Saturday, March 31, 2012

Melbourne Archbishop takes a stand

The Catholic Church here in Melbourne is taking a stand against same sex marriage. The Herald Sun reports that:
Victoria's million plus Catholics will be urged to campaign against gay marriage.

Church leaders driving the push say it would undermine family life and damage society.

Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Dennis Hart and five other bishops will send out 80,000 letters this weekend asking parishioners to take a stand against proposed new laws and influence politicians' vote.

One bishop said the push was about protecting traditional marriage, and while today's discussion was on same-sex laws, "next it might be polygamy".

On what grounds is same-sex marriage being opposed? On the same two grounds that I have opposed same-sex marriage myself:

a) Same-sex marriage will necessarily redefine what marriage means.

b) Same-sex marriage endorses the creation of fatherless or motherless families

Archbishop Hart makes it clear that he opposes the redefinition of marriage in this part of his letter:
The Government cannot redefine the natural institution of marriage, a union between a man and a woman. The Government can regulate marriage, but this natural institution existed long before there were any governments. It cannot be changed at will.

The argument that same sex marriage supports marriage is wrong. The natural institution will not only be changed, it will be re-defined absolutely. It will become something different. Such a re-definition will undermine rather than support marriage.

What does he mean? At the moment, marriage is held to be a lifelong, exclusive union between two people. That definition of marriage arose in the context of heterosexual relationships. When a man and a woman are brought together in a relationship it is the bringing together of two distinct but complementary parts that can be conceived to form a complete entity. The male and the female fit together as part of the plan to bring new life into the world. Therefore, it makes sense to conceive of marriage as existing between two people.

Furthermore, as the union of male and female exists naturally to produce offspring, it leads to a culture of sustaining a family life across the generations. The orientation is to provide a stable family life - the continuity of a kinship unit - over a long period of time. So it makes sense to conceive of marriage as an exclusive and lifelong union.

But same sex marriage doesn't fit into this traditional, heterosexual definition of marriage. Same sex marriage doesn't fit together two distinct but complementary parts. So why then would same sex marriage necessarily be between two people? If two men can marry, then why not three? And if two men are marrying, why does it have to be lifelong or exclusive?

That's particularly true given that same sex marriage is being pushed according to a newer concept of what marriage means. The newer concept is that marriage is a ceremony to celebrate the love that people feel. Homosexuals can feel love, the argument goes, so why shouldn't they then be able to marry?

For instance, the lead letter in the Herald Sun today criticises the Church's position on this basis:
As a heterosexual Catholic, I am dumbfounded by the church's constant discrimination against homosexuals.

The Bible says we are made in God's image, so why should the church oppose same-sex love?

Surely, love is love regardless of who expresses that love?

The church needs to reform and live in the present day.

Patrick Ansell

Patrick assumes that marriage is a public expression of love and that therefore there is no reason to exclude the love that homosexuals feel. But that is a very open-ended way to define marriage. If marriage is there as a public expression of love, then not only is same sex marriage permitted, but so too is polygamous marriage (if a man loves more than one woman, it would presumably be thought fitting for him to marry all of them).

(In theory the newer concept of marriage goes even further in allowing people to marry anyone or anything they love. As Kristor pointed out at The Orthosphere there are people who have chosen recently to marry a dog, a bridge and themselves. Yes, that seems ridiculous, but it is logically within the newer concept of marriage as a ceremony to mark what you happen to feel love for.)

And if marriage is a public expression of love, then what happens when that love falters? Does that mean, by definition, that the marriage is over? Is the newer definition of marriage really going to encourage stable, lifelong unions?

The second reason to oppose same sex marriage is that it give official sanction to families which are deliberately created without a father or a mother. Archbishop Hart writes in his letter:
Bringing new human life into the world is founded on the loving union in difference of male and female. Children are best nurtured by a mother and father.

This argument can be put more sharply. If you endorse same sex marriage, then you are effectively accepting as a man that you are unnecessary as a father within a family. Your family could function just as well without you there. If two women can marry as a basis of family formation, and you believe that is a perfectly fine thing to happen, then you are writing yourself out of a necessary role within family life.

And that is likely to have consequences. If women believe that their children are better off having their biological father around, then that is a powerful motivating factor for women to act to keep the biological family together. But if society "moves forward" by sending the message to women that a father is not necessary to a child, then the stability of the heterosexual family is further compromised.

Where does the public stand on all this? At the moment public opinion is evenly divided. There is a House of Representatives website which is taking submissions and a poll on two bills that would legalise same sex marriage; currently those in favour of same sex marriage are leading slightly with 54% and those against 46%. (You can vote and/or leave a brief submission here).

Thursday, March 29, 2012

What do feminists want for women?

Hat tip to Laura Wood for this story. Hanna Rosin is a feminist writer whose latest piece for the Wall Street Journal brings the feminist agenda for women right out into the open.

In short, Hanna Rosin supports the sexual revolution because it allows women to use short term relationships as a way of delaying family formation till their mid to late 30s. She recognises that this causes a player culture to develop amongst men, which brings "heartache" to women, but thinks this is a worthwhile trade-off for women gaining power and autonomy through careers in their 20s and early 30s.

Here's part of her piece:
But now the sexual revolution has deepened into a more permanent kind of power for women. Young women in their sexual prime—that is, their 20s and early 30s—are generally better off than young men. They are better educated and earn more money on average. What made this possible is the sexual revolution—the ability to have temporary, intimate relationships that don't derail a career. Or to put it more simply, to have sex without getting married.

It's true that the new wave of girl sitcoms and single-girl memoirs these days are full of complaints about boys who won't commit. But you have to take these complaints with a grain of salt. These days the problem in the dating market is caused not by women's eternal frailty but by their new dominance. In a world where women in their 20s are, on average, more successful than men, dating becomes complicated. Women no longer need men for financial security and social influence. They can achieve those things by themselves. No one is in a hurry to get married, and sex is, by the terms of sexual economics, very cheap. When sex is cheap, more men turn into what the sociologist Mark Regnerus calls "free agents." They sleep with as many women as possible basically, because they can.

The result is that the women suffer through a lot of frustrating little dating battles. But this is only a small part of the picture. Women these days understand that their sexual freedom—even if it causes them some amount of heartache—is necessary for their future success. As an in-depth 2004 study of the hookup culture by University of Michigan researcher Elizabeth Armstrong showed, women are not, as the stereotype goes, always pining for marriage while the men turn them away; quite the opposite. Women use their temporary college relationships as a "delay tactic," Ms. Armstrong writes, because their immediate priority is setting themselves up for a career. Thanks to the sexual revolution, they can have relationships—and maybe some drama—through their 20s and early 30s and not get tied down with a husband and babies. If the price is a little more heartache, so be it. These days women have a lot more important things on their horizon.

It is important that women understand this clearly. Hanna Rosin is not offering a "you can have it all" scenario to women. She is being honest about what feminists value. She does not care if women do not experience love and motherhood when they are in their sexual prime. Family formation is to be delayed to the last moment, when women have passed their sexual prime, in favour of careers, as careers are thought to offer power (over men) and autonomy (from men).

Hanna Rosin is dismissive of the idea that a woman might prioritise the goals of marriage and motherhood; she writes that women have "a lot more important things on their horizon".

It is not a well thought out plan. If women pursue relationships as a "delay tactic," that means they are likely to favour inappropriate men (i.e. men who aren't marriage prospects). Young men will pick up on the fact that women are no longer favouring family man qualities. So if men are encouraged to ditch family man qualities, then who will these women eventually find to marry them when they are 35? Or 40?

