Thursday, January 31, 2013

Are there liberal virtues?

The starting point of liberal morality is very different to the end point.

The starting point is a generally permissive one. Liberals don't have such a sense that there are acts which are objectively good or bad. In other words, when an individual makes a moral choice, liberals aren't so concerned what that choice is; rather, the moral good is in individuals making autonomous, self-determining choices - choices of their own.

But the end point of liberalism is a highly coercive and intrusive one. So the question is how do you get from the permissive starting point (you can choose to be or do anything) to what is sometimes called the soft tyranny of a liberal social order?

I think there are two ways that this happens. The first is the one that I often discuss at this site. If the moral good is the freedom of the individual to make self-determining choices, then what matters is that impediments be removed to such choices.

But there are many important aspects of self, identity and relationships that are not self-determined but predetermined. So these things, including our sex and our ethnicity, have to be made not to matter in a liberal order. People who think or act as if they do matter will get caught in accusations of sexism or racism - the famous "isms" that are thrown around endlessly in a liberal society.

Already, then, there has been a shift from a permissive "do whatever" or "you yourself get to choose what is right or wrong" to a more aggressive stance about what is allowed to matter morally. And this moral stance is more intrusive than preliberal moral codes because it is set against beliefs, identities and relationships that are basic to human nature and the human experience.

There's a second aspect to all this which I haven't discussed as much previously. Liberalism is distinct amongst modern movements in wanting to develop a system in which each individual will gets to self-determine its own choices.

The idea, in other words, is that rather than will being expressed for everyone through the choices of a leader or a party, it will be expressed equally by every individual.

If you commit to this kind of system, then it will be thought both dangerous and wrong for people to impose the pursuit of their own self-determining choices to the detriment of the choices of others. That will be thought to violate the ideal of an equal expression of choice.

This then leads to further concepts of right and wrong within a liberal order. It becomes "correct" to adopt a moral attitude not only of equality, but of "non-interference" or "non-infringement" (as the aim is that individuals are left within their own orbits to pursue their own individual choices, unimpeded by those of others).

A "good" liberal will therefore focus on moral qualities that show a commitment to "non-interference" or "non-infringement" of others such as respect, tolerance, non-judgementalism, openness, anti-discrimination, inclusion, diversity and acceptance (as well as fostering a general attitude of "equality").

Also, if the aim is non-infringement this will create a moral focus on individual rights, and if we wish to show ourselves to be open and non-judgemental, we will additionally consider prejudice and bigotry to be primary moral failings.

But why, if liberalism arrives in this roundabout way at a moral attitude derived from "non-infringement", do we finish up with a morality which is so often experienced as oppressive, intrusive and demoralising?

There are several reasons that explain why a liberal morality is demoralising. People generally wish to live in a moral community. But liberalism distorts the usual expression of moral belief, first because it is highly permissive in some areas and second because it is silent in others. The cluster of moral qualities that liberalism recognises all relate to non-infringement, whereas the positive qualities of character that were once widely recognised as virtues, such as loyalty or prudence, are no longer vitally present.

Another reason for demoralisation is that a liberal morality is destabilising to the larger communities that people feel connected to. If it is a virtue to be open and non-discriminating, and if there are thought to be no other moral considerations that might act at times as a counterweight, then a community loses a choice to maintain its own distinctive character.

There are also serious ruptures in the normal ties of solidarity within a community. The liberal morality encourages the elite to identify not with the ordinary members of their own community, but with whoever is thought to be most other or most different. After all, if the entire moral structure is based on being open, non-discriminatory and inclusive then the most virtuous person will be the one who identifies least with his own and most with the "other".

And there's another reason for the rupturing of solidarity. The way to lose moral status and standing within a liberal society is if you are thought to have disregarded the liberal moral virtues by imposing your own self-determining choices to the detriment of the choices of others. This will define you as a privileged class and whichever class you are thought to have deprived will be able to make claims against you.

And so liberal politics, in practice, reintroduces the categories it wants not to matter, but as hostile political forces ("identity politics"), based on the assumption that the very existence of these categories relates to a dynamic of oppression and resistance. For social reality to be perceived in this way is not only demoralising to a sense of social solidarity (e.g. with the sexes set against each other), it will also be felt to be oppressive by those who fall into whatever classes are tagged as oppressors.

Finally, it doesn't matter in the long run if the liberal morality has its origins in non-infringement or non-interference. Once certain qualities are defined as morally authoritative, then they will become the standard for the society as a whole. They can then be imposed either by the state or within the culture in a highly intrusive and coercive way.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Larsson's Spring

Laura Wood had a painting by the Swedish artist Carl Larsson at The Thinking Housewife recently, so I had another look at some of his work and found this piece, titled Spring:

Something at least to limit the liberal state

The resources of the liberal state aren't endless. From the minister in charge of employment in France:
Just half a year since his party came to power, Mr Sapin told radio listeners: 'There is a state but it is a totally bankrupt state.'

Monday, January 28, 2013

It's about primacy

You may recall the recent stoush on the English left between feminists and transsexuals. In short, a white feminist called Suzanne Moore wrote an ode to female anger which included the line:
We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.
That set off the transsexuals who accused white feminists like Suzanne Moore of being privileged. Which then led another white feminist, Julie Burchill, to write angrily that everything she had she got for herself and that:
we are damned if we are going to be accused of being privileged by a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs.

Well, Julie Burchill's column was removed from the newspaper site; a female minister called for her to be sacked; and she is being investigated by the Press Complaints Commission.

And that has led her friend Suzanne Moore to question the direction of the left:
The wrath of the transgender community has been insane. They say I haven't apologised enough and I probably haven't...The sexual and political confusion is nasty and, while I accept some of it is my fault, is it all my responsibility?

...I feel increasingly freakish because I believe in freedom, which is easier to say than to achieve and makes me wonder if I am even of "the left" any more...

And I am serious about freedom of speech. If Lynne Featherstone can call for a journalist and an editor to be sacked, this does not bode well for having politicians and lawyers running the press, does it? Do you actually want to be governed by humourless, authoritarian morons?

