Monday, September 28, 2009

Art critic violates the code

What are you not supposed to say in an arts review? Philip Hensher visited a display of Aztec art at the British Museum. In his review for the Daily Mail he made it clear that he thought Aztec art to be of little value. Not only did it express the cruelty and evil of Aztec culture, it wasn't beautifully made but was heavy and vulgar:

If there is a more revoltingly inhumane and despicable society known to history than the Aztecs, I really don't care to know about it. But, on top of the moral ugliness of the Aztecs, there is the undeniable fact that almost everything they made was aesthetically hideous, too.

The sculpture is brutal, square and blocky. The decorative styles are coarse, without any obvious expressive power.

The jewellery and mosaic styles are vulgar and showy ...

As I was reading Hensher's review, I thought to myself that he was going to provoke a reaction. He was violating two principles of modern liberalism. First, he was declaring a non-Western culture and civilisation to be inferior. Second, he was asserting an objective standard of good and of beauty.

There are certain reactions you could predict to Hensher's two violations of the "code". The first is the claim that the West is equally guilty of whatever the non-Western culture is alleged to have done. The second is the claim that standards of beauty and goodness are merely relative: that we cannot judge another culture by our own standards, which are only true for us.

Sure enough even the Daily Mail readership has internalised these predictable responses. Here's a little selection of hostile comments directed at Philip Hensher:

Sarah, USA: It doesn't matter if it's gruesome, our civilization is even more disgusting. At least they did those sacrifices with a greater outcome in mind. What do you leave for us? Let's kill whales to the extreme to feed sushi lovers? Let's kill seals just because they're paying me to do it? ... Please, for the sake of knowledge, don't let this person write anything else, ever.

AnnMae, USA: Frankly, I find it difficult to judge other civilizations from our moral judgment today. Today we live far differently than they did, and by this token we really cannot judge why they did what they did, or the morality of it ...
Now, how 'bout looking at the artefacts with an unbiased eye? Despite their uses, they are still SACRED objects, just as crosses, prayer mats, and certain head coverings are today. I don't see our author condemning every Christian or Muslim because some shed blood in a holy name . . . this no different.

David, North West: the greek and roman civilisations, upon which the enlightenment ideals were built in the 18th century and which have had an enormous impact on modern society, on democracy and also on art, were both pretty gruesome as well.

you cannot judge past societies on today's standards

using this man's 'logic' we'd have to condemn all modern art as having been produced by a society that could permit 30,000 children to die of preventable illnesses and starvation every day, while the affluent grow ever more obese

Dave, Torquay: How many artifacts [sic], artwork and buildings in Britain are the result of bloodshed. Mr Hencher [sic] comes across as bigotted [sic] and ignorant.

Miss Ann, Fife: What an amazingly ignorant article. It is exactly this kind of disrespect and fear of other cultures and civilisations, both past and present, which has got Britain into the kind of mess it is in today. This isn't journalism, it's propaganda and ignorance.

Sean, USA: Our contemporary North Atlantic culture has far more sanguinary cruelties rationalized, symbolized, idolized and accepted: wars, economics and social policies.

James, NY: What I'm waiting for is for the author to condemn and call for the demolition of the Tower of London and all its heinous artefacts... I'm sure that his righteous fury towards the savage race that built that den of torture is equal to his fervor over the ancient Aztecs.

Claire, London: What we find evil, repulsive and distasteful now, was perfectly normal and legal for the Aztecs at that time

David, London: your ignorance is unsurprising, secondly, i would imagine you have no problem with christian iconography which often depicts torture and murder ...

Basically, its all about context, and a basic tenent [sic] of intelligence is the ability to remove yourself from your own narrow minded worldview...

Nearly all of the 80 comments carry on along these lines. Think of what this means. It means that even the cruellest of ancient societies has to be defended furiously by modern Westerners - as being right for its time and no worse than the modern West.

Or think of it this way. An art critic states that he finds the cruel, brutal sacrificial art of the Aztecs unappealing. This is enough to unleash a barrage of criticism that he is ignorant, biased and unintelligent and shouldn't be allowed to write for a newspaper.

This is a losing mindset. The conditioned response that we are always worse in what we do or have done, even when compared to the cruel and bloody culture of the ancient Aztecs, is much too negative a view to take our own tradition forward.

(Lawrence Auster has discussed the issue of Aztecs in a post at VFR here.)

Friday, September 25, 2009

The closing of politics?

On the surface it seems as if we have a choice in politics. We have a right-wing party, the Liberals, who are portrayed as the establishment, conservative option. Then we have a left-wing party, Labor, who are supposed to represent the dissenting, idealistic, reforming outlook.

But this view of the two parties is false. The reality is that both parties are committed to the one political theory, namely liberalism. Liberalism has dominated not only Australian but also Western politics for so long that it has become a political orthodoxy.

What this means is that the Liberal Party is not a genuinely conservative option. As its name suggests, it follows a liberal politics which is anything but conservative in its consequences. Nor is Labor a party of dissenting outsiders. Labor follows the established political orthodoxy just as much as the Liberals do.

The long-established dominance of liberalism has led to a closing of politics throughout the West. Debate about first principles is rare. We are supposed to accept that the fundamental issues and the general direction of society have already been settled. All that is left are the technical questions of how best to implement what has already been decided.

This has not gone unnoticed. John Gray, a professor of politics at Oxford University, has lamented 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.

Alasdair MacIntyre, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, 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.

Steven Kautz is a professor of political science at Michigan State University. He writes:

Classical and contemporary liberal teachings ... dominate our political discourse. America is still now, or perhaps now more than ever, somehow a liberal regime ... we are somehow all liberals.

