Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Choosing our own path?

In my last post I wrote: "I've never understood the appeal of the right-liberal idea about freedom in the market."

I got a few responses, which seemed to boil down to the idea that we are better off today, thanks to the free market, because we get to choose what we do more than previous generations did:
You and I have far, far more liberty than any previous generation in human history. That means we have vastly more power to choose our path than they did.

I want to thank those who did write in; however, I mostly can't accept the argument, for the following reasons.

First, I don't think that freedom should be defined as the ability to choose our own path. If that becomes the accepted definition then much else follows.

First, it means that our sex, our race and our sexuality will be thought of as having no proper bearing on our life path. If I am free because I can choose my own life path, then why should my sex stop me from choosing to do something? Why shouldn't a woman be able to choose to be a combat soldier? And if I choose to follow my rational self-interest and migrate to a country with a higher standard of living, then why should I be prevented from doing so on the basis of my nationality, ethny or race? And what if I am homosexual? Why should I not be able to choose to marry, if freedom means choosing my own life path? In fact, if freedom is choosing my life path, then why should I not be free to choose whether to be a man or a woman (this once would have been considered an absurd argument, but we are now seeing the whole transsexual issue become prominent in society).

Second, if freedom means being able to choose our own life path, then the proper focus of life will be thought to be those things that we can choose as individuals. That, perhaps, partly explains the big focus on market freedoms. We do get to choose as individuals what career we have, what we buy and sell and what investments we make. It fits within what is permissible within the liberal concept of freedom. What doesn't fit so well are those aspects of life with a communal dimension or that involve stable relationships with others. For instance, my inherited national identity might be important to me, but there is no defence for it when freedom is defined as a self-chosen life path.

Third, the focus of modern society in expanding the freedom to choose our own path hasn't created a higher level of this freedom. What, for instance, if the path you want to choose is to marry in your early 20s and to enjoy a stable, lifelong marriage? The fact is that you had a better chance of being able to choose this 60 years ago compared to today. What if you would like to support a family on your own wage, to save money and to quickly pay off a house and to put your children through private schooling? Again, you had a much better chance of choosing this 40 years ago compared to today (when housing is so expensive and the male wage is stagnant). What if the life you want is one in which men are respected, in which moral standards are encouraged, in which a European civilisation is highly regarded and admired, and in which the fine arts are flourishing? Again, we were born too late for this. Yes, we can go to a food court and choose 20 varieties of food. You couldn't do this a generation ago. But is it really a good trade off? I don't think so.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The freedom debate

Back in 2006 there was a debate on freedom between some British left and right liberals. Much of it is predictable and unenlightening, but there were a few points of interest.

The left liberal was Neal Lawson. He began with this observation:
Politics is about competing conceptions of liberty or freedom. What is it to live freely?

In a sense he is right. The banner of liberal politics has for a long time been the word freedom. Our current PM, Tony Abbott has said:
The dream of greater personal freedom is probably the Liberal Party’s nearest equivalent to a “light on the hill”

The Liberal Party’s animating principle is freedom

There are two responses to be made to this. First, it is limiting and distorting to see politics as being only about freedom. People do want to be free, but they also want other things as well: happy marriages, the opportunity to raise children, a work and life balance, membership of a community they are proud to belong to, achievements in culture and the arts, a productive economy, an attractive environment, some level of cultural continuity, the upholding of a national identity and so on.

The proper role of a government is to hold in balance a range of goods that sometimes compete with each other, to the point that there is a framework of society that fits together. Part of this framework will be an understanding of what the proper limits of a government are.

Second, if politics is about freedom alone, then what freedom is understood to be matters a great deal. According to Neal Lawson, it is the right-liberals who have managed to define freedom in market terms (he calls right-liberals "conservatives"):
Conservatives have taken ownership of the word and therefore its meaning. Freedom from the state, from trade unions, freedom of exchange, free markets and free enterprise – the lexicon of freedom is the language of the right.

Again, he's correct that right-liberals do see a freedom to be self-made in the market as a key aspect of freedom. He contrasts this with the left-wing view of freedom here:
Neo-liberalism equates individual liberty solely with free markets. In contrast, 'social liberalism' suggests individual liberty requires some kind of collective welfare provision. Both of these visions are part of the liberal tradition but come to very different conclusions about what it means to be free.

There are a few points to be made here. First, he overstates the difference between left and right. Both have the autonomous, abstracted individual as a starting point. But when it comes to the issue of how a society of such individuals is to be regulated, right-liberals look to the market whereas left-liberals tend to look to the state.

Second, the left-liberal view of solidarity is not persuasive. The left-liberal idea is that we express our social natures by accepting a "collective welfare provision," i.e. by agreeing to pay taxes to fund the welfare state. If that's supposed to be the alternative to right-liberalism, then excuse me for not getting excited. The sense of connectedness between people should run deeper than this: there are supposed to be loyalties to family and ethny; an impulse running between men and women; a bond existing between groups of men (comradeship, brotherhood); a connection felt by those belonging to cherished institutions (e.g. school, university alumni) and so on. In the left-liberal conception, my social nature is complete after I hand in my tax return.

However, I have to say that reading the Neal Lawson piece did get me thinking about what freedom in the market might mean to people. I've never understood the appeal of the right-liberal idea about freedom in the market.

But think of it this way. If you live in a society in which the "sideways" connections between people (family, ethny, sex etc.) have been considerably dissolved, so that the individual is treated only as an individual, then the sense of agency that we have in life is considerably reduced. What can you do as a private individual? What effect can you have on anything? For most people the answer will be: very little. It will be just you as an individual, with no role except to steer your own individual course (which most people find difficult to do, as the surrounding culture exerts such an influence over us.)

