A Thermodynamic Interpretation of History
CHAPTER 4: The Liberation of Women

1. The liberation of women and the evolution of the nation-state
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Copyright © 1999, 2004, 2005, 2006 by Lawrence C. Chin. All rights reserved.

The “real” meaning or historical significance (not what people say about it to deceive so as to hide the working of power) of women’s liberation, its truth, can only be found in the history of the formation of the nation-state. It is another one of the tactics by which the nation-state can increase its metabolic rate and extract more energy from within in its incessant attempt to augment its power. The dramatically shifting fate of women in the history of the formation of the nation-state reflects the stages of the growth of the nation-state from infancy to maturity, each of which demanded a particular destiny or social role for women according to its needs.

The formative period of nation-state

As said, after the progress made in agricultural techniques significantly improved the livelihood of the general population of Europe, and when consequently the threat of famine and epidemic receded further and further away from view, from actuality, the state became aware of the possibility of explicitly taking life (-processes) into control and of deliberately maximizing it (them) with social and political measures (bio-politics). Treating its population as resources (man-power), the state was naturally highly invested in maximizing their life-processes and in harvesting them for use in its struggle with neighboring states. Now insofar as women were the sole (re-)producers of the human resources of the state, the state considered them with special interest as extremely important resources distinct from the males that it harvested and applied directly to its efforts for power-struggle. This is why from 1500 onwards, women in European states were subject to greater and greater control by the society, until their subjugation reached a climax during the nineteenth century. It is no surprise that the nineteenth century Europe witnessed the massive proliferation of discourses on and gynecological technologies (control measures) of female body and sexuality (usually in terms of “aberrations”), and of eugenical measures targeted on family size and which “disciplined” (produced more efficient) mothers. The intensification of interests in the female body, or rather in the control of female body, reflected the need or desire of the state to regulate female reproduction, now something essential to the “quality” of population resource and hence to the power of the state. So did too the increasingly exception-intolerant restriction of women’s social roles to those of reproductive relevance: mother and sexual object (both for pleasure and science, or the public and scientists). This, of course, was the condition of the growing middle-class who were the “aristocrats” of the new nation-state.

Another factor contributing to the intensification of the control of women by society during the formative period of the nation-state is the beginning of atomization. As said, atomization, as in the breakdown of the community and the extended family (which figured more prominently than the state in a person's life back in the days before the emergence of the nation-state), was favored both by the state (as a means to increase its control of its citizens) and by capitalism (as a sure means to increase consumption, and so production, and so to enlarge the economy). Before atomization results, as in the American society of today, in absolute individualism, where society becomes merely a collective of individuals floating from city to city with minimum ties with the family, communities and extended families were being atomized into the nuclear families -- this was the most important social phenomenon happening in Western Europe between the 18th and 20th century.

So during the formative period of the nation-state (Western Europe, 1750- 1900), the unit of society is no longer a large (extended) family of several generations consisting of a dozen or more people (which characterizes the traditional, agrarian society), but a mere coupling of two representatives of each sex with whatever offspring they have produced. Sexual division of labor, initiated 100,000 years ago when our species first emerged in Africa, has now reached its last stage, its final formulation, in the nuclear family. Two seemingly contradictory phenomena were consequences of this atomization: monogamy with strict sexual division of labor and the tighter and finer control of women by their husbands. At this stage atomization has not yet reached its logical conclusion, the ultra individualism of today. Thus, it has not yet broken down the sexual division of labor (which it did during the mature period of the nation-state, during the era of consumerism), so that husband and wife form a single unit of economic consumption and political participation. (Whereas today since both spouses work, they might as well be considered as two separate economic units, two separate centers of consumption and production.) This is where feminists of today would soon derive their memory of the tyranny of the family; but in fact, their memory of the thousand-year patriarchal oppression refers merely to the lot of women during the hundred-year subphase of the formation of the nation-state.

