Thursday, October 29, 2009

Caught in a trap?

There is a group of younger and more radical feminists who are focused especially on sex liberation. These feminists are getting very angry, because society hasn't moved the way they thought it would. They are trapped in a losing situation because the beliefs they are committed to create the outcomes they are enraged by. And they can't, or won't, see the connection between the two.

It helps, I think, if I give some background to what has happened. As I've argued previously, all societies have a culture of relationships and this culture will be influenced by marriage, by romantic love and by sex. In earlier societies, the balance was tilted toward marriage. Then from the 1800s, romantic love played a larger role. Since the 1960s, there has been a shift toward sex.

Second-wave feminism played a role in this last shift. In the 1970s feminists demanded the sexual liberation of women, which really meant the pursuit of relationships by women for sex alone, without regard to marriage or romantic love.

Sex liberation feminists were therefore committed to two things. First, they had to reject the predominant emphasis on romantic love. Men who grow up in a culture of romantic love will tend to idealise women and be focused on feminine beauty and goodness. Therefore, feminists who wish to show that they are liberated from romantic love will present a markedly non-idealised version of themselves: they will act coarsely, without the feminine graces.

Second, sex liberation feminists will want to break any limits on how they can act sexually. It will be important to them that they can have sex however they choose without consequences. So they won't think of some sexual situations as being dangerous or risky, but will consider it entirely the fault of men if these sexual encounters turn out badly (leading at times to an obsession with the issue of date rape). Or they might wish to pursue sex work, without recognising the psychological fallout this is likely to bring on. Or they might treat abortion as a positive sign of commitment to a liberationist politics. Or they might act loudly and deliberately (i.e. in an exaggerated way) against the instinct to sexual modesty.

When I reached my late teens (in the early 1980s), romantic love still played a major role in the culture of relationships. So the teenage schoolgirls I went out with still tried to live up to an ideal of feminine beauty and goodness. But by the time I went back to uni in my mid-20s, things had changed. It was the high point of third-wave feminism. A culture of feminist sexual liberation had set in on campus.

The expectations of young men and women at this time were set a long way apart. I'm guessing that a lot of men were, like me, confused by what was happening. Uni women dressed in a plain, mannish way, cut their hair short and wore no jewellery or make up. They had started to drink heavily and to swear in public. I remember women coming into tutorials and describing loudly how they had gotten drunk and picked up men the night before.

These women thought, perhaps, that all that was required to attract men was to unbutton a top at the appropriate moment - and I suppose that if relationships only exist for the purposes of sex that there is a certain logic to this. But I found the women too unappealing to pursue.

What then happened? Over time, the expectations of men and women were realigned. Romantic love was no longer such a part of public culture. Men began to be oriented more to the ideal of sex liberation and so valued women more for hotness than for beauty and goodness. The focus on hotness began to influence the way women presented themselves to men (it influenced the culture generally - consider some of the more controversial changes to the fashion of young girls).

All of which enraged the more radical feminists. They wanted women to set the terms of engagement between the sexes. They certainly didn't expect, as an unintended but logical outcome of their own sexual revolution, that women would be valued in terms of their hotness (that women would be "sexually objectified").

Feminists are now in a predicament. They don't like a culture of male sexual liberation. But they are still wedded to a culture of female sexual liberation and therefore stridently reject the alternatives. As an example of this predicament, consider the story told by Hannah M. about her conversion to feminism. She was upset by the raunch culture she experienced when she went to university:

I don't think it hit me entirely until I'd spent a few weekends visiting my boyfriend, then a fresher at a different university. He was also in halls and lived on a corridor with a big group of guys who were mostly single. Many of them made it quite clear that they considered me a hindrance to his university experience, to the extent that they encouraged him to get rid of me so he too could play the field at the union every Friday night. To top it off they were big fans of porn and lads' mags.

But at the very same time that she objects to a culture of male sexual liberation, she also makes it clear that she thinks women should behave sexually as they want without consequences:

I despised how this culture made me feel as a woman. I knew I was worth much more than how many boxes I ticked on the list of 'conventionally attractive attributes' and how many men wanted to have sex with me. It depressed me that so many people, male and female, were clamouring to be a part of a culture that encourages women to do all they can in a neverending quest to appeal to men yet berates them for what they wear, how much they drink and how they behave if they become the victim of sexual assault or rape.

A more extreme example is that of Penny Red. She wrote an article recently which seems a bit crazy on the surface. Nonetheless, it follows the themes you might expect from a modern sex liberationist feminist. The idea that women should be able to act freely sexually without consequences is represented by Penny Red's immodest talk about sexual relief, by her complaints that women who sleep around are considered slutty, by her admission of having worked as a stripper and so on. At the same time, she is enraged by the ideal of sexiness in society:

I am personally, right here and now, sick of being objectified by this culture, sick of denying my selfhood and performing for others and apologising for my wants and needs and desires ... As a woman in my 20s I am told that I should constantly aspire to look sexy - but I shouldn't sleep with too many people, I shouldn't sleep with anyone on the first date, I shouldn't appear too keen, I shouldn't be 'slutty'. I am an object; I should aspire to be the best possible object I can be.

