Arthur Evans (1942-2011)

First published in Dyneslines, September 15 and 24, 2011
Reproduced her with permission of the author

1. Introduction
Arthur Evans: His life in his own words
3. His “Critique of Patriarchal Reason



My friend Arthur Evans died on September 11 in San Francisco, where had lived since 1974. A year ago, recognizing that he was in failing health, Arthur wisely composed his own obituary, which I reproduce below.

The Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) was the most vibrant and influential gay organization to emerge in New York City from the turbulent period that followed immediately after the Stonewall events in June of 1969,

A charismatic figure in those days, Arthur Evans was the last survivor of a quartet of men who were most instrumental in founding and sustaining GAA. The others were Arthur Bell, Evans’ lover, a journalist and author; Jim Owles; and Marty Robinson. The last two are perhaps best described as community organizers. Of the four, Arthur Evans particularly excelled in organizing “zaps”--demonstrations in which he assembled groups of activists to confront powerful homophobes in the media and public relations.

Arthur Evans and I got onto a wrong track when I wrote a negative review in Gay Books Bulletin of his 1978 book “Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture.” Since he lived in San Francisco and I in New York, we did not interact much. About five years ago, though, the two of us struck up an Internet friendship. Arthur was aggrieved, and rightly so, that the philosophy department at Columbia University refused to grant him the Ph.D. even though he had written a substantial monograph in the field, the last requirement for the honor (his book “Critique of Patriarchal Reason”). Evans hoped that the degree would allow him to assume a teaching position at a Bay Area College. This was not to be. Arthur was a favorite student of Paul Oskar Kristeller--no mean tribute since Kristeller was one of the great Renaissance scholars of the time. Since I live near the university campus, I invited him to come and stay with me. Together we would try to hold the university’s feet to the fire. For some reason the plan fell through, and I now regret that I didn’t go to see Arthur in his apartment in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.

At all events he should be remembered now for his unwavering struggle and his many accomplishments. Here is his own statement:

Arthur Evans: His life in his own words

“Arthur Evans was a gay activist, writer, and neighborhood activist who lived at the corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets in San Francisco since 1974. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he played a pivotal role in the newly emergent gay liberation movement in New York City.

A few weeks after the famous Stonewall Riot of June 1969 (which he missed), Evans and his lover, Arthur Bell, joined The Gay Liberation Front (GLF), a new group that proudly  proclaimed itself to be gay, countercultural, and revolutionary.

Within GLF, Evans and others created a cell called The Radical Study Group to examine the historical roots of sexism and homophobia. Many of the participants later became published authors, including (besides Evans and Bell) John Lauritsen, Larry Mitchell, and Steve Dansky.

A number of GLF members, including Evans, soon became dissatisfied with the organization, complaining that it lacked a coherent, ongoing program of street activism. At the suggestion of GLF member Jim Owles and Marty Robinson, about twelve people met in Arthur Bell's Manhattan apartment on December 21, 1969, and founded The Gay Activists Alliance (GAA). Evans wrote the group's statement of purpose and much of its constitution.

Acting on the principle that the personal is the political, GAA held homophobes who were in positions of authority personally accountable for the consequences of their public policies.
Accordingly, Robinson, Evans, and Owles developed the tactic of ‘zaps.’ These were militant (but non-violent) face-to-face confrontations with outspoken homophobes in government, business, and the media. Evans was often arrested in such actions, participating in disruptions of local business offices, political headquarters, local TV shows, and the Metropolitan Opera.

In effect, GAA created a stunning new model of gay activism, highly theatrical while also eminently practical and focused. It forced the media and the political establishment to take gay concerns seriously as a struggle for justice. Previously the media treated gay life as a peripheral freak show. It also inspired gay people themselves to act unapologetically from a position of gay pride. This new model of activism inspired other gay groups across the county, eventually triggering revolutionary improvements in gay life that continue to this day.

In November 1970, Robinson and Evans, along with Dick Leitsch of the Mattachine Society, appeared on the Dick Cavett Show. They were among the first openly gay activists to be prominently featured as guests on a national TV program.

It was a big change from Evans' earlier days in York, PA, where he was born on October 12, 1942. His father worked most of his life on assembly-lines, the last in a chain factory. His mother ran a small beauty shop out of a front room in the family house.

