Thursday, August 30, 2007

A new world order ... getting warmer?

What should be our response to global warming? This is what English environmentalist George Monbiot proposes:

We're not talking anymore about measures which require a little bit of tweaking here and there, or a little bit of political tweaking here and there. We're talking about measures which require global revolutionary change ...

And I'm afraid the second uncomfortable message I have to put out to you tonight is that when it comes to dealing with a problem of this scale, small is no longer beautiful. We have to start thinking on the biggest possible terms....

We have very very little time in which to act. We have very very little time in which to bring about the largest economical and political transformation the world has ever seen.

According to Mr Monbiot there is only one possible course of action and that is to accept a global transformation.

Is Mr Monbiot distressed by the thought of massive political and economic change? Well, no. In 2003 he published a book, The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order. One sympathetic reviewer wrote of this manifesto:

Not for him any local, protectionist, small-focus reform initiatives ... Speaking for what he terms the "global justice movement", Monbiot argues for three macro reforms. He wants the establishment of a democratically elected world parliament, an international clearing union to discharge trade deficits and prevent the accumulation of debt, and a fair trade organisation "which restrains the rich while emancipating the poor" ...

He wants to change the way people act and think ("a metaphysical mutation"), and he understands quite clearly the dangerous exultation ("which Christians call joy") that accompanies such intense collective purpose concentrated by adversity.

Monbiot, in other words, believes in a New World Order as a matter of political morality. Little wonder then that he should conclude that global warming requires us to create ... a New World Order.

We need to be careful that global warming doesn't become a means of prising open society for the benefit of a transnational political elite.

Monbiot assumes that it will be the left-liberal elite who will benefit and that global governance will restrain the power of the large corporations. He doesn't seem to have noticed that the corporate elite has also eagerly signed on to the global warming movement. Laying the world open to a transnational elite is arguably just as appealing for them as for globalising leftists.

I'm not suggesting that concerns about the environment should be dismissed. If there is potentially a problem, then accurate data should be collected and the issue debated seriously and openly.

Let's understand, though, that there are those who have other motivations for promoting an alarmist view on the environment.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Ruling by political self-image

How is a complacent political orthodoxy shaken up? I've previously described the effect of crime on two English left-liberals. One of these men, Andrew Anthony, was also influenced by the events of September 11. For years he had gone along with the idea that America was the most malign force in the world. After September 11 he recognised that Islamic terrorism was the greater threat.

He then began to doubt other aspects of the left-liberal orthodoxy:

If I had been wrong about the relative danger of America, could I be wrong about all the other things I had previously held to be true? I tried hard to suppress this thought, to ring-fence the global situation, grant it exceptional status and keep it in a separate part of my mind. I had too much vested in my image of myself as a 'liberal'.

I had bought into the idea, for instance, that all social ills stemmed from inequality and racism. I knew that crime was solely a function of poverty. That to be British was cause for shame, never pride. And to be white was to bear an unshakable burden of guilt.

I held the view, or at least was unprepared to challenge it, that it was wrong to single out any culture for censure, except, of course, Western culture, which should be admonished at every opportunity. I was confident too that Israel was the source of most of the troubles in the Middle East.

These were non-negotiables for any right-thinking decent person. I couldn't question these received wisdoms without questioning my own identity. And I had grown too comfortable with seeing myself as one of the good guys, the well-meaning people, to want to do anything that upset that self-image. I viewed myself as understanding, and to maintain that self-perception it was imperative that I didn't try to understand myself.

What had kept Anthony in line wasn't just the force of left-liberal argument. It was also the success of left-liberalism in forming the personal identity of members of the political class. If you held to left-liberal ideas you then got to identify as one of the good guys: as someone who was right-thinking, decent, well-meaning and understanding.

It's not an easy thing to persuade someone to give up on their self-image. Anthony himself describes his resistance to even considering alternative views: he suppressed certain thoughts, tried to "ring-fence" areas of doubt, and avoided attempts at self-understanding.

When the left has the power to fashion self-identity, it has a stranglehold over politics. I can still remember thinking in the late 1980s that if the left in Australia played its cards right it could continue to dominate politics for decades.

As it happened, the left threw away its tremendous advantage. It was so dominant that it was able to do two things. First, it intensified the portrayal of men and whites as privileged oppressor classes. Instead of enjoying a sense of comfort and superiority in belonging to the left, white men had to accept a negative, inferior role in the leftist hierarchy.

Second, in the early 1990s third-wave feminism reached a peak and seriously disrupted relationships between men and women. The disruption was particularly acute if you were a man who normally socialised with uni educated, political women.

In the mid 1990s there was a backlash. A lot of younger men began to identify with the liberal right rather than the left. This created a situation in which the left, whilst still retaining overall numbers, was no longer able to project a complacent, superior self-image.

By itself, this hasn't led to a political breakthrough for traditionalists. It has, though, permitted a more open political discussion in which traditionalists can participate (there are certain feminist websites which have tried to maintain the old conditions by simply declaring their own positions to be self-evidently moral and therefore not open for discussion).

My impression is that the connection between left-liberalism and personal self-image was not as thoroughly ruptured in England as it was here. This possibly explains the relative weakness of traditionalism in England compared to the US or Australia.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The first gangs of summer

Normally people like us are some of the most vocal in the land. Yet we have become afraid.

Michael Williams is speaking here on behalf of the liberal elite of London. He is a journalist in the liberal press; his neighbours in one of the 'coolest' and most respectable parts of inner London include a senior diplomat, a professor and an eminent architect.

Who are they afraid of? A gang of youths who spend the summer nights in their garden square.

The youths flout the law, drinking and smoking dope, damaging property and making threats. The police won't respond and the residents are too scared to take action themselves.

Williams, despite his own liberal credentials, thinks that the liberal mentality might be partly to blame:

One of the main problems, I believe, is a middle-class conspiracy of silence. Not simply because of the fear of crime itself, but because of a fear of seeming illiberal or intolerant. Sometimes our local residents' meetings can be like a version of Radio 4's Moral Maze, with more hand-wringing than solutions.

