Sunday, July 29, 2007

The hostile state & the love of country

Here is Brian Tamanaha, an American law professor, on patriotism:

For many reasons, I feel fortunate to have been born in the United States, but I don’t love my country. It has no love for any of us. A cold, manipulative, object of affection, the state fans patriotism, then asks those who love it deeply to prove their love by dying or sacrificing their limbs for it.

It will not happen in my lifetime, but I look forward to the day when states are no more.

From the conservative point of view this makes little sense. For us, nations are distinct peoples, so that a love of country means a love of one's people, and the land, culture and tradition associated with it.

However, liberals have rejected this connection between nation and people. So it's not surprising that Tamanaha should view nation or country as a particular political entity - as a state - instead.

Tamanaha, then, thinks of the nation as the state, finds that the state is hostile to the people, and therefore rejects the idea of love of nation.

Enter Roger Alford, another American law professor. Alford accepts Tamanaha's idea that the nation is the state, but differs by asserting that the state, rather than being hostile, is protective of the people, being concerned for their welfare. He writes:

The fundamental purpose of a democratic country like the United States is to serve you and your fellow citizens. Representative democracy means that our elected officials are trying (albeit imperfectly) to look out for your interests, your benefits, your needs, and your wants. Your country seeks to protect your safety, your economic well-being, your property, and your freedoms.

The state is the nation and it works on your behalf and therefore it is reasonable to love your nation and to be loyal to it:

So in response to Brian Tamanaha, I say that for many reasons I feel fortunate to have been born in the United States, and I do love my country. It is far from perfect. It is often demanding of its citizens. But it offers so much in return. For that, I am deeply grateful and I feel a strong sense of loyalty and allegiance.

Alford's position does, at least, defend the idea of patriotism. But can it hold the line? Is it an effective way to support the existence of nations?

I don't think so. Alford thinks of the nation as the state, and the state as the Constitution, and the Constitution as a set of values. Therefore, what really defines the nation are "values":

When a government official takes an oath of allegiance, the only oath he or she makes is to support and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. He doesn't swear allegiance to an abstract entity called the United States. He swears allegiance to the values embodied in the Constitution.

You can't defend an existing nation on this basis, for two basic reasons. First, if a nation is simply a set of values, then anyone can potentially be a member of the nation. It is no longer important that migrants can assimilate to the distinct character of a people, they merely need to be willing to sign on, as citizens, to a set of civic values. Therefore, there is no longer a principled reason to restrict immigration, and large scale population transfers are likely to transform the existing character of a country.

Second, if a nation is simply a set of values, then there is little, in principle, to restrict the merging of nations into larger, regional states such as the EU. If it is thought to be of economic advantage to do so, then why not merge the USA and Canada into a single entity, if all that matters is a compatibility of political values?

It's difficult to form deep attachments to an entity which is repeatedly subject to radical transformation. So I doubt if patriotism would survive in anything but a superficial form if Alford's view of the nation were to dominate in the long-term.

I'd like to finish by quoting a fellow traditionalist conservative, whose take on the Tamanaha and Alford debate is worth preserving:

... prior to the mid-20th century, Alford's answer to Tamanaha would have struck most Americans (certainly most non-intellectuals) as odd and a little alien. Prior to 1900, it would have struck almost everyone as such.

Because the universal commonsensical conception of loving one's country came from the simple fact that a country was a real thing with real, concrete attributes for one to love: the land, the people and the culture. And these things were not loved because they were held to be some kind of universal or Platonic "best way" for all humanity (the popular neocon conception of American or Western style liberty); they were loved because they were the norms, customs and mores of you, your family, and the attenuated, widely extended "family" of your ethny.

The love was, at least in large part, an ineffable and not rationally derived thing, again similar to the innate attachment that family ties exert. As you could look into the eyes of a brother and see elements of yourself staring back at you, one's countryman would reflect, in a lesser way, the same recognition of heritage, culture and values ...

This is what the creation of the modern "diverse," universalist nation has cost us. We are left, like Alford, to grasp for sad second-place straws about democracy as an abstract concept that somehow exhibits a sort of hollow, disembodied concern for us as protectees.

(by Russell W, who has temporarily closed his site whilst serving in the US military.)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Do women work harder than men?

I want everything, just like men get to have, except without having an easy life buttressed by inequality.

The quote is from a commenter at a feminist website. It can be an odd experience reading these sites. There are feminist women who seriously believe that men are a privileged class and therefore have it easy compared to women. As the operator of one of these sites put it:

... the dude merely has to show up at the wedding.

I couldn't help, therefore, but notice the striking contrast between the attitude of these feminist women and that of Bettina Arndt in a recent Herald Sun column.

Bettina Arndt didn't like recent media reports portraying men negatively as domestic shirkers, so she looked up the data on male and female workloads. She found, contrary to assumptions, that fathers generally work harder than mothers:

You have to look very hard in the ABS website to find data on total work for men and women.

All they have at the moment is 1997 Time Use data, which will be updated later this year.

But surprise, surprise, it shows most fathers work harder than mothers.

The only group of mums who put in more hours were the small proportion, just over a quarter, who work full-time, clocking in more than 71 hours total work, compared with the full-time working dad's 69.

These dads averaged three hours more than mums working part-time and 10 hours more than homemaker mums.

Why is this not a story?

It's a similar outcome with the Australian Institute of Family Studies data. This shows that men put in more hours if the couple is childless and when the children are aged 5 to 14. It's only when the children are aged under 5 that women put in significantly more hours (7 hours per week).

Bettina Arndt doesn't want marriage to be based on hostile account keeping:

Yes, women put in tedious hours sorting whites from darks and wiping tiny noses.

But many men face hours behind the wheel in snarling traffic, often working long hours in dreary jobs to pay the mortgage.

It makes no sense, this endless gnawing at the bone, examining, dissecting, predicting married life on the basis of how many dishes washed, how many floors swept.

In real life, in good relationships, there's always much more that adds to the ledger of marital happiness.

Monday, July 23, 2007

When is it right to discriminate?

Nehemia Shtrasler wrote an article last week for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in which he worried about demographic changes within Israel. Not only is the percentage of Palestinians increasing, but so too is the percentage of ultra-Orthodox Jews, whom Shtrasler believes are less likely to serve in the military or join the labour force.

Shtrasler's piece was then attacked by an Israeli journalist, Gideon Levy, who believes that any discussion of a "demographic threat" within Israel is illegitimate. Levy found a supporter in the Australian Jewish writer Antony Loewenstein, who wrote the following at his website:

Talking to a moderate Jew today, it struck me yet again that the concept of a Jewish state that equally treats all its citizens is still a challenging concept for many Zionists. "But why can't Jews have just one state that's for them?" I was asked. It's a simple answer. No state can be allowed to discriminate against one race/religion/group over another.