THAT is what objectification means. It's a denial of selfhood and sexuality and identity ...

Well, I'm sick of being an object. I'm sick of apologising for my 'frigidity', for my feminism, for my rage at not being allowed to express myself sexually and yet being expected to perform and bullied if I object to men, strangers or otherwise, treating me like chattel. There's something thundering inside me about to be unleashed, hemmed in by anger and the bawling of stupid, ignorant misogynists. I feel like my anger could howl away inside me and consume me if I don't let it out. I want to scream. I want to hit things. I want to climb on some high roof and yell that I'm a person, that all women are real people who deserve to be treated like human beings, until they come and drag me off for being 'hysterical'.

I wish she would understand that she wants contradictory things. She wants a culture in which relationships are pursued for sex, without regard for love or marriage, but in which the appeal of women is not based on their sexiness.

I think she's going to be left howling at the moon.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The great undoer?

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was one of the founders of modernist philosophy. I've always thought that his account of human nature was radically and obviously false. So it was with considerable interest that I began to read the section on Hobbes in Jean Bethke Elshtain's book Sovereignty: God, State, and Self.

Professor Elshtain begins her account of Hobbes (in a section titled Hobbes: the Great Undoer) by noting how one-sided Hobbes' account of human nature is:

[Hobbes] joins Machiavelli as an allegedly 'scientific' student of politics, this despite his extreme views on human nature and his relentless focus on worst-case scenarios as if these were the norm ... (p.104)

One finds in Hobbes, as in Machiavelli, a world of extremes represented as normal, a world of exceptions represented as the rule. (p.105)

Hobbes is a masterful reductionist. His "man" is an atom flung about by appetite and aversion. (p.106)

According to Hobbes, man is not by nature a social creature who fulfils his nature in relationship with others. There are no natural ties between men giving rise to a human society and to forms of governance. Instead, man in a state of nature lives a brutal and solitary life marked by fear of a war of all against all. This fear leads men to make a social contract in which they cede power to an absolute ruler to keep the peace.

Professor Elshtain continues:

What drives human beings, Hobbes tells us, is a desire for safety and whatever is good to ourselves. Whatever we give we do in anticipation of a reward ...

Human beings do not require human society to fulfill their natures ... but, rather, to protect them from their natures ... There can be no commonwealth unless it is directed by one judgement - otherwise particular appetites triumph and lead inevitably to the breakdown and a return of the "natural" state of a war of all against all. Men are continually in competition ... and they do not work together for a common good but, instead, for the immediate gratification of private benefits.

All moderns who see society as being made up of millions of competing wills have to come up with a way for such a society to hold together. Right-liberals have often looked to the free market to harmonise wills; left-liberals have preferred the idea of technocratic regulation by experts. Hobbes had a different idea: he wanted a uniting of wills through an absolute ruler:

Once brought into being the sovereign is above the law. Laws take the form of his untrammeled will ... Law as command flows from the uniting of wills, one having come out of many, a melee of contending wills is pressed into one will ...(p.108)

Hobbes was a relativist, believing that there was nothing inherently good or evil:

For strong nominalists, like Hobbes, neither reason nor nature gives any guidance about what is good and evil - unsurprising, therefore, that Hobbes reduces evil - and good - to the more or less arbitrary names we attach to things: "Good and Evil are names that signify our Appetites, and Aversions; which in different tempers, customes, and doctrines of men, are different." (p.110)

Hobbes does not even believe that the family is a natural institution:

He cannot permit the family to have its own being ... he argues that the family, too, arises from a coercive contract, with both parents as masters over the children who "sign on," so to speak, because they know that, being weak, they could be starved to death or otherwise eliminated by the more powerful parents. (p.111)

Modern liberalism is not cast entirely in the pattern set by Hobbes. Modern liberals would reject the idea of harmonising wills through an absolute ruler. But there is much in Hobbes that passed into the liberal tradition, such as an understanding of man as an asocial creature lacking natural ties or common interests.

It's a weakness at the very beginning of liberal philosophy that calls out for the kind of criticism delivered by Professor Elshtain.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tamils & national allegiance

Last week I reported on the attempt of boatloads of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees to land in Australia. The refugees claimed emotionally that they had nowhere else to go. I asked why they couldn't go to their ancestral homeland, the nearby state of Tamil Nadu in India.

There have been some interesting further developments. The Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Australia has noted that the spokesmen for the Tamils speak English with a distinct American accent and have therefore probably resided recently in a Western country. He therefore doubts that there would be any problem with them returning to Sri Lanka.

One of the spokesmen, Alex, explained his accent by stating that he "worked at an American call centre in Chennai for three years where he was taught to speak with an American accent."

Where is Chennai? It is the city formerly known as Madras and is the capital city of Tamil Nadu in India!

So not only is it possible for "refugees" like Alex to live in Tamil Nadu, he admits that he has already done so. Furthermore, he was able to obtain work in Chennai, where the economy is booming (it's estimated that Chennai's economy will grow 250% over the next 16 years).

The picture to the left shows a shopping mall in Chennai. The photo below it shows one of the numerous software parks in the city.