And what will happen to the women themselves? If they sleep around with inappropriate men for 15 years, will they really still be capable of stable pair bonding when they are 35?

Will men who have been encouraged to be players in their 20s, and who have gained confidence in approaching the women of their choice, really be willing to settle down with older women? Won't they tend to favour younger, more fertile women?

And what will be left of "reproductive choice" when a woman starts to look for the right sort of man when she is 35? By the time she's found one, spent time with him, gotten engaged and married, she'll be in her late 30s. She'll then have to rely on luck that she's a woman who can still conceive at that age. Many women will end up missing out on the opportunity to have children, or to have the number of children they want.

Finally, most women end up scaling back their work commitments by their 40s anyway. So what was the great damage to relationships all for? What purpose does it really achieve? Should a woman really give up on love and marriage and motherhood just so feminists like Hanna Rosin can brag about women doing better than men in their 20s?

Hanna Rosin is inflicting serious losses on both women and men. Both women and men will be left to mourn the youthful love that will never be, the children that will never be and the grandchildren that will never be seen.

A traditionalist culture would decisively reject the values held by Hanna Rosin. It would put love - marital love and parental love - as a higher value than the autonomy or power gained through careers. It would encourage women to act in a timely way, when still in their sexual prime, to marry well and to have children.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rick Santorum: a principled critic of liberalism?

How's this? A leading Republican politician once made a principled criticism of liberalism. Back in 2005, Jonathan Rauch wrote a review of Rick Santorum's book It takes a family: conservatism and the common good. Rauch described Santorum's argument as follows:
In Santorum's view, freedom is not the same as liberty. Or, to put it differently, there are two kinds of freedom. One is "no-fault freedom," individual autonomy uncoupled from any larger purpose: "freedom to choose, irrespective of the choice." This, he says, is "the liberal definition of freedom," and it is the one that has taken over in the culture and been imposed on the country by the courts.

Quite different is "the conservative view of freedom," "the liberty our Founders understood." This is "freedom coupled with the responsibility to something bigger or higher than the self." True liberty is freedom in the service of virtue --not "the freedom to be as selfish as I want to be" or "the freedom to be left alone" but "the freedom to attend to one's duties--duties to God, to family, and to neighbors."

That's pretty good for a mainstream politician. Lawrence Auster once observed that,
liberalism consists in the belief that there is no good or truth higher than the self

Santorum explicitly rejects this liberal denial of a good or truth higher than the self; he believes that the self is rightly oriented to objective virtues.

Similarly, Santorum is not radically individualistic. He recognises that there is a common good and that families are a natural unit of society.

I don't write this as an endorsement of Santorum. I don't have a good understanding of his wider policy positions. Rejecting some of the philosophical foundations of liberalism doesn't necessarily turn you into a worthy traditionalist.

But it does demonstrate that it's possible to bring traditionalist criticisms of liberalism into political debate.

Don't be that guy

Which guy? The one below:

Who is he? His name is Brandon Giles. He's sitting in a church in New York wearing a hoodie.

Brandon is the dead-end white guy, the one who is spiritually defeated and disordered.

You may have followed the story at View from the Right, but I'll quickly retell it. Late last month in Florida, a neighbourhood watch captain called George Zimmerman noticed a young African-American man he didn't recognise, Trayvon Martin, in his gated community. He thought Martin was acting suspiciously and called the police. By the time the police arrived an altercation had taken place and Zimmerman had fatally shot Martin.

Zimmerman's story is that Martin challenged him, knocked him down and was beating him and that he acted in self-defence. There is some support for this version of events; when police arrived Zimmerman had a broken nose and was bleeding from the back of his head. One witness corroborated Zimmerman's story.

The police did not charge Zimmerman, finding the evidence of self-defence to be credible.

But then the story took on a life of its own, being put into a kind of liberal script in which a black man was held to be the victim of white racism. Newspapers printed very youthful looking pictures of Trayvon Martin and President Obama said that "If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon" and that all of America had some "soul searching" to do over the incident. This then led to people, like Brandon Giles, dressing in hoodies in solidarity with Martin.

The media presentation of the issue has unravelled to a considerable degree. Zimmerman, it turns out, is of mixed ancestry and looks Hispanic. Martin was into gangsta culture, wore a grill, had recently been suspended from school for 10 days, and was a lot more physically mature than early newspaper reports suggested.

So how should a well-intentioned white guy react? It is perfectly legitimate to want a thorough investigation and to want justice to be served. But what's pathetic is for a white guy to jump straight into the script of "evil white racists oppressing black men." Not only is it an illogical way to filter reality, worse still it is a symptom of an underlying spiritual defeat or disorder.

So let's not be that guy anymore. We can do much better.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The soaring Ulm Minster

What's the tallest church in the world? It's the Ulm Minster in southern Germany. Begun in 1377, it wasn't finally completed until 1890. It was the fourth highest structure in the world at that time.

Ulm Minster
Unfortunately most of the medieval city surrounding the minster was destroyed late in the Second World War. The soaring of the tower above the medieval precinct must once have looked very impressive.

Here's a photo of the minster in a more historic setting.

And finally a photo of the interior (worth clicking on to enlarge).

Not bad for a city which even today numbers only 120,000 inhabitants.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The intersexed Christ

Laura Wood had a post recently on Dr Susannah Cornwall, a professor of theology at the University of Manchester who believes that Christ might have been not male but intersex:
[I]t is not possible to assert with any degree of certainty that Jesus was male as we now define maleness. There is no way of knowing for sure that Jesus did not have one of the intersex conditions which would give him a body which appeared externally to be unremarkably male, but which might nonetheless have had some “hidden” female physical features.

What's going on here? Why would a theologian be so concerned to argue that Christ was not male?

The answer has to do with a debate within the Anglican Church over the consecration of women as bishops. There are evangelicals within the church who have argued against women as bishops, and it is in response to these arguments that Susannah Cornwall has resorted to the idea of Christ being intersex.

Here is how Susannah Cornwall puts the evangelical position:
Many evangelical theological beliefs about human sex and gender are grounded the belief that there is an ontological difference between males and females – a difference in their very being and existence, and the cosmic significance thereof.

For example, argues John Piper, “The Bible reveals the nature of masculinity and femininity by describing diverse responsibilities for man and women while rooting these differing responsibilities in creation, not convention … Differentiated roles were corrupted, not created, by the fall. They were created by God” (Piper 2006: 35).

In similar vein, Andreas J. Köstenberger and David W.Jones say, 'The man and the woman are jointly charged with ruling the earth representatively for God, yet they are not to do so androgynously or as ‘unisex’ creatures, but each as fulfilling their God-ordained, gender-specific roles. Indeed … it is only when men and women embrace their God-ordained roles that they will be truly fulfilled and that God’s creational wisdom will be fully displayed and exalted.” (Köstenberger and Jones 2010: 26)

Even more explicitly, Dennis P. Hollinger asserts, “Being male and female is less a designation of functions, and more a designation of humanity’s twofold ontological way of being” (Hollinger 2009: 74).

As a second step, such anthropologies assume that it is always possible to know who is male and who is female, and that gender should supervene on sex.

This can be seen in documents like the Evangelical Alliance’s 2000 report on transsexuality, which says, “The doctrine of creation with the story of Adam and Eve, and the insistence that ‘male and female he created them’, shows that our sexual identity is part of the ‘givenness’ of how we have been made”.

