Saturday, July 31, 2004

Chinese puzzle

I'm still a bit puzzled by this, but I came across an article defending religion and tradition against the secular state at an officially sanctioned Chinese website.

What is happening in China? I knew that China was moving away from a state controlled economy, but is there now also a shift away from radical liberal ideology and statist politics?

Admittedly, the article is written by an American, but it still seems significant to me that it should be featured at a Chinese website.

The article itself is something of a mixture of liberalism and conservatism. One of its conservative assertions is that there does exist a human nature, which ultimately places a limit on what can work in politics, and which therefore needs to be respected. As the author himself writes,

Human beings are free to adopt self-destructive ideas, but we are not free to make them work. Ideas based on a faulty view of human nature can grip the imagination of the powerful for decades, wreak havoc and suffering on untold millions, but they cannot triumph in the end. What is contrary to nature, including human nature, cannot ultimately survive.

The author then lists some aspects of this nature which human societies need to recognise in order to flourish. He asserts that,

the future belongs to those people and cultures that deeply commit to ideas grounded in human nature: Men and women are not interchangeable units, sex has a meaning beyond immediate pleasure, society needs babies, children need fathers and mothers, marriage is a word for the way we join men and women to make the future happen.

It would be difficult for most liberals to accept such a statement. For liberals, we are made human by our capacity to create who we are and what we do from our own will and reason. It's therefore difficult for liberals to accept that a pre-existing nature deeply influences the direction of our lives.

That's why liberals believe it is a positive liberation to act contrary to our inherited manhood and womanhood, or why so many liberals believe that there is no single way to define what a family is. For liberals, such things as an inherited manhood and womanhood are not valued parts of our inborn nature, but are impediments to our individual will and reason to be overthrown.

But as the author of the article points out, cultures which adopt the liberal view cannot sustain themselves in the longer term because acting against nature will inevitably have destructive effects.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Shattering stereotypes

A year ago my wife and I took a road trip along the Murray. We were impressed by most of the country towns along the way, such as Echuca, Swan Hill and Mildura.

There was one town, though, which we chose to hurry through: Robinvale. We stopped there for lunch and immediately sensed the tension in the town. It didn't have that relaxed, laid back feeling that most Australian country towns have. The atmosphere wasn't helped by the groups of young men, of both Aboriginal and Tongan descent, milling about on the street corners.

So I wasn't surprised to read that the tensions in the town have spilled over into violent brawls between Aborigines and Tongans. Five Aborigines have been bashed in three separate attacks, shots have been fired and bomb threats made. The local Aborigines are worried that the (white) police in the town aren't able to protect them from groups of Tongans.

This is not just an example of multiculturalism gone wrong. It confounds our normal expectation of things, because we are used to the left liberal idea that society is a collection of competing wills, and that inequalities occur when one group asserts its will and becomes dominant and privileged over another group.

According to this left-liberal world view, it must be Anglo-Australians who have gained privilege and dominance by oppressing Aborigines, and the aim of politics must be to redress this "structural" inequality (of will).

What then happens is that left liberals operate with a very crude stereotype in which whites are presented only as oppressors and Aborigines only as victims. Furthermore, there is a very stong moral component to this kind of politics, because there is a clear sense of a deliberate and self-serving imposition of injustice, which requires guilt and atonement as morally correct responses.

All of these assumptions have been orthodox on the liberal left in Australia. But reality quickly dissolves the whole ideological apparatus. In Robinvale whites are clearly not the oppressors, but are, if anything, failed protectors of Aborigines. The stereotype which left liberals cling to so stubbornly, of the oppressor Anglo-Australian, simply can't be applied.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Who is a good father?

It's often assumed these days that the good father is the man who takes on part of the motherly role within a family, by changing nappies or feeding the baby or cooking meals.

There is little awareness of the important and distinctive role a man has as a father, separate from such tasks. Which is why I was struck by the following comment of Professor Richard Warshak, a child psychologist. Professor Warshak defends the role of men within the family by asking the following questions:

Is the primary caretaker the parent who does the most to foster a child's sense of security, the person to whom the child turns in time of stress - the role most often associated with mothers?

Or is it the parent who does the most to promote the child's ability to meet the demands of the world outside the family and to make independent judgments - the role most often associated with fathers? We really have no basis for preferring one contribution over the other. Both are necessary for healthy pyschological functioning

Well put! Mothers usually do more of the hands-on care of young children, and mother-love is vital to a child's self-esteem. But fathers do have an important role to play in successfully socialising children.

Most societies have recognised and encouraged this aspect of fatherhood. For instance, in a play of the early 1500s (Mandragola, 1518) part of the daily routine of the good father was that,

after dinner (he) talked to his son, gave him advice, helped him understand human nature, taught him how to live, in fact, with examples from past and present.

But our "gender neutral" society is oblivious to the responsibility of fathers to successfully socialise their children, despite the fact that it's a challenging task requiring an element of paternal wisdom.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Turning left

Here's a comment by the former leader of the right-liberal Liberal Party, John Hewson, in the Financial Review (23/7/04):

I believe that politics is about redistribution and certainly should be focused on helping the 'have nots'.

