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)?


  1. The question you're entry here begs can be answered very simply. This is just another example of how virtue in the liberal world doesn't extend beyond having the right sentiments. No real action is required. The liberal wants to retain all the benefits of traditional based society while being "inclusive" of all and sundry propositions including those that are inimical or threatening to it. This is why here in Sydney (to give an example), Green activists tend to hail from wealthy middle-class monocultural suburbs.

  2. Unfortunately, Kilroy, some liberals aren't happy with just the theory anymore. They're getting busy.

    Over at Auster's, there's an article about Stanford's new "Gender Neutral" housing policy.

    What's next? "Gender Neutral" sleeping arrangements to go with it? What, really, does Stanford think is going to happen when they put two young men and two young women in the same bedroom together?

    Hey, maybe the greenies could get in on the game too. Four people, four beds? When they're all going to sleep together anyway? It's a waste! Bad for the environment! Two, maximum.

  3. Kilroy, at the end of my post I asked whether playing the liberal game costs liberals a degree of self-respect.

    I expect the answer is no. You commented that "virtue in the liberal world doesn't extend beyond having the right sentiments".

    This means that liberals get a psychic reward not for doing anything, not for being consistent, not for serving any positive end, but simply for having the "morally superior" political position, which then makes them a "good person".

    I might work this into a larger post, as it helps to explain why liberalism has endured in spite of its destructive nature.

  4. It sounds like he's simply parroting what he learned in his sociology 101 course from the university of bleeding heart liberals. I was surprised he didn't mention the traditional owners of the land as well.

    Up until the mid-80s most teachers didn't even bother to hide the fact that they were committed reds. They've since dropped the rhetoric about a socialist revolution after the Soviet Union collapsed, but still kept a lot of the other politically correct ideas and loyalty to fashionable left-wing causes.

    Galling as it is, I think it's better than the opposite extreme which would be to foster a culture of intolerance (or worse) of difference which was probably the case for quite a long time throughout the 19th and 20th centuries in many western countries. An over-reaction to prejudice against 'the queens, and the coons and the reds and the jews' - to borrow from Pink Floyd.

    As always it's a question of getting the balance right between common sense and scientific fact - like the reality that men and women have different chromosones which can't be changed - and not offending anyone. Quite obviously, he's playing it safe lest anyone accuse him of diverging from liberal orthodoxy which in an environment like his would be akin to heresy.

  5. Seeing this
    "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"

    The SMH bangs on endlessly about diversity and in a book of Historic Photos I purchased published by the Sydney Morning Herald on the very back page they had a photo of the staff at the SMH and there was easily 100 people in the photo, I have never seen such a homogeneous group of middle class Anglo Australian anywhere I could see about 2 Asian faces. I on the other hand work for a foreign Telco we have about 2 lines in our mission statements regarding Diversity and no banging on about at all, I work with people from all corners of the earth, USA, Lebanon, UK, US, India, Pakistan, Slovakia just to name a few.

  6. The inclusionists are rather imperial by nature, it seems.

  7. This means that liberals get a psychic reward not for doing anything, not for being consistent, not for serving any positive end, but simply for having the "morally superior" political position, which then makes them a "good person".There has to be more to it than that. I'm sure at least some are conscious of the disparity between action and professed belief but continue to profess what they don't habitually practise because leadership of such a diverse wider polity requires it: if appearances were no longer kept up the whole thing might come crashing down.

  8. Dear Michael,

    I am skeptical of orthodox liberalism. They do not seem to realise that individual autonomy requires institutional authority. (Much as free speech requires rules of grammar.)

    I am also training to be a teacher. I am doing an assignment on educational psychology on the relationship between intellectual differentiation and ideological discrimination.

    I would like to talk to you about this. Could you point me to your public email address so that I might correspond?


    Jack Strocchi

  9. i wen to uni with a st michaels captain and he was nasty,class conscious and bigoted!!

    He's now in politics...

    The rhetoric and the reality never seem to mix....all independent schools in Melbourne are like this.

    Well done sir!!