Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sharing the anger

I'm not sure it's good form to write this kind of post. But I thought it worthwhile because it offers a bit of insight into the radical left-wing mind.

Penny Red is an up-and-coming young English feminist. She's recently been given a paid position at the New Statesman.

She's written a personal piece at her own blog describing a bout of depression she is currently suffering from. I wish her well in recovering from this, but I couldn't help but be struck by what she feels her depression deprives her of.

Her anger and rage.

She is worried that her depression prevents her from feeling anger:

It's getting harder to stay angry. And that frightens me.

My mental health has taken a turn for the worse. I'm struggling to care. I'm struggling to stay angry. That terrifies me more than anything ...

That's what clinical depression does, you see. It takes away your anger, piece by piece, along with every other drive and interest and emotion that ever mattered to you ...

So here's what you can do to help me. If you have time and energy in your own life ... here's what you can do: send me your ideas. Send me your anger and truth, for the little space in time when I can't access my own.

Send me your rage, your issues, things that make you mad, things that make you want to run into the street and start a revolution ... It doesn't matter what's making you angry or whether you think I'll agree or be interested - I want to hear it ... Send me your anger and understand that if the internet is made for anything, it's made for times like this.

Traditionalists too have things to be angry about. And anger can be a source of motivation to get active. But I still think there's something very different in the way that Penny Red looks at things. Would any traditionalist describe a loss of anger as the worst deprivation? I wouldn't think so.

I wouldn't want to live my life in a state of anger. If I wanted to retain anything it would be to live responsively, with a warmth of attachment, a sense of moral integrity, an enjoyment of nature and the arts, a responsiveness to women, a sense of masculine prowess, energy to rise to the challenges I face at work and at home, a love of family, a connectedness to ancestry and my communal tradition, an appreciation of beauty and so on. Anger would not be anywhere near the top of the list.

And what was the upshot of Penny Red's call for her readers to send her their anger? She got sent heaps:

I've now received over fifty emails full of rage and hope and ideas. The internet is wonderful, you're all wonderful, and you're a constant source of energy and inspiration.

What does it all mean? Maybe it's difficult for radical leftists to stay motivated these days, given how far society has already been transformed along the lines they favour - and so rage at the system has to be self-consciously cultivated. Or maybe there's some vitalist nihilism at play here - if you think that life is empty then maybe anger and rage keep up a level of energy, excitement and sensation to make life seem more stimulating and interesting.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A visit to right-liberal HQ

What exactly is wrong with a libertarian or classical liberal politics? The answer is clear if you visit the Cato Institute.

The Cato Institute's mission is to "advance liberty". That sounds good, in fact in sounds very good. But wait till you find out exactly what "liberty" is thought to mean.

How to label Cato

The Catoists reject the label conservative. They like the term classical liberal but worry that it might be thought backward looking. So they prefer to be labelled as libertarians or market liberals.

In short, they are right-liberals. Like all liberals, they want a society made up of radically autonomous individuals. They reject the left-liberal idea that such a society can be organised by the administration of a central state, so their politics is anti-statist.

They believe instead that the best way to regulate a society made up of millions of abstracted, atomised, autonomous individuals is through the free market. The hidden hand of the market, it is thought, will keep the individual pursuit of profit working for the overall progress and benefit of society.

So they have a vision of Economic Man, in which our core identity and purpose is realised through our unimpeded participation in the market. That is the kind of liberty that matters to the Catoists, but as we shall see it's an understanding of liberty with unfortunate consequences.

Open borders

If you believe that the most important freedom is unrestricted trade, then you won't want limits placed on the movement of labour. And so you'll support open borders and mass immigration.

This is the immigration policy of the Cato Institute:

Immigration should be considered an important source of necessary labor for the American economy. Immigration policies should be revised to allow US based businesses liberal access to both high and low-skilled workers. Immigration control should be focused on securing our borders from terrorists and criminals.

Throughout history, immigration has been an important source of economic and social vitality for the United States, naturally expanding and contracting depending on the available supply of jobs in the US economy. Regulating immigration is the responsibility of the federal government, and we should have a comprehensive federal immigration system that promotes family cohesion, economic innovation, economic growth, the rule of law, and secure borders.

