Real Reasons for the Pay and Gender Gap Part I

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[Editor's Introduction: Chris]: This is Part I of a two part piece. Part II will be published on Wednesday. Part I lays out the question of gender pay gaps and flawed ways of responding to that problem. Part II lays out an alternative perspective and a possible solution to the problem. Given the length and the depth of its engagement with the subject matter, we thought it to best to publish it serially. 


housewifeI learned my most tangible lesson about the gender pay gap standing at the door in my housecoat at 11 am one day seven years ago. An amiable young man doing a survey of some sort had knocked on the door, and in the delirium of sleep-deprivation that was my first year of motherhood, I assented to answer his questions. Age, address, all the usual stuff came first and I answered automatically: automatically that is until he got to the seemingly menial question of my “Occupation”. The word went in through my ears, vibrated through my auditory canals and happily fired up neurons in whatever parts of my brain it would, when suddenly, the meaning of the question exploded something in my reality. There was a long pause, followed by the faint tinkling of my meaning making falling to pieces. The force of habit of a decade of answering “commercial fisherwoman” ran smack into the recent reality that I wasn’t out fishing, I was. . . my mind scrambled, sorting through what it was I did with my days, and what kinds of occupation-type words were fit to describe this. Finally after what felt like an hour but was probably only 3 long seconds, a phrase tumbled out of my mouth, the meaning of it registering as I was saying it aloud for the first time in my life: “I. . .I’m a . . housewife”.

I was actually stunned to hear this –  what was happening to me, how on earth had I ended up a housewife? Hearing the word, I had felt. . . reduced. And a certain reality of my situation cut through my semi-delirium: as a housewife, looking after my kid, I made $0 dollars per day. Running a boat, I had made – on a good day – up to $5000 for a day’s work. A day’s work that was, for me, hard work but still easier than being home with an infant. I understood that I had made this choice, but truly, there was no sense to be found in my experience of the two realities that could explain why one role paid me fairly well, and the other role absolutely nothing. So as I do, I started to do a little digging, and being an integral scholar and practitioner, one of the things I came across while digging was Warren Farrell’s book, Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap and What Women Can Do About It.

Farrell is something of a ‘go-to’ guy for gender issues in the integral community. He has numerous dialogues, presentations and articles on Integral Life, and Ken Wilber endorses him. Farrell gave a keynote on gender at Integral Spiritual Experience 2 in 2010. After taking in some of Farrell’s writings and speeches, and mixing these with my own experiences working 14 years in logging and commercial fishing, it occurred to me that if Integral wants to play a leadership role in the arena of gender, if it wants be 'an idea whose time has come' and not an accidental shooting-of-oneself-in-the-foot, then we need more depth in our understanding and discourse vis-à-vis gender. Integral as a community, and especially one that touts itself as postmodern and even post-postmodern, really needs to refine its participation in the discourse on gender, especially the topic of the pay gap, in a way that at a minimum recognizes constructs, especially the constructed nature of economic value.

Do we want to soak up the blood, or stop the bleeding?

why men earn moreIn the intro to his book Why Men Earn More, Farrell explains that the tome is a response to a conversation he had with a CEO some years prior about the pitfalls of dealing with gender differences in the workplace. The CEO was explaining how he had taken to hiring women and paying them less, rather than hiring men with more experience and having to pay them more, saying “…we move [promote] good women more quickly than we move good men, which is really discrimination against men, but it ends up looking like discrimination against women when we pay them less for less seniority.” (p. xvi)

Farrell and the CEO agree this is a situation of reverse discrimination. Unfortunately, the book does not go on to sufficiently make the case for such discrimination, nor to explain why this happens. In fact, the problem with much of Farrell’s answer to why men earn more is that he simply describes that they do earn more, rather than explain why this is so. That wouldn’t be a problem except that the title of the book leads us to expect an explanation.

So what are some of the causes, and why does it matter to explain them adequately? It matters because our explanations inform our solutions to the pay gap: the ones Farrell offers soak up the blood, which is necessary, but why not stop the bleeding in the first place?

Ultimately, his solution is to get women to play the work game with the same strategic perspective as men typically do— in other words, his advice is that women better adapt to the economic system as it existed. In 2008, three years after he wrote the book, that economic system imploded, leaving in its wake things like the global economic crisis, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Euro-crisis, the mortgage bubble, the Occupy movement, Ireland, Greece, and so on and so forth. It seems Farrell, along with so many others, was blind to the flaws in the current construction of economic systems and how that was about to change the game.