It's significant for John Hewson to say this, and not only because it shows yet another prominent right-liberal turning to the left.

It's not an accident, or some personal whim, which would lead John Hewson to claim that politics is about redistribution. It's the end product of a liberal thought process which goes something like this:

1) To be fully human we must be self-created by our individual will and reason.
2) Society is a collection of individual wills competing to enact their desires.
3) It is wrong for some wills to dominate others as this denies some people their full humanity.
4) The main aim of politics is therefore to ensure that all wills are equal.

Although conservatives might support a particular redistribution policy, we would never claim that redistribution was the main aim of politics. This is because we don't start out with the idea that society is a collection of competing wills.

Conservatives are still loyal to traditions and identities which lie outside the framework of liberal thought. For conservatives, a major aim of politics is to defend and protect such traditions and identities. For a conservative, it therefore makes no sense to conceive of redistribution as the central task of politics.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

A victory for the family?

The Howard Government here in Australia is taking a bold step in investigating joint custody of children following divorce.

As Mr Howard put it "The situation at the moment is that the presumption is that custody will be given to one (parent) or the other. What we're looking at is to alter that so the presumption is that it will be a shared arrangement unless circumstances suggest otherwise. That is turning the existing arrangement ... on its head."

Mr Howard gave as his reason for the joint custody proposal the need to get men back into boys' lives. He announced to Parliament,

Far too many young boys are growing up without proper male role models. They are not infrequently in the overwhelming care and custody of their mothers ...

If they do not have older brothers or uncles they closely relate to - and with an overwhelming number of teachers being female, in primary schools in particular - many young Australian boys are at the age of 15 or 16 before they have a male role model with whom they can identify.

Mr Howard is to be congratulated for upholding the importance of fathers in family life. This pits him against the likes of Christopher McLean who complains that,

It seems to be a taken-for-granted truth that boys can only learn to be men from other men, and that school programs for boys need to include a major emphasis on male role-models and mentors.

I think this is a highly dubious and quite dangerous proposition ... I believe that boys need to learn to be ethical human beings, not "men", and women are perfectly capable of teaching this.

Don't dismiss Christopher McLean as some irrelevant left-wing crackpot. The above quote is taken from the Tasmanian Department of Education website as part of its "gender equity" policy.

Christopher McLean's view is, in fact, quite a logically consistent one for liberals to take. If you are a liberal male, and you believe that you should be self-created by your own reason and will, then you have to reject the idea that you are a product of something you are born into, like your gender. Therefore, Christopher McLean is, from the liberal perspective, showing how "liberated" he is from his own gender, by replacing the whole category of being "male" with being "human" and by displaying clearly his rejection of masculine loyalties in giving to women the authority and responsibility to teach boys.

It's not hard for conservatives to rebut this liberal attitude. The reality is, of course, that we are not just products of our own individual reason and will, but that unchosen factors such as gender play a significant role in shaping who we are. In terms of boys and masculinity, for instance, the researcher Steve Biddulph has described how nature normally takes its course so that,

At around six years of age, a big change takes place in boys. There seems to be a sudden 'switching on' of boys' masculinity and little boys seem to 'lock on' to their dad ... and want to be with him, learn from him and copy him. They want to 'study how to be male'.

A more difficult objection to the Howard position has been put forward by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward. She points out that if men want to have joint custody they will have to prove willing to undertake half of the mothering tasks of young children. In her own words,

I think this is a great opportunity to start talking about the role of men in families and their rights and responsibilities. It's about changing nappies, wiping up after a sick child, dreary hours spent on the floor playing blocks. Equal parenting is not the 16 minutes of child play a day that is the average amount of time that men spend with their children.

Leaving aside some of the anti-male and even anti-motherhood undertones of this comment, Pru Goward is making a significant point. If the solution to the divorce problem is joint custody, then men will have to undertake motherhood tasks while they have custody of the child.

Some "masculinists" would be more than happy to take up Pru Goward's challenge. These men basically support the liberal view that men and women are interchangeable, and that individuals are oppressed by being "forced" into traditional sex roles.

For example, a group called the Australian Men's Party has as part of its charter that,

Both men and women have been denighed [sic] rights and given unequal responsibilities because of their traditional gender roles. We should give equal concern to the lack of rights and unfair burdens that both sexes have suffered because of their gender roles.

Or again that,

Masculism believes that both men and women have been victims of their assigned traditional gender roles. Masculism does not blame one sex for the predicament we find ourselves in - as both sexes have contributed to the definition of traditional gender roles.

But are traditional gender roles artificial and oppressive? Or do they relate to the real instincts, drives and talents of men and women?

Quite often, men who attempt to switch gender roles find that natural drives and instincts are hard to conquer. Take the case of Jonathan Myerson who describes his experiences as a Mr Mom as follows:

I'm bent over the three-year-old who's bent over the toilet seat. I'm struggling to win the right to wipe his bottom. He's fighting back and yelling 'I want Mummy to wipe me ... Go away.' Eventually might triumphs and the bottom is wiped. I survey the screaming, tearful child and wonder 'Has it all been worth it?' Is new manhood all it's cracked up to be?