So what is left to the average person to salvage some sense of agency? Well, if you get money then you have buying power - you have a freedom to distribute your financial resources as you see fit. You have freedom in the market in the sense that decisions to purchase are in your domain.

You might have to work all week to get the money, but come the weekend you have agency to please yourself or your family with purchasing decisions.

To me it's not central to what freedom should mean, but in the absence of anything else, perhaps it has its appeal to people.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Twisted admissions

Dennis Saffran has stood as a Republican candidate in New York and has written columns for City Journal - so he is somewhere on the right of the political spectrum.

He has had a column published in the New York Post regarding the racial balance in the eight elite specialised high schools in New York.

It's an interesting case study in the way that race is spoken about now.

Entry to the high schools is by a competitive examination:
But now, troubled by declining black and Hispanic enrollment at the schools, opponents of the exam have resurfaced. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has filed a civil-rights complaint challenging the admissions process.

Here is the first point to note. It is true that black and Hispanic enrolments have fallen. But the most notable decline in enrolments has been amongst whites:
white enrollment at Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech has plummeted as well, dropping from 79 percent, 81 percent and 77 percent, respectively, in 1971 to just 22 percent, 23 percent and 20 percent today.

So why not be up in arms about the decline in white enrolments? Why the concern only for blacks and Hispanics?

As it happens, Saffran does not want the exam to be dropped. He argues that this would be unfair to the Asian community which now dominates these high schools. Asians are 13 per cent of the New York population but 73% of the specialised school enrolments.

Now, if whites were 13 per cent of the New York population but 73 per cent of the elite high school population, you would never hear the end of it. There would be talk of privilege and racism. And Saffran does seem to believe that he needs to justify the discrepancy. So he makes the claim that Asians are poor and therefore, unlike privileged whites, deserving of the high school places.

He makes this argument despite admitting that:
True, Asians nationally have the highest median income of any racial group, including whites — and in New York City, their median household income ranks second to that of whites and well ahead of blacks and Hispanics.

So Asians in general are the wealthiest (and also the best educated); however, Saffran provides some welfare data suggesting that some of the Asians attending the specialised schools are from poorer families.

This may well be true, but let's face it - poor whites are never given such consideration. If you're white you're considered privileged no matter what; a struggling white family will be thought more privileged than someone like Oprah Winfrey.

I'm not writing any of this to have a go at Asians; it is an aspect of Asian culture that the young are pressured to compete academically for entry to elite schools.

But again, if white families value education more highly on average than black families and have better educational outcomes for that reason, nobody says they achieved that on merit, it is assumed to be an aspect of racism.

It's that idea, again, of whites being exceptional - in a negative way. It is assumed that whites created systems of oppression and injustice, and therefore the worst is to be thought of them, even to the point that Asians, who do better on average than whites on most social indicators, get to be praised for achieving on merit, whilst the poorest of whites are advised on ways to confess and to overcome their privilege.

I don't write this with the intent of further demoralising those white people reading this, but to try to make clear how lacking in credibility the whole approach to race is. There is every reason for us to treat it as lacking in credibility and to dismiss its moral claims.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Australian women less happy

Government data has revealed that life satisfaction is declining amongst Australian women.

Jenny Ulichny, a university researcher, expected the reverse to be true:
“These results are surprising,” she says. “In most westernised democratic countries, females have made significant strides in terms of social changes towards equality over the previous two generations. It would be reasonable to expect these changes to increase female wellbeing and happiness.”

You'd be a bit disappointed if you were a feminist, wouldn't you? After many decades of social change to implement your philosophy, women are not only not becoming happier, they are feeling worse off.

It's hardly surprising. Feminism is one strand of a modernity that is dissolving traditional relationships, including those of family, community and nation. In their place is supposed to be the self-authoring, free to choose individual, but what that means in practice is a focus on people being self-made in the market, i.e. through careers.

For a few women in high status, creative careers that might seem a good trade off, but for a lot of women it will just mean a daily grind at work.

Jenny Ulichny thinks that the problem has to do with social connectedness:
Australian men and women are saying that they see friends and loved ones less frequently and are participating less and less in community-based events and hobbies.

That could be because of the increasing demands of paid work, or it could have to do with the "hunkering down" effect that Professor Putnam has identified in more diverse societies.

Whatever the cause, this is more evidence that feminism in particular, and modernity in general, are not progressive but are connected to decline - in this case to a decline in women's sense of well-being.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cog status

Naomi Wolf, the American feminist, has noticed that quite a few of the leaders of the more patriotic parties in Europe are women (e.g. Marine Le Pen in France, Pia Kjaersgaard in Denmark and Siv Jensen in Norway).

She's not happy about it. She's written an article in which she crudely attacks these parties; however, she does a good job in explaining why ordinary women might find these patriotic parties appealing:
right-wing movements benefit from the limitations of a postfeminist, post-sexual-revolution society, and the spiritual and emotional void produced by secular materialism.

Many lower-income women in Western Europe today – often single parents working pink-collar ghetto jobs that leave them exhausted and without realistic hope of advancement – can reasonably enough feel a sense of nostalgia for past values and certainties. For them, the idealized vision of an earlier age, one in which social roles were intact and women’s traditional contribution supposedly valued, can be highly compelling.

And, of course, parties that promote such a vision promise women – including those habituated to second-class status at work and the bulk of the labor at home – that they are not just faceless atoms in the postmodern mass. Rather, you, the lowly clerical worker, are a “true” Danish, Norwegian, or French woman. You are an heiress to a noble heritage, and...also part of something larger and more compelling than is implied by the cog status that a multiracial, secular society offers you.

