Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Khasis - an uncle society on the ropes?

A reader alerted me to an interesting story in The Australian about the Khasi people in north India:

TO MANY males it sounds the perfect existence. "The men here have no responsibilities," says Kaith Pariat, a member of the Khasi tribe, an ancient community of about a million people who live in the hills of northeast India.

"All we have to do is to eat, drink, play the guitar and produce children." For all their permitted fecklessness, however, the Khasi men are far from happy. Fed up with being branded the weaker sex and discriminated against, under centuries-old traditions, they have started what may be the world's only "men's lib" movement.

The tribe is a rare example of a matrilineal community. It is the youngest daughter who inherits property and children take their mothers' surnames. If a family does not have a daughter, it must adopt one to become its heir.

Men are expected to sleep in the house of the mother-in-law and to keep quiet. They are excluded from clan meetings, which are presided over by a network of matriarchs. This strict social hierarchy is supported by the Indian Constitution, which recognises the traditions of official ethnic minorities and gives them legal status.

Men say this was acceptable in the past, when activities such as hunting took them away from home for long periods. But today, thanks in part to the influence of Christianity, the trend is for nuclear families and men say they are mere dogsbodies.

"The father of the household has no power," Mr Pariat, 58, told The Times. "He has no rights. Even if he has a very good character but his wife is a loose woman, he cannot take custody of his children." He has founded the Syngkhong Rympei Thymai ("the wedge that supports the wobbly table"), a movement with about 2,000 members that is fighting for the law to be changed and social structures reorganised. He says its key demand is that children take their fathers' surnames.

"If children take my title they are part of my clan and I will have the weight of responsibility on my shoulders. That means I will have to lead a more stable life. It will take our men out of the rut they are in," he said.

"The lack of responsibility is killing us. Boys are dropping out of school. Men are taking to drugs and drinking themselves to death by the age of 40."

Here we have an example of a failing "uncle" society. In uncle societies there is usually little emphasis placed on marital stability and/or sexual fidelity. In the case of the Khasis it seems that it is marital stability which is missing:

According to Khasi laws, a woman ... may end a marriage at her will with no objection from her husband.

The lack of marital stability has consequences:

Divorces amongst both Khasis and Syntengs are of common occurrence, the result being that the children in many cases are ignorant of even the names of their fathers. For the mother, on the other hand, the children cherish a very strong affection, all their sympathies and affections binding them closely to the mother's kin.

Let's say you belong to a society in which there are basic forms of agriculture combined perhaps with hunting or fishing. If there is little emphasis placed on sexual fidelity or marital stability, then men either won't be sure of their paternity or else the paternal connection will be weak. It then makes sense for a man to put more effort into his nieces and nephews, since these are certainly closely related to him, and for descent and inheritance to be organised through the maternal line (a matrilineal system).

So there are societies in which the male role of uncle is more important than the male role of father. In such societies, a man on marriage might well go to live with his wife's clan. But his position there will be a minor one - he will be merely the "begetter" of children. Or, he might stay with his mother and sisters and merely visit his "wife" at night (the Mosuo system). If he earns or produces something, it will then go to his mother and sisters and he might have some standing in the maternal clan as an uncle (a matrifocal system).

Here are some more descriptions of how the Khasis once lived:

Not only is the mother the head and source, and only bond of union, of the family: in the most primitive part of the hills, the Synteng country, she is the only owner of real property, and through her alone is inheritance transmitted. The father has no kinship with his children, who belong to their mother's clan; what he earns goes to his own matriarchal stock...

The Khasis, when reckoning descent; count from the mother only; they speak of a family of brothers and sisters, who are the great grandchildren of one great grandmother, as shi kpoh, which, being literally translated, is one womb; i.e. the issue of one womb. The man is nobody. If he is a brother, u kur, a brother being taken to mean an uterine brother, or a cousin-german, he will be lost to the family or clan directly he marries. If he be a husband, he is looked upon merely as a u shong kha, a begetter.

These uncle societies might be matrilineal and matrifocal but they are not matriarchal. Tribal governance remains in the hands of men (the Khasis, for instance, were once ruled by kings). Even in the family, although there is much authority held by the senior female, the uncles also often have ultimate power:

Despite its matrilineal descent, Khasi society cannot be said to be matriarchal: although women have a word to say, the ultimate authority reside with the eldest males of the matrilineage.

The uncle societies may have functioned better when basic agriculture could be left to women and men focused on activities that drew them away from home, such as hunting or warfare.

But such societies have obvious weaknesses. The men who live in their wife's household have little responsibility either to provide or to assume paternal responsibility. And even when men do have responsibilities as uncles, that can't be as strong a connection as you would have to your own children in your own household.

So it was the father societies that proved to be more dynamic and which gave rise to the great civilisations.

The dysfunction of uncle societies is likely to be even greater today when there is less need for men to hunt or to live as warriors. Which leads on to the complaint made by the Khasi male liberationist quoted above:

"If children take my title they are part of my clan and I will have the weight of responsibility on my shoulders. That means I will have to lead a more stable life. It will take our men out of the rut they are in," he said.

"The lack of responsibility is killing us. Boys are dropping out of school. Men are taking to drugs and drinking themselves to death by the age of 40."

We often lose sight of why we have the customs we do. Take, for instance, the fact that our society is patrilineal and children take their father's name and descent is reckoned through the father's line. There was a purpose to this - it was part of creating a father society, of connecting men to a paternal role and responsibility - something which cannot merely be assumed or taken for granted.

The alternative is not some great, feminist, lost matriarchy. The historic alternative was to have an uncle society, one in which fathers had little role or responsibility within a community and in which society did not, therefore, develop civilisationally.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The delayed marriage debate

One of the looming battles in the culture war is the issue of when to marry and have children. Feminists have urged women to stay independent of men; this hasn't, in general, led women to reject the idea of marriage and motherhood outright. It has, though, encouraged the trend for women to defer family formation until some time in their 30s.

But this creates a number of problems including the following:
  • women lose reproductive choice. If women only attempt to marry and have children in the final, declining years of their fertility, they may well miss out on having the children they want
  • if women aren't serious about marriage or children in their 20s, then they are more likely to select the "wrong" sort of men - the bad boys, the narcissists, the thugs etc. This then discourages the family man ethos amongst men and encourages a player culture. Numbers of men who might have made good husbands will drop out altogether.
  • when women do start taking family formation seriously in their 30s, they are more likely to find it difficult to meet suitable men. Some men will already have married, others will have dropped out and some will be players. The women themselves will no longer be at the peak of their youthful fertility and attractiveness to men and they might well be less able to pair bond due to the number of casual relationships already entered into.
  • all of this combined is likely to encourage a more cynical and adversarial culture of relationships between men and women
  • men and women will not be able to gift each other their youthful passions and they will be considerably older and more infirm as grandparents

Feminists are mostly winning this battle in the culture war. However, there do exist opposing voices, warning of the problems created by leaving things so late, such as the BBC Radio DJ, Lauren Laverne:

BBC radio presenter Lauren Laverne has criticised the growing culture of ‘freemales’ who choose an independent life over having a husband and family.
Lauren Laverne

The 32-year-old BBC 6 Music host says women who delay having a family in their twenties risk never finding ‘a sense of completion’.

Despite initially being seen as a ‘ladette’, the ex-pop singer married when she was 27 and had her first child, Fergus, two years later. She gave birth to her second son, Mack, in September last year. Her husband is DJ Graeme Fisher.

But she admits her decision to start a family is in stark contrast to her friends who are not interested in settling down until they are 35.

‘I was getting married when none of my friends even lived with their boyfriends, and then I had Fergus,’ she told Red Magazine.

‘It’s great that you get to be young for longer, but the downside is people worry too much. If you’re with the right person, do it, get married, have the baby, take a leap of faith. You can’t plan everything, you can’t wait and wait and wait.

‘The nice thing now is that I have a sense of completion about my family and the future. You can only really get that when you crack on when you’re young.’

Her friends are being foolish. They are not willing to settle down until they are 35 - exactly the age at which a woman's fertility starts to peter out. They are not even making relationship commitments in their late 20s.

