Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Strawberry Games and Sex

I am going to lift the following comments from Sarang into a post:

Corn subsidies and sugar quotas are logically independent, even if they happen to occur together. In my worldview (and Steph's, and maybe Alan's), the sexual revolution was a direct and essentially inevitable consequence of jobs for women. Thus the parallel fails.

. . . a better parallel from my perspective is the following. You argue that one should leave strawberries lying about on one's coffee table indefinitely because they smell good. Alan and I object that they do not, because they begin to rot. You say that this is irrelevant because you're investigating the smell of strawberries while ignoring the effect of putrefaction. You add that this is not an intellectually disreputable practice.
So a quick note - Sarang has indicated that he is tired of repeating himself endlessly and will shut up - so silence on his part should not be construed as agreement with my points.

Now, my points.

1. Sarang does not clarify the distinction between logical independence and causal independence. I take it that eating 20 pieces of candy cannot be regarded as logically independent from eating an even number of candies. One simply can't, as a logical matter, do the former without doing the latter. Whereas eating 20 pieces of candy is very likely to cause you to feel ill, but this is not entailed as a logical matter.

If this is the distinction, then I think one can treat the sexual revolution as logically distinct from the women's liberation movement, even if the boundary is not clear, and even if the sexual revolution is regarded as a subset of the women's liberation movement. One might still regard the two as causally linked, but I think this has been assumed rather than established. (This is a reasonable assumption, of course - see below - but the extent and nature of this causal relationship is not obvious to me.)

2. No one would deny that the women's liberation movement and the sexual revolution share common causes. Indeed, one might go so far as to say that the one could not take place without the other. However, these are not Boolean variables - women's labor force participation is not either "yes" or "no," but rather is expressed as a percentage. Moreover, beyond crude numbers like labor force participation, women can be more or less fully integrated into the workforce, and given more or less opportunity for advancement.

Likewise, one can imagine different types and degrees of sexual liberalization. One can imagine a society in which premarital sex is "deregulated," but adultery is still highly stigmatized. One can imagine a society in which serial monogamy is respected in all its forms but non-monogamy is not. One can imagine a society in which most traditional norms are retained and even enforced, but only in increasingly mild ways (instead of being ostracized for adultery, a woman simply loses some amount of status).

Therefore, even if you regard women's liberation and the sexual revolution as corollaries, one might still fruitfully ask questions like, "What is the effect of sexual liberalization, holding workforce opportunities constant?" or: "What is the effect of improved career opportunities, holding sexual liberalization constant?" In real life, these things may never be held constant, but they still might vary in ways that yield different outcomes. For instance, I suspect that if adultery were completely non-stigmatized, it would weaken long-term commitments, with a variety of consequences. If one of those consequences were that women had a harder time getting advanced degrees (perhaps because advanced degrees are often subsidized by spouses), then one might like to know this, even if the women's liberation movement as a whole makes it vastly easier for women to get advanced degrees. (So in other words, one might say, "The women's liberation movement is unambiguously helpful to women obtaining advanced degrees, but the elimination of anti-adultery norms is mildly harmful to women obtaining advanced degrees." One might say this even if, in fact, the women's liberation movement inevitably leads to the abandonment of all norms against adultery. And of course, it may be the case that women's liberation is consistent with any number of different norms about adultery - it may even be the case that adultery is more strongly and consistently stigmatized in a post-women's-liberation world. To take the position that one simply cannot ask questions about adultery norms without analyzing the entirety of the women's liberation movement strikes me as silly.)

3. So I don't think I'm playing strawberry games when I insist on doing ceteris paribus analysis of the sexual revolution.

11 Comments:

Blogger Sarang said...

I agree "logically" is a poorly chosen word, but the strawberry example (putrefaction isn't _logically_ necessary) makes my point clear. The point is, ceteris-paribus arguments in which you assume a cause and leave out its effect (or assume an effect and leave out its only poss. cause) are absurd, to my mind, in cases where the causality is clear. I agree that it is _logically_ possible to consider such models, but I am not sure what empirical predictions/insight you can expect to get out of them.

Won't speak directly to the SR issue -- would only be repeating myself -- but I do not think of changing adultery norms (have they changed very much?) as a notable element. As I see it the big changes were all re sprouting of alternatives to trad. marriage; the institution of trad. marriage doesn't seem to have changed so much... And no, I cannot imagine a soc. in which serial monogamy of all forms is respected but nothing else is; my intuitions about human nature cannot accommodate such a place.

9:11 PM  
Blogger James said...

If you don't like the adultery example, then we could substitute one about casual oral sex or something. It doesn't really matter. The point is that it might be useful to examine discrete pieces of the sexual revolution, or the sexual revolution itself as a discrete phenomenon, despite the fact that it shares some causal connection to the women's liberation movement. Maybe you can't imagine particular outcomes, but it doesn't really matter so long as you can imagine many possible outcomes, which should not be difficult since different societies (and different communities within each society) have experienced the sexual revolution differently. So then, as I've argued, one might want to compare these different possible outcomes, and to do that one would want to make simplifying assumptions like the assumption of other things being equal. (Note, I agree with Krugman that using simplified models, however silly, can shed insight on difficult questions - so even if I could not imagine a society in which serial monogamy were respected and non-monogamy were not, I might still be tempted to model it.)

