Sunday, August 30, 2009

Art as therapy

In the late 1800s the French composer Camille Saint-Saens wrote that,

Art is intended to create beauty and character.

And whatever his faults Saint-Saens did succeed in composing beautiful music (e.g. here and here).

By 1917 the tide of art had turned. In this year the French artist Marcel Duchamp exhibited a urinal as an artwork. Duchamp did not share Saint-Saens' elevated concept of art. He wrote instead that,

Art has absolutely no existence as veracity, as truth.

We still have much art today of the non-elevated kind. The latest example comes from Sweden. Sweden's University College of Arts approved as a project a student artist faking her own psychosis:

As a part of her final project before graduation, Odell pretended she was going to jump off a bridge to commit suicide. Horrified witnesses called police, who then tried to restrain the kicking and screaming Odell.

After arriving at the hospital’s psychiatric ward, Odell proceeded to scream at the medical staff who attempted to help her, even spitting in the faces of several nurses.

She was eventually restrained on a gurney and given drugs to calm her down, remaining in the hospital overnight as doctors attempted to diagnose her psychiatric condition.

Odell later revealed the whole episode was an act and part of a larger art project which won’t be completed until May.

Why did she do it?

Odell, who has a history of mental illness, explained that she was highlighting deficiencies in Sweden's psychiatric care:

"Closed psychiatric care is the most dictatorial part of society we have, through which a patient can have all their rights taken from them. [And] it certainly needs to be, as I have also been helped by it myself. But there also needs to be control; patients are sometimes not believed."

So closed psychiatric care has helped her but she was concerned that patients are sometimes not believed. And that's it. That's all it took to justify treating psychosis as a form of modern art.

Solidarity & statism

It's very rare that the underlying principles of modern politics are debated. Usually it's just accepted that politics begins with abstracted, atomised individuals who seek to maximise their personal autonomy. The big debate then becomes how you hold together a society made up of millions of competing wills.

In general, the right has argued that the market can regulate individual profit seeking for the overall good of society. The left has preferred to rely on the state to regulate society and to bring about an equality of personal autonomy.

This second tier debate, of how best to regulate a liberal society, is both predictable and never ending. Recently Jon Cruddas, a British Labour Party MP, and Jonathan Rutherford, a Professor of Cultural Studies, reviewed a pamphlet published by the think tank Demos:

The think tank Demos celebrates its 16th birthday with this pamphlet on “liberal republicanism”. Richard Reeves and Philip Collins argue that “the good society is one composed of independent, capable people charting their own course” ...

Reeves and Collins are confident that the future lies in the historical legacy of liberalism, though they acknowledge that the conditions for a self-directed life do not emerge out of thin air. Independence requires what Amartya Sen calls “capabilities” – financial resources, education, skills and health. Liberalism asks that individuals become the authors of their own lives, “but republicanism demands that we are also co-authors of our collective lives”.

But what is the nature of this co-authorship? How do we achieve a good society? Here Reeves and Collins are less convincing. The devolution of power they endorse is limited to a transfer from the bureaucracy to the people.

So Cruddas and Rutherford have no problem with the underlying goal of autonomy, but they baulk at the idea of moving away from state regulation. They are therefore offering a standard leftism. They want more state in the mix of social regulation and less market. Which explains the following criticism of the Demos pamphleteers:

They do not think that wealth inequality threatens political equality. Unlike social liberals, they do not recognise the interdependency of individuals. So, what holds their liberal social order together? Friedrich von Hayek argued that it was the economic relations of the market. Reeves and Collins offer no alternative explanation. At the heart of their political philosophy is the absence of society.

Reeves and Collins write that the “beginning of a liberal politics is the individual”, but their liberalism ignores the ways in which individuals are products of complex social, cultural and economic relations. They argue that the failures and tragedies in people’s lives belong to each alone. But individuals do not decide the inequalities that determine their longevity, or the statistical likelihood of their succumbing to poverty, poor housing, unemployment, murder, prison, disease, mental illness, obesity and educational failure. Such problems are socially produced and are not the responsibility of individuals alone ...

Nothing holds this social order together except the moral imperative to gain maximum personal autonomy.

What Cruddas and Rutherford are arguing is that the "freedom" (i.e. autonomy) side to liberalism, as regulated by the market, only recognises the individual alone, not the individual in society. But society for Cruddas and Rutherford is only significant in how it affects equal access to autonomy. Which is why a commitment to "society" means little more than a commitment to state regulation. The state is supposed to be the guarantor of equal autonomy (equal "freedom"), even if this means state intervention to equalise factors such as longevity, obesity, housing, educational outcomes, mental illness, imprisonment and so on.

So they want a greater reliance on the state rather than the market to "hold this social order together". They call this leftist view "ethical socialism":

Ethical socialism also begins with the individual although, besides liberty, it values equality, because it recognises that there exists a common humanity despite people’s differences. It is based on a mutual recognition that the freedom of each individual depends on the freedom of all.

To summarise this view: we are individual wills seeking to maximise our autonomy, but we shouldn't do this at the expense of others, first because we have a common humanity and second because we maximise our own autonomy most securely in society with other autonomy seeking individuals.

This is still, from the traditionalist point of view, a breathtakingly individualistic perspective. But Crudd and Rutherford believe that they represent a "social" view of things in contrast to a classical, market-oriented liberalism:

In the past three decades, what the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur calls “ethical intention” in public life has given way to the pursuit of individual self-interest. The business elite have become a law unto themselves, while the political elite are divorced from the people. Enterprise culture, the flexible labour market and welfare reform have all generated anxiety and isolation, rather than the “independence” valued by liberals such as Reeves and Collins. The values of kindness, care and generosity are out of keeping with the dominant market culture. And the liberal individualism of The Liberal Republic is no remedy for this.

Crudd and Rutherford want to limit debate to the more left-wing subspecies of liberalism: "social liberals" and "socialists". They don't recognise as relevant a more market-oriented, classical liberalism:

Two institutions have dominated the life of this country for the past 30 years: the state and the market. How shall we reform both in order to confront the huge systemic problems we face and create sustainable, equitable economic development? The progressive future belongs to those who can find credible answers to such questions, and who are able to strike a balance between self-realisation and social solidarity. This politics will emerge from the long-standing argument between social liberalism and socialism. Unfortunately, The Liberal Republic places itself outside what will be an epoch-defining debate.

