Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Modern dilemmas

There's an Englishwoman who blogs under the name "Mud" who decided to chuck in her corporate job in order to clear landmines in Laos.

But it seems that her preferred option would be to marry and have a family.

Her explanation of why she resigned from her job is interesting:
There’s never a good time to tell your boss that you find baking more interesting that PowerPoint; that the WI holds more of an appeal than a networking conference and that the very thought of still doggedly working your way up the career ladder for the next 25 years fills you full of cold terror, is there?

...It is ironic that in this most-feminist age of egalitarian opportunity I feel guilty for admitting what I really want in life: a husband, a family, and the space to enjoy them.

And there's the tricky dilemma - you can pursue your career with determination and achieve those goals, but will that make you happy?

If, on the other hand as I do, you believe that 'life goals' (of the husband/children variety) are what you really want in the future, how do you aim for them?

It is a fine line, juggling the balance between maintaining plan B (the career) whilst allowing for the possibility, or encouraging, plan A (the life).

The effort of sustaining plan B (career) was difficult to combine with the pursuit of plan A (husband/children).

She has followed a typical pattern of leaving family formation to her 30s:
And yet is it only now, in our 30s that we are feeling ‘different’ to our male compatriots; feeling a different pull and different priorities emerging; feeling that our paths are not so straight and true as our male friends and colleagues; feeling the worry, as we stare out from behind our suited desks as another friend embraces her new role as ‘wife’ and ‘mother’ – has that boat sailed?

I'm not sure how the landmine clearing option is going to help with the husband/children aim. She recognises herself that it can be defeminising:
Men on the other hand are invariably fascinated, green with envy at the idea of blowing stuff up...as the testosterone rises their perception of me shifts and I can see myself morphing from 'woman' to 'mate'. I may be sitting in a bar wearing a dress, I may even have scrubbed up and be wearing perfume and make-up, but my job confers honorary man status on me. And that just isn't sexy.

Indeed, I find myself going to some lengths to preserve my sense of self as a woman. My toenails are always painted, I've found a local waxist, I wear subtle earrings with my uniform as a badge of pride. I carry perfume in my rucksack - and I'm not afraid to use it. I don a dress at every opportunity. My duty-free make-up collection is bigger than it ever was in my corporate world, and Saturday night application has taken on a certain reverence. But I still struggle to feel feminine.

She then goes on to explain how for years she has experienced an "internal battle" over her femininity. On the one hand she has seen feminine traits as a weakness, on the other hand they make her feel true to herself:
I'd been aware of this rumbling undercurrent for some months, but I only really realised when I was in London in January. I was standing next to the Swede, looking in a mirror ... and it just struck me, I felt powerfully Female. Next to his height, his solidity and his strength I just felt different. Smaller, gentler, softer. And it was lovely. I felt like Me. I had license to ask for help and admit vulnerability, to just Be A Girl.

Isn't it strange, this peculiar internal battle I seem to have been living with for years, challenging aspects of my absolute identity. I don't really understand why I've subconsciously viewed my more feminine traits as weaknesses. Flaws to be crushed or ignored, when in fact they are parts of my character as a woman that I need to open up to.

I'll try to give an example without blithering too much, here is a paradox:

On the one hand, I find myself viewing vulnerability as a weakness and something to be stifled or hidden. It is 'girlie' and therefore something to look down on or rise above.

On the other hand, I am a girl, and I want to take the female role in a relationship dynamic. I want to be the feminine yin to masculine yang - and to feel cared for and looked after. If I am unwilling to acknowledge vulnerability when I find it, then what role is there for a man to feel that his help and support is needed in my life?

It is easy to try to do everything and be self sufficient. But the problem is in that expression. If I am overtly 'self sufficient' then maybe I shouldn't be surprised if there doesn't appear to be emotional room for someone else?

I could be over analysing, but I have a feeling that I'm edging towards (and I hate this expression) 'finding myself'. I just don't know why its taken so bloody long and a dramatic life change to get here!

It's my belief that this "internal battle" is a very common one amongst women - and that it does play a role in confusing the relationship dynamic between men and women.

Note too what she writes about feeling connected to her feminine essence: she writes "I felt like Me". I think the same applies to men who connect strongly to their masculine being - it creates a sense of being who you are meant to be.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Well, the left know what was happening

Everyone I've spoken to liked the opening ceremony for the London Olympics, even if they thought parts of it a bit weird. They thought it quirky and humorous. Even the Daily Mail readers thought it a great moment for Britain.

I didn't like it. These ceremonies are directed at answering questions like "who are we?" and "where are we going?" and they have some power in influencing how people think about such issues. And the opening ceremony did present an arc of British history, one culminating in various left-wing causes of the twentieth century and then finally the modern urban liberal lifestyle.

Inevitably, you then had various rank and file Britons talking about how it captured the essence of British values and culture - which is a pity, as the modern urban liberal lifestyle seems soulless and denatured to me.

Anyway, you can be accused of injecting politics into something people take to be fun, which puts critics on the back foot. But now various figures on the left are expressing delight in how much the opening ceremony featured left-wing causes, which makes it harder to run with the "it's all apolitical fun" line:
Some Labour politicians struggled to contain their glee about the ceremony’s message, congratulating Mr Boyle for ‘smuggling in wonderfully progressive socialist sentiments’.

Carl Sergeant, a minister in the Welsh government, took to Twitter to describe Friday’s opening ceremony as ‘the best Labour Party political broadcast I’ve seen in a while’.

Taunting David Cameron, he added: ‘Working class history, multicultural, NHS, CND, gay kissing. Well done, comrade Boyle! Bet Dave is wriggling!’

The supposedly conservative London Mayor Boris Johnson couldn't see this. He thought it a great patriotic display:
London’s Tory Mayor Boris Johnson dismissed his comments, saying: ‘People say it was all leftie stuff. That is nonsense. I’m a Conservative and I had hot tears of patriotic pride from the beginning. I was blubbing like Andy Murray.’

Which prompted this response:
But Labour MP Paul Flynn said: ‘Boris has been spewing wild meaningless superlatives hoping to obliterate the eloquent messages of Danny Boyle on NHS, CND, and the futility of war.

Wonderfully progressive socialist sentiments and ideas were smuggled into the opening romp. The Tory Olympic twosome were tricked into praising the Trojan horse.’

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The male gaze

This isn't that profound an item politically, but I thought it an unusually open account of the female experience.

An older Canadian woman has written a newspaper column in which she admits that she misses the male gaze:
Men don’t look at me the way they used to. In general, they don’t look at me at all. This is what happens when a woman turns 40 (50, 60 etc.). It’s a fact of life.