The point is that Chennai is not an economic basket case, but has a rapidly modernising economy. Tamils like Alex have already been able to move there and work there and so there is no obvious reason why they shouldn't have patiently taken advantage of the growing economy in Chennai - rather than taking a gamble on paying smugglers to get to Australia instead.

Two journalists

In my previous post I also asked why mainstream journalists hadn't asked about the Tamil Nadu option. Well, two of them now have. Andrew Bolt of the Melbourne Herald Sun wrote:

Let’s presume (on little proof) that these educated and monied Tamils could not stay in Sri Lanka, and let’s ask where they could go instead. Well, just across a narrow strait from their island is the Tamil Nadu state of India, which is safe.

And Greg Sheridan of The Australian observed that:

Just being a Tamil does not make you a refugee. Moreover, if you are fleeing persecution as a Tamil in Sri Lanka, why wouldn't you go and live in Tamil Nadu, the giant Tamil state of India, just next door to Sri Lanka? India does not persecute people for being Tamils.

Although I give credit to Sheridan for writing openly about the issue, his piece does illustrate some of the problems with the political situation in Australia. Sheridan is amongst the most adventurous in venturing his opinions - but his views are still a long way from anything that might be considered conservative or traditionalist.

His basic argument is that continuing mass immigration is a great thing, but that the public will only accept it if the government maintains control over the process. Therefore, he thinks the Tamils should be made to go through normal channels of immigration rather than jumping the queue.

Why would he support mass immigration? Sheridan believes that most of the boat people arriving in Australia are not genuine refugees but illegal immigrants. However, he thinks the actions of the illegal immigrants are moral, even if politically unacceptable:

I make no moral criticism of the illegal immigrants. If I were living in Sri Lanka or Afghanistan and I could pay a people-smuggler $15,000 to get me to Australia, to enjoy everything from law and order and good weather to Medicare, Centrelink and good schools, I would make that effort.

But that understandable motivation does not make a person a refugee. I think Sri Lankans generally make excellent migrants to Australia. I have always favoured a larger immigration program and a larger refugee intake, but I want Australia to choose who it takes and to do so in an orderly way.

It doesn't occur to Greg Sheridan that someone might love their country enough to stay and work to improve the living conditions at home rather than simply packing their family up to move elsewhere.

Sheridan views nations as places you park yourself to enjoy the conditions of life. If the conditions of life seem better elsewhere, then, as an individual "economic man", you rationally choose to park yourself there instead.

There's no sense that nations are distinct entities with unique traditions to which we are more closely or more distantly connected. Little wonder, then, that Sheridan's understanding of the allegiance we owe to particular nations is so flimsy - or that he thinks it moral and reasonable for people to transport themselves to foreign cultures if, say, the welfare benefits or schools are better.

Our allegiance to our homeland shouldn't depend narrowly on the material conditions of life. What is more important is the love of our own enduring tradition, a sense of shared sacrifices through history and an appreciation of our own distinct culture.

And if the schools aren't as good as elsewhere? You work to improve them as part of a commitment to your own nation.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

She found him handsome?

You may be aware of the story of Katie Piper. An English girl blessed with good looks, she worked as a TV presenter and model. Then she met a man on the internet, Daniel Lynch, and embarked on a relationship with him.

Two weeks into the affair, he attacked her, raping and beating her. She didn't report him, and even agreed later to go to an internet cafe to read an email he had sent her.

Lynch, though, had arranged for a friend to throw acid on her face. She has since courageously gone through 30 operations to overcome her injuries, but is permanently disfigured.

Lawrence Auster has commented on the story, noting that liberalism leaves some young women naive and vulnerable:

What is there to say? Women have basic weaknesses built into their nature. Traditional society provides girls and women with an upbringing, a formation, that gives them the ability not to give into those weaknesses, for example, to fend off alluring but dangerous men. But in liberal society, they have no formation, no guidance, no upbringing, except for the liberal message to be open, to pursue your desires, and not to judge people.

One thing that struck me about the story is Katie Piper's description of her first encounters with Daniel Lynch:

when 33-year-old Daniel Lynch, a martial arts enthusiast, emailed Katie to say he’d been following her career, she admits she was instantly attracted.

‘He was wearing a martial arts suit in his picture and I’d been doing some promotional work for martial arts in the UK,’ she explains.

‘We seemed to have a lot in common and, to be honest, looking at his picture, I fancied him.’

A few days later Lynch turned up at a promotional event in Reading where Katie was working.

‘He seemed quite shy and nervous when we first met,’ she says. ‘We just had a nice, normal chat. He was 6ft 4in, quite macho-looking and handsome. I liked what I saw.’

Handsome? I don't think there is an iota of handsome in the face below.

He looks like the thug that he is. Prior to attacking Katie Piper he had convictions for violence and had been jailed for throwing boiling water on the face of another man.

But Katie Piper, a well-spoken English woman from a comfortable home, thought him macho looking and handsome and liked what she saw. She was sexually attracted to thuggish features in a man.

This relates, I think, to something I wrote about in a recent post. In most societies sex, romantic love and marriage are integrated so that each influences the culture of relationships between men and women.

