Saturday, March 29, 2008

British report to query migration policy

The British Government is running a programme of mass immigration into the UK. In response to criticisms of this policy, the Government claimed that immigration boosted the economy by $13 billion a year. It turns out, though, that the boost is only because of the overall increase in population. Per capita there was no economic gain, but considerable costs in terms of infrastructure.

From a report in the Daily Mail:

"One of Labour's key economic justifications for mass immigration is to be rejected by a major inquiry.

The headline figure used by Ministers against critics of the unprecedented influx of foreign workers to the UK is that they boost the economy by £6billion every year.

But the most in-depth study of its kind by a parliamentary committee will conclude this is not the best measure of the policy's success or failure.

In a blow to the Government, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee will say on Tuesday that the amount migrants boost the economy per person - rather than overall - is far more relevant.

Experts say this shows only a tiny net contribution to gross domestic product, worth as little as 28p per week.

This has to be balanced against the enormous strain they place on schools, hospitals and other series - valued at almost £9billion ...

The Treasury says immigrants supported 0.5 per cent of growth in the economy - worth £6billion in 2006. But, at the same time, they have added around 0.5 per cent to the total population ...

This means the contribution per person is roughly the same. But, at the same time, by adding to the number of immigrants in the country, there is more strain on public services.

The committee has also heard the costs to wider society of immigration could easily outstrip the economic benefits.

David Coleman, an Oxford University academic, puts the total annual bill to the taxpayer at almost £8.8 billion.

In a submission to peers, he said there had been an "absent-minded commitment" to increase the population by one million every five years.

Professor Coleman said the costs to the public sector include £1.5billion to run the asylum system, £280million to teach English to migrants and at least £330million to treat illnesses such as HIV.

Immigrant communities are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, he added.

Mass immigration also imposes "congestion costs, diverts investment to new infrastructure and housing, impinges on space and amenity and accelerates the output of waste and greenhouse gas emissions."

One of the Government's own advisers concluded Britain does not need any more immigrants.

Predicting unaffordable house prices and a risk of overcrowding, Lord Turner attacked Labour's "economically illiterate" case for mass migration.

He accused ministers of using arguments, knowing they do not stack up, to justify the influx of newcomers.

Lord Turner, a former CBI director, said: "In general, the language of an absolute 'shortage' of workers, of a 'need' for immigrants to fill gaps in the labour market, plays little useful role in the immigration debate and in most cases is simply economically illiterate." "

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Marrying the state

It seems that we'll soon have a paid maternity leave scheme in Australia. It's no accident that the political class is calling for such a scheme. It follows a certain logic in the politics of modernist liberals:

a) First, liberals adopt the belief that autonomy is what defines our humanity and that therefore it is the overriding good around which society should be organised.

b) Next they claim that the traditional male role is more autonomous than the female role, as it allows for a choice of different pathways rather than a single "biological destiny" (i.e. motherhood).

c) It is then assumed that the traditional male career role, being more autonomous, is the superior "human" role which women should participate in to the same degree as men.

d) The next logical step is for liberals to prefer women to be supported financially in raising children through their participation in the workforce rather than privately through a family. Hence, the support for paid maternity leave.

There are a few things to be noted. First, a paid maternity scheme is founded on an ideology which is strikingly anti-maternal. Motherhood is thought of as an inferior role, to be attached in a subsidiary way to a career.

Following on from this first point, motherhood is thought to be so negative to the human status of women, that it has to be shared equally with men if human equality is to be achieved. That's why in Scandinavia the introduction of a paid maternity scheme has been followed by a campaign to force men to take half of the leave.

A paid maternity scheme also undermines the traditional provider role of men. Instead of a husband providing for his wife while she raises her young children, it is now the state which takes on this role. This can only damage the motivation of men to work; the sense of responsibility of men for their families; and the value placed by mothers on the contribution of their husbands to the family. It becomes easier for both the husband and the wife to walk away from a marriage in the belief that the husband's role isn't so necessary for the family's prosperity.

The ideology behind paid maternity schemes is damaging to the family in another way. If autonomy is held to be the primary good, then it becomes difficult to uphold a stable culture of family life. If we really wish to be autonomous, then we're likely to string out the single life for as long as we can; we're less likely to commit formally to marriage; we're more likely to insist on an easier exit from marriage vows; and we're more likely to resent the lifestyle restrictions place on us by children.

One final point. It's interesting that the chief advocate of paid maternity leave in Australia is a Liberal Party MP, Pru Goward. She may not know it, but she is following in the footsteps of much more radical predecessors. In 1918, the Bolshevik spokeswoman on family matters, Alexandra Kollontai, told a congress of women in Moscow that,

the woman in the communist city no longer depends on her husband but on her work.

Well, the communist city may be defunct, but the modernism which inspired the Bolsheviks is still shaping the liberal West today. Pru Goward, a Liberal MP, is now pushing the ideas once championed by the revolutionary communist Alexandra Kollontai.

Who would send mothers to war?

Liberals believe that we should determine for ourselves who we are and what we do. Therefore, they don't like the idea that an unchosen thing like the sex we are born into should limit our ability to "choose in any direction".

But it's not easy in practice to abide by this belief - even for liberals. Take the case of women in combat. A principled liberal will nearly always support the idea of women fighting on the front line. This is because liberals don't want women to be limited in what they choose to do by their inherited sex.

Nonetheless, even liberals feel a revulsion against women being exposed to physical danger on the battlefield, just as conservatives do. For instance, Peggy Drexler, a researcher at Stanford University, wrote an article last year on the topic of "mothers in combat".

She began the article, titled Accepting a mother's work - in any form, by noting that,

Before the American invasion of Iraq, a friend and I watched a TV interview with a new mother about to be called up for war duty and whose husband was already in Iraq.

My friend was horrified: "How can she go to Iraq when she just had a little baby?"

I admit, the question wasn't far from my mind either.