Lauren Laverne is not alone in speaking out against trends toward delayed marriage. Two American researchers, Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker of the University of Texas, have recently published their findings on the state of play in relationships between young Americans. One of their conclusions is that women, by delaying a serious commitment to relationships, are creating a player culture amongst men, which then undermines women's desires later on to find a committed relationship:
Researchers found that since women in the 18- to 23-year-old group feel they don't need men for financial dependence, many of them feel they can play around with multiple partners without consequence, and that the early 20s isn't the time to have a serious relationship. But eventually, they do come to want a real, lasting relationship. The problem is that there will still be women who will have sex readily without commitment, and since men know this, fewer of them are willing to go steady.

"Women have plenty of freedom, but freedom does not translate easily into getting what you want," Regnerus said.

This issue was even openly discussed in the usually liberal Salon magazine. There was a very respectful interview with the two researchers about the issue of women having "lost control" of relationships, with increasing numbers of women reporting about modern relationships that "I don't like this script, it sucks." One of the researchers gave this advice:

I don't think it's in women's interest to play the field for a long period of time. It can get depressing, not only about their relationships but to see the pool of men in their 30s who are available. My advice is if you find somebody who you love and who loves you, make it work...

...Women need to somehow reacquire control over the direction of relationships. They feel like they don't have control.

Women who have been brought up to believe that independence is what matters most won't easily warm to the idea of marrying earlier. One woman's comment in reply to the two American researchers was that,

It strikes me as the typical fear tactics used to keep women's ambitions and autonomy in check because many men don't have the personal skills to succeed in equal partnership.

She ain't budging.

Some of the late marriage camp are also picking up on a statistic which claims that women with college education, their own income and who marry later are less likely to divorce. So you get comments like this one:

A woman is in the best position to avoid divorce if she is college-educated (the more the better), has her own income, and she marries no sooner than age 25. Women who fit this description have a very, very small likelihood of finding themselves in divorce court - WELL under national averages.

So this begs the question... is the goal for women to GET married, or to STAY married? Personally, I'm voting for the latter.

It's not that waiting until your mid-20s to marry is necessarily wrong. Some people don't mature into their adult personalities until this age. But the argument is sometimes used to justify a "wait until you're in your 30s and have done the whole education/career thing" position. So I do want to point out that the divorce rate difference between those who marry in their early 20s and those who marry in their late 20s doesn't seem to be that great. It's those who marry as teenagers who clearly have a higher divorce rate.

If you look at the following chart it shows that those women who married at less than 18 years of age had the highest rate of divorce; those who married at 18 and 19 had the next highest; those who married at 21 to 25 initially had the next highest but in the long run did the best; whilst those who married from 25 to 29 did the best in the early years of marriage but over time ended up with a higher divorce rate than those who married in their early 20s.

The lesson from this data set is that marrying below the age of 20 does significantly increase the risk of divorce for a woman, but marrying at 23 involves no greater risk than marrying at 29.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Aussie Muslim: let us take over

Ibrahim Siddiq Conlon grew up as an Australian boy in country NSW and has a masters degree in architecture. He is also a convert to Islam who preaches for the establishment of an Islamic state in Australia:

ISLAMIC preacher Ibrahim Siddiq-Conlon points heavenwards to emphasise his message for the governments of Australia -- there is no God but Allah and only his laws should be obeyed.

"My attack is on the Prime Minister of Australia," he said yesterday. "I hate the parliament in Canberra. I want to go straight for the jugular vein and advise the parliament that they have no right to legislate. They should immediately step down and let the Muslims take over."

An Australian-born convert to Islam, Siddiq-Conlon is the self-anointed leader of a group called Sharia4Australia, which is pushing for the introduction of sharia courts as a first step towards achieving Islamic law.

"One day Australia will live under sharia; it's inevitable," he said. "If they (Australians) don't accept it, that's not our problem. We hope, and our objective is to have a peaceful transition, but when you look at history that has never been the case. There's always been a fight. It is inevitable that one day there will be a struggle for Islam in Australia."

Here's some more:

IBRAHIM Siddiq-Conlon has a message for Australians, whether they want to hear it or not.

"One day Australia will be ruled by sharia, no doubt," he declares. "That is why non-Muslims are worried, because they know one day they won't be able to drink their beer, they won't be able to eat their pork and they won't be able to do their homosexual acts, because one day they know they will be controlled."

...Siddiq-Conlon is the face and voice of Sharia4Australia, a group formed in Sydney's southwest to agitate for Islamic law, starting with the introduction of sharia courts and ending, in his ideal world, with Islamic rule.

While he claims to eschew violence, he unapologetically preaches hate. An online video posted by his group describes its members as "uncompromising [in] their disallegiance, disloyalty and hate for the disbelievers".

"I hate the parliament. I hate [democracy] with a pure hate," he says. Moreover, it is obligatory for all Muslims to reject democracy, because it is a challenge to God's law: "They must hate it, speak out against it, and if that doesn't work, take action against it."

Siddiq-Conlon formed Sharia4Australia last year, styling himself as the new champion for Islamic law in Australia.

An online video announcing its emergence stated: "For far too long now Aust has been ruled by a corrupt evil infedile [sic] group of people who are clear disbelievers in the sight of Allah. It is time for change. Time at least for the truth.

"Today Muslim youth and the oppressed and weak Muslims march forward with their flags behind brother Ibrahim Siddiq-Conlon. O Muslims stand tall, take the vow and pledge allegiance to none other than Allah and his Messengerorting and vowing allegiance w the Muslims while disloyalty to the disbelievers and their kufr [infidel] ways."

In person, Siddiq-Conlon initially seems harmless enough. He dresses in a white cotton tunic, trousers and sandals, with a neatly trimmed beard and a touch of black kohl eyeliner, in the style said to have been favored by the original companions of the Prophet Mohammed.

He is quietly spoken, polite and articulate ... He converted to Islam while a student, travelled to Indonesia, found a wife there, and returned to Australia...

"I'm an Aussie, I'm a full-bred Aussie, you can't get more Aussie than me," he insists.

But his proclaimed love for Australia is followed quickly by a prediction that, ultimately, Muslims here will have to fight for Islamic law. He doubts the struggle will begin in the next 10 or 20 years, but hopes it will occur in his lifetime. "People don't give up [their land without a fight]. There's always been a fight. It is inevitable that one day there will be a struggle for Islam in Australia. We don't shy away from it. Whether it means we get put in jail, kicked out of the country. If it means harm to us, so be it."

Nor does his disavowal of violence extend to Australian troops in Afghanistan, who he describes as "evil".

"Obviously I don't support the killing of innocent people, but these American and Australian troops have gone there to kill Muslims. What do they expect? Yes, they deserve to die. Under sharia, yes they do. That is the judgment of sharia. They are eligible to be attacked."

When you view his YouTube videos you are immediately struck by a sense of how religion and politics are intertwined in Islam. Living rightly for Ibrahim Siddiq Conlon means not only living modestly and in submission to God but also fighting, literally, for the establishment of Islamic political rule.

At the moment, the balance of forces is not favourable for Siddiq Conlon. The Muslim population of Australia is still too small for any realistic challenge to state power. But numbers are growing due to influxes of Muslim refugees from countries like Lebanon and Somalia. In 1971, there were 22,311 Muslims in Australia, by 2006 there were 340,400. A Melbourne suburb like Dallas already has a 40% Muslim population, in Auburn in Sydney it's 41%.

The current refugee policy is leading us into dangerous territory. The problem with the policy is that it does not attempt to resettle refugees in like countries. For instance, it would be better if refugees from the Middle-East were resettled in a like country in the Middle-East, one that was closest in terms of standard of living, religion and ethnic tradition.

The "like country" policy would immediately discourage economic refugees and it would more easily allow both assimilation and repatriation. And it would help non-Islamic countries such as Australia avoid a descent into future political turmoil at the hands of those agitating for sharia.

It's not impossible for the "like country" policy to gain traction. Even in Sweden, there are politicians who recognise (in private) that issues of assimilation have to be considered. One of the more interesting of the wikileaks was the revelation that the Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, and the Migration Minister, Tobias Billström, met with the US Ambassador to Iraq in 2007 to try to put in place a system for returning Iraqis whose asylum applications had failed.

"Without rules and regulations for sending those without permits back, the immigration problem would be out of control in a country of 9 million inhabitants," Bildt allegedly said.

