Thursday, February 28, 2008

Is that all an Australian is?

Dr Bob Birrell, a leading Australian demographer, on our intelligentsia:

They tend to be hostile to local patriotism ... because they regard it as backward looking and conforming, in the sense that they see demands made in its name as restricting individual or ethnic community autonomy.

To them, Australia is defined in proceduralist rather than patriotic terms. They tend to see the Australian nation as a framework, providing the scaffolding within which a law abiding, democratic and tolerant society can function.

Bob Hawke - a well known advocate of this position - put it as follows: "An Australian is someone who chooses to live here, obey the law and pays taxes". There is obviously a vast difference between this procedural view of Australia on the one hand and the patriotic view on the other. ["Social Cohesion and National Security", The Independent Australian, No.14 Summer 2007/08]

So according to our former Prime Minister being an Australian doesn't amount to much. It simply involves a choice of residence, obeying laws and paying taxes. To be Australian is strikingly empty and meaningless as Hawke defines it.

Update: At about the same time I was writing this post, another former PM, Paul Keating, was writing a letter of complaint to The Australian. He made this criticism of journalist Janet Albrechtsen:

Albrechtsen’s beef is with that group which forms the cosmopolitan core of the country. The Oxford dictionary describes cosmopolitan as of or from or knowing many parts of the world; free from national limitations or prejudices. In other words, people of the world, unprejudicial of others, appreciating cultural differences and attitudes. In general, being tolerant, understanding and respectful of other people, including their origins and beliefs.

These are the people Albrechtsen and her bigot mates brand as elites. People not of the mono-culture; of the old Australia; of the Howard world of Sunday schools and scout jamborees and Menzian regard. The people who knew their place ...

Albrechtsen’s objection is to cosmopolitan Australia ...

Will someone at The Australian take this loony tune off its pages? ...

If not for the rest of us, perhaps for the paper’s own sake, will someone summon the courage to give her the pink slip?

Paul Keating
Sydney, NSW

What is striking about Keating's letter is how openly he identifies as a cosmopolitan and how negatively he characterises the patriotic view as a "limitation", as a leftover from "old Australia", and as conformist ("knew their place").

Keating is so far removed from a patriotic view that he thinks Albrechtsen should be sacked for criticising cosmopolitans like himself. He believes that people like himself represent the "cosmopolitan core" of the country.

Update 2: The post has been picked up at a forum. Someone calling himself The Polemicist has written this response to Hawke:

"An Australian is someone who chooses to live here, obey the law and pays taxes." - Bob Hawke

And that's it. According to Hawke, Australians have no distinct ethnic or cultural identity. In fact, they have absolutely nothing to define them as a people - no history, traditions, ancestors, customs or heroes. To be an 'Australian' is not to belong to a distinct national community; it simply means you live here and pay tax.

In short, it seems that Hawke is saying that 'Australians' don't really exist in any meaningful sense.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Auster on modernity

Lawrence Auster is in good form here in discussing modernity, modernism and traditionalism:

To repeat and sum up: modernity consists of the increasing articulation of society in terms of the individual, the equal freedom of all individuals, and the increasingly efficient and embracing technical organization of life to meet every human need. Modernism consists in making modern society, organized according to these principles, our principal authority and guide in spiritual, philosophical, and cultural matters.

Traditionalism consists of consciously resisting and counterbalancing these desolating trends.

So, for example, a priest who makes the eternal message of the Gospels and salvation the main thing, and not the attitudes and concerns of modern society, is a traditionalist. A country that takes its historic nationhood seriously and makes an effort to conform such values as non-discrimination and economic efficiency to it, rather than conforming it to those values, is traditionalist. A movie maker who situates his characters within an existing society and a transcendent moral framework, rather than portraying his characters as disconnected bundles of desire and aggression in a Brownian universe of clashing egos, is a traditionalist.

Traditionalism is a counter-movement to what appear to be overwhelming and irresistible forces. But since those forces, notwithstanding their spectacular achievements, are leading progressively to the dissolution of all human connection to the past and to the transcendent, and indeed to the dissolution of the human itself, they cannot be as irresistible as they seem. That is the faith and the conviction on which traditionalism is based.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hubbell's Angry White Men

According to Gary Hubbell there is an important group being forgotten in American politics: Angry White Men. Hubbell believes that there are millions of white men who share the traits of being hard-working, self-reliant, independent and resourceful. They will accept others of any background who also work hard to make their own way.

