Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

03 November 2013

A Prose Ode to Female Leaders


Some traditional cultures in China and India abort female fetuses and even kill female infants. That makes us Yanks aghast. Most of us Yanks wouldn’t ban abortion. But we would ban its systematic use for gender selection. And all of us abhor infanticide.

Yet however strong our revulsion may be, we’re outraged for the wrong reasons. If a modern society were to select for gender on a rational basis, it would weed out the males. For they make all the trouble.

Have you ever heard of a big war started by a woman? I haven’t. All the big wars in history were started by men: Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm, Adolf Hitler, Bashar Al-Assad. Just to recite these names conjures up cities in flames, landscapes of devastation, and the screams of soldiers and innocents dying hard before their times. And this they called “glory.”

The list goes on, especially if you include lesser tyrants and slaughterers, like Pot Pol or Pinochet. But you get the idea. There is not a single woman’s name on the list. (Catherine the Great was known for her sexual exploits, not her wars. And even Margaret Thatcher—the most male-like female leader in history—didn’t start the Falklands War; the Argentinian junta did. Anyway, on the scale of human history it was a kerfluffle.)

The “great” male war makers were not all bad. Some—like Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon—had advanced ideas of equality and were skilled at social administration. But because they built their empires on mountains of skulls, not persuasion or consensus (let alone cultural empathy), those empires didn’t last. The longest—that of Genghis Khan and his four sons—lasted less than two centuries. (Caesar’s influence on ancient Rome, to the extent it differed from later tyrants’, didn’t much outlast his own assassination.)

There has been only one female leader of similar renown in human history: Queen Elizabeth I. Her impact was softer, gentler and far longer lasting.

She took a British Isle wracked by constant internecine warfare. She stopped the squabbling and killing and built a business and trading culture that has spread across the globe. Her culture lives today, in Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. In less obvious ways, it lives in all the other countries, including China and Russia, that have, to one degree or another, adopted her businesslike and peaceful way of resolving social and economic issues and making progress.

Call it capitalism, if you wish. Call it democracy. Just call it business or businesslike rule. Whatever you call it, Queen Elizabeth I made it real. And she made its merits self-evident by making it work in practice.

She was not big on ideology. She was big on common sense and things that work. In making longstanding historic waves, and for the better, not the worse, she is probably the greatest human leader since Jesus.

Can you imagine a woman, leader of a tiny minority, trying to hold an entire nation of 307 million people hostage? Can you imagine her doing so by threatening to destroy the only thing it has (besides its huge nuclear arsenal) that commands universal global respect: its good credit? I can’t.

Yet a tiny minority of 7.3% of mostly Southerners in our House did just that, only a couple of weeks ago. Funny thing: not only all their leaders, but all but three of their self-confessed rank and file, are men. A woman, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, led the small group of senators that eventually let reason and common sense prevail.

And what about finance? Well, start naming the bankers and other executives at the core of the Crash of 2008. Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, Vikram Pandit, Sandy Weill, Joseph Cassano. Aren’t they all males? Aren’t the ones also who facilitated and accommodated their intercontinental theft: Hank Paulson, Tim Geithner, and Larry Summers? And weren’t the ones who tried to stop them female, like Sheila Bair and Elizabeth Warren?

Finally, what about serial killers and the “shooters” who have been killing bunches of us Yanks, seemingly at random, in a plague of senseless violence? How many of them are female? To my knowledge, none. Evolution has shaped women as life givers, not life takers, so they are ill suited to serial murder and spur-of-the-moment mass slaughter.

Just think what the world would be like with males selected to an optimal minimum. They would stay at home, making love, fathering babies and nurturing them with strong arms. There, in their free moments, they could “pump iron,” improving their perfect bodies, and read books, improving their less-than-perfect minds.

Loved and sexually satisfied, they would make no trouble. They might even have multiple partners, like Muslims. Their testosterone—the most dangerous substance in the Universe—would be contained and put to good use.

Am I being facetious? Only partly. But in the end, I must bow to Nature. Untampered with, it keeps the genders at rough parity. There must be some evolutionary purpose in that. And being a scientist, I respect evolution. It’s been around much longer than any single one of us.

Whether at parity or not, women have certain evolutionary advantages. They are practical. When men went out to kill the mastodon with wooden spears and didn’t come back, women had to take care of the kids. Our species’ survival is a testament to their success.

And so it has been throughout human history. When men’s big ideas came to naught, when the once-conquered enemy climbed over the walls and empires collapsed, when financial greed stampedes turned into fear stampedes and economies collapsed, women had to stay practical and pick up the pieces. They don’t much like war or gambling, whether with lives of soldiers and civilians, the household finances, or the national or global economy.

Up to now, throughout our evolutionary history, women have suffered men’s insanity silently, done what was necessary, and carried on. Isn’t it time to bring them out of the home and into the House, the Senate and the White House? If we truly believe in gender parity, which evolution seems to demand, shouldn’t they have parity there, too?

Women don’t govern by big ideas. They govern as evolution shaped them, by meeting the needs of real people, especially children. By and large, they don’t play the game of “my God is stronger than your God,” or “my ideology is better than your ideology.”

From the centuries of needless religious wars in nascent Europe, to the needless sectarian Islamic slaughter of today, from the last century’s Reds to today’s Tea Party, how many lives and how much happiness have we humans needlessly sacrificed in that game? Does it really make our supposedly “sapiens” genus Homo well and happy?

Women know instinctively what Deng Xiaoping had to teach China: it matters not whether the cat is black or white, but whether it catches mice. China learned this lesson late, after a thirty-year infatuation with Communism. It lived through a disastrous self-subjection to a male tyrant (Mao) who, in his Nero-like capricious dotage, nearly destroyed all he had built. [Search for “great military leader”] Now, having jettisoned Communism for pragmatism in all but name, China bids fair to become the world’s leading power that its population and people’s hard work portend.

As a rule, female leaders don’t build empires as monuments to their egos. They don’t sacrifice real people on the altar of abstractions like “Communism” or “smaller government.” They build communities to let people thrive. And they do it the old-fashioned way: step by step, focusing on human needs and practical consequences, not tribalism or the seductive but invariably simplistic clots of abstraction rattling around inside their heads.

So Angela, don’t worry about those guys tapping your cell phone. Just keep pretending that your wisdom and pragmatism (1 and 2) are secrets. Your male eavesdroppers might learn something.

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