Finally, Professor Appiah of Princeton University has observed that liberalism encompasses:

nearly all members of nearly all of the mainstream political parties in Europe and North America.

So it all comes down to liberalism. And here we have a problem.

What liberals claim is that we are made human by our ability to self-determine our own lives. Therefore, the aim of society is to maximise individual autonomy (and distribute it equally).

Obviously, liberals put all of this in the most positive terms. They see themselves as working toward individual freedom and human equality (the equal freedom of each individual).

This sounds pretty good. Until, that is, you look at the details of what liberalism logically requires.

The liberal aim is a self-determining individual. Therefore, whatever I don’t determine for myself is thought of negatively as an impediment to my freedom, as an oppression from which I must be liberated.

But this rules out a lot of the more significant aspects of life. I don’t, for instance, get to determine for myself whether I am born a man or a woman. Therefore, our sex isn’t supposed to matter in a liberal society. Sex distinctions are considered to be artificial social constructs. Masculinity and femininity are often condemned as oppressive. The liberal ideal is to show that we are uninfluenced by the fact of being a man or woman rather than expressing the better qualities of manhood or womanhood.

The liberal approach to sex distinctions has been taken furthest in the Scandinavian countries. Jens Orbeck, speaking as a minister in the Swedish government, announced that it was official policy in Sweden that “male” and “female” had no real, natural existence:

The government considers female and male as social constructions ...

In Norway the government has set up organisations to create a gender-neutral society:

The goal in contemporary Scandinavia is to make gender not matter ... "Gender is losing meaning," explains Jørgen Lorentzen, [who] is a member of the prestigious Norwegian Men’s Commission. The Commission was established to advise the government on how men can make the transition into a gender-neutral society.

And yet our sense of ourselves as men or women is inescapably part of our self-identity. So is it really a freedom to be liberated from being a man or a woman? Is being gender-neutral really what brings us to a sense of fulfilment?

It’s the same when it comes to forms of communal identity. Liberalism recognises only the individual parts of society: millions of autonomous, choice making individuals. The only significant connection of these individuals to each other is through the state: we show our social nature in a liberal society by supporting state action to redistribute autonomy more equally.

Liberalism is so oriented to the autonomous individual that it doesn’t have a strong sense of the value of the communities that individuals form, whether these are families, neighbourhoods or nations. Some liberals even see communities negatively as a threat to individual freedom and autonomy. Steven Kautz, an American academic quoted earlier, is a classical liberal. He reminds his readers that:

We have been taught by our classical liberal ancestors to think of ourselves as free individuals above all, rather than as children or parishioners or citizens, or as members of a racial or ethnic group - or, indeed, as members of any other communities ...

... the idea of community is always somewhat suspect for thoughtful liberals

... there are no natural bonds between human beings, and so there is no natural community. Indeed, the family is not simply natural, according to some of the founders of liberalism.

According to Kautz we become free individuals when our membership of communities no longer matters. And yet our communal identity is often an inseparable part of our self-identity. It doesn’t seem to be a true freedom to lose this identity, instead it seems alienating.

Liberals have an especially hard time accepting their own ethnic identity. Liberals want to be self-determining, but our ethnic identity is not something we choose for ourselves but something we inherit. It is therefore logical for liberals (but not for the rest of us) to stridently reject their own ethnic identity as backward or immoral.

These are just a few examples of what liberalism takes from people in the effort to create individual autonomy. The general problem is that liberalism is radically reductive: it makes a single good, autonomy, the organising principle of society, rather than recognising and attempting to balance a range of important goods.

And yet liberalism is the established political orthodoxy in the West. This means that we can’t rely on established institutions to put things right. The political parties won’t help, nor will the universities or the media. If we want to open up politics we have to start where we can, by not accepting the orthodoxy at face value, but by questioning the first principles from which liberal policies logically flow. It is this taking of a principled political stance of our own which will bring change.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Erin Pizzey: domestic violence campaigner, anti-feminist

Erin Pizzey set up the first refuge for battered women in 1971 and has been a lifelong campaigner on the issue of domestic violence. But she is strongly anti-feminist.

She does not accept the feminist claim that men are always the perpetrators when it comes to domestic violence and that women are always the victims. She believes this claim to be false and damaging to relationships between men and women and to the family.

Why does she feel so strongly on this issue? She revealed this week that she had the misfortune as a girl to be abused not only by her father but to an even greater extent by her mother:

Indeed, my mother's explosive temper and abusive behaviour shaped the person I later became like no other event in my life.

Thirty years later, when feminism exploded onto the scene, I was often mistaken for a supporter of the movement. But I have never been a feminist, because, having experienced my mother's violence, I always knew that women can be as vicious and irresponsible as men.

Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the movement, which proclaimed that all men are potential rapists and batterers, was based on a lie that, if allowed to flourish, would result in the complete destruction of family life.

It was Erin Pizzey's mother who was physically abusive toward her, once beating her with an ironing cord until there was blood running down her legs.

Erin Pizzey explains her decision to go public with the details of her childhood as follows:

I only decided to talk about my traumatic childhood last week - on a BBC radio programme called The House Where I Grew Up - but I decided long ago I would not repeat the toxic lessons I learned as a child. Instead, I would become a survivor.

Feminism, I realised, was a lie. Women and men are both capable of extraordinary cruelty. Indeed, the only thing a child really needs - two biological parents under one roof - was being undermined by the very ideology which claimed to speak up for women's rights.

This country is now on the brink of serious moral collapse. We must stop demonising men and start healing the rift that feminism has created between men and women.

