Thursday, December 31, 2009

Schwarzmantel 1

What's a neo-Gramscian Marxist to do these days? John Schwarzmantel, a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Leeds, has a plan. As it happens, an interesting plan.

He wants social change. So he looks at society today and asks what the dominant ideology is. His answer? Liberalism. He sees liberalism as having "ideological hegemony".

He then sets out what he hopes is an effective "counter-ideology" to liberalism.

A vulgarised liberalism?

Schwarzmantel believes that liberalism as a philosophy is based on a vision of a society of fully self-determining individuals. In its vulgarised, ideological form, however, it presents itself in terms of individual choice and the free market.

I'd accept much of this. Notice, though, that Schwarzmantel emphasises here a free market, right-liberalism as the reigning ideology. This makes it sound as if left-liberalism is, at best, the junior partner in the making of modern society.

Nor is it such as surprise that a philosophy which emphasises individual self-determination should then make individual choice one of its ideological planks. This doesn't seem like a corruption of the original vision to me, but a kind of logical fulfilment.

Here's Schwarzmantel himself:

... it is liberalism which is the dominant ideology (p.1)

... the dominance of liberalism as ideology has been purchased at the expense of its theoretical sophistication and intellectual depth ... (p.3)

... What passes for liberalism is a rather crude ideology of individual choice, individual rights and an uncritical view of what one author calls 'market-driven politics' (Leys, 2001) ...

... liberalism as a critical ideology has in its vulgarised 'ideological' form lost that critical edge, and abandoned its vision of a society of fully self-determining individuals ... (p.4)

Narrowing of politics?

One thing that concerns Schwarzmantel is that liberal ideology has succeeded in discouraging a commitment to the public sphere.

Liberalism (I claim) has won out as an ideology, an ideology which sees fulfilment above all as lying in the private sphere. As Benjamin Constant noted in his famous lecture on the liberty of the ancients and moderns, 'our freedom must consist of peaceful enjoyment and private independence' ... the dominance of contemporary liberalism as ideology has given liberalism a strong push towards attitudes valorising the private sphere, primarily that of consumption, and maintaining a detached, even cynical, attitude to public spheres of political activity. (p.5)

I think he's right. This is a problem not only for neo-Gramscian Marxists seeking new mass political movements, but also for traditionalists seeking to organise opposition to modernist politics.

He also believes that people have lost interest in politics because liberalism itself has swallowed up the opposition in the act of becoming hegemonic:

Traditional conservatism is not a strong contender ... the same is true of statist socialism in the period following the collapse of the USSR ... So what then is left, as ideological planks on which parties in liberal-democratic systems base their appeal?

The answer is various versions of liberalism ... Liberalism ... has absorbed the critique of other historically influential ideologies, at times taking on board a dose of social democracy to reduce the harshness of classic liberalism of the Manchester school. By the same token, those ideologies critical of liberalism, like conservatism, have entered on liberal terrain by abandoning or downplaying their own distinctive traditions ...

Other formerly more critical ideologies have adapted themselves to this vulgarised liberalism, which has been able to present itself as an ideology of freedom, choice, diversity, and thus capture if not public enthusiasm then at least acceptance as 'the only game in town'.

This then gives rise to a very impoverished spectrum of ideological and political debate ... this reduces the interest and attraction of politics and the public sphere. (pp. 5-7)

Although I don't agree on all particulars here, it's a better analysis than we usually get from the left. There's a recognition that mainstream conservatism has effectively given up a principled opposition to liberalism  (and has become part of the liberal orthodoxy); there's a recognition too that traditional conservatism is one of the possible principled alternatives to liberalism (if it were more prominent).

There's a lot more of interest in Schwarzmantel's article, but I'll leave this for a future post.

Monday, December 28, 2009

What happens if liberals don't like our choices?

Here's another example of how liberalism doesn't work coherently. Liberals argue that they are going to create a free, autonomous, self-determining individual, who is not impeded in his individual choice.

But this attempt to maximise individual autonomy means that the individual must not be limited by what he hasn't chosen for himself - such as his gender and ethnicity. So liberals then set out to make gender and ethnicity not matter in an individual's life choices.

But this then means that liberals cannot accept what individuals choose for themselves. They cannot, for instance, accept men and women choosing different career paths or choosing to socialise at times in single-sex clubs. If they did it would mean admitting that gender does matter.

So liberals end up restricting individual choice or working to overcome it. There was a strikingly clear case of this back in November. A young woman, Erin Maitland, noticed that her female friends did not want to go on overseas tours because of the "boozy, bed-hopping" culture of these mixed-sex tours. So she set up a travel company to organise tours for groups of women.

This seems reasonable enough. And, anyway, if a group of women want to travel together rather than with men then that's their right, isn't it?

Not any more. Erin's tour company was disallowed by Judge Marilyn Harbison under the Equal Opportunities Act as a violation of human rights (I kid you not):

Her application was opposed by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, which said it could conflict with Victoria's Charter of Human Rights.

Judge Harbison said that her application stereotyped men's behaviour.

"The exemption ... cannot be justified on human rights principles".