Those who oppose the ordination of women to the episcopate – as well as those who continue to avow that women should not or cannot be ordained priests at all – maintain that there is something ontologically different about women and men which means that, because of the very nature of their being, women cannot perform some or all of the roles appropriate to men.

You don't have to be an evangelical Christian to hold to such positions - traditionalists of all stripes would believe in something very similar.

And our position is stronger than we sometimes realise, as it is physically embodied in the natures of men and women. When we look around us, we do not see abstracted, genderless creatures, but sexually distinct men and women. And in our daily life we perceive the natures of men and women not only to be complementary, but to align with how we have been created bodily.

The modernist position is an awkward one, as it has to uncouple our being from the way we are embodied. And that is what Susannah Cornwall attempts to do. She writes:

intersex disturbs the discreteness of maleness and femaleness, and might therefore also disturb the gendered roles which are pinned to them.

What she means is that there exist intersex people who can't be easily classified as male or female and that this therefore is proof that maleness and femaleness isn't written into us as we might think it to be. She is trying to tackle head on the strength of the traditionalist position.

But it's not a persuasive argument. Only 0.018% of the population fall into the category of intersex. It is clearly an abnormality rather than a proof that we are not made male and female.

Her argument therefore seems desperate. She resorts to wild speculations about Christ being intersex:
[Christ]  might have had ovarian as well as testicular tissue in his body. He might, in common with many people who are unaware of the fact, have had a mixture of XX and XY cells. Indeed, as several scholars have pointed out with their tongues both in and out of their cheeks, if the doctrine of the Virgin Birth is taken as scientific fact, then Jesus certainly had no male human element to introduce a Y chromosome into his DNA, and all his genetic material would have been identical with that of his mother (that is, female). There is simply no way of telling at this juncture whether Jesus was an unremarkably male human being, or someone with an intersex condition who had a male morphology as far as the eye could see but may or may not also have had XX chromosomes or some female internal anatomy. The fact that, as far as we know, Jesus never married, fathered children or engaged in sexual intercourse, of course, makes his “undisputable” maleness even less certain.

I'm glad that I don't have to pin my position to such an unlikely scenario. I don't think it makes even a dint in the more traditional view. We can be encouraged that a modernist theologian has taken her best shot at us without doing any damage at all. If anything, she has only underlined how strong our position is.

Here comes Eastern liberalism

India has only gotten part way through the process of lifting itself out of poverty, but already it's putting its future at risk by adopting liberal policies.

For example, there are plans to change India's family laws to make it easier for women to divorce their husbands. A law reform has been accepted by cabinet which would give women the right to unilaterally and quickly divorce their husbands. The husband would have no such unilateral right; his wife would be allowed to oppose his plea for divorce in the courts:
According to the amendments, while a wife can oppose a husband's plea for a divorce under the new "irretrievable breakdown of marriage" clause, the husband will have no such rights to oppose if the wife moves the court on the same grounds

The Times of India supports the reforms as being in sync with "a modern, liberal society". It makes me wonder if countries like India look at the West as being the "advanced model" of society and try to copy it on that basis. If so, they are not doing themselves any favours. The West did not develop on the basis of easy divorce for women. That is not part of the secret formula for social progress.

There seems to be a decadence creeping into Indian culture. It makes me think that China is the country more likely to push ahead.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Jesse on sweating out the left

Jesse left this interesting comment in a recent discussion about UK "Equalities" minister Lynne Featherstone:
What do we know about left wingers in general? We know that they usually don't have children or if they do they only have one or two and those children often have problems. We know that their marriages don't last. We know that they're gradually getting stupider as their ideology takes over from their ability to reason or justify their points. We know that they're usually emotional basket cases. We know they're impractical and short term in their thinking, have to be frequently bailed out by others and don't plan ahead or effectively build. Specifically we know that they're phenomenally self destructive, have little impulse control, live in the moment, and surrender to their sensations to their detriment. As was pointed out Lynne Featherstone demonstrates all of these characteristics.

In short with all of these traits over the long term they're stuffed. They in elements have the hallmarks of a fever that has to be sweated out. You just have to stay in the game till its passed and people's desire to survive and grow, not just live off the strong accomplishments of the past, can kick in again.

Virtually all of left and liberal wing thinking relies on the assumption of the Western European world being rich, prosperous and on top, and as this comes into doubt the self indulgent destruction of the left and individual indulgence of the liberals will be called out for what it is. You can only get away with blaming others for so long before people stop listening and so much of the left liberal movement relies on the public's tacit support. You can also only shoot yourself in the foot so many times before you lose credibility.

Obviously there are individual leftists who are not like this in their personalities. But taken as a whole, liberal society does give this impression - that there is little serious consideration given to what is sustainable in the long-run; that many individuals prefer to feed their emotions with a self-indulgent sense of moral rectitude; and that the capacity to take hard-won gains from the past and to preserve them simply isn't there.

And although I would not recommend waiting for liberalism to self-destruct (as there is an institutional basis to liberalism that can keep it going if left unchallenged), nonetheless part of what we have to do is to try to outlast it. We have to do what we can to keep reasserting and reproducing what liberalism attempts to suppress or abolish.

Finally, it's not impossible that there will be a tipping point at which liberalism's claims will no longer be so widely accepted. If, for instance, China continues to rise and to dominate parts of the globe, then left-liberal explanations of inequality that involve whites being a uniquely evil and artificial oppressor group will be harder to swallow.

Alex the Swede hurts badly because...

Anne Nielsen has come from Denmark to study in Melbourne. She's written an interesting article about the attempt to suppress sex distinctions in Sweden:
In order to gender-neutralise their society, the Swedes are teaching their children not to divide the world into two sexes. At some kindergartens, children are being referred to as the genderless pronoun hen, instead of terms such as boy and girl. Books, interior and toys at these schools are also chosen with care, in order not to restrict the children from anything, due to gender stereotypes. All of this is to prevent kids from developing pre-concepted images of women and men.

A parent to one of the kids, Jukka Koppi, explains that he chose this type of kindergarten for his children in order to give them all the possibilities in the world in the light of who they are, and not on the basis of their gender.

Sweden has taken the gender equality discussion to the next level, and simply removed the distinction between sexes.

Regular readers of this site won't be surprised by any of this. The Swedes take seriously the the liberal idea that the highest good is to be an autonomous, self-determining individual; our sex is not something that we self-determine, but is predetermined; therefore it has to be made not to matter in society.

The Swedish policy is logical under the terms of liberalism. If you believe in making sex distinctions not matter in society, then why wouldn't you seek to get rid of sex specific pronouns from your language? Why wouldn't you try to have preschoolers play with gender neutral toys?

But it's a world view with radical consequences. It leads Jukka Koppi to the belief that his children will be able to live as they truly are only when their sex is removed from the equation. Our true self is no longer a gendered one - we are no longer thought to be in our core identity men and women. Instead, the fact of being a man or a woman is regarded negatively as a possible suppression of self.

That's not how most people see it. Anne Nielsen herself rejects the liberal view:

But are our cultural preconceptions regarding gender really so damaging that we should never use words like he or she ever again?

Tanja Bergkvist, a Swedish blogger who has taken a big role in the discussions explains that different gender roles are not problematic as long as they are not valued differently, and refers to it as sexual hysteria.

I must say I tend to agree with Bergkvist.

We can’t help dividing the world into two groups, nor should we. I am a girl, and as such people might expect me to make lots of babies and pies. I might not do that, but if we didn’t have these preconceptions, how would we ever surprise each other?