They are talking here of the self-realisation of individuals who have already been stripped of their most significant defining features. And social solidarity here means little more than accepting state intervention. Yet it is the holding in balance of these qualities which is supposedly going to define a future epoch.

What traditionalists have to do is reject utterly the terms of the debate set out before us. It is a tired debate that has repeated itself endlessly for some generations.

We change the whole framework of the debate when we take the social nature of man more seriously. If our sense of self is based, in part, on social qualities, such as belonging to national or ethnic traditions, to family roles or to a role within the polis (political society), and if we recognise the legitimacy of pursuing common goods rather than atomised individual ones then we don't need to rely on either the state or the market to re-socialise individuals who, as a starting point of liberal theory, have been set apart from each other.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dating, gaming and shaming

The argument about dating is almost over. At View from the Right there has been a decisive rejection of using "Game" techniques to improve men's chances of forming families. I'm not surprised at the decision to hold the line against Game at VFR. Those promoting Game as a philosophy or even as a political position do tend to have a fatalistic attitude toward social decline and they do tend to reduce human interaction to biological terms.

But if traditionalists are to reject Game as a solution, then we have to suggest a different strategy for young men. The temptation here is to recommend what was sufficient in the past. I've noticed, for instance, the idea being raised that young men should wait for a good woman to love them for being a good man (or for being a masculine, romantic man). It has also been suggested that the men who take up Game should be called out on their masculinity.

What's wrong with the idea that a man should wait for a good woman to love him for being a good man? Simply that it's not adequate as it stands and that it could potentially confuse and demoralise men.

There are certainly good women out there. But do they really select a man for his goodness? Do they even really select a man who best represents the masculine virtues?

A man should cultivate the masculine virtues because they are inherently good, because they develop his own character to the highest level and because they are needed for his role in the family and in society. If he wants these virtues to be recognised by others then he should look to other men to do so.

It's a mistake to expect women to reward you. Most women will have trouble "getting" what masculine virtue is about, let alone selecting for it.

This will be a common experience for married men. As a married man, your masculine strengths will often be called upon: you will certainly need emotional strength to stand firm when your wife is in an emotional tailspin, you will need resilience and fortitude to successfully negotiate a 30 or 40 year career, and you will need masculine leadership qualities to steer your relationship in the right direction and to take active responsibility for its success.

Will your wife give you credit for having cultivated these virtues? It's unlikely. She will probably take them as a given. I don't mean by this that she won't appreciate what you do for the family. But the higher masculine qualities that your contribution relies on will remain largely invisible to her.

So a man who thinks he will somehow link with a woman through the masculine virtues is likely to be disappointed. There is no direct link. A woman is oriented to other things. At her best, to love and family. In her everyday self, to home comforts, to back rubs, to trips to the country, to shopping, to conversation.

And what about goodness? We have to be careful here too. A good man can be successful with women. But women don't really select on the basis of goodness. In fact, it can be ruinous to a man's chances if he takes too far a feminine goodness he learns from women in his childhood. If a man is too other-regarding, too self-effacing, too deferential - in other words too "nice" - he is likely to be admired in the wrong way. He will be admired as a "friend", as a man who has been placed outside the category of possible suitors.

Imagine it with the genders reversed. Imagine a nice woman who does not project much feminine charm or appeal. She does something nice for a man she knows and he responds by saying, "Hey, you have a nice personality. Thanks." It's not really a compliment - not if she's looking to get men interested in a relationship. It's his way of saying, "You're not really on my radar as the kind of woman I'd go for. But as a woman in the non-category, I give you credit."

If she were on his radar, then he wouldn't tell her she had a nice personality. He'd be flirting a bit with her, trying to turn on some masculine charm, trying to tease out a response. What might lead him to do this? It could be a number of things: the way she walks, the way she says cute things, the way she dresses, her playfulness, the way her slender arms reach back to tie the ribbon in her long, lustrous hair.

If a man isn't after a relationship, he might not even look beyond these things. Of course, if he's looking for something serious, then (if he's wise) he'll consider a range of other qualities.

That's the level at which initial attraction operates. Being nice isn't even enough for a woman even though it's a positive feminine quality. So how can it even begin to be adequate for a man?

So here's some advice. If you think a woman is shunting you off into a category of men she's not sexually interested in by calling you nice or sweet or a friend (or by talking to you about her relationship difficulties or experiences with other men etc) then listen to your instincts - something is going wrong. You're not presenting right to her.

I think as well that it's possible to be too romantic as a man, at least in the sense of being overawed by the beauty or the idealised goodness of women. Again, this is likely to make a man too deferential and too supplicating, which then makes it difficult to project a confident masculine "play" with a woman. Most men are going to be struck at times by female beauty (it's a good thing to be responsive to this), but after the initial momentary "strike" there's no reason why a man can't then find within himself or within men in general qualities to match what women have.

Finally, there's the issue of attempting to call out Gamers on their masculinity:

And here's something that struck me in this conversation: many of these men appear "alone" not only in the sense of not having a woman. One wonders whether there are any normal male friendships here. Would your compatriots have allowed you to whine publicly in this way without calling you on your manhood? I don't think mine would have. There would be no need to bring social responsibility in, just simple taunts relating to how needy and weak you were appearing.

I think this is a dangerous strategy. It is no doubt true that the most masculine thing to do is to find a wife, raise a family and battle politically against Western decline. But the above quote suggests that the problem is with the men themselves, that they are alone because they aren't masculine enough and they just need to man up and be socially responsible and quit whining.

A lot of the men attracted to Game will have spent years doing the masculine thing, not complaining, being socially responsible and watching more feckless men reap the rewards. In fact, many will have worked harder for much less with much less encouragement than older generations of men. To then be told to man up and quit whining is just likely to provoke an angry or dismissive response.

These men will also have already experienced and rejected the shaming technique. Feminists use it all the time (e.g. if you were a real man you would accept your new androgynous role in the family etc). It's effective because men do have an instinct to stoically take whatever is thrown at them and to prefer to battle through alone to a solution. I remember trying to open up discussions with other men about feminism on campus in the early 1990s. It always failed because even if you got one or two men talking there would be a third who would pull out the shaming card: quit whining and just get on with things.

The only reason an opposition to feminism has begun to emerge is because enough men refuse to be shamed in this way - they've learned see through it.

Finally, there is one other danger for traditionalists in all this. We can too easily mirror liberals in adopting a politics of "hopefulness". Liberals commonly proceed on the following basis: policy X is just and right, therefore we must implement policy X, therefore we must adopt a stance of hopefulness that policy X will turn out alright, regardless of past experience or experience elsewhere.

