Sunday, March 01, 2009

A liberal elitist cuts loose

Many readers will know the TV show Wife Swap. Two mothers from different backgrounds switch families for a period of time.

A recent episode of the American programme features a San Francisco liberal couple. The woman introduces herself as a certified hypnotherapist, life coach and destination coach. She is not a patriot. When asked why she is not a proud American she explains,

Because of the chance that I was born on American soil. I mean that's just the way it was. I had nothing to do with it personally.


I've heard this kind of line before. It relates to the idea that what counts is that we self-determine who we are and what we do. Therefore whatever aspect of our lives is an "accident of birth" is thought not to matter.

It's a position that's difficult to hold to consistently. After all, our IQ and many of our personality traits are influenced by heredity and are therefore an accident of birth, as also is the family upbringing we experience.

So our San Fransico couple should also reject a sense of pride in their own intelligence, education and work ethic as these are a product, to a significant degree, of conditions we are born into. But they don't - they are proud of these qualities to the point of arrogance.

It's actually more logical to recognise the debt we owe to generations past for the positive qualities that we do inherit. Past generations have battled through to recognise and perpetuate ideals in culture and personality. We do rest on these achievements, even if we inherit them rather than creating them for ourselves. So pride in a larger entity does make sense - more so than the belief that we are self-created as individuals.

But I digress. The San Francisco woman might be a bit flaky, and she appears to spend little time with her own children ("If I'm too much with the kids, it doesn't suit my personality"), but she comes across in the clips as a basically nice person.

It is the San Francisco man, Stephen Fowler, who really takes the cake. He is paired with an unsophisticated but decent and well-meaning Midwestern woman. He treats her with absolute contempt and disdain. He calls her a dumb redneck and congratulates her for using big words. He laughs when he tells her she is overweight and undereducated. And he disparages her simply for living in the Midwest.

This arrogant elitism might appear to be a strange double-standard. After all, Stephen Fowler as a liberal is supposed to be strongly into equality. How can you have an egalitarian elitism?

Perhaps the answer lies in what liberals understand by equality. Usually it is thought to mean an equal freedom to follow our own unhindered will. Of course, this doesn't work too well when you're a parent. Stephen Fowler, when watching his young son practise fencing, says proudly to the camera "I'm not going to force him to do it". But it's merely pretence. The son instantly objects "I don't want to do it and you say I have to do it."

Stephen Fowler is a more coercive father than most. He wakes his son up at night because the son forgot to complete some maths sums. The children don't have friends over and live a regimented life.

But it's difficult for a liberal to admit that they are being coercive. After all, liberals hold that we become fully human when we are free to follow our own will unhindered. To coerce others means denying their humanity: their equal human rights.

So it's not surprising that an aggressive liberal like Stephen Fowler should pretend that he is not coercing his son, when that is exactly what he is doing (for better or worse).

Nor is it surprising that, as an aggressive liberal, he should follow through with the logic of his position and disrespect as people those whose lives he believes are unacceptable and worthy of coercion.

(There's a terrific post on this aspect of liberalism, very much worth reading, here.)

Finally, it strikes me watching the YouTube clips that Stephen Fowler believes himself to be highly cultivated and therefore superior. I think it a greater blessing, though, to be fully natured. I would be more impressed by Stephen Fowler feeling a connection and a loyalty to his own tradition, rather than by his university qualifications and his good vocabulary.

The first, and most eye opening, of the YouTube clips is below:



The follow-up is here:

5 comments:

  1. Mark I was completely shocked when viewing that YouTube clip. It makes me wonder what has this world come to.
    What a gutless person Stephen is to behave with such rudeness and arrogance towards that Midwestern woman. He presents a poor image in front of his kids, and with that authoritarian attitude I think it will lead to fractures in his family as the kids grow older.

    I say he be sentenced to life infront of a firing squad. haha

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  2. The whole notion of a TV program about wife swapping is appalling in the first place.

    Revolting.

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  3. Because of the chance that I was born on American soil. I mean that's just the way it was. I had nothing to do with it personally”.


    I've heard this kind of line before. It relates to the idea that what counts is that we self-determine who we are and what we do. Therefore whatever aspect of our lives is an "accident of birth" is thought not to matter.


    You make it sound almost as though you don’t think it “counts” at all. Holding that the accidental stuff (does it really need the sneer quotes? It is accidental isn’t it?) counts, or should count, doesn’t rule out making the focus of one’s life what he does within those constraints.

