Monday, April 28, 2008

Baillieu's negative identity

We recently had a debate here in Victoria on a "Relationships Bill" which permits same sex couples to officially register their partnerships. The leader of the Liberal Party opposition, Ted Baillieu, spoke in favour of the bill. What he said has a wider significance:

For me, this bill is about respect. We are a nation and a state of different people. Indeed, our diversity is at the heart of our collective identity - different people, different views, different lifestyles.

If you read this casually you might skim by the truly radical element of what Baillieu is saying. Baillieu has no problem using the term "collective identity", but consider carefully what he means by this concept. It is not a "positive" identity, in the sense that it represents a set of positive characteristics shared by a community of people. Instead, it is a negative identity, in which people identify with the absence of shared characteristics.

Baillieu has come very close to jettisoning a collective identity. All that he has retained is a very limited negative collective identity. It's little more than the bare bones of a communal identity.

What are we to make of this? On the one hand, I think he is representing the liberal position honestly. There are Liberal Party leaders who claim that you can have mass, diverse immigration over many generations and still retain the strength of the older collective identity. It doesn't seem to me to be a likely outcome.

There are problems, though, in giving up on a collective identity. There are practical concerns like a lack of social cohesion; a decline in altruism; and a weakening motivation to defend the society you live in.

More importantly, there is a loss of the communal setting for people's lives. We gain much as individuals from a strong collective identity in which we enjoy a sense of shared history, of a common culture, of closely understood manners and mores, of a widely shared calendar of festivals and celebrations, of a distinct tradition linking generations to each other, and of art and architecture expressing the character of our own community.

Baillieu's position might be more candid than that of other Liberal Party leaders but it is also profoundly deracinated: it represents the mindset of the rootless, modernist individual who has become disconnected from his own communal tradition.


  1. The following paragraph,

    "There are problems, though, in giving up on a collective identity. There are practical concerns like a lack of social cohesion; a decline in altruism; and a weakening motivation to defend the society you live in."

    recalls "Bowling Alone : The Collapse and Revival of American Community" by Robert D. Putnam.

    As you may be aware, the book and its implications have been much discussed on the net by conservatives.

    To borrow from Patrick Buchanan:
    The greater the diversity the greater the distrust, says Putnam. In racially and ethnically mixed communities, not only do people not trust strangers, they do not even trust their own kind. They withdraw into themselves, they support community activity less, they vote less.

    "People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to 'hunker down,' that is, to pull in like a turtle," writes Putnam.

    They tend to "withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more but have less faith they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television."

    John Lloyd wrote in The Financial Times, in the fall of 2006,
    concerning Putnam's research:
    "His research shows that the more diverse a community is, the less likely its inhabitants are to trust anyone – from their next-door neighbour to the mayor. … 'In the presence of diversity, we hunker down,' he said. 'We act like turtles. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it's not just that we don't trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don't trust people who do look like us.'" [Study paints bleak picture of ethnic diversity October 8, 2006]

    And from Steve Sailer, quoting Putnam:

    "… in terms of the effect on neighbourly trust, the difference between living in an area as homogeneous as Bismarck, North Dakota, and one as diverse as Los Angeles is roughly as great as the difference between an area with a poverty rate of 7 percent and one with a poverty rate of 23 percent, or between an area with 36 percent college graduates and one with none."

    And that's not all:

    "However, a wide array of other measures of social capital and civic engagement are also negatively correlated with ethnic diversity. In areas of greater diversity, our respondents demonstrate:

    "Lower confidence in local government, local leaders and the local news media.

    "Lower political efficacy – that is, confidence in their own influence.

    "Lower frequency of registering to vote, but more interest and knowledge about politics and more participation in protest marches and social reform groups.

    "Less expectation that others will cooperate to solve dilemmas of collective action (e.g., voluntary conservation to ease a water or energy shortage).

    "Less likelihood of working on a community project.

    "Lower likelihood of giving to charity or volunteering.

    "Fewer close friends and confidants.

    "Less happiness and lower perceived quality of life.

    "More time spent watching television and more agreement that 'television is my most important form of entertainment.'



    Likely a google search would yield far more corroborating evidence that
    rather than "Diversity is our strength",
    diversity, analysed empirically, proves to be our greatest weakness.