I can't help but think of this as an intrusive, unnecessary limitation on what we are allowed to choose to do.  And yet I'm supposed to accept it as a defence of my human rights, equal opportunities and as an anti-discrimination measure.

Here's another recent example of liberal principles at work. There are more men than women who choose to join the Australian Defence Force (ADF). This would not come as a great shock to most people. Men and women are not the same in their natures; men are generally more inclined (from early boyhood onwards) to an interest in soldiering.

But the fact that men and women choose differently when it comes to military service is now thought of as a problem that must be overcome. Gender must be made not to matter:

The Defence Force has completed 18 months of intensive research to find out why women are reluctant to join the military...

Minister for Defence Personnel Greg Combet said that while women made up 35.4 per cent of the Australian workforce, they comprised only 13.4 per cent of the 50,000 defence personnel and that had to change.

So how is it to be done? In part by reorganising the armed forces so that it's an attractive occupation for mothers with children:

Childcare and generous maternity leave will be offered, along with job sharing and part-time work when women return after having a baby ... Under the plan, policies will be overhauled to ensure that pregnant women are not discriminated against. (Herald Sun, 20/11/09)

Those in charge are willing to make "systemic" changes to the ADF to get the results they want:

Defence Personnel Minister Greg Combet said cultural change was at the heart of the new action plan. "We need to overcome some of the systemic, cultural, attitudinal and behavioural obstacles with the ADF," Mr Combet said.

Whether all this is actually good for the armed forces is not even considered. Again, the emphasis is on working to overcome a discrepancy in choice made by men and women. Liberals can't accept the choices that people actually do make and so work hard to "overcome" the "obstacles" of culture, attitude and behaviour that lead to the "wrong outcomes" in the way people choose to live.

So liberalism ends up restricting individual choice - the very opposite of what it claimed it would achieve. This isn't because liberals have strayed from the true liberal path, but because they have tried to push their way further along it. The more they insist on individual autonomy and self-determination as a sole, overriding good, the more they have to repress and overcome choices which reflect our given natures as men and women, as members of distinct communities and so on.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! If you have young children I hope you weren't woken up too early this morning (6:00 am for me, not too bad).

As a little present I've posted some sacred music by Rachmaninoff below. I love classical but had only known Rachmaninoff for his piano concertos. So I was surprised to discover the quality of his sacred music just a few months ago.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The right kind of immersion?

My old school now offers cultural immersion tours for Year 9 boys. No, they are not being immersed in their own culture, they're being sent off to live with South Australian Aborigines for a week.

What did the boys learn from the experience? In short, that white Australians were evil and violent, in contrast to the nature loving and spiritual Aborigines:

The most positive thing I gained from the journey was an insight into the amazing, undiscovered, indigenous culture ... The ways the Aborigines respect nature at such a spiritual level ... Our whole group was transformed ... We learned about the horrors which occurred in the early settlement of Australia. At one stage the group was very disturbed, and we were fighting back tears of sorrow. Our indigenous tour guide Quenten told us that some indigenous elders were forced to dig their own graves before they were shot and buried in them. We also came across an old barn where aboriginal men, women and children were herded like sheep, and massacred like lambs to the slaughter.

At other times we were fighting back tears of joy. We became a part of spiritual dances and rituals ... I will never be able to forget that week which saw me and the rest of the group come right out of our comfort zones ...

As I've written previously, this kind of thing is dangerous. There are conscientious whites who lose a sense of their moral status and authority in society when they accept such vilification of whites as the truth. Their path to redemption is then to break ranks and to identify against their own tradition in favour of the other. As I wrote in a recent post:

Such people will want to speak with moral authority in society, but how can they as white oppressors? The path to redemption is, again, to break ranks and to identify with the non-white other in opposition to other unenlightened whites.

This helps to explain why some liberal whites are so obsessed with an anti-white/pro-other agenda. It comes to express their self-concept and identity. It lies at the heart of how they see themselves and the ground on which they stand.

And what of the massacre claims? It's not likely these took place. I searched a list of claimed massacres of Aborigines during the period of settlement and there is no mention of such events in the Yorke Peninsula. The claims of massacres often turn out to be false when they are properly investigated.

Keith Windschuttle is one person who has undertaken such investigative work. I'll give just one example from his book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History. Sir William Deane, as Governor-General, once apologised on behalf of the nation for a massacre by whites of Aboriginal women and children at Mistake Creek in the 1930s.

However, when the massacre was investigated it turned out to have taken place in 1915 and to have been perpetrated not by whites but by Aborigines (the outcome of a dispute over an Aboriginal woman).

What those Year 9 boys should really be taught is to ask for evidence before accepting claims of massacres. They should also be made aware that frontier violence did not go all one way. I wonder, for instance, if they know of the Maria massacre of 1840, when a group of whites was shipwrecked off the coast of South Australia and then massacred by Aborigines, their bodies being later found stuffed down wombat holes.

Do the boys know of some of the less environmentally friendly practices of Aborigines? Such as the deliberate burning down of forests to flush out animals which transformed the type of vegetation cover over much of Australia?

Are they taught to appreciate the great nature poets and landscape painters of their own tradition? Why not, for instance, immerse them in Wordsworth?

