Patriarchy, traffic jams and complex systems

Before we get into the very complicated and messy topic of “patriarchy”, I’d like to share with you three fun facts about traffic jams.

1. Traffic jams are real

Some people say traffic jams are not real. The only real things are the individual cars on the road. Sure, sometimes all of the cars in a particular area slow down. There may even be common characteristics that these slow-moving groups of cars share. People might see these car clumps, and be able to identify them and label them as a “traffic jam”. But all of that is just an illusion: a label we have created. In reality, there are no “traffic jams”: there are only cars.

It’s a nifty philosophical game, but it runs counter to what most people mean when they talk about something being “real”. Traffic jams have causal influence in the world: they can make you angry, for example, and they can make you late. Physicists and mathematicians can study and create models of how traffic jams behave. They have just as much impact and measurable presence as any other object.

When people say traffic jams aren’t real, they are generally reacting to the fact that traffic jams are made up of unconnected physical parts that are not coordinated by a large-scale purpose or intention. Traffic jams are what scientists call an emergent phenomenon: a collective thing that arises as a result of the interaction of a large number of parts. But there are many things in the world that work this way. A wave of water is just a collection of individual water molecules obeying the laws of thermodynamics. Sticks and stones are just collections of individual molecules held together by molecular bonds. You could say that these things aren’t real, if you want to. Indeed, there are philosophers who have argued that nothing is truly “real” except for individual atoms and the laws that govern them.

That’s fine. There is no point to clinging to the label if you don’t like it. Let us settle, then, on saying that traffic jams are as real as sticks and stones. Whether you use the word “real” or not, the term “traffic jam” refers to something that has measurable  causes and effects in the world, and is therefore worth understanding.

2.Traffic jams do things that cars don’t

Traffic jams move backward even though no individual car in the traffic jam moves backward. This is common with emergent phenomena. Water is wet, even though no individual molecule of H2O is wet. A flood of water can kill you, even though no individual drop of water will be at fault. The normal and obvious rules of cause and effect don’t apply. Instead, there can be massive effects that appear out of nowhere, because they are the result of interactions among a broad network of wide-spread and subtle causes. In this way, emergent systems are connected to chaos theory and complexity theory. They are difficult to predict and, in the case of traffic jams, they are difficult to avoid or fix.

Our normal human instinct when we see a traffic jam is to look for a single, identifiable root cause: an accident, a construction site, or a particular bad driver that is causing the whole thing. But traffic jams often occur for no apparent reason, as the result of the collective actions of all of the drivers, even when no cars are doing anything particularly wrong. You don’t have to have a “bad guy” for a traffic jam to happen.

3. You can help prevent traffic jams

The fact that there isn’t always a single “cause” or “bad guy” behind a traffic jam doesn’t mean it is inevitable, or that it is “nobody’s fault”. A traffic jam is more than just people slowing down to be cautious when there are too many cars on the road. Even on a densely packed highway it is possible for everyone to drive cautiously and well at consistent speeds: they just don’t do it because people are not perfect drivers, and they make dumb mistakes.

This past weekend, Gizmodo published an article called “Your bad driving is the reason traffic jams exist.” The article is making the case for autonomous self-driving vehicles, because vehicles like that can be programmed to drive in a way that research shows will reduce or eliminate traffic jams: they will keep a large enough buffer space between cars, they will not frantically change lanes back and forth trying to find the “perfect” lane to be in, they will not cut each other off and try to fill up every single inch of space. In short, they will not partake in the tiny “bad habits” that frustrated drivers partake in that always make traffic jams worse.

The article even makes the fascinating point that most people who engage in the minute “bad habits” that contribute to traffic jams are completely unaware that they are part of the problem. They think they are good drivers. In fact, often times the people who cut others off and pack in very close to the cars in front of them believe they are doing the right thing, even though their behavior is contributing to making the traffic jam worse for everyone.

But the article is wrong when it takes the nihilistic stance that humans aren’t trainable. People can be conscious and self-aware, and we can educate people about what they need to change about their driving habits in traffic jams so that the traffic jams will go away. It might be difficult, and it might take a long time: but in the end human beings can be educated. That is how we ended up being civilized animals in the first place.



