Thursday, February 24, 2005

Too many to overlook

There's been a lot of talk in the Australian media lately about a looming labour shortage. After years of economic growth, immigration rates will need to rise, it is confidently asserted, to meet a potential shortage of workers.

This argument was neatly punctured by an article in today's Age. Leading Australian economist Bob Gregory has revealed that the number of working age men living on welfare in Australia has doubled in the last 22 years, from 500,000 to an incredible 1,000,000.

For a nation whose entire population totals only 20 million, this is a massive pool from which to draw additional labor requirements. You would think that the first priority of any government would be to retrain some of these men to fill any looming gaps in the labor market.

Why should we leapfrog 1,000,000 working age men on welfare to look overseas for our labour? It's hard to believe that this is even economically rational, let alone morally justifiable.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Sending cheerleaders to war

There's a country town in Illinois called Paris which has suffered the highest American casualty rates in the Iraq war.

Five residents of Paris have died in the war. What's especially striking, though, is that two of the dead were young women. It seems that not only did many members of the local football team sign up for duty - so too did the cheerleaders.

A local reporter comments that most of the unit from the town signed up after 9/11 and that,

They joined in that kind of environment, but the town did not expect those 19-year-old footballers and 20-year-old cheerleaders to be putting on fatigues and going to war.

There's pictures in the newspaper report of the two dead women. They were both strikingly beautiful and feminine looking. Exactly the kind of women you would think men would instinctively want to protect from violent harm.

Yet we are now supposed to accept the idea of women signing up for and being killed in wars. This is an idea we should stubbornly resist. It might be a cliche, but it's nonetheless true, that men are made to be protectors and providers. We give up this basic truth about ourselves if we send women into the battle zone.

Our problem is that our liberal political leaders believe in the idea that we should be self-created by our own individual will and reason. Our gender is not something that we choose for ourselves. So, as a matter of principle for a liberal, it must be made not to count.

Therefore, liberals won't be swayed by arguments about the nature of men and women, as they want to overturn any such inherited nature. What we have to do instead is to attack the most basic idea of liberalism, that we have to be self-authored in order to be fully human.

We have to try to liberate the Western mind from this misguided, arbitrary and ultimately destructive principle. Only then will our political class think it legitimate to consider the distinctive natures of men and women when formulating public policy.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Making mothers of both sexes

The Melbourne Age newspaper is on the warpath. It is a war against traditional, masculine fatherhood.

In the past four days The Age has run three major articles calling for men to lay down their briefcases so that they might change more nappies.

Why this special plea to men to do less paid work? As I outlined in some detail in my article on The Old Father, liberals don't like the idea of traditional gender roles. Such roles are inherited, rather than being chosen by our own will and reason, and are therefore thought of by liberals as being an impediment to individual freedom.

So liberals think it's important that we throw off traditional fatherhood and motherhood roles. Instead there is to be one gender-neutral "parent" role, based on hands-on motherhood tasks.

That's why Sushi Das, in her Age article, asserts that,

In time, employers and governments will have to stop basing their decisions on the backward-looking model of man-as-breadwinner and woman-as-child-rearer, and move towards a new model where men and women are seen as workers and parents.

See - we are no longer to be fathers and mothers, but simply "parents" and "workers". Our sex has been cut out of the picture. It is no longer meant to matter. Which is why it's ironic that Sushi Das, in an attempt at emotional persuasion, appeals to Australian men's sense of manhood to make the change. She ends with a special plea to men: "Now is the time for courage ... It's time to be a man."

This is a fantastically ludicrous argument. We are being told that we can show our manhood by abolishing a most important facet of it, namely a distinctively masculine fatherhood.

In the second Age article, Natasha Campo argues, in orthodox liberal fashion, that we will be liberated by the abolition of traditional sex roles. She defends the feminists of the 1970s as follows,

Women's liberationists such as Anne Curthoys argued that women's liberation had to be synonymous with the liberation of mankind generally because role division according to sex harmed both sexes by locking men into the workplace and women into the home.

The third article describes the views of Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Pru Goward. She so much wants to achieve an androgynous model of parenting that she thinks the Government should consider running special "relationship programs" to achieve it.

Like Sushi Das, she also pulls out some emotional "persuaders" to bolster her case, including the claim that women work in total two hours a day longer than men, and that this is causing high divorce rates and low fertility rates.