Harriet Harman's insidious and manipulative philosophy that women are always victims and men always oppressors can only continue this unspeakable cycle of violence. And it's our children who will suffer.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The problem with liberalism

Lawrence Auster puts it well:

What is liberalism? The reduction of all values to the radically autonomous self and the equality of all such selves, and thus the emptying from life of every substantive good that is larger than or outside of the autonomous self. But the problem is, once all larger substantive goods have been gotten rid of, and the only thing left is the autonomous self and its free choices, what goods are left for the freely choosing autonomous self to choose?

Auster posed the question to explain why two American girls would be attracted to a sex and death music subculture, leading to their own murder. He observes that sex and death are two significant aspects of existence left to the liberal autonomous self.

The other side to the answer, though, is that once you get rid of the larger substantive goods you are left with the trivial ones. The autonomous self can encompass smaller goods such as entertainments, dining experiences, consumer choices, socialising and so on - so this is what the modern West excels at.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Rudd MP vs Rudd PM

Kevin Rudd gave his maiden speech to parliament in 1998. He wanted in this speech to set out a distinctive political ideal for the Australian Labor Party. He didn't want to be seen as merely another technocrat in a parliament of technocrats:

For nearly a decade now it has become fashionable to accept the death of ideology, the triumph of neoclassical economics, the politics of convergence and the rise of managerialism.

Put crudely, it is the view that, because parties of the traditional Right and traditional Left have now moved to some mythical place called the `Centre', all that is left is an essentially technocratic decision between one team of managers against another, both operating within a common, or at least similar, mission statement.

Politics on this argument becomes little more than theatre — a public performance necessary to convince the shareholders at the AGM that the company needs new management.

The ideal he came up with for the Labor Party was not exactly original. He merely restated the underlying distinction between left and right liberals. Both kinds of liberals take as a starting point the idea that we are made human by being self-determining, autonomous individuals. But if society is made up of millions of self-determining, autonomous wills, how is it to be regulated?

Right liberals have generally preferred the free market solution. Individuals were to work for their own profit and the hidden hand of the market would regulate the outcome for the overall benefit of society. Left liberals, in contrast, argued for a greater degree of regulation by the state.

So it's no surprise that Kevin Rudd, as a left liberal, argued in his maiden speech for a higher degree of state regulation and that he saw in this a distinctive political ideal for the Labor Party:

I believe that there remains a fundamental divide between our two parties on the proper role of the state in a modern economy and society. This government's view is a minimalist view of the role of government. It is a view that holds that markets rather than governments are better determinants of not only efficiency but also equity ...

It is a view that now dominates the treasuries of the nation — both Commonwealth and state — and their combined orthodoxy that a good government is a government in retreat — retreat from any form of ownership, retreat from most forms of regulation and retreat from responsibility for the delivery of as many services as possible. It is a view which says, in effect, that governments are the enemies of freedom ...

It is a view that is Thatcherism writ large, including her most infamous proclamation that there is no such thing as society. And it is a view that labour markets are like any other market that should be deregulated because, according to this view, labour is no different from any other commodity.

This is not my view. Nor is it the view of the Australian Labor Party, of which I have been a proud member for 17 years.

Remember, Kevin Rudd pinned his hopes of being something more than a technocrat on this ideal. So is it really true that Mr Rudd, as PM, has based his politics on something other than the market? Is he something more than Economic Man?

In yesterday's Age there was a brief discussion of Australia's extraordinary rate of immigration. Tim Colebatch, the economics editor, was sufficiently broad-minded to observe that,

... as anyone in Melbourne knows, there are drawbacks to population growth. Labor MP Kelvin Thomson is worried: "We are sleep-walking towards environmental disaster" ... And trying to cut carbon emissions by 60 per cent while raising population by 60 per cent, he says, is "trying to fight with both hands tied behind your back". Another 13 or 14 million people will not give us a richer country, it will spread our mineral wealth more thinly and give us a poorer one."

And what did our supposedly market-independent PM have to say? Mr Rudd was all Economic Man:

I think it's great that our population is growing because so many countries around the world are shrinking and that poses a real problem in terms of having a strong tax base for the future and a strong economy.

Perhaps what is most striking is Mr Rudd's opposition, in his maiden speech, to the idea that labour should be treated just like any other commodity. He declared himself opposed to the view:

... that labour markets are like any other market that should be deregulated because, according to this view, labour is no different from any other commodity.

And yet his own minister felt free to declare to the public exactly this view: that labour is to be treated just like any other commodity, even to the extent that immigration decisions would, from now on, be left to employers:

Senator Evans said immigration should be the nation's labour agency, meaning a continued high intake of migrants ... Decisions about who came to Australia would increasingly be left to employers.

I don't even recall the Liberal Party publicly admitting to such a view: that immigration decisions would no longer be made by government as part of a larger national policy, but to employers as a function of the market.

So is being a political leader of a nation like being a manager of a company? Rudd wants the answer to be no, but in his most critical political decisions he is acting as if the answer were yes.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Setting a great example?

Katherine Heigl, an actress from Grey's Anatomy, is adopting a special needs child from Korea. But is she ready for motherhood? Sharon Lawrence, who co-stars with Katherine Heigl, has no doubt that she'll be a great mother. Why? Because she's an autonomous, unimpeded modern woman:

Katie is a modern woman who will pursue her passions and not feel limited by anything, and that bodes well for motherhood. She is smart and happy and free of constraints of "Oh, I should do this, I shouldn't do this." She'll [set] a great example for the little girl. [Who 28 Sep 2009]

What's going on here? Sharon Lawrence wants to praise Katherine Heigl. She therefore needs to know what defines a good person in a modern liberal society. She gets it right: the highest attribute for a liberal modern is to be an autonomous individual. Therefore, Katherine Heigl is described as not feeling limited by anything and being free of constraints in what she should or shouldn't do.