It's all focused on Economic Man. There's nothing about preserving a culture, heritage, identity or tradition. Nor is there even any serious consideration of social cohesion, apart from the one restriction of not allowing entry to terrorists.

Consider also two of the books that are being plugged by the Cato Institute:

Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders

Jason Riley makes the case for welcoming more immigrants to the United States. Drawing on history, scholarly studies and first-hand reporting, Riley argues that today’s newcomers are fueling America’s prosperity and dynamism.

Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them

In a provocative new book, British author Philippe Legrain presents a comprehensive case for expanding the freedom of workers to cross international borders legally, especially from less to more-developed countries. With an American audience in mind, Legrain examines the economic benefits of both high-skilled and low-skilled immigration.

A Cato type liberty means open borders for the sake of free trade. Little else is seriously considered. Isn't this a very limited view of man and society? And doesn't it impede other kinds of liberty, such as the freedom to enjoy and uphold an existing culture and identity? Or to enjoy stable forms of communal life that we can feel secure attachments to?

Even the economic arguments are dubious. There's evidence that lower skilled native workers suffer a fall in their economic condition during times of mass immigration. And yet such workers are supposed to believe that through open borders they are experiencing maximum liberty.

Breaking a pattern

These right-liberal ideas do have an influence. The more intellectual types within the Liberal Party, the Republican Party and the Conservative Party would have been influenced by these right-liberal ideas in their formative years.

It's important that those of us who don't like left-liberal politics don't fall into a right-liberal politics as an available alternative. The Cato slogan of "Individual Liberty, Free Markets, and Peace" might sound appealing, but in its details it's not helpful for conserving the larger Western tradition.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

PM deposed

We had a dramatic week in politics here in Australia. Our Prime Minister was dumped by his own party.

The conspiracy against the PM is not that surprising. He was riding high in the polls seven months ago, but since then suffered a decline in popularity. The Labor Party powerbrokers decided, probably correctly, that he was an electoral liability and replaced him with the deputy PM, Julia Gillard.

There's little reason for traditionalists to regret the demise of Rudd. Just consider these disastrous policies:

i) When Rudd first arrived in office he set out to create an Asia-Pacific Union, along the lines of the EU. Fortunately his diplomatic efforts failed to interest the major Asian powers.

ii) Rudd ramped up immigration to astonishing levels. In 2008 alone there were 876,222 arrivals.

iii) Rudd set up a national curriculum for all Australian schools. There are three themes underpinning every subject in the curriculum from prep to Year 12: indigenous perspectives, Australia's place in Asia and sustainable living.

Julia Gillard, the new PM, was part of the inner circle who decided these policies, so we shouldn't hope for too much better from her. She is also someone who has ruled out the idea that women might be full-time homemakers:

If one suggested to a girl in school today that her future life would consist of marriage, raising children and tending the family home, she would no doubt look at you as if you had just arrived from Mars ...

... while she may not know what course she wants to chart out in her life yet, she knows work will play a role in it – and an important one. Whether for the thrill of career, the social integration of work, the pay packet or for a mix of all of them, she’ll work.

So much for choice. Gillard comes across as an ideological feminist in this quote, as someone who disdains the significance of the motherhood role.

Anyway, it's likely now that there will be an election soon, before Gillard's honeymoon period is over. She's a chance to win, particularly with the upsurge of the Greens (whose preferences will mostly go Labor's way). Time will tell.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What makes Malcolm Fraser sad?

I wrote an article earlier this month about political distinctions within the Liberal Party (overseas readers might not know, but this is the more right-wing of the two major parties here).

I noted that one of the main distinctions is between purists (those who want the party to represent liberalism alone and who are opposed to conservatism) and fusionists (those who, wrongly in my opinion, believe that the party can harmonise liberalism and conservatism).

I identified the former prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, as one of the purists. And in today's Herald Sun he confirmed my choice. He explained his recent decision to quit the Liberal Party this way:

the Liberal Party has become increasingly conservative ... It's something also that I'm very sad about. If it's possible for any good to come out of a resignation ... I would like it to be that Liberals ... must fight harder to fight for Liberal values within the party itself.

If they don't, more conservative elements of the party will become stronger and stronger and more pervasive and the basic Liberal philosophy on which the party was founded by Menzies will be cast further and further into the ash heap.

