Scott Adams is annoyed. At you.
I. Scott Adams Hates You
Adams, the creator of Dilbert, also has a blog. The blog is where Adams tosses out random thoughts he has in his head unrelated to the comic.
Adams wrote a post called “Pegs and Holes” that pissed off all the wrong people. That is to say, it pissed off exactly the right people all at the same time. The post muses on why “Powerful men have been behaving badly, e.g. tweeting, raping, cheating, and being offensive to just about everyone in the entire world.” These men would include Weiner, Strauss-Kahn, Schwarzenneger and many many others. Here is what he wrote in that post:
The part that interests me is that society is organized in such a way that the natural instincts of men are shameful and criminal while the natural instincts of women are mostly legal and acceptable.
This block-quoted excerpt is the thesis. That single sentence is what Scott thinks, and that is what he wants to talk about.
Here is where the writers of Jezebel, Salon, Change.org, and their commenters all went wrong. They took the first sentence I quoted (“Powerful men…”), and mated it with the excerpt I quoted, even though they are separated by five sentences.
In no way did Scott believe that men’s natural instincts included rape or cheating. If you read his blog post before now, and you drew that conclusion, then I’m sorry, but you have some serious reading comprehension problems.
Leaving aside for a minute the implied equivalence of that laundry list (breaking your marriage vows versus raping someone), this is a bleak perversion of biological determinism. By that reading, the presumed majority of men who don’t rape (or cheat, or tweet) are simply better at managing their innate desires to violate someone else, which I’d wager isn’t true to the lived experience of most non-raping men.
There is no implied equivalence. Irin inferred it. The “laundry list” relates the events that have been in the news recently. The sentence about natural instincts is set off by itself as a new paragraph. To conflate the two requires a bias and/or determination. You have to want that to be what he is saying and here’s why.
II. Society Hates You, Too.
Adams is right that society curbs and criminalizes natural impulses of men. Where Adams misses a step is that it isn’t just men. Society does it to women too [1, again]. Society absolutely, positively, without question or possible counter-argument is “organized in such a way that the natural instincts of men [and women!] are shameful and criminal”. Suppressing, curbing, and subordinating these natural instincts to conform with the social order is the entire function of the superego according post-Freudian psychoanalysis. And it was and continues to be worse for women. Monogamy isn’t a natural instinct, marriage isn’t a natural instinct, holding your pee until you can get to a specially equipped room isn’t natural. For either sex. It’s imposed by the social order.
And this is where Jezebel’s “implied equivalence” went haywire. The only reasonable inference you can draw from Adams’s post is that the “laundry list” of bad acts is the dysfunctional/neurotic return of the repressed instinct.
Which brings me to another point. Cheating can not be a natural instinct. Polygamy, maybe. But cheating implies circumventing a set of social rules or some other social contract, which implies the existence of the social order. Cheating can’t be a natural instinct because the thing you are cheating itself isn’t natural.
But his subsequent explanations weren’t good enough either, and this is where the story gets very interesting. At this point, Scott Adams got annoyed, and wrote this:
To that end, I would like to invite some experts to render their opinions of my sanity, based on my interviews with my detractors, below. Any of the following professionals would qualify:
He is not writing this to filter for men, or older folks, or the rich. He simply wants to hear from people who make, parse, and interpret arguments and make and render judgments professionally. He is soliciting the opinion of “professional thinking persons”. People who know how to distinguish an implication made by the author from an inference drawn by the reader. People who know how to remove themselves from their biases, and see all sides of an argument.
You know who he doesn’t want to hear from? Programmers, English professors, academics, sociologists, physicians, architects, NFL runningbacks, and bloggers. Especially bloggers. (For the record, I meet one of his criteria). He wanted to hear from people who would disagree intelligently with the central idea of his post, not engage in Fisking, the nitpicking of statements he obviously did not intend to be taken seriously.
Apparently, however, the uninvited didn’t get the message, so Adams posted a sarcastic Reading Comprehension Test.
Why is Scott Adams doing this?
III. Let’s Do It Greek-Style
Adams’s problem is that he wanted a Socratic discussion. Start from a single idea and then systematically explore its dimensions, implications, and implicit paradoxes. This is what he did in that original post (and in most of his posts). We’re hanging out in the agora, he tosses out an idea, we kick it around, fiddle with it, play with it, see what it can and can’t do for us. Adams wants to concentrate on the idea.
What everyone else wanted to have was akin to a Talmudic discussion (I’m being extremely generous here. What really happened on his blog and on others was beneath the level of high school debate.) They wanted to examine his words, his statements. They wanted to concentrate on the text. What I’m doing in the body of this post is the latter. What I’m doing way down below in the footnote is the former. Learn the difference, love the difference, and use it to your advantage.
What is frustrating about so many bloggers and commenters (fortunately not many of the ones here), is that they want to engage in the latter on a post that was very obviously written to be the former. They want to attack the words as if the blogger deliberated over the post for weeks. They want to argue about copy editing, word choice, and grammar. They take gross generalizations, hyperbole, and metaphor literally. Adams is fed up with precisely the kind of people who try to construe the post to mean something other than its reasonable meaning. He wants to recalibrate his sanity with people who have to read, write, comprehend and argue professionally and civilly.
Maybe he writes provocatively, or casually, or even clumsily (we all do). Absolutely none of those has anything to do with the ideas. We are all reasonable people. We are all reasonable adults. Engage the idea, the main point, the thesis. Focus on the construction of the argument and not the style of it.
And if you can’t engage the idea, or you don’t understand, just drop in a comment and ask. “Hey, Scott, did you mean to imply that all men want to rape?” I’m sure he or someone else would be happy to clear that up for you.
See also: Jezebel Proves Scott Adams Is Right @TLP
 I think his thesis is wrong. First he assumes the cliche that women want stability and monogamy and men naturally want to be sexually aggressive. Anthropological evidence seems to suggest that pretty much everyone tends towards polygamy. But this almost doesn’t matter because secondly, and more importantly, there are innumerable layers of socialization on top of our instincts. Our society is organized in the interests of a stable society, one that survives into the future, which in turn necessarily and perhaps unfairly is biased in favor of the status quo (i.e. social progress is always “sticky”). The status quo suppresses everyone, men, women and children. Because individual stability is not as important as the stability of the whole.
But regardless of its makeup, to the extent society represses any natural instinct in one context, it provides an outlet for it in some other context. Relevant to my second paragraph in this post, Foucault talked about heterotopias, the places that society includes within itself where it’s okay to break the rules society has everywhere else (this is only one type of heterotopia, there are others, and the concept is quite profound). Adams’s conclusion fails to account for the existence of these heterotopias in today’s society, of which there many for for men than women, such as bathhouses, strip joints, Vegas brothels, and pornography on the extreme end, but also the more quotidian and conventional heterotopias like locker rooms, “man caves”, and sports bars. All of these basically serve as a release from the otherwise stifling restrictions on natural sexual instincts that Adams mentions (there are also heterotopias for women (and gays, and BDSM enthusiats, etc), just not as many, esp. outside cities.)