He complains, having looked after three children, that:

after all this bonding and their experience of Daddy as Active Parent, when Firstborn falls over, he calls for Mummy; when Secondborn crawls into the early morning bed, it is Mummy she wants to cuddle; and when Thirdborn wants anything, he wants it from Mummy.

He concludes in frustration that,

All I know is that the bond between mother and child seems dominant, necessary, effectively unbreakable ... the father is in these early years an adjunct, a satellite. (The Age 24/8/97)

Nor is it just from the child's side that the relationship with a mother is "dominant, necessary, effectively unbreakable." Mothers, too, frequently feel a bond to their babies, and to baby care, which is different to the male experience.

Columnist Sally Morrell, for example, felt alright on her first day back at work, having left her baby at home with her husband Andrew. However, on the tram ride home she began to feel a sense of loss:

By the time I jumped off the tram I was in a state of near panic. I ran home, scrambled to get the key in the door and hurried to James' cot.

He was asleep, his chubby fists were closed and puffs of breath came out from between softly parted lips. I was crying by the time Andrew found me there.

I felt a bit of a goose at first for reacting so strongly. Then again, I think many mothers go through the same sort of turmoil and not just when they first leave baby behind.

I guess you are never so close to your child as during those first few months when baby needs not just your love but your most intimate care - the dressing, the feeding, the bathing, the nursing, the carrying, the putting to bed." (Herald Sun 8/9/94)

For women, baby care can be more that just an awkward chore, as it is for a lot of men. Women can find it an emotionally rewarding experience, which bonds them closely to their baby.

Joint custody, therefore, is not a solution to the problem of divorce, as it removes young children from the important relationship with the mother, a relationship which most men will be neither willing nor able to adequately replace.

Of course the current "solution" to divorce, in which fathers are supposed to work to support their families, whilst being banished from the family home, is also unacceptable, as it is not only callous to men, but deprives children of the important influence of their fathers.

The real solution is to radically reduce the incidence of divorce. This, however, would require a challenge to the liberal belief that the highest good is the freedom to do as we will.

(First published at Conservative Central 30/06/2003)

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Objecting to happy children

An abortion clinic in Perth, Western Australia, has filed an objection to the local council over plans to build a child care centre on an adjoining block.

According to the mayor, the main reason why the abortion clinic objected to the proposed child care centre was that,

their clients would be hopping out of their car to enter the back door of the clinic and would hear the voices of children and I guess they felt that was going to emotionally upset them.

It would be an emotional situation for someone who's decided to have an abortion and then the last thing they hear before they enter the clinic is the happy voices of children.

But doesn't this objection let the cat out of the bag? If it's true, as the abortion industry claims, that the foetus is just a meaningless collection of cells and that women don't suffer any psychological problems from abortion, then why would a woman about to proceed with an abortion feel any emotional upset at the sight of happy children?

Obviously, the abortion clinic itself knows that something more is at stake, something that is difficult for women to take emotionally. Hence the fear of exposing women to the sight of children happily at play.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Too much grooming?

What do women want? According to young, attractive Australian journalist Amy Cooper the answer is not a prissy kind of metrosexual man. In a column in the Sunday Age, Amy Cooper notes that women once,

steered clear of the guy with the manicure or the waxed eyebrows because fastidious grooming signified self-absorption, narcissism, and general dodginess.

What Amy Cooper believes women want in a man is,

heroism and emotional literacy, with just enough dirt under the collar.

This is not, as Amy herself admits, a small ask. She wants not just a minor display of manhood, but a fully heroic one. And she wants a man to be able to express romantic thoughts and feelings, something which takes a bit of time and effort for most men. As for appearances, she wants men to be at least a little rugged.

Why would a man try to impress a woman by developing these qualities? Amy Cooper wants men to,

still keep trying to win us because ... we're worth it. And there aren't any barbarians or savage beasts any more so you might as well concentrate on conquering us instead.

Which raises an interesting point. Nature is on the side of women here. Most young men so much want to win over a woman, that they will go to great lengths to develop masculine qualities. However, women still do have to come to the party. They have to keep themselves appealing enough to keep men encouraged.

Which means that at least some of the time the question shouldn't be "What do women want?" but rather "What do men want?" And the answer here isn't just sex. What is heroic in men isn't going to be drawn out just by women making themselves sexually available.

Men have their own romantic ideal of women. It involves women being appealingly feminine, both physically and emotionally. Women don't have to entirely meet this ideal for men to admire them and want to pursue them, but they do have to have at least some attractively feminine qualities.

Can a woman entirely lose her womanly charm? I think so. If a woman tries hard enough, she can make herself mannish and uninteresting. During the height of third wave feminism I believe some young university women fell into this category.

How rare it is, though, to find in the mainstream media any intelligent discussion of what men want. The few trendy women's magazines to deal with this question usually do so superficially by seeking a few short responses from guys who live in nightclubs. There's not much intelligent information from the male mainstream.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Morally unprotected

Three recent items from The Age newspaper show how a liberal attitude to morality leaves women unprotected. The first (not yet online) is an interview with prominent Australian writer Helen Garner. Helen Garner describes her twenties in the 1970s as including,

A very high level of sexual activity without much emotional content. In my generation, in some areas of the middle-class educated world that I lived in - a slightly bohemian, ratty sort of world - that was considered to be what one did.

