Monday, September 27, 2004

Too indistinct?

"Is marriage over?" asked Angela Pulvirenti in the Sunday Herald Sun. In pondering this question she came to the following idea:

The fact that women and men have far less distinctive and more complex roles now is another reason why marriage may be considered out of date. Perhaps marriage is held together more effectively when both partners are completely reliant on each other for something ... In the modern era, people are single for longer. Many women have successful careers and are financially independent before meeting a life partner and men have learnt how to take care of themselves domestically. Contemporary unions are therefore not based on the same level of need or dependency as they were in the past, which may make them easier to give up.

It's hard to fault the logic of this. If men and women stay single long enough, and are encouraged to become entirely independent, then there is no longer such a strong social basis for marriage. It would seem inevitable that you will have a higher divorce rate in these circumstances.

Perhaps some good marriage advice for young couples would be: make sure that both you and your spouse are incompetent at something normally undertaken by the opposite sex! Maintain your interdependence!

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Free to choose?

Liberalism is not simply about freedom of choice. If it were then the choice of a woman to raise her children at home would be granted equal legitimacy with the choice of a woman to go out to work.

Liberalism is about something a little more specific: the freedom of an individual to be self-created by his own will and reason. To follow this principle successfully liberals must reject any part of our self-identity or our relationships which is created externally to our will and reason.

Our sex is one of these "impediments" to our will and reason: it is something we are born with rather than deciding for ourselves. This means that for a liberal the choice to go against the influence of our sex in our lives is considered more correct than a choice to go with the influence of sex.

So even though liberals talk about freedom of choice, and might even formally allow the choice of a woman to stay home with the kids, we all know that it's considered more politically correct for a woman to choose the careerist option. By doing so she is rejecting a traditional sex role, and showing her "freedom" from the influence of gender.

I was reminded of this by Pru Goward's latest outburst. Pru Goward is Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner. She has told Australian fathers that they have to shape up or face a new gender war.

What is the great sin of Australian fathers according to Ms Goward? She complains that they are too dedicated to their work! Now, traditionalists would find this a strange criticism. After all, it's part of a man's nature to want to protect and provide for his family, and having a strong career commitment is a sign that a man is willing to fulfil his masculine responsibilities.

But from a liberal perspective, Pru Goward's criticism makes sense. In her ideal world, men and women would prove themselves to be "liberated" from their own gender, either by rejecting or reversing the traditional sex roles. You can understand her irritation that a lot men aren't jettisoning their traditional provider role quickly enough.

What's even more remarkable is Ms Goward's complaint that the political leaders in Canberra haven't been showing leadership on the issue, because they "did not have family-oriented lives themselves."

In fact, the current Government leaders appear to have exemplary family lives - from a traditional perspective that is. They are married and raising children and have so far had no family scandals attached to them.

This is another example showing that liberalism is not really about choice. What Pru Goward is asserting is that a man cannot be family-oriented if he chooses to follow his masculine instincts and pursue a career. The more legitimate choice for her is the liberal one in which a man shows himself to be "liberated" from his masculine provider instinct, and takes over half (or more) of the homemaking role.

Another case study of the liberal principle at work occurred here in Victoria during the week. Three girls, two aged 15 and one aged 14, sought a court order making it illegal to prevent them playing football in a boys' team. Here is another example of conflicting choice: do you give preference to the girls' choice to play football with teenage boys, or the boys' choice to have their own football team.

Predictably, the court has so far ruled that the girls' choice should win out. It is predictable because it is following the liberal principle that our sex shouldn't matter. The girls are going against their own feminine nature, and thereby overthrowing the "impediment" of gender. In a liberal society this is considered to represent the "good" and so the girls are supported in their desires.

That's why the liberal media reported enthusiastically the comments of Anthony Quon, who coaches a team in the league played in by the girls. He said enthusiastically of one of the girls that "We played against her once and I didn't even realise it was a girl ... I sent someone to man up on her, but was told that's not a man, it's a girl!"

