Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Monday, October 28, 2013
Sunday, October 27, 2013
That might seem an unusual answer as the Japanese are better known for conformism and for upholding a communal identity than they are for going it alone.
I'll begin briefly with terminology. I hold "individuality" to be a good thing, as something that reflects the natural impulse that humans have toward a creative unfolding of self. But "individualisation" I hold to be one of the worst things, as perhaps the very thing that traditionalists are most set against.
Individualisation means that even when people live in families or nations that they seek their fulfilment not together but separately, as discrete individuals. A society might, for instance, have begun with a strong culture of family life, in which people found their life together as a family rewarding, and felt closely bonded to each other, and sought rewards and fulfilments in life through their roles within the family. Individualisation would mean that this culture of family life grew weaker, to the point that the family had less purchase on people and meant less to them, so that they instead sought their fulfilment alone as individuals outside of the family, even if they still lived under the same roof.
Individualisation can come about through the influence of value systems (for instance, through theories about personal freedom or the expression of individuality). But it can also come about when the framework of a society no longer fits together well - and it's my theory that this might have happened in Japan.
As I mentioned in my first post, when I lived in Japan my male work colleagues had a punishing lifestyle that meant that they were rarely home during the week. They were all absentee fathers, at least until the weekend. I suspect that this lifestyle required strong beliefs in masculinity and in national identity to be sustained ("this is what Japanese men do"); similarly their wives must have acted from a sense of what was expected from their own role.
But the cracks have now appeared. For some younger Japanese men, masculinity is something that appears oppressive, rather than fulfilling; similarly there are young Japanese women who prefer the idea of remaining an independent single girl to marriage. For many young Japanese the bar was set too high.
How else can individualisation be fostered? If marriage is delayed for too long, then individuals face a dilemma. If you're a man, for instance, and you're not expected to marry until you're 35, then it becomes difficult to look to family and to family roles for your fulfilment in life; you have to think, instead, of how you can seek fulfilment outside of such relationships.
Maybe too there's a problem if there is an excessive sexualisation of very young women. If young men at a critical point in their development observe the women around them being very casual in their sexual mores, then it will be more difficult for them to imagine a commitment to intimacy with such women.
What a society needs to do is to understand what it is that draws family life apart (in the direction of individualisation) and what it is that brings it closer together. I'm not sure that there is a very honest attempt to do this in the modern world. In most of the articles I've read about Japan the preferred solution is to better integrate women into the workforce, but this is part of a drive to utilise women as a labour resource and to promote female independence rather than a serious reflection on how to uphold a culture of family life.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Recent studies in Japan have found that about a quarter of Japanese people now have no interest in a romantic relationship and it is projected that 40% of young Japanese women will never have children. One study found that nearly half of Japanese women aged 16 to 24 were not interested in or despised sex.
The question is why. The newspaper articles I've seen mostly take the easy way out and blame men for old-fashioned attitudes toward women. It's true that if you have a society in which men are brought up to be traditional, and women to be feminist, that you're likely to have incompatible expectations between men and women. But the evidence I've seen is that Japanese men are, if anything, rejecting the masculine ethos of the past rather than clinging to it.
I'm not exactly sure from this distance why Japanese men and women have turned so much from each other, but I can throw in some possibilities.
When I lived in Japan I was struck by the lifestyle of my male colleagues. They were married men in their 20s and 30s. They would stay at work until about 7.00pm, then play mahjong, then get something to eat, then play pachinko, get home at 11.00pm, get served supper by their wives, go to bed at midnight and then get up at 6.00am the next day to start the process over. They were proud of this punishing schedule.
It's not a lifestyle that's likely to hold together a culture of family life. It seems that the younger generation of Japanese men are unenthusiastic about it, and it's hard to blame the women for not finding it fulfilling.
It's ironic that Japan is known for a corporate culture, when such a male lifestyle was likely to bring about individualisation, by which I mean a sense that men and women are to lead separate lives and to find their fulfilment separately from each other.
It doesn't help that the Japanese have apparently divorced sex from marriage to a greater degree than elsewhere. Supposedly it is more common in Japan for wives to begin to shut down marital relations some years into the marriage, and there is something of a culture of porn and paid sex in Japan.
