Sunday, July 22, 2018

In defence of identity

It's not easy to categorise Jordan Peterson. He calls himself a "classic British liberal" but he's not entirely like the "free market, individual liberty and limited government" right-liberals who have dominated the establishment centre-right parties.

For one thing, he is not a materialist in his philosophy and nor does he believe that self-interest or the pursuit of happiness are adequate ideals in life. He accepts the reality of differences between the sexes. He takes the idea of life as a moral project very seriously.

Even so, he has kept the strongly individualistic outlook that is typical of classical liberalism. He frequently criticises the idea that we might take pride in the achievements of the group we belong to; he believes that we may only have pride in individual accomplishments. As an example:



And he also approved of this graphic in which individualism is pitted against all forms of collectivism, including nationalism:



He even claims that the very "rightness" of the West is its commitment to individualism rather than to group identity:
Your group identity is not your cardinal feature. That’s the great discovery of the west. That’s why the west is right. And I mean that unconditionally. The west is the only place in the world that has ever figured out that the individual is sovereign. And that’s an impossible thing to figure out. It’s amazing that we managed it. And it’s the key to everything that we’ve ever done right.

This, I believe, is the tragic error made by Western thinkers. It is false to believe that you either support the individual or the group. The individual thrives within certain natural forms of community, such as family, ethny and nation. So if you support the individual, you should then also be committed to upholding the integrity of natural community as well.

In other words, we consummate our individual lives within natural forms of community. When we are forced to attempt a solo development, we truncate who we are as individuals.

Group identity

For Jordan Peterson, group identity stands in opposition to the individual. I'd like to respond with a brief defence of the importance of group identity to the individual and to society.

The question really is this: why should I not simply identify with myself and my own accomplishments? Why should I identify as well with my own particular tradition, whether of family, ethny, nation, race or civilisation, and take pride in its achievements?

The answer to this is interwoven, but we can draw out some of the threads as follows.

First, a group identity connects the individual deeply to a particular people, culture and place. Instead of existing in life as a kind of tourist, watching from the outside, uninvested in any particular tradition, my identity grants me a sense of connectedness, so that I feel rooted to where I live and to the community I live in.

As a by-product of this, I will feel a sense of belonging, a condition that we as humans naturally seek, to be part of something meaningful, that has a significant common purpose attached to it, and that helps to enrich, and give a particular flavour to, the sense of who we are.

My identity will then strengthen my commitment to the community I am part of. I will be more likely to commit to building a family and to raising children to successful adulthood. I will be concerned to uphold a healthy culture of relationships and family life. I will want to pass on my heritage to my children, and will therefore retell the folk culture and give patronage to the fine arts. I will have a stronger motivation to conserve the places of natural beauty, and the significant landscapes, that I am not merely visiting, but am a custodian of.

A group identity encourages me to build on the best of my own tradition, preserving it for future generations. It connects me across time, to generations past, present and future. It helps to hold a community to a moral standard, so that one generation is not thought to fail their forebears, or to lower the regard in which a community holds itself.

A group identity is the only way to guarantee, in the longer term, cultural diversity. There is not only a significant benefit in feeling connected to your own culture, but also in experiencing other living, breathing national or ethnic cultures. If we may only have an individual identity, and therefore if we logically become interchangeable within a global network, then over time there will emerge a single global, commercial culture, in which one modern city will closely resemble another, no matter where it is.

Nor is it realistic to imagine that our achievements are ours alone. Everyone is influenced either positively or negatively by the culture they inhabit, and this culture is the product of the choices of countless people over time. We rely on others to grow our food, or to police crime, or to sweep the streets. Even our mental capacities are the product of choices made by countless generations before us. As positive as it may be to take personal responsibility for our life outcomes, we have to integrate this with the truth that we stand on the shoulders of others, and that what a community achieves together, or fails to achieve, will have an impact on individuals into the future.

