criminal law doesn’t accommodate men’s sex differences

Why are ten times as many men held in prisons and jails as are women?  That’s because men are more aggressive and more risk-taking, if not just more evil, than women.  Why are five times as many men in the U.S. Congress as are women?  That’s because of discrimination against women and social devaluation of women.  If you don’t know those answers to those questions, you’re not well-educated and don’t belong in polite society.

criminalizing and incarcerating men

Criminal law accommodates sex differences, but not to reduce criminalization and punishment of men.  A leading neuroscientist’s best-selling books provide insight into sex differences and social development.  She describes men as providing the baseline of criminal behavior:

The social and scientific view of innate good behavior in girls is a misguided stereotype born out of the contrast with boys.  In comparison, girls come out smelling like roses. … By all standards, men are on average twenty times more aggressive than women, something that a quick look around a prison system will confirm. [1]

Criminal law doesn’t accommodate men’s greater aggressiveness.  Criminal law does, however, accommodate effects of women’s reproductive biology:

adolescent girls and adult women have regular, dramatic shifts in their moods and behavior because, in fact, the very structure of their brains is changing, from day to day and from week to week.  The medical name for an extreme emotional reaction during the weeks before the period, triggered by ovarian estrogen and progesterone hormones, is premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).  Women who have committed crimes while suffering from PMDD have successfully used it as a defense in France and England by establishing temporary insanity. [2]

In 2001, a woman in Texas confessed to drowning her five children.  At trial in 2002, a jury found her guilty of murder. That verdict was reversed due to the false testimony of an expert witness.  In a subsequent trial in 2006, another jury found her not guilty by reason of insanity.  A leading biological anthropologist provided the sort of view that evidently became influential:

the woman who drowned her five children in the bathtub in Texas is a tragic example of the need for a support system.  “She should not have been alone in that house with five young kids and a record of depression – it’s a no-brainer.  Not even a mentally healthy woman should have to be in that situation.” [3]

The need to have more persons at home with kids to prevent killings underscores the importance of improving men’s opportunities to withdraw from the paid labor force and spend time at home with their children.  More generally, most legal systems at least formally endorse equal justice under law.  But sex differences are significant to criminal law.  The neuroscientific scholar of sex differences observed:

pretending that women and men are the same, while doing a disservice to both men and women, ultimately hurts women. [4]

Human societies reflect human biological nature developed and expressed socially.  Human societies, like other primate societies, are gynocentric.  Humans, with their extraordinary intellectual capabilities and highly developed social institutions, have proven capable of acknowledging sex differences when they hurt women.  At the same time, human societies criminalize men with no regard for sex differences.

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[1] Brizendine (2006) p. 29.  Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, a leading anthropologist, described id. as “a timely, insightful, readable, and altogether magnificent book” (quotation on book jacket).

[2] Id. p. 48.

[3] Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, in Dowling et al. (2003).

[4] Brizendine (2006) p. 161.

[image] Shata Prison.  Thanks to Ori and Wikipedia.


Brizendine, Louann. 2006. The female brain. New York: Morgan Road Books.

Dowling, Claudia Glenn, Jenny Gage, and Tom Betterton. 2003. “The Hardy Sarah Blaffer Hrdy.” Discover 24(3).


COB-93: best bureaucratic jobs are in paper

Despite the unfortunate development of new information technologies, the best bureaucratic jobs remain concerned with shuffling paper.  Deep within an abandoned coal mine in Pennsylvania, bureaucrats in outstanding jobs have worked for decades to this day processing the retirement paperwork for all federal government retirees.  They collect paper documents into files and then type the files into an electronic database.  Computers and electronic databases have changed a lot over the years.  But the job of collecting paper documents together into a file has changed little.  That job is unlikely to change rapidly in the future.  Shuffling paper makes for secure jobs.

paper is the soul of bureaucracy

The advantages of paper are many.  Paper has extremely low power consumption, is immune to cyber attacks, and doesn’t need to be constantly updated.  Paper is the most general interface technology for connecting different information systems.   Paper thus supports a wide variety of bureaucratic jobs:

I used to work for a medical billing company. My job was to print patient and billing information from a database. Then I would manually type all of the information that I just printed out into another database.  {forkboy2}

I used to work for a place called Orthonet where case managers would type physical therapy costs into a spreadsheet, print it out, and hand it to me and another guy to type it into another spreadsheet. We kept our mouths shut and collected that sweet $14/hr to be that extra cog in a very inefficient machine. {kegtech}

Almost every workplace I have been in has had mind-numbing soul-crushing inefficient manual tasks. Those tasks are almost inevitably designed a decade or more ago by the people who are now seniors/management. They don’t like to see their long refined process and work flushed down the drain and respond to any suggestions with absolute hostility.

It doesn’t matter how nicely you go about it; if you don’t love and adore and gush over their paperwork baby then they will view you and the rest of your opinions with contempt and slowly freeze you out until you’re out of a job. I fell for it the first few times. But eventually I worked out “open door policy” means tow the line or it’s game over. {im_cody}

Most reports, even if they are written electronically and never printed out, are designed to be printed.  They have a first page, and another page, and another page, and another page, etc., until the last page.  That organization allows management to count easily how many pages of work employees have done.  Reports intended to be weighty must be printed on heavy paper.  A paper report must be filed in a cabinet to show that it has enduring value.   No one cares about datasets.  But reports produced are measurable outputs.  Paper, whether actually used or not, is the controlling form for bureaucracy.  Shuffling paper is the soul of bureaucracy.  It’s the substance of the best bureaucratic jobs.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, financial services companies are pondering how to migrate automated teller machines (ATMs) from legacy Windows XP systems.  If financial services companies had remained with tellers processing paper deposit and withdrawal slips, they wouldn’t now be facing the difficult question of how to migrate from Windows XP.

