Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Newsweek story - some background

I was pleased to hear of the recent demise of Newsweek as a print magazine.

Newsweek was very much liberal in its politics, as is illustrated by a story it ran in 2006 on the topic of race/ethnicity.

The story was a left-liberal criticism of the right-liberal attitude to race.

The right-liberal attitude to race is easy enough to spell out. Liberals want individuals to be self-determining. Therefore, they believe that predetermined qualities like race shouldn't matter.

Right-liberals hold to this consistently. They believe in a colour blind society in which the only thing that matters is who we are as individuals. In Australia this right-liberal position is a minority view, though it has an influential supporter in columnist Andrew Bolt. Bolt has written of how he once attempted to identify with his family's Dutch heritage but that,
Later I realised how affected that was, and how I was borrowing a group identity rather than asserting my own. Andrew Bolt's.

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

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

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

Traditionalists like myself reject this attitude because it means that we only identify with ourselves - a tremendously individualistic if not narcissistic position to take and one that denies a love of a larger tradition that we belong to.

But left-liberals are also dissatisfied with the right-liberal view. Left-liberals believe that if we are colour blind that race distinctions, in particular racial inequalities, will remain in existence. Therefore, to make race not matter (i.e. equal outcomes) it is necessary to "see" race rather than be blind to it, in order to deliberately intervene to bring down the better performing race (the "privileged" race) in favour of the underperforming one (the "oppressed" race).

Why do left-liberals believe that racial inequalities will continue if a society is colour blind? That's a really interesting question, because if we really are all equal in the sense of being on average the same, then a colour blind society should produce equal outcomes over time.

There are several possible answers to the question. The official one is that left-liberals believe that "whiteness" itself is an artificial social construct invented to justify the systematic oppression of the non-white other. Therefore, anyone who supports a white identity is assumed to be a defender of "white supremacy" (since left-liberals believe that whiteness has the purpose of creating a privilege over others). It means too that the achievement of equality depends on the deconstruction of a white society.

So for left-liberals being colour blind in a white society won't create equal outcomes, even if we are all born the same. The white society itself has to go.

The left-liberal view is therefore more complicated than the right-liberal one. The aim remains that of making race not matter, but to achieve this one has to "see" race and treat races differently. And because whiteness is thought to be the origin of racism, discrimination and inequality, then a white identity is morally tainted, whereas other identities are more positively associated with the struggle for justice, or else are simply regarded as expressions of culture.

The right-liberal view is strongest in the U.S., but in most of the West the left-liberal view has triumphed. And perhaps one reason for its victory is that a colour blind society hasn't led to race not mattering. On a range of indicators some races do better than others. This strengthens the hand of those who believe in direct intervention to force equal outcomes.

That's a lot of theoretical background, but I think it explains the Newsweek story, which I'll cover in my next post.

Don't be that guy 2

Here's a link to a young man who says that he needs feminism. He could be a contender for the face of unmanliness. My eyes rolled especially at his declaration that "I married my best friend, who happens to be a woman". In other words, he's claiming that it's normal to marry your best friend, regardless of what sex they are.

He is a shadow of his real self and desperately in need, not of feminism, but of a father.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

An old man is tired of his country

Hidenori Sakanaka is an old man and a revolutionary. He wants the Japan that is to be no more. His solution to Japan's low fertility rate is to invite 10 million immigrants from around the world to become Japanese and to transform Japan into a utopian multiethnic community. He believes that Japan can do what others have failed to do and make this transition without friction.

The most relevant quote is this:
"A new Japanese civilization will realize a multi-ethnic community, which no nation has ever achieved, and, in due course, it will stand out as one of the main pillars of world civilization."

He is right that no nation has ever achieved it. Even the U.S., which is proud to call itself a "nation of immigrants," has never been free from racial and cultural frictions. He is right, too, to maintain that a Japan that does achieve it will be "new" — so new, in fact, that a reader might reasonably wonder: Will it still be Japan?
 
Here is where talk of revolution comes in. "In Japan in the age of population decline," Sakanaka writes, "there is a need for a social revolution equal to that of the Meiji Restoration" — the modernizing and Westernizing revolution that began in 1868. "The very fundamentals of our way of life, the ethnic composition of our country and our socio-economic system will have to be reconsidered and a new country constructed."

Sakanaka writes of his plan,
"This is a grandiose project that will transform the Japanese archipelago into a miniature of the world community," he declares, "a utopia to which people from all around the world dream of migrating."

This is sadly misguided. I have lived in Japan. It is its own unique society with its own distinct pulse. Who would want it to be razed to become yet another "miniature of the world community"?

Fortunately, Sakanaka's plan hasn't been embraced by politicians or intellectuals:
"I can't exactly say that the plan I've been advocating over the past three years has generated much enthusiasm." In fact, "Intellectuals and politicians basically ignore me."

I hope that continues to be the case. The worry is that Japan won't sort out the decline in its family culture. As I understand it, marriage is being delayed increasingly as is childbirth. Following almost inevitably from this, numbers of young men aren't seeing much of a reason to commit to adult male responsibilities.

There are all sorts of ways for traditions to be defeated. Long term family decline is one of them and it could prove to be Japan's fatal weakness.

Friday, October 26, 2012

When radical is the new normal

Sorry for the lack or recent posting, work commitments are to blame. I'll start posting on the weekend again, but in the meantime I thought the following quote from Lawrence Auster worth pondering:
“In America,” Jim Kalb recently remarked, “everything is normal”—meaning that no matter how radical, extreme, and perverted things become in our society, they are and must be seen as ordinary, traditional, and unthreatening. The result is the peculiar phenomenon that I have described as the “radical mainstream.” On one hand, liberals and their mainstream-conservative enablers boast of America’s transformational progress since the mid-twentieth century; on the other hand, they claim that we haven’t changed at all. The fact that all kinds of moral and constitutional norms have been shattered, and that nihilism, gross sexual libertinism, and statism are the new norm, is never allowed into public consciousness. The liberals suppress the ugly truth of what America has become, in order to maintain the legitimacy of liberal society; and the conservatives join in the suppression, because their goal is to keep their place at the liberal table; they know that anyone who speaks the truth about the radical transformation of America will no longer be welcome in respectable circles.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The gravest danger facing young women is?