And why should they be taught to associate Aboriginal culture with spirituality rather than their own? Particularly since they are attending a Catholic college. Doesn't Catholicism have something to do with spirituality? Or doesn't that count?

I'm not at all against the Year 9 boys learning to appreciate what Aboriginal culture has to offer. But it should be from a strong, confident, positive awareness of their own culture that they engage with others. Otherwise their school is failing them.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Why do Pandorans get to be traditionalists?

The blockbuster film Avatar has just been released. It's about a group of humans who wish to mine the resources of the planet Pandora. The humans are portrayed as white, industrial society imperialists and the Pandorans as pre-industrial, close to nature indigenes. One of the whites is rescued by a Pandoran woman, taken up by the tribe and learns to love their traditional ways. He becomes the hero of the film by turning against his own race and leading the fight of the natives to preserve their existence.

The blogger Fjordman is not impressed:

Avatar has to be one of the most anti-Western and especially anti-white Hollywood movies I have seen in a long time.

The hero is the U.S. Marine Jake Sully who has been sent to the planet-like moon Pandora because humans desire the mineral resources found of Pandora, which is inhabited by a race of tall, blue-skinned aliens, the Na’vi. They have a non-industrial civilization technologically inferior to ours but apparently spiritually richer and in perfect ecological harmony with the natural environment. The hero predictably falls in love with the native culture and connects with a native girl ...

Basically, the white characters are portrayed as brutal, greedy and insensitive beasts who rape the environment and destroy other cultures with a smile in the search for profit. The main antagonist is the white Colonel Quaritch, a brute who hardly possesses a single positive character trait. The final climax of the movie is when he screams “How does it feel to betray your race?” to the protagonist while he is trying to murder him.

Although a few of the white characters such as Jake Sully are portrayed in a more redeeming light this is only because they totally reject their own civilization and join the other team in the fight. In other words: the only good whites are the ones who utterly turn their backs on their own destructive and evil culture. As reviewer Armond White put it, “Avatar is the corniest movie ever made about the white man’s need to lose his identity and assuage racial, political, sexual and historical guilt.”

Fjordman isn't alone in taking the film this way. Another reviewer writes,

Avatar is just the latest scifi rehash of an old white guilt fantasy ... it's undeniable that the film ... is emphatically a fantasy about race. Specifically, it's a fantasy about race told from the point of view of white people. Avatar and scifi films like it give us the opportunity to answer the question: What do white people fantasize about when they fantasize about racial identity?

If we think of Avatar and its ilk as white fantasies about race, what kinds of patterns do we see emerging in these fantasies?

In both Avatar and District 9, humans are the cause of alien oppression and distress. Then, a white man who was one of the oppressors switches sides at the last minute, assimilating into the alien culture and becoming its savior ...

These are movies about white guilt. Our main white characters realize that they are complicit in a system which is destroying aliens, AKA people of color - their cultures, their habitats, and their populations. The whites realize this when they begin to assimilate into the "alien" cultures and see things from a new perspective. To purge their overwhelming sense of guilt, they switch sides, become "race traitors," and fight against their old comrades. But then they go beyond assimilation and become leaders of the people they once oppressed. This is the essence of the white guilt fantasy, laid bare ...

There are two things that have to be explained about all this. The first is why white liberals would fantasise about being traitors to their own race. The second is why liberal moderns, who think of themselves as progressives, would support the traditionalism of non-white societies.

It can seem very confusing. In the film the native Pandorans are portrayed in the most positive terms for having "a direct line to their ancestors". You would think, then, that the whites in the film would be encouraged to have a strong sense of ancestry and ancestral loyalty. But they don't. Quite the opposite - their path to redemption is to become race traitors.

So why do liberal moderns have a fantasy of fighting against their own race? I put forward part of an explanation just a few weeks ago. I'd noticed that Australian men were being told that domestic violence was a product of a patriarchal male culture. In other words, men committed violence against women in order to perpetuate their own unjust privilege in society.

I cautioned men against accepting this idea because of what it logically entailed. Once a man accepts that masculinity and masculine culture are an oppressive source of privilege and injustice, then he loses moral status and authority in society. This in itself is bad enough, but worse follows. What the domestic violence campaigners then tell men is that they can redeem themselves, and restore their moral status and authority, by breaking ranks with other men and acting against the masculine culture. They are redeemed, not only by forfeiting their own masculine self-identity, but by identifying in opposition to the masculine in society.

And a similar logic applies when it comes to race. Once a white person accepts the idea that whites are privileged at the expense of the non-white other, then there is a loss which will be hard for the most conscientious and politically aware to bear. Such people will want to speak with moral authority in society, but how can they as white oppressors? The path to redemption is, again, to break ranks and to identify with the non-white other in opposition to other unenlightened whites.

This helps to explain why some liberal whites are so obsessed with an anti-white/pro-other agenda.  It comes to express their self-concept and identity. It lies at the heart of how they see themselves and the ground on which they stand.

But why do white liberals praise what is traditional and non-liberal in native societies? Why are the Pandorans allowed to express a connection to ancestry and to defend their own culture but not whites?