How has the left ceded the word "freedom" to the right? It maddens me.

No party represents freedom now...People died for my right to offend you... you may continue to hate me, put me on lists, cast me out of the left. Free-thinking is always problematic...
She has a point. The enforcement of "tolerance" has become increasingly intolerant and coercive, to the point where freedom of speech, of association and of conscience is being eroded.

But what's more interesting to me is that a white feminist should be starting to feel this way. Liberalism hasn't targeted everyone equally. There has been a hierarchy of sorts, in which those groups tagged as privileged lose moral status and can be discriminated against, whilst those tagged as oppressed are told that they will get special treatment to aid their advancement.

Obviously, if you're stuck in the first group liberalism won't be experienced as positively as those in the second group.

Women have been told for a long time that they're in the "special treatment" category - but what happens as other groups press their claims and being female is no longer such a trump card?

The other interesting development in this affair is the column by Dan Hodges, a leftist who has worked for the British Labour Party. He wrote that the dispute was:
...illustrative of some of the problems affecting the radical Left at the moment: not least the fact that a significant fraction of the radical Left is utterly bonkers.

....But the fight for equality has always been a bare-knuckle one. That’s because – in truth – it’s not based on equality at all. It’s about primacy...

Though those fighting the good fight would never be caught dead admitting it, they’ve spent decades constructing, and scrapping over, a tightly defined hierarchy of oppression. And that hierarchy is invariably a self-serving reflection of prevailing internal power cliques.
In other words, the group which proves to have the most power gets, as its prize, to claim to be the most powerless and therefore to deserve primacy.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Rudd's missing national identity

Yesterday I wrote a post on Malcolm Turnbull's attempts to define our national identity. Turnbull, if you remember, is a right-liberal - a leading member of the Liberal Party. As such he is a true believer in a civic national identity. This means that he rejects a traditional identity based on a common ethnicity and instead believes that you can have a stable national identity based on citizenship and a shared commitment to liberal political values.

Turnbull's civic identity, when it came to the crunch, turned out to be remarkably thin. It came down to Australia spending more on welfare than the U.S.

But Turnbull's civic nationalism was less shocking that what followed. Kevin Rudd, the former Labor PM, was the next politician to talk about Australia's identity and he presented Australia's development in quasi-religious terms, as a casting out of national demons of racism and sexism to get to the promised land of tolerance, diversity and membership of a global village.

If you're at all conservative it sounds a bit mad. It is reducing the existence of an historic nation of people to the terms of Rudd's political ideology.

But I don't think we should be surprised. One of the secrets of Australian politics is that the leaders of the Labor Party have not only given up on a deeper traditional nationalism (as have the Liberals), but they've given up on a civic nationalism as well.

There's a reason for this. If you're a liberal and you believe that we should be free to self-determine who we are, then you won't like a traditional nationalism, because that's based on what liberals dismissively call "an accident of birth", namely an inherited ethnicity. With a civic nationalism, ethnicity no longer matters - anyone can become a citizen.

However, civic nationalism is still in its own way exclusive. A civic identity might make our ethnicity not matter, but it still makes our nationality matter. And nationality is usually just as arbitrary as ethnicity - we gain our national citizenship because of the state we happen to be born into.

Therefore, the drift of liberalism is to move away from all distinctions of nationality.

The leadership of the Labor Party seem to have reached that point decades ago. For instance, when former PM Bob Hawke was asked what defined an Australian he answered:
An Australian is someone who chooses to live here, obey the law and pays taxes
That's the answer of someone who doesn't take distinctions of nationality very seriously. The next Labor PM made his position even clearer. Paul Keating once ranted against the idea of civic nationalism, complaining that it was "exclusive" and that it relied 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.
Keating, in other words, had openly moved beyond distinctions of nationality, even those based on citizenship and a civic identity. And what of Rudd himself?  Back in 2005 a Labor Party committee recommended the formation of a Pacific Community:
There would be a Pacific Parliament, a Pacific Court, a Pacific Common Market, a common currency and military integration.
Far from having a strong sense of a distinctly Australian national identity, the Labor Party was already at the stage of wanting to merge Australia's sovereignty into a larger regional state. When Rudd became PM in 2007 he decided on an even more ambitious project, that of creating an Asia-Pacific regional bloc:
Kevin Rudd wants to spearhead the creation of an Asia-Pacific Union similar to the European Union by 2020.
Which leaves us with the current Labor Party PM, Julia Gillard. Her Government has created draft legislation which would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of nationality or citizenship - a law which doesn't exactly uphold the spirit of a civic nationalism.

So when a Labor leader is asked to talk about a specifically Australian identity they're in an even more difficult position than a Liberal leader. They have already moved a long way toward the idea that nationality shouldn't matter, not even a civic based one.

So it's not surprising that Kevin Rudd should present Australia's development in political-ideological terms as a shift toward an ever greater liberalism. What else could someone who is "post-national" do?

Friday, January 25, 2013

So how do our politicians deal with national identity?

It's Australia Day. On the positive side, that means a lot of family get togethers around a BBQ. On the negative side, the papers are full of liberal politicians busily redefining Australia's national identity.

The Financial Review has offered us two politicians: Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd. In the interests of brevity I'll deal with Turnbull in this post and Rudd in the next one.

Malcolm Turnbull is on the left-wing of the Liberal Party, which is our right-liberal party. There are no surprises in his reflections on Australia's identity. He argues that Australia is special because it has a civic identity rather than a traditional ethnic one:
...unlike most other countries (the US being a notable exception), we do not regard national identity by reference to a common race, ethnicity, religion or cultural background.

Our national identity is defined by a common commitment to Australian civic values of democracy, the rule of law, respect for the rights of individual men and women, a healthy scepticism for authority and a deep intuitive sense of a fair go.
But what of the problems with a civic identity, in which it is a common commitment to liberal political institutions and values which is supposed to unite us?

One problem is that identity becomes indistinct. If being Australian means being committed to democracy and the rights of individual men and women, then how is that different to what it means to be American or Canadian or English or Swedish?