What lessons about patriarchy can we take away from all of this talk of traffic jams?

First, getting into arguments about whether patriarchy “really exists” is fruitless. If you don’t like the label “patriarchy”, fine: let’s drop the label.  But we still live in a world where women make up slightly more than 50% of the population and hold 20% of the seats in the United States congress. (To take just one simple example of a gender disparity.) That is something that can be studied, and should be understood. That is something that, if we think it is undesirable (like a traffic jam), we can look into figuring out solutions for.

Second, we can’t over-simplify our understanding of the cause. It’s wrong to assume that there is some kind of overwhelming, overarching malevolent force at work. Just as there are traffic jams without “accidents” and without individual or group of individuals maliciously thinking “oooh, I’m going to cause slow traffic today!”, we can see gender-based imbalances in the world even without anybody sitting in his seat in power thinking, “Keep the bitches out!”

Thirdly, the fact that people are acting freely doesn’t mean the outcome is a straight-forward expression of what people want. This is something I see often in conversations about patriarchy, for example: “More women could go into politics if they wanted to, so the fact that only 20% of the seats in Congress are women just shows that women don’t want to be in politics as much as men!” This kind of argument is like saying, “Everyone on the road could just drive 10 miles-per-hour faster if they wanted to, so the fact that they are in start-and-stop traffic means they want to be!” In complex systems, everybody is constrained by everyone else in complex ways, even though every individual agent is acting “freely” in the context of the system they are in.

Finally, the fact that there is no identifiable person or thing “behind” gender disparity in outcomes does not mean that it’s inevitable or natural or “nobody’s fault”. All of the people in the traffic jam can make small adjustments to their driving, all of which can contribute to making the traffic jam go away faster. We can train people to not follow as closely in dense traffic, and get people to stop being so overly-eager that they cut into every tiny little space or change lanes every two minutes. It will be difficult, because the results will only start being felt by everyone when enough people start driving “correctly” in heavy traffic. But that doesn’t mean traffic jams are a problem that are impossible to fix.

Finally, here’s the real kicker: You, yourself, can take steps to drive better in heavy traffic jams, without feeling like you are admitting to some kind of wrongdoing. I see many people, both men and women, who constantly point fingers at others and say, “I’m not sexist, I’m doing everything I should, if there are gender disparities in the world then it is you who needs to change!” That isn’t helpful, and usually it isn’t accurate either. We all need to simply drive better, not yell at other drivers, if we want traffic jams to go away.

A traffic jam


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  1. Jens says:

    Hi Greg,

    I like the analogy of cars and traffic jam – where a single car or driver cannot explain the existence of traffic jams – yet they exist.

    When it comes to patriarchy, for me things are a bit different. It seems to be an invisible force field – like gravity, but its impossible to properly grasp or define it. For gravity I can take a stone and let it drop on earth and in space and observe a difference. Patriarchy seems to be everywhere and I have yet to find an occurrence that is exempt from patriarchy.

    So if it is everywhere and impossible to avoid what does it explain. Feels like living on earth complaining about gravity with the inability to reach space.

    For traffic jams I have yet to see affirmative actions for Ford car quotas to combat them. Or a gender quota.

    Traffic management system seem to be successful at reducing the occurrence and duration of traffic jams. But they manage every car driver and rely on people to adhere on the traffic limits imposed. Sometimes there are special rules for trucks versus cars – this might be due their response time – acceleration and deceleration.

    I am not sure if there is a translation into genders. Maybe forced paternity and maternity leave could help.

    Next question would be schooling. My sister went to a all female school. 70% of the girls went to study in STEM. Later the school became a mixed school and the percentage dropped down to 30% amongst the female pupils. My sister was derived from boys during school time for a higher interest in STEM.

    Unable to properly grasp the concept of Patriarchy it seems to me to be some kind of Aether theory in early physics.

    In the end you talk about “better driving” to combat traffic jams or gender inequality. I think there are a lot of assumptions in there.

