Thursday, July 24, 2008

Living the modern dream?

Tracey Emin would seem to be living the dream life, at least as it's defined in modern society. She is a British modernist artist (of part Turkish Cypriot descent) who has money, fame, a successful career and independence.

But she's been "depressed for months pondering her life". She is finding it difficult to come to terms with her childlessness:

The future is freaking her out and even the present she's finding hard to cope with. She always thought the brilliant thing about not having kids “is that you can do what the f*** you like, but I don't want to do what the f*** I like. I can do anything. I can travel around the world, I can stay up all night drinking, I don't have to answer to anyone. But I don't want to be like that anyway.” ... sometimes I question the whole big scheme of things. How does it all work? What's it all for? If I was a grandmother I'd have this other kind of arc where things go but I don't have an arc. The only thing I have is me.”


Emin's disenchantment is expressed in some of her artworks:

This is what she meant in her photographic self-portrait, I've Got it All, which shows Emin giving birth to a pile of banknotes: “I was saying I haven't actually got anything, that's it. There's no other level of fecundity that's coming out of me except this material one. The raw stuff, the thing that propels people through life, that's not happening to me.”


So maximising individual autonomy through money, career status, independence and casual relationships hasn't brought Emin to a condition of liberty or emancipation. She feels instead cut off from significant, fulfilling aspects of life.

Nor has the pursuit of autonomy created a "self-determining" character type. Instead, Emin tends to be passive and naive when pondering her fate - as if her situation is something that has simply happened to her and over which she had no control. For instance, we read:

She's been ... pondering her life, the "children thing", she tells me again and again. It's getting to her. Where are they? Why doesn't she have any? Will she ever?


It doesn't seem to be all that difficult to explain why she has no children: abortions in her twenties, shacking up with unsuitable men, and deliberately leaving motherhood to an advanced age.

I don't think Emin is alone in refusing to consider the reasons for things. It seems to be a characteristic of Western modernity. Perhaps it's because the Western orthodoxy doesn't like to recognise a given human nature, believing the existence of such a nature to be an impediment to autonomy. This, though, means that it's difficult to consider, and to grow knowledgeable about, the role of this nature in human affairs.

Similarly, if your focus is on autonomy - on the idea that we should be unimpeded in choosing according to our own will - then it becomes difficult to ask things of other people. On what basis can we expect others to act for our own benefit? So we can only hope or assume that they will. There is no principled basis for expecting that someone will act in a certain way toward us.

Consider too that autonomy is maximised by making everything as "open" as possible, so that our options are made to seem unlimited. To suggest that some things might not work out as well as others is therefore, in modernist terms, to set limits and to be judgemental. The scope for judgement becomes more limited.

Perhaps there are other factors in play as well. Regardless, it does seem to be true that modernity has not fostered a confidently "self-determining" character type.

39 comments:

  1. "Perhaps there are other factors in play as well."

    Yeah, like maybe this person is a typical whiney, self-pitying "suffering," angry, self indulgent, self centered "artist." It seems to me that persons of Ms. Emin's ilk will find something to complain about no matter what their life situation. In her case, if she had kids, she would no doubt create some repulive and hideous "art," ostensibly about them, but really all about her "pain," featuring bloody vaginas, afterbirth and so on, or, showing the children as a sort of cancer eating away at her from the inside like ravenous parasites. Similarly, if she were married, her "art" would no doubt depict her husband as some kind of swastika-wearing Nazi throwing her into a gas chamber, or some equally overblown, self-valorizing nonsense.

    "Regardless, it does seem to be true that modernity has not fostered a confidently 'self-determining' character type."

    Perhaps modernity has in fact fostered many confident, self-defining persons, but you are not looking for them in the right places. Here's a hint: articles about middle-aged women who regret not having children (which you seem to have a particular fondness for) are unlikely to direct you to them.

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  2. Ruddy, you've missed the point. Emin has achieved a lifestyle that is supposed to, under the terms of autonomy theory, be the ideal. She has been able to choose to do anything she wants; she has money and independence; she has career status and success; she has had unfixed, uncommitted, non-binding, non-limiting relationships with men. But she's telling us clearly that having this kind of "freedom" only leaves her with her own self, unconnected to the more significant aspects of life.

    Second, Emin is not alone in preferring to think that things just happen to people and in refusing to think seriously about what it is that people are really likely to want and need in life and how it is that people might realistically get there.

    "What can you do?" is a common refrain you hear or "I suppose that was how it was meant to be" or "Well maybe she/he is happy that way" or, if the outcome is undeniably grim, you might just get embarrassed silence or a shrug of the shoulders.

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  3. I guess the point, as I see it, is that you can always find people who are dissatisfied with their lives, despite having made all the choices themselves. And this is also true of people living "ideal" traditional life styles, not only those leading what you call the "ideal" lifestyle of autonomy theory. For example, there are plenty of middle-aged married men, with children, who are the primary wage earners, living in a single family houses in the suburbs, etc., etc., who are bitterly unhappy with their lives and the choices they have made.

    But, does the existence of such men prove that traditionalism "has not fostered a confidently 'self-determining' character type?" And, why doesn't the existence of people who are leading what you call the ideal lifestyle of autonomy theory and are quite happy, show that modernity HAS fostered confidently self-determining character types? There really are any number of such people, you know, but, as I said, you are unlikely to find them in articles about childless middle-aged women who regret not having kids.

    As for this particular person herself, I stand by what I wrote. However she was living, in whatever kind of society (modern, traditional, whatever), and whether her lifestyle was the result of her own choices or had been dictated to her, I believe she would be the same self-centered, "artistic," self-important, whiney, "victim," who thought the whole world revolved around her and her alleged "pain." Some people are just like that, and it's probably not a good idea to build a general theory of society based on them.

    Finally, about fatalism, I don't think people living what you call the ideal lifestyle of autonomy theory have any monopoly on that trait. Take the unhappy man living the traditional lifestyle I mentioned earlier. Isn't he just as likely as anyone else to deny responsibility for his own plight and chalk it up to fate or destiny? In fact, it seems to me that people who self-consciously choose to live "autonomy theory" lifestyles are more, not less, likely to take responsibility for their choices. Traditional lifestyles are still the "default" option, and many people who are unhappily married, or otherwise unhappy with their traditional lives, are apt to say things like, "We got married because that's what everybody does," or "I got a soul-destroying but well-paying corporate job because that's what all the men in my family did," or similar such things.

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  4. "On what basis can we expect others to act for our own benefit? So we can only hope or assume that they will."

    The question of expectations we may have of our fellow man in this progressive modern world is of great concern. I think we have given up our expectations for the better due to the frenetic and disjointed nature of post-modern Western life. A new residence in a new region, new job or even career, new partner, changing leisure pursuits, these are so intense and pervasive nowadays that they contribute enormously to the view we have of our neighbors and others who are likely going through the same movements. But how many see these things as negative or destructive? Or is a majority simply indifferent?

    Perhaps one reason so many maintain their belief in traditionalist principles, in spite of the impossibility of "going back", is their sense that modern liberalism cannot sustain viable populations of happy and productive fellow citizens. At least not in its current and worsening permutation.

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  5. why doesn't the existence of people who are leading what you call the ideal lifestyle of autonomy theory and are quite happy, show that modernity HAS fostered confidently self-determining character types

    See, this is an important area of disagreement. I don't believe that an autonomous lifestyle actually is likely to lead to a sense of fulfilment in life.

    That's why Tracey Emin is such a good example of what I'm arguing. She has all the trappings of what modernist liberalism tells us we should aim at: career, money, status and independence. If this doesn't work for her, then how is modernism meant to work for women caught in less glamorous circumstances - those who wind up living with their cats in little apartments working in mundane office jobs.

    Some things in life are predictable: that we are likely to be more fulfilled when our natures as men and women are fully employed in building a family and serving a community and tradition we feel closely connected to.

    To be an atomised individual living for ourselves alone is likely to be, in the long run, demoralising and alienating.

    True, that doesn't rule out unhappiness in marriage. It does suggest, though, that it's best for a society to aim at strong marriages and a successful culture of family life - one in which family formation is not hindered or excessively delayed as it has been in recent times in the West.

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  6. "I don't believe that an autonomous lifestyle actually is likely to lead to a sense of fulfilment in life."

    Your "beliefs" don't really enter into it. The fact is that there ARE many people living an "autonomous lifestyle" who feel they are living a fulfilling life.

    Even if there is data to suggest that people living a traditional lifestyle are more likely to feel fulfilled than those living an untraditional one (and I haven't actually seen you present any), that still wouldn't mean that living a traditional lifestyle would make those people who have chosen to live an autonomous lifestyle feel more fulfilled.

    "That's why Tracey Emin is such a good example. . ."

    I'll just repeat what I already said: she's not a good example, because she's a whiney, self-centered, professional "victim," who would probably feel unfulfilled no matter what lifestyle she was living.

    In any event, argument by anecdote is not persuasive. She's one unhappy person living the autonomy lifestyle. There are people living the same lifestyle who are happy. So, how does your cherry-picked anecdote prove anything? Again, people happy in their non-traditional lifestyles are unlikely to be encountered in articles about childless, middle-aged women who regret not having kids. But that doesn't mean they don't exist.

    "Some things in life are predictable: that we are likely to be more fulfilled when our natures as men and women are fully employed in building a family and serving a community and tradition we feel closely connected to."

