Thursday, November 30, 2006

A patriotic Bragg?

Back in 1990 Billy Bragg released his own version of the socialist hymn The Internationale:

So comrades come rally
For this is the time and place
The international ideal
Unites the human race

Come greet the dawn and stand beside us
We'll live together or we'll die alone
In our world poisoned by exploitation
Those who have taken, now they must give
And end the vanity of nations
We've but one earth on which to live.

Today Bragg’s message has changed. He is no longer vowing to “end the vanity of nations”. Instead, he has written a book describing his love for his country, England.

In The Progressive Patriot: A Search for Belonging Bragg tells us that he loves his country in the same way he loves his son, as both are a part of him for which he wants the best and shares responsibility. He asks why he should be any less proud of one love than the other.

So Bragg does experience patriotism as something positive – as a kind of love. But can he effectively defend his own national tradition?

I think not. What comes first for Bragg is his “progressive” (i.e. liberal) politics. So he can only accept a national identity which fits within this politics – and this isn’t much.

Why? According to liberalism what counts is that we are self-determining. We are to shape who we are according to our own choices. It is then thought unjust if we restrict the choices of others by discriminating against them.

This understanding of things is lethal to a traditional national identity. Traditional nationalism was based on a shared ethnicity: on a common culture, ancestry, language, religion and history. This is what established the idea of a distinct “people”.

But we don’t determine membership of such a national tradition for ourselves: it is something we are born into. So an ethnic nationalism comes to be thought of negatively within a liberal politics as an impediment to individual choice.

Worse yet, an ethnic nationalism is thought discriminatory and unjust as it places a restriction on the choices of the “other” – on those who aren’t part of the nation.

So how does Bragg manage to negotiate the idea of a liberal patriotism? One argument he makes is to compare multiculturalism to class:

Class, he says, is a social distinction which still exists but no longer acts as a barrier to achievement. “So perhaps we should think of a multicultural society in the same way we perceive our present classless society, as an evolutionary process which does not necessitate the abolition of cultural differences or the assimilation of one group into another. The multicultural society would be one in which ethnicity, like class, no longer matters.

Notice the emphasis here. The concern is with ethnicity as a potential barrier to the individual. It is allowed to exist as long as it is made not to matter.

(And this is the more soft-line liberal rejection of ethnicity. The hardline attitude is to treat an ethnic tradition as an oppressive social construct, thereby denying its real existence.)

How can there continue to exist distinct peoples, each with their distinctive culture, if ethnicity is not allowed to matter? Bragg apparently believes his British identity can be based on a tradition of tolerance or fairness, rather than ethnicity. But as is frequently pointed out, such values are hardly unique to any one country. As it happens there are Australian liberals who think that our own national identity should be based on exactly the same thing – the tradition of a “fair go”.

Trying to base a national identity on values which are compatible with liberalism tends to make all national identities the same – and therefore meaningless.

To have a love of our own tradition is part of being fully natured as a man. Even though we don’t determine for ourselves the tradition we belong to, it is not a restriction on us, but the very opposite, as it allows us to live through our nature more completely.

Its absence – its being made not to matter – is the more serious barrier to what we might have become.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Putting another feminist statistic to rest

Over at Iain Hall's site there's been some discussion on the domestic violence issue. A Miss P, who is both a practising witch and a student union president, wrote indignantly in the comments thread:

This is about men. It's about men because the overwhelming amount of violence against women is undertaken by men. Domestic violence is the highest killer of women in Australia between the ages of 15 to 44! There is no excuse for this and trying to make one quite frankly is pathetic. Please note that this post does not allude that I hate men in fact I love them very much.

She loves us so much she is willing to believe the most damning statistics against us! A pity she hasn't learned yet to be a bit more sceptical about feminist statistics which rarely prove to be accurate.

Take the claim that the overwhelming amount of violence against women is undertaken by men. According to the two most recent ABS surveys, about 25% of assaults against women are actually committed by women. So whilst it's true that a majority of assaults are committed by men, the percentage of female perpetrators is significant enough to deserve attention.

The next claim by Miss P is even more off the mark. Any reasonable person ought to be immediately sceptical of a claim that most young women are killed by domestic violence.

So I checked out the causes of death of women in this age group in Australia for 2004 (see Australian Bureau of Statistics, Causes of Death, Australia, 2004).

The basic information is clear enough and is found on pages 11 and 12. The main cause of death for women in this age group is cancer, not domestic violence. 673 Australian women aged 15 to 44 died of cancer in 2004.

Deaths by external causes, the category in which deaths from domestic violence would be included, caused 743 deaths. However, if we subtract deaths by car accidents the number falls to 528, which is already less than deaths by cancer. If we further subtract suicide, we get 290 deaths by external causes.

How many of these 290 deaths were due to domestic violence? It's not possible from the ABS data to give an exact answer. There is a further breakdown of the data on pages 51 and 52, but only by female deaths and not by age group. However, the statistics do indicate that injuries by assault leading to fatality were a small percentage of total injuries. For all women there were 77 such injuries out of a total of 6056 for all causes (both intentional and accidental).

Another way to get a further breakdown is to note that about 40% of the fatalities to all women were from accidental causes (once we subtract car accidents and suicides). If we apply this percentage to our 290 deaths for women in the 15-44 age group, we are left with only 174 deaths from intentional injuries.