What angers these men is unfair competition from illegal immigrants; the outsourcing of jobs to low wage workers overseas; and the squandering of tax dollars on "victim" groups. For these men, writes Hubbell, the symbol of what is wrong with America is Hillary Clinton who is loathed by them with a passion.

It's no accident that the kind of man being described by Hubbell also exists in Australia. Both Australia and the US had their frontiersmen, their pioneering settlers. This role required a hardy masculinity characterised by self-reliance and resourcefulness.

The frontiersman qualities of Hubbell's Angry White Men are clear in the following passages of his column:

The Angry White Man owns firearms, and he’s willing to pick up a gun to defend his home and his country ...

The Angry White Man is not a metrosexual, a homosexual or a victim. Nobody like him drowned in Hurricane Katrina — he got his people together and got the hell out, then went back in to rescue those too helpless and stupid to help themselves, often as a police officer, a National Guard soldier or a volunteer firefighter ...

He’s a man’s man, the kind of guy who likes to play poker, watch football, hunt white-tailed deer, call turkeys, play golf, spend a few bucks at a strip club once in a blue moon, change his own oil and build things. He coaches baseball, soccer and football teams and doesn’t ask for a penny. He’s the kind of guy who can put an addition on his house with a couple of friends, drill an oil well, weld a new bumper for his truck, design a factory and publish books. He can fill a train with 100,000 tons of coal and get it to the power plant on time so that you keep the lights on and never know what it took to flip that light switch.

Women either love him or hate him, but they know he’s a man, not a dishrag. If they’re looking for someone to walk all over, they’ve got the wrong guy ...

There is much to admire in such men. Hubbell presents them to us as an ideal type, as a genuinely masculine group of men who are proudly hard-working and capable.

What Hubbell misses, though, are the flaws in the frontiersman ethos. It's one thing to be self-reliant and resourceful when you are left to yourself on a homestead in a small pioneering community. These qualities aren't sufficient, though, in a larger, more settled society. Men are then called on to defend a particular civilisation.

I'll try to describe the problem this way. I think it's true that many white men think the way that Hubbell claims they do. They believe that they can make their way regardless of what life throws at them and that this defines masculine strength. This has the virtue of safeguarding white men from a passive victim group mentality; however, it also leads to an overconfident individualism, in which a defence of the culture and institutions of their civilisation is neglected.

We are no longer frontiersmen. We need a masculine ideal which continues to emphasise resilience, but which also holds us to a responsibility to defend our civilisation. This means identifying oneself as part of a larger whole, to which some of our individual strength is directed. It means taking on a leadership role not only within a business or a family, but also in the realms of politics and culture.

Hubbell thinks that his Angry White Men might act as spoilers to someone like Hillary on election day. This, though, is a setting of their sights too low. It reflects the problem with the masculine ideal as it stands now amongst white men in America. It should be thought natural that such men, capable and resourceful as they are, would act to lead society at all levels. Instead, they are consigned to the role of politically ignored spoilers, a role which should flag the failure in modern America of the frontiersman ethos.

Hat tip: reader David

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Liberalism & power

Catherine Deveny went to a wedding expo and found the imagery "terrifying". Her complaint is that in wedding photos:

The traditional bride is never powerful or sexy.

Not powerful? Most people wouldn't expect power to be uppermost in people's minds at a wedding. It's not uncommon, though, for liberals to reduce relationships between people to issues of power.

Here we have a feminist named Janet discussing how she mothers her son:

I want him to understand that women are powerful, not to be trifled with ... I try to find programs and books that have girls and boys as agents of action and power ...

So her son is supposed to admire women because they are powerful? And he himself is supposed to aim to be an agent of power? Is that really it?

I can think of two reasons for this focus on power. First, if liberals believe that autonomy is the highest good, the good which defines our humanity, then what matters is that I have the power to enact my own will. If being powerful defines my participation in the "human", then it's good manners and respectful to recognise other people's power and vitally important to assert my own.