Those who are bold enough to complain are mostly older and working-class. Many stay silent. None of us wants to be viewed as a reactionary ...

He recognises too the "Putnam effect": the hunkering down of individuals into social isolation in a diverse society,

In the meantime, our sense of civic responsibility and community continues to diminish. I see more of the youths than I do of my neighbours most days.

... What was meant to be an embracing live-and-let-live acceptance of difference has hardened, over years of soft-thinking, into a live-and-let-live indifference.

Nor is Williams a lone voice. Andrew Anthony is another left-liberal Londoner who has written lately on the same themes. He too writes sadly of summer crime:

After the third burglary, I bought a baseball bat for protection, and on a visit to a friend's house I noticed that he had the same make of bat in his bedroom ... He too had suffered one too many burglaries. The previous summer a burglar had gained access to his house through his two-year-old daughter's bedroom. He climbed over the little girl's bed as she lay asleep. Because it was such a balmy night my friend had left his daughter's window slightly open.

When I heard this, my first thought was, 'How could he have been so slack?' So adjusted had I become to the need to turn one's home into a fortress that I found it unnatural to allow air into a stuffy room. That an intruder would climb in I took, by contrast, as utterly normal.

What went wrong? Anthony is ready to criticise the left-liberalism he once championed. He no longer believes that "leave alone" values such as respect and tolerance are enough to inspire people to look out for each other:

A society that places emphasis on respecting others has next to nothing to say about protecting others.

He points to a contradiction in the liberal view of the police, in which the police aren't trusted and therefore are stripped of their powers, whilst still being expected to protect people from physical danger:

The standard liberal view of the police is a complex and sometimes mystifying affair. By convention they are perceived as the enforcers of the status quo, Little Englanders in blue, restrictive, authoritarian, abusers of the poor and minorities, defenders of 'them' rather than 'us'. That image has changed a little in the post-Macpherson era but a good liberal still errs in favour of not trusting the police. We want them to back off, we don't want them to stop and search, we don't want them to carry arms, and most of all we want them to be there instantly to deal with any situation that threatens physical danger.

After witnessing a particularly violent street attack, Anthony felt unable to process what had happened in liberal terms:

the more I thought about it ... the more I realised that there wasn't a liberal vocabulary with which to describe the situation. Indeed, even a phrase like 'civic decency' sounded fuddy-duddy, uptight, somehow right-wing.

He was no longer willing to find excuses for the event:

There was a liberal way of talking about the culprits. It involved referring to their poor education and difficult home lives and the poverty they suffered ... I had no appetite for that kind of reasoning. It blamed nebulous society and excused not just the individuals but also the community of which they were a part.

It seems that crime has London's middle-class liberals cornered. They haven't managed to remove themselves entirely from the consequences of their own politics.

As a result, at least some of these liberals are no longer as complacent in identifying with a mainstream left-liberalism. This is especially true in the case of Andrew Anthony, a point I'll develop further in my next post.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Grandmothers in blue?

I thought it would come to this:

Public save cops from attacker

Passers-by swooped in to help two female police officers being attacked by a man who shrugged off the effects of capsicum spray - and almost stole a gun.

The Bankstown constables went to a Woodville Rd car dealership yesterday afternoon after receiving reports of a man causing problems ... The man ... assaulted them ... He then pushed the other officer into a parked car, causing her to hit her head and drop her baton which he then picked up.

The man was about to strike the officer with the baton when he was restrained by up to 10 passers-by ...

It wasn't so long ago that most police were tall, well-built, physically intimidating men. When there were two on patrol they commanded instinctive respect.

Then the recruiting pattern changed. I remember my surprise the first time I saw the physically weaker new breed of police. Even back then I thought the day would arrive when the public would have to help out the police in violent situations.

The problem runs deep. On the NSW police force website you find the following recruitment information:

Q. Is there a particular cultural group the NSW Police Force is recruiting?

The NSW Police Force's aim is to achieve an officer profile balanced in gender, ethnicity and age, which reflects the diversity of the NSW population.

Think about this. If the police force is no different in composition to the general population, then how is it superior in upholding the law? If an older woman is threatened by a young man, and another older woman arrives to deal with the situation, what has been gained?

I suppose you could argue that the police could send in a large contingent of officers and gain superiority by force of numbers, but in reality it takes time for numbers of police to reach a crime scene.

And anyway, the real aim of the police bureaucracy is not to achieve a balanced profile but to feminise the police force. There are reformers in the ranks who believe that the future for the police forces is female.

Here in Victoria the Police Commissioner Christine Nixon applied to set aside sex discrimination laws to allow 50% of new recruits to be female. As usually happens, the ideal of equal numbers of recruits soon went out the window, and the latest graduating class is two thirds female.

Those police wanting to be promoted to sergeant now face this process:

Applicants are given a long list of qualities our new force demands, such as "empathy and cultural awareness" and the ability to be inclusive, sensitive, polite, considerate, genuine, supportive and co-operative.

Questions they are asked include: "Can you give examples when you have enabled (a) diverse community group with differing views to unify for the common good?"

But not once in the six-page guide are they asked to give examples of crooks caught. No skill in crime-busting is demanded.

No, no, no. More important is that the wannabe sergeant "shows consideration, concern and respect for others' feelings and ideas".

And back in the real world? Less than a week ago, there was another assault on Bankstown police officers:

A male and female police officer were punched in the head while responding to a domestic dispute in Sydney's south-west.

And last month it was the turn of the Townsville police:

Police have interviewed a man over the serious assault of a police officer during a brawl in Townsville ... The female police officer was punched in the head while trying to break up a large fight ...

There will always be an element of force in policing. Not everyone is equally able to apply such force. Young, strong men should be well-regarded when applying to join the police.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

An enchanted world for them not us?

