Sunday, December 31, 2006

Rethinking the left: Hamilton on immigration

Here's some good news to end the year on. A leading member of the Australian left, Clive Hamilton, has declared his support for a reduction in immigration.

In an article for the Sydney Morning Herald Hamilton has written that:

1) There are plans to house an extra 1.1 million people in Sydney which will increase congestion and reduce the quality of life.

2) Australia is a dry continent, with settlement concentrated in a narrow green strip along the coast.

3) There is no economic benefit to high immigration. Although high immigration increases gross domestic product the additional income is spread amongst a greater number of people.

4) John Howard is running immigration at record levels (130,000) and plans to increase numbers even further.

Hamilton proposes a zero net migration policy in which the number of people entering Australia roughly matches the number leaving (about 40,000 a year).

He wants this reduced immigration intake to be made up of asylum seekers rather than business migrants. As he puts it:

The immigration program is a response to pressure from big business ... under the business migration visa scheme, the wealthy can effectively buy Australian citizenship ...

Immigration should be aimed at improving the moral capital of the nation rather than our financial stocks. Instead of fast tracking money-obsessed, self-interested business migrants, or overseas students who slip in the back door through visa scams run by dodgy universities, we should welcome more people who have suffered from oppression and have learned the value of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Why would Hamilton put things like this? Hamilton as a left-liberal doesn't share the right-liberal belief that society is best regulated by a profit-driven, self-interested free market ethos. Hamilton doesn't believe that economic interests should be paramount in shaping a society and he has written at length against the idea that material progress alone creates wellbeing.

So Hamilton is being true to his left-liberalism in believing that migration policy should be determined more by moral considerations, or quality of life concerns, rather than demands by the business lobby for a free movement of labour.

Which leads me to a criticism of Hamilton's argument. According to Hamilton, asylum seekers are to be preferred as migrants because they have learned the value of "human rights, democracy and the rule of law".

I doubt if this is the case. A lot of recent refugees are Sudanese or Somalians. According to a report in the Melbourne Age, the Sudanese have trouble even accepting the reality of Australian authority figures, let alone respecting the rule of law. According to Clifton Maberly, an anthropologist in Toowoomba:

They have trouble seeing Australians as real ... Everyone becomes like an actor to them, or a two-dimensional cartoon figure. So when a white woman teacher stands before a class telling them what they should so, or a policeman pulls them over for driving without a licence, it's difficult for them to take such things seriously.

Just this week there was a warning by police in Melbourne about young African men forming gangs and turning to violence and crime:

A growing gangster mentality among young African men is worrying community leaders ... Young African leader Ahmed Dini said some Somali, Sudanese and Eritrean men ... felt disconnected from mainstream society and were either forming or joining ethnic groups for protection and also for a sense of belonging ... some had trained with heavy-duty military weapons while they were serving in militias overseas. Violence is not something new for these young people," he said ... Mr Dini warned that gang and crime-related problems within the African communities would eventually lead to "race riots" similar to those in France if governments continued to ignore the problem.

So being an asylum seeker doesn't mean having a special respect for the rule of law. Furthermore, it's not clear that asylum seekers aren't pursuing their economic interests, just as business migrants are. For instance, Michael at NZ Conservative has reported that half of Christchurch's Somalian refugees have already moved on to Australia. This can't be to find refuge, but is presumably motivated by the higher average incomes here.

Similarly, I'm informed that the next wave of refugees is likely to be Tamils from Sri Lanka. It's true, of course, that there has been conflict in Sri Lanka between Tamils and the majority Sinhalese. If, though, some Tamils are seeking refuge because of this, why not go the very short distance to Tamil Nadu in India? What can explain the long trip to a very foreign country if not an economic motivation?

So I don't agree with Clive Hamilton that asylum seekers are a morally superior option in filling migration places. However, it is significant that someone from inside the political class is proposing to reduce the level of immigration. This is a welcome development and I hope that Hamilton has some influence in winning over a section of the left to his position.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The misfortune of MiRim Kim

Does ethnicity matter? The answer for MiRim Kim, who was left in a Korean orphanage as a baby and adopted by American parents, is a definite yes. Her complaint about her adoption is not mistreatment by her parents or by other Americans, but a confusion of identity and belonging.

This is how she describes her situation:

Throughout my life, I have had to hear people say how lucky I was to be adopted ... Lucky means that one gets something one does not deserve. I was not lucky. I will protest to my last breath that I am not lucky to be an adoptee, not lucky to lose my culture, and not lucky to be thrown away for America to salvage ...

I love my American mother, and I appreciate many non-Koreans who have also been role models, but at the same time I feel I can never be quite like them. When Kim Seunsengnim caressed my cheek and said, "Mi-Rim cham chowa-heyo," (I like Mi-Rim so much), it sounded like the Korean mother I never knew. It was as if I needed to see myself reflected, physically, in someone I admired.

In so many ways, I have been blessed. But is that lucky? Is it lucky to be a permanent nomad, always between two cultures? Some people say that all U.S. immigrants face the same dilemma, but I disagree. People who immigrate to the U.S. by choice have family, history, roots somewhere. Adoptees do not. Caucasian immigrants in particular, can assimilate racially into mainstream American society. Korean adoptees cannot.

Korea is no longer my country, but to some extent neither is the U.S. It is easy to say that you can be both Korean and American at the same time, but the bottom line is that one must choose where to live, what language to speak and where to work. I cannot live in both places simultaneously, and I cannot be fully Korean and American simultaneously.

Yes, many very good things have happened to me. I love my adoptive family (my "real" family, whatever that means) dearly, and I will always remember with love the kind people I met on this trip. But to call me lucky is to belittle and disrespect the pain which I have suffered, along with other Korean adoptees.

What MiRim Kim is telling us is that ethnicity is important to who she is, and that she has suffered a misfortune in being separated from her Korean ancestry, culture, history and language. A core aspect of her self-identity has been denied her.

This serves as a clue that ethnicity is not a restriction people want to be liberated from, as modernists would have it, nor is it something to be sacrificed to prove our status as non-discriminators.

Nor is it adequate to treat politics purely from the standpoint of the autonomous individual, as we don't stand wholly alone in what matters most to us.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

2006: Progress but no breakthrough

How was 2006 for traditionalist conservatives? There were certainly some areas of progress.

1. My own sites (OzConservative & Conservative Central) doubled in readership during the course of the year. The number of comments also increased significantly, and I'd particularly like to thank two regular visitors, Shane and Bobby, for their many quality comments.

2. The two premier sites, Lawrence Auster's View from the Right and Jim Kalb's Turnabout, continued their good work.

3. Most importantly, a number of new sites have emerged. I'd like to mention three in particular:

i) NZ Alternative Conservative. Michael is a level-headed, principled conservative from across the Tasman.

ii) Western Survival. Mark is an American with a libertarian background, but who genuinely wants to conserve his own tradition. He is a realist who writes with impressive clarity of thought and expression. Mark has been gravitating lately toward a more conservative theoretical framework.

iii) Vanishing American. Another excellent American site which I enjoy reading regularly.