But this lands her in hot water with a Swedish reader, Alex:

“We can’t help dividing the world into two groups, nor should we.”

It hurts me that you write something like that. It is the exact same thing as dividing the world in two groups based on skin color or eye color. Yes, it is the exact same thing, because it’s based on how we are born and not what kind of person we are.

“I am a girl, and as such people might expect me to make lots of babies and pies. I might not do that, but if we didn’t have these preconceptions, how would we ever surprise each other?”

I surprise people daily but they keep treating me according to my sex anyway. They never learn and it’s much more than just frustrating. It makes me want to hurt someone BAD. It’s sexism and that is NEVER good. I’m glad you like being a woman, whatever that means, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that millions of people around the globe are receiving different treatment for something they haven’t chosen. It’s not funny. And it shouldn’t be taken lightly. I’m a Swede and even though this “hen” doesn’t change everything immediately, it changes something in the right direction. I’d rather be treated BAD like everyone else than being treated GOOD just based on my sex.

This Swedish person hurts badly at the thought that the world is divided into male and female. He looks on sex distinctions as being an unchosen (predetermined) quality that has nothing to do with "what kind of person we are".

Alex the Swede doesn't think the term "woman" has any real meaning ("whatever that means"). He is angered to the point of violence at the thought that people might be treated differently because of an unchosen quality like our sex.

Alex impatiently looks on the categories of "man" and "woman" as categories which designate people as privileged or oppressed. That is the primary meaning he reads into them.

It is a bleak and impractical take on the way things are. Bleak because there is no positive identity as men and women and no enjoyment of the interplay of masculine and feminine in life. It is impractical because unless we accept sex distinctions we will find it difficult to relate successfully with the opposite sex. (How would a husband who believes there is no real meaning to the word "woman" deal with the reality of feminine behaviour within a marriage?)

The solution is at the starting point. Autonomy is not always the highest organising good of society. Predetermined qualities can and do matter. There are values embedded in both masculinity and femininity and in realising those higher qualities we connect who we are as men and women to something meaningful.

The Swedish project is misconceived as a matter of principle. Alex can hurt all he likes, but men and women are different in their natures, and will therefore relate to each other in ways which recognise the reality of sex distinctions. It would be oppressive to expect otherwise.

Why seek out dangerous men?

There's an interesting discussion thread over at View from the Right on the issue of why some Western women seek out dangerous men. I thought this quote from the discussion particularly noteworthy:
Patriarchy valorizes qualities that men value in other men, dominant or not, "beta" qualities such as loyalty, honesty and industriousness, and converts these into a currency that women value: social status and the financial resources that accompany it. In this way male and female values become aligned.

The Rendell controversy

Sometimes you just have to shake your head at the spectacle of liberalism.

The Australian media has been embroiled in a race controversy over the past couple of days. The exact details of what happened are disputed but go something like this:

1. An Aboriginal AFL football player, Liam Jurrah, was arrested after allegedly flying back home to his community to attack his cousin with a machete and axe as a payback for the death of another man.

2. That incident led to a newspaper interview with an Aboriginal community engagement officer, Jason Mifsud. Mifsud revealed that a club recruiter had told him that clubs were worried about integrating Aboriginal players to the point that some clubs might only recruit players with one white parent. The club recruiter said this in the context of presenting Mifsud with a scheme for providing Aboriginal players with scholarships to remedy the situation.

3. The head of the AFL, Andrew Demetriou, a very orthodox liberal, ("I want our boundaries to be open") then demanded that Mifsud tell him who the recruiter was. Mifsud revealed that it was his long-time friend, Matt Rendell.

4. Supposedly Demetriou then leaned on Rendell's club to fire him (this part is disputed). Rendell was summarily fired by his club as a "racist" - despite being a good friend of Mifsud (and having appointed him previously to a club position) and despite advocating positive discrimination in favour of Aboriginal players.

5. Rendell then claimed to have cried for 30 hours in anguish about being called a racist. Rendell later regretted not wording his comments better: "It is a sensitive issue. People don't like talking about it for fear of being branded because you might get one word in the wrong place."

It's such a spectacle to witness the way that people under the sway of liberalism behave. It reminds me of the power that used to be attached to the word "sexist". If a feminist was debating an opponent all she had to do was to accuse him of sexism and it was as if the sky began to shake: he would begin his defensive retreat, the media would round on him, soul searching about oppressed womanhood would begin - regardless of what had been said or done.

Someone not so much under the sway of liberalism is a former football champion Fraser Gehrig. He came out and complained about the treatment of Matt Rendell:
Whoever it might be, the AFL or Adelaide - and I'm tipping the AFL - it's pretty disappointing that they've hung him out to dry like this.

"It's like they've hung him before they have even got to the trial.

Gehrig, who played 260 games including 145 at St Kilda between 2001-08, said Adelaide legend Andrew McLeod had been reluctant to judge Rendell.

"He's thinking the way Adelaide should have been thinking - let him explain himself and then make a decision," Gehrig said.

"It's a disgrace what has happened.

"I don't know if someone has a bone to pick with him, but they're trying to ruin someone's reputation which he has built up for 35 years and that's not right."

Gehrig is clearly not operating from within the liberal bubble. He's stayed outside - I just wish there were more in public life like him.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Lynne Featherstone definition of marriage

Just one month ago, I argued against same sex marriage on the grounds that it would redefine marriage as an open-ended commitment ceremony to mark the love between people rather than an exclusive, life-long union of a man and a woman:
At the moment Australian law defines marriage as:
the union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
That definition of marriage makes sense within heterosexual relationships. If we understand the masculine and feminine as complementary, then bringing one man and one woman together is meaningful in creating a unity out of two complementary parts. On the physical side, this uniting of male and female is what naturally produces offspring, and the care of such offspring underlies the lifetime commitment across generations within a family.

If it is possible for two men or for two women to marry then marriage can no longer be understood in this way. It can no longer be understood as a natural unity of two complementary opposites, and the sexuality within this marriage can no longer be understood, in a larger sense, as serving the purposes of creating new life within a multi-generational family.

Instead, marriage must be understood as a commitment ceremony to celebrate the love between people. But that's an open-ended definition. Why, according to this newer definition, must marriage be exclusive? Can't we love more than one person? And why must it be enduring? If the love goes, then why wouldn't the marriage?

Was I wrong in assuming that marriage was being radically redefined? The evidence is already coming in that I wasn't far off the mark. In the UK, the coalition government headed by the "conservative" David Cameron is attempting to push through same sex marriage. It has been now been revealed that the words "husband" and "wife" will be removed from official forms as part of the push toward same sex marriage and replaced by the gender neutral terms "partner" or "spouse".

That's another step toward the liberal end goal of making sex distinctions not matter in society. But what really grabbed me was a statement by Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat "Equalities" Minister. In defending the same sex marriage legislation she declared:
I believe that if a couple love each other and want to commit to a life together, they should have the option of a civil marriage, whatever their gender.

Marriage is a celebration of love and should be open to everyone.
Lynne Featherstone

Isn't that pretty much what I warned was happening? Lynne Featherstone has redefined marriage as a "celebration of love" which should be "open to everyone." Even if it's not her intention, that definition of marriage will permit just about any permutation and combination of people to be married.

Let's say I love one woman, so I celebrate my love for her by getting married. But then I meet another woman whom I also love. Why shouldn't I then also marry her? After all, according to Lynne Featherstone marriage is there to celebrate the love I feel and should be open to everyone. So why shouldn't it be open to woman number two?