In theory, this is supposed to be an exhilarating passage in the life of a woman. At last we’re liberated from the tyranny of the male gaze! We don’t have to care what men think of us any more. We’re free to be our true, authentic self. We can wear a red hat.

In reality, it sucks. I’d give a lot for men to look at me like that again.

She reminisces of her youth:
...on the whole, being gazed on was not at all demeaning. It was empowering. I was the one in charge, because the choice of how to handle any given male’s response was entirely mine. No matter how sexist or unfair it seems, no one in the world has more erotic power than a 20-year-old girl.

It's not just erotic power but a kind of sexual power. A woman's sexual power is at its peak in her 20s; men's tends to rise as they hit their 30s.

It matters a lot, both for women and for society in general, how women choose to use this power. The preferred traditionalist option is for women to leverage this power when it's at its height in order to get the best husband she can.

That's good for society because it leads to timely family formation and gives young men a reason to make adult commitments. It's good for individual women because it means that they don't have to settle in a rush when conditions aren't as good and because it means that women can then build up ties of loyalty and love with a man that will hopefully see them through to their later life - so that they don't have to feel the invisibility that the Canadian writer is experiencing.

Another thought: the system of monogamous marriage that feminists and liberals are so busy demolishing keeps a woman's sexual power operative for much longer than it might otherwise do in a state of nature.

If men believe that monogamous marriage is good for society and themselves, and agree to abide by it, then they can only look to their wives to provide the kinds of things that are so important to men's sense of well-being in life: not only the physical relationship but the larger romantic and emotional relationship with a woman.

So whereas feminists claim that women are closing off their sexual power if they marry young, in most cases such women are extending it into middle-age and beyond.

(Final thought: it's a pity to have to discuss relationships in terms of power - that's me capitulating a bit to liberal thought patterns. It ought to be the case that young men and women seek love and find the highest expression of this love in a faithful relationship.)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Do liberals lack masculine instincts or pervert them?

Perhaps the core masculine instinct is to form the outer wall behind which a family or a community can flourish in security and prosperity.

Liberal men don't follow this instinct. They leave communities and families without any such protective wall. So what happened to the masculine instincts of these men?

No doubt some of the more radical of liberal men are too alienated from family and community life to want to take up a protective role; they are rancorous and want to tear things down in the belief that something better will then fill the space.

And no doubt too there are left-liberal men who explain inequality as being a result of patriarchy or whiteness and who therefore believe that families and white communities are too morally stained to deserve protection.

But I think as well that there might be another reason, which is that the protective instinct is channelled to different ends. It's still there, but it's not directed toward the same objects. I'm speculating, but it's possible that some liberal men believe that the important thing in life is not the community or the family but the unfettered individual in pursuit of personal ambitions (especially career or lifestyle aims).

If that is your mental horizon, then perhaps you'll believe that you are serving people (protecting their interests) by focusing on removing impediments (whatever is thought to impede "opportunity" - discrimination, inequality, traditional social roles etc) to the pursuit of individual ambitions.

The problem is that career and lifestyle aims are only one part of what goes to make up a human life. Going out to work, shopping and entertainments can't be all of what matters to us. After all, these are not goods which touch deeply on issues of identity, or which create a sense of connectedness, or which form objects of love and affection, or which create a sense of what is spiritually meaningful in life.

The liberal mental horizon is too narrowly focused: it sees the individual man and woman in his or her daily routine, but not the man and woman deriving identity within a family and a tradition of their own, or the typical loves and attachments which sustain a life, or the sense of meaning that is found from being connected to something that exists outside of our own selves.

Better for us to return to that traditional understanding of the core masculine instinct, in which men work together to protect the larger structures - the families and communities - within which our individual lives are most fully expressed.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Masculine & feminine energies

I write sometimes about masculine and feminine essences. So I was interested to read a post by a woman called Aoefee attempting to set out some of the distinctions between the masculine and feminine.

Aoefee is a very long way from being a traditionalist, but she's reached a point in her life in wanting to accept her own feminine nature:
One of the issues I see facing men and women today is a lack of understanding regarding the differences between the genders. There's too much time spent on how equal we are and not enough on inherent distinctions.

Masculine Energy:
  • Goal Oriented
  • External Focus/Drive
  • Separate/Individual
  • Penetrating

Female Energy:
  • Ocean of Emotion
  • Inner Focus/Process Oriented
  • Not Individual/Group/Home Focused
  • Open and Receptive

...I think some of the mistakes I have made have been in trying to apply male logic to my goal of meeting a significant other. Although a very feminine woman I've been using male, goal oriented strategies. Setting up seven dates in six days, specifically targeting older men, was a very driven, goal oriented approach for example.

Being open and receptive, a feminine approach, I learned a great deal about men and what they appreciated in women when I hung out in male dominated forums. I learned that men could care two toots about my job and I rarely talk about it now. I learned men like women who dress like a woman and wear heels, skirts/dresses, have pretty hair and maintain a good hip to waist ratio. A woman is allowed to be vulnerable and not have all the answers, she is also valuable when she takes the time to process information and be able to offer meaningful advice. 

I believe men fail to accept women's emotional natures, they rally against it rather than accept it and figure out ways to offset potential chaos. Women NEED a strong force to guide them. We are like the ocean, still, calm and then without much warning we build tsunami waves. A man who recognizes that these things are sometimes beyond the control of the woman (hormones, stress) stays out of the storm and steadfastly keeps the ship going the right direction. He realizes giving her the wheel is a bad idea and calmly ignores her pleading for the driver seat. When a woman has a man who can't be moved by her mercurial nature she is much less likely to feel lost at sea and the storms lessen.

...I challenge you to look at your current relationship and see if you are struggling because you don't understand their energy. Are you trying to make into him into a feminine you? Are you sure the Notebook is the way you want to live your life? Are you trying to make her focused and driven to do the things you feel she should want? Are you helping her be open and receptive to you or are you closing her off?

Obviously not all relationships are going to be the same. I do think it's the case, though, that women will sometimes crash up against their men early in a relationship and find an element of calming security when the man holds firm.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Does liberalism allow group survival?

The Democratic Alliance is the major opposition group in South Africa. It's a party that was historically made up of white liberals. In its 2009 election manifesto the party declared that it stood for a society in which:
...everybody has the opportunities and the space to shape their own lives, improve their skills and follow their dreams... People are not held back by arbitrary criteria such as gender, religion, or colour...

That's your standard liberalism. Liberalism claims that our human dignity depends on our ability to autonomously self-determine who we are and what we do. Therefore, predetermined qualities like our ethnicity or sex are thought of negatively as potential impediments to a self-defining life.

The problem is that this assumes that our "dreams" exist at a purely individual and self-determined level, i.e. that who we are as men or women, or as Afrikaners or Zulu, doesn't matter.