Turnbull tries to solve this issue in two ways. First, he pretends that the European nations still hold to a traditional ethnic nationalism and that Australia and the U.S. are somehow exceptional in being civic nations.

But that's Turnbull just making things up. All of the Western nations define themselves explicitly now in terms of a civic, rather than an ethnic, nationalism: the UK, Canada, New Zealand, France, Sweden - the list goes on.

Second, Turnbull admits that the components of a civic nationalism are the same everywhere, but he thinks that there are other distinguishing aspects of society that define us:
There is no individual component in our civic values unique to Australia. But the combination is distinctly Australian – for example, we are much less deferential than the British, more caring, with a stronger safety net than the Americans.
But that is an exceptionally thin foundation for a national identity. It's like Canadians thinking they're different because they have a national health insurance scheme. What if the Australian and American safety nets become more alike? Does that then mean we've lost our national identity?

The rest of Turnbull's column is, as you would expect from a right liberal, focused on the ideal of individuals being self-made in the market and the need for freedom from state regulation of the economy. (Right-liberals believe that you can regulate society best through the market rather than through state bureaucracy.)

Does career make a life?

There's a story in the Daily Mail today about Nene King, a woman who once wielded much power in the Australian magazine industry.

It turns out that a friend managed to steal $223,000 from Nene King. How was this possible? Because Nene King was habitually high on cannabis and prozac and so didn't notice what was happening (according to her wikipedia entry she has also been addicted to prescription medication and has admitted using alcohol to "bury her problems").

The drug addiction struck me, because the last few women I've written about have all been powerful in the media industry and have all been addicts: the American feminist Elizabeth Wurtzel to heroin, the English feminist Julie Burchill to cocaine, another English feminist Suzanne Moore to heroin (I presume to heroin as she is described as a junkie), and now Nene King.

These women are living the highest dream offered to young women today, i.e. to be powerful working in a glamorous and creative field, and yet they have all needed drugs to get  by. Isn't one possible conclusion to draw from this that career, by itself, is rarely enough to anchor our lives.

Nene King had husbands (three of them), but had no children:
Nene King, at her height considered by many the most powerful woman in Australian publishing, confessed to being ‘ruthless … would not allow anything to come between me and the magazines’.

‘Power is an extraordinary thing,’ she confessed in Peter Fitzsimon’s biography Nene. ‘I didn’t want to be famous but I did want to be powerful.’

…Drug addiction and depression were part of a life that was too demanding.

‘Do I have any regrets? Of course. No children. Now, I can’t believe I went through with the abortions. I wish it was a different time. I would not have had an abortion. I hate abortions. I hate them with a passion. But I guess at the time that is what I had to do.’
A career, by itself, does not make a life. And yet that's sometimes the assumption when liberals talk about people "making it" or being "self-made" or having equal opportunity to make something of themselves. For instance, President Obama in his victory speech last year said:
I believe we can keep the promise of our founding, the idea that if you're willing to work hard, it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn't matter whether you're black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, abled, disabled, gay or straight. You can make it here in America if you're willing to try.
 And from the same speech this:
We believe in a generous to the dreams of ...the furniture worker's child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a president.
The prize of life is assumed to be a professional career. And, in Obama's view, the "promise" of America's founding is to deliver such a prize to anyone who works hard, regardless of who they are or where they come from.

But what if you're the furniture worker rather than the scientist or diplomat? Does that mean you haven't made a life? How many people really get to work in a creative, high status, glamorous field of work?

And is it enough, say, to be a dentist? That's a well-paid and high status field in which you get to help people. But you're spending a lot of the day sitting in a chair drilling into the teeth of strangers. So does that qualify as a realisation of life and self in a liberal universe?

And it seems that even if you get to the very top of the liberal pile, and you "make it" in a well-paid, creative, powerful, glamorous field, that you can still be so unfulfilled that you turn to a lifetime of drug addiction to get by.

This is not to say that careers can't or don't provide certain kinds of satisfaction or fulfilment. But I reject the liberal assumption that they are sufficient to make a life.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Elizabeth Wurtzel: the lonely apartment

Elizabeth Wurtzel is a 45-year-old American feminist, most famous for being the author of Prozac Nation.

She is in a state of lament at the moment. She describes in a recent column how last year a female neighbour harassed her to the point that she fled her apartment to a local park:
It had all gone wrong. At long last, I had found myself vulnerable to the worst of New York City, because at 44 my life was not so different from the way it was at 24. Stubbornly and proudly, emphatically and pathetically, I had refused to grow up...I was alone in a lonely apartment with only a stalker to show for my accomplishments and my years.

...I am harsh and defeated, and I never thought I would describe myself in either way. The list of things I can’t be bothered with goes on forever.

It's not that she didn't have chances:
When I was still in my twenties, for several years I had this wonderful boyfriend; I'll call him Gregg—he's the one we're all waiting for: tall, blue-eyed, with this thick black hair, all smart and sensitive...It was young and romantic. You'd have thought we were happy. I think really we were happy. He was good for me...I could have and probably should have spent the rest of my life with him....

But she wanted open-endedness:
But something went wrong—terribly wrong...I became seasick with contentment...I needed a sense that this wasn't the end of the story...Every day would be the same, forever: The body, the conversation, it would never change—isn't that the rhythm of prison?

My imagination, my ability to understand the way love and people grow over time, how passion can surprise and renew, utterly failed me. I was temporarily credentialed with this delicate, yummy thing—youth, beauty, whatever—and my window of opportunity for making the most of it was so small, so brief. I wanted to smash through that glass pane and enjoy it, make it last, feel released.

And so, I cheated on him. With everyone I could...
But it's now too late to change her mind:
Oh, to be 25 again and get it right...there are some mistakes that one is eventually too old—either literally or spiritually—to correct. I can't go back.
So what went wrong? She gives lots of clues. She freely admits that she is stuck in adolescence:
I live in the chaos of adolescence, even wearing the same pair of 501s.

...I have no ability to my case, it is about feeling trapped when I am doing something I don’t like, and it is probably more childish than anything has also meant that I have not disciplined myself into the kinds of commitments that make life beyond the wild of youth into a haven of calm.