4. Another area of progress is the waning influence of feminism. There was an observable trend during the year for older feminists to break with the feminist orthodoxy of their youth (often because of disappointments with the effect of feminism on men and relationships).

Even more encouragingly, an anti-feminist politics has made it out of the fringes and into the political class. There is now a significant number of intelligent, political young men who make very effective interventions in debates with feminists.

5. The left-liberal orthodoxy continued to break down. In fact, it seems to me now that the under-50s left is mostly female and homosexual. Most younger political men are involved with some kind of right-liberal politics.

I've mentioned before one possible reason for this change: left-liberalism tends to identify white men as an oppressor class, which makes it a discouraging political milieu for white men to belong to.

There are other possible explanations. Academic leftism does not emphasise categories of truth or logic, but tends to blather on about multiple identities, fluidity, etc.

I doubt if this suits the male mind. Right-liberal men seem to enjoy more definite, often dry, technical discussions of arcane points in the economics of Hayek or von Mises.

At this point, it's worth discussing an area where traditionalism requires further progress. The big breakthrough for traditionalists did not occur in 2006. Realistically, we still have not gained even a minor place within the political class.

As I mentioned above, most of the gains have been to right-liberalism, rather than to traditionalist conservatism.

So what do we need to do? First, we need patience and perseverance. We don't have any ready made institutional support, but are building up from scratch. So we can't expect to be suddenly propelled to influence.

The important thing is that we continue to make steady progress, particularly in our presence on the web.

Second, we should remember the advantages and opportunities we do have. For instance, as the logic of liberalism continues to unfold, the "reality gap" between the claims of liberalism and what people experience in their lives continues to grow.

Liberalism will increasingly be for people who are willing to avert their gaze from what is really happening in society. Not everyone is made to live by pretence or to brush aside major harm to themselves and to what they love.

So our audience will be there waiting. The rest is up to us.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

What's twisting the sisters?

From the website of an Australian feminist (Kate) we learn that:

Some feminists do actually hate men. And if you're a man I think you just need to accept that.

So here is a feminist admitting that she belongs to what these days is termed a hate group (a hate movement?) and that the targets of this hatred should casually accept the situation.

What kind of a response did this get from her feminist sisters? The feedback was as follows:

Ariel: Bloody brilliant!

Mindy: Keep up the good work Kate.

Cristy: Great post Kate.

Dogpossum: I applaud the sentiments.

Janet: Right on, sister.

Lizzy: This is a fantastic post.

What could possibly twist the minds of these women so much that they would applaud an article which so casually discusses a feminist hatred of men?

It's notable that many of these women unquestioningly accept the ideas of patriarchy theory.

Patriarchy theory claims that society is organised on the basis of power and domination. Men are the dominant class and all aspects of society are designed to secure the subordination of women. There is no natural masculinity or femininity to explain the differing roles and behaviour of men and women. This too is a creation of the patriarchy designed to subordinate women, and must therefore be overthrown.

Imagine what it would be like to be a heterosexual woman who believed in this theory. You would be attracted sexually to the very group who were your oppressors. You would also have to question the expression of your own feminine identity. Talk about being conflicted!

Little wonder that "dogpossum" declares in the comments that:

Sometimes I think it would be easier to just become a lesbian separatist, and hate men.

The influence of patriarchy theory runs right through Kate's article. For instance, she justifies feminists hating men on the basis that it's harmless, as women like herself are powerless within a patriarchal system:

Even if I do hate men, so what? Do I have the power to do anything with my hypothetical burning hatred of human beings with penises? Nope ... I am a Man-Hater, in a world where the institutions of power favour the XY chromosome.

The problem is that reality doesn't fit the theory. Feminists have not been left as powerless oppressed women within a patriarchy. Quite the opposite, in fact. Ever since the mid-1800s, feminists have been granted a great deal of power in Western societies.

In Australia, feminists have secured a special office to help shape government policy; they have had university faculties established for them; they have been helped into political positions via a quota system within the ALP; and they have been helped into positions of influence in the professions via affirmative action policies.

In the 1980s and 90s, as many of us will recall, feminists were powerful enough to establish their own views as politically correct.

The fact that feminists have been so readily promoted within the power structure means not only that patriarchy theory itself is wrong, but that a feminist hatred of men is not to be taken lightly.

Kate also tries to justify a feminist hatred of men on the grounds that women are callously victimised within a patriarchal system. She writes that she is a man-hater in a world:

where women are regularly raped and abused and murdered, where child abuse is rampant, and where my gender guarantees I'll make less money than a male colleague.

Again, this fits the theory of patriarchy well (as it reinforces the idea of women as a subjugated class), but not reality. In the comments to her article, I pointed out that it's actually men who are more likely than women to be victims of violence and that women are more likely than men to abuse children.

There was much resistance to accepting these facts. I was told I was ignorant, incorrect, dishonest and a poor role model for men. But when I linked to some persuasive evidence the counter-argument changed. It was accepted that women did in fact abuse children more often than men, but this too was blamed on the patriarchy (for "making" women spend more time with children than men).

Here again you see the concern to fit reality into the theory rather than the other way around.

Finally, Kate tells us that she doesn't really hate men, but just masculinity:

You see, I don't really hate you, if you're a man. If I criticise 'masculinity' I'm not being critical of you as an individual ... I'm being critical of an idea, a performance, a culturally inscribed set of ideals about how 'men' should behave.

Once again, this fits in neatly with patriarchy theory. Patriarchy theory explains the traditional male role in society as being a result of an oppressive, illegitimate power system and not as a natural expression of masculine drives. So Kate is being perfectly orthodox in her feminism when she describes masculinity negatively as a mere "performance" or "culturally inscribed set of ideals" rather than as a true expression of men's nature.

But once again there are problems. First, science has now confirmed that gender is not just a social construct but is hard-wired into human biology. So Kate is forced to complicate matters by adding on as a kind of postscript that:

I'm not a complete moron and I do think there are differences in male and female behaviour that come down to chromosomes and hormones and suchlike.

So Kate is running with two competing views: first, that masculinity is simply a "performance" and, second, that masculinity has a natural basis in human biology.

There are other tensions produced by the patriarchy theory view of gender. On the one hand, women like Kate are duty bound to reject both masculinity and femininity as pillars of patriarchal dominance.

But where does this leave a heterosexual woman? How is she then to secure a sense of her own feminine identity and her attractiveness to men?

It seems to me that the more that such feminist women reject femininity in theory, the more that they attempt to bolster it in practice. How else can you explain the feminist craze for the most feminine of interests, such as knitting, sewing, decorating, flowers and kittens.

Kate herself lists her primary interest as knitting; Mindy makes quilts; Laura likes baking and kittens; and Janet likes to sew pink clothes for her daughter. Janet, in fact, runs one website about her passion for laundry and another about her love for motherhood, her daughter, flowers, gardens and sewing.

So we have this very odd situation. The feminists who are adamant in theory that there is no essential masculinity and femininity are in practice the best living proof of the existence of essential gender differences between men and women.

Heterosexual feminists have done themselves a disservice in accepting patriarchy theory so uncritically. It is a theory which can only leave such women deeply conflicted.

