Saturday, May 30, 2009

Glossing over a possible loss

John McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee for president, has a 25-year-old daughter, Meghan McCain. She identifies as a Republican and is actively involved in politics.

Meghan McCain recently wrote an opinion column for the New York Daily News on the subject of homosexual marriage. I found it interesting because it set out so clearly the liberal way of treating these issues. According to Meghan, the ruling principle of society is equal freedom; therefore we must be equally free to choose to marry; therefore we must not discriminate against homosexuals when it comes to marriage.

This is what she has to say:

As I read the news about the recent advances of marriage equality across our country, I think it is easy for many to get distracted by the politics and rhetoric on this issue and lose sight of what is really at its heart: the equality of freedom.

No matter how politically charged the discussions about marriage equality may get, the question is really a simple one: Do the rights and privileges we offer citizens include everyone in our country, or only some of us?

I believe that allowing gays and lesbians the freedom to marry is an idea whose time has come ... For me, this is about treating all of my friends, and all of our brothers, sisters, children and grandchildren the same as I want to be treated. Equality under the law and personal freedoms are what make America the greatest country in the world, and they are core values that I hold as a Republican.

As I recently wrote after speaking at the Log Cabin Republican convention: "People may always have a difference of opinion . . . but championing a position that wants to treat people unequally isn't just un-Republican. At its fundamental core, it's un-American." I believe most Americans want our nation to succeed. Marriage equality moves us to a place where more of us can do a better job of taking care of our families.

Gays and lesbians are a vital part of our communities. They are doctors, teachers, firefighters, emergency personnel and neighbors. In this way, marriage equality is also about supporting good citizens and strengthening our communities. When a committed gay couple seeks to declare their love for one another and get married, the whole community benefits from the added stability and strength of that family. On top of that, we don't give up anything by sharing responsibilities and protections with those whom we love.

I don't intend to discuss the issue of homosexual marriage here. What I want to look at is the inadequacy of equal freedom as an organising principle of society. The argument I'll make is that equal freedom commits liberals to an overly limited and reductive view of politics.

The first question to ask is this: what do liberals mean by freedom? The answer is that they mean the freedom of an abstract individual to choose without impediment in any direction (as long as we don't directly harm the life or liberty of others). This, though, is not a true freedom. The reality is that we don't exist as abstract individuals. We exist as individuals who are invested with a concrete identity as men and women and as members of particular communities and traditions. We exist too as moral beings, concerned with issues of right and wrong.

Therefore, if we are to be free, it must be as men and women, as Americans, Australians or Japanese, and as moral beings. It is our freedom to live as our invested (or "encumbered") selves which is meaningful and signficant.

Why don't liberals recognise this? Whey don't they even register this as an issue? Well, if they did then they would have to abandon equal freedom as a single, reductive organising principle of society. They would have to recognise that there are other goods which exist prior to equal freedom, such as those relating to manhood and womanhood, to communal traditions, and to the pursuit of common, objective moral goods.

They don't want to go there.

And what about equality? What is the problem with this being an organising principle?

If freedom must be equal, then there must be no discrimination in how a society operates. The principle of non-discrimination becomes paramount, as it has in the West.

Well-intentioned liberals like Meghan McCain routinely assume that implementing this principle of non-discrimination will not have any negative consequences, that it will only strengthen society.

This is an assumption that she has to make. Once she has committed herself to a principle of equal freedom, she must then hopefully and willfully presume that there will be a positive outcome for society as a result.

If this weren't the case, if liberals like Meghan McCain really thought carefully about the likely effects of a non-discrimination principle, then they would have to think more concretely about the inner dynamics of social institutions, what is required to uphold them, the particular goods they embody, and how they fit within a larger framework.

Once you begin to examine things at this level, then you have to admit the possibility that some forms of discrimination (or differentiation) serve a reasonable purpose specific to a particular institution. The discrimination doesn't exist arbitrarily or as a consequence of ignorance, backwardness, prejudice or bigotry - the level of explanation generally preferred by liberals, who really don't want to delve into a deeper analysis, as they do not wish to think in ways that might undermine equal freedom as a simple and straightforward, albeit highly reductive, organising principle of society.

So how then should conservatives reply to the principle set out by Meghan McCain?

First, we should insist that freedom is not the only significant good. Western man traditionally took not only freedom as a good, but also virtue, love, courage, loyalty, piety and wisdom. There is no reason to reduce all goods to one single good.

Second, we should insist that freedom cannot be understood as abstracted individuals choosing in any direction without impediment (i.e. as radical personal autonomy). Freedom is only meaningful if it allows us to live our lives well as we really are, i.e. as our invested selves.

Third, equality must take into account the purpose and nature of social institutions, how they are constituted, what is necessary for their function, and the goods they embody. This will mean accepting, as necessary and legitimate, forms of social differentiation in which rates of participation in social institutions might vary, as might social roles and responsibilities.

Friday, May 29, 2009

So who is getting the axe?

This is Waleed Aly writing in the Melbourne Age a few months ago:

In a financial crisis the axe falls on those who have played the least part in its creation - women and migrants.

No clear, consistent ideological principle seems to explain this, which suggests it has just as much to do with the differing values we assign to people.

It is difficult to resist the suspicion that the key determinant of winners and losers in this crisis will not simply be sound policy. It will be social policy.

Waleed Aly's argument is that the decision to axe workers in a recession is not made on economic but on social grounds: those who are treated in society as lesser human beings are those who will lose their jobs.

Interesting then that axe has fallen most heavily, in the US at least, on blue collar male workers:

Rodney Ringler is an unemployed blue collar male without a college degree. He's hardly alone. Men like him have been the main victims of the current recession in the United States.

"I haven't worked since December of 2007, around the time this recession started," Ringler, a 49-year-old computer technician, said as he walked his dog in a Dallas suburb.

One statistic that stands out in America's recession-stung economy is the unemployment rate for adult men: in April for the second month in a row it surged ahead of the national average to 9.4 percent versus 8.9 percent for all workers. The jobless rate for adult women was 7.1 percent.

... "In the 2001 recession, 51 percent of all job losses were for men. It was evenly split. But in this recession 80 percent of the jobs that have been lost have been men's," said Andrew Sum, a labor economics professor at Northeastern University who has studied this issue in detail.

Men also incurred about 80 percent of the job losses in the 1990-91 recession ...

So by Waleed Aly's logic it is men, particularly blue collar men, who are treated as having lesser value. It is men who bore the brunt of job losses in the 1990-90 recession as well as the current one.

