Friday, December 30, 2011

Fathers matter

Katherine Baldwin is 41 and is unmarried and childless. She has written a piece for the Daily Mail on the difficulties of dating men when the biological clock is ticking loudly. In her piece she writes:

It seems the trend to postpone motherhood till later has produced an army of women in their late 30s and early 40s who, like me, wonder if they’ve left it too late. We had succeeded in our careers and now we were ready for a family, but no one informed our ageing ovaries of the plan. We thought we could have it all, but statistics tell us that not all of us can.

That's an important point to make, particularly when one in five British women are reaching age 45 without having had children. And I have no doubt that putting careers and independence first is part of the problem. But there are other reasons why women end up childless, reasons which Katherine Baldwin discusses at her own website (more of which later).
Katherine Baldwin

My wife has two female friends who are both beautiful and feminine women, but who have remained childless. One of these women chose obviously unsuitable men for boyfriends right through her 30s. The other didn't go out with men.

I've had a chance to get to know these women and the problem isn't really a desire to remain independent. Rather, it's that they weren't able to overcome problematic relationships with their fathers.

I've noticed too that the women at my workplace who marry well and in a timely way seem to have close and affectionate ties with their fathers.

It seems that fathers matter. The work we put into our relationships with our daughters has long-term consequences.

Katherine Baldwin explains her difficulties in partnering partly in terms of an absent father:

I seem to be one of those women who craves intimacy and affection with a man but is so scared of it that she chooses people who aren’t up for it or ready for it or she sabotages relationships with anyone who is. This pattern seems to be common with women of “absent” fathers...

She writes also that:

my tendency to choose inappropriate or unattainable partners is definitely the most concerning at this stage in my life...

The above quotations also chime with something I read a few weeks back in the Mail on Sunday’s You Magazine about daughters of absent fathers. It said that “as adults, women with absent fathers are often torn between longing for a committed, loving relationship and a fear of having one in case the man they love abandons them as their father did. It is only when they realise what they are doing that they can move on and have a healthy relationship.”

...For many years, I’ve had far too many boxes that a potential partner had to tick and I’ve found fault in many a boyfriend. I’d always concluded they weren’t right for me. I’m finally realising that maybe my tick boxes and fault-finding were my ways of avoiding commitment – the commitment I so craved but was so terrified of.

That's not to say that other factors might not be involved. When women are told that their 20s are for "freedom" rather than for family formation, they are more at liberty to choose "inappropriate or unattainable" partners - men who push "sexy" buttons rather than "potential husband/father" ones. And pickiness seems to be a part of our natures - we build up idealised, romantic images of our soul mate that are difficult for people to measure up to in real life. (That's one of the problems with leaving family formation too late - we are often so driven to relationships in our early 20s that the pickiness is overruled - but later on in life it can take control).

Katherine Baldwin's career has been a glamorous one: she has travelled extensively overseas as a correspondent. But she is honest in discussing her mixed feelings about it. There are aspects of travel and life overseas that she has enjoyed, but she has also found it exhausting and unsettling. And it is not career itself from which she derives higher meaning:

I think relationship is key to addressing that sense of emptiness some of us feel. And I’m not just talking about getting ourselves a partner...For me, it’s about my relationship with myself, my relationship with something greater than myself (or God as I like to call Him) and then, once those two things are in a good place, my relationship with others.

Have you ever noticed that when you’re in the company of someone you love or of someone you’re really comfortable with – you could be having a laugh or just sitting in silence – those existential questions rarely come up? We feel connected, content and are able to live in the moment.

The same goes when I feel connected to God. I feel grounded, I feel a sense of purpose...

This is relevant to the discussion I've tried to open up recently about problems with the current culture of Christianity. I see what Katherine Baldwin is expressing here as being both basic and authentic to the spiritual life. She is not dissolving herself or abstracting herself; she describes herself as feeling "grounded" and having a sense of "connectedness" which brings her contentment and a sense of purpose and an ability to live in the moment.

Finally, I know that some of my readers will react angrily to Katherine Baldwin, seeing her as a representative of women who have made family formation difficult. But I'd ask that she not be attacked personally in the comments. My aim isn't to antagonise her personally and I don't think it does our cause much good to do so either. There's nothing I've read at her site which is anti-male; she is someone who is trying to work things through and she is doing so with a degree of culture and intelligence.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Finding our own truth?

Susan Walsh runs a site that's widely discussed in the manosphere. Recently she and Dalrock had a spat about the extent to which women divorce frivolously. It wasn't an argument I followed closely and I'm not sure where I stand on the specifics. I do, though, support Susan Walsh's general stance as she describes it here:

Any expectation on the part of men here that I use HUS [her website] as an MRA platform, discouraging marriage and vilifying American women as unsuitable partners is ludicrous. I believe that marriage is good for individuals, for society, for the economy, for civilization. It is not perfect, but it is a highly valuable institution. The divorce rate for college educated couples is only 17%.

However, Susan Walsh did make a particular comment in the debate that I thought noteworthy. She began by telling her opponents:

You do not know me at all, much less at an intimate level. You know nothing of how I live my life. I have my own truth, and you have no right to judge it as a lie, because you don’t know what it is.

And when this was criticised she wrote:

What does it say exactly? Do you not have a code of principles and beliefs that you live by? Are your ethics identical to everyone else’s? Or do they adhere to an absolute truth?

Every woman and man must find their own purpose, their own truth.

Do you believe that greyghost is qualified to opine on the essence of who I am at an intimate level? That is the truth I speak of, not the statistics of frivolous divorce, which may or may not be obtainable.

This appears to be an example of the "compromise position" in modern philosophy that I wrote about earlier this month. If you remember, I asserted that traditionalists believe in group essences (e.g. a masculine or feminine essence) whereas radical liberals deny the existence of essences altogether. But in practice there is often a compromise in which people think in terms of individual essences.

But look at the consequences of believing in individual essences. It means that there is no absolute truth existing outside ourselves and therefore no common purposes. We cannot know the "truth" that is someone else's unique essence, we can only leave them unimpeded to find their own.

It's not a good philosophical basis for establishing community norms or for holding together the shared understandings of purpose and value that bind a community together.

The traditionalist understanding is that individuality is an important and attractive feature of life, but that there do exist supra-individual essences which orient our identity, values and purposes in certain directions that can be known to us. So truth for us can be absolute and objective rather than personal and subjective.

Here's another way of looking at it. A traditionalist seeks to live through what is objectively meaningful or purposeful. A radical liberal who has rejected essences altogether might believe that meaning lies in the act of self-determining one's purposes. The person who adopts the compromise position might believe that purposes are other determined (given to us) but at a personal level, so that there is a truth to live by, but it is subjective and unknowable to others.

But if such purposes can be given to us individually, then why not accept that essences can exist supra-individually? If one is possible, then so surely is the other.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

We need to reform Christian culture

Why has the West fallen so far? The major culprit is the state ideology, namely secular liberalism. But I think it has to be recognised as well that the current Christian culture also feeds into this liberalism and so reinforces the problem.

In short, we are going to have to challenge the current Christian culture with a more traditionalist one.

So what is the problem with Christianity today? One problem has to do with a preeminent Christian virtue, that of caritas. In the Bible we read quotes like the following:

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
And this:

as you would that men should do to you, do you also to them in like manner

Such quotes have led to a belief amongst many Christians that the highest virtue, and the path to salvation, is a selfless love of the other that transcends any particular distinctions. This can then lead to the idea that the best Christian is the one who goes furthest in sacrificing himself for the "other".

You can see how this fits in with liberalism. The liberal script is similar: the liberal elite considers itself morally superior insofar as it practises non-discrimination toward the other, unlike the non-liberal mainstream.