Patriarchy theory leaves women with a conflicted view of men as being loving fathers, husbands and sons but also a hateful enemy who subjugate women in every facet of their lives. It leads feminist women to see themselves as hard-pressed, powerless victims at a time when feminists hold considerable power within the institutions of society. It puts feminists who view gender difference primarily as a social construct on a collision course with modern science. And it creates a powerful conflict between the rejection of femininity as a tool of patriarchal domination and the expression by feminist women of their own feminine identity.

If feminist women suffer it is not at the hands of hard-working, masculine men but more as a consequence of what their own theory imposes on them.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Why the left is bleeding men

It's been my impression for a while now that the left is becoming the female side of politics. Where have the younger, straight men gone? Increasingly, it seems, to some kind of right-liberal politics.

Why? Perhaps because there is just too much pain and suffering for a heterosexual man in having to share a political milieu with feminists.

To give you a flavour of what left-liberal men have to put up with, consider this Open Letter to All the Liberal Straight Men by a feminist calling herself Earlbecke.

Remember, Earlbecke is writing to the men on her own side. She is not writing to criticise and annoy conservatives like myself, but to address the average left-liberal, politically correct male.

Her first six words begin in a friendly tone: "Dear Straight Guys, I respectfully submit...". However, that's it for friendliness or respect.

She proceeds to tell male leftists that they are actually not understanding or sensitive individuals just because they show concern or admiration for women. They remain sexists if they show a "specialized sort of attention to women", namely a heterosexual appreciation for women. Instead, they have to change the very way they think so that they see women as people rather than as women.

She then begins her official first point, which is that this is all about her and not about men, so that when she is attacking leftist men their role is to passively listen and accept:

Resist the urge to assert yourself in defense of the male voice. We've already heard it, and doubtless we will hear it again. Save it until we're finished. Do it somewhere else.

Her second point is the same as her first point: that this all revolves around her and not about men, and that what men like isn't relevant and women shouldn't care what men like.

Her third official point is the killer:

3. We are all human beings. We are all similar lumps of fleshy matter that moves and grunts and goes around its daily business. Until you can look at any random woman on the street and see the human being before you start placing significance on the gender presentation, until being human, of any variety, any color, any sexual orientation, any genitalia, any anything, is the nebulous vague default in your mind, you still need to try harder. If you automatically assume a person of unspecified gender or sex is “he”, or white, able-bodied, and heterosexual, that is your problem. And this is why so many of us have no time or patience to try to explain things to you.

She's not exactly a romantic soul is she? She can only conceive of men and women being "similar lumps of fleshy matter that move and grunt". And she demands that we all think the same way. As an instinctive mental default she wants all men to see women not as women but as "its", and to only consider the "gender presentation" as some kind of afterthought.

Point number four is that men have no right to question her on this and that she is "not required to explain myself". Men, she admits, might be made confused, upset or defensive by what she says, but they are not entitled to have "everything placed in a pretty little box" for them. Continued listening, though, is OK.

Number five is predictable: all men are guilty. The only kind of male not guilty is one who "reads the whole list and nods along and then genuinely apologizes for your gender (while not feeling the need to defend yourself by insisting that you do not represent these men)."

So leftist men are innocent if they silently agree to everything, apologise sincerely on behalf of all men, but don't attempt to separate themselves from male guilt.

Now surely, the response of most self-respecting men to all this will be to find a political home elsewhere. Why belong to the left if it means being berated by haughty, condescending feminists for the "sin" of being male and heterosexual?

Earlbecke seems to recognise the burden being placed on straight left-wing men: that of being made confused, defensive and guilty. She seems to think that this is a deserved condition for men.

It is a burden, though, which can disappear in a moment of true liberation when a man decisively rejects the politics of the left, and this is what political men in general appear to be doing.

(There is more on the same theme in an interesting post by Julian David.)

Return to Pleasantville

Robert Bosler is a creative kind of left liberal. In a recent web article he invites us to go on a journey with him into a "world of vision" which will give us a "treasure of insight" into the heart and soul of the Australian nation.

The purpose of this journey? To discover why the right-liberal Liberal Party is in danger of becoming irrelevant. He asks us first to meditate a while, and then to dive into the depths of the warm soft pulsing body of our nation's heart and mind.

Once there, he suggests that we go back in time to 1944, the year in which Sir Robert Menzies founded the modern Liberal Party. What do we discover about Australians at this time? According to our guide, Mr Bosler,

It's grey, it's all grey. There's no colour. They're all doing what they're doing but they seem like they are all boxed in. They're all sort of trapped within themselves.

This image of Australia in the mid-1940s reminds me of the film Pleasantville. In Pleasantville a teenage boy and girl are transported back in time to the 1950s. The small American town they find themselves in is pleasant to live in, but literally grey. The residents are "liberated" and first experience colour in their lives when the teenage girl starts to sex things up with the local boys.

So, we are supposed to accept that 1940s Australia was another grey Pleasantville, in which everyone was boxed in or trapped. But trapped by what? Mr Bosler explains that,

It looks like every man has set jobs to do, as the breadwinner. That's all. It looks like every woman has to have a baby and clean the house. That's all. This is no joke; it's not much better than that for man or woman. That's not life as we know, from where we come; but there it is, all grey and boxed in, in 1944.

Mr Bosler does, at least, give us a straightforward answer: Australians in 1944 were trapped by traditional gender roles. His claim that this is all there was to life is difficult to accept in a literal sense, but at least we know what he is driving at ideologically.

What happens next? Robert Menzies realises what has to be done and promises to "provide people with more individual choice and freedom". He inspirationally establishes the Liberal Party to achieve this goal.

Mr Bosler, in other words, approves of Mr Menzies' liberal platform of "more individual choice and freedom". But, on travelling forward to the the 1950s, when Menzies became Prime Minister, we find that things have not improved:

It's still grey. The men and women of Australia are still all trapped and caught up in the roles life has set for them. It's like they are living on traintracks. It's a stilted existence, this. What is it gonna take for them to be free?

What will it take to liberate the people? An explosion. And this is what happens when we move forward again to the 1960s. In the 1960s the eruption of freedom is,

Huge. Boundaries break and boxed in lives burst, exploded. Colour!

And what happens after our liberation, when colour has arrived in the world? Well, the 1970s are a bit of an unstable experimentation with new freedoms, but in the 1980s personal freedom is securely in place. Mr Bosler describes the 80s in the following, excited terms,

... look at the colour! Look at the vibrancy and richness of life. There's a woman excelling in a professional career, heading up a boardroom. There's a man staying home looking after his children. The people are, individually, free. If only Mr Menzies could see this. These people have individual choice. Look, they can do what they want, be what they want ...

The crying need for the fully free individual, the time of individual choice, has arrived. Achieved. Done. Mr Menzies, and your Liberal Party, what you set out to achieve is now here, in abundance. Whatever any individual wants to do ... they can set out freely to do it.


So, what can we say about Robert Bosler's imaginative outline of modern history? Perhaps the most obvious thing to say is that it is a fully-fledged liberal history.

