Sunday, November 28, 2004

The backlash

In a recent Age newspaper column Joanna Murray-Smith questioned the feminist values she had been brought up with. She felt that feminist careerism hadn't left her enough time to properly mother her children.

Predictably there was a backlash. There have been five newspaper columns in The Ageattacking the single Joanna Murray-Smith column. On Friday alone, there were two such columns.

There was nothing terribly new in these opposing pieces. One of the Friday columns, by a single mother and full-time writer, Allison Croggon, was most interesting for the kind of liberal language it used.

According to Allison Croggon motherhood has been a lot more fun than she expected. However, she describes the "role" of being a mother, rather than the "tasks" (which she enjoys), as an "iron cage" from which women have to seek "freedom".

Why attack the "role" of motherhood in this way? Because liberalism (on which feminism is based) insists that we choose our own roles. Traditional motherhood is not a role that women choose for themselves but is, according to liberal thought, a mere "biological destiny" from which women have to escape. That's why Allison Croggon can simultaneously confess that she enjoys the actual work of motherhood, but still insist that women need to "escape" from the "iron cage" of the motherhood role.

Again, you can see the language of liberalism when Allison Croggon twice talks about "negotiating" her role as mother. She says of the rights of women versus those of children that "These rights are not incompatible. They require constant negotiation" and later of her family that "For the last 16 years we have lived argumentatively and hilariously together, negotiating all our different needs."

Why is negotiation such a key word for liberals? Because it helps to sustain the pretence that we are rationally choosing our own roles and identity. When we negotiate we use reason to decide on outcomes and we finish by giving our assent to a decision. This means that we are creating ourselves through individual will and reason as liberalism wants us to do.

Of course, as a conservative male the idea that I would "negotiate" what I'm supposed to be doing as a father with my own young children seems absurd. For a liberal, though, believing that you're a mother by negotiation makes the role appear more legitimate and respectable.

The other Friday column was written by an academic and writer, Liz Conor. She does not deny the basic assertion made by Joanna Murray-Smith, that important things get lost when women try to combine full-time careerism with motherhood. She admits that,

Every week I drop a bundle of some description in the effort to combine care and career. My kids will give graphic accounts to their therapists in years to come.

She writes also that "the present conditions under which [women] are mothering are doing their heads in."

Her argument, though, is that feminism is not to blame for this. First, because feminists aren't so anti-maternal as people generally believe, and second, because things would be better if only men gave up work to take over the motherhood role.

For Liz Conor, therefore, the task is to keep up the feminist fight, until men have changed their ways and stay at home to care for children.

This argument presumes, of course, that men and women have no masculine or feminine nature and are therefore interchangeable in their roles within the family. It presumes also that the traditional male role is unnecessary and that male involvement in the family can only mean taking over mothering tasks.

I believe Liz Conor is wrong in presuming these things. The fact that after several decades of feminism only 1% of Australian families have stay at home fathers also strongly suggests that fatherhood and motherhood roles are not as collapsible as Liz Conor believes.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

More tolerant liberals

News from sunny Queensland is that a six year old boy has been suspended from his grade one class for a day for sexual harassment. His crime was to poke a girl in the bottom during class.

Spot the difference

In yesterday's Age there was an article on Australia's fertility rate. The good news is that the fertility rate has stopped falling, and has beeen stable at 1.75 children per woman for six years now.

But what really caught my attention were the comments of a demographer from the Australian National University, Rebecca Kippen. She said that,

Countries like France and Norway that have high fertility are also the ones with very good maternity leave provisions...

Now, on the one hand, this sounds like the usual left-liberal call for women to be supported by the state or their employers, rather than their husbands. But can you spot the important difference?

Rebecca Kippen is identifying France & Norway as the model social-democratic, feminist countries. What's happened to Sweden?

For the last thirty years Australian feminists have been in love with Sweden. Sweden was always held up as the great example of a successful, progressive country for Australia to follow. It was Sweden which had pushed furthest the ideas of subsidised child-care and paid maternity leave, so that mothers were no longer supported within a family but remained independent members of the workforce.

So why has Rebecca Kippen, to use a term appropriate to the home of IKEA, shelved Sweden? The problem for feminists in keeping Sweden on the front bench (sorry, another IKEA term), is that the figures for Sweden have gone the wrong way. Sweden has done more in terms of paid maternity leave for a longer period of time than any other country in the world, yet its fertility rate in 2003 was a middling 1.54, well below Australia's rate.