Second, liberals are generally "anti-essentialist" in their philosophy. They usually reject the idea that there are "essences" to things which define their real nature. So something like marriage won't be thought of as having an essential nature of its own which we might orient ourselves toward in our behaviour or attitudes. If there are no real essences, then we are left with a world in which human will competes to create meaning - a "made up" world in which nothing expresses its own truth but is rather an expression of the power of will.

Not being a liberal, I don't believe autonomy to be the defining quality of my humanity, nor do I reject essences. So I'm not limited, in what I would wish for my son, to an advocacy of power.

I hope that my son will retain throughout his life a sense of integrity; that he will develop in character; and that he will be strongly natured in his appreciation of women, in his connection to nature, in his love of ancestry and tradition, in his responsiveness to art and music, and in his identity as a man.

I hope too that he will find a genuinely lovely woman to marry, that he will be blessed with children and that he will be a wise and loving husband and father.

If he is the kind of man to use power for the benefit of his community, then I hope he has it, but I would not wish him to have a life that is powerful, but empty and alienated.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Roebuck: it gets worse

One man I would never put in charge of defending a national culture is Peter Roebuck. He's the English cricketer turned Australian sports journalist, who now seems to specialise in knocking white Australians.

A couple of months ago Roebuck wrote a column calling the Australian cricket team a "pack of dogs" and suggesting they be sacked. He followed this up by writing of native born Australians that:

The game is up for that lot. It is time to move on. It is debatable whether people born in this country should be allowed to vote.

In case we didn't get the message he's penned another column claiming that racist Anglo-Australians have excluded other people from playing cricket, and that only now with the emergence of some non-Anglo players is the country finally advancing toward the light.

Roebuck's column begins:

Lily-livered lilywhites have held cricket back

OVER the years, Australian cricket has been dominated by players of Anglo-Saxon extraction ...

He then proceeds to describe Anglo-Australians in negative terms, claiming they represent what is narrow, limited and insular, and that they have taunted, sledged, scorned and drummed out non-white players (he also fits in a reference to massacres).

In contrast, the non-white players are described in more glowing terms: they are "brilliant", "blessed with lively pace", and "gifted". One player's mother "made the best dim sims in Sydney" and a Muslim player is a "fully-qualified pilot".

Which leads Roebuck to this conclusion:

Australia is advancing. A bright-eyed 17-year-old girl is making her Test debut in Bowral. Aboriginal sides from every corner of the country are taking part in the Imparja Cup in Alice Springs. And a government led by a Mandarin speaker has just issued a formal apology to the first tenants of this vast, hostile continent. It is all part of the same process, a long-awaited and stiffly resisted move towards enlightenment.

So the existence of a country of white Australians represents for Roebuck a kind of dark ages, a backwardness to be overcome. The past is to be disparaged as necessarily racist and parochial; whites are to be denigrated as a negative force in history resisting progress to equality and diversity.

My first instinctive response to Roebuck is to ask: what kind of a man is this? A more fully natured man would feel a positive connection to his ancestry, to the history of his own people, and to the unique culture they have produced together.

Those who feel connected in this way to their own tradition are most likely to be the ones who drive things forward, who are motivated to make a productive and creative contribution to the ongoing community they love and identify with.

Roebuck not only lacks a natural loyalty to his own tradition, he has turned against his coethnics and placed them in a most difficult position - that of playing the role of cosmic enemy to human progress.

Hat tip: Abandon Skip

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A traditionalist teacher

I've long held the view that Western societies won't escape their current trajectory until a section of the political class abandons liberalism in favour of a principled traditionalism.

Enter Glynne Sutcliffe. She grew up in Melbourne, obtained an honours degree in history and and a masters in South Asian languages and civilisation, taught at both secondary and tertiary level and now runs an early learning centre in Adelaide.

She has written an article proposing an education revolution. Her proposals are, in fact, revolutionary as they contradict basic tenets of the modern education system.

She writes, for instance, that "teachers who care most about content mastery are likely to be considerably better than teachers who have been required to prioritise generalist classroom management skills".