It seems too that young Japanese women have picked up an independent career girl lifestyle that is familiar to us here as well:
I meet Eri Tomita, 32, over Saturday morning coffee in the smart Tokyo district of Ebisu. Tomita has a job she loves in the human resources department of a French-owned bank. A fluent French speaker with two university degrees, she avoids romantic attachments so she can focus on work. "A boyfriend proposed to me three years ago. I turned him down when I realised I cared more about my job. After that, I lost interest in dating. It became awkward when the question of the future came up."
Tomita sometimes has one-night stands with men she meets in bars, but she says sex is not a priority, either.
If I'm correct in this, then what are the solutions? A society has to be careful to allow men to fulfil a masculine role not only at work but also within the family home. Competition at work to provide for a family is good, but the bar shouldn't be raised too high, to the point that men have to give everything to the breadwinning role. If there is no chance to give the best of yourself in a relationship with your wife and children, then can we be surprised if family life falls away?
The drift toward individualisation has to be combated. This means, amongst other things, creating a culture in which sexual fulfilment is found within a marriage rather than outside of it. It means finding a high value in marital love and parental love - higher than the value of shopping or travel or work routines.
Monday, October 21, 2013
I could draw you a map of every inch of it. I loved it with an (intense) love...I was brought up in considerable poverty, but I was happy running about in that country.
One of the features of Sarehole is an old mill:
Tolkien had a happy childhood because he was blessed with a love of the beautiful countryside he inhabited.
I sometimes think that this is the true privilege: to feel closely connected to people and place, to family and nation, to the arts and culture, to masculinity or femininity, to the beauty of women, to one's history and heritage, to a church and to nature.
We lose sight of this when privilege is argued over endlessly in terms of degrees of political or economic status.
I do want traditionalists to contest for political and economic power, as without this we will remain forever marginalised. However, when it comes to what we use that power for, it helps to remember, I think, what true privilege means - that it is not status or power for its own sake, but for the sake of those things we feel meaningfully connected to and which inspire our love and commitment.
Sunday, October 20, 2013
Still, my ideal society would not be as economically unequal as current day America. But how then do you achieve a more even spread of wealth, without unjustly taking wealth from those who own it (and without discouraging people from creating wealth in the first place)?
Saturday, October 19, 2013
However, if you go back further in history you find that the West has had to fight for its survival against powerful aggressors. If you're not already aware of this history, I encourage you to read the American Renaissance piece, as well as my own posts on the Harvest of the Steppe and White Gold.
I have only one criticism of the American Renaissance piece. It ends by explaining the problems facing the West today in terms of the rise of cultural Marxism. As I've explained previously, I'm open to learning more about the influence of the academics associated with cultural Marxism, but my reading to this point doesn't support the idea that they were a key influence. Explaining Western decline in terms of cultural Marxism also has the danger of leaving the politics of right-liberals unexamined.
Let me give some examples. Traditional Australia began to be dismantled from the early 1940s and was certainly in full swing by the late 1960s. The men who did the job in the early 1940s were part of the Labour left. The radicals of the time to their left were not cultural Marxists but your everyday Marxist-Leninist Marxists. The men who finished the job in the late 1960s were Liberal Party businessmen types.
Or look at Australia's contribution to 1960s radicalism. The most famous figures contributed by Australia, such as Richard Neville and Germaine Greer, were part of the Sydney "Push" - a loosely organised libertarian group whose politics were most influenced by a Scottish philosopher called John Anderson.
And if we look at feminism we find that it was alive and kicking by the mid-1800s, a long time before cultural Marxism was supposed to have gained its influence over the left in the 1960s and 70s.
Monday, October 14, 2013
What matters in life? There seems to be a consensus amongst the social elite, whether on the right or left, when it comes to this question. It is assumed that the real aim of life is to make yourself in the market. What is considered important morally is that nobody be disadvantaged by factors outside their control, such as their class, race or sex, when it comes to workforce participation.
At one level the left criticises the free market. But at a deeper level they see the ultimate aim in life in terms of participation in the very same market.
