who rules the world?

Decades ago Judith Butler wrote about a concept called ‘gender performance’. This means that gender does not pre-exist the person, gender is a result of a set of behaviors. Nowadays the construction of gender has become a controversial topic. Especially in the light of awareness of transgenderism, there are debates about the differences between assigned sex and gender. Some believe these are the same, others believe that these are two separate concepts. Then the question arises whether gender is the result of socialization or genetics – or both. Though, one thing is clear, your gender influences your experience.

Throughout history men have generally been part of the dominant group in society. And on top of that, if we look at specific histories such as the U.S., we see that it also helps to be of a certain skin color and to be part of a higher social class. For instance, before the nineteenth century, voting was restricted to white men of age whom owned property. Therefore, gender alone does not predispose a person’s advantage, there are other intersectional factors. However, for now I will simplify matters by solely looking at gender.

who rules?
Connell has developed a theory over the years, which is now referred to as ‘hegemonic masculinity’. Merriam-Webster defines a hegemony as “the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group“. According to Connell’s theory, a specific kind of masculinity is considered to be ideal. This type of masculinity dismisses any alternative forms of masculinity or femininity. Sexual prowess, physical strength, and stoicism are all considered to be ideal performances of masculinity. If one were to divert from these ideals, then a person would be performing an alternative masculinity.

Furthermore, there is pressure from others in the dominant group of hegemonic masculinity to strive to fit the ideals. This leads to the exclusion of gay peers or the sexual objectification of women. Because the standard is considered to be heteronormativity, this norm predicates that romantic and/or sexual relationships take place between a man and a woman. Moreover, let’s go back to intersectionality for a second. Hegemonic masculinity does not only exclude ‘deviating’ sexual orientations, but also other identity characteristics. Researchers posit that hegemonic masculinity is restricted to “white, heterosexual, upper and middle-class men”.

times are a-changing?
Other researchers now suggest that masculinity is changing. The pressures of performing behavioral ideals related to hegemonic masculinity is decreasing. Masculinity performances are becoming more inclusive, therefore researchers are proposing new theories, such as inclusive masculinity theory or other hybrid masculinity theories. These types of masculinities have no problems having gay peers in their group of friends and tend to be more emotionally open. Furthermore, tactility is accepted among these men, which means that affectionate acts such as hugging are encouraged.

According to the same researchers, this inclusive masculinity performance is likely possible due to a decrease in homohysteria. Homohysteria is the apprehension of being perceived as gay. A lack of such a hysteria paves the way for masculinities that are not in line with hegemonic masculinity ideals. Therefore, feminine behaviors by men will be less likely to be denounced. Because hegemonic masculinity creates clear lines between masculinity and femininity, ‘feminine’ behaviors such as emotional expression is discouraged. However, as alternative masculinities are more and more recognized, these binary gender lines start to blur. In this contemporary scenario, the objective of masculinity is no longer to dominate other genders. If this trend continues, it begs the question of how society will be shaped as a result. Will power relations based on gender be any different?

[transcript] philosophy behind the U.S. constitution

Today we will discuss the philosophy behind the American constitution. The American constitution didn’t come out of nowhere, it is based on the ideas the framers had about humans and human nature. Imagine you are one of the framers. It’s 1787. You’re about 25 years old and you have to write the most important legal document in American history. What would you write? How would the government be structured according to you? Would it have separate branches? Would this system include checks and balances? Are you designing a federalist system? What rights do people have in this scenario? These are all questions the framers tried to answer. A lot of concepts in the constitution seem incredibly self-evident today.

But where did the framers get their ideas from?

The most important philosopher from which the framers borrowed ideas was Locke. Locke lived from 1632 to 1704. The constitution was written and signed in 1787, long after Locke died. Thus, he never saw the constitution come to life. However, he is said to have helped write the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina in 1669.

Locke is and was a very influential philosopher that came up with wide range of ideas. He is one of the most important Enlightenment thinkers that inspired the ideology of liberalism. His ideas about natural rights, the social contract, and democracy were imperative to the creation of the American constitution. The Second Treatise of Locke’s work, which is called Two Treatises of Government was especially important to the framers. Let’s go over some of the concepts from this interesting philosophical work! I will be quoting bits and pieces from Locke’s second treatise and tie it to the American constitution.