English columnist Esther Rantzen watched a TV documentary which followed the work of the emergency services and was shocked by the behaviour of the young women on display:
The central focus of this shocking, despairing documentary shot with the emergency services in Blackpool is that the gravest danger facing young girls, right here in Britain, right now in 2012, is not from a stranger or a violent partner, but from themselves.
She continues:
More young women than ever are deliberately crippling themselves with binge drinking, putting themselves in real peril by fighting and carrying knives, and using their fists and foul language as offensive weapons.

And I have to ask, echoing that police officer and speaking as a mother of daughters myself, where are the mothers of these loutish, brutalised girls?

These extremely young women seem so determined to self-destruct that it makes me wonder if they ever had a loving role model — namely, their own mother.

...Is it because they have been brought up to believe themselves to be so utterly valueless that they numb themselves with huge quantities of strong drink, spending £100 a night if they have it, drinking ten or 12 glasses of ‘Jager Bomb’ until they vomit or pass out and have to be rescued?

...Most shocking is the violence perpetrated by some of these girls. They don’t just hurt themselves, they injure others.

...The Channel 4 documentary showed men with blood running down their faces, stabbed by women who the police said habitually carried knives, ‘like mobile phones’, said one officer, ‘in their handbags’.

Esther Rantzen throws out a number of ideas in trying to explain the rise of this ladette culture. I thought her instincts best when she asks,
Is it liberation to behave like a violent, brutal, drunk man? The police in the programme who deal with girl binge drinkers said they seem to set out to be even worse than men. If men have ten or 12 shots lined up, women will try to keep up with them.

That's a key question. What does it mean to be a liberated woman? Liberalism assumes that our sex is a straitjacket, that it is something that we didn't choose and therefore constrains our autonomy. Liberalism further assumes that men are the privileged group in society, the ones with the gold standard autonomous lifestyle.

Put those two beliefs together and what you get is the idea that women are liberated when they can prove that their sex doesn't matter and that they can match it with a male lifestyle. If masculinity is coarsely associated with drinking and violence, then that then becomes a measure of liberation.

Against this, Esther Rantzen correctly asserts something decidedly non-liberal, namely that there are feminine qualities which are both innate and admirable and which provide "boundaries" (i.e. a direction) for women's behaviour:
If a girl becomes a banshee, something has gone terribly wrong.

Watching my daughter with her new baby son confirms my belief that women are instinctive nurturers, that we naturally respond to tenderness.

The young women in this documentary seem to have lost that instinct and, with it, all their boundaries, exposing their skin to a grabbing, drunken stranger, vomiting without shame. With proud grins, they boast how much they drink, and proclaim they never get a hangover, or claim that being stabbed by a girlfriend was just a ‘drunken mistake’.

What kind of mothers will they become in their turn? Is there any hope for their children? There may be: if they are given different role models, they may be able to change their behaviour and their thinking. The revealing ITV series Ladettes To Ladies showed girls like these, drinking and then throwing up, using every swear word, fighting and having mindless sex, believing that way they proved themselves ‘as good as men’.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Third female journalist attacked in Tahrir Square

First it was the American journalist Lara Logan who was violently assaulted covering a demonstration in Egypt's Tahrir Square. Then the British journalist Natasha Smith suffered the same fate. Now it's a Frenchwoman, Sonia Dridi, who has been sexually harassed by a group of men whilst covering a demonstration in Tahrir Square:

You can see Sonia Dridi being hustled off by a group of young Egyptian men in this video:




It's interesting that news services are still sending young female reporters to do this job, with such little protection, given the nature of these crowds. Are they trying to prove a point by exposing female journalists to such obvious dangers?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The European Union chose to display this poster

A reader has alerted me to the following poster. It seems to have been produced by the European Social Forum, a movement made up of various left-wing organisations. But what's significant is that it is displayed in the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union.

Europe4ALL poster

As you can see the poster says "We can all share the same star. Europe 4 All." The star is made up of the symbols of a wide variety of religions, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, Shintoism and Buddhism.

There are two things I'd say about the poster. The first is that the hammer and sickle, the symbol of Marxist communism, is included amongst the religious symbols. That suggests, as many of us have long supposed, that Marxism has the role for its adherents of a secular religion. It's interesting too that the EU feels so comfortable with Marxism that it would publicly display the hammer and sickle. Marxism imposed itself by revolutionary means and ruled through the use of show trials, labour camps and secret police. Does the EU really want to associate itself with such a discredited ideology?

The second thing to note is that the poster is not just calling for tolerance amongst religions. It is announcing that Europe is "for all". With a stroke of a pen, the idea of Europe being at least primarily for Europeans and European culture has been erased.

That means that we have Africa for Africans, Asia for Asians but Europe for everybody. That doesn't exactly strike me as a balanced and fair global outcome.

If you compare the poster being displayed by the European Union to the poster currently being promoted by the African Union the difference is striking:




The Africans are calmly asserting their identity, in contrast to the Europeans whose focus is more negatively on the deconstruction of their own unique identity and tradition.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

German far left hates Germany, maybe themselves

Early this month the German far left demonstrated in several cities. In Munich about 300 demonstrators marched; what was most interesting were the banners they held. Here are the two banners they marched behind:

Far left banners in Munich
 
The banner at the bottom simply reads "No love for a Germany". The top one is "We love genocide: for something better than the nation".

