Grinding The Faces Of The Poor

It is perfectly true that most of the world’s income is earned, and most of its assets held, by men. The logical fallacy known as “post hoc ergo propter hoc” is then deployed to suggest that this is why some people are rich and others poor; if women owned most of the wealth, why, of course they would share it out equally! Such altruistic behaviour may surely be witnessed every day in the chic shopping streets of our major cities…

It will be objected that these women are spending their own, or their rich husbands’ money on improbable quantities of clothes and on endless beautification only because that is the way they are obliged to survive; if they don’t, they will surely be replaced by a younger, prettier model, or never noticed in the first place. This is a cogent point, but if female extravagance is explained situationally rather than dispositionally, as a rational response to a woeful predicament rather than as an expression of innate vice, the same model ought in simple justice to be employed for male economic behaviour as well.

What, then, is the equivalent approach to male acquisition and extravagance; what might the woeful predicament of men be, that rationally mandates their amassing the wealth of the world? Why, the need to gain the favour of women. To many of the charges brought against men by the feminists, we should plead guilty but with the extenuating factor that we are not, after all, Unmoved Movers; we are only responding rationally to the female-created incentive structure we face.

The fundamental problem of male behaviour may be the collective female refusal of responsibility for the male response to the incentives offered. It is extraordinary how women can sniff loftily at men’s “greed” and “materialism” and “competition” and “violence” without making some reference to the object and prize of such competition and violence, or to the prime good that men hope to achieve by being materialistic and greedy. For every woman who fed the poor and hungry there have been a hundred wives demanding gowns and jewellery and not being fussy what their husbands had to do to satisfy their shopping list. Most of the evil that men do, they do for a woman – either in the sense of pleasing a particular woman, or in order to obtain a new one.

If a man is obliged to grind the faces of the poor in order to achieve a financial status that allows access to women, then the women share the ethical liability; whenever women fail to enquire where the money comes from, but on the contrary scornfully dismiss such losers as have not yet sufficiently ground the faces of the poor, they are setting up an incentive structure. To which men have little choice but to respond.

Some women, of course, make no attempt to sell themselves for millions, but settle for a modest life with (or as) a humble wage-earner; but then again, for every such woman there is a similar sort of man who settles for a single woman in a modest home. If we permit ourselves cynically to wonder whether such a humble man would actually be a harem-keeping pasha if only he could, the same question could be asked of his humble wife, whether she would trade him in for a duke if only she could. And anyone familiar with middle-class female life knows the answer to that. On the whole, with a few honourable exceptions, both sexes parlay whatever they have in order to win whatever as they can; it is the nature of the beast, and for that matter of all beasts, to seek to maximise payoff for a given expenditure of resources.

Mere formal title to the assets of the world is not, therefore, the whole story; the next question is why those assets were acquired, how, and what use is then made of them. The progressive assumption of a natural female affinity for economic equality and fraternity does not entirely do justice to women’s obvious satisfaction with, and rewarding of, men’s laying the booty of the hunt at their feet, to convenient wifely ignorance of how husbands actually make the money that they enjoy spending, or to the extent of female charitable giving – with their own money, as opposed to the money of their husbands or the victims of their fundraising drives.

Men are said to hold title to most of the assets of the world; but firstly, the statement “men own most of the assets” is anyway tendentious and misleading; most of the assets of the world being owned by men is not at all the same thing as their being owned by all men, or even most men. The world’s wealth is in the hands of a few individuals, who are indeed mostly men, but who are generally partnered by women, as either trophies or co-conspirators. The men who own the world’s property are not sufficiently numerous to have any great effect on the balance of the sexes in the remaining group, that is, everyone else; so that it absolutely does not follow that the great bulk of the world’s poor are necessarily women. The Wretched of the Earth are of both sexes, and the women among them are not rendered poor primarily by their husbands of the same class, but by the men – and women – of the nations and classes who have rigged the game to their own advantage. Or who have not exactly rigged the game themselves, but who nevertheless benefit from the system, with greater or lesser consciousness and conscience, to enjoy a lifestyle that is by no means a product of their own labour alone. That is, thee and me.

Secondly, for every man who holds assets, there is some woman whose interest is bound up with his in the stewardship of those assets, either for herself or for her children. She is not remotely interested in the welfare of women who are not in some way partners in her endeavour to achieve long-term reproductive success by maximising the prosperity of her own offspring. The solidarity of the rich man’s wife is with other rich people; if they are collectively grinding the faces of the poor in order to maintain her in the style to which she is accustomed, then she is all for it.

The metaphysical construct of “patriarchy” would make the half-starved Bolivian tin miner a member of the oppressing classes and the rich New York socialite a member of the oppressed classes. If our ruling paradigm is “patriarchy”, then the Bolivian tin miner somehow becomes part of the system that so oppresses Western women; but if our ruling paradigm is “capitalism”, then Western women are part of the system that so oppresses the Bolivian miner. Now, the second approach is not in the interest of Western women. Funnily enough, it is the first approach, in the interests of rich Western women, that now dominates what passes for our intellectual life.

What the half-starved Bolivian tin miner thinks of being considered an oppressor of women who are wealthy beyond his wildest dreams is not for me to say.

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