The current, popular understanding of caritas within Christian culture has major problems. It dissolves the particular loves and loyalties on which communities are founded in favour of a "perfected love" which is proved by "selflessly" transcending the particular. The Christian subject effectively becomes an abstracted individual, just as the liberal subject is abstracted.

Once again, we traditionalists are up against what has become established as an orthodoxy. So how do we challenge this orthodoxy?

Not by rejecting caritas as a virtue. If we love God, and if we hold that men are made in the image of God, then our loving concern for other men does not stop at those to whom we are more particularly related.

However, that doesn't mean that our particular loves and duties are rendered null and void. The Catholic Church has recognised this by formulating an "ordo caritas":

The exercise of charity would soon become injudicious and inoperative unless there be in this, as in all the moral virtues, a well-defined order...

The precedence is plain enough...Regarding the persons alone, the order is somewhat as follows: self, wife, children, parents, brothers and sisters, friends, domestics, neighbours, fellow-countrymen, and all others.

It's important, too, that Christians don't talk themselves into an abstracted sense of self that isn't enjoined on them by the Bible. As I pointed out in a previous discussion of this issue:

If I love my neighbour as I love myself I will wish for him the objective goods in life. That will include that he enjoy membership in a traditional community of his own. I will want his life to be rightly ordered.

But remember - I am loving him as I love myself - so to the extent that I wish upon him this objective good so too would I wish it upon myself and to those closest to me.

And my first responsibility in working for the achievement of these goods is to myself and those closest to me extending out in a circle to my family and friends, my neighbours, my countrymen and then all others.

Nor is caritas to be understood as a forced emotionalism. The Catholic doctrine is that the seat of caritas is to be found in the will rather than the emotions:

Its seat, in the human will. Although charity is at times intensely emotional, and frequently reacts on our sensory faculties, still it properly resides in the rational will a fact not to be forgotten by those who would make it an impossible virtue.

Finally, it's also important to remember the context in which Jesus was teaching. Judaism at the time of Jesus was divided into a number of currents: the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Zealots. Jesus appears to criticise the leading faults of each of these currents. The Zealots, for instance, were focused on violence; the Sadducees were elitist; and the Pharisees were concerned with the letter of the law:

An important binary in the New Testament is the opposition between law and love. Accordingly, the New Testament, presents the Pharisees as obsessed with man-made rules (especially concerning purity) whereas Jesus is more concerned with God’s love; the Pharisees scorn sinners whereas Jesus seeks them out. Because of the New Testament's frequent depictions of Pharisees as self-righteous rule-followers, the word "pharisee" has come into semi-common usage in English to describe a hypocritical and arrogant person who places the letter of the law above its spirit.

The story of the Good Samaritan can be read in the light of this. An "expert in the law stood up to test Jesus" and asked Jesus who exactly was his neighbour that he should love as himself. Jesus then told the story of the man who was robbed and who wasn't helped by passers-by until a stranger, a Samaritan, came by.

A reader, Gerry T. Neal, commented on this in a previous discussion as follows:

Jesus was not interested in answering the man's question but in addressing the spirit that lay behind it. By asking "who is my neighbor", the lawyer was hoping to get a definition of "neighbor" that would enable him to say "okay, these are the people I have to love, I don't have to love these other people". This reflects the legalistic attitude of "I will do what is required of me - but only the very minimum".

The parable Jesus tells, in which a robbed person, left to die on a highway, is ignored by the people who should be most concerned with helping him, and is helped by a member of a despised rival ethnic group, speaks to that attitude. The people who walked by the man in need found reasons to justify their not stopping to help. That is the kind of justification the lawyer was looking for. Jesus was not willing to give it.

This parable then, does not mean that our specific duties to love specific people, have been abrogated by Jesus and replaced with a universal command to love everybody equally. It means that our requirement to love our family and kin, our friends and neighbors, and our countryman, does not translate into an excuse for a lack of compassion and charity towards others to whom we do not have those specific bonds of attachment.

We are not to have a "closed off" attitude of doing the minimum required by the letter of the law. That's not supposed to be the motivating spirit. Jesus emphasised this because his interrogator was a Pharisee. If we were walking along and saw someone of another ethnic group in trouble would we help out? Or would we turn our backs because we thought, in a legalistic sense, we weren't obliged to assist?

Surely it is possible to think that we would stop and help a fellow human being, as an act of loving concern (caritas), without then dissolving all particular human relationships into an abstracted "serve the other". The former is clearly enjoined on us by the Bible. The latter is not.

When kinship in the nation goes, the family follows?

Cadel Evans won the Tour de France this year and has now announced that he and his wife are adopting a young child from Ethiopia. It's possible that this is because there are fertility issues and that his wife hasn't been able to fall pregnant. But that's not how they are presenting the decision. They are saying that they always wanted to adopt and that it's how they want to start their family:

"We always felt the strong wish to adopt, so we decided to start our family through adoption."

The explanation jumped out at me because I've read similar comments from Westerners recently - there are people who wish to follow the lead of Angelina Jolie and create a blended adopted/biological family.

And I suppose it's a logical progression for the liberal West. If ties of kinship are held to be meaningless in terms of our larger communal identity, then it's likely to follow that they will be held to be meaningless in our family identity as well.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Liberal supremacism

Kok-Chor Tan teaches political philosophy at the University of Toronto. He has written a book titled Toleration, Diversity and Global Justice. I'm most of the way through it and will write a full review shortly. However, I can't resist giving a brief preview.

What Kok-Chor Tan wants to show in his book is that liberalism doesn't have to be set against the existence of particular human cultures. But the arguments he uses are not exactly reassuring. In the part of the book I've just read, his argument is that:

a) Most human cultures can be redefined along liberal lines. The non-liberal elements are merely extraneous, or are oppressive impositions from above.


b) If there really do exist genuinely non-liberal cultures, then those cultures will have to be "let go".

He is giving cultures a choice: either you redefine yourself to be the same thing as liberalism or there is no place for you in our future global order. You could call this liberal imperialism or liberal supremacism.

In the following brief quote from Kok-Chor Tan's book, take note of his presumption that liberals rule the world and get to decide which cultures get the thumbs up and which the thumbs down. Note too that he treats individual autonomy as the decisive factor in deciding the worth of a human culture:

I do not deny that there could be, in principle at the very least, genuinely nonliberal cultures. When such hard cases do arise, we may be forced to make the difficult choice of letting a culture pass on and to try to accommodate its adherents in other ways. Remember, again, that our concern for culture stems ultimately from what it means for individual autonomy; so long as restrictions against individuals are a permanent feature (if this is indeed so) of a cultural way of life, we will have to concede that this culture will be one of those unavoidable losses of our social world.

A stormy Christmas

Well, that was a Christmas to remember. My family had a family lunch in the south-eastern suburbs and drove back to Eltham in the north-eastern suburbs in the early evening.

As we drove in it became clear the suburb had been hit hard by storms. In one suburban street a car had been swept into the middle of the road, sleepers holding in garden beds dislodged, a boulder had been pushed out of a garden and onto the road and fences had been pushed over. Damage caused, presumably, by a flash flood.

At home everything made of hard plastic in our back yard had been smashed through by the hail stones. Our neighbour's garage was flooded and his skylights broken. But being on high ground we escaped relatively lightly.

Hailstones from yesterday's storms

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I'd like to wish readers a Merry Christmas.

To add to the Christmas cheer I'm posting a video of one of my favourite singers, Hayley Westenra, singing carols.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dead stream, live stream II

I wrote in an earlier post of my feeling that society was increasingly bifurcating into a nihilistic modernist stream and a still living traditionalist one.