Liberals believe that we should be self-created by our individual will and reason. One thing that we don't choose according to our individual will and reason is our sex. Therefore, liberals don't like the idea that who we are and what we do might be influenced by our manhood or womanhood.

This explains why liberals view traditional family roles so negatively. Such roles are decided by our sex, rather than by our individual reason. For a liberal this is an impediment to free choice. In Robert Bosler's words, it's something that we are boxed in by, or caught up in, or trapped by.

And what is the best way to show that we have escaped such sex-based family roles? By choosing to do the opposite of what is traditional. We show that we are personally "liberated" from sex-based family roles when, as Robert Bosler puts it, a woman becomes the breadwinner and heads up a boardroom or when a man stays at home to look after his children.

But are we really liberated by such sex-role reversal? Is our sphere of choice really so enlarged that colour finally enters our lives?

I don't think so. I doubt if the men of the 1940s and 50s were yearning to swap places with their wives. It's highly unlikely that they felt terribly restricted by being limited to a masculine role within the family.

And as for the men of today, the 60s revolution which gave us a theoretical choice to become househusbands also took away a great deal. We no longer have the family stability that the men of the 40s and 50s enjoyed. A lot of men today will experience divorce and separation from their families.

Nor is there the same kind of positive respect and reward for our efforts to be breadwinners. The mass media is too concerned with issues of female independence to accord men respect for working hard to provide for their families.

The men of the 40s and 50s had a stronger national identity, a stronger masculine identity and a more stable family life to give their working lives a meaning. There is more "vibrancy" and "richness" in this, than in a theoretical choice to become a househusband, a role which only 1% of modern Australian men have actually taken up.


There are some things that Robert Bosler gets right. He recognises that a right liberal like Robert Menzies shared the same underlying philosophy as a left liberal like himself. He finds some warmth for Robert Menzies as a fellow philosophical liberal, something that most Labor Party types are not perceptive enough to do.

Also, although he is wrong to suggest that Robert Menzies' liberalism was somehow new or courageous in 1944 (liberalism has been orthodox for many generations) he is right to portray the period from the late 60s to the mid 90s as a radically liberal period in Western history.

In other words, Mr Bosler is right to claim that from the late 1960s there has been a particularly intense effort to achieve the goals of liberal individualism: to bring about a situation in which individuals "can do what they want, be what they want."

The problem as conservatives see it, is that to achieve this goal you have to destroy whatever impedes individual will, and this includes most of the things which give meaning and identity to our individual lives.

What you end up with are highly atomised individuals, who are free to pursue relatively superficial things. The traditional "anchors" to life which once gave people a sense of connectedness are lost, leaving people free in a more negative sense of being "free-floating".

This more troubled side to liberal individualism is not entirely lost to Robert Bosler. After explaining that the goals of liberal individualism had been secured in the 1980s, he then points out that individuals were now just that: individuals. And that the task now is to find ways to bring individuals into some sort of relationship.

The Liberal Party, claims Bosler, is losing relevance because it is continuing to seek greater individual choice when this has already been achieved, and what is required is to bring individuals back into relationship with each other.

One problem with this argument is that it's not only the Liberal Party which is continuing to push an individualistic philosophy: the Labor Party under Mark Latham is pursuing the same thing. Latham, for instance, believes that the solution to the social alienation of men is a further breakdown of traditional sex roles, so that more men become primary caregivers at home.

Latham, in other words, wants to cure a "relationships" problem created by liberal individualism with more of the same individualism.

Furthermore, Bosler is not very good at suggesting ways in which people might establish better relationships. He talks much about a better relationship with nature, which is admirable, but a relationship with the environment is hardly adequate to fulfil our social natures.

Apart from that all we get are general assertions such as the following:

Cut the relationship, and each individual withers and dies. Cut the ties that bind us together, cut the bond, cut our brotherhood and sisterhood, and we suffer.

All too true. But this is a lesson that all liberals need to learn. Our sense of connectedness, our given sense of who we are, whether as members of a particular ethnic group, nation, sex, or family is too important to be sacrificed to the goal of an individualistic freedom to choose in any direction.

This was just as true in the 1940s and 50s as it is now. Robert Bosler would have us believe that liberal individualism was a liberating force 50 years ago, rescuing us from grey lives, but is only just now interfering with human relationships. In fact, it has been undercutting such relationships for generations and will continue to do so until we decisively reject it as the orthodox philosophy of the West.

(First published at Conservative Central, 28/03/2004)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Once were Ignatians

Twenty years ago I attended Xavier College, which back then was thought of as the elite Catholic school in Melbourne.

I have a lot of positive recollections of the school. You couldn't help but have a sense of the tradition of the place and there was a strongly masculine ethos fostered amongst the boys (it was thought weak even to flinch, so you can imagine how bewildered I was when I later arrived at uni to find the ideal of the crying "snag" male being promoted).

Xavier didn't, though, do Catholicism very well. We did attend mass occasionally and we had a few Jesuit teachers. But this was just everyone going through the motions. We were taught according to the principles of a secular liberalism, rather than Catholicism.

I don't think much has changed. In the latest edition of the Xavier News there is a column by the school captain praising families who have contributed money to develop school facilities.

The captain begins by noting that students:

have been provided with an environment so conducive to learning and the cultivation of young men that it is surely exceptional. The education philosophy within the school may have been adapted and enhanced to incorporate modern concepts and philosophies, but it is always underpinned by the principles of Ignatius' values and ideals.

Here we have the claim that the school is still essentially Catholic in upholding the principles of St Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit order. The school captain, though, draws out this claim as follows:

Xavier has empowered me and so many other young men. It has instilled in us the belief that we can be whoever and whatever we want to be ... I know that we cannot but achieve, we cannot but fulfil our potential. We not only have an obligation to ourselves, but to society and humanity, to leave an impression on the world that is as indelible as the one that Xavier has left upon us.

This is a very un-Catholic and anti-Ignatian secular liberalism. I don't mean to pick on the school captain in noting this, as he is a young man who is reflecting back to us what he has been taught. The problem lies with the religious direction of the school.

The ideal of being "whoever and whatever we want to be" is straight out of the liberal textbook. It is liberalism which believes that our humanity is contingent: that we only become human when we determine our own nature.

This liberal principle has radical consequences. It encourages liberals to view people as atomised individuals and as blank slates, as this leaves people with the least impediments to defining themselves in any direction.

It means too that liberals will often reject the deeper aspects of our nature, as this nature is something important to us which is given rather than self-defined. A liberal, for instance, might regard it as a "liberation" for a man to act against his masculine nature.

So you do not "cultivate young men" with the liberal principle that we should "be whoever or whatever we want to be". This principle logically requires us to reject the most important aspects of character and culture, as these are most likely to be embedded within a given tradition or within our given nature.

How does the Catholic view differ from the liberal one? First, the Catholic view doesn't begin with the idea that our humanity is contingent. Instead, there is a belief that we are made in God's image and invested with a human soul. So we don't need to chase a radical autonomy in order to secure our status as humans.