If I understand Lawrence Auster correctly, a possible answer is as follows. There are white liberals, white non-liberals and non-white non-liberals. All three are necessary for the liberal script to play out in society. White liberals see themselves as morally virtuous because, in contrast to white non-liberals, they are open and accepting of the non-white other. But this then requires the non-whites to remain something "other" to the white liberal. What could be more "other" to the white liberal than non-white traditionalists?

In other words, the white liberal is practising his "virtue" by identifying with non-Western traditionalists. He is being a liberal in the very act of romanticising what is traditional and non-liberal.

Here's something else to consider. Liberals want equality and yet there appears to be inequality of power and wealth between different races and cultures. How can this be explained?

There are left liberals who believe that such inequality came about when one group of people, "whites", invented race and racism as an excuse to dominate and exploit other groups of people. Therefore whites are exceptional - exceptionally bad, that is. All that's necessary to restore equality is to attack white privilege and power.

If you believe this, then you'll get upset with any expression of white group identity. Even the most harmless expressions of such identity will be condemned as an attempt to defend "supremacy". But the identity of other groups won't matter so much, since they aren't seen as being tied to power, privilege and inequality. In fact, they might even be tied to resistance to whites and therefore be seen as progressive.

This is another reason for whites being treated differently to others and not being allowed to express a communal identity, whilst the identity of other groups gets a free pass.

Or there's the issue of dissent. There are left-liberals who see themselves as dissenters to the establishment (even though they are themselves a significant part of the establishment). But how do you demonstrate your dissent? If you think the establishment is a conservative bulwark against reform, then you can express your dissent in a predictable way - by advocating for progressive reform.

But what if you see the establishment as a soulless, materialistic, powerful Western industrial complex squashing the small, indigenous tribes in its path? Then perhaps you will express your dissent by identifying against the Western power complex in favour of the disappearing underdog tribes with their ancient wisdoms.

You might even then have a politically legitimate way to identify with things that you really do feel are lacking in more atomised modern liberal societies. You might even sound at times like a bit of a traditionalist - just not for the mainstream Western culture which retains its negative status as powerfully oppressive and destructive.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

How existentialism made women the second sex

Existentialism is one of the more interesting expressions of modernist philosophy.

The logic of existentialism seems to go something like this. First, there's the assertion that God does not exist. This makes the world absurd, chaotic and meaningless. Therefore, the individual must transcend the world. He does so, first, by rising above the natural, instinctive, biological, "animal", determined processes of life. Second, he asserts his own freedom against the world and imposes his own order on it, through his own autonomous will. By doing so he creates a kind of subjective meaning to life, through the pursuit of an individual life project.

This is how Clifford Edwards summarises the existentialist view:

On the testimony and evidence of existence, life is patently chaotic, incoherent, meaningless, and hence absurd; consequently, the only responsible and honest intellectual and emotional response is to turn to the imperatives of the human spirit, to assert the freedom and autonomy of the self in order to impose meaningful form on the chaotic flux of existence.

Existentialism follows the modernist mainstream in making a freedom to be radically autonomous the overriding aim. Man, abandoned by God, is to become the law maker who determines what is, even what he himself is. Jean Paul Sartre wrote:

There was nothing left in heaven ... nor anyone to give me orders ... I am doomed to have no other law but mine ... Man is the being whose project is to become God.

He wrote this too:

We remind man that there is no legislator but himself, that he himself thus abandoned, must decide for himself.

So there is only man himself to create meaning. What happens next? Here's how one critic of existentialism puts it:

But, then the Atheistic Existentialist says, "Here's how we're going to respond to this. We're going to respond by saying that existence precedes essence." Existence precedes essence. In other words, we exist, and then we supply the meaning of life. WE exist, and then we supply the answer to the essence of life. In other words, mankind makes itself. We invent ourselves. We invent meaning. We come into a world which has no meaning, and the job of the Existentialist in this meaningless world is to do what? To create meaning. To create what we are as human beings.

The idea of the Existentialist is that people make themselves who they are. The Existentialist, over against the Nihilist who said people are robots, the Existentialist says, "No. This world is a big machine, but I am not a cog in this wheel. I have a free will. I determine myself. My decisions make who I am." The Existentialist says each person is totally free as regards to their nature and destiny ... 

It's like a choice of the lesser of two evils. The existentialist wants to avoid thinking of himself as a merely biological, determined cog in an absurd materialistic universe. So he asserts his own capacity to create order, against the world, as an autonomous being.

This might sound like a superior option, but it's still radically limited. There is still only a "subjective meaning" to existence. Sartre wrote:

Man does not discover values, he creates them.

But just how meaningful are "values" that have no objective existence? And the "values" themselves seem only to exist in terms of a rebellion against a chaotic, meaningless universe. It might sound heroic but it's not greatly encouraging.

And, in the end, it often ends up as a trite or trivial conception of life. We are each to have a "life project" of our own. The content of the life project doesn't matter much and usually isn't identified. Its purpose has to do not with what it is or what it accomplishes, but in the fact that it's the focus of our attempt to impose our will on the world.

It's unsatisfying, though, to be told that what we do doesn't amount to much in itself - that it only matters as an expression of our will. And what is our life project? Presumably for most people it's their career - and yet for most people the world of everyday work doesn't, in itself, create meaning.

