Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lessons of 2007

The Liberals have been defeated and what does the media say? You read everywhere that the Liberals must turn away from their socially conservative wing and to the left - or else face a more permanent electoral ruin.

It's an odd lesson to draw. Consider the following:

a) The Labor Party won by studiously avoiding any upset to the socially conservative instincts of the electorate.

b) The state Liberal parties are all more "socially progressive" than the Federal party and all are out of office.

c) The most unpopular Liberal policy was Work Choices, which was more of an economically liberal measure than a socially conservative one.

However, I do believe that the Liberal Party has to consider the future carefully. If you look at an electoral map of Melbourne you find that the Liberals can only rely on a tiny belt of four safe seats. The north, the west and most of the south now belong to Labor.

The problem for the Liberal Party is that migrants generally vote Labor. In a Parliament of Australia electoral survey it was found that:

a) There are 18 seats in which more than 22% of the population was born in a non-English speaking country. In 2006 Labor held 16 of those seats. It now holds all 18. Labor holds 27 of the 29 seats with the highest proportion of electors born in non-English speaking countries. (p.39)

b) 32 of the 33 electorates with the most people who can't speak English well voted Labor in 2007. (p.43)

c) The 24 electorates with the most Muslims all voted Labor. (p.29)

d) These results don't seem to correlate to levels of income. Of the 37 poorest electorates, 23 were held (in 2006) by the Liberals/Nationals, 12 by Labor and 2 by independents. (p.57)

How might the Liberal Party react to this information? They could, I suppose, conclude that they have to be especially nice to migrants to win their votes. The problem is that the Liberals could not have done more for migrants during their term of office. Migration was set at record levels and education policy favoured fee paying students from overseas. Despite this, the trend for migrants to vote Labor continued, leading to a loss of the Prime Minister's own seat.

A more realistic option would be for the Liberals to drop their commitment to high levels of immigration. They would have to stand up to the big business federations in doing this, but otherwise the move would be a popular one. It would also secure a more viable long-term future for the Liberal Party.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bahrainis seek immigration reform

The Arab Gulf states have their own immigration problems. Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have proposed a six year residency limit for foreign workers. The Bahraini labour minister believes that most of the foreign workers in his country cannot assimilate or adapt because of their cultural and social backgrounds. He recently complained that:

In some areas of the Gulf, you can't tell whether you are in an Arab Muslim country or in an Asian district. We can't call this diversity and no nation on earth could accept the erosion of its culture on its own land.

I can't fault the Bahraini minister for acting to conserve his own culture. However, the situation in the Gulf does raise some further questions.

For instance, if the Bahraini minister believes that non-Muslims cannot adapt or assimilate to an Arab Muslim culture, then the same difficulty of assimilation must also occur when Arab Muslims seek residence in foreign countries. If mutual adaptation or assimilation isn't possible in Bahrain, then why would it be possible in France or Finland?

Also, if the Gulf states are so dependent on foreign labour (there are currently 14 million foreign workers in the Gulf), and if this labour force is thought to be too foreign to assimilate or adapt, then why are Middle Eastern refugees being sent to all the way to the West rather than to the nearby Gulf states? The Gulf states are very wealthy and are very much in need of a more assimilable labour force. It would seem to be a good match.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Heterosexuals just 10 percent?

During an otherwise standard sex education lesson, I was astonished to hear the teacher in charge claim that heterosexuals make up just 10% of the population. She chided the students for their mistaken belief that heterosexuals were a majority. The students were told that for 80% of the population sexuality was fluid and changed in any direction over time.

This has to be one of the more extreme instances I've observed of redefining reality to fit your own ideological purposes. Presumably the sex ed teacher is following the ideal of liberal autonomy in which we are supposed to be self-determined in all things which matter. If our sexuality is fixed it can't be self-determined, so it helps the theory if our sexuality can be made fluid.

This is the basic idea behind queer theory, which has been promoted widely in schools in the US:

For the queer theorist, all unambiguous and permanent notions of a natural sexual or gender identity are coercive impositions on our individual autonomy - our freedom to reinvent our sexual selves whenever we like. Sexuality is androgynous, fluid, polymorphous ...

So we shouldn't be surprised if activists aim to overturn heterosexual norms. I hadn't, though, expected the bold move of relegating heterosexuals to minority status.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Are men and women equal?

In a recent post I claimed that it is liberalism which leads to the feminist belief that women are the victims of oppression and inequality:

The liberal starting point ends badly: in feelings of loss of humanity; in assumptions of oppression and inequality; and, for some, in a rejection of love and relationships.