But it doesn't end up sounding like a serious account of virtue. A person who does not feel limited by anything has been watching too much Oprah. In reality we are limited in countless ways: it would be difficult to operate in the world without an honest coming to terms with this fact.

And would anyone really want to live with, or be dependent on, a person who did not recognise constraints on what they should or shouldn't do? And would such a person really be a positive role model for a child?

I don't believe that Katherine Heigl is really the person that Sharon Lawrence describes her as being. It's difficult to accept that she really believes herself to be free of any limitations in life or constraints on her behaviour.

But the liberal account of good motherhood can't be helping much as an ideal.

Monday, September 14, 2009

So this justifies feminism?

Jill Singer, a columnist for the Melbourne Herald Sun, has written a fighting article. She believes that women are being treated as second-class citizens and should fight back and not take it lying down.

It's another one of those "we still need feminism" pieces. But why does she think women are hard done by? She gives four reasons, the last being the most original.

1) The bedroom

Jill Singer is outraged at the idea that a woman might have sex with her husband when she doesn't really feel like it:

We might as well start with the bedroom. You'd like to think that women these days wouldn't have sex unless they wanted to. Yet nothing could be further from the case.

Evidence is a book by Australian writer Bettina Arndt which encourages women to say yes at times to give their marriages a chance. An offended Jill Singer is not amused:

... the likes of Bettina Arndt, author of The Sex Diaries - an odious little tome that advises women it is their wifely duty to sexually serve their husbands.

The dutiful Bettina would be a hit in Afghanistan today, considering her views dovetail nicely with the likes of the grunting primitives running that women-hating joint.

So Jill Singer wants us to treat Bettina Arndt's views as repugnant, backward and beyond the pale. Which is a pity as Bettina Arndt is doing nothing more than encouraging wives to be generous towards their husbands as an expression of marital love:

it seems extraordinary that sex is treated so differently from all the other ways in which a loving couple cater to each other's needs and desires. We are willing to go out of our way to do other things to please each other - cooking his favourite meal, sitting through repeats of her beloved television show. Why, then, are we so ungenerous when it comes to "making love", the ultimate expression of that mutual caring?

What does Jill Singer really expect? That you can have a system of marriage based on sacred female choice alone? That there is to be no giving or caring from the female side? Arndt wrote her book because she actually listened to some anguished husbands who loved their wives and who wanted their marriages to last but who felt unable, as one of them put it, to "live like a monk".

Jill Singer wants women to fight for a principle which puts the utmost strain on fidelity in marriage. It does not reasonably justify a commitment to feminism.

2) Violence

Jill Singer believes that violence against women justifies feminist outrage:

... while not as severe as the problem in Afghanistan, an unholy number of men here are bashing, raping and killing women.

According to Rob Hulls, Victoria's Attorney-General, violence against women is the leading cause of death, disease and disability in women aged from 15 to 44. It's a disgrace.

Ironically, the only time Jill Singer has gone on record as being the victim of violence the perpetrators were a group of self-entitled young women:

While [the tram] stops in Middle Park, a loud and boisterous cluster of teenage girls shove me aside as they make to leap aboard.

"Get out of our way, you effing slut," says one of these charmers ...

The aggression of the girls did not seem fuelled by alcohol or drugs - but by an apparent sense of absolute entitlement.

... It was the "Out of our way!" that inflamed, and the sheer arrogance ... to my shame, I fired back a barb ... "Well, I might be an effing slut but at least I'm not fat".

With this I jump off the tram. The five screaming banshees leap off after me, screaming: "You effing slut" - and worse.

... one girl throws a drink in my face, while another whacks me over the head.

As for the claim that violence against women is the leading cause of death, disease and disability in women aged from 15 to 44, this is a preposterous lie. That Jill Singer is willing to believe this statistic undermines her credibility.

I've dealt with this rogue statistic many times before. It has also been taken apart by Tim Harford, who presents a statistics show for BBC radio. For the record, the main causes of death for young Australian women are, by a long way, cancer, suicide and car accidents.

A useful counter-statistic, one listed in the Australian Bureau of Statistics Women's Safety Survey (1996) is that women are much less likely to suffer violence when in a married or de facto relationship than when single. Single women are more than twice as likely to suffer violence from any source, four times as likely to suffer violence from strangers and eleven times as likely to suffer violence from a previous partner. Being in a stable relationship with a man does make a woman, on average, more physically secure.

3) Pay gap

Jill Singer is shocked that there is a pay gap of 17% between men and women:

According to a concerned Tanya Plibersek, Minister for Women's Affairs, the pay gap between male and female earnings in Australia is a shocking 17.2 per cent.

A recently announced review will attempt to find ways of reducing this gulf, but we shouldn't hold our breath waiting.

Again, I've dealt with this issue many times before (you can click on the "feminism and equal pay tag" below if you're interested). I'll limit myself here to two points. First, I managed to get into an argument with a feminist on this issue just recently. I did finally get her to admit that women in most jobs are paid the same rate as men. Her fall back position was that amongst executives in private industry a woman with equivalent experience and qualifications would be paid less than a man.

It turns out that even this isn't true. Last year a Carnegie Mellon University study was released that looked at the earnings of 16,000 executives over 14 years. It found that women were promoted as quickly as men of the same age, educational background and experience and earned on average a higher salary. (hat tip: Feckblog)

Despite these advantages, the female executives ended up earning less - but only because they were more likely to quit their jobs:

At any given level of the career hierarchy, women are paid slightly more than men with the same background, have slightly less income uncertainty and are promoted as quickly ... We concluded that the gender pay gap and differences in job rank in this most lucrative occupation is explained by females leaving the market at higher rates than males.