Her claim about longer female working hours should be received with some scepticism. I've seen quite a few survey results on this issue and they all showed that men and women worked very similar hours when paid and unpaid work was combined.

Quite a few surveys actually show men working slightly longer hours than women. For instance, in 1993 an Australian Bureau of Statistics study found that among employed people with children women spent on average 40% of the day on paid and unpaid work compared to 42% for men.

Perhaps this explains why most women are reasonably content with the division of household labour. For instance, in 1996 a researcher from the Australian National University, Dr Janeen Baxter, found that only 3.8% of women who did more housework than their husbands considered themselves "not at all satisfied" with the situation.

Pru Goward seems to recognise this resistance of women to the idea of unisex roles within the home. She insists in her Age article that "Women also needed to change their belief that they were better at housework and childrearing than their partners".

Yet if women are stubbornly traditional, just like men, it seems unlikely that the male commitment to breadwinning is a major factor behind divorce and fertility problems.

Ultimately, the call from the political class for motherhood and fatherhood to be abolished is an ideological one. It is an attempt to radically remake us so that we fit in better with an abstract concept of individual freedom.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Norwegian arrested for smacking

Here's a case from Norway of a stepfather who tried to do the right thing and ended up in court - and nearly convicted of a crime.

His two stepsons had been unruly for some time and had hit classmates. After giving them warnings, he finally put them over his knee and smacked their backsides three times with his bare hand. For this he was arrested!

One judge wanted to convict him, but was overruled by the other two judges.

I'm not someone who believes in the "spare the rod, spoil the child" motto, but I do think it's up to parents to decide when "smacking" (a slap on the bum or back of the legs) is an appropriate punishment.

Something's wrong when the police can arrest a father for responsibly punishing his own sons.

Liberals & the nation: Who will be left?

Pamela Bone is a left-liberal columnist for The Age newspaper.

Usually, you expect left-liberal Australian journalists to support easier entry for illegal immigrants into Australia. It's something of a cause for the left here in Australia.

Recently, though, Pamela Bone wrote an article for the Age in which she made several arguments against an open borders policy for asylum seekers (The Age 22/11/03).

One of her arguments is that the immigration policies of Western nations are creating a brain drain in poorer countries. She quotes an aid worker in Malawi who told her bitterly that "There are more Malawi doctors working in Manchester than there are in Malawi."

She notes also that at a graduation ceremony for migrant women here in Victoria,

One young woman told me she came here as a refugee from Sudan four years ago. She'd worked in a hotel and sent money back to support her mother and brother and sisters, who had escaped Sudan and gone to Egypt. She's since managed to sponsor all of them to come to Australia─all except their father, who had stayed in Sudan to help "get the peace".

'He says if everyone leaves, who will get the peace?' the young woman said. Who indeed?

The father, in asking who will be left to reform his own country, is giving voice to a sentiment which I expect has crossed the minds of many Western conservatives: that the problems in many third world countries need to be tackled over the longer term by their inhabitants, rather than by shifting large populations to the West.

The question still remains, though, of why a left-liberal like Pamela Bone would be making such arguments against mass immigration. Is she going against her liberal principles?

The answer is no. The basic liberal principle is that we should be radically autonomous, in the sense of having no impediments to our individual reason and will.

Liberals apply this principle to different spheres of life and sometimes there are conflicting results. For instance, because liberals want to be self-created by their individual will and reason, they are usually unsympathetic to a traditional national identity, which is something we are born into rather than choosing for ourselves.

That's why so many liberals are comfortable with a policy of mass immigration which effectively breaks down the traditional national identity.

However, one effect of such mass immigration is to bring large Muslim populations into Western countries. This potentially threatens liberalism as it is applied to gender and the family.

Liberals, wanting individuals to be self-created by individual will and reason, stress the feminist ideals of female independence and autonomy and of a gender blind society. Such feminist views are not strongly supported within fundamentalist Islamic cultures.

Pamela Bone is willing to recognise that an open borders immigration policy, by creating a large Muslim population in the West, potentially threatens the feminist aims of liberals like herself. She chooses to keep the feminism, rather than the open borders policy, even though both are products of liberal first principles.

That's why she can write:

The second argument [against mass immigration] is about whether Western countries are entitled to preserve their own cultures. Three quarters of those seeking asylum in Europe are from Islamic countries. There are now Muslim majorities in parts of England, and in France there are more Muslims than practising Catholics.