The attraction of right-wing parties to women should be examined, not merely condemned. If a society does not offer individuals a community life that takes them beyond themselves, values only production and the bottom line, and opens itself to immigrants without asserting and cherishing what is special and valuable about Danish, Norwegian, or French culture, it is asking for trouble.

There's a bit of snark in this, but she does recognise that things have gone seriously wrong within liberal modernity (see, it's not just us).

Monday, July 21, 2014

John Dickson Batten

Here's a painting by a British artist, John Dickson Batten, titled The Family (1886) (hat tip: Happy Acres)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A sign of the times: the god Thor becomes a....

Won't dwell on this, but will take it as a sign of the times that Marvel comics has decided that from now on the Norse god Thor is to be a woman.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Mass man

I've just read an interesting post by Bonald. It's a summary of a book written in 1930 by Jose Ortega y Gasset called The Revolt of the Masses:
A century of security and prosperity (the nineteenth, that is) has produced a populace of spoiled brats.  That’s the main contention of Ortega y Gasset’s famous book.  The new type, which he calls “mass man”, is distinguished above all by ingratitude and complacency.  He has grown so used to stable government and a rising standard of living that he has come to imagine that these exist automatically without any human effort.  Being oblivious to the effort needed to maintain and run a civilization, he certainly feels no responsibility to contribute to the endeavor, but rather settles for demanding a greater and greater share of the spoils.  Mass man has no interest in the science that gives him his technology or in the history and culture that form his civilization.  The mass calls on the state to gratify its desires by bullying those who stand in its way, oblivious to the ruin this will eventually bring.

The noble man always serves some good or outside himself and judges himself by a harsh external standard.  (Noblesse oblige.)  Mass man is satisfied with himself as he is.  (He has self-esteem, we might say.)  He has opinions, picked up from the prejudices and buzzwords of his surroundings, on every topic.  He has no interest, however, in investigating whether his opinions are actually true.  He doesn’t feel the need to have what he regards as good reasons, much less to investigate the reasons for and against each view before coming to a decision on a particular issue.  He thinks his opinions have value just because they are his.  This is only a particularly obnoxious example of mass man’s total self-complacency.  Experts in narrow technical fields are some of the worst mass men, as their expertise in one field makes them even more smug and incurious in their ignorant appraisals of everything else.

It seems to me that a certain percentage of traditionalist intellectuals are in reaction against something like Ortega's mass man. They have an instinct toward nobility of character and bearing, of moral integrity, of the pursuit of a higher, complex truth, of an elevated culture and companionship, of beauty and refinement, of self-discipline and courage.

However, from at least the late 1800s onward, it has been clear that Western culture was slipping increasingly toward dominance by that of the mass man (and by the mid-1900s that dominance was close to complete).

What does all that mean? It means that we have a potential problem with traditionalist intellectuals. In the early 1900s, a group of liberal intellectuals felt alienated from their own culture and so turned against it, preferring to form a subculture of their own - with disastrous consequences for Western history.

And what does a traditionalist intellectual do who similarly feels alienated from a culture based on mass man? I wonder if it pushes some to become curmudgeonly or bitter, and to feel a superior disdain for the mainstream of their own society. In other words, there is no longer a positive regard for the ordinary man and woman of their own tradition, which then sours the whole outlook.

There has to be some sympathetic understanding that it is not given to everyone to set a higher ideal for themselves; but that there is still much within the life of the ordinary person to admire; and that the role of those who are drawn to higher ideals is to act creatively in the world to positively influence their own society and culture.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Dr Stoet: do we really care that...

Gijsbert Stoet is a reader in psychology at the University of Glasgow. He has stood against the temper of the times by arguing that it is normal for young men and women to have differing preferences when it comes to careers. He also wants attention to be paid to the performance of boys at school.
Dr Stoet said it was ‘really hard’ to attract girls to subjects such as computing, telling the British Education Studies Association in Glasgow: ‘Girls will say, “Well, that’s boring, I’m just not interested in it”. ‘We need to have a national debate on why we find it so important to have equal numbers.

‘Do we really care that only 5 per cent of the programmers are women? … I don’t care who programs my computers. A wealthy, democratic society can afford to let people do what they want.

‘What is better? To have 50 per cent of female engineers who do not really like their work but say, “Yeah, well, I did it for the feminist cause”. Or do you want 3 per cent of female engineers who say “I really like my job”?’

Dr Stoet went on to question the national focus given to girls’ struggles in subjects such as maths, when boys generally performed worse at school.

‘Nobody seems to be that interested that boys have problems. We have, as human beings, a natural tendency to see women as vulnerable and needing help. But if it’s a boy who needs help, he’s responsible for himself,’ he said.

Dr Stoet believes that people are influenced by a combination of biology and culture; his opponents emphasise the influence of culture alone:
To me, it seems often that some activists find it more important that we have equal numbers of men and women in every job that needs to be done than that people are choosing something they really want to do. That is based on the wrong assumption that those activists think that men and women make those career choices because of the wrong type of socialisation (such as specific colours of toys). They never seem to consider that our vocational interests can at least be partially influenced by our biology.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Yesterday's crazy radicalism is tomorrow's new policy

Back in 2009 I wrote some posts about the most radical feminist I had ever come across, an American who called herself Twisty.

To give you an idea of her radicalism, she wanted women to oppose motherhood, which she believed was a partriarchal construct:
We are desperate for women to stop buying into the patriarchy-sponsored message about women’s fulfillment ... We want women to reject marriage and the nuclear family. We want women to not have kids in the first place.