Peggy Drexler then explains in the article, quite reasonably, why we feel this horror at the thought of women leaving their babies to fight in a war. She observes that although we are used to fathers leaving their families in times of war,

the departure of a mother - the great resilient nurturer who offers the milk of herself to her child, no matter the cost - unsettles us more deeply.

In the same vein, she notes that,

We think it's a tragedy when a child loses a father, but when a child loses a mother, it feels like a tragedy of a higher order. But when the death results from the mother's willingness to take risks still not typically assumed by women - such as flying into space or going to war - we can feel that some order of nature has been violated.

This leaves Peggy Drexler, as a principled liberal, feeling conflicted. She confesses that,

It is clear that American mothers have taken on the mortal career risks long associated with men. But we're torn by this progress in women's advancement. Most of us applaud the risks such women take. And in the next breath, we ask how, in good conscience, a mother could leave her kids and deliberately put herself in harm's way: What are they thinking? They're mothers!

Which then leads us to a crucial question. How does Peggy Drexler, as a principled liberal, resolve this dilemma?

Does she decide that we should follow our natural feeling against placing mothers in harm's way? Or does she follow her intellectual principle and support the idea of women in combat?

The answer is instructive. Peggy Drexler does what most liberals do in such a situation. She overrides any personal feeling of revulsion in order to follow an intellectual principle.

In fact, not only does she decide firmly in favour of allowing women into combat roles, she dresses up her decision in terms of high ideals. She insists that,

It is the right of all women - mothers or not - to leave home and take risks. Only when we accept that the mothers can keep the home fires burning and fight oil fires in Iraq will we truly honor motherhood. Only at that point will we accept servicewomen - mothers included - in their rightful roles in combat ...

...a mother has a duty to herself, her country, and, yes, her children, to fly as high as she can ...

This, then, is how society declines: because enough liberals are willing to repress their better instincts in order to follow misguided political principles.

We don't reach the situation of women in combat because liberals like Peggy Drexler are unfeeling or heartless or even denatured. It's because she is too principled in following a misconceived ideology.

It's this commitment to abstract principle which explains why Peggy Drexler can arrive at her extraordinary conclusions, that we can only truly honour mothers if we send them off to be killed on the battlefield, or that mothers actually have a duty to abandon their children by exposing themselves to battlefield violence.

We conservatives have the disadvantage in modern society of not having the same power as liberals to shape the course of developments. But we do, at least, have one advantage. We aren't forced by faulty intellectual principles to go against what we feel, in conscience, to be right.

True conservatives don't believe in the liberal idea that we become fully human only when we create ourselves entirely from our own will and reason. This means that conservatives don't have to, as a matter of principle, overthrow the influence on us of our inherited manhood and womanhood.

Conservatives are therefore free to act, as we think is right, as men and women. We are not forced to reject important distinctions between the sexes, including the different responsibilities that men and women have in times of war.

The liberal drive to make men and women interchangeable is a product of the underlying beliefs that all liberals share. The challenge for conservatives is therefore to understand and oppose these fundamental beliefs of liberals, so that the Western intellectual class is no longer locked into the attempt to deconstruct traditional understandings of manhood and womanhood.

(First published at Conservative Central, 22/08/2004)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Indonesian Islamic cleric: beat up infidels

An Australian PhD student travelled to Java and taped a sermon by Abu Bakar Bashir. Bashir advised his followers to beat up any infidels in their neighbourhood:

But in east Java, he urged the Islamist youth to "beat up" foreigners.

"God willing, there are none here," Bashir said. "If there were infidels here, just beat them up. Do not tolerate them."

He compared the infidels to worms, snakes and maggots:

Bashir likened non-Muslims to crawling animals. "Worms, snakes, maggots - those are animals that crawl. Take a look at Bali ... those infidel tourists. They are naked."

Bashir advised his followers that dying as martyrs (i.e. killing people) was the path to divine forgiveness:

The young must be first at the front line - don't hide at the back. You must be at the front, die as martyrs and all your sins will be forgiven. This is how to achieve forgiveness.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Obama and the living wage

In a recent speech, Barack Obama had this to say about the decline of the black family:

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family, contributed to the erosion of black families - a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened.

Obama's comment is striking because we're not supposed to think such things anymore. In our feminist age, we're meant to focus on the opposite: on how to achieve the economic independence of women, rather than on paying men a living wage to support their families.

That's one reason why the decline in the male wage has received so little attention. Last year, Andrew Beveridge released a report on real wage levels in the US since the 1970s. It showed that the average real wage for American men in their 20s fell from $39,641 in 1970 to $30,560 in 2005 - a tremendous decline over just a few decades. The average female wage rose very slightly over the same period.

This change in wage levels is presented to us as a progressive outcome we are supposed to celebrate - as it means that the female wage as a percentage of the male wage rose from 67% to 89% during this period.

But this is one of those big deceptions. The real level of female earnings only rose from $25,275 to $25,467. If there is greater equality, it's not because women are any better off than they were in 1970. It's because male wage rates have been dragged down.

There's another interesting fact revealed by Andrew Beveridge's report. Young women living in large cities in America are earning far more than their male counterparts. In New York they are earning 17% more than men ($35,653 compared to $30,560); in Dallas the disparity rises to 20%.

None of this is good news for family formation, as the decline in the male wage makes it increasingly difficult for men to offer a provider role to women. Barack Obama is aware of what this has meant in practice for the stability of the black family; there are already signs that family formation in the wider society is being similarly disrupted.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Why be inconsistent on Tibet?

An Australian expert on China has analysed the riots in Tibet as follows:

The Chinese Government has sought to strengthen its legitimacy in Tibet by raising living standards to counter any separatist moves by Tibetans.

Ironically, that has brought an influx of Han Chinese, where they have come to outnumber Tibetans.

That has fuelled the resentment of Tibetans, many feeling their culture, language and identity are being diluted. Rioters have been smashing shops run by Han Chinese.

The expert, Dr Dennis Woodward, then considers the various retaliatory measures which might be taken against China, but concludes that they're unlikely to be effective.