Feminists have demanded, though, that women be "sexually liberated", meaning that they are to pursue relationships without regard to romantic love or marriage.

If a woman like Katie Piper had been influenced by a culture of marriage, it's highly unlikely she would have selected a man like Daniel Lynch. A culture of marriage makes for a well-considered and forward looking choice of mate. A woman will want a man who will be emotionally stable, loyal, and a good provider. She'll want a good role model for her children. She'll want someone with whom she can create intelligent and attractive children. She might, too, prefer a man of similar background, so that she can see herself in her own children and perpetuate her own lineage and culture.

If a woman like Katie Piper had been influenced instead by a culture of romantic love, she may have acted more impetuously, without thinking about the larger consequences of her choices. Even so, she still would probably not have chosen a man like Daniel Lynch. She might have preferred to look for a man who cut a dashing figure, who had wit and intelligence, who had achieved some prominent position in society, who was confident and popular with women and so on.

But what if a woman like Katie Piper is "sexually liberated" in the feminist sense? Then none of the above matters as much. It no longer matters if a man like Daniel Lynch is low IQ, emotionally unstable and unconfident in his dealings with women. What he does have is a raw display of high testosterone in his thuggish features and his propensity toward violence. This is what makes him sexually appealing and even "handsome" to a well-bred Englishwoman.

In the past, it was more likely to be the lowest socio-economic class which pursued relationships crudely through such basic sexual markers, without regard for a culture of romantic love or marriage. Perhaps England has now reached the point at which a middle-class culture is failing and giving way to lower-class mores.

So what's to be done? One thing to consider is that returning to a culture of romantic love isn't enough. You can believe in love and still be terribly naive about relationships. If all that matters is falling in love, then why would your culture provide you with any guidance? It wouldn't need to, as it's all based on feelings in the moment.

The balance between sex, romantic love and marriage matters. All three need to influence us in the "internal culture" of our minds when we relate to the opposite sex.

But the mainstream culture is increasingly losing the romantic love and marriage aspects. What can we as individuals do in response to this?

We can't completely overcome the influence of the mainstream culture. However, if a man maintains a loving and functional relationship with his wife and a close relationship with his daughters, then I think it's more likely that his daughters will continue to select for men in a more traditional way.

I think it's true too that young women who are less exposed to the influence of feminism in higher education (and who therefore don't make a feminist "sexual liberation" a kind of personal belief system) are also more likely to select for men more traditionally.

Whether talking openly to daughters about these issues helps or not, I'm not sure. But parents could at least try to point to the dangers of certain choices and behaviours. We could try to make our daughters aware that openness and non-judgementalism can have tragic consequences in real life and that they need to act prudently in their relationships with men.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Is there a more obvious solution for the Tamil refugees?

The headline news is the attempt of boatloads of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees to land in Australia. The Tamils were outraged when they were detained instead in Indonesia. They have claimed, in highly emotional terms, that Australia is the only place they have to go to.

I am not aware of a single journalist asking the obvious question. Why would the Tamils travel thousands of kilometres to a foreign land and culture, when they could have travelled 30km instead to the original Tamil homeland: the state of Tamil Nadu in India?

(The first map shows Sri Lanka in dark green just off the coast of Tamil Nadu in India in red.)

From wikipedia:

Tamil people are an ethnic group native to Tamil Nadu, a state in India, and the north-eastern region of Sri Lanka.

Yes, there has been a civil war in Sri Lanka. It's conceivable that some Tamils in Sri Lanka have been displaced. The most logical place for them to be resettled, surely, is Tamil Nadu in India, where the Tamil culture and people have a history going back perhaps to the year 1500 BC:

Possible evidence indicating the earliest presence of Tamil people in modern day Tamil Nadu are the megalithic urn burials, dating from around 1500 BC and onwards, which have been discovered at various locations in Tamil Nadu ... which conform to the descriptions of funerals in classical Tamil literature.

It seems to me that there are two likely scenarios here. First, the Tamils could have gone to the Tamil state in India but thought Australia a better option economically. In which case they are not being upfront about their choice of destination.

Second, it's possible (though I doubt it) that the Indian government doesn't want them resettled in Tamil Nadu. If this is the case, then the Indian government should come under pressure to allow them to make the short journey to Tamil Nadu.

If any reader is aware of a reason why Tamil Nadu is not an option for the Tamil refugees I'd ask them to put it forward in the comments.

(The second map shows the area (in pink) that was once controlled by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. The map illustrates just how short a distance it is to Tamil Nadu in India.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Can feminists set the terms of sexual liberation?

One thing that feminists stand for is sexual liberation. But sexual liberation from what?

Relationships can be oriented to sex, to romantic love and to marriage. In most cultures, there is an element of each, but the balance can change.

For much of Western history, culture was directed primarily toward marriage. A man in such a culture will be looking for a woman to be his life partner and a mother for his children. He is therefore likely to value a woman for her beauty, her intelligence and her good nature. In upper class culture it was also important for a wife to be of equal social standing, of good reputation and to be suitably accomplished.

