Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Clarissa and the Hutterites

Clarissa, the liberal academic, has written a follow up post. She is perturbed that there are people who think than men and women are different by nature. All differences, according to her, are social constructs.

It's not surprising that Clarissa would think this way. She is committed to a liberal world view in which what distinguishes us is that we self-define who we are. In this view, our individuality is threatened by predetermined, collective identities such as that of being a man or woman or belonging to a particular ethnic group. Clarissa believes that we should work out a unique identity for ourselves, as this will give us individuality. She writes:
Sadly, many people are too stupid and lazy to work out their own individual identity, their own unique worldview. This would be a life-long project of self-improvement and learning, and many people choose not to think or make an effort. In the absence of an individual philosophy of life, they allow outside authorities to fill their inner void with content. The easiest way to organize your existence in the absence of a personality of your own is by adopting some collective identity. Gender roles work beautifully for this purpose because zero effort is required to practice them. Why figure out whether you like pink, blue or orange when you can always allow some manipulative salesperson make that decision for you and make you feel like you actually have a meaning as a result of adopting this “preference”?

If this were true then traditionalists would be lazy conformists, whereas liberals would be independent-minded individualists.

The first problem in accepting Clarissa's take on things is that she is the one following an intellectual orthodoxy. It takes a degree of non-conformism these days to be a traditionalist, whereas the liberal view is the standard ruling one. If Clarissa really spent a lifetime of study working out her own individual worldview, why did she arrive at the stock standard one? Why did she join the intellectual herd?

There's another problem with Clarissa's view that I'd like to raise and I'll illustrate my point with a photograph I posted recently of some Hutterite men:

These men belong to a small religious community sharing similar values and wearing the same clothes. If Clarissa were right, then these men ought to be low on both individuality and energy. But in the photo they don't appear that way. They don't come across as drones at all, but as healthy and spirited young men, of neither the wimpy nor the thuggish variety.

Where Clarissa and other liberals get it wrong is in thinking that we lose individuality when we are connected to deeper, inherited forms of identity. Such collective identities don't make us carbon copies of each other: if you put 100 men together you get plenty of individual particularity, just as you would if you put 100 English people together.

Where individuality is suppressed is when the individual is demoralised by experiencing life as an atomised individual. The Hutterites do not look demoralised.

And then there's the issue of identity. Clarissa uses the word but empties it of meaning. She talks about people working out "their own individual identity, their own unique worldview." As I've already noted, that would mean that Clarissa herself has no identity as she has failed to work out a unique worldview of her own, preferring instead to go with liberalism.

It means too that the word "identity" becomes curiously close in meaning to that of "worldview". That makes identity remarkably fluid and unstable - if I change my worldview then my identity changes along with it. Can there be a sense of continuity of self in such a view?

Connecting identity and worldview so closely means that identity becomes an intellectual, self-generated thing; if it has meaning, it has it as an intellectual conceit ("I'm not like the others, I think differently").

And, anyway, in Clarissa's view it is not so much identity itself that has meaning but the process of selecting identity. In other words, it is not the form of identity we end up with that carries weight or has meaning, but the intellectual effort to form one. So identity doesn't matter in itself.

In the traditional view, identity does matter. For instance, if I identify as a man, then that connects me to facets of my being (physical, emotional, spiritual); to the values associated with the masculine; to one aspect of my telos (i.e. to what I am rationally developing toward in fulfilment of my being); to other aspects of identity associated with manhood (e.g. fatherhood, being a husband); and to the roles associated with being a father or husband (amongst others).

Clarissa claims falsely that this is a passive account of identity; in fact, it is an active, complex and challenging one that no two men will complete in exactly the same way or with the same elements of success or failure.

It is also an account of identity that draws on the whole person, rather than the intellectual one alone. In this sense it encourages an "integrity" of self, i.e. a harmony of mind, body and soul, which again gives depth in comparison to a view of self based on "world view".


  1. I love the way she mentions business and sales, as if big business has been a conservative force over the last fifty years.

    Big business has been a prime mover in pushing feminism, anti-racism and other progressive forces. Women like Clarissa are useful idiots to help big business get more women into the work force and encourage them to base their identity around careers and non-domestic consumption, rather than say, how they raise their children or handle the domestic sphere. After all, there's a lot more money to be made selling designer suits, corporate travel, and trips to relaxation spas than sewing machines and home baking equipment.

  2. When I was in my twenties I was very much taken with the ideas of an "unique worldview" and "individual philosophy of life," but I eventually realized that, in order to be "unique" and "individual," my worldview and philosophy of life would have to filled with errors and mistakes. In fact, to have a "unique worldview," I would have to be insane. There are only a limited number of non-insane "philosophies of life," and because a "philosophy of life" should be internally consistent, they don't allow much personal modification. Non-conformists who reject all of the standard-issue identities are, in my not inconsiderable experience, merely bizarre.

    There is a truth buried in Clarissa's remark, though. A person should be prepared to be a non-conformist when, and only when, he has very good reason to believe that the group is seriously wrong in its thinking or its action. It is true that a man should never follow the group into error, but it is not true that he should never follow the group.

    1. Liberal identities are childish, meaningless, uninteresting, superficial and boring. They are mostly constructed from mass-produced clothes and things by choosing "individual" combination of these things. To keep adults at least mildly interested, they have to have sex in them, implied or explicit. This doesn't remove their childishness, meaninglessness, superficiality, and ultimately their boring and repetitive nature. When people compete with these identities, they have to become more twisted and/or more revealing, e.g. Conchita Wurst or transparent shirts that reveal breasts. These kind of identity constructions are safe to people in power, because people spend their free time and energies in vain hobbies without any political consequences. It also increases the consumption of trinkets, rags and junk, thus it increses the liberal economy. Identity construction is hence ideal manipulation and control method to the people in power, it increases and maintains their power over people. Identity contructors are ultimate conformists. They conform to the mental and physical jail of power, but at the same time they sincerely believe in their freedom, opportunities, independence and meaning in life, sincerely believe in illusions, lies and manipulations of power.