I was interested, and a little surprised, to see a feminist in The Guardian make a similar point. Nancy Fraser begins by arguing that feminism had two possible futures:
With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that the movement for women's liberation pointed simultaneously to two different possible futures. In a first scenario, it prefigured a world in which gender emancipation went hand in hand with participatory democracy and social solidarity; in a second, it promised a new form of liberalism, able to grant women as well as men the goods of individual autonomy, increased choice, and meritocratic advancement. Second-wave feminism was in this sense ambivalent. Compatible with either of two different visions of society, it was susceptible to two different historical elaborations.
As I see it, feminism's ambivalence has been resolved in recent years in favour of the second, liberal-individualist scenario – but not because we were passive victims of neoliberal seductions. On the contrary, we ourselves contributed three important ideas to this development.
Personally I just don't see how feminism could ever have contributed to social solidarity. Any society in which men and women are viewed as hostile competing classes is not going to enjoy a high level of any kind of solidarity.
But she is right that the dominant strain within feminism is a liberal one that promotes individual autonomy (for women, not for men). And the ideal of maximising individual autonomy does encourage the idea that the goal in life is to "make yourself" within the market. What is it that we get to choose as atomised individuals? We get to choose our careers, our travel destinations, our entertainments and hobbies. Of these, careers carry the most weight, so middle-class liberals will tend to see careers as the means by which we best fulfil our autonomous selves.
Nancy Fraser is one left-wing feminist who doesn't want feminism to have this end point.
She even admits that feminists destroyed some of the barriers to the reach of the market when they attacked the ideal of a living wage for men:
One contribution was our critique of the "family wage": the ideal of a male breadwinner-female homemaker family...As women have poured into labour markets around the globe, state-organised capitalism's ideal of the family wage is being replaced by the newer, more modern norm – apparently sanctioned by feminism – of the two-earner family.
Never mind that the reality that underlies the new ideal is depressed wage levels, decreased job security, declining living standards, a steep rise in the number of hours worked for wages per household, exacerbation of the double shift – now often a triple or quadruple shift – and a rise in poverty, increasingly concentrated in female-headed households. Neoliberalism turns a sow's ear into a silk purse by elaborating a narrative of female empowerment. Invoking the feminist critique of the family wage to justify exploitation, it harnesses the dream of women's emancipation to the engine of capital accumulation.
Nancy Fraser is not a traditionalist but she does want to shift away from the idea that participation in the market is what makes a life:
First, we might break the spurious link between our critique of the family wage and flexible capitalism by militating for a form of life that de-centres waged work and valorises unwaged activities, including – but not only – carework.
The question is what alternative you put forward. Nancy Fraser seems to think you achieve a "solidary" society merely by rejecting individualistic competition within the market. But solidarity is not just a question of uniting to defend conditions and pay at work - that is still an economistic view of society.
One step forward is not to see people as abstracted and atomised individuals, but to accept that people are defined in part through their social relationships. We are not abstracted individuals, but men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and we are members of nations, ethnies, churches and local communities. This is what brings us into close and loyal relationships with each other; these are natural forms of solidarity that are not defined by the market.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
First, I thought this was of interest:
Belonging to a people has a strong theological value. In the history of salvation, God has saved a people. There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships.
It's worth thinking about what Pope Francis means by this. Obviously, a traditionalist would agree that "There is no full identity without belonging to a people" - so it's a nice quote to have to hand. I'm not sure though that Francis means it in the same way we would. I suspect he means that we can't show our complete moral nature unless we are in a relationship with others. For us, though, it is more literally a matter of identity: we are so constituted that our sense of ourselves, of who we are, derives in part from the ethnic or national tradition (the people) we belong to.
Second, Pope Francis does seem to reveal himself to be a "progressive" in the interview. I have to be careful to explain what I mean here. I think there is a progressive attitude to life, one which emphasises the "creative spirit," not just in terms of art, but more generally of the way in which individuals and societies "creatively unfold" themselves over time.
Those who hold to this mindset tend to see change as a good thing, as a moving forward of the individual or society. They tend to emphasise open-ended and fluid movement in society, rather than hierarchy, order or convention. They are committed to the process of self-making and the re-making of society.