But not everyone in South Africa is a white liberal, so that assumption hasn't gone unchallenged. Former president Thabo Mbeki labelled it a "soulless secular theology" that was based on an atomised view of the individual.

Ryan Coetzee is the Democratic Alliance strategist. He has written a column in response to Mbeki's claims. It's an interesting piece as it shows a white liberal trying (unsuccessfully) to fit in a group identity within a liberal ideology. Coetzee tries his best to make concessions but he doesn't get very far.

Coetzee sets out the debate with this:
...during the 1980s and 1990s there was a detailed and sustained debate between liberals and communitarians concerning the liberal conception of the self, which does not need repeating here. Suffice it to say that it is perfectly possible and indeed desirable for liberals to hold a view of an autonomous self grounded in society without ceasing to be liberals.

The communitarians were a group of academics, some of whom made similar criticisms of liberalism to the ones I make. They did push liberals onto the back foot, but without changing any fundamentals.

Anyway, what Coetzee is saying is that he thinks it possible to retain the liberal view of an autonomous self whilst still, as the communitarians urged, having that individual grounded in a particular society. The liberals had not paid much attention for some generations to that communitarian concern.

Coetzee goes on to argue that liberals believe that despite the influence of predetermined qualities like our biology and our environment, individuals are unique and can choose "who and how to be".

Traditionalists would agree that individuals are unique and that individuals do choose aspects of how they live, but we would not make such a blanket assertion that it is an individual thing to choose who and how to be. Some of that is given to us. For example, if we are men, and attempt to realise that part of ourselves, then not every way of being is equally masculine. We will be naturally oriented to some ways of being rather than others. Similarly, if we have a moral conscience, and can recognise aspects of a pre-existing objective morality, then we will be oriented to some behaviours over others. And our ethnicity is not usually something that it is in our hands to choose. A Japanese man can choose to live in exile, or to make little effort to support his tradition, but he cannot suddenly make himself not Japanese in ethnicity.

Coetzee then makes a partial concession:
...individuals have a variety of identities, including group identities, and that these are perfectly legitimate. They are not atomized centres of consciousness with no connection to others: a person may be an Afrikaner, coloured, a woman, a socialist, a mother and a lover of classical music, and all these attachments (and many others besides) comprise her identity.

That's a lot better than the usual "ethnicity is a fetter" type of liberal argument. But note that some key aspects of identity (our sex and ethnicity) have been placed at the same level as an artistic taste (lover of classical music).

I'll take the concession, though, given that in many liberal societies a white identity is considered illegitimate. But as we'll see, the limited concession isn't enough by itself. Coetzee goes straight on to make this qualification:
....while individuals may be in part the product of biological and environmental forces, they are still able to exercise choice and thus can decide their identity and attachments for themselves, at least in so far as they feel alienated from the identities imposed on them by their history and environment. The woman described above can choose not to be Afrikaans, not to identify as coloured or as a socialist. She can even choose not to identity as a woman...

It's an insistence that identity has to be autonomously self-defined. And if you think that autonomously self-defining yourself is the key aspect of your human dignity, then your bias will be toward not accepting the predetermined aspects of your identity, i.e. you'll think yourself greater in dignity if you reject an identity as an Afrikaner or as a woman.

Second, it's odd to take the approach that we must decide for ourselves whether we are to identify as a man or as a Japanese. These things are so constitutive of who we are, that to deny them would mean failing to fulfil important aspects of self. Yes, a woman "can even choose not to identify as a woman" but that would be denying something that you already are.

Coetzee then makes this strange claim:
This is an optimistic and empathetic vision of what it means to be a human being. If we are mere representatives of larger entities (the middle class; Muslims; Africans; whatever) then there would be nothing about others to respect or with which to empathise. Indeed, there would be no other people (as we use and understand the term) at all – just ciphers representing abstractions.

This is an example of how liberal thought can be very alien to non-liberals. Surely I can identify ethnically as, say, a Frenchman and still respect a Bolivian for a whole range of qualities: being a good father, a good Christian, having masculine bearing, showing commitment to his own tradition, working productively etc.

Perhaps Coetzee really believes that if we identify with a communal tradition that we so merge into an abstracted mass that we lose all individual qualities. If that is what liberals think, then they need a good lie down on a sunny Queensland beach. If anything, individuals in traditional Western societies were more self-confident in asserting themselves rather than less so. Was Shakespeare just a cipher representing an abstraction?

Coetzee does give an example of what he fears. He criticises the "coconut" accusation levelled at some blacks by other blacks:
Blacks who think or behave or sound “like whites” are not real blacks, they are “coconuts”. The idea that one can be black, and think what one likes, and still be black, is anathema. In other words, the idea that you can self-identify as black and then define for yourself the meaning and significance of that identification is anathema.

Perhaps it's true that the "coconut" jibe is used to coerce some blacks into remaining within black norms. But there are norms generated in a variety of ways in every society, including liberal ones. There are norms of behaviour within social classes, for instance. In liberal societies, there are very strong norms about what makes you a good person or not, and what is correct or incorrect to say or believe. Norms can have a positive effect or a negative one, depending on what they are and what they push toward.

So we shouldn't be frightened of the existence of norms - they're always going to be with us. What matters is their quality. And nor can we do as Coetzee suggests, which is to define for ourselves the meaning and significance of an ethnic or sex identity. If that were possible, then such identities would have very little significance. If I could just make up what it means to be masculine, then that would be a merely invented, subjective identity which would not connect me to anyone else or to anything outside of myself.

That's not to say that the individual doesn't act upon such identities. Generally, we look to what's best within our tradition, or within masculine or feminine qualities, and try to draw on those things; and that means that there will be some individual variation and some changes in culture over time.

Here's something else from Coetzee:
We in the DA are a collection of complex individuals with many identities. We are not a collection of race or linguistic or religious or cultural groups that are immutable and that define the individuals in them, rather than being defined by the individuals in them.

It's the same problem. We are allowed to belong to a group as long as the group doesn't somehow define who we are; it is only allowed to work the other way  - we have to define for ourselves as individuals what identifying with the group means. But that makes belonging to the group less meaningful. Say I identify as a Catholic. If every Catholic self-defines what identifying as a Catholic entails, then you've reduced the sense that there is a real essence to being a Catholic.

The truth is that we are partly defined by being a man or a woman, by being an Afrikaner or a Zulu, by being a Muslim or a Catholic and so on. And although these identities are not strictly immutable, nor are they up for self-definition either.

Finally, Coetzee has an odd way of justifying social solidarity:
What makes solidarity possible for liberals is not the idea that other members of my group are facsimiles of me. In this conception of things, no solidarity (identification, care or compassion) is possible anyway, because there is no other with which to identify or empathise. In this (collectivist) conception of things, solidarity is really just self-interest masquerading as compassion for others who aren’t really other at all.