The church is therefore free to assert that man does have a given nature, which does help to define who we are and how we should rightly act, and that we find our freedom within this nature rather than in an "emancipation" from it. Here is Pope Benedict on this theme in words taken from a homily delivered in December 2005:

We live in the right way if we live in accordance with the truth of our being, and that is, in accordance with God's will. For God's will is not a law for the human being imposed from the outside and that constrains him, but the intrinsic measure of his nature, a measure that is engraved within him and makes him the image of God, hence, a free creature.

This is a long way from the liberal idea that we are "empowered" by defining our own being.

Finally, there is also the problem of the school captain writing on the one hand of upholding Ignatian values and on the other hand describing our obligations as being to ourselves, to humanity and to society.

St Ignatius himself would have mentioned an obligation to God. He gave to the Jesuits the motto Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam, which means "for the greater glory of God" and Pope Benedict described Ignatius earlier this year as being:

above all a man of God, who gave the first place of his life to God, to his greater glory and his greater service.

Let me repeat that I am not suggesting that Xavier has no positive attributes as a school. I just don't think that it stands seriously within the Catholic or Ignatian tradition, as it still claims to do.

Monday, December 18, 2006

In defence of Caitlin

Caitlin Flanagan is a controversial figure in America, but hardly heard of here in Australia.

She's rubbed some feminist women up the wrong way by defending stay at home motherhood (admittedly she sometimes does this provocatively, as if courting publicity).

She was interviwed in the Sunday Herald Sun last week (Mother knows best 10/12/06), and acquitted herself reasonably well. I was interested to read that:

She grew up in Berkeley ... the daughter of a professor of English and a housewife whose homely presence she idolised - so much so that she was traumatised when her mother returned to work as a nurse when Flanagan was 12. "To my thinking, my mother's change of heart constituted child abandonment, plain and simple."

It's refreshing that Caitlyn Flanagan should think back to her own childhood and the importance of her mother to it, rather than conveniently ignoring such realities as modern society generally prefers to do.

The journalist interviewing Caitlyn Flanagan, Julia Llewellyn Smith, does end her piece with an admission that Flanagan is good at raising unpalatable truths. She writes:

As much as it pains her detractors, there are many women who are taking her message to heart. After all, some of her views - that when both halves of a couple work, their home may be neglected; that the achievements of the women's movement "have been bought at the expense of poor women, often poor brown-skinned women"; that men who want to share equally in the housework are not the kind of men most women want to marry - are undeniably true, if unpalatable.

However, the sharpest observation is the one made by Caitlin Flanagan in response to the following from Julia Llewellyn Smith:

One of the most troublesome aspects of Flanagan's views is her idealisation of the nuclear family, and the assumption that husbands are not only high earners but also faithful and supportive. Fine, I argue to push this as the ideal, but so many marriages end in failure because the husband runs off with another woman.

Caitlin Flanagan replies:

"It's the great risk of marriage, the eternal risk a woman takes," she says, shaking her head dolefully. "It used to be that when a man did that, there was a very high cost. He would be shunned by polite society. But now the attitude is, 'Oh, divorce is normal, adult life is messy.' So we've made it safe for men to do that and I would posit it to you that one of the things that made it safer was feminism, which said, 'Women don't need men to raise children.'

"That whole notion that there was not an essential and irreplaceable role for the man of the household has made it easier for men to leave."

Which is surely true. If men are told endlessly that women can raise a child just as well without them, then it becomes easier for men to walk out on their families and for a society to casually accept the decision.

So modern women can't have it both ways. It's not reasonable to promote single motherhood and at the same time expect the male commitment to marriage to remain as strong as it was traditionally.

(I haven't read it, but Caitlin Flanagan has just had a book released in Australia: To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife.)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Whiteness theorist: diversity a sham

Remember whiteness studies? It's a new university discipline which claims that race is a social construct rather than a biological reality, and that "whiteness" was invented so that some people could enjoy an unearned privilege at the expense of the oppressed other.

One problem for the theory is explaining exactly how all whites are privileged. After all, there are plenty of whites who work hard to earn a living and raise a family and who struggle to make ends meet. In other words, it's not the case that all whites are at the top of the heap and non-whites at the bottom. So why identify all whites as privileged?

Peggy McIntosh is an American whiteness theorist who has attempted to answer this question. Having decided that "whites are carefully taught not to recognise white privilege" she was determined to produce a lengthy list of the ways in which whites like herself actually are privileged.

The list is titled "Daily effects of white privilege" and runs to 50 items. The tone of the list is set from the start:

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.

3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

A large number of the items continue in a similar vein. For example:

6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions.

22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world's majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge", I will be facing a person of my own race.

26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children's magazines featuring people of my race.

48. I have no difficulty finding neighbourhoods where people approve of our household.

Now, if these items are true then they would confer a kind of privilege on all whites, whether rich or poor. So at one level Peggy McIntosh has made a real attempt to justify the claim that all whites are privileged.

But at what a cost! Peggy McIntosh may have hoped we wouldn't notice, but she is effectively arguing the following: that whites are privileged because they are better able to escape the effects of diversity than blacks.

Diversity is held to be, in Peggy McIntosh's list, something harmful to our well-being, the negative consequences of which ought to be shared equally. It is wrong, she thinks, that whites should be privileged by being better able to live amongst their own kind and within their own culture than blacks.

Now this runs directly against the line usually fed to us. We are normally told that diversity is something which enriches us, and which is superior to a traditional ethnic monoculture.

Peggy McIntosh, despite her credentials as a politically correct academic, evidently doesn't really believe this. If she did, then logically she would conclude that it is blacks who are privileged for being more exposed to other cultures and whites who are oppressed for retaining their traditional neighbourhoods.

A cat has been let out of the bag. Even the most left of the left believes that diversity is something inferior and undesirable, something oppressive.

There are two further points to be made about the Peggy McIntosh list. The first is that it puts whites in a difficult position. Whites are held to be privileged oppressors not so much for any specific actions taken against non-whites, but simply for being part of a majority culture.

What this means is that a white culture which admits any non-whites at all will be immediately condemned and held to be illegitimate. The non-whites won't be equally represented within the culture, which will then confer privilege on the whites. But if the whites then make themselves no more represented in the mainstream culture than any other group, then where in the world will a living white culture still be able to reproduce itself? It's a case of being told that you will either be damned as oppressors or else cease to exist. It's a range of choices which sensible people will reject.

Second, Peggy McIntosh overstates the degree to which whites are more able than blacks to maintain ethnic solidarity. For example, there are certainly cities in America in which there are black majority populations. The area of South Central Los Angeles, for instance, was majority white 50 years ago, but then became increasingly African-American in its demographics.

The problem for blacks in South Central Los Angeles isn't the imposition of a white population or culture. It's the breaking up of their neighbourhoods by the politically correct open borders mentality. This is bringing in a large influx of illegal hispanic immigrants, who undercut black wages and who change the character of the neighbourhoods, leading to a "black flight".

A black radio host, Terry Anderson, has made clear the immediate problems facing the communities of South Central Los Angeles:

We black Americans are being displaced in Los Angeles. We are being systematically and economically replaced.