So we are now at 673 deaths from cancer and a maximum of 174 deaths from domestic violence. And of these 174 deaths? It's difficult to break down the figures any further. I'll only point out that injuries from assault totalled only 77 out of 3000 left in this intentional category - so I expect that most of these deaths were not related to domestic violence.

At any rate, I just don't see from the ABS data how the feminist claim could possibly be correct. Even if we simply take the original figure of 673 cancer deaths compared to 528 deaths from external causes (minus car accidents), the claim that domestic violence is the leading cause of death in the 15-44 age bracket simply can't be right.

So can I implore readers to always be cautious before accepting feminist statistics - they are all too often demonstrably inaccurate.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Why I won't wear a white ribbon

It's International White Ribbon Day today. We men are supposed to wear a white ribbon to show our opposition to domestic violence.

But there is a problem. The message being spruiked in the media is not a simple "show your opposition to violence". Instead, we get the following themes:

a) All men are responsible for domestic violence. In the Herald Sun for instance we get this:

Demons coach Neale Daniher has a message for all men - take a good hard look at yourselves.

And this:

Men's Referral Service counsellor Bruce Colcott said all men should stop and think about their relationships with women.

b) The rate of domestic violence is high. According to the Herald Sun: "more than one in two women will be physically or sexually assaulted".

c) Women are at risk from their own partners.

d) Male culture accepts violence against women. Andrew O'Keefe tells us: "Our aim is to change the culture of silence, inaction and acceptance that surrounds violence against women."

These ideas are repeated over and over in the media. It's a serious thing as a shocking picture is created in which the average woman can expect to be attacked physically or sexually by a man, especially by her partner, and that all men are implicated in a masculine culture which condones such behaviour.

Not a happy picture, is it? Not something to attract women to relationships with men. Not something for men to feel much masculine pride about.

But is it true? For evidence, let's take a quick look at a major, official research project carried out by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Women's Safety Survey (1996).

This survey was commissioned by the Office for the Status of Women. Some of the staff at the ABS complained at the time that it was advocacy research designed to inflate the level of domestic violence.

Even so, the survey found that in a twelve month period about 2.6% of women experienced an incident of violence from a married or de facto partner. Of these 2.6% of women, about half experienced milder forms of violence such as threats or pushing or grabbing (and of the approximately 1.3% of more severe cases about 50% involved alcohol abuse).

What this means is that in a twelve month period 97.4% of men desisted from any conceivable form of violence against their partners, including threats.

When you consider the amount of alcoholism, drug use, mental illness and family breakdown in society, the figure of 97.4% of men not even committing a single instance of a threat is a creditable one to men.

Another interesting statistic from the survey is that women are physically safer when they are partnered - by a large factor of 250%. It is single women who are more vulnerable to violence. Women therefore should not go into a relationship assuming that they are at higher risk of assault - the very opposite is true.

Finally, the survey revealed that 25% of the physical assaults committed against women are perpetrated by women. Although this is a minority of assaults, it is a significant minority. So when discussing violence against women, it would be more reasonable to discuss both male and female perpetrators, rather than focusing on men alone.

And is it true that male culture condones violence against women? This hasn't been my experience. I've always felt there to be a strict taboo against such violence in the social circles I've moved in.

The research seems to confirm my own experience. A Vic Health survey from earlier this year found that over 97% of men rejected the idea that violence against women was ever justified.

So the picture built up by the media is false. Men overwhelmingly reject violence against women both in theory and practice. Women are safer having a partner than not having one. And when women are attacked the perpetrators are frequently other women.

Which raises the question of why the false picture is encouraged. The answer has much to do with politics.

The feminism of the 1970s was based to a considerable degree on patriarchy theory. According to this theory, gender is a construct designed to secure a systematic male dominance over women: a patriarchy. All the institutions of society are shaped to secure this male control over women. Marriage and the family are simply instruments of control in which the work of the patriarchy is carried out either through emotional manipulation or violence.

So patriarchy theorists won't accept the idea that men are generally protective toward women and that a masculine culture discourages violence against women. Instead, they'll emphasise that all men are implicated in the systemic subordination of women through violence, and that women will be most directly controlled within the family.

You can see such assumptions at work when feminist Gloria Steinem declared that,

Patriarchy requires violence or the subliminal threat of violence in order to maintain itself ... The most dangerous situation for a woman is not an unknown man in the street, or even the enemy in wartime, but a husband or lover in the isolation of their own home.

The Australian feminist Kate Gilmore voiced a similar belief when (as head of a federal campaign against domestic violence) she claimed that:

You can see the tyrants, the invaders, the imperialists, in the fathers, the husbands, the stepfathers, the boyfriends, the grandfathers, and it’s that study of tyranny in the home ... that will take us to the point where we can secure change.

So if we accept the talk about all men being responsible for domestic violence, or masculine culture condoning domestic violence, or men alone being responsible for violence against women, or marriage placing women at greater risk of domestic violence, then we are lazily adopting the legacy of a radical feminist politics, one which assumes that gender is a social construct and that marriage and the family should be abolished as instruments of patriarchy.

