Friday, July 31, 2009

Crime as fate, murder as happenstance

Lawrence Auster at View from the Right has picked up on a developing trend in the way crime stories are reported in the media - particularly the crimes of black men against white women.

Normally, liberals stress the idea of our autonomous will. They believe that our "agency" should determine our life paths in all respects.

Yet when it comes to violent crimes of black men against white women the idea of active wills and agency suddenly fades away. Instead of speaking of an evil act committed by the perpetrator against the victim, the event is written of passively as a "tragedy" for both parties involved.

Lawrence Auster's most recent example is the brutal murder of a 17-year-old white girl, Lily Burk, in Los Angeles by a 50-year-old black man, Charlie Samuels. The Los Angeles Times reported that a "collision of two worlds may have led to girl’s death" and that "chance brought the two together on a quiet, tree-lined street." It's as if no-one was really to blame, there was no evil intent, just a random act of fate. Hence the "tragedy".

There's also the somewhat different case of Natalie Novak, a 20-year-old Canadian. She chose to stay in a relationship with a violent, married, 33-year-old Ethiopian, Arssei Hindessa, who twice bashed her in public. The pair quarrelled one night, Hindessa locked the door and stabbed Natalie Novak fatally nine times before disfiguring her body.

The Toronto Star did report the judge's description of the attack as "extreme butchery and degradation". But the reporter wrapped up his article with this terrible quote from a defence lawyer:

This is a tragedy for everybody, a young man will spend most of his adult life in prison and it's a tragic loss of life for a young woman.

We usually think of a tragedy as some unfortunate, unforeseen event, some act of malign fate, bringing suffering to good, well-meaning or innocent people. On the stage, it was a hero or heroine who was brought undone by fate or perhaps by a flaw in an otherwise noble character.

It's difficult to find a "tragedy" in this sense in the crime under discussion. The Ethiopian was not a young man, but a 33-year-old who repeatedly and knowingly broke the law and committed acts of violence. The report describes him as "physically abusive and a philanderer who financially exploited his wife, Indisar Buba-Rashid, during their four-year marriage". He is a dangerous man of low character who predictably has landed in jail.

The victim of the crime chose to place herself in a situation of great danger. Even after being bashed twice in public by her boyfriend, she chose to stay with him. She selected as a boyfriend a much older married man from a completely alien background with a predilection for violence. This is not the same as a tragedy in which a person is struck down by events they cannot control.

But what can explain media reports which turn brutal acts of murder into a passive tragic fate of two equally unsuspecting, equally affected people? In some ways it's surprising that the liberal media would do this. As I mentioned earlier, liberalism tends to emphasise the idea of a radically autonomous individual who self-determines every aspect of his identity and his life path. It therefore reads oddly when this radically autonomous individual is suddenly lost in media reports of murders and replaced with a notion of fate, and not choice or free will, as determining our life outcomes.

Furthermore, liberals often state as their moral ideal the principle that you can do anything you like as long as you don't directly harm the life or liberty of others. In the case of murder, it's clear that the principle has been violated. So liberals ought to be able to hold the line on this issue.

So what goes wrong? I'm not sure I can explain it to my own satisfaction at the moment. But it's possible to speculate. Imagine the situation of liberals who believe:

a) that people are in their natures good and only act to harm others because of ignorance, superstition or prejudice

b) that the moral thing is doing what you want and that it is therefore wrong to judge the moral actions of others (i.e. they believe in a radical form of non-judgementalism)

c) that there is no absolute, objective moral truth but only moral convention or perhaps no moral truth at all

If a liberal believes some combination of the above then he may not have a strongly developed sense of individuals actively choosing to commit acts of evil. Liberals can have a keenly developed sense of "political crimes" in which one group organises to limit the autonomy of another group as an act of power or prejudice. This means that a liberal might be able to see the murders discussed above as a crime of men against women (and the Toronto Star report does spin things this way somewhat). But given that the perpetrators are black and the victims white there doesn't seem to be a political crime in progress here for liberals.

So it's all explained in neutral terms as two people colliding, as a tragedy befalling two people, as a more minor offence gone wrong (a "botched robbery"), almost as happenstance.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Any justification will do

Alan Howe writes a column for the Melbourne Herald Sun. On Monday he considered the issue of women in their 60s having children. He took as an example the case of Spanish woman Maria Carmen del Bousada, who gave birth to twins two years ago when she was aged 66.

Most people, I imagine, would think this a less than ideal arrangement for motherhood. It would not be easy for a woman of that age to meet the demands of motherhood; the child would never know a more youthful mother; the child would have no chance of knowing grandparents; and the child would most likely be orphaned when still young.

It seems so much more reasonable to secure the conditions for women to form families and have children when in their 20s.

Maria del Bousado died this month, so her twin children have been left motherless at the age of two. You might think that her death would be a sobering reminder of the pitfalls of leaving motherhood to such an age. But the liberal Alan Howe remains enthusiastic:

Del Bousada made headlines two years ago when she gave birth to healthy and deeply loved twin sons Pau and Christian.

She was 66 at the time -- the world's oldest mother.

... Tragically, it seems the drugs she bought so expensively to deliver her dream may also have encouraged the breast cancer that claimed her life this month.

... Women should be allowed to have the children they want when they want. The rash of suddenly fulfilled 60-something mums should be joyous news.

Of course, mum's time on earth with them will be limited. Kids often lose parents early.

Really? I wouldn't have said that children "often" lose their mums when they're only two. Nor would I accept so casually the idea that a mum's time on earth with her kids will be limited to two years.

But Alan Howe is a liberal who wants, above all, for people to be liberated from impediments to their will. This is what matters to him. So women electing to become mothers in their 60s is "joyous" for him. The human cost is brushed aside.

Nor is Alan Howe the only liberal to take such a view. Jacob Appel wrote a along very similar lines in the Huffington Post:

Our own concerns about later-life mothering may reflect our heightened expectation that children know their parents, and even grandparents, into adulthood, rather than any universal or socially-essential norm.

Parenting is among the most personal choices anyone ever makes. At the same time, no other individual decision has as significant a societal impact. Finding a careful balance between personal autonomy and the public welfare is often a considerable challenge. Fortunately, in the cases of sexagenarian and septuagenarian mothers, the private benefit is obvious - and the social harm, if any, is rather hazy. In some cases, women like Ms. Bousada will live to be 101. In others, tragedy may strike - much as tragedies also strike twenty-five year-old moms.

In order to make it seem reasonable for 60 something and 70 something women to have children, Jacob Appel:

a) Claims that it's not so important for children to know their parents and grandparents.

b) Claims that there is only an obvious private benefit and no private harm.

c) Claims not to be able to think of any clear social harm.

d) Claims that it is a "tragedy" (something that could not be foreseen) if a woman in her late 60s or 70s dies.

e) Suggests that women in their 20s are just as prone to leaving their children motherless as women four or five decades older.