  2. Truncated URLs remedied:

  3. Swan song, the Putnam research is certainly relevant here; if Baillieu wants "diversity" to be "at the heart of our collective identity" then he had better expect a hunkered down society.

  4. Diversity exists whether you like it or not, even within a community of the same ethnicity. In Australia it has existed from the beginning. The Aboriginal communities that existed prior to white settlement were 'diverse' with respect to each other. The first white settlers, Irish and English, would not have necessarily seen themselves as some united, homogenous community.
    I do agree, however, with the problem of some collective identity being defined solely by negatives. It is an example of ill-conceived liberalism.

  5. thr,

    What you say is true, but there still needs to be a cultural norm.

    From that norm, people will deviate in different amounts and different areas (that is the diversity) but they still accept the norm as being just that.

    I'm not sure why we bother having two main parties anymore, they are becoming more like each other all the time, a professional political class.

  6. THR, it's true that even in ethnically homogeneous states there will still be diversity of a sort, such as regional cultures, or differences between urban and rurual lifestyles.

    However, this is not what forms the collective identity. The collective identity is based on what people have in common, whether it is ancestry, language, history, religion, culture and so on.

  7. How can you stand trauling through this muck, Mark?

    I have only skimmed this post and the Deveny post above and I swear my braincells are dying off at a great rate of knots as I read the utter rubbish these people go on with.

    How do you remain so calm???

    I cannot bear to see people abusing their reason *so* badly.

  8. Hmmmmm. Must be time for hubby and me to start thinking about having #6.

  9. (Which last remark was meant for the Deveny post!)

  10. The remark about "decline in altruism" stands out especially. It reflects very well the subtle nature of erosive social changes that are so difficult to pinpoint, that evoke a "Yes, that's it!" once someone brings them to your attention.

    I suspect a great catalogue of these will mount before the general population(s) begin to see that the integration of different peoples, whether by 'natural' or 'market' forces or by governmental fiat, is subject to insuperable and ancient limitations.

  11. How do you remain so calm???

    There doesn't seem to be much point in getting angry.

    The task of salvaging something is a long-term one - you have to settle in for the long haul and live as well as you can whilst you work to turn things around.

    Also, it helps sometimes to read articles like Deveny's in a detached, analytical way, as this makes it easier to understand how they fit into a leftist politics.

    It's typical for liberal moderns to present their political positions to the public as being based on a natural morality: we must do X because X represents justice, equality, freedom etc. They do this as it leaves no place for argument - to oppose X means setting yourself against justice, equality, freedom etc.

    We have to calmly and clearly show what has been left unsaid: that X is based not on natural morality but on a specific political theory with arguable first principles. If these first principles are untrue then X too loses its justification.

  12. Lyl, you have five already? The antinatalists wouldn't approve, but it's a great achievement, especially in these times.

  13. Dear All,

    I've been away for a while - still haven't gotten use to that idiot PM of ours who is more interested in his relationship with China than our own cultural heritage, and getting more and more depressed about the state of the Liberal Party (State and Federal).

    I've been a traditionalist member of the LP for about a decade and I just find myself being alienated further and further by the policies it has adopted.

    I know Howard was a right-liberal, but he was so much more attractive to a traditionalist than Brendan oh-I'm-off-to-the-2020-summitt-and-will-coopt-every-prgressive-idea-while-giving-it-token-pposition-at-best Nelson, or even Tony I-believe-in-the-family-unit-no-I-don't Abbott.

    What a disappointment. I’ve never been so politically depressed. I’ve also never felt to politically betrayed.

  14. ... that was meant to read: "I've never felt so politically betrayed."

    PS: It looks like I'm well on the way to being one of these angry minor party voters... I haven't decided whether it's CDP, Family First, or even the local One Nation candidate.

    Nobody else seems to be listening, so what the hell...

  15. The antinatalists wouldn't approve

    No, they hate it!


    Kilroy, join the DLP, then stand for election yourself! That way, you know you'll be able to vote[1] with integrity!

  16. Kilroy, I feel your pain.

    I, too am looking for a political party.

    Lyl, we are also looking at whether we go for a 6th. Do you think the DLP is a good party for a traditionalist conservative? They don't get much of a run up here (although my Right to Life newsletter seems pleased enough with them).