Microsoft recently released the source code for the MS-DOS operating system from 1981.  Releasing this code undoubtedly required many levels of management approval.  Hence it’s not surprising that it took 33 years for the code to be released.  Open-source projects that release code more rapidly should consider whether they are staying current with best bureaucratic practices.

A Harvard Business Review blog has ignored obvious bureaucratic economics in examining “why good managers are so rare.”  These management experts think that the limiting factor is inmate managerial talent:

Most companies promote workers into managerial positions because they seemingly deserve it, rather than because they have the talent for it. This practice doesn’t work. Experience and skills are important, but people’s talents — the naturally recurring patterns in the ways they think, feel, and behave — predict where they’ll perform at their best. Talents are innate and are the building blocks of great performance. Knowledge, experience, and skills develop our talents, but unless we possess the right innate talents for our job, no amount of training or experience will matter.

That’s ridiculous.  The easiest way to look like a good manager to hire a lot of other bad managers.  By continually increasing the ranks of management, bureaucratic development works to increase the number of good managers. If good managers are rare, the cause is bureaucratic under-development.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

Wednesday’s flowers

Desert Parsley in Oregon

Alibech, Rustico, and the life of Saint Pelagia

A story in Boccaccio’s Decameron is set in the Egyptian desert of the desert fathers.  The young hermit Rustico dwelling there unexpectedly encountered the beautiful girl Alibech.  Dioneo, the narrator of this story, foretells the story as putting the Devil back into Hell:

I want to tell you how to do it.  Perhaps you’ll even be able to save your souls once you’ve learned it. [1]

Dioneo’s story should be understood in the context of the Life of Saint Pelagia, an early Christian story of ascetic holiness.  Both Dioneo’s story and the Life of Saint Pelagia affirm the natural goodness of human sexuality.  They also recognize the human tendency toward deception and self-centeredness.  At the beginning of the Decameron, Pampinea chartered the brigata with the fullness of good life:

We should go and stay on one of our various country estates, shunning the wicked practices of others like death itself, but having as much fun as possible, feasting and making merry, without ever trespassing the sign of reason in any way. [2]

In Dioneo’s story and the Life of Saint Pelagia, the sign of reason mirrors the sign of selfless self-giving in true love.

He who moves heaven and all of its stars
Made me, for His delight,
Refined and charming, graceful, too, and fair,
To give to lofty spirits here below
A certain sign of that
Beauty abiding ever in His sight.
But mortals imperfect,
Who can’t see what I am,
Find me unpleasing, nay, treat me with scorn. [3]

In the Life of Saint Pelagia, Pelagia’s well-cultivated physical beauty served as inspiration to a higher beauty.  Pelagia was an actress, dancer, and courtesan.  In the company of young men and wearing nothing but jewelry, Pelagia paraded by Bishop Nonnus and other bishops.  Bishop Nonnus intently looked at her.  He delighted in her beauty.  Her beauty inspired him to cultivate beauty of the soul to please God the eternal lover.  His fellow bishops lacked that lofty spirit.  They scorned Pelagia’s obvious physical beauty.  They thus deceived themselves and denied natural male sexuality.[4]

Saint Ursicinus, a hermit saint

The story of Alibech and Rustico plays these keys of asceticism and beauty, self-centeredness and deception.  The story begins with unreason.  Alibech was the fourteen-year-old daughter of a very rich man in the Muslim land of Tunisia.  She was naive and not conscious of her own contradictory motivations:

She was not a Christian, but having heard how greatly the Christian faith and the service of God were praised by the numerous Christians living in the city, one day she asked one of them how God could be served best and with the least difficulty.[5]

Christians praising the Christian faith isn’t reasonably inspiring to non-Christians.  A desire to best serve God isn’t consistent with a desire to serve God with the least difficulty.  In any case, a Christian told Alibech that she could best serve God by becoming a holy recluse in the desert.  Alibech unreasonably sought to do just that:

the following morning, moved not by a reasonable desire, but rather by a childish whim, she set out secretly for the Theban desert all by herself without letting anyone know what she was doing.

Alibech set out into the desert as an unholy fool.

Rustico led himself into temptation with Alibech.  In the desert, Alibech went up to a holy man’s hut and asked him to teach her how to serve God.  The hermit, with appreciation for his natural sexual desire for a beautiful girl, told her that he could not be her teacher.  He advised her to seek someone more capable.  Another hermit similarly advised Alibech.  Then she came to Rustico.  He was willing to put himself to the test.  He took Alibech into his cell and made a bed for her from palm fronds.  His holy resolve soon dissolved.  He designed a scheme to gain consensual carnal knowledge of Alibech.

Rustico told Alibech that the most pleasing service to God is to put the Devil back into Hell.  Rustico told the girl to do whatever he did.  Then he took all his clothes off.  He knelt down and had her kneel down just in front of him:

as they knelt in this way, and Rustico felt his desire growing hotter than ever at the sight of her beauty, the resurrection of the flesh took place.  Staring at it in amazement, she said, “Rustico, what’s that thing I see sticking out in front of you, the thing I don’t have?”

Holy hermits aspired to put their flesh to death symbolically with ascetic practices.  The resurrection of the flesh — Rustico’s penal erection — was a reversal of monastic asceticism.[6]  Echoing the disparagement of men’s genitals in medieval European literature, Rustico described his penis as the Devil.  He described Alibech’s vagina as Hell.  With Alibech’s enthusiatic consent, Rustico put the Devil back into Hell.  They went on to put the Devil back into Hell seven times, a virtuous number, before they rested for awhile.  Alibech came to enjoy immensely putting the Devil back into Hell.  At her insistence, they had sex even when Rustico didn’t want to.  According to the United Nations’ judgment of criminality, Alibech raped Rustico repeatedly.  Rustico became thin and exhausted.   In a symbolic transfer of Alibech’s fiery lust, her father’s house burned down, killing him and all his family except for Alibech.

