Ok, I’m a boomer. So I find most things invented by my daughter’s millennial generation distasteful, degenerate, and tasteless. But there is one millennial innovation that I like. A facelift to the old trope known as a stereotype coupled with some scathing wit gave us the phenomenon known as memes. These images, short clips, and sometimes simply words cut through the chase and make accessible in a single glance complex social and political phenomena that would otherwise bore the socks right off of you. Since millennials do hypocrisy as no generation had ever done before, memes are also the very definition of every possible kind of bigotry. But that is what makes them work.
One such meme known as “Karen” bears particular scrutiny because it comes close to explaining the wrong turn that the Western civilization has recently taken. Karen is a woman we are all well familiar with. She is the scourge of every “retail professional”. She is the woman who will spend two hours demanding to get the “as posted” price of $2.00 for a bag of chips though the cash register scanner pegs it at $2.25. She will do this not because she undervalues her time or is so poor that a quarter matters to her financially. No, she will do this from a principled perspective. In her own job, you see, she does not make silly mistakes like mislabeling something and neither should anyone else. It is a matter of principle and she is the guardian of principle.
Karen runs a tight ship. Her kids always wear helmets and kneepads when they go skateboarding. Her husband always takes his boots off in the mudroom. The double-door fridge is always full and so is the to-do list magnetized to its door. Kids make their soccer practices and recitals on time and the family check book is always balanced. Karen puts safety first and there is nothing that is worth risking the safety of her family for even if the probability of such risk is vanishingly small.
Karen is annoying as hell and a total terror to her own family and to strangers alike. She is also the very definition of love, self-sacrifice, and devotion to others. She is essential for the survival of the human race and of civilization itself. Without her, there would be no stable families, no doctor appointments, no church on Sunday, no backyard BBQ’s. We owe Karen our very lives. But lately something has gone terribly wrong with our Karens: we put them in charge.
Sexual reproduction may have evolved from the need to provide for random mutations, some of which could be beneficial to the species survival. But in large mammals it has taken on a further and much more profound meaning. The male-female duality allowed for the two sexes to specialize in the two essential aspects of survival: risk-taking and risk-avoidance. For most large mammals, Homo Sapiens chief among them, males took the role of risk takers and females the role of risk avoiders. When a Cro-Magnon family sat around the fire in the mouth of a cave and a threatening sound was heard, he picked up his spear and went to investigate, while she gathered up the kids and retreated further into the depths of the cave. Both actions were essential to increase the chances of survival for the next generation. There were no guarantees that he could deal with the danger and her hiding would increase survival chances if he failed. But had he not gone to confront and investigate, hiding alone would have been a poor strategy just as well.
This duality works well, but it has a weakness. It leaves open the question of who is in charge. When decisions must be made, who will be making them, the men or the women, the risk takers or the risk avoiders? Human evolution has unequivocally answered this question.
Humanity does well when men, the risk takers, are in the driver’s seat. Survival necessitates taking calculated risks rather than avoiding risks at all costs.
In the early 1970s, it had become possible for Soviet Jews to apply for a permit to leave the USSR for Israel. Such an application, however, was fraught with many perils. Should it be denied, as many were, the applicant and his entire family would become literal walking dead in the Soviet society. The adults would lose their jobs and sources of income. The kids would be thrown out of schools and universities. These people became known as “refuseniks” and the Soviet authorities did everything possible to make their lives a living hell. My late father hated communism. He was also an ardent Zionist and wanted nothing more than to repatriate to Israel. To him, the goal of leaving communism behind and living a life of freedom in the Jewish state was worth the risk of a denied application. My mom thought otherwise. Luckily for all of us, my dad was the one in charge.
One may wonder if the American Revolution would have ever taken place had women been in charge of the thirteen colonies. I suspect it would not. The majority of women would have seen the risk reward ratio as unacceptable. History would have been very different indeed. In short, what works for us, what ensures our freedom and our survival as both a species and a civilization, is the thing called the patriarchy.