Clearly Fraser is a liberal purist: he is someone who sees conservatism as the enemy of the Liberal Party tradition and who is saddened by the presence of conservatism within the party.

Which says something about the politics of Australia in the 1970s when Fraser won office. In that decade, Fraser was thought to be on the conservative end of the political spectrum. P.G. Tiver wrote a book on the Australian Liberal Party in 1978 and this is how he describes Fraser:

Fraser's own ideology is, along the liberal-conservative continuum, conservative on all major points, and more strikingly conservative than Menzies'.

And this is from a report on a Liberal Party meeting in 1974:

There were some fears at the start of the meeting that the philosophical differences between "trendies" such as Peacock and Chipp and conservatives such as Fraser and Forbes might create a problem ...

The fact that an anti-conservative like Fraser could be considered a conservative "on all major points" shows just how limited Australian politics was in the 1970s. The most "conservative" political figure was someone who was utterly unsympathetic to conservatism.

Little wonder then that liberalism marched on with little opposition in Australia throughout that period.

Liberalism has been around for so long, that little about it is novel. For instance, liberals want to maximise individual autonomy. But this leads to an ideological tension. Some liberals believe that the best way to maximise individual autonomy is through a laissez-faire principle in which there is minimal government interference. But other liberals think that people can't be autonomous unless they have the resources to put their preferred choices into effect and that the state should therefore intervene to create equality whether of opportunity or outcome.

In the 1970s in Australia, the first option was labelled as conservative and the second as socialist or ameliorative. It's in this sense, and this limited sense alone, that Fraser was a conservative. In a strongly "socialist" political climate he held to the so-called "conservative" option. For instance in 1975 he declared that,

I have no intention of leading a Government which is only going to socialise Australia at a slower pace than Labor.

And in the same year he wrote:

there are serious limitations on the ability of the government to produce the better life

And this, in the political climate of the time, was enough to put him at the most "conservative" end of politics, when all he had really done was to prefer one liberal option over another.

Fraser has never been a genuine conservative. In a previous post I wrote of Fraser that,

Way back in 1968 Fraser gave a speech in which he noted that one Australian university, as an entrance requirement, "recognises the following languages - French, German, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Italian, Russian and Japanese". He criticised this selection by claiming that,
the list as a whole is one belonging to the last century except for one of the languages mentioned.
According to Fraser, the European languages did not belong in the twentieth century. Only the Japanese one did.

Fraser hasn't changed his politics. He's been pushing for open borders for decades. He's not only a liberal but a radical one. He feels no connection at all to any national heritage or inherited identity.

To be a genuine conservative, there has to be a tradition, or some aspect of a tradition, you think worth conserving. Fraser demonstrated a lack of attachment to the West itself back in 1968, a declaration of non-conservatism if ever there was one.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The decline of marriage in Sweden

Australia in 20 years time will most likely have the same pattern of family life that exists in Sweden today. So the demographic trends in Sweden interest me: they tell us a bit about what's in store for us.

I recently had a look through some statistics for Sweden provided by the Council of Europe. Two things struck me. First, Sweden seems to have missed out on the baby boom of the 1960s. If you look at completed fertility rates (the actual number of children born to women by their mid-40s), there hasn't really been much of a change over the years.

The completed fertility rate has stayed between a peak of 2.16 for those women born in 1933 and a low of 1.94 for those born in 1967.

The second interesting statistic is the great change in marriage rates for women. A Swedish woman born in 1936 had a 92% chance of marrying. A steady decline set in for those women born after 1942. For women born in 1967 (my generation of women) there was only a 59% chance of ever marrying.

Where will it end?

(For the statistics, go to the bottom of this page and click on the links to the Excel charts.)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A generation of women living blind to the future

It's not great when you know something foolish is happening but you have no power to influence it. That's the situation I found myself in when I was in my mid-20s, back in the early to mid 1990s.

At that time, the women I socialised with had decided to make marriage a low priority. It was something to be pushed off until some time in your 30s, even your late 30s. The 20s were thought to be the decade for an independent girl lifestyle, complete with ill-fated flings with the wrong sort of men (already there was pressure on men to "thug up").

At the time I thought these women were mad. They were giving a low priority to what was a key to their future happiness. They were putting last on the list something that ought to have been near the top. It was easy to predict that there would be many regrets later on.