Hopefulness can be misplaced. The dating situation is probably a little better now than in the early 1990s. But it will probably get worse again, once the effects of paid maternity leave schemes kick in here in Australia and once enough people forget what the early 1990s were like. We'll most likely experience another wave of feminism and a further decline in the culture of marriage - before we're in a position to do much about it.

The answer is not a philosophy of Game, but we do need to listen to men who describe the difficulties they face in partnering and to develop a realistic message of our own to improve the immediate situation these men find themselves in.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Leaving it too late

What does liberalism tell women? It tells women that individual autonomy is the highest good. What matters is the pursuit of one's independence.

Lucy Edge followed the liberal principle. She spent her 20s and 30s in pursuit of financial independence through a career. Love, marriage and motherhood could wait:

I suppose it is little wonder that it took me until the age of 41 to find the right man ... I'd spent most of my life dedicated to building my career.

By 24, I was a strategist at a leading ad agency. I drove a Golf convertible, wore red wool suits with gilt buttons, and thought I was Paula Hamilton from the iconic TV advert. I remained very single, but I told myself - and my concerned mum - that the mews house and engagement ring would come later.

My life didn't revolve around marriage and children. My friends and I were taking our time. We were big kids in shoulder pads, and life was about working, shopping, drinking and having fun.

When I stopped to think about it (which was never for very long), I could never imagine myself in my mother's shoes.

At 22, she'd had me to look after, whereas at the same age I was staying late at the office to check my secretary's typing or prepare for a meeting. At 30, when she spent her evenings cooking for a family, I was living on cigarettes and canapes.

Busy chasing financial independence, I let my most fertile years slip by, never allowing myself to doubt that the love and babies bit would take care of itself. And so I lost the chance to have a baby I didn't even know I wanted until it was too late.

In my 20s there'd been a lightness of touch in my office affairs (the odd kiss and cuddle behind the filing cabinet), but by my 30s my relationships were tinged with desperation.

I hadn't found him, and I was worried. Yet, I refused to prioritise the man-hunt - the idea seemed so old-fashioned.

Here we have a very typical pattern followed by the middle-class women of my generation. Love, marriage and motherhood weren't rejected, they were delayed and de-prioritised. What mattered was living a single girl lifestyle (working, shopping, drinking and having fun), living for the moment, and achieving autonomy and independence.

But finally at age 41 Lucy was ready to settle. She's a pretty woman who was able to find a loyal husband. But she hadn't counted on fertility issues:

Of course, we knew that women over 40 stood less chance of getting pregnant, but we had no idea that they might fail altogether.

I suppose it's a sign of the times that we believed we could have whatever we wanted. We wanted a baby and if we failed to conceive naturally, then IVF was our back-up.

It was the first time in my life I'd ever given motherhood any serious thought, and the yearning hit me like a thunderbolt.

I had spent the whole of my adult life as a London career girl, married to my advertising agency job, with no time or inclination to settle down.

Yet as soon as David, who has his own events marketing company, and I started trying for a baby, my whole perspective changed. I held my belly protectively and imagined myself walking down the Finchley Road heavily pregnant.

I looked at baby food in the supermarket aisles and noticed women with their children. I imagined the warming smell of my baby's head, the tiny fingers and perfect fingernails. I imagined having a small hand to hold as I walked down the street.

My world opened up with possibility.

"We believed we could have whatever we wanted". This idea sounds dumb, but remember that liberalism tells people that they have a right to self-create in whatever direction they choose, so liberal moderns have to either hopefully believe that there are no limits or else accept that liberalism itself is unworkable.

Note too just how radical the effects of liberal modernism are when it comes to the lives of women: Lucy claims that she hadn't seriously thought about motherhood until her early 40s. This is historically very odd; in most cultures motherhood is a core aspect of the lives of women.

Sadly there were to be no children for Lucy and David:

And yet you are not getting pregnant,' the doctor said, just as I was preparing to celebrate. 'The most likely explanation is age. When a woman reaches her 40s, we have to recognise that we're working with older eggs, and I am afraid their quality declines over time. The question is what we do next.'

What she said next shook me. A woman of 43 or 44 has a 13 per cent chance of getting pregnant through IVF and a 70 per cent chance of miscarriage. 'So Lucy, your net chance of delivering a baby with IVF is around four per cent. I'm really sorry.'

But all that was academic when it came to finding an IVF clinic. A second round of tests revealed that, in just six months, my hormone levels had changed, my fertility had dropped, meaning no clinic was prepared to take me on.

The odds of success were so slim that it was, they claimed, unethical to take my money.

She responded with anger to her loss:

I was angry - with anyone who had fallen pregnant accidentally, anyone who didn't realise how lucky they were to have a child.

I was angry at the ad agency for keeping me in the office throughout my childbearing years, and at the tobacco companies who had sold me the cigarettes I'd smoked throughout my 20s, and at the government for never having had a public health campaign on the subject of increasing age and decreasing fertility.

But, deep down, I knew I had no one to blame but myself. I had never stopped to think about the bigger picture.

Look at the consequences of all this. Lucy Edge sacrificed everything for an office job she eventually quit anyway. Neither she nor her husband will ever have children, so they won't be contributing any well-raised children to society. Lucy didn't take love or marriage seriously in her 20s, so she contributed to the demoralisation of the young men of her generation.

Autonomy as the sole, overriding good didn't work out so well. It changed the priorities of the general culture. Society took seriously the issue of female careerism, but relegated motherhood to the realm of "it will take care of itself at some indeterminate time in the future".

There's no balance in this. We have to move away from the reductive idea of autonomy as the organising principle of society, so that other important goods, such as love, marriage and motherhood, can be given due weight.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Game and sex

There are some popular websites which advocate men learning game to be more successful with women. I've read some of these sites with mixed feelings. There's some good advice about typical female testing behaviours and how to respond to them. But the gamists themselves don't seem all that content, despite claiming success with many attractive women.

I think it's because game isn't enough - it doesn't change the dispiriting conditions in which modern dating takes place.

Back in the 1930s an Australian feminist and communist named Jean Devanny wrote a short story about a male communist who believed in absolute sexual liberty. Both men and women were to have sex with whomever they pleased. All went well until our male communist found his wife in bed with another man. In principle he had to accept her actions. She for her part tried to persuade him that sex itself was just a meaningless physical act that he shouldn't be too fussed about:

... she was right; her attitude was the only one if they were to continue living together. He must conquer himself. What was she saying? - "Make too much of this silly sex act. It doesn't mean anything, really. It is the smallest thing in life. It takes up only a moment or two out of millions of moments. The things that matter are comradeship, congeniality, friendship and kindness ...