There are whole areas of my youthful behaviour which I don't really like thinking about because of the harshness of it and the thoughtlessness about other people's feelings and the narcissism, just crashing from one person to another, wounding people and in fact wounding myself, and being numb to it.

At the time, it was no doubt considered "emancipated" to behave as Helen Garner and her social milieu did, but the truth is that it was harmful, particularly to the women.

Then there is this little item on a successful raid on an illegal brothel in Melbourne. The interesting thing about this item is that it mentions the estimated number of illegal brothels now operating in Melbourne: 400!

I can remember when brothels were first legalised in Victoria. This "reform" was justified on the grounds that the legal brothels would make illegal brothels and streetwalkers unnecessary, and that the legal brothels could be better managed for health and safety issues.

This justification has turned out to be completely false. There are more streetwalkers and more illegal brothels than ever before. All that has happened is that there is now a third, legal kind of prostitution added to the previously existing ones. Making prostitution legal seems to have given it a level of social acceptability and it has flourished, both legally and illegally.

And finally, here is a very sad account by a young woman who at university mixed with other feminist women for whom abortion was "almost a rite of passage". She too hastily submitted herself to the same thing, regretting her decision at the last moment when it was too late. She believes that she was effectively misinformed about the realities of abortion by feminist women's organisations. She writes,

I believed I was well informed. I did my best to be. Afterwards, I realised I had not been well informed at all.

If anything, I had been misinformed. At no point had I been told that going through an abortion can be extremely psychologically distressing. I did not know that women's lives can fall apart the way mine did as a result. The "unbiased" information and language, supposedly feminist, did not make me feel empowered. It denied my truth, and saved society from another single mother.

Liberalism claims that it is emancipating women, but as the above examples show, it too often leaves young women unprotected. A woman made emotionally numb by a culture of promiscuity, or a woman prostituting herself, or a woman living with the pain of a regretted abortion can't be described as happily liberated.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The party of science?

Liberals like to think of themselves as the party of science. That's why it's so interesting to see science increasingly undercutting core liberal beliefs.

This is most obvious in the field of gender difference. Liberals don't want there to be natural differences between men and women, because they don't want gender to count in defining who we are. Only self-created things are supposed to define us in the liberal belief system.

And yet science continues to show that liberals are wrong in their belief that gender difference is not natural but merely socialised. The latest evidence is a book by Steven Rhoads, an academic at the University of Virginia. This book reviews the scientific literature on the subject and finds that it "overwhelmingly establishes the case for nature - that is, for natural sex differences".

The review of the book by P. David Hornik gives a few examples of gender differences occurring in children from very young ages (in fact, even from a day old). (I've also written on this theme here.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Arguments which count

A letter in today's Herald Sun opposes the use of the term "illegal immigrants" on the grounds that,

People who arrive on our shores seeking refugee status are not illegals, they are asylum seekers ... they have fled in haste from oppressive regimes.

This, of course, conjures up the image of a genuine refugee whose life is in danger and who flees for the nearest border.

The problem is that Australia has no border with other countries that refugees might flee from. In fact, most "asylum seekers" travel half way round the world, through a variety of countries, to get here.

The Herald Sun featured the case last week of Iraqi Ahmed Saad. He did not "flee in haste" from Iraq to Australia. In fact, he left Iraq as long ago as 1987 and lived in Iran for 14 years. He then spent four months in 2001 travelling through Malaysia and then Indonesia before paying people smugglers to take him to Australia.

Of course, pointing out that nobody arrives in Australia in haste from oppressive regimes won't convince liberals to rethink their attitudes to asylum seekers. That's because such arguments are really only conducted at a "secondary" level; they have persuasive force in terms of public debate, but they don't really explain the underlying reason why a person adopts the position in the first place.

It's more useful to understand the argument at a "primary" level. This means trying to understand liberal first principles. For a liberal, what matters is that we are "free" to be self-created through our individual will and reason. A traditional national identity is something that is not self-created. Therefore, it eventually loses its legitimacy within a liberal culture.

For liberals, therefore, the act of accepting "refugees", even when the case for the "refugees" is weak, is likely to be considered a positive and "politically correct" act as it shows a "freedom" from any bias toward a traditional, mainstream national identity.

The debate hinges, in other words, on first principles which liberals adopted many generations ago. Conservatives don't accept these first principles, and therefore still believe it to be legitimate to uphold a traditional identity. But unless conservatives begin to challenge liberal first principles, it's unlikely that the climate of opinion amongst intellectuals will change.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Accepting the unchosen

For hundreds of years now the West has adopted as its guiding principle an ideal of individual autonomy.

As far back as the 1400s the Renaissance writer Pico della Mirandola imagined God saying to man that,

You, constrained by no limits, in accordance with your own free will ... shall ordain for yourself the limits of your nature ... We have made you that with freedom of choice, as though the maker and moulder of yourself, you may fashion yourself in whatever shape you shall prefer.