Today The Thinking Housewife has a short post up about a pro-abortion campaign in the US. This campaign is based on the idea that abortion should be regarded as "a normal and necessary part of women's reproductive lives". The campaigners hope that by encouraging women to share their abortion stories that some of the stigma surrounding abortion will be removed.

So I went and read the stories. And some of them clearly fit into the dead stream category. There are people in our society who are now thinking along these lines:

“I got knocked up over spring break— as a 32-year old married graduate student. Having children was never something that my husband and I considered to be an option. The decision to terminate the pregnancy was easy...Every day since then, I am grateful that my birth control slip-up did not determine the path of my career or my life. No regrets.” -- Jess

She's 32 and married but is so determined to remain childless that she made the "easy" decision to have an abortion. She did not want a child to "determine the path of my career or my life" (she wanted to remain a self-determining individual).

It seems to be a common theme:

"I was married, but my husband and I were not eager to have children. At this point, we had been married for 16 years and our lives felt complete and were enjoyable just as they were. Neither of us had ever really entertained thoughts of children."

Heather is in the same boat:

"Never wanted children, but had healthy, heterosexual relationships...abortion was an easy decision for me -- I knew I didn't want children...I had been raised to believe that women are smart, moral creatures who have both the capacity and the responsibility to make such second unplanned pregnancy at 38. Still clear that I didn't want to have a child and having made sure my (monogamous) partner understood that before we ever began sexual relations, I had my second abortion...It is unthinkable to me that millions of women are not able, or soon will be unable, to control their own lives, are not considered intelligent enough or moral enough to be entrusted with the work that is our birthright"

I'm not sure what Heather believes is the work that is her birthright (having casual unprotected sex with boyfriends?) but it doesn't appear to be motherhood.

These stories did not make me think that abortion is a normal and necessary part of women's reproductive lives. They made me think that some Western women have turned in a nihilistic or hedonistic way against the idea of having children. They are dead streamers.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jesus as psychiatrist

Dr Keith Ablow is an American psychiatrist and contributor to Fox news. A recent column of his was titled "Was Jesus the first psychiatrist?". The answer Ablow gives is yes:

Recently, many people who have e-mailed me asking whether there are parallels between God’s teachings and the field of psychiatry and psychology. In the end, I believe the two things are very nearly one

You might be preparing yourself for something terrible to follow, but it's not too bad - there's some good advice for depressed people. However, part of his message illustrates something about modern thought that's worth criticising. Ablow writes:

The key truths that people must seek out are those elements of self that define them as individuals—who they really, truly, finally and irrevocably are, deep inside...

They must, essentially, reawaken some of what they were born with—the God-given, inexplicable, ultimately undefeatable capacity to move in the direction of their own, unique interests, abilities, beliefs and dreams.

This is a compromise version of liberalism - and it's a very common strand within modern thought.

We could distinguish between three different positions. A traditionalist recognises the existence of what might be called group essences. For instance, a traditionalist is likely to recognise that the term "masculinity" represents a real, unchanging essence which provides part of a man's telos: what he is to fulfil as an aspect of his being.

A radical liberal is likely to deny the existence of essences altogether. There are no such properties, there are only social constructs. Nor is there a given telos: value comes from the act of self-creating or self-defining our own being and concept of existence.

But many moderns don't hold consistently to this full-blown anti-essentialist position. They hold to a compromise position of recognising not group essences, but individual ones. They believe that each individual has a unique essence that must be realised through an individual life path and that this requires, above all, an absence of external constraints on the individual, and equal opportunities.

In popular culture you hear this compromise position in the insistent call to "follow your dreams, never give up". Within academic liberalism it exists in the assumption that our chief end as humans is a professional career such as a violinist in an orchestra or a surgeon or a writer. In romcoms, the heroines usually have professional jobs in glamorous, creative fields such as being a magazine editor or TV producer.

It's possible that the compromise position is a secularised version of the Calvinist idea of having a calling in the world of work. The problem, though, is that in a secular society there is no longer a belief that such a calling is directed at pleasing or glorifying God - which would allow humble and everyday work to count. Instead, a professional calling has to mark you out as a special and unique individual - it has to be the fulfilment of who you are as a person.

So instead of sacralising the everyday work we do in the world as men and women, we get a belief that there is one special, creative career path that will realise our true self. This places the fulfilment of our being very narrowly and individualistically within the field of certain types of career ambition.

If we look again at what Dr Ablow recommends he states first of all that,

The key truths that people must seek out are those elements of self that define them as individuals—who they really, truly, finally and irrevocably are, deep inside...

A traditionalist could agree substantially with that, although given our different view of essences we could leave out the phrase "as individuals" - and we would not just look deep inside for our identity but also to who we are in relation to an external reality.

Dr Ablow then writes,

They must, essentially, reawaken some of what they were born with—the God-given, inexplicable, ultimately undefeatable capacity to move in the direction of their own, unique interests, abilities, beliefs and dreams.

And we would largely disagree. Why do we have to move in the direction of our unique beliefs and dreams? Why can't, for instance, a woman find a considerable aspect of her meaningful identity in motherhood? That's not going to be a unique belief or dream, but one shared by many women since the dawn of time. But it doesn't lessen its significance.

Dr Ablow is an interesting case. It's difficult to find consistency in the political and philosophical positions he defends. He definitely holds to some right-liberal/libertarian positions, but there are some conservative/traditionalist ones as well (perhaps because he accepts the idea of essences in general, he is more receptive to traditionalist positions than an anti-essentialist, social construct liberal would be).

If I get the chance I'll look at some of his other pieces in a future post.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dead stream, live stream

Sorry, but this is another "symptom of decline" post.

There's a website called "Corporette" which describes itself as "a fashion and lifestyle blog for overachieving chicks". There's a post up there about how a woman can go about freezing her eggs:

Ever considered freezing your eggs, either because you wanted to postpone kids for your career or because the right partner seems to be in hiding?

So that's what "overachieving" women do? They freeze their eggs because they want to postpone kids for their careers?

Anyway, the corporette author discovered that it's considered more viable to have embryos rather than eggs frozen. So her plan is to follow up having her eggs frozen by later on freezing some embryos fertilised with donor sperm:

I’m still considering freezing embryos in a few months, because I think that would be the right decision for me. I do want to have children (ideally, one biological and one adoptive). On the whole, I am comfortable with donating unused embryos to research.

What an attitude. She has decided already that her family will consist of one child conceived with donor sperm and another child adopted presumably from overseas. Has she wondered if her future husband will be OK with this? Or that he might prefer to have a say in whose children he ends up raising? And doesn't kinship matter at all anymore? (A point made by Laura Wood in her comments on this story.)

Why has it all come to this for Ms Corporette? Why hasn't she already found a man to marry and have a family with? That's difficult to know from a distance, but she does tell us that "I pride myself on being an Independent Woman," which is not exactly likely to attract the most traditionally oriented of men. She tells us too that she is not

going to have (yet another) years-long relationship without any concrete direction; I am 34...At this age I feel better about knowing what I want...

Which makes it sound as if she is one of those women who couldn't bring herself to admit openly and definitely to wanting marriage and children and so who drifted along in relationships with unsuitable men.

Some of the comments are also noteworthy:
Anon woman: This is something I’ve always considered. I’m only 26, but my mom struggled with fertility at 24. I’m married, but I’m just starting out (I’m a 3L) and I don’t want to have children for another 10+ years. I am considering freezing embryos as soon as I begin Biglaw next year.