The story of Alibech and Rustico represents self-centeredness and deception.  Personal whim propelled Alibech out into the desert to seek to serve the Christian understanding of God.  After she experienced sex, she insistently demanded sex with no respect for Rustico’s exhaustion.  Beneath Alibech’s expressed desire to serve God was her own self-centeredness.  Rustico, on the other hand, betrayed his ascetic commitment as a monk and intentionally deceived Alibech with his story of putting the Devil back into Hell.

Beyond Alibech’s and Rustico’s problems of sexual desire are more important problems of self-centeredness and deception.  True love, which can encompass sexual love, is impossible with deception and self-centeredness.  That’s the higher meaning of Boccaccio’s story of Alibech and Rustico.[7]

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[1] Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, Day 3, story 10, from Italian trans. Rebhorn (2013) p. 290.  Id. Notes, n. 1, p. 889 states, “There are only the vaguest antecedents for this story.”  Several early saints were named Rustico (Rusticus): Saint Rusticus of Verona (died c. 290),  Saint Rusticus of Narbonne (died c. 461), and Saint Rusticus of Lyon (died 501).  While two of these saints were bishops, Rustico also suggests “rustic” or uncultured.  Alibech sounds Arabic and is thus appropriate for a girl from Tunisia.  An early fifteenth-century text from North Africa tells the story of men who were sexual heroes and who would have been Alibech’s equals.

[2] Id. Day 1, Intro., trans. Rebhorn (2013) p. 16.  I’ve replaced “overstepping the bounds of reason” with “trespassing the sign of reason” based on Kirkham (1993), Introduction.

[3] Decameron, Day 3, Conclusion, Lauretta’s song, trans. Rebhorn (2013) p. 298.  The first line quoted above parallels the end of Dante’s Commedia in Paradiso, 33.145, “The love that moves the sun and the other stars.” Id. Notes, p. 890, n. 3.  Id n. 4 observes of Lauretta’s song:

Critics have attempted to link it to Boccaccio’s own life and to allegorize it in various ways, but with little success.

The relevant allegory seems to me to be the speaker of the song having been the bride of Christ, also understood as the Church.  In addition to the stanza quoted above, a key line:

Although I’d come to earth
For all men’s good, of one I’m now the slave.

That line makes little sense realistically and personally. It makes sense allegorically as representing the political position of the Church in Florence at a specific time.

[4] The Life of Saint Pelagia was a hagiography that probably originated in a mid-fifth-century Syro-Palestinian milieu.  It was well-known in medieval Italy; a Latin translation survives in a late-twelfth-century or early thirteenth-century Italian manuscript.  Here’s discussion of the Life of Pelagia, with citations to source texts.  Storey (1982), pp. 164-7, discusses the tale of Alibech and Rustico in relation to the literary tradition of Vite Patrum, but doesn’t mention the Life of Saint Pelagia.

[5] Decameron, Day 3, story 10, from Italian trans. Rebhorn (2013) p. 290.  All subsequent quotes are from id. pp. 291-2.

[6] Illustrating perennial social repression of strong, independent male sexuality, the story of Alibech and Rustico was multilated and repressed in editions of the Decameron from the sixteenth century to the twentieth century:  “this story — when printed at all — was sometimes so radically abridged or altered as to be rendered virtually unrecognizable if not downright nonsensical.”  Kirkham (1981) pp. 79-80.  In English translations, sometimes the key passage wasn’t translated.

[7] Emphasizing the story’s context in Day 3, in the Decameron, and in all of Boccoccio’s works, Kirkham (1981) reads the story of Alibech and Rustico to instruct, “Illicit love leads to perdition.”  Id. p. 93.  Alibech is forced to return to town and marry.  Rustico, after burdensome sexual demands, is restored to his betrayed monastic solitude.  Those outcomes are less than Alibech’s and Rustico’s ill-formed desires, but not necessarily equal to perdition.  Moreover, “illicit love leads to perdition” is rather vague instruction for students.  Is sex outside of the legal institution of marriage necessarily illicit?  Boccaccio, one might reasonably suppose, pondered that question.

[image] Saint Ursicinus, a hermit living about 600 in present-day Switzerland. Thanks to Yesuitus2001 and Wikipedia.


Kirkham, Victoria. 1981. “Love’s labors rewarded and paradise lost (Decameron, III, 10).” Romanic Review, vol. LXXII, no. 1, pp. 79-83.  Reprinted as Ch. 6 in Kirkham (1993).

Kirkham, Victoria. 1993. The sign of reason in Boccaccio’s fiction. Firenze: L.S. Olschki.

Rebhorn, Wayne A., trans. 2013. Giovanni Boccaccio. The Decameron. New York : W.W. Norton & Company.

Storey, Harry Wayne. 1982. “Parodic Structure in ‘Alibech and Rustico’: Antecedents and Traditions.” Canadian Journal of Italian Studies 5 (3), pp. 163-176.


gods and physicians in ancient Greek inscriptions and epigrams

In Greco-Roman antiquity, infirm or sick persons seeking cures went to temples dedicated to the Asclepius, the god of medicine.  These temples, called Asclepeia, displayed inscriptions describing cures.  The inscriptions typically described the name of the person, the nature of the infirmity or illness, and the way in which the person was cured.  Cures often involved sleeping in the Asclepeion and having a dream that provided instructions for a cure (incubation).  Here’s a roughly 2400-year-old inscription from the Asclepeion at Epidaurus:

Ambrosia from Athens, blind in one eye.  She came as a suppliant to the god.  Walking about the sanctuary, she ridiculed some of the cures as being unlikely and impossible, the lame and the blind becoming well from only seeing a dream.  Sleeping here, she saw a vision.  It seemed to her the god came to her and said he would make her well, but she would have to pay a fee by dedicating a silver pig in the sanctuary as a memorial of her ignorance.  When he had said these things, he cut her sick eye and poured a medicine over it.  When day came she left well. [1]