Loewenstein is putting the liberal non-discrimination principle into effect here, but in doing so he is showing a defect in the principle. It doesn't seem reasonable that Jews cannot discriminate in favour of the survival of a distinctively Jewish state. First, it is natural for Jews to regard the existence of their own nation as a significant good, and so they will reasonably act for its benefit and preservation, rather than from a neutralist, non-discriminatory stance. Second, the Jewish state is a means of security for Jews in a region generally ill-disposed toward them. Therefore, to relinquish control over the state, in the name of non-discrimination, seems especially ill-advised.

To uphold a blanket ban on state discrimination, Levy is forced to adopt a number of "follow-on" beliefs. First, he identifies Israel itself not with any particular people or tradition, but with a set of liberal values. He writes that anyone who views the loss of a Jewish majority in Israel as a danger is:

endangering the character of society far more than the tectonic demographic shifts.

So in his view it is not the Jews or the Jewish tradition which give the Israeli nation its character but a liberal principle of non-discrimination. Similarly, Levy writes,

There is no "demographic threat". There is a threat to society's values, which will be determined not by statistics but by the amount of social justice.

By identifying the nation with a set of political values, Levy can then imagine that the non-discrimination principle won't change the essence of the nation. Even if there is a "tectonic" change in the population, the non-discrimination principle will endure, and therefore so will the "nation".

I doubt if I were a Jew that I would find this comforting. My people and tradition would be lost, but an abstract political principle would still carry on. Again, it's not a reasonable view to expect people to adopt.

And anyway, it's not even plausible that a Palestinian dominated Israel would preserve the liberal political principles which Levy identifies with the national essence.

Which leads on to a second issue. Levy needs to explain how the Jews would remain secure if they lost control of the state. His answer is that:

Both the left and right are afflicted with this lethal racism, which stems from arrogance and fear of the other. The right wing is trying to scare us with dire predictions about the natural increase of the country's Arabs ...

Which seems to suggest that there is no objective basis for security concerns; that such concerns are simply an irrational manifestation of racism and fear of the other. Is this, though, a realistic view? Isn't it reasonable for Jews, given the history and politics of the Middle East, to be concerned about their security in an Arab dominated state?

So is it always wrong, as Levy and Loewenstein assert, to discriminate? I can understand that it's appealing to the modern mind to find a moral principle which operates as simply and unswervingly as a law of nature. However, in practice applying the principle of non-discrimination universally as a key value of society leads to an unreasonable and unrealistic politics.

When, though, is it right to discriminate? I won't suggest a complete answer. It's possible however that there are two considerations which we normally apply when determining an answer to this question.

The first is that the discrimination should serve a real good. It's possible to think of a purely arbitrary form of discrimination as unjust, but not so when it is designed to uphold a significant good. For instance, in the case of the argument about Israel, the maintenance of the national tradition might be identified as such a good.

However, what then has to be balanced against this first consideration is the actual form of the discrimination to be applied. If the discrimination serves a trivial good but involves a serious loss to those discriminated against, we are likely to consider it unjust.

So the issue of discrimination requires a more sophisticated treatment than simply asserting non-discrimination as a universal principle. We need to judge the balance between the significance of the good being protected and the severity of the form of discrimination.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Melbourne study backs dads

Does the role of fathers within families matter? Very much so, according to a recent study:

Adolescent education expert Bill Jennings said the growing epidemic of "fatherlessness" – where dads were increasingly absent either physically or emotionally – had led to negative patterns in young men, such as suicide, violence and drug abuse.

Mr Jennings studied 434 male students across two Victorian schools in year 10 and again in year 11.

His interim findings showed boys' self-confidence was raised when their dads showed interest and were involved in their lives.

With self-confidence came long-term success, Mr Jennings said.

"Boys are more likely to prosper if they have a male role model in their corner, and ideally that's their dad," Mr Jennings said.

The obvious conclusion to be drawn is that our ideal of family life, the one that we aim for as a society, should include fathers. Fathers should be considered an integral part of family life.

Whilst on the topic of family, there were several articles in Saturday's Age on falling marriage rates in Australia. I found two aspects of these articles striking. The first was the finding that women who marry nearly always have children: only 8% of married women don't have children, and this is mostly due to infertility. In contrast, a quarter of women in de facto relationships don't have children:

Dr Birrell says the social relationship for a female in a couple family — marriage or de facto status — is an important indication of fertility levels.

The data shows striking differences between fertility of wives — who have more children — and live-in partners, which suggest a different calibre of relationship might be struck in those relationships.

Between 40 and 44, nearly a quarter of women in de facto relationships, for example, had no children. Only 8 per cent of wives in this category, however, were childless and this was likely to reflect infertility rather than choice, according to the research.

And again:

Building on previous studies on partnering using earlier census data, Birrell and co-researcher Genevieve Heard stress the continuing strong linkage between fertility and marriage, pointing to the almost near-universal outcome for married women to give birth, bar medical infertility, by the time they reach their early 40s.

In contrast, their analysis found women of similar age in de facto relationships not only had fewer children than those who were married, but had much higher proportions of childlessness. Between 40 and 44, nearly a quarter of women who were co-habiting had no children.

The other striking aspect of the articles was the information on the number of people remaining single:

Stunningly, as their biological window to give birth without the aid of IVF was closing, more than a quarter of women aged 40 to 44 were neither smug marrieds nor in de facto relationships.

When one of these single women is profiled she is described as having "noticed the diversity of people's living circumstances these days". I think this is too blase a way to put things. We aren't really dealing with more options here, but with frustrated instincts to partner. The statistics don't give a sense of the personal loss involved.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The European New Man

In my last post I wrote about the push to introduce a paid maternity scheme in Australia. It happens that there are people on the right who are arguing in favour of this movement. They believe that paid maternity schemes are designed to support motherhood, the family and choice in family life.

I wish such conservatives would take a look at Europe. Paid maternity schemes have operated for many years in Europe. We therefore know both the philosophy behind these schemes, and what they are leading toward.

What is happening in Europe is not an extension of choice for women to look after their children, but the imposition by the state of a single new model of family life, one which is openly anti-maternal and which seeks to create a genderless model of parenthood.

Why change the family?

There is a logic to the European innovations. The Europeans, like the West in general, follow a liberal orthodoxy. The starting point for this liberalism is the idea that our status as humans is contingent: that we only become fully human when we are self-determining (when we are self-created by our own will and reason).

This means that the more independent and autonomous we are, the more fully human we become. However, it appears that some people are more independent and autonomous than others. Therefore, there is a human inequality which must strike liberals as an unbearable injustice, as it seems to exclude some people from being treated as fully human.

Liberals have decided that women are an oppressed group lacking in such a status, as their role as mothers is biologically determined, rather than a uniquely chosen path, and as they are financially dependent on a husband. Therefore, gender equality requires that women be liberated from the maternal role so that they are free to pursue a professional career to the same extent as men.

