Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Pope, Penny Red & the ecology of man

In his Christmas address, the Pope spoke about man and creation.

In his speech, he said that Christians believe that the world was created by God. Therefore, it was right that Christians sought to be good stewards for the environment - for creation. However, as man in his nature was part of this creation, it was equally right for the church to seek to preserve the nature of man himself here on earth:

Since faith in the Creator is an essential part of the Christian Credo, the Church cannot and should not confine itself to passing on the message of salvation alone. It has a responsibility for the created order and ought to make this responsibility prevail, even in public. And in so doing, it ought to safeguard not only the earth, water, and air as gifts of creation, belonging to everyone. It ought also to protect man against the destruction of himself. What is necessary is a kind of ecology of man, understood in the correct sense.

In what way does the "ecology of man" need to be protected? The Pope raised as an example the issue of gender. He thinks it important that we continue to recognise that men and women were created with distinct natures. Sex distinctions can't just be explained in terms of a socially constructed "gender" which humans can re-create for their own purposes:

When the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected, it is not the result of an outdated metaphysic. It is a question here of faith in the Creator and of listening to the language of creation, the devaluation of which leads to the self-destruction of man and therefore to the destruction of the same work of God.

That which is often expressed and understood by the term "gender," results finally in the self-emancipation of man from creation and from the Creator. Man wishes to act alone and to dispose ever and exclusively of that alone which concerns him. But in this way he is living contrary to the truth, he is living contrary to the Spirit Creator.

The tropical forests are deserving, yes, of our protection, but man merits no less than the creature, in which there is written a message which does not mean a contradiction of our liberty, but its condition.

So the fact of our creation - of our having a nature as man and woman - does not deprive us of liberty, but is a condition of our freedom.

Is it self-destructive, rather than liberating, to deny the created nature of man? I believe it to be so. Let me take as an example the case of Penny Red, a young English feminist. She wrote a post attacking the Pope's speech and urging her readers to "hold on to our liberal ideals". But what do these ideals lead to?

Penny Red makes this clear in a recent post on gender. The first thing you notice about this post is how grim and grisly her views on gender are. Penny Red has rejected the idea that sex distinctions are a natural and positive aspect of creation; therefore, she explains them in terms of a violent, oppressive assertion of power:

School is where it all starts ... School is where girls learn that their bodies are objects of desire over which they do not automatically get sovereignty ... Most pupils of both sexes were learning what violence meant, which was power ... School is where those rules of gender, power and violence were laid down ...

Violence– whether sexual, physical or both – is almost always gendered, and remains gendered throughout adulthood, because it is about power, and gender as constructed by patriarchal society has always been about power ...

Sexual and physical violence has been ingrained as a method of asserting a primitive idea of ‘masculinity’ and of patriarchal might ...

For all our talk of civilisation, we remain an intensely divided, primitive and warlike society – and we will continue to do so as long as our young men ... grow up learning that instead of becoming whole human beings, they have to learn to fight.

This culture has been achingly slow to even begin to let go of the archetype of masculinity ... Women across the world remain unaware of the extent to which the Western model of masculinity is damaging – partly because we ourselves have spent way too long trying to emulate it ...

In reacting against the artificial prison of Western womanhood, liberated women have turned against their former masters with all the righteous rage of escaping slaves

So womanhood is reduced here to an "artificial prison" and manhood is thought of as an inhuman expression of violence, dominance and aggression. This reading of human nature as it really exists is extraordinarilay negative.

Where then is the liberation? Presumably, Penny Red's hope is that there is a utopian version of human nature waiting to emerge once the sex distinctions are cast off. The assumption is that once we are perfectly "sovereign" (i.e. self-determining) then we become fully human and more authentically self-realised.

The problem here is not only the overly optimistic view of the perfectibility of human nature. The deeper problem is the assumption that we become something greater by being wholly self-determined. But why should this be the case? If my "self" is something I make up (something self-determined), then it no longer relates to anything of objective significance outside of myself.

If, on the other hand, I have a masculine nature as part of my being, then my "self" gets to share in the objective significance of masculinity.