She seems to have picked up on the liberal ideal of autonomy, in which what matters is that choices are your own, rather than that your choices are oriented to the good:
It had never occurred to me before that any of the choices I made, which I prized, I guess because at least they were mine, were crazy or risky; but I was becoming convinced.
Likewise, she believes, as a feminist, that women should be autonomous in the sense of being self-sufficient and independent of men:
I am committed to feminism and don’t understand why anyone would agree to be party to a relationship that is not absolutely equal. I believe women who are supported by men are prostitutes, that is that, and I am heartbroken to live through a time where Wall Street money means these women are not treated with due disdain.

Think about what that last paragraph means. She obviously doesn't see men and women as having complementary social roles, with men being providers and women nurturers. To her that's not an equal relationship and it's a cash transaction, rather than an expression of love and a realisation of our distinct being as men and women.

But if men and women can't connect through those drives and instincts, what is left to connect them? Well, one answer is what feminists used to call "free love" - men and women pursuing sex and romantic feeling with each other, but leaving as soon as the impulse fades. And Elizabeth Wurtzel seems to have lived her life on the principle of free love, seeing it as more pure and principled:
I am proud that I have never so much as kissed a man for any reason besides absolute desire... I believe in true love and artistic integrity

....For a while after my first book came out, I went home with a different man every night and did heroin every day...Even now, I am always in love—or else I am getting over the last person or getting started with the next one.  

If you want to cling forever to an adolescent mindset of not choosing but keeping things open-ended; if you believe that the primary good is choice itself; and if you reject complementary social roles for men and women in favour of a floating sexual and emotional connection, then you might well end up with a lifestyle like the one pursued by Elizabeth Wurtzel.

Perhaps there were times when she had some fun with it, but by her own account it has left her lonely and insecure and fearful of the life ahead of her.

And, obviously, it is no basis for a society to reproduce itself. She was only ever willing to commit to a dog, so there's been no marriage and children. If everyone lived on the same basis, a society wouldn't endure for more than a single generation.

One final thought. Elizabeth Wurtzel sees herself as a free spirit; in particular, she likes the youthful feeling of endless, open-ended possibilities in life. But what that misses are other aspects of the human spirit, such as the benefits of "connectedness", such as to family, home, community, people and place. A person who focuses solely on being a free spirit in Elizabeth Wurtzel's sense risks bringing upon themselves a demoralising sense of alienation.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Australia to have the most onerous discrimination law?

The Federal Labor Government is proposing a new Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination law which redefines discrimination as "conduct that offends or insults".

You just have to shake your head at that definition. It doesn't take much to offend some people, so the limits this law would put on free speech are potentially very onerous. The Victorian Attorney-General got it right when he observed that:
Many people may be subjectively offended or insulted by the simple expression or manifestation of views different to their own.

To make such expressions of views in workplaces, schools, clubs and sports prima facie unfavourable treatment and hence discrimination ... appears to substantially erode freedom of expression.

Even the Human Rights Commission is critical of the proposed law:
Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs thinks the broad definition will spark too many lawsuits.

She said the words offend and insult "have to go".

"There is no need to set the threshold so low," she said. "I would suggest the government consider taking the words 'offensive' and 'insulting' out (of the legislation).

"It does raise a risk of increased litigation".
And what does this say about liberal society? Liberals go on and on about individual freedom, and yet here we are facing a law which makes it an offence to say something that someone else, subjectively, thinks is offensive.

How do we explain this? I think part of the explanation is this: liberals pursue a freedom which is understood to mean an absence of impediments to self-determined choice. Because this is the liberal "good" it means that liberals focus on a "negative" morality, i.e. a morality of non-interference. The idea is that we all get to pursue our self-determined goals, only if we agree to leave each other to pursue these goals: therefore the good person is the one who shows respect for others and their choices, who is non-discriminatory, who believes in equality, who is tolerant, who is non-judgemental, who isn't prejudiced and so on.

The problem is that there is nothing to stop a negative morality of non-interference being pursued to the point that it itself becomes coercive or even tyrannical. And that is what we are seeing in the proposed Australian anti-discrimination laws.

I'll finish by congratulating the Law Society of South Australia for its submission to the inquiry on the proposed law:
The Law Society of South Australia told the Senate inquiry it "condemned" the new definition.

"The robust expression of opinions, short of incitement to hatred, is a strength of our social and legal system," its submission states.

"It should not be curtailed to protect subjective offence that individuals may feel when their beliefs or attitudes are criticised."

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The net dragging down the boat?

I don't write about the issue of the welfare state often, but I was so struck by a statistic in a Peter Hitchens blog entry that I'm making an exception.

The statistic is this. In the UK the cost of state welfare totals £207 billion a year. But total receipts from income tax total £155 billion a year.

In other words, when someone pays their income tax in the UK they are not even getting to pay for defence or schools or hospitals. Everything they pay is eaten up by the welfare bill.

There has to be a welfare net of some sort, but the current one doesn't seem sustainable. Peter Hitchens is right, I think, to wonder in particular if the growth of fatherlessness can really be supported in the long-term:
I might add...that there are now 567,000 fatherless households being subsidised by the taxpayer. Look at these figures and gasp. Where is the cash to come from?
Hitchens has a point when he concludes:
The new political elite, who hope to buy votes and power through handing out other people’s money, will not stop doing so until that money runs out.

And so we ramble merrily towards the edge of the abyss, making lemmings look responsible and far-sighted.

Scott by Raeburn

Here's a portrait I like of the Scottish poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott:

Sir Walter Scott by Sir Henry Raeburn
It was painted by Sir Henry Raeburn, a man who was orphaned as a child and supported by his brother. Although self-taught, he became a celebrated artist of his time.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

An exceptional talent

I saw on YouTube yesterday a song performed by a then 10-year-old American girl named Jackie Evancho. She has a remarkable talent for her age:

And here she is as an 11-year-old. The following video is of a much lower quality, but I've included it because, despite the poor acoustics, you hear a surprisingly mature female voice coming from such a small girl:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Knocking Australia Day

The 26th of January is Australia Day. In the lead up to this day, without fail, the Melbourne Age newspaper runs a series of columns attacking the idea of Australian patriotism.