A world without children? Twisty was quite on board with this:
In light of a remark I made in a recent post ... that women should just quit having babies ... I thought it might be fun to revisit the Voluntary Human Extinctionist Movement.

I've made my point, haven't I? Twisty was one way out crazy radical feminist.

Well, I should have known that society would catch up to Twisty. One of Twisty's favourite themes was that women should be held to be in a state of perpetual non-consent, so that if a woman ever accused a man of rape, that there would be a presumption of guilt:
According to my scheme, women would abide in a persistent legal condition of not having given consent to sex. Conversely, men ... would abide in a persistent legal state of pre-rape.

Women can still have all the sex they want; if they adjudge that their dude hasn’t raped them, all they have to do is not call the cops.

But if, at any time during the course of the proceedings ... or if, in three hours or three days or, perhaps in the case of childhood abuse, in 13 years it begins to dawn on her that she has been badly used by an opportunistic predator, she has simply to make a call.

Presto! The dude is already a rapist, because, legally, consent never existed.

That was Twisty's solution to giving women a perfect sexual autonomy, whilst making sure that men are kept well and truly under the thumb of women.

Enter the New Zealand Labour Party. This party is going into an election with a policy that changes the burden of proof in a rape trial, so that the defendant has to prove that consent took place. Given that there are often no independent witnesses to what happened, this won't always be possible for men who are innocent of the crime. In effect, the accused man is being presumed to be guilty of rape unless he can prove otherwise.

That's still a little different from Twisty's view. I'm not sure that Twisty even wants there to be an opportunity for the accused to defend himself.

But even so, if the Labour Party wins power in the election, then New Zealand will have followed a long way along Twisty's scheme.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Rita Panahi on the Tamils

The Australian Navy has intercepted boats of Tamils intending to claim asylum in Australia. It has caused more debate in Australia about whether those on the boats should be returned or allowed to claim asylum.

Rita Panahi has written a column in the Herald Sun arguing that they should not be accepted. These are her reasons:
  • those on board were said to have sailed for Australia from India; a country where they are not under threat
  • One must ask the question why a Tamil would sail more than 5000km to Australia when they can travel 30km to Tamil Nadu in India?
  • the one person who was assessed as possibly having a case for asylum, asked to be sent back when told he would be processed offshore (i.e. he'd rather return than be resettled somewhere other than Australia)
These are all good points. I have pointed out before that Tamils are in the lucky situation of having an ancestral homeland in India (Tamil Nadu) very close to Sri Lanka that has a developing economy. A genuine refugee could very easily resettle there, unless, that is, they decide to go country shopping and move to Australia for economic purposes.

Tamil Nadu (in red) 30km from Sri Lanka
It is highly likely that the Tamils are economic migrants rather than genuine refugees.

I'd like to repeat here my own proposal for reforming the refugee system. The wealthier countries (including Asian and Middle-Eastern nations) should pay into a central fund that would distribute money to those nations resettling refugees. However, a person found to be refugee would be resettled in whatever country was deemed to be closest in culture and living standard to the one that was being fled.

That would give no incentive for people to abuse the system; it would provide for those in genuine need; it would give a financial boost to those nations bearing most of the burden of resettling refugees; and it would allow for an assimilation of new arrivals without forcing a radical change to the demographics of the host nation.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A French manifesto

There is a French website called Vigi Gender which has helped to lead the fight against gender theory in that country. You can find at the site a post defending sex distinctions, the first part of which I have reproduced (in rough translation) below:

Become what you are

We are born male or female. Our whole being is gendered in its physical, psychological and spiritual dimension. Male and female cells are different: all male cells are XY and all cells of the woman XX. Sex hormones of men and women are different: testosterone in men; in women, estrogen, the hormone of femininity and progesterone, the hormone of motherhood. Several scientific studies show that differences in the aptitude, interests, psychology and behaviour of men and women can be explained in part by differences in male and female body, especially the differences in hormones and the male and female brains.

Man is an incarnate being endowed with a mind capable of reason and will. Our body is a source of meaning; it expresses the person, "my body is me." To deny the body, to deny the influence of the sexed body on behaviour, interests, psychology, skills, not only contradicts numerous scientific studies, but is to deny that the human person; is an embodied being and to make of it a pure spirit, a being which only defines itself.

We are born male or female and all our life we fulfil ourselves as man or woman, we become what we are in completing what we received at birth (nature), and by what we receive throughout our lives through culture (relationship to the father and the mother, education, history, language, customs ...)

If what we received from the culture was completely separated from our bodies, we would not be united, as we would be torn between the meaning carried by our body, and what we received. This would create serious psychological disorders, a despair of not knowing who we are.

The male-female distinction runs through us as each of us is born of this difference. Mankind is founded on this distinction. Neither man alone nor woman alone says what humanity is but in the meeting of the two.

The word "sex" comes from the Latin verb "secare" cut. Sexual difference is like a wound. Sex, as difference, is that which forbids man to look at himself. Thus, knowledge of masculinity clarifies femininity and vice versa.

"The woman becomes a woman in the eyes of man, but it must be said with equal force that the man really becomes a man in the sight of the woman; sexual differentiation is a phenomenon of mutual humanization "(A. Jeannière anthropologist)

Man and woman are of the same nature, human nature, the foundation of their dignity and rights attached thereto. Everyone, as a man or woman is worthy to be loved, regardless of their differences, innate or chosen.

The differences between men and women are a treasure for themselves, for the child and for society as a whole. They do not imply a hierarchy of one sex over the other, but are complementary to the good of each. For this, we learn to understand them, to socialise them, to love them.

