Re: Sex Change

Robin Hanson (
Mon, 28 Jul 1997 14:07:03 -0700 (PDT)

Kathryn Aegis writes-
>... I would say that it runs contrary to the interests of
>social institutions to reveal the mechanics of their own
>constructions to the individuals that are affected by them.

Steve Witham responds:
>Yes, but why? "Want" is just a shorthand. The question is, *why*, in
>your opinion, it's in the interests of "social institutions" ...
>to conceal rather than reveal their own constructions? Why
>don't they benefit by being up-front and above-board instead?

Kathryn responded:
>I already explained this, in a paragraph that I worried might offend
>Robin, as it explained Basics.

Steve responded the way I would have. The closest I've heard to an
answer is by Dale Carrico:

>Social institutions, vocabularies, scripts often best maintain
>themselves by relying on a fantasy of their necessity, inevitability,
>or self-evidence ... I'm the last to
>deny that robust and attractive social institutions might could should
>and often have maintained themselves in other modes -- the openness
>you describe, for example -- but this simply doesn't apply to Western
>constructions like race, sex, gender, sexuality, beastliness, and the
>rest of that pesky constellation as they have come down to us here and

O.K. This seems to be a direct application of a general rule that
something that wants to get chosen gains an advantage by having the
choosers be less aware of other choices. So the extent to which any
random institution, say journal editorship, is threatend by revealing
the construction of gender depends on the extent to which some
alternative to that institution would be more visible with revealed
construction. I find it hard to believe that most social institutions
would be very threatened, since I don't think their alternatives
typically depend much on gender, but I'm open to being convinced.

Robin D. Hanson