I belong loosely to a group that I would call the pro-Labor social justice liberal intelligentsia.

This is Professor Robert Manne's way of telling us that he's a left-liberal. A popular one, too, as he once topped a poll to decide Australia's leading public intellectual.

One of the other place getters in the poll was Michael Leunig. I discussed a while ago an odd feature of Leunig's politics, namely that he praises the Australian Aborigines for the traditionalism of their communities, whilst loathing the same qualities amongst white Australians.

As it happens, Robert Manne also holds to exactly the same double standard. There is something, therefore, about the left-liberal mindset in Australia which produces this strange inconsistency, in which Aborigines are admired for the very qualities which white Australians are damned for.

Let me give two examples of Manne's double standard. Manne recently defended the traditional Aboriginal way of life by referring to the work of white anthropologists who, Manne believes, observed:

not an Edenic but an enchanted world, in the technical sense of the sociologist Max Weber. They discovered an intricate social order in which, through the kinship structure, every human being held a precise and acknowledged place. They discovered a world that was filled with economic purpose; leavened by playfulness, joy and humour; soaked in magic, sorcery, mystery and ritual; pregnant at every moment with deep and unquestioned meaning.

It's difficult to imagine anything more out of line with liberal modernism. At the moment the bookshops are full of works by the liberal intelligentsia claiming that religion is a dangerous threat to humanity. Yet here the Aborigines are given a free pass to live in an enchanted world in which there is not only religion, but a world "soaked in magic, sorcery, mystery and ritual" and "pregnant at every moment with deep and unquestioned meaning".

Why isn't the ethos of liberal rationalism and scientism applied to Aborigines?

Similarly, liberals have pressed for an ideal in which we are unimpeded in choosing who we are and what we do. We are supposed to be self-determining individual agents, who aren't constrained by unchosen forms of identity based on gender or ethnicity, or by traditional social roles or patterns of family life.

Again, Manne doesn't apply the logic of liberalism to Aborigines. Not only do they get to keep basic forms of family life and gender identity, they are even praised for having "an intricate social order, in which, through kinship structure, every human held a precise and acknowledged place".

It is almost as if there are two Robert Mannes. The one who faces white Australia proclaims himself a member of the "pro-Labor social justice liberal intelligentsia". The one who ponders customary Aboriginal life is drawn to the most non-liberal vision of society imaginable.

And there's more. In 2001, Manne defended the existence of traditional Aboriginal communities this way:

... if the traditional communities are indeed destroyed, one distinctive expression of human life - with its own forms of language, culture, spirituality and sensibility - will simply become extinct. Humanity is enriched and shaped by the diversity of its forms of life. It is vastly impoverished as this diversity declines. If contemporary Australians allow what remains of the traditional Aboriginal world to die, we will be haunted by the tragedy for generations.

If this is true, and if Manne really believes it to be true, he should apply it to all of the world's peoples, including Europeans. But he doesn't. When it comes to mainstream Australia the defence of "distinctive expressions of human life" simply disappears from view, to be replaced with an ideal of multiculturalism, diversity and open borders.

Again we have the two Mannes. One laments the possible destruction of traditional Aboriginal communities as a loss of a distinctive expression of human life; the other has laboured for, as a matter of justice, the destruction of traditional Australia and its replacement by a multicultural society.

I'll leave a consideration of why Manne's double standard exists to the comments. What I've really tried to show in setting out Manne's views is that left-liberalism must have a profound defect - if it didn't it wouldn't generate such disturbing inconsistencies.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

In fear of destiny

Gary Younge is a British journalist who describes himself as a liberal secularist. On what grounds is he hostile to religion? He tells us:

I have a philosophical problem with submitting my destiny to a higher being.

In a discussion on religion at a website called Pharyngula, a commenter wrote that:

In all things, I have peace, because I know God loves me, and I know He has a plan, a purpose, and a destiny for my life.

The response:

Slaveowners had a plan, purpose and destiny for their "property", and cattlemen have a plan, purpose and destiny for their livestock. Somehow in neither case are the objects of this attention comforted by this. Explain to me again why one should follow the alleged plan of an alleged creator? And do you always do exactly what your mother tells you?

Which shows how difficult it is to marry liberal modernism and religion. Liberal autonomy theory tells people that what really matters is that they are self-determining individuals who author their own lives. This conflicts with the Western religious view in which we are created by God and that by submitting ourselves to God we live according to the essential truth of our being.

It is possible for a vast gulf to open up between liberal secularists and the religious. For the second liberal quoted above the religious view is a degrading one, reducing individuals to slaves and cattle. For the religious it is the secular liberal view which limits the nature and purpose of human life.

It's interesting that Pope Benedict has recognised the significance of this line of division. In a papal homily he has spoken of the temptation of men to think:

that God is a rival who curtails our freedom and that we will be fully human only when we have cast him aside; in brief, that only in this way can we fully achieve our freedom.

The human being lives in the suspicion that God's love creates a dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be fully himself. Man does not want to receive his existence and the fullness of his life from God.

He himself wants to obtain from the tree of knowledge the power to shape the world, to make himself a god, raising himself to God's level, and to overcome death and darkness with his own efforts. He does not want to rely on love that to him seems untrustworthy; he relies solely on his own knowledge since it confers power upon him. Rather than on love, he sets his sights on power, with which he desires to take his own life autonomously in hand. And in doing so, he trusts in deceit rather than in truth and thereby sinks with his life into emptiness, into death.

Love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a human being is the freedom of a limited being, and therefore is itself limited. We can possess it only as a shared freedom, in the communion of freedom: Only if we live in the right way, with one another and for one another, can freedom develop.

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.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Hulls pushes false DV claims

Rob Hulls, our new Deputy Premier here in Victoria, seems prone to exaggeration. Consider the two vastly inflated statistics he fired off in rapid succession when introducing a proposed new Family Violence Act:

Mr Hulls said family violence affected one in five Victorian women.