9:48 PM  
Blogger Sarang said...

Well, I mean, what if ceteris paribus conflicts with a conservation law? For instance, given that F = ma, there is no "ceteris paribus" way of changing the acceleration; you have to change either the force or the mass, or give up Newton's law. Literally interpreted, ceteris paribus would mean abandoning the law, but that would obviously be a crazy thing to do; it is much better to let the third variable adjust. (There are identities in economics that could be used instead. The point is, a simple model is not a sensible model if it doesn't obey the relevant identities.)

The reason I am harping on this is, of course, that I think it's plausible there is a direct causal path from female workplace participation to the SR. Let us say there is a relationship like equality equals promiscuity times "cultural inertia." In such a model, if you want to change promiscuity while keeping equality constant, you need to change cultural inertia, basically by changing the society you are talking about. But now you cannot attribute the resulting differences in outcome to any one variable...

10:45 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

1.) The relationship between SR and WL is both causal and metaphorical. Causal for the reasons that have been stated endlessly: increased presence in workforce means women aren't as dependent on husbands and can therefore put off obtaining one/ explore other sexual options.

2.) The metaphorical link will perhaps clarify why the WL and SR are two elements of the same movement. WL was about giving women the same economic and political opportunities as men. SR was about giving women the same sexual opportunities _as men_. Before the SR, consequences for female promiscuity were infinitely higher than consequences for male promiscuity. (And yes there was plenty of pre-SR male promiscuity - consider, for example, the grand tradition of plantation masters raping their slaves.) When WL came along saying 'hey women deserve equal treatment at work,' SR added 'you know, we also deserve equal consequences for sexual behavior!' So the SR isn't just about 'loosening sexual mores' (ugh, terrible phrase), but about women demanding the same sexual liberties that men had long enjoyed.

3.) Viewed in this light, the SR becomes a civil rights issue. You can't really claim a set of civil rights is bad on the grounds that, 50 years after rights have been recognized, 100% of the population doesn't report higher life satisfaction.

4.) SR/WL began in very recent history. They are ongoing projects and still have a lot of 'work' to do to ensure women equal standing in society. A few random pieces of 2011/12 data tell us nothing about the long-term effects of equal rights.

5.) But speaking of 2012, golly gee! If only I had a high-earning spouse, maybe he could give me the cash to go get an advanced degree. (Is there any other way to earn one?) I know my lady friends and I would just love to be lawyers and doctors and professors and engineers and pharmacologists architects and businesswomen, but we're so easy to lay that we just can't find men committed enough to front us the dough! Guess we ought to zip up our vaginas and sell them to the highest bidder if we have any hope of succeeding in the professional world.

6.) Now I too am shutting up on this whole topic. Thanks for the discussion; it has reaffirmed my commitment to remain financially independent from any man.

1:05 AM  
Blogger James said...

Sarang: I think the difficulty is actually a pretty simple one. When I say "holding other things equal," I don't mean that they must remain equal no matter what. I mean that they are not adjusted as independent variables, but only as dependent variables. Alan is free to argue that women's job opportunities changed as a result of the sexual revolution (this is why I brought up sex workers). If he can show that the sexual revolution opened up non-sex-worker jobs to women, then great. I don't think anything compels the "bundling" of phenomena such as women's liberation and the sexual revolution for modeling purposes. One might impose constraints on the models for the sake of realism, but I don't see what that would mean in this case.

Steph: In practice we have very little evidence either way - self-reported happiness is inherently unreliable, but it is at least worrying. I think the right thing to do is to take the issue seriously, and at the moment it is the conservatives who are doing that. I don't think liberals should disengage, but I also don't think they should be so cavalier about the consequences of the sexual revolution. Leave that to the libertarians...

2:40 AM  
Blogger Steph said...

Right, your response suggests that you did not read a word of my comment. But why should you bother? I'm just a woman, after all.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Sarang said...

"I don't think anything compels the "bundling" of phenomena such as women's liberation and the sexual revolution for modeling purposes."

Well, but this is exactly the entire point! As everyone in this argument has been pointing out, a model (I would say the default model) of the SR is one in which WL removes a workplace constraint on women that had been keeping singleness artificially low (and artificially inflating demand for husbands), thus leading to the SR. No jobs, no SR. The further effects are the system equilibrating to the new, lower levels of demand. On this picture, the story you want to tell -- "supply of husbands decreased b'se of SR and therefore SR was bad for women" -- is missing the crucial demand-shock element. What your corn post implies is something like, "women's lib decreased demand for husbands and the SR decreased supply of husbands; these are separate phenomena." However, on the default worldview this is an absurd thing to say, because _the entire story_ is about the system adjusting to a decrease in demand for husbands. And the ultimate effect of a collapse in demand for husbands is unlikely to be an increase in the price of husbands rel. to baseline.

Now you are free to disagree with this admittedly oversimplified model (I offer it mostly for purposes of contrast). But to the extent that it is plausible, separating the SR from women's lib doesn't make sense.

(And of course I agree w/ Steph's civil rights point -- I am not really that invested in defending the SR on utility grounds, as these are ultimately irrelevant.)

11:50 AM  
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