When Evans graduated from public high school in 1960, he received a four-year scholarship from the Glatfelter Paper Company in York County to study chemistry at Brown University in Providence, RI. While at Brown, Evans and several friends founded the Brown Freethinkers Society, describing themselves as ‘militant atheists’ seeking to combat the harmful effects of organized religion.

The group picketed the weekly chapel convocation at Brown, then required of all students (even though Brown is a secular institution) and urged students to stand in silent protest during the compulsory prayer. National wire services picked up the story, which appeared in a local York newspaper.

As a result, the Glatfelter Paper Company informed Evans that his scholarship would be canceled. For help, Evans turned to Joseph Lewis, the elderly millionaire who headed the national Freethinkers Society. Lewis threatened the paper company with a highly publicized lawsuit if the scholarship were revoked. The company relented, the scholarship continued, and Evans changed his major from chemistry to political science.

Although obstreperous politically, Evans remained closeted sexually and very lonely, not knowing any other gay person. Throughout both high school and college, he often thought of
suicide. In 1963, after completing three years at Brown, he read an article in a national magazine reporting that many ‘homosexuals’ lived in Greenwich Village in New York City. He promptly withdrew from Brown and moved to the Village, a change that he later described it as the best move he ever made in his life.

In 1963 Evans discovered gay life in Greenwich Village and in 1964 became lovers with Arthur Bell (later a columnist for the Village Voice). In 1966 he was admitted to City College of New York, which accepted all his credits from Brown University. He participated in his first sit-in on May 13, 1966, when a group of students occupied the administration building of City College in protest against the college's involvement in the Selective Service System.  A picture of the students, including Evans, appeared the next day on the front page of The New York Times.

In 1967, after graduating with a B.A. degree from City College, Evans was admitted into the doctoral program in philosophy at Columbia University, specializing in ancient Greek philosophy. His doctoral advisor was Paul Oskar Kristeller, then the world's leading authority on Renaissance humanist philosophy. Kristeller had studied under Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger in Germany but fled to Columbia University after his parents were killed in the Holocaust.

Evans participated in many anti-war protests during these years, including the celebrated upheaval at Columbia in the spring of 1968. In the same year he also participated in the protests at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. During this time, the poetry of Allen Ginsberg had a powerful influence on the formation of his values. While at Columbia, Evans joined the Student Homophile League [founded by Robert A. Martin], although he was still closeted.

In 1971 Evans and Bell, by then a columnist for the Village Voice, separated. Bell later died from diabetic complications in 1984.

By the end of 1971, Evans had become alienated from urban life and the academic world. With a second lover, Jacob Schraeter, he left New York in April 1972 to seek a new, countercultural existence in the countryside.

Using Seattle as a base, Evans, Schraeter, and a third gay man formed a group called The Weird Sisters Partnership. They bought a 40-acre spread of forest land on a remote mountain in northeastern Washington State, which they named New Sodom. Evans and Schraeter lived there in tents during summers.

During winter months in Seattle, Evans continued research that he had begun in New York on the underlying historical origins of the counterculture, particularly in regard to its sex. In 1973 he began publishing some of his findings in a gay journal called Out and later in Fag Rag. He also wrote a column on the political strategy of zapping for the Advocate, a national gay newspaper.

In 1974, Evans and Schraeter moved into an apartment at the corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets in San Francisco, from which Evans never moved. Schraeter returned to New York in 1981 and died from AIDS in 1989.

In the fall of the 1975, Evans formed a new pagan-inspired spiritual group in San Francisco, the Faery Circle. It combined countercultural consciousness, gay sensibility, and ceremonial

In 1976 he gave a series of public lectures, entitled ‘Faeries,’ on his research on the historical origins of the gay counterculture. In 1978 he published this material in his
ground-breaking book ‘Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture.’ It demonstrated that many of the people accused of ‘witchcraft’ and ‘heresy’ in the Middle Ages and Renaissance were actually persecuted because of their sexuality and adherence to ancient pagan practices.

At this time, Evans also was active in Bay Area Gay Liberation (BAGL) and the San Francisco Gay Democratic Club, which later became the vehicle through which Harvey Milk rose to political prominence. He and his friend Hal Offen opened a small Volkswagen-repair business, which they named ‘The Buggery.’

