Friday, June 30, 2006

Does anyone get Leunig?

One of the hardest things traditionalist conservatives have to do is to figure out the mindset of liberals.

Although I understand better now than I used to, it’s still difficult at times to grasp the logic at work in the way some liberals think about things. A recent article by Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig is a case in point.

Leunig begins on a note of despair. It seems that his own older generation of lefty intellectuals are feeling their traditional world falling away. Leunig writes:

But older folk become disillusioned, too - by matters that emerge in later life. Civil matters, for instance. What now of their sadness and disgust, as they watch their culture being methodically poisoned - not by the so-called barbarians beyond the city gates but by the gatekeepers and the Prime Minister who has appointed them?

So common and resonant in our land is this peculiar, appalled new feeling that there must surely be a special name for it - this late-life, close-to-the-heart dismay about the apparent destructiveness and bitter perversity of the prevailing political order.

So deeply does Leunig lament the loss of his left-wing culture that he writes almost like a conservative in defence of it:

Citizens, regardless of their political inclinations, carry a devout sense of their shared culture and its temperament - and, having contributed to it all their lives, hold decent and reasonable hopes for it's continued integrity. It's a gentle and complex sensibility, which comes from forebears, from the uniqueness of the land, from relationships, work, history, art and the many ordinary tales and folk legends of the society - a vital yet almost intangible ecosystem - of which governments are expected to be the respectful custodians, not brash redevelopers.

When a government imagines it will renovate the national culture according to its ideology and exclusive ambitions, as if culture is just a mechanistic matter of knobs and levers and suckholes in powerful positions (a government that has piously denounced the idea of social engineering and proclaimed the wisdom of the free market and, presumably, free culture) then it begins to feel for many as if their country has been somehow invaded and is under occupation - that they are being marshalled and callously divided into two categories: "you're in, you're out".

Now, it’s not impossible to understand part of Leunig’s viewpoint here. The left-liberal intelligentsia were so dominant in Australia in the 1970s and 80s that they really did create and inhabit a distinct and recognisable culture.

Since the mid-90s, though, a right-wing liberalism has grown in strength, particularly in Canberra, so that the comfy, unexamined left-wing culture no longer dominates as it once did.

So there’s some objective basis to Leunig’s feeling that the older Anglo left-liberal culture is slipping away.

Still, Leunig’s viewpoint seems odd overall – and not only because he exaggerates the differences between his own politics and those of the Howard Government.

Leunig expects the Government to be a respectful custodian of a left-liberal culture which is itself self-destructive. The left-liberals want to continue to preach the awfulness of their own society, and to open the borders of their society, without restriction, to the unassimilable Other. They don’t appear to realise that there is no Government measure which could allow a comfortable, traditional Anglo left-liberalism to continue on this basis – that they are preaching a politics which can only end in their own displacement.

The difficulty of reconciling Leunig’s outlook – of preserving a left-liberal cultural ascendancy based on national guilt and open borders – is suggested in the following paragraphs, written in a strangely mixed vein:

In one's own beloved native land - which, in spite of its many failures, has historically welcomed and provided some measure of hope and unconditional friendliness for exiles from desperate situations in other lands, it is a peculiar paradoxical sadness to sense such a growing mood of alienation, national dispossession and lost identity among a significant proportion of its intelligent citizens resulting from an abusive government impulse that nobody much had foreseen or thought possible.

How odd and lamentable that a nation that was the consoler of outcasts could also be the creator of outcasts. Yet how unsurprising also, for regardless of whatever infantile denials are made in ivory towers and newspaper offices, ours is a nation built knowingly or unwittingly on a moral foundation of occupation, repression and exclusion - still formally unacknowledged. Abuse is written into our moral constitution and practised as a nationalistic compulsion, whether it be in the waging of war against defenceless peoples abroad, or against the environment and the remnant innocence in our own land.

These thoughts are known as the black armband view. Even the redeeming and humanising values of remorse and sorrow are held in contempt by the perverse new gatekeepers - those creepy cultural stalkers and warmongers ... Time will have to pass before gravity and spirit of country reassert what is true.

This kind of writing is so difficult to disentangle. One moment Leunig is telling us that our country historically welcomed exiles with unconditional friendliness, but a few sentences later the exact opposite is asserted with equal force, that our nation was built on a moral foundation of exclusion.