So this woman is married but refuses to consider motherhood until she's about 35 (i.e. until just the time when her natural fertility begins to plummet). Her priority in life is not her children but "Biglaw".

Other commenters revealed that they took the option when reaching their early 30s of becoming single mothers by choice:

Anon: I was 33 when I decided I was not going to wait any longer. I didn’t want to be in the situation where I needed to think about fertility treatments or being pregnant at an older age or being a parent at an older age. I went to fertility doctor and chose an anonymous donor.

a: I’m seriously considering doing the single-parenting thing (it’s crazy, but is it worse than never having kids when I really want them?)

Always a NYer: My point is that not having the biological father around shouldn’t deter or make you feel less as a parent.

AFT: from the time I was teenager, my mom always said that if I wanted children I should just have them and I didn’t need to be married and I shouldn’t wait around for a husband. She thought that it was important that I could have my own choices and that I did not have to bend my life around whether a man would be around.

My point is, you are definitely not crazy for wanting a child/children and considering doing it solo if the time is right for you and no guy is around.

Someone needs to tell these women that there are easier solutions, the main one of which is to be oriented to marriage and motherhood at a younger age. The current life script for this type of woman is not viable. It goes like this:

a) Deliberately push off family formation until the magical age of 30. Focus on career, travel, partying and casual relationships instead.

b) Get to 30 and find it more difficult to find the right man than you expected.

c) Get to 32 or 33 and recognise that there is only a small window of opportunity left to have children.

d) Take desperate measures that will make it even more difficult to marry, e.g. freeze some donor fertilised embryos or have a child as a single mother.

I can't help but think that society is bifurcating. Those following along the modernist path are sinking deeper into a nihilism in which kinship no longer matters as much, in which fatherhood is optional, in which a paralysing question mark is placed next to motherhood, and in which women home in on the most demoralised of men.

But there is also an ongoing, more traditional stream in society, one that is more determined to arrive at positive family outcomes. There do exist women who are part of this stream (e.g. two beautiful, kind-hearted women in my office in their mid-20s who married good men and have just recently had their first child).

Which stream will prove to be the more powerful? Time will tell.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rethinking education for boys

The Year 12 results for Victorian high school students were released this week. 34 students received a perfect score of 99.95. But there was something significant about the schools these students came from.

15 of the 34 students came from just four schools. And these four schools are very alike: they are all traditional boys schools (Scotch College, Melbourne Grammar, Xavier College, Melbourne High School).

About 30 years ago there were more of these boys schools. But then the idea took hold that boys would do better if they were educated alongside girls and many of the boys schools went coeducational. But the coed schools just don't seem to be keeping up. The small number of surviving boys schools are beating them hands down.

So perhaps the prevailing wisdom about coeducation needs to be reconsidered. Perhaps one way of boosting boys' academic performance would be to reverse the trend by which single sex schools for girls are expanded whilst boys schools are closed down. It could be that the ideal is to have single sex schools for boys in the middle high school years and then mostly single sex schooling at senior high but with some combined classes (drama, music etc.) to develop social skills.

There's something else worth noting about the four boys schools. They are schools with a liberal philosophy but a traditional culture. The traditional culture supplies some of the depth that the liberal philosophy lacks.

That kind of "fusion" was once more widely typical of Western societies - that is, until liberalism began to go it alone from about the 1920s onwards (and more intensely since the 1960s). The liberal mainstream has suffered from a technocratic hollowness ever since.

But the schools which kept the historic architecture, the chapels, the honour boards, the anthems, the sporting traditions, the historic rivalries and the school loyalties have an advantage in drawing on the strengths of young men.

Obviously I don't like the idea of such a fusion between liberalism and traditionalism, as it leaves liberalism as the leading philosophy in society. But the boys schools which resisted the larger trends in society by keeping some of the traditional elements do seem to have benefited from doing so.

Southern Oregon goes gender neutral

A little while ago I wrote a post on parents who complained that children were at risk from TV shows being "gendered". The first reader comment was:

"gendered" Do liberals hate public toilets?

And right on cue arrived the following story about the replacement of toilets for men and women at Southern Oregon University with "gender-neutral bathrooms":

Kevin Tomita says that in his four years at Southern Oregon University, he has noticed a sizeable effort by administrators to make the campus more gender-neutral.

...At least 15 gender-neutral bathrooms were created over the past few years, either by changing the signs on the doors or by gutting old bathrooms and reconstructing them...

The changes across campus — particularly the bathrooms — were a welcome addition for Amiko-Gabriel Stocking, a student who chooses not to identify with a gender of male or female...

"I certainly became less anxious about my own gender identity," said Stocking, 27. "I create my gender as I go."

Well, that makes Stocking a liberal hero, I suppose. Stocking has managed to "liberate" himself from a predetermined sex identity and to replace it with a fluidly self-defined and self-determined gender identity - right in line with liberal autonomy theory. He has done it as a homosexual activist, but the campus authorities are supporting him all the way.

Stocking has also taken aim at gendered language:

Stocking, who is finishing a major in human communication and sociology this year, is working on a senior project to create a gender-inclusive training manual for the Lotus Rising Project, a youth-led social justice organization in Southern Oregon.

The manual describes gender-inclusive language that encourages people to focus on an individual rather than gender, omitting words such as "he" or "him" whenever possible.

It is gender inclusive except that it discourages the recognition of gender and particularly the existence of men.

So students at Southern Oregon University are being offered a freedom from being men and women. If I were the conservative opposition there, I'd be countering this with a freedom to be men and women. That's the more significant freedom to hold onto.

(Hat tip: WWWW)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A female soldier's story

Why do women sign up for the military? How do they experience military life? One woman's answer to these questions is given in a recent Salon article.

Bethany Saros signed up as a very young woman:

I’d joined the Army right out of high school. The life had seemed so glamorous, and my recruiter swore up and down that I would be a world traveler.

Glamorous? Part of becoming a soldier is learning to kill. And part of it is agreeing to subordinate yourself to the commands of your superiors. Unsurprisingly, Bethany Saros did not enjoy her military training:

But as an innocent, home-schooled girl from the suburbs of the Midwest, I was unprepared for military life. I sobbed my way through basic training. As a child, my tears had been a way to pacify an overly strict father, so whenever my 4-foot-11 [?] male drill sergeant got in my face, I dissolved into waterworks.

She found it difficult to compete as a soldier even against other women:

One day, we were learning to use pugil sticks (which were basically giant Q-Tips we used to beat each other to a pulp) and I was going up against a tall, frail-looking girl everybody thought I could take. But she came at me so mercilessly I never even had the chance to raise my stick before I was on the ground wondering what in the hell just happened. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” the female drill sergeant screeched at me. “YOU DIDN’T EVEN FIGHT BACK!” (Cue crying.) This scenario seemed to be a metaphor for the rest of my military career.

After five years in the army her life was a mess. But she was pleased to be posted to Iraq because she thought she might find spiritual peace in the desert (what about the mission?):

By the time my boots hit the sand in Iraq, I was tired. I had spent the last five years getting pummeled by life in the Army — an abusive marriage, a nasty divorce, an unsuccessful relationship, getting raped by a co-worker, and an alcohol problem that had only added fuel to an already roaring fire. Though I was on the road to recovery with six months of sobriety under my belt, I was mentally and spiritually exhausted. Truth be told, I was looking forward to a year in the desert. As a child in Sunday school, I’d heard stories about saints who went to the desert looking for spiritual peace — the very desert where I now found myself.