What's odd about this is that Dr Woodward, and the other Tibetan sympathisers in the political class, are taking what appears to be a traditionalist view. It is assumed in Dr Woodward's analysis that the Tibetans have a legitimate grievance: that an influx of migrants from China is diluting the traditional ethnic national existence of the Tibetans.

It's not that I think Dr Woodward is wrong in supporting the Tibetans for this reason. I just wonder how he squares it with the usual modernist liberal line in which we are supposed to be oppressed by a boring monoculture and enriched by diversity. If Dr Woodward had held the Tibetans to the same liberal standards Westerners are kept to then he would have written something like the following:

Our imaginary liberal Professor: "Xenophobic Tibetans have erupted in a violent display of bigotry and racism, motivated by fear and hatred of the other. They claim to be defending their culture, but what is Tibetan culture anyway? The Tibetans want to turn the clock back to the grey past, before diversity first brought colour to their country."

So why is there such a double standard when it comes to defending nationalism? I suspect it mostly has something to do with the way that liberals process questions of power; if the Chinese are perceived to be the stronger power, then the Tibetans fall into the category of the oppressed and their "vehicles of struggle" will be respected even if they violate the standards liberals apply elsewhere.

There's another more worrying explanation. There are some liberals who believe that whites are exceptional in being uniquely evil. If you hold this view, then it can be logically consistent to oppose the existence of white majorities, whilst supporting the traditional identities of others.

The idea that whites are exceptional has gained ground in academia, with a major conference of "whiteness studies" scholars being held at Monash University later this year. Whiteness studies is based on the theory that whites invented racism to dominate others; that all whites benefit from an unearned privilege; that no matter how whites act they are complicit in racism and cannot escape their guilt; that whites are a kind of cosmic enemy and that it is right to aim to destroy whiteness.

Something very similar to whiteness studies has been in the news lately. Barack Obama's pastor, Jeremy Wright, has expressed strongly anti-white views, inspired by the "black liberation theology" of James Cone.

What does the theologian Cone believe? Despite holding a prestigious position as a professor at a New York seminary, Cone has written that:

Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community ... Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.

And on white complicity:

All white men are responsible for white oppression ...Racism is possible because whites are indifferent to suffering and patient with cruelty.

On whites as a cosmic enemy:

And it is the task of theology and the Church to know where God is at work so that we can join him in this fight against evil. In America we know where the evil is ... The demonic forces of racism are real for the black man. Theologically, Malcolm X was not far wrong when he called the white man "the devil." The white structure of this American society, personified in every racist, must be at least part of what the New Testament meant by the demonic forces.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Still not getting it

In my last post, I discussed an essay by American feminist Lori Gottlieb. She is a single mother in her 40s, who very much wishes that she had successfully married.

To her credit, she now admits that autonomy is not the overriding good it is usually held to be within feminist thought. However, she is still disastrously wrong in her approach to marriage.

She suggests to women that it is better to settle rather than to hold out for Mr Right. Her concept of settling, though, is overly drastic. It doesn't mean accepting someone who is imperfect but whom you can nonetheless love. Rather, she thinks of settling as accepting a loveless relationship, but one in which the work of raising a family is shared.

Here is a selection of her thoughts on settling:

Marriage [is] more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring non-profit business ... The couples my friend and I saw in the park that summer were enviable but not because they seemed so in love - they were enviable because the husbands played with the kids for 20 minutes so their wives could eat lunch ... So if you rarely see your husband - but he's a decent guy who takes out the trash and sets up the baby gear, and he provides a second income that allows you to spend time with your child instead of working 60 hours a week to support a family on your own - how much does it matter whether the guy you marry is The One ... when I think of marriage nowadays my role models are the television characters Will and Grace ... So what if Will and Grace weren't having sex with each other?

She goes on to write that she should have thought of marriage in terms of its "cold, hard benefits" and then she asks this disconcerting question:

By 40, if you get a cold shiver down your spine at the thought of embracing a certain guy, but you enjoy his company more than anyone else's, is that settling or making an adult compromise?

I wonder what the "certain guy" would think of such an arrangement.

Lori Gottlieb has rushed straight from holding out for a super perfect Mr Right, to pondering marriage to someone she doesn't even want to touch. There's much ground in the middle she might have considered.

For instance, in her essay Lori Gottlieb recalls that she spent her youth waiting for a "soul mate", a man with whom she felt a "cosmic connection" and a "divine spark". The instinct here is a fine one, but it needs to be tempered so that we don't end up searching for an idealised spiritual category rather than a real person. Lori Gottlieb tells us that she once:

dated someone who appeared to be highly compatible with me - we had much in common, and strong physical chemistry - but while our sensibilities were similar, they proved to be a half-note off, so we never quite felt in harmony, or never viewed the world through quite the same lens.

This idea of being "a half-note off" and not viewing the world "through quite the same lens" is what you would expect if you are searching for an idealisation; it's as if we were looking for the perfect "other gender" of ourselves - something which doesn't exist.

It's a similar situation when it comes to the romantic ideal of rescue. There is a female instinct to want to be saved by a man who sweeps them up, marries them and causes them to live happily ever after. In a tempered form, this instinct mightn't be such a bad thing; many men do have the corresponding impulse to play the rescuer role.

But a lot of women don't seem to temper the ideal; they believe literally in the "happily ever after" and are disappointed (or made angry or discontent) when a man doesn't deliver the perfect salvation which is not in his power to distribute.

I suspect that intellectual or creative women like Lori Gottlieb are more susceptible to pushing romantic ideals to their ultimate ends, rather than focusing on what might really be experienced.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Is autonomy the female dream?

Does modernism work in relationships? For evidence that the answer is no, consider a recent article by Lori Gottlieb.

If modernism is right, then the highest organising principle of society is individual autonomy. For women, the primary aim of life will be to maintain their independence. They will aim for economic independence in careers, and they will assert a right to raise a child independently of men. They will act with self-confidence as single girls, claiming not to need men in their personal lives.