    Who's "we?" Personally, I would feel trapped, like in a prison, leading that lifestyle. And there are many people who feel the same way. Why can't people choose the lifestyle that's right for them? Does everyone have to live a certain way because, on average, as a matter of statistics, most people find that way to be the most fulfilling one (assuming that's even true)? Why the "one size fits all" attitude?

    "If this doesn't work for her, then how is modernism meant to work for women caught in less glamorous circumstances - those who wind up living with their cats in little apartments working in mundane office jobs. . . that doesn't rule out unhappiness in marriage. It does suggest, though, that it's best for a society to aim at strong marriages and a successful culture of family life -one in which family formation is not hindered or excessively delayed as it has been in recent times in the West."

    Some people would be unhappy living alone in a little apartment, other people would be unhappy if married. That's why people should be free to choose for themselves.

    I agree with you that many people do feel more fulfilled living a traditional lifestyle. And, as I've stated on other threads, I also believe that feminism does a disservice to young women when it tries to convince them either that marriage and motherhood will be "oppressive" to them, or that they can put off marriage and motherhood for as long as they like, and still have them in the end anyway.

    But "modernism" or "liberalism" is not to blame for people who choose to live a particular lifestyle, but then end up regretting their choice. Modernism or liberalism doesn't prevent anyone from living a traditional lifestyle. It doesn't even require (despite your repetitive and unsupported claims to the contrary) that people value "autonomy" over everything else, and never enter into long-term relationships with anyone.

    Modernism and liberalism are about giving people choices, and some people will always be unhappy, given 20/20 hindsight, with their choices. But modernism and liberalism, unlike feminism, are not about lying to people about the facts so as to favor some choices over others.

    In any event, what's the alternative? Forcing people to live a traditional lifestyle whether they want to or not? Is that likely to increase overall fulfillment?

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  7. The fact is that there ARE many people living an "autonomous lifestyle" who feel they are living a fulfilling life.

    Cite?

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  8. ruddyturnstone wrote:
    "Modernism or liberalism doesn't prevent anyone from living a traditional lifestyle."

    But they do. How about a tax structure that has become increasingly aggressive over the decades, penalizing moderate earners and rewarding those who have come to rely on the state? This never-ending empowerment of the state and its dependent voter class is typical modern liberalism.

    In America the liberal paradigm is dominant and this includes many who fancy themselves "conservative". It is difficult for traditionalism to survive let alone flourish beyond a small core when almost all public institutions are suffused with modern liberalism. Not all aspects of liberal thought are "bad", but where is the balance of ideas in the public square? Due to this hegemony it hardly exists.

    There is also the restrictive matter of population-level existence. For those who choose an autonomous lifestyle it matters little what type of community they live in since they are "autonomous". But for those who adhere to traditional values, including the belief that communities can and should prevail without enduring toxic levels of crime, drug abuse, juvenile delinquency, etc., it is more challenging to encounter or build, and protect, that way of life. Once upon a time it was the norm in many areas.

    Only a modern liberal could fail to see that social trends over the last 40 years have brought much painful disintegration and distress in addition to increased "freedoms" and all the glitter of technology and prosperity.

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  9. Ruddy, I think you're mistaken on three grounds.

    First, you're asserting the liberal belief that 'all desires are equal'.

    It's damaging to make this claim. It's simply not true that a person is just as likely to be happy living for themselves, cut off from a family or a community they feel connected to. For nearly everyone this is likely to be false, and so it's better to warn, as Tracey Emin does, that it's not a desirable outcome.

    There are countless thousands of Westerners who have been made miserable because the culture of individual autonomy, which worked OK in their late teens and early 20s, was taken to be a social ideal and so was extended into the late 20s and 30s.

    It would have been better if society had been more positivley oriented toward an ideal of family formation, rather than pretending to be "neutral" whilst at the same time promoting the single girl/boy autonomous lifestyle.

    Your liberalism didn't work in practice. Look at the low fertility rate, particularly acute amongst the uni educated middle classes. Look at the women pushing themselves through IVF. Look at the numbers of women still single at age 35. Look at the resentments between men and women. Look at the coarsening in the culture of dating and relationships.

    Which leads on to the second problem: a liberal society isn't, in practice, neutral as you claim it to be.

    A liberal society takes autonomy to be the highest good, and therefore sets out to remove impediments to individual autonomy. Whatever is inherited as part of our biology or as part of a tradition has to be made not to matter.

    And so the reality is that a liberal society sets out to overthrow the influence of gender, of ethnicity, and of traditional morality amongst other things.

    A liberal society is inevitably transgressive. It is not the person upholding a worthwhile standard who is praised in a liberal society, but the one who breaks it. It will be thought heroic to break down a "restriction" on human activity.

    Which brings me to a comment of yours which will have amazed traditionalist readers. You wrote:

    "Modernism or liberalism doesn't prevent anyone from living a traditional lifestyle."

    Ruddy, a traditional lifestyle is not as individualistic as a liberal one. It's not just about chasing money or sex, or pursuing a career, or going to the shops.

    A traditional lifestyle requires a social setting.

    It's also difficult to pursue a traditional lifestyle in a society which is so determined to make gender, ethnicity and traditional morality not matter.

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  10. Me:

    "The fact is that there ARE many people living an 'autonoomous lifestyle' who feel they are living a fulfilling life."

    jaz:

    "Cite?"

    I find it amazing that you would even ask for this. Do you honestly think that no or very few childless adults, or single adults, or gay and lesbian adults, think they lead fulfilling lives?

    Well, here's study that shows that childless women are actually happier than women with children:


    http://www.halfsigma.com/2006/08/childfree_women.html

    Over 93% of the childless women surveyed described themselves as "pretty" or "very" happy, a higher percentage than any of the mother groups.

    The study also shows that 85.7 per cent of women who had never been married described themselves as "pretty" or "very" happy. The study does shows that even greater percentages of married women described themselves as happy, but that doesn't change the fact that many, many single women (the overwhelming majority, in fact) also saw themselves as such.

    As a side note, the study also shows that wealth and income also correlates with happiness. Another simple truth that seems to escape some conservative thinkers.

    Here's another survey that shows that, for women in their 50's, the childless and the mothers were equally likely to be happy:

    http://news.ufl.edu/2007/05/07/motherhood/

    Here's another poll, in Japan, showing that three quarters of single women and two thirds of single men were happy:

    http://archive.japantoday.com/jp/news/329052

    While most polls show that more married people are happy than single peole, they also that very many single are happy:

    http://www.impactlab.com/2007/01/12/poll-marriage-money-happiness/

    (67% of married people happy, 43% of single people happy)

    And, here's a poll showing that single men in Ireland are happier than married men:

    http://archives.tcm.ie/irishexaminer/2006/01/12/story633040110.asp

    I can't find any polls about gays and lesbians, but I am going to hazard a guess and say that many of them are happy too.

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  11. "Ruddy, I think you're mistaken on three grounds."

    OK, let's walk it through.

    "First, you're asserting the liberal belief that 'all desires are equal'. It's damaging to make this claim. It's simply not true that a person is just as likely to be happy living for themselves, cut off from a family or a community they feel connected to."

    I am not asserting that all desires are "equal," if what you mean by that is that every particular lifestyle you can concieve of is equally likely to make the same number of people happy if it was imposed on everyone. The only think that should be "equal" is the respect given to each person's view. It's called democracy.

    "For nearly everyone this is likely to be false. . ."

    How can you say this? See the data in my last post. Many single men and women are happy. Men childless men and women are happy. It is simply not true that one must live the traditional lifestyle (married with children) to achieve happiness and fulfillment. As for the bit about being "cut off from a family or community. . ," that's a strawman. Many people living untraditional lifestyles nevertheless have strong ties with their families, and/or with a community (traditional or unconventional).

    ". . .and so it's better to warn, as Tracey Emin does, that it's not a desirable outcome."

    What's not a desirable outcome? Being childless? Many, many, people are childless and happy. Do you dispute this? Being single? Many, many people are single and happy. Do you dispute that? Being a crackpot, crybaby, bitter "artist" who makes a living out of playing the "victim"? That, I agree, is not a desirable outcome.

    "There are countless thousands of Westerners who have been made miserable because the culture of individual autonomy, which worked OK in their late teens and early 20s, was taken to be a social ideal and so was extended into the late 20s and 30s."

    There are also "countless thousands" of Westerners who are happy, single and childfree, including many who middle aged. And, there are "countless thousands" of Westerners who are married, have kids, and are miserable, because the "traditional culture" they bought into has not worked out for them. What's the point of your statement here?

    "It would have been better if society had been more positivley oriented toward an ideal of family formation, rather than pretending to be 'neutral' whilst at the same time promoting the single girl/boy autonomous lifestyle."

    Better for who? For those who made a choice to stay single and lived to regret it? OK. But how about those who chose to get married and now regret it? And how about those who chose to stay single and don't regret it? Would it "better" for them.

    As for pushing the single lifestyle, I agree that this is what the feminists do, and to some extent, their dogmas are subsidized and repeated by Western governments. I don't agree with that and wish it would stop.

    On the other hand, many, if not most, Western societies also subsidize parenthood, with tax breaks and/or outright payments, and with "free" education, health care, child care, recreational, and other services for children.

    "Your liberalism didn't work in practice. Look at the low fertility rate, particularly acute amongst the uni educated middle classes."