They want their own "Volkstod" - the death of the German people.

Here's another banner from Munich:



This one says "We love treason: against nationalism, historical revisionism and against Germany too".

In the German town of Rostock a similar march featured this banner:



The slogan simply says "Against Germany".

According to a witness the 300 far leftists at the Munich rally chanted the slogan "Deutschland ist schei├če, wir sind Beweise" which means "Germany is crap, we are evidence/proof". This suggests that they are not only against Germany but themselves too.

The problem for us is not so much the 300 radical leftists in Munich who are willing to march behind banners demanding the demise of their own nation and people. The problem is that mainstream liberal politicians on both the left and right are also stuck in a politics which leads to the same thing.

There is some variation when it comes to mainstream politics. You get some liberal politicians who think it's a good thing to be proud of your identity at an individual level but that government policy should be liberal in the sense that ethnicity/nationality shouldn't be allowed to matter when it comes to immigration policy. In this case, state policy runs counter to what matters to people at an individual level.

There are also more mainstream voices on both the right and left who believe that we should identity only with ourselves rather than with a nation or ethnicity. On the right Andrew Bolt holds this view:
To be frank, I consider myself first of all an individual, and wish we could all deal with each other like that. No ethnicity. No nationality. No race. Certainly no divide that's a mere accident of birth.

This is much the same view as that held by the blogger Osmond, who is a social democratic/Fabian leftist. He tells us that he's inclined to adopt a stance,
of individual identity, that I’m just “me”, I’m not locked into the confines of my heritage or culture.

There are some on the right who identify so much with Economic Man that they put the free movement of labour across national borders as a higher good than the preservation of distinct nations. And there are some on the left who blame inequality on the social construction of whiteness and who therefore look forward to the demise of white majority countries as the key step in the achievement of social justice.

So what we need to do is not so much the easy thing of rejecting the outright self-hating anti-nationalism of far leftists, but all of the political currents on both the left and right which lead in the long run to much the same thing.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Australian feminist: it was acceptable 50 years ago to hate women

The Macquarie Dictionary is supposed to set the standard for Australian English. Those responsible for the dictionary have decided to alter the meaning of the word "misogynist". The meaning will be broadened from "hatred of women" to having an "entrenched prejudice against women".

Enter Australian feminist Jane Caro. She has explained the shift this way:
Feminist, author and speaker Jane Caro told Fairfax today that words changed all the time and said it was certainly not a problem for feminism that "misogyny" had lost a bit of its fire power.

Ms Caro suggested the definition change may also be a reflection of the rise in the status of women.

"It was acceptable 100 years ago, 50 years ago to hate women," Ms Caro said.

"As the attitude towards women has softened ... it's entirely understandable that the meaning of the word describing that emotional state may also have softened."

Jane Caro believes that it was acceptable 50 years ago to hate women, but that attitudes since then have "softened".

That's a striking thing to believe. My own impression is that women were respected more 30 years ago than they are today, particularly in their role as mothers. I can recall there being at least something of a tone of respect for motherhood back then.

So why would Jane Caro believe that women were hated 50 years ago? I don't think it's ignorance. I think it's this kind of logic at work:

a) Jane Caro as a feminist believes that the true good in life is the traditionally male career role

b) 50 years ago most women were not careerists but mothers

c) Jane Caro assumes that women were deprived of the true good of careerism because of a hatred toward them by men, i.e. the thought process is "women must have been hated otherwise they would have been careerists rather than mothers".

As an aside, Jane Caro is the writer who once wrote a column about the British 7UP documentary series, which tracked the lives of a group of English children. The three working-class girls in the series did not end up having successful marriages: one divorced, one had children as single mother and one remained childless.

According to Jane Caro this represented a fantastically positive development for women. Why? Her argument was that if the average woman ends up marrying well and having children then women have no choice about the way their lives will pan out. But if women are childless, divorced or single mothers then there is the opportunity for a self-determining life, in line with liberal autonomy theory.

That's where at least part of her hostility to motherhood comes from. She doesn't think it allows for a self-shaping life path.

Here is how she puts the argument:
For the first time in recorded history, women began to have choices about the kind of life they would live. Indeed, Apted’s four girls, particularly those from working class backgrounds have demonstrated precisely that. One has had a high-powered career and in the last film had chosen to become a single mother; another is a single parent due to divorce and the third, who runs a mobile community library for children, has not had children at all. The upper class girl, after a startling adolescence, has lived a more conventional life, revolving around marriage and full-time motherhood.

Without doubt, the increase in the choices women have about the shape their lives will take has been exhilarating, exciting and not before time.

As I've written before, once you accept the liberal idea that autonomy is the highest, ordering good, then much else follows, including a denigration of the motherhood role.

What we have to insist on, against liberal assumptions, is that it is not just the fact of choice that is of value, but that there is a value to be recognised even in those things which we are born to, or which we naturally develop toward, or which are common or conventional aspects of being a man or a woman.

Even if motherhood is a conventional path for a woman, that doesn't mean it isn't experienced as a significant fulfilment for each individual woman.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Rachel Cusk: a very modern divorce

Earlier this year writer Rachel Cusk published a book about the break up of her marriage.

The bare details of the marriage are as follows. When she met her husband he was a human rights lawyer and she was a successful writer. They had two daughters together but she didn't want to stay home, so he quit his job in order to raise the girls whilst pursuing work in a creative field (as a photographer specialising in social injustice).

She seemed to have everything that a feminist woman might want in a marriage. Her husband was clearly dedicated to liberal causes and he was also willing to put his career second to hers and to focus on the home as a "hands on dad". He made gourmet meals for her and he also kept up his own interests, holding numerous well-received photographic exhibitions.