They've kicked off this year with a column by a staff travel writer, Ben Groundwater, titled "Why I'm not a proud Aussie". It begins:
Sorry proud Aussies, I don't get you. I don't agree with you.

This is not just the Southern Cross-tattooed proud Aussies I'm talking about, the VB drinkers watching footy in the bars of Kuta. This is all the Australians who pronounce pride in their place of birth
So it's not just assertive displays of patriotism he dislikes, it's the very fact of feeling a sense of pride in your country of birth.

Why? He explains:
...the more I travel the more I become convinced that the whole concept of nationality and nationhood is irrelevant. Where do you come from? It shouldn't matter.

That's interesting. The liberal argument is that predetermined qualities like race and ethnicity are impediments to individual self-determination and so should be made not to matter. Therefore, traditional ethnic nationalism has been ruled out of bounds. The idea was that it would be replaced by a civic nationalism, in which we would be united as a country not by a common ethny but by a shared commitment to liberal political institutions and values.

But civic nationalism, predictably, isn't holding. That's not only because it lacks depth, but because it's illogical. After all, most people don't choose to be members of their civic nation, any more than they choose to be members of their race or ethny. They just happen to be born in a particular country. So even membership of a civic nation is something that is largely predetermined rather than self-determined. To a consistent liberal it all seems merely arbitrary.

That's why he writes:
what are we really so proud of? The dumb luck of having been born on a certain piece of land that then becomes "yours"? And what makes your country so much better than everyone else's – other than your familiarity with it?

I dislike the whole concept of nationhood, the way people support their country like it's a football team playing in a grand final. Like we have to choose sides. How much better would it be if we'd all stop taking pride in the little slices of the globe we happened to pop out in and starting just being citizens of the world?

It might sound corny, but it could happen. We could ditch the parochialism and the patriotism and just treat other human beings as other human beings.
He sees a civic nationalism as arbitrary, as dumb luck, and urges instead that we just become individual human beings without attachments to any particular place or people - citizens of the world.

And that's the logical end point of liberalism: not just to make traditional ethnic nationalism not matter, but any identity that is larger than the individual unit. We are to ditch the larger and meaningful traditions we belong to in order to identify with ourselves alone.

The better option would be to ditch the underlying assumptions of liberalism, the ones which make self-determination the overriding good. If you do that, then a traditional national identity does make sense. It is based on real forms of connectedness between people: a shared kinship, history, language, religion and culture, one that over time logically creates a sense of being a distinct people and which links individuals to generations past and present, to a cultural heritage, to a love of place and to a willingness to work to maintain or improve standards and achievements.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ireland in trouble?

Things are not going well in Ireland. The first problem is debt:
Things are bad. Ireland’s debt to GDP ratio is set to reach 122 percent in 2013, above the 120 percent threshold the IMF considers unsustainable. The total debt of the country, according to an Irish Times report, is €192 billion, four times what it was in 2007, with a projected need to borrow a further €34 billion before 2015.
But there's an even bigger issue. It seems that the more highly educated native Irish are emigrating, with their places being taken by less well-educated immigrants, a relatively large proportion of whom are claiming single mother benefits from the state:
Over the past year, 87,000 people left Ireland for countries far afield such as Australia, Canada, and the UK, countries that are now reaping the benefits of Ireland’s expensive-to-educate graduates and tradesmen.

Yet fascinatingly, as those 87,000 people leave the country to find work abroad, the number of immigrants entering the country was steady at 52,700, with 12,400 of these from non-EU countries.

This glaring anomaly of educated and skilled people leaving because of unemployment, being replaced by typically low-skilled immigrants, is not mentioned by the political class.

...even in the midst of financial Armageddon, the numbers entering the country continue at Celtic Tiger levels. Ireland’s welfare entitlements are still very generous, and on any common-sense view of human nature would attract takers. And that seems to be what’s happening.

In north Dublin, for example, over half the applicants for social housing are from immigrants, with over 43 percent of the total being lone parents. While waiting to be housed, all social housing applicants receive rent allowance, with the result that over half of all residential rents in the country are now paid for by the state, or more accurately by the few remaining tax payers.
Ireland would have been better off keeping to a strong sense of national loyalty, one that might have kept many of those well-educated natives at home working for their own country. Instead, the Irish political class decided to cede sovereignty to the EU and to open its borders. The result is debt and a declining productive base - with the destiny of Ireland currently in the hands of the European bank, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

It's a particularly striking fate for a country that expended so much passion in getting sovereignty in the first place - only to give it away so tamely just a couple of generations later.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Suzanne Moore: the thrill of anger

Yesterday I reported on a controversial newspaper column by English feminist Julie Burchill. Julie Burchill attacked transsexuals but went down in flames (the Guardian/Observer even went to the lengths of deleting her column).

But what originally sparked the whole feminist vs transsexual argument? It was a column by another feminist, Suzanne Moore. And this column is also of some interest. It's a piece in praise of female anger. And the bit that upset the transsexuals was this:
We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.
What interests me isn't the reference to transsexuals, it's the complaint of not being happy or loved properly. It's not something that feminists can seek redress for from the state. It's not something that translates easily into a political crusade. It's something that could only be fixed by feminists changing things about themselves and how they relate to others.

But Suzanne Moore isn't going to change. She is going to continue to promote female anger:
Why are we not telling our inbred overlords that we are not as nice as we look? Partly because we are afraid of our own anger. It’s not a pretty sight. Seeing red and letting go is, for many women, a dangerous activity. We are only ever a few HRT pills away from being a monstrous regiment. Women’s rage is also never seen as what we say it is actually about. It is inchoate, unreadable and uncontrollable. It is, of course, also totally thrilling.
She recognises that feminism has disrupted family life, admits that this isn't "easy", but also sees it positively as a challenge to capitalism:
While some kinds of feminism meld well with the logic of late capitalism, others challenge it. The stark facts are as follows. Wherever women become educated, they have fewer children and when they become financially independent, the model of monogamous marriage breaks down. Freedom is neither easy or easily defined.