A central problem with getting better at the work-game, as per the 25 ways Farrell suggests in his book, is that it’s like showing women how to get on one of the lifeboats on the Titanic— good for those who get on one, but not a good overall strategy if we care about more than just ourselves. I think the more salient question is, can we design a ship that has enough lifeboats for all the passengers onboard and can weather global economic storms with more stability for passengers? Because if we can, then putting energy into how to make sure you get on the lifeboat becomes obsolete. At this point in time, given the realities of globalization and our fundamental interconnectedness, the wisdom of going for solutions like Farrell suggests, ones that don’t take into account the well-being of the larger whole, are ill-advised.

Why does the map matter?

There is value in having an accurate explanation, a ‘truer story’ about a problem you’re trying to solve. A more robust map of the territory of pay and gender interaction helps us avoid the longer term dead-ends that Farrell’s solutions lead women towards. What follows is a light first sketch of that map, offered with the intention to inform how women— and men to whom it is of interest— might make a workplace that contributes to a more just and thriving global society.


Nowhere in Why Men Earn More does Farrell take into account simple hormonal and neurological differences between genders that impact economics. The field that does take this into account is called NeuroEconomics.

Joe Herbert, professor emeritus in Neuroscience at Cambridge, whose specialties include the study of genetics and hormones in financial decision-making, understands that the economic system does not just exist ‘out there’. He understands that it has been constructed to be what it is, and done so predominantly by the male gender. He states, regarding women working in the finance industry: “Women, in very general terms, are . . . less concerned with the status of being successful. If you want to make women more present [in the finance industry], you have to remember two things: the world they are coming into is a man-made world. The financial world. So, either they become surrogate men… or you change the world." Since Farrell does not seem to have this perspective online, his solutions remain mired in improving ways women can become surrogate men: work more hours, be willing to move for higher paying positions, etc, etc. Meanwhile, that economic systems of compensation are constructed seems to be off the map that Farrell offers for understanding the problem, and hence also for informing solutions.

Farrell’s point #25 (p. 115) in his book, that pay is commensurate with productivity affirms the pay is constructed according to some value system, but does not question the value system that is the source of the bleeding, to harken back to our earlier metaphor. Let’s take a look at how this construction might play out in the work world with the example (taken from an article in the Guardian) drawing on the research and expertise of John Coates, also a neuroeconomist at Cambridge specializing in biology and risk-taking. He gives the example of male vs. female investment bankers over a five year span, demonstrating how even when a woman’s productivity is greater, because of how productivity is constructed— i.e. short time span, and looking at select factors— the value of her contribution doesn’t register on the meaning-making radar of those who are assessing her performance. As Coates explains:

"Say you have two traders. One trader makes [the bank she works for] $20m a year for five years, of which she might typically pocket a couple of million a year herself. At the end of five years she has made the bank the best part of $90m. Another trader makes [the bank he works for] $100m a year for four years. They don't want that guy to go off to a hedge fund so they let him take home $20m a year. But then in the fifth year— because of the winner effect—he loses $500m. That is essentially what happened in the financial crash. The bank has lost $100m and the trader has gained $80m. If you were judging these things over a five-year period, then you can see which person you would hire."

So on a five-year time horizon, the woman makes the bank $90m and gets paid $10m for it. Same five years, a guy loses the bank $100m and yet gets paid $80m for doing that. In other words, the bank pays a woman one tenth as much as a man for much, much, much higher productivity. Clearly the values that inform our construction of productivity have the most 'up stream' influence on how much each person gets paid. But if you don’t see that the values are constructed, you might not know that they are a much higher leverage point to work on, and instead end up spending a lot of energy to get much less accomplished.

man woman brain

Susan Pinker is an award-winning social science journalist and author of the Globe and Mail’s column "The Business Brain" on the neuroscience and behavioral economics of the business world. In her book The Sexual Paradox: Extreme Men, Gifted Women, and the Real Gender Gap, she provides further support for debunking the ‘pay-for-productivity’ myth that Farrell uncritically ascribes to. She explains there is a male value system in place in the work world that sees working more hours as a sign of loyalty to the cause, but the increased hours do not indicate higher productivity. Farrell’s lack of taking into account the constructed nature of the criterion by which we measure productivity—such as time horizons and hours worked—leaves his solutions at best leading women to mimic men better, while leaving untouched the benefit of what they could bring to the workplace that could benefit both men and women, which I will come back to.


Perhaps a better way to understand Farrell and the less-than-frothy-edge solutions he offers is to plumb more deeply the dissonance he is responding to— and I’ll wager it isn’t the pay gap per se. I propose that the solutions Farrell offers have value to him because they ease the discomfort that men (and also many women who have committed to play by the extant rules) experience when women play the work game with a different set of motivations and values. These differences remind us that the work-world is susceptible to change, and they threaten to change not just how the game is played, but the construction of the rules of the game itself. If that happens, men may loose a traditional advantage they have had in the work-world, and that can be a tough blow for anyone.