There is no "careful balance" here in measuring the limits of personal autonomy. Jacob Appel is intent on justifying the idea of no limits. Just like Alan Howe, he is willing both to recast reality to make this possible and to brush aside the potential human cost of much older women having children.

Personally, I think it would be far more "joyous" if we took seriously again the idea of women having children in their 20s. The freedom to have children in your late 60s or 70s is a relatively trivial one. The much greater freedom is to be able to secure a good marriage and to have children in your youth. We don't have to kick against reality or natural constraints to secure this greater freedom. It's more a question of getting the culture right.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Embracing the superficial

In my last post I looked at the ideas of Professor Judith Butler. I want to follow up by seeing how these ideas play out in the writings of one of her fans, Professor David Gauntlett.

Professor Gauntlett is keen to publicise the works of both Judith Butler and the French philosopher, Michel Foucault. In one article, Gauntlett explains why he considers the ideas of Foucault and Judith Butler to be powerful and liberating:

I like the idea that identities aren't fixed ... that our destiny and power and life are not determined by a few supposedly descriptive 'facts' about yourself such as gender, class, ethnicity, age and so on.

This is liberalism in a nutshell. Liberals believe that the highest good is to be autonomous. Therefore, the aim is to self-determine who we are (Foucault, for instance, promoted "the idea of a self which has to be created as a work of art"). But this means rejecting, as "restrictions" on the self, whatever is significant in our life which is predetermined rather than self-determined, such as our gender, class and ethnicity.

The result is that Professor Gauntlett, in his writing, insists that our identities be multiple and fluid; that we should aim above all to do our own thing; that tradition is a negative, hostile force; that the overthrow of traditional roles is progressive; and that society is advancing toward liberal or post-traditional attitudes.

Let's consider some excerpts from Professor Gauntlett's book, Media, Gender and Identity. The gist of the book is that popular culture is at the forefront of smashing the old to make way for the liberated future:

Fluidity of identities and the decline of tradition

... identity is today seen as more fluid and transformable than ever before. Twenty or thirty years ago, analysis of popular media often told researchers that mainstream culture was ... trying to push people back into traditional categories. Today ... the mass media is a force for change ... masculine ideals of absolute toughness, stubborn self-reliance and emotional silence have been shaken ... Although gender categories have not been shattered, these alternative ideas and images have at least created space for a greater diversity of identities.

Modern media has little time or respect for tradition. The whole idea of traditions comes to seem quite strange ... What's so great about the past? ... it must surely be considered good if modern media is encouraging the overthrow of traditions which kept people within limiting compartments.

And then there's this:

The knowing construction of identity

Modern Western societies do not leave individuals in any doubt that they need to make choices of identity and lifestyle ... As the sociologist Ulrich Beck has noted, in late modern societies everyone wants to 'live their own life', but this is, at the same time, 'an experimental life' ... Because 'inherited recipes for living and role stereotypes fail to function', we have to make our own new patterns of being, and ... it seems clear that the media plays an important role ...

Magazines ... provide information about sex, relationships and lifestyles which can be put to a variety of uses. Television programmes, pop songs, adverts, movies and the internet all also provide numerous kinds of 'guidance' ... in the myriad suggestions of ways of living which they imply. We lap up this material because the social construction of identity today is the knowing social construction of identity. Your life is your project - there is no escape.

So let's sum up to this point. Professor Butler believes that a traditional culture kept people within "limiting compartments". We are supposed to agree with him that a strong masculinity was "limiting" to men - as opposed to making our own "pattern of being" from a modern pop culture of rap songs, lads' magazines and sitcoms.

Well, I know which option I find more limiting. A traditional masculinity had depth. It was a larger aspect of being, one difficult to fill. In contrast, a modern pop culture runs more on the surface. It operates more at the level of lifestyle and celebrity. I would not like to have to construct my identity out of it - it is this that would be an exercise in self-limitation.

But Professor Gauntlett is serious in what he claims. He argues that the older generations would be less "narrow-minded" if only they read FHM or Cosmopolitan:

Generational differences

... Traditional attitudes may be scarce amongst the under-30s, but still thrive in the hearts of some over-65s. We cannot help but notice, of course, that older people are also unlikely to be consumers of magazines like Cosmopolitan, More or FHM, and are not a key audience for today's pop music sensations ... [it] remains to be seen whether the post-traditional young women and men of today will grow up to be the narrow-minded traditionalists of the future.

Professor Gauntlett has studied lads' magazines like FHM and is impressed by their influence on men:

These lifestyle publications were perpetually concerned with how to treat women, have a good relationship, and live an enjoyable life. Rather than being a return to essentialism - i.e. the idea of a traditional 'real' man, as biology and destiny 'intended' - I argued that men's magazines have an almost obsessive relationship with the socially constructed nature of manhood. Gaps in a person's attempt to generate a masculine image are a source of humour in these magazines, because those breaches reveal what we all know - but some choose to hide - that masculinity is a socially constructed performance anyway ...

It's not all a world of transformed masculinities, though. Images of the conventionally rugged, super-independent, extra-strong macho man still circulate in popular culture. And as incitements for women to fulfil any role proliferate, conventional masculinity is increasingly exposed as tediously monolithic. In contrast with women's 'you can be anything' ethos, the identities promoted to men are relatively constrained.

Again, think of the choice on offer here. What Professor Gauntlett is offering men, as a liberal, is a fake masculinity that is merely performed. The flagship for this new "masculinity" is FHM magazine. In the current issue of this magazine are, predictably, features on celebrities and Hollywood. There are lifestyle articles on gaming, on curing hangovers and on healthy hearts. It's just modern pop culture aimed at younger men.

Isn't it this version of masculinity, Professor Gauntlett's version, which is "constrained"? What does it really offer? Pretend manhood, celebrities, lifestyle advice and pictures of women. Is this really enough for a man to make a decent life out of?

It's true that traditional masculinity didn't tell men that they could be anything. But this would have been bad advice anyway - just as it has been for a certain generation of women.

Finally, let me underline what is so striking about Professor Gauntlett's views. He holds out to us a certain vision in which we give up deeper forms of human identity and being for a pop culture lifestyle. He seems to have no qualms at all about the trade off. Tradition strikes him as strange. FHM magazines become the hopeful standard-bearers of the new world to come.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Nothing there but what we put there?

James Schall once wisely observed that,

The initial choice that each of us has to make in life is whether we think the world and ourselves already exist with some intelligible content to define what we are or whether there is nothing there but what we put there.

The orthodoxy these days is that there is nothing there but what we put there. Take, as an example, the views of Professor Judith Butler of the University of California. She believes that there is no natural basis to masculinity and femininity, that gender is merely a performance:

... gender is a performance ... Because there is neither an “essence” that gender expresses or externalizes nor an objective ideal to which gender aspires; because gender is not a fact, the various acts of gender create the idea of gender, and without those acts, there would be no gender at all. Gender is, thus, a construction ...

