Friday, March 23, 2007

Can it only be politics or rugger?

Not everyone understood my last post. It was an attempt to draw out the "neutrality strand" within liberalism.

What is the neutrality strand? In the 1600s there was a period of religious conflict. As a means to restore social harmony, there was an effort to base the social order not on an assertion of religious truth, but on tolerance of different religious claims.

So there was a shift from an assertion of religious truth to an ideal in which the equal claim of others, their equal right in matters of religion, was focused on.

This established a framework in which traditional identity in general came to be associated with social antagonism and superior claim, whereas repression of traditional identity was linked to tolerance, harmony, and equality

There are liberals who filter reality through this kind of framework. They assume that all forms of traditional identity are based on superior claim and a denial of equality, and that the adoption of a neutral stance is the mark of high principle and a proper basis for a harmonious social order.

Traditionalists often have a difficult time penetrating this liberal mindset. We experience traditional identity in a radically different manner. It is felt by us to be a natural and positive aspect of self-identity, based more often on feelings of love and attachment than on hostile, antagonistic superiority.

So what is wrong with the liberal framework? In my last post, I endorsed the criticism of the liberal approach made by Mark from Western Survival. He argued that most of the traditional sources of identity targeted by liberals are based on real, meaningful and immutable differences between people. Therefore, attempting to eliminate them causes, in practice, more harm than good.

I added two further criticisms. First, that adopting a neutral stance toward things which matter causes a major defect in Western man, namely a failure to project. It makes Western man, as the liberal subject, fit only to observe the "colourful other," and unable to actively assert his own identity.

Second, I noted (following Mark) that liberals made an exception for political identity, and that it was therefore no accident that liberal intellectuals often sought distinction, and group allegiance, through holding "correct" political beliefs, in particular by disdaining the working-class as nativist rednecks and presenting themselves in contrast as tolerant liberal cosmopolitans.

I described this kind of distinction seeking as a lazy form of elitism, not requiring any real effort of character or achievement.

Which brings me to the updates. First, by coincidence there was published in yesterday's Melbourne Age an article by Catherine Deveny, one of the two leftist women I quoted in my own post. Deveny's article is a classic expression of lazy distinction seeking.

First we get the disdain for the working-class as nativist rednecks. Deveny describes the grand prix auto racing fans as "knuckle-dragging petrol heads" and "flag wavers". She tells them that if they need a grand prix to feel proud of their city to "please kill yourself at your earliest possible convenience. And take your 'I'm Another Australian Against Further Immigration' T-shirt with you."

Then there's her claim to superiority: she, unlike the average joe, appreciates not just immigrants, but the most radically "other" of immigrants, the recent Muslim arrivals. Furthermore, she loves to eat their ethnic cuisine: pide, gozleme and baklava.

Finally there's her failure to project. She's a master at this. She has taken a job as a Middle-Eastern bakery tour guide in northern suburban Melbourne:

Last week and again this week, I'll show folks around Sydney Road and take them into a handful of the many Middle Eastern bakeries along this lively and cosmopolitan strip of bridal boutiques, multicultural food, funky cafes, factory outlets and rampant tolerance.

Her role is not to be an exemplar of her own culture, but to be invisible to herself and observe instead the colourful other (note the combination of adjectives she uses to describe the other: funky, lively, multicultural, cosmopolitan).

She is happy with the role of tour guide to what is most foreign within her own hometown, and is proud that she is more advanced in this role than others. She apparently likes the fact that the people she shows around, unlike herself, feel disoriented by what they see:

"I feel like I am in another country," the wide-eyed Loafers say as they openly gawk at the young girls wearing the hijab and tight jeans.

So Catherine Deveny tries very hard to earn distinction through cosmpolitan political beliefs. The problem is that you don't really earn elite status through such ideological distinction seeking.

So what non-ideological qualities might justify a claim to belong to an elite? The Wikipedia article on elitism suggests the following:

- Rigorous study of, or great accomplishment within, a particular field of study
- A long track record of competence in a demanding field
- An extensive history of dedication and effort in service to a specific discipline
- A high degree of accomplishment, training or wisdom within a given field

It would be a step forward if we lived in a society in which the elite, at the very least, engaged seriously with high culture, personal character and matters spiritual.