This inscription describes a cure of blindness and skepticism.  It also indicates the god, or temple operatives, looking out for their material interests.  Diogenes the Cynic sought to cure entreaties to Aesclepius:

One day he saw a woman prostrating herself before the gods in an indecent position, and wishing to free her of superstition, according to Zolus of Perga, he came forward and said, “Are you not afraid, my good woman, that a god may be standing behind you?  — for all things are full of his presence — and you may be put to shame?”  He consecrated to Asclepius a fierce ruffian who, whenever people prostrated themselves, would run up to them and beat them up. [2]

The account suggests Diogenes viewing the woman from behind and assimilating the god to himself.  Diogenes made praying for blessing into an invocation for a beating.  In the ancient Greco-Roman world of pervasive gods, humans both sought miracles from gods and ridiculed petitions to them.

sculpture of the god Jupiter de Smyrne, a Roman version of Zeus

Physician similarly generated hope, doubt, question, and ridicule.  Physicians presented themselves as inheritors of the healing powers of Asclepius.  An epigram  from the Milan Posidippus celebrates the healing skill of the physician Medeios, son of Lampon:

Like this bronze which, drawing shallow breath up over
its bones, scarcely gathers life into its eyes,
such were the ones he used to save from disease, that man who discovered
how to treat the dreadful bite of the Libyan asp,
Medeios, son of Lampon, from Olynthos, to whom his father
gave all the panacea of Asclepius’ sons.
To you, O Pythian Apollo, in token of his craft
he dedicated this shriveled frame, the remnant of a man. [3]

Living, speaking sculptures are standard figures in ancient Greek epigrams.  In this epigram, the bronze sculpture figures a shriveled man near to death, but not beyond the reach of Medeios’s healing art.  A Greek epigram from the first century presents a sharply contrasting view of a physician:

The physician Marcus laid his hand yesterday on the stone Zeus, and though he is of stone and Zeus, he is to be buried today. [4]

The living sculpture here is Zeus, the King of the gods and the father of Apollo.  The touch of the physician Marcus kills the stone sculpture of Zeus and causes it to be buried.  That could be interpreted as the reverse of dedicating a sculpture.  An insightful reading of the Medeios epigram suggests that it’s implicitly critical of Medeios’s immoderate claim to skill.[5] A physician treating Zeus, in the form of a stone sculpture not rigidly distinct from the god, is highly immoderate.  The Marcus epigram is consistent with criticism of physicians’ presumption.

Both gods and physicians healed.  Both gods and physicians acted within circumstances of swirling beliefs and doubts.

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Read more:


[1] From the shrine of Asclepius at Epidaurus, inscription A4, from Greek trans. LiDonnici (1995) p. 89.  On healing shrines in fifth and fourth-century BGC Greece, Nutton (2013) Ch. 7.

[2] Diogenes Laërtius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, Bk. VI.37-38, from Greek trans. adapted from Robert Drew Hicks (1925) and Bing (2009) p. 239.

[3] Posidippus, Epigrams (Pap Mil. Vogl. VIII 309), AB 95, from Greek trans. Peter Bing.  Bing (2009), pp. 217-233, discusses the collection of seven healing epigrams (iamatika) in the Milan Posidippus Papyrus.  He observes that they draw upon the conventions of healing inscriptions (iamata) in Asclepeia.

[4] GA 11.113.  The epigram is attributed to Nicarchus.  Many satirical Greek epigrams directed against physicians exist in the Greek Anthology.  See, e.g. GA 11.112-126, 11.257.  Here’s GA 11.125:

The physician Crateas and the graveyard manager Damon made a joint conspiracy.  Damon sent the wrappings he stole from the grave-clothes to his dear Crateas to use as bandages and Crateas in return sent him all his patients to bury.

The first-century Latin writer Martial also composed epigrams against physicians.  Pliny described physicians as greedy, unscrupulous, and deadly to their patients.  Those were common themes in ancient satire of physicians.  A physician killing a statue of a god is rather more unusual.

[5] Wickkiser (2013).  Zeus punished Asclepius for bringing a dead man back to life.  Restoring the dead was a sign of the perfect physician.   The Libyan asp’s bite was regarded to be incurably fatal.  Claiming to cure its bite was extraordinary.


Bing, Peter. 2009. The scroll and the marble: studies in reading and reception in Hellenistic poetry. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

GA: Paton, W.R. 1920. The Greek Anthology with an English Translation. London: William Heinemann (vol. I, bks. 1-6; vol. II, bks. 7-8; vol. III, bk. 9; vol IV, bks. 10-12; vol. V, bks. 13-16). (epigrams indicated GA {bk}.{epigram # within bk})

LiDonnici, Lynn R. 1995. The Epidaurian miracle inscriptions. Atlanta, Ga: Scholars Press.

Nutton, Vivian. 2013. Ancient medicine. 2′nd ed. London: Routledge.

