Thursday, March 31, 2011

Kant & the foundation of morals

I've read some more of Michael Sandel's Liberalism and the Limits of Justice.

Sandel's aim is to criticise the influential Kantian strand of liberalism. Kant was an Enlightenment philosopher of the 18th century. He wanted to find a way to make individual autonomy the basis of morality.

This meant that the moral law could not be based on a concept of good and evil. If an understanding of good and evil defined morality, then individuals could not choose for themselves their own ends.

Therefore, morality was to be based instead on a concept of justice or right. What Kant wanted to show was that justice or right, defined as possession of autonomy, could have primacy over the good.

But how can this position be justified? Some liberals, such as the 19th century English philosopher John Stuart Mill, have attempted a teleological justification. In other words, the principle is justified in terms of final human purposes or ends.

Mill argued that rights took primacy for utilitarian reasons, namely that this increased the sum of human happiness. Mill wrote:

I regard utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions

Sandel summarises Mill's position as follows:

On the utilitarian view, principles of justice, like all other moral principles, take their character and colour from the end of happiness. For "questions of ends are…questions about what things are desirable", and happiness is desirable, in fact "the only thing desirable as an end", because "people do actually desire it".

Traditionalists would not, of course, reduce principles of justice and morality to the end of happiness. Kant also rejected such a view, believing that if happiness were the ultimate end that justice or right might not always be given primacy.

Kant instead looked for a deontological justification of the primacy of right, one which did not rely on final human purposes. He claimed to have found it in the idea that the human subject itself is prior to any of its objects just as the right is prior to any good.

For Kant, therefore, the human subject is not grounded within a particular nature or within particular relationships or within a moral universe leading on to an understanding of the good. The human subject is abstracted from all this.

Kant's position is very much in line with modern liberalism. This is how Sandel describes the Kantian view:

On the deontological view, what matters above all is not the ends we choose but our capacity to choose them.

And this is how Sandel describes the abstracted view of the human subject:

His answer is that the basis of the moral law is to be found in the subject… a subject capable of an autonomous will… Only such a subject could be that "something which elevates man above himself as a part of the world of sense" and enables him to participate in an ideal, unconditioned realm wholly independent of our social and psychological inclinations.

So if Kant is an important founder of modern liberalism, what can we say about his philosophy? Well, it places what is right and just in opposition to what is good. It has an abstracted view of man as a moral actor. It assumes that human communities cannot share important moral goods. And it dramatically reduces the significance of our moral choices preferring instead to focus on agency.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Roman Virtues: Auctoritas

I'm going to run a series of posts on the traditional virtues. I'll start with the Roman virtues, move on to the Germanic virtues, before finishing with the Christian ones.

I don't claim to be an expert in this field, nor will I assume that all of the traditional virtues are equally worthy.

Auctoritas is possibly not the best virtue to begin with. It's not one that is easily grasped. It seems to have meant a power to influence through prestige or standing rather than through a more direct mechanism of power.

Wikipedia defines auctoritas as follows:

In ancient Rome, Auctoritas referred to the general level of prestige a person had in Roman society, and, as a consequence, his clout, influence, and ability to rally support around his will.

That doesn't make it sound like much of a virtue. But elsewhere it is defined as a spiritual authority and more specifically as,

The sense of one's social standing, built up through experience, Pietas, and Industria.

Industria means hard work, pietas means something like a respectful and dutiful attitude toward the natural order in its social, political and religious aspects, including a sense of patriotism.

If this is so, it would mean that a man with auctoritas would earn respect and social standing through his industry, his experience and his sense of duty towards his parents, his family, his country and his religion.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


There's a comedy being shown in the US called Portlandia which sends up the SWPL inner city liberal types. Here's a clip about a feminist bookstore:

And here's one about ordering local produce:

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Why would someone like Sami Lukis need a sperm donor?

Sami Lukis is an exceptionally beautiful Australian TV personality. She is now 41. But how might she have made use of her abundant feminine charms as a younger women?

One option would have been to take advantage of her beauty to attract a high quality husband - a man who would have loved her, been loyal to her and who would have had the character to be a good husband and father. The type of man she could have successfully formed a family with.

This option would have allowed her to have children and to have devoted her youthful beauty and fertility to her husband, so that he would have bonded strongly with her and wanted to be with her even when her beauty faded and her fertility was lost. It would also have allowed her to pass on a culture of family life to her own children, so that she might have later on enjoyed being a grandmother whilst still at an active age.

But Sami Lukis did not take this option. She did the modern girl thing instead. She by no means rejected marriage and motherhood, but she decided to defer it to the last moment:

I always knew I wanted a baby. It just wasn't a priority until my late 30s.