What went wrong? It seems that the problem was not his discontent but hers. She seems to have been conflicted about the blurring of gender roles in the marriage, not wanting to do the traditional thing, but not liking the new one either.

Her unwillingness to take on a motherhood role she explains as follows:
Call yourself a feminist, my husband says. And perhaps one of these days I'll say to him, yes, you're right. I shouldn't call myself a feminist. I'm so terribly sorry. And in a way, I'll mean it. She wouldn't be found haunting the scene of the crime, as it were; loitering in the kitchen, in the maternity ward, at the school gate. She knows that her womanhood is a fraud, manufactured by others for their own convenience; she knows that women are not born but made. So she stays away from it, like the alcoholic stays away from the bottle. So I suppose a feminist wouldn't get married. She wouldn't have a joint bank account or a house in joint names. She might not have children either, girl children whose surname is not their mother's but their father's, so that when she travels abroad with them they have to swear to the man at passport control that she is their mother.

What she's saying here is that she's an inconsistent feminist. Feminists say that womanhood is a social construct created by men to oppress women; therefore, a consistent feminist would have nothing to do with the traditionally female sphere. But she couldn't stay away altogether, she found herself "loitering" in it, by having children, getting married and even spending some time in the kitchen. She continues:
My father advanced male values to us, his daughters. And my mother did the same. What I lived as feminism were in fact the cross-dressing values of my father. So I am not a feminist. I am a self-hating transvestite.

She was brought up by both parents to follow male values. She is a transvestite in the sense that she is a woman dressed in these male values imparted by both her father and mother.

I find this sad, but it's probably not that unusual. I doubt that most women are conflicted to the same degree as Rachel Cusk but I get the sense that plenty of women can't easily accept a wholly feminine identity. It strengthens my determination to bring up my own daughter in a way that she knows how much I value what women bring to the world as women.

Rachel Cusk then writes,
I remember, when my own children were born feeling a great awareness of this new, foreign aspect of myself that was in me and yet did not seem to be of me. It was as though I had suddenly acquired the ability to speak Russian: I didn't know where my knowledge of it had come from.

To act as a mother, I had to suspend my own character, which had evolved on a diet of male values. I was aware, in those early days, that my behaviour was strange to the people who knew me well. It was as though I had been brainwashed by a cult religion. And yet this cult, motherhood, was not a place where I could actually live. It reflected nothing about me: its literature and practices, its values, its codes of conduct, its aesthetic were not mine.

So for a while I didn't belong anywhere. I seemed, as a woman, to be extraneous. And so I did two things: I reverted to my old male-inflected identity; and I conscripted my husband into care of the children. My notion was that we would live together as two hybrids, each of us half male and half female. He gave up his law job, and I gave up the exclusivity of my primitive maternal right over the children.

The birth of her children awoke a womanly aspect of herself which changed her, but it was alien to the sense of self she had cultivated up to that point. So when she tried to be a mother she felt she belonged nowhere: she couldn't embrace motherhood as it conflicted with the values she had been brought up with and she couldn't live according to the values she was brought up with whilst in the role of a mother. So she handed the motherhood job to her husband and reverted to her "old male-inflected identity".

So why didn't that then work? Rachel Cusk explains it this way:
I had hated my husband's unwaged domesticity just as much as I had hated my mother's; and he, like her, had claimed to be contented with his lot.

Why had I hated it so? Because it represented dependence.

She didn't like the idea that her husband was dependent on her. Her own self-identity was that she was a "compartmentalised" human being, by which she seems to mean an "isolated unit" that stands by itself without the need of completion from anyone else. She saw this as the ideal, and so couldn't respect her husband as her equal for not attempting the same thing:
My notion of half was more like the earthworm's: you cut it in two, but each half remains an earthworm, wriggling and fending for itself. I earned the money in our household, did my share of the cooking and cleaning, paid someone to look after the children while I worked, picked them up from school once they were older. And my husband helped. It was his phrase, and still is: he helped me. I was the compartmentalised modern woman, the woman having it all, and he helped me to be it, to have it. But I didn't want help: I wanted equality. In fact, this idea of help began to annoy me.

Why couldn't we be the same? Why couldn't he be compartmentalised too?

And so I felt, beneath the reconfigured surface of things, the tension of the old orthodoxies. We were a man and a woman who in our struggle for equality had simply changed clothes. We were two transvestites, a transvestite couple – well, why not? Except that I did both things, was both man and woman, while my husband – meaning well – only did one. Once, a female friend confessed to me that she admired our life but couldn't have lived it herself. She admitted the reason – that she would no longer respect her husband if he became a wife.

But is she really as "compartmentalised" as she makes out? If you read extracts from the book (here and here) there is still a yearning for a complete family life and for a male presence in her life. And she is not entirely immune from feeling the pull of maternal feeling for her children. In the aftermath of the divorce, when the children are upset, she writes:
When my children cry a sword is run through my heart. Yet it is I who am also the cause of their crying. And for a while I am undone by this contradiction, by the difficulty of connecting the person who acted out of self-interest with the heartbroken mother who has succeeded her.

Perhaps it is not such an easy thing to hold together a modernist view of identity and relationships.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Gloucester Cathedral

The foundation stone of Gloucester Cathedral was laid in the eleventh century. It's an ancient and beautiful piece of architecture:


From a distance

 
The exterior

 
An interior view


The cloisters


I'm PM but I'm still a victim of sexism

Australian politics hit yet another low point this week. The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, struggling in the polls, decided to play the sex card in a big way. She made a speech in Parliament, reported around the world, accusing the leader of the Liberal Party, Tony Abbott, of sexism and misogyny.