The ministers also spoke about several honour killings in Sweden, which led to demands from the Swedes to a stricter immigration policy.

Isn't that an admission that the numbers of refugees from countries with incompatible cultures needs to be limited? If even Swedish ministers can recognise this reality, then surely others can as well.

The Swedish Greens are up in arms about the wikileaks revelation and are threatening to report Bildt and Billström to various human rights committees, but you'd expect that from the Greens. The Green's spokeswoman prefers the status quo:

Ceballos said that the reasons that Bildt and Billström have referenced for limiting the number of Iraqi refugees should not be the deciding factors for the Swedish authorities.

"The Swedish National Migration Board should decide on the basis of each person's protection needs, not based on whether they are easy to integrate or whether they come from areas where honour-related violence occurs," she said.

Why can't their protection needs be met by resettling them in a like country? Why not at least try to harmonise protection needs with ease of integration? Isn't that the sensible, rational policy? To say "we'll take them regardless of whether we can integrate them" is hardly fair to the host population and is likely down the track to lead to a conflicted society.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Forgotten history: the harvest of the steppe

I watched a very interesting documentary the other night. It was about the love affair between Suleiman the Magnificent and Roxelana.

Why so interesting? Because it unavoidably made reference to aspects of history that most Westerners never learn about.

The history Westerners are presented with today always puts us in the position of "powerful oppressors". The assumption is that humans are naturally oriented toward "equal freedom" but that Westerners have perversely denied this good to humanity by asserting their dominance over everyone else through acts of racism, sexism, colonialism etc.

So history becomes a parade of white men oppressing Aborigines or black Americans or some other group and the acts of resistance by these oppressed groups to secure a human future for all.

Whites come to be seen as exceptional in history, a dominant group inventing categories of oppression from which humanity is struggling to be free.

The real problem for Westerners is that our period of ascendancy lasted just long enough for us to be tagged this way by the liberal left. We were still dominant in the mid-twentieth century, so we got to be the ones tagged as uniquely responsible for the absence of a leftist utopia.

So let's go back to Suleiman and Roxelana. What does their love affair teach us about the past?

Roxelana was born in the early 1500s in what is now Western Ukraine but was then part of the Polish kingdom. She was captured by the Crimean Tatars in the 1520s, taken to the city of Kaffa, a centre of the slave trade, and then selected to be part of the harem of the ruler of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman the Magnificent.

Roxelana was part of what is called the "harvest of the steppe". In the 1500s, there was a struggle on the eastern borders of Europe between the Islamic Tatar warriors of the powerful Crimean Khanate and the Cossacks of the Russian and the Polish-Lithuanian kingdoms. The Tatars launched raids into the European territories, taking slaves back with them to be sold into the Islamic Ottoman Empire. Some historians have estimated that up to 3 million Europeans may have been enslaved.

The Khanate was under the protection of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans were a powerful force for hundreds of years. It was the Ottomans who destroyed the Byzantines and who captured Serbia and Bulgaria. In the 1500s, Suleiman led his armies deeper into Europe, defeating the Hungarians and laying siege to Vienna in 1529.

Tatar raids continued until Russia gained sufficient military might and forced an end to them by a treaty in 1699. Even so, the enslavement of Europeans by the Ottomans continued, with eighteen hundred Serbian women and children being sold into slavery in a single day in Belgrade in 1813. And the slave trade operating out of the port of Sale in Morocco was only ended in 1816 by the actions of a combined Anglo-Dutch fleet. It has been estimated that up to one million Western Europeans were enslaved over a period of several centuries by Muslim corsairs operating out of Morocco.

And what of Roxelana? She became the favourite of Suleiman, winning his love and being permitted, against the conventions of the palace, to bear more than one son. One of her sons inherited the throne after Suleiman murdered his own first-born son, Mustafa. The fate of other European slaves was very different: they became domestic servants, concubines, or soldiers for the Muslim population of the empire. The emperor maintained a palace staff consisting of up to 900 white eunuchs.

The enslavement of millions of Europeans by Muslim powers in the Middle-East and North Africa lasted for nearly a thousand years, persisting into the 1800s. And for many hundreds of years, various Muslim powers occupied large areas of southern, south-eastern and eastern Europe.

If you follow the leftist script, you're unlikely to think in terms of possible dangers to the West. The assumption is that Westerners are the powerful ones preventing the expression of humanity's true free and equal nature. In fact, there is a double distortion in the leftist way of thinking. First, it is assumed that Westerners must be powerful, as it is the power of white males which is thought to be blocking the further progress of humanity. So the focus isn't on possible dangers, but on the need to further cut down the position of Westerners. Second, even if the balance of power were to change, and Westerners were to lose power, the non-Westerners aren't associated with structures of dominance and so aren't held to be a possible threat or risk.

This leftist view is based on a limited reading of history, on a snapshot of history at a particular moment of Western ascendancy, rather than on a longer-term understanding of the rise and fall of empires and civilisations. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

So the left now thinks burqas are liberating?

The left has entirely flipped its position when it comes to the burqa. Twenty years ago, feminists would often cite the burqa as evidence of the nasty patriarchal oppression of women. I can remember feeling aggrieved for being targeted as a Western man for something that was outside the Western tradition.

That's why it's so strange for someone of my generation to witness the left now coming to the defence of the burqa.

Here's the latest example of this from Australia. A Sydney artist has painted a mural on a wall with the slogan "Say no to burqas":

The Sydney artist, Sergio Redegalli, in front of the mural.

The response of one radical leftist woman, Kiraz Janicke, was to create this artwork:

So burqa wearing women have been transformed from victims of the patriarchy to inspiring leftist rebels.

How can the left justify such a change in position? This is the Indymedia line:

The anti-burqa mural articulates one form of patriarchy in the guise of what he perceives to be the patriarchy of another culture. The act of determining what is suitable behaviour for others and calling on the government to regulate this, is typically authoritarian and patriarchal. Empowerment and liberation are not things that can be prescribed and dictated to others. Some people might find empowerment in affirming aspects of their heritage, others by shedding all such traditional values. An anti-racist and anti-sexist politics of solidarity has to act in common with those who are struggling for their emancipation, not dictate what their freedom will look like.

This is an attempt to apply autonomy theory to the issue. The writer is arguing that it is patriarchal to oppose the wearing of the burqa because that would interfere with the self-determination of Muslim women. (Note too the argument that it is "empowering" for "some people" to affirm "aspects of their heritage" - presumably "some people" does not include Anglo-Australians).

Kiraz Janicke, who created the pro-burqa artwork portrayed above, took a similar line:

Some progressives and feminists may find “Burqa revolution” confronting because it portrays a woman demanding the right to wear a burqa — something commonly viewed as symbol of women’s subjugation.

However, as a recent 2000-strong rally in western Sydney supporting the right to wear a burqa shows, for many Muslim women wearing a burqa, niqab or hijab is an affirmation of their identity and an act of protest against the prevailing Islamophobia.

My artwork challenges the argument that banning the burqa can contribute to women’s liberation. Liberation is not something that can be imposed, but must be won through a process of self-determination.

There are three things happening here politically. The first, obviously, is that autonomy (i.e. self-determination) is being thought of as the end aim of politics. The second is that there is an underlying bias toward non-Western traditions, with the affirmation of Muslim identity and heritage being spoken of in positive terms that would never be extended to the Australian identity or heritage.

The third is the idea that liberation cannot be imposed. That sounds very strange coming from the far left, which is not averse to political violence. In fact, Kiraz Janicke is a member of the youth organisation Resistance. This organisation supports the idea of a revolutionary uprising to liberate the people. So when Kiraz Janicke states that "liberation cannot be imposed" she is not rejecting the idea of force to change society along left-wing lines. She is probably imagining (rather hopefully given historical evidence) that the revolutionary change will come from below.

Anyway, the little leftist activist groups in Sydney did organise a violent demonstration against the anti-burqa mural. It seems that the concept of "self-determination" was not applied to the artist.

