Unfunny Bigot – How Steve Harvey is Doing Injustice to Women and Critical Thinking

[M]y girls and my concern for the future inspire me [to write this book] as well. They will all grow up and reach for the same dream most women do: The husband. Some kids. A house. A happy life. True love.

You may be forgiven for thinking I have quoted from The Misogynist’s Bible of 1950. But this was written by the American “comedian” Steve Harvey in his new best-seller Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. My friend – a woman – asked me to write on this book, after we came into contact with this venerable tripe and wasted forest inbetween two perfectly nice pieces of book cover. (As ill-luck would have it, on the back, there is an unfortunate picture of Steve Harvey. He is no Hugh Jackman).

The reason why this crap has become a best-seller is the same reason another poison fruit was allowed to unfurl its petals of nausea, namely: The Secret. And the reason for The Secret and Act Like a Douche, or whatever, is selling so copiously – well, Oprah of course.

Oprah may be responsible for the marked decline in critical faculties, just gazing casually across her recent history of nonsense. Someone might write a book about it and call it A Short History of Nearly Nothing considering all the advances in critical thinking, knowledge and reason her recommended books have given to human society. From Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, to James Frey’s A Million Whiny Pieces, and of course The Secret and now… this.

Harvey’s argument is this:

1. Women struggle to find men – presumably to marry and have kids with, of course. They just can’t wait to get started on the hassles of domestic life, and cook and clean and pick up the kids. I mean, why would women aspire to be good human beings, who live successful independent lives and help to better the world? Pfft, no Steve knows what they want, just read the previous quotation.

2. They struggle because they are thinking like a woman! If they want to bag men, they must learn to – you guessed it – “think like a man!”

3. Steve has realised this and wants to be the gateway so women can live happier lives – by marrying, having kids, and other horribly, closed-minded goals.

The Epicurean in me recoiled at this man’s mind; the complete closure of the mind to be formulated in so simple a construct should immediately strike people as being dubious. Something must be wrong here. I didn’t spend four years studying psychology to let a failed comedian write a pathetic work of misogynistic fiction to solve “relationship” problems. He is insulting the deeply coagulated, fluctuating amalgam we call the human being; he is further insulting their ability to work out problems for themselves.

People you pay to give relationship advice are better placed behind crystal balls. Unless they are your therapist, close-friend or parent, no one else should be giving you advice about yourself or about your interactions with other people. So-called relationship gurus never work – the testament that they have loyal clients, who have been with them for ages, should immediately point out the flaw: if they were so good, they wouldn’t have loyal clients! They should get the advice and leave, never to return with a string of wonderful lovers giving chase.

Harvey is an example of this kind of thinking – immediate solutions to long-standing personal problems. We like to expand our problems, such as “relationship problems”, to fit under a referential rubric and thus unite ourselves with others, calling ourselves failed lovers or lonely people. But the truth is far worse: our problems are our own and we need to solve it, individually. Life is not so hard for most of us that we need to turn to a failed comedian – what are his credentials to be dispensing such advice, please?

I struggled to read most of this book. It is filled with a man who thinks that morality comes from god or at least should fit some divine plan. He seems to have no knowledge of sexuality or how or why it occurs (I recommend Jared Diamond’s Why Sex is Fun or the sex chapter in Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape). If it is not enough that he is completely misguided and deluded in thinking he is actually helping people – this gives a bad name to therapy, which is a hard, tortuous discipline and no easy answers are ever found – he is also a bigot. He claims that women should find out about a man by asking about his various relationships: his relationship with his mother, etc., and of course with god. If they don’t have a relationship with god, women, apparently, must pack up their bags. (It is how casually people accept this statement and how people in the audience, in the link, laugh that irks me. We should not accept such bigotry) Turns out all those atheists getting married – oh, what, women can be atheists too!? – should just give it up. They are atheist and have no moral “barometer”. Of course, if he did just a little reading into evolution or ethics, he would know that morals are not derived from his god (whoever she is).