My second point is this: it wouldn't help relationships much if men weren't so committed to holding down their jobs and earning a steady income. Married women generally expect their husbands to be good providers. If you don't believe me, you only have to listen to Jill Singer herself in a column from 2006:

While there's a growing number of women fortunate to have supportive stay-at-home husbands, the majority probably still prefer their man to be a traditional bread-winner.

Just as men hanker for women who are more gorgeous but less clever than themselves, women will generally keep seeking men who can provide for their family in material terms ...

Women might melt at the sight of men who are good with children and doggies, but what really brings us undone is an old-style bloke who knows one end of a spanner from the other and black from red in a balance sheet.

... Snags are for nagging, not shagging.

It seems that Jill Singer is underwhelmed by men who can't take care of the family finances. She recognises that the majority of women feel this way. And yet she somehow thinks that you can have a sexual dynamic in which men are expected to be providers and still end up with equal lifetime earnings for men and women.

4) Public role

Jill Singer does make one telling point at the end:

I was recently invited, for example, to be interviewed on 3AW about single sex clubs.

The male interviewer wrongly assumed I'd be irate about "men only" clubs - but I couldn't care less about them and pointed out I personally favour "women only" gyms.

As he blathered on about how outrageous he thought men's clubs are, it didn't occur to him that 3AW is one of the most exclusive men's clubs in town.

She's caught a radio host following the "liberalism for thee but not for me" syndrome. He deserves to have this pointed out to him.

But Jill Singer follows up with her own feminist syndrome. She says she wants more women in public life, but it turns out that only a certain type of woman, acceptable to her, will do. It's similar to the response of feminist women in America to the idea of Sarah Palin becoming Vice-President. The American feminists unleashed a most bitter and hostile attack on Sarah Palin, much more intense than anything they subjected a male politician to. What feminists seem to want is not more women in public life but more women of a certain kind, made in their own likeness.

What grounds do most women have, therefore, to support feminism? The rate of violence against women who are married to men without mental health, drug or employment issues is not high. The wage gap for Generation X women is small and is not due to discrimination. And the idea of becoming a feminist to deny a husband sex is, hopefully, not going to inspire most women to a lifelong political commitment.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

No evidence of campus bias?

In my last post I made the claim that the left dominates on campus. This seems obvious and uncontroversial to me, but my occasional Marxist reader THR strongly protested. He doesn't see things this way at all. He thinks there is no evidence that the left dominates on campus. He believes the idea that the left dominates is "risible" and a "furphy".

So maybe it's worthwhile going through some evidence.

Voting patterns

There is ample evidence that a large majority of academics in the US are Democrat voters rather than Republicans. So not only are most academics "liberal" in the broader sense of the word, they are more specifically left-liberal. This will be especially true in the arts/humanities faculties.

From 2002:

The Luntz Research Companies, a respected polling company, conducted a survey this spring of the opinions of the liberal arts and social science faculty at Ivy League colleges and universities. The results explain the ideological indoctrination rampant on campuses today ...

* Only 3% identified themselves as Republican, while 57% admitted they are Democrats.

* 64% identified themselves as liberal, 23% as moderate, and only 6% as conservative.

* Here is how they voted in the 2000 election: 61% for Al Gore, 5% for Ralph Nader, 6% for George W. Bush, and 28% either did not vote or refused to answer.

More statistics here:

A new study of the party affiliations of college professors proves a massive gulf between Right and Left. Liberal professors often outnumber conservatives by ten to one and sometimes by more than twenty to one on campus ...

Eli Lehrer, who conducted the study, told Campus Report, "We sent students in each of the colleges to their local Boards of Elections and had them get lists of the faculty members and look up registration cards. Now, this only works in the states where you register by party and where voter records are public.... We tried to get a good sample of colleges."

The study concluded, "Colleges like to characterize themselves as wide-open places where every thought can be thought, where any opinion can be held, where all ideals and principles may be pursued freely. The demonstrable reality, however, is that you will find a much wider-and freer-cross-section of human reasoning and conviction in the aisles of a grocery store or city bus."

Liberals outnumber conservatives 18 to one at Brown University. At Cornell University, the number is even higher, with liberals outnumbering conservatives more than 26 times. Penn State displayed a bit more balance, with the ratio of liberals to conservatives being six to one. Even the smallest disparity, at the University of Houston, had a ratio of three liberals to one conservative.

Of the 166 professors examined at Cornell University, only six were conservatives, with no conservatives at all in the fields of history and sociology. There were likewise no conservatives in these fields at Brown University.

Some of the largest disparities were found in the University of California system. UCLA, for instance, has only nine conservatives for 141 liberals. UC-Santa Barbara had only one conservative professor in the 73 examined. At the four UC schools surveyed, there were only five conservative political science professors compared to 90 liberals.

At UC-Berkeley, only seven of the 66 professors noted were conservatives, with none in the department of sociology.

... the University of Colorado was one of the most liberal schools of those surveyed, with liberal professors outnumbering conservative professors by more than 23 to one. An earlier, more comprehensive study conducted by the Rocky Mountain News found a 31 to one Democrat to Republican imbalance among faculty at the school.

Let me repeat: there is a dominance not just of liberal professors on American campuses but more specifically of left-liberal professors.


Why does it matter that a large majority of university professors are left-liberals?