First, he assumes that solidarity means compassion and empathy rather than loyalty, a feeling of relatedness, or working toward common ends. Second, he seems to believe that you can't show compassion or empathy towards someone you are more closely related to because that would just be self-interest. That leads to his striking conclusion, that you can only experience solidarity with those who are most alien to you.

Coetzee supports this statement by Richard Rorty:
In my utopia, human solidarity ... is to be achieved not by inquiry but by imagination, the imaginative ability to see strange people as fellow sufferers. Solidarity is not discovered by reflection but created. It is created by increasing our sensitivity to the particular details of the pain and humiliation of other, unfamiliar sorts of people. Such increases in sensitivity makes it more difficult to marginalize people different from ourselves ...

So solidarity with your own group is impossible because the very notion of solidarity has been redefined to mean compassion for people who are alien to you.

Now, having compassion for people who are other to you is a good thing. But it's no use for Coetzee to say that it's legitimate for people to have a group identity and then:

a) insist that there are no larger essences to these identities that help to define the individual, but that the individual himself defines what these identities are

and

b) redefine solidarity as something that only applies to those outside of the groups you belong to.

If liberals are going to declare group identity to be legitimate, then they have to commit to a philosophy which makes it possible for these groups to survive over time. Coetzee has not done this and so his concession to the communitarians isn't as significant as it might initially appear to be.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What is the Swedish family being replaced by?

If you want to be a self-defining, autonomous individual then you won't like the set character of the traditional family. It will be thought of as restrictive, as not offering enough choice. So the trend in liberal societies is to leave the family undefined.

It's the same old story - whatever is predetermined is thought to be oppressive and in need of deconstructing.

I was reminded of this by an article in the Herald Sun on the way family has been taught here in Victoria. As long ago as the 1980s it was decided that it was better to leave the family only vaguely defined:
"What I've found is that in the 1970s and early-'80s, the curriculum authors tried to hang on to that very traditional notion of the nuclear family," Ms Farrelly said.

"By the time they got to the '80s, they conceded this wasn't going to wash, and they got quite anxious."

Instead of then exploring different types of family units, Ms Farrelly said the educators came up with really quite weird definitions such as "groups of people who share things".

"Then family just disappeared. The course (now) focuses very much on the individual," she said.

So there's another liberal definition of the family to add to the list: "groups of people who share things".

That's a bit like a recent definition of the family by the director of Family Relationship Services Australia who said,
The definition I like now is whoever you share your toothpaste with, that’s your family.

So is this vaguely defined family really going to catch on? Are we going to see all sorts of permutations and combinations of people choosing to share things together?

The indications right now are that that's not what's happening. If we take a look at Sweden, which has pioneered the changes to family life, something else is emerging:



What you can see is that 47% of Swedish households are comprised of only one person. That's such a striking statistic. Next highest is Norway on 40% and then Germany on 39%. The UK is 34% and the US is 27% (low compared to the Europeans, but in 1950 the figure for America was only 9%).

So liberalism is moving us not so much toward the new undefined family as toward solo living.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Timing matters

I first wrote about Bibi Lynch a couple of years ago. She was then 44 and still single and childless:
I am staring down the barrel of a lonely future without a man, let alone children.

And how do I find myself in this perilous position? One reason is undoubtedly that men like young women. Yes, I was young once and all that. In my 20s and 30s I wasn't exactly a supermodel, but I was constantly surrounded by men. The trouble is I wasn't necessarily looking to settle down back then...

She has now had to accept that she is too old to have children of her own. And it has made her desolate:
I can't tell you how painful not having a child is...It physically hurts me. Right where a baby would grow.

It is overwhelming to know that my legacy begins and ends with me. So no "family gathering" photographs of me and mine with my siblings and theirs; no proudly watching my kid grow up; no natural place in life's cycle. You, mums, have created the next generation. A new wonderful lineage – of children and probably grandchildren – who are yours and you are theirs.

If you think these are the bitter rantings of a woman who f... up her own life and is just jealous … you'd be 100% right. It kills me that you have the baby and I don't. Why didn't it happen for me? I always wanted children, assumed I would have children and didn't have children because I was only ever in one relationship that was serious enough...

At 40, still on my own, I found out I was too old for NHS IVF, had no money and so put my head in the "I'm always reading about women who have babies in their 40s!" sand.

Then my dad died. Grief reassessed my life for me. (People want to create when someone dies. A book, a painting, a child.) I got brave and had fertility tests, which told me, at 46, that my chances of having a baby are pretty much zero.

Then it hit me just how much I wanted a baby and that nothing I have now means anything because that love is the love and I don't have it and won't have it, and therefore have nothing.

That love is the key, isn't it? The reason I'm so upset – and the reason mums should be so grateful. We're told the love between mother and child is the most beautiful, fulfilling emotion in the world – the feeling that finally makes sense of our existence. I don't know because I haven't experienced it – but if the agony of knowing I won't have it is any yardstick, then I would change every decision I ever made that led me to this horrible place.

I've had people I love die in front of me, but even that horror doesn't compare. This rips you (and your future) apart because, as my friend who has been through this said, as I wept over her once again: "You won't heal – because this is deep in you. What you're supposed to do. What's inside us to do. What we're born to do. And you didn't do it."

I will never be pregnant, never be protected by the father of my child, never be loved as the mother of his child, never love like you love, and never be loved as you're loved. I will never mean as much to anyone as you do.

That's one of the problems with delayed family formation. Middle-class women get only a small window of opportunity (30 to 35) in which they are supposed to get serious about finding a husband and then having children before their fertility begins to run down. It's inevitable that significant numbers of women will miss out unnecessarily, particularly those who drift through the critical small window of opportunity.

In the United States now 25% of university educated women aged 40 to 44 are childless. That compares to a general rate of childlessness in the post-War boom of about 10%.

At the moment 30 is thought to be the crunch time for middle-class women, but it would be wiser if this were brought back a few years, to give a more realistic period of time for meeting someone, going out, getting engaged, getting married and then having children.

That makes more sense than a last minute rush, when women (and men) have perhaps become habituated to a singles lifestyle, when 30-something women will be competing with a younger cohort of women, and when men have not been given a clear signal to prepare for the roles of husband and father.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Hawke sells off the farm to China

Former Australian PM Bob Hawke is making a living selling Australian farmland to companies linked to the Chinese Government.

It's not a great surprise. Hawke once defined an Australian as someone who "chooses to live here, obey the law and pays taxes". So the term "Australian" doesn't mean much to him - it doesn't define a particular people with a particular identity and tradition of their own. Instead, it just refers to individuals who happen to live in a particular place.

