Thursday, November 29, 2012

Photoshopped for Sweden

A toy catalogue distributed in Denmark had to be photoshopped for Sweden:
A comparison between this year's Toys R Us catalogues in Sweden and Denmark, where Top Toy is also the franchisee, showed that a boy wielding a toy machine gun in the Danish edition had been replaced by a girl in Sweden.

Elsewhere, a girl was Photoshopped out of the "Hello Kitty" page, a girl holding a baby doll was replaced by a boy, and, in sister chain BR's catalogue, a young girl's pink T-shirt was turned light blue.

In Sweden you aren't supposed to make distinctions between what boys and girls might choose for toys. Equality there means boys playing with dolls as much as girls.

Why? As I've pointed out many times, under the principles of liberalism predetermined qualities like our sex aren't supposed to matter. Therefore it is thought progressive if sex distinctions are erased. So the Swedes are being good liberals in wanting the toy catalogues photoshopped.

Swedish Nerf girl

And we could add on something else by way of explanation. Left liberals often argue that sex distinctions exist because the dominant group (men) created them as a means of establishing a privilege over an oppressed group (women). Therefore, the masculine way is the privileged one that women should try to get a piece of. Equality, in other words, means getting women to have more of the good stuff (the masculine way), whilst getting men to share some of the bad stuff (the feminine things).

If that's what you believe, then you'll like the idea of young boys being encouraged to play with dolls, whilst young girls fire Nerf guns. It will seem like a levelling out, in which the masculine good stuff is shared out more equally between men and women.

The traditionalist response? I don't think we're going to panic if a girl has a go playing with a Nerf gun. But in general we would see it as a positive thing for a boy to develop along masculine lines and a girl along feminine lines. If a boy adopts a masculine identity he will want to embody the masculine to the fullest and best degree - that will be his path of self-development. And this will help him to bear the burdens of a masculine role in his adult life, to win the respect of his male peer group and to attract the interest of a future wife. Hopefully, too, it will help to connect the identity of a man to a larger, meaningful good that is found within the masculine virtues.

And the same goes for a girl who adopts a feminine identity.

A lot of men and women do still follow a traditionalist path, although discussion of it is more muted than it once was. That has been a loss to Western culture.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

I did it from my own resources?

Here's another angle for looking at the differences between right and left liberals.

The right liberal parties tend to attract people who get psychological satisfaction from having competed in the market, earned their own money and raised their own family. These people can say "I did it from my own resources, through my talents and hard work. I can therefore count myself a success."

And so the right liberal parties tend to attract successful independent tradesmen, those working in private industry, small business operators, the married and so on.

The left liberal parties are more oriented to those people looking to state welfare as a guarantee of well-being, such as students, single women and pensioners. They also cater for those who use collective power to advance their interests (unionists) and who are therefore less likely to have that right liberal "I did it myself" mindset. The left liberal parties also appeal to minority groups by telling them that members of the majority group are not successful because of hard work and talent but because of institutional privilege and by promising the use of state power to transfer wealth and status to minority groups.

These differences are seen most starkly in the U.S., as in many other places in the West the right-liberal parties have adopted much of the left liberal point of view (someone like Thatcher stands out as an exception).

Obama is clearly on the left of the spectrum. During the recent election he used the "Julia" ad campaign, showing a woman who uses state welfare for support during the course of her life, and he was also criticised on the right for a speech in which he emphasised that people don't succeed through their own efforts and resources:
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business—you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.

So where do traditionalists stand in all of this? It would be easy for traditionalists to say "Well, we support the right liberal view, in which we think ourselves a success by working hard to earn our own money and raise a family. We reject the left liberal view that white men succeed through institutional privilege (racism and sexism)".

But leaving it at that would be a big mistake. The framework I described above excludes a traditionalist understanding of life. Once we accept the framework as it stands we lose. Our task is to take as many people as we can outside the existing political format.

For instance, where does the current format leave the issue of nation and ethny? The debate is between those who want to do it on their own and those who see whiteness as a form of privilege. So the right wing mentality tends to reject a concept of "white pride" on the grounds that we can't take credit for things we don't achieve ourselves as individuals, whereas the left rejects it as a defence of supremacy.

There is no place within the current format for the idea that a member of the majority might have a positive identification with an ethnic tradition of their own and feel a sense of duty to contribute positively to that tradition.

How would we create a place for such an understanding? We need to extend the idea of what a successful life means. It can include "I worked hard from my own resources to earn a living and support a family". But it should be much more than this.

What matters too is how richly we experience life. And this requires that we avoid being shut in to our own sense of self and losing our responsiveness to the outside world. If we manage to retain a sensitive response, then our individuality is substantially enhanced.

For instance, we might work hard as men and manage to support our families and that is certainly an achievement. But if as well we retain the responsiveness we have as men to our wives, and the paternal love we feel for our children, then we don't lose in individuality but we have a stronger sense of who we are as men and as fathers.