It's interesting that the far left thinks it can harness Islam for its own purposes. It doesn't show much of a capacity for long-term thinking. If Islam consolidates itself in places like Sydney, what is likely to happen to our handful of lefty activists? Islam is about submission to God, not a self-creating lifestyle. Many of the lefty activists cultivate a punky/feral/queer look that isn't likely to be well-received in a majority Muslim culture:

As for the burqa, I think most Westerners, if they were honest, would have to admit that it's an unsettling sight. The following picture is from a demonstration in favour of the burqa held in the Sydney suburb of Lakemba last year:

The left is telling us that these burqa clad women are inspiring rebels. I don't see that, I see something very alien to my own tradition and another reason to oppose the principle of multiculturalism.

Monday, January 17, 2011

But what is the end goal?

The UK Government is taking another step toward unisex parenting. At the moment, women get 10 months of paid maternity leave. That's now going to be made transferable, so that fathers can take either some or all of the leave instead.

But the logic of the process is to eventually make the father's share of the leave non-transferable, just as the Scandinavians have done. If the father doesn't use the leave, it will be lost.

The new policy is based on a Demos report written by Jen Lexmond. Jen Lexmond has already made it clear on her blog that although she sees the new policy of transferable leave as a "huge step forward", she "would rather see non-transferable equal parental leave in order to address issues of gender inequality".

That's the end goal of all this: "non-transferable equal parental leave". In other words, the mother and father would have to take an equal amount of leave in the interests of gender equality.

Jen Lexmond has further explained her preference as follows:

I think that more equal parental leave would produce more equal families, where fathers are just as likely as mothers to take on caring responsibilities at home, where children grow up with less gendered expectations about what their role will be in the future, where the pay gap would narrow...

And here:

A society where it was just as likely for a father as for a mother to take a career break during their children's early years would be a society where the pay gap might start to narrow. If there was no way of predicting who was more likely to bow out, there would be no economic incentive to withhold promotion, training, or pay rises from one group over another. The pay gap exists today much more as an expression of risk management on behalf of employers than of explicit discrimination against women.

That's where public policy reform comes in, starting with a move to take it or lose it parental leave that provides equal, and non-transferable, leave for both parents.
Note that in the last quote, Jen Lexmond again reveals that the end goal is "equal, and non-transferable, leave". She hopes that families won't be given a say, but will either have to accept unisex parenting roles or else lose their entitlements.

Note too that the purpose of paternal leave is not to help men or families. It's based on the feminist assumption that what really matters are career and pay outcomes. If it's women who take time off to care for their children, then feminists fear that employers might favour men in the workplace. So feminists like Jen Lexmond want leave to be taken equally by men and women.

And, of course, equal leave also fits in with the larger liberal aim of making gender not matter. There is to be a very neat, uniform, undifferentiated system in which both men and women have the same commitment to paid work, earn the same amount of money, spend the same short amount of time at home performing the same kind of maternal work, before then returning to paid work.

Can the unisex plan succeed? That remains to be seen. It has some advantages for the state. It means that women get drawn into the paid labour force which increases the tax base and labour force and decreases wages. It can also work as a hidden form of protectionism: employers no longer have to pay men working in private industry a living wage, since the state is paying their wives a wage in some kind of state employment (that's how it tends to work in Scandinavia).

On the other hand, it increases taxes at a time that many European countries are already overspending and heavily in debt. It must also over time endanger the male work ethic. If men are no longer providers, and if it's thought progressive for women to earn the money in a family, then some men will be tempted to do just what feminists want them to do, namely to downscale their work commitments.

One final point. Liberalism claims to be extending the realm of human freedom and autonomy. But is it really the case that paid leave achieves this? In the past, families were more self-sufficient. The family itself was an independent unit of society, functioning according to its own principles.

What we are moving toward is a life organised not around the family, but around state and employer. It is the state which decides who is to look after children and for how long. It is the state or the employer that supplies the money to allow parenting to take place at all. Our lives are to be organised increasingly around our employment in the paid labour force, rather than independently of it.

This doesn't strike me as a genuine advance in human freedom. It strikes me rather as just one more "stripping down" of the individual, a further loss of particular qualities and relationships with which the individual acts independently of the state.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Clarissa: motherhood castrates women

I found Clarissa just a couple of days ago. She's an American academic who teaches Hispanic literature courses. She's also very earnestly liberal.

If you remember, Clarissa was the one who claimed that modernity was worth its steep price because it liberates people from inherited norms, which then opens the way to a more self-defining life based on one's own choices.

To understand what is wrong with this liberal way of looking at modernity, consider a post that Clarissa wrote just a few days ago. The post is about the Katy Read story in Salon. Katy Read is a middle-aged, recently divorced American woman who has expressed regret that she spent years working part-time to be with her children rather than remaining full-time at work.

Clarissa, it turns out, doesn't like the idea of women choosing to stay at home with their children. She thinks that one positive effect of the economic downturn in the US is that fewer women will give up full-time work:

As with everything else in life, however, the crisis has brought about some positive things as well. Less and less women will be "choosing" to abandon economic independence and professional realization now that they see how costly such a decision is turning out to be to many former housewives. The fear of finding themselves indigent and with no way of proving their worth socially, professionally or financially will finally convince many women that the self-infantilization of housewifery is not worth the risk.

So already we have the career option praised as leading to economic independence and professional realization, whereas the stay at home option leaves women with no way to "prove their worth" and is merely a form of "self-infantilization".

There's more:

Katy Read, the author of the article, tries to suggest that she had given up on working for fourteen years for the sake of her sons. Nobody, however, needs a parent to be constantly at home until one is 14 ... Like many other women, Read simply didn't want to make the effort of going to work every single day ... It's much easier to pretend that you are a little girl who needs to be provided with everything by a big, strong man.

The traditionally male career role is associated here with independence and adulthood. Therefore motherhood gets turned on its head. It no longer marks a transition to adult womanhood but a regression to girlhood. All those women in centuries past who gave much of their adult lives to the care of their children were, in Clarissa's eyes, just pretending to be "little girls".

As evidence for her theory she calls in the testimony of her sister, who works as a recruiter:

During preliminary interviews with housewives she saw that they had one thing in common: an extremely infantilized mode of behavior. Whenever the conversation didn't go exactly as they wanted, they would become highly emotional, raise their voices, become irritable, cry, make unreasonable demands.

The insults peak in the final paragraph:

Read's advice to women is not to fall into the same trap of the patriarchal discourse that keeps suggesting to us that women are somehow not fully human and should be fulfilled with less than what men need to be happy. I hope many people read this article and abstain from castrating their lives in the same way as Read did.

Charming. Clarissa is suggesting here that it's the traditional male career role which makes people fully human and fully happy. Stay at home mothers are therefore accepting a less than fully human life. In fact, they are "castrating" their lives by looking after their own children (echoes here of Greer's "female eunuch").

I know some of my readers will immediately dismiss Clarissa as a mad lefty, not worth the time of day. But I think there's more to it than this. Clarissa is adopting one of the possible liberal options open to her.

Remember, the point of liberalism is to maximise individual autonomy. But this aim has an inbuilt contradiction.

One way that you maximise autonomy is by giving people greater choice. But if you do this, people are likely to choose goods other than autonomy. They are likely to choose to sacrifice a degree of autonomy for some other good, such as motherhood. So autonomy is not maximised.

Another way to maximise autonomy is to rule out the choice of non-autonomous goods. In other words, you only allow people to prefer goods that maximise independence, such as the financial independence that comes with careers. But the problem with this option is that it cuts back on the degree to which people can choose for themselves. So this option also fails to maximise autonomy.

The only way the contradiction might be resolved is if people, when given maximum free choice, were to naturally choose autonomy as the highest, overriding good. And therefore it's understandable that many liberals prefer to believe that people really would choose this way. For instance, in another post Clarissa approvingly quotes this opinion:

The natural desire for freedom and autonomy exists in women, and has always been nearly impossible to smother with bribery (the carrot of the wedding and the family and the home) alone. The stick also has to come out, and that's where the pervasive threat of rape comes into play.

The suggestion here is that women would in a non-patriarchal society naturally choose "freedom and autonomy" as the highest goods; that this natural preference cannot be smothered with other false and inferior goods such as marriage, children and home; that the patriarchy therefore has to force women to deny their natural desires coercively with the "pervasive threat of rape".

But that's a fantasy. Even after decades of feminist indoctrination, the majority of women still express a desire to spend time at home with their children (a recent survey put the percentage of women preferring to stay at home at 69%).