The Second Sex

Another way to see how existentialism goes wrong is to look at how it was applied to the lives of women by Simone de Beauvoir in her feminist work The Second Sex.

For existentialists there is no meaning within a given, predetermined nature. There is, for instance, no essence to the lives of men and women which is meaningful. The point, instead, is to escape from a given nature and to assert our individual autonomy.

What does this mean for women? It means that motherhood, and female biology in general, becomes a negative impediment to the meaning of a woman's life. This is because women are tied more closely to the biological role of motherhood than men are to fatherhood and because men have the more active role sexually:

The female is the victim of the species. During certain periods in the year, fixed in each species, her whole life is under the regulation of a sexual cycle ...

In the female mammal, rut is largely passive; she is ready and waiting to receive the male ... Her body becomes, therefore, a resistance to be broken through, whereas in penetrating it the male finds self-fulfilment in activity.

... But the fundamental difference between male and female mammals lies in this: the sperm, through which the life of the male is transcended in another, at the same instant becomes a stranger to him and separates from his body; so that the male recovers his individuality intact at the moment when he transcends it. The egg, on the contrary, begins to separate from the female body when, fully matured, it emerges from the follicle and falls into the oviduct; but if fertilised by a gamete from outside, it becomes attached again through implantation in the uterus. First violated, the female is then alienated – she becomes, in part, another than herself ... She regains some autonomy after the birth of her offspring – a certain distance is established between her and them ...

At times when she is free from maternal servitude she can now and then equal the male; the mare is as fleet as the stallion, the hunting bitch has as keen a nose as the dog, she-monkeys in tests show as much intelligence as males. It is only that this individuality is not laid claim to; the female renounces it for the benefit of the species, which demands this abdication.

The lot of the male is quite different. As we have just seen, even in his transcendence towards the next generation he keeps himself apart and maintains his individuality within himself. ... This vital superabundance, the activities directed towards mating, and the dominating affirmation of his power over the female in coitus itself – all this contributes to the assertion of the male individual as such at the moment of his living transcendence

In the species capable of high individual development, the urge of the male towards autonomy – which in lower animals is his ruin – is crowned with success. He is in general larger than the female, stronger, swifter, more adventurous; he leads a more independent life ...

Quite logically, de Beauvoir thinks of menopause in highly positive terms:

Woman is now delivered from the servitude imposed by her female nature, but she is not to be likened to a eunuch, for her vitality is unimpaired. And what is more, she is no longer the prey of overwhelming forces; she is herself, she and her body are one. It is sometimes said that women of a certain age constitute ‘a third sex’; and, in truth, while they are not males, they are no longer females. Often, indeed, this release from female physiology is expressed in a health, a balance, a vigour that they lacked before.

So what de Beauvoir is committed to by her existentialism is a liberation of women from motherhood, sexuality and biology. She thinks this is possible because, after all, existence precedes essence:

But man is defined as a being who is not fixed, who makes himself what he is. As Merleau-Ponty very justly puts it, man is not a natural species: he is a historical idea. Woman is not a completed reality, but rather a becoming, and it is in her becoming that she should be compared with man; that is to say, her possibilities should be defined. What gives rise to much of the debate is the tendency to reduce her to what she has been, to what she is today, in raising the question of her capabilities; for the fact is that capabilities are clearly manifested only when they have been realised – but the fact is also that when we have to do with a being whose nature is transcendent action, we can never close the books.

Nevertheless it will be said that if the body is not a thing, it is a situation, as viewed in the perspective I am adopting – that of Heidegger, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty: it is the instrument of our grasp upon the world, a limiting factor for our projects. Woman is weaker than man, she has less muscular strength, fewer red blood corpuscles, less lung capacity, she runs more slowly, can lift less heavy weights, can compete with man in hardly any sport; she cannot stand up to him in a fight. To all this weakness must be added the instability, the lack of control, and the fragility already discussed: these are facts. Her grasp on the world is thus more restricted; she has less firmness and less steadiness available for projects that in general she is less capable of carrying out. In other words, her individual life is less rich than man’s.

De Beauvoir is concerned that the female body continues to matter, even though we make ourselves who we are, because it is potentially a "limiting factor for our projects" - and these projects require us to "grasp" the world with a strength of will.

Women are to be vital, independent, project pursuers. They are to be considered equal in their human stature when they exert the same "grasp" over the world as men. The female body, femininity, female sexuality and motherhood are all hindrances to this aim, which de Beauvoir thinks can be overcome in their effects by social engineering.

So existentialism effectively undermines the worth of a distinctive womanhood. In effect, women have to transcend their own femaleness, including their own female biology. What we usually think of as one of the most important sources of meaning in a woman's life - motherhood - becomes an impediment to meaning for an existentialist.