Locke writes the following.

“Men all being naturally free, equal, and independent, no-one can be deprived of this freedom etc. and subjected to the political power of someone else, without his own consent.”

Locke starts with a premise that people are born free and that they have natural rights as a result. People possess agency over themselves. An idea that is so self-evident to us now that we almost take it for granted. Quote. “every man has a Property in his own Person”. Unquote. This means that every individual has ownership over his or her own body. The first ten amendments of the American constitution — also called the Bill of Rights  — protect people’s individual liberties and they limit the powers of the government.

However, some natural liberties disappear once people live in a civil society.

“The only way anyone can strip off his natural liberty and clothe himself in the bonds of civil society is for him to agree with other men to unite into a community, so as to live together comfortably, safely, and peaceably, in a secure enjoyment of their properties and a greater security against outsiders.”

Thus in order to make civil society possible and to protect your property, people will not be able to exercise all of their natural liberties. But this way of living ensures comfort, safety and peace for all civilians.

On property, one of the framers, Madison, said the following.

“It is sufficiently obvious, that Persons and Property, are the two great subjects on which Governments are to act: and that the rights of persons, and the rights of property are the objects for the protection of which Government was instituted. These rights cannot well be separated. The personal right to acquire property, which is a natural right, gives to property when acquired a right to protection as a social right.”

Here we can see how Madison emphasizes that property AND individual rights ought to be protected by the government, an idea that Locke wrote about a century earlier.

Locke further writes that people have to consent to be a part of this community in civil society.

“When any number of men have in this way consented to make one community or government, this immediately incorporates them, turns them into a single body politic in which the majority have a right to act on behalf of the rest and to bind them by its decisions.”

Locke upholds the idea of a democracy where the majority gets a say. Furthermore, the consent that people give implies that the government exists to serve society. This idea can be found in the very first words of the preamble of the American constitution. It starts with the famous phrase “we the people”. The constitution and the government exist for the people.

In summary what we have just learned is that government is formed through the consent of the people. The people form a political body which will uphold values such as safety and peaceful living. Men are born free and equal with natural rights. However, this does not mean that people are entirely free to do what they want to do. They have to adhere to the common laws and in return they will receive protection from the government.

There is one last quote I would like to read out to you from Locke’s Second Treatise.

“But this is only an ‘entrusted’ power to act for certain ends, so that the people retain a supreme power to remove or alter the legislature when they find it acting contrary to the trust that had been placed in it.”

Thus, the government is responsible to society. And when the government no longer serves the people, then the people get to change the government. The framers protected people from a tyrannical government by incorporating checks and balances such as holding consistent elections and through the mechanisms of federalism.

My aim of this podcast was to show you that the constitution did not come out of thin air. It is based on the philosophical works that the framers deemed as important for governing a Republic. Philosophical ideas influence how we perceive things around us and what we think the world should be like. Locke’s ideas are normal to us now – but they were definitely revolutionary during Locke’s lifetime. I hope you learned something new today. If you would like to read the transcript, please go to my website at socialscienceblog.org. Thank you for listening.


internet bad

The emergence of the internet has paved new ways for people to communicate. As a millennial, I spent half of my early teens in chat rooms and on messaging platforms such as the late MSN. I chatted both with strangers and my in-real-life friends. Growing up with this technology, I was not fazed by it one bit. I completely embraced this lifestyle. I would come home from school, excited, to talk to my school friends, but online. There was something mystical about talking to people I know, behind a screen far away from them. And it provided to the opportunity to easily talk to people I was intimidated by — such as my crushes. After MSN became unpopular, I moved to online forums, perusing through messaging boards that discussed my niche interests. And in turn, these niche interests I would not have found without the internet. Quickly, the internet started to heavily influence the formation of my identity.