    For traffic jams you assume that the individual driver can influence the appearance, duration or dissolving of traffic jams. Can he communicate with other drivers or is there some kind of swarm intelligence? I know about a recommendation to avoid fast acceleration or sudden deceleration in a traffic jam – thus focusing on a slow and steady velocity. Avoiding to change lances, …
    If every driver in there was aware of those rules the next question is if they share the same set of values. E.g. if they all are interested that this traffic jam is dissolved for all. It could happen that 2 or 3 are just interested in their own advancement. Thus accelerate as fast as they can, change lanes whenever there is a gap ahead, …

    Same goes for the translation to gender inequalities. You talk about better drivers which in return would be better civilians. But you know that better or worse only exist on a number ray. But in life we have multiple values, we we need find the distance toward those values to determine a better or worse, which only makes sense if people did share the same values in the first place. A conservative couple where the man earns the house income with a single job could have little interest in a gender equality discussion, it does not affect them.

    Later the question is if the metrics used are complete. How do you factor work place death, injury, life time expectancy, life time earning into a proper calculation?

    Is a gender pay gap of -20% worth +5 years life time? Or do you want +5 years and +/-0 gender pay gap? Would this be fair towards male workers that get +/-0% wage gape, but -5 years life expectancy?

    Can a complex system be represented by a 23% wage gap? Its like saying the human body has a pH of 7.3 – while knowing that it neither represents the stomach or blood or anything, but its a number.

  2. StephenMeansMe says:

    Interesting article! I think this is a good idea to compare patriarchy (whatever one means by “patriarchy”) to, since nearly everyone has been in a traffic jam and everyone has probably seen one. But there are interesting (and suggestive?) features of the *problem* of traffic jams:

    I think to a first approximation traffic jams are the result of one or more of (vehicles per road segment), (human drivers per vehicle), and (vehicle trips per human). Hard to jam on an empty road; hard to jam a single bus or (futuristically) an all-robocar fleet; hard to jam when not many people need to travel.

    We can change these factors by universal education as you suggest, or robocars as Gizmodo suggests, but I’m skeptical of either approach. With traffic there are also solutions related to changing the road itself; increasing mass-transit access; and developing urban areas so that people don’t need to drive personal vehicles everywhere just to go about their daily lives.

    I’m not sure what the analogy would be with social disparities in gender, but it probably illustrates how thorny the overall problem is.

    • Greg Stevens says:

      “I think to a first approximation traffic jams are the result of one or more of (vehicles per road segment), (human drivers per vehicle), and (vehicle trips per human).”

      There is a lot of research, going back decades, about traffic jams. If you’re interested in this kind of theorizing, I highly recommend you check it out — it’s fascinating!

      Although the factors that you describe can be contributing factors to traffic jams, some of the most interesting cases (as well as being common) are those where there is no clear reason why. You can have two roads with equal vehicle density, one of which is jammed and the other of which is flowing at a moderate but consistent rate… the difference has to do with the spacing and habits of the individual drivers.

      So, to that point: we definitely can reduce traffic jams, and eliminate some KINDS of traffic jams, simply by training people to be better drivers.

      Maybe that’s an interesting aspect to the analogy as well: it’s probably ridiculous and poorly-considered to think that EVERY way in which women have a disadvantage relative to men can be eliminated simply by changing people’s behaviors. Some things would require more radical changes in the way the world works that are quite separate from human behavior. Then the important question becomes: is this disadvantage really something that must be “fixed”, and what would be the cost/negative consequence of trying to do so.

  3. Renato Vieira says:

    honest question. Is there a consensus on what exactly is “patriarchy”? I’m pretty sure you can explain what is a traffic jam, but can you explain patriarchy? I mean its a system that is oppressive to women and benefits men, but somehow bad things that happen to men (more dangerous jobs, higher suicide rate, financial responsibilities towards household) are also blamed on patriarchy. Is it bad for women and good for men, the opposite or none of those? it really sounds like a conspiracy theory where all the evidence against it will be seen as proof of it.

    • Greg Stevens says:

      Thanks for your comment, Renato!

      And I think that the way some people use the term “patriarchy” absolutely falls in line with conspiracy theory, or a kind of catch-all for “thing to blame when I don’t like stuff”. This isn’t uncommon for politically-charged issues, though. It’s worth pointing out that there are also people who use words like “political correctness”, “racism”, “homophobia”, or “liberalism” in a similar way: it’s just the label to slap only just about anything that they find distasteful that they want to discredit.

