Monday, October 31, 2011

Feminists for polygamy

OK, so Kate Bolick writes a lengthy article confessing that she cannot make up her mind between autonomy and intimacy - leaving her single in her late 30s.

I've posted a couple of traditionalist replies to this, but how would a feminist respond to Kate Bolick?

Jessica Mack is a feminist who is critical of Kate Bolick for suggesting that women can't have it all: Mack insists that you can have intimacy without compromising autonomy. But what exactly does this mean? How can you retain a freedom to choose however you like whilst still committing yourself to a relationship?

Mack offers several suggestions. First, she thinks one option is to have open relationships:

Sex columnist Dan Savage has written for decades about the pragmatism of non-monogamy in making marriages work. Feminists often, and rightly, decry the double standard that men can sleep around, while women cannot. Savage suggests that rectifying this is not about confining men to fidelity, but rather encouraging women to break out and explore. I may be out on a licentious limb here, but I would argue that the concept of non-monogamy will be the biggest relationship issue we will grapple with in our time.

I wonder if Jessica Mack would suggest this if she weren't 28 and childless. If she were 38 with a few children in tow she might not think giving her husband/partner free rein to roam such a good idea. Anyway, open relationships might well preserve a measure of choice, but most likely at the expense of intimacy.

Jessica Mack's second suggestion is even more noteworthy. She thinks that polygamy might extend autonomous choice, presumably by not limiting us to just one spouse:

Disruption is also afoot in the west of the US where Kody Brown, a friendly polygamist, is filming a reality show about his life with four wives and 16 children. Brown recently launched an historic lawsuit to challenge Utah's bigamy laws. Earlier this summer the Browns' lawyer penned a stellar op-ed laying out a logical and nearly irresistible argument for polygamy as a viable relationship model.

So Jessica Mack the feminist believes that the argument for polygamy as a viable relationship model is "nearly irresistible". I wonder what the average married woman thinks of this and whether feminists like Mack really represent their interests.

You can see why polygamy is connected to autonomy - it means that we aren't limited to marrying one person. But from reading feminist commentary elsewhere, there's possibly another reason why polygamy appeals to some feminists. If you aren't committed to being a wife and mother, then those roles might seem too demanding. You might think that having more than one woman in the house to share the role would lessen the burden and allow you to do other things. But here too greater autonomy is still at the expense of intimacy - it is motivated by a lesser commitment to the relationship.

Her third suggestion is the usual liberal one of replacing a single form of marriage with a plurality or diversity of forms, so that you get to autonomously choose which one to participate in. Each form is thought to be equally valid:

Young women need to know that intimacy doesn't have to be a casualty of autonomy, and that sometimes it actually develops as a result...In order to move forward constructively, we need a multiplicity of relationship models to inspire and reassure us. We need trans couples on TV, we need non-monogamy champions, we need people married 40-plus years like my parents, and we need Stevie Nicks who, at 62, is purposefully single so that she can "always be free".

Note though that it's the purposefully single Stevie Nicks who gets to claim the mantle of freedom fighter. I wonder too if Jessica Mack really understands the commitment it takes from a husband to remain monogamous. A traditional marriage like her parents isn't a likely outcome in a society which champions non-monogamy. Chances are that Jessica Mack is helping to take away the one choice that most women really want to have.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Remoralising men

Grerp at The Lost Art of Self-Preservation has written an excellent post on Kate Bolick.

Kate Bolick is the American woman who admitted that she had been brought up by her feminist mother to pursue autonomy above all else and so rejected offers of marriage from suitable men when in her late 20s. Now, in her late 30s, she finds that there are no more suitable men and so she has begun to talk up the idea of remaining a single lady.

Grerp doesn't think this is much of an option for most women. She points out that not all women are suited to a life of rugged independence:

The fact is, most women aren't very much like Bolick at all - which is why most women want to get married, because subconsciously they know, despite all the feminist propaganda that portrays marriage as a one-way trap to stifling, abused servitude, that marriage is a good deal for women. Women are smaller, weaker, more risk averse, more comfort seeking, and are rarely the kind of trail-blazing, money-making geniuses who can sit alone atop a heap of money and adulation. Almost all of them will eventually want babies too which will make them physically, emotionally, and financially more vulnerable than women like Bolick.

She could be describing my wife. My wife likes the comforts of home and of domestic routine, she is oriented to being a mother and caring for her children and, although she did support herself for many years, she doesn't handle the stress of work burdens well. Our marriage works well because my own instinct is to create a protected space for her to create a home in - but more on that later.

Grerp then goes on to look at the "We are the 99%" protesters. She finds, as I did, that many are women who feel anxious and insecure about their lives:

One of the themes that emerges from the We Are the 99 Percent posts is fear/anxiety. Over and over the posters, the majority of which are women, say they are scared. They don't know what is going to happen. They fear for the future if the government doesn't swoop in with the jobs, the debt forgiveness, and the free healthcare. The fact is that women are already the biggest users of the social safety net in terms of welfare, food stamps, WIC, subsidized housing, childcare vouchers, etc. Since they are largely covered for at least the basics of food and housing, what they are essentially demanding, then, is the eradication of risk. All risk.

While the economic situation is very complex, the timing of this tremendous outpouring of fear and despair is not coincidental. We are now at least three generations deep into the destruction of the traditional family. Boomer women came from intact families many of which would provide backup if and when they crashed and burned in their youth. Gen X women had a more fractured family landscape, but previous recessions were not as dire and grandparents often pitched in. Millenials, on the other hand, may come from a family tree with hardly an intact branch. Their Boomer parents can't afford to aid them because they need their own help. Forty percent of Boomer women are single and hardly any of them are adequately prepared for retirement.

That's well observed. I know that in my life I haven't had to feel a high level of insecurity because I grew up in a culture in which every family had a hard working father who built up economic resources. My father and uncles all did this, as did my father-in-law. So there is always family support to fall back on in a crisis. But if you were a single woman without the prospect of such family support you would no doubt feel more vulnerable.

But rather than looking to men to provide security, these women seem to think it can be provided either by the state or else by taking money from the well-off. They're not focused on how wealth in a society is generated to begin with.