To achieve this aim, liberals have to argue that the traditional maternal role of women isn't natural, but is an oppressive construct, one which is "discriminatory", "sexist" and a product of mere "prejudice".

Liberals also need to find a new way to raise children. Part of the European solution is to massively fund childcare centres. However, to care for babies up to a year old, women are provided with paid maternity leave, so that the cost of women staying at home is "socialised" and connected to their professional life. Women are no longer to be provided for privately by a husband within a family.

The second stage

But this is not the end point. If women are taking even twelve months off work, it means that they are not, in terms of liberal assumptions, equal as humans to men. It is still their careers, not men's, which are being interrupted by "sexist" assumptions that it is women who should mother babies.

So the Europeans have now advanced to a second stage in which there are attempts by governments to persuade (or coerce) men to take an increasing part of the maternity leave. It is hoped that men will eventually take half, so that there is no distinction between the parental role of men and women.

Which brings me to exhibit A. In February 2007 the EU brought out a paper titled "Bringing Men to Equality and Worklife Balance". It includes a "Decalogue for men" with the following preface:

Men, it's up to you: equality starts at home! The traditional division of gender roles is no longer relevant in a modern society looking for more equality and justice.

Note that there is no promotion of choice here. The traditional option is being firmly discarded on the basis of liberal ideas about equality and justice. The idea of distinct gender roles is considered immoral.

Men are encouraged in the decalogue to take up paternal leave because:

More freedom and autonomy lead to a better mutual understanding ... Your independence should not only be economic and professional but also domestic ... Do you believe in freedom and justice? Put these values into practice at home ... Become a role model for your children. Help release the next generation from old-fashioned stereotypes. You will set the basis to create responsible citizenship from your example.

Here we have the usual liberal concerns with autonomy and independence. Note too the implication that those of us following a more traditional pattern of family life are not good role models and are irresponsible citizens.

Later (p.17) traditional gender roles are associated with violence:

The eradication of gender-based violence will foster a good working environment and allow people to work as a team. If an organisation does not respect the autonomy of its staff or does not show public support for such autonomy, its silence may lead to suspicions of its collusion.

There is another section of the paper titled "How to boost cultural change". It states:

Most women ... in European society today ... work outside the home ... This deep change has been accompanied by public policies and appears as a response to women's wish to be financially independent. It is a great advance.

Nevertheless ... men have not taken up their share of responsibility in family life ... If the prejudice remains that women are still responsible for most of the domestic and family tasks, how could they possibly devote themselves to their careers as much as men do?

Achieving equality between men and women ... poses a great challenge to traditional gender notions held by men and women and questions individual behaviours as well as culture.

The paper goes on to list various European media campaigns designed to challenge masculine behaviour. For instance, in France a new men's magazine was launched: "Robin - the magazine of the sensitive male". In Latvia a daily newspaper organised a discussion under the title "Men are not crying".

Next, in the section of the paper titled "Paternity Leave," we are told:

Childbirth is a human fact that particularly affects working mothers, as they are the ones who usually interrupt their careers to take care of the new born. But this is not a role they have to undertake, as fathers are perfectly able to do it as well.

The arrival of a child is recast here as an "interruption" to a woman's life, which she might like to avoid, particularly as there is no special motherly bond to her baby, with dad being a perfectly adequate substitute.

Companies across Europe are beginning to implement such ideas about genderless parenting. Microsoft in Norway has a "Daddy package" in which women are encouraged to take shorter leave, whereas men are "requested" to take six months. Executives are expected to be "role models" in following the package.

Further suggestions made in the paper to achieve the EU's aims include tax reductions and priority in public contracts for organisations which comply with the EU model.


What, though, if liberals are wrong in all this? What if our status as humans is not contingent but is invested in us, as the sum total of all that we are, including our distinct identities as men and women?

In this case, there would be no inequality and no injustice in men pursuing a masculine role within the family and women a feminine role. Instead, such roles would be thought of positively as a means to self-fulfilment for men and women.

Do Australian women consider traditional roles to be unequal or unjust? According to a recent Australian Institute of Family Studies survey the answer is generally no. The survey found that "Australian parents seem comfortable in traditional gender roles" and that:

A focus on breadwinning rather than childrearing by fathers was not seen by mothers as a lack of participation in fatherhood, but reflected their role as a good father.

In the eyes of mothers who strongly believed that small children needed their mothers to be at home with them all of the time, a partner who 'worked hard' and was a 'good provider' enabled them to stay home and fulfill this crucial mothering role - and in their eyes fulfill a crucial aspect of fatherhood.

It seems reasonable to conclude from this that governments ought to be aiming to make it possible to support a family from a single wage. This requires not only the achievement of certain wage rates, but also an effort to restrict the costs of housing, education and taxation and to provide extra assistance for families through tax breaks or special payments.

This, at least, ought to be conservative policy. Those who remain wedded to liberal autonomy theory will probably continue to think it moral to support paid maternity leave, but conservatives ought to know and reject the radical consequences of such a measure.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Why doesn't paid leave raise birth rates?

There's a big push in Australia right now to introduce paid maternity leave. A new political party called What Women Want has been formed to agitate for paid leave, and the media is awash with articles from both the left and right supporting the idea.

Finance Minister Nick Minchin, though, has been solidly opposed to the idea of paid maternity leave. Back in 2002, he rejected introducing such a scheme because:

There is no evidence that paid maternity leave in particular increases the fertility rate. Twenty out of 24 developed countries with paid maternity leave have lower fertility rates than Australia.

My Department has now formally costed paid maternity leave at between $415m and $780m per annum depending on the rate of pay and eligibility. This would be a major new burden on taxpayers.

I cannot see the justification for taxpayers handing over an additional half a billion dollars to mothers in the paid workforce while ignoring all other mothers.

And he is right. Even if you pay women a full salary to stay home with their children, there is no overall benefit to the fertility rate. The country in the OECD with the highest fertility rate, the USA (2.09), has one of the least developed systems of paid leave.

Australia in 2006 had a fertility rate of 1.81, which is similar to that of countries with paid maternity schemes such as Denmark (1.76) and Sweden (1.86) - but without the very high taxes required to fund the Scandinavian systems.

Which raises an important question. Why doesn't offering such generous financial incentives to women increase their motivation to have children?

The socialised family

In 2003 Elizabeth Kath wrote a lengthy paper titled titled "The Mother of All Battles: Why Paid Maternity Leave is Overdue in Australia".

Her argument is that paid maternity leave is necessary to transform the role of women from the oppressive traditional one of mother to that of professional careerist. We are to abandon the idea that the maternal role is natural and transfer the responsibility for reproduction from individual women to society.

She states that the oppression of women:

derives from their traditional reproductive role and that the introduction of paid maternity leave should be introduced as a means to transform this traditional role.