"It is the leading contributor to death, disability and illness in women under 45."

At least there's been some improvement. Less than a year ago the figure being bandied about was that more than 50% of women were victims of male violence. It's now dropped to 20%. Even this claim, though, is grossly overstated.

I dealt with this issue last year:

For evidence, let's take a quick look at a major, official research project carried out by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Women's Safety Survey (1996).

This survey was commissioned by the Office for the Status of Women. Some of the staff at the ABS complained at the time that it was advocacy research designed to inflate the level of domestic violence.

Even so, the survey found that in a twelve month period about 2.6% of women experienced an incident of violence from a married or de facto partner. Of these 2.6% of women, about half experienced milder forms of violence such as threats or pushing or grabbing (and of the approximately 1.3% of more severe cases about 50% involved alcohol abuse).

What this means is that in a twelve month period 97.4% of men desisted from any conceivable form of violence against their partners, including threats.

When you consider the amount of alcoholism, drug use, mental illness and family breakdown in society, the figure of 97.4% of men not even committing a single instance of a threat is a creditable one to men.

Another interesting statistic from the survey is that women are physically safer when they are partnered - by a large factor of 250%. It is single women who are more vulnerable to violence. Women therefore should not go into a relationship assuming that they are at higher risk of assault - the very opposite is true.

Finally, the survey revealed that 25% of the physical assaults committed against women are perpetrated by women.

And is it really credible that domestic violence is the leading cause of death, disability and illness in Australian women under 45?

Again, when I checked out the statistics last year I found such claims to be not only untrue, but untrue by a very large margin.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics site didn't give an exact figure for deaths and injuries to young women caused by domestic violence. It did, though, give causes of mortality.

As you might expect, by far the highest cause of death for young women was cancer (673 deaths). The next highest was suicide (238), then car accidents (215).

If you look at causes of death for women in all age groups, there is data which shows how ludicrous the claim is that domestic violence is the main source of injury to women.

Of the 3531 injuries leading to death in women in 2004, the majority (2725) were accidental. Of the 806 intentional injuries leading to death, the large majority were self-inflicted (531). There were 77 injuries leading to death resulting from assault, but many of these would have been committed by strangers, rather than by husbands.

So of the 3551 injuries leading to death, considerably fewer than 77 were a result of domestic violence.

Women are about 10 times more likely to die from self-inflicted wounds than they are from domestic violence. They are more likely to die from accidental drowning than from domestic violence.

So why would Rob Hulls make the incredible claim that women are most at risk from their own partners? The answer has to do, of course, with political ideology, in particular with patriarchy theory. I've explained the connection in some detail here.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Howard, immigration & electoral suicide

Could the Prime Minister lose his own seat in the forthcoming election? There's been much interest in the media in a new poll putting the Prime Minster behind his Labor Party rival.

But why would John Howard be facing this difficulty? The answer, according to an informative SBS article, has much to do with a demographic shift brought about by immigration. One part of the PM's electorate has become Korean, another part is increasingly populated by immigrants from China and Japan.

If it weren't for John Howard's status as PM, it's likely that he would already have lost his seat of Bennelong. As the SBS article explains,

The characteristic that separates Sydney inner-metropolitan electorates between Labor and Liberal is not income, or even property prices, but race. The dividing line is an ethnic mix of roughly 20 per cent of the population. Any seat with more than 20 per cent of its voters born in non-English speaking countries at the 2006 census has a Labor sitting member today with one exception - Bennelong.

This trend is also obvious in Melbourne. If you were to compare a map showing Labor seats and areas of the highest concentration of migrants there would be a remarkable overlap.

It's interesting that the tendency of migrants to vote Labor is holding true even of East Asians. If any migrants (of non-English speaking background) were to vote Liberal it would be this group. They tend to have higher incomes, to be engaged in business activities and they have been favoured by the Liberals in terms of immigration, employment and education policies.

But it hasn't worked. They don't follow the Anglo commercial class pattern of voting predominantly Liberal.

So is the Liberal Party taking stock of the situation and slowing down immigration to preserve its long-term viability? Not at all. It's doing the very opposite. The current Government has almost doubled immigration over the last ten years to about 180,000 per year.

Why 180,000? Because this is the magic number that business wants. For instance, in 2002 the Business Council of Australia Chief Executive Katie Lahey wrote that:

As we look forward, we can also see the importance of immigration to continued strong business and economic growth. We think immigration targets need to be higher - 140,000 a year, rising to 180,000 a year over the next decade.

Peter Hendy, a spokesman for the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has pressed for the same thing:

In the current round of discussions on general immigration intake, we are pushing for an increase in the overall immigration intake to 180,000 people a year and a significant proportion of that will need to be skilled migrants.

So the Liberal Government has chosen to give big business what it wants, even if this means fatally undermining its own electoral prospects.

It's an indication of how much the Liberal Party is wedded to a right-liberal market ideology rather than a traditionalist conservatism.

Friday, August 10, 2007

What is man?

In my last post I quoted the following lines from the feminist record for children, Free to Be ... You and Me (1972):

A person should wear what he wants to wear
And not just what other folks say
A person should do what she likes to
A person's a person that way

The last two lines are significant. They sum up the modernist philosophy that the modern West is being refashioned on.

Note that we are not just being told that we should do what we like to. We are being told that doing what we like is what makes us a person - it is what gives us our distinction as a human.

If this is the philosophy that my generation of women was reared on, it's not surprising that when a political party for Australian women was set up recently it was simply called What Women Want.

In general, I think it's striking how important the question of "What makes us human?" is to political philosophy.

The modernist approach to the question is difficult to accept. Modernists seem to think that there is a single quality, like autonomy or (more specifically) "satisfaction of individual desires", which confirms our human status.

This assumes that there are different degrees of being human, which we might or might not attain (which then sets the scene for an over-zealous quest for human equality).