This is a purely materialistic view of sex, in which sex expresses nothing beyond itself as a physical act. And the logic too is that for sex to be made wholly free it must be made meaningless.

Jump forward to 2007. Laura Sessions Stepp published in this year a book about the attitudes to sex of young upper middle class women. What she found is that these women had decoupled love from sex. They hadn't given up on love, but had deferred it. They were too busy with their "projects" for serious relationships. They treated sex as just sex:

Stepp follows three high school girls and six college women through a year in their lives, chronicling their sexual behavior. These girls and women don't date, don't develop long-term relationships or even short, serious ones -- instead, they "hook up" ...

Why hook up? According to Stepp, college women, obsessed with academic and career success, say they don't have time for a real relationship; high school girls say lovey-dovey relationships give them the "yucks."

Laura Sessions Stepp herself is concerned by the situation:

Stepp is troubled: How will these girls learn how to be loving couples in this hook-up culture? Where will they practice the behavior needed to sustain deep and long-term relationships? If they commit to a lack of commitment, how will they ever learn to be intimate?

But the woman reviewing the book, Kathy Dobie, wants to set Laura Sessions Stepp straight:

The author is conflating what the girls refuse to conflate: love and sexuality.

In other words, Kathy Dobie thinks it wrong to think that love and sex should go together. Sex is ... just sex. It's Devanny's communists all over again, but this time writing in The Washington Post.

Laura Sessions Stepp really does try to hold the line. She advises young women:

He will seek to win you over only if he thinks you're a prize.

She also opposes the reduction of relationships to the physical aspect alone:

Stepp is most thought-provoking when she considers the culture at large: All the females she interviews come from reasonably well-off families, we're told, and all are ambitious. "Hooking up enables a young woman to practice a piece of a relationship, the physical, while devoting most of her energy to staying on the honor roll . . . playing lacrosse . . . and applying to graduate programs in engineering."

Kathy Dobie again disagrees. She thinks it a worthy experiment to make sex a less meaningful part of relationships:

In a culture that values money and fame above all, that eschews failure, bad luck, trouble and pain, none of us speaks the language of love and forbearance. But it is not hooking up that has created this atmosphere. Hooking up is either a faithful reflection of the culture, a Darwinian response to a world where half the marriages end in divorce, or it is an attempt at something new. Perhaps, this generation, by making sex less precious, less a commodity, will succeed in putting simple humanity back into sex ...

And perhaps as this generation grows up, they will come to relish other sides of an intimate relationship more than we have: the friendship, the shared humor, the familiar and loved body next to you in bed at night. This is the most hopeful outcome of the culture Stepp describes, but no less possible than the outcome she fears -- a generation unable to commit, unable to weather storms or to stomach second place or really to love at all.

Love and sex have been decoupled and both have been relegated in significance and priority.

It's worth noting that Kathy Dobie is the modern girl par excellence. She has written a book about her own early sexual experiences. She came from a good family, but at the age of 14 she began to chase boys for sex and, as a sexually liberated modern girl, she went for "the confident, aggressive, dirty-minded ones."

Why did she do it? She explains in the book that she wanted to feel "as alive, as bold, as free" as the bad boys around her (which makes her sound like a vitalist - as someone who responds to a nihilistic culture by seeking out sensation and excitement).

So let's say you're a young man and you are confronted with modern girl culture. You meet women who choose to have sex with the "confident, aggressive, dirty-minded" boys and who aren't psychologically oriented to love or to attracting love or to the entanglements of something serious.

Even if you learnt techniques to make you fit better into the confident, aggressive category of man, would this really satisfy? Wouldn't it be dispiriting to exist within a culture in which sex is both decoupled from love and from any meaning larger than itself? In which women aren't oriented to love? Would you really see the women produced by such a culture as a prize worth fighting for?

I should say at this point that not every woman has taken on the modern girl ethos. There do still exist women who put love, marriage and family first. If game techniques help some men attract these women, then it could have some benefit.

But it often seems to be the case that gamists have accepted the modernist conditions, and then I don't wonder that they seem discontented even when they get more of what's on offer.

Because it isn't enough. It's not that men are incapable of casual sex. But a man's nature can't be reduced to this. We do want to connect in a deeper way with a woman, and this requires a culture in which women are oriented to love and in which sex expresses something of ourselves. We are bound to feel alienated when this is not on offer.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Now this is sex war!

In the normally conservative Daily Mail there's a sex advice column written by a woman named Rowan Pelling. A reader wrote in with the following predicament:

I've been with my boyfriend for six months, we're both 34 and I am fairly sure he's The One. The other night we ended up having a conversation about how many lovers we'd had. He told me he had slept with eight women and suddenly I felt nervous about confessing the truth - I had a lot of flings at university and in my first job at an ad agency, so my tally is closer to 40. But I found myself saying ten and even then he looked horrified. I hate being untruthful with him, but don't want to be judged either. What should I do?

Rowan Pelling's response? She wants to make this woman's situation normative:

I have to say that if this man is so censorious and delicate that he crumples when faced with a 34-year-old unmarried career woman who confesses to ten lovers, then he'd better take the Tardis back to 1900 ...

To be honest, if your man really loves you he should be able to take the full tally with equanimity. But then that would presume that he's secure in his own skin and, as we all know, a great many people aren't. What you perceive as censure may well be old-fashioned male insecurity.

... Meanwhile, a close female friend is given to describing herself to any new beau as a virgin (she's 36). When the poor man looks at her in utter disbelief, she says: 'I have no recollection of a love life before you. Time starts now.'

This is an attempt to manipulate. Think of what's really going on here. The woman had no time for a family type guy in her 20s. She wasted her youth and fertility on casual sex with players. Now she's in her mid-30s and is finally ready to settle. She's ready (in her mind) to give up on sex and romance and be supported by a family guy.

Should this be considered the new normal? Hardly. The family guy is going to have to make all the sacrifices expected of men in past generations. But he's not getting a woman who can offer him youthful beauty or fertility. He's not getting a woman who will look toward him as the romantic man in her life. He will probably not get the sex he thinks he's going to get once the deal is done.