So what did she do in the meantime? She had a string of relationships with unsuitable men:

She said, however, that given her time again she would not have wasted so many years on relationships that she didn't think were leading to children.

And what is her plan now? She is going to attempt to do IVF as a single woman, make a TV show about it ("Sami's baby") and try to find a husband afterward:

I have the rest of my life to meet Mr Right, but I only have limited time to have a baby.

So if she does manage to have a baby (not guaranteed at age 41 even with IVF), the child won't know its biological father. And her future husband (if there is one), won't get much at all of what men used to get out of marriage - no children, no youthful feminine beauty and passion - he will have been put last on the modern girl list of things to do and he will end up working to bring up a sperm donor's baby.

I can understand Sami Lukis's overwhelming desire to have a child: worried she might have left her attempt to have a baby too late. "As a woman you have this amazing opportunity to have children, to have that mother/child bond our bodies are created this way," she said. "I don't want to miss out on being a mum, it's a basic instinct."

But we somehow have to get through to women like Sami Lukis that the modern girl option is no way to go about securing her future.

It also raises the moral question of whether single women should be accessing IVF to deliberately create fatherless families. Doesn't this send the message that the government doesn't think fathers are necessary to family life, but are at best some sort of optional enhancement?

Herald Sun columnist Susie O'Brien took on this moral issue. In response to reports that 500 single women have used IVF treatments in Victoria in the past year alone, she asked the question:

Do we really need biological fathers?

Her initial answer seems straightforward and clear:

Yes, absolutely.

But she just can't follow through consistently with this answer. She's in an impossible position. She doesn't want to give up on the idea of men being necessary to family life. But she also wants to give her blessing to lesbian couples and single women having children without men. So she refuses to admit that there is any contradiction in her position:

It is possible to passionately support the right of dads in our society, and still support the right of single women and same-sex couples to have kids.

And how does Susie uphold the "right of dads"? She claims that a "father figure" such as a family friend can "do the job just as well" as a biological father. And she writes:

You just have to accept that these days there are lots of different kinds of fathers.

And she then goes on to declare:

The exact permutations of who lives with who, who's married to whom and what their biological origins might be don't really matter to me.

Well, there you have it. She's gone from her initial position of fathers mattering "absolutely" to the idea that whether there's a father around or not doesn't "really matter".

And to underline this point she then finishes her column by quoting Sami Lukis to the effect that her child will be loved, father or not. Susie O'Brien thinks this is the key thing:

And in the end isn't that the only thing that really matters?

So why then did she say at the start that fathers matter absolutely? Perhaps because she doesn't want to put her own husband in the unnecessary category. Perhaps because she recognises at some level the implications of what she is arguing and is reluctant to spell them out too clearly.

Let me say here that Susie O'Brien couldn't be more wrong. If men were to believe the kinds of things she is arguing, then it would be all over for Western society. A society can only exist at a high level if men believe that their role within a family is a distinct and necessary one.

The answer to the Sami Lukis problem is not to declare fathers optional within family life. It's to give priority to family formation at the right time in life.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Do women get to define what's beautiful?

There have been some men's officers appointed on campuses in the UK, much to the displeasure of certain feminists. These feminists have organised to have the following motion carried by the National Union of Students (NUS):

We must fight against the existence of men’s officers, and attempt to prevent the creation of any new men’s officers

This move was justified at the NUS conference in part for this reason:

Student Unions should not be reinforcing the gender binary on campus as it goes against the concept of safe space as self defining trans students may feel they do not fit or are alienated from their own Student Union

I know a lot of us are used to this kind of thing by now, but consider just how radical this is. If something is specifically identified as male, the feminists are complaining that this supports a gender binary (i.e. the existence of two sexes male and female), which is then oppressive to "self-defining trans students." The expectation is that men shouldn't organise as men for fear that this might limit the opportunity for some transsexual students to self-define their own gender identity.

But doesn't the existence of women's organisations do the same thing? No, they get a free pass because:

Women's Groups do not exist to facilitate stereotypical women's activities, but to campaign for liberation against the repression women face and as such do not represent an extension of the gender binary and do not encroach on safe space

The feminists are trying to have it both ways. They want to be able to put out pamphlets with slogans such as "Women: innovating, leading & liberating" whilst still pretending that they are not upholding one side of the traditional man/woman gender binary.

The pamphlet put out by the NUS to campaign against men's officers is interesting for other reasons. For instance, there is a section opposing the sexual objectification of women. The feminist complaint (p.9) is that:

Objectification deprives women of their power to define what is beautiful, what is sexy, what is desirable, and places this power in the hands of the (male) viewer/judge.