This completely upsets the image of society Waleed Aly was trying to convey. He wants us to accept the idea that white males are an oppressor class who have taken a privileged place in society, with a higher human value, at the expense of others - with this being a fundamental breach of human equality.

This image of the privileged oppressor male hides what has really been happening for several decades. Even in economic terms men have been losing ground, with the value of real wages for men declining since the 1970s:

The fact that American males without a college degree are especially vulnerable in this cycle point to more hard times ahead for the U.S. working class, which has endured stagnant and declining wages for the last three decades.

The skilled and semi-skilled jobs they traditionally held have been moving overseas to places like China and Vietnam. The jobs that remain pay less, amid declining union membership.

One study by Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution think-tank found median U.S. family income rose to $53,280 by the middle of this decade in 2004 dollars from $37,384 in 1964. But for males aged 30 to 39, average annual personal income fell from the mid-1970s by around $5,000 to $35,000.

American men are now being paid significantly less than their fathers were. At the same time they have to put up with a hostile view that they are enjoying an unearned privilege which belongs to others.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

An argument which collapses standards

You may have read about Elizabeth Adeney, the 66-year-old single woman who is having a baby via IVF.

Andrew Bolt, the most right-wing of Australia's newspaper columnists, gave his opinion recently on whether she was doing the right thing.

Bolt believes that it's OK for people to take an interest in Elizabeth Adeney's choice, as we ought to care how children are raised:

... In Ms Adeney's case there are even more grounds to worry that her child will start with less than he or she deserves ... The child will know no father, for instance ... Nor will he or she have many relatives around, either, since Ms Adeney reportedly has no family in Britain ... Ms Adeny has been married only briefly, about 20 years ago. Does she really know what it's like to share a life, and does she understand how much of her own she will owe to her child?

This all sounds reasonable. The child will not have a father, and possibly won't even have a mother while it is still young. These are significant reasons for opposing Ms Adeney's choice.

But then Bolt shows why he is not really a conservative. He goes on to argue, on terrible grounds, that we should support 66-year-old women having children:

You see, so many children are indeed denied what they are owed, and not by mums past menopause.

I see hurt children whose dads have left and never call. Children whose mothers treat them as the foul shackles that kept them from soaring. Children who must daily witness their parents tearing into each other. Children treated as too much effort for the reward. Children who don't know which parent's house they'll get a welcome in from one day to the next.

Breaks your heart.

Here, though, is at least one child wanted so badly that her mother risks her body and the world's lectures just to have her. You could say the same of a child of lesbian mothers, too.

It's quite true, this child may soon be an orphan, far too young.

But what will that child cry then? That it was better never to have been born?

Or better to have been given life - and love? I think I know.

So it's all OK because:

1) There are families with younger mothers who don't treat their children well.

2) Elizabeth Adeney is going through a lot to have a child so must want one very badly.

3) The child will prefer to have been born, even to an older mother, than never born at all.

You could justify anything on these grounds. A father who goes around impregnating women and then absconding is justified. After all, the resulting children would rather they had been born than not, wouldn't they? And anyway, some families where the father actually sticks around are also dysfunctional, aren't they?

And what about a man who commits bigamy? He would have to want his wives and children really badly to put in the extra effort and expense required to run two households, wouldn't he? The children would rather they had been born than not at all, wouldn't they?

Each of Bolt's justifications is terribly wrong. It's not the strength of a want which makes it moral. Nor does the inevitable imperfection of an institution justify letting go of all standards. And the fact that it's preferable to have been born than not at all doesn't turn immoral decisions into moral ones.

By Bolt's reasoning, a young woman who chooses to have seven children by seven different fathers as a single mother living off welfare is ultimately morally justified.

Perhaps you think that Bolt is just trying to be a "compassionate conservative". But his arguments will only lead to more kids in the future having to deal with the absence of a parent, or living in poverty, or uncertain of their ancestry and identity.

What he could have argued, in order to be compassionate, is that we should be doing more to improve the chances of young people forming families in their 20s - rather than in their 60s. Family formation can be made either easier or more difficult for young people; I don't think there's any doubt that it's been made more difficult in recent decades.

If conservatives took the issue seriously we could win an audience from the many young people frustrated by the difficulties they now face in marrying and having children.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Just who attacked the Indian student?

Early this month an Indian overseas student, Sourabh Sharma, was bashed and robbed on a Melbourne train.

Who was to blame? The Islamic Council of Victoria angrily denounced white racism against brown people as having motivated the attack. It was, fumed Nazeem Hussain, a director of the ICV, a continuing legacy of Australia's dark past:

The police need to acknowledge and loudly condemn racially targeted attacks on Indian international students.

Sourabh Sharma, an Indian international student, was travelling home on the train after a shift at KFC when he was brutally bashed and robbed by six people.

As the 21-year-old lay on the floor, being kicked in the head, face and ribs, his attackers screamed racial insults. They left him bleeding, broken-boned and crying on the floor of the train while other passengers watched and did nothing to intervene ...

I am another brown person. I can say unequivocally, on behalf of every other non-white person in the country, that hearing about racially motivated crimes frightens us.

To an aggressor bent on beating up a "fob" (fresh off the boat) or a "curry", it does not matter that I was born here, and that my parents came here long before the attacker was born ...

Last week, the Islamic Council of Victoria issued a media release noting that police had "failed to adequately address the cause of the attacks — which is racism".

In response, Superintendent Graham Kent lashed out at the council on 3AW, claiming the police were "disappointed" and that the statement was "uninformed".

... The police are charged with upholding the law and fighting crime, whatever its causes. There is little benefit in denying the existence of racist attitudes in our communities.

Sure, the question of racism is something that, as a society, we often feel uncomfortable confronting, given our dark past ...

Where have we seen police addressing the racist aggressors? ... there has been no real, tangible response to this pattern of violent racism. The police are not responsible for defeating the disease of racism by themselves — the problem falls on all of our shoulders, particularly those of our leaders.

But what we can demand from police is a loud, vehement condemnation of racial intolerance. Victoria Police should not hesitate to do this ...

... the Government, police and Connex need to begin a campaign to fight racial intolerance.

But was Sourabh Sharma a victim of white racism? The police didn't think so:

Det-Sen Constable Buttigieg said the thugs did abuse him [Sourabh] while they kicked him to the head and ribs although their primary motivation was robbery.