The basic mistake is to think that we create meaning by the imposition of our autonomous will on the world.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More Elshtain - Sartre

Still reading Jean Bethke Elshtain's book Sovereignty. It's a "big picture" work, so there is only a brief sketching out of the territory she covers. I was interested in her criticism of Jean Paul Sartre:

Sartre's atomistic sovereign self could not be clearer: we are isolated monads confronting an external social and natural world set off against and in opposition to our free projects. The natural state of human affairs, a la Hobbes, is a war of all against all - a bleak reiteration of an a priori and fundamental human asociality. There are no ties binding the individual to the past or holding him in the present. (p.185)

Sartre is clearly a modern. He holds to the following ideas that I criticise so often at this site:

  • an atomised self
  • an asocial human nature
  • a rejection of a given nature (an "external social and natural world") as a predetermined and therefore limiting imposition on the autonomous individual

Simone de Beauvoir followed Sartre in this line of thought, applying it to the lives of women. If the idea is that we should transcend the "muck" of nature, and be active, transforming, rebelling, appropriating, possessing agents, then the traditional role of women will seem inferior. Not surprisingly, Simone de Beauvoir thought that women should aim to throw off the "tyranny" of biology.

But note in particular this quote:

Human civilisation is male; woman is "the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute - she is the Other".

The logic would seem to be that you get equality by inviting those who have been "othered" as natural, inessential objects into the entity that is active, transforming and appropriating. The aim is for Woman to not be "othered" as a passive and natural entity, but to become part of the active, transforming Man entity.

I'm just throwing out an idea here, but if whites were identified at this time as the transforming civilisational force, then equality would mean inviting "the Other" to become part of this entity. Perhaps this is one possible reason for the exceptionalism applied to white societies - the exceptionalism being that white societies are expected to be open to the Other, with the openness of non-white societies being a matter of indifference.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A crude hatchet job on men's rights

Men's Rights activists should be a little bit pleased. They've been noticed. Enough to merit a vitriolic attack on them in the Melbourne Herald Sun.

The hatchet job columnist is a guy by the name of David Penberthy. He ridicules the idea that women might be the perpetrators rather than the victims of domestic violence. He laughs at the idea that there might be domestic violence victims called Nige and Bazza,

hiding in the broom cupboard begging for mercy as the little lady gives them the rounds of the kitchen.

And so he endorses the White Ribbon Day campaign which blames men as a class, male culture and male privilege for domestic violence - with the implication that masculinity itself is anti-social and must be deconstructed.

The problem with Penberthy's argument is that women often are the perpetrators of domestic violence. They are the perpetrators of domestic violence against men, children and other women. One statistic alone is telling here. In 2007, in the Australian state of New South Wales, 2336 women were charged with domestic violence offences.

How can this be? What forms does female domestic violence take? Well, here's a sample from the mainstream media collected over the past few weeks:

Sydney, Australia: Sibling tiff ends in tragic slaying. A young woman has admitted killing her schoolgirl sister after a fight over a hair straightener.

Sydney, Australia: Tragic end for unloved little boy. Rachel Pfitzner loathed her toddler son ... Her callous mistreatment culminated in October 2007 when she murdered the two-year-old.

Bairnsdale, Australia: Brutal street slaying. A woman walking her two dogs was stabbed to death in broad daylight ... The woman is believed to have been attacked by a young woman.

Melbourne, Australia: Mother encouraged daughter to attack. Footage of a mother encouraging her daughter and another teenage girl to brutally assault a shy and vulnerable teenager has been played to a Melbourne court.

London, England: A primary school teacher who specialises in helping aggressive children has been sacked for punching a female colleague in the face.

Langley, Canada: Police in Langley are investigating after a woman kicked a man in the groin so hard he lost a testicle - the latest in a series of similar assaults. "I just want to know what her problem is," victim Anthony Clarke, 22, said this week. "People like her shouldn't be on the streets."

Adelaide, Australia: A jealous wife who allegedly set her husband's penis on fire will answer a murder charge in January.

Epping, Sydney: A 26-year-old woman has been remanded in custody after being charged with the murder of an elderly Sydney woman.

DeLand, Florida: Scorned wife hurls soup can at husband's head. The wife whacked him in the head with a can of soup when he got home, leaving a 1-inch cut on his forehead.

Edgewater, Florida: An Edgewater woman faces felony charges after police said she went after her estranged husband and another woman, cutting them with a razor knife.

Brandon Woods, UK: A 98-year-old woman has been charged with the murder of her 100-year-old room mate.

Remember, these are just the cases of female violence I've stumbled across in the press in the last few weeks. I could have added of course one of the most high-profile cases of domestic violence, the alleged attack on Tiger Woods by his wife Elin.

Oh, and here's one with a photo:

Gold Coast, Australia: A fight erupted between female schoolies last night ... About six girls viciously punched each other and scuffled in the sand.

Not all women are genteel. Women can and do perpetrate violence. Any honest campaign against domestic violence ought to recognise this fact.

I'll leave the last word to Sue Price. She is part of an Australian group called the Men's Rights Agency. David Penberthy's attack piece in the Herald Sun was directed mostly at her, for her criticisms of the White Ribbon Day campaign. But I think she got it right:

“By claiming nearly 30% of young women can expect to be assaulted, WR campaigners are creating an unnecessary climate of fear and an expectation that far greater numbers of young men will be violent”, said Sue Price. “To profile our young men and particularly young impressionable schoolboys in Grades 5 – 8 in such a way is to diminish their belief in themselves as young males. Branding them with a wrist band displaying the slogan 'Say no to domestic violence’ and indoctrinating them in believing they should take on the shame and guilt for others' bad behaviour is totally unacceptable and counterproductive.”