She criticises, too, the "child-centred" approach to education, as ultimately alienating and confusing for most students. She writes of this approach:

But under progressivist pedagogies teachers aren’t supposed to teach - they are specifically told that they should abandon completely the role of “sage on a stage”, and instead be a “guide on the side” - the much over-hyped “facilitator”.

She also stands firm against the whole technocratic approach to such issues by highlighting the importance of teacher personality (she uses the term "flamboyance") in motivating and capturing the interest of students.

But most impressive, in my view, is her explanation of what has gone wrong. She believes that teachers need to assert a positive authority in the classroom:

it raises the whole issue of authority, a much vexed question in modern western society. Let me say clearly, it is my view that any teacher must have authority to be in any way capable of teaching anybody anything. Students rarely develop an enthusiasm for independent study (the sine qua non of the portfolio/project/assignment system) unless an obviously well-informed teacher has a cultivated mind that both provokes emulation and generates teasing questions that get under a student’s intellectual skin.

... authority is best sourced in respected knowledge and experience, as well as the power to achieve identified and substantive goals ...

What is the stumbling block to accepting such positive authority wielded by teachers?

Here we have to go back for another look at the assumptions of progressivism, and the post-Enlightenment certainties that human beings reach their fullest potential as self-actualised “independent individuals” living out their days in an egalitarian universe of similar others.

The last quote really gets to the heart of the modernist project. I find it encouraging that Glynne Sutcliffe has identified the underlying problem of liberal modernism so clearly.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Leftist women & the image of masculinity

What do left-wing women think of the modern male? Some radical women appear to want something more traditional.

A case in point is the American radical writer Lakshmi Chaudhry. She has noted a shift in the image of masculinity in popular culture. She cites examples of male characters on TV and in novels who are self-absorbed, unable to commit, confused and unwilling to grow up. Her response is to compare this image of masculinity unfavourably with the traditional one:

popular culture continues to fetishize the traditional, '50s model of masculinity, but in a distilled form - kick-ass machismo stripped of the accompanying values of honor, duty and loyalty ... Where traditional masculinity embraced marriage, children and work as rites of passage into manhood, the 21st century version shuns them as emasculating, with the wife cast in the role of the castrating mother. The result resembles a childlike fantasy of manhood that is endowed with the perks of adulthood - money, sex, freedom - but none of its responsibilities.

Chaudhry understandably fears that the New Man is not promising husband material:

... if adult responsibilities are defined as emasculating, then it's no wonder that popular culture now defines "commitment" solely as a woman's goal.

Domesticity may have always been a feminine realm, but marriage and children were once defined as integral to the traditional gender roles of both men and women. Today, it's the woman who is cast in the role of caveman, eager to club some unsuspecting, reluctant male on his head and drag him to the altar.

It's not surprising that Chaudhry, as a left-liberal, blames the market:

this resistance to adulthood is closely associated with a market-driven consumerist culture that feeds and sustains a Peter Pan version of masculinity. "To be grown up is to be settled, comfortable, stable, responsible and secure," Kimmel says. "Those are bad conditions for advertising ..."

The market also has little time for the old-fashioned male virtue of self-denial, the imperative to do the "right thing" at the expense of pleasure. A stoic John Wayne has been replaced by the "metrosexual," a man who is all about self-indulgence ...

Susan Faludi foreshadowed the rise of the metrosexual in her 1999 book, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, which describes an "ornamental culture" that tells men "manhood is displayed, not demonstrated. The internal qualities once said to embody manhood - sure-footedness, inner strength, confidence of purpose - are merchandised to men to enhance their manliness."

It's refreshing for feminists to accept gender difference and to express admiration for the stronger masculine qualities. But the market is not primarily to blame for a decline in the traditional male virtues.

The problem has more to do with modern philosophy. Both the left and the right in Western societies accept the basic ideas of liberal autonomy theory. According to this theory, our humanity is defined by our ability to be self-determined. The aim is for individuals to be self-defining: to be unimpeded in choosing who they are.

In a culture which emphasises autonomy, it's likely that both men and women will defer commitments to marriage and family. After all, we are most independent and most unimpeded in our choices when we pursue a single girl/single guy lifestyle.