So in public life gender isn't supposed to matter and it's considered a great thing if you mistake a girl for a boy. But is this what we would really want for ourselves in our own personal lives? Would the coach choose to marry a woman if she were indistinguishable from a man?

It's unlikely. I'm reminded of Keith Ellis, the boxing promoter who organised the first professional female boxing fight here in Victoria. He admitted that "I prefer gentle women myself" before going on to talk about the need to overthrow traditional "stereotypes" about women being gentler than men.

So what does all this mean for conservatives? What we need to understand is that the attack on gender has little to do with "freedom of choice" in the abstract. It springs from the underlying liberal principle that we should be created solely by our own will and reason. It is this principle which undermines the place of gender in modern society.

So we need to reject the underlying liberal principle and allow room for the influence in our lives of things that we don't choose for ourselves, such as our sex, our nationality, our ancestry, our family and so on. It is within these "given" things that we can find our higher nature, including our higher feminine and masculine nature.

It's not part of the higher masculine nature of a man to be aggressive and violent toward women, even in competitive sports. Boys shouldn't be forced to go against their better instincts and roughly tackle girls in football matches, not when they're small children and especially not during the mid-teens when the romantic instinct should be emerging.

28/7/03 As a brief postscript it's worth noting the reaction of one of the girl's opponents after the match this weekend. Sinclair Johansen noted that "You find yourself holding back from bumps and tackles because you don't feel right doing it." What Sinclair is expressing here is just the normal taboo young men feel forbidding physical violence toward girls. Mixed sex football teams will force young men like Sinclair to override his sense of what's right and treat women the same way he would treat other men: roughly.

(First published at Conservative Central 27/07/2003)

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Starting too young

If teenagers watch raunchy TV shows they're twice as likely to have sex. That, at least, is the finding of a major US study undertaken by the University of California.

A report in the Herald Sun quoted the lead researcher, Rebecca Collins, as saying that,

exposure to sex on TV accelerated a teenager's sexual behaviour. For example, she said, a 12-year-old would act more like a teen aged 14 or 15.

What do we do about this? The obvious answer is to more carefully restrict what is shown on TV. The problem, though, is that this is unlikely to be agreed to in a liberal society. Liberals believe that we are made human by our capacity to decide things through our own will and reason. They believe, therefore, that we should all "decide for ourselves" whether or not to view morally objectionable material.

This explains why Age journalist Terry Lane once wrote a column defending the screening of the film Salo. It's not that he liked the contents of the film - in fact he admits looking away at various times. The reason he gives for defending the film is that,

As an autonomous moral being, I do not concede to others the right to determine what I will watch.

So the situation isn't promising. The Terry Lanes of the world won't even agree to restricting the most shocking of films, like Salo. How then can communities get together to agree on minimum standards for mainstream TV?

The answer is that they can't. The most that liberal society can offer is a ratings system to allow individuals "informed choice". This has failed miserably, though, in protecting children from a heavy exposure to adult sexuality in the mass media.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Marriage for two, or three, or four?

Alastair Nicholson is at it again. Up to July of this year he was the chief justice of our Family Court. He held the post despite being a virulently anti-family liberal. (For instance, in 1997 he announced that a 40% divorce rate was not "a matter of great alarm" because it was part of the "natural development of society".)

Now, barely retired, he has written a newspaper column on the issue of gay marriage. He is furious that a new law has been passed which prevents homosexual marriage. He argues that,

The definition (of marriage) the bill adopts reflects that by Lord Penzance in Hyde vs Hyde and Woodmansee in 1866: "The voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others."

It is worth noting that Lord Penzance's definition was inaccurate at the time that he gave it and remains inaccurate today.

It is difficult to understand how, even in 1866, marriage could have been defined as a union for life after the passage of the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act in England in 1857. The latest divorce figures also make clear what a nonsense it is to refer to marriage as a union for life today.

Similarly, since the concept of matrimonial fault has been abolished by the Family Law Act 1975 and, in particular, that adultery is no longer a ground for divorce, it is difficult to argue that a modern marriage necessarily excludes all others. All this seems to have escaped the Government and the Opposition.