And what if I meet a woman and fall in love and marry her and have some children. But then I no longer feel the same love for her. Why wouldn't I decide the marriage to be over there and then? After all, according to Lynne Featherstone, marriage is there to celebrate love. If  I don't feel the love, then why would I consider myself still to be married?

Lynne Featherstone is mistaken if she believes that you can have the traditional goods of marriage (stable, lifelong commitment) whilst redefining marriage itself to be a celebration of love that is open to everyone. Someone who understands marriage as she does will not have a good chance of holding to a lifelong commitment to monogamy (as it happens, she is divorced).

In opposition to Lynne Featherstone we have to insist that our sex does matter when it comes to marriage and to relationships and that the form of family life also matters a great deal.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Advantage China

Tze Chao worked as an engineer for DuPont in America for 26 years. But he betrayed the company by selling important trade secrets to China. He has revealed that Chinese agents appealed to his ethnic loyalty to encourage him to hand over information to the People's Republic of China.

Lawrence Auster observes:
On the basis of the sacred American liberal belief that only the universal human individual is real and ethnicity doesn't matter, we keep allowing the whole world to enter America. But the tiny little problem with this noble scheme is that the people we are allowing into this country on the basis of the belief that ethnicity doesn't matter, do not themselves believe that ethnicity doesn't matter.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Troubling signs in the U.S.

A Republican state senator in Wisconsin, Glenn Grothman, has introduced a bill which requires,
"the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board to emphasize nonmarital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect."

It's a bold way of highlighting some of the social problems that are connected to the growth in fatherless families.

I don't know if it's a good political tactic or not. But what is certainly clear is that Wisconsin has an issue when it comes to fatherless homes. In the linked article it states that one third of parents in Wisconsin are single - that's clearly unsustainable. And it turns out that in Milwaukee, the largest city in Wisconsin, 62% of children are raised in single parent households. That's an incredible figure - and one that ought to be ringing alarm bells.

But what has been the reaction to Glenn Grothman? The reaction has not been "Yes we have a major problem that needs to be fixed but I'm not sure about your methods of confronting the issue". The reaction has been very different - and troubling.

If you look at the comments to the Yahoo article (3,300 of them) the most common arguments are as follows:
  • Grothman is simply a moron
  • The reason for single motherhood is women fleeing abusive men
  • Grothman shouldn't tell people how to live
  • My children did OK with a single mum so what's Grothman talking about?
  • There are women who become single mothers through widowhood so Grothman is ignorant
  • It's all the fault of dead-beat dads

There are a few commenters who recognise growing fatherlessness as a social problem but they're a small minority.

Similarly, the opinion piece in the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel is titled "Quality, not quantity, of parents is what counts". The writer, Amy Turin, argues:
Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) would like to put an end to the scourge of single-parent households or at least demonize these loving families that do not suit his preconceived notion of what a family should be. Recent legislation proposed by Grothman would require single-parent household status to be considered a risk factor for child neglect and abuse.

She believes that support for a family with a father in it is just a "preconceived notion of what a family should be". She finishes her opinion piece by calling Senator Grothman "prejudiced" and "out of touch with today's realities" for supporting the traditional family.

I find this response troubling because it shows the extent to which a culture supporting a traditional family life has been lost in parts of the U.S. The values and beliefs supporting a stable family life are no longer there. And the idea of a state subsidised single mother model of family life is being treated as a norm and a right rather than as an exception.

When you have 62% of children being raised in single parent households in a large city like Milwaukee then it's predictable you're going to have trouble. In the UK, for instance, a government review has found that a majority of the most dysfunctional families are fatherless and that each such family costs the public US$118,000 a year. The majority of rioters in the 2011 London riots were also from fatherless homes.

As for Milwaukee, that city has been hit by a spate of "wildings" in which groups of young black men suddenly gather and attack whites:
Large groups of young African-Americans engaged in widespread fighting at the fair midway, and then attacked white fairgoers as they headed home for the night. More than 30 were arrested, and seven officers were injured.

Would that many violent people coincidentally show up at one place at the same time, or are mobs like this forming with the help of social networking sites? We asked that question about the melee at Mayfair in January, and now we're left to wonder again. These incidents are not isolated if they keep happening.

The black kids at the fair started by beating up each other, police said, and at closing time they turned that rage on whites outside the gates. This newspaper normally avoids mentioning the race of people involved in crime, unless it's part of a description to help apprehend someone at large.

But this incident, along with the looting and racially motivated beatings in Riverwest last month, has forced the issue. Similar wilding forced the Greek festival to move out of its northwest side neighborhood, the late Riversplash was hobbled by violence, and Summerfest this year had trouble at a hip-hop show.

Eugene Kane, himself a black American from Milwaukee, wrote:
When people start reporting they were being beaten by black people for no other reason than being white people at the State Fair, that's pretty disturbing.

It's also thuggish and disgusting.

In the comments you read of people choosing to leave Milwaukee, or not to visit, because of such violence. That then leads to a further decline as those from a more stable culture move elsewhere, leaving behind them an even higher concentration of welfare families.

My point isn't that everyone from a single mother family is going to turn out badly. That's obviously not the case. But what is true is that where you have a high concentration of single mother families, you then get a kind of matriarchal culture that is associated with poverty and violence. It is only when young men are brought into a stable role as fathers within a family, that a society reaches a level of productivity and lawfulness that allows it to secure higher civilisational outcomes.

The black American family has already experienced a dramatic decline, but the white family is trending the same way. It's a trend that has to be discouraged, which is presumably what Senator Grothman is attempting to do.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Eltham traditionalists update

Fifteen years ago it was a very isolating experience to be a traditionalist. Then the internet arrived and a very small group discovered each other (mostly at View from the Right). In the past few years, the number of traditionalists on the internet has grown considerably - it's now difficult to keep up with all the different sites and conversations.

But there's still a major limitation. We haven't yet reached the point at which people in a particular locality can get together.

I've tried to hurry things along by setting up Eltham Traditionalists, a group for people living in my own part of Melbourne. I've had some success: half a dozen people have indicated an interest and I've been able to meet up with three of these. Thousands of flyers have been distributed advertising traditionalist politics and dozens of posters have been put up.

We are tantalisingly close to getting to the point of being able to have regular group meetings. Another three or four people would do it.

So my appeal is to any local readers of Oz Conservative (i.e. from anywhere within driving distance of Eltham in Melbourne) to get in touch (via

Eltham Traditionalists is an informal network rather than a formal political party. So there isn't any need to formally join or to commit to anything other than the opportunity to meet up at a local cafe or pub. Getting in touch on a first name basis is also OK, and I understand that in some workplaces that might be advisable.

The advantages? You'd be making history - Eltham Traditionalists is one of the first traditionalist ventures of its kind. You'd have the opportunity of political fellowship. You'd also be contributing in a very positive way to the growth of a political alternative to liberalism.

If Eltham Traditionalists can establish a template, then it will be possible to follow it in other places in Melbourne and elsewhere. That's when other opportunities will start to become possible.

So, once again, I'd encourage interested local readers to make contact. We're so close to the regular meeting stage - we just need a few more people to indicate an interest to get there.

Apple doesn't like the word "wife"

You may have seen this story already at View from the Right. Apple has its own word processing software called Pages. If you type a word like "wife" into Pages the proofreader will try to correct you by telling you that you have used a gender specific expression which should be replaced by a gender neutral word like "spouse". Similarly if you type the word "lady" Pages suggests that you change to "woman" or "person".