At face value, change seems like it would be disadvantageous to men. Thus far, they have created an economic world that is a product of their world-view, so they are more likely to be able to do well in that world, or at least have it make better sense to them. In effect, Farrell’s solutions continue the status quo of the game and its rules; and asking women to adapt better thus avoids some of the discomfort that may arise as a result of deeper structural changes to the game.

Principles versus idiosyncractic explanations

To the extent that Farrell acknowledges a job’s economic value might be constructed, he offers two related principles in an attempt to explain why certain typically male jobs get paid higher wages than comparable but less dangerous women’s work. He calls these principles the ‘death professions bonus ’ and ‘exposure professions.’ Let’s take a closer look at what these are, and thus how they fail as principles to explain the pay difference. First, we need to understand a little bit about the difference between genders in their capacity to assess risk. In the interest of transparency, I will share that I worked in predominantly male ‘death professions’ and ‘exposure professions’ for fourteen years, (commercial fishing and logging industries). For the record, per the standard in the BC fishing industry, my pay was not related to exposure nor to death risk. In fact, exposure risk makes little sense in the worldview of fishermen and many others who chose outdoor work— it only exists if you think that working indoors is the ‘norm’. For the fishermen I have known, working indoors is rather something they might expect to get bonus pay for doing, since it’s so unrewarding from their perspective. Once again, Farrell position seems to be embedded in a pre-integral worldview, wherein he doesn’t see that he is coming from a perspective – or at least doesn’t acknowledge the limits of the one he comes from. Author, seated, and esteemed colleague prawn fishing BC coast.

Now to get back to the point of how the genders assess risk:

Farrell laments the injustice of higher male mortality rates, and in doing so taps into a compassion that is essential in any conversation regarding gender roles. There has been enough injury and misunderstanding, so compassion is a welcome attitude to encounter in this conversation. However, there is a tacit invitation in Farrell’s book for women to go easier on men since they sacrifice their lives for us. I am deeply grateful for the sacrifice that men have died for the freedoms I enjoy today as a western, democratic, educated woman. And, we need not be naïve that there are also other, perhaps more self-oriented reasons why men tempt death that have little if anything to do with sacrifice.

fishing boatHaving worked with young men on fishing boats for a decade, I frequently saw an over-eagerness in them to play the hero and put themselves in danger to do a task like tying up the boat, which could be just as effectively done without putting themselves in danger. Christopher Hedges, Pulitzer-prize-winning war correspondent, speaks from twenty years’ experience in war zones. He explains in his book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, that there is an attraction and addiction to mortal combat that afflicted him, his colleagues and so many of the soldiers he worked closely with. So we might as well get real that for many men, the urge to tempt mortality, or pit oneself against a big risk and win is actually very rewarding. It gives them (as well as some women, whose number I count myself among) a buzz. They may deliberately not do things in a safer way because they don’t get as much ‘juice’ that way. If you want to see what I’m talking about in action, and beautifully so, click this link and wait for it,

It’s one thing to offer up one’s life in service of someone else’s wellbeing, but to assume that all risk-taking is grounded in this intention is an unnecessary distortion. To let this distortion run unchecked would likely weaken solutions to the problem of male mortality. If women are typically more risk-averse as various social scientists and neuroeconomists claim, then perhaps one reasonable solution to higher male mortality at work is to have men hear and heed women’s concerns vis-à-vis risk management. To his credit Farrell acknowledges that women tend to arrange their lives with a higher emphasis on quality of life and he allows that men might do well to learn from this example. I would caution that what makes for quality of life may vary by gender, and especially by the hormonal differences at different phases of life within each gender. Higher testosterone in a 21 year old man may lead him to find various risks more satisfying, for example, than when in his 70’s.

Farrell gives the opinion, which we are invited to take for a truth, that “Careers that are fulfilling, flexible and safe usually pay less.” Sounds like it could be true. Although if we pause to note that the words ‘fulfilling’ and ‘flexible’ are subjective rather than objectively laden, then we see how this is an opinion rather than a statement of objective standards of truth.  He uses indoor jobs where you care for people as a standard for fulfilling and flexible. Actually, what’s fulfilling depends on your values, your nature, goals, needs (for esteem, position, prestige, level of influence, autonomy) life-stage, etc.