And it's the same when it comes to ethny and nation. If we have a sense of the larger existence of the ethnic tradition we belong to; if we recognise the good that the existence of this tradition represents; if we feel connected to past and future generations; if we feel a pride in the positive achievements of our forebears; if we accept the loyalties and the duties that naturally flow from membership of a tradition; and if we feel rooted within a place and a community associated with our tradition - then our individuality, our sense of who we are as an individual, is immeasurably enhanced.

I do often feel a pride in my Anglo-Australian forebears. Just this morning I stopped off at a suburban park with my family. I hadn't been there before and I was impressed with the care taken to create such a place. The gardens were made generations ago, so obviously I personally had nothing to do with their existence. But even so I felt a pride in my forebears for building so well.

We have to avoid, as the poet Sir Walter Scott put it, being "concentrated all in self". If we are limited to the satisfaction of being self-supported through our own resources, then we risk losing the kind of responsiveness I described and with it important aspects of self and identity.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The bullying of the churches in England

Earlier this week a General Synod of the Church of England rejected a proposal to ordain women as bishops.

The motion to ordain female bishops was supported by the bishops (44 to 3) and the clergy (148 to 45) but lacked a two thirds majority required by the laity (132 to 74).

The response to the vote has been extraordinary. The Prime Minister told the church that "the time is right for women bishops" and that the church "had to get with the programme". Even though church rules forbid another vote before 2015, the Prime Minister's office is putting the church under pressure to reverse the decision earlier.

The reaction of the outgoing Archbishop, Rowan Williams, was even stronger:
In a strongly worded speech on Wednesday, Williams warned that the failure of the vote in the house of laity on Tuesday had made the church's governing body appear "wilfully blind" to the priorities of secular society.

"We have – to put it very bluntly – a lot of explaining to do," he said. "Whatever the motivations for voting yesterday … the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to our wider society. Worse than that, it seems as if we are wilfully blind to some of the trends and priorities of that wider society."

One "Christian" MP intends to use the law to force a different decision:
Frank Field, a leading Christian Labour MP, said he would present a private member's bill to parliament on Thursday calling for the cancellation of the church's exemptions from equality legislation. "When we gave exemptions under the Sex Discrimination Act we were assured that the church didn't want to discriminate and that it would bring forward measures to eliminate such discrimination," he said.

But Tuesday's vote had made clear that that had not happened. "Parliament made a gracious act under a misapprehension," he said

There is a kind of contempt for the church in all of this. It is assumed that the Anglican Church should make such decisions not on the basis of an understanding of Christianity, but on keeping up with trends within the secular society and getting with the programme of the liberal state.

Even the head of the church apparently accepts this, being quoted as saying that the church has to keep up with the "trends and priorities" of the wider society.

Would a serious Christian really adopt such a stance? Would such a person make "the priorities of secular society" the basis for deciding important issues within the church?

The affair is also a reminder of just how committed the UK establishment is to liberalism - liberalism is clearly being treated here as the higher authority or the superior principle to which Christian institutions must be subordinated and brought into line. And this line of superiority is apparently accepted wholeheartedly by some of those identifying as Christians, such as Frank Field and Rowan Williams.

But if liberalism is the ruling principle, so that only those aspects of Christianity are permitted which fit within it, then doesn't that then make Christianity something less than what it would claim to be?

And if it really is true that liberalism ought to be the superior principle, then wouldn't a serious-minded person commit themselves to following the superior principle (liberalism) rather than the lesser one (Christianity)?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What she never considered

If you're an Englishwoman with a university degree, chances are that you'll have children very late in life, if at all:
Women graduates are delaying the age they have children until 35 - almost a decade later than those who do not go to university.

The trend of university educated women delaying family formation was already in place here in Melbourne when I was in my mid-20s, back in the early 1990s. I can recall thinking at the time that my female peers were mad to put something so important last on their list of things to do and that some of them would regret it later on.

And now it's later on and we have the regrets. One of the latest is from an English journalist called Claudia Connell:
At the age of 46, I accept that my opportunity to have a family has gone and the chances of meeting a decent man aren’t looking too rosy either.

Claudia Connell
Claudia Connell did what was expected of her. She maintained her autonomy by dedicating herself to an independent, single girl lifestyle in her 20s:
For me, the single girl lifestyle that I embraced and celebrated with so much enthusiasm in the Eighties and Nineties has lost much of its gloss, and is starting to look a little hollow.

I was part of the Sex And The City generation — successful, feisty women who made their own money, answered to no one and lived life to the full.

When it came to men, our attitude to them was the same as it was towards the latest must-have handbag: only the best would do, no compromises should be made, and even then it would be quickly tired of and cast aside.

She didn't think much about future consequences:
What none of us spent too long thinking about in our 20s and 30s was how our lifestyles would impact on us once we reached middle-age, when we didn’t want to go out and get sozzled on cocktails and had replaced our stilettos and skinny jeans with flat shoes and elasticated waists.