A regular reader posted a comment suggesting that the feminist belief in inequality was more than an assumption, as men really are superior:

The inequality of men and women is not an assumption, it's a reality. It's evolved. Unless you are a female spotted hyena, you just have to like it or lump it.

I thought this comment worth responding to at length, as it involves some important issues. I'll say at the outset that I disagree with the idea that men are superior to women. This is not because I hold to a politically correct belief that everyone is equal. Furthermore, I think it's healthy for men to assert themselves confidently in their relationships with women.

So why don't I think men superior? The big issue, I think, is how we judge the quality of people. If we follow modernist ideas, and reject the existence of "transcendent" (i.e. really existing) goods, then the measure of man is power. I will be held to be superior if I prove my dominance by holding power over others. I can achieve dominant status through money, through a professional career and through political power.

If we accept this "proof" of superiority, then I cannot blame feminists for acting the way that they do. It's inevitable that some women will be too proud to accept an inferior status, particularly when they know that they have the ability to prove themselves dominant in careers, money and politics over many men.

It's a pity, though, if women accept such a proof of their own quality. It means that they are forced to compete to prove themselves on traditionally masculine terms; the more feminine side to life will inevitably be neglected.

Which leads to the question: what happens if we accept the existence of transcendent goods, as Western societies traditionally did? We then have an alternative way of judging the quality of people, namely according to how finely they embody some aspect of the good.

Looked at this way, there is a lot to admire in both men and women. Men, at their best, are loyal, courageous, persevering and good-humoured, and their dispassionate intellect serves them well in acting justly and in seeking knowledge. Women, at their best, are warm, vivacious, graceful, beautiful, empathetic, considerate and intuitive. Women, more than men, are often present in the moment for others.

So which constellation of goods is superior? The question makes little sense for two reasons. First, it's difficult to measure in any objective way whether the finer female qualities represent a higher good than the male qualities or vice versa. It might be possible to have a personal preference, but there's no obvious way to prove such a preference to be true.

More importantly, the question of superiority is misconceived because the male and female goods grow out of each other; therefore, if you think of the masculine qualities as being particularly fine, you must recognise that they wouldn't exist without the feminine qualities being strongly present (and vice versa).

If the women of a society no longer embody the higher feminine goods, then it's unlikely that men will be inspired to fully develop their masculine qualities. Similarly, femininity can only flourish when men are moved to create a protected space for it.

So it's not even so much a question of stating that men and women are equal, as this tends to miss the point of what determines our quality as men and women.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A romantic feminism? Really?

This just doesn't fit my experience:

New research shows feminism and romance go hand-in-hand, with egalitarian men and women enjoying better intimate relationships than the new breed of young men and women who dismiss the pioneer movement as unfashionable.

So I tried to do a little research on the research. It wasn't easy as the academic paper hasn't been released to the general public. I can, though, suggest three reasons to doubt the findings.

The first concerns possible bias. The study was undertaken by a feminist academic, Laurie Rudman, and published in a feminist journal. Rudman had conducted previous research showing that women often shied away from feminism because they thought it harmed romantic relationships. This is the political context for Rudman's "makeover" of feminism; if women can be persuaded that feminism is good for romance, they will more readily embrace it. So are we dealing with "advocacy" research?

The second reason for doubt is that other research has reached different conclusions. For instance, I reported in April on a major study which found that women were, on average, happier in traditional, gender-based marriages, partly because such marriages were generally more "expressive" (the husbands put more "emotion work" into such relationships):

Men who are married to more traditional-minded women ... are more likely to devote themselves to spending quality time with their wives.

... adherence to traditional beliefs and practices regarding gender seems to be tied not only to global marital happiness but also - suprisingly enough - to expressive patterns of marriage ...

women's gender role liberalism ... [is] associated with lower levels of women's happiness with the affection and understanding they receive from their husbands.

Finally, it's not enough to look at individual relationships. There are no guarantees in individual relationships - it is, of course, true that there will be feminist partners with better relationships than many more traditional couples.

But what is the overall influence of feminism on society? Does feminism generally encourage stable, committed, romantic relationships between men and women?

I don't think so. I remember being at uni at the height of third-wave feminism in the mid-1990s. It was striking how little interaction there was between male and female students, let alone signs of affection. It was romantically cold.