This puts the issue neatly enough. Judith Butler is taking the view that there is nothing there to define us as men and women, only what we ourselves put there as a performance or act. She correctly identifies the opposing view, but rejects it.

The opposing view is that there is an objective good embedded within masculinity and femininity to which we aspire as individuals. It is understood, in this view, that masculinity and femininity have an "essence" - that there is a real, underlying, permanent quality of masculinity and femininity that we can recognise and which is then expressed in various ways by individuals and within cultures.

So we have two diametrically opposed positions. The first position, that gender is a mere construct, is usually justified in terms of human freedom and choice. It is argued that we should be free to choose our own identities and that we cannot do this if we are limited to an unchosen masculine or feminine identity. The aim then becomes to overthrow the traditional distinction between masculinity and femininity in order to make human identity fluid and multiple.

There are some powerful arguments against this liberal view. One of them is put by James Schall, who writes:

we are seemingly freer if there is nothing there in the first place, if we are solely responsible for our world and our own being. The trouble with being so absolutely free that nothing is presupposed, however, is that what is finally put there is also only ourselves ... on this premise, no reason can be found not to be something else tomorrow.

This suggests two things. First, if there is no objective good to which my identity is connected - if my identity is something I just put there myself according to my own will - then there is a loss of meaning and significance to who I am. Second, if I can change my identity at will, then my very sense of self - of who I am - will begin to dissolve. I will not have a stable identity.

It's not difficult to apply this criticism to the works of Judith Butler. According to Judith Butler, the freedom to self-define requires more than a denial of gender. She wants both gender and sexual orientation to be self-defined; to achieve this, she wants to deny even the distinction between male and female:

Butler argues that sex (male, female) is seen to cause gender (masculine, feminine) which is seen to cause desire (towards the other gender). This is seen as a kind of continuum. Butler's approach - inspired in part by Foucault - is basically to smash the supposed links between these, so that gender and desire are flexible, free-floating and not 'caused' by other stable factors.

In a Butlerian universe, we would be made free by denying the existence of men and women; of masculine and feminine; and of heterosexuality. But there's more:

Butler says: "There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender..." In other words, gender is a performance; it's what you do at particular times, rather than a universal who you are.

... This idea of identity as free-floating, as not connected to an 'essence', but instead a performance, is one of the key ideas in queer theory. Seen in this way, our identities, gendered and otherwise, do not express some authentic inner "core" self but are the dramatic effect (rather than the cause) of our performances.

David Halperin has said, 'Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence.'

It's not (necessarily) just a view on sexuality, or gender. It also suggests that the confines of any identity can potentially be reinvented by its owner...

So there is no authentic inner core identity to who we are in a Butlerian universe. There is nothing, no essence, to which such an authentic self could refer.

Is there not a tremendous cost to such a freedom to self-define? Aren't we giving up a real, meaningful substance to our own being in order to gain such a freedom? What kind of a self are we left with to exercise our freedom to self-author?

(In my next post, I'll continue this theme by looking at the thoughts of a devotee of Judith Butler, Professor David Gauntlett.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The only freedom worthy of the name?

I recently reviewed a pamphlet titled Liberal Republicanism. The authors of the pamphlet were adamant that there could be no common good. There are only individuals pursuing their own individual purposes. The authors began their work by quoting the liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill:

The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way.

What are the consequences of taking such a view? If you believe in a common good, as traditionalists do, it's easier to accept a certain kind of social differentiation. It's possible to accept that there are differences between people, and between different groups of people, that might affect their social role and the way they contribute to society.

For instance, if there is a common good, it's possible that men and women might contribute to it, on average, in different ways. So might the middle classes and the working classes. A working class person might not, on average, contribute as much to high culture. He might, though, contribute to popular culture, to the economy, to family life and so on.

A liberal cannot so easily accept this kind of social differentiation. If individuals must be free to author their own lives in terms of whatever purposes are selected by them, then all life paths must be equally open.

But how do you make all life paths equally open? There are two basic approaches. The first is to assume that social roles are so flexible and robust that they can be filled by anyone without any negative effect. They can, in other words, only be added to and enriched.

So if women were to become 50% of the combat troops in the army, a liberal would be likely to have faith that this would not pose a risk to the existing culture and role of soldiering, but that the distinct qualities of women would only enrich and add to what already exists.

A few years ago, Lawrence Auster discussed another example at View from the Right. A Muslim woman in a headscarf, who was opposed to the public display of hair, applied for a position as a hairdresser at a very trendy, cutting-edge, punky hair salon in London. She won a considerable payout when she complained about not getting the position. Here we have the liberal insistence that all life paths be made equally open, alongside the assumption that this won't impact negatively on an existing social role or institution.

What is another way that liberals can make all life paths equally open? They can do so by assuming that the differences between people aren't so great; that the differences are mostly socialised and can be evened out.

This is what the authors of the Demos pamphlet seek to do, albeit in a relatively moderate way. They want to make the "capability" of people more even. Their argument is that justice means doing what we want and that we must therefore make people more evenly capable of leading lives of their own choosing. Here are some excerpts from the pamphlet to give you an idea of the thought processes at work:

Where people lack capability they lack the opportunity to make of their life what they would ... Injustice flares up when people cannot do things they want to do, things they value ... A capability approach focuses on the ends of life rather than the means ... It is about the independent power of people to live as they would like to live ... the opportunities of people to lead lives of their own choosing ... the hope that every person can become the author of her own life ...

Some liberals go further than trying to even out "capability". They accept that in order to make all life paths equally open, people have to be considered to be the same (i.e. they have to be interchangeable or, to put it best, undifferentiated).

Here is how one liberal describes her view of men and women as being undifferentiated:

We are all human beings. We are all similar lumps of fleshy matter that moves and grunts and goes around its daily business.

In practice, modern liberalism follows both the approaches that I have set out. If difference is recognised it is assumed to have no negative effect on existing social roles, only the possibility of enrichment. Alternatively, difference is downplayed: it is assumed to be socially constructed and to have no necessary influence on an individual's life path.

So it doesn't mean all that much when liberals claim to welcome diversity. It's not difficult to welcome diversity if you assume that it can only enrich and if you think that people are essentially the same anyway.

What is it that liberals enthuse about when speaking of diversity? It isn't the fact of significant differences between people, sufficient to change the real character of a society, including some of its distinctive, finer points. Rather it's merely a change to the surface aesthetics of a society: its colour, bustle, taste and accent.

It's not easy for liberals to accept that they might be wrong on these secondary points. If liberals are wrong about the effects of diversity, then it means that the underlying principles of liberalism are, at the very least, impractical. And liberals seem to prefer hope to doubt when it comes to their own first principles.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Missing out

What leads women to rethink feminism? Earlier this year an English playwright, Zoe Lewis, explained the transformation in her beliefs.

Before quoting some of her thoughts, I'll set the scene. A liberal society takes autonomy to be the highest good. Feminism is liberalism applied to the lives of women. Therefore, feminism will aim to maximise female autonomy.