The mature period of nation-state

The changing fate of women first started in the lower-class. At this time also, the bio-politics of the new nation-state had planted a solid basis for capitalistic, consumer society. Especially in the U.S., the expanding capitalist economy had grown so large that the traditional membership of the public domain no longer contained enough “man-power” to continually augment the cycle of production and consumption that powered the expansion of the market economy. As more recruits were needed in the sphere of public, capitalist production, the market naturally looked to women as fresh “ore” as yet un-exploited. There was now a contradiction, or rather tension, between the two extremities of the exigency of bio-power. On the one hand, the bio-politics of the state (in the interests of the state’s power) required sexually fertile and efficient mothers (child-rearers) in the private sphere to perform the all-important task of the reproduction of population-resource. On the other hand, the growth of the market economy, the metabolism of the new state, encouraged mobilizing the female portion of the population also as additional producers and consumers, thereby continuing the enlargement of the cycle of production and consumption on which capitalism fed for its growth. The tension of the new society of nation-state, now matured, was at first kept at the minimum through circumstantial divergence between classes. That is, in the beginning, only women of the proletarian level were recruited into public production, and recruited into the lower sphere of public production at that; while women of the middle and upper class remained restricted to the stifling routines of production in the private sphere; that is, restricted to the task of efficient motherhood in the grand scheme of the new rational state. The liberation of women, which in its essence has been the progressive recruitment of women, hitherto resource un-sapped, into the explicit power-generation process of the nation-state, proceeded in direction opposite to that in which sexual dispositives spread, as Foucault has noted : the female “liberation” started from the lower class and ended in the middle and upper class, in the contemporary age, the product of “second wave of women's movement”; but sexual technologies (and probably eugenical measures too) began in the middle class (the agents of power imposing power on themselves!) and then spread into the lower class. (Note that discipline also began its career in the lower class.)

The United States, having the largest market economy, naturally played the leading role in the “liberation” of women. All European states were to follow in this new avenue to energy-extraction and power-generation. Today in the Western world, the process is complete: the entire female population, of all classes, has been mobilized for public production (for the sake of the increasing power of the state). Even the frontier of state’s power, the most external aspect and the most explicit expression of its power, the military, is becoming susceptible of female mobilization. One should not be surprised at this phenomenon of “female mobilization” for the sake of state’s power, disguised ideologically as “liberation”; one needs to keep in mind that mass mobilization is an essential feature of the modern, nation-state, the mechanism most responsible for the success of European states 1500- 1945, and for the American world-hegemony afterwards: mass politics, mass consumption and production, mass education and mass literacy, mass learning. (The “real” purpose of compulsory education is no doubt mass-mobilization: to make everyone within the boundary of the state skillful for the business of modern society and so exploitable to the maximum degree by the state in its power-struggle with neighboring states.) In today’s society, everything is mass.

The completion of mass-mobilization, as in the "liberation of women", also means the completion of atomization. The nuclear family is further atomized down to its constituents: with the rights of women to vote and their participation in public production, the husband and the wife each now constitute a single and independent unit of political participation and economic consumption. 100,000 years of sexual division of labor disintegrates in face of mass-mobilization for politics and economic consumption. The husband and the wife now each have their own economic role and each vote for their own candidates. There is no more nuclear family with its traditional sexual division of labor, but a mere congregation of two distinct units. The beneficial effect of this ultra atomization on the economy of the nation-state is clearly visible: Simply, so much more can be consumed if man and woman consume separately instead of as a single unit. (Just think how happy the automobile industry was when women started going to work and therefore started buying their own car: now a household regularly has two cars instead of just one such as for the traditional nuclear family, where the spouses shared the same car.) This is the situation of contemporary American society, where each woman, just like every other man, leaves home upon adulthood and works and dates like a free-floating shark.

With the liberation of women, the nation-state is come of age. When women activists marched on the street, when they tried to push their head through the glass ceiling, they thought they were breaking the back of power, or tearing up a gap in the progression of history (the ideological history: matriarchy [gap/overthrown by revolution/discontinuity] patriarchy [gap/overthrown by revolution/discontinuity] the egalitarian just society), but in fact they were deceived into doing service for power, now attempting to grow. They ushered in power with a new face, now more powerful. This is an extremely important insight, parallel to Foucault’s regarding “sexual liberation”. It sounds like an instance of the Hegelian "cunning of Reason" (List der Vernunft), where the actors of the drama of history act according to their passions and think that they are accomplishing their goals, but in fact they have been manipulated by the principle (Reason) of history to accomplish history's own end. Except that the goal for the Hegelian history is freedom, whereas here, in reality, it is the incessant growth of power, and finally of supraorganismic metabolism.

Important, but surely not hard to grasp. Women going to work, like men, is simply good for the expansion of economy, and therefore contributes to the growing power of the state. Equality between the sexes is simply good for economy and so desired by the state. Just think, if we can get rid of the terrible practice of paying women less than men, and instead pay them equal to men, then women's buying power (and so consumption rate) will be increased, which will help expand the economy, which in turn will be conducive to the power of the state.