At least Nicholson isn't trying to lull us with the soothing argument that homosexual marriage won't change anything about traditional marriage. He's trying the exact opposite approach. He's telling us that traditional heterosexual marriage has already been abolished as a fact of law. That marriage now can't be considered to be a union for life, nor can it even be considered an exclusive union between two people. It's an open institution, in Nicholson's opinion, in which pretty much anything is possible, including same sex marriage.

Nicholson makes it clear, further on in the article, that he thinks that people who marry are a bit old-fashioned and that de facto relationships are the trend for the future. He also rejects the idea that it's better for children to have both a mother and father.

All this from someone who is not just some fringe radical, but who was a long-serving chief justice of the Family Court. Alastair Nicholson's liberalism has taken him not just to an acceptance of homosexual marriage, but to the effective abolition of marriage itself - in which even the idea of marriage as a union of two people is abandoned.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Steyn concedes Europe to Islam

Mark Steyn is a popular, talented, right-wing journalist, but not a true conservative. In a recent article for the Telegraph, he meekly accepts the "reality" that Europe will be Islamic by the end of the century. His one concern is to make sure that Islam by that time is sufficiently "civilized" by which he means "democratic".

What this means is that Steyn is really a liberal civic nationalist at heart, who believes that our core identity is found in our commitment to a liberal political order, rather than to longstanding ethnic traditions, comprising a common ancestry, religion, history, language and culture.

Lawrence Auster, in an email introducing this story, rightly observes that "while neoconservatives such as Mark Steyn may be brilliant critics of the left, they themselves are no friends of our historic civilization but seek to transform it into something utterly unrecognizable".

This is an important point for conservatives to register. There are plenty of "right-wing" critics of the left out there, who undoubtedly play a useful role in making the left more accountable (Melbourne journalist Andrew Bolt is a good example).

You can't assume, though, that these right-wingers are conservatives: if you actually look at what they believe they often turn out to hold very strongly to their own version of liberalism. They are often no more committed to preserving the existence of the West and its peoples than are the left-wingers they are so good at criticising.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Costello's vision

Peter Costello, Australia's treasurer and Prime Ministerial aspirant, recently gave a speech to the Sydney Institute which reveals some of the distinctions between left liberalism, right liberalism and conservatism.

The speech was about the need to protect "social capital" from government interference. What Costello has particularly in mind by "social capital" are all the voluntary non-government organisations like the scouts, the Rotary clubs, school councils, political clubs, churches, bushfire brigades, sports groups and so on.

The fact that Costello is willing to openly defend the idea of social capital is a good thing. It takes him out of the category of extremely dry right liberals who care only about "economic capital". It places him instead within the sphere of more conservative right liberals who recognise that if you want a small state you need a healthy civil society to carry out the tasks that keep a society functioning.

Costello makes very clear his belief that the institutions of civil society can be harmed when the state tries to do too much. He asserts that "if government has a choice between delivering services in a way that enhances engagement and one that does not, then, all other things being equal, it should prefer the former." Further on he makes the related point that "A government should be careful not to usurp the voluntary sector. It should not take away those things that people can and want to do for themselves."

So what do left liberals think of these sentiments? Not surprisingly they are unsympathetic. Left liberals, despite all their talk of community, are usually statists who are comfortable with the idea that the individual should be supported by the state, rather than by the institutions of civil society.

To give just one example of left-liberal dissatisfaction with Costello's speech the editorial of the Melbourne Age gave that ultimate left-liberal put down by claiming that Costello's speech "offered up a white-picket-fence view of Australia" rather than giving "solid pointers to the type of nation Australia should be".

And what about conservatives? What do we think of Mr Costello's speech? On the one hand, conservatives are likely to support the idea that governments should not displace the institutions of civil society.

You have to remember that the trend of liberalism has been to remove impediments to individual autonomy: to anything which might restrict individual choice. For many liberals, it is the "personal" relationships within the civil institutions of society which impede individual autonomy. Therefore, they prefer to replace these "personal" relationships with the more anonymous relationship to a centralised state.