In fact if we line up the four European countries which have pushed hard on paid maternity leave and compare their fertility rates to Australia we get this:

France 1.85 Norway 1.80 Australia 1.75 Denmark 1.73 Sweden 1.54

You can see why Rebecca Kippen chooses the examples of France and Norway and prefers to ignore Denmark and Sweden. The examples of Denmark and Sweden ruin her case. In Denmark and Sweden a great deal of money has been spent on paid maternity leave, leading to much higher rates of taxation, and yet their fertility rates are still lower than Australia's.

The chances are that a similar effect will occur also in France and Norway in a few years time and that their fertility rates will fall to a Swedish level. For the moment, though, they get to be the new Swedens in the feminist press.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Love & dependence

How has love been viewed in Western culture?

Love has often been compared to a merging of two souls into one. The Empress Alexandra of Russia said as much when writing to her husband, Tsar Nicholas II, in 1914 that "We make one."

Similarly, the philosopher Alberti praised marital love in 1432 for the "close bonds and united will" existing between husband and wife. In 1958 the poet Sylvia Plath described her love for her husband as a feeling of being "perfectly at one" with him, whilst a much earlier female poet, Anne Bradstreet, wrote in 1678 that she and her husband, even when apart, were yet "both but one."

A final example of the "two makes one" ideal of love is that of the seventeenth century English poet John Donne, who wrote to assure his love that "Our two souls ... are one."

A similar way to describe love in Western culture is as an intertwining of two souls. The Ancient Roman philosopher Plutarch compared the joining of a husband and wife to "ropes twined together." The American philosopher William James declared to his wife in 1882 that "I feel your existence woven into mine;" whilst Agnes Porter, a governess, wrote in 1791 of the children she loved that "they entwine around one's heart."

This raises a problem. Western societies are dominated by the philosophy of liberal individualism. According to this philosophy, the most important thing is that individuals are left independent and autonomous so that they can create themselves in any direction.

But if love is thought of either as a merging or an entwining of two people into one, then love is in conflict with the above aim of liberal individualism: the achievement of an autonomous, unimpeded individual will.

So what happens? How do liberals respond to this conflict between love and individual autonomy?

There have existed liberals who, in theory at least, have taken the logical step and rejected love. My favourite example would be the Spanish anarchists, representing a radical wing of liberalism, who passed a resolution that for those comrades experiencing "the sickness of love ... a change of commune will be recommended."

The Australian/American pianist and composer Percy Grainger was another who was willing to reject love (in favour of lust). He once declared,

That's why I say I hate love ... I like those things that leave men and women perfectly free ... The reason why I say I worship lust but hate love is because lust ... leaves people perfectly free.

Another example concerns the writer Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), most famous for her novel Out of Africa. A biographer, Judith Thurman, has noted that,

The most compelling heroines in Dinesen's tales ... make a sacrifice of sexual love for some more challenging spiritual project─self-sovereignty, knowledge, worldly power─which enables them to be themselves.

As a final example there is the more recent case of the New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clarke. She managed to shock even some feminists when she justified her decision to remain childless by asserting that,

You've got better things to do with your life, unimpeded.

Notice the terms used to justify the rejection of love (whether maternal, marital or sexual). The aim is to be unimpeded, to exercise individual freedom, or to claim self-sovereignty─all of which relate to the basic goal of liberal individualism of being an autonomous, self-creating individual.

To be fair, it's unusual for liberals to reject love in such a blatant fashion. It's more usual to try to somehow combine the goal of love with the goal of autonomy.

At a basic level you can see this in the fashionable slogan of single girls in the 1990s that "I might want a man, but I don't need a man." This makes love acceptable within the framework of liberalism by turning it into an act of individual will.

The "solution" of the above slogan, though, is only a face-saver. It papers over the reality that most young singles do experience a need to find someone to love in order to feel complete. This is something inborn and resistant to individual will and reason, which is why it's hard to openly acknowledge in a liberal culture.

A more sophisticated attempt to marry love and individualism has been made recently by the Australian sociologist Don Edgar. Now remember, the task for a liberal like Don Edgar is to somehow imagine relationships in which our individual reason and will would not be impeded. How does he do it?

What he suggests is that there be no external authority in how we choose to express relationships, no restraints, but that instead there should be an "intimate negotiation" between two persons, and a "careful construction of an agreed but unique modus operandi."

Edgar likes the description by Anthony Giddens (another sociologist) of the shift toward more open and negotiated human relationships as the coming of "plastic sexuality," where every permutation of sexual behaviour is acceptable provided it is based on mutual respect, disclosure of personal feelings, an equal negotiation of what is acceptable and not an act based on power or coercion.