Proponents of gender theory argue that the differences between man and woman were created by men to enslave women. They want to impose a society where there would be no difference, where the woman is a man like any other, free from the injustice of motherhood, where only the masculine values ​​of competition and risk can be desirable. This society is simply inhuman.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Another victory in France!

The French Government has pulled the plug on its "ABCD of equality" programme in French schools. That's a wonderful victory for the groups battling the programme, including VIGI gender, French Spring and the JRE (the JRE is the group organising monthly boycotts of French schools - they have had over 250,000 student withdrawals so far this year - a successful strategy it seems).

Why was it so important to confront this programme? The ABCD programme was based on a 'gender theory' which claims that sex distinctions are socially constructed to oppress women. The aim, therefore, was to have a school curriculum which sought to suppress the differences between boys and girls.

This, of course, fits in with the general aim of liberalism of promoting individual autonomy. If the aim is for individuals to be self-determining, and our sex is something that is predetermined, then it will be thought of negatively as a restriction on individual freedom. The aim of liberals will be to make sex distinctions not matter.

Here is one academic explaining the implications of gender theory:
"Claiming the equality of all people regardless of their gender and sexual orientation is deconstructing the complementarity of the sexes and thus rebuilding new republican foundations" (Réjane Senac researcher at CNRS, professor at Sciences Po Paris and University Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3, pages 24-25).

In this view, equality means deconstructing the complementarity of male and female. It is a radical outlook. Here is another official statement on what the gender theorists want to achieve:
the report by IGAS (General Inspectorate of Social Affairs) recommends "replacing the terms 'boys' and 'girls' by the neutral terms 'friends' or 'children', telling stories in which the children have two dads or mums, etc." According to the report, the aim is to "prevent sexual differentiation and the interiorisation by the children of their sexual identity."

If you look at the teaching materials supplied to teachers as part of the ABCD programme you get a sense of how far the French state was willing to go to achieve these aims. Teachers in all subject areas were expected to micro-manage their lessons to break down sex distinctions.

For instance, when it comes to Physical Education the gender theorists were not only concerned that girls preferred rhythmic gymnastics to boys, but more than this they were concerned that girls preferred the aesthetic aspect of the sport, whereas boys were more oriented to the ball skills component. Detailed lesson plans were supplied to teachers to overcome this aspect of sex differences.

Similarly, there was concern by the gender theorists that in group play girls were more likely to seek activities in which there was no confrontation, which were calmer and which took up less physical space. The gender theorists were concerned, in other words, by the existence of subtly different styles of play existing between boys and girls, assuming that these were socially constructed to disadvantage girls.

The French people were right to demonstrate against the imposition of such a curriculum:

The banner reads "No to gender theory"

In my next post, I'm going to publish an excellent statement from the VIGI site in defence of sex distinctions.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Another Grimshaw

Another John Atkinson Grimshaw painting. Not sure of the title of this one (you can click it to expand it).

Can liberal morality work in reality?

I've presented the following quote from Dr Leslie Cannold, an Australian ethicist, a few times now:
Defining our own good, and living our lives in pursuit of it, is at the heart of a moral life.

It captures an aspect of the liberal attitude to morality, namely that objective goods either don't exist or can't be known to us, and that therefore what matters is a freedom to subjectively define our own good, and not to interfere in others doing the same.

But can this liberal approach work in real life? I'd like to present some evidence that it's not likely to be held to consistently, not even by Dr Cannold herself.

Back in 2005 Dr Cannold had a book published called What, no baby? She herself was married with children at the time, but the book was about the large numbers of Western women of my generation who missed out on marriage and children.

An interesting review of the book, by novelist Joanna Murray-Smith, begins:
"What most women want is actually quite simple. What they want is men. And babies." So writes Leslie Cannold, a researcher and ethicist from Melbourne University, whose book explores why so many women desirous of children fail to have them. The Australian Bureau of Statistics says up to 25 per cent of Australian women of reproductive age will fail to have children, some by choice, others by "circumstance".

So what happened to "defining our own good"? Dr Cannold is suggesting here that there is a good that can be known, i.e. that most women will identify marriage and motherhood as significant goods. Already, Dr Cannold's liberal formula is failing.

It gets worse, because Dr Cannold goes on to recognise that once we identify this good, that a purely individual pursuit of it won't work. There are some goods that require a certain larger context to make them available or achievable: many women, for instance, won't be able to pursue marriage if there aren't sufficient numbers of men willing to marry; the opportunity to marry might also be affected by other values or lifestyles embedded in a culture or society.
Cannold's premise is that the declining fertility rates in Western countries are not due to a lack of desire to reproduce, but rather to circumstances unconducive to baby-having.

Cannold takes a left-wing approach to making society more family friendly, arguing that women didn't marry and have children, despite wanting to, because they would have had to give up professional status, income and security in the workplace in order to do so.

I don't believe that's the best answer (nor does Joanna Murray-Smith), but the point remans that Cannold has been forced to recognise that there are some goods we can know as an aspect of human nature, and that we have to think through the impact of culture and social organisation in upholding these goods (that the framework of society has to be so ordered to allow the most significant goods to be widely achievable).

If we were to stick resolutely to 'self-defining our own good and living our life in pursuit of it' then the possible range of goods would have to be narrowed to those things that can be achieved at a purely individual level, and these things tend to be relatively trivial aims.

Back, though, to Cannold recognising that the framework of society matters. Joanna Murray-Smith doesn't think it adequate to blame women not marrying on workplace organisation alone:
Cannold makes many valid points, but I don't know any woman who allows the unfriendly workplace to win over her maternal desire.