Author of Not Guilty: the Case In defence of men (1999) David Thomas applauded teaching boys to be “non confrontational” but warned “educationalists who seek to cut down on sex–attacks and crimes of assault by attempting to undermine the very idea of masculinity or to feminize young boys will find their policies have precisely the opposite effect. Well-balanced men, who are secure and confident in their masculinity are far less likely to harm women than men who are insecure or resentful” (p.217).

Something else to make you rethink climate science

Is the data on which climate science is based reliable?

Maybe not. One interested observer decided to investigate the figures for climate change based on weather reports from Darwin, Australia.

The raw figures showed a decline in temperature during the course of the twentieth century. More exactly, the temperature started high in 1897, reached a low point in the mid-1940s, before recovering some ground by the 1990s.

So the raw data doesn't easily fit a global warming scare.

But the warming scientists didn't use the raw data. They adjusted the data to remove "inhomogeneities". There can exist legitimate reasons for climate scientists to do this. For instance, if the information from nearby weather stations shows incongruities, or if the station itself moves position.

However, there seems to be no pressing need to adjust the Darwin data. The data from different stations are in close agreement. If any adjustment is necessary, it might be to slightly lower the pre-1941 data, in which case the temperature in 1897 turns out to be much the same as the temperature in 2000.

But the climate scientists made far more drastic adjustments. One group of scientists decided to adjust by beginning the record in 1963, at a low point in temperature. This then creates a small rise in temperature to the year 2000, rather than a fall.

But another group of scientists made an even more radical adjustment. They completely reversed what the the raw data showed. Instead of a cooling of temperature over the course of the century, the adjusted data showed a warming.

When Willis Eschenbach then checked how the adjustments were made he was astonished:

Yikes again, double yikes! What on earth justifies that adjustment? How can they do that? We have five different records covering Darwin from 1941 on. They all agree almost exactly. Why adjust them at all? They’ve just added a huge artificial totally imaginary trend to the last half of the raw data! Now it looks like the IPCC diagram in Figure 1, all right … but a six degree per century trend? And in the shape of a regular stepped pyramid climbing to heaven? What’s up with that?

Those, dear friends, are the clumsy fingerprints of someone messing with the data Egyptian style … they are indisputable evidence that the “homogenized” data has been changed to fit someone’s preconceptions about whether the earth is warming.

If the data for Darwin can be adjusted like this, then how do we know it hasn't been elsewhere as well? There needs to be a lot more scrutiny of the science on which current claims of dramatic, man-made global warming is based.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A global warming eye opener

Lawrence Auster isn't exaggerating when he begins his latest post on climate change with this advice:

This is must reading that will take you five minutes and alter your entire view of the warming issue.

I read the article he links to and it really is an eye opener. It explains how graphs showing movements in temperature can be terribly misleading. If we take only a recent slice of history then it does appear as if there has been significant warming. But the further back in time you go, the less significant the recent rise appears.

Read the linked article and you'll understand (the graphs in the article aren't ideal as they don't carry as far forward as they should and miss recent rises, but even with the half a degree change left out the basic point stands).

The author of the article is not anti-environmentalist. He would still prefer to develop cleaner sources of energy through the development of new technologies:

Does this mean that CO2 isn’t a greenhouse gas? No. Does it mean that it isn’t warming? No. Does it mean that we shouldn’t develop clean, efficient technology that gets its energy elsewhere than burning fossil fuels? Of course not. We should do all those things for many reasons — but there’s plenty of time to do them the right way, by developing nanotech.

We are not living out the last days of planet earth. The recent rises in temperature are small and well within normal, modest patterns of climate change.

So there is no reason for us to be railroaded into a massive transfer of funds to a new layer of global bureaucrats and placeholders. Once we commit to sources of funding for another layer of officialdom, we're likely to be stuck with the financial drain and the political interference in the long term.

Well after global warming itself has long been discredited and forgotten about.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

French right: "We must impose parity"

The governing party of France is the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement). It's a coalition of forces on the right of French politics.

But just because it is on the right of French politics doesn't mean that it's genuinely conservative. The party is sponsoring legislation that will make it compulsory for French companies to have women as 50% of their board members by 2015.

Why make it compulsory for board directors to be 50% female? Why not just allow companies to select whoever they think is best to fill these positions?

The answer is that under the logic of liberalism gender must be made not to matter.

Liberals take autonomy to be the highest good in society. Therefore, they favour what is self-determined, rather than predetermined. Our sex is not something we get to choose for ourselves - it is predetermined. Therefore, liberals take the fact of sex distinctions to be a negative impediment to individual freedom that must be made not to matter.

Liberals once thought that equal opportunity would do the trick. They assumed that men and women were by nature the same, so that if there were equal opportunities women would end up doing what men did in equal numbers.

But it hasn't turned out that way. Even though women are favoured in getting onto company boards, there aren't as many women who compete to do so. So even with equal opportunity and affirmative action gender still matters. Therefore liberals are increasingly turning to the blunt instrument of the law to get what they really want - equal outcomes, regardless of merit or fairness.