The funny thing is that Edgar announces at the end of all this that "I'll personally stick to hetero marriage." And this gives away a major weakness in his convoluted attempt to try to make love acceptable to sovereign will and reason.

Most of us reach an age in which we experience an instinct to settle down and have a family. What we then seek is a happy marriage and not just "some intimacy, some form of commitment" which is all that Edgar is prepared to bequeath to the younger generation.

What the older generation owes to the younger is to uphold the conditions in which it's possible to marry successfully, rather than to leave it to millions of competing wills to negotiate a relationship in a climate of self-serving individualism.

It's not plastic, open or unique relationships that young people need, but stable, secure and workable ones, in which some measure of independence can be sacrificed to a healthy and natural interdependence.

(First published at Conservative Central 18/10/2003)

Friday, November 19, 2004

Conflicted motherhood

Joanna Murray-Smith confesses in this morning's Age,

I am leading the life the feminists of the '70s dreamed of: successful professional and mother - but it's no dream.

Why not? Because of the mental anguish she feels at not having time to spend with her children. She asks,

Where is the play time with our kids? Where are the long hours of unhurried togetherness?

She admits that "I go to bed at night asking myself over and over again how much our working lives really benefit our children?" and that "increasingly I resent the dishonesty of pretending that our children are not guinea pigs in an experiment that is, in many ways, a failure."

What is her response to this situation? On the negative side, she claims that "the true feminist quest [is] to continually re-examine women's choices", as if feminism itself could redress the balance and support the choice of women to stay at home and look after their children. As I've pointed out previously, the logic of feminist theory runs counter to women choosing to stay at home to care for their own children. It's a forlorn hope that feminism might reform itself and allow women to freely choose this option.

More positively, though, Joanna Murray-Smith does question the liberal idea that we should aim for unimpeded individual choice. She realises that women can't do, in reality, what they are told they can do, and simply choose to have everything at the same time. There will always exist impediments to individual choice. She relates how,

my generation of middle-class women, desperate to realise our mothers' dreams, sailed into the professions with the bluster of undimmable expectations

but having also become mothers,

we have woken up in our 30s and 40s and found that you can not be a master of parallel lives, only, with a little luck, of one.

She has become aware, too, that unimpeded individual choice has little to say about what we owe others or what our adult responsibilities are. She writes that women need to be,

vigilant not only to our desires but also to our mistakes, to find the elusive balance between our needs and our responsibilities to our children ... We have been taught to applaud our own rights, but now we need to question how the volume of that applause has rendered mute the rights of our children.

Her conclusion casts doubt on the whole political culture of unimpeded individual choice. She writes,

Perhaps we have reached the point where the feminist cliche of having choices is finally undressed. The gift of choices is booby trapped. The concept of choices is laden with the grief of loss. Something is always lost.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Fairytale Day?

A preschool centre operated by Brimbank Council here in Melbourne has given up celebrating Christmas this year, preferring instead to establish its own festival called "Fairytale Day".

Callers to talkback radio were strongly against the change, as were the talkback hosts. There seemed to be agreement that this was a case of multiculturalism gone too far.

The parents are right to object, particularly as the demand for change seems to have come from council officers rather than from local Muslims. It's another small example of liberal intolerance to long-established traditions that people have a natural attachment to.

However, the parents also need to be clear-minded. It makes little sense to defend Christmas on the one hand, but to support mass immigration and multiculturalism on the other. As non-Christian populations grow, the place of public festivals like Christmas and Easter will inevitably be undermined.

It's sad to say, but a multiculture could never deliver anything like the traditional Christmas experience, in which a whole community gathers around a cherished religious festival. This is a loss in which we are impoverished, rather than enriched, by multiculturalism.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Liberal intolerance

Are liberal societies intolerant of gender difference? If the student leaders at the University of Washington are any guide, the answer is yes. This year the tradition of a homecoming king and queen was abandoned by the student association, and replaced with non-gender specific "homecoming royalty", namely two women.

The student association justified the move by claiming that a small scholarship attached to the positions should be awarded to the top two applicants regardless of gender. Even so, it seems intolerant to replace a naturally "gendered" tradition, with an odd and unappealing alternative, simply to rationalise a very small scholarship.

I expect Emi Sumida, one of the female royal pair, was closer to the truth when she said "I think it's great that the UW has chosen to have a nongender-specific homecoming royalty. In our day and age, a lot of the traditional definitions of roles are changing, and this follows in line with that."