Joanna Murray-Smith thinks the negative effects of feminism should be acknowledged:
While Cannold energetically cites many hazardous influences to (fertile) women's desire to procreate, feminism is the only thing that is excused...

"Waiters and watchers are women who saw when they were young - often in their own mothers - that children threatened all they were being taught to value in life: financial independence, romantic relationships, high-powered careers." Was feminism no part of this?

Which brings me to a comment that any younger female readers should pay particular attention to. In 2003 an Australian journalist, Virginia Haussegger, lamented that she had followed the advice of older feminists in single-mindedly pursuing the goals of a career and independence, but that this had left her childless and unfulfilled.

Dr Cannold's response to Virginia Haussegger is this:
"It is true that feminists urged all women to shed their domestic shackles and seek fulfilment and financial independence outside the home. But what is Haussegger? A brainless puppet? A mindless drone?"

It's another dismissive response to women who were negatively affected by feminism. It's a reminder, too, of the way that some feminists simply expect to make "unprincipled exceptions" to their own beliefs and consider other feminists who don't do this as lacking social skills (it's like they're saying "you should follow path x, that's the belief, but don't blame us if it goes belly up, you really ought to think for yourself").

Finally, notice the phrase that Dr Cannold uses "shed their domestic shackles". That makes it sound as if hearth and home is a kind of prison to escape from. In saying this, Dr Cannold is once again establishing a culture or influence that is likely to discourage young women from committing to motherhood until it's too late.

Joanna Murray-Smith notices the same thing:
There seems to be a complete lack of awareness that her own attitudes may be part of the problem. The author's commitment to mothers is always in tandem with their ability and desire to work. And while there's absolutely nothing wrong with advocating a world that serves both interests, what is missing is acknowledgement of women (and men) of all "classes" who want to parent full-time; choice rather patronisingly described as "misplaced social nostalgia about white picket fences".

Monday, July 07, 2014

Eltham trads meeting

Any readers who live within driving distance of Eltham in Melbourne might be interested in attending the next Eltham Traditionalists meeting coming up later this month. It's a chance to catch up with others sympathetic to traditionalist politics and to enjoy a meal and conversation.

There's more about the Eltham Traditionalists here. If you're interested and would like further information please drop me an email at

South African liberal wants to close down boys schools

Thorne Godinho is a white South African who describes himself as "a committed social liberal". He wants to shut down boys-only schools:
The behaviour of the men who attend boys-only schools, and the cultural practices that are an indelible part of the boys-school experience, clearly highlight the problems of masculinity and male-centric and dominated spaces...

...the broader culture and traditions associated with boys-only schools, provide the greatest evidence of why we need to re-consider masculinity and how we see, educate and love men.

In such male-centric and dominated spaces boys are taught about what it means to be a man and how to behave and live as a man. Beyond promoting a culture of violence and abuse, the effect of institutional culture is to promote discipline, outdated standards of masculinity and heteronormativity, and subservience to the institutional culture.

He is right about some of the effects of attending a boys-only school (I went to one myself). It's true that there tends to be a bit more violence; at the same time, though, they are masculinising environments which do promote loyalty to the school as an institution.

But why would Thorne Godinho oppose discipline, institutional loyalty and masculinity? His argument is based on liberal understandings of individuality and freedom.

There are liberals who believe that identity is always uniquely individual. If this is true, then a collective identity is something that is falsely imposed on the individual, restricting our ability to be who we truly are. Freedom, therefore, means liberation from any collective identity, so that we can be free to be who we truly are.

Godinho is consistent in treating collective identities as restrictions on the self: not only does he want men to challenge their own masculinity, he has also written a post titled "How to challenge your whiteness".

Here is Godinho putting the liberal view:
Instead of allowing young men to discover who they are on their own, a collective culture is forced upon them – one which suits their fathers, teachers and people who cling to gender essentialism.

There is no space, no freedom to live as one truly is. In these schools, individuality dies at the hands of an institutional culture which values collectivism, muscle and toeing the line.

The ethical feminist Drucilla Cornell has developed the concept of the “imaginary domain” – the space in which one can claim one’s sexual and gender identity. In the “imaginary domain” exists the freedom of every person to choose how to live, love and be – away from the stifling gender constructs shoved onto us by society. This freedom is categorically important if we truly believe that people are equal and are ethically and morally allowed to determine the outcome of their own lives.

Unfortunately, this freedom cannot co-exist with the institutional culture prevalent in boys-only schools. And the freedom to be as one chooses certainly cannot exist in a space where violence and abuse is utilised as a weapon to enforce power relations and collective subservience to the institutional culture present.

It all hinges on whether masculinity is simply a social construct or whether it expresses something real ("essentialism"). Godinho is homosexual and therefore not likely to experience masculinity as an essence. But what if developing a masculine identity is natural and healthy for boys? Then the whole liberal edifice falls down: a boy's identity and development of self will be helped, not harmed, by exposure to a masculine environment.

Furthermore, there is an inconsistency in Godinho's account of individuality. He talks at times of young men "discovering who they are on their own" which suggests that there is some unique, given identity there to be uncovered. But he then talks about the importance of a freedom of every person to choose what to be - which suggests that identity is something that has to be self-created rather than something given to us.

So are we self-creating blank slates? Or do we have a uniquely given identity?

There are problems with both views. If we are blank slates who are free to choose whatever identity we like, then identity doesn't mean much. It is a random thing that doesn't connect us to anything. But if there is a given identity, then Godinho has to drop some of the liberal pretence that we are free to choose whatever we want to be.

