Sunday, April 28, 2019

Zeitgeist girl

Young women today are encouraged to be "sexually empowered," meaning free to follow their own impulses and desires when it comes to relationships.

The older cultural norms and social standards which once helped to govern the relationships between men and women are dismissed as being oppressive limitations on the self, imposed by an exploitative patriarchy (a mindset captured luridly in the TV series The Handmaid's Tale).

And so there is no encouragement for young women to follow rational self-restraint; reason gives way to the more impulsive, instinctual "animal" side of human nature.

I wrote a post earlier this year on how this message of sexual empowerment played out in the music of Cardi B, noting the primitivism of a music video featuring a dozen near naked women twerking together.

But Cardi B does not capture the Zeitgeist as well as another contemporary pop star, Taylor Swift. It's difficult to imagine Taylor Swift producing a twerking music video like Cardi B's. She is too "classy" for that.

Even so, if you read the lyrics of her songs you get a good sense of where the liberal principle is leading us when it comes to relationships (I'm indebted to a post by Fabius Maximus for alerting me to this.)

For instance, Taylor Swift has only just released a new song, titled Me. The video begins with an image of a snake making its way along a brightly coloured street (a nod perhaps to what is diabolical underneath the colourful surface of what we are to see). We then see Swift and a boyfriend arguing. Swift is being unreasonably dramatic. At one point she points to their "daughters" (a pair of cats - a nod to the fur baby phenomenon).

The lyrics then go:
I know that I'm a handful, baby, uh
I know I never think before I jump
And you're the kind of guy the ladies want
(And there's a lot of cool chicks out there)
I know that I went psycho on the phone
I never leave well enough alone
And trouble's gonna follow where I go
(And there's a lot of cool chicks out there)

I know I tend to make it about me
I know you never get just what you see
But I will never bore you, baby
(And there's a lot of lame guys out there)

She is no longer guided by reason (her own or that of society as a collective). Therefore she is impulsive, trouble and her emotions get out of hand ("psycho"). She is also self-centered ("I know I tend to make it about me").

So why then would a man fall in love with her and want to be with her? She offers just two reasons. First, she is not boring. Second, because of her individuality:
Me-e-e, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh
I'm the only one of me
Baby, that's the fun of me
Eeh-eeh-eeh, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh
You're the only one of you

Neither of these is convincing. As much as men don't want someone who is boring, they also fear "psycho" women with uncontrolled emotions. And the fact that she is "the only one of me" is neither here nor there - is it a "one of me" that a man might love and trust enough to marry?

You have to remember that our liberal culture tells women that they are empowered when they freely follow impulse and feeling. They are not supposed to be prudent or reasonable - that is considered an exploitative imposition. What a woman wants as an impulse is what matters and it is not supposed to be constrained - not even by reason.

Taylor Swift's song expresses liberal culture. She is just being "her" in the moment. She is impulsive and emotionally out of control. She is centered on what she wants and feels. She is embodying an expressive individualism - and this is what a man is supposed to respect and like.

It's interesting also that Taylor Swift's song so openly acknowledges female hypergamy. In her mind, she is one of the many cool chicks competing for one of the few men out there who is not "lame" - for one of the few men that "the ladies want".

If it were up to Cardi B, women would compete for these few, desirable men through overt displays of female sexuality. Taylor Swift doesn't go down this path, but doesn't offer much of an alternative. She seems to think that a man with options would be attracted to a woman who demonstrates individuality via high maintenance, self-centered emotionalism.