To illustrate this point with a personal example that reveals the assumptions built in to Farrell’s claim: I spent several days working in a ’fulfilling,’ flexible, indoor, people oriented profession working as a substitute teacher. I found it to be absolutely hellish. It was just too much everything for me; too many children, too much attention to have to give out, discipline to keep, questions to answer, disputes to deal with, etc, etc. By contrast, working on a fishing boat was paradise for me. My first day out on a boat, not even a mile out to sea, I figured I had died and gone to heaven. I found it way more fulfilling to be out fishing. What might be deprivation to some was adventure and satisfying challenge for me: being out in 50 knot winds, isolated from regular society for months at a time, living in cramped quarters with three men, all of us working 16-18 hour days and not showering for a week or more at a time. So to say that one job is more inherently ‘fulfilling’ than another is ignoring entirely the truths of relativity, namely that relative to a person’s temperament, expectations, motivations, preferences, gender even, the same job could be fulfilling or it could be hell.

Debunking the ‘death profession’ and ‘exposure’ myths

Farrell, while explaining the phenomenon of ‘the death profession bonus,’ does not take into account the influence of labour movements in equalizing power between labour and business owners, worker’s safety movements, or male modes of risk assessment. For argument’s sake, let’s leave these relevant factors aside for the time being and engage this series of questions: does it hold as a general principle that physically riskier jobs get paid more, or is this an idiosyncratic explanation? How and when does it hold? And based on what we discover, is there a broader, deeper, more accurate explanation than ‘death profession bonus’ to account for why some risky jobs get paid more, while others do not?

A few comparisons will show that the 'death professions' and 'exposure' explanations soon get in over their head at explaining the pay differential in physically high-risk, outdoor jobs. Both ‘principles’ or ‘theories’ only work when applied to an overly narrow data sample. When applied to broader data sets, as we shall see, these theories crumble.

To keep it simple and isolate the variables of death-risk and exposure that Farrell uses to explain pay scales, let’s leave out gender for now and simply compare two typically male professions to see how the  ‘death professions bonus’ and ‘exposure profession’ explanations hold up without the complication of gender difference. A bomb disposal expert in the army is an example of a high death-risk, high exposure (to weather and the elements, as well as long hours, time away from home, etc) job that requires medium-length training in sciences and electronics. Compare it to a relatively ‘cushy’, indoor job which Farrell says is worth less pay because it’s more comfortable to work indoors. By contrast, a computer engineer has a slightly longer training period in science and electronics, followed by working in an almost nil death-risk, nil exposure risk environment. According to the job search website Simply Hired, average pay rates for Bomb Disposal Expert are $54,000 per year, whereas Computer Engineers average $76,000 per year. Hmm. So far, Farrell’s principle of death profession and exposure profession as being worth more than cushy indoor jobs are not holding up.

computer engineer at work

computer engineer

bomb disposal expert at work – apparently he survived, happily.

thai car

So Farrell’s explanation for danger-related pay at best seems to explain only a very narrow comparison between a few select typically male and typically female jobs. I reckon the reason this is so is that when Farrell wants to make the point that a certain job is worth more, he takes a ‘male job’ (garbage man) and compares it to a field that is ‘female’ (child-care worker), then looks for what’s different about those jobs as a way to justify the difference in pay. That is, he uses post-hoc ergo propter hoc logic to justify why ‘women’s work’ deserves less pay. However, by using the same logic on two typically male professions, we have seen that its explanatory power fails and how it is likely to fail in many situations. If working indoors at a relatively low death-risk job is reason to pay women’s work like child-care less, then why does a likewise relatively low death-risk, indoor job like computer engineer get paid nearly one and half times more than a high death-risk, outdoor job like bomb disposal expert? And this doesn’t even begin to touch on why CEOs would get paid upwards of thousands of times more than a bomb disposal expert when they have jobs that match the characteristics— more people oriented and very much indoors— that Farrell claims are what make women’s work worth less.

When we compare data sets like the bomb disposal experts in army versus computer engineer and cannot explain the difference in pay using Farrell’s reasoning, it suggests that there are other determining factors going into why one job gets paid more than another. The danger level and indoor / outdoor explanations he offers seem only to describe the existing difference between very select data sets of jobs that are typically male vs. typically female, and are far from being using principles in the larger economic landscape. It’s important to distinguish between describing the existing situation and conflating this with an explanation for how it came into being. If Farrell were to say that he’s simply describing what is, then what he says has value for its capacity to describe it. In making of it an explanation of causation, however, he mistakes the effect for the cause, which is bad science.


to be continued. Check back on Wednesday for Part II. 

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  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Monday, 09 April 2012 16:36 posted by Matthew Lewis

    Great article! I want to take a look at your comparison of bomb disposal expert and computer engineer, and explore some statistical theory around it. I realize that Rochelle's comparison is not meant to be a rigorous statistical comparison. I think she is trying to make a point. However, it makes a statistical error that I think is worth illustrating.