      I don’t think most serious thinkers use the word “patriarchy” that way… it’s an unfortunate side-effect of the way the word gets bandied about in popular culture.

      Now, is there a concrete clear consensus on what the definition is? Probably not any more than there is a concrete, agreed-upon consensus on what people mean when they say “culture” or “god”, I suppose. That’s why one of the very first things I do in ANY one-on-one discussion I have with people is to ask: “Well, what do YOU mean by patriarchy?” (or “god” or “culture” etc), so that we can know that we are actually debating the same thing.

      When I use the term “patriarchy” myself, what I do is try to come up with an understanding of the term that makes sense to me. In some ways it’s what I call the “intelligent devil’s advocate position”: I try to imagine the most coherent, most thoughtful, most intelligent interpretation of the term that I can. For me, that puts me squarely in the camp of what I hint at in this article: Patriarchy, if it exists, is a complex and subtle system of historical cultural influences that interact with biological differences between men and women to amplify and reinforce certain gender disparities.

      Based on this understanding (which I’m not claiming is a “mainstream” understanding, just the one that makes the most sense to me), I don’t judge “patriarchy” as globally or inherently “evil” or whatever… it’s something that we can examine, and on a case-by-case basis we can ask the question: Is this outcome something that we think is helpful or harmful to society as a whole, and if it is harmful is there anything we can do about it?

      I hope that makes sense… I know I’m not being very “definitive” in the way I’m answering, but that’s partly because I don’t think an absolutely concrete definition is required to take on an intelligent debate. As with things like “God” and “morality”, we (human society) can and do have very fruitful and interesting discussions about this issue without ever really having a single, global definition to work from.

      • Renato Vieira says:

        Personally I think the whole idea of patriarchy to be a harmful hyperbole. Everyone can see and agrees that there are some advantages on being a man, we could call that patriarchal aspects of society, on the other hand everyone can see and agrees that there are advantages on being a woman, we could call that matriarchal aspects of society. It is possible to identify, catalog and compare those, and it can lead to real change. lets not use this word that has already been abused, which has no other use than to raise tensions. If there is something there lets not use a word that already has too much baggage and so much animosity to describe it. Even if you define a word as carefully and thoughtfully as possible you still will have many (if not most) people using their prior definitions, I honestly don’t think it will change nothing to create a better definition for the word, just let it die in the hands of those who misuse it and create a new one to represent this emergent phenomenon that you are looking into.
        Best wishes.

        • Greg Stevens says:

          I think it would be nice if there were more solid quantitative theory and hypothesis testing in critical theory, making it more like research in the physical sciences. Right now, with critical theory being based primarily on narrative explanations, it is always open to the criticism of being a “just so story” that sounds good but is just “made-up”. An actual basis in quantitative prediction and evidence would be a way to help raise things like the patriarchy hypothesis out of that morass.

          • Renato Vieira says:

            two possible areas of research are the economics, who buys what and how much they spend, you could compare the average male and female income and spending, and come with stats for demographics, as most companies do to improve their sales, and the criminal system, you can get gendered stats for most crimes and even recognize biases in the system on a more case by case comparison. The question is why we see so much theory and so little actual factual research on those topics, my take is that the theories won’t survive the light of facts.

          • Greg Stevens says:

            Your “take” is interesting.

            Of course, without facts to back it up, it’s just a theory. 😉

            What is the hypothesis you would be testing by collecting the data that you are describing in your comment? Is there a particular prediction made by patriarchy theory that you think gendered stats on crimes would be able to either confirm or disconfirm?

          • Renato Vieira says:

            odd, cant reply to your last comment,
            Its is my take exactly because there is no evidence, and the fact is that the burden of proof is not on me to disprove their theories, but theirs to prove. So either they prove it right or they prove it wrong and fix the theories, it is their jobs to provide the evidence, not ours. When you have a whole course on gender studies one would expect some sort of empirical data to back its existence. These people have a lot of funding. There’s many assumptions of patriarchy that I think can be proven or disproven by statistical analysis, one for example is the wage gap, but because that theory is too vague it can slide and say it was not it meant in the first place. If we can’t even define it, how can we go about proving or disproving it? Give me a good definition or an author that you are using as your base for this phenomenon and I can tell you what tools and how could we use them, as it is it’s too vague.