I found hobbies and interests I would have never known. They started to define me. Social media revved up my impression management skills. In everyday life we also use impression management, we try to show a side of ourselves that lines up with the situation we’re in. This means that when you’re in a job interview, you might try to impress the interviewer by demonstrating your competency. Or when you’re with friends you will behave in ways that will make them positively reinforce you. If you consider your friends to be smart, you might do your best to show your intellectual side in their presence. Social media is riddled with these kinds of impression management strategies. For instance, on Instagram or Facebook there is an incentive to showcase positive life events. This often gives a skewed vision of what individual’s lives are truly like. I would be lying if I said that I have not felt the pressure to participate in this.That is why I have decided to delete all of my social media.

However, I once welcomed such media with open arms. It especially agitated me when people from older cohorts – the non-digital natives – criticized my internet. How dare they speak ill of the greatest technological invention?! While I still might not agree with all negative views regarding social media or the internet, I have grown wary of it. Events such as Cambridge Analytica and studies linking social media to depression have changed my opinion.  I once opposed the opinions of scholars such as Sherry Turkle, that too much screen time might be detrimental to our offline communication skills. But I am starting to see where they are coming from.

I have stepped away from my alliance to technological determinism, the idea that society is entirely molded by the technology it produces. Yes, since technology is such an integral part of our everyday life that it definitely influences many of our ideas and values, but it isn’t the sole maker. There a myriad of other factors at play. I no longer embrace the internet as the solution to every problem or as the form of technology that can do no wrong. Though, just as a clarification, I do not consider the internet as a stand alone creature that we are submitted to. I look at the environment that it provides to us humans, that are slightly different from ‘real life’ situations. For instance, the anonymity of certain online spaces provide a place for people to voice their insulting opinions.

But, no, I do not belong in camp “internet bad”. I would like to say that my opinion of this technology has become more nuanced over time. Maybe my adherence to the idea that the internet is invincible had to do with my ache for rebellion in my teens. I am not sure. But I have retracted that idea. I don’t think we should completely disregard the internet either. Personally, it has helped me tremendously. It is a source of communication, entertainment, information, and support. But it isn’t everything.


my relationship with science


Part 1: pre-university

In my teens I was an avid reader of popular science books. Topics such as evolution, psychology, or philosophy were fascinating to me. I thought they were so great that I considered the books to preach absolute truth. I has no idea how research was actually conducted, and I was clueless about what the academic world looked like. I assumed that if a study was carried out, the results were automatically true. It reflected reality perfectly, it was an absolute accurate representation of the real world. I spent hours online reading about all my favorite scientific topics. I could not wait to go to university.

Part 2: university, bachelor’s

But university completely shattered the picture-perfect image I had of science. I was suddenly confronted with terms as validity and reliability. Research was subject to quality. Research was messy. Sometimes people lied and manipulated their data. Sometimes there were flaws in people’s research designs. And sometimes certain results were just not replicable. We were taught to scrutinize every detail of articles published in scholarly journals. We were also encouraged to think about where knowledge comes from and what science is. Epistemology and philosophy of science. My world was turned upside down. The way we practice science is so flawed. But! They preached statistics to us. Statistics saved science. Numbers are truth. I had faith in science again. As long as the p-values were low enough, we were going to be alright.

Part 3: university, master’s

But then I wandered into a different realm of science. One without numbers. Everything became relative. There was not one reality. No absolute truths. I was stuck in a postmodern mess. Suddenly I was paying attention to the world around me, everything was … constructed. Nothing was real anymore. Everyone lives in a different reality. Because there were no hard truths, I found myself arguing for both sides of each issue. Sometimes there were a million different sides to a story. I realized that everything was made up of structures. Structures that reproduce themselves and at times seem so arbitrary and messy. What does any of it mean? What is its significance? I was lost. Nothing made sense … but at the same time, everything did.

Part 4: philosophy

I needed answers, so I frantically started to go through the history of all philosophical ideas. I was baffled. I found that I could relate to old men who lived before Christ was born. They also struggled with the construction of reality and the fallacies of the mind. But back to practicing science. How can we say anything about the world, using science, when we cannot observe reality? I found solace in intersubjectivity. Science is a system, with rules. And if we abide these rules, we might be able to say something about the world around us.

I no longer worship science. But I am still eager to learn new things and to understand everything around me – to my best ability in this context and in this zeitgeist!