    To make an ideal statistical comparison in order to isolate the 'death profession bonus' effect, you would want to take identical jobs given to the same person and then apply the effect of being a death profession to one and not to the other. In this way, you could properly control for all other factors which might be related to pay (such as age, experience, education, race, gender, size of comic book collection, ability to find a deal at the mall, etc) . Theoretically if there were the job of 'fake' bomb disposal expert and 'real' bomb disposal expert, we had the same person take each job, we could take a large number of identical people taking each job and observe the level of compensation. From this we could extract the extra pay associated with being exposed to danger. It's far fetched but it's good practice when exploring a statistical relationship to start with an ideal and then see what's out in the real world that gets close.

    One comparison that might actually exist is bomb disposal instructor versus bomb disposal technician. You could imagine that the death profession bonus is largely removed for an instructor, but that the skill set is similar. However, the analysis would be capturing some difference based on experience and teaching ability. If you could control for these factors, and then you examine a large enough data set, you could arrive at a good estimate for the death profession bonus.

    The problem I see with comparing a computer engineer with a bomb disposal expert in the military is that these jobs are not very similar. Becoming a computer engineer carries a large cost of pursuing a technically demanding degree, which involves time and money. I'd expect a bomb disposal expert in the military would largely expect to pay exactly nothing for training. Indeed, someone entering the military would expect to be paid to be trained. How much of the difference in the pay of these two professions could be captured by the opportunity cost of pursuing a degree versus entering the military? Without controlling for this choice, then the comparison isn't valid statistically speaking.

    One other point I hope illustrates what I am trying to say. Suppose that computer engineer and bomb disposal expert were actually very similar, outside of the danger of dealing with bombs. In this case, you could get a good estimate of the death profession effect. However, what about the exposure profession effect? In order to isolate this effect, I'd want to compare indoor bomb disposal experts against outdoor bomb disposal experts. Likewise, indoor computer engineers versus outdoor computer engineers. If this is not possible, then these two effects will be lumped together in a statistical comparison, leaving it up to the statistician to come up with a novel way of separating these effects.

  • Comment Link Padmini Tuesday, 10 April 2012 00:58 posted by Padmini

    I love this article! Thank you for writing about this topic so clearly.

  • Comment Link Rob McNamara Tuesday, 10 April 2012 15:18 posted by Rob McNamara

    Rochelle, Thank you for challenging the integral community to pick up the constructed nature of economic value. This is SO important and is pointing towards an essential feature of integral consciousness, distinct from integrative ideas.

    Here's a bow to the embrace you are pointing to.

  • Comment Link anna Tuesday, 10 April 2012 18:30 posted by anna,95569,95569

    Warren Farrell, Misogyny, "Positive" incest and Ken Wilbur connection

    some extraordinarily disturbing Warren Farrell quotes: "We have forgotten that before we began calling this date rape and date fraud, we called it exciting." -- Warren Farrell, in Myth of Male Power

    and my personal fave:
    "the incest is part of the family's open, sensual style of life, wherein sex is an outgrowth of warmth and affection..."

  • Comment Link Rochelle Fairfield Tuesday, 10 April 2012 23:12 posted by Rochelle Fairfield

    Hi Matthew,
    firstly thanks for taking the time to read and comment on part 1 of this article! I appreciate your attention to rigor around statistical validity, and think you make a good point that it is tricky to get a statistically ideal comparison between jobs.
    Sounds like this is an area you've put thought into and may have expertise in? Somehow I managed to dodge the obligatory stats 100 course in my meander through what felt like a century of study post-secondary institutions.

    What I'm trying to point out with the risk comparison is not so much the statistically exact risk-to-pay ratio, as to show that his logic does not hold up, even when we remove gender as a factor. What I want to highlight is that Farrell's reasoning about why a certain job pays more doesn't adequately explain causation. If you can hold tight for another day, in the next section of the essay which comes out Wednesday, I think you'll see why I want to establish this flaw in his logic, and why the exact stats you generously suggest might be more ammo than is needed! I'd be curious to hear what you think after you see how the argument unfolds in the second part of the essay!

  • Comment Link Rochelle Fairfield Wednesday, 11 April 2012 01:35 posted by Rochelle Fairfield

    Padmini - thank you so much for saying so!

  • Comment Link Rochelle Fairfield Wednesday, 11 April 2012 01:38 posted by Rochelle Fairfield

    Rob - I think you get the main point I'm trying to make about constructed economic value. As a member of the integral community, thanks for hearing the challenge.
    Bow deeply received, and back atcha!