In the late 1970s, Evans became upset at the pattern of butch conformity that was then overtaking gay men in the Castro. Adopting the nom de plume of ‘The Red Queen’, he distributed a series of controversial satirical leaflets on the subject. In a leaflet of 1978, entitled ‘Afraid You're Not Butch Enough?’ he facetiously referred to the new, butch-conforming men of the Castro as clones, initiating use of the now widely used term
Castro clones.’

In 1984 Evans directed a production at the Valencia Rose Cabaret in San Francisco of his own new translation, from the ancient Greek, of Euripides' play Bakkhai. The hero of Euripides' play is the Greek god Dionysos, the patron of homosexuality. In 1988, this
translation, together with Evans' commentary on the historical significance of the play, was published by St. Martin's Press in New York under the name of The God of Ecstasy.

As AIDS began to spread in 1980s, Evans became active in several San Francisco groups that later morphed into ACT UP/SF, although he himself was HIV-negative. With his good friend, the late Hank Wilson, he was arrested twice while demonstrating against the drug-maker Burroughs-Wellcome, accusing them of price-gouging, and once against a local TV station, charging them with defamation of people with AIDS.

In 1988, Evans began work on a nine-year project on philosophy.Thanks to a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, it was published in 1997 as ‘Critique of Patriarchal Reason’ and included artwork by San Francisco artist Frank Pietronigro.

The book is a monumental overview of Western philosophy from antiquity to the present. It shows how misogyny and homophobia have influenced the supposedly objective fields of formal logic, higher mathematics, and physical science. Evans' former doctoral adviser at Columbia University, Paul Oskar Kristeller, called the work ‘a major contribution to the study of philosophy and its history.’

In recent years, Evans devoted much time to improving neighborhood safety in the Haight-Ashbury district. As part of that effort, he penned a series of scathing and funny first-hand reports entitled ‘What I Saw at the Supes Today,’ which he distributed free on the Internet.

The reports recount many acts and comments of the city's Supervisors, often of an embarrassing nature, which the established media missed. The politicians were not amused, as when Evans caught Jake McGoldrick and Chris Daly each snarling ‘Kiss my ass!’ at each other in front of the press box in the board's ornate chamber. Altogether, the reports run to over a thousand pages in length and provide a provocative look at the inner workings of local politics at the time.

In 2010, Evans was instrumental in helping pass Proposition L, the civil-sidewalks law. In addition to writing his own reports on the matter, he worked behind the scenes to get favorable coverage in various newspapers and on TV.

His support for the measure provoked intense criticism from many of the city's self-styled progressives. To which, he replied: ‘Neighborhood safety is a progressive issue. How can we make the world a better place if we neglect improving our own neighborhoods?’ “


His “Critique of Patriarchal Reason

During the 1970s many embraced the idea that “everything is political.” This statement is clearly too categorical, though there may be something to be said for the notion that many things are either tinged with politics, or are capable of such tincture.

A particular application of this notion is the idea that mathematics and formal logic, at least as we have known them in the West, are instruments of male supremacy. This is the central thesis of the magnum opus of the late Arthur Evans, “Critique of Patriarchal Reason” (1997).

Evans, who did graduate work in philosophy at Columbia University, seeks to trace the evolution of what he terms “the Parmenidean myth” from the fifth century BCE to the present. The sole surviving writing of Parmenides is a poem,,“On Nature.” There the Pre-Socratic thinker sets forth two views of reality. In "the way of truth" section of the work, he argues that reality (described as "what-is") is unitary, change is impossible, and existence is timeless, uniform, necessary, and unchanging. In the contrasting "way of opinion," he explains the world of appearances, in which one's sensory faculties lead to conceptions that are false and deceitful.

Evans pays little heed to Parmenides’ eccentric, counterintuitive view that change cannot occur. Yet he is much taken with the implications of the binary contrast, a principle that he calls “bivalance.” This point recalls Jacques Derrida’s postmodernist denunciations of binarism. Evans does not mention Derrida, but it seems that the idea was in the air at the time Evans conceived his book.

To the principle of bivalence, Evans adds to the purported Parmenidean heritage “the universal force of logical necessity” and “the inherent superiority of an impersonal static model of lnoledge and reality” (p. 94). Reverberating down the centuries, as seen in such figures as Leibniz, Frege, and Bertrand Russell, this malign triad has served as the preeminent support of male supremacy. Why should this be so? Surely it cannot simply be that “the Parmenidean myth” has been mainly espoused by men. This would be a rather transparent instance of guilt by association, one that would backfire since Evans is a man. If the adoption of a view by a man or men is sufficient to taint it, then the “Critique of Patriarchal Reason” must be rejected, together with the writings of all those other Western Civ icons.