It was noticeable too how popular music changed in the 1990s. The love ballad gave way to more aggressively sexual songs and music videos.

There was a change, too, from the older custom of dating, to one of more casual "hook ups". This was lamented just a couple of weeks ago by Andrea Burns in a Herald Sun column:

THE date is dead. Time of death? Some point between candlelit dinners and "you can come along if you want to".

But sadly the esteemed tradition of dating is a thing of the past ...

Try to lock in the average bloke for a date and you might as well try to pin down a shadow.

It's a shame because the perfect date is something many women fantasise about ...

If we are not careful we'll have spent the entire courting process boozed and wake up at 35 with a baby and some dude we picked up in a bar.

And what is the situation in Sweden, the home of feminism? A recent article on relationships there noted that Stockholm is the world's divorce capital; that marriage is becoming increasingly rare; and that the Swedish preference for IKEA style disposable consumer goods mirrors the easy, commitment free attitude to relationships.

So it will take more than Laurie Rudman's research paper to persuade me to change my mind on this issue. I remain sceptical that feminism is good for romance.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The worst of feminism

A popular feminist website carries this dark as night assessment of men, women and society:

all humans are conditioned to despise women. A woman ... can never be humanized. The American legal system, as a matter of fact, effectively outlaws humanity for women. It does this in many ways ... One of the most insidious is its assertion that women are in a perpetual state of 'consent' unless they specify in front of 147 witnesses that they have withdrawn it ... It is by this cunning method ... that the future of rape as the cornerstone of human social order is secured.

Rape is the dominant culture's most cherished method of controlling the female underclass, of moulding us into a self-replicating supply of fearful, impaired, coercible receptacles ... It is by popular demand that, decades after American women were first deemed "liberated", the countryside remains infested with unjailed rapists. These freely roaming rapists are patriarchy's enforcers.

One reader was moved to comment:

This idea that rapists belong in prison makes my head hurt. Damn near every dude on the planet is a rapist! As remarkable as the U.S. prison industrial complex may be, it is entirely unequipped to deal with the jailing of half this nation's denizens.

The solution to rape is not one that will ever be brought about under capitalism, as it involves the recognition of women as agentive, sentient humans. I don't expect this to happen during my lifetime, so I ... never go anywhere without a big knife in my pocket.

Where do such ideas come from? You might answer, reasonably, from unhappy souls. There's more to it, though. There is a progression of thought from mainstream liberalism to this kind of radical patriarchy theory.

It goes like this. Liberalism states that our humanity is contingent: that we are only fully human when we are self-determining, autonomous agents. Feminists then argue that women are less autonomous than men and are therefore treated as less than human. Leftist feminists then add another argument: the reason why women are less autonomous is not because of any natural differences between the sexes, but because a group of people ("men") have set up gender as a social construct to obtain a privilege over women.

This oppressive structuring of society is termed the "patriarchy". Those who believe in patriarchy theory view all social relations between men and women as serving male privilege. Therefore marriage, love, romance, sex, gender roles and sex identities are held to be oppressive to women. The more radical patriarchy theorists tend to be a glum lot: because they see women's oppression as systemic (as basic to the way society works), the only cure is a revolutionary overthrow of all social structures and the emergence of a hazily conceived non-patriarchal utopia.

The patriarchy theorists might have an unrealistic view of men and society, but they're grounded enough to know that such a radical transformation is a long shot. So they see themselves as doomed to a vulnerable existence as sub-human victims of a monstrous social system.

It's more likely that they are victims of their own belief system. It's not the "patriarchy" that they need to challenge, but the chain of political ideas I outlined above.

Do we really have to accept the idea that our humanity is contingent and not invested in who we are? Must we really accept the idea that it is autonomy alone, and not some wider set of qualities, which determines our humanity?

The liberal starting point ends badly: in feelings of loss of humanity; in assumptions of oppression and inequality; and, for some, in a rejection of love and relationships. What we need is a less ideological beginning, so that we don't become alienated from important goods in life.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

What are we defending?

Until recently, a section of the right was united around a "counterjihadi" cause. This unity has been shattered by Charles Johnson, the operator of the Little Green Footballs (LGF) site, who has accused his former European allies of being racists.

The rift has exposed something significant. Those on the right are not fighting to defend the same thing. There are some whose politics is bounded by their identification with political liberalism: they are fighting to defend a political creed. There are others who, even if they accept this creed, also wish to defend a particular tradition, culture, people or national existence.