Instead of this, people should try Bertrand Russell’s Marriage and Morals (which was mentioned in Lord Russell’s Nobel prize citation) and his beautiful The Conquest of Happiness. Now, readers will recall that I said you shouldn’t take advice from someone who wasn’t your close-friend, parent, therapist, etc. So why do I recommend Bertrand Russell? Well, the difference with this kind of advice is that it primarily aimed at critical thinking. It is not quick solutions; it is a formulation for a methodology one can adapt to enhance self-reflection and expand upon notions, to find those negative aspects orbiting one’s life. Russell is not the only one: I recall, at this moment, Robert Winston’s brilliant book on the mind, too, which attempts a similar theme albeit more up-to-date and scientifically sound one.

Please, dear readers, read Steve Harvey if you want an example of nonsense – but use your precious reading time for better books. I read it in one-sitting and hated that I had to – but I did it, so you don’t have to. It’s nonsense and it is insulting to those of us who studied how the human mind works, how humans interact, etc. Social science may not be a science according to Popper – and I agree with him – but I will be damned if hard work is not constantly involved in it, from the practitioners and the patients. Harvey, the bigot and misogynist, is deeply insulting to critical thinking, hard work at one’s own faults and insulting to women. There are better things to read than an overzealous, failed comedian on relationships.

Against Love

My friend, Rodrigo Neely, has elucidated on his concept of love. The thing about Rodrigo is this: he is not only brilliant in his thinking but is unashamedly a better writer than yours truly. That should sound highly insulting to one whose prime source of life is English, in practice and focus and exposition, and has no secondary language to fall back on. Rodrigo, not only speaks English as another language, but writes it better than I could hope to.

I recall a post of his from The Edger (when it was still active – now it’s being renovated) which to this day sends shivers down my spine. We have supported each other during various outbreaks of emotional responses from colleagues, defending each other where appropriate. Oh and yes – he is also good-looking but beside the point here, ladies (and um gents).

Being a psychologist – well at least having a small degree in it – I was delighted that he had delved into evolutionary psychology. Of course it has had a somewhat sordid history of predicting everything from drinking milkshakes to why suicide bombers are most likely to be Muslim that somewhat taints this exciting field of inquiry. Rodrigo knows all this, saying as a disclaimer to a talk he delivered and citing the late Stephen Jay Gould: “we [must not] over step the predictive power of evolutionary psychology.” So my echoes of inquiry find a ripple in his trajectory of knowledge and thus our horizons have become eclipsed by the same value and honesty in our dawning enterprises.

However, the one area we seem to differ – by the end I hope to show we do not – is our view of love. Not only am I against marrying for love, I am against relationships based solely on love. I find pure love – or what it commonly known as romance – to be an insult to our sensibilities. Thus far, I hope most people can agree with me. There are as many definitions of love as there are positions in the Kama Sutra (so I have heard), but let me outline Rodrigo’s view of it.

His latest post is his synthesising of a naturalistic explanation with the poetical fomenting of an archetype. I much agree with his definition:

I have come up with a basic definition of love. This definition is up for grabs, I am still working on it. My main inspiration is personal experience.

I believe love is the hyperactivity of the nucleus accumbens deep in the limbic system of your brain. This is the same part of the brain employed by heroin, and other delightful addictions.

What I propose this feels like is a great joy and fascination with the other person.

The immediate critique this meets is that I am not describing love but infatuation.

I believe, as a die hard naturalist, this is a false dichotomy.

What people call infatuation is love unsustained.

Steven Pinker, in How the Mind Works, says that we should find someone to be with who is genuinely interested in us emotionally. Why? This is perhaps the most genuine form of affirmation, since there is no way to force one to fall in love with another. The fact that it is based on a very strong emotion indicates that this person really does like you for you. We should avoid people who love us for specific things – similarly, we should not say we are “in love” when we only like someone because she is, say, blonde and gorgeous. That would, according to Rodrigo’s definition be infatuation. As the great H.L. Mencken said:

[A man] succumbs to a pair of well-managed eyes, a graceful twist of the body, a synthetic complexion or a skillful display of legs without giving the slightest thought to the fact that a whole woman is there, and that within the cranial cavity of a woman lies a brain, and that the idiosyncrasies of that brain are of vastly more importance than all imaginable physical stigmata combined.