The basic idea of what is now called liberal individualism is that human freedom and dignity require that we choose what we are to be according to our own individual will and reason.

This ideal sounds good in its broad sweep and it has captivated Western intellectuals over the centuries. In its details though it is an ideal that has proved to be ruinous.

Why? Because many of the most important forms of human identity and connectedness are not chosen by individual will or reason. They are instead inborn or inherited. This means that liberal individualists must either give up some measure of their first principles or else deny or deconstruct important aspects of human existence. Over time they have opted for the latter.

Two recent news stories out of Britain illustrate the problem. The first, in a report by Steve Doughty of the Daily Mail (18/6/03), is that four Cabinet members have backed a new policy paper which declares that it's wrong for mothers to stay at home to look after their young children.

The policy paper, titled "Delivering on Gender Equality", claims that mothers of young children should go out to work to help the economy, whilst there should be "diversity targets" to encourage men to work as nursery workers, nannies and childminders.

Now, the demand that young mothers should go out to work to help the economy does not appear to reflect a demand from the business lobby. In fact, Ruth Lea, the policy chief at the Institute of Directors, condemned the proposal, saying that "This is blatant social engineering. It is Orwellian - it reeks of Big Brother."

So what could be the real motivation behind the proposed policy? Jill Kirby, a spokeswoman for a group called "Full Time Mothers" was quite right to say of the policy that "This is target-driven interventionist politics. What they want to see is women at work and men at home."

In other words, they want to completely reverse the normal influence of gender. They want men to be child-carers and women to be breadwinners. This makes sense if you believe in liberal first principles: that what we are should be determined by our individual will and reason rather than by an inherited quality such as our manhood or womanhood.

For liberals it is a kind of "liberation" to reverse traditional sex roles: it frees the individual from the influence of an unchosen part of human nature. For liberals, this is more important than basing the structure of family life on the differing, and traditionally complementary, instincts and drives of men and women.

The second news item from Britain is that a junior education minister has floated the idea that to create "racial equality" schools would have to meet targets to improve the lagging exam results of African, Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi students. (Daily Mail 18/6/03)

In other words, it is no longer sufficient to have equality of opportunity between different ethnic groups. A British Education Minister is now proposing that schools should be forced to produce equal outcomes.

For most people, this proposal would seem unfair, as it means artificially pushing ahead some students at the expense of better qualified or better motivated students.

But for a liberal individualist it is possible to justify such a move. Remember, liberals want to believe that an inherited quality like race or ethnicity should have no influence on what we are. So when it appears from studies that race or ethnicity actually is having an influence on educational outcomes, the priority is to manipulate things to make the influence of race go away. The priority becomes to engage in racial or ethnic levelling, rather than to uphold the earlier liberal aim of equal opportunity.

These kind of policy decisions are really the unravelling over time of liberal first principles. For things to change, and for the normal forms of human identity and connectedness to once again be reflected in public policy, these liberal principles need to be jettisoned. We need to accept that individual reason and will does not determine everything - we need to accept, in other words, the positive influence on us of what is unchosen.

(First published at Conservative Central 18/06/03)

G.I. Guinevere?

In the new King Arthur film the character of Guinevere has been transformed, in the words of the film's publicists, from "English Rose to Warrior".

The new Guinevere is described as follows by the actress who plays her part, Keira Knightley:

"She's no damsel in distress ... Our Guinevere is a lot tougher than that. She's a fighter, a warrior, as much as any man ... That's based on historical fact - the women did fight on equal standing with the men. That's never really been shown before."

I have two problems with this. First, it's a rewriting of history. The "historical" Arthur lived during the period of the Anglo-Saxon invasions of England. There aren't a lot of historical documents from this period (it was the "dark ages"), but I've never come across a single document from the entire 700 year period which suggests that women routinely (or even occasionally) fought on equal terms with the men.

The Roman historian Tacitus, writing a few hundred years before these events, does mention that Germanic women sometimes formed a line behind the men at a battle. But this was to prevent the men from fleeing the combat - a man who did so would shame himself by running past and deserting his own womenfolk.

The second problem is that I find the masculinised portrayal of women in films unenjoyable. Nor am I alone in preferring a more feminine portrayal of women: according to the 2004 AustraliaSCAN survey, what Australian men find least appealing in women are ... "masculine tendencies".

Men do not love women for their ruggedness or muscularity or physical toughness. These qualities are not the distinctive inner qualities of womanhood.

Why then do we end up with so many "warrior women" on the silver screen? In a liberal culture, it's considered "emancipated" to act in a contrary way to your own gender. This is because liberals want to be self-created by their own reason and will, rather than by inherited things like the sex we are born into. In the liberal view, our sex isn't something we naturally and positively identify with; it is instead a kind of impediment to the self-creating individual to be overcome.

It's possible that the new King Arthur is still a worthwhile film. What a pity, though, that the liberal blowtorch has been applied to the leading female character.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

How far does liberal influence extend?