    And why is that a problem? People shouldn't have kids if they don't want them.

    "Look at the women pushing themselves through IVF. Look at the numbers of women still single at age 35. Look at the resentments between men and women. Look at the coarsening in the culture of dating and relationships."

    Again, I agree with you that the feminists have a lot to answer for in their lies about marriage to young women, namely, (1) that it is an institution that "oppresses" women, and (2) that a woman can "choose" to be a wife and mother any time she wants to, no matter how old she is. And, they also have a lot to anser for about their BS "patriarchy" idealogy, which sets men and women against each other in an unending war.

    But, as a liberal, I don't feel that I have to answer for what the feminists have done. I think that women should be told the truth, by the government, in the university, and so on. And that the crazy idealogy of the feminists should not be subsidized or parroted by the government.

    I have tried to explain to you on previous threads what I take to be the salient differences between liberalism and feminism, but you haven't responded. I would be happy to have that discussion with you now, if you like.

    "Which leads on to the second problem: a liberal society isn't, in practice, neutral as you claim it to be. A liberal society takes autonomy to be the highest good. . ."

    No it doesn't. Again, I've argued on previous threads that liberalism does not build a shrine to "autonomy," and thinks everything else should be sacrificed to it. Liberalism is about "liberty," about "freedom." And part of being a free person is having the capacity to make committments. Again, a person does not have liberty, or, if you must, "autonomy," if he or she is prohibitted from making meaningful committments. Quite the contrary.

    Once again, you have refused to discuss the matter with me. Instead, you just repeat your strawman description of liberalism, and then have fun knocking it down.

    "Whatever is inherited as part of our biology or as part of a tradition has to be made not to matter."

    No, only biology and tradition are not treated as destiny. A person is free to live a traditional lifestyle, complete with highly differentiated gender roles, if he or she wants to. And, in fact, many people live in exactly that way in Western society. But, those who don't, are given the choice (autonomy, liberty, freedom) to live differently.

    "And so the reality is that a liberal society sets out to overthrow the influence of gender, of ethnicity, and of traditional morality amongst other things."

    No, the reality is that liberalism does not privilege tradtional gender roles, or ethnicity, or traditional morality. It is neutral to them. If their influence has waned, it is because free men and women have rejected them, in whole or in part.

    "A liberal society is inevitably transgressive. It is not the person upholding a worthwhile standard who is praised in a liberal society, but the one who breaks it. It will be thought heroic to break down a 'restriction' on human activity."

    No, it's just that many, if not most, people have a different idea as to what constitutes a "worthwhile standard" than you do. Nor does liberal society uniformly praise the breaking of all restrictions, only those it finds unjustified. I don't see liberal society saying that rape or slavery is good, and that the "restrictions" on these human activities should be removed.

    "Which brings me to a comment of yours which will have amazed traditionalist readers. You wrote:

    'Modernism or liberalism doesn't prevent anyone from living a traditional lifestyle.'

    Yes, I wrote it and I stand by it, even if it "amazes" some.

    ". . .a traditional lifestyle is not as individualistic as a liberal one. It's not just about chasing money or sex, or pursuing a career, or going to the shops.

    A traditional lifestyle requires a social setting."

    So, the traditional lifestyle is some kind of hothouse flower. It can't stand up to competition from other lifestyles, freely chosen. No, it can only exist if the government puts it thumbs on the scales, and blocks out competing views. Is that what you're saying?

    I think you sell your chosen lifestyle short. Here in the US, we have Amish and Mennonites, we have Hasidic and Orthodox Jews, we have Mormons, we have conservative Catholics, we have strict, fundamentalist Christians, and so on and so forth, all flourishing, all living traditional lifestyles right in the heart of our liberal society.

    "It's also difficult to pursue a traditional lifestyle in a society which is so determined to make gender, ethnicity and traditional morality not matter."

    I don't think our society is determinied to do this. But, in any event, what's so hard? You want to live a traditional lifestyle? Go right ahead. Find a like minded women, get married and have kids. Join a conservative church that has lots of activities and by itself comprises a community. Home school the kids, or send them to schools that share your viewpoints. Don't have TV in the house, or monitor it closely. Same with the Internet, radio and other media. That's what traditionalists in the US do, and it seems to work for them.

    The only thing it can't do is guarantee for you that your wife won't change her views, or your children won't form views, in ways that you don't like.

    That's what it means to live in a liberal society. Your traditional lifestyle is not outlawed, it's not even discouraged. It's just not made mandatory for those who don't want it.

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  12. leadpb:

    "ruddyturnstone wrote:

    'Modernism or liberalism doesn't prevent anyone from living a traditional lifestyle.'

    "But they do. How about a tax structure that has become increasingly aggressive over the decades, penalizing moderate earners and rewarding those who have come to rely on the state? This never-ending empowerment of the state and its dependent voter class is typical modern liberalism."

    In most Western societies, tax and expenditure policies actually favor the traditional, married with children lifestyle. Married couples are give tax breaks for having children, and/or they are given straight subsidy payments for them. In addition, health care, day care/nursery school, education, recreation and other costs associated with children are now paid for by the government. In addtion, the government forces businesses (in other words, consumers), and childless workers, to subsidize parents through policies like maternity and paternity leave.

    "It is difficult for traditionalism to survive let alone flourish beyond a small core when almost all public institutions are suffused with modern liberalism."

    Another "hothouse flower" theory of traditionalism. As I mentioned to Mark Richardson, traditionalism does seem to be flourishing in the US.

    "Not all aspects of liberal thought are 'bad,' but where is the balance of ideas in the public square? Due to this hegemony it hardly exists."

    Again, from the US perspective, this is almost laughable. We have one major political party (the Republicans), that trumpets its support of "traditional family values," (and opposes homosexuality, abortion, and so on) at every turn, and another (the Democrats), that is so fearful of the advocates of those values that it vacillates between trying to placate them and changing the subject altogether. We only have 2 major parties, and neither one of them is a strong advocate for non-traditional lifestyles. We also have unbridled worship here for one of the most traditional institutions in our society, the military. In addition, other traditional sectors, like the police, are also treated with almost abject reverence.

    "There is also the restrictive matter of population-level existence. . . for those who adhere to traditional values. . . it is more challenging to encounter or build, and protect, that way of life. Once upon a time it was the norm in many areas."

    In other words, more "hothouse flower" complaining. Please, Mr. Government, create a situation where no one can challenge our traditional views, because they can't stand on their own two feet.

    "Only a modern liberal could fail to see that social trends over the last 40 years have brought much painful disintegration and distress. . ."

    With freedom comes reponsbility. Liberalism frees men and women to choose, it doesn't guarantee that they will make good choices.

    But, assuminig you're right, and liberalism stinks, what's your solution? Throw the gays and lesbians back in the closet? Force women out of the workplace, and make them marry and have kids, whether they want to or not? Require the "Peter Pan" bachelors to get married and procreate as well, and get "real" jobs too? Mandatory church attendance? Forbid marriage across racial, or even ethnic lines, so that ethnicity will continue to be important?

    What actual programme do you have to replace liberalism with?

    ". . .in addition to increased 'freedoms' and all the glitter of technology and prosperity."

    Actually, I'm not sure that "liberalism" can take the credit for technology and prosperity, but, in any event, I prefer them to luddite-ism and poverty.

    As for freedom, there's no need to put in scare quotes--it's what liberalism is all about!

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  13. ruddy,

    You say, essentially, that liberalism in its "neutrality" does not promote or suppress *anything* meaningful or controversial in terms of social philosophy and social outcome. That liberalism is only the champion of freedom and individual liberties. This is simply not credible.

    But I think you are on to something when you say:

    "So, the traditional lifestyle is some kind of hothouse flower. It can't stand up to competition from other lifestyles, freely chosen."

    A good argument against certain liberal beliefs also acknowledges conservatism's responsibility for its current weaknesses. Just as a more traditional society was the seed bed (following your horticultural theme) of the liberal revolution in the 1960s, the newly forming liberal archetype will likely form the needed resistance for conservatism to make a comeback. It, too, will be freely chosen.

    And you follow this up with an open question about what might be proposed to take the place of the post-modern liberal ideology. Fair enough.

    What I propose is helping individuals realize the bill of goods they have been sold by virtually all mainstream political parties and by the misguided and *unquestioned* utopian ideals that permeate universities and media and society in general. Also key is to make them aware of the fact that we have all, from left to right, become morally and intellectually lazy as a group. If you look at older (pre-1965) magazines, books, even TV shows in the US, it is easy to see that a higher acumen and standard of decency was evident in the general population. What happened to it? Are we now the same sinners we were then, only with the hypocritical varnish removed?

    The changes that traditionalists bemoan losing and would like to see reincarnated somehow are mostly to do with government reducing its role in our lives, not increasing it. True conservatism, as I see it, is a set of principles and not an ideology, which automatically reduces broad appeal, therefore it must grow or fail by organic processes. And that is precisely what has happened. When larger numbers of citizens discover deeper meaning in life beyond materialism and hedonism we will see a return to more informed conservative modes of life. The family and all other manner of human ties are of paramount importance here and even strongly individualistic people understand this at heart if they are mature. This is a process of personal realization and does not derive from any appeal by groups waving banners.

