The Female Advantage in a Force-Free Society
Female Advantage in a Force-Free Society
by Steve Cobb
"The position of women in a society provides an exact measurement of the development of that society." -- Gustav Geiger
Converse: The development of a society is a result of the position of women in that society.
The Difference a Chromosome Makes
Another meeting in the corporate world, another round of hooting, grunting, chest-thumping, and excrement-slinging-an endless supply of Dilbert material. But I leave the meeting struck by the disproportionate share of competitive, aggressive behavior that is exhibited by males. At least on the surface, the women seem to be more cooperative, looking to achieve a group solution, whereas each guy seems to think it more important that the solution chosen be his.
Competition among human males is nothing unusual: male primates of all sorts do it, frequently with violence, frequently for access to mates. There is a strong correlation between a polygynous species' harem size and the male-female size ratio: the more females a male can win, the more it pays to be big, strong, and aggressive. The winner wins big, the loser wins nothing. Comparing the human animal's male-female size ratio with that of other primates suggests an average number of mates of something over 1 but less than 2, which corresponds with casual observation. Human males should have a moderate tendency toward aggression (not only for mates, of course), which is unquestionably the case.
If, as Robert Wright suggests in his book Nonzero, the history of progress consists not only of improving technology but an improving ability of individuals to cooperate and unlock potential synergy, might women, less disposed to violence, have an increasing advantage in modern times?
Selecting a Strategy
When does it make sense to choose a violent strategy? A strategy is useful when it maximizes an individual's expected gain and/or minimizes his expected loss, and evolution encodes in our genes the capacity for such strategies, moral or not. Violence is a logical choice when
- enough other people in the environment are already initiating force
- enough other people in the environment are incapable of retaliating with force
- illegitimate use of force is not punished, e.g. reputation is not being tracked, so that one's history of violence will not be counted against one
The first condition makes force a necessary defensive strategy, minimizing expected loss, since one will not want to be at the mercy of others who use force. The second condition makes force a winning offensive strategy, maximizing an individual's expected gain. Since men are better equipped by nature to use force, in a state of nature they will be tempted to use it against women. The third condition reduces the cost of illegitimate force, since the collective is not paying attention and sanctioning wrong-doers.
In terms of game theory, e.g. the Prisoner's Dilemma, players have the two options of Cooperate (don't use force) or Defect (use force). Depending on the expected payoff and cost, it makes sense for some percentage of a population to follow an aggressive strategy instead of peacefully cooperating. The way to decrease the number of defectors is to increase the cost, e.g. by increasing the retaliatory capability of the population, giving the doves some teeth.
Women's Welfare in a Less Violent Society
Throughout history, societies have always provided the conditions for the successful use of force, but the trend over time has generally been toward reducing them. Force in some societies remains a viable strategy, in others it has been greatly reduced, and in others it has made a comeback. If women are more poorly equipped for violence than men, we would expect to see their relative welfare vary according to the relative value of violent strategies in a society. That has certainly been the case.
In most third-world countries, rates of violent crime are high, stability is low, and the status and condition of women is low. Women in burkhas cannot fully participate in society, and they remain poor. In stable, peaceful Scandinavia, it is often said that women are the stronger sex, and their economic position is equal to that of men. It is no coincidence that in primitive societies women are treated like property, and forbidden from owning property, because in such an environment they in fact are property. Property, including one's own body, must be defended, and in primitive societies it is only men who are capable of adequate self-defense. In such an environment, a woman loses her individuality, becoming an extension of a man, incapable of independent life. Throughout her life she is controlled and exchanged by men-first by her father, then by her husband.
A worrying modern trend is that in most industrialized countries, the role of the government is increasing. Since government is by definition the agency with a monopoly on the use of force, the role of force in modern societies is now growing after centuries of reduction. Modern statists have faith that this "good" force will remain chained in service to the will of the majority, but there is good reason for doubt. Millions of years of evolution have equipped Man, and especially men, with the ability exploit force-based strategies whenever possible. Surely a safer (not to mention more moral) approach would be to eliminate entirely the initiation of force as an available and acceptable strategy? Indeed, while in the United States rates of violent crime have been falling (outside of the illegal drugs industry), in Europe they have been rising. France, which has glorified and institutionalized violence as a means of protest and dividing the spoils of government power, has seen enormous increases in crime, resulting in the high level of support for right-wing Le Pen in the recent French presidential election.
The converse rule may also be true: greater female influence is credited with creating a more peaceful society. Lacking a comparative advantage in violence, women with influence would certainly exert it to reduce its prevalence. Furthermore, an improved female position creates a more prosperous society. How much of the industrialized world's wealth depends on the increased contributions of women, and how much of the third world's poverty results from their absence? Over time, economies in which women are full participants will outpace those in which they are shackled.
Armed Women in a Libertarian Society
Women can reduce the expected payoff of force-based strategies by arming themselves, acquiring retaliatory capability and increasing the cost to aggressive men. It is therefore imperative that women have the right to bear arms sufficient to equalize themselves with men. This clearly means the right to bear firearms, as anything less requires close range and physical strength, leaving the advantage with the male aggressor. It is not necessary for every woman to have a weapon: if aggressors know that enough women are armed, but are uncertain as to exactly who, the protection will be a public good that extends to all. A potentially armed civilian woman might be a greater deterrent to criminals than a probably absent uniformed policeman.
Why Feminists Should Move to the Free State
The Free State Project is a plan in which liberty-minded people will gather in a single state to secure a free society. Why should women in particular join such a project? In a society where all relationships are based on mutual consent, women will be able to use their innate cooperative abilities to full advantage. In a society where the use of force is limited to self defense, and individuals have the right to arm themselves to deal with aggressors better endowed by nature, men's comparative advantage in using violent strategies will be nullified. Cooperators will be maximally rewarded, predators maximally punished, necessary factors for long-term peace and maximum prosperity.
June 28, 2002
views expressed in this essay do not necessarily represent those of
Free State Project, Inc., its Directors, or its Officers.