If you read Jane Austen's novels (from the early 1800s), you notice a change in the mix. Austen continues to disapprove of relationships oriented primarily to sex; there is a condemnation of flighty younger sisters who pursue sexual flings with men of doubtful character. Propriety and family honour do still count for something in the Austen novels.

But Austen also portrays as villains (or as figures of fun or pity) those who marry in the interests of their families. We are to act more in terms of our own individual emotions and not be swayed so much by issues of family connections.

By the end of the 1800s, Western culture was more oriented to romantic love than it had previously been. What does a man focused on romantic love look for in a woman? An idealised feminine beauty, grace and goodness.

By the 1970s, second wave feminists began to demand sexual liberation. What this meant, in its historical context, was the pursuit of relationships by women without regard to marriage or to male expectations of romantic love.

It's not surprising, therefore, that feminist women often spoke negatively of women being put on a pedestal (idealised) and of marriage being an oppressive feature of a patriarchy.

And so feminism helped to usher in (with the help of male sexual liberationists like Hugh Hefner) the modern culture we have now, in which many young people are oriented to casual sexual relationships.

But there's a catch. What do men who are oriented to one night stands look for in a woman? One thing: hotness. That's what matters most if all you are looking for is sex.

And this enrages the feminists who helped usher in the sexual revolution. They complain unceasingly about women being sexually objectified. Just recently I read an article by a feminist woman on the theme of "what I want in a man". She wrote:

I want men who don't bet on sleeping with women, who don't rate women on their appearance on a scale of one to ten. I want a man who ... doesn't base his treatment of me on how hawt I am.

Feminists seem to expect men to value them for their intelligence, their accomplishments, their character, their status and so on. But to get this they would need to support a culture more oriented to marriage, in which men are selecting a life partner. This they can't do as they want to be liberated from such a culture. But it is inevitable that men who only want sex from women will mostly value sex appeal, i.e. "hawtness".

Little wonder that feminists get so angry and frustrated. They're caught in a trap and it's only likely to get worse. There is a growth in the "game" or "seduction" movement, in which men are adapting to a culture based on casual sex and picking up. Although it's possible for men who want a longer-term relationship to use these seduction techniques, those men leading it tend to be very "sexually liberated", which means that what they value in women is hotness. It doesn't matter so much to them if a woman is kindly natured, good with children, admired socially or compatible in her personality. Why should it if what they are looking for is sex alone?

Feminists aren't getting what they want. Yet, as full-blooded moderns this is what they think they are owed. They have the modern technological mindset that things should be arranged so that their own will and desire are sovereign.

What specifically do they want? Women who are oriented to marriage will be looking for men who will make good husbands and fathers. They will want men who are stable, conscientious, hard-working, loyal and family oriented. But a "sexually liberated" feminist has set herself against all this. She wants to pursue relationships without regard to marriage.

This leaves her freer to pursue socially dominant men or to seek out drama in relationships. So there are modernist women who keep pinning their hopes on a "Mr Big", even if such men never commit to them and there are women who select edgy kind of men, the bad boys who take risks or who are untrustworthy or who are capable of violence or who break the law.

The problem is that these preferences do not give women control. Pursuing casual relationships with socially dominant men or risky men puts women in a weaker, vulnerable position.

So there are feminists who seek various social technologies to give them the upper hand, so that it is they and not men who have "agency" in the relationship. They want to ensure that sexually liberated relationships ultimately play out on their terms.

What have been some key policies of second and third wave feminism? Abortion on demand has been one and this is predictable if you are a woman who wants to technologically manage a culture of casual relationships.

And then there is the issue of rape, which is an obsession with some feminist women. What's important to note here is that the obsession is not with criminal rape - with the few men who act against the law to violently attack women. Feminist women are far more interested in "date rape" - with some feminists openly advocating the idea that women could be given absolute power in relationships through date rape legislation.

Here's how one feminist woman believes she could get 100% personal sovereignty in sexual relationships via date rape laws:

Imagine that all women are considered by the courts to abide in a perpetual state of non-consent. “No” becomes the default position, and does not require re-stating at any time. In fact, “consent” would not apply to women at all; we would exist as inviolable entities, 100% human beings with full personal sovereignty, the way men do now. We could, if the idea didn’t gag us with a spoon, have as much heterosex as we want, but the instant we don’t want, the dude becomes, in the eyes of the law, a rapist. This shifts the onus onto the dude not to be a barbarian. He can reduce his risk of being sent to the gulag by ceasing to rape, dominate, prod, cajole, shame, nag, or act like a prick. He can avoid it altogether merely by keeping it in his Dockers.

But, again to the frustration of feminists, the date rape tactic isn't working. In part, this is because most people still think of rape as a serious criminal offence rather than as a social technology. Therefore, most people are inclined to defend men who unfairly suffer the accusation. So there are feminists who want to tone down the criminal aspect of a rape accusation. Catherine MacKinnon, for instance, once wrote that,

Politically, I call it rape whenever a woman has sex and feels violated. You might think that's too broad. I'm not talking about sending all of you men to jail for that. ["A rally against rape" Feminism Unmodified]

Note that it is a woman's feelings or will, rather than any clearly defined act, which defines rape, thereby giving women the ultimate power and control in a relationship and that MacKinnon seeks to downplay the idea that all men would suffer criminal sanctions.