Queer theorists also seem prominent in promoting the false picture of domestic violence. Queer theory is also based on the idea of gender being an oppressive social construct. The focus, though, is on the privileging of heterosexuality and a heterosexual masculinity. Queer theorists, therefore, have an interest in deconstructing a "hegemonic" masculinity, and so have a reason to blame an existing male culture and an existing pattern of heterosexual relationships for domestic violence.

In Australia Dr Michael Flood is a prominent figure in White Ribbon Day. He is someone who writes about "the academic destabilisation of dominant constructions of men and manhood" and who insists that we should not "take as given the categories of "men" and "women". The binaries of male and female are socially produced ..."

So we do need to be careful about the agenda behind the whole domestic violence issue. It is not politics free. There are political reasons why men in general and husbands in particular are targeted in these campaigns, and why the incidence of violence is exaggerated.

Yes, an opposition to domestic violence is a good cause. It is a cause, though, which urgently needs to separate itself from a bad politics.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A green church without children?

Katharine Jefferts Schori was recently elected as the first woman head of the Episcopal Church (the American branch of the Anglicans). A few days ago she was interviewed by the New York Times and made the following comments:

Q. How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?

About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.

Q. Episcopalians aren't interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?

No. It's probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.

I had to read that last bit twice to make sure I'd understood correctly. But it's stated very clearly: Jefferts Schori tells us that Episcopalians are not interested in replenishing their ranks by having children, but in the opposite - in not having children as a moral aim.

The whole instinct here is wrong. The very liberal Jefferts Schori has too little sense of the civilisational issues at stake when family formation and fertility rates are depressed; she is too fatalistic about the losses to her own church; and she too readily abandons the appeal of the church to those wanting a supportive environment for the raising of their families.

Perhaps Jefferts Schori has been influenced by a 2004 report on population trends within the Episcopal Church. This report found that the church had lost 829,000 members between 1967 and 2002, and that this was due to a fall in the fertility rate of white Americans, "our main constituency".

The decline in white fertility hit Episcopalians hardest, as better educated and wealthier white women have the lowest fertility rate, and there are more such women in the Episcopal Church than other denominations. The fertility rate of Episcopalians is estimated to be 1.5, well below replacement level (see p.17 of the report).

How does the report suggest that the problem be addressed? You would think the first concern of the church would be to encourage a stronger family ethos amongst its existing membership. But this is totally ignored.

Instead the report states blandly that,

The bottom line is this: given the demographic characteristics of our members, sustained growth is unlikely unless we begin to reach out beyond our historic constituency ... The problems facing the Episcopal Church are daunting due to the nature of our main constituency.

Again, it is just assumed that middle-class, white Americans aren't going to have children. This despite the fact that the church grew significantly in the 1950s when its existing members actually were having kids.

Instead, the church report simply accepts the radical changes to family life as a "demographic characteristic of our members" and suggests seeking out a replacement constituency.

Perhaps Jefferts Schori has accepted this fatalistic view and is trying to put a positive spin on it: there won't be Episcopal babies, but this is because we're smart and environmentally conscious and not because we (and other churches) have failed to hold together a healthy culture of family life.

Hat tip: Dog Fight at Bankstown

Monday, November 20, 2006

When markets aren't enough

Property developer Harry Triguboff is one of the ten richest men in Australia. He recently told a journalist that Sydney has "too many forests and parks". He thinks that national parks should be developed for housing:

You go north and we have all these reserves and you go south and you have all the reserves and they are the best part of the coast. That is crazy. We should be building on this area. If they want to see trees, they can go to Katoomba, there are plenty of trees there.

Triguboff also believes in open borders. He thinks that Australia should admit 130 million immigrants by 2050, and that Sydney's ideal population by this time would be 20 million.

He doesn't care if these immigrants speak English or not:

What's more important for me - a guy who can fix my tap or a guy who can speak English.

It's easy to see why Triguboff would think that such measures are in his economic interest. If you're making a fortune building city apartments then having ever larger quantities of both land and people would seem to be a good way to increase your profits.

So if all that we were to follow was a free market mentality, then Triguboff might appear to be a reasonable man.

I don't think, though, that anyone who follows the free market alone can accurately describe themselves as a conservative.

After all, the logic of Triguboff's position is not to conserve the natural environment, but to develop for profit even the national parks fringing Sydney.

Similarly, the logic of his position is to overwhelm the existing population with so many immigrants that the established Australian people, culture and tradition would not be conserved.

What this means is that to be a real conservative it's not enough to follow the free market alone. The slogan of freedom and the market won't do by itself.

There must be other 'goods' we seek to conserve which aren't derived from individual profit seeking within a market.

It is a hollow rendering of our nature to see the market alone as constituting the good in human experience.

Most real conservatives, for instance, will be responsive enough to nature to want to live close to it - closer, anyway, than an occasional visit to Katoomba to see a tree.

And most real conservatives will feel connected to their own tradition and want to protect it, even if this means placing some limits on profit seeking within the market.

This is not to say that conservatives must be anti-market. My own position is that an intelligently regulated market is the best option. The ideal is to harness the power of the market so that it drives economic growth and provides a ground for healthy competition, without undermining other more important goods within a society.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Whatever that may be

Say you're a liberal who believes that to be human we must be self-determining.

One of the many things which might stop you from achieving self-determination is the traditional family.

Why? Because it's not something you have chosen. You yourself haven't determined that a family is based on a father, a mother and children.