How influential is liberalism? Take the issue of abortion. This issue is under discussion again for two reasons. First, doctors can now keep alive some prematurely born babies after 22 weeks of pregnancy. Second, newly released pictures of the unborn in the womb show a resemblance to babies, rather than to inert cells.

In Britain David Steel, architect of the 1967 Abortion Act, has called for changes to the abortion law. He wants to forbid "on request" abortions after 22 weeks, rather than 24 weeks of pregnancy.

A very cautious reform, you might think. But it drew a very predictable response from Ellie Lee, in the "enlightenment" liberal magazine Spiked-Online.

Ellie Lee asks herself the question, how can a doctor be asked to save the life of a baby born prematurely after 22 weeks pregnancy in one ward of a hospital, but then abort a baby after a 22 week pregnancy in another ward.

Her answer is that this "dilemma" can be resolved "if the aim, in both cases, is to assist the woman to achieve what she wants".

This may seem bluntly selfish. But from a liberal point of view it is principled. Liberals believe as a first principle that we should be free to act according to our individual will and reason. This principle is a long established orthodoxy in Western countries.

Ellie Lee is therefore only following through with an established liberal principle when she asserts that it is the right to choose in any direction which makes a decision on abortion moral or otherwise.

It should be noted that the liberal position is not an easy one to keep. American feminist Naomi Wolf, for instance, has expressed her disquiet about late term abortions because of the emotions she felt toward her own unborn child and because of ultrasound images showing how much her unborn looked like a baby. Ms Wolf has suggested that women not wanting to keep their children should be given support in having them adopted.

The complaint of Ellie Lee in her article, that most doctors are unwilling to perform late term abortions, also shows the reluctance of many people to follow through with the liberal "right to choose" principle when it comes to abortion.

At times, in fact, Ellie Lee sounds a bit desperate in her attempt to keep the liberal flag flying. For instance, her response to Ms Wolf is to criticise her for being overly "subjective" in examining the issue on the basis of her feelings and experience. Ms Lee, one imagines, has steeled herself to follow an abstract, intellectual principle and expects others to do the same.

What all this goes to show is that moral issues aren't discussed in the West in some impartial manner, but within the framework of a particular philosophy, namely liberalism. On a moral issue like abortion, therefore, we're unlikely to see any major change in policy, despite the fact that science is beginning to unsettle the liberal view of the unborn, and despite the fact that even many liberals feel themselves "conflicted" in their attitude to the issue, because of their own experience and emotional response to pregnancy and motherhood.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Baby beats boardroom

Gianna is the best known of Australia's left wing feminist bloggers. She recently became a mother in the messiest of ways: a casual fling followed by a bitter internet and legal battle with the biological father. She's now living as a single mother in what I gather to be some trendy coastal hamlet.

The big news? She's had to rethink her feminism, because she loves being a mother! She wants to stay home, care for her son and would like to have done so with a man she loves.

I encourage you to read the whole thing. It's a case of a liberal woman unexpectedly confronting her natural maternal instincts and finding that the sense of connectedness as a mother is more important and more satisfying than the independent modern girl lifestyle she had previously led.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

IVF for 14 year olds?

Here's a rather disturbing sign of the times from England:

British girls as young as 14 are seeking treatment for infertility because they have been unable to become pregnant after up to two years of sexual activity without contraception.

In one clinic in Swindon, west of London, four girls aged 14 were so desperate to have babies that they asked whether they could receive treatments such as in-vitro fertilisation.

The requests, all in the past year, were made to Dr Jo Heaton, a fertility specialist who runs a sexual health clinic for under-19s in the town." (The Age 5/7/04)

In some ways we shouldn't be surprised at such news. Children these days know pretty much everything there is to know about matters sexual; there is no longer much of an attempt to preserve a period of "childhood innocence" (which psychologists, as I understand it, call a "latency period").

Patricia Edgar, a founding director of the Australian Children's Television Foundation, even thinks that children are being overly protected. She believes that the current system, of giving programmes ratings, is too strict.

She complains that the "censor" (ie the ratings tribunal) too much reflects the views of "white picket fence" families; that children's programmes should be unpredictable and controversial and deal with challenging issues; that children's television is too influenced by "the moralists and the nostalgics who believe the world portrayed should be peopled with the very good"; and that programmes should not speak to children in a "moralising" way.

I think that Patricia Edgar is trying to push adult sensibilities onto children here. Children, in fact, often enjoy watching programmes which portray a warm and secure family life. Nor do children need to watch "confrontational issues" in order to stay interested in TV shows.

Patricia Edgar is leading the debate in the wrong direction. Children are currently being deprived of a "latency period" in which they can take the necessary developmental steps from childhood to adulthood. We need to find ways to protect children from too early an exposure to adult concepts, including adult sexuality. Otherwise we can't be too surprised when young girls act precociously and complain of infertility at the tender age of 14.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Why isn't this sexism?

Tony Campolo was the spiritual advisor to President Clinton. He came to Australia recently and praised an Australian charity called Opportunity International. This charity is run by Australian "faith-based organisations" and provides business loans for the poor in the Third World.

Well for some poor people, anyway. You see, the "faith-based" organisations decided in their wisdom to restrict the loans to women. Men are excluded.