          • Greg Stevens says:

            I understand. Maybe you just need to be careful to be precise about what you are claiming and asserting, then, I think.

            This statement is straight-forward, and one I completely agree with: “I see no evidence for the hypothesis that something called ‘patriarchy’ exists, and the burden of proof is on you to provide that evidence.”

            However this statement is an assertion above and beyond that, which DOES require evidence for it to be a supportable claim: “The reason we don’t see evidence coming from people who advocate patriarchy theory is that they know their views cannot be supported by facts.” This is now a hypothesis about motivation that is rooted in a claim about mental states … it opens up a whole can of worms.

            Maybe that’s not what you meant by your statement (I admit I could have been “reading in” to what you said!), but it seemed to be your implication. That’s the only reason I reacted the way that I did. 😉

        • Renato Vieira says:

          What I meant to say is that the evidence put forth for the patriarchy hypothesis is extremely lackluster.
          One has to wonder why it has not been proven or disproven since this hypothesis has existed for quite a long time now. The fact is that the longer it takes them to either prove it or disprove does not help its proponents or anyone else since many times this theory is used to inform policy changes.

  4. TMB says:

    You seem to suggest that the predominate narrative is that gender disparity is the result of the free choices of people with innate biological differences, and thus we need a more “nuanced” discussion to tease out whether that’s actually true.

    I think it’s the opposite – pretty much since the 70’s, the predominate narrative has been that gender disparity is the result of either outright discrimination or sub-conscious bias leading us to “socially construct” genders along traditional lines. This is certainly the narrative received by pretty much anyone who has been to college from the 70’s onward at least. Social construct theory is the establishment at this point. The default presumption is that gender disparity = bad,

    If there’s nuance required, it’s that we need a more nuanced view that calls into question social construct theory and gender parity and accommodates a world view which envisions perfectly desirable gender disparity existing in society.

    Indeed, it’s the more interesting question in my view…despite DECADES of efforts at social re-engineering, we still see that women and men very much present themselves differently in all aspects of life and often times, there’s great resistance and dissatisfaction by both sexes with regards to efforts to change gender roles. I’d like to see more nuanced discussions about the effect this has on people – particularly women, who are increasingly finding themselves childless, single, and with little to show for their chasing after a career other than their careers. Is the problem today that women are actually over-empowered and that men, presumed privileged, are under-empowered? Is the TRUE social constructing the social constructing of men and women to be something that they’re not?

    These are far more interesting issues.

    • Greg Stevens says:

      Thanks for your comment, TMB!

      I definitely understand the perspective you’re talking about, and the prevalence it has in certain academic circles. Certainly, if you are in any kind of gender studies or cultural anthropology department, you will get fed the type of narrative you are talking about here.

      However, academia isn’t homogeneous. There are a large number of fields where the absolute presumption is that all behavior is impacted by evolved biological factors and also modified by cultural learning. That’s the core presumption in all of evolutionary psychology, cognitive neuroscience, developmental neuropsychology, and much of cognitive science more generally. So like with many things, “it depends on who you ask.”

      When I was in graduate school at the University of Michigan, I was part of an interdisciplinary work group called “Culture and Cognition” that mixed psychology and anthropology. It was fantastic, because although both groups were coming from radically different assumptions and perspectives in many cases, people in both groups were there because they were interested in looking at how the complex interplay between experimental and narrative methodologies (and theoretical frameworks) could play out. That was in the late 1990’s: that kind of thinking and approach has been around a long time.

      In this article, I’m speaking to people who are thoughtful and curious about that way of framing the discussion. To me, the idea that there are NO psychobiological differences between men and women is just absurd. Some day, I may write an article targeted toward speaking to people who believe that kind of thing. This, however, is not that article. 😉

      • TMB says:

        No doubt, evolutionary biology has been around for a long time and it is indeed the consensus there that, at the least, biology and culture both play important roles – and it is absurd, in that area of science, to say gender is entirely a social construct. However, in the context of discussions about the “patriarchy” and, more broadly, gender equality, the predominate narrative is social construct theory. So, I’d question the approach of discussing patriarchy theory with a default presumption of the evolutionary biological viewpoint.

