In the game of Operation that is the blogosphere, James Poulos’s tweezers have hit the metal edge and set the buzzer ringing with “What Are Women For?” and its follow-up — and I have a theory why that has nothing to do with feminism. If you believe his critics, they’re outraged with Poulos because he thinks every woman’s true nature is a bare foot stamping on a kitchen floor, forever. But that’s not at all what the piece says, and they can’t possibly have misread him that badly. I think these bloggers understood perfectly well what Poulos meant by contrasting women’s “privileged relationship with the process of creating human life” with the kinds of creation that men tend to care about (intellectual, mechanical, commercial, political). He meant that women have the credibility to point out the vanity of these sterile pursuits — to point out, among other things, that 99 percent of blogging is a waste of time.
The part that the bloggers took personally:
Philosophers from Plato to Rousseau to Heidegger have disapprovingly warned of the apparently natural propensity of men to fill up their world with stuff — machines, weapons, ideologies, and so on — that often objectifies and instrumentalizes people, and often distracts us from its own sterility as regards fruitful human living. . . . I’m not alone in thinking that women are uniquely able to help humanity avoid becoming enthralled to the more sterile cultural creations of men.
A hostile reader might paraphrase this with the cliché “If women ruled the world, there would be no wars,” an old saying that everyone knows isn’t true. A better paraphrase might be “If women ruled the world, there would be no Heidegger — and that would be just fine, because the hours he spent writing Sein und Zeit would have been better spent playing pub darts with his friends or developing the perfect recipe for pfeffernussen.” Philosophy, art, science: These things aren’t a waste of time — I stand solidly behind the invention of the steam engine — but an awful lot of people use them as nothing more than time-wasters, and a lot of those people feel self-important about these pursuits even though, for them, they’re just pleasant hobbies. (Nothing wrong with hobbies; plenty wrong with self-importance.) The worst offenders are theologians and metaphysicians, to whom it is a woman’s job to say “Oh, for heaven’s sake, just pray” and, I suppose, “just be.” But bloggers are almost as bad — or maybe they’re worse, since at least theology and metaphysics are harmless. That’s more than you can say for opinion writing, a good deal of which is motivated by an addiction to self-congratulation and vituperative scoring of easy points.
Anyone who gets more joy out of snide insults and sarcasm than intellectual exertion — and whose prose is so bad that they clearly don’t find any pleasure in the act of writing — is blogging as an exercise in vanity, and Poulos, channeling his down-to-earth feminine side, basically assaulted them with Ecclesiastes. “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” If you recognized yourself and your blog in that critique, you might write nasty things on the Internet, too.