Finally on Friday, not knowing what to do but knowing she had to do something, she called Winnie Booth and asked if she could meet her for lunch. She stopped at Toscannini’s in Central Square for ice cream then again at Bertucci’s, where a pizza was waiting for her, and she met Winnie in a little lounge overlooking Killian Court at M.I.T. They shared small talk over lunch. Winnie was so big with the baby she seemed about to burst and she used her belly like a little table.
“You can afford to eat like this,” Winnie said, “but I can’t.”
“…This is the most I’ve eaten in a week, I think.”
“That bad, is it?”
Gwen put on her best plucky expression. “Nothing’s bad. Just… different.”
“My mistake. Devin comes to the lab on Monday with a face like he’s running for county coroner, but nothing’s bad. Your eyes look like they haven’t got a tear left in them, but nothing’s bad. What could be bad?”
Gwen smiled sheepishly and that was answer enough.
“Do you know the best philosopher I ever studied under? It’s Devin’s grandmother, Cecilia, Candy. No credentials, no college education, no pedigree of any kind, just a mind that can see through twenty miles of bullshit and will not let you get away with a thing. When I first met her, I was the worst kind of smug, college-bred jackass. Knew everything and deferred only to curriculum vitaes longer than my own. And that woman just took me apart. Nothing vicious about it, there’s not a drop of cruelty in her. All she really does is ask questions. But she asks questions that make it painfully obvious that everything you had been so confident about was constructed from solid quicksand.
“The first few times I talked to her, she dismantled me completely in seconds flat. I’d scurry back across the river, back to the Institute, and try to think of better arguments. I was sure I was right, after all, and it must be that my teachers and my books hadn’t anticipated such an eccentric point of view. She is an eccentric, you know. She’s as eccentric as Socrates, and you know what they did to him.
“Anyway, after a while I stopped fighting her and just listened to what she had to say. And it was months later before I was willing to admit that she knew all about philosophy and I knew nothing but the garbage they stuff into the books to keep the covers from collapsing. That was a very hard admission to make. I was a prideful child – could you have guessed? ‘I’m younger than that now’…
“Anyway, Candy is one of four gifts I’ve had from Devin. The first is Xander, I told you that. The second is Candy. She changed my whole career, and I share her gifts with all my students. The third is Devin himself, and I know that so much of what I admire in him comes to him from Candy and from Nick, his grandfather. And the fourth is the idea of family that I learned from Devin’s family, learned by watching the way they love each other all the time.
“By the time I met Devin his grandfather and his father were already gone. It was just Candy and Devin’s mother and Devin and Hunter. And Nicole, but she was never really in that family, and it hurt me to see it. But they were always together, always doing things together, always touching and talking and laughing. And Devin carried them with him wherever he went, still, always. There’s a piece of Candy living in me, but if I need more of her, I can find her in boundless quantities in Devin’s office, still more of her at the house. They’re all still alive in him, all still right here, three generations of that family bundled up in him all the time. And when Hunter is older, there will be four generations in him. They’re all about tradition and remembrance and respect and careful observance, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Devin is in his family all the time and he always will be and it’s not because of any traditions. He’s in them and they’re in him and they’re all together, side by side, all the time and it’s because of…?”
Gwen frowned. “Yes…?”
“What’s the word I’m looking for?”
“A-plus. Nice work. You’ll do well on your mid-terms.”
“I’m so pleased,” Gwen drawled, smiling. “Why are you telling me all this?”
Winnie smiled in return, a mock-nefarious grin. “Guess.”
“If you’re trying to tell me why I should want him, you can stop. I already do want him. I just don’t know quite how to want him.”
Winnie’s smile deepened. “I went to Cecilia Dwyer’s Finishing School for Lady Philosophers. I never tell anyone anything. I just ask people hard questions and make them tell me what’s true and what isn’t.”Gwen said nothing for a moment, just looked out the window. “Shall we eat this ice cream before it goes entirely soft?”