Finally, it should also be noted that liberals don't really give up on collective identity. They just replace natural forms of human community with political ones. Liberals are adept at forming communities based on the political principles of liberalism (i.e. where you claim membership by various kinds of political markers, e.g. using certain academic terminology, following PC codes etc.)

Godinho finishes by suggesting that girls should be used as a battering ram against boys:
Maybe the best way to ensure difference is to flood the halls of boys-only schools with young women. Maybe we need to start exposing pupils to ideas and ways of thinking which do not restrict them. We can begin to challenge the ideology of masculinity and what it’s doing to South Africa’s men.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Knowing it's wrong, unable to say why

Magaluf is a tourist resort on the Spanish island of Majorca. It has hit the news because of an incident at a bar there in which an 18-year-old British woman performed a sex act on 24 men in under three minutes (she won a free drink).

She (and the men involved) have been universally condemned, with the mayor expressing his "total rejection" of and "absolute indignation" at what took place.

But here's the thing. Under the rules of liberalism what the girl did isn't wrong at all. As Dr Leslie Cannold, an Australian ethicist, put it:
Defining our own good, and living our lives in pursuit of it, is at the heart of a moral life.

What matters for liberals is that we get to subjectively define our own good. What it is that we happen to choose doesn't matter (as long as it doesn't interfere with others equally defining their own good).

Under the terms of liberalism, what the girl did might in fact be thought heroic. After all, she defied a moral taboo to act as she wanted to.

And yet what she did will strike just about everyone as being very wrong, as a new low point in the moral life of the West. Even most liberals are going to instinctively think of it as wrong.

So how do liberals extricate themselves from this dilemma? Their moral philosophy says that what the girl did was virtuous, but their moral intuition tells them that it is deeply wrong.

Well, there is an underhand way out of the dilemma, and that's to claim that the girl's choice wasn't really her choice after all, that she didn't give consent adequately and so on. And that's how the left-liberal press is treating this:
Katie Russell, a spokesperson for Rape Crisis said: “The exact circumstances are unclear but we are very concerned about girls and young women being coerced or exploited in situations where they are potentially vulnerable for example through alcohol consumption.

“There are obvious issues of consent here; it is not clear whether this video was made with the young woman’s consent and it is not clear whether those who have posted and shared the video widely did so with her consent."

Holly Dustin, Director of End Violence Against Women said: “This incident and the wide online sharing of the video points to enormous questions of lack of consent and abuse."

That is what is left to liberals in expressing moral disapproval. All that they can do is to query whether the choice is authentic or coerced.

It's not persuasive. Let's say the young woman involved hadn't drunk any alcohol at all. Would her actions then strike us as being morally legitimate? And here's another problem with this approach to morality: it is easily defeated. What, for instance, if the young woman insists that she was not, in fact, coerced?

That's the defence that the organisers of the bar crawl are making. They have released a statement saying:
All you need to do is look at the video and you can see she clearly isn't drunk and knows what she is doing. Definitely not forced in any way.

And they pointed out that:
The girl and her 8 friends bought tickets for the next BARCRAWL as they said it was AMAZING!

Even those involved in organising bar crawls are aware of the rules of play. Anything goes as long as it's consensual. Therefore, moral debate has to focus on the issue of consent, rather than on the quality of the actions themselves.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Why give up the benefits of traditional community?

I've just returned from a short holiday in the countryside. I spent some time in a couple of smaller towns, where a more settled way of life still prevails. I could feel in these towns that sense of people and place which gives a special charge to the experience of life. Another way to put this is that it gives a more spiritualised experience of life.

And yet there are many people who have chosen to commit themselves instead to an internationalist, multicultural ideal. But why?

Here are some of the possible reasons why some Westerners have chosen such an option:

1. At the top of society there are reasons for wanting to break people apart from one another. If people are allowed to have "sideways loyalties" then there is a possible source of resistance to a complete domination of society by the logic of the market and by the regulation (and remaking) of society by intellectual "expertise."

This is significant because it means that the side of politics which is opposed to traditional communities has both money and intellectual support.

2. Liberals are likely to turn against traditional communities. This is so for a number of reasons. First, liberals are (formally) committed to a pluralistic vision of society, in which society is declared to be a neutral space in which the state regulates the relations between different groups holding an equal status (except that the traditionally dominant group is often not given equal status). This view leads liberals to criticise traditional communities as being too monocultural or "whitebread".

Second, liberals are often committed to an individualistic vision of society. Liberals have rejected the classical view of man being a social creature, with some of our identity and purposes being drawn from the social entities we belong to, and have instead looked upon the abstract, atomised individual (the individual considered apart from his community or family) as being the starting point of philosophy. For this reason, liberals are not as sensitive to the importance of a traditional communal life to the individual (this is the aspect of liberalism that communitarian writers have criticised).

Third, liberals hold to a concept of freedom in which freedom is defined as individual autonomy. We are free, in this view, if we are unimpeded in living a self-determining life. This means that predetermined qualities, such as our sex or our ethny, are thought of, negatively, as restrictions or limitations that the individual should be liberated from. This concept of freedom has ruled out many of the more significant aspects of human identity; what it has left for many liberals is the idea that life is about being self-made in the market. Hence the view of the individual as "economic man" in pursuit of his rational self-interest in the market. The more that this view dominates, the more that people are seen as interchangeable units rather than as members of distinct communities.

3. There are some Christians (not all) who have set themselves against traditional communities. This is despite what I pointed to at the start of this post, namely that the experience of traditional community life is a spiritualising one that is likely to bring the individual closer to, rather than further from, the acceptance of Christian belief.