It matters when a large number of subjects on offer exclude more conservative students, e.g. "Discourses on heteronormativity in colonial racist narratives". It matters when students choose more traditional subjects, e.g. "Renaissance Italy", but are supposed to discuss the subject matter in tutorials in terms of left-wing academic theories (deconstructionism, standpoint theory etc.). It matters when the curriculum itself is radically reorganised to serve the technocratic goals of modern liberalism.

I reported recently that Australia's new national curriculum for high schools was to be organised around three key considerations:

i) indigenous perspectives
ii) a commitment to sustainable patterns of living
iii) the skills, knowledge and understandings related to Asia and Australia's engagement.

The universities aren't far behind. The University of Melbourne has declared that it is no longer an "exclusive knowledge habitat", but an "access point" to serve "society's changing needs". As such, arts students are now required in their first year to choose two of the following "foundation subjects":

Understanding Asia; Globalisation; Australian Indigenous studies; Knowing Nature; From Homer to Hollywood (communication studies); Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

They must also select from these "breadth studies":

100-181 Australian Indigenous Studies
800-175 An Ecological History of Humanity
800-122 Catastrophes, Cultures & the Angry Earth
800-201 Climate Change ll
800-101 Critical Thinking With Data
800-267 Drugs That Shape Society
800-121 Food for a Healthy Planet
800-116 Generating the Wealth of Nations
800-205 Genetics, Health, and Society
800-206 Human Rights and Global Justice
800-150 Internet Meets Society
800-191 Introduction to Climate Change
800-204 Language and Computation
800-203 Learning Cultures: Minds, Ideas, Objects
800-123 Logic: Language and Information
800-166 Poetics of the Body 1
800-266 Poetics of the Body 2
800-366 Poetics of the Body 3
800-100 Seeing: The Whole Picture
200-268 Water for Sustainable Futures

It's not that much different to the high school plan. It's organised around indigenous studies, Asian engagement, the environment plus a number of other subjects that might appeal to the future technocrats of the world.

So the issue is not just the personal political preferences of academics as expressed on voting day. The curriculum and the course structure offered by universities are being increasingly reshaped along liberal modernist lines.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Camille Paglia on the American left

Lawrence Auster has already highlighted the recent Salon article by Camille Paglia, but it's interesting enough to have a second go at here.

Camille Paglia is a left-wing feminist intellectual. She is not, though, an orthodox member of the left - she does sometimes set herself outside of the intellectual mainstream.

In her Salon article, Camille Paglia is critical of the American Democrats for being out of touch with grassroots feeling on the healthcare issue. She asks tellingly:

Why has the Democratic Party become so arrogantly detached from ordinary Americans? Though they claim to speak for the poor and dispossessed, Democrats have increasingly become the party of an upper-middle-class professional elite, top-heavy with journalists, academics and lawyers ...

This is a significant point. Left-liberals like to imagine themselves as being dissenting outsiders battling a privileged establishment. The reality is that left-liberals themselves form an entrenched wing of the political establishment. The self-image is bogus.

That the left forms a political establishment on campus is illustrated by the experiences of Dan Lawton. He is an American university student who thought it a bit one-sided that only 2 out of 111 academics at the University of Oregon were Republican voters. He wrote a column for the student paper suggesting that the university attempt to attract a few right-wing professors:

What I didn't realize is that journalism that examined the dominance of liberal ideas on campus would be addressed with hostility.

A professor who confronted me declared that he was "personally offended" by my column ... I decided to speak with him in person in the hope of finding common ground.

He was eager to chat, and after five minutes our dialogue bloomed into a lively discussion. As we hammered away at the issue, one of his colleagues with whom he shared an office grew visibly agitated. Then, while I was in mid-sentence, she exploded.

"You think you're so [expletive] cute with your little column," she told me. "I read your piece and all you want is attention. You're just like Bill O'Reilly. You just want to get up on your [expletive] soapbox and have people look at you."

... She quickly grew so emotional that she had to leave the room. But before she departed, she stood over me and screamed ...

Students should never come under personal attack from faculty members for straying from the party line. The fact that they do shows how easily political partisanship can corrupt the elements of higher education that should be valued the most.

Camille Paglia also points out that left-liberals typically value individual autonomy as the highest good whilst supporting the growth of an intrusive, coercive state authority:

Weirdly, given their worship of highly individualistic, secularized self-actualization, such professionals are as a whole amazingly credulous these days about big-government solutions to every social problem. They see no danger in expanding government authority and intrusive, wasteful bureaucracy.

And what about the liberal idea that we should be radically self-determining, writing our own script, following our own life path etc. Camille Paglia doesn't see it happening in practice:

But affluent middle-class Democrats now seem to be complacently servile toward authority and automatically believe everything party leaders tell them. Why? Is it because the new professional class is a glossy product of generically institutionalized learning? Independent thought and logical analysis of argument are no longer taught. Elite education in the U.S. has become a frenetic assembly line of competitive college application to schools where ideological brainwashing is so pandemic that it's invisible. The top schools, from the Ivy League on down, promote "critical thinking," which sounds good but is in fact just a style of rote regurgitation of hackneyed approved terms ("racism, sexism, homophobia") when confronted with any social issue. The Democratic brain has been marinating so long in those clichés that it's positively pickled.

Camille Paglia has also noticed the left-liberal failure to think deeply about the real world consequences of social policy:

By a proportion of something like 10-to-1, negative articles by conservatives were vastly more detailed, specific and practical about the proposals than were supportive articles by Democrats, which often made gestures rather than arguments and brimmed with emotion and sneers. There was a glaring inability in most Democratic commentary to think ahead and forecast what would or could be the actual snarled consequences -- in terms of delays, denial of services, errors, miscommunications and gross invasions of privacy -- of a massive single-payer overhaul of the healthcare system in a nation as large and populous as ours. It was as if Democrats live in a utopian dream world, divorced from the daily demands and realities of organization and management.

