Monday, February 28, 2011

Gittins: angel or ideologue?

Ross Gittins is one of the true believers - those Anglo-Australian intellectuals who came of age in the late 1960s and early 70s and who have an unwavering faith in left-liberal politics.

Thankfully, they're on the verge of retirement now. But Gittins is still serving up his true believer ideology in the pages of The Age newspaper. Gittins is a supporter of open borders, and as such has to explain the opposition that exists to the policy of mass immigration. He puts it down not to people wanting to preserve the particular national tradition or culture they love and identify with but to fear and resentment of outsiders.

He therefore frames opposition to open borders in the most negative of terms:

Our evolutionary history has left us with an instinctive fear of outsiders - people who are different, people who invade our territory to steal our food and our women or, in the contemporary context, to jump the queue and steal our jobs, overcrowd our schools (and win most of the prizes), overwhelm our culture, push up house prices and add to congestion on the roads.

You can call it racism or religious intolerance - the nation that invented the White Australia policy can hardly object to that charge, except to say we're no worse than most nationalities and better than some. But I think it's best thought of as xenophobia - a fear of foreigners, people who are different, who aren't one of us.

And it's so deeply ingrained, so visceral, that it's not susceptible to rational argument. It would be nice if a greater effort by the media to expose the many myths surrounding attitudes towards asylum seekers could dispel the fear and resentment, but it would make little difference.

To acknowledge we have an evolutionary predisposition to fear and resent outsiders is not to condone such attitudes. The process of civilisation involves gaining mastery over our base emotions.

But if such attitudes are instinctive and impervious to rational argument, what's to be done now the pollies have let their standards fall?

Our attitudes towards asylum seekers may be impervious to rational argument, but they're not to rival emotions - particularly the positive emotion of empathy.

Like all nationalities, Australians are neither good nor bad, they're both. Our leaders can play to our darker side, or appeal to the better angels of our nature.

Go back just 50 years or so and Gittins' argument would have gone down like a lead balloon. It seemed natural to people back then that it was a virtue to feel love and loyalty toward your own people and tradition. It was people who didn't feel loyalty who were considered to be somehow lacking in normal human feeling.

Consider the case of Elizabeth Fenton. Back in the 1820s she went on a journey on a ship crewed mostly by Muslim sailors, amongst whom were two European converts. She wrote of one of them:

He makes me quite melancholy. He is English by name and complexion, but his tastes, manners, and his scruples, not to say his religion, are Arab. He is the son of a Scotch clergyman, but for many years has been leading his present life, trading between Muscat and Mozambique ... Poor fellow!

Of the other she wrote:

Among this crowd there is, - Oh! sad to write it, - a Greek, a native of Athens, a Moslem now by adopted faith and practice. Little reckons he of past time; Marathon is no more to him than Mozambique. He would rather have a curry than all the fame of his ancestors.

But fast forward to 2011 and we have Ross Gittins, the true believer, trying to tell us that it's all the other way around and that there is something wrong with those like Elizabeth Fenton who identified positively with their own tradition. He believes that people like her are motivated by "base emotions," by "xenophobia," by "fear and resentment of outsiders" and so on.

How off base is his position? Well, let's do a little experiment. Let's try to make Gittins' argument consistent. A traditional national community was based, in part, on a shared ancestry. It was like a vast, extended family in which people were (compared to other societies) closely related to each other. Gittins is now telling us that it is wrong, it is a "base emotion," to want to maintain this particular kind of loyalty and identity.

But why should Gittins' argument not apply equally to the family itself? Why should I discriminate in my love and loyalty between those who are a part of my family and those who are not? Is the fact that I do discriminate a sign that I fear or resent those who aren't part of my family? If Ross Gittins prefers to share his house and his resources with members of his own family, then is he suffering from an irrational, base emotion?

If his answer is that the comparison is wrong because it's natural for people to prefer their own families, then he should understand that historically people thought the same thing about national communities - that it was natural for people to have a particular loyalty and allegiance toward these too.