Wickkiser, Bronwen L. 2013. “The Iamatika of the Milan Posidippus.” The Classical Quarterly. 63 (02): 623-632.


male dominance is socially constructed belief

Highly individualistic, materialistic, and competitive societies favor belief in male dominance.   In an influential book written in 1981, a highly regarded anthropologist in a highly individualistic, materialistic, and competitive society noted:

It has long been customary among members of our species to assume that males are dominant over females.[1]

An intellectual response to a mere custom is to ask “Why assume that?”  Here’s the anthropologist’s answer:

in generation after generation, species after species, or in the human case, culture after culture, primate males have been able to dominate females and to translate superior fighting ability into political preeminence over the seemingly {sic} weaker and less competitive sex. … on those occasions when a male and a female covet the same fig or the same safe crotch of a tree to spend the night, it will typically be the male who gets it.[2]

Concern about the distribution of the richest material goods and the choicest social positions defines a concept of dominance likely to be of acute concern to elites fighting for these goods in an individualistic, materialistic society.  More fundamental measures of welfare are length of lifespan and the share of organisms who produce at least some offspring.  On these measures primate females on average surely rank higher than primate males.  Belief in male dominance shows social vision focused on the best goods and the most privileged individuals.

rabbit doll ponders male dominance

Belief in male dominance isn’t part of reasonable thinking about social reality.  Try thinking about dominance outside of well-entrenched customs of public deliberation and the dominant discourse.  Was your mother’s life less abundant and less full of joy than your father’s life?  Was your grandmother worse off than your grandfather?  Many persons with sensitivity to the fullness of real life would not easily reach a definitive answer to those questions.  Moreover, those questions point to some important objective facts: you may not know your father very well.  Fathers on average are more likely to be displaced from their children’s lives than are mothers.  Fathers also on average die earlier than mothers.  More generally, men tend to predominate among the richest and most powerful persons, and among the poorest and most marginalized persons.  At the level of fundamental reproductive biology, men have paternity legally assigned to them in completely mendacious ways, and men are socially denied practically attainable knowledge of who their offspring actually are.  Belief in male dominance obscures this social reality.

Belief in male dominance is commonly coupled with denial of matriarchy.  The anthropologist who declared the assumption of male dominance also declared, “outside of myth, I know of no evidence that any matriarchal societies ever existed.”[3]  Interpreted literally, matriarchy means rule by mothers.  The rulers of most societies throughout human history have been men, not mothers.  Considerable evidence exists, however, that primate societies are organized around females.  Much evidence also exists of female control over males through sexual power and superior social communication skills.  Matriarchy in an operational sense is best understood as gynocentrism, i.e. society organized around women and predominately concerned about serving women.  Belief in male dominance is socially constructed to obscure the reality of gynocentrism.

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Read more:


[1] Hrdy (1981) p. 11.

[2] Id. pp. 16, 18.  Hrdy’s biography points to important aspects of social dominance apart from physical strength.  Hrdy not only lives in the U.S., but is a member of a family that has been highly successful within the U.S.  Hrdy grew up in Texas, where her father was a wealthy member of an oil-rich family.  Hrdy’s mother attended Wellesley College, an elite women’s college.  Hrdy also attended Wellesley College.  For a featured biography of Hrdy, see Dowling, Gage, and Betterton (2003).

[3] Hrdy (1999) p. 252.


Dowling, Claudia Glenn, Jenny Gage, and Tom Betterton. 2003. “The Hardy Sarah Blaffer Hrdy.” Discover 24(3).

Hrdy, Sarah Blaffer. 1981. The woman that never evolved. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.

Hrdy, Sarah Blaffer. 1999. Mother nature: a history of mothers, infants, and natural selection. New York, Pantheon Books.


Wednesday’s flowers

trillium in Oregon by Elmer Galbi, mushroom photographer

Boccaccio’s inspiring ladies and Muses on Parnassus

Boccaccio’s Il Corbaccio is a masterpiece of rhetorical sophistication at the service of comic realism.  It shouldn’t be dismissed as merely an embarrassment, a literary joke, or Boccaccio’s last vernacular fiction.  The Corbaccio insists that poetic entertainment, instruction, and salvation work through realistic personal experience.  The Corbaccio defines the program of the Decameron and should be appreciated along with the Decameron.[1]

Boccaccio provides a key to understanding the Corbaccio and the Decameron in the relation of realistic ladies to the Muses on Mount Parnassus.  In the Corbaccio, the narrator’s dream-guide advises solitary study to increase fame with deeds:

Rather than visiting the multitudes gathered in churches and other public places, it is fitting for you, and I know you are aware of it, to frequent solitary places, and there, by studying, working, and versifying, to exercise your intellect and to make an effort to better yourself, and, as best you can, to increase your fame more with deeds than words [2]

That advice is contradictorily polarized.  Contradictory polarization rhetorically structures the dream-guide’s subsequent description of Castalian nymphs (nine Muses associated with Mount Parnassus).  The dream-guide first describes the Muses abstractly and vaguely:

While you are in the woods and remote places, the Castalian nymphs, with whom these wicked women {flesh-and-blood women} would compare themselves, will never abandon you.  Their beauty, as I have heard, is celestial.  Such beautiful ladies as these will neither shun you nor mock you; rather, they will enjoy lingering and journeying in your company.

The Muses’ celestial beauty, which the dream-guide hints that he has never seen, is distant from earthly experience.  The Muses’ character is defined first as a negative of realistic behavior:

they will not put you to discussing or disputing how many cinders are needed to boil a skein of coarse flax, or whether linen from Viterbo is finer than that of Romagna, or whether the baker’s wife has the oven too hot, or to see whether there are brooms to be had to sweep the house.  They will not tell you what madam so-and-so, and madam such-and-such did the night before, or how many paternosters they said at the sermon, or whether it is better to change the ornaments on some dress or other than to leave them as they are.  They will not ask money for cosmetics, powder boxes, and ointments.