... the threat of fundamentalism can't be ignored ... Women, in particular, had better hope the peculiar attitudes held by some Muslims towards women can be changed before those holding them become a majority.

The point to be drawn is that it's not necessarily illogical for a liberal like Pamela Bone to make arguments against mass immigration. She does so not out of a conservative defence of traditional nationalism, but because of the possible harm to other liberal projects, such as feminism.

The pity is that the opposition to mass immigration has to come from within liberalism itself. Pamela Bone is most likely to remain an isolated voice within her own camp. A conservative opposition would at least be in a position to take a more unified stand against current immigration policies.

(First published at Conservative Central 01/01/2004)

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Missing fathers

Are fathers necessary to a family, or are they merely optional? Gradually we are sliding toward the latter view. When governments choose to allow single women and lesbians access to IVF they are effectively accepting the deliberate creation of fatherless families.

In other words, we no longer show sympathy to childless single women by urging them to find a husband. Instead, we are increasingly accepting the idea that they should deliberately bring a child into the world without a father.

Yet it's not hard to find evidence that children need fathers. In recent months, several Australian celebrities have spoken out about the deep importance to them of having a father.

For instance, in yesterday's Age newspaper, there was an interview with leading Australian fashion designer Alannah Hill. I've always had some admiration for Alannah Hill as she has completely rejected the androgynous, grungy trends in fashion, preferring instead to design almost ultra-feminine clothes for women, replete with flowers and frills. Her fashion ethos is unashamedly heterosexual. She says,

I spend most days designing the most romantic clothes so that girls when they wear them will evoke some gush of love from the opposite sex.

Alannah Hill's greatest sadness is a feeling of neglect by her father. She says of this that,

I would have loved a strong family upbringing but it wasn't to be. It's something I have worked out somewhere inside of me, but the emptiness and wanting will never leave. I did feel very abandoned by my dad. I was the fourth of five children and he ignored me. I will always have a sadness inside me. I struggle with it a lot ...

Then there is the case of Virginia Trioli, who is a well-known journalist and broadcaster here in Melbourne. She has written of the loss four years ago of her father that,

I find his death more difficult to deal with as the years go on, not less so, which is bewildering - and I find talking about him even harder. It reduces me to a hollow shell ... He loved to dance - we used to dance together in the lounge room to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, music I love to this day. I gave a reading at his funeral and did a terrible job - I was a complete mess.

Finally there is the case of Marcus Graham, a popular Australian actor. Interviewed late last year in the Herald Sun, he described how,

Dad left when I was about two ... My mum sent me to a psychologist when I was five. I spent about a month every Saturday putting blocks into holes. I remember being miserable and heavily shut down. At the end of this psychological reading, they said, "He needs to see his dad." I thought that was obvious.

So here are three prominent Australians describing for us the depth of loss they have experienced through the absence of a father. This ought to be a reminder to us that humans are made, emotionally and psychologically, for a well-functioning heterosexual family life, in which children have a close relationship with both a mother and a father.

Fathers are much more than a useful, but optional, addition to family life.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

A workable spectrum

Is there a way to make sense of the political spectrum? I think there is. The terms “left” and “right” do make sense as distinctions within mainstream liberalism.

It works this way. All liberals start off with a belief that the individual should be self-created by their own will and reason. This means that liberals have to clear away unchosen impediments to individual will, such as race, gender and class.

But this leaves a fundamental problem. How can you possibly regulate a society made up of millions of individual wills, each pursuing their own selfish desires? This is the question asked by Australian liberal Clive Hamilton, in his essay The Disappointment of Liberalism. He writes that,

this essay is a prelude to answering the question of how we can reconstruct the social in an individualized world. In a world where we are no longer bound together by our class, gender or race, why should we live cooperatively?

Mainstream liberals have given two basic answers to this question. Right-liberals (classical liberals) believe that society can be regulated by the “hidden hand” of the free market. In this theory, people can pursue their economic interests selfishly, and yet still generate positive outcomes for society as a whole. Right-liberals therefore have a focus on Economic Man and would prefer that the state didn’t interfere with and distort the operations of the market.