It’s not a politics with a long shelf-life. Leunig can already see the writing on the wall: that the kind of middle-class, Anglo, left-liberal culture he inhabited and identifies with won’t survive modernity. In some ways it was too successful for its own good – it could only have survived if there had been some counter-force strong enough to restrain its self-destructive tendencies.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The humanist as mad scientist

Where is political modernism taking us? There is an unsettling answer laid out for us in a recent issue of Dissent, a prominent Australian left-liberal magazine. In an article titled “It’s the IQ, stupid” (Dissent, Number 20, Autumn/Winter 2006), retired scientist Stanley Schaetzel takes “the logical next step” for political modernism, a step which has momentous consequences.


Schaetzel’s article is a striking example of positivism, a philosophy which has been around since the early 1800s, which claims that science alone can determine the truth about the world and reality.

Schaetzel believes that religion should be replaced completely with a scientific world view. He bridles at the commonly held attitude that science has worked out best in certain spheres only, such as the development of technology. For him, there is a scientific method which can be applied everywhere:

Scientific methods either work everywhere and present a valid view of reality across all aspects of life – or they don’t. There is no alternative.

Two objections to this kind of positivism spring immediately to mind. First, the attempt to apply a “scientific method” outside of the natural sciences has usually produced a negative result. One clear example of this fault of “scientism” was the effort to make motherhood more scientific in the 1920s and 30s.

For instance, in 1928 a Dr Watson wrote a book on childcare in which he declared that,

No one today knows enough to raise a child. The world would be considerably better off if we were to stop having children for twenty years (except those reared for experimental purposes) and were then to start again with enough facts to do the job with some degree of skill and accuracy. Parenthood, instead of being an instinctive art, is a science, the details of which must be worked out by patient laboratory methods.

And what kind of results did such “patient laboratory methods” yield? Dr Watson informed mothers that they should not show affection toward their children:

Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say good night. Shake hands with them in the morning. Give them a pat on the head if they have made an extraordinary good job of the difficult task.

Dr Watson did not even like children to see their mothers, except for the necessary tasks of feeding or changing nappies. For the kind of mother whose heart was “too tender” and who needed to see her child, Dr Watson gave this advice:

make yourself a peephole so that you can see it without being seen, or use a periscope.

Modern mothers should not show emotion, but should instead,

handle the situation as a trained nurse or a doctor would and, finally, learn not to talk in endearing and coddling terms.

Nor is it an accident that Dr Watson should give this advice. If you want to apply a “scientific method” to all things, then you will be biased toward what is more tangible and easily measured, rather than the unpredictable and subjective realm of emotions.

The second objection to Schaetzel’s positivism is as follows. Schaetzel believes that religion ought to be replaced by science. However, he is confronted by the fact that most Westerners continue to have religious beliefs.

Schaetzel chooses to explain this setback to positivism by claiming that most people are too stupid and uneducated to understand a scientific world view. It is Schaetzel’s view that only people with an IQ over 115, and who have the right kind of education and sufficient time can belong to a scientific elite who understand the systems which control human society.

But, alas, it is not the scientific elite who have the power to run things. Schaetzel laments that,

You need a high IQ to push science forward, but you don’t need great intelligence to make money, to be a media star or a famous athlete or – even – to get elected to the Presidency of the USA. Politics is the only profession without any educational criteria … This seems to be the biggest problem of the current period. It’s the IQ, stupid.

For Schaetzel this is tragic because the scientific elite now have everything figured out and could run the globe smoothly and scientifically:

We are being led by people most of whom are not able to see – and do not comprehend – the Big Scene ... We have now the means of knowing what is going on everywhere, of classifying this information and of exerting control at a distance.

These are big claims. It makes you think that Schaetzel has an original and insightful view of world problems not available to the rest of us. But here is his analysis of the terrorist situation:

The presently advocated cure for the world’s problems – free trade and the market economy – is in reality a return to the Darwinian system of survival of the fittest. Currently the strong and the big are getting bigger and the weak are getting weaker – and some of the weak have only terrorism as an answer.

This is just standard left-liberalism. It is a traditional left-liberal opposition to a free market ideology and to an inequality of condition. There are dolphin loving hippy women who could have granted us the same “insight”.

And note too the contradiction in Schaetzel’s politics here. He accepts the leftist view that it is inequality which causes social problems. But at the same time he is radically elitist: he believes that power belongs properly to a small group of people like himself – scientific experts who alone have acquired knowledge of “the big scene”.