Gittins has applied the same logic to the national family that the radical Bolsheviks applied to the individual family. Back in 1918, following the Russian Revolution, the Bolshevik spokeswoman Alexandra Kollontai put forward a Gittins-like argument in favour of open borders for families:

a woman should know that in the new state there will be no more room for such petty divisions as were formerly understood: "These are my own children, to them I owe all my maternal solicitude, all my affection; those are your children ... Henceforth the worker-mother ... will rise to a point where she no longer differentiates between yours and mine ... The narrow and exclusive affection of the mother for her own children must expand until it embraces all the children of the great proletarian family.

So, Mr Gittins, was the Bolshevik Kollontai a great humanitarian for suggesting that there be no particular family loyalties? Was she motivated by the "better angels" of our nature as you believe the open borders crowd to be?

Or was she a modernist ideologue, who was willing to override healthy forms of human love and allegiance, in the name of a discredited and unsustainable ideology?

In terms of principle, Mr Gittins, just what separates you from the likes of Kollontai?

30 comments:

  1. Mark,

    We've looked at this issue through the scope of autonomy. We also have to look at it through the scope of universalism. It is a basic principle of ours that anyone can be a westerner, as to be western is to adopt and follow a few principles and precepts. It also follows in a similar fashion that anyone can be a Christian. If anyone can be a westerner then it seems churlish to deny this opportunity to others.

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  2. Great post, Mark.

    The family metaphor (in fact it's not really a metaphor; just a fact that a 'race' is a slightly in-bred extended family.) is useful as it reduces the argument against to absurdity. However, as your Bolshevik writer shows, the left is not afraid of absurdity. But these days I can quite imagine a good liberal 'regretting very much' that he has atavistic special feelings for his own offspring vis a vis the rest of the 'village'. Note how some yuppies are able to ostentatiously overcome all genetic bias in choice of designer Afro-babies.
    Gilbert Pinfold

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  3. Yes Mark, I'm pretty sure that Gittens DOES believe families need to be abolished. We just haven't evolved that far yet for him to be open about it.

    He doesn't address the crime, the interracial strife with accompanying no-go zones, and the destruction of educational standards caused by large-scale immigration of 3rd worlders. When I HAVE spoken with Liberals about this, I get the impression they think all these things are our fault for not sharing our wealth with these immigrants, and not welcoming them enough with open arms. I even had one tell me it was "rude" for us not to learn Spanish, but then she stopped speaking abruptly when she realized how absurd that was.

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  4. People like Gittens want to obliterate the past because it doesn't fit with their version of utopia. The 'educated' classes have systematically undermined our civilisation. We've lost confidence in ourselves and our past. We are now in serious decline as a civilisation. It's a shame that people like Gittens will be dead before the full ramifications of their idiocy will be felt. Eventually, the west will be one big South Africa.

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  5. Nothing, only that Gittins does not have the balls to come out and openly say that the family is wrong as well.

    Both assumptions about the family and the nation come from the wackier edges of the enlightenment and were codified by Marx and Engels who saw both merely as a function of class struggle.

    Which is why far [and not so far] leftists today will insist that all "racism" in society is stirred up by the capitalist class to divide the working class and stop said Marxists from getting into power.

    The only reason the likes of Gittins do not follow their logic through to its conclusion as Marx did is cowardice, not principle of any kind.

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  6. "...as to be western is to adopt and follow a few principles and precepts."

    No, it isn't.

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  7. Have you heard Mark, in UK the court ruled a Christian couple could not be foster parents because they disagree with homosexuality. I wonder if the next step will be removing children from Christian families.

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  8. Nice to see a significant number of comments under the article slating Gittins.

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  9. Have you heard Mark, in UK the court ruled a Christian couple could not be foster parents because they disagree with homosexuality.

    This is from a report on the case:

    The judges stated that if children were placed with parents who have traditional Christian views “there may well be a conflict with the local authority’s duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of looked-after children”.