Left-liberals reject the idea of the market as a means of regulating society. They see the market as generating unequal outcomes, and they want a more deliberately rational regulation of society. They therefore prefer society to be regulated either by the state or by local communities.

So, the most basic left/right distinction is between those on the right who prefer market regulation and those on the left who prefer state/community regulation.

There is, however, another important distinction to be made. If you were to imagine a pure liberalism, in which individuals were entirely autonomous and unimpeded, a centralised state would have little role. Therefore, the more radical liberals, of both right and left, who want to achieve a pure liberalism straight away, will be “small state” or “no state” liberals.

So the political spectrum goes like this. On the right you have those wanting regulation by the market and on the left those wanting more deliberate regulation by the state or local community. In the middle you have those accepting a larger role for the state and on either radical end you have those opposing a large role for the state.

So, on the far left you have anarchists (left-libertarians), then on the centre-left you have social democrats (left-liberals), then on the centre-right you have mainstream right-liberals like the American Republicans or Australian Liberals and on the far-right you have Ayn Rand type right-libertarians.

Notice that the opposite ends of the spectrum have something in common in virtue of their radicalism, namely a libertarian opposition to a central state.

All that remains to be explained is where conservatives, communists and fascists fit in to the spectrum. As noted, the terms “left” and “right” refer to a distinction within liberalism. Therefore, conservatism doesn’t fit within this spectrum at all. That’s why conservatives will sometimes find themselves agreeing with left-wing criticisms of an unregulated market, but at other times with right-wing criticisms of an interventionist state.

Marxist communism is an interesting case. I reserve judgement, but I expect it fits on the spectrum as a form of radical leftism. It’s true that Marxists want to establish an authoritarian state (the “dictatorship of the proletariat”) to achieve their aims, so this might seem to go against the idea that the more radical liberals want a small state. However, Marxists believe that the dictatorship of the proletariat will only last for a limited time and will then give way to the end of history in which there will be no state. So ultimately Marxism does seem to fit in well as a form of radical leftism.

I reserve judgement too on the exact place of fascism within the polical spectrum. However, I expect that it doesn’t fit on the spectrum at all, as it’s not a part of the liberal mainstream. Fascists don’t follow the mainstream liberal belief in a society made up of millions of atomised wills, each following its own desires. The triumph of human will, its highest realization, for fascists, seems instead to be the practical assertion of a collective will, itself embodied in the will of the leader.

Perhaps the notion that fascism is “off the spectrum” explains why it seems to incorporate aspects of both left and right wing politics.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

What you see is what you get

Liberals have a negative attitude to race. They believe that we are human because we can create who we are through our own will and reason. But race is not something we can create for ourselves: it is something fixed, biological and inherited.

So, liberals wish to rule out race as something that influences our lives. They have two basic options for doing this. First, they can claim that race doesn't exist and is simply a social construct. This is the "race-denial" position. Second, they can admit it exists but then insist that it not be allowed to count.

The problem for the liberal race-deniers is that it goes against observable reality to claim that there are no races. Most people can readily identify whether a person is racially caucasian, or African or Asian.

So, it comes as no surprise that a recent study has found that the race a person identifies with matches with remarkable accuracy their distinctive genetic makeup. The Stanford University research, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, is the largest study of its kind. It showed that there was only a tiny 0.14% error level in which race a person identified with.

So observable reality is right after all! If you believe that you are racially European or Asian or African it's almost certainly the case that that is genetically what you are. It's the idea of race being merely an artificial social construct which is ... an artificial social construct.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Another new conservatism

It's not uncommon to find thinkers within the Australian Liberal Party who want to create a fusion between liberalism and conservatism.

The former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, is one such figure within the Liberal Party who has argued for such a fusion. In his book Common Ground he claims first that,

As its name implies, ours is a liberal government holding liberal principles.

He then sets out a typically right-liberal view of liberal principles, in which the market is held to be a better regulator of society than the state. He rejects the idea that "because something is considered desirable it should be provided by the state", preferring that it be provided "by voluntary action on the part of individuals joining freely together, and by the mechanism of the market".

So, if Mr Fraser believes in right-liberal "principles and values", what role is left for conservatism? His answer is significant. He explains that,

I have stressed the commitment of the Government to liberal principles and values. Precisely because of that commitment it is also concerned to conserve and protect those principles and values.

Once liberal institutions are installed in a society, a government which wishes to preserve them must in some sense be conservative.