Grerp next quotes the Facebook page of a 40-year-old woman who is upset that the men she knows aren't good at providing security:

Boys play house...Men build homes!!! Boys shack up...Men get married!!! Boys make babies...Men raise children!!! A boy won't raise his own children, a man will raise his and someone else's!!! Boys invent excuses for failure...Men produce strategies for success!!! Boys look for somebody to take care of them...Men look for someone to take care of!!! Boys seek popularity...Men demand respect and know how to give it..BOYS DO WHAT THEY WANT, MEN DO WHAT THEY CAN & MORE!

But as Grerp points out, it's no use a 40-year-old woman with three children from two different men suddenly demanding that a traditional man step in to look after her:

The woman who posted it has three children from two different men.  She is stuck in a mediocre paying, dead-end job.  She divorced her first husband because marriage wasn't fun, then shacked up with a series of less and less stable men until she threw the last mooching bum out a year or so ago.  She is 40.  Now she is seriously looking for Mr. Right and says she won't settle for anything less because she's worth it.  The handwriting on her wall was written nearly a decade ago when she had her second and then third illegitimate child: life-long poverty.

A few weeks ago I went for a walk along Mary Street, Hawthorn. It's a particularly well-preserved part of that heritage suburb of Melbourne and I am always struck by its particular spirit of place. You get the sense of it having grown as a protected community: a place full of beautiful family homes, an attractive high street, and fine churches, schools, public buildings and parks. The men who built Hawthorn in its heyday succeeded in creating a protected space within which a community with its own local flavour and life could flourish.

That is the higher male calling, but one from which modern men are largely alienated. There are certainly still many men who work hard to keep their families afloat financially, but not so many who would identify as men with the task of shielding a real, historic community to allow the communal life within it to live on.

What went wrong? There are no doubt many reasons, but a critical one relates to the first wave of feminism in the mid to late 1800s. Until that time, men were responsible for the protective role I have been trying to describe. But the demands of first wave feminism implied, logically, that there was no such distinctively male role - and so over time the male commitment to such a role withered.

And something similar might be said of the second and third waves of feminism - that the demands of these movements undercut the idea of a distinctively masculine role within the family - with the likelihood that the male commitment to a husband and father role will also decline over time.

If a society is going to prosper it has to draw on the higher masculine instincts to create the protected conditions in which families and communities can flourish. The men of that society have to know, unmistakeably, that that is the higher task they are called upon to achieve. Female talents can be drawn on in all sorts of ways, but never to the point that men lose the sense of what they are charged with accomplishing.

That is a great mistake the West has made, and continues to make - it has demoralised and alienated its own men. If we are to be an effective counterculture we have to include, as part of our conversation, the remoralising of Western men.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke

C.J. Dennis
During World War I the Australian poet C.J. Dennis published a book of verse titled The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke. It's about a Melbourne "larrikin" named Bill who meets a girl, Doreen, and who gives up his wayward life to become a husband and father.

It was a popular book of verse in its time. In the following stanzas, Bill reflects on what is worthwhile in life:
This ev'nin' I was sittin' wiv Doreen,
Peaceful an' 'appy wiv the day's work done,
Watchin', be'ind the orchard's bonzer green,
The flamin' wonder of the settin' sun.

Another day gone by; another night
Creepin' along to douse Day's golden light;
Another dawning when the night is gone,
To live an' love -- an' so life mooches on.

Times I 'ave thought, when things was goin' crook,
When 'Ope turned nark an' Love forgot to smile,
Of somethin' I once seen in some old book
Where an ole sorehead arsts, "Is life worf w'ile?"

But in that stillness, as the day grows dim,
An' I am sittin' there wiv 'er an' 'im--
My wife, my son! an' strength in me to strive,
I only know -- it's good to be alive!

It seems that back in 1916 it was still the case that a poet would express a spiritual response to nature and a sense of fulfilment in family. These themes are repeated in these lines of the poem:
But when the moon comes creepin' o'er the hill,
An' when the mopoke calls along the creek,
I takes me cup o' joy an' drinks me fill,
An' arsts meself wot better could I seek.

An' ev'ry song I 'ear the thrushes sing
That everlastin' message seems to bring;
An' ev'ry wind that whispers in the trees
Gives me the tip there ain't no joys like these:

Livin' an' loving wand'rin' on yeh way;
Reapin' the 'arvest of a kind deed done;
An' watching in the sundown of yer day,
Yerself again, grown nobler in yer son.

Bill's love of his wife features too in this stanza:

An' I am rich, becos me eyes 'ave seen
The lovelight in the eyes of my Doreen;
An' I am blest, becos me feet 'ave trod
A land 'oo's fields reflect the smile o' God.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Truro Cathedral

Here is an achievement worth noting. Truro is a town in Cornwall, England, with a population of only 21,000. But it boasts a magnificent cathedral.

So is this something created in the distant past? In fact, the cathedral was begun in 1880 and completed in 1910. So only about a century ago the English were still adding such magnificent buildings to their nation's heritage.

The architect responsible was John Loughborough Pearson.

Pearson designed many churches including St Augustine's in London, the interior of which is shown below:

I wasn't able to find a good photo of the interior of Truro Cathedral, but you get an idea of how fine it is from the following YouTube clip:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Kate Bolick tells us why

Kate Bolick
Kate Bolick is the latest in a spate of women to regret leaving marriage to so late in life. Her explanation of what went wrong is well worth reading.

She begins by noting that she had a terrific chance to marry in her late 20s, which she turned down:

In 2001, when I was 28, I broke up with my boyfriend. Allan and I had been together for three years, and there was no good reason to end things. He was (and remains) an exceptional person, intelligent, good-looking, loyal, kind. My friends, many of whom were married or in marriage-track relationships, were bewildered.

Why would she do that? Her answer is twofold: the autonomy theory she was brought up on led her to prioritise independence over relationships, and she assumed that there would always be men for her to partner with.