It's a bit difficult to take seriously the claim of the most powerful person in the country to be a victim of discrimination, particularly on the basis of her sex given that the other most powerful person in the country, the Governor-General, is also a woman. If you are given such great power and responsibility then it's time to give up the luxury of imagining yourself to have victim status.

It's also unfortunate that politics is becoming ever more polarised on the basis of sex. The men and women of a nation are supposed to identify with each other not against each other. But we seem to be drifting ever more into a politics of men versus women. Just consider this morning's Herald Sun column by Susie O'Brien. Her argument is that Gillard, as a woman, should be ruling on behalf of women, otherwise she is useless:
Women like the fact that a female is in power, but until now they haven't seen just what this can mean for them at a personal level.

Until now, Gillard's had the key to the sports car, but she hasn't taken it for a spin.

As I wrote earlier this week, unless a woman is standing up for other women and doing things that help women, there's not much point her being in a position of power.

Take a moment to digest what Susie O'Brien has written here. First, there's an assumption that Gillard has only done things for women "at a personal level" when she's launched into an attack on men. Second, there's an assumption that the only point of Gillard being in power is if she governs for women rather than for the nation as a whole.

The irony is that the aim of a liberal society is to make our sex not matter and yet we end up with a society polarised on the basis of sex. That's not a coincidence. The progression of liberal thought goes something like this:

a) Our sex shouldn't matter in what we do, therefore men and women should be doing the same things

b) But men and women don't do the same things

c) This must be because men have discriminated against women for their own advantage

d) So women are an oppressed class and must fight together against men to end discrimination, sexism etc

It ends up with the idea of a great moral cause in which the women of a country are set permanently against the men of a country. And when men cotton on to the fact that women are identifying against them, it becomes that much harder to make the sacrifices that men have traditionally made for women, for family and for nation.

So the pattern of liberal thought has to be broken. And it's best to do this at the very start of the train of liberal thought. If we can accept that our sex does at times matter in what we do, then we can accept differences in social roles and focus more on making differentiated roles work together for the good of the whole community.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What was the building?

Well, my clever readers figured it out. The mystery building I posted a photo of is a church in Austria commonly called the Wotruba Church after the architect who designed it.

Here it is:



Oddly, it is said that Wotruba was inspired to design the church by a visit to Chartres Cathedral:




I can't help but think that those who designed Chartres Cathedral had a different underlying understanding of things than Fritz Wotruba.

Chartres represents an attempt to create something beautiful in an ordered universe reaching upward toward the heavens; Wotruba might well have attempted to capture the "essence of Europe" but he created a church which represents a more random and chaotic universe.

Perhaps I've misunderstood what Wotruba was trying to achieve - it's difficult to determine as I couldn't find a detailed explanation of his theory of architecture.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

What is this building?

Here's a reader quiz. Look at the pictures of the building below and guess what the building is, i.e. what the building is used for.




Sunday, October 07, 2012

Processing Sandra Loh

You might remember that I opened my recent post on Sandra Tsing Loh with a confession that I didn't know how to process her latest article "The Weaker Sex".

Her column described the failure of relationships within her social milieu. The easy response, and one take up with gusto in the comments to the article at The Atlantic, is to criticise Sandra Tsing Loh and her friends for their narcissism and sense of entitlement.

But a comment to my own post made me realise that there was something more positive that might be said about Sandra Tsing Loh. The comment was this:
I can only read this article as a frantic, plaintive appeal for help, for an answer.

Which made me realise that for all its faults Sandra Tsing Loh's article did break with the usual modern girl response to relationship difficulties. Usually women like Sandra Tsing Loh, when faced with relationship failure, take the easy option of saying "We are a group of fabulous, empowered, independent women and men should be climbing over each other to be with us. They don't know what they're missing out on. They're just too scared and overawed. They need to man up and be everything we want them to be. It's up to men to make sure that relationship commitments happen."

Sandra Tsing Loh didn't go down this well-worn path. Instead, she admits that it is the women in her social circle who have the problem making commitments work and she believes it is because gender role complementarity has been broken. Because the roles of men and women are no longer complementary, relationships now rely exclusively on women appreciating men romantically, but women want different, contradictory things from men in a relationship and therefore women are easily disappointed and disenchanted. It leads to women disrespecting the men they are supposed to live with, seeing them as disposable, and in some cases preferring instead to have male support in a platonic way, for instance, in the work an ex-husband might do in helping to look after the children.

And she can't see her way out of this. She cannot find her way to a serious answer.

That's because she cannot bring herself to imagine men and women maintaining gender role complementarity in a marriage, but nor can she imagine a stable romantic satisfaction for women without it.

The way out of the deadlock is to allow for complementary roles for men and women, ones which allow for an expression of masculinity in men and femininity in women, and which then allow both men and women to bring something unique to the relationship that the other person needs.

This can be done in a big way (as in my marriage) or more lightly, but it's unwise to give up on this altogether in a heterosexual marriage.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

A shallow identity

A final installment of the chapter on nation and ethny in my e-book.

A final problem with a civic identity is that it is shallow compared to a traditional one. All that connects me to my conationals in a civic nationalism is a common set of political institutions and values. There is not the same depth of connection that comes with belonging to a larger tradition, one in which there is a sense of being a distinct people, sharing a history, kinship, religion and culture through time.

Michael Ignatieff, who I quoted earlier as a strong supporter of civic nationalism, admits that traditional nationalism's "psychology of belonging" has "greater depth than civic nationalism's".

Similarly, two academics from the University of Melbourne, Brian Gallagan and Winsome Roberts, have worried that civic nationalism is too insubstantial. They have described an Australian identity defined solely in terms of shared political institutions and values as "hollow, lacking in cultural richness and human content." They are critical of "an empty and flaccid citizenship based on abstract principles that lack the inspirational power to represent what it means to be Australian."