    As to your synopsis of American political parties, I see the situation as exactly opposite. The Republicans, almost without exception right-liberals, have pandered to left demographics in the interest of getting the win. This behavior is scurrilous and the Democrats are no better. Not one major figure dares to take an unwavering traditionalist position on immigration, abortion, welfare or any other subject that could end up losing them votes. If you know of an American traditionalist elected politician I should like to know his or her name.

    Personally I am not put off by the abiding link between traditionalist beliefs and the Christian churches, thought I know it bothers many. This relationship is hardly surprising considering the importance of the Good Book in the development of the West. But in true autonomous spirit each of us in the non-repressed modern age should be able to discern valuable strands of conservative thought from this amalgam of religion and politics.

    Traditionalism is not about imposing social philosophy on anyone in a democratic republic. It is about waking people up to what is good that has been lost and what is to be gained from abandoning some of the failed views we have adopted.

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  14. Ruddy, first there is the issue of what is likely to fulfil our lives.

    This is not exactly the same as asking what makes us happy, but I note that in the survey you linked to married people reported a considerably higher rate of being very happy than those who weren't married.

    Even so, I don't think that such questionnaires really grasp the dynamic of the situation.

    It is natural for young people to grow up wanting to find a life partner to love and to be a mother or father to a child.

    If everything goes well for a young person, then these powerful, natural drives are likely to be acted on.

    But things can go wrong. Our drive toward love, relationships and parenthood can be shut down. Perhaps a child abandoned by a parent loses enough trust to love; or a young women who is exploited early in life will refuse to make herself emotionally vulnerable. Perhaps too there will be a fear of the burdens of adult responsibility. Another pitfall can be an unrealistically idealised view of relationships, which cannot be achieved in the real world.

    As you know, I also believe that a liberal culture of autonomy played a role in the 1990s in encouraging women to defer relationships until too late in life, habituating many men in the process to a bachelor life.

    So natural drives can be thwarted. Some people will react with anger and grief; others with a fatalistic resignation; some will prefer to view it as part of the intended course of their lives, not wanting to disrupt a purposeful life narrative; some will no doubt become contentedly habituated to a single, childless lifestyle.

    Still, in an objective sense, one important aspect of the fulfilment of a human life has been lost in the process. Love between a man and woman is not just an aspect of choice - it is something of inherent worth. A man who is not jaded, and who perceives the beauty and goodness in women and is inspired to a feeling of love, knows that he is participating in a greater aspect of existence.

    Surely that man should set himself the task of protecting the conditions in which that higher good can flourish - rather than pretending to be neutral.

    Similarly, our drive to become mothers and fathers involves a lot more than lifestyle choice. It is, objectively, a culmination of our long preparation to become men and women - it connects us deeply to our masculine and feminine identities. It expresses a love, too, of our own tradition, one which we wish to see successfully reproduced.

    Again, these are such important goods that someone who knows of them would not think it reasonable to be neutral toward them.

    This doesn't mean that we would wish to coerce those individuals who were actively hostile to such life aims to participate in them - I don't believe that any traditional Western society has forced individuals to love, or to marry or to become mothers and fathers.

    But it does mean that it is right to stand in defence of these goods, and to ensure that they are regarded highly in society, and that the conditions for these goods are kept optimal.

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  15. Ruddy, if you are looking more for the scientific side of things there's this:

    Lewis and Moon (1997) analyzed survey data from 39 women between the ages of 30-65 and found that even though single women enjoyed the freedom to follow their personal aspirations, many felt alone, unhappy, and depressed because of their decision not to marry or to have children.

    Then there is the following survey, which reports "ambivalence" in single women: levels of contentment mixed with feelings of grief and loss:

    The purpose of this phenomenological, multiple-case study was to investigate perceptions of being single among heterosexual single women between the ages of 30 and 65 ... although content with being single, many women simultaneously experience feelings of loss and grief.

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  16. Mark Richardson said:

    "Ruddy, first there is the issue of what is likely to fulfil our lives. . . This is not exactly the same as asking what makes us happy. . ."

    Well, I couldn't find any surveys about "fulfillment," so happiness is the best I could do.

    ". . .but I note that in the survey you linked to married people reported a considerably higher rate of being very happy than those who weren't married."

    Most surveys do show that married people were more likely to be happy. But they also show that many single, childless people are happy too. The original premise that I was responding to was that happy, single, childless people were some kind of rarity, so much so that I was challenged to prove otherwise.

    Another thing to consider is that all people are born single and childless, and that some people who are unhappy, and single and/or childless, may want to get married but have been unable to find a partner, or may want children but can't find a partner or are biologically unable to procreate. These people haven't "chosen" to be single and childfree, and they skew the happiness statistics of these groups downward.

    "Even so, I don't think that such questionnaires really grasp the dynamic of the situation."

    I'm not really sure where else to look. You point to a couple of other surveys, but does either one claim that there are not large numbers of happy (or "fulfilled") single, childless people? Not from the way you present them. Being single and childless is not right for everyone, it may only be right for a minority. So what?

    "It is natural. . ."

    All that follows is just a recaptitulation of what you believe it is "natural" for people to want, and what style of life is "natural" for them to lead. But, for many, many people, such things are not natural at all. It's not natural for gays and lesbians. And it's not the case that everyone who is hetero, but single and childless, is the product of some trauma or fear other misfortune. Not everyone is the same, Mr. Richardson, for example, some of us single, hetero men don't find there to be any particular "goodness" in women. In my experience, which is no more "jaded" than average, women are no better or worse than men.

    What you claim to be "natural" is instead the merely product of long-held cutural beliefs. The early Christians, for example, did not think women were inherently "good," nor did the classical Greeks or Romans. What's "natural" (for almost everyone) is to have some kind of sex drive. It''s also "natural" for women and, to a lesser extent, men, to want to protect their children. All the rest of it, monogamy, marriage, courtly love, the idealization of women as the embodiment of "good," and so on, is cultural, not natural. That doesn't mean that all of these things are necessarily "bad" or "wrong," but we are not in a position to even begin to judge that until we remove the false cloud of "nature" from them.

    "Surely that man should set himself the task of protecting the conditions in which that higher good can flourish - rather than pretending to be neutral."

    Assuming the married with children lifestyle that you idealize is the "higher good," the conditions for it to flourish are already in place. As I said, find a like minded women, get married, you do the wage and yard work, she does the house and child care work, join a church, home school the kids, etc., etc. That's what people who want to live traditionalist lives do in the US.

    "This doesn't mean that we would wish to coerce those individuals who were actively hostile to such life aims to participate in them. . ."

    That's good to know.

    ". . .But it does mean that it is right to stand in defence of these goods, and to ensure that they are regarded highly in society. . ."

    How are you going to "ensure they are regarded highly in society" without coercion? What if most people in society don't choose your preferred "goods," or if they think that they should be a matter of personal choice?

    As I asked the other poster, what actual programme are you proposing?

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  17. Ruddy,

    I partly agree with you when it comes to the issue of women and goodness. I believe that the West took a particularly wrong turn in the nineteenth century, when men handballed the guardianship of moral standards to women.

    However, I was really trying to get at something else. It is part of the heterosexual instinct of young men to perceive, and to feel love for, the potential for beauty and a particular kind of feminine goodness in women. This beauty and goodness are imperfectly realised in individual women, though some women do display such qualities of womanhood to an impressive degree (the "lovelier" kinds of women).

    I expect that you are jaded - and I don't say that as an insult. The current generation of men have been hit so hard for so long by demoralising influences that I expect most of us have been affected.

    It's another example of how neutrality doesn't work. For certain goods to be publicly available, the conditions for their flourishing have to be maintained and defended.

    Look at popular music. Up until about the 1990s, it was dominated by the love ballad. Since then the love ballad has died away and become a rarity. The culture has shifted, and relations between men and women in popular music are now described in coarser terms.

    If we live in a public culture, then we are all affected by this shift. You seem to think that traditionalists can happily opt out of a public culture and retreat into a privately constructed one.

    Perhaps this is the last option availabe for traditionalists - but it's not a reasonable one to expect traditionalists to take.

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  18. leadpb:

    "ruddy. . .You say. . .liberalism is only the champion of freedom and individual liberties. This is simply not credible."

    Not credible? That is the textbook definition of liberalism.

    "What I propose is helping individuals realize the bill of goods they have been sold. . ."

    Well, no one can argue with the method you propose. Continue to use your right to free expression to try to convince others that they should share your traditionalist views. Liberalism is not stopping you from doing so.

    "The changes that traditionalists bemoan losing and would like to see reincarnated somehow are mostly to do with government reducing its role in our lives, not increasing it."

    Really? Here in the US the traditionalists seem determined to have the government emobody their values and force them on others. Homosexuality should be outlawed. Sexually explicit media should be suppressed. Contraception and abortion should be made hard to get. Public schools should teach "intelligent design" and other religous doctrines, and have prayer sessions.

    "True conservatism, as I see it, is a set of principles and not an ideology .. ."

    I agree that this is the case for "true conservatism," but not traditionalism. Conservatism is about taking things slowly, about having respect for established institutions and thinking twice about changing them, because there are probably good reasons for them to exist as they do. Traditionalism, as it appears to me, seems to be more of an idealogy, with a definite agenda. Indivdual freedom, ie liberalism, is to be rolled back, so that a restoration of an idealized past (the 1950's, the 19th century, or even earlier) can be realized.