"I think there was a mention where there was a comment similar to `why don't you go home?' but there was nothing more," he said.

"I think the motivation would have been robbery."

Better evidence, though, comes from the CCTV footage. There are four attackers visible in the footage. Two have their faces uncovered. Here is a still image of one of the young men (in a green T-shirt) who attacked Sourabh Sharma:

He's certainly not white. In fact, he looks as if he could be South Asian. Here's an image of the second attacker:

He's certainly not Anglo and probably not European either. There is, in fact, no-one in the CCTV footage who can readily be identified as a white person:

So what is going on here? Why would white Australians and white society be condemned for something they appear to have had no part in?

I suspect the answer has to do with politics. There's a fashionable idea on the left that whites invented the concept of race in order to gain an unearned privilege by oppressing others. Therefore, whites are held to be uniquely guilty of preventing the emergence of human equality.

If you believe this theory then you will look for instances in which whites are the violent aggressors and non-whites are the oppressed victims. It is these cases which will seem to prove your point.

It's convenient for the Islamic Society to follow along. It means that they are assumed to be the aggrieved victims of discrimination seeking redress. It means too that the established society loses a sense of its own legitimacy and its own interests.

It's not difficult to challenge the filtered view of reality. The image of the white racist oppressor breaks down not only when the perpetrators can be shown to be non-white, as in the attack on Sourabh Sharma, but more so when the victims of such aggressive violent crimes are white.

Just today it was reported that a young Anglo-Australian man was stabbed to death in Melbourne by several Asian men. He had stepped in to defend someone they were trying to attack. Later on, the Asian men caught up with him at a convenience store and murdered him.

This is part of a pattern of recent street violence in Melbourne. The victims have been overwhelmingly young Anglo men, who have been either stabbed or bashed to death by gangs of men of some other ethnicity.

And if the pattern of street violence doesn't fit the theory? Do we then close our eyes to a part of reality to make the theory work or do we reject the theory as false, as being unreasonably biased against one group alone?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

An embarrassing stuff up by feminists

Late last year a feminist report into domestic violence made headlines across Australia. It was widely reported that 1 in 3 teenage Australian boys thought it OK to hit girls and that 1 in 3 Year 10 girls had experienced unwanted sex.

You can imagine what the feminist response was:

The statistics are appalling (there’s a surprise!), but it’s the attitudes that have me in despair, especially the attitudes of boys. The other beauty – 1 in 3 Australian boys think it’s okay to hit a girl.

These attitudes are strongest among 12 to 14 year old boys, which either suggests that older boys have grown up a little, and thought longer and harder about how to interact with girls, or that they have learned how to hide their attitudes, and come out with the socially acceptable platitudes.

I hope it’s the former, but given the incidence of rape and violence in our societies, I fear that it’s the latter. 1 in 3 year 10 girls (year 11 in NZ), that is, girls in their eleventh year of education, aged about 15 or 16, say that they have experienced unwanted sex. That would be rape, of course, but we daren’t use that word.

So one in three 15-year-old girls are being raped in Australia? Those who doubted such a claim were summarily dismissed:

Gringo: This is scary, although I thought it was interesting that the ABC article says that “these are attitudes that the youngest boys, boys from 12 to 14 show most strongly”. Does this suggest that attitudes change over time as the boys grow up begin to understand the world a bit more?

Deborah: I think it shows they learn to say the acceptable thing, given that the same survey shows that 1 in 3 year 10 girls say they have had ‘unwanted sex’.

Beppie: Ugh, how very depressing. I really don’t think I can bear to read the Sun Herald comment thread at the moment ... *sigh*

Rebekka: This makes me feel physically sick. Also, can I smack the idiots out there who claim we don’t need feminism any more?

Tigtog: Beppie, the comments are more about attacking the study as having an agenda against men and that the figures couldn’t possibly be really that high, there’s no defending of the idea that it’s ok to hit or force a woman to have sex.

Beppie: Ah, I see. I know from personal experience how hard many men find it to believe the stats pertaining to rape and other forms of violence against women.

But here's the fun bit. It turns out that the team headed by Dr Michael Flood made a very embarrassing mistake in their report on domestic violence. They misread the original research (National Crime Prevention study 2001). The research did not show 1 in 3 boys thinking it OK to hit girls, but 1 in 3 young people thinking it no big deal for girls to hit boys.

It was about boys being hit, not girls.

The ABC did at least issue a retraction:

On Monday November 17, 2008 ABC News carried stories reporting the findings of a study into the impact of violence on young people. The study was commissioned by the White Ribbon Foundation. It reported, in part, that “one in every three boys believe it is not a big deal to hit a girl".

The author of the report, Dr Michael Flood, has advised the ABC that this finding was in fact wrong. Dr Flood's team transposed information in compilation of that part of the report. The original report by the National Crime Prevention 2001 study upon which much of the White Ribbon report was is based made no reference to "boys hitting girls" In fact the report referred to "girls hitting boys".

And what of the other claim, that 1 in 3 fifteen year-old girls have had unwanted sex. This is a case of some of the feminist commenters misreading Dr Flood's report. The actual statistic is that 30% of Year 10 girls who have had intercourse have had unwanted sex. 24% of Year 10 girls have had intercourse. Therefore, it is around 7% of year 10 girls who have had unwanted sex, not 1 in 3.

Note too that the girls were not just asked if they had unwanted sex because their partners pressured them into it. They were asked as well if they had unwanted sex because they were drunk or high or because their female friends pressured them into it. According to these criteria 23% of Year 10 boys also reported that they had unwanted sex - pretty much the same figure as the girls.

So it seems that the Herald Sun readers were absolutely right to think "that the figures couldn't possibly be that high". Their scepticism was fully justified.

They were also right to think that there was an anti-male agenda behind the figures. I've written about Dr Michael Flood before. He is someone who believes in patriarchy theory: the idea that masculinity is a false social construct created to assert an oppressive power over women. His view of masculinity is therefore intensely negative.

Dr Flood thinks that male identity is a dangerous thing to be suppressed:

We should be wary of approaches which appeal to men's sense of 'real' manhood ... These may intensify men's investment in male identity, and this is part of what keeps patriarchy in place (Stoltenberg, 1990). Such appeals are especially problematic if they suggest that there are particular qualities which are essentially or exclusively male. This simply reinforces notions of biological essentialism ... (Engaging Men, p.3)

He doesn't believe in the real existence of the categories of man and woman:

Nor should we take as given the categories "men" and "women". The binaries of male and female are socially produced ... (Between Men and Masculinity, p. 210)

And yet he is often cited as a leading expert on sexuality and gender. This is from the Melbourne Herald Sun just last week:

State schools will run courses on how to show respect for women ... The Education Department has commissioned a report from VicHealth on the best way to introduce the measures.