How can you make women more autonomous? One way is to stretch out for as long as possible an independent single girl lifestyle based on casual relationships, travel, shopping and parties. Another is to make career (in which women became financially independent) more important than marriage and motherhood.

And what about equality? If you believe that you should be self-determining, then you won't want your predetermined gender to matter in what you do. An autonomous woman will want to "match it with the boys" and prove that she can do whatever they can do. There will be an equality of sameness.

Young women get the message that to be free they should put career first; enjoy an independent single girl lifestyle in their twenties and into their thirties; and prove themselves by matching it with the boys.

Is this an adequate base on which to build a life? For many women, the answer will turn out to be no. Zoe Lewis is one of the women who was burnt by the feminist and liberal take on freedom:

I never thought I would be saying this, but being a free woman isn't all it's cracked up to be. Is that the rustle of taffeta I hear as the suffragettes turn in their graves? Possibly. My mother was a hippy who kept a pile of (dusty) books by Germaine Greer and Erica Jong by her bed ... She imbued me with the great values of choice, equality and sexual liberation. I fought with my older brother and won; at university I beat the rugby lads at drinking games. I was not to be messed with.

Now, nearly 37, those same values leave me feeling cold. I want love and children but they are nowhere to be seen. I feel like a UN inspector sent in to Iraq only to find that there never were any weapons of mass destruction. I was led to believe that women could “have it all” and, more to the point, that we wanted it all. To that end I have spent 20 years ruthlessly pursuing my dreams - to be a successful playwright. I have sacrificed all my womanly duties and laid it all at the altar of a career. And was it worth it? The answer has to be a resounding no.

Her career did not bring the power, glamour and life success she thought it would:

Ten years ago The Times ran a piece about my play Paradise Syndrome. It was based on my girlfriends in the music business. All we did was party, work and drink. The play sold out and I thought: “This is it! I'm going to have it all: success, power and men are going to adore me for it.” In reality it was the beginning of years of hard slog, rejection letters and living on the breadline.

She once thought Madonna was a living embodiment of liberal autonomy: of being unimpeded in determining one's life so that it was possible to do anything and be anything:

A decade on, I have written the follow-up play Touched for the Very First Time in which Lesley, played by Sadie Frost, is an ordinary 14-year-old from Manchester who falls in love with Madonna in 1984 after hearing the song Like a Virgin. She religiously follows her icon through the years, as Madonna sells her the ultimate dream: “You can do anything - be anything - go girl.” Lesley discovers, along with Madonna, that trying to “have it all” is a huge gamble. I wrote the play because so many of my girlfriends were inspired by this bullish woman who allowed us to be strong and sexy. I still love her and always will, but she has encouraged us to chase a fantasy and it's a huge disappointment.

Women are missing out on being wives and mothers because these roles were rejected by liberals in favour of female independence:

This month the General Household Survey found that the number of unmarried women under 50 has more than doubled over the past 30 years. And by the age of 30, one in five of these “freemales”, who have chosen independence over husband and family, has gone through a broken cohabitation.

I argue that women's libbers of the Sixties and Seventies put careerism at the forefront, trampling the traditional role of women underneath their Doc Martens. I wish a more balanced view of womanhood had been available to me. I wish that being a housewife or a mother wasn't such a toxic idea to middle-class liberals of yesteryear.

Zoe Lewis is not alone in having a change of heart. But for some it will be too late:

Increasing numbers of my feminist friends are giving up their careers for love and children and baking. I wish I'd had kids ten years ago, when time was on my side, but the problem is not so much time as mentality. I made a conscious decision not to have serious relationships because I thought I had all the time in the world. Many of my friends did the same. It's about understanding what is important in life, and from what I see and feel, loving relationships and children bring more happiness than work ever can.

There are some important points made in the above excerpt. First, what the liberal emphasis on autonomy leaves out is the importance of love and family. Essentially, what Zoe Lewis is arguing is that "freedom" (i.e. autonomy) is not the sole, overriding good after all. There are other important goods in life that can't be overridden, such as love, home, children and family.

Second, note that Zoe Lewis confesses that "I made a conscious decision not to have serious relationships". Unfortunately, this was part of the middle-class, tertiary educated culture of the times. Women thought that family formation could be indefinitely postponed and therefore did not want to settle into a serious relationship.

This had significant consequences. It meant that women no longer favoured family men. Men were rewarded for being unsuitable in some way. So the attitude of men changed as well. Some adapted to the culture of casual relationships by becoming players. Some withdrew from the whole dating game and adapted to a lifetime of bachelorhood. Some looked elsewhere for women. The result was that when some of these middle class women did finally start to look for husbands they met men who were no longer as keen to commit.

Zoe Lewis makes another notable admission:

I thought that men would love independent, strong women, but (in general) they don't appear to. Men are programmed to like their women soft and feminine. It's not their fault - it's in the genes.

This too is significant. Zoe Lewis now recognises that it's not possible to make gender not matter. When it comes to heterosexuality, opposites attract. Men are hardwired to find the feminine qualities of women appealing.

However, it's not just that men don't go for masculine women. Zoe Lewis cannot deny her own feminine instincts:

Somewhere inside lurks a woman I cannot control and she is in the kitchen with a baby on her hip and dough in her hand, staring me down. She is saying: “This is happiness, this is what it's all about.” It's an instinct that makes me a woman, an instinct that I can't ignore even if I wanted to.

Again, Zoe Lewis in practice was not able to live by the credo of making her gender not matter. She couldn't ignore her hardwired nature (her instincts), even if for political reasons she tried to. As a single woman in her late 30s, these instincts appear to be asserting themselves in the strongest terms, perhaps more so than for a woman who had married and had children earlier in life.

Zoe Lewis now wishes she had taken relationships more seriously in her twenties:

Had I this understanding of my psyche ten years ago I would have demoted my writing (and hedonism) and pursued a relationship with vigour. There were plenty of men and even a marriage offer, but I wouldn't give up my dreams.

I talked to the girls who were the subject of my play Paradise Syndrome in 1999. Sas Taylor, 38, single and childless, runs her own PR company: “In my twenties I felt I was invincible,” she says. “Now I wish I had done it all differently. I seem to scare men off because I am so capable. I have business success but it doesn't make you happy.” Nicki P, 35 and single, works in the music industry and adds: “It was all a game back then. Now I am panicking. No one told me that having fun is not as fun as I thought.”

Women in their twenties are in a strong position. They are at the height of their desirability to men. The danger, perhaps, is that this makes them feel "invincible". They may not realise that their advantage won't last forever and that it's most sensible to find a partner when the going is at its best.