When I look around at all my single friends — and there are a lot of them — not one of them is truly happy being on her own. Suddenly, all those women we pitied for giving up their freedom for marriage and children are the ones feeling sorry for us.

Freedom is great when you can exploit it; but when you have so much that you don’t know what to do with it, then it all becomes a little pointless.

She still assumes here that freedom is individual autonomy rather than an opportunity to fulfil important aspects of self.

In her younger years she felt confident to set the rules when it came to dating. But again she just didn't think ahead:
What I never considered, though, was that one day they’d stop coming along altogether. I really wish I’d known that once you’re in your late 30s, men are pretty thin on the ground. And once you’re in your 40s, it’s as though they’ve been wiped off the face of the Earth.

A woman over 45 on an internet dating site is made to feel as welcome as a parking ticket. The sites may be full of single men in their 40s, but they sure aren’t looking to meet women of the same age!

It seems that she spent her younger years dating numbers of men whilst waiting for Mr Alpha. She's now realised that such men might have preferred a sweeter and less complicated wife than what she was offering:
I also think it’s an uncomfortable truth that the sort of high-flying alpha males we were all holding out for didn’t want women like us. All the successful men I know have married sweet, uncomplicated women who are happy to forfeit their careers to support their husbands.

I should make clear that I don't think the solution is for a woman to panic and to mislead a man she doesn't love into marriage. The political point I'm making is that modern women are given two goals that are difficult to reconcile: the maximising of autonomy and family formation. The "compromise" of being a sassy, independent woman in your 20s, confident that there will always be suitable men on offer so that a decisive commitment can be endlessly deferred is not a wise one. A woman has to choose what's most important and as Claudia Connell has found out a freedom of having no commitments can come to seem pointless.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Goldberg's modernity

In a recent post I tried to draw out the ideas of the liberal right. My argument was that the starting point for the liberal right is the idea that the highest good is a freedom to be self-made.

If that's your starting point then other things follow. If, for instance, your focus is on the self-made individual, then you won't like the idea of people acting as part of an ethnic group. That will make it seem as if the individual is being defined by membership of a tribe or collective rather than being self-made.

And so the right-liberal attitude to ethnicity is mostly a hostile one. Some right liberals can handle a personal, sentimental attachment to an ethnic identity, but a public or collective expression of it is usually ruled out of bounds.

Jonah Goldberg is the editor of the American publication National Review. He wrote a column for the magazine in September in which the right-liberal hostility to an ethnic identity is unmistakeable.

His argument is that in the pre-modern age, tribalism was necessary for survival, so much so that it is in our genes. But once humans arrived at modernity, the story changes radically:
...the story of modernity is the story of how we moved away from traditional, non-voluntary forms of tribalism based on familial, ethnic, or even nationalistic lines and toward voluntary forms of tribalism.

There's liberalism in a nutshell for you. Goldberg still permits the idea of associations, but they have to be based on self-determined connections between people rather than predetermined ones. In the right-liberal terminology, "voluntary" forms of association are the only permissible ones, but the term voluntary doesn't mean ones that we agree to, it means ones that we are not born into. We are born into a family tradition, an ethnic one, and usually a national one - therefore, those are out. But being a member of a sports club, or a local progress association, a service group or a business association - those are permissible.

Goldberg is enough of an intellectual to force these principles to extreme ends. He goes on to claim the following:
The American founding was revolutionary in its embrace of the universality of human rights (even as it fell so short of its own ideals with the institution of slavery). Since then, the West has fought several civil wars to break away from various tribal ideologies, including not just monarchism and imperialism but also Nazism (racial tribalism), Communism (economic tribalism), and fascism (national tribalism).

He is so set against the idea of a "tribe" that he connects nationalism with fascism and he sees the whole arc of Western progress as a war against tribalism.

Should we really be surprised, then, if right-liberals haven't stepped forward in defence of ordinary national and ethnic traditions? How could they possibly do this, if they have such a negative way of understanding these traditions?

Goldberg continues:
In fits and starts, we’ve moved toward ever greater voluntarism, which is a fancy way of saying we’ve moved toward greater individual liberty. According to the American creed, no one, and no thing, is the boss of me unless I agree to it. To a certain extent, that’s even true — at least in theory — about the government, which is a representative institution created solely by and for the people, who are sovereign.

In this he is deeply mistaken. Goldberg's voluntarism does not make me free. If predetermined qualities are ruled out, that means that I cannot be free as a man, nor as a member of a family, nor as a member of an ethny, nor as a member of a nation. I cannot be free in ways that matter. I cannot be free in ways that constitute who I am. And this makes me significantly unfree.

Not to worry, argues Goldberg. In a right-liberal society there are still voluntary associations to belong to:
Bowling leagues, football franchises, high-school rivalries, motorcycle clubs, Goth clubs: You name it, these free associations — what Edmund Burke called the “little platoons” — satisfy our innate desire to belong to “something larger than ourselves,” as so many politicians like to say.