If you're thinking that Taylor Swift is deluded, it should be said in her defence that for most of her life she has not been looking for stable, enduring relationships. One thing that happens when women are "liberated" to act on primitive desire, is that they tend to spend their formative years seeking sexual highs with player type men. They may not seek predictability or security in relationships. In her song "The Way I Loved You", Taylor Swift contrasts a relationship with a boring nice guy with a more dramatically intense relationship with a player. She sings of the nice guy:
He is sensible and so incredible
And all my single friends are jealous
He says everything I need to hear and it’s like
I couldn’t ask for anything better
He opens up my door and I get into his car
And he says you look beautiful tonight
And I feel perfectly fine
It's not what she wants. She prefers the "rush" that comes with "insane":
But I miss screaming and fighting and kissing in the rain
And it’s 2am and I’m cursing your name
You’re so in love that you act insane
And that’s the way I loved you
Breakin’ down and coming undone
It’s a roller coaster kinda rush
And I never knew I could feel that much
And that’s the way I loved you
She doesn't want comfort with the nice guy, she wants "wild and crazy":
He respects my space
And never makes me wait
And he calls exactly when he says he will
He’s close to my mother
Talks business with my father
He’s charming and endearing
And I’m comfortable
He can’t see the smile I’m faking
And my heart’s not breaking
Cause I’m not feeling anything at all
And you were wild and crazy
Just so frustrating intoxicating
Complicated, got away by some mistake and now
And that’s the way I loved you oh, oh
Never knew I could feel that much
And that’s the way I loved you

Taylor Swift is now twenty-nine. It's possible that she will decide at some point that she wants something more solid (there are rumours that she might be engaged to her current boyfriend).

But I hope that her song lyrics give fair warning to men that you can't expect a stable culture of marriage to develop in a liberal society. In particular, you can't expect a family guy ethos to survive in a culture in which women are "sexually empowered". In such a culture, young women in their sexual prime are not likely to select for reliable, "got together" men.

There was a reason why traditional societies once insisted on certain standards from young men and women. The standards did not exist to limit people for no reason or to exploit women. They existed to uphold a higher good - that of enduring marriage and timely family formation.

We should not underestimate what a difficult cultural achievement it is to arrive at this higher good. It requires a self-disciplining of the instincts of both men and women, but particularly of women.

It was achieved in the past and can be again, but not when the cultural institutions are sending the opposite message to what is needed.

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Cardinal Sarah: the tragic error

Cardinal Sarah continues to lead the way. When asked in an interview with Nicolas Diat about the collapse of the West he replied:
The spiritual collapse thus has a very Western character. In particular, I would like to emphasize the rejection of fatherhood. Our contemporaries are convinced that, in order to be free, one must not depend on anybody. There is a tragic error in this. Western people are convinced that receiving is contrary to the dignity of human persons. But civilized man is fundamentally an heir, he receives a history, a culture, a language, a name, a family. This is what distinguishes him from the barbarian. To refuse to be inscribed within a network of dependence, heritage, and filiation condemns us to go back naked into the jungle of a competitive economy left to its own devices. Because he refuses to acknowledge himself as an heir, man is condemned to the hell of liberal globalization in which individual interests confront one another without any law to govern them besides profit at any price.

He is right in identifying the tragic error as being a false understanding of freedom. Liberals understand freedom as individual autonomy. If you want to maximise your autonomy you will downplay those aspects of life that you are born into rather than choosing for yourself. You will want to imagine yourself to be wholly self-created or self-authored. That's why those brought up in a liberal culture often reflexively reject the instinct to take pride in the achievements of their family, community or nation - they object because they didn't personally bring about the achievement as an individual.

Liberals imagine that they are being progressive in pushing forward such an individualistic view of man, but Cardinal Sarah rightly points out that higher civilisation is marked by complex forms of inheritance that the individual accepts as his patrimony but that he must then contribute to as his own legacy for future generations.

The following from Cardinal Sarah is also interesting:
I want to suggest to Western people that the real cause of this refusal to claim their inheritance and this refusal of fatherhood is the rejection of God. From Him we receive our nature as man and woman. This is intolerable to modern minds. Gender ideology is a Luciferian refusal to receive a sexual nature from God. Thus some rebel against God and pointlessly mutilate themselves in order to change their sex. But in reality they do not fundamentally change anything of their structure as man or woman. The West refuses to receive, and will accept only what it constructs for itself. Transhumanism is the ultimate avatar of this movement. Because it is a gift from God, human nature itself becomes unbearable for western man.