Wendy Tuohy: the gift of children

An interesting reflection on motherhood by Melbourne writer Wendy Tuohy:
Quite often, you hear a mother say "I can't imagine life without my kids", and I'm well and truly in that camp. I can't imagine not having their blessed, sun-shiny presence, minute to minute, day by day.

As Mother's Day rolls around again and women around the country prepare for their tea and toast in bed, and get ready to beam when they open that candle, purple notebook or hand cream from the school stall, I find myself thinking about how motherhood has changed me - almost down to the DNA.

It has certainly made me a better person. And it has made me want to keep striving to be even "better" for myself, the kids and other people.

I don't want to sound too evangelical about motherhood, the social significance and status of which has been endlessly raked over in the past year or so, but in my experience it is transformational.

That's not to say that you can't transform through other experiences. It's just that in my life the single biggest thing to have shifted my perspective, priorities and self-image has been becoming a mum.

It's a cliche that motherhood makes you selfless - and not quite correct either, because most people see in their children some faint glimmer of themselves.

But I would like to think all that limitless loving has made me more humble. I am certainly a less selfish, more reliable, open, and thankfully even more confident person since the gift of kids.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Two Canadians hit a nerve with London Girl

There is in Australia and elsewhere a big city culture in which young women think of their 20s as a time to engage in a single girl lifestyle of travel and careers and uncommitted relationships.

Take, for instance, London Girl. She was completely thrown when a couple of Canadians queried her single status at age 27:
The two Canadians had joined myself and a friend at our table after the football. They'd shuffled over as the big screens rolled up, bought a round of drinks; we imparted our London knowledge and now the conversation had moved on. Somehow, the subject of age came up. I told one of them mine, and was completely thrown by what came next.

"Isn't 27 a little old to be single?"
"Pardon? Too old?"
"Yeah, like if you want to have kids and stuff - isn't 27 a bit old to still be single?"

Once I'd picked my jaw up off the floor and provided a response which didn't include nearly as many swear words as I'd have liked in retrospect, it wasn't long before I was wishing them a good night, and making my excuses to go home.

The next morning, his question was the first thing to come to mind.

Too old?

The Canadians were kind of right. 27 isn't too old, but if a woman is serious about having children, then by that age she ought to be strongly focused on family formation. After all, if you want the option of having 3 children then you ideally need 6 or 7 years to get there, which brings a woman now in her late 20s up to her mid-30s - the time that her fertility becomes less certain.

But London Girl is caught in the headlights. On the one hand she thinks she might be trailblazing a new path of a single girl lifestyle:
We're a generation living in rented accommodation, with friends instead of other halves, or even still at home with parents. We're working hard at our careers and relationships come second, we travel the world after university instead of beginning the hunt for a job, often not finding a permanent one until well into our mid twenties. Even in our careers we're feeling our way: the jobs we've got now didn't exist when we started uni.

Marriage will happen - at some point - but not now, not yet, not while there's fun to be had. And kids? As a 27 year old girl who spends her nights surrounded by mostly single friends, and mornings in bed with a hangover and the vague but cheering memories from the night before, the idea of being responsible for a child is nothing short of terrifying.

But she's not so sure if it's all going to work out well:
There's an edge to it; a desperation creeping in, a scrabble to locate the nearest hot man in any given vicinity.

If you squint and look around the pub at 11pm on a Saturday night, over at the group of girls laughing, dancing, hugging, chatting and doing shots, you can sometimes see and hear the point at which the old generation, the one that told us we'd be settled by 30, is meeting this new one; where you can have it all - but later, and detect a bit of panic. It's in our conversations and the back of our minds; the way we search the people at the bar.

This doing it later stuff, it's a nice idea in our heads, and we're doing it with gusto. But our hearts haven't quite caught up yet.

So, are we too old? No, we're not too old. We don't look it, we don't feel it, we don't realise it.

But if by some stretch of the imagination it turns out we are, then we'll surely be the first generation to know about it.

But they're not the first generation. There have been several generations of middle-class English women since the 1880s which have failed to launch. Generation X women are the most recent to miss out: a report last year showed that 43% of university educated Generation X women are childless.

Is this London Girl's fault? Not really - it seems, in fact, that a boy she really liked was the one to break up with her. But she is representative of a certain kind of woman who is hesitant about family formation where they should be decisive.

Timing does matter when it comes to family. It doesn't work out well if women encourage their male peers to think that they are not required as husbands or fathers until some very late and very vague time in their lives. It doesn't work out well if women wait until the last dwindling years of their fertility to try to have children. It doesn't work out well if men and women become too habituated to a solo lifestyle.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

President Obama proves how different the leftist mindset is

President Obama has written an op-ed for Newsweek magazine celebrating Title IX, a law which reads:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance...

As I understand it, the law has been used to force American universities to cut male sports teams in order to have equal numbers of women participating in sports. There has been no allowance made for men having a greater interest in sports or for male sports teams having a greater following.

But that's not what's so signicant about Obama's op-ed. Since Title IX was introduced women have come to dominate graduate numbers at American universities. The situation is now as follows:
According to the Census Bureau, 685,000 men and 916,000 women graduated from college in 2009 (the latest year for which statistics have been published). That means 25 percent fewer men received college degrees than women.

So women are now vastly overrepresented at American universities. And what is President Obama's attitude to this? He thinks it's just great:
In fact, more women as a whole now graduate from college than men. This is a great accomplishment—not just for one sport or one college or even just for women but for America. And this is what Title IX is all about.

Having more women than men graduate from college is what Title IX is all about, he writes. We're supposed to believe it's bad - it's discriminatory - if there are more men than women playing sports on campus, but that it's a "great accomplishment" for America if there are 25% more women than men who actually graduate.

And Obama goes on to write:
I’ve said that women will shape the destiny of this country, and I mean it.

And this:
We have come so far. But there’s so much farther we can go. There are always more barriers we can break and more progress we can make.

It's at moments like this that you are forced to recognise just how differently the leftist mind perceives reality. Obama's religious feelings are centred on a secular drama in which society must always find the next barrier to break, so that a woman's sex does not limit her power in society. This is the measure of the progress and greatness of a society, and the issue on which a nation's destiny hangs.

The word "equality" is used more as a symbol within this little drama - it refers to the progress of women's power in society rather than to finding a counterpoise between men and women.

There is not a lot of consideration given within such a mindset to how a society might successfully order itself in the long term. There is a great blank, for instance, in considering what role men might have within such an ideologically driven society, or, for that matter, what role the average non-professional, family-oriented woman might have.