So women are to define for themselves what is beautiful and desirable? Sorry sisters, it doesn't work that way, no matter how much you want it to. First, beauty has an essential character and can't be redefined in a direction of our own choosing. Second, the nature of relationships can't be so one-sided. Feminists cannot define for men what men find attractive in women. These feminists are so focused on female "agency" that they think it can be extended even to the sphere of relationships, as if men had no "agency" of their own.

Then there's the thorny issue for feminists of individual choice. Feminists believe that there are no objective moral goods, only the good of unfettered individual choice. But if this is so, then how can they oppose women choosing to pole dance, or wear sexy clothes? Well, the contorted argument they give is this one:

The idea that feminists are trampling women’s rights to behave as they like is a red herring. Likewise, arguing that women are ‘empowered’ by pole dancing lessons, naked calendars and sexy lingerie is too much of a generalisation. Just because someone says they know one or two women who enjoy it does not prove that every woman is therefore automatically required to put up and shut up. Women are empowered when they define their own sexuality and sexual expression, and when they are not penalised for avoiding mainstream definitions. The ‘right’ to get naked and exhibit yourself for male pleasure is not addressed in the Geneva Convention on Human Rights, but just because a woman has chosen to do it does not make it right or OK for every woman.

It's as if they expect that sexuality can exist in a vacuum. Every woman would choose her own sexuality, with no influence from men or society, and none would be penalised by her choice.

That might maximise female agency in the abstract but it's useless as a way of understanding how a sexual culture changes in practice.

How did Western sexual culture get to be the way it is? In part, because feminists themselves insisted on 'liberating' women sexually, by which they meant women choosing relationships for sex alone, rather than for love or marriage. When that happens women are more likely to choose player types, and in such a culture, in which people are increasingly selecting on the basis of sexual attractiveness alone, men are more likely to think of women in terms of "hotness".

If you want to change this, then you have to think not in terms of female agency alone, but in terms of what men and women are selecting for, how they influence the behaviour of the opposite sex with their choices, how they reward or punish the opposite sex with their choices, the influence of moral codes and so on.

But it's not possible to tweak the outcomes so that every woman can present herself in any way she wants with no penalty. If a woman chooses to be unlovely, then no amount of indoctrination will make her appealing to the average man.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Liberal woman celebrates the demise of the traditional family

Jill Filipovic has read a report on families put out by the Obama administration and feels there is reason to celebrate. The traditional family, she believes, is dead.

It's finally time to ring the death knell for traditional marriage. Last week, the Obama administration released a comprehensive report on the status of American women, the first of its kind since 1963...The report sheds light on the status of the American family – a social unit that has been remade by social liberalism.

Conservatives are right: traditional marriage is under attack ... [people are] marrying later, they're marrying less, and for reasons other than having children...

She's a feminist who is not entirely against marriage, just the traditional version of it:

We're still a long way from a gender-egalitarian marital utopia, but traditional marriage is blessedly deceased. With its demise has come a new marriage model that is by nearly every measure better for men, women and children, and is hopefully continuing to improve.

Marriage itself is far from dead. But the traditional conservative vision of it is, and thank goodness for that

Why would she be so vehemently opposed to the traditional family? She thinks that it is not based sufficiently on women's autonomy:

Family structures have changed. The definition of marriage has shifted. Gender equality is increasingly embraced. For people who support women's autonomy and believe that progress is valuable, this is a good thing. For those who cling to a separate-but-equal gender ideology... this is very, very ominous.

Let's say you want more autonomy for women. This means that:

a) You'll like the idea of family commitments being deferred. That means that women can continue to live the single girl lifestyle for longer and can focus on careers rather than family for longer.

b) You'll think that careers are more important than family. Therefore, the fact that men focus on breadwinning in the traditional family will seem unequal. So you'll want to see a role reversal in which men do more of the childcare and women more of the breadwinning.

c) You'll want to be self-defined rather than defined by your biological sex. So you won't like the gender roles in the traditional family. You'll see them as fetters. You'll celebrate role reversal for this reason too.

If you're a liberal, therefore, you'll think it progressive if people marry later and if the lines of gender are increasingly blurred within the family. You'll also think it more equal if women focus more on careers than motherhood.