This revolt is spiritual at root. It is the revolt of Satan against the gift of grace. Fundamentally, I believe that Western man refuses to be saved by God’s mercy. He refuses to receive salvation, wanting to build it for himself. The “fundamental values” promoted by the UN are based on a rejection of God that I compare with the rich young man in the Gospel. God has looked upon the West and has loved it because it has done wonderful things. He invited it to go further, but the West turned back. It preferred the kind of riches that it owed only to itself.

Cardinal Sarah is suggesting here that the underlying source of the error plaguing Western societies is humanism in general and secular humanism in particular. I know the word "humanism" has nice connotations, sounding as if it means "being in support of humans". But as Cardinal Sarah argues, it is usually associated with ideas about humanity having a kind of telos (an ultimate end or purpose) that humans themselves bring about (sometimes in partnership with God, sometimes not). Cardinal Sarah is blaming a kind of hubris, by which some people are unable to accept what is given as part of a created nature or order, even if there is a goodness contained within it. Part of this hubris is an unwillingness to defer - a lack of "humility" in the best sense of this word.

Finally, Cardinal Sarah is right that the logical end point is transsexualism and transhumanism, as these represent the ultimate in asserting self-authorship. A case in point from my social media feed this morning:

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Every Eve knows and follows the best path?

A pastor at Charlotte Congregational Church in the U.S., Susan Cooke Kittredge, has come out in support of abortion. The reason she gives for supporting abortion is interesting, as it gets to a fundamental issue in politics:
"Sadly, our starting point seems to be that women aren’t trustworthy. We can go back to the Garden of Eden to see the church’s interpretation of Eve’s fallibility. In cultural, religious and state realms, women have been perceived as needing the restrictions of ruling authorities—that were historically male—to coerce their compliance in many areas. The underlying assumption has been that women cannot know what is best for their families, their children, their lives and their communities.

We need to question our entrenched cultural distrust of women and summon the courage to face the answers and commit to change. My hope is that everyone will hold the questions in one hand and God’s hand in the other."

Her assumption is that every individual should be trusted to know what the right thing is for themselves and their community. Furthermore, she assumes not only that individuals will know what the right thing to do is, but that they will choose to follow it.

She can push this confidently because it is an assumption that is woven into liberal culture.

It's an approach that ignores the fallibility of human nature. It ignores the fact that individuals may know what the right thing to do is, but still be tempted to act according to some baser desire. It ignores the fact too that the capacity for prudential reason differs between individuals.

Finally, the notion of what is right tends to be lost once the liberal principle is set in society. Once you tell people that the key thing is that nothing is to interfere with their own will in deciding what to do, and that there is no legitimate moral authority outside of this, then it quickly descends to the principle of "I chose it, it is my desire, I should not be judged, I should act for my own pleasure/interest".

What then tends to happen is that the lower, "animal" side of human nature is let loose of the moorings provided even by our own individual prudential reason - which itself is not strong enough to guide people to act according to what is best for themselves and their community.

This is why traditional societies upheld social standards and cultural norms, within institutions like the family, schools and churches, to transmit the inherited and collective wisdom of the past to influence the behaviour of individuals, as a necessary buttress to their own reason.

Edmund Burke put it well when he wrote in the eighteenth century:
We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason; because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages.

One of the reasons that Susan Cooke Kittridge gets things wrong is that she believes that this effort of cultural transmission was not to help individuals to successfully regulate their own behaviour rationally, virtuously and prudentially, but to oppress women. She writes:
What I have found inescapable in the discussion about abortion is the inherent subjugation of women. The underlying assumption seems to be that women aren’t capable of making such deeply important decisions for themselves, that society must step in and direct women who, for whatever reason, are deemed unable to follow a morally acceptable path.

