Thursday, April 29, 2004

Men as untouchables

I opened up my TV guide today to find an ad for a new charity group, dedicated to fighting poverty overseas. The strange thing is that the charity will only help women, not men.

This seems to me to be an act of politics rather than charity. You could only justify it if you had political notions about men being privileged oppressors, or if you saw politics primarily as a struggle of women against men.

It makes me pity the women who think this way. Men and women are not meant to be set apart like this.

Helping Aborigines?

Peter Howson was a Liberal Party Minister for Aborigines back in 1971-72. Like most right wing liberals he supports a policy of assimilation of Aborigines (left wing liberals tend to support separatism rather than assimilation).

In a recent newspaper article, Peter Howson claimed victory for the assimilation approach by noting that 70% of Aborigines now live in major towns and that 70% of Aborigines marry non-Aborigines.

For Peter Howson this kind of assimilation means progress. But from the conservative point of view it has a major drawback: it means the end of the Aborigines as a distinct people.

If Aborigines are to continue their own unique existence, it will be because of the 30% who live in relatively remote areas, and so are less likely to meet and marry outside their own group. But Peter Howson has plans for these Aborigines too. He is willing to use government financial incentives to get such Aborigines to move outside of their own communities.

He justifies this by pointing to the poverty and welfare dependency in such communities - which is a very reasonable concern. But let's formulate a remedy which allows at least some Aborigines to live amongst themselves. Australia is surely a big enough country to allow Aborigines to develop within their own communities

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Rush to the rescue

Two Australian celebrities, Geoffrey Rush and Barry Humphries, have joined a campaign to save the Camberwell railway station from redevelopment.

I'm sympathetic to this cause. It's not just that the station itself is historic and charming, but that the whole precinct is a well preserved example of the best of old Melbourne: beautiful homes, gardens and parks.

Rush spoke of his fear that such developments would mean the death of "that hidden, quiet, beautiful city aesthetic."

Tuesday, April 27, 2004


There is an interview in today's Age with Meyer Eidelson, the son of Jewish immigrants to Australia. As a youth, Mr Eidelson was radical enough to be kicked out of Melbourne High School. He then became a Marxist, and even today is still associated with the left.

But in some things he seems conservative. For instance, he says,

I believe places often fashion people rather than the other way around ... I strongly believe in the sense of belonging to place. Having come from an unsettled immigrant background I have this desire to make the most of my home town.

Why is this conservative and not liberal? Because liberals like to think that they are self-created by their own will. So it's not very liberal to admit that you are defined, in an important and positive way, by something you can't control: by the sense of place around you.

It's interesting too that Meyer Eidelson recognises a negative effect of immigration: that it unsettles the immigrant's sense of belonging. Liberals believe that what we need is an unimpeded will. Conservatives, in contrast, prefer to defend deeper, traditional forms of belonging and connectedness. Meyer Eidelson is someone who seems to want to build a conservative sense of belonging, rather than sacrifice it to a rootless individualism.

Top College

The best academic school in Melbourne is Bialik College, a Jewish school which achieves results almost five times better than the state average. A Herald Sun report on the school has highlighted the fact that students spend an impressive 25% of class time studying Hebrew language and Jewish studies. Despite the time cost, the benefits to students seem clear.

Liberals like to regard ethnicity as being something restraining or limiting to individuals. But at Bialik College cultural immersion is associated with something very positive, namely outstanding achievement at school.

The pity is that Anglo students get almost the opposite treatment. Not only are they not immersed in their own culture in their school lessons, there are often negative messages presented to them about their ethnicity. For instance, in English lessons they might be asked to write a sonnet on racism, or to take a survey on whether they are racist, or to write essays on massacres of Aborigines. Always with the underlying assumption that to be Anglo means that they should feel defensive or guilty about their mistreatment of others.

This is one respect in which the school system serves Anglo students very poorly.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Fine words

Most readers will have heard of the death in action of Pat Tillman, a young American who gave up a lucrative gridiron career to serve in the army. Bob Ferguson, general manager of the Seattle Seahawks, said of Bob Tillman that,

In today's world of instant gratification and selfishness, here is a man that was defined by words like loyalty, honour, passion, courage, strength and nobility. He is a modern day hero.

Fine words, and rare too for praising the masculine virtues so openly.

Loose morals?

Last month the Australian Health Minister, Tony Abbott, criticised teenage promiscuity for contributing to a high abortion rate. Herald Sun writer Andrew Bolt noted in his column today the response of Lewis Marshall, the head of Sexual Health and Family Planning Australia. According to Mr Marshall "Promiscuity is a very value-laden term. It implies some form of loose morals, whatever that means".

Personally, I think Mr Marshall, like the rest of us, knows very well what "loose morals" means, and its negative effect on "sexual health". It's only his ideology which forbids him to openly recognise such things.