She's right that women's financial independence is one factor in making family life more unstable (divorce levels rise with each rise in a wife's income relative to her husband's and it's more difficult for women to find professional peers to marry the more that women dominate the professions). Her response is that freedom "isn't easy". But where does that leave those women who are angry at "not being loved properly"?

Then she writes this:
I see my daughters’ generation written off as pretty much everything I took for granted is being systematically stripped away from them. Jobs, housing, free education. The expectation that these young women would have the same choice or more even than their mothers is being shattered. They have less. This is why so many of us are seeing red.
Talk about batting for team woman. What if she had a son? (She has three daughters by three different fathers.) Would she really not care about her son's interests? Would she continue to present all men as being born-to-rule Old Etonians as she does in her column?

But it's not so much men in general that Suzanne Moore sees as the enemy. Specifically it is white men. She complains, for instance, that "The ideas of quotas is still abhorrent to those born to rule: white men." This is interesting as there are now so few white males going to university in the UK that there is talk of introducing quotas to get more rather than less white men on campus.

It's the same old shtick. An irresponsible albeit privileged white feminist wants to portray white men as a powerful clique attacking the poor and marginalised in society.

It's such a long distance away from the kind of relations between men and women that you would need to uphold a civilisation. That's why it's pointless for Suzanne Moore to complain that her daughters' generation has fewer choices than her own. How could it possibly be otherwise? If you trash the family, if you trash the men of your own nation, then how can you possibly expect the swing of society to be onward and upward?

One final thought: part of her shtick is to shift blame for what is happening in society. The truth is that we live in a feminist society and have been for decades. So if things are getting worse then feminists ought to be a bit self-critical. Suzanne Moore shields herself from this thought, though, by pretending that we are living in "late capitalist" society or a society run by a powerful and malevolent clique of white men.

Someone ought to introduce Suzanne Moore to Hanna Rosin. Hanna Rosin is a feminist who takes a completely different line, namely that we have reached a point at which we can talk about "the end of men". Women are the dominant sex in a postindustrial society, asserts Hanna Rosin. The problem is to find something for men to usefully do. Far from society being ruled by a malevolent clique of enemy white men, men have been made redundant by modern society and are more to be pitied.

I don't buy either of these narratives, but I find it curious that Suzanne Moore should be sticking with the "white men born to rule enemies" mantra whilst Hanna Rosin believes we are goners and losers.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Who gets to not be privileged?

Julie Burchill is an English feminist. She has written a controversial column for the leftist Guardian newspaper attacking transsexuals. The interesting thing about it is her response to transsexual accusations that she and others like her are "privileged white feminists". That provoked this defensive response:
She, the other JB and I are part of the minority of women of working-class origin to make it in what used to be called Fleet Street and I think this partly contributes to the stand-off with the trannies...We know that everything we have we got for ourselves. We have no family money, no safety net. And we are damned if we are going to be accused of being privileged by a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs.
It's interesting the way the leftist system works. In an objective sense, Julie Burchill is more privileged than 95% of men. From the age of 17 she was given a series of highly sought after jobs in the media, despite the fact that her commitment to some of the jobs was poor (she sent her husband of the time to do some of the film reviews she was supposed to complete or just made them up without having seen the films). She earned enough money from relatively creative, glamorous work to sustain a lifelong cocaine habit (she has written colourfully that she has "put enough toot up my admittedly sizeable snout to stun the entire Colombian armed forces").

And yet in her own mind she is not privileged because she worked to get where she is, i.e. she is self-made.

But the vast majority of white men could claim the same thing. Very few of us get to live off the old man's money. Most of us are plugging away in ordinary, unglamorous, uncreative jobs to support our families. And yet we're supposed to accept the loss of moral status that comes with being tagged "privileged" whilst the cocaine snorting Julie Burchill gets to be proud of being self-made.

Let me put all this another way. Given Julie Burchill's claim that she is not privileged because she got where she is by her own efforts, that then commits her to one of two positions. Either she has to admit that most men are also not privileged or she has to sustain a mental fiction in which she imagines men getting significant goods from some sort of secret boys' club.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

If that's a problem...

I found this quite interesting. There's a young woman called Christine, whose family are Chinese from Malaysia. She moved to Singapore for a while and liked it:
Singapore was a unique place created by the Chinese diaspora, and continued to draw the Chinese diaspora to its shores — it was Chinese diaspora central! I also felt at home there because it was the one country in the world where I felt truly comfortable as an English and Manglish/Singlish speaking overseas Chinese. Finally, I was in a place where the majority population looked like me and spoke like me too.
That's understandable; she had found a place to live where she had a sense of living amongst her own ethny, namely the Chinese diaspora.

But what's really fascinating is that the Chinese diaspora population has such a sense of its own existence that it doesn't like the idea of large numbers of mainland Chinese migrating to Singapore.

Christine's story runs as follows. Whilst living in Singapore she became aware of increasing numbers of mainland Chinese living there:
But as time passed, I started feeling a disparity — it certainly seemed like there were more mainland Chinese than other Chinese foreigners in Singapore.

However, she then moved to mainland China herself:
I’ve been here two years, the typical overseas Chinese girl who has gone back to her ancestral land.

Living amongst the mainland Chinese put her mind at rest about what was happening in Singapore. That is, until she found out about the extent of mainland Chinese immigration into Singapore. It turns out that 1 million out of 5 million people in Singapore are from the People's Republic. This statistic startled her as it did Singaporeans:
According to a population census dated September 2010, Singapore’s population currently stands at about 5.07 million. That makes nearly one in five here a Chinese national.

Netizens largely react with shock and dismay to this news, calling it a “staggeringly huge number”
Christine wrote:
...this news comes as a shock to me as well. Knowing that there are “many mainland Chinese” in Singapore is one thing; being given a figure like 1 million — when your country’s population is only 5 million — is something else. I can understand why Singaporeans are upset. Take away the mainland Chinese aspect and replace it with “nearly 1 million eskimos are living in Singapore” and you would still get an uproar. Tell any country a fifth of its people are all from one other place, and you’d get a strong reaction. It’s not so much hating on PRCs and more about uncertainty over your own identity, isn’t it?
Christine, well put, but for some Westerners the situation of Singaporeans seems relatively luxurious - the immigrants to Singapore are, after all, a closely related population (the differences being mostly limited to those of language and manners). The stress on identity is much greater for, say, an Englishman in London or a white American in Los Angeles.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Prayer vigil

If you read View from the Right you will know that Lawrence Auster has suffered poor health in recent times.