Report co-author Dr Michael Flood, a sexuality and gender expert from La Trobe University, said there were many options ...

Dr Flood doesn't even believe in the category of women and yet is writing a report on how to respect them.

When I was at uni there was a Michael Flood who was a socialist and a queer activist. I don't know if he's the same person as the Dr Michael Flood now being hired to lecture heterosexual men on their behaviour. Dr Flood did, it must be said, author the following research, celebrating the queering of straight men:

Bent straights: Diversity and flux among heterosexual men
Michael Flood
Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) La Trobe University

New formations of sexuality are emerging among heterosexual men, informed by constructions of ‘queer’ and ‘metrosexual’ masculinities and other alternatives.

Some straight men express alliance with gay men or question the binary of heterosexual and homosexual, or proclaim themselves to be ‘wusses’ and ‘sissies’, or take up egalitarian or even subordinant roles in their heterosexual sexual relations, or adopt a feminised preoccupation with personal grooming.

Such developments signal a weakening of longstanding constructions of heterosexual masculinity, and there is significant diversity in the contemporary sexual cultures of young heterosexual men. Yet at the same time, many heterosexual men’s social and sexual relations with women are organised both by gendered power relations centred on male privilege and by homophobic and homosocial policing.

This could just be Dr Flood faithfully following liberal autonomy theory, in which we are supposed to be liberated from any unchosen form of sexuality, instead choosing for ourselves from a fluid and diverse range of options.

Or it could be Dr Flood attacking a traditional heterosexual masculinity because it's something he personally doesn't share.

Either way, the Herald Sun readers were right to suspect that his research reflected an anti-male agenda.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Should we accept Catherine's new rules?

Let's return for a moment to the rugby sex scandal. Seven years ago Matthew Johns, a rugby league star, had group sex which he asserts was consensual. The young woman involved lodged a complaint five days later and says she has suffered significant psychological harm.

What does Catherine Deveny, the Age columnist, think about this? Apparently, she wants a morality in which men are held responsible for what happens, not women:

The now-even-greyer territory between power, responsibility, consent and vulnerability in sex needs to be negotiated. "No means no" suggests the question is simply one of yes or no, and that's a simplistic reaction to a complex question. Women's more assertive and comfortable attitude towards sex, combined with the impact of raunch culture, which has diminished the taboo and increased the accessibility of the sex industry, means it's time for a rethink.

Equally, the days when it was socially accepted that women were the gatekeepers of males' supposedly rampant and uncontrollable sexuality are, or should be, long gone. "Don't walk round in your nightie when Uncle Brian's here" - the subtext being that he can't control himself and nor is it his responsibility to do so - is just not good enough. Never was.

The nasty collision of hormones, egos, psyches and alcohol aired in this incident suggests to me that we need public awareness programs and perhaps a manual ...

It also suggests we need to rewrite the rules ... Rules that need to be enforced by shame. Their shame, not hers.

They may or may not have committed rape as the law understands it, but what they did amounts to spiritual rape. And for that they should be held truly accountable.

I agree with some of this. Yes, the fact of a woman consenting doesn't by itself make an act moral. Yes, men are responsible for controlling their impulses even when conditions make it difficult to do so.

But look at the overall message here. Deveny doesn't at any stage suggest that women have a moral responsibility. All the shame and accountability is due to men and not to women. In fact, women who involve themselves in these situations are described positively by Deveny as having a "more assertive and comfortable attitude to sex".

So let's hear from one of these women. A reader of this site, Pat Hannagan, provided a link to a newspaper item on Charmyne Palavi, a rugby league groupie.

This is how she describes herself:

I'm no angel, but I've seen this game play out from both sides: first as the partner of a pro footballer for nine years, then as a single woman who can have sex whenever, with whomever, I choose.

What's important to her is that she is unimpeded in her sexual choices. She is therefore a liberal in believing that the higher good is to be liberated from impediments to her own will.

She goes on to describe the reality of encounters between footballers and groupies:

Group sex happens ... The reality is there are women out there who do hunt footballers down, are prepared to have sex with them in nightclub toilets.

Just as there are players who trawl Facebook and MySpace, who are more than willing to have sex with them.

Anyone who thinks the culture is going to change just because the story's out there however are kidding themselves.

I was messaging a young player, a Facebook friend, last week and asked what he was doing.

He replied: "Learning how to respect women. LOL (laugh out loud)."

I wrote back: "Yeah, and I'm still a virgin."

In a way, I feel sorry for the guys in this situation, but they should also be strong enough to say no.

... But just as the boys like being contacted by girls through Facebook, the girls use the information the players put on their pages to track them down.

They know where they go out after games, where they stay, when they are in town, with many booking themselves into the same hotels as the teams.

I can see how it would be tempting and flattering to the players, especially the young players, because they aren't used to that type of female adoration.

So the men do not respect the women who hunt them down for sex; Charmyne even feels sorry for the men, but still thinks that all the moral responsibility lies with them - they have to be strong enough to say no.

She then writes about an assault that she herself suffered:

But when it comes to sexual assault ALL men know what's right and what's wrong and if a girl is obviously drunk and trying to push them off, then it's assault.

I myself have been in this very same situation with a current NRL player and I can see how you get yourself into a situation that spirals out of control.

In my instance I was passing in and out of consciousness and didn't have the strength to push him off me.

She is right that she should not have been assaulted. But did her own behaviour contribute to the situation spiralling out of control? Is part of the moral equation women not getting paralytic drunk while hunting down footballers for sex?

What Charmyne goes on to tell us is that:

Unfortunately, we live in a society where women will always be shut down for the very characteristics men are revered for - being strong, opinionated, fearless and open about their sexuality.

People seem to be ignoring the bigger issue here while they look for someone to blame. That is - the disrespect for women inherent in the clubs.

So again the role of women is presented in positive terms ("fearless and open about their sexuality") while it is men who have to make changes ("disrespect for women").

It seems that the entire cure proposed by Charmyne is for men to respect the least respectable of women. Men are supposed to respect women whose lifestyle is to get drunk and have sex in toilets with strangers.