Instead of spiritual peace she found a fellow soldier to have an affair with. The likelihood is that she embarked on this affair in order to get pregnant and be shipped back home. But she doesn't present the narrative this way. Her rationalisation hamster runs very fast to present an alternative grand narrative.

a) She denies embarking on the hookup to get pregnant:

When I met J., I wasn’t looking for a relationship. But Iraq had turned out to be more alienating that I’d originally thought. I was disconnected from everything familiar, surrounded by people who did not understand my sobriety or my sudden need for spirituality, and I felt more alone than I ever had in my life. J. was fresh out of a relationship where he’d been cheated on and was feeling rejected and hurt. After a month of friendship, we sought solace in each other’s arms. We thought we were in love...

b) She denies knowing that she could get pregnant from having sex for a period of six weeks:

That couldn’t happen to me. I had been married for two years without getting pregnant. I’d been in a year-long relationship without getting pregnant. It was impossible that I’d get pregnant in a relationship that had barely been alive for six weeks.

c) She portrays herself as the victim of the male soldier who deceived her as to his real intentions, despite the likelihood that she also deceived him about her real intentions:
That night, I finally was able to get in touch with J. “Are you really pregnant?” he asked in disbelief.

“Yes. I went to the doctor this morning,” I said.

“Listen,” he said. “I cannot think of a worse time to tell you this but …”

I knew what was coming. “You’re getting back together with K., aren’t you.” It was more of a statement than a question.

The conversation that followed consisted of the usual phrases that go through breakup dialogue — you lied to me, how could you, etc. Except I couldn’t slam down the phone and write him off as a jerk for the rest of my life. We had created a child together. We had decisions to make. Decisions that I was in no condition to make but had to be made anyway, fast.

“Are you going to keep it?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I can’t do an abortion. I just can’t.”

“OK,” he said. “I am going to be there for you and the baby. We will work this out. No matter what, I will be there for you.”

Strong words spoken in the heat of the moment, just like everything else about our relationship.

She continues on with the same rationalisations:

I thought of J. and how he was in Iraq, consequence-free, at least for the time being. I had no way of knowing that his promise to be there for me and the baby would be meaningless, that I would eventually have to go after him for child support...

She had no way of knowing that a tour of duty fling wasn't likely to lead to a commitment? Again, it's likely that the guy got played, but she doesn't want to present it that way.

In the end it's clear that Bethany Saros was made to be a mother not a warrior:

But I wasn’t going to let the little person snuggled up in my belly down. One day, my son would be old enough to ask me questions, and I wanted to be able to tell him that I gave him the best life I possibly could. At the end of the day, my son was the only person I would have to explain myself to.

But what a wasteful and circuitous route to motherhood. If what was really important to her was the maternal instinct to protect her future children, then what was she doing in the army in the first place? She needed training not in the military, but in selecting a suitable father for her future children.

Guardian: EU a sinking boat

I really do want the European Union project to fail. It's an attempt by the elites to gradually erase the sovereignty of the traditional European nations and peoples. So I thought it interesting that the left-liberal Guardian newspaper in England is feeling glum about the current prospects of the EU. An editorial about the sniping between the French and UK governments was subtitled:

So long as we are all in the same sinking boat, we would be wise to focus on rowing in the same direction.

And in the text of the editorial there's this:

Comrades, we are in the same boat. A sinking one.

Guardian readers, it seems, feel comfortable referring to each other as "comrades" - something which conjures up images of communist commissars from the USSR.

Will the EU go the same way as the USSR and collapse? It's certainly possible, but we shouldn't be too hopeful. The European elite believe in the EU as a moral cause and won't let go of it unless they really have to.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A strange homage to policewomen

A Melbourne artist has paid homage to policewomen by creating three sculptures depicting them as prostitutes.

Frank Malerba claimed he was inspired by the,

"contemporary identity of women, emanating the strong, cool, authoritarian characteristics empowering women of today"

And then, inevitably, he argued that provoking the public is what art is really for:

"I wanted something that was different and edgy, something that will make people react. That's exactly what art is supposed to do," Mr Fagan said.

That's not exactly a profound reason for the existence of art: making people react. Communicating the more difficult and higher truths of being would be a deeper and more challenging mission for the high arts.

Anyway, Frank Malerba got his wish and provoked a reaction - a strong enough reaction for his artwork to be shelved. But it's interesting how moderns choose to express their moral opposition. The culture and leisure officer of the local council said that public feedback was opposed to the sculpture for being:

demeaning to women, including policewomen and sex workers

I found that funny - we're supposed to accept that a sculpture of women dressed as prostitutes is objectionable because it is demeaning to prostitutes.

The Chief Police Commissioner also expressed disapproval:

"I believe the proposed sculptures are disrespectful to all women, not just policewomen," he said.

You do still hear liberal moderns talk about the need for respect. And I don't disagree that the statues are disrespectful. But I'd love to hear the Chief Police Commissioner explain exactly why they are disrespectful. Because that then begins to reveal more about the real moral reasoning involved.

And some did try to explain:

Cyber expert Susan McLean said the council should not have got to the stage of asking for opinions.

“As a former policewoman I am offended because it reinforces all the stereotypes of women,” Ms McLean said.

“It’s male fantasy stuff and it’s from the porn shops. It’s not empowering females.

So the dispute then hinges on whether women are empowered by the sculptures: the artist says they are, Susan Mclean says they're not. Why doesn't she see women as being empowered by the sculptures? Because she believes what is being depicted is coming not from women, but from outside forces: from men or from social stereotypes.

But what if some women are happy with more brazen expressions of female sexuality? Ruth Parkinson wrote into the paper to support the sculptures on the grounds that:

Some people will always see forms of nudity as denigrating but there are many of us who see these images as empowering.

And that's what the moral debate seems to have come to. Something is moral if it empowers women; immoral if it doesn't. And empowerment depends on it being something self-chosen or self-asserted rather than imposed from without.

It all seems to me to be a weak basis for holding to moral standards. If we really followed through it would mean that whatever women thought empowered themselves would be morally justified. If that's what women are told, and if women then really do sincerely want to act up, then good luck trying to convince them otherwise.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The problem with TV is?

A Herald Sun article on parental concerns about childhood TV viewing habits had this:

Of particular concern are shows that are violent, gendered, sexualised, and have advertising aimed at children.

But parents say such content is "difficult to avoid" and only half have rules on what their kids can watch, down from 80 per cent 15 years ago.

Two things leaped out at me. First, that in 50% of households children can watch anything on TV. And second, that there are parents who are concerned that TV shows are "gendered".

The concern about "gendering" is a liberal one. Liberals want us to be self-determined; our sex though is predetermined; so liberals want our sex not to matter in life. So they hold sex distinctions to be socially constructed and believe that children should not be exposed to "gendered" patterns of life on TV.

Such liberal parents should probably not take their kids to the Melbourne suburb of Clifton Hill. I stopped off there the other day to get money from an ATM. I passed by four or five 20-something women who had clearly been watching the TV show Mad Men. They were wearing the most beautiful and elegant dresses and looked gorgeously feminine.

And yet given the voting patterns in the area, there's a decent chance that these young women were Greens voters.

So even in trendier lefty areas, the campaign for a genderless society is not going so well. It's going to be difficult to persuade young men that gender is a social construct when young women present themselves in such a charismatically feminine way.

Rudd off the record

Former PM Kevin Rudd was out walking in Sydney the other day. A group of journalists sitting in a bar saw him and beckoned him over. They asked him what he thought of Julia Gillard's pledge in a recent speech that "Labor says yes to the future". He flipped the bird, laughed and said "F*** the future."

Interesting that that's what popped into his mind as a humorous response.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The meaning of conservatism

Bonald has written a very worthwhile short essay titled The Meaning of Conservatism. It's not that long (it's divided into four short pages which you have to click through), but it still manages to be a comprehensive account of the differences between conservatism and liberalism.