What this means is that in a liberal society there is likely to be a continuing conflict in how people attempt to resolve the contradiction. If some take the "choice" option, then others like Clarissa will point out that this does not, in fact, create maximum autonomy as it leads people to choose goods other than autonomy.

So Clarissa is carrying through logically with an aspect of liberal politics. She cannot just be dismissed as a one off.

Having said that, we should take the time to register exactly where Clarissa's liberalism has led her. It has committed her to the idea that the mothering of children, the core role played by women since the dawn of time, is a less than human option because it involves interdependence with a man.

It has led her to characterise motherhood not as a fulfilment of adult womanhood but as infantile. Motherhood is no longer associated in Clarissa's mind with fertility or fecundity but with sterility - with female castration.

Is it any wonder that in a liberal society young women so often defer a serious commitment to marriage and motherhood? Particularly those most exposed in higher education to liberal academics like Clarissa?

Finally, it's important to underline the fault I am pointing to in Clarissa's liberalism. In one post she tells us that liberalism frees us to self-define and to make our own choices. But a few days later she savages the idea of women choosing to be stay at home mothers. She leaves women with only one legitimate choice, that of being a full-time careerist. In fact, she establishes careerism as the only way for both men and women to be fully human and self-realizing adults.

Liberalism doesn't work out the way it is supposed to. Clarissa wants women to have a self-defining life, but she then rules out the life that the majority of women want to have. And along the way she manages to grossly distort a basic human good such as motherhood.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Relationships expert does her best to confuse men

Sam Brett is an Australian relationships expert. She wrote a column last year which began clearly enough by lamenting the demise of masculine men:

"I just want a manly man!" is a common cry I've recently been hearing from frustrated women who are wondering what the hell happened to the hairy-chested, sports-playing, beer-sculling blokes of the world.

"Why are they suddenly all so girly and sensitive?" the women wonder in confusion. "It's like dating your female BFF!"

Despite the fact that, as women, we're more powerful, financially independent and fiscally stronger than ever before, there's still that nagging business of wanting to be with a man who is going to take care of us, support us, be the rock in our world and masculine enough to make us feel like a girl in his presence. (In fact, even the most alpha female women I speak to want just that: like mush in his big muscular arms.)

So, why is finding a manly man to cuddle and cook for such an arduous task? Why are all the men on Planet Dating such wusses? What the heck has happened to the blokey blokes?
But this is how she ends things:

Yes, I want an alpha male to look after me, protect me, provide for me, be strong when times are tough and be the man around the house. But I also want a man who isn't afraid to cook, watch Eat, Pray, Love, talk about his feelings and not be afraid to be a Mister Mom in the future.

Good grief! I'm not sure if Sam realises just how confusing that must appear to a young man. How can one man possibly be both things?

As for me, I couldn't possibly be Sam's boyfriend as I am afraid to watch Eat, Pray, Love. I'm afraid to watch most Julia Robert's movies (see, I can talk about my feelings).

Playing consensus politics with the left

Lawrence Auster has been posting a steady stream of excellent commentary on the Tucson shooting at VFR. One of these posts highlights a breakthrough moment by a mainstream conservative journalist. This journalist, Brit Hume, has come out and openly stated that the American left commonly considers disagreement with its politics to be motivated by hate:

It has become a habit of the American left to equate disagreement with liberals and liberalism with hate. So convinced do they seem of the virtue of their cause that the only possible explanation for resistance to it must be hatred.

Why is it significant that a mainstream conservative journalist has openly recognised this? Lawrence Auster goes on to explain as follows:

Of course you will find this kind of insight into the left's mindset at VFR all the time, but you will never hear it from mainstream conservatives. The reason you will never hear it from mainstream conservatives is that it borders on saying that the left is not a normal American political movement but a tyrannical ideological movement at war with conservatives and seeking their suppression; and if we acknowledge that the left is at war with us and seeking our suppression, then the American political system, based on consensus and shared loyalties, starts to break down, in which case mainstream conservatism itself, based on belief in that consensus, starts to break down. So for an establishment conservative like Hume to say what he said above represents a significant step toward the forbidden truth of contemporary politics.

It's a clear enough point. How can the right play consensus politics when the left views the right in such implacably hostile terms as being motivated by nothing more than hatred and bigotry?

One of the most visited left-wing websites is Daily Kos. Its founder, Markos Moulitsas, has written a book titled American Taliban which aims to show that:

the Republican Party, and the entire modern conservative movement is, in fact, very much like the Taliban. In their tactics and on the issues, our homegrown American Taliban are almost indistinguishable from the Afghan Taliban. The American Taliban ... share a litany of mores, values, and tactics with Islamic extremists.

Moulitsas admits that progressives hate conservatives:

Progressives hate the Taliban and other Islamic fundamentalists precisely for the same reason we hate rabid conservatives at home: their fear of change, their contempt for nontraditional lifestyles, their mania for militaristic solutions, and their fascistic efforts to impose their narrow worldview on the rest of society.

The thought of separation between "progressives" like himself and the conservatives he hates appeals to him:

I’m partial to ceding a portion of the Texas Panhandle to these wackos, naming it Dumbf--kistan, taking it off the federal dole, building a wall around it, and arresting anyone trying to enter America illegally. I can always dream.

Has Moulitsas correctly categorised the mainstream right here? No, of course he hasn't. Much of the mainstream right is right-liberal. In other words, much of the mainstream right shares the same underlying philosophical assumptions held by Moulitsas himself. That's one reason why mainstream politics has held together up to now.

But Moulitsas doesn't see it this way. He categorises "the Republican Party, and the entire modern conservative movement" as not only non-liberal, but as radically so. He believes that the entire modern conservative movement is to be equated with the current national enemy, the Taliban: the enemy the nation is at war with.

All of this fits with Lawrence Auster's description of leftism, as represented by the likes of Moulitsas, as being an "ideological movement at war with conservatives and seeking their suppression".

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Clarissa blames conservatives for all political violence

I was curious to find out how liberals are justifying blaming the Tucson shooting on conservatives. So I did a google search and came up with this: Conservative Rage: Jared Loughner and the Arizona Shooting.

It's an interesting piece by a liberal academic, who identifies herself as Clarissa. Clarissa has a similar view of liberal modernity to myself, but unlike me she supports it. She sees modernity as destroying traditional identities and ways of being in favour of a more self-defined, individualistic life. According to Clarissa, many people find the prospect of this transformation terrifying and they react with rage. Therefore, it is anti-modern conservatives who are responsible for acts of violence, including 9-11, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Tucson shooting and even the two world wars.

In her own words:

...Today, we have received further proof that when people are exposed to an unstemmed barrage of Tea Party's hysterical rhetoric and when those hate-filled diatribes come in touch with people's intimate terror of encroaching modernity, an explosion isn't far behind.

...There are many people out there who feel confused, lonely and lost in a world where modernity is destroying old certitudes, identities and ways of being. Modernity is liberating in the sense that we are a lot less tied to collective identities ascribed to us at birth. Gender identities, normative sexualities, class origins, religious backgrounds still exist, of course. Nevertheless, they are nowhere as binding as they used to be before the advent of modernity. It isn't easy to challenge the identitarian status quo, but it still can be done. For many people, though, this liberating potential of modernity isn't worth the steep price they have to pay for it: individuality.

There is no burden bigger than that of a personal responsibility, personal choice, individuality. A society that strictly prescribes its collective identities offers people a great degree of freedom from the irksome necessity to make their own decisions. At birth, you are handed a set of norms that you are supposed to observe as a representative of your gender, social class, religious denomination, etc. You accumulate enough of these collective allegiances and you can guarantee that pretty much every aspect of your life will be defined for you. Then all you need to do is follow the check-list of expected behaviors. No painful dilemmas, no fears of making the wrong choice. And most pleasantly - no need to think.

Modernity is terrifying because it erodes the stability of collective identities. Remember, nothing gets people to die for it as disinterestedly and enthusiastically as collective identity. You threaten people's right to live their lives unthinkingly, without the hypnotic dictates of collective identities on how to organize their existence, and they will erupt in violence. If you were told that the Tea Party is about the economy, the taxes, the deficit, the immigrants, the politics, or anything like that, you've been deceived. Tea Partiers are people who are terrified of and confused by modernity. The world is changing, and they don't understand it any more. Internet, new technologies, globalization, world economy - everything is getting too complex for them. That's why they get together on their rallies and scream senseless slogans. That's why they adore their Sarah Palins who offer them simple slogans that seem to offer pithy explanations of incomprehensible realities.