It's going to take a whole lot of "educaton" to turn that into reality. Especially when the men involved are young, drunken, impulsive, high-testosterone, aggressive football players.

Men are never going to respect football groupies.

We should reject the new rules of play suggested by Catherine Deveny and Charmyne. The problem is not only that the rules are unrealistic and won't work to prevent situations from "spiralling out of control".

The larger problem is that the new rules are one-sided. It is left to men to take moral responsibility, whilst women are encouraged to do as they will. We are supposed to accept that women can behave in any possible manner and not be judged for their behaviour and be shielded from any negative consequences of their own actions.

Men would be fools to allow women to assert this kind of irresponsible power over them. If it becomes a principle that men are always to blame morally, then we open up a form of social control over men - in any moral dispute, women will always have the upper hand.

If women want to exert an influence on us it should primarily be through closely connected personal relationships. This is not an option that is likely to appeal to women like Catherine Deveny or Charmyne; we should be wary of the alternatives they favour.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Incredible feminist claim finally declared bogus

On Friday the Melbourne Herald Sun again repeated one of the most incredible claims ever made by feminists:

Kiri Bear, from the Domestic Violence Resource Centre, said ... "Violence against women is the leading contributor to the burden of disease for women aged 15 to 44"

I've pointed out before how untruthful this claim is. Now Tim Harford, who presents a statistics programme on BBC radio, has looked at the numbers and confirmed the obvious: that the feminist statistic is, in his words, bogus.

You can listen to Tim Harford discuss the issue here (More or Less, Friday, 15 May 2009). The segment runs for the first 10 minutes of the programme.

He begins by replaying a claimed statement of "fact" from a BBC news bulletin in March:

For women aged between 15 and 44 it [domestic violence] is the biggest cause of mortality.

Harford wonders why such an astonishing statistic wasn't first checked for accuracy by the news service. He then points out that the BBC isn't alone in accepting the claim. The Kent police and the Guardian newspaper have also reported domestic violence to be the leading cause of death for women up to the age of 44.

Some groups have made a similar but milder claim, namely that domestic violence is the leading cause not of mortality but morbidity (disease). The Home Office, a Home Affairs select committee, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Ministry of Justice have all accepted the statistic as true.

Tim Harford then tells us (at 3:13 minutes into the show) that:

It's pretty common for a rogue statistic to spread and mutate like this, and the likely explanation is that people keep misquoting each other rather than going to a credible original source. That is what we did. We trawled through figures from the Office of National Statistics and it's clear that for England and Wales the 10 o'clock news statistic is, thankfully, false.

It turns out that cancer is the leading cause of death, by a long way, for women in the UK aged 15 to 44.

Harford then speaks with Dr Colin Mathers, a scientist responsible for statistics with the World Health Organisation, to find out about the global situation. He learns from Mathers that the leading cause of death globally for women aged 15 to 44 is HIV Aids, followed by tuberculosis and then suicide. Domestic violence does not make it into the top ten causes of death for women aged 15 to 44 globally.

Harford then asks Colin Mathers about morbidity. The leading problems for women around the world aged 15 to 44 in this area are depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The next part of the discussion (7:00) is revealing. In 2005 the Home Office included the statistic about domestic violence being the leading cause of morbidity for women in an official report titled "Domestic Violence: a National Review". Harford contacted the Home Office to ask where they got the statistic from:

They gave us a statement in which they [the Home Office] said the statistic was used for illustrative purposes.

For illustrative purposes! As I've warned previously, always be careful when dealing with feminist statistics. They are often there for advocacy rather than accuracy.

The Home Office did point to a 1993 World Bank report as a source of the statistic. But this research was about the effect of both domestic violence and rape, which combined were held to be the sixth most important factor in morbidity, not the first.

Harford points out that there have been "multiple bouts of statistical inflation" in the way that the World Bank figures have subsequently been reported: morbidity has been inflated to mortality; sixth place has been inflated to first place; a world figure has been used without adjustment for a Western country like the UK; and a combined figure for both rape and domestic violence has been applied, without adjustment, to domestic violence alone.

We next hear a conversation between Harford and Professor Sylvia Walby of Lancaster University. Professor Walby is an expert on domestic violence statistics. She admits that there is no reliable data to measure the extent of domestic violence, as it has not been (until very recently) included in official crime reports. Researchers have to rely on "quite limited information" contained in crime surveys. Professor Walby's estimate of the extent of domestic violence is that it affects 3.4% of women a year.

Finally, Tim Harford reveals that he was under pressure not to reveal the falseness of the feminist statistic:

Some of the people that we've talked to in the course of doing this piece have suggested that we shouldn't be questioning this rogue statistic even though it isn't true, we shouldn't be questioning it because domestic violence is such a serious problem.

In fact, there is good reason to question the statistic, apart from the fact that it isn't true. What kind of message does it send to young women when they are told that the greatest threat they face are their own "intimate partners"? Is this really going to foster the trust that is needed for young women to place themselves in a stable relationship with a man?

Why aren't women ever presented with a true statistic: that they are physically much safer when partnered than when single?

Men are not the greatest threat to women's health. It shows a remarkable disregard for men and for the truth to base domestic violence campaigns on such a claim. Tim Harford is to be congratulated for helping to set the record straight.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Is consent enough?

Seven years ago Matthew Johns, a rugby star, and several other players had group sex with a 19-year-old woman. According to a work colleague, the woman boasted at first about what happened. Five days later, though, she told police she had been assaulted. The police investigated but found no evidence that there had been lack of consent.

The case has only now erupted into public view in Australia. Matthew Johns has been sacked from his media and coaching positions and has has been subjected to intense media criticism for his actions. It is being said that his career is over.

There's an important point to be made here. My concern isn't to defend Matthew Johns or other sports players. It's to highlight just how unworkable a liberal morality is.

In doing so, I'm going to draw on an excellent column by Andrew Bolt. I've criticised Bolt recently for his liberal attitude to ethnicity. His latest piece, though, is one of the best criticisms of liberal morality you're likely to read in the mainstream media.

First, I'll briefly summarise what I see as the problem. Liberal moderns have rejected the idea that certain actions are inherently moral or immoral. One reason for this is that they believe that individual autonomy is the highest good.

If we view certain actions as inherently immoral, and therefore not permissible, there is a restriction on our autonomy, on our power to act as we will (our "agency"). It is this restriction that liberals hold to be immoral.

Therefore, liberals tend to argue that actions are not inherently good or bad, and that we should "liberate" ourselves from old-fashioned "repressive" moral conventions.