In victory or defeat

I like the Asics ad that is currently showing on Australian TV. Maybe it's because there are so few appeals to the stronger masculine instincts in men these days.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

What happened to progress?

There's a new film out in Australia called Decadence: The Decline of the Western World. It has been made by someone of Sri Lankan descent named Pria Viswalingam. He remembers a time when Asia was in awe of the West, but he now believes that Western civilisation might be on the way out:

Viswalingam is a former SBS TV presenter whose credits include Fork in the Road and Class. Having devoted a career to analysing culture and society, he says the symptoms of decay and decadence are unmistakeable.

Those symptoms include soaring suicide rates and the west's addiction to anti-depressants. They include rampant individualism, emptying churches and disintegrating families. And they include the west's obsessive devotion to money as the only true measure of worth.

The good thing about this is that Viswalingam is asking the right questions. He is concerned about what holds a society together and what allows it to continue as a tradition into the future. Liberals are relatively indifferent to this. They don't identify much with communal traditions and are more likely to worry about meeting the political aims of liberalism itself.

So a liberal might think of the West as progressing because it is becoming, say, more multicultural (i.e. more liberal), even whilst someone like Viswalingam sees signs of decadence that threaten the future of the West.

What's interesting is that we seem to have reached a point at which some intellectuals are beginning to look outside of the liberal framework and recognise that it's not just a question of progress toward liberalism. I've noticed that even in solidly liberal papers like the Melbourne Age, that the rise of China has started to focus some minds on the possibility of Western decline.

Some of the reviews of Viswalingam's film have also been surprisingly positive. The review in the Melbourne Age was even titled "Society is past its use by date" and included the following quote from Alexander McCall Smith:

"People have been talking about the 'broken society' for some time now," Smith wrote in a complementary article. "[The British] riots demonstrated just how broken. The broken society is a consequence partly of social change and cultural change.

"The social change is familiar: the destruction of the family as the fundamental social unit would be fine if we had replaced it with something. We have not. [And] it’s a culture in which we seem to have abandoned many of the values on which we based our civilisation.

"We don’t know what we believe in and are busy bringing up children who share our confusion ... We have created a strange culture perpetuated by television and other media that rejoices in and celebrates dysfunction, violence and anti-social behaviour."

It's even significant that Viswalingam pinpoints 1969 as the turning point. I think he's wrong here - the problems go back much further than 1969. But the fact that Western intellectuals are starting to talk about the 1960s as a source of decline shows how things can change. The 1960s were once held up by the left as a golden age of political radicalism.

And that's an important lesson to draw from this. There are some people who are sympathetic to traditionalism but who are too defeatist. They believe that things will just go on as before with a rock solid liberal orthodoxy. It discourages them from a more active participation in a traditionalist movement.

But politics can change. It's possible that there will be more favourable conditions for us to build a movement and to argue our politics amongst the intellectual/political class. We need to keep trying to push ourselves forward.

Finally, although many of the talking heads in the film come from the left, I was pleased to see that Professor John Carroll also has a role. He is the writer of "Humanism: The Wreck of Western Culture" - one of the best of the recent books that could broadly be described as traditionalist.

So we have a major documentary film which actually has a traditionalist-leaning academic featured in it. That is not a common occurrence in the Australian film industry. It's enough to make me want to find time to go and see the film in the cinemas.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Let's drop the valium myth

A standard feminist argument against the traditional family is that it left women so discontent that they were popping valium pills and self-medicating on martinis to get by.

And no doubt there were women doing just that. But the feminist argument doesn't work. If the problem was that women were at home rather than in paid work, then the increase in women going out to do paid work should be improving the situation. Fewer women should now be relying on pills and alcohol to get by.

But the opposite has happened. The reliance on pills and alcohol has increased considerably. For instance, in America the situation is as follows:

More than one in four American women took at least one drug for conditions like anxiety and depression last year, according to an analysis of prescription data.

So more than a quarter of American women are now taking anti-depressant or anti-anxiety drugs. And this is the situation in the UK when it comes to alcohol consumption in middle-class homes:

Millions of middle-class women are drinking far more alcohol than they thought, according to official figures revealed.

...up to a third of women are drinking beyond safe limits every week - much higher than previous estimates.

The shock statistics also reveal the more you earn, the more you drink - with those in higher income groups consuming 30 per cent more alcohol than the working classes.

It confirms the warning by Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo last year when she said the most serious drinking problem was from middleclass, middle-aged people.

She told MPs: "That is where the serious and dramatic harm is increasing."

The ONS found that those in managerial and professional jobs drink 15.1 units a week, against 11.6 for those in routine and manual occupations.

Those in the very highest income brackets have even more.

Sarah Jarvis, a GP in London, said: "This is not scaremongering - this is a disaster.

"Older people think that because they are not going out vomiting in the street they are not binge drinkers but it is simply not true.

"I see thirty-somethings and forty-somethings with real health problems.

"A lot of them are holding down full-time jobs and don't think they have a problem.

"These people share a bottle of wine with their partner every night as well as having gin and tonics before supper."

The proportion of women drinking too much has leapt from a fifth to a third under the new calculations...

So according to official figures one in three women in the UK exceed safe alcohol consumption, with the problem being more acute amongst high earners.

Surely the evidence here is clear enough. Women are taking more pills and drinking more booze as society changes in a feminist direction - which leaves the valium argument discredited.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Candace Bushnell & traditional marriage

This won't come as a great shock, but Candace Bushnell, the writer behind the Sex & The City TV series, sees herself as a non-traditional woman.

When Bushnell was 43 she married a man 10 years younger. She has described this large age gap as a great positive:

...the reason my marriage works is that it's not traditional. When I was younger, I dated men of various ages, some a little younger, some several years older. And I saw a pattern begin to emerge: Whenever I was with an older man, all those societal dictates about male and female roles would creep into my subconscious. I'd start acting like the little woman, and then my behavior would make me sick and I'd rebel by staying out at nightclubs until four in the morning. I knew what I wanted - an equal, balanced relationship in which both members could shine, a union in which I'd have a partner as opposed to a provider ... equal partnership is something many women want...My fellow cougars and I found our footing in relationships with younger men.

And by the way, our men don't usually resemble boy toys ... More likely, he's confident, open-minded and willing to make his own rules.

And she has described the inspiration behind Sex and The City as an attempt to liberate women from the "injustice" of the rules of society:

I’m 52 years old now, and when I was a young girl growing up in the 1960s, there were a lot of dos and don'ts. We, young girls, were told what was permissible and what was not, and how we were to behave and conduct ourselves. And I object to that. And this injustice has always driven me. SATC, with all the sexual liberation and freedom expressed by the women characters, reflects a society unfairly imposing itself on women. 

But Bushnell's cougar vision of liberation is floundering. Following on from Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore's divorce, we now learn that Bushnell is divorcing her husband after discovering his relationship with a much younger woman. Her non-traditional approach to marriage didn't work.

And I don't think that's entirely accidental. Bushnell is mistaken when it comes to equality. A 43-year-old woman is going to struggle to give equally in a marriage with a 33-year-old man. She won't be able to give him her youthful beauty and passion. She won't be able to give him children. The sacrifices will come mostly from his side, not hers.

It's interesting, too, that Candace Bushnell felt the impulse of masculine and feminine roles only with older men, rather than with younger ones. Her rejection of men older than her suggests that she is not accepting of a man expressing a masculine role as a husband and father within a marriage. Again, I don't think that's a giving attitude from a woman. It's as if she wants a marital relationship which resembles the unstable, free-floating, sex based relationships that occur on campus before men and women become conscious of their adult roles. For a woman to insist on that kind of a relationship when married requires a husband who is, in my opinion, either immature or who is forced to suppress his adult personality.