The idea that we may only take pride in individual achievement undermines a community by rendering as less purposeful the necessary, but unheralded, work that most people perform as part of their daily routine. Not everyone can be a professor, or a composer, or an actor and stand out for their individual achievements. This isn't laziness - it is simply inevitable that most people's labours will not attract public attention. It makes more sense to think that there is "a community at work, striving to do each role well" and then for that community to celebrate together, and have pride in, those individuals who emerge publicly for their achievements in pursuits such as sport, or science or the arts.

(This arguments goes a step further. When there is a close sense of community, there is a pride in communal achievements, such as the beauty of the towns, or the prosperity of industries, or the elegance of the women or the toughness of the men. There is a pride in what the community has achieved together.)

Group identity has another advantage in that it creates bonds of loyalty and support within a community, which then provides for individual security. If you know that you live among people with a shared identity, then you are more likely to have a freedom of movement, secure property rights, freedom of speech and access to employment. To take a clear example, white South Africans are currently facing land expropriation, are subject to high rates of crime, are discriminated against in employment, and cannot move freely at night but must barricade their homes. They are less well off as individuals than, say, Japanese who enjoy security among their own group within their own homeland.

Finally, group identity helps to hold together distinct communities, which then become unique expressions of the human spirit, to the point that there is an inherent good to their existence, a good that draws out a particular kind of love (love of country) that helps to complete and to nourish the human soul. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said something along these lines in his famous Harvard University address:
The disappearance of nations would impoverish us no less than if all peoples were made alike, with one character, one face. Nations are the wealth of mankind, they are its generalized personalities: the smallest of them has its own particular colors, and embodies a particular facet of God's design.

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

More trad women

The trad women phenomenon on Twitter continues to grow. A small sample:







This is a return to a cultivation of virtue for women. It seems to follow a certain process:

1. An aim of being a good wife and mother.

2. A recognition that there are aspects of female nature that need to be overcome to secure this aim.

3. A commitment to actively practise more positive behaviours.

This is one necessary part of the way a society solves its problems, is it not?

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Plastic and interchangeable?

Bria was born in Canada as a man but identifies as a woman. To an extraordinary degree:



We are supposed to believe that someone who is biologically male can have periods. Bria, it must be said, is smart enough to attempt to philosophically justify all this. It makes for interesting reading:



The argument is that there are no essential differences between men and women; that the human body is "plastic" and therefore able to be deliberately manipulated into something else; and that given the lack of essential differences, we are fundamentally the same and therefore there can be no "other".

Bria adds some further detail to the argument:



According to Bria we are nothing more than "chemical powered meat robots". The effort to find a secure basis for human dignity within liberal modernity flounders here. It would seem difficult, too, to find within a nature in which all creatures are chemically powered meat robots, anything resembling "natural law" or any principles of ordering oneself or society that would bring a definite telos (purposes or ends) to human life.

If the human body really is so plastic, and we really are as men and women easily interchangeable, so that there is no "other" sex, then it is difficult to take seriously Bria's own new identity as a woman. Bria's chemical robot settings have been changed a bit, that's all. The identity of "woman" would no longer mean very much, or have much wider significance. It would not connect identity to anything deeper than a mere chemical substance. It would not connect identity fundamentally to our core self, nor the self to a definite physical embodiment, nor the self to a discernible essence (the masculine, the feminine) with its own characteristic and meaningful qualities.

If you think of our sex as part of the essence of who we are, and as embedded within our DNA, then our best option is to order ourselves toward it, particularly toward what is best within it. Bria's counterclaim that we are meat robots, plastic and interchangeable, disconnects our sex from whatever stable aspects of the self remain. In this sense, it is self-defeating.

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Bishop Schneider: mass migration a plan to undermine identity

Bishop Athanasius Schneider has an interesting family history. His forebears were Black Sea Germans, invited by Catherine the Great to that part of the Russian Empire. However, during the Communist era, the Black Sea Germans were persecuted. Schneider's parents were sent away to a gulag (forced labour camp); years later they finally returned to West Germany - the logical place to resettle given their German ethnicity.

He was interviewed this week on a variety of issues and this is what he had to say about immigration:
CWR: Having moved around so extensively as a child – you were born in Kyrgyzstan, then moved to Estonia, then Germany, and joined your order in Austria – what are your thoughts on the whole idea of immigration, whether in Europe or the United States, or in general?