Finally, I thought there was something to this observation by Camille Paglia:

If the left is an incoherent shambles in the U.S., it's partly because the visionaries lost their bearings on drugs, and only the myopic apparatchiks and feather-preening bourgeois liberals are left.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The new feminist frontier?

Feministing is one of the most popular feminist websites. It gets 500,000 hits a month and its founder, Jessica Valenti, was invited to meet Bill Clinton as a prominent liberal blogger. Jessica Valenti tours American campuses, such as Georgetown University, giving lectures on women's issues.

So what's the cutting edge feminist thought at this popular, influential site? One of the most recent articles was about getting your mother to accept that you are in a polygamous relationship. A woman wrote in seeking advice for this problem:

I'm currently in a relationship with a man I love dearly, and I have been for nearly 3 years. It's going well, he's marvelous, we get on great. There's just one thing - this is a polyamorous relationship. He also has another girlfriend, who he's been with for a long time. That in itself isn't a problem. I knew about her before I entered into the relationship and I've never had a problem with polyamory, it suits me fine ... The problem is in explaining this to my parents ... I want to convey that this relationship is every bit as committed as a monogamous one and just as loving. How do you go about explaining this kind of thing with no knowledge of the response you'll get? What if the response is negative? Please help.

The advice from feministing:

Answer their questions with patience. I also caution that words like polyamory may not work for the first conversation. Keep it simple. "Mom, I know you keep asking me about the woman who says she is in a relationship with Jack. They are in a relationship. I've always known about it ..."

If she denigrates the relationship, I would point out ways that he has been great in the past. When he has been at family functions, when he has helped your family, how happy you are together.

And then, and this may be the most difficult part, let it go. It will take time for your mother to understand and accept this (just ask the majority of queer folks who eventually have accepting parents). Keep answering their questions, but also set boundaries. If either of them are rude to your boyfriend or questions his love for you, you can call a stop to that. Your relationship and partner deserves respect.

This is the last and most important part - prove them wrong by actions. Show them that for all of their preconceived notions of what a "real" relationship is, you and your man are happy and love each other. It takes time, but this will be the greatest convincer of all.

Granted, this is not exactly polygamy as there is no formalised marriage and it's a little more open-ended than traditional polygamy. But it's still an effort to normalise a man living together with two or more women. It clearly opens the door for an acceptance of polygamy as found in non-Western cultures.

This illustrates a point that conservatives have made for some time. If you believe that a family is any group of people who love each other and live together, then logically you are committed to accepting polygamy. The modern view of family is therefore likely to lead in the long run to the acceptance of polygamy as a social norm.

It also hints at the real preferences of the more serious feminists. The sexuality of men and women operates at different levels. At one level, male sexuality is naturally promiscuous and female sexuality is hypergamous (meaning that women have an instinct to be with the most dominant male). If human nature only operated at this level then monogamy would be exceptionally rare.

But there are other drives and impulses within human nature. We do experience a higher form of love in which we seek our "complement" in a close, faithful relationship with someone of the opposite sex. It is this which leads on to the traditional Western form of marriage and family life.

I wonder if there are serious feminists who have rejected the traditional family as patriarchal (or as an impediment to female autonomy) and who therefore seek to "liberate" female sexuality - which really means liberating the female instinct to hypergamy.

The family form which corresponds best to hypergamy is, of course, polygamy - as this gives the most women access to the small number of socially dominant men.

So will more feminists come out in support of polygamy? We'll have to see - but I'm guessing the answer will be yes.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Do Swedish babies have any say in this?

The latest news from Sweden:

Swedish father Ragnar Bengtsson, 26, has entered into an experiment that he hopes will help him breastfeed his future children.

On Tuesday, the Stockholm family man began stimulating his breasts with a pump in a bid to produce milk.

"Anything that doesn't do any harm is worth trying out. And if it works it could prove very important for men's ability to get much closer to their children at an early stage," Bengtsson told The Local.

His efforts are to be documented by Swedish TV8, with the first instalment scheduled to air at 9pm on Wednesday on the Aschberg show ...

"If it works and the milk turns out to have a high nutritional value it could be a real breakthrough," he said.

I don't believe that the average Swedish man is going to follow suit. But nor is this little experiment in sex equality to be dismissed as a mere freak. It's a radical application of what is official policy in Sweden - with most of the Western world not that far behind.

The question to be asked is this: why would a Swedish man want to get close to a child the female way?

The answer, in brief, is as follows. The Swedes believe that autonomy is what matters. They believe that we must be free to self-determine who we are. We don't get to self-determine our sex, so therefore sex roles are thought to be negative limitations on the individual. There cannot be distinct roles for mothers and fathers in the family, there can only be one unisex role.

This one unisex role is the hands on, child-caring maternal one. Why? There are a few reasons. First, if there are no distinct maternal or paternal roles, then what is left is the day-to-day care of the child. It is this aspect of the traditional motherly role that is left over for both men and women to participate in.

Second, if autonomy is what matters, then people will be concerned that it is distributed equally. In Sweden, the male career role is considered the pinnacle of autonomy. Therefore, the Swedes want women to participate in careers to an equal degree. But this is only possible if men take on half of the traditional female mothercare role within the home. Sex equality can only work if men become mothers.