The surface level of this text is factual detail.  Within its realistic style, the text plausibly contains bawdy figures (“the baker’s wife has the oven too hot”) and common references from the literature of men’s sexed protests (“ask money for cosmetics, powder boxes, and ointments”).[3]  Yet the importance of the surface realism is highlighted in contrast to the immediately subsequent positive description of the Muses’ behavior:

With angelic voice, they will narrate to you the things which have been from the beginning of the world down to this day; and sitting with you upon the grass and flowers in the delightful shadows beside that spring whose last ripples will never be seen, they will show you the causes of the variations of the weather, the toils of the sun and the moon, what hidden power nourishes the plants and also tames brute animals, and from what place rain down the souls onto men.  They will show you that Divine Goodness is eternal and infinite, by what steps one rises to it, and down what precipices one plunges to the opposite place.  After they have sung with you the verses of Homer, Virgil, and other worthy ancients, they will sing your own, if you wish. [4]

The Muses represent epic poetry, cosmic understanding, and high aspiration.  The dream-guide complains that the narrator turns instead to flesh-and-blood women:

Ah, how just would it be for these most distinguished ladies to banish you as unworthy from their most beautiful chorus!  How often do your desires turn to women!  How often, on leaving them, fetid, corrupted, and unashamed of your bestiality do you go again to mingle with those who are most pure!  Certainly, if you do not stop this, it seems to me that it will happen to you {be banished from the Muses’ chorus}, and deservedly so.  …  And how shameful it would be for you, were this to occur, you can be quite sure.

From declaring that the Muses would never abandon the narrator, the dream-guide attempts to shame the narrator with the threat the Muses will banish him.  The dream-guide then immediately turns to a realistic description of his former wife.  The dream-guide is continually self-subverting.  The effect is to undermine epic yearning and cosmic abstraction.  The Corbaccio presents the comic reality of heterosexual love as a new Vita Nuova.

Boccaccio constructs the Decameron’s author as a man keen to serve women in realistic style.  The knight who fought in the lady’s chainse, Suero de Quinones, Ulrich von Liechtenstein, Captain De Falco, and the male authors of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gaps 2011 report exemplify men’s servitude to women in high style.  The Decameron, in contrast, is filled with earthy stories of sexual intrigues and escapades.  In the Decameron’s introduction to its fourth day, Boccaccio acknowledges criticism from “wise men”:

many, concerned about my reputation, say that I would be wiser to remain with the Muses on Parnassus than to get myself involved with you {flesh-and-blood ladies} and these trifles {realistic stories of sexual intrigues and escapades}.[4]

Boccaccio responds:

I agree that remaining with the Muses on Parnassus is sound advice, but we cannot always dwell with the Muses any more than they can always dwell with us.

The Muses are represented as ladies.  Medieval literature recognized that one man could not satisfy nine ladies, or three, or even just one.  The mutual problem of exclusivity is a matter of realism:

If it sometimes happens that a man leaves them {the Muses}, he should not be blamed if he delights in seeing something resembling them: the Muses are ladies, and although ladies are not as worthy as Muses, they do, nevertheless, look like them at first glance; and so for this reason, if for no other, they should please me.

Boccaccio, like the dream-guide in the Corbaccio, surely hasn’t actually seen the Muses.  Their lady-like appearance is representational realism like the help that Boccaccio claims to have received from earthly ladies:

ladies have already been the reason for my composing thousands of verses, while the Muses were in no way the cause of my writing them.  They have, of course, assisted me and shown me how to compose these thousands of verses, and it is quite possible that they have been with me on several occasions while I was writing these stories of mine, no matter how insignificant they may be — they came to me, it could be said, out of respect for the affinity between these ladies and themselves.

Realism traces natural cause to ordinary effect.  Boccaccio’s represents flesh-and-blood ladies as the realistic cause of his writing.  The Muses inspire him out of respect for their similitude with flesh-and-blood ladies.  This representational play is key to Boccaccio’s self-understanding of his position as an author:

Therefore, in composing such stories as these, I am not as far away from Mount Parnassus or the Muses as some people may think.

Nor are Boccaccio’s intentions as far away from Dante’s as some critics have thought:

my pen should be granted no less freedom than the brush of a painter who, without incurring censure or, at least, any which is justified, … shows Christ as a man and Eve as a woman, and nails to the cross, sometimes with one nail, sometimes with two, the feet of Him who wished to die there for the salvation of mankind.[5]

Boccaccio intended neither the Decameron nor the Corbaccio to be merely low entertainment.  Both the Decameron and the Corbaccio assert the importance of realism.  Boccaccio’s comic realism, like the sacraments that the Church offers, provides instruction and salvation through the materials of ordinary life.[6]

quilt made from a mixture of natural materials

*  *  *  *  *

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[1] Hollander (1988) p. 1 declares:

Boccaccio’s final work in vernacular fiction has been for the most part an embarrassment, even to its admirers.  It is almost universally understood as running counter to the spirit of the preceding masterwork, the Decameron.

Hollander attempted to redeem the Corbaccio as a “literary joke.”  Id. p. 2.  More insightfully, he observed that Boccaccio describes himself as nearly forty years old one-third of the way through composing the Decameron, and about forty-two when writing the Corbaccio.  Hollander declared:

Decameron and Corbaccio are meant to be read as closely contiguous literary experiences, whether they were so or not.  These two texts tell us more about one another than we may learn from most other sources about the essential strategies of either.

Id. p. 33.

[2] Giovanni Boccaccio, Il Corbaccio, from Italian trans. Cassell (1993) p. 36.  The four subsequent quotes are from id. pp. 36-7.  In the author’s conclusion to the Decameron, Boccaccio chides prudish ladies: “ladies of the type who weigh words more than deeds and who strive more to seem good than to be so.”  Decameron, from Italian trans. Musa & Bondanella (2002) pp. 803.  Boccaccio’s figure of the prudish ladies aptly describes critics who declare the Corbaccio to be misogynistic.

[3] Libro de buen amor includes a “cruz cruzada, panadera” lyric that is a high point of medieval sexual innuendo.

[4] Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, 4th day, intro., from Italian trans. Musa & Bondanella (2002) pp. 287.  Ladies probably weren’t actually the readers that Boccaccio intended for the Decameron.  Kirkham (1993) pp. 118-9.  The meta-narrative of the Decameron is another level in Boccaccio’s literary strategy.  The subsequent four quotes are from id. p. 291.