Kristor is organising an intercessory prayer vigil for him tomorrow, Sunday 13th January, from 5.00 to 6.00pm. For further details and to note your support please visit here.

Lawrence Auster has performed invaluable work at View from the Right. It has been the flagship of the traditionalist movement for the past decade; I for one feel an immense gratitude for his labours and will be praying for his health tomorrow.

(I have temporarily activated comment moderation, those who read the comments thread yesterday will know why.)

Swedish Centre Party supports polygamy

The Swedish Centre Party is one of the parties forming the current Swedish Government. It has taken a turn toward a classical (i.e. right) liberal position in recent years which has helped it increase its support in urban areas like Stockholm. It is also reportedly the richest political party in the world, having sold its interest in a newspaper group for $265,000,000.

The Centre Party recently came up with a new platform after consultation with 10,000 party members. It's a platform which combines both the "small state/free market" aspect of right liberalism, with a liberal emphasis on individual autonomy.

And so the new platform includes a flat tax and the abolition of inheritance tax, combined with a proposal for free immigration and the legalisation of polygamy.

By free immigration is meant something very close to open borders. Prospective immigrants would not need to satisfy any criteria relating to education or employment:
In late 2012, the party began opposing all limits on immigration, such as the requirement for some degree of job skills and a clean criminal record. It supports a plan that would see Sweden's population quadrupled to 40 million inhabitants.

The party justified this policy as part of a commitment to freedom and equal rights:
The Centre Party seeks open borders, free movement and a generous refugee policy. For a party that protects freedom and builds its values ​​on the equal rights there is no other logical position than that one is for a free immigration.
But they also want cheap labour:
He stresses that the new, generous immigration policies must be combined with a new labor policy.

Crucial elements are C-proposals on flexible priority rules and lower wages for those who are new to the labor market.

"I think most people would choose to get a job that paid less than going into isolation for ten years.

...It is many times better quality of life to have a job in Sweden compared with living in poverty or on the run somewhere else. That's how you should think."
The new part platform also includes the legalising of polygamy. The current leader of the Centre Party, Annie Lööf, came out in support of polygamy in 2006 when she was vice chair of the party's youth wing. The reason she gave for supporting polygamy is the standard liberal one:
"I don't think the state and laws should determine who and with whom my neighbours or I want to live," she wrote in a blog post at the time, according to SR.

"If my neighbour wants to marry two men, I wouldn't move or care. That's his or her choice."

All that matters to a liberal like Annie Lööf is that we maximise our autonomy, understood to mean our power to be self-determining individuals. What's missing is a concern for the nature of marriage itself and the longer-term effects on both the individual and society of changing from monogamous marriage to polygamy.

What's missing too is a sense that when it comes to relationships, we aren't free to choose in any direction. We can only choose within the culture of relationships that exists in society. If, for instance, a culture of polygamy is established, then inevitably there are going to be some men who will miss out on marriage whether they have chosen this or not, and some women who will find themselves with a choice of either having to share a husband or else leave a marriage. Polygamous culture, too, often involves older men with resources marrying much younger women, and women being cordoned off from the relatively large group of unmarried younger men.

If you want to marry well you have to be protective of the culture of relationships in society rather than focusing on autonomy alone.

The proposal to legalise polygamy is being resisted by sections of the Centre Party. It might not get through, but the proposal itself shows the direction that liberal principles are taking the party. If you sincerely believe that people should be free to marry whoever they choose, because individual autonomy trumps everything and because it would violate "equal rights" to deny this choice, then it's difficult to see on what principled basis polygamy will continue to be rejected.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Not bad Alex!

Via View from the Right comes the following interesting story.

Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (what a great name!) was a French political writer and historian who travelled through America in 1831-32.

He made the following prediction about how a despotism might one day come about in the emerging modern era:
I wish to imagine under what new features despotism might appear in the world: I see an innumerable crowd of men, all alike and equal, turned in upon themselves in a restless search for those petty, vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each of them, living apart, is almost unaware of the destiny of all the rest. His children and personal friends are for him the whole of the human race; as for the remainder of his fellow citizens, he stands alongside them but does not see them; he touches them without feeling them; he exists only in himself and for himself; if he still retains his family circle, at any rate he may be said to have lost his country … Above these men stands an immense and protective power which alone is responsible for looking after their enjoyments and watching over their destiny. It is absolute, meticulous, ordered, provident, and kindly disposed. It would be like a fatherly authority, if, fatherlike, its aims were to prepare men for manhood, but it seeks only to keep them in perpetual childhood; it prefers its citizens to enjoy themselves provided they have only enjoyment in mind. It works readily for their happiness but it wishes to be the only provider and judge of it. It provides their security, anticipates and guarantees their needs, supplies their pleasures, directs their principal concerns, manages their industry, regulates their estates, divides their inheritances. Why can it not remove them entirely from the bother of thinking and the troubles of life?
What did he get right? He correctly predicted that men would be cut off from each other, i.e. they would no longer have a sense of themselves acting together as part of an historic nation or tradition, but would fall back instead to the sphere of family or circle of friends. He correctly predicted too the tendency to reduce life to relatively trivial aims ("a restless search for those petty, vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls"). Finally, he foresaw the soft rule and the encroachments of the managerial state, a state which seeks to limit the permissible ends of life to those which can be readily managed within a system of "equal freedom" (de Tocqueville saw these ends as being personal enjoyments; they might be listed in modern society as being career, travel, shopping and entertainments such as TV and computer games).