Of course, the sound bites that their leaders offer them ("the best way to deal with a multi-billion deficit is making a budget," "immigrants get free healthcare in the US," "gays bad, abortion bad, taxes bad, guns good," "get the government out of my Medicaid and into that woman's uterus") only offer a momentary relief from the anxieties of modernity. When the burden of dealing with an incomprehensible world gets unbearable, these misfits of contemporary existence erupt in violence. They ram airplanes into the Twin Towers, blow up a truck in Oklahoma City, and start shooting into the crowd in Arizona

In the XXth century, two world wars were fought because the entrance into modernity was more painful for some people than for others. What happened in Arizona yesterday should remind us all about how violent people get when dragged into the modern way of being against their will. Of course, modernity will win in the end. The nature of time, which cannot be stopped in its tracks and frozen in immobility, is proof of that. In the meanwhile, though, modernity's discontents will wreak a lot of damage on everything and everybody they come in touch with.

Let me begin by congratulating Clarissa for not taking the more usual trite liberal attitude that modernity is radically transformative but that nothing is lost in the process. She admits that traditional identities and ways of life are being lost and that it is a deeply unsettling process for many people. She admits too that liberalism has imposed itself on society, against the wishes of many people.

Clarissa believes that the steep price of modernity is worth it, because people are "liberated" from traditional identities, thereby gaining greater individuality, more choices and the responsibility of making personal decisions.

Is she right? Is liberal modernity worth its steep price? I'd suggest the answer is no. First, if people are so traumatised by losing their identity and way of life, then how can it be considered liberating for them to suffer through it? Liberation usually suggests the lifting of a burden rather than the imposition of one.

Second, destroying traditional identities doesn't create a greater depth in individual thought or responsibility.

Look at what has happened in Sweden. The belief that people should "shape their own lives" has led the Swedish state to condemn traditional gender identities as being socially constructed and oppressive. And so the state is "mainstreaming" a unisex future in which men and women must have the same pattern of work and family life.

How does this represent an advance in people thinking for themselves? Swedes are being given just one option determined for them by the liberal state. And it is a less differentiated pattern of life than the traditional one.

If liberal modernity impoverishes the identity of individuals, if it takes away what once gave depth and meaning to our sense of who we are, then it does not and cannot improve our individuality. It is more likely to alienate us and to trivialise our existence.

Clarissa seems to believe that liberal modernity has given people free rein in what to think or believe. She overlooks the way that liberalism itself has become a state ideology, an orthodoxy that the young are indoctrinated in at school and university. It is likely that there were fewer restrictions on what people might think or say in the past than there are today.

And what of the claim that it is conservatives enraged by modernity who are responsible for outbreaks of political violence?

The record doesn't seem to back this claim. For a period of time, many political attacks were carried out by anarchists, a political group wanting a more radical version of modernity. There is a list here of such attacks, which included the assassinations of a Russian Tsar, a French President, two Spanish Prime Ministers, an Austrian Empress, a US President, an Italian King, a Russian Prime Minister and a Greek King.

In the 1970s and 80s, the radical Red Brigades were responsible for acts of political violence in Italy. In Germany, the Red Army Faction killed 34 people during its period of existence from the early 1970s to the late 1990s. In the US in the 1970s, the left-wing Symbionese Liberation Army killed two people. From the 1970s to the late 1980s, the Japanese Red Army carried out a dozen or more acts of political violence.

None of this fits Clarissa's theory that it is the instinct to political conservatism which is responsible for acts of political violence in the modern era.  She has forgotten the history of the radical moderns who sought to force revolutionary change on society. She hasn't worked left-wing violence into her theory.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jared Loughner: is the Christian right to blame?

It seems that the shooting in Tucson is going to be blamed on Christian, far-right, Tea Party, Palin supporters. Some even want it to be called an act of Christian terrorism (presumably to counterbalance criticism of Muslim terrorism).

On existing information this seems wildly off course (and not only because it's nonsense to describe either Palin or the Tea Party as far right). Here's what we know about the shooter, Jared Loughner, so far:
  • Catie Parker, a former classmate, said "As I knew him he was left wing, quite liberal & oddly obsessed with the 2012 prophecy." The 2012 prophecy is based on an ancient Mayan timeline predicting a cataclysmic event in December 2012.
  • He posted some videos on YouTube outlining his personal vision. This vision can't be described as either left or right wing. It consists of rambling ideas involving currency, grammar, conscience dreaming and mind control.
  • He was suspended from college and was not permitted to return until he obtained a mental health clearance. Class mates were fearful that he was mentally disturbed and might commit an act of violence.
  • He spoke to people about his marijuana habit and was picked up by the police for possession of drug paraphernalia.
  • Grant Wiens, who went to high school and college with Loughner said that Loughner used to speak critically about religion, and liked to smoke pot.
  • In one of his online rants, Loughner writes: "I’m a Nihilist, not someone who put who put trust in god!"
  • It's been reported that one of his YouTube videos shows him burning the US flag.
At this stage, it sounds like he had paranoid delusions, possibly brought on by his marijuana habit. I doubt if he will turn out to have a consistent set of political beliefs, except perhaps a distrust of the government. He seems to have been non-religious or even anti-religious rather than motivated by Christianity.

Lawrence Auster has some discussion on this issue at VFR here.

Update: those looking for clues to Jared Loughner's behaviour might like to consider his taste in music. According to a friend he used to listen to a left-wing American rock punk band called Anti-Flag.

The message of the Anti-Flag songs is that those in power in government are non-human corporate types using religion and flags to control people.

Although Anti-Flag take an anti-war line at times they also urge their fans toward violence when it comes to the government elite. For instance, they have a music video called "Kill the rich" (see here for the video and here for the lyrics).

In the lyrics we get themes of mind control and violence ("put the trigger to the man").

A billionaire chatting with his friends
They've gotta stop and laugh
"We've really got those suckers fooled,
We've gotta 'em trained like rats!"

The riches plot, control your thoughts, to make you blame yourself
"The rich are rich because they're smarter than me.."
You're taught this is right, that it's your fault


They throw a war like a party saying,
"It's for a moral cause.."
Telling you if you're a patriot that


You burn a flag, you're gonna hang,
Brainwashed nationalism makes you a tool
They're getting rich by selling weapons to both countries,
You never think to question what you're told!


They're gonna give you nothing
They want to take way the little they call something
You know you're being used still you play along
If you're not complacent,
You're doing something wrong
One day they'll push to far

That marks the beginning of their end
We'll being them crashing down until they're all dead
They're all dead, they're all dead!
The time is growing near..
Put the trigger to the man...
Ok, let's go, kill 'em!


Here are some Anti-Flag lyrics from a song "We want to be free":

The schools that they send us to are prisons
The same can be said for their churches too
I don't want my mind or my arms tied in bondage
I don't want to be another cloned state tool

Anyway, here we have a leftist influence on Jared Loughner, one that might have fed ideas of mind control, flag burning, hostility to religion and violent hostility to those in power.

Update 2: Another Anti-Flag lyric, this time from "Want an Anarchy"

They call the U.S a free country well,
it's not it and you know it.
It's nothing but facism, capitalism, and fear.
They're lying and we're crying out to everyone here.
There are laws against the cubans, there are laws against the gays.
We can fight back, we can fight back!
There is freedom of religion, we can choose any of them all,
We can fight back, we can fight back!
But the christians rule this country and the priests are above the law.

We want an Anarchy!
We won't take, no we won't take!
We want an Anarchy!
We won't fight back, we will fight.

Again, the anti-Christianity comes out here and also an identification with anarchism.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

A Swede rebels

Is there resistance in Sweden to state-imposed feminism? I'm pleased to report that I've found at least one objector. Her name is Tanja Bergkvist, she's a mother of young children and she has a PhD in mathematics.

I'm a bit reliant on google translator for understanding her articles, but it's possible to get the gist of what she's arguing. For instance, in 2008 she wrote an article for a Swedish newspaper in which she criticised gender researchers who claimed that playgrounds were sexist and therefore harmful to children.