Let's begin with the assumption that there would always be eligible men seeking her out. Kate Bolick is a very physically attractive woman. She describes how in her 20s she managed easily to pursue serial long-term relationships with men:

Today I am 39, with too many ex-boyfriends to count and, I am told, two grim-seeming options to face down: either stay single or settle for a “good enough” mate. At this point, certainly, falling in love and getting married may be less a matter of choice than a stroke of wild great luck. A decade ago, luck didn’t even cross my mind. I’d been in love before, and I’d be in love again. This wasn’t hubris so much as naïveté; I’d had serious, long-term boyfriends since my freshman year of high school, and simply couldn’t envision my life any differently.

...That we would marry, and that there would always be men we wanted to marry, we took on faith.

Despite the advantage of her good looks, she now doesn't have the pick of men but feels she must settle. Where have all the "good men" gone? She observes: women have climbed ever higher, men have been falling behind. We’ve arrived at the top of the staircase, finally ready to start our lives, only to discover a cavernous room at the tail end of a party, most of the men gone already, some having never shown up—and those who remain are leering by the cheese table, or are, you know, the ones you don’t want to go out with.

Most of the men have already married, others have dropped out. And fewer suitable man are available anyway as women have pushed up the career ladder, with many of their male peers losing the motivation to do likewise. (Note the language Kate Bolick uses: "finally ready to start our lives". In her mind her 20s were just a kind of play life - a wait until her real life could finally begin in her 30s. But why delay your real life for so long?)

Bolick does recognise here the major issue that as women do increasingly better in education and careers than men that it becomes more difficult for women to marry up:

the decline of males has obviously been ... bad news for marriage. For all the changes the institution has undergone, American women as a whole have never been confronted with such a radically shrinking pool of what are traditionally considered to be “marriageable” men—those who are better educated and earn more than they do. So women are now contending with what we might call the new scarcity ... the new scarcity disrupts what economists call the “marriage market” in a way that in fact narrows the available choices, making a good man harder to find than ever. At the rate things are going, the next generation’s pool of good men will be significantly smaller. What does this portend for the future of the American family?

Bolick is aware, too, that as her youth and fertility decline that she is losing ground in the dating market to younger women:

I am fully aware that with each passing year, I become less attractive to the men in my peer group, who have plenty of younger, more fertile women to pick from.

All of these are important and meaty issues which are covered very well at various sites on the net. But the other part of Kate Bolick's explanation is rarely dealt with, perhaps because it requires a more fundamental rethink of modern values.

Kate Bolick tells us very clearly that she was raised to prioritise individual autonomy. And the logic of autonomy was that she should remain independent for as long as possible.

...the elevation of independence over coupling (“I wasn’t ready to settle down”) is a second-wave feminist idea I’d acquired from my mother...

I was her first and only recruit, marching off to third grade in tiny green or blue T-shirts declaring: A Woman Without a Man Is Like a Fish Without a Bicycle, or: A Woman’s Place Is in the House—and the Senate, and bellowing along to Gloria Steinem & Co.’s feminist-minded children’s album, Free to Be...You and Me... future was to be one of limitless possibilities...This unfettered future was the promise of my time and place...We took for granted that we’d spend our 20s finding ourselves, whatever that meant, and save marriage for after we’d finished graduate school and launched our careers, which of course would happen at the magical age of 30.

Limitless possibilities. An unfettered future. No restrictions on what can be autonomously chosen. Someone brought up to believe in this isn't going to think seriously about how our choices need to be ordered and about how a workable framework to society needs to be organised and maintained.

Here again Kate Bolick writes about her prioritising of independence over love:

When I embarked on my own sojourn as a single woman in New York wasn’t dating I was after. I was seeking something more vague and, in my mind, more noble, having to do with finding my own way, and independence.

She continues later by praising the Mosuo in China for their matrilineal culture in which there is no stable marriage commitment:

The matrilineal Mosuo are worth pausing on, as a reminder of how complex family systems can be, and how rigid ours are...For centuries, the Mosuo have lived in households that revolve around the women...

Sexual relations are kept separate from family. At night, a Mosuo woman invites her lover to visit her babahuago (flower room)...there are no expectations or rules. As Cai Hua, a Chinese anthropologist, explains, these relationships, which are known as açia, are founded on each individual’s autonomy, and last only as long as each person is in the other’s company. Every goodbye is taken to be the end of the açia relationship, even if it resumes the following night. “There is no concept of açia that applies to the future,” Hua says.

But the really important quote is this one:

In the months leading to my breakup with Allan, my problem, as I saw it, lay in wanting two incompatible states of being—autonomy and intimacy...
This is what she sees as her problem. This is why she dropped the man she might have married and had children with. And she is right - autonomy and intimacy (i.e. autonomy and committed love) are incompatible. You have to decide on how to order them: do you sacrifice a measure of your autonomy to enjoy the good of marital love? Or do you reject a stable relationship to maintain autonomy?

Most of us decide that the fulfilment of a good marriage and having children is the higher good. But Kate Bolick, having been raised from girlhood to value autonomy above all else, has never been able to come to this decision decisively.

She is still caught in a kind of limbo in wanting both things. This is clear in her writing in which she jumps from regrets about not having married and her missed opportunities to ideas about marriage being a false historical construct to be replaced by more flexible living arrangements.

Her current compromise appears to be a desire to find a community of women to find companionship with. That is probably one of the worst options she could take.

Anyway, the larger lesson is that there are losses in making autonomy the overriding good in society. We can certainly value autonomy, but it's wrong to think of it as the highest, ordering principle of society.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I meet a serious left-liberal

I've had the chance lately to get to know a seriously political young left-liberal. What have I learnt from the experience? Mostly that it's not easy holding together a left-liberal politics.

One of the cornerstones of his thinking is that there are no true group differences, not between nations or races or sexes. We are all of us interchangeable, whether we are men or women, or Swedes or Kenyans.

But to keep this line of thought going requires a whole series of other explanatory beliefs, most of which strain the limits of credibility. And this must be a crushing weight to have to carry around mentally.

In part, my left-liberal acquaintance argues that claims about group differences are merely stereotypes. He often argues too that they are the result of white racism. But he reaches further than this. He is so focused on the idea that group differences are false, that he lurches into all kinds of historical revisionism, e.g. the idea that whites stole technology from the Asians who in turn stole it from the Africans.

