Thursday, June 30, 2005

A feminist setback?

A Current Affair ran as a feature story tonight another one of those surveys on "What women want".

I found the results heartening. In first place, women wanted love. Second most important thing for women was motherhood. Only 13% of women nominated career and at the very bottom of the list was power.

Decades of feminist propaganda seem to have failed. Most women don't see a careerist competition with men for "power" as the most important thing in their lives.

Predictably the feminist interviewed for her reaction to the survey, Eva Cox, was not happy. She repeatedly denied that the survey could be valid.

(Ms Cox herself looked very mannish, even for a radical feminist. I looked up her biography and it turns out that she is yet another feminist who was abandoned by her father as a child. I have attempted to explain the political origins of feminism here but I have to admit that there is also a strong psychological element - an issue of paternal abandonment - in giving rise to feminism.)

Monday, June 27, 2005

Taking the other side

In the news lately has been the story of Douglas Wood, the Australian kidnapped in Iraq and then rescued by US soldiers.

Today Douglas Wood told of the ruthlessness of his captors who executed two Iraqi hostages next to him and who beat him up for understating the amount of money he kept in his office safe.

At a press conference, Mr Wood called his kidnappers “a---holes”. Most of us would understand his use of such an uncomplimentary term. But Andrew Jaspan, the editor of The Age, Melbourne’s second newspaper, did not.

Andrew Jaspan called Douglas Wood “boorish” for using the term. As Jaspan himself explains it,

I was, I have to say, shocked by Douglas Wood’s use of the a---hole word, if I can put it like that, which I just thought was coarse and very ill-thought through ... The issue really is largely, speaking as I understand it, he was treated well there. He says he was fed every day, and as such to turn around and use that kind of language I think is just insensitive.

Labor Party speech writer Bob Ellis went even further in expressing his respect for the kidnappers by praising them as “honourable men (with) a well-treated captive.”

My point here is not to make a judgement about the morality of the war in Iraq. It’s to point out the capacity of some members of our cultural elite to identify with “the other," even to the point of defending cut-throat terrorists.

This is not a new phenomenon. More than a century ago an English poet, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, chose to defend the Mahdi uprising in the Sudan. When Sir Herbert Stewart defeated the Mahdi’s forces at Abu Klea, Blunt was moved to condemn the victorious British forces as “A mongrel scum of thieves ... without beliefs, without traditions” whereas “on the other side” were,

men with the memory of a thousand years of freedom, with chivalry inherited from the Saracens, the noblest of ancestors, with a creed the purest the world ever knew, worshipping God and serving him with arms like the heroes of the ancient world they are ...

Blunt’s admiration for the Mahdi’s forces was misplaced. The Mahdi revolt was partly a response to General Gordon’s efforts to outlaw the slave trade. Nor was the Mahdi’s programme the kind of idealised defence of an ancient tradition suggested by Blunt. Instead,

The Mahdi maintained that his movement was not a religious order that could be accepted or rejected at will, but that it was a universal regime, which challenged man to join or to be destroyed. The Mahdi modified Islam’s five pillars to support the dogma that loyalty to him was essential to true belief.

Personally, I am not sympathetic to any kind of imperialism. But Blunt was not just a critic of British imperialism. He was fundamentally disloyal to his own people. His mindset was to identify with “the other” almost to the point of reverence.

And these men we have with us still.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Bad timing for thought police

This week in Melbourne two pentecostal pastors were punished for defaming Islam. It's a bit confusing as to what they actually said which contravened the law; they mostly based their criticisms of Islam on passages from the Koran, but the judge found that they did not make clear that their reading of the Koran was "literalist" and the judge also complained that some of their comments had drawn laughter from the 250 strong audience.

Their punishment for such "hate" speech? They have to spend $70,000 on large apologies in both of Melbourne's daily papers, and put an apology on their website for a year. They have also been ordered by the judge to never even imply what they'd said about the Koran.