    "As to your synopsis of American political parties, I see the situation as exactly opposite. The Republicans, almost without exception right-liberals, have pandered to left demographics in the interest of getting the win. This behavior is scurrilous and the Democrats are no better. Not one major figure dares to take an unwavering traditionalist position on immigration, abortion, welfare or any other subject that could end up losing them votes. If you know of an American traditionalist elected politician I should like to know his or her name."

    George W. Bush. Born again Christian. Believer in pre-marital sexual abstinence. Against homosexuality. And so on.

    As for US politics as a whole, welfare is virtually non-existent, and neither party has any designs on changing that. Abortion is effectively illegal in many US states, some have only one operating clinic, and that one is constantly harassed and bombarded with legal efforts to close it down, thinly disguised as "regulatory" efforts. The Republicans use the bugaboo of homosexual marriage to rally their troops. They cater to the religous right on almost every social issue. The Democrats, as pathetic an excuse for an opposition party as you will ever find, go out of their way to pander to the same groups. A good example of this is supposedly "liberal" Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's constant bleating about his alleged religous convictions, and his proposal to redouble Bush's "faith based initiatives" (ie the use by churches of government funds to drum up converts while pretending to use them to deal with social problems).

    "Traditionalism is not about imposing social philosophy on anyone in a democratic republic. It is about waking people up to what is good that has been lost and what is to be gained from abandoning some of the failed views we have adopted."

    Again, that's fine. But I see traditionalists other than yourself who do want to impose their philososphy on others.

    And, you still haven't shown me how liberalism is anything but neutral to traditionalism. It doesn't stop you from continuing to argue in favor of traditionalsim. Nor does liberalism prevent anyone who so desires from living a traditional lifestyle.

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  19. Lawrence Auster has a post today where he quotes Eugene Rose's Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age. It's an interesting quote, and ties in directly to autonomy (which is Mr. Richardson's nice way of putting "rebellion against all authority"):

    Nihilist rebellion is a war against God and against Truth; but few Nihilists are fully aware of this. Explicit theological and philosophical Nihilism is the preserve of a few rare souls; for most, Nihilist rebellion takes the more immediate form of a war against authority. Many whose attitudes toward God and Truth may seem ambiguous reveal their Nihilism most clearly in their attitude toward--in Bakunin's words--the "cursed and fatal principle of authority."

    The Nihilist "revelation" thus declares, most immediately, the annihilation of authority. Some apologists are fond of citing "corruptions," "abuses," and "injustices" in the Old Order as justification for rebellion against it; but such things--the existence of which no one will deny--have been often the pretext, but never the cause, of Nihilist outbursts. It is authority itself that the Nihilist attacks....The disorder so apparent in contemporary politics, religion, art, and other realms as well, is a result of the deliberate and systematic annihilation of the foundations of authority in them....

    Nihilist rebellion has entered so deeply into the fibre of our age that resistance to it is feeble and ineffective; popular philosophy and most "serious thought" devote their energies to apology for it.... To the modern man whom Nihilism has "enlightened," this Old Order is but a horrible memory of some dark past from which man has been "liberated"; modern history has been the chronicle of the fall of every authority. The Old Order has been overthrown, and if a precarious stability is maintained in what is unmistakably an age of "transition, a "new order" is clearly in the making; the age of the "rebel" is at hand.

    Of this age the Nihilist regimes of this century have given a foretaste, and the widespread rebelliousness of the present day is a further portent; where there is no truth, the rebellious will reigns. But "the will," said Dostoyevsky, with his customary insight into the Nihilist mentality, "is closest to nothing; the most assertive are closest to the most nihilistic."[33] He who has abandoned truth and every authority founded upon that truth has only blind will between himself and the Abyss; and this will, whatever its spectacular achievements in its brief moment of power (those of Hitler and of Bolshevism have so far been the most spectacular), is irresistibly drawn to that Abyss as to some immense magnet that has searched out the answering abyss within itself. In this abyss, this nothingness of the man who lives without truth, we come to the very heart of Nihilism.

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  20. Ruddy, next point. Here's another reason why traditionalists shouldn't accept your invitation to be neutral.

    At the schools I have worked at, the more advanced liberals have never tired of pushing their own agenda onto students. It's done openly, usually with the support of the school administration.

    The same thing happens in the mass media, at universities and in government departments.

    So the advanced liberals are expending much energy pushing their modernist agenda onto society through the public institutions of society.

    What would happen, then, if those people who opposed the modernist agenda in favour of something more traditional accepted the idea that they should remain merely neutral?

    Obviously, modernism would win unopposed.

    So it is a losing proposition for traditionalists to accept the role of neutralists.

    It means conceding defeat even before entering the political arena.

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  21. Jim Kalb describes how Liberalism rules by pretending not to rule. He has a book coming out soon called The Tyranny of Liberalism, subtitled "Understanding and Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality by Command".

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  22. Mark Richardson said:

    "It is part of the heterosexual instinct of young men to perceive, and to feel love for, the potential for beauty and a particular kind of feminine goodness in women."

    Again, you are conflating culture with "instinct." Instinct makes most young men, for lack of a more genteel word, "horny." This other stuff you are talking about is all culture. Putting women on a pedestal. Making believe there is something about them that is "good" in a way that men are not. All of that is the product of a particular culture.Plenty of cultures have existed, and still exist, in which young men did not view women in this way. Where is the "instinct" that you talk about in those societies?

    "I expect that you are jaded - and I don't say that as an insult. The current generation of men have been hit so hard for so long by demoralising influences that I expect most of us have been affected."

    I don't take it as an insult. But, it's a little like being called a "cynic" by a religous believer. Unless one accepts the concepts that the believer, or the traditionalist, thinks are axiomatic and universal, one is labelled as being incapable of understanding due to some sort of personal diminishment. The problem can never be with the concepts themselves, or with the lack of proof. No. Only a "cynic" denies the existence of a deity, only a "jaded" man questions the innate "goodness" of women.

    But such claims, even if not meant as insults, don't make for a very effective argument. Whether I'm "jaded" or not, you still haven't shown that the cultural practices and ideals that you obviously genuinely revere are anything but culturaly constructed, and not matter of "instincts" and "nature."

    And, even if you were right, it is a fallacy to think that the "natural" or the "instinctual" is necessarily moral or desirable. Apparently, anthropologists have shown, that rape, murder, infanticide, and so on are "natural" and "instinctual" behaviors. But that doesn't make them good or moral. Similarly, for the practices that you desire, you have to show that they are good and moral, whether they are "natural" or "instinctual" isn't the right question. No doubt you think they are good and moral, but you would do better to focus on that than on their alleged "naturalness."

    "It's another example of how neutrality doesn't work. For certain goods to be publicly available, the conditions for their flourishing have to be maintained and defended. . . Up until about the 1990s, it [popular music] was dominated by the love ballad. Since then the love ballad has died away and become a rarity. The culture has shifted, and relations between men and women in popular music are now described in coarser terms. If we live in a public culture, then we are all affected by this shift."

    But, again, what are you going to do about it? You talk about "maintaining and defending" certain conditions. How? Are you going to forbid the kind of songs you don't like? Do you want the government to give subsidies to songwriters who write the kind you do like? Right now, the government is "neutral" on these issues. It doesn't forbid love songs (which, as an aside, are hardly as scarce as you think they are!); it doesn't subsidize nasty songs. Unless coercion, or some other form of massive governmental intervention into popular culture and private life, is going to be used, I'm not sure what it is you are proposing.

    "You seem to think that traditionalists can happily opt out of a public culture and retreat into a privately constructed one. Perhaps this is the last option availabe for traditionalists - but it's not a reasonable one to expect traditionalists to take."

    But, if traditionalist can't convince the bulk of individual people to follow their precepts, what else is left?

    Persuasion doesn't seem to be working. You reject Amish-style retreat and isolation. Other traditionalist posters have told me they reject coercion. How about you? How do propose to "maintain and defend" the conditions that the "hothouse flower" of traditionalism requires? It can't survive, according to you, in the neutral environment that liberalism creates. And, you claim it's not "reasonable" to expect traditionalism to retreat. So, do you propose to roll back liberalism, by force if necessary, so that traditionalism can thrive?

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  23. Mark Richardson said:

    "Ruddy: Here's another reason why traditionalists shouldn't accept your invitation to be neutral. . ."

    I don't expect traditionalists to be neutral. What I want is for official and semi-official sources of information to be neutral. Just as I don't want the radical feminists to hijack public resources to subsidize their agenda, so I don't want traditionalists to do so either.

    Take the questions of marriage, and women "postponing" marriage and motherhood that we have been talking about. I don't want the government, or the public school or univesity, telling girls and women that marriage and motherhood are good things. I don't want them telling them that they are bad things, either. Those are value judgments, and those who have a stake in the argument (eg radical feminists and traditionalists) should pay for their own propaganda. I don't want the government telling women to postpone, or not to postpone marriage either, because that is a personal decision. What I want is for the official channels of information to publish just that, neutral information. The government should tell women and girls that they are more likely to be fertile, less likely to have children with birth defects, and less likely to have pregnancy and childbirth take big tolls on their bodies, in their 20's than they are in their late 30's, because those are relevant facts.

    In short, traditionalists, and their opponents, have every right to make their arguments on their own nickel, and no right to use government funds to do so.