There's this whole edifice of claims (e.g. that race does not exist, that women are as physically strong as men etc) propping up the denial of difference. And sometimes he seems to tire of running with these arguments, and he will then relax into some more bluntly realistic assessment of things - he doesn't find it easy to maintain the pose.

It's a vulnerability of left-liberalism. The principle of group equality is so absolute, that it seems to be difficult for left-liberals to admit, for instance, that whites or Asians created a more developed level of civilisation. So there's a furious intellectual pedalling to explain away the "false appearance" of difference, which involves a whole series of claims about social constructs, racism, and history.

The end result is a theory that has to be over-developed and that must consume a fair bit of energy to hold together. It's not difficult to see the potential for it to come crashing down.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cameron against open borders?

British PM David Cameron has given a major speech on immigration. The gist of it is that he wants to bring immigration levels back under control and to focus on those who are likely to contribute to the British economy.

The speech is worth reading, if only because Cameron details some of the rorts in the system. Parts of the speech I found most interesting include these excerpts:

...there's no doubt that badly controlled immigration has compounded the failure of our welfare system and allowed governments and employers to carry on with the waste of people stuck on welfare when they should be working.

...the very term "Points Based System" has proved to be misleading. The rhetoric implies that each and every potential migrant is carefully and individually assessed with only those scoring the most points able to enter the country. But the reality was very different. Instead of a system of points for individuals there were a range of low minimum thresholds where anyone who met them was automatically entitled to come, almost on a self-selection basis, to work and study and in many cases bring dependants.

...The reality was that someone with a modest salary and a Bachelor's degree in any subject from any college in the world could come over here and do any job they liked. And of course the system was a magnet for fraudsters. Plenty never found work at all. One study showed that about a third of those sampled only found low skilled roles working as shop assistants, in takeaways and as security guards.

...Take the next tier - Tier 2, for migrants coming here who actually did have job offers. Large numbers of this group were actually coming to do low-level work which many people have rightly felt those on welfare should be trained for but which instead went to migrants.

...It's a system where migrants got the choice to come, rather than us having the choice of migrants. And it's a system which was totally unfair which people rightly feel added to the sense that "something for nothing" was the order of the day.

...In April we introduced a limit on the number of economic migrants able to come to the UK from outside the European Economic Area. Many predicted that this wouldn't work and that it would stop British businesses getting the workers they need. But the evidence shows this just hasn't been the case. That limit of 20,700 for the year - has been undersubscribed each and every month since it was introduced with businesses currently using less than half of their monthly quotas.

...around two-thirds of the increase in employment since 1997, was accounted for by foreign-born workers. Even now people are managing to come to the UK and find a job. Yet throughout all of those years we consistently had between 4 and 5 million people on out of work benefits. You can understand it from the employer's point of view. Confronted by a failing welfare system, shortcomings in our education system and an open door immigration system they can choose between a disillusioned and demotivated person on benefits here in the UK or an Eastern European with the get up and go to come across a continent to find work. Or they can choose between an inexperienced school leaver here or someone five years older coming to Britain with the experience they need. But that situation is simply not good enough. We have to change things.

...when it comes to bogus colleges and bogus students we have to be equally clear: they have no place in our country. In June last year in New Delhi, for example, more than a third of student applications verified by the visa section were found to contain forged documents. Private colleges now have to face far more rigorous checks on the quality of their education provision before they can sponsor international students. Since May 2010 the UK Border Agency has revoked the licences of 97 education providers. A further 36 currently have their licences suspended.

...A sample of more than 500 family migration cases found that over 70 per cent of UK-based sponsors had post-tax earnings of less than £20,000 a year. When the income level of the sponsor is this low, there is an obvious risk that the migrants and their family will become a significant burden on the welfare system and the taxpayer. So we have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to look at the case for increasing the minimum level for appropriate maintenance.

...We're also consulting on how to tackle abuse of the system, to make sure that family migrants who come here are in a genuine relationship with their partner. Time and again, visa officers receive applications from spouses or partners sponsoring another spouse or partner soon after being granted settlement in the UK suggesting that the original marriage or partnership was a sham simply designed to get them permanent residence here.

...If we take the steps set out today and deal with the all the different avenues of migration, legal and illegal then levels of immigration can return to where they were in the 1980s and 90s - a time when immigration was not a front rank political issue. And I believe that will mean net migration to this country will be in the order of tens of thousands each year, not the hundreds of thousands every year that we have seen over the last decade.

Cameron seems to be genuinely set against open borders. Why the break with open borders orthodoxy?

There are several possibilities. He might, for instance, be trying to win back ground from the BNP. It could be, too, that this is part of his concern about "Broken Britain" - that he doesn't want the further growth of an unemployed underclass.

Right-liberals are often focused on economic criteria, and it might be that Cameron believes it is more economically rational to orient immigration to those who are going to contribute most economically; he does in his speech talk about "getting the right people we need for our economy".

So arguments about the economy and social cohesion seem to have led him to reject an uncontrolled, open borders approach to immigration.

Most of Cameron's policies so far have been disappointingly liberal, but it could be that he does present a genuine alternative to the Labour Party on this important issue. The real test will be whether he really can bring immigration numbers down to the levels of the 1980s.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Eram recasts the family

An advertising campaign by a major shoe retailer in France has sparked controversy in that country. Tiberge at Gallia Watch (and Lawrence Auster at VFR) have covered the story.

In short, the shoe retailer, Eram, has attempted to push the liberal line on family in their ads. I've pointed out many times that there is a clash between liberal orthodoxy and the traditional family. Liberal autonomy theory claims that we are human to the extent that we self-determine our lives. Therefore, the aim must be to self-create our own unique living arrangements. But the traditional family doesn't allow for this: first, because it is traditional rather than self-chosen; second, because it is singular rather than diverse; third, because it has a clear and fixed definition.

Radical liberals respond to this problem by wanting to abolish the family altogether. But more moderate liberals want to "reform" the family, by making the definition of the family vaguer ("family...whatever that may be"), by making it more diverse, by making it less stable and by making its boundaries more "fluid" and "shifting". This makes it seem as if family can be whatever you yourself make it to be, i.e. your family becomes an act of autonomous will or choice.