    Unlike that Fowler fellow, this lady at least demonstrates that she’s thought a little about her world. It’s probably only too human to be a bit upset at the idea that things we hold no control over have (or “had’, in the past, in the "bad old days") such influence on our lives, so with only minimal societal prodding people like this lady (women are probably more prone to it) are able to completely discount the idea, particularly when their own lives are going swimmingly. She might be more strident than most (she’s a hypnotherapist, afterall) but, given the chance, most people would probably seek to minimize how much the accidental stuff matters. Of course, it’s only a hop, skip and a jump from minimizing to thrusting a forefinger into the air and claiming no constraints at all, a tendency all too many intellectuals have fallen prey too (a domino effect probably).


    It's a position that's difficult to hold to consistently. After all, our IQ and many of our personality traits are influenced by heredity and are therefore an accident of birth, as also is the family upbringing we experience.

    So our San Fransico couple should also reject a sense of pride in their own intelligence, education and work ethic as these are a product, to a significant degree, of conditions we are born into. But they don't - they are proud of these qualities to the point of arrogance.


    They’re generally unaware that those qualities had anything to do with conditions they were born into. They believe it was their own hard work. I’ve never had the impression that highly intelligent liberals, who are aware of facts of heredity but downplay them, are arrogantly prideful about their intelligence; their “rectitude”, on the other hand, yes, that they are prideful of, which they allow themselves to be because they’ve worked for it.

    Note too that there’s a difference between taking pride in and being pleased with. Most very good-looking people would feel very pleased with their looks but I doubt that too many would say they’re “proud” of their looks, since looks are obviously the product of blind chance. Then again, I could be wrong.



    It's actually more logical to recognise the debt we owe to generations past for the positive qualities that we do inherit. Past generations have battled through to recognise and perpetuate ideals in culture and personality. We do rest on these achievements, even if we inherit them rather than creating them for ourselves. So pride in a larger entity does make sense - more so than the belief that we are self-created as individuals.

    I’m not so sure it should be a matter of “pride”, strictly speaking. Certainly one should feel well within his rights to defend such things against attacks. To the extent one values them, gratitude, and perhaps a dash of humility, might be the more appropriate attitude.


    It is the San Francisco man, Stephen Fowler, who really takes the cake. He is paired with an unsophisticated but decent and well-meaning Midwestern woman. He treats her with absolute contempt and disdain. He calls her a dumb redneck and congratulates her for using big words. He laughs when he tells her she is overweight and undereducated. And he disparages her simply for living in the Midwest.

    This arrogant elitism might appear to be a strange double-standard. After all, Stephen Fowler as a liberal is supposed to be strongly into equality. How can you have an egalitarian elitism?

    Perhaps the answer lies in what liberals understand by equality.



    You’re overestimating him. I doubt he’s spent more than a minute thinking about these things. He’s not an ideologue; he’s just a moral trend-follower. No different to Australians who dismiss their more nationalistic countrymen as “yobbos” and claim to have a problem with “V.O.M.I.Ts” running the country. They just want to morally one-up each other. (This is a response to what seemed like a genuine attempt at analysis, but personally I think you know all this. What luck to run into a sterling example of it in this Fowler character.)

    James,

    What a gutless person Stephen is to behave with such rudeness and arrogance towards that Midwestern woman.

    The one class of people in America you can say anything you want about with no fear of repercussions is whites in the interior ("flyover country" it's contemptuously referred to), particularly if they live in the southern states. When I used to debate "culture", plenty of American liberals who told me with a straight face they believed all cultures were equal would simultaneously heap no end of scorn on "southern rednecks". I'd say to them, "Well, that's a culture, a way of life, isn't it?" To little avail. There's little attempt at ideological coherency there. It's about something else entirely.

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  4. Revolting narcissists, they should be banished to Greenland to scrub toilets. That's the one useful thing they are fit to do.

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  5. Blank slate hypothesis doesn't hold up to scrutiny does it?

    If we are all totally self designed, then how did we learn were to start to design our personhood? Surely there had to be an initial outside influence over which one has no control. Whether it is parents, teachers, social class, nationality, race, genetics doesn't really matter.

    We all have to have a starting ground that shapes our identity externally or else our conscious is just a formless blob.

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