the root of the problem in male terms such as patriarchy. The root of the problem is not sided with one gender, but it is gender roles.

      • eva zegt:

        you’re saying that a patriarchal system doesnt exist but these gender roles are the proof of it. and its not about pointing to a gender. i hope there as much men who are unhappy about the patriarchy.

  2. eva zegt:

    i think its a really weird thing to say as a scientist/ i assume you know the numbers about women getting paid less than men for the same job, till this very day. not so long ago women werent able to vote etc etc, the list is endless. its very obvious which gender is opressed by the other in the ‘patriarchal society’ and fighting for its freedom. women dont have equal rights in this society, i cant be topless you can. you may find that (naked breasts) weird now but probably only as weird as some found naked (womens-) knees a few years ago. and its not about being treated the same, men and women are different, its about being female, being a woman, in all its facets, that is not valued in society. its like humans treating animals bad. its not that all humans treat all animals bad, its just embedded in society. just as all the false (and unconscious) patriarchal bullshit. like menstruation for example. what are your believes about it? you will have to acknowledge that they are greatly affected by the patriarchal socieyt. even you with your rational mind who most likely know what menstruation means scientifically. i mean, imagine, it was the opposite, imagine matriarchy would ve been perversed and put out of context and so on in society. i wouldnt be happy with it either. altough i dont believe it wouldve happened like that. women are just so much nicer 😀

    • stijnbruers zegt:

      I am saying that a consistent patriarchal system does not exist, i.e. a system that systematically privileges most men and suppresses most women. How would you define patriarchy? Of course we can define it (like some feminists do, cfr as an unjust social system that enforces gender roles and is oppressive to both men and women. In that case it clearly exists and gender roles are by definition a proof of it. But this new definition is gender symmetric, so it is weird to give it a name that refers to one gender. I would rather call it an oppressive system. And if on some levels men are more disadvantaged and on other levels women are more disadvantaged, I would call it sexism.
      The problem with definitions of patrarichy is that they refer to men and women, without clarifying whether it is about all, most or some men or women.
      It also depends on your focus: the people in power or the victims. Most people in the highest powers are male, so in that sense there is a patriarchy. But focussing at the victims, both men and women are victims, so in this sense there is no longer a clear gender asymmetry. Looking at the victims, I am not able to say which gender is most oppressed or disadvantaged in our society. You can give an example where women are disadvantaged, like men having the permission to be topless, but then I can give an example where men are disadvantaged, and then you can give another example of disadvantaged women, and so on. And we don’t have a good metric to add all our examples up and calculate who is the most disadvantaged overall.
      What do you mean with my beliefs about menstruation?

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