If I were to consider the question of "What makes a person?", I would think more along the lines that we are varied in nature, in the sense that there is an intellectual, an emotional and an intuitive aspect to our nature; that we have basic physical appetites alongside more spiritual and creative faculties and so on.

The particular mix varies between people and doesn't make them more or less human. We remain a person no matter which of these qualities we show.

The aim, though, is generally to live by our higher nature. This means that we won't always do what we want. We might reject a passing want as being incompatible with our better nature or with what we owe to others.

When modernism was less advanced than it is today there was a greater emphasis on the cultivation of character and on the quality of the inner life (art, nature, manhood, virtue etc). The ideals of service and of loyalty were also more prominent.

It's odd to think that we are now considered distinctively a "person" simply because we do what we want to. It would seem to reduce us to the level of the average pet cat.

I believe we can do better.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Free to be ... what we tell you?

At about the time that I was at kindergarten, second-wave feminists released a children's song-book and record called Free to Be ... You and Me. Two years later, in 1974, it was turned into a TV special, featuring the likes of Alan Alda, Harry Belafonte and Michael Jackson.

Free to Be ... You and Me enjoyed considerable success, with the record album selling over 500,000 copies. So what was it all about?

The politics of Free to Be ... You and Me is discussed in an interesting article by a modern day feminist, Judith Stadtman Tucker. She notes the influence of Free to Be ... You and Me on the ideals of feminist women of my generation:

As ... mothers' accounts of feeling blindsided by reality ... move into the public domain, I've noticed that women born in the late '60s and 1970s often use Free to Be ... You and Me as a reference point in their reflections on "how it was supposed to be".

Stadtman Tucker sums up the political message of Free to Be ... You and Me as follows:

its principal strategy is portraying traditional gender roles as limiting, hurtful and old-fashioned.

In particular, there was an attack on girlhood. For instance, the lyrics of one of the songs, Girl Land, includes these lines:

They're closing down 'Girl Land'
Some say it's a shame
It used to be busy
Then nobody came

... And soon in the park
That was 'Girl Land' before
You'll do as you like
And be who you are.

Stadtman Tucker suggests that the vision of the future presented to children in the poems, songs and stories is,

molded by adult concerns about the perils of the feminine mystique and the gendered division of labor. More specifically, the creators of F2BY&M seem intent on discouraging the formation of romantic illusions in little girls and imparting the value of female autonomy.

None of this is surprising, as it fits in easily with liberal autonomy theory, on which feminism is ultimately based. According to this theory, we are human inasmuch as we are self-defining, self-determining individuals. Therefore, aspects of our identity or social roles which we simply inherit, rather than choosing for ourselves, are thought to be restrictive. This includes traditional national identities (based on ethnicity); received moral codes; the traditional family; and inherited forms of manhood and womanhood (or girlhood and boyhood).

This is the theory being expressed by the child development expert who wrote the following notes for the Free to Be ... You and Me record:

By raising doubts about traditional restrictive models for men and women alike, the record opens up for children the happy vista that all individuals, male or female, are people above all.

Being thought of as distinctively male or female is a "traditional restrictive model" in this theory; therefore, there is a logic to the attack on girliness in the Free to Be ... You and Me record.


More than 30 years after the appearance of Free to Be ... You and Me, problems with the theory behind the record are apparent, even to committed feminists like Judith Stadtman Tucker.

She puts forward three criticisms. The first is that the record "overpromised". If gender really is just an oppressive gender construct, then it ought to be easy to liberate people from its bonds. The record promised its listeners that freedom was "not far from where we are"; other feminists at the time, such as Letty Cottlin Pogrebin predicted that by the year 2000 "traditional marriage and the gendered division of labor would be obsolete".

As it happens, feminists have certainly had some influence in pushing toward such aims, but the influence of gender has nonetheless survived in the way we live. Although Stadtman Tucker doesn't argue this, we could conclude that this is because gender is neither as oppressive nor as artificial as the theory assumes.

The second criticism is that girls were told that there were no limits, that there was nothing to restrict them from doing anything or being anything. This is the autonomist vision of freedom, but in practice it turned out to be oppressive for many conscientious girls.

The reason is that if there is nothing to stop us from doing or being anything, then why can't we achieve all that we have a mind to? If I can do anything I set my mind to, then I can be perfect. Stadtman Tucker writes:

the fable also brings to mind what Courtney Martin, author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters (2007), describes as "the oppressive paradigm of the perfect girl". According to Martin, the newly-minted model of the Perfect Girl is "unhealthily driven and fiercely independent". Some of us with feminist parents were told "You can be anything." Somehow we heard, "You have to be everything." Instead of triggering the viral spread of female self-acceptance, Martin argues that targeting the free-to-succeed message to impressionable young girls has resulted in an epidemic of self-loathing and obsession with weight control.

The final criticism is the most significant. The Free to Be ... You and Me record had already, by 1972, picked up the idea that careers were the path to autonomy for women as they were a more self-defining and independent sphere than motherhood.

What this meant, though, is that the traditional male role was assumed to be the standard, "human" one. Men were (supposedly) the autonomous ones, so the first task was to push girls away from their "false" femininity and toward the "privileged" masculine (i.e. human) role.

But this leads to a contradiction in autonomy theory. Autonomy theory tells us that we should be able to choose in any direction; yet, it also tells us that achieving autonomy requires making some choices (such as being a feminine girl) illegitimate. The ideal of autonomy becomes coercive.

Judith Stadtman Tucker is aware of this issue. She notes that the Free to Be ... You and Me record,

suggests the first step to freedom and self-respect for girls is to do the same things that boys do ... girls are repeatedly cautioned about the perils of being too girly - and the most hideous fate of all is to grow up to be a "lady" ... being a girly-girl is coded as early-onset false consciousness that inhibits young women from experiencing the joys of independence and the hard work of creating an authentic life.