And now here we are at the regret stage. My generation of women are now in their late 30s and early 40s. And they are creating a genre of confessional literature, one in which they describe their failure to form a family when they had a chance in their 20s.

It was all so predictable. Why couldn't intelligent, well-educated, middle-class women have known what was going to happen? Many seemed to believe that men would simply fall in with whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. And they were a bit surprised when that didn't happen.

And to be fair, that kind of magical thinking is not unusual in modern liberal society. I'm reminded of Kristor's comment that I've quoted previously:

Modern culture is a veritable hurricane of vicious cycles, all originating in a gnostic pretense: Let's pretend that there is no inherent nature of things, so that we may mess ad libitum with the family, sex, economics, and culture, with no ill consequences. Hey, Presto! Pass a law! Make it so!

Liberalism works best if there are no limits to things, if we can make things any which way we can. Because it's a convenient way for liberals to think, many do take this attitude, seeing it as a "hopeful" way to see the world.

But reality has a way of asserting itself. Let me take as an example the cases of Bibi Lynch and Rachael Lloyd, both quite attractive Englishwomen who have ended up single and childless.
Rachael spent her youth going out with the bad boy type:

relationships have never been my strong point. Historically, I've picked good-looking villains and addictive personalities.

I've had a ball and many passionate experiences, but nothing functional enough to constitute a long-term future and never anyone 'normal' enough to bring home to meet the parents.

It's not easy to meet men now she's in her late 30s:

I've found modern dating both disappointing and exhausting.

Trawl through any dating internet site and you'll find a host of men from all walks of life. But so many are either obsessed with sex, bitter divorc├ęs laden with baggage or simply barking mad.

Although she puts a positive spin on being single, she admits:

I'm realistic. I've probably missed the boat as far as children are concerned, and that is a shame...

I can't help agreeing with Lisa Snowdon, who rues the fact that older men want to date only younger women. At 38, although I'm far from over the hill, I'm considered a woman of a certain age...

Yes, the life I have today is not quite the one I envisaged 20 years ago as a young woman. I foresaw a satisfying career along with 2.4 children and a handsome husband.

Then there is Bibi, now 44. She tells her story this way:

I am staring down the barrel of a lonely future without a man, let alone children.

And how do I find myself in this perilous position? One reason is undoubtedly that men like young women. Yes, I was young once and all that. In my 20s and 30s I wasn't exactly a supermodel, but I was constantly surrounded by men. The trouble is I wasn't necessarily looking to settle down back then...

Now that I am, there are very few available men out there and the ones there are would be more interested in my teenage nieces than in me...

Pity she didn't choose to settle down when she could have done so to her advantage. She's now having to compete with much younger women for male attention:

Please don't suggest internet dating. That crying date I had was through the internet. And I had to lie about my age even to get him to look at me. Any woman who has visited the hell that is internet dating will tell you she's had to knock at least five years off her age to be in the right 'bracket'.

Men are programmed to go for women they can have babies with and no matter what his age, he'll still have that subconscious desire...

The instant you meet someone, you give off hundreds of signals about yourself and those signals dictate if you're desirable or not to this new person. So if you're not giving off 'young' (equals fertile), you're going home alone.

I am not totally blaming men here. Like I said, this is hard-wired. And there's also (to a much lesser degree) the element of how we feel about ourselves as we get older. If I go to a bar and the place is packed with young women, I feel myself shrink. Not exactly appealing to the opposite sex.

Bibi has a lot of friends in exactly the same boat:

In my close circle of friends, there are eight of us who are single and childless. This is a generational phenomenon  -  we are all aged between 37 and 45.

When our mothers were that age, such numbers would be unimaginable.

Like many women writing this kind of literature, when she looks back she recognises the negative influence of feminism on her generation of women:

I think the feminist teachings of the Sixties and Seventies seeped into our brains. My mum couldn't be called a feminist, but I, too, grew up thinking we could be anything we wanted to be and have a fulfilling career, life and relationship.

We didn't delay marriage and motherhood deliberately, but felt there was more to contend with beforehand.

What we didn't realise was that men wouldn't be interested when we were ready. My generation was spoilt - unrealistic, even - and we wanted everything to be heightened and fabulous. And that has been our downfall.