And the next time somebody tells you that the illegals only take jobs that blacks won't do, just remember that WE were doing those jobs before the illegals got here AND in places of the country where there is not yet a problem with illegals, you can STILL get your grass cut, your dinner served, your dishes bussed and your hotel room cleaned.

Funny how in those places Americans are doing those jobs. We would still be doing them in Los Angeles if it was not for the fact that the illegals will work for $3.00 an hour. Breaking the law by working for less than minimum wage means nothing to somebody who broke the law to get here.

Diversity is breaking up black communities in America just as it breaking up white ones. It is not the white person seeking to live within his own community who is oppressing blacks with his "privilege". It is the liberal political class which is at fault for disrespecting the aspiration most people have to live within their own traditional communities.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Why are 2.2 million Americans in jail?

The American traditionalist philosopher Jim Kalb is back posting regularly after taking some time away from his website to prepare a book.

I was particularly struck by two of his recent posts on the issue of crime. They are well worth reading:

From the Great Society to the Big House

The soul of man under liberalism

I was also interested to read in one of the articles Jim Kalb links to that in the UK the average rate of homicide with a firearm in the years 1890-92 was only 1 per year (when the UK had a population of 30 million). It seems to me that this is a kind of civilisational achievement which has been lost along the way.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sacrificing humans to the Earth God

Dr John Reid is a neuroscientist from Melbourne's Swinburne University. He gave a talk yesterday on ABC radio on the subject of global warming.

According to Dr Reid, we must take radical steps to avoid an environmental apocalypse. Standards of living in the Western world will have to be cut drastically. The number of cars will have to be reduced to 10% of the current fleet. Water and meat will need to be rationed and private property rights curtailed.

But even this won't be enough to avoid turning our beautiful planet into a "Venusian hell".

According to Dr Reid we have to devise a way to achieve a large-scale and rapid decline in the earth's population. Dr Reid notes that war, pestilence and famine might kill large numbers, but he thinks only on a scale of tens of millions "which is not enough to solve the problem of over-populaton".

He suggests that a more effective and humane way to rid the world of large numbers of people might be:

to put something in the water, a virus that would be specific to the human reproductive system and would make a substantial proportion of the population infertile.

Perhaps a virus that would knock out the genes that produce certain hormones necessary for conception.

Which countries should be targeted first? Oddly enough, Dr Reid doesn't propose attacking those countries with the highest birth rates, but countries which already have a below replacement fertility rate. He suggests "fixing" the water supplies of the United Arab Emirates, the USA, Finland, Canada, Kuwait and Australia on the basis that these countries do the most environmental damage.

But if there were to be a drastic decline in the number of young people in these nations, how would the elderly be supported? Dr Reid has an answer. They wouldn't be. He states:

Societies will not be able to provide health care services needed to keep large numbers of unhealthy old people alive.

A triage approach will be necessary so that scarce medical resources go to those who can contribute most to the long-term viability of the planet. Consequently many middle-aged-to-elderly people will die uncomfortable deaths. Not every problem is soluble.

Finally, Dr Reid advocates the abandonment of traditional theistic religions:

The precepts of the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam represent the quintessential perversion of the human mind. They must be abandoned and the notion of the sanctity of human life must be subjugated to the greater sanctity of all life on Earth.

What's to be made of all this? Dr Reid clearly has issues with traditional religion. Just as clearly, he wishes to substitute a commitment to "the planet" for these religions.

But a secular religion can be a dangerous thing. What is there in Dr Reid's secular earth religion to uphold a sense of the value of individual human life? What is there to place moral limits on how we serve the new earth god?

If you read the transcript of Dr Reid's speech you are struck by how readily his mind turns to darkly pessimistic scenarios of destruction, and by how coldly instrumental his solutions are.

Also striking is how Dr Reid's scientific humanism can be so un-progressive in recalling the crueller aspects of paganism, and so anti-human in degrading both the status and sanctity of human life.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A feminism which ends in tears

Virginia Haussegger is becoming well-known in Australia as a feminist critic of feminism.

She already had a public profile as a TV journalist when she wrote an explosive newspaper article in 2002, The sins of our feminist mothers.

In this article she describes how her generation of women was brought up to believe “We could be and do whatever we pleased”. This is the basic principle of liberalism: that we should be “free” to create who we are and what we do through our own individual choices.

At first things seemed to go well. She writes of a generation of women who “crashed through barriers and carved out good, successful and even some brilliant careers.”

But the story ends unhappily. The feminist mothers forgot “to warn us that we would need to stop, take time out and learn to nurture our partnerships and relationships.”

Virginia Haussegger describes very well the incompetent attitude to relationships of women brought up in a culture of liberal individualism:

For those of us that did marry, marriage was perhaps akin to an accessory. And in our high-disposable-income lives, accessories pass their use-by date, and are thoughtlessly tossed aside. Frankly, the dominant message was to not let our man, or any man for that matter, get in the way of career and our own personal progress.

Nor did the feminist mothers warn their daughters of the biological clock, so that:

We are the ones, now in our late 30s and early 40s, who are suddenly sitting before a sheepish doctor listening to the words:

“Well, I’m sorry, but you may have left your run too late. Women at your age find it very difficult to get pregnant naturally ...”

For Virginia Haussegger the end result is that,

here we are, supposedly “having it all” as we edge 40; excellent education; good qualifications; great jobs; fast-moving careers; good incomes ... It’s a nice caffe-latte kind of life, really.

But the truth is – for me at least – the career is no longer a challenge, the lifestyle trappings are joyless ... and the point of it all seems, well, pointless.

I am childless and I am angry. Angry that I was so foolish to take the word of my feminist mothers as gospel. Angry that I was daft enough to believe female fulfilment came with a leather briefcase.

It was wrong. It was crap.

Of course, Virginia Haussegger received a bucketing from the sisterhood for her bold complaints. She has, though, held firm in making criticisms of feminism, even publishing a book this month, Wonder Woman, in which she declares feminism to be “an inadequate structure from which to build a life.”

I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how far she goes in really challenging feminism. Not too far, I expect, as this would require a radical rethinking of the way things are valued in a liberal society.

Is the important thing in life, as liberals claim, establishing an unimpeded individual choice? If yes, then women who break down traditional restrictions on their choices, for instance by “breaking through” career barriers, really are the feminist heroines they are made out to be.

But what if this assumption is wrong? What if the important thing is to fulfil the better and deeper parts of our own inborn natures? Then the task would not be to break through traditional stereotypes but to create the best conditions in which we could fulfil our masculine or feminine natures – for instance, by protecting the conditions in which women could express and experience marital and maternal love.

Virginia Haussegger is trying to warn us that even when the liberal option is undertaken most successfully, even when we create the greatest level of individual autonomy, in which our individual choices are least impeded, all we get is a pleasant and comfortable, but barren and pointless existence.

This was first posted May 25, 2005. Although it covers similar ground to other articles I've written, I think it's worth revisiting as Virginia Haussegger describes so ably the effect of feminism on my generation. I'll be back to posting new items shortly.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Love & dependence

How has love been viewed in Western culture?

Love has often been compared to a merging of two souls into one. The Empress Alexandra of Russia said as much when writing to her husband, Tsar Nicholas II, in 1914 that "We make one."