        Also, as between the two, I’d say more people on average are being exposed to social construct theory connected with gender studies – namely because it’s coming from the mainstream social sciences, which said field is becoming an increasingly mandatory part of the college curriculum. By contrast, evolutionary biology – while strengthen academically – is increasingly obscure popularly.

        Ask yourself, if a major politician or leader were to stand up and say that the reason why we have very few corporate CEO’s is due to biology, how would they fair in the court of public opinion? I’d say not so well – people are being fired for much less these days. The biological view of gender, while widely accepted in biological circles, has simultaneously become taboo in popular circles. Making matters more interesting, this decidedly anti-science populism is coming from the left – which prides itself on being pro-science.

        • Greg Stevens says:

          TMB — oh, I know, I’ve written railing against anti-science views on the left for decades. 🙂 It’s a major pet peeve of mine.

          Unfortunately, I am and have always been too personally immersed in academia to be able to have a good gut feeling for this statement: “I’d say more people on average are being exposed to social construct theory connected with gender studies – namely because it’s coming from the mainstream social sciences, which said field is becoming an increasingly mandatory part of the college curriculum. By contrast, evolutionary biology – while strengthen academically – is increasingly obscure popularly.”

          Is this true? Do you have any data, studies, or statistics that show that awareness or acceptance of evolutionary views of psychology is decreasing while the idea that gender is purely socially constructed is increasing? I’d be fascinated to see real evidence of this.

          My instinct is that mainstream conscious exposure to these things is actually probably about the same as it’s always been, but certain people pushing certain agendas have simply become louder and more strident recently. What you think “everyone thinks” depends on where you spend your time online. If you happen to be against social construct theory and all you do is hate-read Tumblr, you’re going to FEEL LIKE society is being completely over-grown with SJW’s and social construct theory. The flip side is also true: if you are a cultural anthropologist or radical feminist but spend most of your time hate-reading 4chan, you’re going to FEEL like American Youth is being taken over by racists or sexists or whatnot. LOL

          So I’d love to see some actual, honest-to-goodness random-sampled survey data on the matter, if it exists.

          • TMB says:

            Admittedly, I have no scientific proof with regards to which view is getting more mainstream exposure. Just my own observations. I’d say that the popular messages we receive are often different than what we actually believe and that I suspect most people, in actuality, are closer to the evolutionary psychology view than the social construct view – which makes my point all the more relevant. We are in an era where popular left wing narratives are increasingly detached from real world experiences. This is a far more interesting topic, in my view.

            But, I’d be hard pressed to find much of anything outside of a social constructionist view in mainstream messaging. Again, just think about the ramifications of Obama saying “you know, maybe the reason there aren’t many women CEO’s has something to do with biology and the innate tendency towards child bearing in women.” Look at what happened to Larry Summers when he expressed the following:

            “It does appear that on many, many different human attributes-height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability-there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means-which can be debated-there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population.”

            To evolutionary psychologists, this statement is relatively mundane, given the weight of evidence in support (indeed, Summers goes on to cite such evidence). But, it caused such a storm popularly that Larry eventually had to resign from Harvard. Can you think of anything close to resembling the opposite? I can’t think of anything. Maybe I’m wrong – I’m open to the evidence though.

            Also, you come from this as an academic, I come from this from the trenches in the professional work sector. What I’m seeing isn’t pretty – particularly for young women. I genuinely think academics and scholars pushed flawed ideologies on both genders, but moreso on young women – which is making young women sacrifice things that are near and dear to their hearts: family and personal relationships.

            I think academics are often guilty of looking at people as numbers or abstractions – mainly b/c academics are not generally the ones living the realities of their ideas.

          • Greg Stevens says:

            I completely understand your point, TMB. And you may be correct that these experiences you’re describing could reflect a widespread problem.

            But they also might not. I know too much about cognitive biases, heuristics and fallacies to buy into the “I have heard about it a bunch, therefore it must be statistically common” line of reasoning. 😉 That’s why I’d like to see some data.

  5. Helge says:

    If you have 2 groups that have in the average slightly different interests, than the results of those 2 groups will be different as long as you dont try to correct that. However if you correct this difference between the results you dont increase justice or fairness, but you decrease it.