Does this mean that anything goes? Not quite. Because "agency" is what matters, it is important to liberals that everyone consents to an action. So everything is permissible as long as there is consent.

But this hasn't worked out so well in practice. In the case of Matthew Johns, for example, the woman initially consented to what was likely to be an exploitative and degrading act - and unsurprisingly felt abused afterward.

So liberals have begun to emphasise not only consent but also respect. There is nothing that is inherently right or wrong, but we must show respect to others in our behaviour.

But this too has its problems. This is judging an action according to a subjective mental state. Let's say a man visits a prostitute. According to the liberal theory I've described, prostitution itself would not be considered inherently immoral. What would matter was whether the prostitute and client freely consented and whether they respected each other.

How do we know if they respected each other? If the man is courteous toward the prostitute is that enough? Perhaps on one visit the prostitute and client were in a fine mood and did feel a positive regard toward each other. But maybe on the next visit they were both grumpy and felt contempt toward each other. Is the first visit moral and the second one immoral?

And if it's argued that a prostitute and a client can't truly ever respect each other because of the nature of the act itself, then this is really a hidden way of asserting that prostitution is inherently (i.e. in its nature) wrong - something that would then contradict the liberal insistence that autonomy is the highest good.

Which brings me to Andrew Bolt's impressive criticism of Professor Catherine Lumby, an academic ethicist who was hired by the rugby league in 2004 to advise players on moral issues.

Professor Lumby took the fashionable liberal view that nothing is inherently wrong and that all that is required is consent:

ABC reporter: There have been stories of a culture of group sex in rugby league. What do you think of group sex? Do you think it's OK if it's consensual?

Lumby: Speaking as an academic, I think that there's no problem with any behaviour which is consensual in sexual terms.

Again, in 2004, when six rugby players were investigated for having had group sex with a young woman, Professor Lumby insisted that there was nothing inherently right or wrong in what had happened:

The idea that group sex is abhorrent is a very particular view. What matters is that we avoid asserting moral beliefs as moral truths.

Professor Lumby developed a policy for the rugby league which stated that what players really needed was:

ongoing education about how to negotiate sexual encounters in a way which ensures informed consent is always obtained.

Some players took this message to heart, even filming girls on their phones giving consent before the group sex sessions began.

Andrew Bolt does a good job of explaining why consent alone doesn't make an action moral:

The problem is that trusting to consent alone means - for a start - trusting that people are smart enough and strong enough to work out all by their uncertain selves what's good for them.

... even though she consented to the sex - or didn't object - the woman was still left feeling so "useless", so "worthless" and so "really small" that her life collapsed ... She can't forgive Johns and the other men: "If I had a gun I'd shoot them right now. I hate them, they're disgusting ..." she said.

...But bad judgment is not the only problem with insisting only on “consent”, not morality.

Consent also means it’s every man for himself. That you can do whatever you can force some silly or intimidated woman to agree to, however much it will hurt them.

If this teenager consented to group sex, there was nothing more for Johns and his mates to know. Indeed, none seemed to think they had a duty to protect this young woman from what degraded them all.

She agreed. End of questions. But it hasn’t been the end of the regretting.

That’s what Lumby’s fashionable morality never factored in - the weakness and stupidity of people. Their impulsiveness. Inexperience. The way their judgment gets washed away by booze, or lost in the crowd.

For a Lumby, even a young NRL buck in a bedroom with a naked girl and his mates is a perfectly rational moral agent. And the girl, too.

For a Lumby, the idea that such flighty people be handed moral rules worked out over centuries of collective mistakes and regrets is almost an insult - a crime against freedom.

“Morality is a blueprint for living that someone hands to you,” she’s tut-tutted. But “ethics is a zone we all enter when we find ourselves, by choice or necessity, negotiating those rules”.

Negotiating, in this case, until someone says “yes” to group sex.

Well, a girl in Christchurch did say “yes” when morality would have shouted that she say “no”.

See her crying now. See Johns weeping, too, on A Current Affair, having heard the “yes” that a Lumby once swore was all he’d need to keep him safe.

I think Bolt is spot on in the entire column. It's a genuinely conservative line of thought on morality presented to millions of readers. However, I would make one criticism of Bolt's position.

Andrew Bolt doesn't consider why Professor Lumby (and most of the commentators at his own blog) believe what they do.

If he did, he would be forced to confront an unpalatable truth: that Professor Lumby has applied principles that Bolt himself believes in to the sphere of morality.

Professor Lumby believes that autonomy is the highest good: that what matters is that we aren't constrained by things we can't choose for ourselves as individuals. She applies this principle quite logically to morality. For instance, she once declared French writer Catherine Millet's promiscuity to be admirable because it demonstrated "a sense of self which is quite independent of social norms".

Andrew Bolt likewise is a liberal in his first principles. He once criticised the Australian Football League for being over-regulated; he described his ideal society in comparison as,

a field in which anyone can play anything they like, as long as they don't hurt anyone else.

This is not a call to follow the good, or even to recognise that an objective good exists; instead, the good is doing as you will without impediment. It's not that far removed, in principle, from Professor Lumby's assumption that there is no objective good to follow, but that what matters is what we will as autonomous agents.

Similarly, Andrew Bolt once wrote that the great thing, the thing to celebrate about immigration, was that ethnicity could be made not to matter, so that,

a Zambian can captain the wallabies [the national rugby team]

The source of such an idea is once again autonomy theory. Just as autonomy theory insists that we should not be impeded in our self-determination by an objective morality, so too does it claim that we should not be constrained in creating who we are by an unchosen ethnicity. Transcending ethnicity becomes a moral good rather than an alienating loss.

That's why Andrew Bolt has repeatedly criticised Aborigines for holding to a distinct ethnic identity. Bolt has told them they should instead follow,

The humanist idea that we are all individuals, free to make our own identities as equal members of the human race

Free to make our own identities. Autonomy (determining our own self) is held here by Bolt to be the highest good when it comes to ethnicity, just as it is for Professor Lumby when it comes to morality.

So Bolt is conservative only in the sense that he doesn't follow a liberal principle all the way down the line. He draws back at the idea that morality is determined by consent alone.

The job of attacking consistently at the root of the problem - at liberal first principles - will have to be done by others.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Going backwards

One of the most significant measures in this year's Federal Budget is the increase in the retirement age from 65 to 67.

I can remember when it was assumed that people would increasingly work less and have more leisure time. Some people even panicked that there would be too little work for people to do.