Similarly, the philosopher Alberti praised marital love in 1432 for the "close bonds and united will" existing between husband and wife. In 1958 the poet Sylvia Plath described her love for her husband as a feeling of being "perfectly at one" with him, whilst a much earlier female poet, Anne Bradstreet, wrote in 1678 that she and her husband, even when apart, were yet "both but one."

A final example of the "two makes one" ideal of love is that of the seventeenth century English poet John Donne, who wrote to assure his love that "Our two souls ... are one."

A similar way to describe love in Western culture is as an intertwining of two souls. The Ancient Roman philosopher Plutarch compared the joining of a husband and wife to "ropes twined together." The American philosopher William James declared to his wife in 1882 that "I feel your existence woven into mine;" whilst Agnes Porter, a governess, wrote in 1791 of the children she loved that "they entwine around one's heart."

This raises a problem. Western societies are dominated by the philosophy of liberal individualism. According to this philosophy, the most important thing is that individuals are left independent and autonomous so that they can create themselves in any direction.

But if love is thought of either as a merging or an entwining of two people into one, then love is in conflict with the above aim of liberal individualism: the achievement of an autonomous, unimpeded individual will.

So what happens? How do liberals respond to this conflict between love and individual autonomy?

There have existed liberals who, in theory at least, have taken the logical step and rejected love. My favourite example would be the Spanish anarchists, representing a radical wing of liberalism, who passed a resolution that for those comrades experiencing "the sickness of love ... a change of commune will be recommended."

The Australian/American pianist and composer Percy Grainger was another who was willing to reject love (in favour of lust). He once declared,

That's why I say I hate love ... I like those things that leave men and women perfectly free ... The reason why I say I worship lust but hate love is because lust ... leaves people perfectly free.

Another example concerns the writer Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), most famous for her novel Out of Africa. A biographer, Judith Thurman, has noted that,

The most compelling heroines in Dinesen's tales ... make a sacrifice of sexual love for some more challenging spiritual project─self-sovereignty, knowledge, worldly power─which enables them to be themselves.

As a final example there is the more recent case of the New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clarke. She managed to shock even some feminists when she justified her decision to remain childless by asserting that,

You've got better things to do with your life, unimpeded.

Notice the terms used to justify the rejection of love (whether maternal, marital or sexual). The aim is to be unimpeded, to exercise individual freedom, or to claim self-sovereignty - all of which relate to the basic goal of liberal individualism of being an autonomous, self-creating individual.

To be fair, it's unusual for liberals to reject love in such a blatant fashion. It's more usual to try to somehow combine the goal of love with the goal of autonomy.

At a basic level you can see this in the fashionable slogan of single girls in the 1990s that "I might want a man, but I don't need a man." This makes love acceptable within the framework of liberalism by turning it into an act of individual will.

The "solution" of the above slogan, though, is only a face-saver. It papers over the reality that most young singles do experience a need to find someone to love in order to feel complete. This is something inborn and resistant to individual will and reason, which is why it's hard to openly acknowledge in a liberal culture.

A more sophisticated attempt to marry love and individualism has been made recently by the Australian sociologist Don Edgar. Now remember, the task for a liberal like Don Edgar is to somehow imagine relationships in which our individual reason and will would not be impeded. How does he do it?

What he suggests is that there be no external authority in how we choose to express relationships, no restraints, but that instead there should be an "intimate negotiation" between two persons, and a "careful construction of an agreed but unique modus operandi."

Edgar likes the description by Anthony Giddens (another sociologist) of the shift toward more open and negotiated human relationships as the coming of "plastic sexuality," where every permutation of sexual behaviour is acceptable provided it is based on mutual respect, disclosure of personal feelings, an equal negotiation of what is acceptable and not an act based on power or coercion.

The funny thing is that Edgar announces at the end of all this that "I'll personally stick to hetero marriage." And this gives away a major weakness in his convoluted attempt to try to make love acceptable to sovereign will and reason.

Most of us reach an age in which we experience an instinct to settle down and have a family. What we then seek is a happy marriage and not just "some intimacy, some form of commitment" which is all that Edgar is prepared to bequeath to the younger generation.

What the older generation owes to the younger is to uphold the conditions in which it's possible to marry successfully, rather than to leave it to millions of competing wills to negotiate a relationship in a climate of self-serving individualism.

It's not plastic, open or unique relationships that young people need, but stable, secure and workable ones, in which some measure of independence can be sacrificed to a healthy and natural interdependence.

First published at Conservative Central, 18/10/03.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

When the wheel turns

I left school in the mid-80s expecting to spend a few years of single independence at uni before embarking on a career and marrying.

Was I in for a shock. By the time I was ready to settle down (at about the age of 23) relationships between men and women had changed so radically that marriage seemed an unlikely prospect.

Young middle class women had been brought up to value independence above all else. I was aware of this and thought that I would have to make some compromises to accommodate this within a marriage.

What stunned me was how quickly any notion of compromise was lost. Many of the most attractive girls went "all the way" with their commitment to independence by simply deferring the very idea of marriage and children until some unspecified point in their mid to late 30s.

What is more, there was a kind of feminist triumphalism in the media. It was common to be told that women were now happily independent and self-sufficient and that traditional men were obsolete.

The situation was made more difficult by the personal behaviour of many young women. A lot of young women acted in a coarse, mannish way and chose to date "the wrong sort of guy".

Added to all this, the divorce rate was rising and divorce laws seemed to leave men with little legal protection in a marriage.

The question to be asked is how do men react when put in such a situation? When the normal process of settling down is made so difficult, how do men adapt psychologically?

I believe that many of the men caught in this situation did make a kind of psychological transformation. They found a balance in their relationships with individualistic women, by becoming more individualistic in their own outlook.

They found that now that they weren't expected to take care of women, that their lives were lighter and more "free-floating". They tried to live by the benefits of this, as this was what was now available to them.

They had been forced to become more self-sufficient, and to set their own personal goals, rather than to fulfil goals related to romantic love or family life.

For some men, this meant deferring their own commitment to family and career, for others it meant chasing their own materialistic, lifestyle goals to which their partners were expected to contribute, without making burdensome demands.

Lone women

How have things worked out for my generation now that we've reached our mid-thirties? Not so well, I think.

The first problem is that many women reached their thirties and found that they no longer wanted to do the careerist, single girl lifestyle anymore. They now wanted to marry and have a family.

Unfortunately, they were all too successful in attacking the traditional "family man" ethos when they were in their 20s. Men have gone through a major psychological adaptation away from their protector, provider instincts: it's not easy for men to change back.

And so you get the kind of lament made by Martha Kirkland, in an email to Henry Makow. Martha is a 30-something woman living in New York, who, despite being bright, thin, attractive and funny, finds herself without a partner.

Martha is understandably unimpressed by the fact that many men ask her on the first date how much she earns or whether she has a trust fund. She can't understand "how grace, charm and feminine essences no longer seemingly have a value".

She has observed that "The last thing my men friends want is any woman to be dependent upon them, especially emotionally and secondarily financially."

The conclusion Martha has drawn from this is that it is she and many of her women friends who are "at a relatively young age dinosaurs".