What she is trying to say here is that feminism pushed marriage and motherhood down the list of priorities ("there was more to contend with beforehand"). She admits that she was led into the magical kind of thinking I described earlier in which there is nothing in reality to limit having things as you want them to be ("we didn't realise that men wouldn't be interested ... my generation was spoilt - unrealistic, even").

And so Bibi, who was "constantly surrounded" by men in her 20s, has ended up unhappily alone ("I feel I've moved from independent and vibrant to sad spinster.")

I know some men will respond "serve them right". But there are tens of thousands of these Western women who will never raise children now. It is to our common detriment that they were unable to form families.

And along the way they inflicted a whole lot of damage. They helped to demoralise the family guy culture amongst men, making it more difficult for the next generation of women, even those who were more traditionally minded.

And by wasting years of their own lives, they wasted years of the lives of many men.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fathers declared unnecessary

The war on fathers continues. The Atlantic has published an article bluntly titled "Are Fathers Necessary?". The author, Pamela Paul, believes that new research shows the answer to be no, that fathers are not as essential as once thought.

She admits that there is data showing the negative effects on children of fatherlessness, with such children being on average:

five times as likely to live in poverty and commit crime, nine times as likely to drop out of school, and 20 times as likely to wind up in prison

But she thinks this doesn't tell the true story. This only proves in her opinion that two parent families do better than single parent families. The better comparison she believes is between families with a father and mother and families with two lesbian parents.

She then cites recent research showing that lesbian families do better than families with fathers. If true, this would indeed suggest that fathers don't make a necessary contribution as fathers. Their role wouldn't be as essential as once thought:

But the real challenge to our notion of the “essential” father might well be the lesbian mom. On average, lesbian parents spend more time with their children than fathers do. They rate disputes with their children as less frequent than do hetero couples, and describe co-parenting more compatibly and with greater satisfaction. Their kids perceive their parents to be more available and dependable than do the children of heteros. They also discuss more emotional issues with their parents. They have fewer behavioral problems, and show more interest in and try harder at school.

According to Stacey and Biblarz, “Two women who chose to become parents together seemed to provide a double dose of a middle-class ‘feminine’ approach to parenting.” And, they conclude, “based strictly on the published science, one could argue that two women parent better on average than a woman and a man, or at least than a woman and man with a traditional division of family labor.”

So should we just let women do the parenting? Well, let's not jump too fast to this conclusion. I happen to be aware of the kind of research Pamela Paul is relying on here. And it's not research carried out by neutral experts. It is advocacy research.

For instance, there was a lot of publicity given to some recent research published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It claimed that the children of lesbian parents did much better than the children of heterosexual parents:

daughters and sons of lesbian mothers were rated significantly higher in social, school/academic, and total competence and significantly lower in social problems, rule-breaking, aggressive, and externalizing problem behavior than their age-matched counterparts

You could challenge this research in various ways. Lesbians are able to select donor sperm for high IQ in a way that heterosexual women cannot. Lesbian women are more likely to have professional jobs and to live in better neighbourhoods etc.

But there is a larger objection to the research than this. The research was actually funded by a number of LGBT organisations and carried out by two lesbian feminist researchers. One of these researchers, Nanette Gartrell, teaches feminist ethics on campus and has written a book titled, Everyday Mutinies: Funding Lesbian Activism. She has been voted one of the ten most powerful lesbian doctors in the US.

The other researcher is a Dutch lesbian by the name of Henny Bos (pictured left). She has given interviews for the Dutch media which have titles such as "De ideale vader is een moeder" ("The ideal father is a mother") and "Een vader heb je eigenlijk niet nodig" ("You don't actually need a father").

So the researchers and the funding organisations are not neutral. But what of the research itself? What Bos and Gartrell did was to go to places at which the most politically aware of lesbians might congregate (such as lesbian bookstores) and recruit lesbian parents to self-report their family outcomes. Yes, that's right, self-report.

Obviously, there's a decent chance that lesbian parents would put a positive spin on their family outcomes for political reasons. So the value of the research has to be doubted.

This is an important issue to take a stand on. If men don't really believe they have a necessary role in the family, the male commitment not only to family life but by extension to society itself will inevitably weaken. It is the male investment in society that makes the difference and that has to be our core concern.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Is the family a recent invention?