Why else doesn't the autonomy principle work well in real life? It's not just that men prefer feminine women, but the biological reality of a woman's ticking clock:

Women are often the worst enemies of feminism because of our genetic make-up. We have only a finite time to be mothers and when that clock starts ticking we abandon our strength and jump into bed with whoever is left, forgetting talk of deadlines and PowerPoint presentations in favour of Mamas & Papas buggies and ovulation diaries. Not all women want children but I challenge any woman to say she doesn't want loving relationships. I wish I'd had the advice that I am giving to my 21-year-old sister: if you find a great guy, don't be afraid to settle down and have kids because there isn't anything to miss out on that you can't do later (apart from having kids).

We can't determine everything through our own will. A woman still has to consider the reality of her biological clock. It's genetic and hard-wired. Furthermore women want, as part of their nature, loving relationships. Again, this is not something that can be changed according to individual will.

Therefore, Zoe Lewis does something that shows character. She cannot now change her mistakes, but she can try to steer younger women away from her own fate. So she encourages younger women not to reject good men and leave things too late.

Nor does Zoe Lewis take the easy option of blaming men or a patriarchy. She does not believe that it was men who prevented her achieving the right kind of balance in life. It was the feminism held amongst women:

In the future I hope that there can be a better understanding of women by women. The past 25 years have been confusing and I feel that I've been caught in the crossfire. As women we should accept each other rather than just appreciating “success”. I have always felt a huge pressure to be successful to show men that I am their equal. What a waste of time. Wife and mother should be given parity with the careerist role in the minds of feminists.

She now feels it was a waste of time to pursue "equality as sameness". She recognises that a woman who sets out to do this won't ever give parity to the role of wife and mother.

Finally, she again makes the point that autonomy, whilst important, isn't the sole, overriding good to be chased relentlessly at the expense of everything else:

Choice and careers are vital, of course, but they shouldn't be pursued relentlessly. I love being a writer and still have my dream but now I am facing facts. The thing that has made me feel best in life was being in love with my ex-boyfriend and the thing that makes me feel the most centred is being in the country with kids and dogs, and yes, maybe in the kitchen.

She feels that she has missed out on the things that have turned out to be most important to her. She is yet more proof that liberalism is especially unsuitable when it comes to relationships.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Can there be a common good?

What kind of reform is needed in the UK? According to a liberal think tank, Demos, nothing short of a fresh new politics will do:

The UK is embroiled in major political and economic crises. Now more than ever we need fresh new approaches to increasingly intractable policy problems. But today's uncertainties also require us to rethink our political values and beliefs.

Predictably, though, Demos isn't really offering anything new. The Demos writers want to return to a more classical, less statist form of liberalism, one drawn particularly from the nineteenth century liberal philosopher, John Stuart Mill.

Nonetheless, I found one of their pamphlets, Liberal Republicanism, interesting enough. It sets out a case for liberalism, one that aims to be persuasive but which highlights instead a key weakness in liberal thought.

The pamphlet defines liberalism in terms of autonomy (the individual authoring or determining his own life goals) and equal freedom. There are references to autonomy and the self-determining individual scattered throughout the text:

The ideal animating this essay is that of a liberal republic, in which individuals have the power to determine and create their own version of a good life. The 'good society' is one composed of independent, capable people charting their own course ...

A republican liberal prospectus recognises that a self-authored life requires both independence and individual capability ... Liberals ... do not assume that the conditions for a self-directed life emerge out of thin air ... the liberal state has a special responsibility to ensure that people have the necessary capabilities for autonomy ... (Introduction)

It is precisely because liberals insist that each individual is the author of his own life that they end up as the fiercest defenders of equal liberty for all. (p.16)

This is the all too familiar liberal autonomy theory. The authors even sign on to the idea that autonomy is what defines our very humanity. They quote with approval Isaiah Berlin who believed that paternalism is dehumanising because:

it is an insult to my conception of myself as a human being determined to make my own life in accordance with my own ... purposes. (p.25)

Similarly, the authors themselves write:

Permament reliance on others for money, ideas or life plans deprives people of the most human attribute: the ability to choose. (p.27)

It's all inevitable?

The really interesting part comes next. The authors argue that liberalism is inevitable. We have no choice but to accept it. People are always going to disagree about values and the proper ends of life. Therefore, there can be no common good, but only tolerance for widely diverging individual wants and life plans. What's needed, then, is freedom from other people trying to define our lives for us:

There can never be agreement about the values and purposes of life ... Individual people will disagree fundamentally about the ends of life. The gay bohemian atheist and the fundamentalist Christian husband are unlikely ever to approve of the other’s lifestyle or views.

They may be made unhappy by the other, and a liberal does not assume that a more diverse society will necessarily be a happier one. But diversity of opinion ... is both inevitable and valuable.

A republican liberal society is the best possible response to the irreconcilability of different points of view. The liberal good society is not based on a forlorn appeal for everyone to share the same values, but on the assumption that people do not, and will not, share a specified conception of social justice, the good life or the ‘common good’. Diversity is a fact of life, and a ‘good’ society is one governed by rules and procedures that recognise this fact, rather than wish it away. One of its key values, therefore, is tolerance.

The idea that it's all inevitable is hammered away at here: there is a repetition of terms such as "never be agreement", "unlikely ever to agree", "inevitable", and "fact of life". This sense of inevitability, combined with the fact that such divergences in values really do exist, might make the argument sound persuasive to some. We might then be willing to follow John Stuart Mill in thinking that,

The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way.

But there's a sleight of hand trick to the argument. The argument is framed so that only some aspects of a common good are ever considered, such as those relating to lifestyle or religious beliefs. If it's impossible to establish an agreed common good in such matters, then it might seem reasonable that we can only orient ourselves to our own discrete, divergent individual lifestyles and ambitions.

What isn't considered is the overarching common good that continues to exist, even when there are divergences in personal values and lifestyles. That is the "social good" - the good of the distinct human society that we identify with and value. To act for the continuation of this society requires a working concept of a common good as well as a framework of governance for making decisions about this good.

Take, by way of analogy, a school. Schools, just like societies, do not hold together by chance. They are subject to competitive pressures and if they fail to perform adequately they will be merged or closed.

Schools, therefore, do function on the basis of a common good. There will not only be some kind of vision statement about what the school aims to achieve, but there will be decisions taken about how best to organise the school and to design the curriculum to achieve these aims.

If there are signs of failure, such as declining enrolments or poor results, there will be debate about causes and responses. Most schools have a complex structure of committees and positions of responsibility involving all the staff and some of the parents and students in making these decisions, although responsibility lies ultimately with the principal.

So the discipline of keeping a school afloat requires that we recognise and work toward a common good, and establish the means of governance to do so.

It's the same when it comes to working toward the continuance of a distinct human society we belong to - except that we are dealing with a more significant and meaningful common good.

If you want this society to continue, then you won't limit yourself, as John Stuart Mill did, to pursuing your own good in your own way. If we take the "life" of our society as a starting point of a common good, then other common goods follow. You will need, for instance, a replacement birth rate. How do you achieve this? What is required to encourage people to commit to family life and parenthood? You won't want your best and brightest to emigrate. What might encourage them to feel attached to their own country? You will want, in a national emergency, your young men to be willing to fight for their country? What could draw this kind of response from them?