There are numerous ways to criticise this liberal vision of the family:

a) If you were really to take autonomy seriously as the highest good, then why marry at all? Marriage takes sacrifices to work well. It inevitably means restricting your autonomous choice of what to do in favour of other goods (the goods of motherhood, fatherhood etc.)

b) If there is nothing to connect men to a distinctly masculine family role, and if the traditional male role of being a provider and protector is thought harmful to women, then there is less to motivate men to commit to family life.

c) If there are no distinct roles for men and women in the family, so that the roles are interchangeable, then the role of men is unnecessary - it is at best optional. Again, this contributes to unstable family commitments. A man who really believes his role to be optional will more readily walk away from family commitments. A woman who believes the male role to be unnecessary will more readily divorce her husband and/or accept single motherhood.

d) If family formation is deferred until the last moment then more people will find themselves unable to have the children they wish for and more people will find themselves unable to find a spouse. There will also be changes to the culture of relationships between young men and women. If marriage is delayed till our 30s, then women in their 20s will be more likely to select for player/alpha/thug types. Men will either adapt to this or opt out. Either way the family man culture will be weakened, making it more difficult for women to find suitable men to marry in their 30s.

As far as this last point goes, Jill Filipovic doesn't see any such problems. In fact, she paints a very rosy picture of delayed family commitments. She accepts the statistics that twice as many people are now ending up unmarried and childless. But she approves on the following basis:

Those numbers are no indication that marriage and child-rearing are passé or under-valued – quite the opposite. Marriage, more than ever, is something that more people feel the right to opt out of, which means that those of us who do marry are opting in, and doing so increasingly because we want to, not because of social obligations. If you believe that marriage can be a good thing for people who choose it, this should be welcome news. Children, too, should be welcome additions and not obligations. The fact that more women and families are delaying childbirth indicates that there's more planning involved, and that women and men are making commitments to familial stability and personal ability before deciding to have kids.

There's a particular assumption at work here. Jill Filopovic thinks that liberalism gives everyone autonomous choice. Therefore, if the liberal family model leads to people not marrying and not having children it must be, she assumes, because they are choosing these outcomes.

She fails to recognise that there are many people who feel shattered by not being able to marry or have children. Over at The Spearhead there's a good post by Carey Roberts which includes the following quote by Anne Taylor Fleming:

I belong to the sisterhood of the infertile. I am a lonesome, babyless baby-boomer now completely consumed by the longing for a baby…I am tempted to roll down the window and shout, ‘Hey, hey, Gloria, Germaine, Kate. Tell us, how does it feel to have ended up without babies, children, flesh of your flesh. Was your ideology worth the empty womb?

Did Anne Taylor Fleming happily choose to end up childless? Obviously not. It was not an act of autonomous self-determination at all.

In the comments to the Carey Roberts piece there is this:

I don’t give a **** about the future of our society. As a 44 year old childless male with no real hope for companionship or children why should I. I’m betting we have enough cultural momentum to see me through to my death (about 30 years) and doing my own thing to make sure I can survive if I’m off on my bet about five years.

It's not an attitude I endorse, but it shows again the falsity of the assumption that people are freely and happily choosing to be unmarried and childless. This particular man feels so alienated by his condition that he has lost all interest in the future of his own society.

Finally, if Jill Filipovic were right, and lower marriage rates in advanced liberal societies meant that only people who really wanted to marry did so, then divorce rates should be lower in such societies. But that doesn't seem to be the case.

In Sweden, for example, the percentage of women marrying is very low (about 60%), but the divorce rate is consistently high (peaking at about 55%). This combination of a low marriage rate and a high divorce rate means that only about 1 in 3 Swedish women will have an enduring marriage. It's not exactly encouraging evidence for liberal marriage being superior to the traditional version.

Nor is it true that the blurring of gender lines strengthens the stability of marriage. Again, there is ample evidence of this in Sweden. Researchers have found that in Sweden the higher the percentage of income earned by the wife the greater the risk of divorce - to the point that the risk more than doubles if the wife earns most of the income (see slide 9).

The Swedish model is the liberal model. Only 60% of Swedish women marry; the mean age of first marriage for women is 31; the divorce rate for those marrying is high; the breakup rate for those cohabiting is even higher; and the effect is worse the more that men lose their provider role.

It's not exactly an inspiring model of family life. In fact, it seems to have a demoralising effect on some people. I can't see it holding for too long; it will either continue to "evolve" away from anything resembling marriage or else the traditional alternative will reassert itself more confidently.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why I'm glad I'm not P.Z. Myers

I'm busy preparing a longer piece right now, but in looking through my archives I was struck by a quote from just year ago.

The post was about a debate on family between a Catholic archbishop and a professor of biology. The archbishop had argued against gay marriage on the grounds that it meant accepting that fathers or mothers were unnecessary within a family:

What will happen to children growing up in a world where the law teaches them that moms and dads are interchangeable and therefore unnecessary...