  • Comment Link Rochelle Fairfield Wednesday, 11 April 2012 01:45 posted by Rochelle Fairfield

    Hi Anna,
    wow, those are some pretty wild quotes. I don't know the context for them, and am somewhat sensitized to the damage that can be done by decontextualizing what people say, so won't comment further on the content of the quotes.
    I trust there is something important in the strength of your reaction to Farrell, and really get that there is so much more that could be said about his ideas. Maybe you'll write an article on some of the ones I haven't touched on here?

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Wednesday, 11 April 2012 21:53 posted by Matthew Lewis


    I totally agree with you in terms of being critical of Farrell's reasoning and assertions. I have not read the book, but after googling Farrell, I can imagine he is telling a good story and that it makes sense. A good statistician will not be satisfied with a good story and will look for good data to confirm or deny the story.

    What I sought to point out was that you presented a story to refute Farrell's story. Which is fine! However, bringing data and statistical analysis to the debate would present a much stronger argument to refute his story.

    I look forward to reading part 2, heading there now.

  • Comment Link Gregor Bingham Friday, 13 April 2012 14:54 posted by Gregor Bingham

    Hi Rochelle,

    Your article has really helped me remember what seems to be a critical aspect of gender difference, and while I know we all range in how much testosterone is involved, there is a real sense that short term and long term thinking are one of the fundamental problems in the conflicts of this situation.

    As you pointed out with Farrrell's concept of the differences that are based on his sense of 'this is how the world is', as opposed to 'how is the world actually constructed through our socialized conditioning amongst other factors'. One thought that came up for me, and there is compassion here too, is that I am not so sure men walk around thinking they have advantage. From a woman's perspective I can agree that it would seem almost a bad joke, but my sense is that the 'focus on their success status' is something that obscures mens idea that they have such an advantage, since success is about everything in life, which means competition against the other men. Men swim in an ocean of this, and do not see it for what it is, their trap. I am not of course negating the impact that this has on women, only the aspect of the current way of being men tend to have.

    I was a paratrooper in the army, I think there are two things that play into risk: Dopamine, and The Optimism Bias. I wonder how these two are more gendered and add significantly to your pointing out the lifeboat scenario... its almost a funny Integral view to see males as more UL/UR, me and now, and women as more LL/LR, us and long term plan. It's not that simple, but it's looking so plausible! :-)

    Looking forward to Part II.

    Thanks for a thought provoking article!

  • Comment Link Rochelle Fairfield Saturday, 14 April 2012 00:50 posted by Rochelle Fairfield

    Hi Gregor,
    that makes really nice sense (and space, if that makes sense) for me about how men's experience of their situation - being in competition with other men and pursuing success in everything - could be a far cry from women's perception of his situation (ie, that he has the 'advantage'). I appreciate how you tease out that relative to women men have enjoyed certain advantages, but those don't necessarily feel like much if you're a guy competing to make his way in the world against other guys. And yeah, it doesn't negate the effect on women, but it's good to note, as you do, that women's perspective on men can miss aspects of men's subjective experience of what it's like to be a guy.

    I reckon a similar kind of perception / experience schism that's typical in the other direction is when a guy thinks his wife has it good because she 'gets to' stay home with the kids. Not that it's not nice to have the choice to do so, but "survey says", it's not exactly a walk in park, either. Women may be compelled by love, oxytocin, mammalian bonding imperative, and whatever else, to want to be home with their kids, but that doesn't make the near constant demands on your attention, while under the influence of sometimes vast sleep deprivation, children's emotional swings, etc a walk in the park to deal with day in and day out.

    Whoa! Cool you were a paratrouper. I'm jealous!

    I'm also curious about what how you've experienced and / or thought about the Optimism Bias and Dopamine. Would the optimism bias be something like the equipose David Brookes talks about, which to refresh is the tendency to over-estimate one's capacity? Are they similar, and if different, in what way i wonder? Then there's Dopamine - is that the feel good hormone? And maybe there's a difference between men and women on what gives each a hit of dopamine?

    with gratitude and delight to play with you here, Gregor. Your post is lovelily thought provoking for me also!


  • Comment Link Gregor Bingham Saturday, 14 April 2012 03:13 posted by Gregor Bingham


    Well, jumping out of a perfectly serviceable aircraft is a lot of fun, I do admit! Difficult to justify as a parent, I do understand! ☺

    I totally get the problems of motherhood, and I have to say it can have its own special reward in the profound psychological development of (mostly) women. No argument there. This tends to come through the level of engagement, as you pointed out, and for the hardest job in the world, its not ‘valued’ in patriarchal societies. Your value point in article 2 is the most profound point for us all to consider. I’ll touch on that at the end of this.