Eram, the French shoe company, wants to have things both ways. It wants to be seen as both pro-family, but also as being trendily liberal. So they've come up with an advertising slogan "The family is sacred" and illustrated it with the following ads:

In the ad above, we have two heterosexual looking women pretending to be lesbians whilst raising an adopted African boy. The ad reads "As my two mummies say, the family is sacred".

The ad on the left reads "As my dad, my mum and my dad's third wife say, the family is sacred". On the right we have "As my mum and her boyfriend who could be my older brother say, the family is sacred".

So the family can be anything and yet it is also sacred.

What we're seeing here is the playing out of an ideology. It's an ideology that is deliberately set against the stability of family life and yet still wants to claim the positive mantle of "family" to garner emotional support. And all the while the most radical and consistent followers of the ideology, those who take the idea of autonomy and independence most seriously, won't want to be "restricted" by family at all.

Update: Laura Wood's take is that the ads are ambiguous and that the last two ads in particular could be seen as sending up the deconstructed family. That's possible. There might well be some tongue-in-cheek humour intended in a child saying that his dad's third wife believes that family is sacred. But on its Facebook page the company defends the ads by stating:

Each family is unique, that is why it is sacred! Unusual, creative, sporting or glamorous, it is part of your personality and your life.

And this:

At a time when there are more and more divorces in France, when homosexual marriage has just been legalized in New York, Eram is getting into the act and showing, both in billboards and in magazines, family portraits of a type never shown in the advertising world: unstructured, recomposed, shattered, deconstructed. Children who have two moms, others with one father, one mother, and three step mothers, still others where the step father has the same age as the older brother. Hey, this is "real" life. But if families explode, the spirit of the family remains. For, no matter what, the family is sacred."

Whatever its motives, the company is running with the idea of the "new" family in its advertising campaign. I think we'll see more of this kind of thing in the future.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What would it take to rebuild fatherhood?

I don't mean to focus on the delayed family issue so much, but it's in the newspapers here in Melbourne. The latest contribution is from a feminist woman, Alison Cassar (who is a sub-editor of The Age).

Cassar has been trying unsuccessfully for a year to get pregnant at the age of 41. She isn't happy with the prospect of being childless and yet thinks she has made the right decisions in life:

 [being childless] is one of the most difficult and deeply saddening issues I have had to face so far in my life. But I stand by the decisions I made that have led me here because they were the right ones for me.

So what led her to delay motherhood until such a late age? For some reason she decided not to have children until she was 33. And then when she did get to 33 she lost confidence in her marriage. She was divorced by age 36, met a new partner at age 37, married again at 38 - but by then it was too late.

To me, this is more evidence against deliberately delaying motherhood until your 30s. If things go wrong, you have so little time to recover. But Alison Cassar won't draw this conclusion, despite the sadness it has brought her.

But the passage from her column that I thought most curious was this:

And where do men figure in this debate? While I know that the physical reality is not as acute for men, I have lost count of how many women have said to me that they cannot meet a man who wants to commit to children. Where are the people telling men that fatherhood is a great thing and they should do it early, rather than put the burden on women?

Where are the people telling men that fatherhood is a great thing? Alison, the feminists you so admire spent much of the past 30 years portraying husbands and fathers as wife beaters, rapists and oppressors of women. The feminist message was that it was not violent strangers that women ought to fear but their own husbands. And it was the more traditional, family oriented men who were held to be the worst culprits.

The same feminists encouraged a sexual revolution in which women were supposed to be "liberated" to pursue relationships with men for sex alone, rather than orienting themselves to love or marriage. That then helped to create a player culture amongst men.

Alison, your beloved feminist movement also encouraged the idea of a sex war between men and women, in which men were the eternal oppressors and women the eternal victims. The idea of completion through a relationship with the opposite sex and of complementarity and cooperation between men and women was broken.

And what of the feminist campaigns for official and unofficial affirmative action programmes for women in education and the workplace - campaigns which have succeeded so well that women now earn 50% more degrees than men and 20-something women now outearn men? Are the men left behind really as likely to commit to fatherhood?

Alison, in 1994 the Australian Prime Minister of the time, Paul Keating, appointed a feminist, Kate Gilmore, to run a national campaign against domestic violence. The Australian government officially endorsed her strategy, which was to portray family men as follows:

You can see the tyrants, the invaders, the imperialists, in the fathers, the husbands, the stepfathers, the boyfriends, the grandfathers, and it’s that study of tyranny in the home ... that will take us to the point where we can secure change.

Do you think that kind of feminist politics is going to encourage men to commit to fatherhood?

Finally, Alison, if you want men to commit to fatherhood in larger numbers you might like to use your influence to change the politics of the newspaper you work for. What liberalism tells people is that independence and autonomy are what matters. That's why feminists have pushed for all sorts of policies to make women independent of men.

But what do independence and autonomy mean for men? They mean a bachelor lifestyle with few stable commitments. If a man wants independence and autonomy, then he certainly won't marry.

Marriage and fatherhood do bring great rewards for men, but also great sacrifices. The sacrifices aren't easily justified in liberal terms. We need to get beyond what liberalism holds to be of value and we need to restore some of the traditional dignity associated with the role of fatherhood in society.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Researchers claim women want children, can't find husbands

The debate about deferred motherhood has hit the mainstream press in Melbourne. Yesterday in The Age a fertility specialist warned of the risks of pregnancy in older mothers. That led to another column today from a group of female public health specialists.

These specialists denied that women were deferring motherhood in order to pursue other ambitions. Their evidence was not very strong, but it was interesting. They drew on some research into attitudes toward motherhood amongst women aged 30 to 34.

The research showed that nearly all women want to have children:

We found that almost all the women we interviewed wanted to have children. Only 20 (less than 4 per cent) had decided they definitely did not want to have children.

However, a very large percentage of women aged 30 to 34 did not have the number of children they wanted:

However, many of the women (80 per cent) had fewer children than they desired. The women were still of reproductive age but when asked if they were likely to have children in the future, more than half (54 per cent) said this was unlikely because of circumstances often beyond their control.