It is not, though, the positivism of Schaetzel’s argument which is the main cause for concern. It is his perfectly logical effort to upgrade traditional humanism.

At the time of the Renaissance, thinkers like Pico della Mirandola argued that what made man special was his capacity to self-determine who he is. Man did not occupy a fixed position in a chain of being, but could choose to be as low as an animal or as high as God.

This humanist philosophy made man a magnificent, heroic being to be idolised. Here is Pico himself, extolling the virtues of man:

Imagine! The great generosity of God! The happiness of man! To man it is allowed to be whatever he chooses to be! ... Who could not help but admire this great shape-shifter? In fact, how could one admire anything else? ... Who would not admire man ... because he fashions and transforms himself into any fleshly form and assumes the character of any creature whatsoever ... For this reason, Euanthes the Persian … writes that man has no inborn, proper form ...

... let us not even yield place to them, the highest of the angelic orders … If we choose to, we will not be second to them in anything.

This view, or at least a secularised version of it, ultimately succeeded in shaping the modern Western world. The liberal orthodoxy of today continues to insist that our humanity depends on our freedom to choose who we are and what we do according to our own individual will and reason.

The liberal humanist view has, though, a fatal flaw. It depends on the assumption that, as Pico puts it, man has “no inborn, proper form”. This means that liberals usually adopt the idea that individuals are blank slates.

Conservatives have disagreed with liberals on this point. We believe that there is a human nature, which is not just produced by education or social influences, but is inborn: that we have a nature which is hardwired into us.

And this is where traditional humanism has come unstuck. Stanley Schaetzel’s beloved science has progressed to a stage where it has confirmed not the liberal but the conservative view.

Take the example of gender. Liberals believe that we are human when we self-define who we are. This means that liberals don’t like the idea that being a man or a woman should influence our identity or our social roles, as being male or female is not something we get to choose.

Liberals have therefore explained traditional gender identity and roles as being a product of socialisation only, from which men and women are to be “liberated”.

Science, though, has confounded these liberal claims. It is now clear that there is a biological basis for gender differences – that men and women are influenced by differences in hormones and brain structure.

We are not, therefore, the blank slates liberals took us to be.

So, are we then not special in the way that Pico claimed? Do we not have the freedom to choose to be whatever we will?

This is where Stanley Schaetzel attempts to tidy things up, but with dangerous consequences. He admits that humans are not entirely born as blank slates, but are influenced by genetics:

At birth the human brain is partially plastic (by this I mean not completely tabula rasa) and partially genetically programmed (in computer parlance hardwired) ... Quasi-hardwired programs are subsequently developed during the formative years (1 to about 16) of children and adolescents.

Having ceded this, Schaetzel then accepts that humans are not so special after all, that we are simply a big-brained animal:

We are one of the results of evolution: an animal classified as Homo Sapiens, which has 98.4% of its genes identical with the chimpanzee ... Its main difference from the rest of the primates is an evolved brain ...

At this point, Schaetzel seems to be rejecting the liberal humanist philosophy. But he then pulls out his trump card. We might have been animals up to now, suggests Schaetzel, but we are about to become something more, because we are about to truly self-determine who we are.

How? By taking control over our own hardwiring, over our own genetic structure. He writes,

What if we agree that, at the beginning of the third millennium, we ceased to be an animal? Not because we have in us some immaterial agent – but because our brains have created the digital age and now understand and control our genome and thus evolution.

Schaetzel follows up this thought, of man raised again above the level of animals, with a renewed idolisation of man:

And if, as I think, we still need to worship something why not worship the idea of the latent man – of everything man has achieved and is capable of achieving, of all his good intentions and noble aspirations? The temples of this faith would be various museums, great universities and research institutes.

The irony is that Schaetzel, the arch enemy of religion and tradition, has not strayed far from the outlines of a theology laid down by Pico more than 500 years ago.

Summers & sex differences

Genetic technology is with us for good. Most people, I expect, would prefer that any tinkering with the human genome be done with extreme caution. Such caution, though, is unlikely to be preferred when the tinkering itself is seen as the very thing which gives us a special status as humans.

What’s worse is that the tinkering is likely to be done to fulfil the liberal project. Let me give just one example of the kind of attitude which some modern intellectuals are likely to take.

In January 2005 the President of Harvard University, Lawrence Summers, gave a “controversial” speech. He suggested that one possible reason for men outnumbering women in top engineering and science jobs was that men may have more “intrinsic” (ie hardwired) ability for high-level science than women.