It is a restriction on your self-determining will that there should be no choice in defining the family.

But you don't want to live alone. So what do you do?

The answer given by many liberals is to deny that the family means anything specific. Its meaning is open-ended. Often liberals when discussing the family will add on the qualification "whatever that may be".

This allows the idea of family to survive, but without any real content. Family is anything people hold it to be. It can be two girlfriends, an old person and his dog, or a household of young adults.

Family is given a multiple, fluid, open-ended meaning, to make it fit with liberal assumptions about what makes us human.

This kind of thinking is so prevalent that it has been taken up in business advertising. In a recent article I recalled a Nescafe ad which had the jingle:

You can be mother when you are a man ...
Open your mind you know that you can.

This ad was trying to make gender roles within the family "not matter". Julian David at his website remembered a similar ad campaign by Tip Top bread, described on the company's website as follows:

One short sentence is inextricably linked with the Tip Top® brand: ‘Good on You Mum®.’ In the recently launched campaign, Tip Top Bakeries has reintroduced this much-loved advertising line to relaunch the entire bread range.

These days, of course, the carer identified as ‘Mum’ can be any member of the family, a partner or even a flatmate. Indeed, everyone identifies the line as a direct recognition of a nurturing gesture. The advertising campaign uses the emotional power of ‘Good on You Mum®’ to set the scene for the new family, whatever that may be ...

So Mum can be anyone and the family cannot really be defined.

Nor is Tip Top the only large company to run this line. Golden Circle's recent advertising campaign had a similar message, as did a four wheel drive ad which when it spoke of families added on the tag "whatever that means" (or something similar).

Then there is the odd story about how The Gilmore Girls got to air. It seems that the chief marketing officers of some large American companies were concerned that TV shows weren't family friendly (too much swearing and violence). They wanted shows which the whole family could watch.

The companies (Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, General Motors, IBM) got together to discuss what to do but immediately a problem arose:

The first meeting was almost the last. "It broke down because we couldn't define family," Wehling says. "Everybody saw it differently."

It was agreed to leave the term "family" as an unknown, so that:

From that meeting emerged the group of advertisers called the Family Friendly Programming Forum, whose improvement plan for television included a script development fund for "family" shows - without defining what "family" was. (Age Green Guide 10/10/2002)

The first show to appear from the Family Friendly Programming Forum was The Gilmore Girls, which focuses on the relationship between a single mother and her daughter. The second was Raising Dad, about a widower father.

So even a "family friendly" forum of marketing officers couldn't bring themselves to endorse or portray a traditional family of dad, mum and the kids.

So what's to be done? It seems to me that little progress will be made until the underlying assumptions of liberalism are challenged. It's not that individual self-determination is wrong in itself, but it shouldn't be ranked as the supreme ordering principle of life, nor as the defining mark of our humanity.

If we think of the traditional family as a 'good' we should defend it as such, even if its form is decided through nature and tradition rather than individual choice.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A business best done behind closed doors?

There have been further developments in the ACRAWSA saga.

Readers might recall that I wrote a series of articles criticising whiteness studies. The official whiteness studies body (ACRAWSA) then opened up a discussion of the articles on its forum.

I wrote an item criticising the forum posts, and a reader (Iain) posted on the forum page itself.

The response? The ACRAWSA forum has now been closed to public view. It seems that the ACRAWSA folk deem it best to keep what they are doing behind closed doors.

I have also received a comment from a student in a whiteness studies course. I'm reproducing it below to highlight the radical intent behind this field of studies:

I remember witnessing the reaction of a couple of my classmates who took the whiteness studies course. They were enraged after a couple of classes. It was a good thing and what I think the instructor was looking for. Their worlds had been turned upside-down.

I will admit that I had a hard time, also, but I wasn't there to be comfortable. We finally had to face the ugly history of our people, a history that I've noticed has been slowly tucked under the covers in our history books. It wasn't that they (the two students - unfortunately, both white males, who obviously were from a "priviledged class") could actually dispute any of the facts of what the instructor presented, it was that we were not presented as the light of the universe.

Talk about white guilt...their reaction was the most violently visible reconciliation of world full of little white lies coming crashing down and the truth it had disguised left in it's wake. Now, not only did we have to acknowledge that the little brown people might be angry at "something" (we alays do this so dismissively), but they may actually have a legitimate gripe and an advanced understanding of class, identity, and power (at least far more advanced than most of us have). Ignorance is such bliss. I think it's white guilt that doesn't want to face the truth rather than the other way around....that's the irony.

So we have a university course which actually aims to enrage white students, which instils the belief that white people have "an ugly history", and which then treats whites who object as being motivated by privilege, ignorance or guilt.

This is vilification. And it is sanctioned by our universities.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Whiteness theorists hit back!

I've had a response to my recent series of articles on whiteness studies.

The body representing whiteness theorists, the Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies Association (ACRAWSA), has a forum where the articles are being discussed.

Whiteness studies, you might recall, is based on the theory that the white race doesn't really exist, but was socially constructed as a means to exploit indigenous peoples.

I criticised the theory for its inconsistencies. However, if you read the three comments posted on the ACRAWSA forum so far, none of my specific criticisms are responded to. Instead, the line taken is that my criticism of whiteness studies only proves that I am desperate to avoid recognising my own "complicity": the unearned privilege I accrue from being fictitiously white.