What was stopping them? Mostly the lack of a husband:

Those who did not have a child said the main reason was not having a partner, or being unable to find a partner willing to commit to fatherhood. Very few women wanted to have a child while single.

The conclusion of the researchers is that:

Our research suggests that the selfish, career-focused woman who chooses not to have children or delays childbearing is a myth.

But that's not a logical conclusion to draw. No-one doubts that once women get into their 30s that they want to get married and have children. The issue is what women are choosing to do in their prime childbearing years in their 20s. Are women in their 20s taking motherhood and family formation seriously? Are they selecting men for being good husband material?

What do the female specialists recommend to fix the situation? They want men to be educated about the dangers to female fertility of delayed motherhood:

education for men about female fertility and the risks to their partner's health of postponing childbearing.

But that leaves out the first part of the problem, namely women finding a willing husband. So the question is what can be done to help these women find a family oriented man to marry. And that requires women to think through the reasons why there might be a shortage of such men, including the following:

  • Do women in their 20s respect the more family oriented men? Do they pay attention to these men?
  • Do women defer a serious consideration of marriage and children until the age of 30? If so, aren't they habituating men to a bachelor lifestyle?
  • Is there a distinctive and respected role for men in the family as husbands and fathers?
  • Are divorce rates too high? Are young men likely to fear the ease with which a woman might use divorce laws to remove them from the family whilst keeping them to their financial obligations?

We can't live forever on the social capital of the past. When men were raised to have some pride in masculinity; when they were given an honoured and responsible place as husbands and fathers within a family; when they had a tradition of their own to perpetuate; and when they were rewarded emotionally and physically within marriage - that's when a culture of marriage was likely to flourish amongst men.

The current culture is too emasculating and rewards men for being players rather than fathers. It's inevitable that some men will become demoralised and fall into a more self-oriented lifestyle, leaving women more vulnerable to remaining single in their 30s.

This issue isn't going to go away. Nor will it be fixed by a simple educational message. A more promising option is for groups of people to start self-consciously modeling a different set of values, in which the conditions for a healthy family life are better understood and respected.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Who would you choose to guard violent prisoners?

This is one of those stories you have to shake your head at. As we know, the Swedish state takes its liberalism very seriously. One aspect of liberalism is the belief that individuals should be self-determining. Since our sex is something that we don't self-determine, liberals often conclude that it should be made not to matter in an individual's life choices.

Therefore, a woman should be able to become a prison guard just as a man can, even if she is small and slightly built and in charge of large, violent, murderous men. In fact, according to Daniel Hammarland, at some Swedish prisons the majority of staff are now female.

Can you predict the result of this particular application of liberalism? The result is that there will be small, slightly built women bashed brutally to death by much larger, stronger, more violent men. This is what happened to 25-year-old Karen Gebreab in a Stockholm prison earlier this month. The details of her death are truly shocking.

The 5'2 (159cm), slenderly built guard was sent to accompany a 28-year-old prisoner, Erik Ljungström, who wanted to smoke a cigarette. Ljungström's crimes include attempted murder for stabbing a man three times with a knife, followed by his arrest after his release for attacking a childhood friend with a knife.

The only other guard in the vicinity was also female. Ljungström began his assault on Karen Gebreab by attacking her with his fists. She fell to the ground. The second female guard rushed in with a baton, but as guards aren't allowed to hit prisoners on the head, she hit him on the arm instead. He simply grabbed the baton and used it to bash Karen Gebreab. She was hit with at least 40 blows. When a couple of mintues later some male officers arrived, Ljungström stopped and surrendered. But Karen Gebreab died shortly after.

Here are the photos, first of the prisoner:

And the victim (she is in the yellow shirt in the left-hand bottom corner):

As you can see she is petite, even by female standards. She would have had little chance against a male inmate.

The problem with trying to make our sex not matter is that oftentimes it does matter. So you either have to admit that the principle is flawed or else detach yourself from reality. The Swedish state, it seems, prefers to be detached, despite the harmful consequences of being so.

Developing identity

This is a post on a sensitive topic. It's not my intention to insult anyone, but it's an important issue that deserves to be aired.

It goes like this. As a boy I went through a phase in which a developing self-identity was important to me, and I was very fortunate to be able to identify with a long line of family going back to the early days of settlement in Australia. My identity was therefore positive and in no way confused.

I've therefore wondered at times about boys who can't so easily identify with a particular tradition. Does this affect their developing sense of self?

A short time ago I wrote a post on Andrew Bolt, a prominent journalist here in Australia. Bolt has described his own difficulties with identity this way:

I am the son of Dutch parents who came to Australia the year before I was born.

For a long time, I have felt like an outsider here, not least because my family moved around so very often.

Bolt tried at first to identify with his Dutch ancestry but then gave it all up in favour of a radical renunciation of any kind of ancestral tradition.

Note that Bolt had difficulties even though it is relatively easy for Dutch people to assimilate into the mainstream Australian tradition, given that the ethnicity is so closely related. So how much difficulty would a boy have who, say, had a white father and an Asian mother?

I'm sure that there are differences in how such boys respond to their situation. But some don't respond well. Here is one negative reaction:

Whats it like being Half-White and Half-Asian? Thats an important question for a changing America. With the flood of interracial relationships, and with mixed-race being the fastest growing race in America, there are going to be quite a few Hapa males around...

So what is it like? Humiliation, degradation, terror, fear, embarrassment, shame, self-hated, angst, debasement, sadness, hopelessness, pain, anger, rage, etc etc need I go on? You can’t imagine the internal conflict. The brutal civil war inside all Hapa males. The Hapa Paradox. We exist because Asian men are humiliated and emasculated, and yet we are Asian males. We are at war with ourselves from birth. The idea that an Asian man like me, is genetically 50% white, and carries ONLY the white-male Y chromosome. The Asian Y-chromosome is dead in me. Asian maleness is dead in me. I’m a Eunuch. I’m an Asian male inside a dead Asian male. That is what it means to be half-white, half-asian.