The Islamic Council of Victoria claimed that this was a "light remedy" and "appropriate", but the pastors have appealed and say they would rather go to jail than apologise for "for standing for the truth". (As columnist Andrew Bolt has pointed out it seems very strange that the pastors should have to apologise to 2.5 million people, when their original comments were made to 250 people. It's like a kind of ritual public humiliation for a political thought crime - it has the flavour of Soviet Russia during the show trials even if the outcomes aren't as severe.)

Unhappily for the thought police other events in Melbourne this week make the judgement seem very ill-advised. On Thursday came the news that ASIO had raided the homes of several Melbourne Muslims in order to break up a terror cell which had conducted training camps in the countryside and which had cased the Melbourne stock exchange and Flinders Street railway station.

Then yesterday came the Herald Sun report "Muslim books of hate sold". It seems that a bookshop attached to a Melbourne mosque has been selling literature which tells Muslims that they should "hate and take as enemies" non-Muslims, that they should learn to hate in order to properly love Allah, that they should learn military tactics and that if a person speaks ill of Islam it's acceptable to kill them.

(Note also that on Thursday came the news that Islamic terror suspects had been arrested in Amsterdam and Paris.)

So this is the odd situation. Two pastors criticise the Koran, in part because of passages condoning deception and violence against non-Muslims. For warning against the possibility of "hate" inspired by the Koran they themselves are found guilty of a hate crime - for supposedly taking the Koran too literally.

But reality proves almost immediately that their warnings are not out of order and that a suburban mosque is selling literature encouraging violence against non-believers and that some of the mosque's worshippers have taken up the call to jihad by preparing for acts of terrorist violence against the peaceful residents of Melbourne.

Has it not been shown that there are indeed Muslims, even in Melbourne, who take the Koran literally? Is it not the case the the judge has been proved wrong in his decision and that it is the court which now owes the two pastors an apology?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A Swedish pay gap?

Feminists often complain that women are paid less than men. Their complaint, however, is usually exaggerated. As this new Swedish research shows the pay gap is much less than feminists claim (only 5% in Sweden) and the reason it exists has more to do with the jobs women choose than with any patriarchal bias.

Nor is it such a bad thing if men end up earning more than women. All this means is that men are working hard to support their families materially and that women are dedicating at least part of their time to caring for their children. The extra money that men earn, in other words, is not used to somehow oppress women, but rather to allow women to mother their children.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Follow the Aka men?

The Melbourne Herald Sun this morning carried a large article headed “Dads urged to get maternal”.

They weren’t kidding when they wrote the heading. The article begins by urging men to suckle their babies (for soothing rather than feeding purposes). Why? Because an anthropologist has found a small tribe of African pygmies in which this male suckling happens.

These pygmy men have been declared “World’s Best Dads” by FatherWorld magazine because they’re near their children 47% of the time.

Now, before men rush out to buy their maternity bras a few words of warning. First of all, liberals routinely misuse these kinds of anthropological findings.

Let’s remember that these Aka pygmies number roughly 30,000 out of a male population of over 3 billion. It’s not reasonable to suggest on the basis of this tiny population that male suckling of children is normal.

Remember, too, that when the Aka visit villages the mothers hold onto their babies for 90% of the time. It’s only when the tribe is moving around the forest foraging for food that mothers reduce their baby time to 40% by handing the baby around (7.3 times per hour).

I wonder too if Western women would want to follow a model of society in which 17% of men have more than one wife and child mortality runs at 20%. Note also that the anthropologist who has studied the Aka, Barry Hewlett, reports that “Aka society is very adult-centered in that parents seldom stop their activities to pay undivided attention to their children.” How can you be a world’s best dad if you seldom stop your activities to pay undivided attention to your children?

Nor do Aka fathers seek to discipline or role model their children. Instead, the children are left to be autonomous and therefore often act in disrespectful ways to their elders: an example given is a group of boys throwing sticks at an elderly man, who protested but was forced to retreat into the forest.

However, it’s not only a flawed use of the anthropology which undermines what is claimed in the Herald Sun article. There is also the assumption that a man makes himself a good father by holding onto a baby and doing maternal things. In other words, a very limited criteria for judging fatherhood has been employed.