There are significant benefits to individuals in recognising such common goods. It means that the sacrifices we do make take on a larger meaning. The sacrifices of parenthood become part of our contribution to a larger entity, as do our sacrifices at work. We feel ourselves to participate in, to have a share in, the achievements of the larger society, whether these are cultural, sporting or scientific. We care about, and therefore feel connected to, the standards of life for others in our society and for future generations.

Liberals don't place the individual within a society in this way. Individuals do still have material needs in a liberal society, so there is a strong sense of individuals existing within an economy. But there is little concern with what is needed for the upkeep of an existing society. Signs of decline draw only a muted response from most liberal politicians. How vigorously, for instance, have liberal politicians reacted to falling birth rates? Or to disrupted family formation?

When we consider these basic facts about the life of a society, the liberal formulation of a scattered, arbitrary, individual good rings false. What room does Isaiah Berlin leave for a living society when he writes of his "conception of myself as a human being, determined to make my own life in accordance with my own (not necessarily rational or benevolent) purposes".

At least some of our purposes aren't just our own - they flow from what the society we are committed to needs from us for its existence.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

This is what Swedish women want?

Jonathan Power teaches at a university in Lund, Sweden. After lectures he likes to take his students out for a drink and a chat:

Inevitably, the subject turns to sex and marriage. I'll never forget asking one group what they thought of marriage in a country where most educated young people (and half go to university) don't get married or bear children until they are well over 30. A young woman gave me a thoughtful answer and so I asked her, "What are you looking for in a husband?" Without batting an eye or pausing for thought, she answered: "Three things. One, he must be good in bed. Two, he must be a good father. Three, when we divorce, he mustn't be bitter."

These three answers aren't all that surprising. Sweden has taken the ideal of individual autonomy further than most other countries. The Swedish girl is basically following the state ideology: she is saying that her future husband must follow the rules of autonomy.

The Swedes decided decades ago that the traditional male career role was the privileged autonomous one. Therefore, they set themselves the aim of overthrowing traditional gender roles. Women were to follow a traditional male career path and men were to spend just as much time as women mothering children.

The result was that women no longer needed men as protectors and providers. They would be kept secure by the social welfare state and for the short time they spent at home with their children they would be supported by a paid maternity leave scheme.

But if men are no longer required as protectors and providers then what are they good for? Well, there is still the sex drive to connect men and women. The sex drive by itself doesn't really lead on to marriage (but rather to promiscuous relationships) so it's not surprising to learn that Swedes marry very late if at all.

Nonetheless, sex is still permissible under the rules of autonomy, so it's still there on the Swedish woman's list of what men are good for.

So is fatherhood, but understood the Swedish way. A "good father" means a father who takes over half of the traditional female role. That is why Jonathan Power notes that,

most Swedish men push the pram, do the nappies, get up in the night and help clean the house. Many, too, take at least six months off to look after the baby while the woman goes back to work.

Again, a man who agrees to this is acting in line with the state policy of autonomy, in which gender roles are abolished in favour of a single unisex role.

Finally, for women to be autonomous they have to be able to determine, without impediment, whom they will live with. They must, therefore, be able to freely divorce. If you agree freely to your wife divorcing you, you are acting according to the rules of autonomy. So, again, it makes sense that our Swedish woman should have, as a test of a future husband, the idea that he would divorce without bitterness.

So our young Swedish woman is strongly influenced by state policy, enough to give voice to it spontaneously in her responses. But I very much doubt that this is the end of the story.

Most women are attracted to masculine qualities in a man. When monogamy begins to break down, and women revert even more strongly to hypergamy - to a desire to be with a rare "alpha" male - the emphasis on masculine qualities in a man will be even greater.

So our Swedish woman is likely to want contradictory things. At one level, she wants to follow the system and so insists that her future husband accept an androgynous role. It is most probable, though, that she will be attracted to men who show some kind of masculine drive or strength of principle or who have demonstrated some kind of effectiveness in the world.

It must be a difficult game to play for Swedish men. You would have to genuflect to one ideal, whilst carrying through with another. Presumably it all creates a certain level of confusion and discontent.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

She loves you not

What do left-wing journalists think of you? Catherine Deveny, columnist for the Melbourne Age, has a seething contempt for her co-nationals. She's on holiday at the moment, enjoying the culture and the countryside in Tuscany. This gives her the opportunity to stick the boot into her fellow Australians:

STREWTH! Will someone get me out of here? I'm being raped by intoxicating beauty, inconceivable tranquillity, warm hospitality and a depth of cultural and historical immersion ...

The thing is, yes, I suppose staying in a rustic 250-year-old villa in Tuscany bathed in soft light, kissed by gentle sun and grazing on heavenly food would be OK if you were a masochist constantly chasing a new level of pain. Tuscany? What a hole! I long for the bliss of watching families with skin the colour of phlegm huddled around food-court tables groaning under the weight of deep-fried food, drinking Coke out of buckets, news of gangland scrag fights and the dulcet tones of talkback callers alerting all to their inflated sense of self-importance by beginning their 15 seconds of fame with "I don't normally agree with you, Derryn, but in this case you're spot on …".

Right then. Catherine sees us as ugly, spit coloured, uncultured bogans.

No doubt Catherine believes that she is establishing her elite status - that she is separating herself from the masses - by taking this attitude. But she's wrong. Anyone can claim status this way. There's nothing special or distinctive about it; it's not linked to talent, achievement or character.

In fact, someone who really was elite probably wouldn't harbour such thoughts. They wouldn't think with the same level of emotional disturbance as Catherine Deveny. They would be more likely to consider themselves a leader within their own community, advancing their own culture in some way, rather than launching diatribes against it.

There's something else that Catherine gives away in her article. In a way, she decides in favour of the conservative and the traditional. She thinks it blissful to be immersed in the culture and history of a traditional monoculture. She shows herself to prefer, in practice, a conservative way of life.

But she would never admit this in her own country. In Australia she would furiously denounce a traditional, historic way of life as being a boring monoculture. No doubt she has a left-liberal counterpart in Italy, a Caterina di Veni, who is doing exactly that, railing against her own Italian tradition as being boring, or not sufficiently left-wing, or discriminatory or parochial.

We do not have to follow the way of Catherine Deveny. You can be a literary person and identify with the best parts of your own tradition. It's interesting, for instance, to compare Catherine Deveny's views with those of C.J. Dennis. In the 1930s, Dennis wrote a poem Green Walls in which he wrote appreciatively of the sunlit Australian countryside and of his own strong and suntanned (not phlegm coloured!) countrymen:

I love all gum-trees well. But, best of all,
I love the tough old warriors that tower
About these lawns, to make a great green wall
And guard, like sentries, this exotic bower
Of shrub and fern and flower.
These are my land's own sons, lean, straight and tall,
Where crimson parrots and grey gang-gangs call
Thro' many a sunlit hour.