And why? Consider again what Candace Bushnell says about being with older men:

Whenever I was with an older man, all those societal dictates about male and female roles would creep into my subconscious. I'd start acting like the little woman, and then my behavior would make me sick and I'd rebel by staying out at nightclubs until four in the morning.

What does that say about Bushnell's feminine identity? It's not something through which she can connect with a man anymore. She has defined it in a negative way as something externalised and oppressive. But this too then limits what she is able to give in a marriage. The equality of marriage being a meeting point between the masculine and the feminine is lost.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Amanda Vanstone: holding a thin line

The Labor Party has changed its platform to support homosexual marriage, so that issue is in the news in Australia right now.

One public figure who has weighed into the debate is Amanda Vanstone, who was a minister in John Howard's Liberal Government.

It's another chance to look at the political beliefs of  a high profile member of the right-wing party here in Australia.

Amanda Vanstone is known as a more socially liberal member of the party. So it's no surprise that she supports homosexual marriage. What is more surprising is the grounds on which she supports it. She argues:

Perhaps we need a reality check on what we think marriage really means. Opponents of gay marriage often argue that marriage is ''a union between a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, for life''.

It is not convincing. It is a triumph of hope over reality. Marriage long ago stopped being to the exclusion of all others and for life. If we don't care about those two elements being disregarded by so many, why should we care about the ''between a man and a woman'' part?

The idea that marriage has already lost its real meaning and that therefore there is nothing to lose in accepting homosexual marriage is not unusual. It was made by three columnists in the Melbourne papers today: Amanda Vanstone, Wendy Tuohy and Dennis Altman.

Tuohy's column is particularly interesting, as it basically says that there is nothing sacred left in the world-weary West and therefore marriage has become so watered down in meaning that it no longer makes sense to exclude gays.

I don't disagree that the meaning of marriage has been watered down. But there are two things to note about this argument. First, it's not a very good way to justify homosexual marriage. What is being suggested is that homosexual marriage would be incompatible in meaning with the original, intact, traditional meaning of marriage. But it is compatible, the argument goes, with the meaning that is left to a broken form of modern marriage. Isn't that really an acknowledgement that homosexual marriage does affect the meaning of marriage?

Second, it's a radical position for Amanda Vanstone to take. She doesn't find the idea that marriage is exclusive and for life to be "convincing". She has moved on to a model of marriage that is not exclusive and not for life. She describes this as a "reality check" on what marriage really means. So the meaning of marriage for her is radically open - except for one remaining, restraining principle.

She lost her father as a young child and she knows someone who has struggled with not knowing his biological father. So she seems to draw the line at creating families that do not have both a male and a female parent:

It is, in my view, in the best interest of every child that they have on a day-to-day basis both male and female parent role models and both male and female adult role models.

I agree with her and won't criticise her for holding this view. But it seems to be inconsistent with the earlier part of her argument. If we are going with a new meaning of marriage which is neither exclusive nor life-long, then families won't be as stable as previously. So more children, not less, will end up living without male and female parental role models.

How exactly does she expect children to have both male and female parental role models on a day-to-day basis in her new family order? If we have accepted, as a principle, that marriage is no longer to be faithful and no longer to be for life, then surely that will lead to more children living without one of their parents. And if the state endorses the idea of homosexual marriage, then surely that will lead to more children living with parents of just one sex.

If you want to try and hold the line somewhere in a liberal society, then it had better be a mighty strong line you are holding onto. But Vanstone's is weak. She has cut most of the way through it herself.

And I suppose this illustrates the difficulty of wanting to be socially liberal, whilst still believing in some kind of traditional standard in society. It's difficult to unleash the forces of "do whatever you will" and then add on "except for this".  Standards can't be defended that way. They have to make sense within a larger framework of society. If you want children to be raised by parents of both sexes, then you ought to be defending marriage having the meaning of a faithful, lifetime commitment between a man and a woman.

But this is what Amanda Vanstone believes ought to be abandoned, or at least relegated to a few hold-out churches.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Arthur Sinodinos: star recruit?

Arthur Sinodinos is being touted as a star recruit to the Australian Liberal Party - the right-wing party here in Australia. He isn't new to the party, having being influential behind the scenes as an advisor to the former PM, John Howard. But now he is a senator and is working on policy for Liberal leader Tony Abbott.

So what does Senator Sinodinos believe in? What does it mean to be a leading member of the Liberal Party these days?

He explained himself perfectly well in his maiden speech to Parliament. The first thing he wants is mass immigration to create a "Big Australia":

I support a bigger and more sustainable Australia as a framework for growth and opportunity...To meet the challenges ahead we need a bigger, more sustainable Australia that will maximise our economic prospects and living standards, enhance our national security and allow us to project more influence in the world. For me, that means ...continuing high levels of immigration to supplement a shrinking workforce in an ageing society...

Is this really a conservative policy? It means not conserving Australia as it is, but radically changing Australia demographically via mass immigration. It is a policy view shared by none other than Kevin Rudd, the former Labor PM.

Note that Senator Sinodinos combines the terms "bigger and more sustainable" Australia. He's trying to incorporate some environmentalism here too, even though it's likely that a bigger population will make it more difficult to reach environmental targets.

Senator Sinodinos goes on (and on) talking about the need to restructure Australia to maximise economic performance. It makes him sound like your typical right-liberal Economic Man.

And then he finally leaves off talking about the economy to state:

Let me turn to my personal values and outlook.

That's interesting. It means that he views the market as being a public issue, but other values as being merely private or personal. The needs of the market are allowed to have a public authority that other values aren't. So what are his personal values? He begins:

Firstly let me say I am proud of my Greek heritage, which is the basis of Western civilisation.

If I were Greek and proud of my heritage I would want to contribute to its continuation. I wouldn't make it a merely personal value that is outranked by the higher authority of the market. Anyway, as we shall soon see, Senator Sinodinos is not exactly consistent in identifying with his Greek heritage. He goes on to say:

Growing up, the local Greek Orthodox church was our religious and social centre. In my teens I became quite interested in matters of faith and religion and still am. Two aspects of Christian teaching have particular resonance for me. The first is to treat others as you would have them treat you. Related to that is the observation by St Paul in a letter to the Galatians—I do not know what seat they were in—that 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' If we are all one, then there is no basis for discrimination on the grounds of colour, creed, gender or other human constructs.

So Liberal Party senators are now openly endorsing the idea that race and sex are merely social constructs that should be made not to matter. That again is a very radically liberal view. Note too the contradiction: Senator Sinodinos claimed that he was proud of his Greek heritage, but in the very next part of his speech he endorses the idea that "There is neither Jew nor Greek" as "we are all one" and that such distinctions are, in a negative sense, "human constructs".

I am not an authority on the Bible, but I very much doubt that St Paul meant that the races and the sexes had no real basis but were merely human constructs. It is more likely that he meant that despite such distinctions all could find salvation in Jesus Christ. After all, if St Paul really did mean that race and sex were human constructs, then the rest of the Bible would be false. Doesn't Genesis refer to God creating man and woman distinctly? Isn't it then heretical to claim that humans created man and woman?

Senator Sinodinos then defends the place of Christianity as follows:

I am proud of our nation's Judaeo-Christian heritage. Whatever the fallibilities of individuals within our churches, these institutions have made an immeasurable positive contribution to the moral climate of modern Australia as well as through the work of their great charitable bodies. Even the most ardent supporter of markets knows that no economic system exists in a vacuum; markets are shaped as much by ethical, religious and cultural values as they are by explicit rules. In other words, you are always responsible for your own behaviour, no matter what the rules are.