Not sure Edmund Burke really had Goth clubs in mind when he wrote of little platoons. But I do agree with Goldberg that the disallowing of traditional forms of association in a liberal society has led to a greater emphasis on being a sports fan or part of a youth subculture. But it's an aspect of decline, not of progress. Being a Brony or a Juggalo is no substitute for the larger, traditional communal identities.

Goldberg makes one other interesting comment. He admits that right-liberals (whom he labels conservatives) and left-liberals (whom he labels liberals) are really part of the same family:
whatever our differences with American liberals may be, conservatives understand that our argument with them is still within the family. The fighting is intense, but we’re all trying to figure out what it means to live in this country bequeathed to us by the American Revolution and the Enlightenment.

He is being honest here. He recognises that left and right (i.e. the liberal left and right) share the same underlying commitments, regardless of how intense the debate between them might be. He would side with the left against a serious traditionalism.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Second vision: the liberal left

I began this series by arguing that the liberal right and left have a similar starting point, but that this is drawn out in two different directions.

The starting point is the idea that the highest good is a freedom to be self-made. Right-liberals take this in one logical direction: they argue that if we are to be self-made then we should be self-reliant rather than dependent on the state.

Left-liberals take the same path as the liberal right for quite some distance. They too believe that the highest good is a freedom to be self-made. What does it mean to be self-made? Most mainstream left-liberals believe that we have made it when we succeed in the public sphere, for instance through academic and career success and the status, money and power that comes with this.

This view of what it means to be self-made overlaps with that of the liberal right. The liberal right believes that we become self-made through the market; the liberal left agrees that career success is a major part of "making it".

What are the impediments to being self-made? Possible impediments include those things that we don't make for ourselves, such as our race or our sex . For right-liberals, people who believe that such things matter in a public setting are "bigots" who are "prejudiced". In comparison those who are "enlightened" will be blind or impartial to race or sex in a public setting.

And here begins the divergence. The liberal left does not believe that relying on "morally enlightened" individuals acting through the market and within the institutions of a civil society will remove impediments to people being self-made. The liberal left believes that this will continue to allow impediments such as race and sex to matter, i.e. that there will continue to be inequality and therefore social injustice.

The argument of the liberal left is that society was created to privilege some groups (i.e. white males) at the expense of others. So the problem is a systemic one rather than a matter of individual bigotry or prejudice. It doesn't matter if a white male is an enlightened progressive, he still occupies a privileged place within the system. It is whiteness and patriarchy, and a systemic racism and sexism, which have to be overcome through a radical, if gradual, transformation of society.

And what are the agencies for such a transformation? First and foremost the state. Second, social movements of the oppressed, such as women or minority groups.

Which brings us to a series of contrasts between left and right liberalism, despite the similar starting point.

i) The right has a more positive view of civil society. Right liberals don't want individuals to be dependent on the state. So they look instead to a social structure built around civil society (but the emphasis is usually on voluntary associations rather than natural ones). In contrast, the left is more likely to see the institutions of civil society as being manifestations of the patriarchal or racist system designed to privilege some over others. For the left, the ideal is more commonly the individual being guarded in his rights, and supported in his lifestyle choices, by the liberal state.

So the contrast is "individual & civil society" versus "individual & state".

ii) The right is more likely to think that society can be best regulated by the actions of a free market. Millions of individuals will compete in the market and the result will be to the larger benefit and progress of society. The left though has tended to see this as producing an unacceptable level of inequality and has looked instead to the neutral expertise of a state bureaucracy to regulate society. In 1928, the English Fabian Beatrice Webb explained this preference as follows:
What bound us together was our common faith in a deliberately organised society – our belief in the application of science to human relations, with a view of betterment...we held by the common people, served by an elite of unassuming experts

The contrast here is "society regulated primarily by the market" versus "society regulated primarily by state experts".

iii) The right has focused to a greater extent on equality of opportunity, the left on equality of outcome. This has come up in the news recently, with claims that the Democratic administration of Barack Obama is going to sue companies or schools for race bias, even if the rules of those institutions are applied equally to the races. If the rules are thought to have "disparate impact" (a greater effect on some races than others) then the charge of racism will still apply. This might include, for instance, a bank which has certain lending rules, which leads to some races getting loans at a higher rate than others:
Under this broad interpretation of civil-rights law, virtually any organization can be held liable for race bias if it maintains a policy that negatively impacts one racial group more than another — even if it has no racist motive and applies the policy evenly across all groups.

iv) The right wants the public actions of individuals to be colour blind, i.e. people are not to act as members of "tribes" or "collectives" (but a private, sentimental attachment to an identity is more acceptable). But the left wants people to actively see race or sex so that institutional privilege isn't hidden and is confronted. Furthermore, the left views public, organised, political action by women or minorities as liberation movements which can be harnessed to deconstruct white male domination of society and so the left is more open to identity politics. Also, given that the left locates racism within whiteness, this then means that other traditions get a pass and can be viewed more favourably as colourful expressions of culture rather than as means of domination and oppression.