My friends, these grave old veterans, scarred and stem,
Changeless throughout the changing seasons they.
But at their knees their tall sons lift and yearn -
Slim spars and saplings - prone to sport and sway
Like carefree boys at play;
Waxing in beauty when their young locks turn
To crimson, and, like beaconfires burn
To deck Spring's holiday.

I think of Anzacs when the dusk comes down
Upon the gums - of Anzacs tough and tall.
Guarding this gateway, Diggers strong and brown.
And when, thro' Winter's thunderings, sounds their call,
Like Anzacs, too, they fall ...
Their ranks grow thin upon the hill's high crown:
My sentinels! But, where those ramparts frown,
Their stout sons mend the wall.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Scruton on modern art

Roger Scruton has written an important article on modern art, one that I encourage you to read in full.

It begins with the question of what high art is for. Scruton observes that modern art is transgressive and aims to shock and confront. Traditional art was oriented more toward beauty.

What is impressive is the further development of these ideas by Scruton. Scruton argues that beauty in art did not exist just for aesthetic purposes but expresses a deeper experience of life, a sense of the sacred, that makes us feel at home in the world.

Modernists do not feel at home in the world, and therefore aim to desecrate: the mockery, the cultivation of ugliness and the moral transgression is aimed as a pre-emptive strike against the deeper experience of beauty referred to above.

If you do read the article, take a moment to compare the two paintings used to illustrate traditional and modernist art. The traditional painting, by Francesco Guardi, is described as "capturing the intimations of the eternal in the transient". The modern painting, by Otto Dix, is very different, being described as "wallowing in the base and the loveless" - an assessment that is difficult to disagree with.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

What conservatism shouldn't be

Samuel Goldman, at Postmodern Conservative, invites his fellow Americans to raise their glasses "to Locke and the semi-hemi-demi-Lockeans who’ve served this nation."

Why? Because a Lockean inspired government regarded Americans,

as free men and women rather than as members of a class, church, guild, tribe, town, or race.

Cripes! Isn't this a fundamental statement of liberalism rather than conservatism? Isn't it liberals who believe that you make people free by stripping them of their communal attachments?

A Lockean politics takes things away from the individual: sources of identity; ways of life; a sense of belonging; objects of love and loyalty; a close connection to generations past; an attachment to particular forms of culture; a larger, non-hedonistic reason and purpose to act in the world; and culturally embedded ideals to strive toward.

If it's just us as stripped down, abstracted Lockean individuals what are we left with? What is our freedom? A freedom to shop and consume? To participate in our individual careers? To choose our own entertainments? Are these really the highest forms of freedom we can live by?

And where does the logic of a Lockean politics end? If I become free by setting myself against my class, guild, church, tribe, race and town, then why wouldn't I deepen the process by setting myself against my nation and my sex? Why does Samuel Goldman permit himself to speak as an American or as a man but not as anything else? Wouldn't it be more consistent with a fully developed, modern day Lockeanism if he spoke only as the individual Sam?

So I won't raise my glass to Locke as I don't believe that individual freedom is won at the expense of traditional forms of community. The stand alone Lockean individual has an impoverished sphere of life to exercise his freedom in. We are better off aiming at a larger, more significant freedom, one that is enjoyed within the communities and traditions we belong to.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Harriet Taylor Mill & the abolition of the feminine

Harriet Taylor Mill, an early English feminist, wrote this in 1851:

Those who are associated in their lives, tend to become assimilated in their character. In the present closeness of association between the sexes, men cannot retain manliness unless women acquire it.

She wants women to become manly so that their femininity doesn't rub off on men. She is assuming first that femininity is something undesirable and unworthy for women and second that women can simply "acquire" masculinity.

Put another way, she wants to abolish sex distinctions - the differences between men and women - in favour of a single masculine identity for both men and women.

Nor was this an unusual position for the pioneer feminists to take. Mary Wollstonecraft wrote in 1792 that:

A wild wish has just flown from my heart to my head, and I will not stifle it, though it may excite a horse-laugh. I do earnestly wish to see the distinction of sex confounded in society ... For this distinction ... accounts for their [women] preferring the graceful before the heroic virtues.

Again, we have the desire to abolish "the distinction of sex"; men and women are to follow equally the masculine way of life - the more graceful feminine virtues are to be jettisoned.

It is ironic that such women came to be labelled feminists when they were so obviously hostile to the feminine.

There were antifeminist women in the 1800s who took a different view. Eliza Linton was the first full-time staff journalist in England in the 1840s. You might therefore assume that she would be a supporter of the early feminist movement. In fact, she was highly critical of it. She objected to the anti-feminine aspect of feminism, as well as its hostility to men.

For example, in the 1860s Eliza Linton addressed feminists as "you of the emancipated who imitate while you profess to hate". She criticised feminists of this era as "the bad copies of men who have thrown off all womanly charm".

Nor did Eliza Linton accept that feminine women were a danger to masculinity. She thought the opposite was true:

with the increased masculinity of women must necessarily come about the comparative effeminacy of men.

This, I believe, is a more reasonable view. A feminine woman is much more likely to engage a man's masculine instincts. If a woman behaved exactly like a man, then to whom would a man's masculine drives and instincts be directed? The complementarity between the masculine and feminine would be lost.

Eliza Linton also disagreed with Harriet Taylor Mill that women could simply "acquire" masculinity. Eliza Linton didn't see sex distinctions as unnatural categories that we could manipulate according to our own preferences. She thought they had some basis in nature and that they helped to guide human action:

I think now, as I thought then, that the sphere of human action is determined by the fact of sex, and that there does exist both natural limitation and natural direction.

Modern science has vindicated Eliza Linton's position. We know more now about the biological distinctions between the sexes that are hardwired into our physical nature, including different exposure to sex hormones and differences in the structure of the brain.

One final point. It is odd, to say the least, for a heterosexual man or woman to wish away sex distinctions. Unless we make a tremendous effort to subdue physical desire and emotional responsiveness we are not ever going to enthusiastically urge women to "acquire masculinity".

Harriet Taylor Mill's philosophy would only suit those who thought of themselves as disembodied, abstracted intellect or character - as the most extreme of intellectual types might do. But this reflects a limitation on their part that the rest of us would be unwise to fall in with.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Who attacked the Indian student? ... finally the "shock" answer

In May an Indian student, Sourabh Sharma, was bashed by a gang on a Melbourne train. The attack sparked a massive wave of publicity in both Australia and India, with claims that Indian students were victims of racism.

At the time, I pointed out that CCTV cameras had caught the gang in action and that the attackers who appeared on camera didn't appear to be Anglo. I suggested that one of the attackers even looked South Asian.

Still, there was an assumption in some quarters that white Australians were targeting and bashing Indians. The Times of India went so far as to issue the following statement:

What's worrisome is the fact that there appears to be a racist undertone to these incidents. They are apparently part of a new fad ...