All the ideological constructs of the feminist discourse, then, just like the ideological constructs of sexual liberation (the repression of sex by power during the preceding age of tyranny, and freedom of sex during the very ancient, now forgotten “golden age”, ancient Greece or primitive time, etc) and of political revolution (liberty, equality, freedom from tyranny, etc), are merely deception generated to mask power and induce the gullible to sacrifice for power’s sake. These constructs include: “patriarchy,” (or the organization of society in such a way that put men as a class in position to govern women as a class), present in all feminist discursive camp excepting perhaps the traditional liberal feminism; cultural feminists’ mandatory participation of women in the public affair in view of the saturation of world affairs by destructive masculinity as a result of milennia of male monopoly of them and which will lead to extinction-level event, and of the peculiarly female values of caring and cooperation that women acquired in their underdog position and in their role of motherhood. These constructs paint a picture of the past (history) that is anachronistically incorrect. The image of “patriarchy” is derived from women’s experience under the formative period of nation-state when their subjugation reached the all-time-height in European history, for reasons already discussed, and is not valid beyond the period of nation-state. In fact, the entire experiential background of women’s oppression, struggle for counter-oppression, and final victorious liberation is circumscribed by the history of nation-state as one thread among others in its experience of its birth, growth, and maturity. It is a component of power’s experience of its latest stage of growth. A comment by Anderson and Zinsser may be relevant here (A History of Their Own. Vol.1):

The unequal relationship between women and men, present at the beginning of history in Europe, intensified as time went on. The early nineteenth century marked the nadir of European women’s options and possibilities. In earlier centuries, alternative authorities and customs, as well as regional, governmental, and religious variations created a range of circumstances that enabled some European women to achieve relative independence and relative dominance. Gradually, however, changes in government, law, economy, and religion tending toward centralization, rationalization, and uniformity worked to limit women’s lives further and deprive most of them of power and opportunities available to some women in earlier eras. (p. xxii; emphasis added)

This is clearly an observation relevant to the formative period of nation-state.

When it is understood that the entire experiential field of feminism, from the experience of oppression to the overthrow of tyranny, was embedded as one of its components in the experiential field of the growth of nation-state, the fact can no longer cause surprise that it is one and the same mechanism which first instituted the oppression of the female sex AS THE FEMINISTS KNOW (have experience of) IT, and then dismantled it: the same aitia or arche, or principle, for both oppression and liberation at once is the exigency of the growth of nation-state, the exigency of its metabolism, of its power… When the budding of nation-state first emerged from the old, decaying body of Medieval kingdoms, discipline and augmentation of citizens’ life-processes was of utmost importance, and the increasingly exception-intolerant subjugation of females within the private sphere, as a different sort of regulation and discipline of the body than that targeted on the male body, represented the counterpart within the private, reproductive sphere to the latter, discipline of masculinity within the public, productive sphere. When the budding had matured, however, its expanded metabolic needs required tapping into the hitherto un-used resources of the private sphere for public use. Women were first beaten down, and then lifted up, all along by the same master, and for the same sake, the master (state) himself. Parallel with this drastic shift of master’s “policy” ran the shift in ideology, which again had no other purpose of existence than to serve the master’s interests. To beat women down in the beginning, the master had to convince them of their natural unfitness for public production (and hence fitness for private reproduction); as the master’s interest shifted to exploiting them for public production, he needed now to discard the old ideology, now an impediment to his interest, and institute a new one that would serve his current interest, and who would be in better position to do this than the women themselves? So women first marched to proclaim that they were just as able and efficient as men in public production and hence should be incorporated (liberal feminism); not enough! Their incorporation was in fact absolutely necessary if the species and the Earth was to survive (cultural feminism)! With this even more forceful ideology, there now can be no stopping of the exploitation of the energy of the “other sex.” When the capitalist market grew to a new height after the 1960s in the United States, inequality in payment between the sexes became clearly an impediment to the growth of the market: if women were paid less then they consumed less – an obstacle to the production-consumption cycle of market growth and a most horrible story for the capitalists. Hence women got paid equally then. But who actually turned aside from the deceptive cries for justice and saw this real motor for the economic equality between the sexes? Power, as always, has to veil itself. The voices of women’s movement were never contradictory to, but always in tune with, power, i.e. power authentically identified, and not deceptively masked: the power of the supraorganism (not some imaginary construct like “patriarchy”), measured externally in terms of the strength of the blows it is capable of delivering upon others of its kind and internally in terms of the rate and efficiency of its metabolism (economy), the rhythm of its staying-alive.