So the contrast is that the right is more hostile to the role of collectives or tribalism in the public sphere, whereas the left runs with a kind of identity politics.

All of the above forms the ordinary political discourse of Western countries. It can be difficult to see a way through it, as politics is framed so tightly around it. Many people react by getting defensive ("I'm not sexist") or they join the political drift in which those who want to be supported as individuals by the state and those who believe that the left identifies with them as women or ethnic minorities go for the left-liberal party, whereas those who see themselves as part of a stable family unit or who believe that they are targeted by the left-liberal party as men or as whites go for the right-liberal party.

But that leaves things as is. The challenge is to move beyond the confines of a liberal politics, whether of the left or right variety.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

First vision: the liberal right

It's important that we try to get to as clear an understanding of the political culture of the left and right as we can. Clarity is one thing we are in a position to achieve right now.

The way I see it both the left and the right have the same starting point, but have drawn out this starting point differently, creating distinct political cultures.

The starting point, roughly, is that the highest good is a freedom to be self-made.

On the liberal right, that has been interpreted as meaning that people should be self-reliant rather than dependent on the state, and that individuals are largely self-made in the market. If you want individuals to be self-made, then forming an identity or acting as part of an inherited ethnic group will seem too collectivist: the right liberal ideal is that you leave your ethnicity at the door (or that you hold it as a private good, like a personal taste, that is not asserted publicly).

A final aspect of a right-liberal culture is that it privileges immigrants over natives. It is immigrants who do the most to be self-made, by undertaking a journey (sometimes a risky journey) to seek economic opportunities in another country. Here's another quote from Ronald Reagan, this time form his inauguration speech:
I ask you to trust that American spirit which knows no ethnic, religious, social, political, regional or economic boundaries; the spirit that burned with zeal in the hearts of millions of immigrants from every corner of the earth who came here in search of freedom.

And at the end of this speech:
Can we doubt that only a Divine Providence placed this land, this island of freedom, here as a refuge for all those people in the world who yearn to breathe free? Jews and Christians enduring persecution behind the Iron Curtain; the boat people of Southeast Asia, Cuba, and of Haiti; the victims of drought and famine in Africa, the freedom fighters of Afghanistan, and our own countrymen held in savage captivity.

It is assumed by right-liberals that these people who immigrate want to be self-made and self-reliant individuals in the market too - that it is the freedom to be these things that is being sought.

So it's a shock to a right-liberal culture if, instead, immigrants act as a bloc along ethnic lines and if they are dependent on state welfare.

That's the background to a recent column on immigration by Ann Coulter. Coulter wants to increase immigration controls, but for particular reasons. She points out that Hispanic immigrants are much more likely to be dependent on state welfare:
Immigrant households with the highest rate of government assistance are from the Dominican Republic (82 percent), Mexico and Guatemala (tied at 75 percent), based on the latest available data from 2009. Immigrant households least likely to be on any welfare program are from the United Kingdom (7 percent).

She argues that taking a tougher stance on illegal immigration won't alienate the best Hispanics from the Republican Party because the best Hispanics came to America for "freedom and opportunity" (i.e. to give up being Hispanics in order to be self-made in the market):
The truth is, a tough stance on illegal immigration can only help Romney, not only with the vast majority of Americans, but with any Latino voters who would ever possibly consider voting Republican in the first place.

As Romney said in one of the early debates, Republicans appeal to Latinos "by telling them what they know in their heart, which is they or their ancestors did not come here for a handout. If they came here for a handout, they'd be voting for Democrats. They came here for opportunity and freedom. And that's what we represent."

Coulter then notes that a larger than expected number of Hispanics supported several measures against illegal immigration:
These are our Latinos -- the ones, as Romney said, who came here for opportunity and freedom. Any race-mongering, welfare-collecting, ethnic-identity rabble-rousers are voting for the Democrat.

In the right-liberal world, having an ethnic identity is as much of a blot as collecting welfare. But that then means that the mainstream of America is also not allowed to identify itself as a distinct people with an ethnic identity. And if the mainstream has no identity of its own to preserve, then there's much less reason to be opposed to an open borders philosophy of "the more the merrier".

To recap: right-liberalism begins with the assumption that being self-made is what matters. Therefore, when the liberal right talks about freedom and opportunity it has a specific meaning, namely the freedom and opportunity to be self-made, particularly in the market. Similarly, when the liberal right invokes patriotism, it is not understood in traditional terms, as loyalty to a larger group of people you naturally identify with on the basis of a shared ancestry, history, language and culture. Patriotism means something else: a commitment to a particular kind of society based on the freedom and opportunity to be self-made.

Right-liberalism is not traditionalism. It can have a conservative tinge at times, as it is permitted within a right-liberal culture to invoke patriotism (albeit of the limited kind described above); as a belief in a self-reliant individualism can lead to an emphasis on personal responsibility; and as the desire for a limited state can encourage a belief in the supportive role of family as an alternative (though even here there are difficulties: if the higher good is to be self-made in the market, then what is the basis of a woman's commitment to family life?)