Predictably, Summers was attacked for his comment. Liberals don’t like the idea that we might be influenced in a significant way by our sex. It upsets their belief that we are free to choose to become whatever we will.

Summers made a grovelling apology, committed Harvard to spend $50 million on the recruitment of female staff and resigned.

In March 2005, Time magazine ran an eight page feature on the Summers’ controversy. Time is an establishment liberal magazine, and the purpose of the feature was to attack Summers’ suggestion that men might be, on average, intrinsically better at high-level science.

The problem for the Time writers is that by 2005 there was a lot of evidence that men’s brains were, in fact, demonstrably different to those of women. So they could not simply argue that men and women were mentally just the same.

Instead, the feature writers conceded that the male and female brain were different. They argued, though, that the differences could be made not to matter. How? First, by “training” the female brain to overcome any intrinsic disadvantage in high-level science and second by physically manipulating the female brain through modern science.

One of the Time reporters wrote cheerfully,

Now that scientists are finally starting to map the brain with some accuracy, the challenge is figuring out what to do with that knowledge. The possibilities for applying it to the classroom, workplace and doctor’s office are tantalizing. “If something is genetic, it means it must be biological. If we can figure out the biology, then we should be able to tweak the biology,” says Richard Haier, a psychology professor who studies intelligence at the University of California at Irvine. Maybe Summers’ failure was not one of sensitivity but one of imagination.

So, according to the Time journalist Lawrence Summers ought to have exercised more imagination and considered the “Frankenstein” option: that the female brain could be made less different to the male brain by human tampering.

This “tweaking” of genetics to overcome gender difference is what appears as the “optimistic” scenario to a liberal, but to a conservative it points to the likely abuse by liberals of a powerful new technology.


So what’s to be done? As noted earlier, the technology is likely to become a fact of life, so it’s the political ideology we need to change.

There are two key things to be asserted against the prevailing liberalism. First, that our humanity is not contingent. We don’t need to “prove” our human status by demonstrating our ability to manipulate the genome. For religious traditionalists, our human status is something guaranteed in virtue of our possession of a human soul (the “immaterial agent” referred to by Schaetzel). But even without this traditionalist view, it’s possible to think of humans as having a distinct status, based on a “sum total” of our qualities.

We need to challenge liberalism, also, in what it claims about human freedom. There is a truer sense of freedom when we succeed in recognising and living through what is best in our nature, rather than pretending our own nature to be limitless.

Science is not as important in the effort to acquire this kind of freedom as positivists like Schaetzel would have us believe. We can be grateful for the improvements science makes in our lives, for instance through medical technology or modern communications. But working our way toward what is most significant in our natures is not something done in a laboratory by technocratic experts. It is something available to all of us, requiring us to draw on personal qualities such as wisdom, self-discipline, depth of experience, and intuition.

We can be helped also by the depth of culture existing in the society we inhabit – a depth which is unlikely to extend far if we limit ourselves to a dry, technocratic scientism.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

France & the third dynamic

What drives multiculturalism and mass immigration?

I believe the underlying reason, the “first” dynamic, is the logic of the liberalism which has dominated Western politics.

In short, liberals believe that individuals fulfil their humanity when they are free to author their own lives according to their individual will and reason.

This sounds nice, but has some unforeseen consequences. It means, for instance, that a traditional ethnic nationalism, a national identity based on a shared ancestry, language, culture and religion, becomes illegitimate. Such an identity is inherited, rather than chosen by individual will, so it is thought of by liberals as an oppressive impediment to individual freedom.

However, once the political class arrives at this conclusion, there are a number of other flow on effects which also encourage multiculturalism and open borders.

The “second dynamic” I would explain as follows. In the liberal view, a society is a collection of millions of competing individual wills, each trying to enact their own desires. For liberals, therefore, an important question has to be answered. How is such a society based on competing wills to hold together?

The answer given by right-wing liberals is that the hidden hand of the free market will regulate any number of profit-seeking individuals for the benefit of the whole society.

So an entire wing of liberalism very firmly believes in the free market, not just on economic grounds, but as a basic part of their social philosophy.

For many liberals, therefore, the market must be kept free, including the movement of both labour and capital. They support open borders, in other words, because it goes against their free market beliefs to restrict the movement of workers.