All the rewards are going to the player. The sacrifices are being made by the family guy. It's a shocking deal. It means too that the men who would make the best fathers aren't likely to have much success in reproducing.

And yet Rowan Pelling, and a fair number of the women in the comments, are trying to browbeat men into thinking they aren't real men or that they are old-fashioned if they object.

The most appropriate response from men is righteous anger and a determination to resist. We have to insist that if women want the support of family men that they have to be ready to settle much younger and reward the men who are to be their husbands - and not a long line of strangers.

It is not insecure for men to ask for these terms, it is a basic defence of healthy family formation.

Rowan Pelling wants to liberate women to waste themselves at the expense of family men and the long-term future of their society. This is her side of the sex war. Let's make sure she gets some intelligent and persevering opposition.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

What does it mean to be alpha?

A lot of young men believe that they will win over women by being the loyal, supportive, nice kind of guy.

Why would they think this? First, it's a cultural message. Hollywood churns out films in which the beautiful heroine falls in love with a goofy, unemployed guy who proves to be nicer and more loyal than her handsome, wealthy, preppy boyfriend/fiancé.

Second, women often say that all they really want is a nice guy who will commit to them.

The problem is that the Hollywood films are peddling a kind of fantasy. Nor can what women say be taken at face value. A woman may be telling the truth when she says she admires a man who is nice and reliable - she just may not admire him in a romantic way. And when she complains about men being bastards and asks where the good men are, she may just be expressing part of the drama of her romantic life - one that she isn't willing to give up just yet.

And so the young men who did their best to be nice guys become gradually disillusioned. The women they meet casually won't bother to respect them. The women they know well will be friendlier, but won't relate to them seriously as men. What's worse, our good guys will observe women rewarding over and over the bad boys: the ones who are reckless, unstable, shady and untrustworthy.

The result is confusion and resentment among a large number of men who thought they were doing the right thing.

As an example of the way women are drawn to the "bad boy", I'll quote the views of Samantha Brett, who writes a popular relationships blog for the Sydney Morning Herald. Samantha Brett is unusual in being upfront and honest in discussing her preferences. She is attracted to the "bad boy" player type of man, despite knowing that the long-term outcome isn't likely to be good. Thus, when Jerry Hall announced that in future she would only marry a man who didn't behave like her ex-husband Mick Jagger, who had fathered a baby with another woman during their marriage, Samantha Brett could see a conundrum:

Of course a man who doesn't "behave like that" [like Jagger] is someone who is the opposite of the archetypal playboy - loyal, kind and generous - who unfortunately, isn't the type of gent most women dream about, talk about, become addicted to, hanker after, get infatuated with and end up falling hopelessly (and often unrequitedly) in love with.

In fact, while out with a group of friends for dinner, when the conversation turned to the most desirable man, the women pooh-poohed 25-year-old Sarah's relationship (she had chosen a "loyal" guy over a playboy) for not having enough spark and encouraged her not to settle down with this "nice guy" any time soon ...

"You need excitement! You need va va voom! You need je ne sais quoi!" the women chanted as they began to indulge in the erotic reverie of the man who would sweep you off your feet, is wildly romantic, wildly appealing, doting and devastatingly handsome, all at the same time.

However, one woman at the table vehemently disagreed with their sentiment.

"You're all describing the player - the type of man who wouldn't be good in the long haul. I'm only dating men right now who I can see as being future husband material; who will be a good father to my kids. I don't really care how he looks or where he takes me holidaying in summer. That stuff doesn't matter when it comes to the future."

While she might have put a damper on all the fantasy talk that was going on, I had to agree. If only women would open their eyes to giving a chance to men who really value, love and cherish them, as opposed to the ones who keep them on their toes, like to play games and meddle with their emotions, maybe things would be a little different. And maybe there wouldn't be so many heartbroken women out there.

Samantha Brett sometimes gets women to describe their ideal man:

The thing that shocks me is that many of these women are often hell-bent on describing the type of man who will no doubt break their hearts, the bad boy who is exciting and fun and titillates all their senses. They often forget qualities such as loyalty, kindness and friendship - the attributes that should be the key to choosing a man to partner with for the rest of their lives.

But she herself is torn in two different directions:

I often find myself vacillating between men who are loyal and kind, and those who are exciting in a rock star sort of way.

You can see why so many young men are perplexed about what to do. If by nature you are a man of integrity, how are you meant to be the kind of man that women "dream about, talk about, become addicted to, hanker after, get infatuated with and end up falling hopelessly in love with." Are you supposed to mimic bad boy behaviour?

I can remember having exactly this thought in my mid-20s. I write this now without bitterness, having been married happily for some years. But back then I saw the women in my social milieu go for the damaged, reckless type of men. I really did wonder if I had to put on a leather jacket and torn jeans and pretend to be involved in some kind of petty drug trade to make a bigger impression.

There is a lot of discussion of this issue on the internet. It's usually framed in terms of women preferring a small number of high-testosterone alpha males rather than the average guy beta males. I think these terms are suspect. The term alpha gives the impression of superiority. In some cases, the women I knew really did go for men who could at least claim to be superior, such as those studying for high status jobs such as medicine and law.

However, a lot of the time, women went for men who were clearly losers. There were men whose drug habits led them to live close to the edge and this was attractive for some women. One female friend went for a man who was mentally ill but who was, in her words, "fun to be with". Men with borderline personality disorders can be highly attractive to women, as they are manipulative, unavailable, jealous, unpredictable and needy. In the school yard, you often see the bad boys, those who are more damaged, more unpredictably violent and who have the least chance of success in life, being followed around by a harem of admiring girls.

Women can also see men as "alpha" who haven't achieved more than other men but who are louder and pushier and who seem to dominate in a social situation.

Are these men really more masculine and superior to the quietly confident, intelligent and far-sighted men who are labelled "beta"? Supposedly some women believe that men who are reckless and aggressive are more likely to act ruthlessly in the interests of their families. But in real life it's the stable, prudent, intelligent men who will make the better providers.

It's also likely to be the so-called beta males who carry a civilisation. So again, I think the choice of the terms alpha and beta is unfortunate and inadequate.

Was the issue of women preferring alpha males as significant in the past? Perhaps. Look at the central themes of Jane Austen's novels. The women are drawn initially to the cads, the younger, sillier, more impulsive women more so, the mature and genuinely sweet ones less so. There is a very considerable effort made by society to suppress the impulsive, romantic inclinations of the young women. It is hammered into them that cads mean ruin and disgrace for them and their families.