In Australia right-liberalism hasn't really held its ground as a rank-and-file culture. Perhaps the closest we get are the progress associations and service clubs in regional towns. In general, right liberalism exists more as a political current within the Liberal Party, the Murdoch press and certain university departments.

But in the U.S. right liberalism seems to have deeper roots within society. This means that traditionalists in America need to be particularly adept at identifying right liberalism and understanding its limitations.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Frum's solution

I wrote a post recently criticising the nearly defunct Newsweek magazine. If you thought I'd been too harsh look at the most recent cover of the magazine:

Newsweek GOP: You're old, You're white, You're history!
As you can see the top headline reads "GOP: You're old, You're white, You're history". (hat tip: Ideologee)

The magazine seems to expect that its readers are on board with the passing of white America, so that it can be talked about openly and breezily as an acceptable development in American society. The historic, founding people of the U.S. don't seem to count for much in the minds of Newsweek liberals.

The headline advertises a piece by David Frum which attempts to point a way forward for the Republicans. The article has some interesting observations such as this:
The central divide in American politics is the same as the divide in almost every advanced democracy on earth: between one party more committed to private enterprise and another party more supportive of the public sector. These parties may be called Conservative and Labour, Christian Democrat and Social Democrat, Gaullist and Socialist.

I've argued something similar: that both left and right share the same underlying liberal philosophy, but that the right prefers society to be regulated by the market, whereas the left wants society to be regulated by the neutral expertise of a state bureaucracy.

So what is Frum's solution for the Republicans? He's not exactly a straight talker. He speaks, for instance, of the need for the GOP to become "economically inclusive". Which is code for what? Reading between the lines, he seems to want the GOP to appeal more to those lower down the economic scale. But how? He doesn't spell it out.

He also wants the GOP to become "culturally modern". But again he doesn't spell out what this means in practice.

Finally there's a lot of rhetoric about being future oriented. There's no clear indication, though, of what that means apart from being committed to technology.

The impression you get is that Frum doesn't believe in much at all. His message seems to be that a successful political party will look at whatever is happening in society and embrace it as the future.

I don't think that's how the left works. The left has an agenda and then changes society in line with that agenda. In fact, the left has a concept of what is just and then leads a moral crusade to impose this concept of justice on society.

According to Frum, the right should not attempt to lead in this way, but should instead jump to the front of whatever cultural and social trends are happening in society - trends which the left will have initiated decades previously.

That is a deeply unappealing strategy if you oppose the larger liberal trends in society. But Frum has already explained that there's not much of an ideological difference between left and right anyway - his party just has more of an emphasis on the free market.

So perhaps Frum is relaxed with the left doing the "social work" of moving society along in a liberal direction, whilst the right just goes along with it whilst keeping sufficiently up to date to have a good chance of winning office.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

What went wrong?

The American right has suffered an historic defeat. It's important to try to understand the reasons why.

Perhaps the place to begin is to recognise the reasons why the current right-wing culture appeals to many Americans. It is a culture which emphasises self-reliance, industry, limited government and appeals to God and to patriotism. It has a long pedigree within American history.

It is set against a left-wing culture which, in contrast, wishes to tax the productive in order to expand a provider state and which regards the American tradition more negatively as being a history of oppression and injustice.

Given that polarisation you can understand why it's difficult to shift rank and file conservatives from the way right-wing politics is currently understood. There seems to be a good side and a bad side, and so the rank and file will cling to their allegiance to the good side.

But here we are in 2012 and the right has been defeated not just in terms of finances or candidates but demographically. The left-wing constituency has grown to the point that the right is facing a difficult challenge to win elections. So it's time for some soul searching.

The problem it seems to me is this: the underlying philosophy of the right is still a liberal one. It assumes that the good is in the freedom to be self-made, particularly in the market, rather than in the experience of higher goods that we ourselves do not make.

If you believe that the good is in your freedom as an individual to be self-made, then who will you most admire? Perhaps those who succeed in a profession or those who seek opportunities to improve their life circumstances through immigration.

Ronald Reagan is a significant figure on the American right. In my last post I quoted part of his farewell speech in which he said:
I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still...

It's not just some quirk of Ronald Reagan that he chose to say this. It expresses key parts of a right-liberal philosophy: the free market, an identification with those who immigrate to make themselves, an invocation of God, a positive view of society.

What the Reagan quote demonstrates is that the response to the Republican electoral defeat shouldn't be to get to a purer form of a right-liberal philosophy. A pure right-liberalism leads to open borders, which then shifts society decisively to the left.

The change has to be in the understanding of what matters. It is not just being self-made which matters. There is a good too in carrying through virtuously with what we were made to be: husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and members of traditional communities connected by ties of history, kinship, language and culture.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The Republican loss

Obama's win in the U.S. election demonstrates a problem with the model of right-liberal (Republican) versus left-liberal (Democrat) politics.