How did the professor, P.Z. Myers, respond? With this:

I think a world where moms and dads are interchangeable in their roles and responsibilities in child-raising would be a fine place to live. Aside from nursing (and again, biologists will fix that someday, too), men and women can change diapers, attend PTA meetings, play ball, give hugs, cook, and read bedtime stories equally well...

Professor Myers presents himself as a voice of secular liberal reason. He is an academic who writes a well-read blog. And yet he approves of interchangeability between the sexes to the degree that he wants his fellow biologists to "fix" things so that men will breastfeed babies.

I'm glad that I'm still startled by such expressions of liberal modernity. It's not a mindset I ever want to inhabit.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The choppers of Sao Paulo

Liberals want all the Western nations to become ethnically diverse. But what effects might that eventually have?

One nation with a long history of diverse immigration is Brazil. And the most diverse city in Brazil is Sao Paulo with a population of 11 million:

The demographics of São Paulo City are evidence of a uniquely large and ethnically diverse metropolis, with 111 different ethnic groups. It is the largest city in Brazil with a population defined by a long history of international immigration.

There are liberals who think of Sao Paulo in very positive terms. Some years ago I wrote about an Australian writer, Ryan Heath, who thought that Sydney needed to bump up its immigration levels so that it could catch up with Sao Paulo and become a real "world city":

The truth is that Australia doesn't really have a world city - and it's too deluded to realise what it needs to do to create one.

Reading the morning papers in the aftermath of the 2005 London bombings, I was struck by the faces of London. Thirty-two of the 39 photos of victims that stared at us that next morning were under 35 and looked like the United Nations. That's when I realised what a real "world city" is. It's not easy; it's not white; it's not old. It's crazy and colourful and out of control in a way I don't recognise in Australia. Sydney isn't the fifth column after New York, London, Tokyo and Paris ... Sydney is middle-ranking and miles ahead of its Australian rivals at that.

Indeed, it takes no great leap of the imagination to put Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro or Johannesburg on the same footing as Sydney. But it's a real challenge for white chauvinists to think that a Portuguese-speaking city might be more interesting.

I remembered Ryan Heath when a reader recently forwarded me an article on Sao Paulo. It was written back in 2002 but is well worth taking the time to read. It describes the fears of the upper classes in Sao Paulo, who are so frequently targeted by crime that they buy helicopters to fly above the city they work in, rather than risking the roads below, and who live in gated suburbs, protected by massive police forces.

Here is how one Sao Paulo businessman gets home from work:

En route to his mansion in Alphaville -- a walled city where the privileged live behind electrified fences patrolled by a private army of 1,100 -- Klein quietly stared out the window. His pilot clipped low over the honeycomb-like slums and clogged highways below. More than halfway through a nine-minute commute, the copter grazed over a cluster of inner-city prisons. A squad of machine-gun-toting guards stood near a perimeter wall, their gaunt faces squinting upward as Klein's copter buzzed by.

"The perspective is different from up here," remarked Klein, a graying hulk of a man and executive director of Casas Bahia, one of Brazil's largest electronics retailers. Over the din of the blades, he told a reporter that "it even looks beautiful sometimes. Up here, however, it is safe. Down there -- ." He paused, staring across the metal and glass horizon. "Well, it's another story."

Sao Paulo ... is, by some accounts, a vision of future urban life in the developing world. As homicide and kidnapping rates have soared to record levels, civilian helicopter traffic here has become what industry executives describe as the busiest on Earth. Helicopter companies estimate that liftoffs average 100 per hour. The city boasts 240 helipads, compared with 10 in New York City, allowing the rich to whisk to and from their well-guarded homes to work, business meetings, afternoons of shopping, even church.

And this is why the upper class resorts to such measures:

One result is city life dominated by fear. The homicide rate in greater Sao Paulo, South America's largest city, has more than tripled during the 1990s, to about 60 murders per 100,000 residents, compared with 7.4 in the Washington metropolitan area and 7.8 in New York. Already 63 kidnappings have been reported this year in Sao Paulo, up from only 15 during the same period last year, according to police statistics. The surge in abductions has produced a cottage industry of plastic surgeons who specialize in treating wealthy victims who return from their ordeals with sliced ears, severed fingers and other missing body parts that were sent to family members as threats for ransom payment.

Despite a lackluster economy, a $2 billion-a-year security industry is thriving across Brazil. Brazilians are armoring and bulletproofing an estimated 4,000 cars a year, twice as many as in Colombia, which is in the midst of a 38-year-old civil war. A wealthy Sao Paulo businessman, who spoke on the condition his name be withheld, said he allows his daughter to boogie at nightclubs only under the eyes of a commando turned bodyguard. In a city where the wealthy are known for ostentation, many are now buying low-profile economy cars to fool kidnappers and thieves.

