Saturday, December 01, 2012

Getting Girls wrong

National Review Online is supposed to represent the conservative opposition in the U.S. But I hardly ever read it and when I do visit I'm inevitably disappointed.

I had a look at it this morning and read a review by Betsy Woodruff of a new HBO TV series called Girls. Betsy doesn't mince words when reviewing the show:
it’s impossible to tell whether Girls is reflecting or shaping culture. But given how popular the show is and how much scrutiny it has drawn, it’s worth speculating as to which is the case. And for the sake of Western civilization, let’s hope it’s the former. That’s because if Dunham’s vision is prophetic — if it’s helping to forward a larger cultural shift, rather than just depicting a self-contained subgroup — then I think it’s safe to say it’s all over for us.

So there's something in the show that is simply incompatible with civilisation - it's that bad. But what?

At first it seems as if Betsy is going to make a conservative criticism of the show. She notes that the characters are uninterested in morality and devoid of responsibility. And the characters really are living morally bleak lives. In an early episode one of the characters finds out she is pregnant, her friends gather at the abortion clinic but she misses the appointment because she's hooking up with a man at a bar. In another scene from the show the lead character is told she has HPV but a friend reassures her by noting that "all adventurous women have HPV".

But it turns out that Betsy is quite happy with the modern girl lifestyle. What worries her is not what the girls are doing but that they're not proud enough to finance it for themselves. It's that right-liberal versus left-liberal argument again. Both accept that the goal is to be an autonomous agent. For right-liberals like Betsy this means being self-reliant and not depending on the state. For left-liberals it means the state empowering people to live autonomously. Betsy seems to believe that civilisation depends on people taking the right-liberal option and financing their own abortions and contraception rather than expecting the government to subsidise the cost.

Let me give some examples, starting with the worst of the lot. Here is Betsy criticising Girls by comparing its "new vision of women" unfavourably with the vision pursued by second wave feminists:
Second-wave feminists lionized the independent woman who paid her own rent and busted through glass ceilings and ran for Congress. Being totally self-sufficient was the goal. The idea was that women didn’t need men, whether those men were their fathers or husbands or boyfriends or presidents. By contrast, Dunham’s new vision of women as lady parts with ballots is infantilizing and regressive.

What does that paragraph tell you about National Review Online? To me that's a radically liberal view of the world. The aim is to be totally self-sufficient (autonomous) even to the point of not needing fathers or husbands or boyfriends. Betsy thinks that this is an adult and progressive approach to life, because it makes women self-reliant and independent. A left-liberal would simply reply that if justice means women not needing men, then the state can promote justice by increasing the number of women not needing men. Otherwise some privileged women will live a fully human life (independent of men) and others will miss out - an offence against human equality.

And here is Betsy complaining that Girls is not feminist enough:
You’d think the feminist elevation of agency would result in women who take pride in being responsible for their own bodies. You’d hope that telling women that they can do whatever they want would imply that they’re responsible for what they do. You’d think serious feminists would argue that true empowerment is something you lay claim to, not something the federal government dispenses in all its benevolence. But for Dunham, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Again, there is no in principle disagreement with the philosophy of modernity here. Betsy is just upset with the idea that the left wants women to rely on the state in pursuit of their modern girl lifestyles. If they paid for it themselves, she'd be happy with it.

She makes the same criticism here:
In fact, for all practical purposes, the patriarchy no longer decides whom American women can sleep with and when. That’s great. But if you don’t want men in Washington telling you how to use your sexuality, you shouldn’t expect them to subsidize it. But Dunham seems to actually believe they should. Dunham makes tons of money, and I’m quite confident she can afford to pay for her own birth control. But she doesn’t seem to take pride in that...

Again, she has no problems with the decline of traditional morality - she thinks it's "great" that women can be promiscuous and can use their sexuality for whatever purpose they want. Betsy seems to be unconscious of the possibility that not all choices are the same when it comes to sexuality: that some choices might be elevating and others degrading; that some choices might prioritise love and a commitment to family whilst others might impair the ability to pair bond; and that some choices present risks to health and well-being.

The show itself is possibly a little wiser than Betsy in this regard. Girls does at least portray the more negative consequences of the sexual revolution. It doesn't pretend that if only people paid for their own contraception all would be well.

The thing is, I don't think we need to fear Girls. The lifestyle depicted in the show is so far gone that anyone who adopts it is simply lost to us. Girls portrays left-liberalism in such deep decay that it presents us with the opportunity to demonstrate something much better.

Which is why I fear Betsy a lot more. We are not showing the better alternative if the most right-wing criticism we permit ourselves is to complain about people not self-funding their modernist lifestyles. The opposition to left-liberal decay is, at the moment, a sham and that is what is really holding back a necessary response to it.