Because reproduction is tangled with sexuality, an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy bears shadows of unchained lust and desire. This, of course, has been true for millennia and though we may consider ourselves staunch supporters of equal rights for women, we are not, I think, aware of the insidious ways the view of women as less than men has pervaded our culture and understanding.

Traditional society "stepped in" to help guide the behaviour of both men and women. Both were thought of as having fallen natures. Both achieved their higher potential only through a difficult process of cultivating habits of virtue. Both required the assistance of a culture that was transmitted in the home, at school and by the church.

It's true that regulating the sexuality of young women was thought of as particularly important, but the chaos of the modern sexual landscape, and its negative effect on family formation, should make clear why this was the case - and why it was mothers within the family who did much of the work in transmitting the cultural norms to their daughters.

Susan Cooke Kettridge is, perhaps unwittingly, following a line of thought which goes back centuries and which claims that we can have a peaceful and harmonious society in which individuals can equally and freely choose what to do - and that the only thing hindering this is the existence of power structures through which one class of people exploits and oppresses another.

Initially, these power structures were thought to be economic class ones, led by the aristocracy and then by the bourgeoisie. Now it's racial and sexual classes, with whiteness and maleness being the stumbling blocks to freedom.

But it's all fundamentally misconceived. You are not going to get peace and harmony in a society in which individuals are perfectly free to act according to their own will and reason. The idea that individuals will choose to act according to the best interests of themselves and their community is just wishful thinking. Absent the restraining and guiding influence of embedded social standards and cultural norms, people will increasingly act to satisfy immediate wants and desires or in pursuit of self-interest or in addiction to the age old vices which are part of human nature.

We will just end up observing the decline of our culture and society.

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Prager's troubling thought

Dennis Prager is an American classical liberal. He decided recently that he would read Betty Friedan's influential feminist work, The Feminine Mystique (1963).

In this book Friedan claimed that American women were unhappy with their lives as mothers and housewives. As you might expect of a classical liberal, Prager is sympathetic to Friedan's message. Most liberals base their politics around the idea of autonomy, in which individuals are supposed to be "liberated" from predetermined qualities and roles, like those relating to our sex. And so Prager likes the way that most women now put their primary focus on a "self-determining" career role rather than "predetermined" roles relating to motherhood and family.

So far, so predictable. However, I have to give some credit to Prager for what happens next. Prager notes that things have moved exactly the way that Friedan wanted them to:
But a big and troubling thought hit me while reading the book. In the 56 years since "The Feminine Mystique" was published, every complaint Friedan made regarding the situation of the American woman has been addressed.

So women should be happy now, right? Prager is honest enough to admit that they are not happy. Far from it:
Yet, if you were to listen to many American women today, you would think nothing has improved. Every women's group and millions of individual women say women are "oppressed" despite the fact that virtually nothing remains of the "feminine mystique" described by Friedan.

Prager is aware of the anxiety and depression epidemic among women:
In fact, women today, including young women, who lead lives the very opposite of those described in "The Feminine Mystique," are about twice as likely to be depressed as men. And that statistic is true for women across all economic, racial and ethnic groups.

So if society is progressing along liberal lines, but there is no improvement in happiness, what is a liberal to do? Again, I have to give Prager some credit for his response. Prager does something unusual for a liberal. He abandons blank slatism and wonders if there is not something within female nature that might cause women to be malcontent regardless of their social situation. If this is true, then women need to overcome an aspect of their own nature in order to develop into successful adulthood.

Here is how Prager defends his idea that women might more easily than men, as a part of their nature, fall into being malcontent:
This is no more an attack on women than describing men's nature as aggressive is an attack on men. Each sex has built-in issues that an individual has to overcome in order to develop into a mature and good person. Men have to deal with aggression and the sexual predatory aspect of male nature in order to develop into mature and good men. Women have to overcome the power of their emotions and their chronic malcontentedness in order to mature into good women. But in our disordered society — a society that has rejected wisdom — in raising their children, two generations of Americans have told only their sons, not their daughters, that they had to fight their nature. The feminization of society has brought with it the destructive notion that only males have to suppress their nature. Feminists really believe females are superior, so why would women have to fight any aspect of their inherently beautiful nature?