In a recent debate about families, one of my liberal opponents ("atomic parrot") argued that there would be no negative effects if we deliberately created fatherless families:

Different cultures have been raising kids in different ways for ages - the nuclear family is a pretty recent development, for most cultures throughout most of history children have been raised more communally with fathers, uncles, cousins etc all providing some "maleness" to the mix.

So, what would change? The ridiculous notion of a family as one woman and one man and their 3 children? Fine - thats only been around for some 100 years, and it hasn't worked very well.

I've heard this argument before, although every time I hear it the era in which the nuclear family was "invented" moves forward. We've now reached the stage at which Atomic parrot confidently declares that the nuclear family of husband, mother and children was invented in the year 1910.

I wish I knew more anthropology. It would be a helpful field for traditionalists to study and do research in. But even with my amateur knowledge of the subject I believe I can raise at least a few objections to Atomic parrot's argument.

First, the debate about family structure in England is about the extent to which families were nuclear or extended. An extended family is still based on the unit of father/mother/children, but perhaps with an additional generation of the family living in the home, or related families co-residing in a particular area and cooperating together. In other words, the extended family is not diametrically opposed to the nuclear family but is an extension of it.

Having said that, there is evidence that in England the family structure of 1560 was just as much based on the nuclear family as that of 1960. The historian Peter Laslett studied parish records with these results:

Laslett studied family size and composition in pre-industrial England. From 1564-1821, he found that only about 10% of households contained kin beyond the nuclear family. This is the same percentage as for England in 1966. Laslett found no evidence to support the view that the classic extended family was widespread in pre-industrial England. He claims:

"There is no sign of the large extended co-residential family group of the traditional peasant world giving way to the small, nuclear conjugal household of modern industrial society."

The earliest evidence for the existence of the nuclear family goes all the way back to the year 2600BC. Skeletons found buried in a number of graves in Germany were dated to this time. Scientists believe that members of a tribe had been killed in a raid and were later buried in separate graves by the survivors. In one grave, two adults were buried clasping the hands of two children. DNA was obtained from each skeleton and this confirmed that a father, mother and their two biological children had been buried together this way.

"Their unity in death suggests a unity in life," writes lead author Dr Wolfgang Haak of the University of Adelaide in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

"By establishing the genetic links between the two adults and two children buried together in one grave, we have established the presence of the classic nuclear family in a prehistoric context in Central Europe - to our knowledge the oldest authentic molecular genetic evidence so far," he writes.

The other interesting evidence from the skeletons is that it was the women who left their area of origin to live with the men, which again shows continuity with the modern Western family.

Atomic parrot is correct, though, that the nuclear (or elemental) family is not the only kind of family structure that has existed in human history - though it seems to have been especially strong in the West.

Most people are aware that polygamy has been widespread in various parts of the world. There are tribes too in which men are connected more closely to their sisters' children than to their own. This makes sense, I suppose, if you aren't certain of your paternity. It can't be doubted that you are related to your sisters' children, but it's possible to doubt that you are related to your own.

The Mosuo tribe in China are an example of such an alternative system. In this tribe there is a certain kind of matriarchal system. Women are given their own room when young and choose which man will visit them secretly at night (with the matriarchs of both families having considerable say over the pairings).

Not surprisingly, fathers don't play an everyday role in the lives of the subsequent children (it's even claimed that there is no word for "father" in the Mosuo language). The men continue throughout their lives to reside in the house of their mother and sisters:

Most significantly, when children are born, the father may have little responsibility for his offspring. "It is the job of men to care more for their nieces and nephews than for his own children"

The Mosuo have found a low-key way to motivate men in society: men look after the nieces and nephews they are related to. But it's not a great way to encourage a high level of male investment in society. A Mosuo man may only get to see his wife and child once a week and all his earnings will go to his mother rather than to his own immediate family. There's not a great deal of incentive, therefore, to work to accumulate property to support a wife and family or to pass on to your own children.

So when Atomic parrot claims that the nuclear family "doesn't work," he is not really taking the larger, historic view. The societies which have had most success in creating advanced civilisations have generally had Western style family structures, rather than polygamous or matriarchal ones.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

No housewives in Sweden?