It's this negative attitude toward traditional gender roles in liberal cultures which best explains the demise of the homecoming king and queen. For more on why liberals develop a hostile attitude to things "gender specific" there are articles here and here and here and here.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Cardinal: let's imagine an alternative

Cardinal George Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, recently made a criticism of modern Western democracy. He said that it was a failure of the imagination to believe that,

Democracy can only be what it is now: a constant series of "breakthroughs" against social taboo in pursuit of the individual's absolute autonomy.

This is an insightful criticism of modern political culture by the cardinal. It gets right to the core of what is wrong with liberal politics. Liberals believe that we are fully human when we are self-created by our own individual will and reason. This means, though, that liberals can't accept anything important to who we are or what we do which we haven't chosen for ourselves.

Over time, this has led liberals to seek to break through not only social taboos, but also traditional understandings of gender, of ethnic identity, and of family life, all in the name of individual autonomy (as we don't get to choose for ourselves our sex, our ethnicity, our role within the traditional family etc).

Cardinal Pell rightly points out some of the negative consequences of breaking through social taboos, including marriage breakdown and family dysfunction, and a de-sanctifying of human life represented by high rates of abortion, the destruction of human embryos for research and legalisaton of euthanasia.

The cardinal goes on to argue that there are possible alternatives to the secular democracy of today. He proposes as an alternative what he calls "democratic personalism".

Interestingly, he warns that if secular democracy continues the long-term future might belong to Islam. He believes that Islam has the potential to attract alienated Westerners (and he might also have pointed to demographic changes in Western countries favouring the growth of Islam).

(Which makes me wonder, that if senior church leaders understand the potential for "dhimmitude" in the West, why haven't they taken more of a stand against open borders immigration policies?)

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Women quit leadership

Why are there more men than women in positions of leadership? Is it really because men have organised themselves into a privileged social grouping and used oppressive discrimination to deprive women of their rights?

This small item from Norway suggests not. It seems that Norwegian women are being promoted at the same rate as men, but resign from leadership positions in far greater numbers. In fact, a survey showed that within a three year period more than 1 in 4 women in leadership positions had resigned.

As one Norwegian professor commented, this means that the reason for fewer women being in leading jobs is "not that women are not offered these positions, but that they do not remain."

Monday, November 08, 2004

What's the problem with Oz drama?

Why is the popularity of Australian drama shows waning? Maybe it's the kind of people being chosen to write the scripts. Andrew Bolt has written a profile of a very prolific scriptwriter, Marieke Hardy. As you might expect, she is a trendy lefty, who supports the Refugee Action Committee and other such causes. What you might not expect is the utterly low-natured way she chooses to express herself, especially for such a young woman.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Rotterdam mayor apologises!

Further news from Holland. I reported yesterday that a Dutch artist had protested against the murder of Theo van Gogh by placing a picture of an angel on his studio wall with the text of the commandment "Thou shalt not kill". The Rotterdam mayor sent in the police to destroy the painting (because it was "racist") as well as some of the footage of the event taken by a camerawoman.

Well, the good news is that the mayor has now apologised for his actions. (The bad news is that the contents of the letter attached to the body of Theo van Gogh by his murderer have now been made public. The letter states that Holland is under the control of the Jews and calls for a jihad against "infidels, America, Europe, the Netherlands and Ms Hirsi Ali".)

Chris Ripken, the artist who made the "offending" picture, has also described what happened in some detail in a Dutch newspaper (de Volkskrant). I've translated (as best I can) some of this article below:

"Ripken's emotions over the death of Van Gogh were released on Tuesday afternoon in an artwork. He painted the biblical commandment over an ascending angel which he had already created on his facade, with the date below. "The very first time that I had used text to express myself. As a "rule of play" ... A completely values-free and and neutral commandment which nobody at all could disagree with."

"Wrong. The next day the district officer stood at the door: the text is potentially inflammatory, the painting must be removed before 12 o'clock. Certainly because Ripken's studio is right opposite a mosque.

"Then there arises a short discussion in which Ripken suddenly feels completely isolated. The district officer, whom he knows well, suddenly appears like a stranger, even as he talks: stern, official, deaf to argument. Then the chairman of the mosque administration comes and stands nearby. Lucky, thinks Ripken: he'll understand me. But the chairman says diplomatically that although he thinks Ripken's viewpoint is alright, others could interpret the text wrongly."