According to whiteness theory, all whites are guilty of complicity. In her comments on the forum, Robinder Kaur, a Sikh woman working (studying?) at York University, tells us that for whites:

there is no "safe space," no haven of guiltlessness to retreat to.

Following this is a comment by an Australian woman, Veronica Coen. She tells us her own personal story of recognising her "complicity": before undertaking an Aboriginal Studies elective she thought herself to be "thoroughly non-racist". Then she discovered that her pioneering family had used Aboriginal labour on their cattle station and she,

began to recognise that my privilege as an educated middle-class white woman was directly attributed to my ancestor's theft of Indigenous land and their exploitation.

She then,

took a frightening journey into Australia's violent history ... The path was at times very distressing. My study journal was often wrinkled with tears

Which leads her to suppose that in resisting whiteness theory I too am struggling with complicity:

Clearly Mark is experiencing discomfort with the contentions about his white privilege.

Which is all a bit of a surprise to me. I'm not a teary kind of person, so I wouldn't feel "distressed" even if I accepted that "complicity" was legitimate. As it happens, though, I think there are good reasons to reject the notion of complicity outright.

Why? One reason is that complicity depends on the idea that the wealth and status of whites was taken at the expense of indigenous peoples. This doesn't seem likely. Aboriginal labour in Australia was only a very minor part of the economy; it was tiny, for instance, in comparison to white convict labour.

One of the most prominent Aboriginal leaders today, Noel Pearson, explicitly rejects the idea that the problems in Aboriginal communities are a result of loss of land or the exploitation of Aboriginal labour:

It seemed to me that the problems are pretty similar between communities that have never been dispossessed of their land - like in the western Cape York peninsula - and those that had been positively uprooted. It wasn't about poverty, and it wasn't about land, and it wasn't about the degree of trauma experienced in history.

Pearson blames a misguided transfer of welfare money into Aboriginal communities for the current level of dysfunction, and describes in comparison the relatively intact nature of the Aboriginal community he grew up in:

Everybody in Hope Vale of my generation or older grew up in a family, or household, where parents worked hard, the kids were looked after. They were bequeathed a real privilege.

And Pearson is exactly right to identify these social norms as a real privilege - something the whiteness theorists don't seem to understand.

Let me put it this way. The whiteness theorists want me to think of myself as enjoying unearned privileges. Yet my daily reality is one of hard work, both at my workplace and in my role as a husband and father. This is what adult men have to adapt to, and it's much easier to succeed in this if you have role models in the men around you.

This is the "privilege" I recognise: that the men in my family have a tradition of hard work, of commitment to family and financial responsibility. But this is not a "privilege" which inspires guilt or tears, but rather pride and admiration.

I admire my grandfather who started out laying railway lines, who pioneered a country town, and who worked two jobs up to his retirement to support a modest lifestyle for his family. I admire my father who has shown tremendous strength and stamina in maintaining long hours of work in a 45 year career.

And what else is a true privilege? Think of what Aborigines want. They want to maintain a sense of ancestral connection to the land and their culture. They want to enjoy a pride in their identity. They want a confidence in their future as a people.

Am I enjoying an "unearned privilege" as a white in such matters? Clearly the answer is no. Whiteness studies itself is part of a process in which such privileges are made illegitimate for whites. How can we enjoy such privileges when whiteness itself is treated as a fictitious category and when all whites are held to be inescapably complicit in an evil history of exploitation?

Which brings me to my final point. The attitude encouraged by whiteness studies is an untrue expression of our natures. It leaves an individual like Veronica Coen feeling hostile and guilty toward her ancestry.

Compare this to the case of Robinder Kaur, who wrote the comment on the ACRAWSA forum about whites lacking any haven of guiltlessness.

She is of Sikh ancestry. As it happens, there is actually a magazine called Kaurs edited by a woman called Robinder Kaur (I don't think they're the same person). This magazine celebrates the identity of Sikh women along the following lines:

The magazine will encourage the Sikh woman to rediscover herself in the light of the glorious heritage and current meritorious achievements of the Sikh community.

And how does the magazine think that people get ahead? According to the editor life is full of challenges, which leads to this advice:

... how to overcome these challenges and emerge as a winner? Hard work, confidence, dedication and, of course, the blessings of the Almighty are a sure recipe for success.

So we have one Robinder Kaur telling whites that they should feel guilty about their heritage and that their success is not due to their own hard work but to exploitation; whilst the other Robinder Kaur tells us that Sikhs should enjoy their glorious heritage and attribute success to their hard work and dedication.

Are we going to fall for the double standard? Will we accept the denatured view for ourselves, whilst others adopt a more positive, supportive stance?

I hope that most of us reject whiteness theory in favour of the more positive, life-affirming option.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Rethinking fatherhood

In 1994 feminism in Australia was rampant and men could do no right. It is remarkable, therefore, to observe the shift back to a more traditional view of gender that is now underway.

In yesterday's Age, for instance, Stephanie Dowrick discussed the place of fathers within families and came up with this:

...fathers matter. And, good or bad, the effects of their parenting will go on reverberating throughout their children's lifetime ...

....[parents] will also have roles that are specific and distinct. When two adults become parents for the first time, the new father may best support both the baby and his unfolding sense of himself as a father by giving most of his support to the new mother: meeting her needs so that she can meet the inexhaustible needs of her new baby.