The assumption was a reasonable one given the long-term trend. Back in 1900 around 85% of 65-year-old men were still working. That percentage dropped in a very even line during the course of the twentieth century, so that in 1980 only about 10% of 65-year-old men were still working.

In my profession, teaching, there was even a retirement scheme that kicked in just before the age of 55.

During the same decades the number of hours worked per week also gradually fell. In 1913 the benchmark was a 49 hour week; by 1947 it was 40 hours; and by the early 1980s, a 38 hour week was the general standard. However, by 2001 the average working week had crept back up to 46 hours.

Real wages also grew quickly and steadily after WWII but the growth peaked in 1974. There is some variation in how wages growth is reported since then, but one demographer, Andrew Beveridge, has charted median wages in America for those in their 20s and found that while the female wage has remained steady, the median male wage has declined since 1970.

There is a political dimension to this. Liberalism has failed in many important respects, but for a period of time it succeeded in increasing the amount of leisure time and real wages for the average person. Each new generation of young people could expect to experience an improvement in the material conditions of life compared to the parents' generation.

This just doesn't seem now to be the case. A baby boomer man could raise a family of three or four on his own wage and still pay off his mortgage and invest in shares and property. Although this is still not an impossible scenario, it's more common for both the husband and wife to work, to raise only one or two children, and to find it difficult to repay the mortgage let alone to invest as successfully as their parents.

The rise in the retirement age from 65 to 67 fits the pattern of a decline in the material conditions of life.

I doubt if this will lead too many people to reconsider their allegiance to liberalism. The sense of decline, though, might help to dissolve a naive faith in liberalism as a source of material progress.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Catherine Deveny is a Vitalist?

There's been one Catherine Deveny column that I've had trouble explaining. I filed it away six months ago, but now I think I've finally got it.

The breakthrough came from reading a short item at View from the Right. Lawrence Auster briefly describes in the item Fr Seraphim Rose's idea that there are four stages of nihilism.

The four stages mark a progress away from a traditional belief in an objective, higher truth. In the first stage, Liberalism, the higher truth is no longer believed in but the concepts (the "names") are still made use of. In the second stage, Realism, there is a more aggressive denial of higher truth, with only the materialistic and deterministic aspects of reality being recognised.

It is the third stage, Vitalism, that I want to focus on. Vitalism is a reaction against the sterile world created by the Liberals and Realists. However, Vitalists don't return to the traditional higher truths as an antidote to sterility. For them, what matters is not whether something is true, but whether it promotes vitality - whether it is life-affirming and life-giving.

Nietzsche was a Vitalist when he wrote:

The falseness of an opinion is not for us any objection to it.... The question is, how far an opinion is life-furthering, life-preserving ...

The key quote regarding Vitalism is this one from Lawrence Auster:

In the Vitalist stage of society, people deliver themselves over to an unending search for sensation and excitement, for the exotic and the experimental, for ever-greater freedom and satisfaction of desires, for the “riches of diversity,” for the transforming “energy” that is produced by a society in constant change and motion--and with all these things being seen as, even explicitly promoted as, a substitute for any inherent truth and goodness in existence.

I believe that Catherine Deveny had such a Vitalist moment when she wrote the column that puzzled me six months ago.

Consider the following excerpts:

What confronting and confusing times we're living in. It's not just the environmental catastrophe and the financial crisis. Technology is advancing at breakneck speed ... Add to this our general existential melancholy, exacerbated by and contributing to many turning their back on organised religion. Depression is rising, obesity's an epidemic, binge drinking's up, divorce is through the roof ... sometimes it feels like: "Where are we going and what are we doing in this hand basket?"

We have no idea what's going to happen next. What once worked no longer does ... Everything's changing. We're terrified, we're excited. We've got no choice.

Think back to the 1960s ... No one could have predicted the massive cultural change ... Who would have known we were in for such culturally vivid times?

... the truth is, my friends, we're off the map. What an adventure.

... we do know that the times ahead will be full of massive change and huge challenges

Don't just be prepared to stuff up, expect it. Encourage it. Experiment. As Zorba the Greek says: "Life is trouble. Only death is not. To live is to undo your belt and look for trouble."

I found it difficult to process this message because it seems so reckless. Catherine Deveny is telling us that we are going to hell in a handbasket, that we have no control over what happens, and that this is a great, terrifying adventure to be embraced.

This differs markedly from earlier forms of radicalism. The philosophical radicals of the early 1800s, for instance, held that everything was determined by association and that you could therefore achieve unlimited social reform by changing the way that people were conditioned (e.g. through the education system). These radicals belong to the earlier Realist stage of nihilism, the one emphasising materialism and determinism.

So one group of radicals promoted the idea that we can scientifically control social development to achieve increasing levels of human happiness; Deveny, in contrast, believes that things are out of control, that there are signs of social deterioration, but that this chaotic state of flux provides the conditions for a meaningful life.

This makes sense if we think of Deveny as a third stage Vitalist rather than a second stage Realist. And it does seem undeniable that Deveny's message fits Lawrence Auster's description of Vitalism.

Auster: In the Vitalist stage of society, people deliver themselves over to an unending search for sensation and excitement, for the exotic and the experimental ... for the transforming “energy” that is produced by a society in constant change and motion.

Deveny: Everything's changing. We're terrified, we're excited. To live is to undo your belt and look for trouble. Experiment. We're off the map. What an adventure. Who would have known we were in for such culturally vivid times? The times ahead will be full of massive change.

One final point. An advantage of the Vitalist position for radicals like Deveny is that it allows them to wash their hands of the damage that they themselves have done to society. They get to present social change as being an unpredictable, accidental result of natural forces beyond anyone's control, rather than a predictable result of the liberal politics that has dominated the West for some generations.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Battles of the Aborigines 1846

Here is an 1846 account of an Aboriginal battle in what is now suburban Melbourne (in Coburg North or Fawkner):

Battles of the Aborigines: A pitched battle took place between a tribe of the Melbourne and the Goulburn blacks. The scene of warfare was in the vicinity of Sydney Road, about seven miles from town; about 80 blacks on either side placed themselves at a distance of about ten yards apart, two ropes placed at that distance, separating them from each other; the more courageous of either party occasionally advanced within the open space intervening, and were immediately selected as targets by their opponents.

At a short distance from this scene, some forty or fifty women and children, belonging to the respective tribes were also engaged in a similar occupation.

