It’s commonly said among feminists that women are naturally less inclined towards conflict and hostility and thus would make better leaders than men. While the premise has an element of truth to it, the nature of earthly politics means that the ability to inflict harm is pretty much how anything would ever get done. I propose that any politically-minded person—male or female—is willing to think practically about moving around the ability to inflict harm just through the inherent nature of government. Law in itself is about using violence to impose order but the lawmakers are so removed from this violence that even people who would say they don’t have the stomach for it can conduct it rationally.

There’s this classic thought experiment called the ‘trolley dilemma’. The idea is that there’s a runaway train that’s going to run over group of people on the track, but you have the ability to switch the tracks and have it go a direction where it only kills one person. Do you switch it? Most people say yes, even though it feels like a crime for them to consciously affect fate to have a person killed. The second version has no switch-track. You’re on a bridge above the track with a fat guy who will cause the train to stop if pushed down onto the tracks to get hit by it. The people who said yes to the first are less inclined to say yes to the second because it feels more like killing someone than affecting the direction of a train. The interesting thing is people are more inclined to say yes depending on how indirect the method of execution is. Pushing the guy with your bare hands feels worse than pushing him with a stick, which in turn feels worse than pressing a button to open a trapdoor beneath him. Our brains evolved for hunter-gatherers on the savannah, and they work well enough for that purpose, but they’re not perfect. A lot of gut instinct moral choices aren’t very reasonable. Just because different parts of the brain are activated for different thought processes doesn’t mean that indirect choices are inherently better; it just means we feel better.

The book Lord of the Flies is often interpreted as a Hobbesian work on how humans deprived of authority descend into savagery. While that’s a main theme, the book goes a bit farther than Hobbes and has hostility as an inherent part of human nature. The adults back in Britain may have a civilized culture, but they’re still in a war. At the end, the boys are rescued by a Navy ship. When the sailor sent out to meet them realizes what happened, he says he would have expected more of British boys and then looks uncomfortably away and his gaze settles on the warship. Even though Britain doesn’t have that Hobbesian state of nature, there’s still hostility because that’s just how people work. There’s also some symbolism to suggest the main conflict between the boys is analogous to Britain vs. Germany in WWII.

The reason why things on the island go to hell is because the boys willing to inflict harm all flock to the madman Jack, and then Ralph doesn’t have any power on his side. The early seasons of the show Lost depict more even power conflicts where it all depends on who have the guns. Jack initially takes control because he’s a doctor and this is valuable, but when the selfish Sawyer tries to assert independence and withhold resources, Jack fights him for power for the good of the refugees as a group. People call this anarchy, but anarchy as defined by a pure lack of government only exists for a few minutes. The instant Jack gives orders and people obey him spawns a hierarchy. Compared to countries waging war, the deserted island power struggles are small, but the concept is the same.

When people look at Lost, it looks completely brutal compared to normal life, but those same issues of controlling people with the power to inflict harm are simply a fact of life. Civilians of civilized cultures can expect decent treatment by everyone and don’t have to constantly be on guard because of the pervasive threat of cops using their ability to inflict harm to impose order. Crime is dissuaded by the idea that people with guns will force criminals into imprisonment if they should ever act. The cops generally aren’t seen as a threat to peaceful civilians, though, because of the way cops are managed by their own hierarchy that ultimately leads to officials elected by the people. As the laws they enforce are voted on by the people, the cops can be considered an extension of the will of the people. Most people don’t have the stomach for violence themselves, but they’re fine with letting cops do it for them. Every law is ultimately enforced with violence, so even if people aren’t gun-toting hierarchs of island refugees, the indirectness of lawmaking allows for people to practice the same kind of imposition of power.

I suspect people voting aren’t thinking about cops practicing coercion as a consequence of people not abiding by laws so much as fines. If people don’t obey laws that don’t involve serious violations (rape, murder, etc.) for which disobedience is seen as a threat requiring quick violence, they get fined. If they don’t pay the fines, then they’ll be arrested, and if they resist arrest, the guns come out. The fine is thought of as a harmless way to get people to behave, and of course fines must be paid and if they don’t pay it’s their own fault. But when violence is at the end, it’s kind of like voting on how to train a monkey to push buttons that can result in the fat man dropping through a trapdoor and getting hit by a train. Yes, your vote is about a monkey, but there’s violence as a part of it. The indirectness of voting shouldn’t obscure the ultimate violence.

The claim that women are less hostile and more open to cooperation has some basis in fact. It doesn’t have any practical meaning once women get involved in politics, though, because handling the power to inflict harm is an inherent aspect of politics. The idea that men’s testosterone is the source of war is part of the misandry some feminist philosophers started slipping into, but really any people with power will create conflict as a necessary consequence of maintaining power. The only way for women to maintain an abstinence from conflict is to not vote at all, which I think is the wrong direction to take. Women should instead accept the inherent hostility of human existence and try to govern nobly, wielding the power to inflict harm in good ways. In cases of indirect government, men and women are truly equal.