Let's start with Johnson. He was a left-liberal until the terror attacks on the World Trade Centre. Like some others on the left, the terror attacks shook up his politics. He began to see Islam as a threat to his political values and he dismissed the left as being too unrealistic (too "idiotarian") to recognise this threat.

Hence the logo at Johnson's website which shows his little green footballs being hurled at a cowering hippy leftist and a Muslim jihadi "lizard".

If you understand why Johnson is against the left and against Muslim jihadists, it's easier to explain his unease with others on the right. He remains a purist liberal. He just believes that Islam and the left are a threat to what he values.

So when others on the right also transgress his liberalism, why wouldn't he make a fuss? In his own way, he is being consistent.

The problem is that it isn't difficult to transgress modernist liberalism. The idea of modernist liberalism is that we must be self-determining, autonomous agents in order to reach a full humanity. This means that everything which is "other" determined is a restriction on our freedom and on our human dignity from which we must be liberated.

Most of the important, sustaining aspects of life, though, are other determined. Therefore, liberalism ends up placing its own fatwahs on the very things which mean most to people - and all in the name of "freedom".

And so Johnson's European allies were found wanting. Most of them have attempted to be mainstream in their politics, and some even sound at times like mainstream right-liberals. However, it's true that most of the groups attacked by Johnson wish to limit immigration in order to preserve something outside of political liberalism, such as a people, culture or tradition.

It seems that this alone was too much of a transgression for Johnson to bear. He attacked the Europeans and embarked on an undignified hunt for evidence of unsavoury connections (he found a couple of Celtic crosses and some old photos).

Johnson is trying to delegitimise the Europeans - to have them placed beyond the pale. His campaign seems to be failing. In part, this is because some of those who agree with him politically still think an alliance is necessary. Partly it's because some key figures just don't believe that the Europeans are extreme in the way Johnson is claiming.

Some further reading:

Johnson's nemesis

Blogosphere bannings

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

How can it be both things?

Most readers will be aware of recent events at the University of Delaware. The 7000 students residing on campus were expected to attend diversity training based on the theory of "whiteness studies". The students were taught that all white Americans were, by definition, racists:

[a] racist is one who is both privileged and socialized on the basis of race by a white supremacist (racist) system. The term applies to all white people (i.e., people of European descent) living in the United States, regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality.

The training has been suspended for the time being. I thought it might be interesting, though, to read through the diversity training materials prepared by Dr Shakti Butler.

I've outlined previously the basic idea behind whiteness studies: that whiteness was invented to give some people an unearned privilege at the expense of oppressed people of colour.

Dr Butler's training materials hold faithfully to this idea for over ten pages. She defines race itself not in neutral terms but as "a specious classification of human beings created by Europeans (whites) ... for the purpose of establishing and maintaining privilege and power". She then gives us a potted history lesson intended to prove that:

a small group of colonial slave owners invented the "white race"

This is everything you'd expect from a whiteness theorist. What's surprising is the argument Dr Butler makes on the very next page. She supports her case with the research of Dr Frances Cress Welsing:

Dr Welsing analyzes the root causes of white supremacy. She demonstrates that the genes of white people are recessive compared to those of people of African descent. Thus, if whites and African-descended people mate and create children, the family tree will have more darker skin offspring.

Dr Welsing concludes that the virulence of white supremacy stems from white fear of genetic annihilation. In other words, if white/African sexual interrelationships become the norm rather than the statistical exception, in a few generations there will be no more white people. An historical analysis of the perverseness of white fear of intermarriage, from 1691 to the present, lends much credence to this perspective.

Dr Cress Welsing further asserts that white people keep this fear in their white closets. I agree.

Does Dr Butler not realise that she has contradicted her first, lengthy argument? We were supposed to believe that Europeans invented a fictitious category of race out of a lust for power and dominance. Now we are told that it is the biological reality of race which is the problem, and that Europeans are vulnerable because of recessive genes. Europeans have suddenly gone from inventing a fictitious category of race to hiding their unique problems of racial preservation.

How can you explain an academic advancing such irreconcilable arguments? Perhaps Dr Butler thought that adding on an argument with the aura of the physical sciences attached to it might bolster her case.

At any rate, it seems that Dr Butler doesn't really believe much of the guff that whiteness theorists rattle on with. The one idea that she really sticks to consistently is that of "white exceptionalism" - that whites are to be proved to be unique in acting against the proper norms held to by other groups.