Why might some Christians promote a shift toward a more mundane internationalism? One reason is that some Christians are reductionist in their world view. They want to distil Christianity into just one principle, and sometimes choose to go with an abstract, indiscriminate love for everyone equally. The value of particular human relationships aren't recognised in this outlook.

There are also some Christians who see particular loves and relationships as competing with, rather than leading people toward (or being aspects of), the relationship with church and with God. Some Christians even claim that the only legitimate community is that of church.

4. Intellectuals often don't share the same interests as others. Growing up they can feel like the odd person out, unappreciated and unrecognised by those around them. As young adults they are likely to seek out others like themselves and to form communities which are defined against the surrounding mainstream culture. Their form of community, in other words, defines status according to how far distant its members are from the ordinary mainstream of society. Intellectual communities have therefore tended to deny that their own society has a worthwhile culture of its own and have instead set out to identify with and enjoy the cultures of others.

5. In modern times, some Westerners may simply never have had the experience of living within a traditional community. In the larger, multicultural cities it is now possible to not know what it is like to be part of a living tradition of one's own.

6. Some people are not spiritually sensitive souls. They are more inclined to understand things materialistically and are therefore less likely to recognise the value of belonging to a settled community.

7. Some people of mixed ancestry, or who belong to minority ethnic groups, don't experience the existence of the (mainstream) living tradition as positively as others, not feeling that they belong to it as closely.

You can see from this the challenge of holding onto traditional community life, no matter what it brings positively to people's lives. Traditions won't go on just by themselves, not when they are up against the forces I have listed above. There has to exist resourced, organised, institutional support for them.

Traditionalists ought to be concerned that the economic structure of a society gives business interests reasons to support community; that the theology of the churches is a sophisticated one that brings the churches into the mainstream of social life, rather than marginalising them as cults; that intellectuals are brought into normal social life rather than forming hostile sub-communities and that they are encouraged to seek status through intellectual and cultural leadership rather than through rejection of the mainstream; and that rank and file traditionalists are given the chance to exert influence through organisations of their own.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

A feminist challenge: what to do when the facts are against you

What to do about domestic violence? Two American professors have pointed to research which shows very clearly that women are much safer when married to the biological father of their children:
This social media outpouring makes it clear that some men pose a real threat to the physical and psychic welfare of women and girls. But obscured in the public conversation about the violence against women is the fact that some other men are more likely to protect women, directly and indirectly, from the threat of male violence: married biological fathers. The bottom line is this: Married women are notably safer than their unmarried peers, and girls raised in a home with their married father are markedly less likely to be abused or assaulted than children living without their own father.

Just how strong is this research? Well, look at the graph below. The first column shows the incidence of violence (toward children) in families with married biological parents; the highest one (over ten times higher) shows that for a single parent with a partner.

And there's this graph:

This time the graph shows domestic violence towards women. The two lowest lines, the ones which barely register, show levels of domestic violence for married couples. The highest one represents single mother with children families. It's difficult to tell exactly but it looks like the single mother rate of domestic violence is over 30 times that for married women.

The evidence seems irrefutable. Women are safest when married.

But that's not a conclusion that feminists are likely to want to draw. So what is a feminist to do?

Enter Australian feminist Clementine Ford. She remains undeterred and argues as follows:
The concept of male-bestowed ‘protection’ is one that harms rather than helps women. A society which operates along paternalistic lines is one which undermines the rights of women to exercise their own autonomy and protect themselves. Instead of advising women to tether themselves to a ‘decent’ man who’ll willingly marry them and protect them from the world’s villains, we should instead be enforcing a zero tolerance policy towards those people who abuse. Men are not the conservators of women, and it’s not their morally bestowed obligation to protect us. As human beings, it is the moral obligation of everybody to refrain from harming others.

Her logic goes something like this:

1. As a feminist and a liberal modernist she holds individual autonomy to be the key good in life
2. It is not autonomous for women to depend on men for their physical safety
3. Therefore, society must be remade so that women can protect themselves and not need help from men
4. This requires society to make sure that no man ever commits an act of violence against women
5. Therefore society had better make sure that no man ever commits an act of violence against women

The moral thing, thinks Clementine Ford, is for women to be autonomous, therefore we must insist that people act in ways that conform to this moral outlook.

Note that the primary concern of Clementine Ford is not to safeguard women and children from violence. It is to promote female independence from men. That is why she will never accept "male-bestowed protection" even if it is effective in terms of minimising the risk of women experiencing violence.

The problem with Clementine Ford's approach is a basic one, namely that she makes the good of autonomy the sole, overriding moral aim.

That can't end well. It's dangerous to think that there is one single good that society has to be forced to conform to. Better to recognise a range of goods that have to be ordered into a workable framework.

Four good ones

Someone asked 150 top scientists what they thought we should be most worried about. I found four answers that traditionalists might be sympathetic to:
65. That we "are inarticulately lost in Modernity. Many of us seem to sense the end of something, perhaps a futile meaninglessness in our Modernity.” -- Stuart A. Kauffman, professor of biological sciences, physics, and astronomy

70. That Idiocracy is looming. –Douglas T. Kenrick, psychology professor

77. “I worry more and more about what will happen to the generations of children who don't have the uniquely human gift of a long, protected, stable childhood.” --Alison Gopnik

98. “What worries me is that the debate about gender differences still seems to polarize nature vs. nurture, with some in the social sciences and humanities wanting to assert that biology plays no role at all, apparently unaware of the scientific evidence to the contrary” -- Simon Baron-Cohen, psychologist