... Feminists have long recognised that the traditional view of women's role in society is an oppressive one. Shulasmith Firestone's declaration that "the heart of women's oppression is her childbearing and childrearing roles" expresses a commonly held view amongst women's liberationist advocates.

... From this theory of women's oppression it would seem that the solution would be to move reproductive labour into the public realm. However, the problem with unequal relations between men and women is that they are considered 'natural' and therefore inevitable ... Traditionally, the responsibilities of reproduction were seen to belong to women due to their 'distinct nature'. This nature, including such qualities as the 'maternal instinct' and the tendency to nurture, meant women were biologically suited for reproductive labour.

However, feminists have disputed the traditional view, arguing it is a cultural construct ... In The Second Sex, Beauvoir questions the notion that women have a 'maternal instinct'. In reality there is no such thing, she argues ... (pp.3-5)

Here then is one possible reason why societies which adopt paid maternity schemes don't have higher birth rates than other comparable countries like America or Australia. The philosophy behind these schemes is explicitly anti-maternal. If you believe that motherhood is oppressive to women, and that there is no natural maternal instinct or drive, and that the primary focus of women's lives should be their professional careers, then there is unlikely to be a high level commitment to reproduction by women.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Finding your way home

Thirty years ago Thao Nguyen's parents left Vietnam for Australia. The new country gave the family great opportunities and Thao rose above the ranks to become a corporate lawyer.

This would seem to be a copybook refugee success story. Yet, it doesn't work out exactly as those promoting open borders might expect it to. We are supposed to believe in all this that ethnicity doesn't matter and that people can be settled anywhere with equal prospects for success. Thao Nguyen herself, though, tells us something different.

Thao has written a column for the Sydney Morning Herald describing her return to Vietnam to work as an intellectual property lawyer. Despite the corruption and poverty she finds in Vietnam, she writes that it is her "dream" to live there because of what it means for her identity. It's clear too from her column that the opportunities given to her in the West haven't fostered a sense of gratitude or belonging. Instead, she presents herself as being an excluded outsider.

Here is Thao writing about her personal response to living in Vietnam:

For me, there is no detachment. I have returned to fill in the pockets of missing history, heritage and identity ...

Although she recognises problems in Vietnamese society, it doesn't affect her close identification with the country:

What I see as flaws through a Western liberal lens are part of the culture and the country, and I can't divorce these disappointments from my personal heritage. Undeniably it is a part of who I am. In many ways, I feel betrayed. Before my arrival I had a romanticised image of the motherland. Growing up with racism, along with social, economic and class exclusion, refugee kids create a haven in their minds. It is where they feel like they belong: the search for an elusive concept of home.

When I visit a floating fishing village in northern Vietnam that is surviving its struggle, I am in tears with pride. This nobility should also run through my veins.

I am finding answers to lifelong questions.

Another comment from Thao brought to mind Professor Putnam's recent claim that "an extraordinary achievement of human civilization is our ability to redraw social lines in ways that transcend ancestry". For Thao ancestry isn't a negative to be transcended, but something to be valued as a source of connectedness. Having spent a night at her family's village she writes:

I wake up renewed by the connection to the ancestry and mysticism that is essential to the Vietnamese spirit.

She finishes by describing her efforts to help a disabled Vietnamese man and his grandson into a taxi:

I pay for the cab but tailgate it until we reach the train station. They were finding their way home. So am I.

We are not interchangeable units. We have a connection to people and place, to a particular history and culture, which enriches our lives and anchors our identity. It is not a freedom but a misfortune to lose this connection.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Do we really think that women and children aren't human?

The operator of a popular feminist website notes that:

we end up arguing ... whether children, the only life form lower than we, are human.

It strikes the conservative mind as odd to debate whether children are human, or which rung on the human scale people are. That's because conservatives see our status as humans as being already invested in us. It's not something which can be added to or taken away. Individuals can be unequal in their talents or attainments, but not in their human status.

So why would feminists assume that there are variations in our status as humans? It's because liberal autonomy theory, on which feminism is ultimately based, doesn't begin with the concept of an "invested humanity". Instead, a starting point for autonomy theory is that our humanity is contingent. We are made human, according to this theory, by the fact that we are self-determining agents. Therefore, the more we are self-created, as autonomous, independent beings, the more human we are.

Feminists see women as being less autonomous than men (because it's easier to think of a male career path as being a unique, self-created, independent role than motherhood); children are obviously less autonomous than men, being dependent on their parents. Therefore, feminists logically conclude that men are, in a "patriarchy," more human than women and children.

The Italian beach

The feminist debate about children was sparked by the decision of an Italian businessman to set up a women-only beach, from which not only men but also children were excluded.

This led to a controversy at I blame the patriarchy, a popular radical feminist site. On one side of the dispute were feminists who supported the removal of children from the beach. Some adopted this stance because they didn't want women to be assumed to be the natural carers of children. Many, though, professed a dislike of children in general, finding them too noisy, boisterous and annoying.

Those in favour of children on the beach argued that mothers shouldn't miss out on women-only beach time and that children are an oppressed minority group just like women and that it is therefore wrong to discriminate against them.

The debate was finally closed after about 450 comments on two different threads.

Wanting to become human

There are countless references in the comments to women and children being relegated to a non-human status. As I mentioned earlier, this complaint only makes sense if you think that individuals can be more or less human, depending on their degree of autonomy.

Here's a selection of references in the comments to the idea of a contingent humanity:

Sean: it simply sounds like what feminists are pushing for in the 'real' world, that is, basic structures allowing women to participate in the world as humans.

Zora: I have tried time and time again to explain to folks that children are, in fact, people and deserve to be treated thusly.

Cafe Siren: What if they [women] took this new knowledge of themselves as fully human back into the wider world, and demanded changes.

Catherine: The comparison that is being made is not, therefore, between women's struggle to be seen as human ...

Dairon: The story in question encapsulates so many horrific underlying ideas about social hierarchy and what can and can't be human ...

Dr Sue: I don't think the choice is between "permissiveness" and repression, but between treating children as fully human ...

Blandina: ... father who told me I was a valueless thing and not a human being ...

Physio Prof: it treats children as an oppressed class without bodily or mental autonomy ...

Tigs: ... radical education that values children as human beings is a revolutionary act in and of itself ... Treating children like human beings is part of a revolutionary program ... it might be about the same amount of hard as is treating women like human beings!

Crys T: The whole idea that so many see children as some sort of separate group (often not even a human one) ... is the problem here.

Kiki: Wow, I am always amazed when people act as if children are somehow not fully human.

Gayle: Children, like women, are "othered" and treated as a sub-human species.

Recasting nature

Such ideas lead to further complications. For example, feminist women are not going to happily accept a non-human status. Therefore, they must explain their lack of human status as being a product of the way society is organised, rather than as a reflection of the real nature of women.

The first task, that of blaming social organisation, gives them their catchcry of "I blame the patriarchy" (they blame it for everything). It also turns them into self-described utopian revolutionaries, waiting for the day that the whole system is overthrown.