In contrast, Professor West has written of a traditional ethnic nationalism that,
...the sense of identity is so strong that it is an inseparable part of the personalities of most of the individuals in the group. People are born and raised to conceive of themselves as being a part of the nation, and rarely lose that self-conception in the course of their lives. There is a feeling of pride and a deep sense of loyalty associated with it.

When explaining why many Anglo-Australians want to retain links to the UK, the writer David Malouf explained that it has to do with a traditional kind of identity:
it has to do with family .. identity in that sense ...It is a link of language, too, and of culture in the sense of shared associations and understanding, of shared objects of affection, and a history of which we are a branch - a growth quite separate and itself, but drawing its strength from an ancient root ...

The fact is that the part of ourselves in which we live most deeply, most fully, goes further back than one or two generations and takes in more than we ourselves have known

According to Professor Anthony Smith a traditional national identity,
... is felt by many people to satisfy their needs for cultural fulfilment, rootedness, security and fraternity ... Nations are linked by the chains of memory, myth and symbol to that widespread and enduring type of community, the ethnie, and this is what gives them their unique character and their profound hold over the feelings and imaginations of so many people.

So why then accept the loss of such deep forms of identity? An English journalist, Janet Daley, believes that in giving up the "hereditary baggage" of "homogenous local cultures" people get to experience "the great secret of individual self-determination". Even if this creates "social unease" and makes a society "perpetually unstable" it is what is required for a "free society".

That's the liberal position in a nutshell. It's a belief that the overriding good is individual freedom, understood to mean that the individual is liberated from whatever cannot be self-determined, such as the "hereditary baggage" of a traditional national identity.

And this is where opponents of liberalism have to take a stand. There is no reason why we have to understand freedom this way, nor why freedom can't be upheld amongst other goods that are important to people. After all, if being Korean or Nigerian or Danish is part of who we are, then if we are going to be free we have to be free as Koreans or Nigerians or Danes. Otherwise we will experience freedom as a loss, as a diminishing of self rather than as a liberation.

The author D.H. Lawrence understood that it was not liberating to lose your communal identity. He believed that,
Men are free when they are in a living homeland, not when they are straying and breaking away...Men are free when they belong to a living, organic, believing community...

I'll let the English writer Paul Kingsnorth have the final word. He considers himself a progressive but doesn't see a loss of traditional identity as an advance:
It has long been a touchstone of "progress" that place, and attachment to it, is an anachronism...Barriers are broken down by the mass media, technology and trade laws. Rootless, we gain freedom, placeless, we belong everywhere. Yet placelessness and rootlessness create not contentment but despair...

The rising tide of this global progress, we are told, will lift all boats. The trouble is that some of our boats are anchored; anchored by place, tradition, identity, a sense of belonging...

...the citizens of nowhere ultimately inhabit an empty world ... Disconnected from reality, they can make decisions that destroy real places, to which people are connected, at the stroke of a pen.

The rest of us can join the citizens of nowhere in their empire of the placeless, or we can build new relationships with our own landscapes and our own communities. We can build on our pasts or dismiss them...

Friday, October 05, 2012

Madonna's cover up

Here's Madonna at a concert urging her fans to vote for Barack Obama:



There are two interesting things about this.

First, Madonna is giving a full-on performance of false solidarity. Real solidarity is when we are loyal to those we are connected to in some way, such as our family, or community, or coethnics. But it is more common now to think of solidarity falsely as meaning a compassionate identification with those we hold to be outsiders or marginalised or oppressed.

The latter is false because it is a confusion of categories. Compassion for those who are suffering is undoubtedly a good thing. But it is not the proper basis of solidarity. I should have a sense of solidarity with my own sons even if they are not marginalised or suffering.

Look at Madonna's performance. Flanked by some black male dancers she says to the crowd:
In 1864 Abraham Lincoln was the president of the United States. And what was he fighting for? To abolish slavery. For freedom. And they killed him. As they do. All the prophets. And a hundred years later Martin Luther King Jnr came here to march for the civil rights movement and he won but they killed him. As they do. And now it is so amazing and incredible to think we have an African-American in the White House. Those fine human beings did not die for nothing. They fought for our freedom. Not just African-Americans, but for all people of colour. For people that are different, unconventional, for people who want to believe in what they want to believe. Am I with you? Are you with me? Then that would be a f..... yeah. So, y'all better vote for f....ing Obama, OK? For better or for worse, we have a black Muslim in the White House. Now, that is some sh...t, it's amazing sh..t, it means there is hope in this country. And Obama is fighting for gay rights. So support the man godammit.

So we have this very white looking woman who identifies with those she thinks are most oppressed and most othered: blacks, Muslims, gays. She says that Lincoln and MLK fought for "our" freedom - not just African-Americans but all people of colour. She seems to think of herself as part of an "our" which does not include white people. Her current boyfriend, Brahim Zaibat, fits this identity, as he is of Moroccan (of North African Muslim) descent. She is even keen to think of Barack Obama as a Muslim as that would make her identification with him more complete.

The second interesting thing is that Madonna clearly wants to be seen as a hip kind of non-conformist rebel. Hence the berets, the closed fist salute from the dancer flanking her, the swearing, the invocation of "people that are different, unconventional ... people who want to believe in what they want to believe".

But this is a mask. Madonna's message is the ruling, orthodox, establishment one. She is a voice of the ruling ideology of state (and to some extent of church). If she had wanted to be a rebel she could have shown some loyalty to her own people and her own tradition. But she didn't - she went along with a concept of solidarity that is now mainstream in Western societies. Her radical posturing is a cover up for what she really is: a spokeswoman for a liberal establishment.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Sandra Tsing Loh: monster wives

I'm not quite sure how to process the latest column by Sandra Tsing Loh. It's about the dissatisfaction that she and her professional female friends feel with their relationships with men.