    Beyond that, and as a matter of what's right as opposed to what the law should be, all sides should be honest and in good faith in their argumentation. The radical feminists should not lie about marriage being generally "oppressive" to women; nor should they lie to women that they can "choose" marriage and motherhood whenever they want to. Similary, traditionalists should not pretend that there are no, or very few, people living lifestyles other than traditional ones who are happy and fulfilled. They shouldn't stack the deck by using a psychotic woman unhappy in her untraditional lifestyle as being representative of all woman living such a lifestyle. They shouldn't continually cherry-pick news articles about women who are childless and regret it, and act as if the women in those articles represent all childless women.

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  24. ruddy,

    If I am teaching a class and a girl sits down wearing a burka or hijab, do the tenets of the current liberalism evince neutrality in handling her case? How far must inclusiveness extend? What of the Swedish laws that demand equal at-home time with the kids by mother and father? Progressive statism at its best. I would never suggest that traditionalism is neutral. Why would you want others to believe that liberalism is so?

    I think we have different ideas about "conservative" and "traditional", especially if you think GWB is on the same planet as traditionalism. His Iraq project runs against traditionalist views, as does his abject promotion of "immigration reform" and support of transnational globalism. If you are not familiar with it already I suggest catching up on traditionalist thought at View From the Right (Lawrence Auster). It will radically alter any pre-existing ideas of what "conservative" actually means in America, and his reductions of liberalism are piercing. By his writings you would believe that traditionalists are so small a minority that they scarcely register on the political scene at all.

    You say "And, you still haven't shown me how liberalism is anything but neutral to traditionalism." If liberalism-- specifically modern liberalism as opposed to classical liberalism-- were "neutral" we would not be having this conversation.

    "Neutrality" in this case is a theoretical fulcrum around which our ideas can (hopefully) move. It is not a philosophical destination.

    The literature going back centuries that spells out the underlying problems with an idealistic, non-discriminatory, rebellious, etc. liberalism is voluminous. If a liberal mentality is the going ideology of the day (which it is in the West generally) that makes it the modern cultural baseline, not a neutral position. It also makes it more difficult to see one's way through it or around it and this fog is obvious in talking to just about everyone you meet.

    May I suggest you ask yourself where this "neutral" liberalism logically will lead us in the long run. Some have suggested Marxism or another totalitarianism. In any event the explicit goals of the liberal elite have everything to do with controlling what they would term the excesses of humanity: over-population, evils of capitalism, ditto racism and other inequalities. Without an authoritarian state like the EU how can such people possibly accomplish their noble agenda of total non-discrimination? How else can they remain organized and progressive? But neutral??

    I would say that conservatism s.l. is the fallback (but not neutral) position of society, the Old Foundation upon which other ideas have grown, including liberalism.

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  25. you still haven't shown that the cultural practices and ideals that you obviously genuinely revere are anything but culturaly constructed, and not matter of "instincts" and "nature."

    Well we're heading into strange territory here.

    I asserted that the love men feel for women has an objective worth and you are intent on arguing that it is a cultural construct and that the only thing to be accepted as definite is the sex drive.

    No wonder that you feel disconnected from traditional family arrangements. If the only objectively real thing is the sex drive, then it's unlikely that men will commit to marriage.

    Let me repeat: I'm not arguing that women represent goodness more than men do. Rather, it's a case that men recognise what is beautiful and good in womanhood and are inspired to love such qualities in individual women and to take a protective attitude to women in general.

    Not only do I think it a great loss at a personal level not to experience the quality of love as having a real existence, I find it difficult to see how you would build a successful society without recognising its importance.

    I'm starting to believe that women are in for a really tough time in the future.

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  26. They shouldn't stack the deck by using a psychotic woman unhappy in her untraditional lifestyle as being representative of all woman living such a lifestyle.

    There's a problem in taking this line Ruddy. Tracey Emin is perfectly respectable within modern liberal society. She has been accepted into the Royal Academy, she's been nominated for the Turner prize, her works are displayed in the Scottish National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, and she's been awarded honorary degrees from various universities.

    If she is psychotic as you say she is, then what does this say about modern liberal society? There must be something wrong with a society which would honour a "psychotic" woman to such an extent, don't you think?

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  27. Here Jim Kalb says what I have been trying to get at more effectively and forcefully vis-a-vis liberalism:

    http://turnabout.ath.cx:8000/node/25

    It is intellectually satisfying, but needs to be appreciated more widely by those who may not otherwise question their presumptive liberal world view.

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  28. leadpb said:

    "ruddy. . .If I am teaching a class and a girl sits down wearing a burka or hijab, do the tenets of the current liberalism evince neutrality in handling her case?"

    What "case" would that be? As far as I am, and liberalism is, concerned, she can wear whatever she wants.

    "What of the Swedish laws that demand equal at-home time with the kids by mother and father?"

    I oppose such laws because they are illiberal and dictatorial. They are the result of radical feminism, which demands that people completely negate traditional gender roles, whether they want to or not. As a liberal, my position is that parents should work out questions of child care for themselves

    "Progressive statism at its best."

    Statism, yes. But not liberalism.

    "I would never suggest that traditionalism is neutral. Why would you want others to believe that liberalism is so?"

    Radical feminism is not neutral. What you call "progressive statism" is not neutral. Traditionalism is not neutral. But liberalism, once you accept the premise of maximizing personal freedom, is neutral. By the way, liberalism is often criticized precisely for being "too neutral," for serving no higher value than freedom. Yes, it says people should be free, but it doesn't say what they should do with their freedom, what the ultimate goal is. Liberalism is suspicious of ultimate goals--whether of the utopian or reactionary kind.

    Using your "burka" case, a feminist might say that liberalism is wrong because it won't recognize that the choice of wearing the burka is itself a product of male domination and so forth and so on. And an Islamic "traditionalist" will complain about the "liberals" who don't force all the girls to wear burkhas in school. Both the feminist and the traditional Muslim deride the liberal because he has no values, because he is neutral.

    "I think we have different ideas about 'conservative' and 'traditional,' especially if you think GWB is on the same planet as traditionalism. . ."

    GWB is anti-abortion. He is against the separation of church and state. He is against sex education beyond "teaching abstinence." He opposes homosexual marriage. He is a born again Christian. All of that sounds like traditionalism to me.

    "His Iraq project runs against traditionalist views. . ."

    I think that's a matter of opinion. Here in the US, at least, it seems to me that most traditionalists support US foreign military interventions. But, in any event, it is the domestic issue listed above that US traditionalists appear to care most about it.

    ". . as does his abject promotion of 'immigration reform' and support of transnational globalism.. . ."

    Again, here in the US, these are not the issues most near and dear to traditionalists.

    ". . .I suggest catching up on traditionalist thought at View From the Right (Lawrence Auster). . . By his writings you would believe that traditionalists are so small a minority that they scarcely register on the political scene at all."

    Look, there always going to be people so extreme, so "pure" in their outlook that they have no effect on actual, electoral politics. You realize almost all current feminists believe that the US is a "patriarchy," don't you? Does that make it so? According to them, feminism and women's rights "scarcely register" on the US political scene either.

    "'Neutrality' in this case is a theoretical fulcrum around which our ideas can (hopefully) move. It is not a philosophical destination."

    This is exactly what I was talking about above! Liberalism is criticized, on a philosphical basis, because it has no "destination." The feminist has a destination: a world without gender roles; the Islamic traditionalist has a destination: a world in which the teachings of the Prophet are followed. The liberal has no destination. She says, "Wear the burkha if you want to and don't wear it if you don't want to."

    "If a liberal mentality is the going ideology of the day (which it is in the West generally) that makes it the modern cultural baseline, not a neutral position."

    But again, since you eschew coercion and violence, I can only assume that you too accept this baseline. You explicitly stated that you did not want to roll back anyone's freedom. Well, in so stating, you are acquiescing to the very "baseline liberalism" you seem to be criticizing here. If everyone is free to choose traditionalism or not, that means we must be living in a liberal state.

    "It also makes it more difficult to see one's way through it or around it and this fog is obvious in talking to just about everyone you meet."

    Actually, I think most people understand quite well that they are living in a liberal state. Radical leftists, including feminists, rail against the liberal society they live in, which refuses (for the most part)to impose their utopian schemes on an unwilling population. Traditionalists (not including you) rail against the liberal society that refuses (for the most part) to force everyone to go back to the old ways. And most people in between are happy that neither extreme has its way, and are well aware and very content that they are living in "a free country" where they can (for the most part)make their own decisions.

    "May I suggest you ask yourself where this 'neutral' liberalism logically will lead us in the long run."

    Again, logically, it leads us nowhere. Liberalism has no destination.

    "Some have suggested Marxism or another totalitarianism. . . an authoritarian state. . ."

    Such things are anathema to a liberal.

    You seem to have a lot of fears about the future of the world. Maybe you would do better to direct your attention to the specific problems you point out, instead of using "liberalism" as some sort of catch-all boogyman representing everything you don't like. If the radical feminists fit your definition of "liberal," and George Bush does too, I suggest your definition of the term is overbroad, and is not of much use to you, or to anyone else.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Me:

    "You still haven't shown that the cultural practices and ideals that you obviously genuinely revere are anything but culturaly constructed, and not matter of 'instincts' and 'nature.'"

    Mark Richardson:

    "Well we're heading into strange territory here."

    I agree.

    MR:

    "I asserted that the love men feel for women has an objective worth and you are intent on arguing that it is a cultural construct and that the only thing to be accepted as definite is the sex drive."