Winnie chuckled. “It took me two years to get used to the fact that people here will eat ice cream on the coldest days.”
“It’s warm enough in here, isn’t it? I wouldn’t want to have it and then race right outdoors, but I don’t think you have any business going outdoors anyway.”
“Too true. We’ll have to do this again in the spring, because I’d like to show you this place. Can you read the inscriptions on the buildings outside? This is M.I.T.’s way of honoring all the great men of science. Galileo, Kepler, Fourier, LaPlace. Aristotle, toward whom every branch of science must bow. Hundreds of names, some larger, some smaller, almost all of them men. Does that seem odd to you?”
Gwen knitted her brows. “Should it? The great men of science were actually men. How could you list their names without making a list of men?”
“Are you unenlightened? Why should men get all the credit just because they did all the work? My mechanic fixes my car so it runs, but I can repair it just as well myself. I’m differently inclined, mechanically speaking, so it doesn’t run when I finish with it, but why should we judge the work of a mechanic by the outmoded and subversively patriarchal standard of whether or not the car runs?”
Gwen smiled. “Now pull the other one.”
“The strictures of antiquity are not true because they’re old. That’s the antiquarian fallacy, the cornerstone of conservatism. But the one thing we can say about classical ideas, as compared with newer ones, is that they have stood the test of time. We have five thousand years and more of human history, and that’s a pretty good database from which to draw conclusions. Science? Men. Engineering? Men. Medicine? Men. Music? Men. Sculpture? Men. Painting? Almost entirely men. Literature? Largely men with a few women, especially in poetry and prose. There are almost no women playwrights we remember. Philosophy? All but entirely men. Why should it be that so much that we see as being characteristic of ‘The West’, in capital letters, should be so dominated, at least at the very top, by men?”
“That doesn’t seem to be a very fruitful line of questioning. It is so because it has been so. If you’re arguing that we should not dilute the contributions of men by laying false claim to an equal stature for women, I agree with you. Women have done many interesting things, but the Organon and the Summa Theologica and the Eroica were all produced by men.”
“But must that be so? It is so, surely, but aren’t we all equals? We said one man cannot claim to be king, claim to be privileged by god to reign over others, and the monarchies were razed. How can it be that only a man can fix my car? There are some really talented physicists of the second rank who are women, and a few of the first rank. Why are there no first class women mechanics?”
Gwen tugged at her chin. “I would suppose there simply aren’t that many women who are interested in repairing cars. It’s very dirty work, isn’t it?”
“Bingo! I could ask variations on that question all day at a meeting of feminists and never get a straight answer. Maybe women could be as good as men at repairing cars, but we don’t know because little girls don’t want to spend hours and weeks and months and years up to their elbows in grease. The truth is, they don’t have to. If they want a mechanic’s income, they can marry a mechanic. If they want a doctor’s income, they can marry a doctor. This is heresy of the first water, so don’t tell on me. But there’s a reason to think about heretical ideas, even at the risk of the Inquisition. ‘We must follow the argument wherever it leads.’ And our dear friends the feminists are willing to read anything except text that parses into clear, discernible meaning. And the very last thing they want to hear, the very last idea the Enlightenment wants to consider, is that human beings, while not ruled by their biology, are nevertheless animals with a particular inviolable nature. Can you think of a biological reason why men should do all the scut work in the world instead of women?”
“I assume you’re going to say because of pregnancy and childbirth, but isn’t the premise open to question? Isn’t that one of the key complaints of feminism, that women get stuck with all the dirty jobs?”
“Wrong and wrong. You’ll have to stay after and wipe down the chalk boards. Women get stuck with the cleaning and the laundry and the diaper changing, and they work in schools and libraries and hospitals. But men get killed or badly injured at work, and almost everyone who gets killed or badly injured on the job is a man. Men take high-risk jobs for higher pay. Men do the jobs that require a total commitment, unlimited overtime without any extra pay. Men work themselves into an early grave, everyone knows this, whether they fix cars or compose symphonies. Why do they do it?”