For instance, it was once considered the responsibility of a husband to support his wife financially when she was pregnant or had just given birth. However, to many liberal women the idea of being financially supported by their husbands is considered a restriction on their personal autonomy. They much prefer the idea that they should be supported more anonymously by the state instead.

The problem with preferring state support is that it undermines civil institutions, such as the family. After all, if women no longer need the support of a family structure, then it's easier for both men and women to walk out of marriage, and you get a more unstable and insecure attachment to family life (which has emotional, as well as social consequences).

Conservatives, therefore, are opposed to statism when it is used by liberals to further the cause of individualism at the expense of the institutions of civil society: institutions which have developed around specific human needs, talents and foibles.

It may sound strange at first that statism can be used to achieve a higher degree of individualism, but remember it does so by undermining other closer and more personal institutions which normally surround the individual. Pope Pius XI noted this connection between statism and individualism many years ago when he wrote,

On account of the evil of "individualism," as we called it, things have come to such a pass that the highly developed social life which once flourished in a variety of prosperous and interdependent institutions, has been damaged and all but ruined, leaving virtually only individuals and the State ..." (Quadragesimo Anno)

However, this shared belief between conservatives and right liberals that the state should not displace the institutions of civil society masks an underlying difference.

For conservatives, people are connected in particular ways by qualities that have been given to them: for instance, aspects of masculinity connect men to women as sons, fathers, brothers and husbands, each relationship having its own particular qualities. Similarly, masculinity connects men to each other in a particular way. Individuals are also connected to each other by a shared ethnicity, or by a family relationship and so on.

Liberals generally reject the idea that there are such inherited qualities which define the kinds of relationships we have to other people. They see this as impeding individual autonomy, as restricting our ability to create ourselves as we wish according to individual will and reason.

Liberals therefore prefer to view individuals as starting out as "blank slates," with no necessary connection to other people. This means that liberals have to worry, much more than conservatives, about how to maintain relationships between people, since they see all such relationships as being purely voluntary.

This is what gives Peter Costello's speech its right liberal, rather than conservative, tone. In his vision there are disparate individuals, who are brought together by engagement in voluntary organisations, and it is this engagement which builds up a common interest, and trust and tolerance. Costello is understandably anxious in his speech at signs that this "culture of engagement" is in decline.

In the conservative vision, people are not treated as abstract, disparate individuals but as having a given nature which gives a particular direction to their lives, including the relationships they have to other individuals. The relationships are not a product of a kind of voluntary contract, but of facets of our own nature and of our inherited identity.

Conservatives don't want the state to undermine the institutions and culture which reflect and support these relationships. Peter Costello's defence of civil society against the state is therefore welcome, even if it is motivated by a right liberal vision rather than a conservative one.

(First published at Conservative Central 20/07/2003)

Friday, September 10, 2004

Orthodox Germaine?

Germaine Greer's latest thoughts to the world didn't receive much coverage in Melbourne. Speaking at the University of Western Australia she claimed that modern feminism's greatest achievement was a high divorce rate. She said that compared to her early feminist days,

The big change is the divorce rate. Exactly the thing that people tear their hair out about is exactly the thing I am very proud of.

Even more revealingly Germaine immediately went on to say,

But life for these (divorced) women is difficult. The price of their liberty has been taking on a massive amount of toil. This is because women misunderstand the corporate world. They think you are meant to work in the corporate world, when you are in fact meant to take credit for other people's work.

So Germaine's current position is that a high divorce rate is something to be proud of as it restores "liberty" to women, who are then free to compete with men in the corporate world.

This is something of a return to feminist orthodoxy for Ms Greer. Feminists accept the liberal principle that we are made human by our freedom to act as we will in any direction. Therefore, what feminists aim at is female independence and autonomy.

Independence and autonomy are better achieved through divorce than marriage, so it's not illogical (once you accept liberal first principles) for Germaine to be proud of the high divorce rate.