I disagree with Prager on most things, but this is exceptionally well put. The only thing he leaves out is the reason why generations of women have been told that they don't need to regulate aspects of their nature. It's not just that female nature has been held to be superior to male nature. It's also a consequence of liberalism itself. If what matters is that I am autonomous, then I should be free to self-determine who I am and what I do, which means that I should not be limited by any ideas about an inborn nature, and which also means that I should be free to act on my own desires, no matter what they are, unless this interferes directly with others doing the same. That has been the logic of Western culture for some time.

It's great that Prager, as a liberal, has stepped back from this. In a sense, Prager is now setting objective standards, standards that represent an ordered personhood, standards that demonstrate both goodness and maturity. A community needs to do this, and to get as close as possible to the truth of this, if it wants to flourish.

The next step for Prager would be to consider not only the flaws within female nature to be overcome, but also the positive aspects of female nature that connect a woman to a higher, meaningful good that she can embody in her life and that she might therefore seek to cultivate.

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Monday, April 08, 2019

The tyranny of nature?

Patrick Deneen, in his excellent book Why Liberalism Failed, focuses on two strands within liberalism. The first is the one that I usually write about, namely the liberal belief in maximising individual autonomy. The second is one that was mostly new to me, but that deserves consideration. According to Deneen, Sir Francis Bacon, ushered in a new way of thinking about our relationship to nature and this is a core aspect of the liberal project.

Deneen set things out as follows:
The modern scientific project of human liberation from the tyranny of nature has been framed as an effort to "master" or "control" nature, or as a "war" against nature in which its study would provide the tools for its subjugation at the hands of humans. Francis Bacon - who rejected classical arguments that learning aimed at the virtues of wisdom, prudence and justice, arguing instead that "knowledge is power" - compared nature to a prisoner who, under torture, might be compelled to reveal her long-withheld secrets.

This post takes the form of notes that I wish to make in regard to this, rather than a final position. I need to think about this more, but it does strike me initially that Deneen is onto something important here, something that explains aspects of modern liberal politics.

Let's take the issue of the war on masculinity. Why would liberals feel so comfortable describing masculinity in negative terms, as something that is "toxic"?

Part of the answer is the one I have always set out. If liberals want to maximise autonomy, and autonomy means being self-determined, then individuals have to be "liberated" from predetermined qualities, like the sex they are born into. Simple - and this is how liberals themselves often frame things (with talk about autonomy, self-determination, choice etc.).

But the Baconian revolution in the way we think about nature also supports the liberal mindset. Think of it this way. If you are a traditionalist you will believe that we are a part of nature, i.e. that we stand within it and that therefore a purpose of life is to order ourselves and our communities harmoniously within the given framework of our created nature and of the nature of the world we inhabit. We will also seek for the beauty, truth and goodness of our being within this larger created order.

If, however, you adopt the Baconian mindset, then you will assume that we stand outside of nature, seeking control over it, wishing to subdue it. Value is no longer so much to be found within given nature, but in its use as a raw material to realise human purposes and desires that are separate to it. It is the realisation of human desires and purposes that now carries meaning, and this occurs through our sovereign rule over nature, our conquest of it.

Therefore, the "truth claims" of traditionalists and liberals when it comes to masculinity hardly even intersect. Traditionalists will be oriented to the value inherent within masculine nature; liberals will see value in "manipulating" men's behaviour (as you would a raw material) to suit the purposes set by society.

Liberals are likely to be focused on what purposes masculinity has been "socially constructed" for and to think it normal to debate how masculinity might be reconstructed to fit a more "progressive" social narrative - such as a feminist one (at the same time, the autonomy strand within liberalism will insist on there being "masculinities" as a sphere of choice).

The traditionalist attitude might run from a light traditionalism to a deeper one. Most traditionalists would hold that masculinity is hardwired into a man's nature and that this gives definite limits on how men might be "reconstituted" within a culture.