Lori Gottlieb did all this. She and a female friend even chose, "in a fit of self-empowerment", to have their children as single mothers through sperm donors. She is not, though, at all content with what such autonomy has brought her. She tells us of a moment when she and her friend, both never married single mothers in their 40s, were out on a picnic with their children:

“Ah, this is the dream,” I said, and we nodded in silence for a minute, then burst out laughing. In some ways, I meant it: we’d both dreamed of motherhood, and here we were, picnicking in the park with our children. But it was also decidedly not the dream. The dream, like that of our mothers and their mothers from time immemorial, was to fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after. Of course, we’d be loath to admit it in this day and age, but ask any soul-baring 40-year-old single heterosexual woman what she most longs for in life, and she probably won’t tell you it’s a better career or a smaller waistline or a bigger apartment. Most likely, she’ll say that what she really wants is a husband (and, by extension, a child).

To the outside world, of course, we still call ourselves feminists and insist — vehemently, even — that we’re independent and self-sufficient and don’t believe in any of that damsel-in-distress stuff, but in reality, we aren’t fish who can do without a bicycle, we’re women who want a traditional family. And despite growing up in an era when the centuries-old mantra to get married young was finally (and, it seemed, refreshingly) replaced by encouragement to postpone that milestone in pursuit of high ideals (education! career! but also true love!), every woman I know — no matter how successful and ambitious, how financially and emotionally secure — feels panic, occasionally coupled with desperation, if she hits 30 and finds herself unmarried.

What does all this really mean? First, Lori Gottlieb is telling us that independence isn't the sole overriding good in life. Being part of a family is what is most important to her. Furthermore, she points out that this is not some individual quirk on her part, but a predictable, natural desire of women in general.

The implication is that we should be aiming, as a society, to create the conditions for successful family formation, rather than limiting our sights to enabling ever more radical forms of individual autonomy.

There is a second part to Lori Gottlieb's article. She discusses the idea of women settling rather than holding out for Mr Right. I found her approach to this idea disconcerting, but I'll leave this for a future article.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Status & self-inflicted decline

You might have heard of the website Stuff White People Like. It's a site which cleverly catalogues the group preferences of trendier upper-class whites.

The man responsible is Christian Lander (a white Canadian living in the US). Why did he undertake the project? According to a column in the LA Times:

One irony-deficient reader complained that the blog was less about white people than it was about yuppies. And without knowing it, she was cutting to the heart of the joke. Lander is gently making fun of the many progressive, educated, upper-middle-class whites who think they are beyond ethnicity or collectively shared tastes, styles or outlook. He's essentially reminding them that they too are part of a group ...

Lander is less concerned with cross-ethnic and racial relations than he is with how whites treat each other. As a onetime graduate student in the Midwest, he got tired of coastal condescension of the fly-over states and the glib assumption that "red staters are evil and stupid."

"Too many white people don't like to be reminded that they're white. They like to think that white people are those evil corporate right-wingers or the uneducated masses who vote the wrong way. But 'enlightened whites' are white people too and have just as much of a group mentality as they think the red staters have."

Which raises the question of why these progressive, upper-middle-class, educated whites would fail to identify positively with their own coethnics. Why the condescension toward other white Americans?

One part of the problem is the excessive emphasis on individual autonomy within liberal politics. Liberal autonomy theory suggests that we can be more or less human depending on how self-determining we are. If we accept the theory, then we are likely to reject an ethnic identity, as this is inherited rather than self-determined. It will be thought "superior" to be a non-ethnic, self-created individual, rather than someone who is richly connected to an ongoing ethnic tradition.

But the political theory is not all that holds the current attitudes in place. I know from the educated liberal whites I mix with, that status seeking also plays a role. It's not uncommon to have a conversation in which such whites compare their own sophisticated lifestyle and morally superior political views with those of the "rednecks" living in the suburbs or countryside.

It's to be expected that the upper classes will try to find ways to claim distinction. In the past, the upper classes did so by claiming superiority in their manners, taste, pedigree, honour and reputation.

The current way of asserting status is especially flawed. I am supposed to be superior as a white person if I place myself outside my own ethnic group by denigrating the mass of those who still positively identify as white as being backward, morally inferior "rednecks".

It's an irrational form of status seeking for the following reasons:

1) Anyone can potentially do it at any time, so it's difficult to see how it confers a true distinction. The traditional forms of distinction did, at least, have to be cultivated over time. The modern one merely requires us to hold to a certain political position. It's too easy.

2) It involves a logical inconsistency in which we simultaneously denigrate our own ethnic tradition whilst celebrating the traditions of others.

3) It requires us to undermine our own legitimate interests, to act against ourselves. We are supposed to gain a sense of superiority by pushing the interests of other groups against those of our own, even though this will ultimately lead to a loss of position, to a greater inferiority in the real world, for ourselves and our descendents.

4) The aim is a superior self-image, but the effect is to diminish our self-identity by cutting us away from our own communal traditions. An important aspect of the human experience is lost to us.

We would do much better if we adopted different forms of status seeking. Personally, I'd like the emphasis to be on developing character, or else achieving at a high level in some field of endeavour. But even a refinement of taste and manners would be preferable in conferring distinction to what we have now.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A woman of the pay gap

Why is there a pay gap between men and women? Julia Gillard believes it's because women still lack economic rights. Carrie Lukas, in a column last year for The Washington Post, begs to differ. It's not that a group of privileged male insiders are holding back oppressed female outsiders, but that women like herself aren't motivated primarily to select jobs with the highest pay:

In truth, I'm the cause of the wage gap -- I and hundreds of thousands of women like me. I have a good education and have worked full time for 10 years. Yet throughout my career, I've made things other than money a priority. I chose to work in the nonprofit world because I find it fulfilling. I sought out a specialty and employer that seemed best suited to balancing my work and family life. When I had my daughter, I took time off and then opted to stay home full time and telecommute. I'm not making as much money as I could, but I'm compensated by having the best working arrangement I could hope for.