Stadtman Tucker tells us that she is uncomfortable with this "prescriptive approach" which suppresses feminine qualities. She really nails the problem, though, when she writes that,

I have a problem with children's literature - no matter how well-meaning - that assures boys and girls "A person should wear what he wants to wear/And not just what other folks say/A person should do what she likes to/A person's a person that way," then turns around to suggest that being a certain kind of girl - the kind of girl who likes to wear perfume and play in "Girl Land" - will lead to a bad end.

In the world of 1972 feminism, a girl was free to be anything, except what was most natural for her to be. She had to attempt to be authentically herself by aiming to be something she was not, namely a boy.

It was not a quirk of feminism to assert these positions, but an outcome of liberal autonomy theory - a theory which is still the orthodox view but which is ripe for criticism.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Is family a valid feminist choice?

The remake of the film The Stepford Wives has just been released in Australia. In a review of the film in the Sydney Morning Herald, Miranda Devine complains that the film,

degenerates into just another lame attempt by Hollow-wood to pillory conservatives. It is saturated with such hostility for suburbia and family values ... Targeted for special malice are conservatives, suburbanites, stay-at-home mothers, attractive women, blondes, women who bake, rural folk, men who are faithful to their wives ...

... it was clearly intended as a sneering backlash against the new feminism, which involves women reclaiming marriage, motherhood, femininity and domesticity as valid feminist choices rather than some sort of betrayal of gender.

According to Miranda Devine the new feminists of recent years didn't "want their lives dominated by an ideology that demanded they suppress their maternal desires and demonise the nuclear family".

She finishes her review with an endorsement of feminism in general, by asserting that,

The secret of the new feminism is that, thanks to the sacrifices as well as the mistakes of their feminist forebears, women have the freedom to make the choice that suits them best.

Which raises an important question. Feminism does claim to be based on the idea that women should be free to exercise choice in their lives. Given that women have a natural desire to be wives and mothers, you might expect that most women would choose to live a traditional lifestyle.

So is Miranda Devine right? Is it possible to have a "new feminism" which permits the majority of women to reclaim marriage, motherhood, and femininity?

I don't believe so. There are a number of reasons why feminism will always be disruptive to traditional understandings of family and gender.

1) The logic of feminism is to act against gender

Feminism is liberalism applied to women and the family. The basic liberal idea is that to be fully human we must be free to create ourselves according to our individual will and reason.

As noted above, at one level this means a belief that the individual should be free to choose in any direction. Therefore, you might think that liberalism would leave women free to choose a traditional female identity and lifestyle.

But this isn't the case. In part, this is because of a contradiction or tension within the basic liberal principle. Liberals ask that we create ourselves according to our will and reason. But our sex is not determined by our will and reason, it's simply an accident of birth. Therefore, we aren't supposed to be influenced in any significant way by the fact of being born male or female.

This means "emancipating" ourselves from whatever seems connected to our manhood or womanhood, i.e. from traditional sex roles. In a liberal culture, it will seem "politically incorrect" for men and women to identify too closely with such sex roles, as this means following "biological destiny" rather than individual will and reason.

This explains why the feminist Zelda Cawthorne, in a recent article in the Herald Sun, finds the social trend toward marriage and motherhood so discouraging. She complains,

You can hardly open a magazine or flick on the telly without being confronted by a new generation of glowingly contented housewives and mothers ...

'Work?' they chorus, as they cuddle chubby-cheeked Ruby or Angus. 'Of course we work! Running a household is full-time work. If you mean going out to work, that's the role of the breadwinner. A woman's place is in the home.'

If feminism was just about free choice for women, then there would be no need for Zelda Cawthorne to be at all perturbed by the sight of women following a traditional sex role. But in fact she tells us that she found even a single TV show featuring such women to be "especially depressing".

And that's because the liberal principles on which feminism is based make traditional sex roles illegitimate. This is the first major reason why feminism will always tend to restrict women from choosing a more conservative lifestyle.

2) The logic of feminism is toward autonomy

Liberals don't want us to be impeded in following our own will. This means that we are supposed to remain autonomous, in the sense of retaining our independence to do what we want to do and to be what we want to be.

The problem is that a traditional lifestyle means sacrificing some of our independence in order to achieve the higher fulfilments of family life. When a woman commits to marriage and motherhood she is accepting a kind of interdependence with her husband, and she is agreeing to limit some of her lifestyle choices.

For this reason, it's difficult for a feminist to comfortably accept the idea of marriage and motherhood. It goes against the underlying liberal quest to maximise our individual autonomy.

That's why feminists are so keen on the ideal of the independent, single career girl. Young, ideological feminist women generally try to remain single career girls for as long as they can, as they maximise their autonomy in this way.

So once again, although feminism promises a free choice to women, the inner logic of feminist principles makes the traditional choice of marriage and motherhood less legitimate or "correct" than the choice of remaining an independent single career girl.

3) Reason & the emotions

There is, unfortunately, another problem with the inner logic of liberal principles. Liberals believe that we are made distinctively human by our ability to create ourselves through our own reason.

This belief raises a particular problem for women. After all, as a general rule women are more emotional than men. Women appear to act through the emotions, rather than through cold reason, to a greater degree than men.

But if this is true, then a liberal would have to conclude that women are somehow lower on the human scale than men, because they are affected more by the emotions than by reason.

In fact, this was the problem taken up by the very first book of "modern" feminism, the Vindication of the Rights of Women. Written by the Englishwoman Mary Wollstonecraft and published in 1792, the book begins with a basic statement of liberal belief:

In what does man's pre-eminence over the brute creation consist? The answer is as clear as that a half is less than the whole, in Reason.

Mary Wollstonecraft was not afraid to draw out the logic of this basic assertion. For her, the "susceptibility of heart" of women was a weakness which could only mean that women were,

treated as a kind of subordinate beings, and not as part of the human species, when improvable reason is allowed to be the dignified distinction which raises men above the brute creation.