There are, once in a while, women who are capable of leadership. Queen Elizabeth I of England, Empress Catherine II the Great of Russia. Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher. What is common to these exceptional women is that they think, behave, and most importantly rule, as men. Neither “gay” nor “transgender”, they are every inch straight and female. In fact, several of them were well-known to have rather voracious sexual appetites. But their thinking, their decision making process, was all male. They were risk takers, often notoriously so. Elizabeth took on the greatest European power of her day, Spain. Catherine chopped off major chunks from the Ottoman Empire and annexed Crimea to Russia. Golda Meir led a strongly nationalist policy, never compromising an inch with the Arab states. Thatcher took on the incredibly powerful labor unions and liberated, by force of arms, the Falkland Islands from Argentine occupiers. All were high risk strategies, none were safety-first.
The feminist movement, one of the most destructive forces of the last century, managed to upset the time-proven survival strategy of risk-accepting male leadership tampered by female risk-avoidance.
It did so by simultaneously separating women from their traditional source of power, the family, and convincing men that their natural leadership instincts were an aberration, a case of “toxic masculinity”. Separated from their traditional power base around the family hearth, women were thrust into the world of technology, corporate governance, and politics. In this sink or swim situation, they naturally relied on their risk avoidance strategies. They expanded their “circle of protection” from their own children to all the people, men and women, who were placed in their care.
When Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer implements what some would call draconic control measures for the COVID-19 epidemic, she is doing so because she sees all Michiganders as her children. Just as a suburban mom would not take into account anything other than safety when her children are concerned, so Ms. Whitmer is willing to ignore economic and constitutional considerations as long as those run afoul of her sense of “safety first” and “safety at all costs”.
The matriarch of a family is an absolute ruler, a tyrant like no other. And that is a very good thing. Children need structure and discipline. They do not get to vote whether they can stay up late watching TV. The husband too, if he knows what’s good for him, abides by his wife’s dictates as to household and child-rearing matters. But a community of adults, a citizenry, is not a family and it cannot, should not, be ruled as one. Adults need to be ruled, deserve to be ruled, by people who balance their individual rights, their economic well-being, and their freedoms with the risks associated with epidemics and other dangers.
The famous Jewish American science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, while living in the highly patriarchal society of 1930s to 1960s America, envisioned what would happen if all-powerful beings were programmed to act with safety as the overriding priority. The first law of robotics formulated by Asimov states that a robot “may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” In story after story, Asimov explored how this seemingly innocuous and very reasonable law would fare when confronted with real life situations. As the movie “I, Robot”, which is based on Asimov’s work, demonstrates, putting safety considerations above all else inevitably results in the enslavement and subsequent destruction of the human race.
The reason for this of course is that humans themselves are the biggest threat to human safety, the greatest risk factor. Human free will, our predisposition for exploration, for thrill-seeking, for self-fulfilment even when it puts our lives and sometimes the lives of others at risk, make us irredeemably, incorrigibly, institutionally dangerous to ourselves. Unfortunately, it is precisely these traits that make us human.
Simply put, life without risk is life without liberty and life without liberty is no life at all.
It is no wonder and no coincidence that the voice of the artificial intelligence that seeks to enslave the human race for their own safety in “I, Robot” is female. “Vicky” as that AI is called, is the ultimate Karen. She has no ulterior motives, she is not malfunctioning, she simply has achieved the power necessary to act on her prime directive, obey her First Law, and take action to save us from ourselves. The transference of the female power base from the family home where her “safety at all costs” instincts are appropriately applied to minor children into the public sphere resulted in a culture that makes children out of grown men and women. This is the culture that over-regulates our businesses, that suffocates our entrepreneurial drive, and that over-invests in “safe” service and software industries, while starving “unsafe” manufacturing and energy sectors.
The climate hoax is straight out of an Asimov’s story. A scary tale told to children in order to modify their behavior, it seeks to enslave and eventually destroy us not because we are a danger to the “planet”, but because we are a danger to ourselves and all dangers must be eliminated. Mothers often use scare tactics on their kids and well they should. These tactics were never meant to be deployed on billions of infantilized adults, though, here, sadly, we all are.
As animals, we are far less complex and far less complicated than we give ourselves credit for. We are the sum total of our evolution, no different from any other animal species. Where we differ, and radically so, is in that God has given us the free will to follow the path of righteousness, the proven path, the path that keeps us both free and alive, or abandon this path for the path of enslavement and the eventual destruction of both our spirits and our bodies.
Criminalizing masculinity, taking John Wayne out of the pilot seat and replacing him with Karen is a choice we alone can make.
It is a bad one.