Women make similar trade-offs all the time. Surveys have shown for years that women tend to place a higher priority on flexibility and personal fulfillment than do men, who focus more on pay. Women tend to avoid jobs that require travel or relocation, and they take more time off and spend fewer hours in the office than men do. Men disproportionately take on the dirtiest, most dangerous and depressing jobs.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

What a false accusation really tells us

There's a story in the British papers of a 23-year-old Cambridge graduate, Jack Gillett, who was falsely accused of sexually assaulting (date raping) a fellow student.

Here's what happened. Two weeks before the incident, a 23-year-old woman had visited another male student, Phillip Morrell, in his rooms. They slept together, but didn't have sex, though she took off her top. He wrote her a letter saying he regretted they had slept together; she complained to a friend that he had molested her.

On June 4 last year, the woman visited Jack Gillett in his room. He had been drinking heavily. They kissed and she responded when he began to touch her. But when he tried to put his hand down her pants she resisted and he stopped. She left but later returned to his room. Two other students did not hear the woman call for help at any time even though the door to their adjoining room had been left ajar.

A friend of the woman later said "She didn't want him convicted. What she wanted was for police to give him a scare so he wouldn't do it again. She thought he had overstepped the mark and she wanted him to be made aware of that."

I find the case interesting, in part because it fits the description of date rape made by F. Roger Devlin in his essay Sexual Utopia in Power (see pp.14-18).

What seems extraordinary about the case is the whole culture of relationships between the sexes it exposes. Here we have a woman who casually visits (drunk) men in their bedrooms, lies with them in their beds, engages in a certain amount of foreplay, but then accuses them of sexual assault if she feels that they have "overstepped the mark".

There is both a lack of wordliness in the way she repeatedly places herself in situations with men that are likely to go wrong, alongside a distorted view of the role of the police in enforcing sexual morality. On this last point Devlin writes in his essay:

The demand that law rather than moral principle and common prudence should protect women in situations such as I have described could only be met by literally "putting a policeman in every bedroom".

What explains the lack of prudence shown by the young woman in this case? One problem, argues Devlin, is that girls are brought up with the modernist idea that there are no essential differences between men and women:

Teach her furthermore that the notion of natural differences between the sexes is a laughable superstition that our enlightened age is gradually overcoming- with the implication that men's sexual desires are no different from or more intense than her own.

Similarly, women have been brought up to believe that unimpeded choice is the path to individual happiness:

It was the male and female sexual utopians of the postwar period who said women should be allowed unlimited freedom to choose for themselves in such matters. Unfortunately, they did not lay much stress on the need to accept the consequences of poor choices. Instead, they treated the moral and social norms women in particular had traditionally used to guide themselves as wholly irrational barriers to pleasure. Under their influence, two generations of women have been led to believe that doing as they please should lead to happiness and involve no risk. Hence the moral sophistry of “I didn’t like it; ergo I didn’t want it; ergo it was against my will.”

If you think that autonomous choice is the great good in life, you are likely to assume that the world you inhabit is, or should be, an open one, in which it's possible to choose freely in any direction. Hence the "carelessness" of those who believe they inhabit such a world.

If, on the other hand, you believe that reality is marked by an essential nature, and that the aim is to reach toward what's best in this nature, then you are likely to seek knowledge of how best to navigate your way successfully through the world. Learning from experience, thinking ahead, cultivating wordly knowledge, and searching for the truth in moral traditions will all be important to you.

The trial of Jack Gillett tells us that we have become more naive than we ought to be.

Saturday, March 08, 2008


There is a new battleground between left and right liberals, namely, happiness. Their debate about what makes us happy reveals a great deal about the mindset of both the left and the right, so it’s well worth looking at.
I will take as a representative of the left, the Australian “think-tanker” Clive Hamilton, and on the right, another think-tanker, the Swede Johan Norberg.
The left: Clive Hamilton

Last year, Clive Hamilton published a discussion paper called The Disappointment of Liberalism. He began this paper by noting that liberalism had succeeded in its basic aim.

What is the basic aim of liberalism? Let me put it this way, as simply as I can. Liberals believe that we are made human by being self-created through our own individual will and reason. This means that for liberals it is important that the individual is “liberated” from anything which impedes individual choice.

What kinds of things limit individual choice? Most notably, those things which are important to our self-identity, but which we inherit or are born to (and therefore don’t get to choose). This includes our sex (whether we are man or woman), and our race and ethnicity.

For a liberal, it is important that these unchosen things be made not to matter. Therefore, someone who defends them, for instance, by accepting different social roles for men and women will be called “sexist” by a liberal. Similarly, a white European who defends his own ethnic tradition will be labelled a “racist” – because such a view conflicts with liberal first principles.

Hamilton, though, doesn’t do much name calling as he is confident that the liberal project has succeeded. Note how clearly he expresses the basic principles of liberalism in the following passage:

Now that the constraints of socially imposed roles have weakened, oppression based on gender, class and race is no longer tenable, and the daily struggle for survival has for most people disappeared, we have entered an era characterised by ‘individualisation’ where, for the first time, individuals have the opportunity to ‘write their own biographies’ rather than have the chapters foretold by the circumstances of their birth. For the first time in history, the ordinary individual in the West has the opportunity to make a true choice ...

We’ve never had more freedom to shape ourselves in the way we want ...

This liberal concept of “freedom”, though, creates a particular difficulty. It leaves you with a society made up of millions of atomised individuals, each acting according to their own individual wants. How then do you hold a society together?

This is exactly the issue Hamilton wishes to discuss. He writes,

this essay is a prelude to answering the question of how we can reconstruct the social in an individualized world. In a world where we are no longer bound together by our class, gender or race, why should we live cooperatively?

In the nineteenth century, liberals thought they had found an answer to the dilemma. If individuals sought to follow a profit motive, no matter how selfishly, the hidden hand of the market would regulate the outcome for the overall benefit of society: for growth and progress.