A Swedish feminist ("Linnbe") recently posted an appeal at the men's rights page at reddit. She wanted men to think of feminists as their allies rather than as the enemy. She began with this comment:

Most feminists I know look at feminism as an equalist movement. They think that the only way to get rid of injustices is to encourage men to be nurturing as much as encourage women to be self reliable. Fathers should get legal support for parental leave for their baby. Subsided daycare makes it possible for parents in low pay employment to work full time if they choose to ...

Most feminists are your friends.

This is the familiar Swedish mindset. There's an assumption that autonomy (being "self-reliable") is what matters; that you become autonomous through your career; and therefore women should be more career and less family oriented. This is helped along if men take on more of the child care.

This reduces men to the role of propping up female autonomy.

But it was Linnbe's next comment which I thought most striking:

Feminism is very strong here, several male party leaders have claimed to be feminists ... And with this feminist power that I would call quite a bit stronger then the American, I find the American society worse for men then the Swedish ...

Women [in Sweden] are expected to work and housewives are VERY rare. I don't know anyone that would call herself that, not even my grandparents and their friends.

So the great Swedish achievement is getting rid of housewives. Linnbe assumes that we will see this as a great mark of human progress. What I see instead is a revelation of what liberal modernity leads to. It doesn't lead to greater choice or diversity, as liberals like to claim it will do, but to one standard undifferentiated role for both men and women.

Is there really a "respect for difference" when it comes to sex roles in Sweden? Do Swedish women really have choice when it comes to their role in the family and society?

Making autonomy the organising principle of society is incoherent. If you set out to maximise autonomy you end up restricting it. If you say "the way for women to be more autonomous is to get them to do X" you then restrict women from doing Y and Z, which itself then infringes women's autonomy. And if you are committed to making autonomy equal (as the key good in life), you have to find a way to formally regulate its distribution, which then means restricting the scope of people's lives to those things that can be more readily socially regulated or administered.

The real level of autonomy falls the more it is made the organising principle of society.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

A low point of antidiscrimination?

There's a dating agency here in Victoria called Dinner at Eight. The idea behind the agency is that three men and three women are matched up and have dinner at a restaurant together. The agency recently won an exemption to the Equal Opportunity Act allowing it to discriminate in its advertising.

What was the exemption for? As the Herald Sun reports:

A DATING agency has been given permission to ban married people from using its services in a blow to philandering spouses.

The Dinner at Eight dating agency has won an exemption to the Equal Opportunity Act allowing it to bar wandering husbands from signing up to its singles events.

Under the exemption, Dinner at Eight will be able to "refuse to provide its service to a person who is married and not separated from their spouse".

We ought to say straight out: this isn't normal. It's not normal to expect a dating agency whose purpose is to match single men and women to include married men or women. It's not normal to expect any agency to help along the cause of infidelity. It's not normal for a faceless government tribunal to decide what are essentially moral issues.

For all these reasons, Dinner at Eight should never have been expected to apply for an exemption. It should have been assumed as a matter of course that the agency could limit its advertising to singles.

It's a sign that a society has lost its way when any and every kind of discrimination has to be pleaded before a government tribunal.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Does liberal purism make you a moderate?

Last year Senator George Brandis gave an impressive speech setting out his political philosophy. I disagree vehemently with this philosophy, believing it to be utterly ruinous for Australia. But I admire the fact that Senator Brandis set out his fundamental, principled beliefs. How else can the really important issues in politics be debated?

Senator Brandis is a so-called "moderate" liberal. In my last post, I criticised the idea pushed by the media that Liberal Party members like Brandis, Malcolm Fraser, Petro Georgiou, Joe Hockey and Marise Payne are the moderates within the party. Why?

The so-called moderates are really the liberal purists. And that makes them more radical than those in the party who want to fuse liberalism with some aspect of conservatism.

In other words, the division is between purists and fusionists. The purists want to hold to a radically reductionist philosophy in which there is only one supreme value: individual autonomy. The fusionists are confused (in thinking that there is no opposition between liberalism and conservatism), but they are dimly aware of other values.

If you are a reductionist pushing a single value on society you are inevitably going to be more radical than someone aware (at some level) that other values might also need to be considered.

In his speech Senator Brandis makes his criticism of fusion crystal clear. He describes the original coming together of liberals and conservatives in the early nineteenth century as a "political fault line". He then argues that the most significant liberal leaders prior to John Howard always identified as liberal rather than as both liberal and conservative. He quotes, for instance, Alfred Deakin's declaration that "we are liberal always, radical often and never reactionary".

