This is part two of my critique of Rebecca Goldstein’s talk “The Mattering Map: Religion, Humanism, and Moral Progress” at the Women in Secularism 2 conference. I am starting things off with a quote from the lecture where Rebecca Goldstein is quoting from a passage in one of her earlier books reading the words of her fictional character Renee Feuer whose musings kicked off the “mattering map” idea:
The Mattering Map: Religion, Humanism, and Moral Progress
Renee Feuer speaking; The Mind-Body Problem by Rebecca Goldstein
11:06 to 12:00
“To matter, not to be as not, is there any human will deeper than that? It’s not just unqualified will as Schopenhauer would have it that makes us what we are. Nor is it the will to power as Nietzsche had theorized, but something deeper of which the will to power is merely a manifestation. We want power because we want to matter. And the will to create, to procreate, these to are expressions of the will to matter; deeper even than the will to survive. We don’t want to live when we become convinced that we don’t, can’t, will never matter. We’ll give up our lives to a cause if we become convinced that that’s what it takes to matter. It seems we no sooner discover that we are then we desperately want that which we are to matter.”
So is “to matter” the most primal human need as the above passage suggests? Not quite. I would say the most primal human need is to please God or to be pleasing to God. Adolf Hitler mattered; does that mean we all aspire to become like Adolf Hitler? No; “to matter” has to be tied to morality in order to be praised and admired and held up as an ideal that others want to emulate. It is interesting that in Rebecca Goldstein’s talk she never once directly made reference to morality; the importance of morality, the duty or the need to be moral. Her focus was “mattering” and “to matter;” the idea that “to matter” implicitly meant “to be good” seemed to be assumed in what she was saying but it was never explicitly stated in what she was saying. I think this is an important point to bring up. Even more fundamental than the need “to matter” is the need “to be good” and “to be good” necessarily is tied to God.
I think that Rebecca Goldstein deliberately focused on “mattering” rather than “to be good” in order to avoid the religious question; the implicitly religious concept of obedience to God as the means of being good. If the ultimate purpose of life is “to be good” then religion directly addresses this human need. If the ultimate purpose of life is “to matter” then moral judgments are being sidestepped and what becomes paramount is social esteem, public honoring, being famous, and other measures of “being good” that are indirect proxy measures of “the good life” but are not “the good life” itself. “To matter” side steps the fundamental directive “to be good” so that objective measures of “goodness” are avoided and proxy measures of “goodness” are used instead. The proxy measures of goodness (social esteem, public honoring, being famous) being what is meant by “mattering.”
This is a classic dodge atheists are prone to. The ultimate source and measure of “being good” is God. A Christian or other follower of a monotheistic faith can grasp this easily. The atheist however struggles to define for themselves a unified vision of what “being good” means as the atheist does not have a “God” to pin “ultimate truth” and “ultimate morality” on to. Regardless of this deficiency of the atheist frame of reference however the ultimate purpose of human life is not “to matter” it is instead “to be good.” “Mattering” is only a proxy measure of “being good;” it is not the real thing. The “real thing” is only attainable in reference to God.
Goldstein seems to have the idea that what draws people to religion is the need “to matter” because religion teaches to its adherents that they matter in the eyes of God. I would agree with this, sort of, but again the point is not really “to matter” it is instead to matter in a positive way or “to be good.” Goldstein then ventures further away from the truth by contrasting atheism with religion saying that in atheism it is “mattering” to other people that matters which is superior to the religious message that “mattering” to a mythical God is what matters.
What Goldstein is missing is that even though the literal supernatural God of religion is mythical (in my opinion as an atheist) God in its religious expression stands in for humanity so that “mattering” to other people and “mattering” to the mythical religious God is the same thing. Furthermore the religious construct of a God that is the source of all morality and is to be obeyed is superior to the atheist construct of goodness based on helping other people because God in the religious sense is meant to represent objective truth while the atheist idea of “helping other people” is muddy and undefined and open to self-serving interpretation. Relying on the approval of others is much inferior to the religious command to “obey God” which places objective truth as the ultimate good. Furthermore religious moral teachings are based on long history in the governing of human affairs while the atheist only has his own experiences and his own intuitions and insights to rely upon.
Rebecca Goldstein ends her talk with this:
The Mattering Map: Religion, Humanism, and Moral Progress
30:38 to 32:58
“The will to matter is some powerful stuff. It spawned the religions of the axial age that still claim the allegiance of the many who can’t imagine their lives mattering were they deprived of their mythological scaffolding. But it spawned to the tradition of secular reason to which we are the heirs. The secular reason that has progressively corrected the mistakes to which our species is prone including mistakes about the facts of mattering; the sense of mattering without which a full and flourishing life can’t be lived.
