The Objectivity Fetish

Interesting piece in the Grauniad today by Karen O’Donnell (a student of Prof Francesca), particularly interesting for the (male) responses in the comment thread.

At the outset, I should say I’ve no idea why it is cast as a response to (the media myths of) the Jeremy Hunt debacle, other than the Grauniad audience-attention-grabbing motive, because it obscures an important gender issue. Pity. However, that said, the point is worth making.

One of my agenda threads is “Vive La Difference” – not to deny important gender differences, differences that mean the female view has advantages that we would lose from the meme pool.

The problem here is casting the difference as “emotion” vs “objectivity” – let’s face it, an argument as old as philosophy itself. But, continuing with that language for a moment, even emotion is a valuable part of academic, research and/or (any) discourse – scientific or theological – it takes thinking to places it might not otherwise reach. In the investigative, hypothesis-seeking, exploratory, creative process passion is a powerful force. And it’s an engaging and motivating force as Karen says. Sadly as well as the gender agenda, some of the commenters have the science vs religion agenda in mind too – missing the point of Francesca’s school of theology. As one of the commenters points out arguments involving passion are every bit as important in the history of science as anywhere else.

Obviously, documenting an “argument” in support of a testable proposition – in whatever academic field – will typically require objectification of the story and, since that may include topics whose subject matter includes human psychology, objectification of the subjective content too. But this is the point where contrasting the passion with the objectivity misses the real gender point.

The point is really about how narrow and broad thinking are joined together in the human mind.

I’d recommend Iain McGilchrist’s Master and Emissary. After Nietzsche’s phrase, he is pointing out that narrow objectivity, and the logical rationale that manipulates such well-defined objects, is the emissary, the servant of our wider senses. Something Einstein understood. The constant focus on objectivity – a fetish I consider it – shuts out half of our brains. In women the halves appear to remain better connected. [Lots of left-right brain myths and men vs women myths – male inability to walk, talk and hold two thoughts at the same time, etc – arise from these differences. The myth is that these are due to differences between the halves of the brain, whereas reality is more to do with how the two halves communicate with each other permissively.]

Speaking archetypically, women are – fortunately – more in touch with their wider senses than men are. A quality we’d do to cherish. If that broader range of sense and emotion, the passions, also have motivation and engagement benefits, we’d do well to cherish those too.

See here for Master and Emissary.

See here for Vive La Difference.

See here for Left-Right Brain Myths.

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