And then there is the “third dynamic”. Politicians are people who are interested in the wielding of power. Ever since the early twentieth century there has emerged the growing possibility of global power – of some form of world government.

If you are a politician in a traditional country, with an identity based on a common ethnicity, you might seek to participate in global power arrangements through the old-fashioned method of alliances.

If, though, there is no longer an attachment to a common ethnicity, there are other ways to try to be at the centre of an emerging world order. You might try, for instance, to combine your nation into larger regional blocs.

There are many examples in the West of politicians wanting to open their borders in the pursuit of “diplomatic greatness”. It’s certainly a reason given by some Australian politicians from the 1950s onwards of wanting to merge more closely with Asia.

However, one of the clearest examples is that of France. The French have not only been at the forefront of building the European Union, but they have also, it seems, wanted to build greatness by fostering a bringing together of Europe and the Arab world to create a “Eurabia”.

But is this really a path to national greatness? In the case of France, the answer would seem to be no. If anything the Eurabia project has only exposed and extended French weakness.

The problem is this. The French welcomed millions of Arabs and Africans into their country, which fits well with the Eurabia project. However, the merging process hasn’t gone so smoothly. In 2005 the immigrants rioted in over 270 French towns, torching about 9000 cars.

Just recently there was a further riot in Montfermeil, a suburb in the north of Paris. Here is a newspaper account of the circumstances leading up to the riot:

It all began with an administrative decision by the mayor. A few months ago, he outlawed gatherings of more than four youths in the downtown area. Since January, the number of thefts and robberies had skyrocketed by 600 percent, and the dynamic mayor was seeking solutions that could increase his citizens' sense of security.

On investigating the problem, he discovered that most of the crimes had been committed by gangs numbering more than four members. His decision enraged the city's youths. Very few French suburbs have this small town's variegated ethnic mosaic: More than 30 percent of its inhabitants are foreigners from 40 different countries and 80 percent of them are Muslim. Satellite dishes on the balconies and in the windows receive transmissions from Al Jazeera and hundreds of television stations in Arab states.

In the town's immigrant neighborhood, 50 percent of the residents are under the age of 20.
At midday, hundreds of young people can be seen leaning indolently against the railings of homes and shops. Last week, the mayor was again in the headlines after he faced off with a group of youths who had attacked a passenger on a bus. The police arrived and the mayor, who had witnessed the attack, identified the assailants. News of the incident spread like wildfire through the immigrant neighborhood and that same night hundreds of youths gathered in front of City Hall and began hurling Molotov cocktails.

They then proceeded to the mayor's residence at which they threw stones. By morning, seven people had been wounded. Since then, the mayor's home is under constant surveillance and police officers are posted at the entrance to City Hall throughout the day. Nonetheless, despite the security measures, the mayor's wife and sons have been physically attacked and have suffered injuries.

So it is not so much a case of the French widening their sphere of influence in Arabia, but of Muslim North Africa extending its influence into France. The North African immigrant communities in France are young, growing and have kept their connection to their home region via satellite TV. They are asserting themselves with considerable force.

So what is to be done? It’s difficult for a liberal politician to recognise the problem: that the ethnic differences between the native population and the immigrants are too great for an easy integration. A liberal would see this as a “pessimistic” view, and would prefer to think that all people would readily adapt to what a liberal French society has to offer.

If they aren’t doing so, thinks the liberal, it must be because of “exclusion of the other” by the host population. Therefore, the instinctive liberal solution is to further berate the host population for their historic faults of oppression and discrimination and to try to make their country even more open and yielding to the Arab immigrants.

The Mayor of Montfermeil is no longer in the liberal camp. He says:

I am pained by the thought that my country is ashamed of its culture and values. When France denies its own history and incessantly apologizes for slavery, for its conquests and for colonialism, is it any wonder that the immigrants are rising up against it and are showing no respect for it?

The third dynamic, of pursuing diplomatic greatness through regional mergers, has failed France. It has not placed France at the centre of world power, but has weakened France through the creation of serious internal divisions.

Other Western nations should take heed.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Scandalous art

It’s not difficult to mock modern art. The empty pretence at the heart of modern art is revealed all too frequently.

The latest scandal involves one of Britain’s most renowned art galleries, the Royal Academy. It seems that an artist sent in a sculpture of a human head to be exhibited, and in a separate box also included a chunk of stone and a small piece of wood to prop up the head for display. The Academy mistakenly thought the props were meant to be the art and proudly displayed them in a summer exhibition – minus the actual artwork.