"We have become prisoners in our own homes," said Ellen Saraiva, the elegant wife of a construction magnate, as she sat in her tasteful living room in a heavily guarded building in Sao Paulo's fashionable Jardims neighborhood. After a series of high-profile kidnappings on nearby streets last year, she and her husband paid $35,000 to bulletproof their understated gray Volkswagen. The armoring cost twice as much as the car.

"I pray to God every time I leave my building," she said. "I live in fear for myself and my family. One of my daughters is studying abroad right now, and as much as I miss her, it makes me feel at peace to know she is not here living through this nightmare."

Sao Paulo's population is 70% white (mostly of Italian, Spanish, Greek, German & Portuguese ancestry), 3% Asian (Korean, Chinese, Japanese), 5% black and 22% multiracial.

So what went wrong? The article suggests that the problem is due to an excessive gap in wealth. But that begs the question. Why would there be such a large gap in Sao Paulo? Couldn't one reason be that there is no longer such a sense of solidarity between the upper and lower classes, when they do not feel a sense of common ethnicity and a common purpose in advancing a shared heritage? And couldn't another reason be that the lower classes have less motivation to hold together a productive culture of family life and a work ethic when society is more atomised?

What will happen to those Western nations which undergo a fall in living standards, with the welfare state no longer able to fund large numbers of people? Won't these nations then be vulnerable to a similar kind of social development that has occurred in diverse Sao Paulo?

I can't help but think that it was short-sighted for the Western political classes to give up the advantages - the social solidarity - of a more homogeneous population. There is a strong chance that they will one day pay the same price as the upper classes in Sao Paulo.

As for Ryan Heath, he might like to consider this question: if Sao Paulo is such an "interesting" world city, then why do its leading residents choose to spend large sums of money flying over it rather than experiencing it on the ground? And is the word "interesting" really the best one to use to describe living in a gated suburb guarded by a private army of 1100?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hank Pellissier criticises male-identified males

I'm reading Liberalism & the Limits of Justice by Michael J. Sandel. The useful thing about these academic works is that they discuss issues at the level of underlying principles. You get a better feel for what the real motive points for liberal politics are.

In the preface, Sandel defines the liberal conception of the person this way:

According to this conception, my dignity consists not in any social roles I inhabit but instead in my capacity to choose my roles and identities for myself. (xiv)

That is, of course, the autonomy theory I frequently criticise at this site. If you read this definition carefully, you can understand why Western modernity has turned out the way it has.

What does it mean for me to choose my roles and identities for myself? It means that roles or identities that are unchosen in any way are thought of negatively as impediments that the individual must be liberated from.

And which roles and identities are unchosen? All those which are inherited, either as part of a tradition or through our biological nature. That includes our biological sex, any family roles deriving from our biological sex, our sexuality, the traditional family, our ethnicity and our nationality.

The liberal assumption becomes that all of these identities and the roles connected to them are merely passing social constructs. Perhaps they never really existed at all except imaginatively in a traditionalist utopia. Or, if they are recognised to have a real existence, they must then be transcended as immoral and outmoded. Either way they must be made not to matter when it comes to what people choose to do.

That's why there's such consternation in Australia right now that there are more men than women in company boardrooms. This is an instance of our sex still having an influence, still mattering, when it comes to the roles people play in society. And that is something that liberalism cannot easily tolerate.

It explains too even more radical expressions of liberal modernity, such as the opinions put forth recently by Hank Pellissier. Pellissier likes the fact that Japanese scientists managed to create a mouse (named Kaguya) by a process of ova-fusion in which no sperm was required. Why is he so keen on the idea of reproduction without men?

Well, he doesn't like the fact of gender distinctions:

Personally, I’m tired of today’s gender polarity, the boy-girl chasm, with segregated shopping and play, the dominance-submissive flirting games, the mating and marriage manuals, the seduction rituals, the opening lines, the Mars and Venus dichotomy. Yeah, I’m sick of it. I’m ready to try something else.

He wants the world to go unisex instead. He also wants to determine intellectually for himself, whom he will be attracted to and when:

Wouldn’t a unisexual culture of Kaguyas be preferable? They’d be conveniently sterile, unless aided by biotech. Another feature I’d like Kaguyas to have would be an ON/OFF switch for libido so they could carnally, ecstatically bond with anyone at an opportune time. Far better than being enslaved to awkward, inappropriate arousal, like I was, at puberty...

...Can’t we transform ourselves — via gene therapy — to fall head-over-heels in love with mere intelligence, wit, and integrity?