This is another instance of the attempt to make sex distinctions not matter in a liberal society. It is now considered bad form to write words like wife or lady. These words are gendered and are therefore to be replaced in 'correct' usage.

Lawrence Auster's explanation of why a liberal society can't tolerate sex distinctions is very good:
But why, as I said in the title, must libertarianism, including the hip libertarianism that has always been touted by Apple, turn into PC? How does the belief that we are all free individuals, with no higher entity or authority telling us what do or how to be, mutate into a mad leftist authoritarianism that seeks to banish ordinary words from our language?

It's not hard to understand, but few conservatives and even fewer libertarians understand it. If we are all free individuals, with no authority above us, belonging to no collective categories to which we must conform, then any attribution to us of features or qualities that do not come from our individual choice, such as our sex, is an imposition on us. It violates the core liberal and libertarian principle that we are free, undetermined individuals who choose our own values. In order to be truly free, we must be equally free. And in order to be equally free, we must all become, insofar as possible, sex-neutral beings. Thus Apple's hyper feminist proofreader.

...Again, if you believe that individual freedom is the highest value, then you must also believe that there is nothing higher than individual choice, which in turn means that any larger cultural, biological, or spiritual categories to which we may belong are illegitimate and unjust, because they place limits on our individual choice.

I also liked Jim Kalb's comment in the discussion:
if you choose anything more restricted than the common good as the highest standard in politics, the favored goods (in this case, a particular understanding of freedom as neutral treatment of the goals of individuals) will end up destroying non-favored goods that in a more rational system would be balanced against the favored goods You'll end with something oppressive.

In other words, politics should be about the balancing of a range of goods. There is no magic formula for getting this right - it's a matter of wise leadership, learning from the past, thinking through the logical consequences of policies and so on. The better the balance, the more successful in the long run that society is likely to be.

If, on the other hand, you make just one good the overriding principle (which in a liberal society is the principle of maximising individual autonomy) then other goods will be either banished or neglected or, at least, not taken seriously enough as public goods to be sustained. The end result isn't freedom or individual flourishing but an intrusive state (it has to be intrusive to suppress the non-favoured goods) and individual alienation (as the larger connections in society have been broken in favour of the sole, overriding good of autonomy).

Friday, March 09, 2012

Anna Smajdor: pregnancy is unjust

Dr Anna Smajdor lectures in ethics at the University of East Anglia. She has written a paper ("The moral imperative for ectogenesis") on the issue of fertility. She begins by observing that fertility rates are declining in Western societies due to many women delaying family formation until well into their 30s. She recognises that "the obvious response to this is to persuade women to reproduce earlier." But she cannot endorse this obvious response:
Encouraging women to curb their other interests and aspirations in order to have children at biologically and socially optimal times reemphasizes that it is women who take on the risks, whereas society in general profits from these sacrifices. This, I suggest, is a prima facie injustice.

She believes that pregnancy is unjust, because it might impede women's "other interests and aspirations". So, rather than encouraging women to have children in their 20s, she believes a more just solution would be for scientists to develop "ectogenesis" - childbirth through artificial wombs:
In short, what is required is ectogenesis: the development of artificial wombs that can sustain fetuses to term without the need for women’s bodies. Only by thus remedying the natural or physical injustices involved in the unequal gender roles of reproduction can we alleviate the social injustices that arise from them.

And again:
The fact that women have to gestate and give birth in order to have children, whereas men do not, is a prima facie injustice that should be addressed by the development of ectogenesis.

Having gotten this far, Anna Smajdor then lets loose on pregnancy itself:
Pregnancy is barbaric

There has been a conceptual failure in medical and social and ethical terms to address the pathological nature of gestation and childbirth

Inevitably, part of her argument against pregnancy is the loss of autonomy experienced by women in having to consider the well-being of the foetus:
The final point to make here is the well-known one that, for expectant mothers, the fact of encompassing another life in their bodies often takes a serious toll on their autonomy. Pregnant women are routinely expected to subsume their appetites and desires into those that would be in keeping with the well-being of the fetus. ...Respect for one’s bodily integrity, something that most men may take for granted at least in a medical setting, is by no means assured for women even in societies that pride themselves on concern for ethics and autonomy.

But don't women choose to have children? Yes, concedes Anna Smajdor, but men who choose to have children don't suffer this loss of autonomy and therefore there is inequality and injustice. Anna Smajdor is realistic enough to recognise that her call for ectogenesis won't get much public support right now. But she thinks it is a justice issue that will one day prevail:
People need to be persuaded. Probably the “yuck factor” will be too strong for it to prevail as yet. But just as it was thought absurd that women should vote or ride horses astride, so it may come to seem absurd that they were chained to the degrading and dangerous processes of pregnancy and childbirth simply because of our inability to get our heads round the possibility of an alternative.

I was curious after reading Anna Smajdor's article what my wife had thought about her two pregnancies. So I asked her and she replied "They were the best years of my life".

So there is a vast gulf between how my wife experienced pregnancy and what Anna Smajdor holds it to be.

How did Anna Smajdor arrive at such a negative view of childbearing? Clearly, she looks on pregnancy more as a threatening impediment to female aspirations than as a fulfilment of them. If you take autonomy as your standard, that can make sense. There have been liberals who have criticised motherhood as a merely "biological" rather than self-determined destiny. They see careers as offering more autonomy to women as careers can be uniquely chosen and can bring financial independence.

If you accept the above, then you'll probably think of men as being advantaged in life, as men have traditionally focused on careers, whilst women had children and focused more on home life. So justice comes to mean equalising the opportunity for career, by having men and women adopt the same work and family roles.

Anna Smajdor has taken this one step further, by objecting even to the biological distinction that it is women who bear children (and who therefore potentially might have their careers interrupted) rather than men.

Alternatively it could just be that pregnancy is an unbearable reminder to Anna Smajdor of the reality of sex distinctions that are given to us as part of our nature rather than self-determined.

Lawrence Auster wrote recently:

As I and other traditionalist conservatives often point out (though our respective ways of putting it may differ slightly), the highest thing according to liberalism is the self and its desires. Only that which we personally choose has moral validity. That which is given to us by God, nature, and society without our personal choice and desire--our upbringing, our culture (along with the transcendent moral order it represents), our genetic inheritance, our race, even our very bodies and our sex--has no reality or value and should have no power over us.

But look what that liberal approach leads to. It leads to the idea that a woman bearing a child, nurturing a child within her, is barbaric, pathological, degrading and unjust. The moral thing becomes the artificial womb.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

A liberal ethicist believes babies are not persons

A Melbourne academic has hit the headlines after arguing that killing babies is morally permissible:

Doctors should have the right to kill newborn babies because they are disabled, too expensive or simply unwanted by their mothers, an academic with links to Oxford University has claimed.

Francesca Minerva, a philosopher and medical ethicist, argues a young baby is not a real person and so killing it in the first days after birth is little different to aborting it in the womb.

On what grounds does she argue that a baby is not a real person? Here is her key argument: individual is capable of making any aims (like actual human and non-human persons), she is harmed if she is prevented from accomplishing her aims by being killed. Now, hardly can a newborn be said to have aims, as the future we imagine for it is merely a projection of our minds on its potential lives. It might start having expectations and develop a minimum level of self-awareness at a very early stage, but not in the first days or few weeks after birth.