Again, if he is proud of the nation's Judaeo-Christian heritage, then why doesn't he seek to uphold it? If he were to go ahead with his Big Australia policy, then Australia would become less of a Christian country over time. Many parts of Australia would become primarily Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu.

And it's notable as well that he defends Christianity on the basis that it supplements market rules well. The perspective here seems to be upside down - it's as if religion and culture have to be justified in terms of the market, rather than the market in terms of religion and culture.

Senator Sinodinos goes on to speak about the usual themes of right-liberalism: a freer market, less government spending, entrepreneurship, and individual choice combined with personal responsibility. He isn't entirely consistent, though, in his "small state and free market" outlook, as he also wants the following:

...we should contemplate a new sovereign wealth fund modelled on those employed by Singapore and Korea. It could acquire stakes in individual companies to increase our exposure to the newly growing emerging markets and economies to reinforce our influence in the global economy and thereby strengthen our national security. Such a fund could also kick-start a genuine venture capital market—still stalled after all these years—so that more Australian inventions and innovations can be commercialised here rather than abroad.

Senator Sinodinos is a right-liberal. Today in Australia that means:
  • justifying mass immigration on economic grounds
  • supporting the idea of environmental sustainability
  • seeing the market as a legitimate public value
  • seeing other values as merely personal or private
  • rejecting the categories of race and sex as being human constructs
  • saying nice things about Judaeo-Christian heritage, but leaving the market as the larger public value
  • seeing freedom in terms of individual choice, qualified by the need for personal responsibility
  • holding to the idea of less government interference in the market, whilst suggesting forms of government intervention to aid competitiveness

That is where Senator Sinodinos sees Australia as being at. He is trying to draw together the current political culture in a way that is amenable to his own right-liberal viewpoint.

And he calls this viewpoint "conservative". For instance, when talking about his relationship with John Howard he says,

But I think in many ways we had a similar outlook - both relatively conservative.

And there's this interesting exchange with an ABC interviewer:

JULIA BAIRD: Just finally, you said the Howard government succeeded because he expressed the innate conservatism of the Australian people. Do you think this is the key to political success - understanding that Australians don't like change much?

ARTHUR SINODINOS: I wasn't saying Australians don't like change much.

JULIA BAIRD: So what do you mean by conservatism in this regard?

ARTHUR SINODINOS: I think what I mean by it is that Australians like that their society evolves rather than tries to jump forward in big steps. We're not ones for cultural revolution - certainly not in the Chinese sense.

But they are comfortable with what we are today because it happens over time. Australians are very much, I think, relaxed with who they are in terms of their identity, achievements as a country.

And that's, you know, we all recognise our blemishes and all the rest of it. But the point is, they are comfortable with the idea that we evolve rather than try and do things in revolutionary strides.

JULIA BAIRD: Bit by bit.

ARTHUR SINODINOS: Yeah. And that's what makes it stick, Julia.

So to someone in the Liberal Party conservatism means:

a) Not taking a negative stance toward your own country or religion (even as you dissolve them), in contrast to those leftists who see their country or religion in more hostile terms as immoral


b) Making liberalism "stick" by not changing things all at once, in a revolutionary way, but bit by bit over time.

So Liberal Party conservatism doesn't have a sense of conserving things, but rather it means something like "gradualist liberalism".

The lesson? The mainstream political culture in Australia, as elsewhere in the West, is not to be relied upon. We are not going to get much joy from the likes of Senator Sinodinos, not because he is corrupt or self-serving, but because he is a man whose mindset has been formed by the existing political culture.

It is pointless to wait for men like him to put things right. We can no longer afford an attitude of passive dependence.

We need to encourage an ideal of masculinity which involves not only service to one's family (which most men do well) but also service to one's own community or tradition (which was once a core masculine concern but has fallen away).

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Gaita & the ground of philosophy

Raimond Gaita has written a column for The Age in favour of homosexual marriage. It's a more thoughtful argument than is usual for this debate.

Gaita believes that there are people who oppose homosexual marriage because they find gay sex disgusting or immoral or because they believe it will have damaging social consequences. But he sees these objections as being relatively superficial.

The most radical source of opposition to homosexual marriage, he argues, is that many people don't believe that there is depth in homosexuality: that it is not deep enough to be integrated into the meaning of marriage. That leaves the term "homosexual marriage" as an oxymoron and, if true, it would mean that if homosexual marriage were legalised the concept of marriage would be degraded:

From this perspective, even if the law were to permit gay marriages, these would be marriages in inverted commas only. The state cannot do what is, so to speak, conceptually impossible. If it were to try, this thought continues, it would degrade the concept of marriage. After a time, even heterosexual married couples would no longer understand what it means to be married.

But Gaita is strongly opposed to this view of homosexuality; he believes that society should recognise the "depth and dignity" of the "sexual being" of homosexuals as,

Our sense of a common humanity is premised on seeing in all human beings their capacity to make meaning that we respect of the big facts that define the human condition - our mortality, our vulnerability to misfortune and, of course, our sexuality. To be blind to that in others is to be partially blind to their humanity.

That's a significant quote. He is arguing that our common humanity rests on our capacity to make our own meaning of who we are. Therefore, runs the argument, if we don't respect how others make meaning we are denying them human status. Homosexuals are just doing the human thing, claims Gaita, of defining their own being in ways that are meaningful to them, so not to recognise what they decide to be would be a denial of their full humanity:

Laws premised on blindness to the full humanity of our fellow citizens wrong them more profoundly than can be conveyed by the complaint that they deny them access to goods and opportunities.

Gaita's position is not original. It's another way of putting the orthodox liberal view. And it is not obviously true. Why should we accept that it is our capacity to self-define our place in the world and our being which is the measure of our humanity?

There was an older view in Western philosophy that our being flowed from our essence, which in turn then provided our "telos" (the end toward which we are rightly oriented).

I'm not sure the ancients adequately defined this essence, but even so it strikes me as a more promising philosophical framework than the modernist liberal one.

A core problem with the modern view is that we are supposed to accept that meaning is something we make for ourselves - which leaves meaning as something subjective and therefore not very meaningful. It doesn't really seem to matter in the liberal view what specifically men choose to do or be, as there is not thought to be a masculine essence which helps to define our ideal being and the fulfilment of who we are.

And so liberal moderns have no basis for preferring one concept of being and self to another, as their concept of being doesn't connect to anything beyond the individual self. It doesn't matter, in this view, whether I choose to be a self-sacrificing father, a juggalo or a brony. These are all the same, and must be treated the same, as they are all instances of individuals defining their own being in ways that are meaningful to them. If anything, it is the fatherhood option which might be ranked lower by liberal moderns, as it might be thought to have been accepted for reasons of tradition rather than as something individually self-defined.

If it's true, as liberal moderns claim, that what matters (what makes us fully human) is our capacity to make meaning for ourselves of our own being, then value will shift away from what we specifically choose to do or be, and flow instead to the idea that we must accept as equal each individual's self-made being - as to judge differently would mean denying to some individuals what makes them human.

And so value for liberal moderns resides in "equality", "tolerance", "respect", "non-judgementalism", "diversity" "non-discrimination" and so on. But these values circle round an emptiness - they exist to uphold the idea that there is no being except the one we make for ourselves, that there are no real standards of what we choose to do to be, that there are no given qualities to who we are which place us naturally within families or communities or larger human traditions, and that meaning is ultimately subjective and, therefore, not very meaningful.