I suspect that the longer the mindset endures, the more tensions it will generate. At what point, for instance, do you have to recognise that women are actually advantaged in education rather than disadvantaged? At what point do you have to recognise that Western countries are declining relative to other nations rather than progressing? At what point do you have to recognise that "permanent revolution" doesn't make for a great religion, or that there is more to life than career ambition?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The reality of women in combat

There is a campaign underway to open up infantry combat positions to women in the American armed services. The campaign has encountered an interesting opponent - a woman by the name of Katie Petronio who has five years' experience as a combat engineer in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Why does Katie Petronio think female combat infantry to be a bad idea? Because despite all her training, her body wasn't able to stand the rigours of combat as much as her male peers:
I was a star ice hockey player at Bowdoin College, a small elite college in Maine, with a major in government and law. At 5 feet 3 inches I was squatting 200 pounds and benching 145 pounds when I graduated in 2007. I completed Officer Candidates School (OCS) ranked 4 of 52 candidates, graduated 48 of 261 from TBS, and finished second at MOS school. I also repeatedly scored far above average in all female-based physical fitness tests (for example, earning a 292 out of 300 on the Marine physical fitness test). Five years later, I am physically not the woman I once was...

I was a motivated, resilient second lieutenant when I deployed to Iraq for 10 months, traveling across the Marine area of operations (AO) and participating in numerous combat operations. Yet, due to the excessive amount of time I spent in full combat load, I was diagnosed with a severe case of restless leg syndrome. My spine had compressed on nerves in my lower back causing neuropathy which compounded the symptoms of restless leg syndrome.

While this injury has certainly not been enjoyable, Iraq was a pleasant experience compared to the experiences I endured during my deployment to Afghanistan...By the fifth month into the deployment, I had muscle atrophy in my thighs that was causing me to constantly trip and my legs to buckle with the slightest grade change. My agility during firefights and mobility on and off vehicles and perimeter walls was seriously hindering my response time and overall capability. It was evident that stress and muscular deterioration was affecting everyone regardless of gender; however, the rate of my deterioration was noticeably faster than that of male Marines and further compounded by gender-specific medical conditions. At the end of the 7-month deployment, and the construction of 18 PBs later, I had lost 17 pounds and was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (which personally resulted in infertility, but is not a genetic trend in my family), which was brought on by the chemical and physical changes endured during deployment.

She didn't even deploy as often as her male peers and yet her body packed it in. That's not surprising given that the female body is not there for combat purposes.

Monday, July 09, 2012

A feminist art of living

There's an American feminist academic called Jacqueline Scott (and, as it happens, an English one too, but more on her later) who has explained what she calls her "Art of Living":
Practicing the art [of living] means consciously trying to flourish by resisting offered definitions and actively seeking to define oneself. Friedrich Nietzsche referred to these offered (he might also use the verb "imposed") definitions as "nooks". They can sometimes be nooks of comfort and security, but they can also be nooks of imprisonment.

Regular readers will know that I see this kind of attitude as central to liberal ideology. The liberal idea is that the highest good is an autonomy in which we are supposed to be self-determining or self-defining individuals. Therefore, whatever is predetermined in our identity is thought to impede us - it is thought of in limiting terms as a strait-jacket or, in Jacqueline Scott's terminology, an imprisonment.

She continues on with this:
The art of living involves making conscious decisions as to how one conceives of oneself and practices a meaningful life. The assumption underlying this art is that one's identity and conception of a meaningful life are "up for grabs". With the art of living, then, one does not "discover" one's self, one creates it.

What she is saying is that if you think of yourself as a self-defining individual, then you are assuming that you don't have any essential identity or nature; you begin as a blank slate and you go on to create yourself from your own "conscious decisions".

That is a kind of existentialism: a belief that existence precedes essence (i.e. that first we exist and then we create what we are). Existentialists like to talk about people having authentic selves, which has always struck me as odd - how can your self be authentic if you have no essence and just make up who you are?

Jacqueline Scott briefly touches on this issue:
It was at Spelman that I established my first guidelines for my practice of the art of living...avoid sacrificing my authentic self (meaning my conception of it) in the name of pleasing or placating someone else.

At least that's clearly put. She believes that you are being authentic if you follow your own concept of self rather than changing it to please someone else. The problem, as she herself notes, is that the self you are staying true to is just a conception you have of yourself. You could just as easily have a different one. So why not change it to please others?

Here's another odd thing about existentialist authenticity. Jacqueline Scott is a black American woman but she is engaged to a Jewish man and has converted to Judaism. And yet she is, as she discusses in her writings, a Nietzschean nihilist. She writes:
There were many other aspects of Judaism that seemed less "natural". How in the world could I pray to a God in whom I could not wholeheartedly believe?

Indeed. But I suppose that in some ways it's easier if you are an existentialist to accept such a situation. If you are only dealing in self-generated concepts, then being Jewish isn't so much about accepting the truth claims of Jewish theology, but about finding a way to work Judaism into an image of self.

Finally, the other striking thing about Jacqueline Scott's beliefs is that it's difficult to see how she has come independently to her own identity as her liberal/existentialist philosophy demands.

As we've seen, she adopted Judaism to fit in with her boyfriend's background. She got her feminism from her parents:
I grew up in a household in which both of my parents considered themselves feminists, and in which...my mother was an active member of the Panel of American Women.

Her philosophy is also the standard one for Western intellectuals - she hasn't really avoided the spirit of the times in that regard. And, of course, her other sources of identity, of being black and a  woman are also things that she was born to.

So it's difficult to see her as a self-created entity. She has been influenced by the culture she grew up in, by her parents and her fiancee, and by inherited qualities of her sex and race. So her philosophy hasn't even worked out on its own terms.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Feminist woman discovers that race trumps sex

Cinnamon Heathcote-Drury is a 41-year-old single Englishwoman, whose claim to fame is having taken some portrait photos of celebrities.

She is also a pushy type of feminist as the following story makes clear. She was standing in a supermarket line when she noticed a Muslim family putting their items onto the checkout line. Mum was putting the items on, whilst dad was with the kids. It seems this rankled her feminist sensibilities:
She was waiting to pay at the checkout when she noticed a man with two small children also queuing. They were joined by a woman wearing a hijab and a long black tunic who began unloading an overflowing trolley, one item at a time.

She says: 'I glanced over and thought, “This poor woman's going to be there for hours.” Her husband was standing closest to me, so I said to him, “Will you help her?”

'He said, “I've got the children.” I said, “Well, I can help her” and he replied, “What's it to you?” I said, “This is what feminism's about - women helping women.”

He said, “Oh, get lost.” I looked at the woman and said, “We live in a society in Britain where rights are equal - if you need help you can ask for it.” 

In a good mood I would have laughed at her. In a bad mood, I would have told her to get lost, just like the Muslim father did.