"Ripken then invites the chairman to add something to the painting, for instance an equivalent in Arabic. "But nobody reacted. It's as if they didn't hear me," says Ripken. "It became increasingly grim".

"The district officer tells Ripken that he is acting directly on the orders of Mayor Opstelten. And that there would exist from the ministry of internal affairs a "line of sight" for similar texts, put out after the murder of Van Gogh. And Ripken also receives the pressing, no, forceful advice to above all seek no contact with the media.

"But two reporters from the Cineac Noord, "the smallest TV station in the Netherlands", which operates in north Rotterdam, get wind of the story, jump on their bikes and arrive at the scene with cameras rolling.

"Shortly afterwards a "spuitwagen" (a cleaning truck?) arrives to remove the artwork. "I'm (not having this)" says reporter Wim Nottroth from Cineac North. He jumps in front of the painting and is removed as a prisoner. He sits for three hours in a cell. Meanwhile the police make the camerawoman show them the footage of the arrest.

"The 52 year old Nottroth says he found it very annoying to sit for several hours in a cell. He is still flabbergasted by it. "Who would have thought I would be locked up on account of God's word? But I found that I had to do it. "

"Practising and normally faithful politicians appear to have less emotions on the issue than atheists like Ripken and Nottroth ... (The article finishes by noting that most politicians responded to the event with a "no comment", and that there was only one, a councillor by the name of Marco Pastors, who openly condemned the destruction of the painting by commenting that "It is crazy to view it as inflammatory. It's a shining example of the madness in which we live.")

Saturday, November 06, 2004

When science is a friend

It's always pleasing as a conservative to be vindicated by modern science.

Take the issue of sex differences. The very first manifesto of feminism, Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (1791), was based on the idea that women are only feminine because of their upbringing.

Wollstonecraft was particularly upset with the philosopher Rousseau for giving "sex to a mind" - for believing that there are natural differences in the psychology of men and women.

More than two hundred years of scientific research later we know that Wollstonecraft was wrong. Sex hormones have been identified as naturally influencing male and female behaviour, and it's known that there are physical differences between the male and female brain.

So the mind does have a sex after all! This is good news for conservatives, who have always argued that social roles for men and women have to take account of natural differences between the sexes.

For liberals, the scientific advances are a philosophical headache. Liberals want us to be creatures of our individual will and reason, not of our sex. It can't be pleasant for a liberal to learn that masculine and feminine characteristics are hardwired into us.

Which brings us to the next bit of cheering scientific news. A group of 33 children's doctors, research scientists, and mental health professionals have collaborated to write a report titled Hardwired to Connect.

The report presents scientific evidence that not only are we biologically "programmed" to connect to others, but that our level of nurture within "authoritative communities" can influence, amongst other things, the healthy development of brain circuitry.

Such findings from neuroscience reinforce the conservative belief that humans are by nature social creatures, and that it's important to uphold the deeper forms of human connectedness.

It's interesting to observe how some liberals have responded to the report. Liberals generally emphasise an ideal of individual autonomy, rather than social connectedness. You might think, therefore, that they would be unsympathetic to the findings of the report.

However, an article on the report by Anne Manne in the Melbourne Age was very approving. She chose to accept the latest scientific findings, noting that:

Neuroscience, too, is showing that all humans from earliest infancy need, seek and flourish in long-term, stable, close attachments.

To seek other human partners is an instinctive, evolved human behaviour. It is, to borrow the report's rather cyborg metaphor, "hardwired" or "pre-programmed" into brain circuitry. Violate these deep human needs and the risks rise.

We now have a heightened awareness of the way enduring, nurturing, stable attachments in early childhood shape a life in a positive or negative direction. (Age, 11/10/03)

These comments, however, don't mean that Anne Manne has suddenly converted to conservative orthodoxy. In fact, when it comes to the question of how you actually create the authoritative communities in which children can flourish, her left liberalism becomes more apparent.

Twice in her article, Anne Manne quotes the views of the Australian of the Year, Professor Fiona Stanley. Professor Stanley believes in following "the kinds of policies that have worked in other countries, like the Scandinavian countries."

The Scandinavian model appeals to Professor Stanley because of the emphasis on social welfare, which means the provision of professional services by a high taxing state. Both Anne Manne and Professor Stanley contrast this model to the economic rationalist one in Australia (and other Anglosphere countries) where expenditure has to be justified in terms of measurable outcomes.