Which is something of a problem, as the loans are an excellent way of providing employment. For instance, it's estimated that within four years 5% of the workforce in the Philippines will be employed through businesses set up by the loans. According to Tony Campolo,

"It's almost miraculous. I say 'almost' because it's so reasonable, so rational, so pragmatic that any thinking person will say, 'Of course, it will work. Why didn't someone think of it before?"

But why, Tony, would a rational, thinking person exclude men from the loans? Wouldn't giving men a chance to start up businesses help them to provide for their families? Wouldn't it help to give a positive direction to the competitive energies of men in poorer countries?

You have to question whether the "faith-based" organisations are really only motivated by a charitable instinct to alleviate poverty. They seem to want to combine charity with a hefty dose of liberal social engineering.

PS I decided to look up the charity on the internet. What I found is that the charity doesn't strictly exclude men, but does make 90% of its loans to women. The charity is part of an international group which had 487,105 loans for the year 2003.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Liberalism & race

One of the more sensitive issues of our time is that of race.

It's an issue on which there is a great deal of misunderstanding. Liberals often try to understand the conservative attitude to race as being a product of fear or hatred.

The Australian author, Thomas Keneally, for example wrote during an immigration debate that "I think all the hate I'm seeing ... has been associated with fear."

This attitude of liberals tends to confound conservatives who don't feel any racial animosity at all, but who nonetheless wish to preserve their own race.

What liberals fail to realise is that conservatives do not reject forms of self-identity, such as race, which give individuals a special sense of "connectedness" (including, in the case of race, a sense of connection to past and future generations).

In other words, conservatives accept such forms of self-identity as a positive feature of life, which individuals naturally seek to uphold.

Race is not the only form of self-identity. There can be many other forms of identity, based on our sex, our hometown, our religion, our nation, our class, our state and so on.

It's normal for individuals to feel a sense of pride based on their self-identity. For instance, a European might feel a particular pride about the achievements of his own race; men might feel a special masculine pride, and we might be particularly proud about the finer points of our hometown.

Accepting these forms of self-identity also means that we are connected more closely to some people than to others, and even at times that we give preference to some people over others.

This is where the conservative view collides with liberal first principles. Liberals believe in the unimpeded individual will. This means that liberals wish to achieve a certain kind of "equality" in which each individual will is equally free to act as it chooses.

Liberals, therefore, are very sensitive about the idea that someone should be restricted in their choices because of qualities such as their race, their sex, or their class etc.

So, for liberals, "racial equality" means not discriminating in favour of members of your own race. This disallows, for example, an immigration policy designed to preserve the established race of a particular country.

Some liberals go a long way to try to prove that they have no particular connection to members of their own race: they tend, in fact, to put the normal instincts in reverse by doing a "hatchet job" on their own race, whilst suspending their critical faculties when dealing with other races.

It's sometimes the case, though, that liberals will still express the normal kind of self-identity, but that their liberal first principles will restrict any expression of this self-identity in public policy.

Sir Robert Menzies, for instance, was very proudly Anglo-Australian, but still oversaw the deconstruction of Anglo-Australia in the 1950s and 60s. Similarly, the current Prime Minister, John Howard, in supporting multiculturalism has stated that,

"It's perfectly possible for an Anglo-Celtic Australian who sort of has a lot of reverence to the traditional institutions of this country, and the traditional characteristics of Australia, and to want to hang on to those, to be completely tolerant and colour-blind and so on."

John Howard, in other words, is not so denatured that he doesn't feel the normal instincts of ethno-cultural self-identity. It's just that he also accepts liberal first principles and must therefore be "colour-blind" in terms of establishing public policy, such as immigration policy.

What conservatives really need to do if things are to change is to challenge the basic liberal ideal of the unimpeded individual will. This would permit us to do what to conservatives seems normal: to have our forms of self-identity and connectedness upheld as part of public policy.

(First published at Conservative Central 12/06/03)

Thinking about: Tony Abbott

One of the mistakes conservatives make is to trust too much in the right liberal parties, such as the Australian Liberal Party, the American Republicans or the British Conservatives.

As I’ve argued before, there are at least three different layers to the right liberal parties. The primary layer, shared by all, is a belief in liberal individualism. Liberal individualism is based on the idea of an atomised, autonomous individual who is free to create himself in any direction. Right liberals who stay at this stage are usually called small l liberals.

Above this core philosophical layer you commonly find a belief in free trade. Free market right liberals usually prefer the idea of a small state, and sometimes stress the idea of the individual as an economic unit.

Finally there are right liberals who try to add an element of conservatism to the previous core layers of liberalism. The question to be answered, though, is how such conservative liberals manage to combine two seemingly contradictory philosophies.

Tony Abbott is currently Minister for Employment in Australia’s Liberal Party Government. He is at the most conservative end of the Government, being one of the few politicians who opposed the move to a republic. He has outlined some of his political ideas on his website, which give an insight into the mind of an influential conservative liberal.

What you commonly find in Tony Abbott’s speeches and articles is an assertion of liberal individualism but then a concern about how social cohesion is to be maintained. In Tony Abbott’s view liberalism and conservatism fit together, because conservatism provides the “order and continuity” needed to allow liberal individualism to successfully advance.