Here's another example:

I claim that rape exists any time sexual intercourse occurs when it has not been initiated by the woman, out of her own genuine affection and desire. [Robin Morgan 1974]

Rape here is redefined in terms of female agency; what matters is not a lack of consent but that what happens is a product of female, not male, desire.

Most women, it should be said, do not follow feminists in rejecting marriage in principle. It's common, though, for women to think of their 20s as being "sexually liberated" and then to finally orient themselves toward marriage in their 30s. This means that they seek different qualities in men, or perhaps even different kinds of men, at different times of their life.

Consider this online advice to men about what women look for:

Forget about the theory that women like bad boys. While this may be the case with some women in their twenties, most mature women have had their fill of bad boys. Monroe women and any other women are now looking for a nice, kind, caring and thoughtful man.

This switching of preferences in a woman's 30s won't always work. It means that when men are in their youthful prime (ages 15 to 35), they will be asked to adapt to women who aren't oriented to marriage and who are looking for casual relationships with bad boys. By the time women are ready to switch it will often be too late. Many men will have grown out of their instinct to be husbands and fathers and some might harbour resentments towards women. Women who have spent a decade or more pursuing the drama of casual relationships might find it difficult to settle into a more predictable pattern of married life.

And it represents too a waste; the person we are supposed to have the most significant connection to, our spouse, will not be the person we share our youthful passions with.

Should we then return to the situation of the 1980s in which culture was oriented more strongly to romantic love? No doubt this was a more spiritualised and less crude culture of relationships, but it was inadequate in its own way. What kind of wisdom or foresight does a man require for romantic love? What kind of concern will he have in his relationships for his family, his community or his tradition? None. He can be a fool for love.

There's an English film, Love Actually, which even celebrates this aspect of a romantic culture. It portrays couples who fall romantically in love in ways which dissolve all other considerations. The Prime Minister falls in love with the tea lady. An English writer falls in love with, and commits his life to, a Portuguese woman he cannot speak to. One couple fall in love whilst acting in a pornographic film.

The evidence seems to be that it's difficult to integrate the romantic and sexual lives of men and women outside a culture that has a serious orientation to family. Feminists thought that they could control the outcomes of the sexual revolution in favour of female agency, but many seem to be angrier than ever about a culture of relationships that they themselves largely instigated.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What Swedish kids get taught

From Sweden, the land of the genderless:

US-based toy retailer Toys"R"Us has been reprimanded for gender discrimination following a complaint filed by a group of Swedish sixth graders about the store’s 2008 Christmas catalogue.

Last winter, a sixth grade class at Gustavslund school in Växjö in south central Sweden reported Toys"R"Us to the Reklamombudsmannen (Ro) [advertising ombudsman].

According to the youngsters, the Toys"R"Us Christmas catalogue featured “outdated gender roles because boys and girls were shown playing with different types of toys, whereby the boys were portrayed as active and the girls as passive”, according to a statement from Ro.

The group’s teacher explained to the local Smålandsposten newspaper that filing the complaint was the culmination of more than two years of “long-term work” by the students on gender roles. [ed: they spent two years on this!]

So having different toys for boys and girls is now considered "outdated" in genderless Sweden. And girls playing with dolls is thought to be merely "passive" whilst boys playing with cars or train sets is thought to be "active" and therefore superior (just shows what priority the Swedes give to motherhood, which presumably is also denigrated as a "passive" occupation).

Why? One of the indoctrinated children gives it away:

Classmate Moa Averin emphasized the importance of children being able to be who they want even if “guys want to be princesses sometimes”.

This is the liberal idea that we should self-determine who we are, and therefore not be defined by unchosen gender roles, so that boys have the "freedom" to choose to be princesses.

Never mind that this is a spurious, trivial freedom for sixth-grade boys and that the real freedom is to actually be allowed to be a boy and to be guided toward a strong, well-developed, productive manhood.

There's more:

According to the Ro’s advisory committee, the Toys"R"Us catalogue “discriminates based on gender and counteracts positive social behaviour, lifestyles, and attitudes”.

"... the catalogue portrays children’s games and choice of toys in a narrow-minded way, and this exclusion of boys and girls from different types of toys is, in itself, degrading to both genders,” Ro said in a statement.

Better obey the Toy Kommissar. Don't want to fall into those negative social behaviours and lifestyles, such as having little girls play with dolls.

Some of the reader comments on the news item were interesting. Not everyone is buying into this aspect of liberal modernity:

Swedes are lovely people, but their insane obsession with political correctness and social engineering is turning them into a bunch of weirdos, and they will accrue that reputation around the world if they don't watch it.

Advertisers spend a fortune on advertising goods. They should not be hidebound by the pseudo-intellectual political ideology of extreme liberals, or by any other group - they should be free to advertise as they see fit so long as they are not being obscene etc.

Like it or not, most toy trucks are sold to, and played with by, boys, and most toy kitchens are used by girls. The loony ideologues may not like that, but it is true, and if advertisers are reflecting the real world rather than the utopia of fruitcake liberals, then they should be applauded, not chastised.