On the other hand, not only aims but also well-developed plans are concepts that certainly apply to those people (parents, siblings, society) who could be negatively or positively affected by the birth of that child. Therefore, the rights and interests of the actual people involved should represent the prevailing consideration in a decision about abortion and after-birth abortion.

So her argument is this:

i) There is a difference between being a human and a person.

ii) To be a person you have to be capable of making aims. You are then harmed if you are killed because you can no longer accomplish your aims.

iii) Newborns and foetuses cannot make aims, are therefore not persons, and can be killed.

iv) Adult humans and animals make aims, are therefore persons, and therefore would be harmed by being killed.

v) Adult humans not only have aims, but have well-developed life plans, and therefore take precedence over merely potential persons.

Let's stay with this for a while. What all this shows is how important it is to get basic questions right. Liberals have an odd idea that value comes from a person adopting a self-determined life plan. It doesn't really matter what the plan is (though it's often assumed to centre on a professional, creative career). Furthermore, someone who becomes a concert pianist because his father wanted him to is thought to be living a non-human life, whereas someone who becomes a concert pianist after previously considering being a neurosurgeon is thought to be fully a person.

What matters isn't the activity, or fulfilling one's natural or given telos (ends) in life - but the very act of choosing autonomously what one's life will be. That is what liberals assume gives value to being human - it is what, in Francesca Minerva's view, makes us a person.

So it's logical, if you begin from this assumption, to make the criterion of personhood the degree to which you are able to have aims or, better yet, well-developed life plans. That is what is thought to matter in life, so therefore you can begin to be deprived of your personhood only after you begin to be able to make aims.

But what is the consequence of defining personhood in this way? You arrive at the very radical view that not only foetuses but even healthy newborns can be killed if they are thought to interfere with the life plans of "actual" persons.

It's a definition, too, that allows Francesca Minerva to define animals as persons but not newborn humans (though exactly how an animal has life aims that a baby doesn't isn't obvious to me - it makes me wonder if Francesca loves her cats too much to exclude them from the protected category of persons).

And, if truth be told, Francesca's position would make it permissibe for parents to kill not only their newborns but also their young children. Does an 18-month-old child really have a clear capacity for making aims? If not, that makes them non-persons and therefore, in Francesca Minerva's view, without a right to life.

Here are some more snippets from Francesca Minerva's article. They illustrate the radical outcomes of adopting her definition of personhood:

If the death of a [handicapped] newborn is not wrongful to her on the grounds that she cannot have formed any aim that she is prevented from accomplishing, then it should also be permissible to practise an after-birth abortion on a healthy newborn too, given that she has not formed any aim yet.

...Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life.

...If a potential person, like a foetus and a newborn, does not become an actual person, like you and us, then there is neither an actual nor a future person who can be harmed, which means that there is no harm at all.

...The alleged right of individuals (such as foetuses and newborns) to develop their over-ridden by the interests of actual people (parents, family, society) to pursue their own well-being because, as we have just argued, merely potential people cannot be harmed by not being brought into existence. Actual people's well-being could be threatened by the new (even if healthy) child requiring energy, money and care which the family might happen to in short supply of. Sometimes this situation can be prevented through an abortion, but in some other cases this is not possible. In these cases, since non-persons have no moral rights to life, there are no reasons for banning after-birth abortions.

If your moral intuition is that these claims are false, then what's required is a different way of defining personhood. The value of human life can't rest on our capacity for an autonomously chosen life plan - otherwise all those who can't make such aims suddenly find themselves in the category of non-persons without a right to life.

So what does define the value of a human life? A Christian can answer that we are all made in the image of God and invested with a soul, which then makes every human a person. And a non-Christian could find many attributes which give human life value besides making and then acting out life plans. What about the capacity to experience love? Or the other joys of life?

And then there's the question of our telos - our proper ends in life. What if some of these are not self-chosen but are given to us as part of our created nature? Then part of our telos would be to fulfil the higher aspects of this nature. And that might include a maternal and paternal instinct to bear children, to show maternal love and paternal care, and to raise our children to adulthood. That would then make the choice to kill our own child, for being a hindrance to our life aims, a disordered act.

I'll finish with the thoughts of a liberal on Francesca Minerva's position . Nelson Jones, writing in the New Statesman, agrees with the logic of Francesca Minerva's argument:
Biologically, too, those who argue like Giubilini and Minerva are on firm ground. Human babies are, by most mammalian standards, born prematurely with far less autonomy than, for example, a baby cow.

But he doesn't like the argument, because he believes that it's better to base the case for abortion on the grounds of women's bodily autonomy rather than on the lack of autonomy of the foetus/newborn:
This is not how the case for abortion is usually put. As the term "pro-choice" implies, the emphasis is on the pregnant woman and her right to "do what she wants with her own body". The foetus is scarcely considered at all, which is why the moment of birth must be seen as crucial. The mother might be legally responsible for the infant, but it is in no sense still a part of her body. It's hard to argue that prohibiting infanticide impacts her bodily autonomy in the same way that restricting abortion inevitably does.

The JME paper is not, then, a logical extension of the pro-choice case. By switching the emphasis from the rights of the mother to the moral status of the foetus it in fact plays into the hands of the pro-lifers. For however logical the authors' argument, emotionally it is highly troubling. The natural revulsion it elicits can attach equally to late-term abortion, perhaps to abortion as a whole.

He is arguing that Francesca Minerva's position is logical but repulsive (but shouldn't that then lead him to wonder why the liberal position logically leads to repulsive outcomes?). He prefers the older argument which ignored the whole issue of the moral status of the foetus/newborn and which focused instead on the mother's bodily autonomy - once the foetus was no longer part of the mother's body it was then held to no longer compromise her autonomy and so no longer lost moral precedence to the mother.

It seems to be more of a pragmatic rather than a principled objection to Francesca Minerva's position. And Francesca Minerva could argue in reply that the newborn still compromises the mother's autonomy after birth, because of the time, energy and money the mother has to invest in the child. So the argument from autonomy ends up mired in inconsistency.

Something that fits with game

I was browsing through an online personal advice column and came across a post from a young woman which fits in well with some of the ideas put out by those who practise "game".

Her post is reproduced below:

My boyfriend is too nice - the guy flirting with me is macho - what shall I do?

My boyfriend is super nice, I really like him. He treats me well, gives me gifts every now and then (but not too often, so I still really look forward to them), does a whole lot of fun things with me and shows me things I never knew about. And he's always there for me...I really enjoy the long conversations with him in the evening. And I have to admit, the sex with him is great.

The guy flirting with me is the image of what a man should be...strong, the leader amongst his friends and at work, daring, extremely charming and funny. When I begin to be bitchy he just says "Sweety, come here, sit on my lap" in a commanding tone that is also really tender. I would follow him blindly everywhere, as he knows what he wants.

My girlfriend believes he is one of those men who takes part in the Coke ads. I'm not sleeping with him, I would separate from my boyfriend before that would happen. Of course he attempts to do so, but I'm remaining consistent even though I'm turned on.

I no longer know what I want. I know that men like my boyfriend make women happy in the long run and don't only hang around for a short affair. But since I've been in contact with the guy flirting with me, I can't value my boyfriend as much as before.

What shall I do?

Obviously this girl is not following a traditional morality here. I found her post interesting because it shows the dilemma that seems to be part of the romantic life of many women. Many women are drawn to a kind of man (in gamespeak the "alpha" male) who is unlikely to commit to them in the long-run.