The problem is that the Scandinavian model hasn't worked. For instance, Professor Stanley quotes a rise in male suicide rates in Australia as evidence of what is going wrong in this country. However, when you compare the average rate of suicide in the five left-liberal Scandinavian countries with that in the five more right-liberal OECD Anglosphere countries you find that the Scandinavian countries are actually doing much worse.

The male rate of suicide is 21% higher in the Scandinavian countries, whilst the female rate is 59% higher (which is particularly notable given that the Scandinavian countries are considered to be closest to the feminist ideal).

In fact, the report specifically cautions against the Swedish model. It notes that Sweden has devoted considerable resources to try to improve the economic and material conditions of single parent families. Despite this, a major research project has found that Swedish children living in single parent homes still suffer double the risk of psychiatric illness and suicide and three times the risk of drug abuse.

So what would conservatives suggest as a means to build "authoritative communities"? I won't attempt a detailed answer, but two suggestions spring to mind.

First, there is a need to more actively maintain a culture of family life. This means placing less emphasis in Western culture on independence and autonomy, and more on the fulfilments of family life; it also means openly recognising gender differences and finding balanced and complementary relationships between men and women within a family.

A second suggestion would be to allow the existence of institutions in which adult men can transmit a healthy masculine culture to boys. It's difficult to do this though when associations for boys (even boys' only sports teams) are outlawed by "sex discrimination" regulations.

I won't be holding my breath waiting for these things to happen while liberalism reigns supreme. I will, though, await the further results of scientific research in the field of social connectedness with considerable interest and optimism.

(First published at Conservative Central 12/10/03)

Is the Bolter conservative?

Why is it that liberalism has triumphed in the West? Why hasn't the conservative opposition had more success?

When I decided, some years ago, to look into these questions, I found the answer both easier to find and more startling than I had imagined.

What I found was that liberalism has been so dominant in English speaking countries, at least since the 1700s, that even the "conservative" opposition has operated within the framework of liberal first principles.

What this means is that mainstream "conservatives," both of today and yesteryear, will nearly always turn out to be conservative liberals, rather than straight-out conservatives.

I want to give as an example the case of "the Bolter," as Andrew Bolt is called on Melbourne talkback radio. Andrew Bolt is a very influential journalist in Australia, having guest appearances on radio and TV, as well as a regular page in the Herald Sun, Australia's largest selling newspaper.

He is also arguably the most conservative of Australia's mainstream journalists. He frequently demolishes left-wing opponents with well-researched articles on the arts, Aborigines, multiculturalism etc.

Yet even Andrew Bolt operates intellectually within the framework of liberalism. Liberalism started from the idea that what makes us human is our freedom to create ourselves in any direction through our own unimpeded reason and will.

In the last two weeks Andrew Bolt has written columns which make clear his support for this philosophy. In one column (22/9/03), he explained why he supports Christianity as a religion in spite of his own agnosticism:

Here we come to the nub of why I defend Christianity: If people must believe in some religion, which one would I rather it be?

I happen to think the philosopher Karl Popper was right: our humanity is best realised when we are free and we reason.

But I've also seen that freedom and reason alone can leave us lonely, disjointed from each other, rudderless and afraid.

Or, more positively, there is a yearning in us to feel part of something bigger and better than ourselves.

This can be lethal. See how people buried their individuality in big causes like fascism and Communism, which just crushed their freedom and reason - and their very humanity.

He then talks of the kind of Christianity he admires,

... the Christianity that, unlike many other religions, has evolved so that you don't have to surrender your reason or freedom to believe. The religion that is no enemy of science.

What Andrew Bolt is arguing here is that Christianity is best not because it represents a religious truth but because it is the least harmful to secular liberalism: it least impedes our individual reason and will.

Note too the idea that if you lived under fascism or Communism, in losing your freedom of will and reason your very humanity is threatened.

Most significantly, note the attitude to the atomising effects of liberal individualism. For Andrew Bolt this is primarily a problem because of the potential threat to liberalism itself: alienated people might join causes injurious to free will and reason. He seems less concerned to defend what has been lost; in other words, what has been removed to leave individuals alienated in the first place.

The second column in which Andrew Bolt has recently written in liberal terms concerns Australian Rules Football (2/10/03). The Australian Football League (AFL) is organised so that the worst performing teams are favoured in the recruiting season.

Andrew Bolt condemns such a system, comparing it to socialism. He writes,

It is true that many famous socialist leaders, from Lenin to Castro, have seen society as a bit like an AFL competition, instead of as a field in which anyone can play anything they like, as long as they don't hurt anyone else.