How did high culture fall this far? I’d suggest two reasons. Traditionally high art was supposed to either represent or evoke some higher truth about existence or some higher state of human experience.

It’s difficult for high art in a liberal culture to aim for this. In a liberal culture there is not supposed to be anything to limit an individual freedom to choose. This means that liberalism does not like to recognise the “transcendent” – the real existence of goods existing outside of or independent of individual will.

In an advanced liberalism, therefore, the “good” is made radically subjective: it is the individual who invests art with meaning or value. There is no transcendent good existing outside of individual will for the quality of the art to be referenced to.

The art critic Professor John Carey concluded his recent book, What Good Are the Arts?, with a ringing endorsement of this modernist view by claiming that “anything can be a work of art. What makes it a work of art is that someone thinks of it as a work of art.”

The second reason for the decline of modern high art is that liberalism encourages not so much the development of tradition but its deconstruction. It is thought to be liberating to break down the existing forms of art, as limitations, rather than to work within them.

To be an “artist”, in the modern sense, is therefore to be someone who challenges the inherited forms of art. John Cage, the American music composer, is therefore thought of as a great modern artist because he broke down the forms of music entirely by composing completely silent pieces of music. Others have won fame as modern artists by exhibiting their own unmade beds as art, or urinals, or a pile of bricks.

This aspect of modern art is revealed in the efforts of Mark Lawson, the art critic for the Guardian newspaper, to defend the Royal Academy’s gaffe. He compared leaving out the sculpture and exhibiting the props to the following printer’s error:

Or imagine that the last chapter of a crime novel were accidentally omitted in a mix-up at the printers. Readers and critics who admired the ambiguity of the ending - and welcomed the author's departure from the convention that every loose end must be tied - are not wrong or stupid. They simply responded honestly to what they were shown and expressed a preference for work that was willing to ignore traditions.

The assumption here is that a departure from convention or a willingness to ignore tradition are such artistic virtues that they compensate for an artwork being accidentally shown in part.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Gay marriage - what is at stake?

Why should we resist the push toward gay marriage? The answer is set out best by Andrea Burns, in an article for the Melbourne Herald Sun ("Why do we fear love?" 11/06/06 - not online).

Andrea actually writes stridently in favour of gay marriage. But she does so in a way which betrays the destructive nature of progressive thinking on the issue.

Andrea follows the liberal line that what matters is that we are unimpeded in choosing who we are and what we do. Therefore, she advocates the idea that sexuality and gender are not fixed and unchosen, but fluid and individual. She writes:

The fluidity of sexuality is more relevant to this young generation than ever before. Gay, straight and bisexual are all labels that have become less applicable in a young society where roles are changing and gender ideals are being questioned.

What sort of message does the Government’s stance send to so many young Australians?

It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that Mr Howard is saying it is not acceptable to follow an individual path and you will be disadvantaged if you question the norm.

Similarly, for Andrea Burns the traditional family is the oppressive fixed impediment which ought to make way for more open, freely chosen living arrangements:

Young people are growing up in all kinds of family environments these days. Mr Howard is our Prime Minister and yet he seems unaware that the days of the white bread, nuclear family are over. There are many ways to commune, love and create a home.

All young people want is a loving and supportive environment in which to grow up. It does not matter who that love and support comes from, as long as it is there.

It’s inconsequential who makes up that circle of love, whether it’s one widowed old lady and her Jack Russell, or a lesbian couple and their gay male friend expecting their first child together.

What matters is that there is a loving home, a stable environment and a legal contract that protects that commitment.

The first thing to note about this liberal way of justifying gay marriage is that it confirms the slippery slope objection. It is not only gay marriage which Andrea Burns wants to institute. The logic by which she accepts gay marriage also leads her to accept any kind of living arrangement in which there is a “loving and supportive environment”.

Andrea has argued herself into a position in which there is no principled way to object to polygamy. On what basis can she discriminate against a man who wants legal recognition for his relationship with two women, if all that matters is that the three of them make up a “circle of love.”

Note the examples that Andrea herself gives of possible “circles of love” forming a family: a lady and her dog, and two women and a man.

However, it’s not only the slippery slope which reveals the inadequacy of Andrea’s argument for gay marriage. There’s an even deeper problem.