    Why do you think there are so few female miners and construction workers? Just ask how many women would like to work in those areas. And that is just one very obvious example of many.

    On the other hand, if you really want to go on about that patriarchy, in this case I dare you to take the following challenge:

    • Greg Stevens says:

      Thanks for your comment, Helge!

      I think you make an interesting point, and one that on the highest / most abstract level I agree with. Trying to aim for “equal outcomes” between the sexes is not a desirable goal: men and women are different, just as men are different from other men and women are different from other women, and what we should be encouraging and celebrating is diversity, difference, and choice! And when the choices we make end up showing broad differences between the sexes, there is nothing wrong with that.

      That’s why I wrote this article the way that I did. I really did try to keep it open-ended. Even in the example I gave, of differential percentages of men and women in congress, I was very careful to say only “IF this is something that we think should change, THEN we should look into finding ways to fix it.” I’m not taking a strong stance, personally, on whether such a chance would be desirable.

      However, I was also very careful to mention in the article that we cannot simply ASSUME that because there is a difference, that therefore we know it is because men and women simply choose working in congress as different intrinsic rates / probabilities. That’s like the example I gave in the article: assuming that everyone in a traffic jam is driving slowly because they “want” to. What we really need is a more in-depth, nuanced and data based approach to examining where the disparity comes from. That’s where all of the hard work is. 🙂

      • Helge says:

        I would like to direct your attention to some interesting data points.

        The gender equality paradox: Its an attempt of a filmmaker to understand why gender differences increased in norway the country with the highest level of equality between the sexes. One doesnt have to follow the reasoning of course, but one should recognize the questions.

        Another interesting point is the social experiment of the kibbutz: Originally it was envisioned as a complete equal society where everyone would do the same work. As time progressed the work share changed towards classical values, meaning the men did the heavier work in the fields and the women worked more in household and child rearing. It is still a very equal society, but it demonstrates that differences between the sexes lead to different results.

        Nowadays we understand those differences better. We know how the sexual identity is created and how transgenders come to exist. And we begin to understand how strongly hormones change and influence our behaviour, even our brain structure.

        I am basically an egalitarian liberal. People are to different to create a fair society if everyone gets the same of everything. Therefore its better and necessary to produce equal chances and opportunities and then to give each person equal access to them. Liberty is therefore a necessary tool to create fairness among equals. But it wont create equal results.

        • Greg Stevens says:

          Thanks again for your comment, Helge! And I appreciate the links… although I have to admit, I don’t fully understand how (if?) they relate to the earlier part of our conversation, or to the article here! Can you help me out? What is the conclusion that you are drawing from the data points?

          I feel like (although I may be misunderstanding you) you are presenting these things to support the idea that sex differences often give rise to different outcomes between men and women. But you’ve already said that, and I’ve already agreed to it. So maybe I’m not sure why you’re repeating the point….? I’d love for you to help me out.


          • Helge says:

            Hi Greg,

            it was not meant as a contradiction, I just mentioned it because I thought it might interest you in regards to the theme. And a bit as a thank you because you answered my comment, I think.

            Maybe some last point a bit out of order regarding traffic jams. To put it most bluntly these shockwave jams are created because cars can faster decelerate than accelerate. That would happen regardless if the braking is due to something tangible or by mistake, so Gizmodo is only half right with their conclusion. 😉

          • Greg Stevens says:

            Thanks, Helge! And yes, it is interesting and I think those links will be interesting to other readers, as well.

            The New Scientist article is very cool, even though it is 8 years old now. People have been studying traffic jams for several decades, and one of the most interesting things about them is that there is no single cause or factor. It really is an “emergent phenomenon” in the classic sense of the term, arising because of the interaction of a large number of factors and a large number of parts.

            You’re correct that Gizmoto is half right, because there always can be external factors that instigate a traffic jam. However, no matter what the initial cause (accident, construction, random mistake, etc), human driving patterns can either allow the traffic jam to dissipate quickly, or cause it to build up and persist for a long time. That’s where education can come into play: making sure people know the best way to drive in a traffic jam so that it dissipates as quickly as possible

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