This requires considerable selflessness. Yet it is being able to step up and play this essential role that will set the tone for fatherhood ahead and for his individual strength and confidence.

As children grow older, the role that fathers play changes fast. Even with both parents in the workforce, fathers sill still often "represent" the outside world and its values more powerfully than mothers do. How fathers interpret the outside world and bring it home to their children through discussions and especially through example sharply impacts on the way children see themselves in the social universe.

What Dad values and believes, where Dad gives his time, how Dad offers or withdraws his encouragement or interest, how Dad deals with disappointment or conflict, whether Dad is able to be consistent and reliable, when and how Dad "takes charge", the willingness with which Dad takes responsibility, and how loving Dad is to Mum: these are all factors that will have a huge impact on the psychological development of children.

But perhaps nothing matters more than for a man to recognise while he is in the thick of it just how important family life is to him, and he to it.

This is an intelligent description of a father's role in the family, which runs counter to the general trend of writing about fatherhood for several reasons.

First, it views the father's role positively rather than negatively. A problem for men in a liberal society is that liberalism is set strongly against unchosen forms of authority (which is why the authority of kings and priests was targeted early on). Fatherhood fell within the category of unchosen forms of authority and so was often portrayed negatively in terms of repressiveness or domination.

Second, Stephanie Dowrick accepts a distinct, masculine role for fathers. The liberal view has been that gender is an oppressive social construct which should be made not to matter; therefore, much writing on the family has promoted the idea of "genderless" parenting (in which the motherhood role becomes the single unisex parental role) or of gender role reversal.

(I remember a Nescafe ad which ran on Australian TV in 1999 which had the jingle: "You can be mother when you are a man ... Open your mind you know that you can.")

We'll have to see how far the shift back to a more traditional view of gender goes, but it's a refreshing thing for the moment to find fatherhood portrayed positively as a distinct role.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Skimpy ethics

What is the ethics of women dressing immodestly? According to feminist writer Barbara Biggs:

I think any woman should be allowed to walk down the street wearing skimpy clothes, or nothing at all, and be free from the fear of rape and harassment. ["Girls who just look available", Herald Sun, 08/11/06]

This sounds at first like a classic statement of modernist liberal ethics. Liberals begin with the idea that we become human only when we are unimpeded in shaping our lives.

This means, though, that any form of "outside" morality will be thought of negatively as a restriction on individuals choosing for themselves.

Therefore, liberals will want to "liberate" the individual from external forms of morality, such as moral codes or traditional moral beliefs.

Barbara Biggs only follows this line of argument part of the way. She goes as far as to suggest that women ought to be able to choose to dress skimpily in public or even go naked. But she doesn't see this as a liberation from a restrictive code of morality.

Instead, she labels such behaviour, even if permissible, as "a bad idea". She is especially concerned about the likely real world effects of a sexually libertine culture on girls:

Nobody tells girls that boys of their age have 18 times more testosterone than they do. Neither young boys nor girls are really taught, or have the life experience to know, how to conduct themselves in a way that respects themselves and the other person ... Nobody tells adolescents that there's sex and love, and sometimes they go together and sometimes they don't.

Barbara Biggs goes on to make a strong case that girls can be influenced by advertising, culture and peer group pressure, so that they act in ways that do not express authentic wants:

Don't we all remember looking around for clues among our slightly older peers and in our culture about what it meant to be grown up, desired and popular ...

I want to shout out to young girls, like someone in a pantomime audience: "Watch out! You're being had! ...

... through these images young girls are being manipulated into thinking that playing up to male fantasies is what they themselves really want and how they should express themselves ...

Do we really think that the girls in the children's clothing catalogues or clips would really, off their own bat, pout and seduce the cameras.

It's not surprising that Barbara Biggs should frame the argument around authentic wants. Once the liberal idea is accepted that the ethical thing is to allow individuals to pursue their wants, then one of the few available ways of criticising people's behaviour is to claim that that they are being manipulated by some external force so that their wants aren't authentic.

In other words, if modernist ethics says "It is moral to do what you want" and a young girl says "I want to dress like Britney Spears", then how does a concerned adult tell her it's not right to do so? Barbara Biggs' answer is to tell the girl "You don't really want to dress like Britney Spears, you're just being manipulated."

I don't like the trend to argue moral issues in terms of authentic wants, but I do agree with Barbara Biggs that peer pressure and cultural influences have a significant influence on how we choose to act, especially when we're young.

This is, in fact, an argument against liberal ethics. The liberal idea is that by rejecting traditional forms of morality we will be liberated to shape our own life as an autonomous agent. The reality, though, is that most individuals won't be any more autonomous, but will become more vulnerable to other influences, including the pervasive effect of a dominant commercial culture.

Similarly, by rejecting traditional moral belief liberal ethics makes each individual start from scratch in developing a moral world view. This is not such a good idea, as it can take a lot of poor moral decisions to learn the necessary life lessons about wise and unwise behaviour.

Consider the case of Barbara Biggs herself:

What I am is a woman with a lived experience of having accepted a grown man's fantasy about what it was to be an attractive adult. I believed that to be lovable I had to sexually please men. I was told this from the age of 14.