The problem goes like this. The Democrats have the support of ethnic minorities and those who feel dependent on the state. Given the continuing mass immigration into America, and the growth of welfare dependency, this provides a growing electoral base for the left-liberal party.

The Republicans have to rely on a white/employed/married base. You might think, therefore, that the Republicans would not want to undermine this base through large-scale immigration. But right-liberals generally have an ideological commitment to immigration. They tend to see it favourably in terms of the workings of the market and as an aspect of "freedom" (of the actions of self-made individuals).

This right-liberal approval of large-scale immigration is apparent in the farewell address of Ronald Reagan:
...I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still...

Everybody getting their chance in the market to become 'self-made' is the aim. (What makes Reagan sound patriotic here is that he puts the vision in positive terms, whereas someone on the left might talk about guilt and oppression.)

But this idea of America being "open to anyone" makes the task of winning elections for the right-liberal party more difficult with each passing year. For a time the right-liberals can mobilise the white/married/employed/conservative voting base, but eventually that base will shrink as a proportion of voters and prove inadequate. The Reagan vision of a shining city is not viable in the long-term for a right-liberal party.

Those on the left are aware of the shifting ground. For instance, back in May an article published by the Brookings Institute declared confidently that minorities would decide the 2012 election:
Obama and the Democrats believe demography is on their side. Census 2010 made abundantly clear that racial and ethnic minorities, especially Hispanics, are dominating national growth and will for decades to come. The Democratic agenda— favoring broader federal support for medical care, housing, and education seems designed to curry the favor of these groups, which played a huge role in tipping the balance in his favor in several key swing states.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

What type of woman do lefty men go for?

I clicked onto Laura Wood's site this morning to find a story about yet another Englishwoman of my generation who has had to accept spinsterhood. This time it is 46-year-old journalist Claudia Connell:
I … think it’s an uncomfortable truth that the sort of high-flying alpha males we were all holding out for didn’t want women like us. All the successful men I know have married sweet, uncomplicated women who are happy to forfeit their careers to support their husbands

It's interesting that Claudia Connell should make this observation, as I was going to post today on a similar observation of my own.

As regular readers will know I work as a teacher and so I am in a position to follow the lives of about 60 other staff members. About five years ago the school hired three young male teachers. They are tall, good-looking, socially adept, intelligent and sporty. In the last year or two all three have married and two are now expecting children.

Why point this out? Well, the people I work with are mostly very politically correct left-liberal types. The three men who recently married all passionately endorse feminism and other aspects of "progressive" politics.

So these are exactly the type of men that hipster campus feminists would most likely want to partner with. They would be amongst the most desirable of companions for a left-liberal young feminist woman.

And this is where it gets interesting. I have met all three wives and they are all of a similar type. They are very classily feminine, demure and family oriented. In fact, they are the sort of women that I, as a traditionalist conservative, was attracted to as a single man.

So for all the passionate embrace of feminism, the "alpha left-liberals" are still going for the more traditionally feminine type of woman. They are still men after all.

The moral of the story is that it's unwise for young women to buy into the idea that they should be feisty, assertive, androgynous, butt-kicking, mannish, drunken, loud personalities and that they can safely wait until their 30s to partner up.

It is never going to hurt women to be beautifully feminine when it comes to attracting a man, and parents should encourage their daughters to cultivate such qualities as best they can. And timing does matter. These three men were snapped up in their mid-20s. They are now out of the market for those women who choose to deliberately delay to their 30s.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Another rogue statistic

Here is a photo of a young woman explaining why she needs feminism:

Could this really be true?

Her claim is that women do two thirds of the world's work but own only one per cent of the world's property.

That seems highly unlikely. A sociologist decided to investigate the statistic and found that it first appeared in the late 1970s. The feminist author who created the statistic, Krishna Ahooja-Patel, has admitted that she relied on "fragmentary indicators of the time" and that the 1% figure was based on the logic that if women were low paid they would not be able to accumulate property and therefore it was likely that women owned 1% or less of the world's property.

So the statistic is based, as the sociologist Philip Cohen puts it, not on hard data but on "a guess based on an extrapolation wrapped round an estimate."

Cohen also points out that it's difficult to measure precisely which sex owns property as wives often have a legal claim on the property accumulated by their husbands. What he does show is that American women alone earn over 5% of world income today.

And when feminists are in a more triumphant mood, they prefer to emphasise the economic clout of women in society. For instance, there is a Virginia Tech page celebrating female philanthropy which claims:
  • women control nearly 60% of the wealth in the U.S.
  • women represent more than 40% of Americans with gross investable assets above $600,000
  • 45% of American millionaires are women
  • Some estimate that by 2030, women will control as much as two-thirds of the nation’s wealth

Nor is the 1% of property claim the only rogue statistic still floating around; for another example see here

Friday, November 02, 2012

A Newsweek low point

In 2006 Newsweek magazine ran an issue with the front cover headline "Is your baby racist?"