[5] Decameron, Author’s Conclusion, id. p. 803.  Id. p. 804 declares:

And just as fitting words are of no use to a corrupt mind, so a healthy mind cannot be contaminated by words which are not so proper, any more than mud can dirty the rays of the sun or earthly filth can mar the beauties of the skies.

The comic realism of the Decameron is consistent with a moral and salvific vision for humanity.  Salvation within the Decameron’s realism means escaping death from the plague.  It also means recognizing human viciousness and cruelty and the possibility of escaping from that plague through understanding love.

[6] Boccaccio studied thoroughly Dante’s Commedia and frequently cited Dante in the Decameron, the Corbaccio, and other of his works.  The 100 stories of the Decameron can be understood as a stylistically different approach to the journey of the Commedia’s 100 cantos.  In an influential work examining the Commedia, the Decameron, and the representation of reality, Auerbach declared:

{Boccaccio} writes for the entertainment of the unlearned. … his ethics of love is … concerned exclusively with the sensual and the real … {the Decameron} rarely abandons the stylistic level of light entertainment.

Auerbach (1953) pp. 224, 226, 227.   Hollander (1997), p. 90, insightfully proclaimed, “the Decameron is one of the worst read masterpieces that the world possesses.”  The fundamental problem is lack of proper appreciation for the Corbaccio.  Boccaccio scholars should abandon their neoliberal commitment to symbolic property rights and turn to the government, or off-duty government workers, for help.


Auerbach, Erich. 1953. Mimesis: the representation of reality in Western literature. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Cassell, Anthony K. trans. 1993. Giovanni Boccaccio. The corbaccio, or, The labyrinth of love. Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies.

Hollander, Robert. 1988. Boccaccio’s last fiction, Il Corbaccio. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Hollander, Robert. 1997. Boccaccio’s Dante and the shaping force of satire. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Kirkham, Victoria. 1993. The sign of reason in Boccaccio’s fiction. Firenze: L.S. Olschki.

Musa, Mark and Peter E. Bondanella, trans. 2002. Giovanni Boccaccio. The Decameron. New York: Signet Classic.

Tagged: ,

the whole shipwrecked man

vortex sucks down shipwrecked men

Some fishermen hauled up a half-eaten
Man, caught in a net full of flounder –
Wept-for remains of a lost voyage.

Rather than profit from ruin,
They buried the man and the fish in shallow

Land, here you have the whole shipwrecked man
Though, in place of the rest of his flesh,
You have those that ate it.

This epigram, attributed to Hegesippus, was written in Greek probably in the mid-third century BGC.  The last line could be funny.  The context, however, is mournful.  The fishermen have an ethical sense beyond profit as much as you can.  By burying the man and the fish in shallow sand, they enable both to be, with time, washed out into the sea.  The whole shipwrecked man, “wept-for remains of a lost voyage,” will move again from the land to the sea.  The half-eaten man and the fish caught in the net are the whole shipwrecked man, the continually transforming body in an unanchored world.

Latter-day Greeks, are we not dead
And only seem to be alive,
Having fallen on hard times,
Mistaking a dream for existence?
Or are we alive,
While our way of life has perished?

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Read more:


first epigram — from Greek trans. Wolfe (2013) p. 91.  On the dating of the epigrammist Hegesippus, about whom little is known, id. p. 175.  Id. describes this and the subsequent epigram as epitaphs.  They probably weren’t actually inscribed on tombs.  Epitaphs typically weren’t highly poetic.  In the above epigram translation, I’ve replaced “earth” with “land” for better poetic sense.  The epigram is GA 7.276.  The prose translation there uses “land” rather than “earth.”  The word “man” above shouldn’t be only understood as indicating a human being.  Men in ancient Greece faced a much higher risk of death on the sea because men predominated among long-distance commercial travelers and warriors.  Men today continue to face a much higher risk of accidental death than do women.

second epigram — from Greek trans. Wolfe (2013) p. 151.  The epigram also appears in GA 10.82.  It is attributed to Palladas of Alexandria, who lived in the fourth-century GC.  On the dating of Palladas work, Wilkinson (2009).  Palladas continued to follow traditional Greek religion after Constantine converted to Christianity.  Alexandria was a leading center of early Christianity.  Palladas lamented the new dominance of Christians.


GA: Paton, W.R. 1920. The Greek Anthology with an English Translation. London: William Heinemann (vol. I, bks. 1-6; vol. II, bks. 7-8; vol. III, bk. 9; vol IV, bks. 10-12; vol. V, bks. 13-16). (epigrams indicated GA {bk}.{epigram # within bk})

Wilkinson, Kevin W. 2009. “Palladas and the Age of Constantine.” The Journal of Roman Studies. 36: 36-60.

Wolfe, Michael. 2013. Cut these words into my stone: ancient Greek epitaphs. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.


scholars declare demonic male species and gynocentrism

gibbons ponder scholarship declaring our demonic male species

A prize-winning anthropologist at a leading U.S. university has explored how to tame what he describes as “our demonic male species.”  In an important book, he and his co-author considered how to bring about a revolution in human social organization such as that imagined in Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s 1915 novel, Herland.   The setting for that novel is an isolated society in which, long ago, all the males had been fortuitously killed.  The women subsequently engender only females through asexual reproduction.  The anthropology professor and his co-author recognized the implausibility of perfectly implementing this move toward an ideal society:

Like Gauguin and Melville and Mead, Charlotte Perkins Gilman eliminated male violence from her portrait of an ideal society simply by eliminating males; and we cannot perfectly paste this story’s lesson onto an ordinary two-sex society.[1]

They recognized, however, that prisons could make an important contribution to this program:

Persuading the more violent men to abandon hopes of fatherhood would doubtless keep prison builders happy and, in the end, probably engender revolution.   But even if the most aggressive, potentially violent men could be persuaded to step aside for the sake of future generations, what about the women? [2]

Men are currently incarcerated for having consensual sex and not being able to make court-ordered monthly payments for the next eighteen years.  Should efforts to incarcerate men be expanded further?  Of course, the more important question is: what about the women?