    No. This is what you said:

    "It is part of the heterosexual instinct of young men to perceive, and to feel love for, the potential for beauty and a particular kind of feminine goodness in women."

    Do you see? You said it was "instinct" that led men to perceive some sort of special "goodness" in women. My point was that this perception is culturally constructed, and not, AS YOU EXPLICITLY STATED, a matter of instinct. A cultural construct can exist, but it is not a matter of "instinct." A cultural construct can have "worth," but it is still not an instinct.

    MR:

    "No wonder that you feel disconnected from traditional family arrangements. If the only objectively real thing is the sex drive, then it's unlikely that men will commit to marriage."

    Again, cultural constructs can be quite real. Buddhism is a cultural construct, does that mean it's not "real?" But cultural constructs are not instincts, like a sex drive is. One would have thought that such an elementary distinction would be clear to you.

    MR:

    ". . .I'm not arguing that women represent goodness more than men do. Rather, it's a case that men recognise what is beautiful and good in womanhood. . . "

    So, women aren't really good, but men "recogonize" the "goodness" in them anyway? Is that it? Is that how this "instinct" (or whatever you are now claiming it is) works?

    Again, many men in many cultures throughout history, and in many cultures today, have failed to "recognize" any such thing in women. What you are reciting is a cultural construct, perhaps dating to the troubadors and the creation of the ideal of "courtly love." It might or might not be a good thing. But it's not universal. And it's not an instinct.

    MR:

    "Not only do I think it a great loss at a personal level not to experience the quality of love as having a real existence, I find it difficult to see how you would build a successful society without recognising its importance."

    Um, don't you think it might be possible to love someone without this soft-focus, moonlight and magnolia BS about the "goodness" of women? And, contrary to what you imply, whole societies have managed to flourish without it as well.

    MR:

    "I'm starting to believe that women are in for a really tough time in the future."

    With freedom comes reponsibility. Men no longer recognize some special "goodness" in women. On the other hand, women no longer need to rely on men to make their way in the world.

    Me:

    "They [traditionalists] shouldn't stack the deck by using a psychotic woman [Emin] unhappy in her untraditional lifestyle as being representative of all woman living such a lifestyle."

    MR:

    "There's a problem in taking this line Ruddy. Tracey Emin is perfectly respectable within modern liberal society. She has been accepted into the Royal Academy. . ."

    Yes, she's this, that and the other. But does that mean she's not a crackpot? Many artists (even great ones) lead shitty personal lives. Haven't you ever heard the phrase "suffering artist?" There's more than a little irony in that term, you know.

    MR:

    "If she is psychotic as you say she is, then what does this say about modern liberal society?"

    Um, nothing. That's the whole point, Mr. Richardson. She's one person. She's an anecdote. And a poorly chosen one if representativeness is what you were after.

    And just as bad a one if you thought her awards and so forth prove that society is lauding her for her personal life. "Honored artist" does not equal "role model;" she's not honored for having a crazy personal life and a whiney personality, she's honored for her art.

    Lord Byron beat his wife.

    Link:

    http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/572353/byrons_poetry.html

    Does that mean he shouldn't be honored by "liberal society" as a great poet? Or, that in so honoring him, "liberal society" is endorsing wife beating?

    MR:

    "There must be something wrong with a society which would honour a 'psychotic' woman to such an extent, don't you think?"

    Wow, this argument is really a piece of work! I think it is more than clear that you are stacking the deck when you choose a woman like Emin to make a general point about a large group of women who happen to share one or two traits with her. It's intellectually dishonest. And it's equally intellectually dishonest to pretend that you don't understand that that is what you are doing after it is pointed out to you.

    You took apart some feminists a few weeks ago for their disingenuity, now it seems like you are dabbling in it yourself.

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  30. Ruddy, let's try again.

    This specific argument began with me writing:

    "Still, in an objective sense, one important aspect of the fulfilment of a human life has been lost in the process. Love between a man and woman is not just an aspect of choice - it is something of inherent worth. A man who is not jaded, and who perceives the beauty and goodness in women and is inspired to a feeling of love, knows that he is participating in a greater aspect of existence.

    You replied with this:

    ...some of us single, hetero men don't find there to be any particular "goodness" in women. In my experience, which is no more "jaded" than average, women are no better or worse than men.

    What you claim to be "natural" is instead the merely product of long-held cutural beliefs.


    Ruddy, maybe it's your modernist mind, but you don't seem to understand what I mean by the term goodness.

    Why would men love women and seek to protect women if they did not cherish some aspect of womanhood? It is in this sense that men perceive a "goodness" particular to women - one involving perhaps feminine beauty, grace, sympathy, softness and so on.

    These are real qualities, although not distributed evenly throughout the female population. To write of this kind of goodness doesn't mean that I am making any kind of statement about the relative goodness of men.

    But what concerns me is your insistence that we are simply talking about cultural constructs.

    When I wrote:

    "No wonder that you feel disconnected from traditional family arrangements. If the only objectively real thing is the sex drive, then it's unlikely that men will commit to marriage."

    You replied:

    Again, cultural constructs can be quite real. Buddhism is a cultural construct, does that mean it's not "real?"

    Well there can be a real thing we call Buddhism. But if it's only a cultural construct, rather than an expression of some truth about the world, then it is obviously false in what it claims to be. And if its adherents thought it to be merely a cultural construct then it would be abandoned.

    I don't accept that love between men and women is to be regarded principally as a "cultural belief". It represents a real, objective good, and is recognised as such by those who are still able to participate in it. It is on this basis that it inspires fidelity, commmitment and sacrifice.

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  31. ruddy says

    "But again, since you eschew coercion and violence, I can only assume that you too accept this baseline."

    So the only choice you see here is between advocating reactionary violence or accepting the status quo that is a radical transformation of society over the span of a few decades. How does this polarization make any sense?

    You seem to be completely blind to the destructive effects of personal freedoms that are no longer bound to the social norms required to sustain them properly. You either "get that" or you don't.

    In your insistence that liberalism has no goal or "destination" you dismiss the fact that liberalism does indeed have an explicit and oft-stated goal of eliminating discrimination along with maximizing liberty. These are conflicting propositions at a certain point and we have reached that point in the West. Hardly neutral territory.

    Yes, I do have certain fears about the future. I don't expect they will be allayed by any political developments and I'm more concerned with the general social condition of the United States in any event. You seem to harbor much fear yourself about Bush and his belief system. Perhaps you feel about his kin the way I feel about the more egregious expressions of liberalism.

    Why not let go of your err, neutrality, and just enjoy the ride?

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  32. Ruddy, you've had a go at me for "intellectual dishonesty". I think you're wrong in your approach here.

    If I had claimed to be using some scientific sampling process of single women's views to prove my point, then I would have been dishonest. But I've never done anything more than to refer to what Emin herself thinks about her situation.

    In other words, I've never said that "Emin thinks X" therefore "all women think X".

    You argue that Emin is a poor example to use, which is your prerogative. I have responded to your argument by stating several times that Emin is a good example to use as she is a modern who has succeeded to a large degree in her pursuit of autonomy.

    You can continue to disagree, but I don't see where dishonesty comes into it.

    I really do not agree with you that it is just some personal idiosyncrasy of Emin as an artist which is responsible for her situation.

    There are plenty of others who have been led by their experiences to similar conclusions, and it is logical for such conclusions to be drawn.

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  33. To leadpb:

    You say:

    "So the only choice you see here is between advocating reactionary violence or accepting the status quo that is a radical transformation of society over the span of a few decades. How does this polarization make any sense?"

    My point was that, for all the talk about "not accepting" this and "defending" that we see on this site, there are really only a couple choices for the would-be champions of traditionalism: Play by the rules of liberalism, or not. Violence would be the "or not" option. The other option, which consists of continued argumentation, trying to convince people either as voters or as individuals, or of opting out as much as possible and living in quasi-isolation a la the Amish, are both consistent with the baseline liberalism you purport to abhor.

    That was my point, that, by eschewing violence you are implicitly accepting a liberal framework.

    As for the rest of your points, I guess we will have to agree to disagree.

    To Mark Richardson:

    There's no need to "try again."

    Your post that I responded to specifically stated that this valorized notion you think young men have of women was an "instinct." You merely asserted it was; I said it wasn't, and showed why (not univeral, culturally constructed).

    In your last two posts, instead of confronting my argument head on, you have tried to muddy the waters, never once using the word "instinct," which is the very term that I was objecting to.

    Rather than responding substantively to your equivocating argument, explaining to you what a cultural construct is or isn't, and dealing with your childishly naive fairytale notions of the "goodness" of women, I'll just make a couple of observations about your style of argumentation.

    Your record with respect to this discussion of this pseudo-instinct is not the only example of your less than honest, and less than consistent, style of argumentation. You have repeatedly dodged the arguments I made challenging your factually and historically incorrect conflation of radical feminism with "liberalism" and contradicting your facile and reductive insistence that liberalism reifies the concept of "autonomy" to such an extent that it disfavors, if not outright rejects, long-term relationships or agreements.

    And, I have repeatedly questioned your choice of Ms. Emin as representative of single, childless women. Any fair observor would grant that you have cherry-picked her, that you have stacked the deck in presenting her as being representative of anything. Your unpersuasive, and indeed, totally unresponsive, reply is to point to her prominence and success as an artist, as if that in any way demonstrated her typicalness or representativeness.