This reader was also less than impressed by the Swedish drive to androgyny:

This is the way I look at it, I've been a female for 48 years. I'm glad I'm a girl. I would much rather be a female than a male, especially as a kid. And I have a feeling that if I asked everyone I've ever known, they would also say they were glad they were the gender they are.

I ENJOYED playing with "girl stuff" as a kid. Only thing that I didn't like is that my brother's GI Joe had a tent and Malibu Barbie didn't. So Barbie stole his tent. went better with her camper. It had camping stools, a lantern, sleeping bags..all kinds of good stuff. Also, my brother would have rather DIED than someone force him to play "girl stuff." He LOVED his Tonka trucks, he LOVED being a cowboy.

If the people of Sweden would take time off from doing sex research (as someone who worked in medical research at Hopkins for 15 years I've seen tons of their articles in journals) they would see the overwhelming majority of the world like who they are ... Check out the Swedish research and medical advancements, that's the majority of what they concentrate on. So...I guess it's no wonder they're teaching their children that differences in the sexes is wrong. Remember folks, God created TWO DIFFERENT sexes. If he wanted us to be like amoebas and not have any sexual differences, we wouldn't have all these different parts each sex likes so much on the other one.

It isn't "degrading," as the Swedish authorities put it, to treat boys and girls differently - as they really are different, and mostly happily so.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Striking a blow for personal impulse!

Marina Subirats is a Spanish leftist. She is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Barcelona and she served with the Barcelona City Council as head of the education department and as chairwoman of a city district. She was awarded a George Cross for her services to Catalonia.

So she is part of the Catalan political class. A few years ago, she explained what she as a modern day leftist believes in:

The true values of today's left are based on ... the authenticity, the acknowledgement of desire as the organizing principle of our life, the coherence of desire with action ..., that is, to live without principles that are external, imposed, limiting, alien to our own needs or to our own personal truth ... The moral of the left involves to take risks, to dare, to follow the personal impulses and, therefore, this line of thinking implies to develop scientific thinking that allows us to control a bit more our life conditions.

I'm not sure which is more striking: the liberalism or the nihilism.

The liberalism comes out in the insistence on autonomy as the sole organising principle of life. What matters to Marina Subirats is that it is our own will, our own authentic desire, which shapes who we are and what we do, without impediment. Those forces which are unchosen, which are external to us, are therefore treated negatively as a restriction or limitation.

But this means that it all becomes subjective. If there can't be an unchosen external source of value, then the only value that an action has is a subjective, personal one - that I happen to desire it. If I cease to desire it, it no longer has any value. There's nothing intrinsic to it of any value.

What is left to Marina Subirats? She has rejected the idea of an objective truth in favour of a merely personal one. And she is reduced to talking about "personal impulse" as a breakthrough good.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Philippe Legrain: let's replace nations with ...

Philippe Legrain describes himself as follows:

My outlook is broadly liberal, socially and economically. I am passionate about individual freedom, think markets generally work well and believe that competition is usually a powerful force for good. But I am also convinced that governments need to intervene vigorously to make a reality of equality of opportunity and help the less fortunate.

This is a centrist (perhaps a centre-right) take on liberalism. Like other right liberals, he associates individual freedom with the market; like left-liberals, he looks to the state to intervene in society to create "equal freedom".

If you think this makes him a soft and cuddly kind of liberal, think again. He is enough of an intellectual to draw out the radical logic of liberalism.

I wrote recently that,

Liberalism recognises only the individual parts of society: millions of autonomous, choice making individuals ...

How does Philippe Legrain define society? He describes it as,

a framework of the aggregated individual choices made by others - "society"

He puts the word society in scare quotes to suggest its lack of real existence; all that really exists for him is the sum total of choices made by individuals.

The full quote is this:

Everyone is torn between the urge to do their own thing and the need to live with others: individual choice therefore exists largely within a framework of the individual choices made by others - "society".

If "society" is just the sum total of choices made by individuals, then society can be anything and everything:

In this context, ‘society’ can mean everything from a family to a group of friends, a workplace, a village, an urban neighbourhood, a national society that sets its own laws, or a global sense of humanity that aspires to common norms such as human rights.

Oh, but it can't be a traditional community, based on a particular people or place. Legrain follows liberal orthodoxy here too. The orthodox position is that individual autonomy is the supreme good; whatever we don't determine for ourselves is therefore a restriction from which the individual is to be liberated. We don't choose to be members of traditional communities but are (mostly) born into such traditions; therefore, thinks Legrain, they represent a coercive tyranny and should be replaced by new chosen communities:

Misplaced nostalgia for the erosion of the coerced local communities of old – the flipside of which is liberation from the tyranny of geography, social immobility and the straitjacket of imposed national uniformity – should not blind us to the richness and vibrancy of the new chosen communities, be they groups of friends from different backgrounds, multinational workplaces, environmental campaigns that span the globe, or online networks of people with a common interest. Solidarity is alive and well when British volunteer doctors treat AIDS sufferers in Africa, when friends take over many of the roles that family members once performed (or failed to perform), and when the membership of pressure groups never ceases to rise.