Pellissier is himself married with children. And yet he sees the transgendered as the symbolic leaders of society:

A unisexual world…

Transgenders already are heading towards this abolition of sexual differentiation. Last spring, in Australia, 48-year-old Norrie May-Welby became the first person to be granted citizenship with non-specified gender status. A commenter from the UK’s Gender Trust claimed, “many people like the idea of being genderless.” Some observers believe that, after gay and lesbian equality is secured globally, the next struggle will be for “gender neutral” rights.

And who does he think stands in the way of progress toward this genderless, unisex utopia of his? Well, us, the people he calls "male-identified males", anti-feminists, conservatives and traditionalists:

Male-identified males, like the “anti-feminists” who furiously write to me, will battle, as they always have, unwilling to surrender any turf in the civilization that they can arguably claim they created. Conservatives, traditionalists, and religionists will mightily resist, appalled that anyone would want to improve the “Adam & Eve” polarity that has plagued us.

The term "male-identified male" is significant here. Remember, the liberal conception of the person is that my human dignity consists in my capacity to choose my own identity and roles. I don't choose the fact that I am male. Therefore, it is consistent with the liberal view to believe that I should not be a "male-identified male" - that there is something backward or regressive in being a man with such an identity.

That's where liberal modernity takes you, at least if you're ideological enough to take the liberal conception of the person to that level. Hank Pellissier remains an outlier for now, but the principle he follows is a dominant one in the West, and we traditionalists would do well to live up to Pellissier's characterisation of us as being "unwilling to surrender any turf in the civilization that they can arguably claim they created."

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The new line on men still a whisper at The Age

Today is International Women's Day and The Age newspaper wasn't going to let us forget it. It ran an editorial and four columns supporting the feminist cause.

All of the columns made a similar claim: that women are still terribly oppressed by a male dominated world. That's in contrast to the spate of triumphalist feminist articles in recent months pointing to women outperfoming men in academia and the workplace and concluding that men had been made irretrievably obsolete and no longer had a useful place in society.

It will be interesting to see which feminist line prevails: the "I'm oppressed by the patriarchy" one or the "It's all over for men" one.

Clearly, The Age is holding to the older orthodoxy for now. Its editorial was titled "Gender equality? It's more dream than reality". But, stuck on the back page, the other view made a quiet debut. Singer Deborah Conway, scheduled to appear at an International Women's Day performance, told an Age reporter:

I think we're getting the upper hand, frankly. We almost need to reinstate a day for men, at least in Australia, so they don't feel so inadequate.

That's the new triumphalism, in which men made obsolete are to be pitied.

Friday, March 04, 2011

A just and orderly immigration policy in Sweden?

The Swedish political class is at it again, this time on the issue of immigration. Four parties, the Christian Democrats, the Liberal Party, the Moderates and the Centre Party, have made an "historic" agreement to create a "just and orderly" migration policy.

Their idea of "just and orderly" is to allow illegal immigrants (i.e. those who have moved to the country without seeking a residency permit) to receive education, health services and even to start businesses.

Not only will this open the gates to large scale illegal immigration, it also means that those declared by one arm of the state to be breaking the law will be supported in doing so by other arms of the state.

This is how the Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, announced the new policy:

We who believe that people should be free to move across borders and seek a better life somewhere else have made this agreement.

An open borders PM. And what about this statement from the Centre Party:

Centre Party leader and Industry Minister Maud Olofsson said that the deal would also allow illegal immigrants to start companies:

"We have now included in the agreement that it should be easy to come to Sweden regardless of whether you are a businessperson or an employee," she said.

What's interesting is that it's the more right-liberal parties who are pushing the open borders policy. The Social Democrats and the Left Party haven't signed on, apparently because they don't accept an unrestricted flow of labour into Sweden:

Reinfeldt explained that the Social Democrats and the Left Party were not part of the agreement due to different views on the subject of labour migration.

“This agreement is very much in line with our pro-work policies and therefore it’s not possible for the Social Democrats and the Left to cooperate. My impression is that the Social Democrats have been against people coming here to find work. Work is essential to me,” he said.

There is also opposition from the Sweden Democrats, a nationalist party I don't know a great deal about:

Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson believes the new agreement will have the opposite effect, giving Sweden an even more extreme immigration policy, something which he expects will benefit his party.

"We are getting yet another debate which will benefit us in the long run. The question is whether there is a popular mandate for these policies. I don’t think there is," he told TT.

He is right to emphasise that the policy is extreme. It is yet another expression of an open borders mentality which will erase the historic Swedish identity.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Can a marriage be all about the woman?