However, by the end of the nineteenth century, a group of “new liberals” were decisively rejecting the free market solution, because it generated inequalities of outcome. They preferred the idea of a “rational” regulation of society, particularly by the central state.

Today, the nineteenth century “classical liberals” are the right-wing of politics, and the twentieth century “new liberals” are the left-wing.

You would therefore expect a left-liberal like Clive Hamilton to be critical of free market solutions. And he is. In fact, his basic argument runs as follows.

First, as we have seen, he celebrates the overthrow of a traditionalist “social” conservatism. He believes that today,

the shackles of minority oppression and social conservatism have been cast off. The traditional standards, expectations and stereotypes that were the target of the various movements, dating from the 1960s – the sexual revolution, the counter-culture and the women’s movement – ushered in an era of personal liberty.

And yet, continues Hamilton, people don’t seem to be any happier. He notes “the extraordinary proliferation of the diseases of affluence” which,

suggests that the psychological wellbeing of citizens of rich countries is in decline. These diseases include drug dependence, obesity, loneliness and a suite of psychological disorders ranging from depression, anxiety, compulsive behaviours and widespread but ill-defined anomie. Perhaps the most telling evidence is the extraordinary prevalence of depression in rich countries.

What can explain the failure of the liberal project to create happiness? Hamilton’s answer is to blame the influence of the free market. He believes that people aren’t using their new found freedom to make reasoned, considered choices, but are being manipulated by the market to follow more shallow, consumeristic impulses.

It is Hamilton’s belief that “The market itself has, in recent decades, evolved into an instrument of coercion” and that “The activities of the marketers, given unbounded licence by the free-market policies of neoliberals [he means right-liberals], reinforce daily the promise of instant gratification ... So forceful and pervasive are the messages of the marketers that they now provide the raw material from which people construct their identities.”

The right liberal: Johan Norberg

Johan Norberg has also written a paper about happiness: The Scientist’s Pursuit of Happiness.

We know from this paper that Norberg is a liberal because he expresses in it the underlying liberal principle that individuals should choose their own identity, and reject inherited ones. He writes that,

a liberal and market-oriented society allows people freedom to choose. In the absence of authoritarian leaders ... forcing us to live the way they think is best for us, we can choose the kind of identity and lifestyle that suits us ... In traditional societies, on the other hand, the individual has to adapt to pre-fabricated roles and demands.

We can also tell from Norberg’s paper that he is not only a liberal, but more specifically a right-liberal. Unlike Hamilton, he is a devotee of the free market, and tends to see man’s economic activity as central to his life.

For instance, he writes that, “If you want to meet a happy Australian, ask someone who thinks that people like themselves have a good chance of improving their standard of living.”

He believes also that happiness reached a peak after WWII, because “With economies growing rapidly, people began to think that their children would enjoy a better life than they had.”

He is even willing to place economic activity ahead of family life, by citing a survey in which people recorded more happiness while working than when spending free time with their families.

Note too his idea that “Belief in the future grows when poor countries begin to experience growth, when markets open up, when incomes increase and people’s decisions begin to affect their place in society.”

Norberg, in fact, is such a devotee of the free market, that he wants no controls at all on the movement of labour. He believes in unfettered immigration, stating that “If people were allowed to cross borders at will, they would take their ideas and their labour and skills with them. This is all part of free trade...” (The Age, 24/9/05)

Of course, left-liberals also support open borders. However, whereas left-liberals typically support multiculturalism, Norberg follows the more usual right-liberal policy of wanting high immigration plus assimilation. In his view,

It is time for our liberal societies to stop apologising, to get back our self-confidence and state that tolerance and freedom is our way, and those who are out to destroy that deserve no toleration. The idea that we shouldn’t impose our values (on immigrants) is bizarre. Of course we should.

We should force everybody to accept every other human being as a free and autonomous individual with the same rights as himself. That is the law of a liberal, open society, and that is what has created the most creative and humane societies in world history. Everybody who wants to enjoy that society must conform to it. (The Age, 24/9/05)

Note that Norberg in this quote writes as a kind of upbeat booster to his own liberal society. This is, again, typical of right-liberals. Left-liberals are more inclined to see themselves as “outsiders” (even when they are very influential) and to be negative and critical of their own societies.

The fact that left-liberals often see themselves as “dissenters” is illustrated by a recent university study which found that 20% of candidates for the left-wing Australian Labor Party declared themselves to be either not very proud, or not at all proud, to be Australian.

Finally, as you would expect of a right-liberal, Norberg is anti-statist. He believes that the free market is the solution, and so doesn’t like the idea of state interference. It is no coincidence, therefore, that he believes that the state can’t create happiness.

It is his view that “it does not seem like the growth of the welfare state has increased human happiness” and that “A government that says it wants to make us happy misses the obvious fact that a government can’t give us happiness.”

A conservative reply

How might a traditionalist conservative respond to Hamilton and Norberg? I have already written a reply to Hamilton, so I will focus here on Norberg.

One thing a traditionalist can do is to reply to Norberg within the current framework of debate. For instance, Norberg claims that,

the most happy and satisfied places on earth are the ones that are most dynamic, individualist and wealthy: North America, Northern Europe and Australia.

If so, this doesn’t say much about the human capacity for happiness. As Hamilton has already pointed out, there is an epidemic of mental ill-health in North America, Northern Europe and Australia. Hamilton notes that the incidence of depression in the US grew tenfold in the five decades after WWII, despite this being a golden age of economic growth. He also cites reports that nearly one in four French people are taking tranquillisers, anti-depressants, antipsychotics or other mood-altering drugs.

Even more remarkably, in Norway, which has reputedly become “the richest country of all time”, one in four adults seeks psychiatric treatment each year.

What is also significant is the survey result, quoted by Norberg himself, showing that 48% of Americans had “downshifted” in the last five years, by reducing their working hours, declining promotions, lowering their material expectations or moving to a quieter place.

So the idea that careerism and rising material standards of living are sufficient to produce human happiness doesn’t seem to fit the facts. The free market doesn’t provide everything we need to be happy.