What Legrain is really arguing here is that the older national communities, such as the French, the English, the Dutch and so on, are coercive tyrannies from which people should be liberated and replaced by newer, superior, voluntary communities such as "groups of friends from different backgrounds", multinational workplaces, pressure groups or environmental campaigns.

We are to be "liberated" from our nationality, and perhaps even from our biological family (which is also unchosen after all), and instead experience the richness and vibrancy of belonging to "groups of friends from different backgrounds" or "online networks of people with a common interest".

Can you really be liberated to something more trivial?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Announcing Eltham Traditionalists

For several years I've invited Australian readers to join an Australian traditionalist conservative network, the ATCN. It's had some success with about 40 people in Australia joining the network.

The limitation of a national network, though, is that it's difficult for people to get together. I've thought for some time of trying to organise something locally, something based on the actual community people live in.

So to test the prospects for such an enterprise I've set up a new site called Eltham Traditionalists.

The Australian network will still continue as before. However, if anyone on the network who lives in the north-east of Melbourne wishes to add their name to the Eltham group I'd encourage them to do so.

Similarly, I also invite readers from in and around Eltham to visit the new website and to consider getting in touch.

Eltham traditionalists might also interest other readers who are curious about my own home suburb here in Melbourne. It will feature a photo of the month as well as a feature article drawn from the archives of this site.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Nick Clegg: there is no common good

Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the UK, has published an essay titled "The Liberal Moment". He believes the time is ripe for the Liberal Democrats to take over leadership of the left from the Labour Party.

According to Clegg, both the Conservatives and the Labour Party are living in the past. They are both too wedded to the nation and the nation state. Clegg believes that people have become liberated from membership of nations, through such things as technology and immigration. Therefore, what matters is a flow of power upward to global governance and downward to individuals. The new ideal is the empowered, transnational individual and the global state:

We live in a more atomised society where people are no longer rigidly defined by class or place. Our society is no longer trapped by a culture of diffidence and hierarchy.

The capacity of the nation state to act for its citizens has been dramatically diluted as globalisation has undermined its powers. The increasing accessibility of international air travel and new technologies like the internet have radically stretched people’s physical and conceptual horizons. New forms of religious and ethnic identity have dissolved the traditional glue that held the identity of nations together. In short, we live in a more fluid, less deferential world ...

This is Clegg's criticism of the Labour Party:

Labour has lost its ideological way ... They are unsure how to deal with a globalised world in which the nation state is no longer the correct locus of power. They are unsure how to react to the way people have been empowered by technology, travel and prosperity and are no longer willing to subordinate themselves to a collective whole in the name of a supposed ‘common good’ ...

"We live in a more atomised society" begins Clegg. You might think that he would take this as a negative feature of modernity and suggest a remedy. Instead, he thinks of it positively as a form of individual emancipation.

There's a logic to this. If you are a liberal like Clegg you'll believe that self-determination is the highest, overriding good. This means that we cannot be defined by anything that we can't immediately choose for ourselves. We can't be defined by anything that is traditional or biological or even, as it seems, social. If we are defined in some way by the particular society we live in, then we have been "trapped" or "rigidly defined" by the place we inhabit.

An atomised individual is not defined by his relationship to others in a society, nor by an attachment to a particular community. He is a kind of blank slate, an empty canvas ready to be self-authored. He fits in better with the liberal ideal than someone who takes part of his identity from the particular society he lives in.

So for Clegg, the modern atomised individual is escaping "subordination" to a collective whole.

Is such an individual free? What is there left for him to choose to be? He has to keep himself radically unsituated in any place or society, otherwise he is being other defined rather than self-determined. He is free to be not much at all.

It's better to take what is best and deepest in our constituted selves with us, so that we get to be free as men and women, as Swedes or Japanese, as Richardsons or McGregors.

Then there is Clegg's attitude to the common good. For Clegg, there is only a 'supposed "common good"'. He is clearly sceptical that it's possible to speak of a common good at all.

But again he is following a tradition within classical liberalism here. John Stuart Mill, for instance, once wrote that:

The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way.

There is no recognition here that at least some of our purposes in life are rightly directed toward a common good, such as the improvement and perpetuation of our own particular community, society, civilisation or tradition.

Steven Kautz is an American academic who writes in defence of classical liberalism. Here is how he describes the rejection by classical liberals of a common good:

It should not be surprising, even to partisans of liberalism, that a world dominated by liberal individualism has given rise to longings for lost community. Classical liberalism is a doctrine of acquisitive individualism, and teaches that man is by nature solitary and selfish, not political or even social: the most powerful natural passions and needs of human beings are private. Human beings are not friends by nature.

This harsh moral psychology is, at any rate, the fundamental teaching of classical liberalism. As a result, the idea of community is always somewhat suspect for thoughtful liberals. Liberals are inclined to view partisans of community as either romantic utopians or dangerous authoritarians.

If there is no natural common good, beyond peace and security, then invocations of the spirit of community are either foolish or fraudulent, impossible dreams ...

But without recognising a common good, how can we set out to maintain the communities and traditions we identify with? It can't be done in principle (as I explain further here).