Third, we show our "liberation" from traditional sex roles to the highest degree by reversing them. If women are liberated by becoming the breadwinner, then men are liberated by doing mothercare work in the home. In the liberal mind, there is an heroic breaking of boundaries when there is such a crossover. For a man to breastfeed a baby would mean a loss of restraints on our autonomous choice - there would be a freedom for a man to be female.

Finally, the feminist pioneers of this way of thinking were hostile to the traditional paternal role because they associated it with an oppressive, unchosen authority. Therefore, the new unisex model of parenthood had to be based on the maternal role. For instance, back in 1982 Sara Ruddick declared that she looked forward to the day when:

men are willing and able to share equally and actively in transformed maternal practices ... On that day there will be no more 'fathers,' no more people of either sex who have power over their children's lives and moral authority in their children's world ... There will [instead] be mothers of both sexes.

So what do other Swedes think of Ragnar Bengtsson's efforts to achieve the "real breakthrough" of male lactation? Thankfully, some have condemned it outright as sick. But take note of the views of the Swedish expert asked to comment on the case, Sigbritt Werner, a professor of endocrinology.

She is a woman of science rather than of women's studies. But she has exactly the same mindset as Ragnar. She too believes that the aim is for Swedish men to get closer to their children by simulating breastfeeding:

But Werner stressed that while she was interested in the subject, she was more keen for men to use their breasts to comfort their children.

"Men often have trouble finding things. And if the mother is out, the child is screaming and they can't find the pacifier I'm sure there are a lot of men who give their baby their breasts. [Note: she has reached the point of assuming that the liberal world view is true and that men routinely offer their breasts to babies just like women do.]

"Healthy children know instinctively that the breast has a dual function. One gives them milk, the other gives them warmth and a cosy bond. Men don't need to strive to produce milk but they should take the opportunity to get closer to their child by offering them their breasts in the same way as women," she said.

If you believe that there is no distinct paternal role, then other things logically follow. If there is no paternal role, then how do men come to feel connected to their children? Logically, by doing what women do to feel connected - by feminine acts of care like offering the breast to a child.

So it all ends with the idea that the Swedish father should be a copy of a woman.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

And on a more positive note ....

Here's something a bit more cheering. From the Melbourne Herald Sun:

Marriage is having a renaissance while divorce numbers are falling ...

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2008 figures reveal a 20-year high of 118,756 weddings last year.

Only 47,209 couples divorced, 754 fewer than in 2007 and the lowest number in a single year since 1992 ...

The 2008 divorce rate was 2.2 per 1000 people, its lowest for 20 years.

The chart accompanying the article (not online) tells a predictable story. During the height of third wave feminism in the 1990s there was a disruption to family formation. Between 1989 and 1999 the number of marriages actually fell (from 117,176 to 114,316) and the number of divorces rose (from 41,383 to 52,566).

I suggested early in 2006 that feminism had moved into a downphase and that this might open up some space for improved family outcomes:

I'm not suggesting that institutional feminism will go away ... But perhaps at ground level some more space will open up for romance, marriage and motherhood.

And this is what has happened. The rate of marriage has recovered (118,756 in 2008) and the divorce rate has fallen (47,209). Most significantly since 2006 the median marriage age has stopped rising - there has been a pause in the trend to ever later marriage.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

What are we being delivered to?

Liberalism is advancing at breakneck speed toward the greatest emptiness ever known to mankind. Consider the following two news items. It has been announced that there is to be a national curriculum for Australian schools. On what principles is this curriculum to be based?

According to a report in the Herald Sun there are to be three "key considerations" underpinning the entire development process. They are:

i) indigenous perspectives
ii) a commitment to sustainable patterns of living
iii) the skills, knowledge and understandings related to Asia and Australia's engagement.

So the education of Australian children is being planned by people who seemingly lack a love of learning or a passion for culture or science. What a view of Australia these "key considerations" reveal. The Australian mainstream culture is overlooked in favour of "indigenous perspectives". Flogging stuff to Asia matters. And there's a nod to environmental sustainability.

And that's it. What does this say to the average Australian child? That they don't embody a culture and tradition of their own but are to develop instead as Economic Man - albeit one who remembers to recycle stuff.

The second news item is far worse. It turns out that immigration has been running at an astonishingly high level. And the officials in charge justify this on the grounds that the economy is king. Australia is one big labour market.

Last year there were 171,318 permanent arrivals in Australia. There were also 47,780 New Zealanders who settled permanently and 657,124 migrants with the right to work. This adds up to 876,222 arrivals in a country with a population of about 22,000,000.

What is the purpose of this immigration? The Immigration Minister gave this explanation:

Senator Evans said immigration should be the nation's labour agency, meaning a continued high intake of migrants ... Decisions about who came to Australia would increasingly be left to employers.

Are we a nation or an economy? Do we want to develop economically and industrially or just grow by selling passports and having more people? Do we really want to sacrifice individual standards of living just to have a higher overall level of GDP?

My apologies to Australian readers who find all this demoralising. I expect that at first it is unavoidably demoralising. But I hope that there will be at least one positive effect, which is to show just how bankrupt Australian liberalism has become. There is nothing worthwhile animating it. The focus of government policy is not even on real economic development anymore; it's just about crude technocratic management of the economy to maintain overall growth of GDP.

Anyway, in response to the educrats and their "key considerations" and to Senator Evans and his view of Australia as an employer run labour agency, I penned the following protest ditty:

Our liberal elite is cold and grey
No culture at all, the economy holds sway
Over pallid minds and hollow souls
Dedicated to technocratic goals.

Lord deliver us from these bloodless ghosts
Shut up in bureaucratic posts
Let men with hearts less feeble, values less base
Favour us all and take their place.