Note carefully the meaning of this. Mr Fraser is saying that if liberalism wasn't the established orthodoxy it wouldn't be a conservative movement at all. It's only "conservative" in the sense that the liberal status quo needs to be preserved.

In exactly what way can conservatism help to sustain liberal values? Mr Fraser gives this highly revealing answer. He talks of a "new conservatism" which,

is concerned to ensure that while the enterprise of those who initiate desired change is encouraged, those who suffer loss as a result of it - either materially or spiritually - are given some protection and help to adjust to the new circumstances.

Think about what Mr Fraser is arguing here. He is saying that liberals must be encouraged to initiate change, even though people will suffer a spiritual loss because of that change. The role of conservatism, for Mr Fraser, is to help people "adjust" to a spiritual impoverishment brought about by such "desired change".

Mr Fraser's fusion of conservatism and liberalism, therefore, is coherent, but only because conservatism has been relegated to a keeper of order and stability for a liberal establishment. In no way is Mr Fraser's conservatism allowed to establish its own values and principles. Mr Fraser's conservatism is not even able to inform him that a change which brings about a spiritual loss ought not to be desired.

A more recent attempt to fuse liberalism and conservatism was made last week by the federal Minister for Health, Tony Abbott. Mr Abbott is at the most conservative end of the current Liberal Government. In a speech to the Young Liberals he defended the conservative credentials of Prime Minister Howard.

Mr Abbott endorsed in his speech the idea of a fusion of liberalism and conservatism. He said,

Howard has often referred to the Liberal Party as a "broad church", which included the intellectual descendants of Edmund Burke as well as those of John Stuart Mill. This is far from an uneasy stand-off or messy compromise...

However, it has to be said that Mr Abbott doesn't attempt to fuse the two philosophies in the same way as Mr Fraser. Unlike Mr Fraser, Mr Abbott does allow a place for conservative values and principles within his liberal/conservative fusion. He describes some aspects of a principled conservatism quite well. For instance he writes that,

Conservatism is inclined to be inarticulate, at least about politics. There are no conservative utopias, no abstract models for political zealots to inflict upon the real world. Still, the conservative instinct to cherish home and hearth, to protect kith and kin and to ponder the higher things is hard-wired into human nature.

Similarly, he praised Mr Howard for understanding,

that ideas are important in politics but so are the bonds of solidarity and belonging that should exist between all the members of a successful society. Howard has always appreciated the importance of the communities in which the individual finds meaning, the context without which an individual can hardly exist.

Another good quote is Mr Abbott's description of a "mainstay" of conservatism being "respect for traditional values and institutions and consciousness of the 'ties that bind'."

So, you would think from this that a genuine conservatism has found a place within Mr Abbott's politics. Think again! When we get to practical outcomes it turns out that Mr Abbott sees the role of conservatism in a very similar way to Mr Fraser.

According to Mr Abbott, the Prime Minister's achievement has been to "massage away" a "fear of Asia", and a "mistrust of difference" so that the "new conservatives" he is leading "no longer feel threatened by diversity and think the extended family is a good metaphor for contemporary Australia."

So here again we have talk of a "new conservatism", the primary task of which is to adjust people to liberally "desired" change, namely the displacement of an existing population and its culture by mass immigration and multiculturalism.

At least Mr Fraser's attempt to fuse liberalism and conservatism was logically coherent. Mr Abbott makes conservatism more important in theory than Mr Fraser, but then completely fails to connect it to reality.

In what way is mass immigration and multiculturalism an attempt to protect "kith and kin" or "bonds of solidarity and belonging" or "communities in which the individual finds meaning" or "ties that bind".

Mass immigration can only overthrow these things. If you think that the community you live in will change in its very ethnic composition at least once or twice in your own lifetime, you will not find a deep and meaningful attachment within it.

So Mr Abbott's fusion of conservatism and liberalism is a failure. He asserts a conservative theory and a liberal programme and simply fails to connect the two. The result is that his conservative theory, no matter how eloquently he describes it, becomes a dead letter.

The moral? We need to be crystal clear that our role as conservatives is not to uphold liberal outcomes. Our role is not to "massage away" or "adjust people" to the less palatable consequences of liberalism, nor is it to maintain the stability and order of a liberal society.

Our goal is not fusion with liberalism, but its defeat.