The president of the UMP, Jean-François Copé, made this perfectly clear when he said,

We must do to companies what we did in the public domain a few years ago and impose parity.

Equality of outcome is to be imposed by a party of the right. So much for the idea that liberalism is a neutral philosophy that leaves people alone to run their own affairs. We have well and truly reached the phase of liberalism in which the state intrusively engineers social outcomes.

As for liberals recognising that equal opportunity wasn't working as they'd hoped, listen to the views of this French woman:

Véronique Préaux-Cobti, a leading businesswoman, said the discussions were a sign that times had changed.

"In 2002, a huge majority would have been against," she told Le Figaro earlier this year. "Now, after years of good will with no change, there is a real realisation that things are not going to change on their own."

What a quote. She recognises that businesswomen have faced "good will" rather than hostility and opposition, but that things haven't changed (i.e. gender still matters). She then says that there has been a change in view as people have realised that "things are not going to change on their own" - which is a nice way of saying that people (liberals) now want things changed forcibly by state coercion.

So equal opportunity isn't enough for liberals. Even when businesswomen were treated favourably the result was not boardroom parity. The fair treatment of women in business is made clear in a large-scale study of executive pay tracking the earnings of 16,000 executives over 14 years. The research showed that,

At any given level of the career hierarchy, women are paid slightly more than men with the same background, have slightly less income uncertainty and are promoted as quickly.

In other words, women in business were treated better in general than similarly qualified men.

There's evidence too that some less qualified women are already being appointed to company boards in order to change gender ratios. Chris Thomas, a partner with an executive head hunting firm, has stated that,

if some of the women on boards today were men, they would not be directors. If the sorts of discussions that go on around the choices made were taped, they would be embarrassing. (Herald Sun, "Time to get on board," 5/12/09)

According to an insider like Chris Thomas, women are cynically being appointed to directorships over better qualified men, in order to bolster the number of female board members.

A lot of men may shrug their shoulders at this. Most of us won't be competing for these directorships anyway. But we have to realise that once the principle is accepted it will work its way through society as a whole.

If the state can act coercively to force a parity in outcomes between men and women, then get ready for some radical social engineering. Expect, for instance, for it to be made compulsory for men and women to have an equal number of months of paid parental care. Expect the level of superannuation paid to women and men to be made the same, regardless of contributions. Expect the level of lifetime earnings to be made the same, regardless of hours worked or the nature of the work undertaken. Expect a mandatory 50% of non-combatant officer positions in the armed services to be reserved for women. And so on.

All of this will present opportunities for traditionalists. There will certainly be men who will understand that less qualified women are being promoted ahead of them. This can only weaken the allegiance of men to a liberal order.

The problem we have is that the men who finally do break faith with liberalism are often so demoralised that they simply opt out and give up on their own civilisation rather than turning to an active and principled opposition. But some men will be spirited enough to consider a traditionalist alternative.

We need to present to these men a very different understanding of gender and freedom. Freedom for traditionalists is a freedom to act as we are really constituted, i.e. as men and women, as members of distinct communities, as moral beings and so on. So it is a more important good to be allowed to fulfil our distinct natures as men and women than to force a parity of outcomes through state coercion.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Losing moral status

Here's another brief thought on the domestic violence issue.

When I see what has happened with the White Ribbon Day campaign, I'm reminded of just how the left manages to set the framework of politics to their advantage.

It goes like this. The left makes a claim that men as a class are violent toward women because they enjoy an unearned privilege in society. The anti-domestic violence cause seems like a good one, so a lot of men unthinkingly sign on to the message.

But straight away these men are caught in a trap. Once you accept that men as a class are perpetrating an injustice and an oppression to defend an unearned privilege, you lose moral status as a man in society.

And it's exactly the conscientious, politically active type of men who can't bear to lose moral status. They will desperately want to win it back somehow. How can they do it?

The message that is delivered to them is that they can redeem themselves by breaking ranks with other men. They can continue to speak with moral authority if they separate themselves from the other men and if they identify against the tradition of masculinity.

This solves (for a time anyway) the problem of moral status - but at a tremendous cost. It means turning against your own, thereby forfeiting an aspect of your self-identity and your group loyalty.

Something like this also happens with the issue of race. Whites are told that there is no racial equality because whites have oppressed others and discriminated against others in order to enjoy an unearned privilege. Once you accept this as a white person, you lose moral status. If you want to reclaim moral status you have to break ranks and identify against your own race. But this means forfeiting a part of your self-identity and your own larger communal tradition.

So the trap is in accepting the original negative appraisal of whiteness or masculinity or whatever else the left has set itself against.

The aim, then, is to reject the original vilification of men (or whites) as a class of people. But it matters a great deal how you do this.

It's no use trying to plead with liberals that men/whites should be accepted as good by the standards of liberalism. There's little point, for instance, in arguing that whites aren't racist oppressors because they are accepting of diversity, of open borders, of mass immigration and so on. This is asking to be allowed to identify positively with something, by taking away the conditions for its future existence.

So we have to take care, initially, not to be suckered into losing moral status, and, having avoided this, not to plead for the goodness of our tradition on losing terms supplied by liberalism itself.