Long-before tiresome recent books such as Are Men Necessary? and The End of Men and the Rise Women, a leading biological anthropologist wrote a scholarly book with a chapter entitled, “The Pros and Cons of Males.”   She briefly discussed Herland, which she described as a “marvelous 1915 utopian novel.”  She also described Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto as providing a “refuge from and defense against” the belief that women are “devoid of political instincts.”[3]  The SCUM Manifesto has obvious importance to elite anthropology.  The SCUM Manifesto declares:

the male is an incomplete female, a walking abortion, aborted at the gene stage. To be male is to be deficient, emotionally limited; maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples. [4]

The SCUM Manifesto describes “rational men”:

Rational men want to be squashed, stepped on, crushed and crunched, treated as the curs, the filth that they are, have their repulsiveness confirmed.

This work of elite anthropological scholarship lamented, “This doctrine of female inferiority has disfigured several ostensibly impartial realms, particularly the study of human evolution.”[5]  That’s the same scholarly logic that drives sexist studies of sexism.

Scholars have now recognized that females play a central role in determining primate social organization.  Some scholars once believed that the Industrial Revolution led to patriarchy.  Under patriarchy theory, men deprived women of economic resources and confined them within the (single-family, suburban, dull, and dehumanizing) home.  Other scholars, however, have traced the origins of patriarchy back to the beginning of agriculture.  That’s when men’s plows first started penetrating the earth, and men began placing seeds into the fertile ground.  In the evocative description of a highly regarded anthropologist, it was “The Plow: Death Knell for Women.”[6]  However, scholarly competition and innovation has pushed patriarchy further back into evolutionary history:

Human patriarchy has its beginnings in the forest ape social world, a system based on males’ social dominance and coercion of females.  We can speculate that it was elaborated subsequently, perhaps in the woodland ape era, perhaps much later, by the development of sexual attachments with the same essential dynamic as gorilla bonds.…  Men, following the evolutionary logic that benefits those who make the laws, would create legal systems that so often defined adultery as a crime for women, not for men – a social world that makes men freer than women.[7]

Key to this intellectual development was directing attention to female-bonded primate groups:

If FB {female-bonded} groups have evolved as modeled, they support the view that male strategies are ultimately a result of female distribution, i.e. males compete for access to given clumps of females in a system of “female defense polygyny” {references omitted}.  Consequently the number of females per group and the number of males per female are considered to depend ultimately on the strategies of females [8]

Gynocentrism rapidly achieved dominance in scholarly deliberation in anthropology and primatology.  As a scholar of primate social organization noted in a scholarly article published in 2002:

For much of the last twenty years, females have occupied center stage in theoretical and empirical analyses of primate social organization. [9]

Women have dominated social life (gynocentrism) for as long as humanity has existed.  For humans and other primates, males’ strategies depend on female behavior.  Sociality evolved in primates because it enhanced females’ access to resources.[10]  Consistent with general patterns of primate life, elite men and women today compete to establish social rules that most effectively transfer resources from men to women.

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[1] Wrangham & Peterson (1996) p. 238.  Richard Wrangham is the Ruth B. Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology and Wing Chair at Harvard University.  He won a MacArthur Fellowship in 1987.   Wrangham and Peterson describe Timothy McVeigh as an “all-American male” and Arnold Schwarzenegger as offering a “comic book caricature of the demonic male physique and persona.”  They lament, “As men, we have probably inadvertently neglected issues that women writers would have raised.”  Id. pp. 247, 240, 242.  Compared to eliminating all men, gynocentrism has the advantage of exploiting men’s material productivity and using men to fight other men.

[2] Id. p. 239.

[3] Hrdy (1981) p. 11.  In 2001, Hrdy won the W.W. Howell Prize for outstanding contribution to biological anthropology.

[4] Solanas (1968) p. 1.  The subsequent quote is from id. p. 16.  Shortly after writing the SCUM Manifesto, Solanas shot and critically wounded one man, shot but missed another man, and attempted to shoot a third man.  For these acts, she served about three years in prison.  While the SCUM Manifesto has an honored place in elite scholarship, masterpieces of literature like Boccaccio’s Corbaccio are condemned to oblivion.

[5] Hrdy (1981) p. 11.  Discussion of claims of female inferiority function as an aspect of gynocentrism.

[6] Fisher (1999) p. 173.

[7] Wrangham & Peterson (1996) pp. 241-2.   Other ambitious scholars have successfully traced males’ exploitation of females back to anisogamy.  The small sperm contributes less weight to the embryo than does the large egg.  This alleged exploitation started about 1.2 billion years ago when the first sexually reproducing organisms evolved.  Knowledge, capability, and interest in denouncing such sexual exploitation developed about 50 years ago.  Patriarchy has long imposed grotesquely unjust paternity laws on men and treated men as disposable persons.

[8] Wrangham (1980) pp. 287-8.

[9] Silk (2002) p. 85, describing the influential model of Wrangham (1980).

[10] Id.

[image] pair of Gibbons.  Thanks to MatthiasKabel and Wikipedia.


Fisher, Helen E. 1999. The first sex: the natural talents of women and how they are changing the world. New York: Random House.

Hrdy, Sarah Blaffer. 1981. The woman that never evolved. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.

Silk, Joan B. 2002. “Females, Food, Family, and Friendship.” Evolutionary Anthropology 11: 85-87.

Solanas, Valerie. 1968. SCUM manifesto: Society for Cutting Up Men. New York: Olympia Press.

Wrangham, Richard W. 1980. “An ecological model of the evolution of female-bonded groups of primates.” Behaviour 75: 262-300.

Wrangham, Richard W. and Dale Peterson. 1996. Demonic males: apes and the origins of human violence. Boston, Houghton Mifflin.


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