Why shouldn’t a man’s efforts to provide material comfort for his family be counted as good fatherhood? Or his ability to successfully guide, educate and socialise his children? Or his ability to provide physical and emotional security for his wife and children? Why is it always just nappies, or even worse, “suckling”?

Which brings us to a final flaw. It is no accident that men are being judged in terms of their maternal rather than their paternal skills. Our political class is liberal and liberals believe that traditional sex roles are oppressive because they are “imposed” by biology rather than being individually chosen. Therefore, liberals assume that it’s a good thing to “throw off” traditional sex roles – for them it means that we are less limited in what we can choose to become.

But this is an ideological rather than a realistic view of things. The reality is that the natures of men and women are different and that most men will not be able to reproduce the kind of mother-love which women bestow upon their children.

The world’s best dads will be those who provide the most protected conditions for this mother-love to develop and flourish. This is one of the important gifts of a father to his children – a distinctive act of paternal care, rather than an ideological attempt to follow a unisex maternalism all the way to the nipple.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The two McConvills

James McConvill must be pleased with himself tonight. He had an opinion article today in both Melbourne newspapers.

What’s even more unusual is that the two articles are set against each other: one is conservative in its outlook and the other is liberal.

The conservative article is in the Herald Sun (not online). In this article McConvill argues that the attempt by women to choose everything by “having it all” hasn’t worked. He writes that,

Being a high-flying executive, the devoted parent, the loving partner, the loyal friend and the overall all-rounder is just not possible for any mere mortal.

Now, many writers have made similar observations. McConvill, though, goes further than most by drawing out questions of principle.

First, he writes that “With the potential dangers that too much choice can expose, the challenge for the feminist movement today is to appreciate that not only are there limits on what women can do, but that there should be self-imposed limitations on what women can choose.”

This is a direct challenge to the liberal first principle on which feminism is based. Liberals believe that to be fully human we must be self-created from our own individual will and reason. In order to be self-created, there must be no restrictions or limitations on our freedom to choose what we do and who we are. Our actions and identity, in other words, must be self-determined.

McConvill, in arguing that there are in fact limitations, is setting himself against this liberal principle. He also sets himself against the principle elsewhere in the article when he argues that “unfettered choice” can be oppressive, and that “propping up freedom of choice as the panacea for today’s woman” is misguided, and when he denies the feminist claim that “the key to women’s real liberation is self-determination – the freedom to structure one’s own path to success”.

The second way that McConvill breaches the liberal first principle is when he ponders the following question: if it’s not possible for women to choose everything, then what should they choose?

For feminists, the answer is that women should choose to focus on their careers rather than motherhood. The problem with motherhood for feminists is that it’s a traditional gender role. It’s thought of as a merely “biological destiny” – an identity which the individual inherits due to the accident of being born a woman, rather than something fashioned by individual reason.

McConvill, though, suggests that for many women motherhood would be the better choice. He cites “happiness studies” which show that family relationships are more important to individual well-being than “the great job, respect on a professional level, money and a glitzy lifestyle”.

McConvill goes so far as to suggest that rather than seeking to “dismantle the traditional stereotype” of women as mothers that “we should embrace it” for the majority of women.

So, in the Herald Sun article McConvill rather bravely challenges the very foundation principle of liberalism. In his article in The Age, though, he reverses his position.

The Age article is a tribute to former prime minister Paul Keating. Why does McConvill admire Keating so much? Because “He made me believe I could do anything and be anybody” – which made McConvill believe that “one day I too might become prime minister” and which inspired him to pursue his career success in the law.

There is a kind of selective conservatism happening here. McConvill is telling women that it’s important to accept that there are limits on what we can choose to do and be. But he applies to himself the liberal principle that he can do anything and be anybody – and that politicians should be judged by how well they promote this belief.