Intolerant liberals

Liberals like to think of themselves as being tolerant, supporting diversity and freedom of speech. The reality is somewhat different. The latest casualty is a major political party in Belgium called the Vlaams Blok. A liberal judge has effectively outlawed the party because of its opposition to immigration and multiculturalism.

I'd suggest a boycott of Belgian products, but the only ones I know of in Australia are some expensive brands of chocolate and beer.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

A thought on right liberalism

I thought this might happen. When right liberals like Tim Blair gained a following I initially thought it a good thing. It broke up the monopoly on the media of the left liberals, and forced the left to be more accountable (ie not to make things up for the sake of a cause).

However, I've been dismayed lately at the crudeness that you find on many right liberal websites. There often seems to be the idea that countries like America and Australia are "the best of all possible worlds" and to criticise them makes you "one of them" (a traitor, a socialist, a troll etc).

I once tried at Tim Blair's site to argue that we shouldn't try to export everything about the West to other countries. I gave what I thought would be an uncontroversial example, namely that of family breakdown. With only one exception I was met with a torrent of personal abuse, including from the co-editor of the site Andrea Harris.

And now the left seems to have sensed the weakness of the right liberal position. I don't often agree with Philip Adams but he's close to the truth in some of his latest column. As Adams asserts, the right liberals are very keen on spreading the West to the entire planet, so that they even see the appearance of the worst aspects of the West in other countries as a sign of liberation. Adams is also right that right liberals engage too often in mindless cheerleading and are too ready to personally attack anyone perceived to be "not one of us".

If right liberals don't improve their act they'll drive the intelligentsia straight back into the arms of the left - something I don't want to see happen.

Toby Green on relationships & autonomy

Toby Green, the relationships columnist for the Melbourne Herald Sun is often worth a read. Here's a snippet of her latest offering:

Men feel their role is to look after women. They want to feel they count. Many women respond competitively by insisting they can look after themselves ... If women really feel men are redundant, they have to decide so. Either their lives are better with men in them or not. If she decides to include a man in her life, she needs to validate that man's contributions - and out loud.

The only thing I'd add, is that by the time women hit their 30s, they're often happy to accept a need for men. In my experience it's usually women in their 20s who are hell bent on proving their independence and autonomy.

Rethinking the left

Remember the recent Nescafe ad that had the jingle,

You can be mother when you are a man
Open your mind, you know that you can.

with images of men kissing each other and holding babies etc.

This is typical of traditional liberalism in that it assumes that we are free to act in any direction we like as long as we are "open-minded."

There is no recognition in this traditional liberalism that some human qualities are not quite so malleable: that, instead, we have a human nature which gives some sort of direction to our behaviour, so that, for instance, men are more likely to act in a masculine way as fathers, rather than a feminine way as mothers.

Peter Singer, a Monash Uni professor and a leading "left-liberal" intellectual has now done the unthinkable. He has called for the left to admit what conservatives have asserted all along: that human nature is not infinitely malleable and perfectible, and that to achieve worthwhile social change you have to have an understanding of human nature.

In an article for the Australian (17/7/98), Singer writes that, "Belief in the malleability of human nature has been important for the Left", because the left hoped that simply by changing the political system, human nature could be perfected, and a socialist utopia would result.

Singer notes that most attempts to achieve this utopia have misfired disastrously: Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, Pol Pot, etc.

Singer, to his credit, is willing to learn from history, and from science, and now says that,

those seeking to reshape society must understand the tendencies inherent in human beings and modify their abstract ideals in order to suit them.

This is exactly what conservatives have tried to explain over a number of centuries. The problem is not in having ideals, it is in having abstract ideals, derived from ideologies, and then trying to force people to fit into these ideals (which most usually occurs at the point of a gun.)

It is better to find our ideals in what is best within the reality of human nature, to structure the social system to complement the better traits (and to restrain the worst traits) in human nature, and to be a bit humble in accepting the imperfections within human nature, especially where these imperfections do no great harm.

Singer goes on to draw a further conclusion from the existence of human nature. He admits that social hierarchies seem to form in every human society and writes that,

to say that human beings under a wide range of conditions have a tendency to form hierarchies is to issue a warning that we should not expect to abolish hierarchy in our society by eliminating the particular hierarchy we live within.

He gives as an obvious example of this the Russian Revolution, in which the old monarchy was overthrown, only to give rise to a new hierarchy based around the communist party officials.

In fact, Singer could have taken this argument one step further. By making social change without any reference to human nature, not only are you likely to end up back where you started from, often you will end up worse off, because you will have destroyed the traditional restraints upon the worst of human nature, and the traditional encouragement to what is best.

This, to a considerable degree, is where we have been left today by liberal "reform." The older cultural restraints and social structures, built up over many generations, have been jettisoned for their imperfections, leading not to some kind of utopia, but to the unleashing of much that is unattractive within human nature.

Still, congratulations to Peter Singer for having the courage to recognise a failing within traditional liberal thought, and to draw conclusions which will probably not endear him to many of his colleagues.

(Originally published in University Review, February 1999)