    I'd like to check this by reading a transcript of the judgement. But if the above report is accurate, then it really does mark a break between the liberal state in the UK and the Christian churches.

    Nice to see a significant number of comments under the article slating Gittins.

    Indeed.

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  10. This blog, I found, to be rather absurd.

    "A traditional national community was based, in part, on a shared ancestry. It was like a vast, extended family in which people were (compared to other societies) closely related to each other. Gittins is now telling us that it is wrong, it is a "base emotion," to want to maintain this particular kind of loyalty and identity. "

    This is complete nonsense. Anyone with any ounce of proper historical and sociological understanding knows 'nations' 'nationalism's and rest are simple imagined communities. There are no definitive characteristics that bind people into definitive bound groups. Indeed the quotes from the early 19th century you used are entirely xenphobic and pointless.
    Nationalism ideology based entirely on imagined community. It is totally unnatural and entirely illogical.

    What the rest of your article is a complete Non Sequitur. You try to use a straw-man of Gittin's thinking to assert, in real emotionalist and ignorant conservative style that he is, of course, a Bolshevik. Seriously, no one is buying such hyped rhetoric.

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  11. Bartholomew said,

    ""...as to be western is to adopt and follow a few principles and precepts."

    No, it isn't."

    Adopting western principles may not make you an Englishman, but they will make you western.

    I'm a little dissapointed that Mark hasn't directly addressed an answer to this point.

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  12. Anonymous said,

    "This is complete nonsense. Anyone with any ounce of proper historical and sociological understanding knows 'nations' 'nationalism's and rest are simple imagined communities."

    So there is no difference between and Indian and an Englishman? Nobodies buying that. People who come from certain regions, nations being a broader version of that, do share common traits, customs and identities.

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  13. Anyone with any ounce of proper historical and sociological understanding knows 'nations' 'nationalism's and rest are simple imagined communities.

    LOL. So you've read the party line. Congratulations on your erudition.

    Adopting western principles may not make you an Englishman, but they will make you western.

    Jesse, I understand what you're driving at, but I don't think it's an adequate formulation.

    When I use the term Westerner, I use it to mean the historic European community, whether it was a Russian living under the Tsar in the year 1800 or a Frenchman under Napoleon or an Englishman under a constitutional monarchy.

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  14. Mark,

    Thanks for the reply. We still have to address precisely how and if people can assimilate into our cultures. If we say that they can then that's an argument for immigration in principle, if only of a limited type. This argument of course can be taken to an extreme that borders should be fairly open. If we say that they can't then that is an argument against immigration but leaves people who live here, and perhaps who have successfully adapted, in limbo.

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  15. Jesse wrote,

    "We still have to address precisely how and if people can assimilate into our cultures. If we say that they can then that's an argument for immigration in principle, if only of a limited type. This argument of course can be taken to an extreme that borders should be fairly open. If we say that they can't then that is an argument against immigration but leaves people who live here, and perhaps who have successfully adapted, in limbo."

    You say that immigration can be "of a limited type". Limited by what?

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  16. Batholomew,

    That would be essentially limited by numbers, ie you need to maintain a base culture to assimilate to. Arguably also the degree of difference would be relevant.

    We know that as groups we have a preference for our own kind, everyone has and that's a fact. Babies when shown photos of people show a preference for their own ethnic type. Nonetheless, nations are bigger than simple communities. People from different backgrounds can bring different skills to the country. The stronger we are as a nation, the more we all benefit, and people of different ethnic backgrounds can be very loyal to the nation. Also there are general "western" concepts" that people can pick up and that allows them to adapt very easily to our generally personally undemanding western way of life. (Generally Anglo Saxons are keen to mind their own business and this allows them to get on well with others).

    We have a dilemma if we try to view immigration through a primarily racial aspect because we have large numbers of people from different races already in our communities. Additionally also because we may be tempted to retreat from many aspects of our nations into racial subcommunities, which if you ask me would be a type of surrender at the national level and be an embracing of localism.