Bishop Schneider: We have to distinguish between different types of immigrations. I was a migrant, with my family, because we were persecuted and deported. When people are really persecuted, you need to help them. But as for the phenomenon of the European so-called immigration, it is clear and evident by what we can observe, that this is an orchestrated action of the international powerful political organizations. It is the aim, the clear aim, to take away from Europe its Christian and its national identity. It is meant to dilute the Christian and the national character of Europe. The majority of the so-called migrants are Muslims, so there is going on also an Islamisation of Europe.

Of course, these people are not guilty, but they are used as means by powerful organizations. This we cannot accept. We have to state that it is not just to destroy the Christian and national identity of Europe by means of this artificial immigration. International political powers stimulated and fostered the war in Syria in order to have some occasions to start the great immigration process. The immigration from Africa via the Mediterranean Sea is as well artificially created – they put the people in ships and boats, and create then situations of shipwrecking. It’s already very evident. We cannot as a Church be instrumentalized in the process of the destruction of the Christian and national identity of Europe.

It is refreshing that the Bishop takes seriously the importance of preserving the character and identity of Europe and that he recognises that immigration is being used as a political tool by powerful elites.

In another interview Bishop Schneider added the following:
Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Kazakhstan, 57, told an interviewer from Milan’s Il Giornale last week that “the phenomenon of so-called “immigration” represents an orchestrated and long-prepared plan by international powers to radically change the Christian and national identities of the European peoples.”

The Church, he said, was being exploited.

“These powers use the Church's enormous moral potential and her structures to more effectively achieve their anti-Christian and anti-European goal,” he stated.

“To this end they are abusing the true concept of humanism and even the Christian commandment of charity. "

Asked to comment on Italy’s new and very outspokenly Euro-skeptic Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, the bishop said that he did not know Italy’s political situation well, but that he applauded any European government’s attempt to emphasize their nation’s sovereignty and “historical, cultural, and Christian identity” against “a kind of new Soviet Union” with “an unmistakably Masonic ideology”: the European Union.

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Monday, July 02, 2018

What are the first principles of modern society?

Rulings by supreme courts are useful things. Not because they demonstrate great wisdom or knowledge, but because they require the first principles on which a society is based to be openly stated.

Such was the case when the Iowa Supreme Court made its ruling on a proposed law which would require women to wait 72 hours before having an abortion. The court blocked the proposal on the following basis:
"Autonomy and dominion over one's body go to the very heart of what it means to be free," the justices wrote. "At stake in this case is the right to shape, for oneself, without unwarranted governmental intrusion, one's own identity, destiny, and place in the world. Nothing could be more fundamental to the notion of liberty."

There you have it. The first principle of a liberal state is "liberty" but understood in a very particular way, namely as an individual autonomy by which we can "shape, for oneself...one's own identify, destiny and place in the world."

I have explained many times before why this is such a negative and "dissolving" concept of liberty. It means, logically, that only the things that we self-determine are legitimate. The predetermined aspects of life, which we do not shape for ourselves, come to be thought of as "prisons" from which the individual has to be liberated.

But there is much that we do not determine for ourselves. We do not determine, for instance, our race and ethnicity or our sex. And yet these are significant aspects of identity and community. In a liberal society, though, they must be made not to matter, because they conflict with the liberal definition of liberty as a state of individual autonomy, in which what matters is a freedom to self-define and self-create.

It's interesting, too, that the supreme court justices use the phrase "dominion over one's body". Patrick Deneen, in his excellent book Why Liberalism Failed, writes about the shift in the early modern period in the understanding of man's relation to nature. Instead of being embedded in nature, the point instead was to stand outside and against nature, seeking dominion over it. Classical liberals, according to Deneen, applied this to the natural world around us but still accepted an embedded human nature that we might live by (albeit a cut down and distorted one by which human nature was understood to be a self-seeking one aiming at individual profit); modern leftist progressive liberals extended it to having dominion over human nature itself (i.e. we might choose our own nature) with a logical end point in transhumanism.

Hat tip: The Four Marks