We are a long way from this. My call for a non-ideological form of distinction seeking was not comprehended in some quarters. It was thought to be a call for a physical, corporeal elitism, based on sporting prowess.

Over at Larvatus Prodeo, a fairly mainstream left-liberal site, it was suggested that I was leaving the "healthy mind" part out of the saying "a healthy mind in a healthy body" and that I was advocating something along the lines of "cricket and rugger for the blokes, synchronised diving and beach volleyball for the sheilas."

Someone else thought I might be excluding Catherine Deveny from the ranks of the elite because she was no good at games. There was also a comment suggesting that the sports already occupied an elite position compared to culture and the arts.

So some on the left cannot conceive what a non-ideological form of distinction might be, let alone fill the role. Nor do they seem open to the idea that they are undeserving of status given the shallow basis on which they claim distinction. They hold the opposite view: that they are not accorded enough status, particularly in comparison to non-intellectual sporting types. This is the thought which engrosses them.


  1. Furthermore, she loves to eat their ethnic cuisine: pide, gozleme and baklava.

    Bet she'd look great in a burqa!

    What is it with liberals and food?

  2. Mr. Richardson,

    It seems, as with tolerance and non-discrimination, one can't really be faithful to a creed of "neutrality."

    This is even more evident when we realize that many liberals don't simply wish to live by a "progressive" creed, but attempt to force their creed on others.

    I've noticed a certain trend where liberals believe traditionalists must be forced to experience their multicultural creed.

    The irony of course is that the push to introduce foreign cultures has NEVER been less important in this age of incredible mobility and ubiquitous communication.

  3. Mark, they don't misunderstand your argument, they're avoiding it. No one could interpret what you said as advocating an elite based on sporting achievement alone.

    Sarcasm and irony – that's the best you can hope for "arguing" with these people. We're not exactly dealing with Nietzschean elitists here - quite the reverse. Their value system is slavery and resentment from top to bottom.

    They're the elite of sneering mental patients smearing faeces on the wall.

  4. Good morning. Just discovered your blog, and I'm already impressed. Welcome to the Eternity Road blogroll.

    I note that you use "conservative" and "liberal" according to the American interpretations rather than the European ones. Is that common practice in Australian political discourse?

  5. Thanks for the comments.

    Lyl, you're right to point out the emphasis liberals place on food. I don't have a complete answer for why they do so. Perhaps a kind of epicureanism, a living for sensual pleasure, makes sense when you adopt a materialist philosophy.

    Perhaps too, as I suggested in a post on multiculturalism, the leftist concept of multiculturalism, in which we are supposed to choose from and create our self from multiple cultures, doesn't really work, except in reference to ethnic cuisine - hence the overblown emphasis on such cuisine.

    Thordaddy, you make an interesting point about modern communications. We don't need to merge populations in order to enjoy foreign cultures. We can enjoy these cultures as overseas tourists, or through films on TV, or music, or through exchanges etc.

    Shane, I expect you're right. I thought I had made the argument clearly enough. It's difficult to comprehend the mindset, though, of someone who responds cynically to an argument which they've deliberately misread. The left gives up its claim to intellectual seriousness when it adopts this approach.

    Francis, thanks. The terms "conservative" and "liberal" are used in a confusing way in Australia.

    The media often applies the term conservative to the non-left parties, including the Liberal Party.

    Sometimes, though, the term is used (more properly in my opinion) to refer to the social conservatism found in the general population.

    I think it helps to clarify things if we speak of a left-liberalism (social democracy), a right-liberalism (classic liberalism) and conservatism.

  6. Gummo, at Larvatus Prodeo, has responded with a post of his own.

  7. The foods you have described are Turkish. I am Turkish and I feel relieved by a site like yours as I believe liberalism is a future threat to Turkish society which must be combated now. I would be great full if you made a distinction between Turkish Muslims and other Muslims. Because we are culturally much different to give an example, percentage that wear turban in Turkey is only 40% let alone a burqa.