Similarly, since left liberals assume that "justice" means an equalisation in the power of competing wills, it's logical for Germaine to see male economic power as something unjust and oppressive to women. So it's understandable (within the terms of liberalism) that Germaine would want to release cohorts of newly divorced women into the corporate world to compete with men (though she seems to believe that women can compete successfully without actually having to work hard).

Germaine hasn't always been so orthodox in her feminism. She went through a period where she had to come to terms with her failure to partner successfully, and, even more importantly, her failure to achieve motherhood.

In 1991, far from celebrating high divorce rates, she wrote that "Most societies have arranged things so that a family surrounds and protects mother and child" and she complained of "our families having withered away" with relationships becoming "less durable every year".

Unhappily, Ms Greer's motherhood impulses seem to have died away now and been forgotten, and she is no longer interested in upholding stable family relationships as a way to support mothers and children.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Caught between worlds

Liberals don't really know human nature. Take the case of sustained, mass immigration. Liberals present this blandly as a win-win situation for both immigrants and host population. What liberals fail to recognise is that it's a deeper part of our nature to identify with our own settled communities.

Not only does sustained, mass immigration disrupt (or even destroy) the established identity of the host community, it also does the same for many of the immigrants themselves. It strips them of their natural form of community identity, leaving them feeling caught between worlds, or confused, or outsiders to the society they live in.

The actor/singer Paul Capsis was interviewed in The Age newspaper on Saturday. His parents migrated to Australia from Malta and Greece, so he does have a common European background with other Australians. But this wasn't enough for him to identify with the established Anglo-Australian population.

He writes,

I hated being Australian as a child. We were like "why are we here?" ... we were welcome refugees ... When I was 12 , it hit me I was an outsider. I wanted to belong ... You don't know who you are. I tried to connect. At 14, I thought, 'I don't think I can live through this.' My family gave me strength.

Sustained, mass immigration is therefore not, in some straightforward way, of all round benefit. It's a policy which makes it unnecessarily difficult for people to establish normal forms of self-identity in which we feel strongly connected to the community we live in and to its culture and traditions.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Feminist men unattractive?

We know that Ann Marlow is a liberal for two reasons. First, she writes for Salon magazine, which openly boasts of its support for the American Democrats. Second, she writes about sex with unusual frankness.

So it's all the more remarkable that Ann Marlow should have written this article, No intercourse, please -- we're enlightened (from last October, and you need to push a few buttons for a day pass for access). In the article, Ms Marlow not only declares feminism to be a failure (with much wounded feeling), but she also puts forward a remarkably conservative alternative.

Feminism is basically liberalism applied to women and the family. Therefore, its message is that women should be self-created by their own individual will, rather than by their inherited sex. Feminists, in other words, think of manhood and womanhood as something limiting to the individual, an oppressive "biological destiny" to be overthrown. They prefer the alternative of gender sameness or even gender role reversal.

Left liberals add a little twist to feminism. They see society as a collection of competing wills, and believe that any group with power in society must be acting oppressively toward a victimised group. Feminists, of course, identify men as being the oppressor group and women as the victims of men's institutionalised power: of "patriarchy".

Which brings us back to Ann Marlow. She's a woman who enjoys sex and who mixes in social circles deeply influenced by feminist ideas of gender war and gender role reversal. And she's not happy. Why?

Because she believes that the emasculation of men destroys their sexual attractiveness to women. And this belief is understandable. After all, heterosexuality is by definition the appeal of opposites, with men being attracted to the femininity of women and vice versa.

For Ann Marlow, men have to have authority as men in order to be sexually appealing. Furthermore, she believes that sex has much to do with a woman trusting herself to the power of a particular man, a trust which is undermined by feminist beliefs that male power is somehow exercised at the expense of women.

Here are a few quotes from Ms Marlow herself:

The polymorphously perverse, gender-is-just-a-construct future that radical feminists and academics used to dream of has actually arrived. Men no longer have any authority, either in their own eyes or in women's ...