An important lesson that every reader of Foucault’s later work will learn is the manner in which the growth of power in modern times tends to mask itself by reformulating itself as “liberation”, as a point of break within the progression of history, by setting up a “puppet power”, by mis-identifying power, by inauthentically understanding power – by constructing an imaginary exactly opposite to reality: by pointing to its impediment as power and to itself as the noble rebel against power. But just as a Chinese proverb has it: “The participants [the first and second person] are confused (mesmerized), while the observers [the third person] see clearly”, so the reformers outside the Western world, when trying to induce “artificially” their own less integrated supraorganism onto the same path of growth in “organismality” (they call it “modernization”, meaning “westernization”), often exhibited clear seeing of the nature of such “liberation” as that of women: so Kemal, or Ataturk, the most successful modernizer of an Islamic state (someone who made in it the same transition as that in Europe from prélèvement to positive, productive power), pushed into existence the right to vote of women as part of his program for the modernization of Turkey and encouraged them to enter into professions. Just how much compassion he had for the women of Turkey I cannot say; but surely, he effected this reform mainly, if not exclusively, in order to create, out of an old Islamic society, a powerful nation-state capable of competition with European nation-states. Here there can be no doubting of the coincidence, and not contradiction, between women’s liberation (i.e. women in public, women as men) and the growth of the supraorganism in power.

Is there a distinction then between women’s movement per se and the feminist discourse? The latter has gone quite complicated in its 200 years of existence. From the simplistic liberal feminism to the complex cultural feminism; and this latter has diversified, in respect to its analysis of oppression of women or “patriarchy”, that illusory entity, into various theoretical orientations: Marxist, psychoanalytic, existentialist, radical feminism, and finally the highly complex linguistically and semantically based analysis of patriarchy. But they become in the end nothing more than power’s ideological agent to mask itself. The exact parallels to the libertarian discourses of The Age of Enlightenment (actually the Age of Deception and Intellectual Obscurity), such as Locke or Rousseau.

From the lesson that women's "liberation" is merely the effect of the expansion of capitalism to consumerism one may well draw the conclusion that we no longer need to worry about "oppressed" people. Human rights, in terms of fuller political representation or better economic livelihood, are not in opposition to the indestructible capitalist power structure, but in fact in harmony with it. We will see that the human rights advancement in the United States (in respect to both women and racial minorities) is the product of capitalist market growth. At this point there seems to be a paradox: In the First World, the great capitalist industry has done so much, in concomitance with its growth, to "liberate" the "oppressed." Then why is it that when they come to the Third World, they tend to create the situation of exploitation so as to produce the illusion that capitalist market interests, or profits, seem to always and necessarily be in conflict with the advancement of human rights, that is of the welfare of the masses? Again, the oppression of the masses in the Third World is in the same nature as women's oppression during the formative period of nation-state: it is the sign of the formative period of the Global Market (a global supraorganism, global open-dissipative structure). In order to increase consumption at home, the capitalist powers of the First World have to exploit the Third World masses by suppressing wages there in order to increase buying-power at home. But this can only be a temporary situation. As soon as the home market reaches saturation level, continued expansion of the capitalist market will entail the transformation of the Third World hitherto exploited masses into first-rate consumers on a par with the "liberated" consuming masses in the First World. The consumer market will expand into the Third World masses in order to grow further once it reaches saturation level at home. That will be the day when the wages of the hitherto exploited masses there are raised so as to increase their consumption ability. These oppressed masses will then acquire full political and economic rights and become standard consumers in the Global Economy. That shall be the day of their "liberation", which, again, comes from the same source as their "oppression". Oppression and liberation are simply superficial phases of an underlying process -- supraorganismic metabolic growth -- the first the function of the process' formative period and the other its maturity or saturation.1