    I came across the optimism bias recently in a book of the same name, not as great a book as I’d expected but the premis was simple enough. The idea is that the cortex when it developing was now capable of remembering the past, and planning for the future based on it, this led us humans to have to face death as a conscious end result of our life. This then created (theoretically) the optimism bias, which was for most of us to assume the future as bright enough so that we could look forward to it – a coping mechanism in face of our definite demise. To whit, this has created most folk with a sense of an uncorroborated sense of optimism. The example that I thought was pertinent, and funny, was that we don’t plan our holidays with much attention to detail since we use optimism to project that all will be well. Meanwhile the holidays might have some significant issues, which when choosing the next annual holiday would still not be taken into too much account, due to optimism getting rid of risk-analysis. You see where I am going here… What was added to this is that depressed people lack this bias, which creates nothing to look forward to. Then there were the people in-between that were mildly depressed (on this scale) that were realistically pragmatic. Guess where we sit? ☺

    Dopamine makes us confident, its an uninhibitor, cocaine does this too us. Risk + Optimism does this too us. Like asking out a woman on a date. Like asking for a raise. Dopamine has been linked to the brain when committing violence, and having committed violence with other males in my youth I can attest to that. It only makes sense, since we all walk around with somewhat genderized chemical factories in our brains.

    There is the other part, the amygdala, our fear center, that is also genderized. Who knew? The left and right are wired differently for men and women. I haven’t read enough to home in on the bottom line of this, but I will another time. I’ll stick with my hunch though that fight and flight are the responses. Hence short term and long term thinking.

    So dopamine, risk, optimism bias all powerfully intertwined and good for dealing with immediate ‘threat and conquer’ very well. But as most neuroscience admits, our cultural evolution has surpassed our brain evolution. We probably need to tweak our limbic system some. You can see how equipoise fits into the schema right?

    Value. Boy. So, would it be fair to say that value is connected to eros and hierarchy? Now before we diss that, as little integralists we have to see the holon. To use a Jungian archetype, currently we men tend to use the negative father version of hierarchy (this is the way its always been, who do you think you are going against the natural order) with value, whereas the positive father has an profound understanding of rights and would see the holon and connect to the positive mother of care and responsibility. So that value in the end is the transcendent moral distinction that equality is a choice based on the highest function of our capacity to use all our brains in non-reactive ways.

    Now, of course, the best way to understand all that is to say this: if you hadn’t written that, I wouldn’t have thought about my reply in just this way, and we have made meaning. It takes two to Tango, what is dance but the dance of healthy and beautifully diverse polarities?

  • Comment Link Rochelle Fairfield Wednesday, 25 April 2012 20:58 posted by Rochelle Fairfield

    ah, Gregor, thanks for explaining the optimism bias, I think I get it - partly a defense against our mortality, partly fuel for the tourism industry (and i suspect it might be part of what drives parents to have more than one child : )

    The Dopamine / Confidence link is interesting vis a vis gender (and thanks for your eg's, very helpful). Seems like there could be both biological ("genderized chemical factories in our brains") as you say, and also cultural conditioning and personality, as well as individual biology, that influences what releases Dopamine in a particular person.

    To add just a note to your fight / flight chord: a teacher of mine (body psych pioneer) once explained the range of responses to stress and overwhelm (such as fear) exhibited by mammals which i found refreshing.
    The first is the combo you mention, fight or flight. The next level of response is freeze or faint (such as rabbits, when under attack, may freeze, and a possum or chicken playing dead is an eg of faint). And the next level (and my personal fave), bond or play. You see this alot in little kids, when they get overwhelmed and run back to a parent just to sit on their lap (ie, bond) in order to come back to more homeostasis.

    And thanks for the healthy father archetype - a welcome distinction from the negative father archetype, for sure. And a big yes to using our brains in non-reactive ways. Men and women dancing with one another in these spaces is I think a big part of the way forward.

    thank you for the dance, m'sieur!

  • Comment Link Roberta vogel-Leutung Thursday, 26 April 2012 02:50 posted by Roberta vogel-Leutung

    Hey Rochelle - really appreciate u taking on this tendency of the integral community to deny all kinds of constructed reality in the name of seeing the limits of construction as an explanation. I see gender issues as one of many contexts where dominant value systems of those in a majority or in power really do affect the degree to which those outside can participate on their own terms. Here I'm thinking of all kinds of workplace diversity issues where it is often assumed the ONLY reason for lack if representation is lack of qualification where in reality it is far more complex for any situation of difference as you point out. Same applies to all sorts of realities around public participation where I struggle every day to work within

  • Comment Link Gregor Bingham Friday, 27 April 2012 16:48 posted by Gregor Bingham


    This dance gets better!