De Tocqueville made some other interesting predictions:
There are now two great nations in the world, which starting from different points, seem to be advancing toward the same goal: the Russians and the Anglo-Americans... Each seems called by some secret design of Providence one day to hold in its hands the destinies of half the world.
That comes from a book published in 1835; it describes well the world situation from 1945 to 1990.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

One of their motives?

Daybreaker wrote an interesting comment in the last post. In it he pointed out how all-embracing the charge of racism has now become:
You can't avoid being charged with racism if you are white. That's because "racist" basically means "white".

University of Delaware:
“[a] racist is one who is both privileged and socialized on the basis of race by a white supremacist (racist) system. The term applies to all white people (i.e., people of European descent) living in the United States, regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality.”

That means that whites count as racist, and non-whites do not.

That means that the mandatory policy in all white nations to get rid of "racism" is the same thing as a policy to get rid of whites.
I agree with Daybreaker that this is the logic of the leftist position on race.

Left-liberals choose to explain race differences in terms of one race (whites) being socially constructed to exploit and oppress other races. Whites get to be exceptional in a highly negative way. Whiteness is held to exist as a manifestation of privilege, discrimination and racism. Therefore, those who defend being white must be, by the leftist definition, "white supremacists" - people who want to maintain a supremacy over others.

As Daybreaker points out, the logical solution then becomes to defeat whites and whiteness through mass immigration and the breaking up of formerly white societies. The demographic decline of whites becomes, for leftists, a mark of progress to be cheered on.

Leftist anti-racism becomes, in effect, an anti-white movement. Getting rid of racism comes to mean getting rid of whites and white societies.

Daybreaker also made a point in his comment that I've made at this site as well. Whites get targeted by the left in this way, despite the fact that we are not even the most privileged ethnicity. On measures of income, careers, family stability and education, Asians are on average the best off in countries like America or Australia.

So why target whites? I don't want to attempt a complete explanation in what follows. I just want to point to one particular strain of thought on the left.

It seems to me that there exists a certain kind of person who reacts badly to the existence of order, authority or structure in society or within reality itself. Why? Perhaps because they think of this as a power existing outside of their own self which, in their pride, they think of limiting their own self, rather than as giving meaning to it. Perhaps they want their own self to be the organising power. Perhaps there is a personal bitterness or disappointment toward representatives of authority or power in their own lives, for instance, in the relationship with their father.

Whatever the reason, such people seem to view white, conservative, Christian males as symbols of an order or authority that they see as a hostile force at an existential level - it scares them or at least discomfits them at some level of self and being to be confronted by such symbols.

And it's what traditional whites mean symbolically that seems to matter. Asian Americans, for instance, are more privileged in a range of fields, but their success doesn't carry the same symbolic weight, as they aren't (yet) associated with traditional structures of authority or value or order in society. Similarly, Republicans are mostly right-liberals who self-neutralised a long time ago. And yet there are some on the left for whom the symbolism of Republicans as white, conservative, Christian males still very much matters.

This helps to explain too why some on the left see themselves as anti-establishment outsiders, even though they became the establishment decades ago. They continue to understand their own political mission in terms of opposition to the symbolically powerful white, Christian male. They are still, in their minds, fighting an entrenched power structure, whereas they themselves, no matter how powerful, are the liberating force, opening society up to some new possibility or some new experiments in living that will somehow take things forward, i.e. that will open up the path to human progress.

If I'm right on this, then so much the worse for liberal Christianity. The Christian tradition has always set itself strongly against a spirit which, on sensing a power or authority or order outside itself, reacts nihilistically out of pride or hubris. In the Christian tradition the fall of Satan is understood along these lines. And yet so many Christians today fall in with a programme that has its origins, at least in part, from this spirit which is so strongly condemned within the Christian tradition.

For instance, there are those on the left who use open borders to destroy the existence of a "whiteness" which they associate negatively with order or authority. Instead of condemning this as a manifestation of nihilism (or of the kind of pride which led to Satan's fall), there are many in the churches who fall in line with it or even put a Christian gloss on it as being an act of charity. The churches have not confronted what they ought to have confronted; they have not examined what might lead a person to be disloyal or to seek to destroy. It's an uncomfortable fact that a relatively small number of nihilist spirits have ended up on the winning side, despite transgressing a core aspect of Christianity.

Friday, January 04, 2013

We, of the fatherless tribe

The Washington Times ran a story a few weeks ago on the continuing increase in fatherless families in the U.S.

The increase has hit all races, but it's worse amongst inner city black families. In Washington, for instance, 85% of white families are headed by two parents compared to only 25% of black families.

A black woman named Ashley has written a post on this topic titled "We, of the fatherless tribe". It has this opening:
“We, of the fatherless tribe love men differently.”

That one line of Gina Loring’s poem, “You Move Me” strikes me every time I hear it because as a young Black woman it rings so heart-wrenchingly true.

Some of us have other shadows of fathers who help but they can never quite be the “Daddy” that we silently envy in the lives of other Black girls. And those other Black girls seem so oblivious, don’t they? So unaware of the pot of gold they’re holding. In having a protective figure. Someone to validate them and instill self-worth. A rule-setter and protector. It’s not the norm anymore. And here we are. Trying to figure out ourselves...We struggle with insecurities before we even know what the word means.
I find this interesting as it's written by a woman who seems fairly left-wing, albeit Christian, in her views. And yet, having experienced fatherlessness herself, she sees it as something distinct and valuable, as something that is not the same as having a mother. A father, she writes, is a protective figure, who has the power to bring a level of security and self-worth to a girl's life.

She goes on, too, to write about the effect that feeling abandoned had on her future relationships with men: at first, a rushing into relationships to feel wanted or needed; then a "calloused" closing off to men, to avoid the hurt of feeling abandoned again.

But what's to be done? Ashley has, at least, taken one positive step. And that's to reject the current trend to define parenthood simply as the unisex physical care of children. Under this definition an "involved father" is one who takes over the physical care of children. It's not that fathers don't or can't do some of this, but it's not something that is distinctively paternal.

In other words, if you define parenthood as the unisex physical care of children, then that means that fathers aren't a necessary part of family life as they don't contribute anything distinctive as fathers. And that then gives the green light both for women to push men out of the family and for men to walk away.