There is a positive side to this, as a progressive politics will often attract those who are committed to social change rather than passively observing from the sidelines. But the great weakness is that progressives, so committed to what is creatively open-ended, don't have as strong a sense of how we (and the reality we inhabit) are constituted in ways that provide us with our purposes - our intended paths of development that best fulfil who we are. Progressives, therefore, can seem more interested in the process of change rather than having an adequate measure of what the quality of that change really is.
Pope Francis is not radically a progressive, but he does err on the side of progressivism. For instance, he emphasises the idea of history as a movement of progress:
human self-understanding changes with time and so also human consciousness deepens. Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem. So we grow in the understanding of the truth
Here is another example of Pope Francis rejecting the "static":
Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists—they have a static and inward-directed view of things.
I do have to say that we traditionalists could learn something from Pope Francis when he is in this "progressive" mode. He stresses the need to be dynamic, to be fruitful, to be searching, to be creative, to have audacity and courage. Here is an example of Pope Francis showing a commitment to shaping society:
We must not focus on occupying the spaces where power is exercised, but rather on starting long-run historical processes. We must initiate processes rather than occupy spaces. God manifests himself in time and is present in the processes of history. This gives priority to actions that give birth to new historical dynamics.
Somehow we have to take the best of the progressive mindset and meld it with the best of the traditionalist one. We have to take the strength of traditionalism, which is to have a close sense of what is good within created reality, and of an order within which these goods can be harmonised, which then gives direction and meaning (a telos) to human actions, and combine it with the strength of progressivism, which harnesses the creative spirit within human nature to shape individual life and to motivate a strong commitment to the shaping of society.
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
...the label 'feminist' is often forcefully rejected, particularly by young women. New research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) suggests that, in rejecting feminism, women are often seeking to position themselves within conventional norms of femininity and heterosexuality.
"In many contemporary European societies, the term feminism provokes unease and even hostility," says Dr Christina Scharff of King's College London, who carried out the research"...
Playing an important role in the rejection of feminism in both countries are the distorted stereotypes of the 'man-hating feminist', the 'unfeminine feminist' or the 'lesbian feminist'. Many participants in the study did not want to call themselves ‘feminist’ because of these stereotypes.
...Although none of the participants could point to specific individuals, most still viewed the pioneers of gender equality as 'lesbian, man-hating feminists'.
And then there's this:
A study commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and published today found that feminism is regarded virtually unanimously in negative terms, ranging from old-fashioned to "ball breaking".
Those questioned felt women were more equal than ever before and believed that issues such as women's greater domestic role or concentration in lower-paid jobs are the result of individual choice and natural differences between the sexes which had to be addressed by individuals rather than, as the women's movement argued, society as a whole.
The findings of the Future Foundation study, Talking Equality, have sent shockwaves through the EOC.
The suspicions that young women have when it comes to the "pioneers of gender equality" are fully justified. And the problem is not just that a fair proportion of these pioneers were man-haters. Equally significant is that they were women who did not like or accept womanhood or femininity. Many were as anti-female as they were anti-male.
I was reminded of this when reading about one of the major pioneers of second wave feminism in the 1970s, Shulamith Firestone. She wrote:
The end goal of feminist revolution must be, unlike that of the first feminist movement, not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital difference between human beings would no longer matter culturally.
That is one of the drives of liberal modernity: to make sex distinctions not matter. If you believe that the end goal of politics is to maximise individual autonomy, then you will want to make your life as self-determining as possible, which will then mean that you will reject predetermined qualities, such as your own sex. As you cannot change your sex, the next best thing you'll be able to do is to make it not matter.
A generation earlier, the same ideas were in circulation. In 1949 Simone de Beauvoir could describe the intellectual temper of her own times as follows:
If today femininity no longer exists, then it never existed. But does the word woman, then, have no specific content? This is stoutly affirmed by those who hold to the philosophy of the enlightenment, of rationalism, of nominalism; women, to them, are merely the human beings arbitrarily designated by the word woman. Many American women particularly are prepared to think that there is no longer any place for woman as such; if a backward individual still takes herself for a woman, her friends advise her to be psychoanalysed and thus get rid of this obsession. In regard to a work, Modern Woman: The Lost Sex, which in other respects has its irritating features, Dorothy Parker has written: ‘I cannot be just to books which treat of woman as woman ... My idea is that all of us, men as well as women, should be regarded as human beings.