    I also think that we have to define a little more carefully whether assimilation can or should happen, or whether its a pointless exercise. If it should, how should it etc.

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  17. Jesse wrote,

    "That would be essentially limited by numbers, ie you need to maintain a base culture to assimilate to"

    I guess my question here is, Why bother? If that "base culture" is so precious, why dilute it? And if it isn't, why not dilute it even more?

    You make the argument that, "People from different backgrounds can bring different skills to the country...The stronger we are as a nation, the more we all benefit, and people of different ethnic backgrounds can be very loyal to the nation."

    I'd make two points here:
    1.)Nation =/= the state or the country. Yes, immigrants can be loyal to the laws of the land up to a point, and that point is their own national loyalty. When push comes to shove, you're loyal to your own. They cannot switch nations any more than they can switch families. If ever they think the laws of the land favor another nation at their expense, their loyalty to the "adopted country" evaporates.

    2.) Who marries whom?
    "Integration" means that someone, somewhere doesn't get to have normal looking kids and grandkids. I can't stress this point enough. Even "limited numbers" of nonwhites still want to marry and have kids. Will you offer them your daughter? Your sister? Will you offer up your line to be sundered from your own people? How then do you so casually offer up another's?

    The polite classes find it too distasteful to tell Raul or Wahid that he's better suited to Mexico or Arabia. So, some other poor bloke has to swallow hard and reconcile himself to the "new face" of his own line, one that won't look like him.

    That's someone else's life you've made permanently alienating and disorienting. And for what? A few trinkets? A new app for the 'droid? How exactly do we "all benefit" from this exchange? Better yet, how does he benefit from this exchange?

    These are people's families and kids we're talking about; what possible allure can material goods have?

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  18. Bartholomew said,

    "If ever they think the laws of the land favor another nation at their expense, their loyalty to the "adopted country" evaporates."

    That's a crude argument. Italian Americans fought for the US in WW2 and I don't think too many were agitating for Mussolini. In Europe Kings often specifically invited Jews into their country to build their financial apparatuses and middle class. You had Jews showing their Iron crosses from the first war to Nazis as they were being gassed. Many fairly recently conquered peoples fought hard for the Roman Empire. We are better as humans than simple crude tribal members who hate violently every outsider. Accepting that doesn't mean that you have also have to accept that race doesn't or shouldn't matter. One of the reason so many foreigners are loyal to the west is that it offers things that aren’t reliant on straight racial identity. It offers one of the best passports to advancement (not just personal), ever invented by humanity.

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  19. @ Jesse

    "So there is no difference between and Indian and an Englishman?"
    Not at all. The only socially contrived difference is what they perceive to be a collective identity, which is entirely fluid and changeable - ie imagined. Ultimately, if it weren't for a different place and style of living they are the same and regardless share many same values, particularly today. The core point is they are human and biologically are in no way destined or naturally ordained to be assigned into 'nations' except where such social constructs are designed.

    "Nobodies buying that."
    So you think humans have differing species within themselves? LOL

    "People who come from certain regions, nations being a broader version of that, do share common traits, customs and identities."
    Indeed they do. This however is no basis for law, morality or how we should treat people. Ethics and the politics derived from them must have a universal understanding. I am not opposed to the idea of nationalism in the most relative communal sense. What I am opposed to are the various extensions of such ideas, like those proposed here, particularly that which encourages expansion of government and hence tyranny over people to preserve what is thought by some to be the core of 'the nation'.

    @ Mark

    "LOL. So you've read the party line. Congratulations on your erudition."
    So you agree nations are imagined communities?

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  20. @ Jesse

    "One of the reason so many foreigners are loyal to the west is that it offers things that aren’t reliant on straight racial identity. It offers one of the best passports to advancement (not just personal), ever invented by humanity."

    You are entirely correct there - and this situation was not built on conservative, but rather progressive, freedom expanding ideas, like liberalism.