He has a belief that Asian women go for white men because they prefer white looks/genes to Asian ones and yet he himself, as an Asian looking man, is the very thing his mother rejected. That seems to be one source of his angst.

He goes on to complain about a lack of a clear identity, that young men like himself feel:

Homeless. Raceless. Strangers to strangers.

I don't know how representative he is of those in his position. But it does at least raise the issue that there are going to be a lot more young men who won't be able to form a positive sense of identity as easily as in a more traditional society.

As for my own son, I've already started to go through the family history with him. He's very interested, particularly in those relatives who served overseas in the army. I do believe that one role of fathers is to bring their sons into the larger tradition to which they belong. That not only means being the kind of father that sons would want to emulate, but also making sure that they have a positive sense of their family history, their national history and the larger Western cultural tradition.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Wife shopping

Juliet Jeske has written another interesting column on the difficulties of dating in New York as a woman over the age of 35.

It's a cautionary tale for those women deliberately leaving family formation until their 30s. Jeske herself married in her 20s, but left childbearing quite late and then found out her husband was homosexual.

So she found herself having to start over. What problems has that involved? Well, she definitely wants kids:

I always thought I would have kids. My husband and I planned to eventually start a family, but at the age of 36 I discovered my husband was a closeted homosexual. My marriage immediately ended and I entered the dating pool past my prime reproductive years. I knew it would eventually take time to have a healthy relationship again, and I definitely felt like my biological clock wasn't just ticking but banging loudly like Quasimodo's bells throughout my entire body.

The men she has met whilst dating fall into four categories:

in my age range I tend to find hook-up artists who never want to settle down, men messed up from a break-up or divorce, extremely socially awkward men with no dating experience and the men I refer to as wife shoppers.

The "wife shoppers" are men who want to start a family:

A wife shopper is usually the following:

•Over 40
•Never Married - No children
•At the peak of their professional career
•About to buy property or has just bought property

Wife shoppers are men searching for the future mother of their children.

So why can't she get together with a "wife shopper"? First, these men understandably are looking for a woman who is likely to be fertile:

They make no bones about wanting to start a family, and many won't consider women over the age of 35. Women do lose reproductive capacity after 35, and in health terms pregnancies in older mothers are deemed higher risk.

...One of the habits I have noticed is something I call baby momma math. My date will look at me, ask me my age again, and then I watch them adding up how long we would have to date before trying to start a family, and they aren't exactly subtle about it.

Second, she finds the "wife shopper" men bluntly methodical:

Maybe it's something about the personality traits of any man who waits until they are at the peak of their career before getting married and having kids. In their mind they have a checklist and once they have done everything else they want to accomplish in life they move on to starting a family.

Third, she is worried (and understandably so) about rushing into a relationship in order to have children, without having time to make sure of a firm connection with the man:

Having my marriage end the way it did has given me major trust issues to begin with, so the idea of running down the aisle with a man hell-bent on becoming a father is terrifying. Divorce is hell on earth and the thought of having another divorce -- only the second time with children -- is especially nightmarish. Rushing into a situation in order to have children with a partner I barely know seems like a recipe for another divorce.

Keeping a healthy marriage together, especially one with children, is extremely difficult. The union between the two adult partners should be the most important thing -- communication, lifestyles, goals, and temperaments must work in harmony before the added stress and pressures of children are added to the mix.

Juliet Jeske complained about the last column I wrote on her (she identifies strongly as a liberal), seeing it as a personal attack. It wasn't meant as such and nor is this one. I think she has clearly and intelligently identified some of the difficulties of family formation for a woman of her age. It helps to confirm for me the wisdom of bringing back marriage and motherhood where it belongs - in a woman's 20s.

EU proposal could see women being paid double for the same work

Feminists have often raised the slogan of "equal pay for equal work". That is not a principle they truly believe in. What they want is equal or more pay for women regardless of the hours of work put in.

The latest evidence comes from the European Union. The EU is proposing not only that new mothers get 20 weeks leave on full pay after the birth of a baby but that they also get 2 hours a day to breastfeed the child when they return to work.

So let's say that there are two workers in a firm. Tony is a hardworking dad supporting a family. He gets paid $70,000 for putting in 8 hours a day for 48 weeks in the year. So he is working 1920 hours to get his $70,000. His female counterpart Julia had a baby at the start of the year. So she ends up only working for 30 weeks. Then she breastfeeds for at least one hour a day on her return. So she earns $70,000 for working 1050 hours. She gets the same wage for working 55% as much as Tony. If she takes the full 2 hours breastfeeding time then she will end up being paid the same as Tony for less than half the hours.

Is that equal pay for equal work? Surely not.

Now it might be argued that there are reasons for paying the woman so much more than the man - that it has to do with her family responsibilities. But the same could also have been said for the older system that the feminists complained about so much. Men used to be paid more because it was assumed that men had to support not only themselves but also a wife and children.

So if the older principle was so terribly unjust in feminist eyes, then how can they justify the new system?

Friday, October 07, 2011

Doesn't whiteness studies contravene Section 18C?

So an Australian judge has found that:

People should be free to fully identify with their race without fear of public disdain or loss of esteem for so identifying.

Andrew Bolt was found guilty of contravening the Racial Discrimination Act on this basis, since he questioned why light-skinned Aboriginal activists would identify with the minor part of their ancestry.

But who else would also have to be found guilty? The thought crossed my mind that all those academics involved in "whiteness studies" courses contravene the law, given that the whole point of these courses is to associate whiteness negatively with oppression and to deny that a white racial identity is legitimate.

So I did a quick google search and within a minute had come up with sufficient evidence to run a case. In the very first section of the first document I looked at I found this:

“[t]he critique of whiteness…attempts to displace the normativity of the white position by seeing it as a strategy of authority rather than an authentic or essential ‘identity’

Here we have a clear denial that a white person might have an authentic race identity.

In the same document we find the following:

the central overarching theme in scholarship on whiteness is the argument that white identity is decisively shaped by the exercise of power and the expectation of advantages in acquiring property

Isn't that an insulting claim? The allegation is that whites only identify as whites in order to get power and money.