However, it’s not enough for traditionalists to respond at this level. We leave too much of the liberal mentality intact if we do.

First, we need to engage at the level of underlying principles. Norberg wants us to be free to choose as long as we don’t choose traditional, “pre-fabricated” roles and identities. This might not seem too much of an imposition, but we need to remember that many traditional identities became accepted and generally applied (pre-fabricated) because they reflected significant aspects of human nature.

Women being maternal and caring for their own children is a traditional role and identity; but it is no light imposition to declare this role to be illegitimate for being “prefabricated”.

In other words, it is those things we are most likely to want to choose which Norberg’s liberalism will frown upon and want to “liberate” us from.

Second, traditionalists need to question an even more basic assumption underlying the whole debate. Is it really true that the aim of human life is the pursuit of individual happiness?

In liberal societies, this assumption is widespread. One of the inalienable rights of man listed in the US Declaration of Independence is “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. A radical right-liberal, Ayn Rand, was even bold enough to assert that her philosophy was “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

This assumption, that our life’s purpose is the pursuit of our own happiness, seems false to me and even a little degrading.

It’s not that happiness doesn’t form part of a good life, but that we are made to reach beyond this to more significant things.

It’s difficult to give a complete picture of what these significant things are, but I’ll make a start. I think, for instance, it’s important for individuals to experience certain forms of “connectedness”. This might include a love of nature, an appreciation of art, romantic or marital love, a sense of ancestry, an ethnic or national identity, and our own masculine or feminine natures and the virtues associated with these.

The importance of such forms of connectedness is not just that they make us “happy”, but that they anchor us, provide a significant moral framework, add meaning to our life efforts, and most importantly provide the deeper forms of self-identity: our enduring sense of who we are.

Liberalism doesn’t want us to be connected in the way I am trying to describe; the liberal aim is for the individual to be free-floating and self-scripting, always independent and autonomous, with multiple, fluid, negotiated identities (to use liberal jargon).

It may well be possible to find a kind of surface happiness in the liberal way, through the pursuit of a purely individual happiness (shopping, careers and so on), but much of the traditional significance of life will be left out.

At any rate, we should not fall into the trap of accepting the liberal terms of debate. If we feel uncomfortable with the idea that our life’s goal is the individual pursuit of happiness, our challenge is to step outside this view and to advance a clear alternative.

(First published at Conservative Central, 27/09/2005)

Gillard wrong on pay gap

It's International Women's Day. Our Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is claiming that "more still needs to be done" to achieve gender equality. She believes that women lack "economic rights" because they earn 85% of the male wage.

I feel destined to have to go through the faults of this argument about the pay gap for many years to come. To keep it as short as I can, there are three problems with using a pay gap to justify further feminist struggle.

First, there is no pay gap in the sense of women being paid less for equivalent work. Men earn slightly more on average than women because they work longer full-time hours than women working full-time; because they are more likely to accept dangerous work or work in remote locations; and because they are more likely to choose better paying occupations.

There are two good brief articles I can recommend for those wanting more information on these matters: one by John Leo and another by Bettina Arndt.

John Leo points out that women are 15 times more likely than men to become executives at top corporations before the age of 40. In other words, those women available for these jobs are fast-tracked into them at a much younger age than their male counterparts. Leo, summarising some of the findings of a book on the subject by Warren Farrell, notes that:

Never-married, college-educated males who work full time make only 85 percent of what comparable women earn. Female pay exceeds male pay in more than 80 different fields, 39 of them large fields that offer good jobs, like financial analyst, engineering manager, sales engineer, statistician, surveying and mapping technicians, agricultural and food scientists, and aerospace engineers. A female investment banker's starting salary is 116 percent of a male's. Part-time female workers make $1.10 for every $1 earned by part-time males.

There is a worse problem with Gillard's argument about the pay gap. It is senseless to talk about a "male wage". The large majority of men work to provide for their families. The money they earn is effectively a family wage. Gillard falsely imposes a modernist assumption on men: that men are making money in competition with women for the autonomy and power that money brings. It is a vision of society in which men and women are naturally set apart in a hostile, competitive relationship, rather than working to raise a family together.

Finally, it may not be wise for women to wish for the abolition of the pay gap. Women are inclined to feel romantically attracted to men who earn more than they do. The less the pay gap, the less likely it is that a woman will find a husband. Also, for the pay gap to disappear, men will have to be less oriented to earning a good income to support their families (in terms of accepting longer full-time hours, or selecting well paid, rather than glamorous and rewarding occupations). Is this really in the interests of the average wife?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Cashmere Mafia: why so grim?

Being married, I end up watching more female TV than I otherwise would. Last night, I sat with my wife and watched an episode of Cashmere Mafia.

The show is about four forty-year-old high flying career women. These women have all successfully followed the path laid down for them by feminism by focusing on gaining power at work. In this sense the show is feminist, but Cashmere Mafia doesn't present us with a feminist utopia. If anything, watching the programme is a grim and dismal experience.

The women do not have their lives worked out. One of them spent last night's episode arranging an infidelity to avenge her husband's affair. Although she decided at the last moment that she couldn't go through with it, she found a number of ways to pay out on her husband, who spent much of the episode being humiliated. Similarly, another character had to deal with the fallout of an affair between her fellow directing manager and a younger female employee. The guilty male manager, too, spent much of the episode being lectured in humiliating terms. A third woman, who broke up with her fiancee after beating him for a job, lectured men on the need to accept powerful women like herself at work.

It might sound as if the women are presented as triumphing over men. The overall effect, though, is to suggest that the women's lives are pathetic and their personalities cold and unlikeable.

Why would scriptwriters apparently doom their show by coming up with such dismal story lines and such cold personalities?

One possible answer runs as follows. The women of Cashmere Mafia have been brought up with the feminist belief that the gaining and wielding of power is an essential good in life. But having achieved this power, what do you do with it?