The second task, of denying that women or children are naturally lacking in autonomy, is more perverse. For instance, it leads many commenters to claim that childhood is a sentimentalised fiction and that it's not desirable for children to be raised by their biological parents. In order to present children as independent, autonomous mini-adults, and therefore as fully human, the reality of both childhood and parenthood is denied.

Similarly, the operator of the site argues that children currently are unruly, as many feminists on her site complain, but that this is not an expression of their true nature, but a neurosis brought on by their non-status under patriarchy:

I have stated on numerous occasions ... children are an oppressed class. Their universal and legitimately reviled unruliness is not natural. It is a product of neurosis generated by patriarchy's two main replicatory units ..

What this means is that we are to consider children to be neurotic when they behave childishly. It also means that children aren't to be considered fully human until they stop acting boisterously.

Things are equally bad when attention turns to women. As I have already mentioned, women are thought to be less autonomous than men because they are more likely to be mothers rather than careerists. This means that a number of commenters seriously ask whether it is politically correct for a woman to become a mother. One commenter complains:

Patriarchy wants us to love babies.

There is apparently to be no oppressive mother love under the matriarchy.

One feminist mother doesn't give up without a fight. She asks those suggesting that motherhood is a patriarchal trap: "Well, what's the alternative in your opinion? Just Don't Breed?" The answer comes back:

For those of us who do have this choice, I would suggest that you strongly consider it.

It's also thought a good thing at I blame the patriarchy for women to be selfish, as this involves a pursuit of one's own autonomous wants. There's one comment I'll use to illustrate this point, though I'm not exactly sure if it's meant to be taken in earnest or if it's a clever, tongue-in-cheek send-up of the feminist ideal of selfishness:

Dawn Coyote: Speaking only for myself, I'm lazy and selfish, and the idea that I might not at any moment through my day have a space that is perfectly adjusted to my needs is vexing for me. It's all about me and what I want, after all.

I think the problem is one of entitlement, certainly, but also of independence as a worthy goal, because it's my independence, my autonomy, my right to the free enjoyment of my own pursuits in any space I occupy that has given me the idea that children are a nuisance. If I had more of a sense of responsibility to my fellow humans, be they big or little, I would not so cavalierly wish them into the cornfield.

A misanthropic humanism?

You would think that people who devoted themselves to achieving a full human status would hold humanity in high esteem. In fact, many of those feminists complaining about their lack of human status dislike humanity and wish it would be destroyed. Another selection:

Marcy: yes, I know that humans will go extinct, and I'm OK with that.

Crys T: Like you, I don't think it'd be any great tragedy for the human race to die out.

Silence: Do we need the next generation? I mean, do we really expect the human race to go on and on forever? Because I sure as sh.. don't.

It seems odd for a person to declare that "I want to be human but I don't want humanity to exist." Perhaps, though, this attitude is not such a contradiction. The demand that people have a completely free and equal autonomy is impossible to meet. As the feminists themselves admit it requires a utopian revolution.

Therefore, humanity is being set up to fail a basic test of decency. If it's impossible to achieve "free and equal wills", then humanity won't deliver to every person a full human status. There will forever be a serious breach of "human equality".

This is how "Marcy" seems to see things. In response to a commenter who thought that it was unethical to look forward to the extinction of human beings she wrote:

Ethical? It depends on whose point of view you're working from. If you're working from the planet's and the ecosystem's point of view, then it becomes very much ethical to talk about getting humans out of the picture altogether. As far as I know, it's not birds who are polluting the rivers with toxic waste. Cheetahs don't oppress other cheetahs. Elephants don't find a cure for syphilis and then withold it from some other elephants who have darker skin. I could go on. I'm sure you get the point.

Oppression and inequality have tainted humanity in Marcy's view, so humanity doesn't deserve to survive.

All of this stems, at least in part, from the logic of making human status contingent. It's an aspect of liberal autonomy theory which deserves to be challenged.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Professor Putnam's challenge

Professor Putnam of Harvard University has found that ethnic diversity harms "social capital": that it leads to a loss of trust, friendship and happiness.

He has, nonetheless, argued in favour of ethnic diversity, claiming that it benefits the economy and creativity.

So Professor Putnam's challenge is to find a way that you can have diversity, but without the damage to social capital.

It's interesting to read how he proposes to meet this challenge, because it highlights the difficulties and contradictions involved in such a project.

In short, this is the Professor's argument:

a) Identity is constructed, therefore it can be made the way we want it to be.

b) Ethnic identity can survive at a personal level and this will maintain diversity.

c) We should strive to create a common social identity in which ethnicity doesn't matter, in part by mixing everyone together.

d) This new communal identity will be, like earlier forms of identity, strong enough to forge positive ties and allegiances between people.

I think the professor is wrong in each of these claims.

Identity as a construct

According to Professor Putnam:

Identity itself is socially constructed and can be socially de-constructed and re-constructed. (p.159)

... identities are socially constructed and malleable. (p.160)

This can't be right as ethnic identity is based on factors which can't be socially constructed. Ethnicity often includes, for instance, a shared ancestry as marked in some way by racial similarity; it also often involves a shared history over many generations.

It's important to point this out, as any attempt to "construct" a communal identity when there are no natural forms of ethnic connection isn't likely to create close ties of allegiance - thus undermining part (d) of the professor's argument.

In considering how "malleable" identity is, consider the case of the UK. It's true that a broader British identity was fashioned out of separate English, Scottish and Welsh ethnic identities. This was made possible by points of similarity and common interest between these three groups. When, though, it came to incorporating Catholic Ireland into a British entity, the "malleability" failed: the differences in history and religion proved too great. Furthermore, there are signs even today that the original English, Scottish and Welsh ethnic identities are still felt by many people in the UK as being more significant than the British one.

Identity is more than a mere social construct and therefore cannot be remade to suit any purpose.

The survival of ethnicity

This is perhaps the weakest link in the professor's argument. We are asked to believe that our ethnic loyalty will remain as important as it ever was when:

i) it is to exist as a personal identity only, rather than as a communal entity


ii) at a social level ethnicity won't matter; there will be mutual assimilation between natives and immigrants; racial and ethnic identities will be "deconstructed"; we will "transcend ancestry" with permeable, syncretic, hyphenated identities; and live in a melting pot society characterised by "ethno-racial change".

The following quotes are examples of how Professor Putnam puts things together:

It is my hypothesis that a society will more easily reap the benefits of immigration, and overcome the challenges, if immigration policy focuses on the reconstruction of ethnic identities, reducing their social salience without eliminating their personal importance. In particular, it seems important to encourage permeable, syncretic, 'hyphenated' identities; identities that enable previously separate ethnic groups to see themselves, in part, as members of a shared group with a shared identity. (p.161)

... the challenge is best met not by making 'them' like 'us', but rather by creating a new, more capacious sense of 'we', a reconstruction of diversity that does not bleach out ethnic specificities, but creates overarching identities that ensure that those specificities do not trigger the allergic, 'hunker down' reaction. (pp. 163-164)

This strikes me as an attempt to fit things together ideologically, rather than a genuine effort to think about things realistically.