For instance he asserts in one speech that,

The Liberal Party’s animating principle is freedom: not absolute freedom because freedom can only exist in a context of order, stability and fairness – still, as far as is reasonably possible, individual, social and commercial freedom.

In another speech he argues that “The dream of greater personal freedom is probably the Liberal Party’s nearest equivalent to a “light on the hill” and he quotes approvingly the party’s founder, Sir Robert Menzies, who once explained that “We took the name ‘Liberal’ because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary, but believing in the individual, his rights and his enterprise.”

Most revealingly, he goes on to quote the former Liberal Party Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, who declared in 1980 that,

Ours is a liberal Government, holding liberal principles. It believes … that to the maximum extent compatible with a cohesive and stable society people should be free to make their own decisions concerning their lives … once liberal institutions are installed in a society, a government which wishes to preserve them must be in some sense conservative … [conservatism] stresses the need for a framework of stability, continuity and order, not only as something desirable in itself but as a necessary condition of a free society … [conservatism is not] a reactionary … radical right phenomenon, but a concern to preserve continuity, to ensure that hard-won gains are not carelessly lost, [and] to integrate elements of the old and the new.

It is in this context that Abbott concludes “The generally happy marriage between liberal and conservative thinking inside the Liberal Party has been a source of intellectual vitality and political strength.”

Some marriage! If you read the above carefully you find that the overall aim is to advance liberalism; conservatism is left in a no-win situation where its only function is to ensure that liberalism isn’t threatened by excessive disorder.

Is it really any wonder that the Liberal Party has so often disappointed rank and file conservatives? Or that it has failed to rewind any Labor Party measures once these have been securely implemented?

It’s important that conservatives don’t have a na├»ve faith in the right liberal parties. Even the most conservative members of the Liberal Party only conceive of conservatism as a way to consolidate the advance of liberalism.

A genuine challenge to liberalism requires something different. It requires that conservatism be carefully distinguished from liberalism, so that it can assert its own aims and values in society.

(First published at Conservative Central 28/05/2003)

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Masculinity is good for you!

It wasn't so long ago that men were being urged to become more like women for the sake of their mental health. Supposedly it was traditional masculinity which was killing men: the requirement to be strong and get on with life was held responsible for male depression and suicide.

An article in yesterday's Age newspaper has turned this argument around. There are now scientists who are arguing that it is women who are more vulnerable to depression and that part of the reason for this is the way that women try to cope with their problems.

What the statistics show is that "for every man, 1.7 women had experienced at least one episode of depression". Although hormonal differences partly account for this, so too do female coping mechanisms.

According to the Age article:

Another risk factor appears to be something that researchers call overthinking, a tendency to dwell on petty slights, to mentally replay testy encounters and to wallow in sad feelings. Studies show that this type of negative thinking is far more common in women than in men, and that it can be a harbinger of clinical depression.

The article then refers to the research of Dr Susan Nolen-Hoeksma, a professor at the University of Michigan, who believes that "The gender difference in overthinking is strongly tied to the gender difference in depression" and that depression in women is related to:

the greater tendency of girls and women to ruminate over the common curveballs of life, such as criticism at work or school or rejection by a friend, mulling them over and over without being able to come to a resolution or to simply move on.

The article then notes that:

By contrast, men are more likely than women to distract themselves from a problem, often by going off and doing something active ... They'll do things, they're more likely to go for a run ... they let it go.

One obvious conclusion to draw from all this is that the presence of a masculine man in a woman's life is likely to be beneficial in helping to prevent her from "overthinking problems". There is still an important role, in other words, for a strong male figure in a woman's life to protect her from the more vulnerable aspects of her own nature.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Angry architects attack public

When I was a boy I spent many happy hours at the St Kilda pier, fishing for mullet and garfish. I'm therefore one of those people who grew to love the distinctive, historic kiosk at the end of the pier.

The bad news is that the kiosk, a St Kilda landmark, burnt down last year. The good news is that Parks Victoria has decided to rebuild it following its original exterior design (but with a modernised interior).

A simple decision? Not according to the Melbourne architectural profession. In an article in yesterday's Age, one "urban design consultant" labelled the decision as "pathetic and tragic" and unsuitable for a "socially progressive" community.

An architectural academic went further and said the decision was a "retreat from the real world" which showed "some sort of serious psychological problem on the part of the people who want to have irrelevant styles".

A letter writer in today's Age has eloquently replied to these architectural modernists. He writes:

How fascinating that a public requiring beauty, simplicity, charm and a sense of history from their city's buildings and structures should be accused of having "some sort of serious psychological problem.

Professor Miles Lewis - no doubt an expert in mental health - should perhaps consider that the right of his profession to use our city as a billboard upon which to promote abstract theories of geometric design to one another does not outweigh the the general population's right to go about their daily existence in a landscape that sustains a sense of local identity, tradition and pride of place.

Well put, and congratulations also to Parks Victoria for standing by local residents and preserving a much loved piece of St Kilda's heritage.