This is a principle we often hear from liberals: I should be able to do whatever I want, provided it doesn't hurt anyone else. It hits the right note for liberals because, in theory at least, it means that our will and reason are unimpeded to the largest degree (in practice, society is so run down by the principle that we lose the choice to do the things that are most important to us).

I don't want to make a lengthy criticism of the liberal principle itself here, as this has been done in other articles on this site. The point to be made is that even the most conservative of mainstream journalists in Australia is very much committed to an underlying liberal philosophy.

I don't point this out in order to condemn Andrew Bolt, as I find much to admire in his work. We shouldn't be surprised, however, when mainstream journalists and politicians, even those of the right, ultimately fail to uphold the values and institutions that we conservatives support.

Their failure is not because they are traitors, or that they have sold out, or have been captured by other interests. It's because they have always held to liberal first principles, and understandably do not wish to act against these principles.

Conservatives will start to have a chance of long-term success when we act on our own principles, rather than being merely a wing of liberalism.

(First published at Conservative Central 03/10/2003)

Is this Commandment racist?

An incredible item from Holland. An artist in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, Chris Ripke, was upset by the murder of fellow artist Theo van Gogh. So he painted a small picture on the outside wall of his studio with a picture of an angel and the text of the commandment "Thou shalt not kill".

A pretty reasonable response you would think. But some members of a nearby mosque found the text "offensive" and complained to the mayor. The mayor ordered in the police to destroy the "racist" painting. A courageous news journalist stood in front of the painting in protest, but was arrested. A camerawoman was ordered by the police to erase part of her film of the event.

The journalist, Wim Nottroth, remarked later in an email about his arrest: "Wat een land. Het is echt niet to geloven." Which means, putting my limited knowledge of Dutch to use, "What a country. It's really unbelievable."

I haven't seen anything yet about this in the mainstream media. But there's a bit of discussion at conservative websites. There's an item at Vdare and one at Majority Rights.

By the way, thank you to the various people who emailed me with the text of Theo van Gogh's last newspaper article. My impression is that van Gogh was a liberal, but one who realised that an older liberal Holland would not survive mass Islamic immigration.

To his credit he did not shut his eyes to the situation, but was willing to speak out and criticise the open borders type of liberal. He was even willing to publicly defend the rights of the ethnic Dutch majority. So, in his own way, perhaps he can be remembered as a defender of the West.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Bahai vision of unity

I was walking through a local arcade recently when I came across a pamphlet from the Bahai church.

I'd heard of the Bahais before but didn't know much about them. I was surprised to discover just how intensely liberal the Bahai faith is.

The Bahai church originated in Persia in the mid-nineteenth century. It operates now in many countries, including America and Australia, and claims a membership of around 6 million.

The central tenet of the Bahai faith is the unity of mankind. The idea seems to be that as God made us out of a single substance we are to aim at a kind of single identity.

Thus one of the Bahai prophets is recorded as saying:

Since we have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest.

The result of this belief is that Bahais must attempt to transcend particular forms of identity in favour of a single universal one. As the Bahais themselves put it:

Bahais see unity as the law of life ...

Guided and inspired by such principles, the Bahai community has accumulated more than a century of experience in creating models of unity that transcend race, culture, nationality, class, and the differences of sex and religion, providing empirical evidence that humanity ... can live as a unified global society.

What's interesting is that the Bahais have arrived, through their religious beliefs, to a similar political outlook as Western liberals. Western liberals also want the individual to transcend particular forms of identity, as these are believed to impede our self-creation through individual will and reason.

In fact, Bahai writings sound remarkably like liberal ones, promising that the abolition of particular distinctions will bring about peace, liberation, equality and progress.

The thing is, though, do we really want to abolish particular forms of identity? Would we really want to live in a world in which, according to the Bahais, there would only be "one common fatherland," "one universal langauge," and the abolition of anything, including "cultural expression" which would make one portion of humanity "intrinsically distinct from another portion."

Think about what this would mean. We would no longer be able to enjoy a special sense of connection to our own particular national tradition, nor appreciate contact with other distinctive national cultures.

We would no longer be able to enjoy the more positive aspects of gender difference, nor identify in a positive way with our own sex (one Bahai pamphlet specifically outlaws the practice of men identifying as being a "masculine soul in a male body").

We would no longer be able to uphold the positive aspects of class cultures within our own countries. These class cultures traditionally provided standards of behaviour and distinctive forms of culture within a national community.