    In your latest post, you try to have it both ways. On the one hand, you admit that Emin is not a "scientific sample" and that we can't generalize from her to "all women." On the other hand, you claim that she is a "good example," and that:

    "There are plenty of others who have been led by their experiences to similar conclusions, and it is logical for such conclusions to be drawn."

    This type of equivocation, of having your cake and eating too, is the hallmark of dishonest argumentation.

    Perhaps you are familiar with Andrea Yates?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrea_Yates

    What would your reaction be to a post on a feminist website that set her up as some sort of example (even if not a "scientific" sample) of women leading the traditionalist lifestyle. Andrea Yates: valedictorian of her high school class, married to a NASA computer programmer, member of a conservative Christian church, stay-at-home mother, and so on. Ends up drowning her four children in the bathtub. Andrea Yates: typical, no, examplary, traditionalist women. Sound fair to you? Intellectually honest? You wouldn't question the use of this one cherry-picked woman to stack the deck against the traditionalist lifestyle?

    Here in the US, Mr. Richardson, we have a little saying: Go bullshit someone else!

    The reason I came to this site is that I saw it listed as one of the best blogs on the "Honor Network." I grow weary of "MRA" blogs where the discourse is at the level of "Women Suck!" When I first came here, and saw your reasoned and measured demolition of the inconsistent and hypocritical feminists on the issue of the Glouchester Girls, while at the same time, you were welcoming them and their supporters to your website and inviting them to respond to your claims, I thought to myself, here's a guy who's got something, here's an anti-feminist who knows how to make an argument, and who is not afraid of honest debate.

    But now I see that you are really just a more sophisticated, better educated, version of the "Women Suck!" bloggers. Have fun clipping articles from the popular press that support your positions and ignoring the rest! Have fun speaking out of both sides of your mouth! Have fun lying and dissembling when caught out in a mistake.

    I see now why you wouldn't answer my question as to what you intend to do to "maintain and defend" the traditional society you love so much if (1) violence is ruled out; (2) Amish-style retreat and isolation is also ruled out; and (3) honest debate and discourse fails to convince enough people to see things your way. What I failed to consider is that you intended to rely on DISHONEST debate and discourse. But, now that I recognize my error, I won't trouble you any further. . .

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  34. ruddy,

    The disagreement seems to be in the definition of "autonomy."

    In the traditional sense, if one practices "autonomy" then he is void of relationship. He is autonomous. In this regard, "autonomy" is highest good, but it can be truly practiced only periodically. Overtime, the truly "autonomous" person gains a lifetime of dissolved and disinegrating relationships.

    You seem to take the definition of "autonomy" as saying you value maximized freedom of choice that reaches all the way until violence (on your part) is utilized. At that point, your freedom of choice (autonomy) ceases. In this regard, your definition of "autonomy" needs further clarification especially in regards to self-defense. But nevertheless, "autonomy" cannot be a highest good as such thing accepts no qualifications and you readily admit to its limitation.

    This in turn suggests that maximized freedom of choice is either NOT your highest good or the more traditional definition of "autonomy" is the one that defines your liberal perspective.

    Of course, you could, like a truly autonomous individual, being using both definition in what ever capacity suits your needs.

    In either this case, I think Mr. Richardson does much to explain how autonomy leads to a relationship-free existence. And we are not just talking free of human relationships, but a freedom from all relations. This freedom from ALL relations seems to correlate well with maximized choices.

    And until ruddy defines "autonomy" for us, whether it be the relationship-solvent kind or the principle that cedes to something higher, it's hard to comprehend what exactly his liberalism is telling us. Go figure!

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  35. Ruddy, the problem is that you're arguing with yourself and not really trying to engage the positions that others are taking.

    Take the example of the word "instinct". It took me a while to get what was going on in your mind with this. Why were you so hung up on a word?

    Then I realised that the particular choice of word means a lot to a liberal. For a liberal, something that is admitted to be an "instinct" has a biological reality and therefore has to be admitted as real in a way that other categories won't be.

    Didn't it occur to you Ruddy that conservatives don't think the same way. That we are not anti-essentialists who would deny the reality of the category "love" if it is admitted not to be an instinct.

    In other words, it doesn't matter to me whether it is called an instinct or not as it still has the same status as a real entity.

    The distinction only matters to you because of your way of looking at things.

    In effect, I am being called "dishonest" because I don't share your liberal assumptions.

    As for Emin, I'm still not sure what is going on in your mind. You wrote:

    In your latest post, you try to have it both ways. On the one hand, you admit that Emin is not a "scientific sample" and that we can't generalize from her to "all women." On the other hand, you claim that she is a "good example," and that:

    "There are plenty of others who have been led by their experiences to similar conclusions, and it is logical for such conclusions to be drawn."

    This type of equivocation, of having your cake and eating too, is the hallmark of dishonest argumentation."


    This criticism doesn't make sense. If I say: here is the opinion of one person (not a scientific sample), who is particularly useful in terms of the argument I am making as she has truly lived an autonomous lifestyle and found it wanting, and whose opinions are buttressed first by the fact that other women are on record as having concluded the same things that she does and second by her conclusions being logical ones to draw, then how is this "having your cake and eating it too"?

    The argument, whether you agree with it or not, runs in the same direction. It is consistent. As it happens, as you seemed to be sceptical about any kind of anecdotal evidence, I then presented some research using scientific sampling methods as further evidence of the point I was making.

    As for Andrea Yates, she really was psychotic - she had been prescribed anti-psychotic drugs in the years leading up to her crime.

    But even if this weren't the case, I would still be open to recognising what might have affected a woman like Yates: that logically there are stresses on women with many young children (five) and that the influence of some religious environments may not always be benign.

    It is reasonable to make these observations, don't you think? So why can't we draw similar observations about the likely effects of an autonomous lifestyle?

    Finally, let me say that I'm disappointed that you've chosen what is effectively an ad hominem attack.

    Both I and my readers extended a considerable courtesy to you - we debated you in polite terms even though we believe your views are destructive of much that we value.

    Yet it was you, rather than us, who broke first and resorted to the ad hominem line of attack.

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  36. Thordaddy, an excellent last comment.

    There's an unresolved issue within liberalism regarding autonomy and choice.

    If I believe that our status as humans is defined in an important way by autonomy, then I can opt to give individuals freedom to choose in any direction.

    But if individuals then choose non-autonomous options they will be seen to be acting against their own self-interests and preserving areas of discrimination, inequality, oppression and so on.

    So a modernist liberal society is caught between two conflicting aims: attaining autonomy by giving a freedom of choice in any direction and attaining autonomy by shutting down the choice of non-autonomous options.

    You find both aims at work in modern society. However, over time the second aim has come to dominate politics.

    This is especially true in the most "advanced" left-liberal societies, such as those in Scandinavia, in which government coercion is used openly against more traditional life choices.

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  37. In effect, I am being called "dishonest" because I don't share your liberal assumptions.

    In the end, when the false god of Liberalism is refuted powerfully, the liberal hurls the invective.

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  38. May I also weigh into this lengthy debate?

    It seems to me that the self-description of liberalism as a laissez faire doctrine denies that fact that humans are social creatures.

    Ruddy's basic argument is that liberalism is "neutral" and non-coercive. This seems to have been accepted by all parties; however, I would dispute it. Liberalism does not seek neutrality; it seeks to create a society based on liberal values, i.e., values which treat the individual as a sort Robinson Crusoe, without history or social connections. This is why, as Mark points out, to accept the "neutral" standpoint recommended by liberalism is to concede the argument: this so-called neutrality is ideological in the same way that regarding "free" markets as "natural" is ideological.

    It is relatively easy to see the ideology in liberal economic theory. Free market economics recognises as values only those things which are commodities; that is, only what can be valued in money-terms. Yet this is no different than to say that it values only economic goods--that it values only what it values. And one cannot appeal to the spontaneity of effective demand when effective demand is distributed (as wages, salaries and dividends) only according to the rules of this closed system. Meanwhile the activities of people outside the formal economy (wives, mothers, volunteers, students, etc.)--without whose labour the arbitrarily defined and valorised economic system could not function--are sidelined as irrelevant to the "neutral" description of how the economy works!

    Similarly, to return to the issue of sexual mores and of social relations more generally, we find the same shallow, tautological and ideological approach in the liberal camp. Take gay marriage as an example. It is maintained that it poses no threat to heterosexual marriage, since people with different proclivities are able to tolerate one-anothers' differences without contradiction. It is therefore argues that it is wrong of the majority to impose its predjudices upon a minority, who have an equal "right" to expres themselves. But this is to regard as spontaneous the individual's desire to partake in what is a social and to an extent an artificial institution. Lest I begin to sound like a social constructivist, I would point out that this is essentially Roger Scruton's argument (in A Political Philosophy). He says in discussing the same issue that "to modify an institution is to modify the reasons for joining it."

    To again put this in perspective, it is as though a dogmatic liberal were to insist that a worker on the minimum wage spontaneously "chooses" to accept a low-paying job under poor conditions: one must put the individual into a social context, viewing him holistically, rather than regarding him as a law unto himself, as liberals do.

    In other words every "freedom from" is at the same time a "freedom to." If we modify a social institution such as marriage in order to make it more inclusive or less binding, then we as a society are actively--not neutrally--modifying our social capital in a way that will affect people's motives for participating in it or not.

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  39. abortions (plural) in her twenties? Well, that would account for her childrens' absence.

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