Tanja Bergqvist's response was to wonder how humanity managed to survive for thousands of years before the arrival of the gender researchers. She wondered if it would soon be thought better to take children from parents at birth and hand them over to be raised in gender neutral indoctrination centres.

She noted that already in preschools hero stories and dolls had been removed and that during gymnastics girls weren't allowed to wear feminine outfits but instead dressed like boys in T-shirts and shorts.

She asked how it fitted into official diversity policy that girls weren't allowed to express themselves differently to boys and what kind of message it sent to girls that it was the girl's clothing that was disallowed.

She then cut to the heart of things by asserting that gender roles are not only hardwired (genetic), but that they have played a positive role in human development. The difference in gender roles shouldn't be thought of as a problem if they are equally valued.

Boy and girl babies already show differences in play, she continued, which is evidence that such differences are natural rather than socially constructed. The aim of making play gender neutral is therefore unlikely to be practicable. What if girls prefer to pick flowers and boys to collect rocks? Would the authorities then act to remove such gender-encoded items from the forests?

You can see, I think, even given the limitations imposed by the translation, that Tanja Bergqvist is making some serious and principled objections to the state sponsored feminism in Sweden (there's more at her website here).

She is certainly up against it. In Sweden the government has adopted a policy of gender mainstreaming. That means that all government agencies must take part in transforming Swedish society along the lines of feminist patriarchy theory. Here is Jens Orback explaining the Swedish approach to the UN back in 2006:

Our work for gender equality is governed by our understanding that a gender-based power structure exists, meaning that we see that women are subordinate to men and that this is something we want to change. To be successful in making these changes we must ensure that a gender perspective is present in all policy areas. The gender mainstreaming strategy is therefore essential if we want to achieve a gender equal society.

In 2004 Lise Bergh had this to say to the UN on behalf of Sweden:

Equality between women and men, girls and boys demands no less than a fundamental change of society. Our societal, political and cultural institutions, be they public or private, must be changed. In every field of life and whenever women and men are affected by political reforms and decisions, a gender perspective must be the point of departure. All political issues have gender implications and gender equality must therefore be addressed wherever political decisions are taken or resources allocated and wherever norms, rules and values are set.
Yvonne Hirdman

And what does this radical change the Swedes are determined to implement involve exactly? You can get some idea of the answer in a training document, the Gender Mainstreaming Manual. This explains that Swedish officials are to be trained in a concept of gender equality drawn from a little known Swedish historian by the name of Yvonne Hirdman (p.15)

Hirdman doesn't use the term patriarchy, but refers instead to "the gender system". She believes that the gender system influences all the structures of society and is perpetuated through "segregation" (men and women doing different things) and "hierarchy" (men being considered the human norm).

So, logically, if you follow this theory of gender equality you have to change the structures of society so that there is a unisex system instead of a differentiated one.

Imagine you were an official in some Swedish government agency. This is what would await you:

Before gender mainstreaming work begins, all staff must acquire a basic understanding of Swedish gender equality policy and the gender mainstreaming strategy. The training they receive should encompass gender equality and gender theory, Swedish gender equality policy and the mainstreaming strategy. (Gender Mainstreaming Manual, p.13)

Fun times.

Anyway, if the Swedish state has its way then society will be deliberately and systematically transformed so that gender will no longer matter. There will be no differences in the work and family patterns of men and women; men and women will remain independent of each other; and there will be (in theory) equal autonomy ("the same power to shape their own lives" p.15).

Tanja Bergqvist is one woman throwing cold water on the plan. She believes that sex distinctions are natural and hardwired; that they serve a useful purpose in the development of human society; and that the Swedish state is being intrusive in its zeal to overcome gender.

And I'm with Tanja. Masculinity and femininity are real qualities which are rightly expressed in patterns of human relationships. Our "power to shape our own life" is impoverished if something as important as our sex is disallowed as a functioning component of our lives. And men and women are made for interdependent relationships rather than for a unisex independence.

Finally, it should be crystal clear to anyone who merely glances through the Gender Mainstreaming Manual, that a liberal state like Sweden is not neutral. It runs according to a very specific state ideology that is systematically implemented through state agencies. Nor is this a moderate and benign ideology; its own proponents agree that it is a radical policy aimed at a "fundamental change of society".

The liberal mask is well and truly off in Sweden.

Liz, you can't have contradictory things

Liz Jones is a particularly clueless specimen of the New Woman. She wants things to fall in place just as she'd like them to, without thinking through how that might happen.

Take a recent incident in her life in which her BMW broke down. She was stranded and upset. None of the young men who passed by stopped to help her and a few even abused her. And so she is upset that young men are no longer chivalrous and lack the masculine code of their forefathers:

Let me tell you, dear ladies: the age of chivalry is dead...

It is young men — up to the age of 40 — who behave like louts.

I had thought it was just my ex-husband who used to allow me to put petrol in the car while he sat warm in the passenger seat, but if my ­experience yesterday ­morning is anything to go by, it’s a generational phenomenon.

As Top Gear’s James May said this week, young men have lost their masculinity, in that they can no longer fix things. And this loss of manners is far worse.

Young working British men: you should be ashamed.

Did this sort of foul-mouthed male really win us the war? We don’t need more aircraft ­carriers, we need men who are not rude, ignorant pigs

Liz Jones never stops to consider why this transformation might have occurred. Why would an older generation of men have behaved with concern and courtesy toward women whilst the younger one doesn't?

Could it be because of the behaviour of women like Liz Jones herself? Here, for instance, is how Liz Jones describes her treatment of men who do try to take care of her BMW:
I still, to this day, whenever I am told my BMW needs a new tyre, say, yell at the hapless man serving me: 'You wouldn't dare treat me this way if I were a man!'

As for her husband, she expected him to be a new man, in touch with his feelings, who would take a back seat to her as an independent woman:

New men, metrosexual men, men who are in touch with their feelings, who are willing to take a back seat, supporting and nurturing you, don't exist.

They might pretend to be able to cope with you but they are, instead, storing up anger and will hate you for being fabulous, for being independent, for not needing them in your life but just wanting them to be there.

No wonder hubby sat in the car while Liz got the petrol. He was, after all, expected to "take a back seat" in the marriage.

Liz Jones can't have it both ways. She can't behave like a harpy toward men and then expect that men will be inspired to treat women with chivalry and courtesy. Nor can she proclaim that women don't need men and that men should learn to live with this and become nurturing metrosexuals, whilst at the same time collapsing in tears when her car breaks down and no traditionally masculine man stops to help her.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The Lila Manifesto

What was the ideal of communist East Germany?

Back in 1989 when the former Soviet bloc was breaking up, a group of 1000 women in East Berlin met together and formed an Autonomous Women's Association. This association issued a "Lila Manifesto" (lila being a German word for purple). The manifesto declared:

In the GDR the ideal of a socialist society of self-determining and self-creating women, men, and children was sacrificed to a social concept in which people were subordinated to economic premises...

So according to these women, most of whom would have spent their entire lives as members of a socialist state, the ideal of the communist GDR was ... the same as that of the liberal West, namely to establish a society of self-determining and self-creating autonomous individuals.

The East German women thought that this ideal hadn't been met under communism. The East German state had allowed the traditional family to continue as a means to improve birth rates and economic performance. That meant that instead of being "self-creating", men and women continued to follow distinct gender roles.

It seems to me, looking at things in a larger historical context, that the Swedes have taken the ideals of the East German state much further than the East Germans ever managed to do. Swedish left-liberalism has proven to be a more radical vehicle for modernist ideals. What the East German women demanded in their Lila Manifesto, the Swedish state is intent on delivering.

That's not to say that there is no difference in approach between communism and liberalism (Jim Kalb has a theory on such differences here), but both clearly share some fundamental attributes.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Gerry Harvey makes an hilariously funny accusation

Gerry Harvey runs a very successful retail chain here in Australia. But he has a small problem. Something like 2% of goods are now being bought more cheaply online from overseas companies. Harvey's response? He has accused the online buyers of being unAustralian and has urged them to accept paying more in the national interest:

Retail king Gerry Harvey says online shoppers buying bargains from overseas should accept paying more for the good of the country...