Note though that this particular woman seems to know the score. She knows that the flirty alpha guy isn't likely to be the one to make her happy in the long run - her boyfriend is. In a different kind of society, one in which a stable relationship would bring a woman an important measure of material security, respectability, independence from her parents, and a father for her children, then the boyfriend would have a much stronger hand than he has in today's society.

The sexual revolution has altered the balance in favour of the "alpha" male.

It's interesting too that the woman's true feelings, as revealed in her post, are so far removed from what feminists believe about relationships. Feminists often tell men that they need to cultivate a kind of androgynous egalitarianism to appeal to women. In this feminist take on relationships, any problems can be solved by men doing more of the housework. But what this particular woman wants is not a harmlessly domesticated man, but a man who takes even her worst moods in his stride, who is a leader, who knows what he wants, as well as being charming and funny.

The gamists often claim, and it might well be true, that the ideal man for a woman would be what they sometimes call a "lesser alpha" or a "higher beta" - in other words, a man who combines the qualities of this woman's boyfriend, including an ability to commit, with some of the qualities of the "alpha" - such as the confidence in dealing with a woman's moods and an ability to lead rather than to supplicate.

And what did this woman choose eventually to do? She left a note in the discussion thread later on to announce:

I've come to a decision. I told the flirty guy that although he is charming there's nothing lasting that can come of it. And that the whole episode has been more about my ego than about him. I believe that sometimes you have to think according to reason. We women always go for these player men, but if I had gone along with it the end result would have been losing my boyfriend for an adventure.

I'm happy again.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Beyond the marital ideal

There's always a more radical liberalism. Case in point: a recent opinion piece in the New York Times by law professor Laura Rosenbury.

Laura Rosenbury wants family law to change so that it no longer privileges marriage - not even the most liberal forms of marriage. She believes that family law should focus on our relationships with friends.

Why? She explains her position in a longer article she wrote in 2007 for the Michigan Law Review ("Friends with benefits?"). Her starting point is that we should aim to be equal, autonomous, independent individuals and that this aim is better served through friendship than through marriage. Therefore, she wants family law to be rewritten so that we can freely nominate a number of friends (who might change over time) who will receive the state benefits which now go to our spouse or children.

In her article, Laura Rosenbury explains that family law has two goals of "achieving individual autonomy and gender equality within the family." These goals, she argues, as well as that of fostering pluralism, could be more fully achieved if family law began to consider friendship, as friends are able have a personal connection with each other "while simultaneously maintaining aspects of individual autonomy and equality that can be elusive in domestic coupling".

In other words, she believes that through friendship you can have the best of both worlds: "personal connection" as well as autonomy and equality.

To underline this point she goes on to write,
Andrew Sullivan has made a similar connection between friendship and the desire for autonomous living:

"[F]riendship is for those who do not want to be saved, for those whose appreciation of life is here and now and whose comfort in themselves is sufficient for them to want merely to share rather than to lose their identity. And they enter into friendship as an act of radical choice. Friendship, in this sense, is the performance art of freedom."

Friendship is choice, it is freedom, it is "autonomous living". That's the message. And, to be fair, if your aim is "autonomous living" then that's probably right. People don't generally marry in order to achieve goals such as equality, or radical choice or autonomy. They're seeking something else: a loving union with a person of the opposite sex which completes us and which provides a setting for our adult masculinity and femininity; the chance to have children and to fulfil ourselves as fathers and mothers; the opportunity to contribute to one's own tradition by raising the next generation and so on. Most people understand they are sacrificing a certain amount of autonomy in order to fulfil these other aims.

Laura Rosenbury, in other words, is not being illogical in what she advocates - not if the liberal aim of "autonomous living" is the starting point. Once you begin with that aim, then the family will always seem to be a compromised arrangement - even liberalised versions of the family - as the family can never be entirely fluid, never be entirely inclusive or non-discriminatory or non-hierarchical or non-gendered.

As an example of how liberals are unlikely ever to be satisfied with the family, consider Laura Rosenbury's next argument. She concedes that there has been a "revolution in marriage law" resulting from a "policy decision to treat spouses as individuals rather than as a unit".

However, this "process of individualization" isn't sufficient for Laura Rosenbury. Why? Because the two individuals in a marriage are still dependent on each other. They might be treated as individuals within a marriage by the state, but they still need each other to be recognised as a couple in order to get state benefits:
Although spouses are individuals, the law confers benefits to them solely because they are in a couple recognized by the state; if they presented themselves “merely” as friends, they would not be eligible for state recognition. The individuals in the couple are therefore dependent on each other for the continuance of state benefits and legal recognition. This state-induced dependence is at odds with recent processes of individualization, a conflict which has led to increased rejection of “the romantic dyad and the modern family formation it has supported.

So how exactly would Laura Rosenbury like family law to be reformed? She rejects the idea that people might nominate a "designated friend" to replace a spouse. That would still limit autonomy by making coupling too stable and exclusive:
Chamber's proposal permits unmarried couples to have only one "designated friend." Stable coupling is therefore privileged in Chambers' proposal...

The status of designated friends could therefore be described as a “marriage-lite” approach. Although this approach is designed to permit more autonomy and independence within the relationship the primacy requirement limits much of that autonomy.

Take note: in the world of the liberal autonomist it is thought wrong for "stable coupling" to be privileged in family law.

What does Laura Rosenbury want then? It includes this:
...state recognition of friendship must be sufficiently robust to match, or counter, the signals currently sent by state recognition of marriage and family. constructions of family law can better recognize friendship by embracing the principles of nonexclusivity and fluidity. Nonexclusivity is vital to new constructions of family law because exclusivity risks reinforcing the primacy of one comprehensive relationship over others. relatively aggressive approach would gather all of the benefits, default rules, and obligations attaching to marriage and permit individuals to assign some or all of those forms of legal support to the individuals of their choice.

...In addition, such an approach would not necessitate a legal definition of friendship or family, thereby acknowledging the potential fluidity of family and friendship. Individual preference, rather than legal definition, would control which relationships are supported by the state and which are not.

She is reluctant to define family or friendship as this might limit the "fluidity" of such relationships; note too her emphasis on the idea of family law embracing the principle of nonexclusivity, which undermines in principle the "dyad" relationship between husband and wife.

Finally, it's interesting that Laura Rosenbury then pushes an argument that liberal autonomists always seem to arrive at, namely that if we reject marriage we can happily substitute same sex friendships:
Legal recognition of friendship could begin to disrupt these patterns, creating conditions under which women could more explicitly contemplate why they might prioritize domestic family life, particularly married life over friendship. As discussed earlier, Adrienne Rich called on women to engage in such contemplation over twenty-five years ago. Her goal was to challenge compulsory heterosexuality by creating opportunities for women to question why they have embraced marriage with men over relationships with other women.

Legal recognition of friendship could serve a similar function by presenting women with a socially recognized way of living outside of marriage or domesticity. Some women who are not currently living a lesbian life might gain sufficient strength from such legal recognition to prioritize relationships with women—whether the relationships be sexual or friendly in nature, or both—over interactions with men.

But there were feminists who heeded Adrienne Rich's call to set up female communities. The experiment did not have a happy ending.

The larger point, however, is that liberalism is not finished with the family yet. For Laura Rosenbury, relationships must be fluid, non-exclusive, non-gendered, undefined, individualised and independent if they are to meet the test of autonomous living. No version of marriage, not even the most liberalised, can completely satisfy these requirements, so Laura Rosenbury wants non-marital relationships to be legally recognised within family law instead.

And the task for traditionalists? We have to recognise the dissolving logic of liberalism and reject it at a level of principle.