When the choices you’re given don’t answer your question you know the people giving you their answers aren’t really listening to you. That’s what I think whenever I hear gender-egalitarians and complementarians bicker.
I find the complementarian position more to my liking, at least it retains the form even though it has lost the function. The egalitarians are just wage-slaves serving the interests of their statist and corporate masters. They lost me decades ago.
Nature or Nurture?
One of the ways this gets off to a bad start is by beginning with a false dichotomy–the old nature/nurture divide. We want a starting point, so we simplify and reduce. And when it comes to household political economy it isn’t clear which category to fit it into.
A household is not entirely natural thing if you define nature as a place where things form without thought or human effort. But a household is not an entirely artificial thing either, at least if you included human reproduction in it. (You could object here by bringing up machine aided human reproduction. See my earlier remark about gender-egalitarians and corporations for what I think about that.)
This dichotomy defines away a third possibility, the possibility that making things comes naturally to human beings. And seeing as planning and intent also come naturally to us, it is not a contradiction to say that something can be both natural and artificial at the same time.
Aristotle noted, and most people used to agree, the functional household is both natural and a human institution. But since its functions have been largely taken over by the welfare state and corporations–both for profit, and ostensibly not-for-profit–it is more difficult to think of the household as a natural thing. When we think about nature now we tend to reduce it to biology. And even biology seems to be losing its power to restrain us.
Social Animals or Supermen?
When you believe making social institutions comes naturally to people, you tend to think of people as social animals. But if you lose that you have to think of people as little monads. Human institutions become unnatural things that restrain the human will. So to be free, the human will must be unstrained, arbitrary, and self-defining. If it isn’t, it isn’t free.
Since human beings are social animals, whether they think so or not, we have come to prefer large, distant, and impersonal social institutions to those that are near at hand. That’s because these large institutions can foster the illusion of autonomy. And we can even make them instruments of “liberation”.
Gender-Egalitarians and Love
Since there are some important things in the Bible about love, gender-egalitarians in the Christian tradition have to turn love into an expression of arbitrary will. It isn’t embodied, at least potentially, in our actual bodies, or in our laws, or the wisdom embedded in language. It must well up from within spontaneously in order to be “authentic”.
This is why gender-egalitarians are always emotivists. Love is whatever my emotions say it is. That’s why vapid slogans like, “Love Makes a Family” have such mind-numbing power today.
But to an older way of thinking, something that is unhealthy, or socially destructive, or lawless cannot possibly be love. Love does express itself inwardly, through our emotions. But that’s just part of the story. Love binds all things together. It is not the antithesis to law or reason or even nature. Alienating what we could call emotional love from these other forms love can take actually transforms emotional love into something destructive. We see that happening all around us.
Household Political Economy and Complementarianism
Complementarians really must rediscover household political economy. Until they do the apologetic for complementarianism will fail to strike gender-egalitarianism where it is weakest. They must move beyond proof-texting, and flow-charts. Until they call for a recovery of real household political economy they will only come across as antiquarian and retrograde, oppressive and obscurantist.
To turn the table on the gender-egalitarians, complementarians must show the ways a traditional household polity can serve a healthful household economy. I won’t go into that here. If you’re interested in understanding how it actually worked in the past, and how it can be adapted to the present, read Wendell Berry or Allan C. Carlson.
The time is ripe for this. People have grown sick and tired of the neoliberal vision of a world dominated by multinational corporations. People are even beginning to discern an emergent techno-feudalism. (It looks disconcertingly like the dystopia of James Caan’s, Rollerball.)
The only difference between this and the old-line socialism of Bernie Sanders is the larger role played by the state. And the only thing going for that is its bald-honesty. At least Marxists have always owned up to their hatred of household political economy.