Chaudhry herself is a follower of the modern orthodoxy. In an article discussing race, she follows the usual pattern of denying that racial identity is based on any "essence", which then means that it is something we can create for ourselves as individuals (i.e. that it's something which is self-determined):

[leading scholars] instead draw attention to the performative aspect of race, wherein racial identity is not a fixed unchanging essence but a set of mutable and contingent cultural behaviors. As Sarah Susannah Willie writes in her book Acting Black, "By treating race as acquired, like a skill or behavior, we can begin to see it as something over which individuals have differing degrees of control and varying options for agency, as an aspect of identity that is at least partly performed, continuous, and contingent."

Later in the same article Chaudhry writes of a fellow autonomy theorist that:

his critique suggests that we should each be free to "act" our race according to our own needs and desires - rather than to confirm or subvert social expectations ...The freedom to perform our identity gives us the power to define its meaning.

So Chaudhry is stuck in a difficult position. She is committed to the ideal of the autonomous, self-creating individual herself and so cannot easily blame it for its negative effect on masculinity.

Notice too that Chaudhry in her article on men is reluctant to criticise autonomy for women:

While progressives and feminists have rightly championed a woman's right to reject marriage and motherhood, they rarely address the consequences of living in a culture where pair-bonding and parenting - the basic processes that form the foundation of all societies - are constructed as the antithesis of masculinity.

So it's right for feminists to encourage women to reject marriage and motherhood, but wrong for men to defer commitments to their own family responsibilities. Isn't this a double standard?

Which brings me to a final point. It seems odd that Chaudhry should be such a liberal autonomist when discussing race, but then such a traditionalist in her expectations of men.

The contradiction might be explained as follows. Chaudhry seems to most resent the idea that women are left to try and force commitments from men. It's not so easy, in this situation, for women to freely exercise their own autonomous choices: men are resisting playing their part in what adult women might want to do.

For female autonomy to work best, men have to fall in line with what women want at each stage of a woman's life. This won't happen if men are pursuing their own version of an autonomous, independent lifestyle.

So autonomy theory breaks down in practice. For women to maximise their autonomy, they require men to follow traditional, non-autonomous values (a willingness to self-sacrifice, reject self-indulgence, remain loyal etc).

But men are unlikely to accept the purpose of such self-sacrifice. Faced with a female individualism, they are likely to respond with an individualism of their own. This is especially true when male and female identities are held to have no essential existence.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Women & relationships

Are women naturally monogamous? According to an article I have just read by F. Roger Devlin, it's more accurate to describe women as hypergamous - meaning that women wish to mate with the "top" male (the alpha male). The top male is the one who is the most handsome; who has the most resources; and who is socially dominant.

It's a thought provoking idea. It implies that women, if left to their own natures, would scorn average, decent men in order to hold out for a rare alpha male.

If this is true, then it's the average joe who will be dismissed as a "loser" and those few with the highest status and highest income who will fit the category of "real men".

This is not at all the message of recent Hollywood romantic films. There is a genre of Hollywood films (think Adam Sandler) in which a goofy, poor male meets a beautiful woman who is already attached to a wealthy, dominant male. Our underdog hero finally triumphs and wins the woman by being nicer, less arrogant and more faithful than his rival.

I watched a classic Hollywood film a few years ago which presented things very differently. The plot of "A Touch of Mink" (1962) is that the female lead (Doris Day) is a bachelorette working in a diner. She and her female friend scorn the average joes they associate with; the men are presented as uncouth and unglamorous. She then meets the male lead, played by Cary Grant. He is a wealthy businessman, a leader of a boardroom full of dignified, worthy men.

Grant is presented as the ideal alpha male. He is tall and handsome, wealthy, socially dominant (he addresses the UN) and popular with women (something of a playboy). The challenge for the Doris Day character is to get him to commit to her; no easy task, but she finally manages it.

If women do tend toward hypergamy, as presented in the 1962 film, it means that when women talk of "not settling" it really means that they are rejecting average men and holding out for a Cary Grant type alpha male - for the pack leader.

This can't work. It's not possible to build a civilisation in which women hold out for the pack leader, each woman expecting him to commit solely to her.

Men have long been expected to give up the promiscuous side of their sexuality and to commit to a woman in marriage. In a way, a woman deciding to "settle" is the equivalent of a man deciding to commit. It's what is needed for family formation and (generally) for the well-being of the individual.