They are not dissatisfied because their men are too patriarchal or macho. In fact, they are living the feminist dream life, in which they are the breadwinners supporting their husbands/partners.

On Sandra Tsing Loh's account this makes them:
  • resent the free time their husbands/partners might have
  • equally annoyed when their husbands are too focused on domestic things or not focused enough
  • unimpressed with their husbands' efforts to earn money
  • keen to transform their husbands into something else
  • more likely to value men as non-romantic, platonic home help than as spouses
  • nostalgic for the sense of home that their grandmothers enjoyed

It's not just an anti-male rant. She doesn't like what she and her friends have become: she uses the terms "unwifeableness" and "monster wife".

One interesting point she makes is that in the past when women needed men to support them, there was a reason for women to feel gratitude toward their husbands and that this helped to make marriage more stable. In contrast, for a financially independent woman like herself, it is very easy to dismiss a romantically underperforming partner:
I made the mistake of asking “How was your day?” and he made the mistake of responding, and as I watched his mouth move, I felt my trigger finger twitch and thought those awful words only a woman who needs a man neither to support her nor to be a father to her children can think: How long until I vote you off the island?

In short, this new unwifeableness is exactly what all those finger-­wagging 19th-century British men thundered against. Mundy espouses this brave new world in which, freed from the usual economic and societal constraints, emancipated women can choose males based strictly on romantic feeling. But the flip side is: if romance is all the woman is in it for, the man had better BRING IT—or else. And how much easier is it to put on your hat in the morning, get on the train, and drag home a monthly paycheck than to consistently evoke heady romantic feelings in a (hungry! bloated!) woman?

In fact, very, very few adults possess so much charm that they can long be supported by another adult based on that attribute alone.

And here is Sandra Tsing Loh on missing a sense of home that her grandmothers enjoyed:
The gentle, almost Beatrix Potter–y images make me feel weepy; they actually draw a tear as I remember my own German grandmother—the homemade chicken soup with fresh-from-the-­garden parsley, the warm strawberry crumble cake in the afternoon on a rolling glass tray, the doilies on couch arms, the polished, chiming grandfather clock....

Day by day in our frenetic, chaotic modern homes, how many of us become inexplicably unglued, suddenly losing our equilibrium in a disproportionate vale of anguish, as we open our refrigerator door ... and confront the spillage from the leaking Ziploc bag or the microwave-deformed GladWare that forever will not close. On the one hand, these are a simple technical malfunction; on the other, they are another small but precise omen pointing to a world without the deep domestic comforts—and care, and arts—not of our mothers (many of whom were in a transitional leaving-home-to-go-to-work generation) but of our grandmothers, who still ruled the home with absolute power. No one is taking care of us! No one! And that is no small thing.

But Sandra, why would anyone take care of you if you have told them over and over that you are, above all else, independent? And how could we expect the art of homemaking to prosper if it is treated as an inferior sphere to that of career?

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Planet nation

Note: this is the next instalment of my e-book. It deals with the issue of whether civic nationalism is fully consistent with liberalism.

Traditional nationalism failed the liberal test because it was based on ethnicity and ethnicity is something that is predetermined rather than self-determined.

But inevitably there will be liberals who will go further and ask if civic nationalism also places limits on self-determination. Does it too set up barriers to where we choose to live and what opportunities we might have?

In other words, is a civic nationalism really consistent with liberal aims?

Some liberals believe, and not without reason, that civic nationalism fails the test of consistency. After all, in a civic nationalism you still need citizenship to be a member of a nation. And that then means that you can't simply choose to be a member of whichever nation you think it is in your interests to join.

Furthermore, because a civic nation distributes benefits only to those who have citizenship, it discriminates against those who aren't citizens. So some individuals benefit, and others miss out, on the basis of a citizenship status that most people get simply through an accident of birth.

For these reasons, there are liberals who not only reject a traditional ethnic nationalism, but a civic nationalism as well. They prefer the idea of a global system of open borders, in which there would be no restrictions on where we might choose to settle.

Those who support open borders are not just fringe radicals. A former prime minister of Australia, Paul Keating, once lashed out at civic nationalism, complaining that its “exclusiveness” relies on,
constructing arbitrary and parochial distinctions between the civic and the human community ... if you ask what is the common policy of the Le Pens, the Terreblanches, Hansons and Howards of this world, in a word, it is “citizenship”. Who is in and who is out.

According to Keating, a civic identity is both arbitrary and parochial. There can be no distinct civic communities, only a single human one.

The Swedish Greens, the third largest party in that country, have this policy:
We do not believe in artificial borders. We have a vision of unrestricted immigration and emigration, where people have the right to live and work wherever they please ... We want Sweden to become an international role model by producing a plan to implement unrestricted immigration.

The American academic Jeffrey Friedman believes that a genuinely liberal society would be borderless:
A truly liberal society would encompass all human beings. It would extend any welfare benefits to all humankind, not just to those born within arbitrary borders; and far from prohibiting the importing of "foreign" workers or goods they have produced, or the exporting of jobs to them across national boundaries, it would encourage the free flow of labor...

He is arguing that there should be no distinctions based on any kind of nationality, whether traditional or civic. If there are benefits handed out in the United Kingdom, then I should be able to claim them even if I live in Brazil.

That sounds radical (and it is) but it is consistent with the way liberals generally see things. If what matters is that I get to self-determine, then I won't like the idea that I might be limited in some way or disadvantaged by circumstances that I don't choose, such as where I happen to be born.

Friedman is aware of a flaw in the liberal argument. If nationality is something we are merely born into, and therefore is an "arbitrary" quality that ought not to matter, then the same thing has to be said for family. Why, for instance, should a man direct his earnings to his own children and not to others? Doesn't that mean that some children will receive an advantage that others don't on the "arbitrary" basis of a relationship that they are born into?