Penny Red goes on to admit that the liberal view has led to poor relations between the sexes. If social relationships are based on an assertion of power and dominance, then men and women will see themselves as existing within a hierarchy of oppression:

However, across the debate sphere for decades the cry ‘but men don’t have it easy either’ has been assumed as a direct attack on feminism – and sometimes it has even been meant as one. Otherwise perfectly intelligent commentators descend into petty fights over whose gender oppression trumps whose, not realising that everyone’s gender oppression is equally valid, not understanding that the expression of someone’s struggle is not an attack on everyone else’s.

Furthermore, writes Penny, men have failed to abandon their manhood, leading to an ongoing, unresolved war of the sexes:

Recent decades have seen the dissolution of the gender liberation movement into in-fighting, with men and women attacking each other as if each were somehow to blame for the other’s lot in life.

Men have remained unreconstructed, in the truest sense of that term, whilst women have gone on to socially evolve beyond recognition in the space of thirty years.

Instead of claiming their own reconstruction in tandem, men have reacted at the shock of having the ability to define themselves against women taken away. Feminists have reacted against that backlash in turn, and the whole thing has descended to wary stalemate, neither side trusting the other enough to put their weapons down and start drawing up a peace treaty.

Not exactly a happy, liberating scenario, is it?

Finally, there is Penny Red's solution to the mess, which is (as is usually the case) an even more intense dose of liberalism. She wants to persuade us that recognising distinctions between men and women amounts, literally, to fascism:

If we are truly to leave gender fascism behind, we cannot allow ourselves to think in binaries - men and women, boys and girls, us and them ...

So I have this dream about a new kind of feminism - one that recognises that it is not only about liberating biological women from the constraints and indignities associated with their sex, but about liberating all human people from the cruelties and limitations imposed on them by their gender ...

We have to recognise that the spectrum of gender prejudice extends into everyone's lives and places limitations on all of us ...

The best term for what is perpetrated by patriarchal cultural mores is not misogyny nor even organised sexism, but gender fascism. Fascism in its most literal sense, in its etymological notion of the fasces, the ordered bundle, everything in its proper, pre-ordained and rigidly socially determined place. Ladies, gentlemen and everyone else in attendance: gender fascism is what we need to set ourselves against.

And that is why ... we are all feminists ... every person trying to live their life as a complete human being is a feminist ally ...

So whatever isn't self-determined, whatever is pre-ordained, has for Penny Red the stigma of fascism attached to it. In this view, heterosexuality itself, in which there is a love for and attraction to the qualities of the opposite sex (and in which a binary recognition of male and female is central), must be tainted with fascism.

This isn't a path to liberation, but to conflict and self-deception - in which we are no longer able to live freely and openly as men and women.


  1. I think her hatred of gender distinctions says more about her, to be honest.

    And I think the idea of forcing everyone to abandon gender identities, even if they are happier with them, seems to be a little totalitarian, or "fascist".

    Truth is that most men are happy to be men, and most women are happy to be women. Hence why Penny Red will never achieve her social(ist) objectives.

  2. Also, the idea that the self can (never mind should!) be self-constructed needs to be critiqued as the nonsense it obviously is.

    Whether, as the Pope says, out nature is given by God, or whether it is given by nature, we cannot afford to ignore it and expect happiness to follow.

    One can view nature, semiotically speaking, as a manifestation of divine order or alternatively as an unfeeling and hostile force that threatens civilisation; through the lens of a religious worldview in which human communities have a sanctified place, or when this view is in decline, as an atavistic and anti-social principle.

    One can look at natire as Wordsworth saw it, or as Baudelaire did. But one cannot credibly ignore it or deny that it exists, as liberals and postmodernists do.

    I think that religious and non-religious conservatives can agree
    that, whether by obedience to a divine plan or by respect for traditional forms of community whose fuction is to tame the destructive Darwinian struggle for existence, we must approach nature, inner and outer, with due reverence.

    I feel that there is always a hidden and perhaps unconscious agenda behind feminist and liberal attacks on gender, marriage and the family. In the name of liberty equality these people are seeking to destroy the thin veneer that civilisation, or religious discipline, places over our egoistic, animal natures; to replace the harmonious compromise between men's and women's interests that marriage represents, with unrestrained competition, both inter- and intra-sex, for reproductive advantage.