In any country there are bound to be extreme elements. It's worrisome that the tribe of extreme nationalists who champion an exclusivist, white Aussie identity seems to be increasing in Australia ...

Clearly, Australia cannot afford to be seen as a hostile country if it wants to continue attracting talent, and money, from outside its shores ... such ugly incidents are simply unacceptable, mate.

You can see what The Times of India is really focused on. The Times wants an open borders Australia and therefore labels anyone who defends traditional Australia as an "extreme nationalist" - as the type of person who would bash a foreigner on a train.

It seems the height of arrogance for an overseas newspaper to dictate what another country's national identity may or may not be. It seems hypocritical too for an Indian to demand that Australia have open borders, given that India itself prefers closed borders and a traditional identity.

But the story doesn't end there. The assumption that white Australians were bashing Indian students caught on in India and led to some angry outbursts in the Indian media. Here are three such angry comments left at online Indian media outlets:

An eye for an eye is it? Let's beat the Aussies up and deport them. This is how justice should be given in the 21st century.

These are a breed of people who were deported from Europe for criminal activities. They have criminal genes. It is also clearly visible in cricket. All Australians good or bad living in India must be thrashed and deported.

Repulsive, backward, Aussie filth, the laughing stock of the Western world.

There were some Indians who tried to defend Australians, though even they assumed that white Australians were responsible for the bashings. One writer pointed out that the number of Indians arriving in Australia each year was equivalent (in terms of population size) to 5.5 million foreign arrivals in India each year - something that Indians themselves would not react well to.

But this week came the following news in the Melbourne Herald Sun (30/06/09):

Shock revelation in attack that incited racial tension

Indian on bash charge

A man accused of a bashing that sparked racial tensions between Australia and India was of Indian descent.

The youth, among four boys charged with assaulting and robbing Indian student Sourabh Sharma on May 9, has been released on bail.

Victoria Police have confirmed the alleged attacker was of Indian descent ...

Mr Sharma siad he did not know any of the men were Indian. "I don't know who they were," he said. "It's definitely a shock."

The attack on Mr Sharma ... evoked widespread condemnation of Australians after the footage was beamed across India.

Federation of Indian Students of Australia president Amit Menghani said he was unaware any of the attackers were of Indian descent. "If it was an Indian, I would be disappointed," he said.

So I was correct in suggesting that one of the attackers was of South Asian descent.

One thing that's true is that there have been a lot of attacks on Indian students in Australia; 1447 last financial year according to the police. So the anger of Indian students at the unsafe conditions they face here is understandable.

But the gangs targeting and attacking Indian students aren't Anglo and traditional, but multicultural.

The diversity involved in the attacks on Indian students has been slowly coming through in the media. For instance, here's a report from the Melbourne Herald Sun:

Gangs assault cabbies. Melbourne's Indian and Pakistani taxi drivers are being bashed and robbed by African youth gangs.

This is the wikipedia account of protests in Sydney by Indian students:

On 8 June, 300 Indian students staged a protest in Harris Park late into the evening in response to an alleged assault, claiming they were considered "soft targets".

Some Indian protestors were reported to be carrying hockey sticks and baseball bats. According to police, the protest was sparked by an attack on Indians earlier in the evening allegedly by Lebanese men.

In retaliation the protesters attacked three uninvolved Lebanese men, who sustained minor injuries. This was believed to be the first violent reaction by Indian students against attacks on them. A police dog squad was called in to control the crowd.

A Bangladeshi man was attacked in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine (Beyond India Monthly, 08/02/09):

When I turned on Anderson Road I saw four black men standing over there. They were blocking my way. I requested them to make way and they started abusing me and my wife Nasir. I kept low, I preferred to step on the road and go around them. As I walked a bit further one of them came running behind us and hit me with the stick. Then they started hitting my wife ... I want action against those African guys. I want them arrested and punished so that they don't touch my lady again.

Simon Overland, the Chief Commissioner of Police in Victoria, has responded to the attacks by sending an additional 75 police officers into the suburbs of Sunshine and St Albans. These are possibly the most diverse, multicultural suburbs of Melbourne. In St Albans, for example, 27.9% of households speak only English at home, compared to 78.5% for Australia in general (and 91% for my own suburb not that far to the east of St Albans).

So the attacks on Indian students are taking place in the suburbs least populated by young Anglo men. It's possible that many Melbournians are already aware of this, as there's been uncommon resistance amongst Anglo-Australians to accepting the blame.

It's been one of the few positives to come out of the whole affair: a sceptical attitude amongst Anglo-Australians that they are, by default, the guilty oppressor group.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Romulus to blame for domestic violence?

When did the history of women's abuse begin? According to one feminist scholar, writing for a a law school casebook, it began in the year 754 BC, under the reign of Romulus of Rome.

But there are some problems with her account, as Christina Hoff Sommers explains:

Lemon's Domestic Violence Law is organized as a conventional law-school casebook — a collection of judicial opinions, statutes, and articles selected, edited, and commented upon by the author. The first selection, written by Cheryl Ward Smith (no institutional affiliation is given), offers students a historical perspective on domestic-violence law. According to Ward:

"The history of women's abuse began over 2,700 years ago in the year 753 BC. It was during the reign of Romulus of Rome that wife abuse was accepted and condoned under the Laws of Chastisement. ... The laws permitted a man to beat his wife with a rod or switch so long as its circumference was no greater than the girth of the base of the man's right thumb. The law became commonly know as 'The Rule of Thumb.' These laws established a tradition which was perpetuated in English Common Law in most of Europe."

Where to begin? How about with the fact that Romulus of Rome never existed. He is a figure in Roman mythology — the son of Mars, nursed by a wolf. Problem 2: The phrase "rule of thumb" did not originate with any law about wife beating, nor has anyone ever been able to locate any such law. It is now widely regarded as a myth, even among feminist professors.

There is a more detailed account by Christina Hoff Sommers of the myth of the "rule of thumb" here.

I can only repeat a point I have often made before: we should be wary of claims made by feminist academics regarding domestic violence. They are unreliable.

It was only back in May that I reported on the debunking of two other claims. The first was that 1 in 3 boys think it OK to hit girls. This caused outrage around Australia - until it was revealed that the statistic was false. The research had actually shown that 1 in 3 young people think it OK for girls to hit boys.

The second claim was that domestic violence is the leading cause of death for young women. A British statistician looked at the evidence and, unsurprisingly, found it to be a "rogue statistic", i.e. false.

These false statistics proliferate because so many feminist academics are commited to patriarchy theory, which claims that men created the artificial categories of male and female to secure an unearned privilege for themselves. This means that society has been expressly organised for the oppression of women, with violence against women representing a social norm.

The theory says that violence against women must be an integral part of the fabric of society - the trick for feminists who follow patriarchy theory is coming up with evidence to justify such a claim. The evidence that is presented, when checked, often turns out to be bogus, as is clearly the case with the "rule of thumb" myth.

Hat tip: What's Wrong With the World