This is weak ground for Dr Butler to occupy. What are we to make of the "anti-racism" of someone who picks out whites this way? Nor is it difficult to show that whites are not unique in the particular respects claimed by Dr Butler.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Is Gillard setting women up for conflict?

Julia Gillard, deputy leader of the Australian Labor Party, made this prediction back in August:

There will come a time when we women will be judged purely on achievements and strength of character rather than whether we ascribe to what are seen as feminine traits, fit a particular model of attractiveness for public life or have fruit in a fruit bowl.

This is an unfortunate way of putting things. It cuts women off from what is feminine in two ways. First, Gillard seems to deny that femininity is something irrevocably connected to womanhood. She states that women may or may not "ascribe" to feminine traits, as if femininity is something that can be picked up or discarded as a personal choice. Similarly, she doesn't simply speak of feminine traits, but of qualities "which are seen as feminine traits", as if to doubt their objective existence.

Worse, Gillard separates a woman's achievements and character from her femininity. The way she puts things you would think that femininity is not a substantive part of what it means to be a woman - that it isn't a core aspect of who a woman is and what she has to offer.

What is supposed to be cutting-edge feminism puts women in a difficult position. It makes what is distinctively female a negative, secondary quality.

Imagine having a female identity but seeing what is distinctively female as being inferior and in opposition to your life goals. Isn't this an unsuitable framework for a woman to live her life by?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A leftist baulks at dangerous logic of whiteness studies

There is a dangerous logic to whiteness studies.

Whiteness theorists argue that racism is peculiar to whites. The sole purpose of whiteness, they claim, is to create a society in which whites benefit from an unearned privilege at the expense of people of colour.

As I pointed out in a recent article, this puts whites in a vulnerable position. The last thing you want, in a modern liberal society, is to be identified as the group preventing the final achievement of human equality:

Whiteness theorists are creating a picture of whites as a “cosmic enemy”: as a force in the world standing in the way of justice and equality. Groups who are regarded this way shouldn’t be surprised to find themselves targeted for removal. Here, for instance, is the “solution” of Dr Noel Ignatiev, a Harvard academic and whiteness theorist, to the “problem” of whites:

"The key to solving the social problems of our age is to abolish the white race."

"... The goal of abolishing the white race is on its face so desirable that some may find it hard to believe that it could incur any opposition."

I'm not alone in recognising the dangerous logic of whiteness studies. It has been remarked on too by someone on the other side of politics, who is himself committed to a radically leftist anti-racism.

I'm referring to a radical activist by the name of Pete Spina. In an article published in March 2006 he establishes his leftist credentials as follows:

I am white (3rd generation Irish and Italian American) and am an active anti-fascist and anti-racist. I am an anarchist.

Spina complains that he is increasingly hearing from fellow radicals the idea that "the color of racism is white" - that racism is peculiar to a white identity and to the maintenance of white privilege.

He criticises the logic of this view. First, it means that racism isn't connected so much to "unequal or oppressive social dynamics" as this would mean that non-whites could also be racist. Since non-whites (supposedly) can't be racist, then unequal social dynamics can't be the defining cause of racism. Instead, the existence of "whiteness" has to be.

Spina then observes:

A contradiction arises: anti-racists confront racists and racism with the ultimate intent of ending racism. If racism is determined by whites, then the only solution to racism is a solution to whiteness. [my emphasis]

For Spina, this is a dangerous idea as there are those who hold to what he calls an "extrinsic view" of race who might target whites violently:

the Extrinsic argument says that whiteness is both a social and a biological construct, not simply a social one, therefore any solution to whiteness would have to include a biological "solution" to retain consistency in the Intrinsic view ... a scary thought that ranges from genocide to eugenics or forced/voluntary sterilization.

Spina even recognises the psychologically unhealthy effect that these kind of ideas have on the Western political class:

If there is no solution to racism other than self-destruction, then self-destruction (or self-righteousness) is all that is necessary. It creates a syndrome of disempowering, self-deprecating white guilt.

... the mindset that racism is due to whiteness alone allows white radicals to play the victim for a time. The new burden of the white radical becomes that of struggling bravely to overcome the oppressive force of white privilege within oneself in a way that dramatizes one's role as victim ...

The fetishization of victimhood, so ingrained in the political fabric of the oldline, and liberal left, has found a clever new way of working itself back into the collective unconsciousness of white radicals.

If Pete Spina can see this as a radical, then we should have some confidence that others too will recognise the defects (logical and moral) of whiteness studies.