That's particularly interesting as it traces the failure to accept sex distinctions to an even deeper change in philosophy: from philosophical realism (which accepted the real existence of masculine and feminine essences) to nominalism (which saw such categories as having no real existence but as being names to group things).
Can sex distinctions be made not to matter? Well, not very easily. A University of California neuroscientist, Larry Cahill, has just recently been interviewed on differences between the male and female brain:
The differences exist at virtually all levels, he says, from those of tiny cells to large structures in the brain, from brain chemistry to what he calls intriguing differences in the way men and women remember emotionally searing events.
What it is, is just a storm of sex differences, big and little, found all over the place – down to the level of single neurons. We see these differences everywhere, and we started to realize, damn, we simply assume they aren't there. And these sex differences have implications for how the brain works and how to fix brains. That's your big story right there.
For me it's the existence of this huge fire in neuroscience. We've been collectively in kind of denial about it. But we've hit some sort of critical mass in the last couple of years. It's really starting to change.
Sunday, October 06, 2013
Oberlin is a place of intense energy and creativity, built on a foundation of academic, artistic, musical excellence. With its longstanding commitments to access, diversity, inclusion, Oberlin is the ideal laboratory in which to study and design the world we want.
Last month I tried to develop some ideas about the way that liberals understand individuality (e.g. here). One part of my argument concerns human nature. We traditionalists accept aspects of human nature that are rejected by liberals, such as masculinity and femininity. We tend to think of ourselves as having a more comprehensive and realistic account of human nature than liberals.
And this belief is justified. However, there does exist one aspect of human nature that liberals do accept and focus on, namely the "creative spirit" aspect of our nature. Liberals express this creative spirit when they emphasise individuality as a creative unfolding of self; when they value the achievement of being self-made; when they reject (formally at least) convention; when they set out to shape the world after their own design; and when they look toward human progress.
That particular focus does bring some advantages to liberalism. It will tend to attract those who have an energy and commitment to making real world changes; who have a degree of idealism about social activism; and who will express themselves in idealistic language as being socially committed.
We need to take some of this ground for ourselves. That's one reason I'm not keen on labels such as "reactionary" or "curmudgeon" (there are even problems with "traditionalist" and "conservative"). We need to incorporate the creative spirit into our own politics, by bringing out the way that our politics serves individuality (as the creative unfolding of self) and contributes to the progress of human societies.
Look at the way that Oberlin markets itself. It is appealing to the creative spirit that I have tried to describe: "a place of intense energy and creativity" and "the ideal laboratory in which to study and design the world we want."
We should try to combine our own political advantages (a less abstract, detached and individualistic understanding of the human personality) with those of liberalism (a focus on creative energy, social activism and taking things forward).
Thursday, October 03, 2013
It's a concept which has very negative consequences. If solidarity is something that is offered to those who are "othered" in society, then I as a member of the mainstream can extend it to the "other" group, but they by definition cannot extend it to me (since I am not myself "othered"). So liberal solidarity is not mutual or reciprocal - it does not lead to a positive sense of fellow feeling.
Instead, the group being offered the solidarity is reinforced in its belief that it is suffering oppression and hardship from the very people offering the solidarity. That leads to resentment, anger and a sense of grievance. The solidarity-givers then have to adopt an attitude of repentance and seek redemption - they lose moral status relative to the group they want to be in solidarity with. And that then leads to a growing sense of contempt from the "other" group toward the liberal solidarity-givers who now stand in a morally inferior position to them.
That all sounds very abstract, I know, but it has real life consequences. Let me give just a small example. At Oberlin College in America a white student in a soccer team wrote to an Hispanic teammate letting him know that if he (she?) didn't want to go to a talk organised for Latino Heritage month, the team would like him (her?) to play:
Hey that talk looks pretty great, but on the off chance you aren’t going or would rather play futbol instead the club team wants to go!!