As previously stated, this is the opposite end of the spectrum. Somewhere in the middle lies the kind of love worth wanting: not premised on loving for specific characteristics but the skeletal framework itself which blooms these flowers of wonder we love to pluck and smell. At the other end of the spectrum – which might be considered a spectrum of rationality with all its iridescence throbbing like a pumped up rainbow – lies one that is too rational.

This is where I find myself.

Yates famously said that: “People who are sensible about love are incapable of it.” But what he means by sensible is not the colloquial use of correct judgment. What he means are those who are careful, tentative and judge according to the basis in reason. As previously said, the reason this is not the correct methodology for judging a partner is it removes the authenticity that arises from judging their emotional connection. It is this which is hard to fake and, if true, shows they love us for being us – not aspects which they can tick off that says “This will make a good partner”.

Please note, however, that many people can easily “fake it” and we will all usually come across this at some point in our lives. The greatest pain is realising that what we thought was love from the other person was not, yet our knot tying the bridge to him or her was. Watching it fray is a terrible thing but is bound to happen to us.

So the two ends of rational perspectives remain: either we are infatuated (we are enamoured by specific traits of the person, thus we have a crush or infatuation) or we are robotic (this person fulfills these requirements, therefore she is fine to mate and be with as a partner). Both are wrong. Suspended between both is the desirable position. This does not repudiate loving small things about your partner: I, for example, am fascinated by my partner’s eyes. I find eyes incredible but find hers to be bewitching in their power. And we can be glad they compliment aspects of ourselves: I am not a very attractive individual, whilst she is and has better social skills than myself. Perhaps they embody aspects we hope to attain: friendliness, charm, and so on. By being with them, it makes us more rounded individuals to learn how they are charming (at least according to our own standards). Since we know their movements and body better than most other’s, we can learn faster from them. (No doubt, all those with an evolutionary-ready mind are already picking up on the advantages of such a relationship).

Why then do I disagree with Rodrigo?

It is mainly along these lines, in which Rodrigo writes:

But even relationships between those who are responsible and kind sadly collapse. They fall as the two people cannot find the long lost yearning they once felt for each other. They search their dendritic forest inside their head and can find nothing that lights the torch.

The … torch is the state of being in love with the other person.

It assembles all the wonderful ecstasy you have known with this person who you have at one time enjoyed so much that they aroused all of your greatest instincts from antiquity. Your very genes sang their name inside your body.

To make love last with a precious being who beckons you, you must understand that the fuel for great intimacy in joy is … stored within your memories.

Here Rodrigo appears to be saying we must focus on the memory of various things, our own past, their past, to rekindle the flame long lost.  By remembering – and perhaps he means reiterating the emotions which lead to be enamoured – we light the emotions so that they burn us enough to ignite the shadows which underpin the relationship. This makes sense, but my disagreement lies in what I think should be the goal: To allow the relationship to evolve so that it no longer needs the spurring of first emotions. The relationship must fuse into the lives of the two people, such that it is no longer a matter of working out how to feel that way again but that the feelings have being diluted to work with the stream of everyday reality. Indeed, it seems that if we have to rekindle the love from the past – itself a ghost, tied to the future by a stake through the heart – it seems suspicious of the authenticity Rodrigo, myself and Pinker are advocating.

Also, I am suspicious of love for romantic reasons since it leads to deluded notions of sanctity, in marriage and the conception of children. I think both marriage and the creation of more people are mistaken enterprises and very poor reasons for wanting a long-lasting relationship. With the guiding hand of our partner, we should be learning how to help our fellow humans better, not how to create more (for the latest in the anti-natalist position, see Professor Benatar’s brilliant and mostly misunderstood Better Never to Have Been); we should be learning how to spread the wonder we have for the person we love, onto the universe and our species as a whole.

Now, don’t even get me started on romantic “literature” and movies… Can someone honestly be true to themselves and enjoy those insults to human sensibilities?