So what does persuade a woman to settle? In the late teens and early twenties, it can be especially difficult to hold out. The need for romantic and sexual companionship is felt strongly. It's especially easy at this age to feel lonely without a partner.

Perhaps this helps to explain why women who do hold out emphasise so much the need for a circle of close female friends.

As you get older, and leave the angst-ridden teenage years behind, it's a little easier to cope with being single. Another speculation: this might be why women say they become not less choosy but more so as they advance in years. As they become habituated to being bachelorettes, they feel less intensely the temptation to "settle".

Another window of opportunity is when women start to become bored with their careers and/or when the biological clock makes itself heard (i.e. from the late twenties/early thirties).

Note that feminists are often reluctant to admit to the existence of a biological clock for women. As recently as 2002, the National Organization for Women in the US objected to an advertising campaign by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. NOW objected to posters with the simple message that "Advancing age decreases your ability to have children" and the ad campaign was cancelled.

I've encountered strong resistance from feminists myself when trying to make the same point about fertility risks. It makes me wonder if feminists recognise that women who are aware of the biological clock are most likely to settle, and therefore to begin to identify with the interests of their families, including their husbands and sons - to the detriment of the feminist movement.

Then there are women who will settle because they are more down to earth, or more insecure, or living in smaller communities with a smaller pool of eligible men.

Admittedly what I've written is a speculative and incomplete picture of what happens in relationships. There are plenty of women who do end up marrying the average, decent man. Even so, recognising the existence of hypergamy in women does help to explain the characteristic way that women approach relationships with men.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Australia's tribes on the move?

Does ethnicity matter? For evidence that it does, consider the article by Deidre Macken in the Financial Review ("Australia's tribes are making new tracks" 25/01/08 - subscription only).

The gist of the article is that when it comes to choosing where to live, people prefer to settle within their own ethnic communities. This is true of both immigrants and more established Anglo-Australian populations:

More than ever, migrants are settling in areas that reflect their ethnicity ... While migrants have always tended to follow in the tracks of kith and kin, Australian-born citizens are now doing the same ...

Macken summarises population shifts within Sydney this way:

In older suburbs, such as Parramatta and Bankstown, the adult populations are almost 70% ethnic. In new housing estates on the fringes, the population has mostly Anglo ancestry.

Much of the Anglo movement is from the western suburbs of Sydney to places like Gosford to the north:

in the five year period to 2001, Gosford got 49,000 new residents from elsewhere in Australia and only 4000 from overseas. What's more, a quarter of those new Australian residents came from the western suburbs of Sydney. The Gosford area is the major destination for refugees from western Sydney.

There has been a similar movement to Camden in the south-west. This helps to explain the fierce opposition by locals to the establishment of an Islamic school in Camden. Macken quotes researcher Gabrielle Gwyther as follows:

[Camden] is the white-flight suburb of the south-west. People who grew up in Liverpool, Bankstown or Auburn move up into the new estates of Camden, which are even designed to look like English garden estates.

Camden has always been an English town and they hold onto their tradition dearly. That's why the proposal for an Islamic school there sent them beserk - that's what they moved away from when they left Auburn, Greenacre and the like.

There is not only a population movement within Sydney, but also from Sydney:

Sydney has been losing 20,000 to 30,000 residents a year and, according to [Professor] Birrell, "most of those go to northern NSW and Queensland, and most of those would be Anglo-Australians".

The point to be made is that when it comes to something as important as choosing a place to live, ethnicity does matter. People are more likely to feel that they are part of a living community and tradition when they live largely amongst their own ethnic group.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Who works the most in Sweden?

There's an interesting graph at Gates of Vienna showing workforce participation rates in Sweden.

Between 1992 and 2002 70% of native Swedes of working age worked full-time. For immigrants to Sweden from Western Europe the percentage falls to 55%. For those from Eastern Europe it falls again to 50%. For Southern Europe the figure was 40%.

And for migrants from the Middle East and North Africa? Only 25%.

So the claim that you need open borders in order to rescue the welfare state just doesn't seem to bear scrutiny. If anyone is doing any propping up of government revenues it's the native Swedes.