Then there's this admission about whiteness studies:

This literature sits within a long history of observations of whiteness as a problem

So whiteness is looked on in the literature as a "problem". Not a tad offensive to white people?

There's also this:

Allen, as is central to the critical study of whiteness ... [describes] the invention of the white race as political rather than biological or evolutionary.

Umm, how can I be free to fully identify with my race, if the very existence of my race is denied?

It gets worse:

Again, Roediger was also responsible for editing a collection of essays concerned with whiteness. Entitled Towards the abolition of whiteness, this text contributes to the movement, above attributed to Ignatiev, of those seeking to combat white race privilege by abolishing the white race.

Now, surely anyone selling this book in Australia is contravening section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Then there's the following less than charming passage:

‘New Abolitionism’ “refers to the abolishment of the white race so that whites may gain their freedom from the enslavement of their cooperation in racism” ... It requires challenging all of the institutions that reproduce race and whiteness, and the supporters of ‘new abolitionism’ call on all ‘so-called whites’ (to borrow the language of Race Traitor) to become race traitors, telling us that “treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity”

I'm not feeling fully free to identify with my own race after reading that particular rant. I'm feeling offended. Definitely a case for Section 18C.

And there's this this from Olivia Khoo:

In the Australian context Olivia Khoo uses Asian-Australian and indigenous literature to discuss the possibilities for destabilising whiteness in Australia. She suggests a strategy of ‘visibilising’ whiteness as an ‘ornamental detail’, arguing that “[s]howing up the ornamentation of whiteness enables it to be dislodged from its position of power and associated privileges”

Oddly, Olivia Khoo's own suffering at the hands of white privilege was to be catapulted into a job as an English lecturer at Monash University. Must have been a hard path to tread.

All of the above quotes are from just one paper written by a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland - the first paper I happened to look at. Just imagine, then, if Section 18C were to be applied consistently throughout academia. You would probably have to close down the English departments at most universities and at many high schools - and some of the history and politics departments as well.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Joys of fatherhood

My little toddler daughter is very affectionate but hasn't said much yet. So I thought it very cute when I came home today and said hello to her and she replied "Hello Daddy" - not quite her first words (she can say something that sounds like "yes") but still a wonderful moment for me.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Bolt ruling dangerous and inconsistent

Australian journalist Andrew Bolt was found guilty this week of racial hatred. What was his offence? He wrote a column in the Herald Sun in which he questioned why light-skinned Aboriginal activists would identify with the minor part of their biological descent.

I have to say that I disagree with Bolt's position. The worst of Bolt's right-liberalism comes out on these issues. Bolt believes we should all assimilate on the basis that we are individuals only with no ethnic, racial or national identities. That's why he wrote of one mixed race Aboriginal activist that:

She could call herself English, Afghan, Aboriginal, Australian or just a take-me-as-I-am human being called Tara June Winch. Race irrelevant.

He even once opposed a tribe of Aborigines wanting the return of an historic artefact on the basis that we were forgetting:

The humanist idea that we are all individuals, free to make our own identities as equal members of the human race.

"Free to make our own identities" is just stock standard liberal autonomy theory: what Bolt thinks matters is that we are liberated from traditional identities in order to self-create our own.

In his own comment on the court case, Bolt has explained his right-liberal position in more detail. I find it very sad:

I am the son of Dutch parents who came to Australia the year before I was born.

For a long time, I have felt like an outsider here, not least because my family moved around so very often.

You know how it is when you feel you don't fit in. You look for other identities, other groups, to give you a sense of belonging, and perhaps some status.

So for a while I considered myself Dutch, and even took out a Dutch passport.

Later I realised how affected that was, and how I was borrowing a group identity rather than asserting my own. Andrew Bolt's.

So I chose to refer to myself as Australian again, as one of the many who join in making this shared land our common home.

Yet even now I fret about how even nationality can divide us.

To be frank, I consider myself first of all an individual, and wish we could all deal with each other like that. No ethnicity. No nationality. No race. Certainly no divide that's a mere accident of birth.

So that's the background to the calamity that hit me yesterday.

That's why I believe we can choose and even renounce our ethnic identity, because I have done that myself.

This is a very radical position. He wants us all to renounce race, ethnicity and nation in favour of a self-chosen individual identity (one that is not "an accident of birth"). Why does he want us to do this? Because he himself had trouble fitting in as the child of immigrants (something I find a bit strange, as most Dutch migrants fit in readily to the mainstream Australian identity, being relatively closely related to it ethnically).

There is something narcissistic in ditching the larger and meaningful traditions you belong to in order to assert your own personal identity in their place. Is the temporary identity "Andrew Bolt" really something that matches in significance the larger Western heritage? What is he really connecting to in identifying with himself alone?

Having said all that, the decision against Bolt shows how dangerous these racial hatred laws are. I can't help but think the decision is part of a political climate in which the left-liberal establishment is concerned with the influence of the more right-liberal Murdoch press. The Greens in particular are pressing for the media to be licensed and for there to be an inquiry into press ownership in Australia.

The way the racial hatred law is framed means that it is very easy to run afoul of it. Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act outlaws public acts that are likely ''to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate'' a person or group, if the acts are ''done because of the race, colour or ethnic origin'' of the person or group.

It's not that difficult to say something that might offend or insult someone. In fact, Anglo-Australians could make a good case that most of the school curricula in Australia contravenes Section 18C. To reinforce this point, consider this part of the official judgement against Andrew Bolt:

People should be free to fully identify with their race without fear of public disdain or loss of esteem for so identifying.

Can we really say that any white person is free to fully identify with their race without fear of public disdain or loss of esteem for so identifying? Modern liberal societies are set up to discourage white people from identifying positively with their own race and tradition. More accurately, they are set up to persuade white people to identify against their own race and tradition. So Section 18C if applied consistently would require a massive upheaval within liberal society.

Note too that the judge insists, as a matter of law, that people should be fully free to identify with their race. And yet if a white person were to talk about his race to a liberal he would get the scoffing reply that race doesn't exist. So we have a situation in which young liberals are brought up to believe that their own race doesn't even exist, whilst the law insists that people should be free to fully identify with their race. Go figure.