    The distinction you make about how kids deal with overwhelm when things do not work is to bond and play - this to my mind is what the optimism bias is doing. Considering the optimism bias (an unconscious reaction to dealing with death - annihilation/overwhelm) as a form of attaining homeostasis, is in effect what is going on! Optimism bias as a way of finding safety. So simple, and so understandable why people use it, including myself! That just tied up some loose ends, thanks!

  • Comment Link Rochelle Fairfield Saturday, 28 April 2012 04:53 posted by Rochelle Fairfield

    Hi Roberta - I appreciate very much your reflections, additions and refinements to the breadth of dominant value systems and how they limit participation of those who aren't part of that system. Your comments also remind me that there are conscious and unconscious ways that dominant (and subordinate) value systems are enacted, and most legislation (affirmative action, anti-discrimination policies, etc) only really apply to consciously enacted stuff (so that yeah, even if someone is qualified for the job, the perception subconsciously may be that somehow they aren't quite qualified). I like a few scenes in the movie Moneyball for how they show the old-school, unconscious dominant values around how pro-sports scouts pick up-and-comers, and Brad Pitt's character goes to town on their pseudo logic, exposing their unconscious meaning making in a brutally straightforward manner.

    Vis a vis public participation, I've been watching some clips of Ricardo Semler (business guy who 'runs' Semco in Brazil). He has some interesting ideas on participatory - ie democratic - workplaces. Maybe you've heard of him?

    also just to say, I was just so, so happy to see your name and hear from you, Roberta.

    much love,

  • Comment Link Rochelle Fairfield Saturday, 28 April 2012 05:11 posted by Rochelle Fairfield

    Hi Gregor - cool that you see the optimism bias at work in how kids manage overwhelm. I think I see what you mean, though I'm loathe to reduce it all to that.
    Thinking out loud here. . . it seems to me the optimism bias is rooted in a round-about way in the survival instinct (ie, it's a reaction to the idea that ultimately, we won't survive - we all die). Partly I think that survival gets overplayed as a motivator for human behaviour. Or, we reduce all motivation to survival, which it isn't. Too many people have died for causes for us to really believe that biological survival is That innately imperative!
    I wonder if you put Love as the deeper imperative, and said that at certain phases or moments in our life, love expresses itself as the desire to stay alive (ie, that life loves itself through our very aliveness), and so the impetus to survive (through homeostasis, for eg) is a rudimentary expression of the Love impulse.
    Then again, maybe I just prefer to decorate life with the cherry of love on the top : )

  • Comment Link Gregor Bingham Monday, 30 April 2012 19:54 posted by Gregor Bingham

    Hi Rochelle,

    I had a conversation with some other ICC alumni just yesterday in Ottawa, specifically about love and Martin Ucik's book from a woman's perspective. I actually described the cherry on top aspect of love in that conversation too. Funny. Oh, I could go off in so many tangents, but I will try and list them instead, since they inform my perspective on your comment.
    1. The healthier our ego gets the less likely we will respond from a survival instinct, the more likely we will respond from a more LL/Moral place. That's my observation...
    2. Whatever still needs developed will show up as shadow, will trigger fear, and instinctively survival UNLESS the LL/Moral line has been developed.
    3. How we relate to love (to/with other) is also (so as you don't think I am reductionist, I am an En5!) exploded by the rest of our quadrivia... and to your point if we are loving another and our ego is healthy enough yes I do believe it's the imperative, thus not survival. An evolution of purpose?
    4. Survival is one of the motivators, and underlies with countless conditionings into our psyche, can't be helped, until we surpass its siren call, reduce the amygdala and have a child to nurture or meet someone to love completely, or even just love ourselves (perhaps the most difficult?).
    5. Wouldn't it be nice for the root instinct to be love? Maybe it is in some people, may be you are one of those people, how does that sound?
    6. It is quite fascinating to attend to the contrast between love and survival, since only one of those brings the other with it... its more a cake AND a cherry. :-)

  • Comment Link Gregor Bingham Tuesday, 01 May 2012 00:44 posted by Gregor Bingham

    Oh and one more thing, just read this from Joe's interview with Stuart Davis...

    "What I’ve always loved about Integral, is its impulse to include and inhabit more...If Love is what we’re really loyal to, there’s no way in good conscience we can withhold our work and our presence from trying to enter into the largest part of humanity. If your loyalty is to Love, not only can you not withhold that, you have to pursue that with the greatest diligence."

    To your cherry point: The Love Instinct will create fairness, the Survival Instinct will not and has not.

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