Women secretly want men with authority ... The collapse of the patriarchy was supposed to make women happy .... But instead men treat women worse than ever, women are retreating to 1950s notions that sex is something that men like, and the nearly successful effort to stamp out gender contrast has made upper-middle-class American sex miserably dull ... Men and women are just too much stylistically alike now for much erotic energy to arise from their conjunction.

Men in their 20s - well, the Ivy League, professional sorts I meet ... just aren't masculine enough to be bedable.

Thus the legacy of two decades of feminism in academia. Younger people have bought into the idea that your lover or spouse is a friend of the opposite sex -- although one who will exhibit bad manners you wouldn't expect from your friends' pets ... The bad manners and androgyny go hand in hand; along with the erotic aura, tenderness and respect have disappeared.

These young guys feel free to admit to physical fears, grooming preoccupations and social anxieties their fathers had the good sense to conceal, if they had them ...

The new joylessness: Talk with someone in their 20s about marriage and they bring in the word "work" within the first three minutes ... now that the patriarchy's gone, everything isn't pleasure, as radical theorists imagined, but business.

... with the absence of tenderness and trust between men and women, we're more and more inclined to banish deep emotion from our post-patriarchal lives.

What's often lost in the insistence on equality is quality -- how the people feel about each other, how much love they can give each other ... Love does involve two people putting themselves in the power of each other. We've forgotten that what we are looking for between men and women is fairness and compassion, not identity, and there can be justice between people who acknowledge that their balance of power is unequal. The heterosexual act of love does involve women putting themselves literally in the power of men. And we no longer trust enough to do so.

All of this is eminently quotable. I especially like the insight that the tenderness and respect men once showed women was connected to an "aura" arising from a sense of gender difference. I think Ann Marlow is also correct to suggest that the current understanding of gender equality is part of the problem, and that it would be better to aim at something like "fairness" which allows for dignity and respect without requiring the abolition of the natural distinctions between men and women.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Libertarian or libertine?

Catallaxy is an Australian website which is on the "right libertarian" end of liberal politics. I find it interesting to observe how the libertarianism of many contributors leads on to a very permissive view of morality.

For instance, in one discussion the Labor Party was condemned as supporting "authoritarian" plans to force hard core porn sites to have age filters. I asked the question of what alternative they would propose to protect children from access to adult sexuality.

I received the reply from c8to, who I believe is running for the Australian senate on a "democratic liberal" ticket, that,

I'm not entirely sure early sexualisation is as bad as it's meant to be. It certainly will change society, but will it necessarily change it for the worse? I think sexualisation has been increasingly pushed back over modern history.

I had expected the argument from libertarians that it was illegitimate for the state to regulate morality, or else, that access to porn wouldn't have much of an effect on children. But here was a realistic assessment that porn actually would have a significant effect, but that we ought to accept this as a positive development!

It's the same with the issue of drugs. Again, you expect libertarians to argue that the fight against drugs gives the state too much power. But in a recent discussion, Jason Soon went further by agreeing that there was a "great possibility" that legalising drugs would mean "that a lot more people would be taking pot, coke, amps, etc" but that this was OK as there was nothing "intrinsically bad" about taking such drugs anyway.

The liberalism of these libertarians, therefore, is not just some "neutral" device for allowing people to make their own decisions on moral issues. Instead, the liberalism has an "active" effect of leading people to draw a certain set of remarkably permissive views on moral issues.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Alcohol & genetics

Here's a little item which suggests that blue-eyed people are more likely to drink alcohol to overcome an innate shyness or reservation in social settings.

I doubt if such research can be considered conclusive. Even so, I find it interesting because I've noticed myself that there is a certain kind of shyness or reservation in many northern European men.

It will be interesting to see if researchers are able to conclusively link certain behavioural characteristics to a genetic inheritance. If they can do this, it would help to explain some of the "fellow feeling" existing between members of particular ethnic groups. (The "fellow feeling" would be based on sharing a similar set of attributes, and therefore feeling closer in understanding to others and to the group culture.)