    The result of this is of course that the family, which is the basic unit of society, breaks down and the next generation grows up not as autonomous, "self-created" androgynes, but, like that of their parents, does not really grow up at all.

  3. She's like someone who goes into the Louvre, looking at the Mona Lisa, and saying "it's rubbish" and proclaiming a Jackson Pollack a masterpiece. No, she hasn't judged the art--the art has judged her.

    And if she proclaims the created order to be deranged, instead the created order determines her to be deranged.

  4. Leon, I notice that someone at Penny's site has made the same point as you - that it is Penny who is being totalitarian (intolerant?) in wanting to force people to abandon gender identities.

    Jal, a very interesting comment. You're right that Penny's position can be criticised from both a religious and secular position.

    I don't think I can put your argument as well as you do, but I understand the gist of it as follows: the natural condition of man is a harsh one and we have done well to build a civilisation to rise above it. In attacking gender, marriage and the family, Penny Red is more likely to undermine the traditions on which an advanced, civilised life is made possible than to liberate individuals from oppression.

    It's a good argument, though I would describe human nature as being more a combination of higher and lower qualities.

    Here is another approach to this issue for someone with a secular world view.

    Science has increasingly shown that sex differences are hard-wired.

    Therefore, the existence of sex distinctions is natural and doesn't need to be explained in terms of power relationships.

    Furthermore, we can observe in our own experience, and that of others, that sex distinctions are often a positive aspect of life. They are deeply ingrained in our sense of identity and in our experiences of heterosexual love.

    It is therefore reasonable for a society to not only accept sex distinctions but to positively encourage the higher masculine and feminine qualities - the ones associated with a higher, more civilised form of manhood and womanhood.

    Jaz, you are a long way from a bad old conservative habit, of being too defensive and giving away too much to liberalism when making objections to it.

  5. "Women across the world remain unaware of the extent to which the Western model of masculinity is damaging"

    A few points about the left's continued Western Civ bashing:

    1. I would like to hear of an existing model to follow, then. Not a Utopian fantasy inside someone's head but an honest to goodness existing culture in which masculinity is defined completely differently from the Western standard, men and women adhere voluntarily to this standard and the society functions harmoniously. Modern Sweden doesn't count as the government suppresses any dissenting views and financially punishes those not on board unless they are Islamic. Societies with birthrates below 2.0 child/woman should probably be eliminated from contention in general as cultural suicide is a form of societal illness I believe.

    2. The Christian West has always had a role and place for women who didn't get married. It may not be the role they would like, but they were certainly not non-persons if they chose or were unable to marry. Some other societies have provided roles for unmarried women (Some American Indian tribes had medicine women or other such priestesses that did not need to have a spouse to be important.) Even so, when married, motherhood was expected to be the main focus of their lives. Most major civilizations have expected marriage and motherhood to be the only legitimate place for women.

    "So I have this dream about a new kind of feminism - one that recognises that it is not only about liberating biological women from the constraints and indignities associated with their sex, but about liberating all human people from the cruelties and limitations imposed on them by their gender ..."

    Then feminism is probably the wrong term. Genderlessism is really more descriptive. The traditional feminine role seems to be the one that causes the most ire for feminists so the term "feminism" would reinforce that difference.

    I've thought that part of their agenda is beyond anti-civilization and on to anti-humans in general. Few of them have articulated or thought that this is where the philosophy leads(although there is a movement for voluntary human extinction.) They just want to rebel against any order. Some like Penny here seem to spend a lot of energy thinking and writing but never revealing just where the end game of all this leads. Are they hiding it or denying it? I don't know. Some just view the tribal society as superior to the organized civilization. Entropy in motion, perhaps.

  6. Milton Friedman's son has an interesting commment about the contradiction of liberals who accept evolution but can't accept it's implications in terms of gender or racial differences:

    "It's a widespread view, but true in only a narrow sense. People who say they are against teaching the theory of evolution are very likely to be Christian fundamentalists. But people who are against taking seriously the implications of evolution, strongly enough to want to attack those who disagree, including those who teach those implications, are quite likely to be on the left."