“…Competition for women?”
“Bingo! It’s actually simpler than that, simpler and more complicated. Aristotle’s name is huge out there. Galileo’s name is huge. But you can do something that Aristotle could never do. You’ve done it once, and I think you want to do it again. I’m doing it now, and I haven’t seen my feet in weeks.”
“Women can have babies. Is this news?”
“The implications of that one simple fact are what make us what we are. As a species. As a culture. As individuals. If you’re very lucky, you have maybe thirty-five years of eggs in your body. They were all there before you were born, and you can’t get any more. The maximum number of babies you can have is just over four-hundred. Nobody wants that many, but you throw egg after egg away, once a month, ‘the curse.’ If you really worked at it, you could have ten babies in your lifetime at most, and the fact is you’ll be lucky to have two or three. On the other hand, if I waddle down the hall and give Xander a good yank, I can pull half-a-million little Xanders out of him, and he’ll have half-a-million more armed and ready by the time we get home. Sperm cells are insanely abundant and egg cells – and the conditions necessary for their proper gestation – are insanely scarce, and everything that we think of as human behavior is a reflection of these two simple biological facts.”
“And if I should answer that biology is not destiny?”“It isn’t. It’s just a tireless goad. In terms of simple genetic recombination, men are redundant, ridiculously so, and women are precious. In a Garden of Eden consisting of one man and twenty-three women, in a year’s time there would be twenty-three new babies. But if there were one woman and twenty-three men, at the end of a year there would be one woman, one surviving man, and the man would kill her baby if he thought it wasn’t his own. That is the state of nature. Does Devin talk to you about fathertongue and mothertongue?”
Gwen rolled her eyes mockingly. “All the time.”
“He tries to make it sound very gender neutral, but the truth is that notational systems are created by men for very masculine purposes. Women are debilitated by babies. Behold my debilitation. Between pregnancy and child-rearing, a woman is fairly defenseless for two or three years. For ten or fifteen if she has one child after another. The job of men, the job of men, is to die so that women and children will live. If this is not the most profoundly anti-Enlightenment statement you have ever heard, you can have double your tuition back. Biology is not destiny, but a man’s biology urges him at every turn to impregnate as many women as possible, as quickly as possible, before someone else takes them out of play for two years or more. The Legions of the Half-Million are fully-formed and fully-armed several times a day, and his unfiltered appetite is to set no impediments before his appetites. This is what his body wants him to do. Why shouldn’t he do it?
“I’ll answer for myself. Because he wants to make sure that his offspring survive. He wants very badly to satisfy that urge, and who am I to blame him? But if he rapes every woman he sees, he risks being killed by some man who views himself as her protector.”
“Or by she herself. She’s not helpless, after all.”
“That’s right. And in any case, the chances are that any children he fathers this way will die. They’ll either be murdered by the mother or her menfolk, or they’ll simply die of starvation or exposure, because the mother will not be able to provide for herself. We’re not reptiles. Fathers can’t just spray the egg and slither away. Gestation for human beings takes fifteen years or twenty years or forever, depending on how you measure things. He wants to father children who will survive to adulthood, and the way he does that is by sticking around. To provide for his woman and their children and to protect them and to lay down his life, if necessary, so that they will live.
“Her job is basically changeless. She nurses, she cleanses, she succors and comforts and soothes. She nurtures, and while women today have better tools than they had five-thousand years ago, the mother’s primary tool will never change: mothertongue. This is how we rear our children and neither god nor man nor kings nor media princes nor radically-feminized Focouldian philosophers can change it. This is what we are irrespective of our reason.
“A mother’s world is unchanging, and a father’s world never stops changing. No matter how well he does at his job of providing for and protecting his family, he can always do better. This is what fathertongue is for, and the threshold of human civilization is enumeration, the primal notational system. One antelope, two antelopes, many antelopes. Hmmm… Many antelopes. Seem like good place to live.”