I do the supermarket shopping with my wife. When we get to the checkout she usually starts to put the shopping on the line. Sometimes I step in and take over, but sometimes I supervise our young children (too young to be left alone).

A single feminist woman is in no position to either understand or object to such dynamics.

I suspect that what she really didn't like was a hijab clad woman in her local supermarket. I'm not a great fan of it either. But she does a good job of presenting herself as a leftist, and the British left is committed to open borders and diversity - with hijabs being the inevitable result.

Anyway, a nasty surprise was in store for Cinnamon Heathcote-Drury. The Muslim wife didn't take kindly to being helped by a Western feminist. It seems that she initiated a scuffle in which she kicked and tore the hat off her feminist "helper". In doing so, the Muslim mother fell over onto the supermarket floor.

The police arrived and took statements. To her surprise, Cinnamon Heathcote-Drury discovered that the system was biased toward ethnic minorities, that nobody was interested in her side of the story and that she was charged with a kind of hate crime, namely "racially aggravated assault" (but eventually found not guilty in court).

Some lessons for Cinnamon Heathcote-Drury?

1. A never married woman should be a little careful when directly intervening in the family dynamics of others.

2. Don't assume that non-Western women are going to put the sisterhood above their ethnic loyalties.

3. In the liberal hierarchy claims of racial oppression usually trump claims of sexual oppression. A Muslim male card trumps a Western female card. In such a situation Western women lose moral status.

4. If you don't want hijab clad women in your society, it's no use taking it out on Muslim families shopping in the local supermarket. The choice is either to get political and change opinions about open borders or else accept that diversity doesn't just bring doner kebabs it also brings hijabs.

Texas police department accused of discrimination for upholding equal standards

A police department in Texas has been accused of discriminating against women by making them sit the same physical fitness test that male applicants sit. 63% of men pass the test but only 19% of women.

The federal lawsuit says that the disparate results,
constitute a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment by women of their rights to equal employment opportunities regardless of their sex.

The federal government wants the women who didn't pass the test to be compensated:
It also wants the city to hire some of the women turned away in the past and to offer them retroactive seniority and back pay.

There is no indication though that some of the men who failed the test will be similarly hired and awarded back pay and promotions.

What all this goes to show is that the real driver of liberalism is not equal opportunity but the aim of making our sex not matter. If there are more male police than female police, then sex is still shown to matter, which liberals cannot tolerate.

Which is one reason why the drive to have women in combat roles in the army is so problematic. It seems almost inevitable that standards will be lowered in order to get an equal entrance and promotion rate of women in such roles.

Do police officers need to be physically fit, strong and aggressive? Well, sometimes they do. A reminder of this occurred in France last month. Two female officers intervened in an argument, a man knocked over one of the officers, took her gun and shot her dead  and then chased after the other officer, caught up to her and shot her dead as well. Would the criminal have been less likely to take on two large, physically fit and aggressive male officers? I suspect the answer is yes.

One of the slain policewomen

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Interesting public response to Girl Guides' decision

I reported yesterday that the Australian Girl Guides have changed their promise, most notably to pledge that they would "be true to myself and develop my beliefs".

I criticised the change, thinking that I would be largely on my own in doing so. But the reader comments in the Herald Sun today are quite good - they have picked up on the shift in philosophy that the new promise represents.

Here's a sample:
Andrs: When people believe in nothing but themselves, what kind of a society are you bringing up?

Footscray Man: God out, Queen out. New Age self-congratulation in.

AJ: I notice it's gone from helping others to being primarily about the individual. I guess that's the world we live in nowadays.

We live in interesting times. The minds of some Westerners have been influenced to a mighty degree by liberalism, others have resisted. Pity that the resistance isn't better organised, but it's out there nonetheless. We have to encourage it as best we can.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Australian Girl Guides adopt a new pledge

Australian Girl Guides used to make this promise:
I promise to do my best;
to do my duty to God, to serve the
Queen and my country;
to help other people; and
to keep the Guide Law.

But the promise has now been modernised to this:
I promise to do my best;
To be true to myself and develop my beliefs
To serve my community and Australia
And live by the Guide Law.

Much of it is the same, but look at the second line of the new promise. The guides now promise to be true to themselves. But in what sense? And they promise to develop their beliefs. But which beliefs?

Are all beliefs equally worthy of being developed? Does it not matter which beliefs we develop? Is the act of developing any kind of belief really more worthy than having and following good or true beliefs?

The message of the new pledge is that the beliefs themselves don't matter as long as you are developing some sort of belief. That comes across as a let down compared to the first pledge which more robustly asserts a set of meaningful relationships and commitments.

And if all beliefs are equally worthy of being developed, then why take the promise itself seriously? There's a contradiction here. The promise itself hints that beliefs are just beliefs, perhaps with a personal meaning, but nothing more. And yet the girls are expected to promise to follow a particular set of beliefs. But why do this if there is no truth or larger meaning underlying the particular set of beliefs the girls are promising to follow?

Thursday, July 05, 2012

So obvious as to be ridiculous

Twenty years ago I was studying at Melbourne University and thinking that my female peers were absolutely nuts.

They had decided that family formation was something to be shoved off to their late 30s. It seemed crazy to me - why would you imperil something that was so important by leaving it to the absolute last moment?

Tory Maguire is an Australian writer who has a column in today's Herald Sun in which she finally acknowledges that she and her friends were mistaken in wanting to delay things for so long:
I remember when I was at school having conversations with my girlfriends about how we were all going to wait until our late 30s to have kids. That gave us a whole 20 years to have a great time before starting a family, which we thought would be as easy as saying "OK, now it's time".

Of course, nothing is that simple.

Just ask Virginia Haussegger, one of the first to sound the alarm on this topic, with her 2002 column "The sins of our feminist mothers".

Haussegger argued women who were raised to believe they could put off children until their career was established were sold a lie. At the time it caused a storm and spawned a book.

Now it seems so obvious as to be ridiculous.

It's interesting how political ideas change over time. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, at the height of third wave feminism, the emphasis was all on female autonomy. What mattered was propping up female independence of men. That's one reason why the single girl lifestyle was pushed so hard for so long; it's not that women wanted to abandon marriage, but that a long delay allowed independence to be drawn out for much longer.

It wasn't easy to criticise feminism at the time - if you raised objections you were labelled sexist or misogynist. There was a lot of pressure brought to bear to suppress dissent.

Nonetheless the orthodoxy eventually cracked. I was a one man opposition on campus at the time, when a conservative documentary maker, Don Parham, made a film called Deadly Hurt which criticised feminist attitudes to domestic violence. (Don Parham has a website here)

Parham's documentary came at the right time. It allowed others to speak up and make criticisms - feminism was no longer untouchable.