How can our ethnicity be sustained at a purely personal level? An ethnic culture is formed when a group of people sharing certain characteristics live together and interact together over time. It's not something which can survive in isolation from such a public, communal setting.

And how can our ethnic loyalties remain strong when, at the public level, the emphasis is on their deconstruction: on ethnic change, mutual assimilation and intermixing.

A new us?

Let's say that the professor gets his wish and America continues to aim for mass immigration and an ever greater ethnic diversity. Let's say too that there is no exclusive sense of national identity.

Can there be, in these circumstance, a deeply felt sense of common allegiance and shared identity? Will there be no loss of loyalty to the national entity?

Professor Putnam himself betrays the likely outcome. He approvingly quotes Charles Hirschman's observations on what an American identity means:

American identity is rooted not in nationhood but rather in the welcoming of strangers. (p.162)

There is already for the professor nothing objectionable in basing an overarching identity on openness toward the 'other' rather than on nationhood.

There is further evidence in Professor Putnam's research report that identities based on diversity aren't likely to sustain group allegiances; this evidence appears when he considers the issue of religious affiliation.

Church identity

Professor Putnam believes he has found an example of how his theory works in practice. He recalls that in the 1950s church affiliation was so important socially that it was typical to know which church your classmates belonged to (e.g. Methodist, Catholic).

However, by the 1980s church affiliation was no longer important to social interaction. People intermarried across church lines and no longer held their church membership as 'an important badge of social identity'. Professor Putnam writes:

In that sense, Americans have more or less deconstructed religion as a salient line of social division over the last half century, even though religion itself remains personally important. In fact, our own survey evidence suggests that for most Americans their religious identity is actually more important to them that their ethnic identity, but the salience of religious differences as lines of social identity has sharply diminished. As our religious identities have become more permeable, we have gained much religiously bridging social capital, while not forsaking our own religious loyalties. To be sure, deconstructing divisive racial and ethnic identities will not be so quick and simple, but an extraordinary achievement of human civilization is our ability to redraw social lines in ways that transcend ancestry. (pp.160-161)

It all seems unlikely, doesn't it? Professor Putnam wants us to believe that our religious identities have become more "permeable" but that we nonetheless haven't lost our religious loyalties.

In fact, the decline of church affiliation has led to a major bleeding of membership in the mainstream churches and to a loss of religious belief and observance generally in society.

For example, between 1967 and 2002, the Episcopal Church in America (the equivalent of the Australian Anglicans) lost 829,000 members. Only 15% of young American Catholics now go to mass weekly. In Australia, recently released census information reveals that "Australians are abandoning traditional Christian denominations", with the Anglicans having lost 175,000 members. The number of Australians professing no religious belief has risen by about 800,000 in five years.

Isn't this a logical development? If I no longer identify closely with a church community and culture, but instead carry my religious belief at an individual level only, isn't it more likely that my level of observance will decline and that some individuals will be cut adrift from religious belief entirely?

The problem with Professor Putnam's article is a fundamental one. He wants identity to matter at a personal level, but not at a social level where it is to be patiently deconstructed as a grand moral aim.

In other words, the professor insists both that identity has to matter (so that individuals retain their diverse ethnicity), and that it has to be made not to matter (so that there is no loss to social capital via the "hunkering down" effect).

Furthermore, it's at the very social level at which identity is to be rendered insignificant that there is supposed to be generated a strong allegiance to a 'we'. The act of making people's identities permeable, hybridised and non-social is supposed to leave people with ... a higher, unifying identity!

It's more likely that the professor's proposals would lead to a loss of traditional identity and to a more atomised society with much weaker forms of social solidarity and commitment. The losses to "social capital" would continue.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Still some blame exclusion, manipulation

So the news runs as follows. The latest terror attacks appear to have involved five doctors working in Britain (two from Saudi Arabia, an Indian, a Palestinian and an Iraqi). Another suspected member of the terror group was a doctor from India working in Australia's Gold Coast Hospital. Six doctors all up from four different countries of origin.

How did the media in Melbourne react? Perhaps the worst response was from Professor David Wright-Neville. In a column in the Herald Sun, he ran with the theme that it is "frustrated aspirations" amongst Muslim immigrants, including low levels of employment and education, which allow them to be "easily manipulated" and lured by "simplistic explanations" into terrorism. The professor even blamed "racism and other forms of social exclusion" by Europeans for terror attacks.

This is a template which doesn't fit the facts. The leader of the terror group, we are told, is a neurobiologist. The others are doctors. None of them suffer from a lack of employment or education. None of them is likely to be duped by simplistic explanations.

And, far from suffering exclusion, these doctors were catapulted into high-paid, high-status professions, arguably at the expense of the thousands of native born Britons and Australians who wish to be trained for careers in medicine.

A more realistic appraisal was penned by Ian McPhedran, the Herald Sun defence reporter. There have been suggestions that doctors were chosen for infiltration into the West because they were less likely to be placed under scrutiny by the security services. McPhedran provides information that doctors were, in fact, spared such scrutiny. He quotes Australian National University terrorism expert Clive Williams as follows (regarding those approved for the 457 temporary skilled visa scheme):

We would normally go with people whose backgrounds we can check, but when there are shortages, such as with doctors, we can't be too fussy.

McPhedran points to a further problem of scrutinising medical professionals granted visas to work in Western countries - the sheer numbers involved. He states that there are 1950 Iraqi-trained doctors working in Britain and up to 26,000 from the Middle East. (These numbers are so large that they need to be confirmed.)

To his credit, McPhedran draws what must surely be a reasonable conclusion: that the current immigration policy is flawed and must be reviewed:

The Gold Coast link will trigger an immediate review of the 457 temporary skilled visa scheme, particularly of those visas held by Muslim doctors working temporarily in Australia.

There will be howls of protest, but if the safety of the people demands that some rights are temporarily curtailed, so be it.

If not, the next car bomb might be in Kings Cross, St Kilda, or Fortitude Valley.

The one problem I have with McPhedran's comment is that I don't see that it is a right being curtailed: is it really an automatic right for foreign born doctors to come to work in Australia?

(Further evidence that the sheer size of Muslim immigrant communities makes vetting problematic is provided by Randall Parker. British security had intercepted conversations and knew an attack was coming, but were already monitoring 30 current plots, 200 suspected terror cells and close to 2,000 known suspects. They were unable in this situation to pinpoint the exact timing or location of the attacks.)