I lived that out, having indiscriminate and therefore bad and unsatisfying sex for a couple of decades. It took a couple of decades to work out how to stop shoving my real feelings about it under the carpet and to discover what I really wanted from intimacy.

This - surprise, surprise - was to have a loving relationship with someone who respected, honoured and valued me.

It's not possible to give people "a couple of decades" to arrive at such insights. By then it will often be too late.

It makes a lot more sense for a civilisation to try to preserve moral insight that has been accumulated over time and to pass this knowledge on to the next generation, as a form of guidance. This is only possible, though, when moral traditions are thought of in positive terms, rather than being assumed for ideological purposes to be an impediment to the self-determining individual.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Jesus was the first ???

Richard Flanagan is a prize-winning Australian novelist. His latest work, The Unknown Terrorist, is about a pole dancer, the Doll, who chooses to spend a night of sex and drug-taking with a Middle-Easterner, and is then targeted as a terror suspect by a hostile media and police force.

Flanagan is a lefty who thinks that John Howard has created a "spiritual malaise" in Australia which he finds "sickening".

Now, you might think it odd that a novelist would try to counter a spiritual malaise by writing a story about a drug-taking pole dancer. But it gets much worse.

In the preface to the novel (in his own author's voice) Flanagan writes the following:

In his understanding that love was not enough, in his acceptance of the necessity of the sacrifice of his own life to enable the future of those around him, Jesus is history's first, but not last, example of a suicide bomber.

I haven't read the whole preface. Maybe it sounds a little better in context. Even so, I'll venture the following opinion: the arty left in Australia is showing signs of going off the rails.

One symptom: an insistence on identifying with "the Other" so completely, that even the worst aspects of "the Other" must be made good in comparison with the odious "us".

Another symptom: an almost paranoid, apocalyptic mood in which a centre-right Government like Howard's is thought to be the harbinger of a mass persecution.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Pale, male & stale?

In yesterday's Business Age there was a report on the need to feminise the Australian workplace. According to Stephen Bevan, director of the British based group The Work Foundation:

If employers here think they need what I call pale, male and stale employees, they're going to be disappointed.

It's interesting that Stephen Bevan should refer in such a negative way to older, white, male workers. First, most of the employers he is appealing to are themselves going to fit within this category. Is he hoping that they won't twig to the fact that in attacking the older, white, male category of their workforce that he is spitting in their eye as well?

Second, I note that The Work Foundation has on its website the following statement:

With our emphasis on promoting respect and dignity within every organisation as a means of boosting performance, The Work Foundation is way ahead of the game on people management.

Respect and dignity? Not for everyone it seems.

Third, for a case study in grand hypocrisy take a look at the directors of The Work Foundation. Every single one "pale" and "stale" and all but one "male" as well. Maybe they should be the first to step aside for the younger, female, multi-ethnic workforce they are so keen to promote (for other people, just not for themselves).

Sunday, November 05, 2006

What makes a feminist?

Obviously we are living in a feminist age. But why do we have feminists at all? What brought them about?

The answer, I believe, is given in a speech made by Iona Campagnolo on International Women's Day. Ms Campagnolo is the Lieutenant Governor, or Queen's representative, of British Columbia in Canada.

The interesting part of Ms Campagnolo's speech was her confession of why she became a feminist and what she thought feminism was ultimately all about. She said,

My mother is the one who taught me long, long ago, that I had no limits other than those I imposed on myself and that I was a free and an autonomous woman, capable of choosing my own path in life.

What is striking about this comment is its close connection to liberal first principles. Liberals believe that to be fully human we must be autonomous, self-directing individuals. That's why liberals stress the idea of our independence and our freedom to act as we choose.

Feminism is what happens when you apply liberal first principles to the lives of women. When the inevitable happens, and liberalism is applied to women, it becomes perfectly logical for a thinking woman like Ms Campagnolo to declare that,

I confess myself to being a proud feminist and throughout my life have used this definition of 'feminism', first published in the Athaneum Magazine at Oxford University in 1898: it says, "a Feminist is a woman or girl who has within herself the courage to fight her way to independence."

Self-governing women are the ones who can make their own choices about their own lives and be autonomous in seeking their own passions and their best and highest value-selves.

This is very clearly a statement of liberal first principles as applied to women. Note the emphasis placed on independence, autonomy, individual self-government, and on a freedom to make our own choices about our own lives.

And what does this connection between feminism and liberalism mean? Firstly, it's hard to fault women like Ms Campagnolo for being feminists. If we men insist on following liberalism as a first principle, then feminism will almost inevitably follow. Feminists are only logically applying the orthodox philosophy of the West to their own lives.

Secondly, the feminism of Ms Campagnolo suffers from the same inadequacies as liberalism in general. She says that she wants women to be "autonomous in seeking their own passions and their best and highest value-selves."

This sounds nice. And conservatives have no problem with people seeking their best and highest selves. The problem is that the inner logic of liberal individualism prevents us from doing so.

Why? Look at what it means for a woman to achieve autonomy and to have no limits to her individual will. It means, firstly, that women cannot aim to achieve the best of who they are through anything determined by their own sex. This is because we don't choose our sex; therefore, for a liberal, the influence of our sex on our lives is something to be overthrown.