POSTSCRIPT (May, 2004): The purpose of the "liberation" of women -- at which feminist theories and women's movement aim -- is to increase production and consumption -- with the sanction and encouragement from the nation-state and, more and more, the global economy. It is in essence no different than the mobilization of women for the "home-front" production in America during WWII or in Britain during WWI: a reserved labor pool to be tapped into when "men-power" is sapped or used elsewhere: except that during war times the ideology used to mobilize women is patriotism rather than "liberation". As said in the introductory summary, the present study (of women's liberation) attempts to assume the viewpoint of an alien anthropologist studying earthly civilization -- the viewpoint of total objectivity. Such viewpoint is not concerned with the subjectivities of the participants in the social processes, but only with the overall effect of their actions -- just as an ecologist, when studying the food-chain of the biosphere, is not concerned with the possible subjectivities of lions and deer: since it is always the lions which hunt deer and never the other way round, if these animals were to acquire human subjectivities, might not deer, like the feminists, start denouncing lions as the oppressor-caste whose sole purpose of existence is to oppress (through hunting and eating) the deer, and whose psychological make-up consists solely in a desire to dominate (prey upon) the weaker deer? The ecologist, rather, considers how the lion-deer relationship (or carnivore-herbivore relationship in general) fulfills certain energy-transfer function within the whole harmonious self-functioning of the biosphere which is a system that sucks in energy coming in from the sun, processes it (and recycles the chemicals it contains already) through various levels of food-chain (detritvores [comprising decomposers like bacteria and fungi and scavengers] - producers [photosynthesizers] - consumers [herbivores, from grasshoppers to grazing mammals] - consumers of consumers [carnivores]), and finally dissipates the waste products (energy escaping the system as heat). Society works the same way. It is a supraorganism (open dissipative structure on the level of corm) interacting with others in an interaction sphere, which is to the individual supraorganisms what the biosphere is to the individual organisms. When the relation-structure internal to the society as a (supra-)organism changes (such as the alteration of women's status or function in society, as from housewife to producer) the true purpose of the change can only be discerned by considering what the new state of equilibrium is which the metabolism of the organism is attempting to reach through this internal restructuration -- not by taking for real the subjectivities of the participants in the change (desire to overthrow tyranny or reaction to maintain domination). These subjectivities are illusions generated by the pressure of supraorganismic growth (power) to facilitate the transition. Similarly, when the photosynthesizers (the algae around 500 million B.P. and cooksonia, the earliest plant, 415 million B.P.) and herbivores (insects around 400 million B.P. and amphibians 350 million B.P.) appeared on land, some herbivores turned into carnivores in order to consume the excess of herbivores so as to maintain the balance of the new system -- or simply because there was enough "surplus" of herbivores to allow the parasitic, carnivoral behavior as a possibility -- but not because some "desired to dominate". This is the "objective" manner in which later on the rise of male-domination in human society is to be understood. At this point the "liberation of women" can be understood as the process of supraorganismic integration (first wave, the granting of female suffrage rights which allows the state to establish a direct reciprocal relationship with women, dispensing with the "husband" hitherto serving as the mediator between the state and women) and then the augmentation of its metabolism (second wave, women mobilized for public production to increase production and consumption): in general, the process of building a tighter and larger open dissipative structure (corm, society as an economic unit), which is about to merge with others of its kind in the global interaction sphere to form an even larger open dissipative structure: this is the meaning of globalization, the rise of regional economies and the decline of the identity of individual nation-states. Interestingly, as will be seen, the liberation of women in the center-region of globalization (America) may actually be the first stage in the formation of a global economic unit (open dissipative structure). The danger is whether the planet earth can withstand the increasing defecation of such a powerful, new open dissipative structure.


1. (Update, Oct. 28. 2004) C.f. Paul Craig Roberts's column, OCT. 20, 2004, at creator.com, in the case of China-U.S.: "In the early 1980s, when I was assistant secretary of the treasury, the U.S. trade deficit was due to oil imports. Currently, the U.S. deficit in manufactured goods alone is 3.5 times our oil imports. Our trade deficit in vehicles is nearly equal to our deficit in oil, and our deficit in clothing, ADP equipment, office machines, TV and VCRs is 1.5 times our oil import bill. The United States is ceasing to be a manufacturing country." Next when we refer to the inauguration of the second wave feminism as the initiation of globalization by allowing the U.S. to suck in massive amount of cheap consumer products from abroad, we are referring to this "de-manufacturization" of America. "America has a trade deficit in almost every manufacturing product. Comparing the first 8 months of this year to the first 8 months of last year, our trade deficit in manufacturing products increased by 16 percent. In iron and steel mill production, it increased 146 percent. The United States has a trade surplus in corn, cotton, wheat, scrap metal and animal feeds. The only manufacturing products in which the United States has a (small) trade surplus is airplanes and scientific instruments. Since 1985, the U.S. trade balance with China has deteriorated from balance to a deficit of $160 billion... Charles McMillion, president of MBG Information Services, notes that the U.S.-China trade relationship is the most unequal in the world. The United States has a trade deficit with China in almost every industry code. The U.S. deficit in advanced technology products with China is astounding. How was it possible for China, alone in world history, to outpace the most advanced country on earth? Was China elevated to the forefront by U.S. firms who moved their production for the American market to China in order to take advantage of essentially free labor? Americans no longer produce the 'American goods' that they consume. American incomes are falling, as economist Joseph Stiglitz recently pointed out." The natural consequence of globalization: the gradual equilibrium of wealth between the first and the third world. "When the dollar gives way [e.g. to the Euro], as Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert McTeer says it must, Americans will not be able to purchase the goods and services that American firms produce abroad with foreign labor. U.S. firms will have to sell their offshore-produced wares to the labor that produces them. 'Cheap foreign goods' will be beyond the reach of Americans, whose country is in rapid transformation from a superpower to a Third World economy."

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