In more traditional societies, power was supposed to be wielded for a larger purpose, such as the good of a particular community. The feminist understanding of power is radically different. The feminist idea is that power is an individual good, something that makes us autonomous and therefore more human. This kind of individual power is contested in society, with men having organised to get it for themselves at the expense of women.

Therefore, when the Cashmere Mafia women get power, it's not used for larger, productive social ends. Instead, the focus is on the individual power contest between men and women, both at work and at home. Given that there is unlikely to be a lively power contest in a happy marriage or in a stable work environment, perhaps it's inevitable that the scriptwriters have presented us with an unappealing set of conflicts between men and women.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The state vs the male provider

In Britain and in Sweden the state is undermining the efforts of men to be providers for their families.

In Britain a typical couple on a low or middle income would be $148 a week better off if they split up and lived separately. This takes into account the costs of running separate households:

Three out of four ordinary families would be better off living apart than sharing a home under Labour's benefits system.

Tax credits and benefits are increasingly skewed towards single mothers, a study has shown.

A typical couple on a low or middle income would be £69 a week better off if they lived apart. For some families, such as those with one child and a wife who stays at home, the premium would be almost £100 a week [$214].

In Sweden, there has long been a system of paid parental leave. It is, as you would expect, mostly taken up by mothers rather than fathers. Mothers choosing to stay home with their babies is considered to be an oppressive gender inequality in Sweden, so a "gender equality bonus" is being introduced in which families will be paid up to $526 a month extra if the parental leave is split evenly between fathers and mothers.

The Moderate Party of PM Fredrik Reinfeldt wants to push the concept further, and pay out additional equality bonuses to men who choose to work part time or who stay home with sick children.

The Moderate Party proposals have met some resistance, from a leading newspaper Svenska Dagbladet:

Svenska Dagbladet compares the move to unnecessary 'social engineering' and admonishes the Moderates for undue meddling in decisions about how families divide their household responsibilities.

"Citizens are fully capable of deciding what's best for them on their own," it writes ...

In addition, the paper openly questions whether Swedish taxpayers would tolerate the measure.

"Citizens already pay inappropriately high taxes with impressive levels of tolerance because they expect basic services tailored to their needs, and not to be lectured by some 'gender equality police' who disapprove of their family's make up."

In Sweden, a man who sets out to be a good provider will find his efforts undercut by:

1) Having to pay an exorbitant share of his wages in tax.
2) His wife being supported to stay home by a paid maternity scheme rather than by his own wage.
3) Losing "equality bonuses" through his decision to go out to work.

And this is all in aid of an ideological belief that gender equality means men and women playing exactly the same role in the family.

I've written previously on the ideological basis for Swedish views on gender: The case against Sweden.

To read the views of a Swedish woman on these policies see Feminine rebellions: the Viking Princess.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Flannery: a consistent environmentalist

News from Adelaide:

RENOWNED scientist and author Tim Flannery has fired a broadside at the State Government's push to attract more migrants to South Australia.

And he said the water crisis made any government's policy of increasing population unsustainable.

He questioned why the Government was bringing professional migrants to the state instead of training SA's unemployed to fill skilled-job vacancies.

"Why is it you would want to bring in more people when there are chronic unemployment problems in parts of Adelaide which must be addressed – (especially) in the northern suburbs towards Elizabeth?" said Prof Flannery, the 2007 Australian of the Year and former SA Museum director.

"In my view there should be more emphasis on helping those who are already there in the state than just bringing more people in."

Prof Flannery, who is principal research scientist at the Australian Museum in Sydney, said the policy of "aggressive population recruitment" had already been tried and failed.

He said the pockets of chronic unemployment – sometimes stretching across three generations – were created by bringing in people to fill jobs in a manufacturing industry which had proved unsustainable, as shown by the closure of the Mitsubishi car plant this month.

"I think South Australians should ask themselves whether that (migration policy) is the right model for the future," he said.

I don't always agree with Tim Flannery. Some of his views on global warming seem overly alarmist to me. Nonetheless, he stands as one environmentalist who is consistent in his views: he believes that human populations are harming the environment and therefore he opposes a rapid increase in the population via mass immigration. He stands too as one member of the elite who thinks in terms of the local population rather than seeking salvation elsewhere.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The decline of the modern Greeks?

Greece, it seems, has not escaped the trials of modernity. In an article at The Brussels Journal, Napoleon Linardatos discusses the negative effects of EU subsidies on Greece, the dominance of progressive ideas, the lack of social cohesion and what he terms "the relativism of everyday life", in which "the most important thing is what you can get away with".

The entire article is worth reading, but I was particularly taken with his account of the decline of the Greek family:

It is not surprising that between 1991 and 2001 deaths exceeded births by more than 40,000. The rearing of a family involves an unconditional commitment to another person, an undertaking whose emotional and financial costs are obvious and direct while many of the benefits are spread out in society and over time.

A family man would say that nothing could compensate for the joys of family, but in a society where the individual perceives himself as the centre of the universe committed to the proposition that all joys and pleasures are equal, the family becomes just another choice among others. When duty and virtue have become antiquated terms that one only finds in books no one reads, we have a declining society entangled in the most petty and ephemeral affairs.

Unburdened by the past, unimpeded from posterity, there stands the modern Greek: a person free of any civic and moral duties ...

Unlike any other foe the Greeks faced in the past, the one that they face now has no armies laying siege to any walls ... It is a foe that does not challenge their strengths but rather assuages their weaknesses. Instead of attacking the culture, it merely trivializes it by draining it of any transcendent qualities. There is no need to assail honesty, merit and hard work; they have simply been rendered irrelevant.

This is quality writing. Linardatos attacks at the right level; he has no illusions that the problem is a merely technical one to be solved with a new economic measure or social reform.

Instead, he looks at modern man and his culture. The modern man who wants, above all, to be unimpeded will free himself from what matters most. He will "unburden" himself of a connection to past and future generations; of an overriding commitment to family; of a sense of loyalty and duty to his own community; and of non-relativist forms of morality.