Evans offers a familiar argument to the effect that absolute objectivity is rarely, if ever achieved. Just so, but we can strive to reduce the subjective element in accordance with striving for truth--something that does actually exist. Much of this subjectivity derives, to be sure, from one's gender, nationality, and social status. In this sense, all knowledge is situated knowledge.

Evans points out, persuasively in my view, that the homosexuality of Ludwig Wittgenstein affected his approach to philosophical problems. By contrast his mentor, Bertrand Russell, thought that homosexuality was the result of bad parenting, and was dismayed when his gay son John came out to him. How did Russell's orientation affect his views? Evans fails to explore this possibility. He is, however, admirably clear about the way the Wittgenstein establishment, fearing that the truth about the Austrian thinker's sexual orientation would damage his standing as a philosopher, attempted to squelch any discussion of the matter.

Evans seems particularly troubled by the either-or aspect of the principle of bivalence. It has, he believes, inflicted on us such pairs as male vs. female and heterosexual vs. homosexual. In these contrasts one pole tends to be viewed as superior to the other. However, if patriarchy is as pervasive as Evans believes, surely it is wily enough to survive without such props, It can find other rationales.

Moreover, a moment's reflection will show that even in ordinary thinking we are not hobbled by any such absolute principle of bivalence. Consider the binary “hot” vs. “cold.” Every sensible person recognizes that there is a spectrum of such thermic states: ice cold is different from cool and warm is not the same as hot.

Still Evans labors on. He thinks that we will be able to shed the sexist shackles of Parmenideanism if we adopt something he calls "gradient logic." This approach (sometimes unfortunately termed Fuzzy Logic) permits one to detect more than two points in a continuum. Yet this ploy has always been available, even to those who have not benefited from a college education, as the sequence cold-cool-warm-hot demonstrates.

Arthur Evans says that it took him nine years to write the book. Since it was published in 1996, the inception would go back to 1987, an interesting point in intellectual history.

Let us turn first to the feminist writer Sandra Harding’s “The Science Question in Feminism” (1986). In the following passage she begins with an interesting observation on a type of metaphor that occurs in some authors of the early modern period. But then she takes us on a wild ride.

One phenomenon feminist historians have focused on is the rape and torture metaphors in the writings of Sir Francis Bacon and others (e.g. Machiavelli) enthusiastic about the new scientific method. Traditional historians and philosophers have said that these metaphors are irrelevant to the real meanings and referents of scientific concepts held by those who used them and by the public for whom they wrote. But when it comes to regarding nature as a machine, they have quite a different analysis: here, we are told, the metaphor provides the interpretations of Newton's mathematical laws: it directs inquirers to fruitful ways to apply his theory and suggests the appropriate methods of inquiry and the kind of metaphysics the new theory supports. But if we are to believe that mechanistic metaphors were a fundamental component of the explanations the new science provided, why should we believe that the gender metaphors were not? A consistent analysis would lead to the conclusion that understanding nature as a woman indifferent to or even welcoming rape was equally fundamental to the interpretations of these new conceptions of nature and inquiry. Presumably these metaphors, too, had fruitful pragmatic, methodological, and metaphysical consequences for science. In that case, why is it not as illuminating and honest to refer to Newton's laws as "Newton's rape manual" as it is to call them "Newton's mechanics"?”

Another example comes from the Belgian Francophone writer Luce Irigaray (“Parler n’est jamais neutre”, 1985).

Is E=mc2 a sexed equation? Perhaps it is. Let us make the hypothesis that it is insofar as it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us. What seems to me to indicate the possible sexed nature of the equation is not directly its uses by nuclear weapons, rather it is having privileged what goes the fastest.”

Now that a quarter of century has passed, these effusions have come to seem quaint. Lengthy as it is (376 double-column pages), Evans' argument emerges as simply a gay-liberation counterpart of these extravagant feminist indictments.

POSTSCRIPT. In fairness I should note that, for a philosophy book, Evans' "Critique" is quite well written. It also contains useful analyses of the achievements of such figures as Gottlob Frege, Willard Van Orman Quine, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Dare one call them seminal? Oh, well.