Again, given the assumptions already made, Mary Wollstonecraft quite logically concludes that women ought to become more like men. She writes that she is aware of an "obvious inference" from her argument and that "From every quarter have I heard exclamations against masculine women", but that regardless of these objections if being masculine means attaining rational talents,

the exercise of which ennobles the human character, and which raises females in the scale of animal being .... all those who view them must, I should think, wish with me, that they [women] may every day grow more and more masculine.

Obviously, if a woman accepts that she is inferior unless she grows ever more masculine, she is unlikely to accept a traditional role as a wife and mother within a family.

It should be noted that some feminists of the 1970s and 80s reacted strongly against the argument made by Mary Wollstonecraft. They defiantly reversed the argument by claiming that male rationality itself was a negative and destructive force and that men ought to become more like women.

Even this reactive counterclaim doesn't help traditional women very much. It undermines the masculinity of their husbands and continues to place men and women in conflict with each other.

4) Relationships & power

A basic principle of liberalism is that we should do whatever we have a will to do, as long as it doesn't directly harm the life, liberty or property of others.

This means that society becomes, in effect, a collection of competing wills, each trying to enact its own particular desires.

One consequence of seeing society in this way is that relationships between people are easily understood in terms of a "will to power".

Furthermore, for left liberals individuals can achieve a dominance of will over others through membership of privileged social groupings. For instance, a ruling class might dominate a working class, or one ethnic group might dominate another.

Left liberals believe that it is a major task of politics to overcome such inequality of will. This is understandable as within their philosophy it is a free expression of will and reason which defines our very humanity.

This logical progression of liberal thought has very negative repercussions for traditional family life. Liberals are led to interpret the relationships between men and women in bad faith as a will to power of men over women. For liberals, and hence for feminists, what is important is that women attain greater power, in the form of money and status, in order to achieve "social equality".

Realistically, this can only occur if women can be persuaded to compete with men in terms of careers. Achieving this goal means discouraging women from committing themselves, in a traditional way, to marriage and motherhood.

This is yet another reason why feminism, despite claiming to favour individual choice, in reality discourages women from freely choosing a traditional role within the family.

(Note too that this aspect of feminism, of interpreting relationships in terms of a will to power, also generates the idea of a perpetual sex war, in which men and women are inevitably in competition for power or suffering discrimination and victimisation. This too can only inhibit women from committing to a traditional, interdependent family life.)

Root and branch rejection

Feminism, therefore, does not allow women to freely choose a traditional role within the family as wives and mothers.

This is because feminism, based as it is on liberal principles, wants women to be self-created by will and reason and therefore rejects the influence of gender, including traditional sex roles; because the logic of feminism is to favour independence and autonomy rather than interdependence within a family; because feminism devalues the feminine emotions which are at the heart of marriage and motherhood; and because feminism interprets relationships in terms of a will to power, in which women can only achieve social equality through career status and earnings.

It's therefore misleading for Miranda Devine to thank feminism for creating choices for women, including the choice to be a traditional wife and mother. Feminism is always likely to try to close down this choice.

That's certainly what the leading post-War feminist, Simone de Beauvoir, wanted to do. She famously asserted that women shouldn't be allowed a choice to stay at home as a wife and mother because it was a choice that too many women would make.

Miranda Devine might also like to look at the example of the most "progressive" of liberal countries, such as Sweden and Denmark. In these countries, there is no longer much of a choice for women to opt out of the workforce to care for their families. The welfare, childcare and taxation systems of these countries are based on the idea of a two income family. It's been made less economically viable for women to choose to stay at home.

What's really needed is a root and branch rejection of not only feminism, but the liberal principles on which feminism is based. This is the only way to secure a long term future for the traditional family.

(First published at Conservative Central, 18/07/2004)

Monday, August 06, 2007

The collected Putnam

Professor Putnam's research on diversity is having an effect. In the past few days there's been another round of discussion on his research, with some former supporters of open borders now having second thoughts.

I've already written a number of posts on Putnam, so rather than repeating myself I'll just give the following links:

Professor Putnam: hunkering after diversity

This post presents Professor Putnam's research results which show that diversity encourages social withdrawal. A higher level of diversity decreases solidarity, happiness, friendship and trust.

What really drives Putnam?

Here I look at the arguments put forward by Professor Putnam for continuing to embrace diversity despite its negative effects on social capital.

Professor Putnam's challenge

Professor Putnam ends his research paper with a (convoluted) attempt to explain how diversity might be maintained without the damage to social capital.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Winning over the audience

You may have already seen this via Lawrence Auster. It shows a mobile phone salesman from Wales, a nervous, ordinary looking man, fronting up to a sceptical audience and winning them over within seconds with some very traditional Western culture.

A bit too uppity?

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a former Muslim turned liberal atheist. She not only now criticises Islam, but is hostile to Christianity and wants to ban conservative political parties.

So it's not surprising that Lawrence Auster has written a series of posts critical of her views. His latest post on her, though, was more supportive, as he thought she was beginning to focus more seriously on the specific nature of Islam itself:

As a long-time severe critic of Hirsi Ali's, I want to point out that this is the first article by her I've seen in which, instead of focusing on the oppression of women (though she does speak of it eloquently here) and thus sounding more like a feminist than a critic of Islam, or talking about the badness of some generic "theocracy" (by which she means Christianity), or talking about her own life and experiences, she focuses on the doctrines and characteristics of Islam itself, from the perspective of its jihadist agenda toward non-Muslims.

This prompted a response by a senior editor of the New English Review, Mary Jackson. It seems that Mary Jackson, despite editing an ostensibly conservative publication, can't understand why Auster would object to Hirsi Ali's feminism. She can only explain it as follows:

Perhaps Hirsi Ali is a bit too uppity for Auster.

The implication is that there are no political grounds on which to object to Hirsi Ali's feminism.

Auster himself described the "too uppity" response as "sub-intellectual" and as surprising for a publication which has an otherwise serious tone.