It's interesting for Martha Kirkland to put things this way because it mirrors what traditionally minded men felt in our twenties, rather than our thirties. That back then it was women who did not sufficiently value their "grace, charm and feminine essences"; that it was women who did not want to depend emotionally or financially on a man; and that it was traditional men who found themselves at a young age declared obsolete.

Meaning & identity

So the wheel has turned. It is now women, rather than men, who want to follow their instincts to marry, and who are disoriented by the individualistic values of the opposite sex.

Should men take comfort from this? I don't think so, because as Henry Makow rightly points out in response to Martha Kirkland's email, the situation is hardly ideal for men either.

He writes that:

Feminism lets men "off the hook". We no longer have to take responsibility for families. Instead, we can do as we please. In my case, that meant a search for meaning and identity.

Ironically, I learned that these are rooted in the masculine role feminism allowed me to forego.

In other words, a large part of meaning and identity for men is derived from our masculine role within a family, whether as husbands or fathers. So, even though a genderless, individualistic role might feel lighter and less burdensome, it is less likely to leave a man feeling fulfilled.

Martha Kirkland herself makes another good criticism of the newer, individualistic role for men. She explains that,

I attempt to persuade [these men] that the wildly successful feminist does not become the Dove Girl at home. That they are asking the impossible, a totally womanly creature that is utterly self-sustaining, emotionally, spiritually and financially. I attempt to illustrate how this creature in fact cannot co-exist. Or rather co-exist, in the same female body, mind, spirit.

What Martha is saying here is that a woman who is forced to become emotionally and financially independent is less likely to be attractively feminine at home.

I think this is generally true. A woman with a husband who intelligently protects her from some of the harshness of life, is much more likely to reveal her softer, more vulnerable feminine qualities.

It's not realistic to expect that most women will be ruggedly self-sufficient and softly feminine at the same time: this would be to expect a woman to be contradictory things.

So men ultimately have to choose one thing or the other; fully-natured, heterosexual men are more likely to want feminine women, even if this means taking on the "burden" of a protective role within the family.


I have seen a number of different responses to the situation women now find themselves in.

The relationships columnist for the Melbourne Herald Sun, Toby Green, has for some years now urged men to ignore the feminism of the 80s and 90s and to return to an authentic masculinity.

She has spoken of the treatment of men by feminist women that:

We huffed and puffed and blew your masculinity down. Maybe it was the headiness of the battle, but we got carried away. At some point, we needed to be saved from ourselves ...

Has it not occurred to you that you could not really be as terrible as we keep telling you you are ...

As a mate, I will tell some in-house secrets. Some of us know we are out on a limb and do not know how to tell you without losing face that, although we may not need to be protected (I did not say dominated) and taken care of, we like it. It feels good."

Robyn Riley, another Herald Sun columnist, has taken a different approach to the situation of contemporary women. In a recent column she angrily attacked those men who, in their late 30s, still "don't want to deal with the responsibility of family, housework and career".

She doesn't want to admit that the male attitude is a predictable reaction to an earlier feminist individualism. To the suggestion that the lack of commitment is because "in the 90s, men felt they were repressed" she responds that "If they were, it was only for a decade, for goodness sake."

And she then admits that "What bugs me is that the minute women look like winning some equality, these delinquents start stamping their feet and having tips in their hair and riding around on scooters." (Herald Sun 12/2/04)

And here we have the problem. For an orthodox liberal feminist like Robyn Riley "equality" means female independence. This is because liberals believe that we should be autonomous, in the sense of being created by our own individual reason or will.

It would be very hard for an orthodox liberal to admit that we need someone else to help us to fulfil our lives. And so Robyn Riley is committed to the idea that women should be independent, and that men should do whatever is required to uphold this kind of female individualism.

There's little room here for understanding real world psychology, including how men are likely to psychologically adapt to the presence of feminist women. It is just the imposition of ideology onto one area of life which is intensely personal and instinctive.

The angry, feminist, anti-male approach of Robyn Riley is unlikely to convince a new generation of men to recommit to family life. The more sophisticated approach of Toby Green, which is able to recognise gender difference, and which allows a natural interdependence of men and women, is much more likely to allow men and women to reestablish healthy relationships.

(Professional duties still call. Regular services will resume Saturday. This article was first published at Conservative Central on 14/02/04.)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Bahai vision of unity

I was walking through a local arcade recently when I came across a pamphlet from the Bahai church.

I'd heard of the Bahais before but didn't know much about them. I was surprised to discover just how intensely liberal the Bahai faith is.

The Bahai church originated in Persia in the mid-nineteenth century. It operates now in many countries, including America and Australia, and claims a membership of around 6 million.

The central tenet of the Bahai faith is the unity of mankind. The idea seems to be that as God made us out of a single substance we are to aim at a kind of single identity.

Thus one of the Bahai prophets is recorded as saying:

Since we have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest.

The result of this belief is that Bahais must attempt to transcend particular forms of identity in favour of a single universal one. As the Bahais themselves put it:

Bahais see unity as the law of life ..."

Guided and inspired by such principles, the Bahai community has accumulated more than a century of experience in creating models of unity that transcend race, culture, nationality, class, and the differences of sex and religion, providing empirical evidence that humanity ... can live as a unified global society.

What's interesting is that the Bahais have arrived, through their religious beliefs, at a similar political outlook as Western liberals. Western liberals also want the individual to transcend particular forms of identity, as these are believed to impede our self-creation through individual will and reason.

In fact, Bahai writings sound remarkably like liberal ones, promising that the abolition of particular distinctions will bring about peace, liberation, equality and progress.

The thing is, though, do we really want to abolish particular forms of identity? Would we really want to live in a world in which, according to the Bahais, there would only be "one common fatherland," "one universal langauge," and the abolition of anything, including "cultural expression" which would make one portion of humanity "intrinsically distinct from another portion."

Think about what this would mean. We would no longer be able to enjoy a special sense of connection to our own particular national tradition, nor appreciate contact with other distinctive national cultures.

We would no longer be able to enjoy the more positive aspects of gender difference, nor identify in a positive way with our own sex (one Bahai pamphlet specifically outlaws the practice of men identifying as being a "masculine soul in a male body").

We would no longer be able to uphold the positive aspects of class cultures within our own countries. These class cultures traditionally provided standards of behaviour and distinctive forms of culture within a national community.

What we would have, instead, is a further descent into a society built on atomised, rootless, denatured individuals. Such societies seem to be easily dominated by a globalised commercial culture of little depth. They are not characterised, as the Bahais would have as believe, by a profound spiritual life.

In short, what the Bahai church offers is a religious pathway into liberal political activism. Even though the origins of Bahai lie outside Western liberalism, by asserting an absolute and abstract unity between people, the Bahai faith requires, just as Western liberalism does, the abolition of particular distinctions - an abolition of the very things which enrich our lives spiritually and which a church concerned for the spiritual life of its adherents should seek to support.

(This is one from the archive. It was first published at Conservative Central on 24/09/2003. It's the busiest few days of the year for me professionally, so I hope readers don't mind me cross-posting.)