The cover story was an argument in favour of the left-liberal, rather than the right-liberal, attitude to race/ethnicity.

Right-liberals believe that you can make race not matter by being blind to it (colour blind). But left-liberals think that if you don't see race it will continue to matter, i.e. there will still be racial disparities. Therefore, left-liberals want people to see race and to intervene to treat the races differently.

There are left-liberals who think that whiteness was constructed to create an unearned privilege and to oppress the non-white other. Therefore, they believe that white societies must be deconstructed and that an assertion of white identity is a defence of "supremacy". Non-white identities, on the other hand, are regarded more positively as means of resistance to injustice or as expressions of culture.

And so the Newsweek article opened with an account of an experiment in which white parents showed their children multicultural books or videos. All of the parents supported multiculturalism, but some of them dropped out of the experiment when they realised they would have to point out the existence of race to their children:
At this point, something interesting happened. Five families in the last group abruptly quit the study. Two directly told Vittrup, "We don't want to have these conversations with our child. We don't want to point out skin color."

These were presumably the right-liberal parents who believe that race can and should be made not to matter by being blind to it.

The Newsweek writers, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, hold these parents to be wrong on the basis of research showing that very young children if left to their own devices won't become race blind but are likely to notice race and to identify with their own race. Furthermore, putting children in diverse environments is only likely to raise this awareness of race.

And so what the Newsweek writers wants parents to do is to speak openly about race to their very young children (the critical period being from 6 months to first grade).

But this is where the story gets particularly nasty. The racial message that Newsweek wants white infants to get is not a neutral one; the idea is to demoralise young white children through guilt:
Bigler ran a study in which children read brief biographies of famous African-Americans. For instance, in a biography of Jackie Robinson, they read that he was the first African-American in the major leagues. But only half read about how he'd previously been relegated to the Negro Leagues, and how he suffered taunts from white fans. Those facts—in five brief sentences were omitted in the version given to the other children.

After the two-week history class, the children were surveyed on their racial attitudes. White children who got the full story about historical discrimination had significantly better attitudes toward blacks than those who got the neutered version. Explicitness works. "It also made them feel some guilt," Bigler adds. "It knocked down their glorified view of white people."

And what about non-white children? Instead of guilt, the emphasis is on instilling in them a sense of ethnic pride:
Preparation for bias is not, however, the only way minorities talk to their children about race. The other broad category of conversation, in Harris-Britt's analysis, is ethnic pride. From a very young age, minority children are coached to be proud of their ethnic history. She found that this was exceedingly good for children's self-confidence; in one study, black children who'd heard messages of ethnic pride were more engaged in school and more likely to attribute their success to their effort and ability.

So Newsweek wants white children to be knocked down in their sense of identity, but non-white children to be raised up. How could that possibly be justified? The Newsweek writers have a go at it with this argument:
That leads to the question that everyone wonders but rarely dares to ask. If "black pride" is good for African-American children, where does that leave white children? It's horrifying to imagine kids being "proud to be white." Yet many scholars argue that's exactly what children's brains are already computing. Just as minority children are aware that they belong to an ethnic group with less status and wealth, most white children naturally decipher that they belong to the race that has more power, wealth, and control in society; this provides security, if not confidence. So a pride message would not just be abhorrent—it'd be redundant.

The Newsweek writers assume that their mostly white readers will agree that "It's horrifying to imagine kids being 'proud to be white'". Horrifying? Really?

If a positive identity is "exceedingly good for children's self-confidence" then why should white children miss out? According to Newsweek it's because white children belong to "the race that has more power, wealth and control in society" and therefore white children have security and confidence and ethnic pride is "redundant".

That's wrong for several reasons. First, the race that does disproportionately well in the U.S. are Asians; they do best per capita in education, in professional employment and in family stability. Whites come next and then blacks. But when it comes to self-confidence, studies show that blacks have the highest level of self-esteem, then whites, and Asians come last. So you don't get self-confidence by belonging to a race which does well educationally or professionally.

And, anyway, the value of identity is not limited to its effect on self-confidence. It is a good that is basic to human life. We don't, for instance, say "it's horrifying to imagine white people marrying and having children because that is good for their self-esteem and they already have too much of that compared to others". Instead, we hope that white people, just like others, will get to enjoy the love and fulfilment that comes with a successful marriage and parenthood, goods that can be realised in life despite differing levels of wealth or status.

And it's much the same when it comes to identity. Whether we are wealthy or not, self-confident or not, does not make identity "redundant". It remains significant in our lives regardless.

White parents should neither be denying race nor attempting to instil racial guilt in their children. To do either is to neglect one part of a parent's loving care for a child. White children, just like any others, should be raised to positively identify with their own ancestry and tradition. If this increases their self-confidence in life, that should be welcomed; it is unjust to think that a child should be deliberately deprived of either identity or self-confidence in order to further a plan of racial levelling.