Ethical behavior is behavior that does justice in ways both large and small to the will to matter in all of us. And what is it that micro aggressions do? They undermine a person’s sense that she matters which is all the worse when the people doing the undermining are those who matter to her; those who share her region of the mattering map and so can’t be as easily dismissed as the ranting bigots and the slobbering misogynists. Mattering matters. Without sensitivity to the will to matter not only can’t we understand the continuing force of religion in the lives of the many who otherwise feel that they don’t matter; their lives subject to the same depersonalization and devaluation that gave rise to the religious visions of the axial age in the first place, which is why I think social justice cannot be separated from secularism, no way (applause); but we also fail to understand the secular ethical progress to which we are the heirs and upon which we wage an assault, whether macro or micro, every time we undermine a person’s sense that he or she matters. Thank you. (End of talk.)”
It needs to be kept in mind; the need “to matter” is the theme of Goldstein’s talk for a particular purpose, that purpose being to condemn “micro aggressions” committed by men towards women. The importance and meaning of “mattering” as a driver of human action and a basis for motivation and a foundational human psychological need I think is a very profound and significant insight; it is brilliant really. That being said we need to keep in mind the context of “mattering” in Goldstein’s presentation. “Mattering” is being emphasized specifically for the purpose of condemning “micro aggressions;” micro aggressions being the antithesis of mattering. Micro aggressions destroy women’s sense of mattering so the more important mattering is the worse and more worthy of condemnation micro aggressions are. This is the point behind the endless emphasis on the importance of “mattering” in Goldstein’s talk.
Micro aggressions and male dominance are basically the same thing. Micro aggressions are the result of men being assertive in a way that establishes dominance and micro aggressions are the result of others favoring male dominance or acting in a way that is consistent with male dominance or that promotes male dominance. When Goldstein condemns “micro aggressions” as undermining women’s “sense of mattering” what she is really saying is that male dominant behaviors; both by men and by others supporting men; undermine women’s sense of mattering and therefore undermine women’s sense of self.
Let’s examine this. Male dominance is terribly wounding of women’s self-esteem through diminished “mattering” in the woman’s view of herself. Therefore male dominance is a great injustice and crime against women. All men who act assertively and all people who want men to be assertive or look to men for leadership and guidance should be ashamed of themselves! What is the purpose of male dominance? To serve women and to serve the family and to serve society. Male dominance is something the man needs to perform his functions as a man. Male dominance exists for a reason and serves a purpose; this is something Goldstein is completely ignoring. The only way that male dominance would diminish a woman’s “sense of mattering” is if the woman’s “sense of mattering” is based on performance in the male sphere where dominance would be a necessary attribute for the woman to have. More dominance for men would then mean less dominance for her.
There is an important point to be made; that is that male dominance enhances a woman’s “sense of mattering” when the woman is deriving her sense of purpose from the feminine sphere. When a woman is operating within the feminine sphere male dominance serves to assist the woman in her feminine functions. Only when a woman seeks to enter the masculine sphere does male dominance present a problem because it means she has less dominance for herself.
While in the masculine sphere men see male dominance as simply part of competition or hierarchy. The more successful man at the top of the totem pole, say the CEO of a company, may be admired or envied by the other men working in the company but the CEO of the company has not committed any kind of grievous offense against the other men by depriving them of their “right” to be CEO thereby diminishing their sense of “mattering.” May the best man win! That’s the man’s way of seeing competition and hierarchy.
Women cannot compete with men on an equal footing in the masculine sphere because the masculine sphere is based on male strengths. Instead of women seeing masculine success as diminishing their own success, which is what happens when women enter the male sphere; women should instead focus on the feminine sphere where men cannot compete with them and where the man’s success enhances their own performance and abilities as women. Instead of competition seek cooperation. If women view the male sphere as hostile territory they shouldn’t be in the male sphere in the first place. Women are not entitled to equality in the male sphere; the male sphere is for men. If a woman wants to enter the male sphere that is fine as long as such a focus on the male sphere does not conflict with other responsibilities the woman has taken on in her life. The male sphere however is dominated by men and men set the rules. If women don’t like it they can leave. The female sphere, which probably better suits them anyways, is always available to them.
Women in Secularism 2
Held May 17 – 19, 2013 in Washington, DC