Gwen laughed delightedly and Winnie joined her.
“It’s funny, but the sad and glorious fact is that we are not born knowing how to stay alive, and it’s men who are normally stuck with the job of figuring out how we can live – and live better each day, each year, each generation. That’s the first function of fathertongue, work, solving the problem of survival. You can’t solve any problem in mothertongue. You can’t reason in mothertongue, only feel. Fathertongue is the language in which we think, and historically, culturally, men have done it. They’ve had the time to do it, and they’ve had the impetus because of their biological role. Perhaps things need not work out this way, but this is the way they have worked out.
“The second function of fathertongue is justice. Whether they like it, and whether we like it, they are our warriors. They are hugely redundant genetically, and therefore they are expendable. Oops! Another heresy… But men don’t want to die, and we don’t want them to die, and even though they are redundant genetically, their skills at production and protection are not expendable. Fathertongue is a means by which men can try to resolve disputes with words instead of weapons.
“The third function of fathertongue is beauty, high art and low, poetry and courtly manners and civility and graciousness. Partly this is competition for women, and partly it is simply competition among men, establishing the lesser and the greater, the ridiculous and the sublime. His genes goad him to pursue the best woman he can find and her genes goad her to find the best man. He judges her by her appearance, at least at first. Is this shallow of him? No. He’s looking for good bones and healthy skin and bright eyes and full hips; he’s looking for a good, sturdy mother for his children. She judges him by his accomplishments, by his wealth or his reputation for skill or his creations. Is this shallow of her? No. She’s looking for the man who can best assure and protect her life and the lives of her children. Deriding human beings for doing what they must do in order to be human beings is a very stupid and very ‘Enlightened’ thing to do.
“The fourth function of fathertongue is worship. And I think more than anything else, fathertongue seeks to worship itself. The feminists insist that men are inherently rapists, that all men are rapists. This is the opposite of the truth. Human civilizations are all the product of fathertongue, and the purpose of civilization is to prevent rape, to make the world safe for women and children. To make a world where women are not raped and killed and where children are not stolen and sold and raped and killed. Civilization is the means by which men make the world safe from their worst impulses, and it is remarkably successful. And the most loving language of fathertongue is reserved in reverence for itself – witness Killian Court.
“Devin doesn’t believe in god and I don’t either, but we both believe in worship, in reverence, in redemption.”
“Worship of what? Reverence for what? If he doesn’t believe in god, what does he believe in?”
Winnie issued her nefarious grin. “Guess.”
“What about you, then? What do you believe in?”
Winnie’s smile mellowed and she touched herself on the belly. “I believe in love. Don’t tell my students, because I can’t prove a thing. But the same Aristotle who wrote the Organon said ‘love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.’ That’s what I believe in, Gwen. That’s what I think men and women ought to do, what they achieve in their very best moments. We owe so much to Aristotle, and I’m very grateful for every gift he gave us. But at night when I pray to the god I don’t believe in, I pray that Aristotle knew that kind of love. It would be tragic for us to have all these gifts from him and for him not to have had that one precious gift for himself. It would be tragic for anyone to let something like that slip away…”
Gwen grinned. “I thought you never tell anyone anything.”
“I never do. You can lead a mind to reason, but you can’t make it think… They have to work so hard to get to the place where we go every time we pick up a baby. Devin’s different. He’s been a mom for so long, plus he comes from that wonderful family. But he’s still a man, and you’re still a woman…”
Gwen nodded. “I think I knew that.” She smiled.
Winnie pulled a small card from her purse and stuffed it in the pocket of Gwen’s waistcoat. “I want for us to be friends. Regardless of what happens between you and Devin. Will you come to see my baby?”
“I’d be delighted.” Gwen bit her lip and blinked back tears. “I’d be delighted…”
Winnie smiled warmly, radiantly. “I’ll have Xander call you from the hospital. Later today if I’m very lucky…”