And today? It's possible that most women today do know that they are better off marrying a beta. Samantha Brett's friend, for instance, justified her choice of boyfriend on the grounds that, "I'm only dating men right now who I can see as being future husband material; who will be a good father to my kids."

The problem is that women today have deferred a commitment to marriage and so are likely to spend much longer following their romantic instincts rather than looking for husbands. A woman today can support herself in a glamorous white collar job and can avoid motherhood via contraception. She can pursue unsuitable men throughout her twenties, demoralising the family type men in the process.

So what's to be done? I don't have a short term solution, but I can give some advice based on my experience.

It should be said first that not every woman is attracted to the wrong sort of man. Nor does every woman want to wait till her thirties to settle. So there's a window of opportunity for family type men early on, when these women are partnering.

It becomes more difficult when women are in their mid-20s, but then there's another window of opportunity when women approach 30. There are women at this time who are aware of the biological clock and who are no longer so keen on the rigours of full-time work. Beta men who haven't given up can do well at this time.

The problem, though, is that there isn't a great deal of time left to date, engage, marry and have children. A lot of men, too, will have given up by this time. So one of the things we can do, and ought to do, is make women aware of the dangers of leaving marriage so late.

What else can help men deal with the situation? It's useful, of course, to have a high status job. This can make you seem alpha even if you're not a bad boy type. Being passionate about a belief or pursuit can help. It sends a damaging signal if men don't have beliefs of their own they're willing to argue for. Standing your ground in a relationship, even if this means an argument or confrontation, is something you have to be willing to do at times. It's also possible to play at bad behaviour in a humourous, teasing way.

Don't expect women to reward the masculine virtues. These virtues are more likely to be recognised amongst men. You have to practice these virtues regardless of what women think.

Raise your daughters within a stable, loving household. Don't deny them paternal affection. Daughters from such homes are more likely to look for the right kind of men.

Be persevering. You're going to have to put up with more than men in previous generations did. Don't be thrown off for too long by failed relationships. Don't become fatalistic to protect yourself emotionally. Build up your career and your finances even if there is no immediate prospect of marriage.

Use your discontent to work for change so that your sons won't have to endure the unnecessary obstacles you yourself have faced.

Don't yield your integrity. It's one thing that's really not worth losing.

Don't expect, in our culture, to find a ready made woman. Look around you at the cultural influences on women. Do you really expect the average woman to withstand it all? You need good instincts about the underlying character of a woman. A lot depends on your judgement of how she is likely to respond to being a wife and mother.

If you don't like the feminist type of woman, then aim for the large number of relatively apolitical women. You'll find that these apolitical women have absorbed some feminist ideas, and will throw them at you at times, but in the main it probably won't interfere too much with your relationship.

The worst thing of all is to be insipid. You might not be the bad boy "alpha" male who women want to tame or rescue, but if you have a bit of masculine grunt you've got something going for you.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How Indian TV explains student attacks

Face the Nation is an Indian current affairs show. It featured recently a discussion about the attacks on Indian students in Melbourne and Sydney.

The program's host blamed the violence on Australians still holding to an illegitimate white and Western identity rather than embracing multiculturalism. She introduced the discussion by asking:

So has Australia actually been able to create multiculturalism within its society? ... we're asking the question: are countries like Australia still imprisoned in a whites only mindset? You're telling us at the start of the show, 71% are saying yes, well that's a very decisive verdict, 71% seem to know that this is in fact the case ...

The panel members ran with similar arguments about the violence:

Srivastava argued that the Australians are confused over their identity as a nation.

“There is resistance in certain sections to a multi-cultural Australia."

What's wrong with framing the issue this way? First, it's presumptuous for Indians to declare the traditional national identity of another country to be illegitimate - as a "prison" to be escaped from. It's not exactly reassuring for white Australians to be told that we are to switch our allegiance from our traditional Western allies to the emerging Asian powers when there are such hostile views towards us within these countries.

Second, the framing of the debate puts things exactly the wrong way round. It is not traditional Australia which is attacking the Indian students but modern multicultural Australia.

Take the most recent attack on an Indian in Melbourne. The attackers were members of a Vietnamese gang who on the same night bashed a Brisbane tourist, Jeff Pooler, putting him in a coma in intensive care.

The police have also revealed that most of those who have committed violent assaults in the city come from the northern suburbs of Melbourne. I'll list the suburbs which produce the most offenders and put in brackets the percentage of households where only English is spoken (2006 census data): Reservoir (49%), St Albans (28%), Craigieburn (70%), Broadmeadows (41%), Hoppers Crossing (72%), Sunshine (37%), Coburg (50%), Glenroy (53%) and Coolaroo (44%). On average 49% of households in these suburbs speak only English at home. So the violence is again associated with multiculturalism - making it seem odd to recommend multiculturalism as a solution to attacks on Indian students.

How is the media explaining the violence? So far Dr Birrell of Monash University is the only one I've seen who has recognised the link to multiculturalism. He was quoted as arguing that,

Indian students had come under attack as enrolments boomed, pushing them into less affluent suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne where they competed for jobs and housing with youth from low-skill migrant backgrounds.

I'm sceptical that competition for jobs and housing has much to do with it, but at least Dr Birrell recognises the demographic reality.

The Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle, has chosen to blame bogans for the attacks. Overseas readers may not be aware of what the term bogan means: it usually refers to culturally unsophisticated, working-class white Australians. Other figures have started to blame poverty and disadvantage. But none of this makes much sense.

After all, back in the early 1980s there were bogans and there was poverty. Even so, you could go pretty much anywhere anytime in Melbourne. I can remember thinking with some pride back then that for such a large city Melbourne was remarkably safe. I don't recall ever meeting hostility or aggression from the working class Australians of that time. I found them easy to get along with.

So what changed? Again, we shouldn't ignore the effects of multiculturalism. Within traditional Australian culture there were certain rules of engagement when it came to violence. It was unusual for weapons to be used in fights. The fights were usually one on one. It was thought cowardly to king hit (sucker punch). It would have been thought vicious to kick an unconscious opponent in the head. Looking at someone the wrong way was not thought to be sufficient provocation for an attack. A drunk person mouthing off was not generally thought to have invited upon himself a bashing.

Clearly for some cultures these rules do not apply. It has now become dangerous to follow the traditional culture, as a man who is worse for wear, alone and expecting a fair fight has become exceptionally vulnerable to attack - particularly if he is not aware that there are some groups who might target him as a rival.