He said such shoppers would pay a far higher price in the long run because of lost jobs and a weaker Australian economy...

"Yes, you might have to pay more, but it's the right thing to do."

I burst out laughing when I read this. People are just amazing at times. Just a few years ago, Gerry Harvey was pushing a very different line. He was arguing that he had the right to bring in immigrant workers and pay them half of the going rate:

Billionaire retailer Gerry Harvey says Australia needs a two-tier wage system to allow employers to pay foreign guest workers less than locals...

He called on the Federal Government to allow foreign workers on fixed visas to form a second tier to the labour market.

"Australia doesn't have cheap labour. Many overseas workers would be prepared to move here for a much better life and half the money Australians earn," he said...

"I've got horse studs and it's difficult to get staff.

Mr Harvey said both major parties needed to open the gates to migrants.

"The US can draw on a lot of cheap labour from Mexico and South America," he said...

"European countries can draw on cheap labour from eastern Europe.

"What I'm saying is not politically correct.

"You won't get politicians saying what I'm saying, but privately they know this sort of thing is a reality in the future."

So where was his concern to "pay more because it's the right thing to do" back then? Where was his concern for unAustralian activities? Where was his concern for the good of Australian workers?

The only thing Gerry Harvey cares about is the bottom line. His nation is his business company.

And, seriously, if he wants Australians to show loyalty to the interests of his company, then it might be wise for him to begin to show a little bit of loyalty to us in return.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Is it the other way round?

You often hear the argument that Europe needs mass immigration to offset its ageing population. The immigrants, it is thought, will work to pay the pensions of the elderly Europeans.

But is that really how it's panning out? One of the wikileaks revelations is that 24% of Muslim men in the UK and 21% of Muslim women are living off disability pensions. At the same time, the UK Government has announced plans to raise the retirement age, over time, to 68 for both men and women.

In many cases, therefore, it will be older Britons who will be working longer in life to fund the pensions paid to younger immigrants. The situation will be the very reverse of that portrayed by the open borders lobby.

There's some other interesting data on this issue presented here. For instance:
  • It would take vast levels of immigration to maintain the current age ratio in Europe. The population of the UK, for instance, would have to rise from 59 million in 2005 to 136 million by 2050.
  • The problem of funding retirees is not that great anyway. In the UK, it would require a rise in the percentage of GDP devoted to state pensions from 6.2% to 8.5% of GDP.
  • This extra cost would be offset by not having to pay the infrastructure costs associated with mass immigration.
  • The immigrants themselves would eventually have to have their own pensions funded. Would hundreds of millions of extra migrants then have to be brought in to do this? Are we talking here of a population pyramid scam?

Sunday, January 02, 2011

What is driving the marriage debate?

What kinds of ideas are driving the debate on marriage and family?

Consider the recent feature article penned by Deirdre Macken for the Australian Financial Review, a respectable paper read by the wealthy commercial classes. ("All kinds of families are gathering," AFR, 23-28/12/2010)

Macken begins with the issue of gay marriage. Should the definition of marriage and family include gay spouses? This is how Macken thinks through the issue:

The debate over gay marriage that occupied the last months of the year was not just a battle for the rights of gay couples. It was a battle over family. For gay couples, it was the right to be accepted as equals around the Christmas table. For social conservatives, it was a battle to keep family tight and traditional. For most people, it was a reflection of the idea that family is an endlessly creative social project.

Can you see where this is heading? Macken is going to apply liberal autonomy theory to this issue. That’s the idea that what matters is being able to self-define our existence. By the logic of this theory, the traditional family will be looked on negatively as being “restrictive,” as it has a fixed and stable character that we don’t invent for ourselves. On the other hand, the idea of gay spouses will seem appealing, regardless of what we might think of gay spouses, because it breaks down a stable definition of family life. It contributes to the idea of family as “an endlessly creative social project”.

Gay marriage, in other words, becomes useful as a kind of battering ram to “modernise” (i.e. liberalise) the family.

Now, conservatives often argue against gay marriage on the grounds that it undermines any stable definition of marriage and family. But that won’t cut any ice with liberals, since that is exactly what liberals are aiming at. Macken makes it very clear in her article that what matters for her is to replace a “restrictive” conservative definition of marriage with an open-ended one.

So she approvingly quotes the executive director of Family Relationship Services Australia, Sam Page, in this loose definition of family:

The definition I like now is whoever you share your toothpaste with, that’s your family.

And she chooses as well to include this argument in support of gay marriage made by Sharon Dane, a researcher in social psychology at the University of Queensland:

It is a fight for family because it [gay marriage] will change family. Some people have said, why enter such a paternalistic, rigid institution like marriage but by entering it they are taking marriage away from that patriarchal control and effectively modernising the family.

Macken also chooses to end her article with a quote from Dane. Note again the ideological bias: gay marriage is welcomed not because of what it is but because it is seen to help the cause of liberal autonomy by breaking down the “restrictive” traditional family:

Law [a gay activist] jokes that families are better behaved at Christmas if they are forced to mix with others … some experts believe that what works for the individual family also works for the national family.

That is, they say that extending the social boundaries of family also makes for a civilising influence on an institution that has traditionally been seen as rigid.

Says Dane: “If institutions don’t keep evolving then fewer people will do it but marriage is evolving. More people want to be part of it because it’s seen as a celebration, it’s not seen as a restriction and, even though the institution is changing, it’s also becoming stronger because of that.”

A typical liberal flourish there at the end. Marriage has been reduced to nothing more than a “celebration” (what’s that supposed to mean when the baby is crying at 3am?) but not to worry, it will become “stronger because of that,” i.e. we’re supposed to believe that nothing at all has been lost by making marriage anything you want it to be.

And what about divorce? If the aim is to break down the “rigid” traditional family, in favour of choosing family arrangements for ourselves, then divorce won’t seem to be such a bad thing. It adds another realm of choice, another realm of complexity, more possible permutations and combinations of family arrangements.

And so Macken turns to another liberal family expert for the right quote:

A family law specialist, Caroline Counsel, agrees that “separation does not destroy family, it just means that parents are geographically located in different areas … Counsel specialises in collaborative practice, where couples are encouraged to agree on how the post-marriage family should operate. These agreements are often broader and more creative than ones that go through the courts…

“The courts haven’t led on this, they have been followers but there is scope for them to become leaders because it’s evident that families can be anything they choose to be.

Pure, undiluted, liberal autonomy theory. Divorce here is treated as a creative process of self-definition, that rearranges family rather than harming it.

Who might object? Macken goes on to give an example of a clash between the old and the new:

However, it’s not evident to everyone that families can be anything they choose to be. In the battle between supporters of the traditional family and supporters of a modernised family, one of the more interesting stoushes happened at the annual conference of Family Relationship Services Australia in November.

In brief, FRS decided to have as their keynote speaker a gay activist, Benjamin Law. After his speech he was approached by Margaret Andrews, the wife of conservative politician Kevin Andrews. She told Law that he shouldn’t come to conferences on family and attack traditional families like hers.

Macken is on the opposite side of the fence to me, but she does intelligently lay out what the key issues are. The core concern of liberals like her is not what homosexual marriage might mean in itself. It’s that homosexual marriage (and divorce) fits in with the “modernisation” of family, by which she means the open-ended definition of family to mean anything we want it to mean.

As I mentioned earlier, the result is that we can’t as conservatives simply complain that liberals are redefining marriage so loosely that it can mean anything. That’s exactly the point for liberals. It’s better if we go a step further and criticise the liberal project of making autonomy the prime directive of modern life.

We can also pick up liberals on their claim that nothing will be harmed in the process, that you can have all the goods of traditional family life at the same time that you redefine family to mean anything at all.

It's not difficult to criticise liberals for this. Isn’t it the case, for instance, that the high divorce rate is discouraging young people from committing to marriage? And isn’t it true that young men are questioning the value of marriage, when the role and the rights of men in marriage are so poorly defined and defended?

The irony is that if you make marriage and family a free-for-all, in the cause of autonomous choice, you aren’t likely to give people what they really want or need.

Liberals like Macken want this autonomy, but they don’t want to admit that there might be losses involved. So they make trite claims that family can only be strengthened by making the definition of family almost meaningless (“whoever you share a toothbrush with”).