He believes the more recent leadership has tried to "dilute" the commitment to liberalism within the Liberal Party by fusing it with conservatism. John Howard, for instance, was committed to a "broad church of Australian Liberalism" in which it was possible to be a devotee of both Edmund Burke and John Stuart Mill. Tony Abbott too has argued that the Liberal Party is "not just liberal in nature".

Let me repeat: for Brandis the battle lines are between liberal purists like himself and fusionists. Which then brings us to the second issue at stake: reductionism.

Brandis asserts very clearly that there can only be one overriding, organising value in society. He calls that value "individual freedom" but he makes it clear that he means "freedom as individual autonomy". He writes, for instance,

the sovereign idea which inspires our side of politics has always been the same: our belief that the paramount public value is the freedom of the individual ...

the most important single thing we must do is renew our commitment to the freedom of the individual, and restore that commitment to the very centre of our political value system: not one among several competing values, but the core value, from which our world view ultimately derives.

in qualifying the Liberal Party's commitment to the freedom of the individual as its core value, and weighing it against what he often called social cohesion, Howard made a profound departure from the tradition of Deakin and Menzies.

Liberalism ... has such a central guiding principle - respect for the freedom of the individual, his dignity and his autonomy; his right ... to be the architect of his own life [i.e. to be a self-determining, self-creating autonomous individual]

Every one of those reforms extended the bounds of human freedom, gave individual men and women greater autonomy ...

Most revealingly, Brandis argues that you need a single value by which to decide political outcomes. There has to be a "higher common principle" or else there is no basis for deciding between competing claims:

But when one tries to bring both liberal and conservative values together, there is no anterior or higher common principle, according to which we can determine whether the question is to be decided according to the outcome dictated by liberal values ... or conservative values ...

For Brandis it is always the liberal value of individual autonomy which is to determine the question. He does not accept the idea that politics might involve the weighing up of many different considerations, purposes and values, with wisdom and prudence being key political talents. Brandis makes it sound as if a radical reductionism is the only possible solution to the fact of competing claims in society.

Of course, as a liberal Brandis portrays the influence of individual autonomy as the sole organising principle of society in wholly positive terms: as creating less uniformity, more freedom, more dignity, more progress, more choice and so on.

But this is not a reality that liberalism could ever have achieved. There is an incoherence to the idea that autonomy alone can bring greater choice and freedom. What, for instance, if the things that matter most to people require a distinct social setting in which people cooperate to achieve certain outcomes? There is no principled basis within liberalism for these social settings to be defended. Therefore, the choices that matter most to people will be lost. Choice will be limited to more trivial affairs, ones that are within the power of an atomised individual to self-determine, such as choice of entertainments, cuisine, travel and hobbies.

And what if the aim of society is always to maximise individual autonomy? Then whatever cannot be self-determined will be looked on negatively as an impediment to individual freedom. But there are many important aspects to life that aren't self-determined, including core aspects of our identity. Liberalism therefore ends up not so much liberating the individual to fully realise himself, but abstracting or alienating the individual.

These, at any rate, are the kinds of arguments which can be levelled against liberal reductionism. Unfortunately, the fusionists have only made more limited arguments against autonomy as the sole organising principle of society. Howard, as mentioned already, claimed only that "social cohesion" also had to be considered as a value. Which is true, but not really the most substantial value to set alongside autonomy. If the political situation is quiet, it leaves little objection in practice to autonomy as the sole consideration.

Tony Abbott for his part has stated that,

Perhaps it's enough to say that in some circumstances freedom and in other circumstances a set of rules is the most effective way to encourage people to be their best selves.

At least Abbott has made some sort of break with the idea of autonomy as the sole organising principle. But, again, he needs to develop the idea much further. It's not just a "set of rules" that needs to be weighed against autonomy. What about a commitment to family life? To a communal tradition? To an ideal of manhood or womanhood? To creating a pleasant and beautiful urban environment? To a standard of manners and morals?

It's not that any one of these values will then become an organising principle of society. Instead, it's up to a society to try to get the balance right between many values, including autonomy. That is what the liberal purists cannot and will not do. They are reductionists, committed to organising society along the lines of a single value, and they therefore constitute the more radical element within the Liberal Party.