So the Indian media pundits have it wrong. They have blamed a traditional Australian identity for street violence and recommended multiculturalism as a cure. But the violence is more closely associated with the newer, multicultural areas of our cities. As I wrote earlier, the Indian journalists have things exactly the wrong way around.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The minister for making things up

Why would a young woman become a feminist? For Anna Corbett it was one issue which jump-started her conversion:

My name is Anna, I’m 22 and I’m a feminist. Six months ago, if someone told me that I would write these words, and mean them, I would have laughed out loud. I believed that feminism was outdated; that it created more problems than it solved ...

All of this changed because of a chance event ... I was sat in one of the computer rooms of my university trying to find the motivation to start an essay. Next to the computers as usual were leaflets advertising various events, sports clubs and rooms for rent.

Procrastinating, I started to read through them and came across a small slip of paper from the woman’s committee. I wish I’d kept it. It was only a few short sentences on how careers traditionally considered men’s preserve, such as the police, were better paid than those traditionally followed by women, such as nursing. This, among numerous other issues, contributed to the pay gap between men and women. An idea swam through my mind that would characterise my next few months: I’d never thought about it like that before.

The message of that leaflet stayed in my head for far longer than the essay which I was writing. It began to nag at me ...

So it was the pay gap which brought Anna into the arms of feminism. This is a bit strange as the pay gap hardly exists for women of Anna's generation. This is from a report in the Melbourne Age:

According to research from the University of Canberra's National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling, true pay parity is but a fraction of 1 per cent away for this current crop of twenty somethings.

A report to be released today shows that the pay gap that has persisted between men and women is now 0.6 per cent for gen Y women, compared with 3.5 per cent for gen X and 13 per cent for baby boomers.

The pay gap for young women in now 0.6 per cent. And notice the general trend. Before long it will clearly be men who will be paid less. Will Anna then switch to a support for men's rights?

So why would Anna think the issue sufficient to justify a commitment to feminism? Partly because older feminists greatly exaggerate the existing pay gap. For instance, in Britain the Labour Party deputy leader and Minister for Women and Equality, Harriet Harman, claimed that women were paid 23% less than men. She received an official warning from the UK Statistics Authority for doing so.

The stated aim of the authority is "Building Trust in Statistics". Sir Michael Scholar wrote on behalf of the authority to Harriet Harman querying why a figure of 23% was used when the original research claimed half of this amount (12.8%). It seems that instead of comparing male full-time workers to female full-time workers, the earnings of all workers were compared. That is how the much higher pay gap figure was generated.

Nor did Harriet Harman take account of the fact that the original research did not compare like occupations nor length of service. It only measured in coarse terms the overall outcome. In other words, it's possible that men earnt 12.8% more because they had longer service, had applied for promotions and worked in more difficult or dangerous occupations.

But it gets much worse. Harriet Harman took little notice of Sir Michael Scholar's rebuke. Her office produced an official document, Shaping a Fairer Future, which did anything but promote trust in statistics. In the foreword to this document the following claim is made:

pay gaps are even greater for part-time workers (39.9 per cent)

This is more than an exaggeration, it's an outright fabrication. Sir Michael Scholar felt obliged to pick up his pen again and chide the Minister for, well, making things up. He made the following correction to the false statistic:

The casual reader would be surprised to learn then that median hourly earnings of women and of men (excluding overtime) are very close, with women’s median pay actually being slightly higher than men’s (by 3.4 per cent).

While the Foreword to Shaping the Future refers to 39.9 per cent as an estimate of the pay gap for part-time workers, it does not explain what this is a measure of. Looking at the numbers presented in the Authority M&A note, 39.9 per cent appears to be a measure of the difference between the median hourly earnings of part-time women compared with full-time men.

Let me put this plainly. Women who work part-time earn on average 3.4% more than men who work part-time (£7.52 compared to £7.26 per hour). So the pay gap actually favours female part-time workers. What Harriet Harman's office did was to compare female part-time workers with male full-time workers. Not surprisingly, male full-time earnings were considerably greater that female part-time earnings.

So young women like Anna Corbett are being misled into thinking that there is a large pay gap reflecting sexist discrimination. But the pay gap that does exist is small, is narrowing and reflects differences in work patterns between men and women.

Nor is a pay gap necessarily a bad thing for women. Many women want a male partner who earns either more or a similar amount to them. If men were to stop being ambitious and no longer chose well-paid rather than inherently satisfying careers, then women would find it much more difficult to partner.

It's also the case that it's often married women who encourage their husbands to work overtime or take promotions. That's because married women no longer see their husband's earnings as "male pay" that oppresses them, but as family income which supports them.

If men are motivated to be providers for their families, then there is likely to be some kind of a pay gap (at least in overall earnings). If such a pay gap disappeared entirely, it would reflect a loss of such a commitment by men. Would this really be in the long-term interests of women?

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Melbourne terror plot

I'm not sure if the news was picked up overseas but we've had another foiled terrorist plot here in Melbourne. Five Muslims living in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, four from Somalia and one from Lebanon, have been arrested for planning an attack on a military base near Sydney.

The reaction within the Somali community isn't promising. There have been reports in the media of Somalis claiming that the men are innocent, that the police are terrorists, that the Australian government is corrupt, that Australian authorities are bigoted, that the raids on terror suspects were unreasonable and that Somali leaders should have been consulted by the police before the raids:

Abdurahman Osman, a leader of Melbourne's 15,000 strong Somali community, said police acted unreasonably.

"What do you call waking people up at four in the morning with guns?" he said.

"It is the police themselves that are the terrorists.

... Mr Osman's outburst came as a prominent Muslim website featured a photograph of Australian soldiers in uniform with the caption: "Real Australian terrorists."

It also features a photograph of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd addressing Australian troops overseas with the caption: "Terrorist mastermind delivers sermon to impressionable followers."

"Mohammed" said on the website: "Why is it called terrorist attack when the Aussie troops have been raping, killing innocent Muslims for years?

"In this country we can't trust nobody. The Australian Government is corrupted."

... Mr Osman, until now a voice of moderation between Somalis and the wider community, said police should have consulted migrant leaders.

"The federal police could have come to us first and we could have helped them," Mr Osman said.

"We have met with them now, but we don't believe they have evidence of a terrorist plot and that is the feeling of the community."

Other Somalis accused Australian authorities of bigotry.