What we would have, instead, is a further descent into a society built on atomised, rootless, denatured individuals. Such societies seem to be easily dominated by a globalised commercial culture of little depth. They are not characterised, as the Bahais would have as believe, by a profound spiritual life.

In short, what the Bahai church offers is a religious pathway into liberal political activism. Even though the origins of Bahai lie outside Western liberalism, by asserting an absolute and abstract unity between people, the Bahai faith requires, just as Western liberalism does, the abolition of particular distinctions - an abolition of the very things which enrich our lives spiritually and which a church concerned for the spiritual life of its adherents should seek to support.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Does the law favour men?

A big news story here in Victoria has been the trial of James Ramage. Ramage confessed to killing his wife after she allegedly told him that sex with him repulsed her and that she had found herself a lover. A jury determined that Ramage was guilty of manslaughter rather than murder because of provocation.

As you might expect, feminists have reacted by claiming that the courts support a patriarchal attempt by men to control women. Mary Crooks, for instance, has a column in today's Age newspaper titled "It's time women had a better deal from the law". She uses statistics from the Victorian Law Reform Commission which, she claims, show that the provocation defence is used nearly always by men who have killed their female partners, that one third of these men had their sentences reduced to manslaughter, whereas the few women to use the defence were unsuccessful.

She concludes that this,

sends an awful message to women. Don't try to fight his abuse and his desire to control you, hide your fear, don't try to leave, because in society's eyes, as reflected and symbolised in the decisions of the courts, your safety seems to be of no real moment, and your life can be snuffed out because your man is angry and jealous.

Now, this all too conveniently fits in with feminist theories. Feminists want us to believe that men as a group have organised a "will to power" over women, leaving women as the oppressed victims of a patriarchy.

That's why the picture painted by Mary Crooks is one in which men are the oppressors and women the victims, with the courts asserting male power and control by letting the men off lightly but punishing the few female culprits to the full extent of the law.

Now, any person with knowledge of the way that feminists often distort the facts ought to be a little sceptical of the statistics provided by Mary Crooks. I wanted to check her figures, so I did a quick search of the internet and came up with the excellent NSW Law Reform Commission site.

As expected, the data provided by this site completely contradicts the information given by Mary Crooks. I'm going to quote a large chunk of this material just to show how willing feminists are to completely distort the real facts of an issue.

The NSW website summarises the findings of a Victorian Law Reform Commission report as follows:

3.93 The Victorian study found that more male than female defendants use the provocation defence ... However, where female defendants do use the defence it is more likely to be successful. No female defendant who argued provocation was convicted of murder, although 25% of male defendants who raised the defence were.

3.94 ... It was also found that male defendants were less likely to receive a manslaughter [rather than a murder] conviction where their victim is female.

3.95 Provocation was raised in 8 of the 26 cases of female defendants presented for murder or manslaughter. There were no murder convictions and four were convicted of manslaughter.

3.97 The Victorian Law Reform Commission found that its data:

does not support the conclusion that the provocation defence generally operates in a gender biased way. It refutes the claim made by some commentators that juries routinely accept provocation defences by males who have killed females.

3.99 Where provocation was an issue and a manslaughter verdict returned, the Victorian study found that 33% of women received non-custodial sentences (compared with 10% of men) and that the most common sentence for men was 6-8 years and for women 3-5 years.

So there you have it! First, there are many more cases where women are the perpetrators of violence than Mary Crooks is prepared to allow. Second, when men are the perpetrators their victims are sometimes other men rather than women. Third, when men kill a woman rather than another man they are punished more heavily. Fourth, women are more likely than men to have their charges reduced to manslaughter by the provocation defence. Fifth, women subsequently charged with manslaughter are much more likely to avoid prison and when they do get prison terms they get lighter sentences than men charged with the same offence.

So the facts do not so easily fit into the male oppressor vs female victim stereotypes that Mary Crooks tries so hard to establish. In fact, the whole issue, if anything, shows a systemic bias by the courts against men rather than against women.

PS If you read the NSW Law Reform website further you find more evidence of the generally light sentences handed out to female offenders. For instance, of ten women charged with neonaticide (killing of a newborn) in NSW between 1968 and 1981 only one was sent to prison and she had killed six babies.

Regarding infanticide (killing of a child under the age of one) 70% of the perpetrators were female. Of seven women charged with infanticide in NSW between 1976-1980 all were released on good behaviour bonds.

Such data hardly supports the feminist theory that the courts are harsh on women because of a patriarchal bias.