Mr Robinson, the Protector, upon being informed of the circumstance hastened to the spot, and immediately despatched a messenger to town for Dr Thomas, who upon his arrival found between thirty and forty wounded, some dangerously, and one man, belonging to the Melbourne tribe, hopelessly so, having received a spear in his breast, which had penetrated a considerable depth, inflicting a frightful wound. A lubra, belonging to the Melbourne tribe, also received a dangerous wound on the cheek with a boomerang.

Mr Robinson's horse was speared, and when our informant left, the courage and animosity of the belligerents appeared unabated, notwithstanding the severe injuries received on either side. (Bell's Life in Sydney, February 7th, 1846)

I found this little item some years ago when I had the opportunity to browse through the colonial papers held in the State Library of Victoria.

The Aborigines appeared to have had a ritualised kind of warfare. If I remember correctly, similar battles, with the warring tribes lined up at a set distance from each other, were still taking place in the Northern Territory in the 1930s. The injury rate from these battles was considerable; in the case of the Melbourne battle, 30 or 40 were injured in a battle involving 160 men and 40 to 50 women and children.

Young Australian readers should take note of the response of the white settlers. The Aboriginal Protector, George Augustus Robinson, was summoned and he rode close enough to the battle for his horse to be speared. He called a doctor to treat the Aboriginal wounded. The newspaper report is sympathetic both to the courage of the combatants and to those who sustained injuries.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Split mind politics

Here in Melbourne about 40% of students attend private schools. The private schools have good academic results but they are usually liberal in philosophy. As an example, consider an advertisement for St Michael's Grammar that ran last week in The Age. The advertisement consisted, in part, of quotes from the Head of School, Simon Gipson:

St Michael's is therefore a school committed to coeducation and to striving to assure a diverse community that reflects the rich, urban multiculturalism that is contemporary Melbourne.

"Gender is only one of a range of differences between people," he says. "Naturally, there are physiological distinctions and differences but as we know only too well, gender is a social construction that changes over time across cultures.

"What we should be focusing on are individual young people ... rather than homogenising them on the basis of gender ...

"If you create a culture of acceptance of difference, then you also create a culture of inclusion ... You also begin to see that gender is just simply one of an almost infinite number of potential differences between people."

According to Simon Gipson, Head of St Michael's Grammar, there are physiological distinctions between men and women, but otherwise gender is just an insignificant social construct.

This is an orthodox liberalism in which not only is the individual will sovereign, but it is unbounded by created reality. Therefore, individuals aren't thought to be significantly shaped by something they are born to, such as the fact of being a man or a woman.

There are several grounds on which I could criticise Simon Gipfel's liberalism. On the St Michael's website it states:

About the School

St Michael's Grammar School is an Anglican co-educational school established by the Community of Sisters of the Church in 1895.

Is it really part of an orthodox Anglicanism to believe that gender is a social construct? Don't Christians believe that it was God who made us male and female as a central act of creation?

Out of curiousity I typed Christian and gender into google. One of the top search results was from a Christian site which, after stressing the equality of men and women, went on to state that,

Equality does not mean sameness. Unity does not mean sameness. Thus Genesis also teaches us that there is differentiation : that God created human beings male and female [1:27b]. The unity shared by the male and the female is not the unity of being identical, but the unity in which one complements and completes the other, each enabling the other to live their God-ordained life, each enabling the other to enjoy the divine blessing, and each enabling the other to fulfil the divine command, in a way that one alone can never do.

We ought not be surprised to discover that men and women think differently, perceive differently, feel differently, and act differently. Nor ought we to try to make our marriage partners conform to ourselves, or try to make ourselves duplicates of our marriage partner: the existence of male/female differences is not wrong, rather, it is an intrinsic part of our creation by God.

So Simon Gipfel's view on gender runs counter to the Christianity his school was founded on. It is also anti-scientific. Scientists have discovered significant differences in the way that the male and female brain is structured. So gender differences aren't just limited to body shape and reproductive organs; the male and female mind is hardwired differently.

But it is the third criticism to be made that I'd like to focus on. Simon Gipfel has worked in education. Teachers more than anyone else know that there are significant gender differences. We work daily with teenagers and have the chance to observe the different ways that boys and girls act and interact.

So I have to suspect that Simon Gipfel is somehow compartmentalising his thoughts. He might well have a sincere, consciously held belief in the liberal idea that gender is merely a social construct. I expect, though, that below this level of formal belief, there is a part of his mind which does recognise that women are different in significant ways.

Could Simon Gipfel really have loved women without having a sense of what was distinctly feminine in their natures? Does he really not have a sense of a feminine ideal by which he judges some of the women he meets more positively than others? Could he really not have observed some of the typical ways that girls interact? The group hugs to console each other? The complex forms of verbal bullying? The particular sensitivities of teenage girls?

To show how possible it is for liberals to operate with a dual mind just look at the photograph accompanying the St Michael's advert:

Interesting, isn't it? The school seems to have pitched itself to the parents on two different levels. In the text of the advert, the school set out its formal liberal beliefs. Presumably it was felt that parents would respond well to the liberal talk of the school being richly diverse and multicultural, as reflecting the larger community, as promoting individual differences rather than homogeneity and so on.

The photograph, though, conveys a very different message - one appealing to the less formalised values and beliefs of the parents. In the photograph the emphasis is not on diversity or individual difference. The students are very neatly uniformed, good-looking, middle-class, young Anglo-Australians, with the girls looking happily feminine. It's as if the school is attempting to reassure the parents that their children will be raised to carry on a very particular and distinctive Anglo upper middle-class tradition and way of life.

I think it's a worthy aim. But why pretend that you are representing a whole community? There are no non-Europeans in the picture. No tomboys. No working-class kids. No overweight children. And why pretend that you're emphasising difference and rejecting homogeneity when the students have been groomed and uniformed to within an inch of their lives?

Perhaps one of the reasons I'm not a liberal is that I wouldn't feel comfortable asserting a formal set of principles, whilst operating in the world with another "hidden" set of values and beliefs.

If I wanted my daughter to grow up according to a feminine ideal, then I would say so openly. If I wanted a school to instil a traditional, upper middle-class culture then I wouldn't pretend that it was reflecting the entire community.

A liberal culture operates as a kind of a game with unwritten rules. You are supposed to believe one thing as a superior moral position, whilst really doing something else. What does this cost the liberal personality? Even if you do well in the game, doesn't it cost a certain amount of self-respect (for not being honest with yourself)?