How does Mary Jackson defend the emphasis on feminism in Hirsi Ali's writings? She asks:

Why do people think the oppression of women is a side issue? Women are half the population and just as human as men.

I replied in a comment at the NER site as follows:

Women are half the population and just as human as men.

I get worried when people throw in the "just as human" bit. It makes me think that they might be following a set of modernist assumptions which lead on to the orthodoxy in place today.

The progression of orthodox thought runs something like this: Our humanity is contingent on our being autonomous; therefore, if some are less autonomous than others there literally exists a human inequality, with some being treated as less human than others; therefore, the primary goal of politics is to radically refashion society to achieve equality.

And who is less autonomous? According to feminists, women are because the traditional motherhood role is less financially independent and less self-defining than a careerist role. Therefore, the motherhood role is unjust and oppressive to women and we need a new family in which husband and wife work equal hours and spend equal hours looking after children at home.

And this is the more "conservative" take on the logic of autonomy theory. The more radical one is that marriage itself is a limitation on autonomy (the defining quality of our humanity) and that we should therefore endlessly defer a commitment to long-term relationships, or else live de facto, or else have an easy exit route from marriage as part of our autonomous choice.

Or, more radical yet, there's the idea of patriarchy theorists, who suppose that women are less autonomous not because motherhood is a natural role, but because men have organised an entire social system to establish themselves as a class of privileged oppressors and women as the oppressed. In which case relationships are inevitably run through with bad faith.

If the West is in trouble, it is partly because of the application of such theories and the resulting disruption to family life and reproduction. We need to be stepping back from such ideas, and reconsidering the way we think about politics.

Already here in Australia there are those on both the right and left who think a pro-natalist policy is oppressive and discriminatory to women because the bearing of children is a subordinate role. They think it's more politically progressive to maintain a population by opening the borders, rather than through women bearing children.

We can't survive such ideas, so I don't think we should be lightly endorsing the feminism of Hirsi Ali, even if there are aspects of the treatment of women under Islam we think are unjust.

I was trying, in this, to point to the serious political grounds for objecting to feminism. If we are attempting to defend the West it's little use resorting to women like Hirsi Ali who, though criticising Islam, do so on grounds which can only deepen our existing problems.

(BTW, for an example of left and right agreeing that motherhood is a regressive step for women and that reproduction via immigration is a better option see here.)

Friday, August 03, 2007

Volunteers beware Cape Town?

What's it like to live in South Africa? Liz Cincotta went there to do volunteer work in 2002. She wrote a report on her experiences for yesterday's Age:

... inner city houses were enveloped by layers of security: barbed wire fences, window bars, alarm systems and guard dogs. Many people carried firearms or other weapons. Carjackings, home break-ins, rape and other violence was commonplace.

This became all too real one morning when I arrived at my office to find someone I knew bloodied and bruised. She had been pack-raped in her home the night before, her boyfriend shot as he intervened.

Several friends were held up at knife point. I was chased more than once, but got away each time. There were attempts to break into my house most weeks and sometimes I would go to sleep with the sound of gunshots nearby. I lived, day to day, waiting for my number to come up.

I struggled with two overwhelming emotions: shame, for being better off than most, and fear, for my physical well-being.

The crunch point came five months after I arrived. Tiija, a fellow volunteer and friend, was thrown from the window of a moving train. She was close to death, but woke from a coma three months later ...

I returned home seven months early ... I was an altered person when I landed in Melbourne ...

South Africa is no happy blueprint for the future.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Germany, the new family & coercive autonomy

There are reports that Germany's fertility rate has started to recover a little, which is good news. However, I wasn't impressed by comments from Dr Ursula von der Leyen, the current family minister and a member of the "conservative" Christian Democrats.

Her plans for the future of the German family do not include the traditional option in which women stay at home to care for their children. According to one newspaper report:

Dr von der Leyen insists that the question is not whether women will work. "They will work. The question is whether they will have kids," she said.

It's significant that Dr von der Leyen should choose this way of expressing her point. "They will work" makes it sound as if some impersonal, inevitable movement is driving forward such an outcome for all women.

The reason for formulating things this way is to paper over a major contradiction in modernist politics. Liberal moderns believe that our status as humans depends on how autonomous we are. Therefore, it is important for liberals that we are free to choose in any direction who we are and what we do. In particular, the state is not supposed to interfere in our choice of a life project.

You would think, therefore, that a liberal state would remain neutral and allow women to choose whether to pursue a career or remain home with their children. However, the problem is that careers are thought to maximise a woman's autonomy as careers give women financial independence and a self-defining role. Therefore, liberals want women to pursue a career rather than be stay at home mothers.

So it's not possible for the principle to work consistently. If the aim is to maximise autonomy, then allowing women to choose motherhood is a negative, as it is careers which seem best for autonomy. On the other hand, not allowing women to choose motherhood is also a negative, as this restricts women's autonomy in determining their own life projects.

That's why, I expect, Dr von der Leyen opts for the pretence that women will choose careers, but as some impersonal, historical, inevitable process, rather than as a policy preference imposed by the state.

Why doesn't the principle work the way it's supposed to? In short, most people don't accept, as liberal modernism assumes, that autonomy is the sole, overriding good. Therefore, if people are given the autonomy to choose, they will often choose other goods, even if this places some restrictions on their personal autonomy.

So how is the contradiction resolved in practice? The lesson of modernity is that over time the state restricts the degree to which we can choose non-autonomous paths, even if this means that the liberal state violates its own principle of neutrality and restricts its own principle of allowing individual choice.

So we get the Dr von der Leyens who announce that a motherhood role going back to the dawn of time simply won't exist any more - meaning that the state doesn't want it to exist any more, having decided on our behalf that it is illegitimate.

What should the conservative response be? We need to return to the idea that in any society there will be a number of goods which people will legitimately pursue, and that the aim is to get the right balance between them. It won't always be the case that autonomy is predominant and, as the example of women and careers shows, the attempt to artificially make it so leads only to an irresolvable contradiction.