Finally, the Melbourne Age provided us with a column by Waleed Aly, a lecturer in the Global Terrorism Research Centre at Monash University. Aly's argument runs as follows:

1) Terrorism can only be defeated by winning the hearts and minds of Muslims.
2) Muslims dislike America.
3) Muslims do want Western ideals of freedom and democracy.
4) Muslims dislike America because America isn't serious in supporting freedom and democracy, as evidenced by the failure to recognise popularly supported Hamas.
5) The West needs to be more sincere, more charitable and more self-sacrificing in its dealings with the Muslim world to overcome the impression of hypocrisy.

If we were to take Aly's analysis seriously it would mean:

a) being mired forever in the mission of winning the approval of the Muslim world. Do we really want to act in ways that the Muslim world is likely to approve of? Mightn't Muslims take advantage of the terms of engagement by continuing to find reasons to disapprove of the West, which the West would then have to make up for?

b) accepting, despite the evidence of events in Iraq, that the Middle East is serious about Western style democracy.

c) accepting the logic by which democracy in the Middle East is likely to deliver anti-Western Islamic governments, such as that in Iran.

Think of what has recently happened. Six well-educated professional men are granted a privileged status in the West and they respond by launching terrorist attacks intended to kill hundreds. Are we really supposed to conclude that we are at fault, and that we need to further prove our good intentions to such men?

I can't see us winning them over. Those recommending a disengagement are likely to be vindicated as the attacks continue.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


I'm reading a local history of Warrnambool, a provincial city in south-western Victoria.

One of the chapters deals with the events at Tooram in 1883. Most Victorians, I expect, would never have heard of these events, but they apparently confirmed the decision not to import non-European labour into the state.

Tooram was described at the time as "the greatest dairy farm in Victoria, if not in Australia". It was so prosperous that its owner, Thomas McLeod Palmer, decided to look overseas for additional labourers.

In December 1882, 25 workers arrived from the subcontinent. Eight were Sunni Muslims from Afghanistan. A few were Indian Hindus, most were Shia Muslims from northern India.

There were problems from the start. There were religious quarrels, apparently led by the Afghanis. Nor were the new workers happy with the work they were allotted.

On 17 March 1883, a screaming match between Hindus and Muslims led to blows. Sticks and pitchforks were used as weapons, and Palmer was sent for. When he arrived, one of the Afghanis charged at him with a pitchfork. Palmer shot above his head first, then his arm, before finally firing at his body.

The situation remained difficult with most of the labourers refusing to work outside, insisting on doing work inside the house. The overseer, a Shia Muslim, warned Palmer about threats to his family and to some of the Hindus who were still working. Palmer wrote in a letter:

... the Indians are in a state of rebellion ... they will not milk and offer to do work about the house. Of course I have not got it for them. They refuse to work at the dairies and in the jungle. Hassan told me they talked about murdering all in the house and although they knew they would be hanged, they would first kill all the Europeans they could.

Of course you know better than I whether there is any danger or not, but if they come and give me half a chance they will get a hot reception. I sleep with two loaded revolvers within reach of my hand.

... The leader of the Afghans threatened to kill one of the Hindus who is at work. He came up to me in the night in a great fright. (C.E. Sayers, Of Many Things, 1972, p.104)

The man shot by Palmer later died and Palmer was tried for manslaughter. He was acquitted on the grounds of self-defence, in part because of evidence provided by the Goanese butler who had been standing next to him at the time.

The papers judged the "novel enterprise" of bringing such labour to Victoria to be "an error". Palmer told the court he would not repeat the experiment and arranged for the men to be returned to their homelands.

Tooram itself no longer exists, having been subdivided long ago.

Monday, July 02, 2007

A loser nation of loser men?

How did George Bush win the 2004 election? A left-wing Australian writer, John Bradford, believes he knows the answer.

Writing in the left-liberal Australian magazine, Dissent, Bradford argues that it was a backlash by men, particularly white working-class "loser" men, against women which gave electoral victory to the right.

In support of his theory he points out that a majority of women, 51%, supported Kerry, and so it was only the votes of men, 55% of whom supported Bush, which got the Republicans over the line.

Bradford is right that this "gender gap" in voting patterns exists. But even this starting point for his theory of a male backlash against women is misleading.

After all, only 44% of both white women and married women voted for Kerry. It was only Kerry's considerable support among young female voters (56%), unmarried women (62%) and non-white women (75%) which gave him a narrow majority of the female vote.

The "backlash" against the left, therefore, involves not just white men, but also white women and married people in general. So already Bradford's idea of a specifically male rejection of the left is on shaky ground.

Moral values

Bradford's next claim is that Bush deliberately fought the campaign on the moral issues of same-sex marriage and abortion in order to appeal to poor, white males.

He did so, writes Bradford, not because such men have an interest in these moral issues, but because many American men have become "losers" in recent times, and the moral issues give them a renewed sense of group confidence and adequacy.

Why are American men so stressed that they need to be appealed to in this way? One reason, asserts Bradford, is that the Americans have a free market economy, which is based on exploitation of the working poor, in which real incomes are falling, which is exporting jobs to low wage economies overseas, and which is debt-ridden and "in thrall" to foreign investors.

In comparison, the high tax, welfare economies of Europe provide higher earnings, shorter hours and better health levels for workers. Europeans, notes Bradford, are even growing taller than Americans!

Of course, it's predictable for a left-liberal to make this kind of economic analysis. All liberals, whether left or right, see society as made up of millions of competing wills, each trying to enact their own individual desires. Right-liberals believe that the free market allows people to selfishly pursue their own interests and still benefit society as a whole.

Left-liberals, though, think that the free market leads to unequal outcomes. They prefer competing wills to be regulated in a more deliberate way by the state.

A right-liberal, therefore, is likely to look to the (relatively) free market American economy as a model, whilst a left-liberal will prefer the example of the higher taxing, welfare states of Europe, in particular Scandinavia.

The descent of men

And now we get to the crux of the argument. Bradford observes that the traditional family has declined in America. Rising female earnings and declining male earnings mean that women are no longer so economically reliant on a husband. As Bradford himself puts it,

Men are fading from the family picture. Women have less need and less opportunity to secure their financial future by economic dependence on men, through marriage or otherwise.

This development, writes Bradford, means that "large swathes of men are being reduced to 'loser males'" who "can be more an economic hindrance than a help" to modern women.

Bradford has a point here. There's no doubt that young women have become more economically independent and that this undermines the traditional provider role of men.

This is something that liberals in general, and feminists in particular, have long aimed for. Liberals believe that we are made human by our capacity to create who we are from our own individual will and reason. Our freedom to act as we will is therefore paramount for liberals. This, in turn, means retaining our individual autonomy and independence.

It's not easy, therefore, for liberals to accept traditional marriage in which people give up a measure of independence in order to pursue deeper needs and purposes. It's particularly difficult for feminists to accept the idea of women being economically dependent on their husbands, even if it is to the advantage of their families.