Such a selective conservatism obviously won’t work. Once you set up the liberal principle as the foundation stone of politics, as McConvill does in his tribute to Keating, it will eventually be applied across the board, including in the lives of women.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Prostitution update

Just a brief follow up to the post below. I decided to politely query Andrew Norton's claim that prostitution is a legitimate way for female uni students to finance themselves. I made the following comment at the Catallaxy site:

I have to say I'm surprised that no-one, even at a liberal site, has raised an eyebrow at Andrew's suggestion that prostitution is a legitimate way to finance your life.

Isn't this even the least bit controversial? Aren't there at the very least some doubts about the effects of prostitution on the psychological and emotional well-being of women?

Now, to the credit of the guys at Catallaxy I got some reasoned replies. However, these replies are only further confirmation that liberalism, even of the classic variety, cannot comprehend the full nature of man.

For instance, Jason Soon's reply was that:

1) women who engage in prostitution have few other prospects [but why then are female uni students taking up the "profession"? If a woman is smart enough to be at uni, capable enough to complete academic work, and physically attractive enough to earn money as a prostitute why doesn't she have other prospects?]

2) it is not that prostitution damages women's emotions but that women with damaged emotions go into prostitution [probably true, but choosing prostitution is hardly the best way to recovery]

3) stigmatising prostitution makes things harder for the prostitutes [perhaps, but the nature of what prostitutes do is what really harms them, rather than societal disapproval. The stigma might at least discourage some women from getting involved in the first place.]

However, what really struck me about Jason's reply was his following comment:

I'd argue that students who choose to engage in prostitution to supplement their discretionary income do so at their ... discretion and see no reason to stigmatise it as such ... They offer a service as do the rest of us which has a demand and willing customers.

Jason is establishing two criteria here for what makes something morally acceptable. First, is it something which is self-chosen (something done at our own discretion) and second is it something which acts within the terms of the free market.

The problem is that this approach is ideological. It derives from the right-liberal beliefs that we are made human by being self-created through our own reason and will (and that the "good" is therefore being unimpeded in our individual choices) and that the free market is the providential means of harmonising competing wills.

It's not an approach which connects well to the true "inner life" of man - to our "moral nature" if you like - nor does it really connect to the "real world effects" of moral choices - in this case, the real effects of prostitution on women.

Finally, Andrew Norton himself replied to my comment with an "I agree with Jason". Andrew believes that student prostitution is OK because the girls involved are "matter-of-fact" about it and enjoy "massive income advantages over job alternatives".

Andrew is operating with the idea that individuals will rationally choose to pursue their economic advantage within the free market. Aside from this "rational" choice, he has no other criteria with which to judge the morality of a particular choice or action. We are left with a vision of "Economic Man" and little more.

As I've noted before, I find this a curiously limited and diminished view of man. It's an irony that a humanistic philosophy like liberalism should end up making man seem so small.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Prostitutes as responsible citizens?

Don't expect too much from right-liberals in the moral sphere.

A left-wing researcher at Melbourne Uni has claimed that many female students are turning to prostitution because of Liberal Party welfare reforms.

Andrew Norton, the most mainstream right-liberal at the Catallaxy website, has chosen to defend the Liberal Party reforms as follows.

He claims that uni students have higher lifestyle expectations than in the past and that,

I can't see any reason for government to pay for all this, so students should work for it.

The interviews ... show that the sex worker students accept this. They are quite pragmatic about what they do, adopting the language of choice and individual responsibility ... We should not see student prostitution as a policy failure, but as a legitimate way a small minority of people choose to finance their lives.

Prostitutes, it seems, meet all the requirements of good right-liberal citizens. They don't make government bigger by depending on welfare but "responsibly" earn their own money. And they exercise a "pragmatic" individual choice in entering their field of work.

And this is all an intelligent right-liberal has to say on the issue. He is indifferent even to "pragmatic" questions of the real-world effects of prostitution on women, let alone the issue of moral integrity in the realm of sex and love.

This is an example, I think, of how liberalism, even in its right-wing forms, cannot adequately comprehend the nature of man. To someone not sharing this ideology the liberal approach to moral issues seems curiously artificial and stunted.

Something does not become moral because it is individually chosen or because it frees the market from government intervention.