And then some years ago the men's rights movement took off. Instead of just a few scattered critics of feminism like myself there was now a small movement.

The political atmosphere when it comes to feminist type topics is now very different to what it once was. For instance, Tory Maguire also published her column at an independent opinion site called The Punch. It's not, as far as I'm aware, a conservative website, but look at the cartoon and the comments accompanying the post.

That cartoon would not have been published in 1990 - it would have been thought too subversive of the political projects then underway. And though the comments aren't particularly traditionalist, nor are they written from an ideologically feminist perspective either. The conversation about whether or not to delay family hasn't been strangled as it would have been 20 years ago.

So what happened to propel the men's rights movement into existence? I am guessing that the attitude that men were supposed to adopt, that they were privileged oppressors who should devote themselves to propping up female autonomy, just became too far distant from the reality of men's lives and from what younger men were able to endure.

Another factor, perhaps, was the disruption to relationships that happened to Generation X. It became harder for men to do the normal thing of finding a female partner and then having the motivation to commit to careers. The feeling that "things aren't what they're meant to be" would have been strongly present for many men.

And there's a lesson in this for traditionalists. We shouldn't presume that Westerners will forever assent to the idea that their role is to identify with the other rather than having a collective life of their own. It might seem now that this type of belief is so orthodox that it's impregnable, but so did feminism seem to be in this position just two decades ago.

As the position of Westerners declines, the idea that we are a privileged social construct might well lose its hold on some members of the political class. That could happen particularly early in Australia, as the professions here are likely to be held increasingly by other groups.

And if that point of "unendurability" does happen, having even a small group of traditionalists would be a tremendous advantage in pushing things along. For instance, when the men's rights movement first appeared it was relatively open to suggestion. But there were too few traditionalists active in the movement and so it gradually veered toward "reimagining liberalism" rather than rejecting it. I suspect that if there had even been 20 traditionalists early on the outcome might have been different.

Is it really impossible to imagine getting a layer of traditionalists ready for opportunities that might arise in the coming years?

Monday, July 02, 2012

A feminist says "I do" too late

This is a post about a feminist shooting herself in the foot. It's also a post about the disconnect between what feminists tell other women and what they want for themselves.

Jessica Bennett is an American writer who met the man of her dreams when she was 23. When she was 24 her boyfriend proposed in a grand romantic fashion:
I loved him desperately. I knew, as much as I would ever know, that he was the one I wanted to be with. We balanced each other. I wanted to frame his dimples.

But she turned him down. She was a feminist who was oriented to career and independence. Still he stuck with her, whilst she devoted herself to writing tracts against marriage. One article she wrote put a positive spin on infidelity, another declared marriage to be an outdated institution, inferior to the European model of de facto relationships:
...when these egalitarian, independent couples decide not to marry at all, they lose none of that stability. Just take a look at couples in Europe: they’re happier, less religious, and more likely to believe that marriage is an outdated institution, and their divorce rate is a fraction of our own.

But what of the boyfriend who had so much wanted to marry her? What was his response to his girlfriend writing against marriage? This is what transpired between them:
I told my boyfriend about the article, and he rolled his eyes. I assured him it wasn’t about us, but he said it didn’t matter. Over the years, he explained, I had convinced him that he didn’t believe in marriage, either.

Ah, so all the cynical stuff wasn't supposed to apply to her own relationship. What she wanted and hoped for in her own relationship was one thing; what she wanted for the rest of society was another.

But she didn't manage to quarantine her relationship from her public beliefs. Her boyfriend took her at her word and lost his own belief in marriage. And just at the time that she was finally changing her mind and warming to the idea of a wedding:
Then one day, in the most tired of clich├ęs, I, too, started daydreaming about a wedding ... I began to wonder what he and I might wear, who would be there, and whether we’d write our own vows.

I brought the issue up tepidly, to feel him out. Lying in bed one night, I asked: “Do you still want to do it? Do you really not believe in it?”

“I’d marry you at City Hall,” he replied, then dropped it.

Another time, he threw my argument back at me: “Why do we need marriage? It’s only a piece of paper.”

Some time later he broke up with her abruptly and moved out:
We had spent seven years living in a 600-square-foot New York City apartment, inseparable and intertwined. Yet in the end, the relationship ended in one night. No discussion required.

Which now, after all those years of marshalling arguments against marriage, has led her to the view that,
there's something to be said for saying "I do".

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Did Western colonialism create economic inequality?

There are people who believe that the reason economic inequality exists is that white people exploited others over the centuries and whites therefore became advantaged and non-whites became disadvantaged.

In a recent post I showed why that can't be true. The European economies began to advance by at least the year 1100 AD, long before any colonial contact with Asia or Africa. And there was a big jump in economic growth in about the year 1800 AD, which coincides with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution - which means that it was the innovations in industrial organisation and technique in England and elsewhere which powered the sudden leap in Western economies.

A reader, Chris, sent in a link which provides more evidence that white colonisation does not explain economic inequality. Two American economists, William Easterly and Ross Levine, have undertaken research to discover the economic impact of white colonisation on the long-term prosperity of a country.

What they discovered was that white colonisation predicts improvements in long-term prosperity rather than poverty. In other words, the more whites living in a country in 1700, the higher the GDP of a nation in the year 2000. Whites brought relative prosperity, not poverty.

From the summary:
We find a remarkably strong impact of colonial European settlement on development. According to one illustrative exercise, 47 percent of average global development levels today are attributable to Europeans. One of our most surprising findings is the positive effect of even a small minority European population during the colonial period on per capita income today, contradicting traditional and recent views.

That 47 percent statistic is explained further here:
Using the 2000 population weights, the data and estimated coefficients indicate that 47% of the development outside of Europe is attributed to the share of European settlers during the early stages of colonization ... it is striking how much of global development is associated with Europeans (not even considering the development of Europe itself).

What the statistic means is that if, say, an African country has managed to increase its GDP by $1000 per capita over the period 1700 to 2000, then $470 of that improvement can be attributed to the presence of whites in the year 1700. If there had been no whites active in that African country, then that $470 GDP per capita improvement would not exist.

The researchers found that you could predict economic improvements by the number of whites in a particular country in the early stages of colonisation. They give this example for Brazil:
...consider just a one percentage point increase in Euro share in the case of Brazil. The estimated coefficients suggest that if Brazil had a Euro share of 0.084 rather than 0.074, then its average GDP per capita over the period from 1995 to 2005 would have been $9,798 instead of $7,942.

I am not quoting these figures in order to try to prove that everything about colonisation was positive for the countries affected. But they do provide strong evidence against the claim that the Western nations got rich at the expense of other nations. Nations which were left alone by the Western colonial powers are worse off today in economic terms, not better off.