I shook my head when I read this. A woman wrote the following letter to sex therapist Tracey Cox:
Do you believe you should have sex with your husband just because they want to? I’m going through a period where I’ve just gone off sex.

It’s only been six months and I’m sure I’ll come out of it soon but I resent my husband hassling me. I don’t think it’s right to have sex unless I really feel like it.

It's only been six months, she says. She clearly either doesn't know, or won't admit, just how crushing this must be to her husband and her marriage. She is almost entirely self-focused on the value of her own feelings and desires, rather than showing loving concern for her husband or having a realistic view of what might make a marriage work.

Tracey Cox wrote back the following sensible reply:

I totally disagree with you – and so do a fair majority of reputable sex therapists. Two people will never have the same desire or timing, even if their sex drives are reasonably matched. But when you said ‘I do’ you said ‘I do’ to sex as well. Sex is part of the bargain if you expect your partner to remain married to you and faithful to you. Six months is a long time without sex without a good reason not to do it.

Which brought upon her a feminist rebuke:

According to “sex therapist” Tracey Cox, the minute a woman gets that ring on her finger her rights to bodily autonomy go flying out the window. response to the original letter writer would be:

“If your husband is hassling you for sex when you’ve made it quite clear that you don’t want it, he obviously has no respect whatsoever for your feelings. He does not have a right to expect sex from you, and no right to demand it of you against your own wishes and desires. And if he’s unable to wait until you’re ready for it, or to respect your rights as an individual to have sex on your own terms, then I’d question his suitability to be your life partner. Seriously, you deserve better than this”

The argument is that we should look at marriage in terms of the right to autonomy (rather than, say, in terms of love or stable family relationships). If it's all about my right to self-determine, then I should focus on acting from my own wants and desires rather than anyone else's. Other people are duty bound to respect this exercise of my autonomy.

It's an immensely ideological approach to intimate personal relationships. Reality gets lost along the way. Consider the following remark from one of the feminist commenters, Chloe:

the problem is the onus is ALL on the woman to do something she doesn’t want to, no one is even daring to suggest the man goes without to ‘save the relationship’. There’s no advice to the bloke going ‘maybe you could distract yourself by reading a book, or getting a new hobby...

In fact, it's the other way around. It's the wife who has shown an unwillingness to compromise. She's let the husband go without for six months. And there's an extraordinary level of cluelessness about men to suggest that the husband could solve the problem by "distracting" himself with a book or a new hobby. Realistically he's more likely to end up distracting himself with another woman.

Chloe goes on to add (apologies for her blunt language): going without sex for 6 months or whatever really such a hideous thing? sex isn’t a RIGHT, even within a relationship, sure it’s great if you both want it but if you don’t no one has any grounds to demand it, it’s not an entitlement, which is what this ‘advice’ is implying.

That whole ‘without a good reason’, thus implying that a woman’s desires and consent aren’t ‘a good reason’ which is quite frankly terrifying and horrendously insulting.

I’d much rather have a life of celibacy than end up in a relationship with someone who assumes they have a right over MY body and pays no heed to my feelings.

‘Duty shag’ what about a ‘duty stop moaning and just have a wank for gods sake, you’re not entitled to anything and if you have to go without for a bit then boo hoo it’s hardly the end of the world is it?

Just remember this whenever you read one of those articles about how sex in feminist relationships is better. According to Chloe, her right to self-determine is what matters and is what has to be respected; she therefore is focused on this right rather than on understanding what might make a relationship work and what might matter to men in a relationship, and she's stated clearly that men are not entitled to a physical relationship within marriage.

Nor are women who take the liberal modern idea seriously likely to want to compromise much. At the heart of liberalism is the idea that autonomy is the primary, overriding good. As Senator George Brandis, the leader of the so-called liberal "moderates," put it:

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...

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...

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

Liberals believe there to be a "sovereign idea," a "paramount public value," a "core value" (rather than competing values) - and this is the "freedom of the individual to be autonomous," i.e. the freedom to self-determine.

If you really believed this - if you thought that the paramount value is the right to self-determine - then you would want to decide on your own terms what you would do. Compromise would mean violating this sovereign idea, as it would mean no longer deciding entirely on your own terms.

So feminists who take the liberal idea seriously aren't going to be good at compromising. They look at a woman's wishes and desires as fundamental, so much so that the husband is simply duty bound to respect them. There's little interest in how this might realistically play out in a marriage, as they see it as a question of basic rights. If it makes life difficult for the husband, then too bad. The husband simply has to acquiesce or he is, in terms of the theory, a bad person.

Women who aren't as ideologically committed to liberal modernism, and who think in terms of other goods, such as the value of their marriage, are much more likely to accept the compromises which make a marriage work.