Harmless, right? Well, the Hispanic player decided that this was, in fact, an act of "microagression" from his white teammate. It was an act of aggression, first, because the white player used a Spanish word "futbol" which constitutes an act of cultural appropriation:
Who said it was ok for you to say futbol? It’s Latino Heritage Month, your telling people not to come to the talk, but want to use our language? Trick NO! White students appropriating the Spanish language, dropping it in when convenient, never ok.
And he (she?) followed up with this:
I’m not playing intramural once again this semester because you and your cis-dude, non passing the ball, stealing the ball from beginners, spanish-mocking, white cohort has ruined it.
And here's the contempt for liberal solidarity-givers:
And then I get this long ass email (warning it gets full of white guilt and really boring white liberal sh**)
In his email the white soccer player complains that he can't help being white and male:
Clearly you only see me at face value and yes I’m white and male, what do you want me to do about that?
The Hispanic player has a clear answer to the "what do you want me to do" question and it has little to do with solidarity. The Hispanic player's answer is: "Leave the team".
The white player then pleads that although he is of white ancestry he has been virtually raised by a second, Hispanic family. Does this get him a pass? Does this mean that he can now enjoy solidarity and fraternity? You probably know the answer. He is chided by the Hispanic player thusly:
We need to talk about tokenizing brown friends/family and taking them in to identify with people of color (or avoiding accountability for being racist).
So the white player then tries to seek redemption by confessing his sins. I've shortened it, but you'll get the idea:
Growing up as a white male in this society, I have benefited countless times from these advantages that I did not and do not deserve, but growing up I was generally not even aware that I was gaining an advantage - it was the only reality I knew. This is a question I have truly struggled with through my life - I don’t deserve these advantages, but they exist for me, I never sought them out, I didn’t want them and can't give them away, what am I supposed to do? How can I feel like any of my efforts are the product of my own effort and not simply my unequal social status? This made me very depressed for a time.
Solidarity is not supposed to make you depressed. It's not supposed to make you doubt the worth of contributing to society. It's supposed to give you a supportive sense of fellow-feeling.
And what was the response of the Hispanic student to the stupendous act of contrition from the white student? It was to the point. The best way the white student can help out is to get lost:
did you once address how you take up too much space and make this space unsafe? Did you once consider leaving this space?
So what is the lesson to be learnt? Simply this: it is no use whinging about the kind of attitudes expressed by the Hispanic footballer if we at the same time continue to support the concept of solidarity which breeds such attitudes. One thing leads logically to another.
Solidarity cannot be based on gestures of support for the most othered group in society. That is not solidarity, it is not fraternity. We need to recognise wherever and whenever this mistake is made and to patiently but firmly criticise it.
Tuesday, October 01, 2013
A few weeks ago, real estate identity John McGrath sold an unremarkable house in Eastwood in Sydney's northwest for an eye-watering 77 per cent premium to its $1.35 million reserve.
The 16 registered bidders were all Chinese, based locally and offshore, with the lucky one...forking out $2.385 million.
I still can't get over this kind of thing. Housing in Australia used to be high quality and affordable. Now an unremarkable home gets sold for $2.4 million.
According to the real estate agents, this is not evidence of a property bubble. John McGrath claims that "This is just a normal period of post-financial crisis catch-up."
The cost of housing is increasing at three times the rate of wages growth. According to the Australian journalist this is something to celebrate:
Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey welcomed the big gains last Friday, and why not?
Across Australia, there are millions of homeowners who are suddenly feeling enriched, with their number vastly overwhelming the people who are penalised by the latest bout of runaway prices and eroding affordability.
I don't think it's that straightforward. If you're a homeowner you might see the value of your house increasing, but if you sell you're then faced with the problem of having to pay a large amount of stamp duty and then a high price for your new house. How then are you better off?
It's really only those people with an investment property who are likely to make money out of the current market.
And the problem is that young local families are either being priced out of the market altogether or forced into high mortgages that will keep both spouses permanently in full-time work until they retire, without much of an opportunity to save or invest.
Update: There are pictures of the house here.