  1. When you tell people that Ayn Rand was a hyper liberal who thought with her vagina they don't believe you, but its true. That's what "conservativism" is today.

  2. At National Review, anyone who comes too close to telling an uncomfortable non-liberal truth is fired, even if they didn't say it at National Review; meanwhile there is no penalty for edging left. The results are inevitable.

    From time to time someone says something like, "you know a long time ago I joined the conservative movement to oppose affirmative action," but there is no answering echo. Key conservative issues have dropped into silence, and on others such as mass immigration, NRO is on the side of the bad guys.

    This is what the neoconservative takeover meant: warmongering in the Middle East, liberalism triumphant, and conformity enforced by purges.

    A long time ago, Jonah Goldberg said that if the Iraq War was not a success, "we" would never be forgiven, nor should "we" be. That's forgotten now. It prompted no rethinking. You could probably get fired at NRO for bring it up too insistently.

    In retrospect, the neoconservative revolution was wholly malign. It delivered nothing but profitless wars, the stifling of relatively conservative voices, and the betrayal of conservative causes.

  3. The left-liberal taunt that opponents of abortion merely hate women too poor to pay for abortions is bogus when directed against the conservative right, for example against faithful Catholics, but it has some truth when directed against right liberals. What's the difference between a monstrous woman and one above criticism, when both are having abortions? To a right liberal: brass in pocket.

    When liberalism helps you get paid and principled conservatism gets you fired or never hired in the first place (which is how it works at NRO, never mind the lucrative world of left-liberal-dominated institutions), that means liberalism makes you good, and conservative principles make you evil and despicable.

  4. What do conservatives need above all, to make a good stand against an aggressively liberal media-financial-legal-political machine, that bestows prosperity and immunity on the fanatically leftist and the morally corrupt, and that strives to put its opponents out of work?

    Solidarity, above all things: the mutual solidarity of people who know that they are standing for things worth standing for, and even more importantly that they are standing with people who are worth standing with.

    Where must the personal part of this solidarity come from? Good reputations, blood ties and religion. (If money and rewards come later to consolidate some shaky support, good. But money cannot be the starting point, on principle and because money is on the side of Hollywood, the leftist establishment, and aggressively anti-White institutions such as the $PLC.)

    What are the implications on an NRO / neocon / right-liberal scale of personal judgment for the roots of conservatives' personal solidarity? All poisonous.

  5. Daybreaker wrote:

    At National Review, anyone who comes too close to telling an uncomfortable non-liberal truth is fired, even if they didn't say it at National Review; meanwhile there is no penalty for edging left. The results are inevitable.

    That's a good point. And look where it's got National Review - they're publishing young women who defend the worst aspects of second wave feminism, such as the idea that women shouldn't need men, not even their own fathers or husbands, but should aim instead to be totally self-sufficient.

    How can NRO claim to have any credibility as a "conservative" magazine when the editors allow through something so clearly and radically liberal.

  6. It's true that most of these people are right-liberals but to coastal big cities plus people who migrate from these areas to those expensive enlightened suburbs, and the low intelligence people who swallow the liberal rule hook, line and sniker, people like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are "far-religious right!".

    I keep thinking that's why a person like Todd Akin pissed off everyone on the mainstream political spectrum (from CNN to FOX News). He said legitimate rape, which irritated the moderate and far-left, meaning that not all rapes are equal and that some aren't even real rapes. But he also said that a woman's body has ways to try to shut down. And that irritated both the far-left who loves partial birth abortion and those New Agey influenced pro-lifers. Sometimes the sperm doesn't meet the egg and we aren't always fertile. I'm thinking both the people who love partial birth abortions for 8 month babies/infanticide at 1-3 years old and people who squeak at a sperm not meeting the egg or whatever are cut from the same cloth. Both are liberal positions. It's either an aversion to life or a severe love for life.

    It's reductionist. There's no understanding that sometimes death and life are part of the same continuum or the same universe.

  7. John Derbyshire was dismissed as a dangerous racist from the NRO a while ago.

  8. Social conservatives are being written out of the Republican party in the U.S. Since the election, social conservatives have been blamed for Romney's loss. The problem is not that we didn't vote for him, but that we did, and that of course scared away all the nice women, Mexicans, Asians, and Jews who would have voted for him otherwise. We just lower the tone wherever we go. NRO is out in front on this.