A consistent feminist, therefore, will downgrade the importance of traditional notions of what is feminine. She is unlikely to accept the relevance of feminine virtues, or of a feminine role within the family. She won't be able to connect anything to do specifically with womanhood to her "best and highest self".

Similarly, a feminist won't like the idea of firm commitments to family life, as these represent a fixed obligation which limits our freedom to do what we choose at any time. A feminist is therefore likely to resist maternal obligations, or even a stable commitment to marriage. At the very least, these aspects of life won't figure largely in a feminist's efforts to achieve her "best and highest self".

So what can a feminist pursue, as an autonomous individual, in order to achieve her best and highest self? Usually, it is assumed that such things as money, career and social status are what a "liberated" woman will aim for.

But it is very limiting for a woman to define herself by such accomplishments. It is ironic that a philosophy which promises no limits, should in practice be so restrictive, but that's how it logically unfolds.

Most women end up with a very uncertain attachment to feminism, because they can't confine themselves to what a liberal philosophy allows. They can't define themselves solely by career status or money. They find that they do want a specifically feminine identity, and that a good marriage and motherhood are important achievements in their lives.

It would be less confusing for all of us if women could more openly accept that autonomy and independence are not the primary aims of life, and that in pursuing them as a first principle, much of what is important is lost.

But such a change of attitude not only requires women to reject feminism, it also requires men to reject the underlying philosophy of liberalism, on which feminism is ultimately based.

(First published at Conservative Central, 04/04/2004)

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Motherhood as a traditional belief?

There's an article in this month's Melbourne Child in support of the "two gay fathers" model of family life. I was going to ignore the whole thing until I read the following lines:

One of the most deeply held traditional beliefs concerning families is that they must contain a mother. This belief is the source of much prejudice toward gay fathers.

Might I suggest to the author of the piece, Kylie Ladd, that it is not just a traditional belief that families must contain a mother, but a universal tradition that families do so and that this might have something to do with the most basic biological reality that it is a mother who brings a child into the world.

It is therefore difficult for families not to have a mother and the only way the gay couples featured in the article were able to do so was via IVF, a donor's eggs and a surrogate.

Much of the rest of the article is an argument along the lines of "it doesn't matter who raises a child as long as the child has a loving home".

Perhaps many people will want to believe this, but I hope that they are aware of the logical consequences of accepting such an idea.

First, it contributes to the instability of the heterosexual family. If we deny that children are generally better off being raised by their own biological mother and father, then there is less reason for biological parents to persevere with their marriages.

In other words, if the cultural message is that kids don't really need their biological father then mum is more likely to kick him out of the house (and he is less likely to hang around when the going gets tough).

Second, if all kids need is a loving household, then there's no need to think of families in terms of two stable carers; you could have all kinds of different arrangements, including three or even four parents, or combinations of adults who "swap" at different intervals, or institutional care.

So even if gay parenting becomes increasingly common I think it's unwise for heterosexuals to accept the kind of justifications likely to be advanced for it.

Friday, November 03, 2006

A good second comment - but fired anyway!

The fallout from the sheik affair continues. Suzanne Bassette, the national secretary of the left-wing Australian Democrats, wrote a letter to The Australian in which she expressed support for al-Hilaly:

I'm going for political suicide here but I’m willing to stand up with anybody else in this country who happens to agree with Sheik Hilali’s sentiments… Unfortunately, how a woman dresses does affect her level of likeliness to be chosen (for rape).

This is not a useful way to put things. The sheik's lecture did much more than just warn women to dress modestly to avoid sexual assault. It portrayed women as the fount of moral corruption and Christians as the most evil of God's creation. So it's unfortunate that Suzanne Bassett should talk about agreeing with the sheik.

However, in a later comment Suzanne Bassette wrote something quite insightful:

I have to apologise for my poor choice of words. Of course assaults occur everywhere and are hideous deeds. But I'm a grown up woman with a daughter and I tell her it's common sense to not be out on your own if you can catch a cab or wear outfits with your breasts hanging out of them outside of a safe group environment.

Really, would we go to work in a bathing suit? No, that's because like it or not there are some boundaries of common sense that apply and having an attitude that I can do ANYTHING I like and it's all your fault if you do something does carry a stupid factor. After all, being grown up isn't about doing whatever you like, but learning how to not do things you know inside are outside the zone.

This is a braver comment than Suzanne Bassette realises. The liberal political tradition is based exactly on the idea of individuals doing whatever they like, so it's a well-aimed dagger in the heart for her to describe this view as being unsuitable for grown-ups.

Young women in particular have it drummed into them that it is their "right" to act however they like. So much so, that some young women have lost a necessary sense of self-protective worldliness: accepting drugs and lifts from groups of strange men, passing out drunk in public, tottering home alone drunk.

I don't think I'm alone in cringing when I observe young women behaving this way. It's natural for us to feel concerned, as when Gabrielle Carey wrote in last Saturday's Age:

The biggest risk I ever took was hitch-hiking with Kathy Lette to Adelaide to see Spike Milligan when we were 16. How mad is that? I would die if my daughter did that today. [28/10/06]

Suzanne Bassette has been sacked from her role as national secretary of the Democrats because of her comments. Although I don't like the fact that leftists like her are rushing to defend al-Hilaly (presumably because they believe he is the oppressed "other"), I commend her for making (in her second comment anyway) some useful observations on this issue.