Andrea’s liberal ideal is that we should not be impeded in determining who we are according to our own individual will. This leads her to assert that the nuclear family is redundant; that ideals of gender should be overturned; that there are no certain forms of sexuality; and that it is not especially useful for a child to be raised by both a mother and father.

These assertions, though, are a frontal assault on heterosexual culture. The heterosexual norm is to be attracted to the opposite gender in a relatively fixed and uncomplicated way; to have an innate sense of what is masculine and feminine; to find traditional gender qualities sexually and romantically attractive in the opposite sex; and to understand fathers and mothers as having distinct and necessary roles within a family.

So the liberal position outlined by Andrea Burns is incompatible with a society in which heterosexual norms dominate culturally. It is actually more in line with homosexual norms, in which gender identity, sexuality and family arrangements are relatively uncertain.

Ultimately a society has to choose which culture is to be “normative”. It’s not possible to reconcile both, one must dominate. For instance, is a child generally advantaged if it lives with its biological mother and father? A heterosexual culture will answer in the affirmative.

But what if the state accepts a homosexual union as an equal basis for family life? This means that the state has consented to the idea that children don’t do best with both a father and mother. The state has accepted that a father is redundant in the life of a child or that a mother is redundant in the life of a child.

It is right for the heterosexual majority to resist the state accepting such notions. First, because of a conviction that it is untrue that fathers or mothers can be considered merely optional. Second, because a 97% majority forms such a basis of a society that it is both reasonable and necessary that the culture it operates by be accepted as normative.

You cannot abolish discrimination on this issue. Someone is going to be discriminated against. Heterosexuals will find their own lives best fulfilled when their own understanding of family, gender, sexuality and morality is allowed to form the social norm.

The only way you can not discriminate against gays is by discriminating against heterosexuals: by forcing heterosexuals to abandon their own norms, and substituting other norms in their place. There is no "justice" to this and it would be foolish for heterosexuals to accept this process, whether it is driven by liberals like Andrea Burns or by homosexuals themselves.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A conservative laureate?

If Australia has a poet laureate it is Les Murray. I bought his newly released Collected Poems today and was interested to find how openly conservative some of his work is.

For instance, there is a poem titled "A Brief History" from the volume he published in 1996, Subhuman Redneck Poems. In it Murray actually defends the maligned majority population of Australia against the attacks launched against it by the political class.

For instance, the fourth stanza sums up the state of the nation in which Aboriginal culture, with its dreamings, is treated favourably as "our one culture", whilst the white majority is blamed for whatever goes wrong, with another group, the "Ethnics", being excused from the blame.

Our one culture paints Dreamings, each a beautiful claim.
Far more numerous are the unspeakable Whites,
the only cause of all earthly plights,
immigrant natives without immigrant rights.
Unmixed with these are Ethnics, absolved of all blame.

(Think about the fourth line. It catches the strange, no-win position the Anglo majority is placed in by the political class.)

In the next stanza, Murray writes of the failure of the political class to take its own tradition seriously, even to the point of declaring Australia to be an Asian nation.

All of people's Australia, its churches and lore
are gang-raped by satire self-righteous as war
and, from trawling fresh victims to set on the poor,
our mandarins now, in one more evasion
of love and themselves
, declare us Asian.

The lines "in one more evasion/of love and themselves" get to the heart of what's wrong with a political class which is willing to declare null their own nation's historic identity.

Finally, Murray sympathises with Australians turning away from high culture, given that it has already turned against them in the name of empty ideology.

Australians are like most who won't read this poem
or any, since literature turned on them
and bodiless jargons without reverie
scorn their loves as illusion and biology
compared with bloody History, the opposite of home.

I like especially the part of the stanza I've highlighted. Murray perhaps is identifying the tendency for a liberal politics, as a "bodiless jargon," to consider illegitimate the real, embodied forms of identity and connectedness felt by most people.

What does the last line mean? I think it's a reference to the political class also running down the things valued by most Australians because they are "ordinary" - they aren't associated with the glamour of the great conflicts of history, with "bloody History", which Australians might shy away from as "the opposite of home".

Murray has been a prolific writer, so it will take me a while to read through the entire volume of his work. When I've done so, I'll write another item and try to provide more of an overview of his poetry.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Kalb on modernity

Jim Kalb is back posting more regularly at Turnabout, having spent time preparing a book. If you haven't seen it already I recommend reading this article, which puts in condensed form a Kalbian overview of the current situation.