So the modern liberal state has put a great deal of effort and resources into "liberating" women from an economic dependence on men. It has urged young women to pursue careers and to delay marriage, it has established single mother pensions, it has heavily subsidised childcare, it has set up an apparatus of alimony and child support payments, it has established official and unofficial quotas for women in the professions, scholarships for female students and so on.

Bradford, however, doesn't want to acknowledge any of this. He doesn't want to assert on the one hand that men are losing out and on the other that liberal policies are encouraging this loss.

Instead, he does what liberals often do. He claims that it is inevitable, impersonal forces of history which are driving the changes.


According to Bradford, the trouble all started about 12,000 years ago. Before then, there was no traditional family. There was a sexually promiscuous free-for-all (both heterosexual and homosexual) which bonded members of the tribe together.

In this system, men had sex with as many women as possible in order to transfer their genes, whilst women consented to sex in order that men would provide food and protection for them.

Bradford claims that women held the advantage in this ancient form of society because it was men who had to attract the favour of women in order to get sex.

I'm not an expert on human prehistory, but this scenario seems unlikely to me. If the women were so promiscuous, why would a man bother to provide for and protect a particular woman, since he could not be sure that any child would be his own? Nor is it usually so difficult for men, in conditions of promiscuity, to obtain sex - the currency of sex tends to be devalued. So men would not have had to work so hard to obtain female sexual favours.

In any case, Bradford then argues that when animal husbandry developed 12,000 years ago, the balance altered dramatically against women. This is when "fatherhood" and "the family" were invented. Men learned from stock herding that it was best to choose a female beast astutely and then ensure that it was only serviced by a chosen stud. They applied this lesson to their own lives and established the monogamous "patriarchal" family.

Note, please, how Bradford describes the values surrounding this sudden appearance of the family,

The paramount patriarchal value is 'fatherhood', a notion which incorporates power, the capacity to choose, as much as genetic paternity. Controlling paternity, which means controlling women and their sexuality, is at the heart of family systems. Slavery on the one hand and the family on the other, are just particular versions of animal husbandry where the animal concerned is human.

Is it any wonder that the traditional family is in decline when liberals can have these extremely negative views about the function and purpose of family life?

Bradford here firstly devalues both fatherhood and the family by regarding them as mere inventions or constructs of a particular historical period. He then undermines fatherhood by describing it in terms of power and privilege. He claims that fatherhood is based on the ultimate sin for liberals of creating unequal wills: of increasing the male "capacity to choose" at the expense of women's.

Finally, he goes further than perhaps any other liberal I have ever come across, by putting the family literally on a par with slavery and describing both as versions of animal husbandry!

Not a great basis on which to defend family life. Nor is it good history. According to Bradford, pre-agricultural societies were happy matriarchies, without a formal family structure or restrictions on sexuality.

But we actually do know how some pre-agricultural societies operated. The Australian Aborigines, for instance, did not practise animal husbandry prior to the arrival of Europeans. Yet Aboriginal society was highly "patriarchal", and had very complex family systems and sexual taboos.

In many Aboriginal tribes, for instance, the young women had little choice at all about their sexual partners, but were married off at an early age to the senior male members of the tribe. So Bradford has things the wrong way around: European agricultural societies seem to have actually achieved a higher degree of choice for women than more primitive hunter-gatherer societies.

Technological change

Just as Bradford claims that an economic advance (animal husbandry) gave rise to patriarchy, he believes that modern technology is restoring a matriarchy. He thinks that "modern mechanisation" along with birth control technology (contraception, artificial insemination, abortion) are giving women the competitive edge in the workforce. He writes,

With technological change impacting on sexual relations and an increasingly education-based economy, the marginally skilled "traditional man" has had his job exported, been downsized by technology, and is being 'fired', as a partner and a father by women.

His promised inheritance, of a life like his father and grandfather before him, supporting a spouse and several children, is being taken from him.

As I've already argued, if men are losing out economically, it's due in some degree to deliberate government policies designed to favour women in the workforce.

But even with such policies, the decline of male blue collar labour is often overstated. In Australia, for instance, we are currently experiencing a shortage of tradesmen to the point that state governments are competing to lure tradesmen to their own states. Technological change hasn't made blue collar labour redundant.

Note, though, the implications of Bradford's theory. Bradford is arguing that men are losing out because of mechanisation and because of reproductive technology such as abortion procedures which allow women to compete in the workplace unhindered by pregnancy.

So, for patriarchal men to restore their competitive advantage and their power, Bradford believes it makes sense for them to oppose what he calls the "innocuous medical procedure" of abortion.

He thinks that this is why George Bush raised abortion as an election issue and why "loser men" responded by voting Republican. Bradford laments of these loser men that,

They won the election for George Bush and in the short term 'loser males' may continue to win elections for the political right.

It must be said that Bradford has made a logically coherent argument here. But it's still not persuasive. If he were right, and large numbers of men were moving to the right in order to ban abortion and restore the patriarchy, you would expect men to be more opposed to abortion than women.

But this isn't the case. Polls on abortion usually show men to be slightly more in favour of abortion than women. Furthermore, when asked if there was sufficient attention paid to the abortion issue during the 2004 campaign, men and women roughly agreed in their responses.


Perhaps Bradford does recognise that there are many women, as well as men, who oppose both the Democrats and abortion. This might explain his oddly scientific attempt to explain the existence of right-wing women:

Without doubt many women alive today, to some degree, have been bred to patriarchy just as cows have been bred to have unnaturally large udders. Some of these women can sometimes be stressed to find they have no real inclination to live up to the roles their more feminist sisters have exhorted them to.

Bradford offers no consolation to these "artificially selected" women as he thinks the decline of the "patriarchy" is an inevitable fact of economic development.

Nor does Bradford have much to offer white working-class men. He concludes that "Inside America today is a 'loser nation' of 'loser males'" and that,

an inexorable reality would seem to dictate that American 'loser males' adapt to being incorporated into a global labour market and to become, in relations between the sexes, more like the men of Scandinavia.

But being brought up in a frontier culture of male aggressive dominance they are likely to strongly resist such an adaptation and they are understandably not keen to put themselves on the same economic level as the factory fodder in China's overcrowded and over-polluted cities.

What a dismal outlook! Is it any wonder the right is ascendant when left-wingers like Bradford compare the family (literally) to slavery, tell family-oriented women they have been bred like cows to patriarchy and give working-class American men no choice but to accept economic redundancy and a subjection to Scandinavian style feminism.

It is leftists themselves who have alienated white men en masse. Why should white men identify with a politics which casts them as the villains, and their own historic culture as oppressive and illegitimate.

It's perfectly rational for men to begin to move rightward. Of course, my own hope is that some men will realise that right-wing liberalism, as represented by the Republicans, will no more preserve the values they believe in than the left, and that support for a genuine traditionalist conservatism will grow.

(First published at Conservative Central, 07/05/2005)