"As a Somali-born Australian I am outraged at these raids not only because my fellow Somalis are being targeted, but once again basic human rights are being violated," said Xamxam, a 21-year-old Sunshine woman

So there are Somalis who believe that they are the victims of a corrupt Australian society, even though it was young Somali men who were arrested for planning a violent terrorist act, and even though Somalis commit more crime here in Victoria than any other ethnic group (one in nine Victorians born in Somali committed a crime in the state last year).

The arrests have led a northern suburbs Labor Party MP, Kelvin Thomson, to call for a cut to the immigration intake to allow for a more careful vetting of immigrants who might pose a security risk. He wants a return to the immigration levels of the mid-1990s (80,000) rather than the extraordinarily high numbers of today (150,000 plus 250,000 on entry visas).

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Have conservatives been captured?

Most intellectuals are liberals of one stripe or another. So much so that it's possible to speak of liberalism as being the orthodox belief of the modern West. Professor John Gray recognises this when he writes that,

We are all liberals nowadays ... It sometimes seems as if the spectrum of ideas in political life ranges from the sovereign consumer of the neo-liberal right to the sovereign chooser of the egalitarian left. ("What liberalism cannot do", New Statesman, 20th September 1990)

Professor Alasdair MacIntyre puts it this way,

Contemporary debates within modern political systems are almost exclusively between conservative liberals, liberal liberals, and radical liberals. There is little place in such political systems for the criticism of the system itself, that is, for putting liberalism in question. (Whose Justice? Whose rationality?)

How did liberalism become an unquestioned orthodoxy? In part, by capturing what was supposed to be the conservative opposition. What John Stuart Mill recommended as a liberal strategy back in 1840 has been effected. Mill didn't think it practicable to persuade conservatives to identify as liberals. So he suggested that conservatives be encouraged to believe that liberal opinions were themselves conservative.

What could be done about the conservative classes of society? Mill wrote that his fellow liberals should,

ask themselves if they are content that these classes should be, and remain, to a man, banded against them; and what progress they expect to make, or by what means, unless a process of preparation shall be going on in the minds of these very classes; not by the impracticable method of converting them from Conservatives into Liberals, but by their being led to adopt one liberal opinion after another, as a part of Conservatism itself. (On Coleridge)

What we see today in mainstream politics is a captured conservatism, just as Mill wanted it to be, one that is unfit to provide a principled opposition to liberalism.

It's no use, therefore, simply supporting conservatism or conservative parties as they are. If we're serious about challenging liberalism, the first thing we have to do is to return to a clear point of distinction between conservatism and liberalism.

In other words, we have to answer this question: what political beliefs would make someone a principled conservative rather than just another member of the liberal orthodoxy?

I'd suggest the following. First, a principled conservative would want people to be free as they are really constituted, namely as men and women, as members of distinct communities and traditions, and as moral beings. He would not accept the liberal idea that we are made free through a radical autonomy in which we self-create who we are.

Second, a principled conservative would not accept that freedom is the one, reductive, organising principle of society. He would consider freedom to be one important good to be held in balance with other significant goods, such as love and loyalty, family and country, courtesy and charity, beauty and grace, and honour and courage. These virtues are not always to be sacrificed to the good of individual freedom.

Third, a principled conservative would recognise the existence of a common good. He would not see society just as an immense set of individual goods needing to be harmonised with each other. He would recognise the importance to individuals of the distinct community and tradition they belong to; therefore, he would accept as a significant common good the well-being of his own community and tradition and the common purpose of maintaining their existence through time.

If I have struck in the right places a serious liberal would flinch when reading the above. And the point should be to strike in the right places - not in order to shock or deliberately offend liberal sensibilities (that would be unserious), but to find the most effective point of distinction to finally drag conservatism out of the liberal orthodoxy.

Monday, August 03, 2009

History in the remaking

Royal Auto has the largest circulation of any monthly magazine in Australia. It's read by half the adult population here in Victoria. So it's significant that the feature article in this month's edition (August 2009) is on the topic of history, ancestry and identity.

The article looks at a historical re-enactment society in the Victorian city of Ballarat. The young members of this society are quite articulate when it comes to explaining why they devote so much time to their hobby. For instance, David Waldron believes that it connects him to his heritage:

His participation ... is a way of "bridging the disjuncture from my heritage - my own history. I am recreating that sense of connection."

Another member of the society, Fred Cheney, an English and history teacher, has a theory about the loss of Western identity:

Fred ... has tried to connect with Asian spirituality but found immersing himself in the essentials of northern European culture is the better fit pyschologically. He says the transported gene pool of white Australia set his social lineage adrift.

"And in the absence of knowledge about our own ancestral roots, we tend to project our internal indigenous sense onto the exotic other - the Aborigines or the Asian races," he says. "Through these processes we are reclaiming our own roots. For me, enacting the Viking period is a way of engaging with my racial heritage. We get the sense it is still there. The costumes are profoundly respectful of our ancestors, but by wearing them you get that instant consciousness of The Great Then."

There are women involved too. Anna says of history that,

"reading about it just isn't enough." And best of all is the payoff in a real sense of connection. "This sense of tribal community is vital to sustain us now because it has a real integrity. We do operate as a tribe or an extended family."

If this sounds a little politically incorrect, it's because it runs against the grain of orthodox liberalism. According to liberal orthodoxy there is no collective good, only an immense set of self-chosen individual life paths. The overall aim is to achieve an autonomy in which we self-determine every aspect of who we are. We don't choose our ethnicity or our ancestry, so these are thought of negatively as impediments to the self-creating, blank slate individual. Furthermore, because liberals associate the West with power and dominance, they see Western forms of ethnic identity as being constructed for the oppression of others. So Western identity gets tagged as supremacist or discriminatory, whereas non-Western identity is tied much more positively to resistance to Western cultural and political dominance.

So there is a profound rejection of modern liberal orthodoxy when the Ballarat history players declare that their own Western ancestry is authentic and indispensable to who they are.

I personally have no desire to dress up like a Viking. Nor do I think that re-enactment is the most effective way of challenging the liberal status quo. But I do agree with the Ballarat history players that a sense of our ancestry and roots is important in forming our self-identity. It deepens and enriches our sense of who we are. It places us within a distinct tradition, so that we identify with a set of cultural ideals and achievements, rather than always being outsiders who are not actively involved in reproducing a culture of our own.

If liberal theory treats such an identity, at least for Westerners, as wholly negative, then this only shows that liberal theory is inadequate - that it limits too severely what can be expressed within our self-identity.