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  21. Anonymous said,

    "and this situation was not built on conservative, but rather progressive, freedom expanding ideas, like liberalism."

    Well now liberalism is offering us open borders which will destroy our societies. You will let in non-liberals in open ended numbers in the name of liberalism. You need to look at the consequences of your philosophy.

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  22. Jesse wrote,

    "That's a crude argument. Italian Americans fought for the US in WW2 and I don't think too many were agitating for Mussolini."

    Italian Americans obviously had different interests, as a group, than Italians. Likewise, Anglo-Americans had at various times different interests than Italian Americans. I don't see how this proves that people act in favor of foreign groups and contrary to their own.

    Anyway, it's a minor point. The major point here is that integration=intermarriage, and intermarriage, particularly interracial intermarriage,=>generational alienation.

    I would like to know by what moral standard you support the sacrifice of a few families' cohesion and well-being in order to avoid hurting the feelings of intrusive foreigners.

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  23. Anon wrote,

    "Not at all. The only socially contrived difference is what they perceive to be a collective identity, which is entirely fluid and changeable - ie imagined."

    Well, that's the logical terminus of "integration". Now, can we conservatives finally agree to reject integration as the absurdity that it is?

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  24. It's true that the universalist ideology pursued to its conclusion undermines all natural bonds. We on the right can see this clearly, while what they on the left can see, just as clearly, is that moral particularism leads to an equally extreme and unpalatable idea.

    If you read the White Nationalist blogs, you'll know what I mean. Some of these people have made an ideological decision to restrict their sympathy and any sense of social obligation to people of their own "tribe".

    Of course, I don't think it's reasonable to expect that any morality or any politics can ever be completely satisfying both rationally and emotionally.

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  25. The only socially contrived difference is what they perceive to be a collective identity, which is entirely fluid and changeable - ie imagined.

    Yes, that's Benedict Anderson's little academic theory.

    Anderson thinks that *any* kind of community is "imagined" because you can't meet everyone in the community face to face.

    He also believes that national community is a product of modernity, including technological and economic developments, a kind of social construct of the late 1700s.

    I'm not sure how he explains expressions of national identity that occurred much earlier than this. Machiavelli, for instance, wrote in terms of the Italians, the Germans, the Spanish, the Swiss and so on in the early 1500s.

    Similarly, in the literature of Tudor and Elizabethen times there are commonly references to national identity.

    By the way, your comment is a very orthodox liberal one. Liberals don't like inherited, unchosen identities of any kind. Therefore, they tend to proclaim that such identities have been socially constructed (you use the term "socially contrived") and are fluid and malleable (so that they can be shaped or created through our own self-determining will).

    This liberal theory isn't just applied to nations. It's also used to deny a real stable identity when it comes to gender, sexuality, race and the family - they are all considered recent, socially constructed, oppressive inventions that ought to be considered fluid, multiple and malleable.

    The same ideology is applied across the board to diverse forms of human identity.

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  26. That's someone else's life you've made permanently alienating and disorienting.

    Bartholomew, that's an argument that's not often spoken but which has some power to it.

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  27. Mark Richardson wrote,

    "Bartholomew, that's an argument that's not often spoken but which has some power to it."

    Thanks, Mr. Richardson. It came from the heart: I'm seeing right now what I'm talking about.

    Also, Clarence, nowhere have I ever agreed with the tribalists that because I have a tribe, therefore I have no species.

    That's absurd: of course, I belong to mankind, and my belonging to mankind entails certain moral obligations to my fellow man of different tribes.

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  28. Multiculturalist leanings aside, Ross Gittins is not for open borders or even mass immigration.

    http://www.smh.com.au/business/immigration-not-a-sure-path-to-higher-incomes-20101219-191vz.html

    He is one of the few business journalists who lobby against The Big Australia.

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  29. Veganista,

    Thanks, you're right. I assumed that someone with Gittins views on identity could safely be considered an open borders advocate - but that's not the case. I'll try to be more careful in this respect in future posts.

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