The deepest form of traditionalism would hold that masculinity exists as an "essence" within nature, i.e. that it exists not only as a characteristic of individual men but as a principle of reality, and that there is a quality of goodness within the higher expression of this essence. Therefore, an individual man has the opportunity to embody a "transcendent" good through his masculine nature. Our forebears therefore put much emphasis on pursuing what was noble within a man's nature, and rising above the base.

You can see why it's so frustrating when liberals and traditionalists argue on this issue. The frameworks are so different, so set apart, that it's not possible for the arguments to intersect, let alone for the two camps to come to any form of agreement or compromise.

There are a few additional points to be made when looking at the influence of Bacon on liberal thought. I find it interesting that the poet Shelley, writing in 1820, identified Bacon as one of the key early figures in liberal thought:
...the new epoch was marked by the commencement of deeper enquiries into the point of human nature...Lord Bacon, Spinoza, Hobbes, Boyle, Montaigne, regulated the reasoning powers, criticized the history, exposed the past errors by illustrating their causes and their connexion...

The Baconian aspect of liberalism has also possibly contributed to some of the features you find within modern political thought.

1. Blank slatism. If nature is thought of as raw material, that humans stand outside of and subjugate for our own purposes, then this supports the idea that we are dealing with a "blank canvas".

2. Humanism/universalism. If you think of politics in terms of a revolution in which humans stand outside of nature and conquer it to relieve the human condition, then the key protagonist is "humanity" rather than particular nations. Also, if we are not standing within nature, then we won't have the same focus on the need for identity and belonging as constituent parts of our nature and this too undermines support for particular forms of community.

3. Functionalism. If we are no longer seeking meaning within nature, including beauty/order/harmony, but see nature instead as raw material to be used for social purposes, then it makes sense that there would be an emphasis on functionalism, for instance, in the architecture of the middle decades of the twentieth century.

4. Progress. If the aim is a humanism in which humans stand outside of nature, using it for our own purposes, conquering and subduing it, then it stands to reason that some liberals might see progress in terms of a history of economic and technological development and growth. They might then see this as a good in its own right, so that development is not thought of as helping to preserve or enhance an existing community, but as being in itself the higher aim or measure of success that all else is to be subordinate to, even if this means radically undermining communities for the purposes of maximising economic growth. (Some left-liberals do see progress as a moral arc rather than an economic one.)

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Cardinal Robert Sarah: You must not sacrifice your national identities

Cardinal Robert Sarah is one of those outstanding men leading the resistance to liberal modernity. He gave an interview recently; the following excerpt focuses on the issue of identity.
You also write that the modern world destroys by attacking [national and religious] identities. You, on the contrary, defend this rootedness that Simone Weil described as the first need of the human soul. That makes you a somewhat isolated voice in a Church that sometimes seems to have become a mere auxiliary of the pro-immigration party.

When I went to Poland [in October 2017], a country that is often criticized, I encouraged the faithful to affirm their identity as they have done for centuries. My message was simple: you are first Poles, Catholics, and only then Europeans. You must not sacrifice these first two identities on the altar of a technocratic Europe that acknowledges no fatherland. The Brussels Commission thinks only of constructing a free market in the service of the major financial powers. The European Union no longer protects the peoples [within it]. It protects the banks. I wanted to restate for Poland its unique mission in God’s plan. She is free to tell Europe that everyone was created by God to be put in a precise place, with its culture, its traditions and its history. This current desire to globalize the world by getting rid of nations with their specific characteristics is sheer madness. The Jewish people had to go into exile, but God brought them back to their country. Christ had to flee from Herod into Egypt, but he returned to his country upon the death of Herod. Everyone must live in his country. Like a tree, each one has his soil, his milieu where he flourishes perfectly. It is better to help people to flourish in their culture than to encourage them to come to a Europe that is completely decadent. It is false exegesis to use the Word of God to improve the image of migration. God never intended these rifts.

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.