    I've never seen Girls, and don't intend to, but I've read enough of the buzz to know what it's about. I'm not as blasé about this sort of show as you are, Mark. I have a lot of respect for what the Church calls the "glamor of evil," the superficial attractiveness of sin. You see Girls as a study in degradation, but to young adults in their twenties, degradation is strangely glamorous. I remember being taken in by William Burrough's Junkie, Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and other trash of that sort. Now I read these as studies in degradation that a chaste mind can read as cautionary tales, but that's not how I read them way back when.

    As conservaties, we believe in an objective hierarchy of value. Our enemies aim not just to level that hierarchy, but to invert it in what Nietzsche called a "transvaluation of values." That which should be reverenced will be degraded; that which should be scorned will be exalted. The desacralization of sex in a show like Girls is part of this great evil. Obviously some people will copulate in public toilets (as I've read happened in Girls, season 1), but I'd say that evil is less than the evil of half the country sitting slumped in their armchairs, being "entertained" by the idea that two characters in a television program are copulating in a public toilet.

  9. Right-liberalism leads to left-liberalism, when people ('girls') find they can't 'have it all' without government support.

    Left-liberalism leads either to annihilation, or to a return to tradition.

    Either way, Liberalism seems to be ultimately self-annihilating. It can only continue to exist by parasitising a remaining healthy community. There have to still be non-liberals producing offspring, in order for Liberalism to turn those offspring into Liberals.

  10. JMSmith:
    "I have a lot of respect for what the Church calls the "glamor of evil," the superficial attractiveness of sin. You see Girls as a study in degradation, but to young adults in their twenties, degradation is strangely glamorous"

    You are correct. The target audience does not find the depicted behaviour repulsive, and it can modify their own behaviour.

  11. It's amazing how the election was about those insidious evil hypocritical "social conservatives!" when the only thing that was done was discussions around science.

  12. I mean both the 2008 and 2012 elections was blamed due to the power of liberals on media/big corporations/etc on "social conservatives!". People like McCain, Palin and later on Glenn Beck were rewritten to look as "far religious right!".

  13. Lena Dunham created the vile Obama campaign ad.
    Her show is propaganda shows like this are designed to maliciously lead young western women astray.

    I recently met a young woman in a dating situation that appeared to be a very traditional and polite girl. Then I found out she had never had a boyfriend but has had sex with countless men countless time.
    She then tried to play the chaste female card in the same conversation. Not happening I was stunned that this women had just told me she was a whore and expected me to treat her as girlfriend material.
    All I could do was laugh in her face.
    If a woman is so willing to give it out to men she is not in a relationship with. There is no value in her keeping it from a man she does want a relationship with.

  14. That's a good point. And look where it's got National Review - they're publishing young women who defend the worst aspects of second wave feminism, such as the idea that women shouldn't need men, not even their own fathers or husbands, but should aim instead to be totally self-sufficient.

    How can NRO claim to have any credibility as a "conservative" magazine where the editors allow through something so clearly and radically liberal.

    That's easy.

    It's because feminism is now a part of "conservatism" in the US. In the US, conservatism basically is just a slower version of liberalism. Conservatives almost always set themselves up as being against *current* changes, but in effect end up, over time, supporting those changes once they become a part of the new status quo. This is certainly the case with feminism. Feminism -- sans abortion for many people -- is now a part of the status quo that conservatives represent -- not the explicitly man-hating feminism of Eve Ensler, but the more genteel feminism of the workplace, the egalitarian marriage, the use of gender-neutral names for children and so on. It's now entrenched in conservatism, because most conservative women, and the wives of most conservative men, are like this now -- it's just how things are, apart from a small minority of people, even among conservatives.

    Mark my words, the same process will happen with gay marriage. Conservatives are (mostly, they are already cracks in the wall there, too) against it, but it will become the norm in most of the US in the next 10-20 years and 30 years from now you'll have openly gay couples being endorsed politically by the conservatives and being celebrated as standard bearers of family values. They will simply adapt to the new status quo. It's their fundamental modus operandi, and it's also why they are fundamentally useless as a political party -- as I pointed out a while ago, their main function in the US political system appears to be (1) to provide a (false) foil against which the dominant liberalism can define itself more starkly and definitively and (2) to slow down the process of change and thereby make it more palatable to the public as a whole. Beyond that, they're totally useless for anyone interested in any kind of traditional value scheme, because on every single issue they will eventually abandon that and adapt to the new status quo that the left has achieved.


    One might quibble with this and say that this has not in fact happened on abortion -- the only reason for that is that the left has not been very successful in moving the needle very much on the abortion issue nationally in polls over the past several decades, so it's more of a stalemate issue. I expect that this will change in the coming decades as the well and truly brainwashed young generations currently under 35 become more numerous and of age, and that's when you'll see the conservatives change their tune on abortion, too. Just wait.