Friedman justifies discriminating in favour of our family, but not our conationals, on this basis:
We would be miserable if we could not treat our friends, spouses, and siblings with special consideration; but is this necessarily true of our conationals?

That doesn't seem to me to be a very principled or persuasive response to the liberal dilemma.

In 2004 the American economist Steven Landsburg declared that he wouldn't vote for the Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Why? Kerry's running mate, John Edwards, was a supporter of protectionism: he believed that tariffs should be used to protect local jobs from overseas competition.

This angered Landsburg, who argued that by putting his fellow citizens first Edwards was no different from those, like David Duke, who put their coethnics first:
While Duke would discriminate on the arbitrary basis of skin colour, Edwards would discriminate on the arbitrary basis of birthplace. Either way, bigotry is bigotry, and appeals to base instincts should always be repudiated.

An Australian writer, John Humphreys, commented that,
I largely agree with Landsburg in that I see little moral difference between discrimination based on colour of skin or colour of passport.

So liberals have a problem when it comes to nationalism. If it is thought wrong to allow a predetermined, unchosen quality like ethnicity to matter, then it can also be thought wrong to allow a largely predetermined, unchosen quality like citizenship to matter. Both can be thought of as arbitrary and therefore illegitimate forms of discrimination.

Which then leads at least some liberals to renounce any kind of national existence, even a civic national one, in favour of a one world, open borders policy. They arrive at a similar outlook to that of Australian political commentator David Bath who wrote on Australia Day:
On our national day we must realize that...the nation must cease to exist

We have dropped the torch of early ideals, the only advance being the yet imperfect acceptance of the immateriality of accidents of birth of our fellows: the color of skin, any faith of forbears, the borders within which they first drew breath.

Until [we act morally] by subsuming our nationhood into the single world polity...then we are lesser folk than our forebears...

Just as our nation was formed as a collective, it must dissolve into a greater collective, with fairness to all, not within the borders that must and will disappear, but bounded only by the atmosphere we all breathe.

Dave Bath's liberalism leads him to the view that the only morally permissible nation is the planet.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

A wrong turn

Local news is still dominated by the murder of Jill Meagher. A march of perhaps 30,000 people took place in Sydney Road as an expression of community feeling about the crime:




Commentary on the crime has been wide-ranging, but one remark particularly stood out. A psychologist, Evelyn Field, was asked to explain the outpouring of public grief. One reason why she thought the case had resonated so strongly was that:
All the gains that women have made are suddenly stripped away - you need a man to protect you.

I shouldn't be surprised at this comment. If you believe that autonomy is the great prize in life, then a woman will want to be independent of men, which then requires that she not be in need of men's protection.

That explains as well why the more radically feminist Catherine Deveny wrote that she would aggressively reject a male offer to walk her home because she was perfectly capable of defending herself better than a man could.

But for women to reject male protection as a regressive thing, as anti-woman, has some serious consequences. The instinct to protect wife and children is one of the most powerful masculine drives leading men to commit in a stable way to family life. It is also at the core of masculine self-identity.

Men follow this instinct on the understanding that in doing so they are using their masculine strengths on behalf of women. If they are told the opposite is true and that they are harming women, then you can't expect male commitments to remain as high as they once were.

For women to identify the protection of men as dragging them down seems to me to be one of those wrong turns we have taken in the West. It means that ideals of political progress are set against what a woman needs for a successful marriage and family life.

So women are going to lose out either way.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Why does sharing the housework increase divorce?

Norwegian researchers have found, to their surprise, that couples who share the housework equally are more likely to divorce than those who don't (hat tip: Laura Wood).
The figures clearly show that “the more a man does in the home, the higher the divorce rate”

I thought the researchers explained the likely reason for this quite well:
But the deeper reasons for the higher divorce rate, he suggested, came from the values of “modern” couples rather than the chores they shared.

“Modern couples are just that, both in the way they divide up the chores and in their perception of marriage” as being less sacred, Mr Hansen said.

The researchers may or may not be aware but a similar research project was undertaken in the U.S. back in 2007 and it came up with similar findings.

The American research was an attempt to find out why women in traditional marriages were on average happier than those in more modern "egalitarian" marriages. The researchers found, just like their Norwegian counterparts, that:
women who earn a greater-than-average percentage of couple income ... and whose husbands take up a greater share of household labor report greater unhappiness.

But why? The researchers were intrigued to find that men in traditional marriages were more affectionate toward their wives (they did more "emotion work"). But the researchers dug deeper and came up with an even more interesting explanation.

It seems that there is a divide in the approach to marriage by traditionalists and moderns. The modernist view is described this way:
a growing number of Americans, influenced by the cultural logic of “expressive individualism”, act as self-interested agents who bargain over their marital roles and interests in an effort to maximize their personal fulfillment

The traditionalists take a different view:
These Americans see marriage as a sacred institution in the Durkheimian sense that the relationship is accorded extraordinary value. Hence, the marital relationship is supposed to trump the individual interests of partners, calling forth virtues such as fidelity, sacrifice and mutual support

This traditionalist understanding then leads to a more altruistic "gift giving" approach to marriage, rather than a critical "acount keeping" attitude:
In this setting, exchanges between marital partners are often conducted according to an “enchanted” cultural logic of gift exchange where spouses give one another gifts that vary in value, may or may not be reciprocated, and often have some kind of symbolic value above and beyond their immediate instrumental value

I think this explanation has merit and is worth serious consideration. There is, however, one further way to explain the research findings, which is that men who are overly domesticated fail to trigger a sexual response from their wives.

If the topic interests you, I wrote two posts on the American research:

What kind of marriage makes women the happiest?

So marriage is a bit of paper?