Friday, May 31, 2019

A woman asks: how did we go wrong?

You might have seen an article by Anna Hitchings, a 32-year-old Sydney Catholic woman, bemoaning the lack of her marital prospects.

Her article was limited in scope, being mostly a "where are all the good men?" treatment of the issue. However, there was a comment at Anna's website from a woman called Cynthia which was unusual in that it focused on women's contribution to modern day dating problems. Here it is in full:
Anna, as a fellow Catholic woman who’s been watching the social decay for decades now, I thought I would offer my thoughts on what you’ve written.

One of the reasons you’ve elicited such a strong negative response from a certain segment of the Internet (specifically, the manosphere), is that there appears to be a hole in your analysis of the current situation. 

The current state of things is not a mystery. It is the inevitable conclusion of feminism. It is, in reality, a state that women have brought on themselves. The failure of women to confront this is something that even the Christian end of the manosphere doesn’t typically like. They call our inability to see our own failings, mistakes, sins, and hubris the “rationalization hamster”. I see less of that in your post than a man might, but I do understand how hard it is to face.

Now that is not to say that you, not I, or any other individual woman, is solely responsible for the dire state of the sexual marketplace in the West. I do believe that we have all, as individuals, made decisions that have contributed to our own problems. Honest mistakes, perhaps, uninformed mistakes, sometime, but mistakes are still the result of decisions.

This isn’t intended to be a lecture. I’m 33 and only got married this year, so I know what you’re going through. I consider myself extremely lucky to have found a fellow Catholic man who was single, who wants children and who attends church regularly. It is extremely hard to find these guys. But you have to have some awareness of why the dating waters have gotten so choppy if you want to have a hope of navigating them.

Again, this is a female problem. Putting careers and bosses ahead of finding a husband and starting a family. Rampant porn consumption (by this I mean literary erotica) in the female sphere that leads to warped expectations and unrealistic ideas about relationships. Widespread contraceptive use and promiscuity. Continual degradation of men, male spaces, masculinity, and so on. Not every woman has done/participated in all of these things, of course, but no one woman has to do all. It’s bigger than any one of us. It is something women as a group have done collectively.

The effect of the culture on most men in our generation has been profound. They’ve dropped out of dating, out of church, out of civic society. They’re demoralized, and many have concluded it no longer matters. What reason have we given them to stay interested in us?

It’s on us to call out what other women are doing. It’s time to start shaming unacceptable behavior. It’s time to set higher standards for ourselves. It’s time to teach girls that not being serious about marriage and family at 22 will leave you alone in your 30s.

But that’s the culture, and this is deeply personal. Reality hurts. You’re living it. I’ve lived it. It took me eight years to find my husband, and that wasn’t for lack of trying. I don’t know your story, but I do know mine and I know I made choices that contributed to where I am. I suspect you’re the same. But let me just say, nothing gets better until you take an honest accounting of yourself and make the changes that need to be made.

For me, that was getting out of the military and working hard on finding, developing, and keeping a relationship. I sacrificed a lot. It came at the cost of better paying jobs, of using my degree, of having all those cute things that the magazines want to sell us. I might not be able to have kids at my age. But I have the chance now, and that’s worth everything.

It might not be your fault, nor mine, but we’ve been saddled with the consequences nonetheless. We can’t control the culture, but we can stop being shocked by it. Other women have ruined the system that sustained our sex for thousands of years. Any one of us who wants a traditional life has to work extra hard. But how can you do it if you don’t realize you need to?

That’s the criticism you’re getting.

I thought a later comment from Cynthia was also of interest:
I don’t think most women would care much for what I have to say. The problem we seem to have is that we lack imagination in failure – we can’t conceive of it when we have a chance of correcting course, and then we can’t admit it later on when it’s too late. It hurts too much. The manosphere is successful because it offers men a path to fixing their problems. Does it help everyone? Lord no. But there is possibility there. There is no equivalent for women because it’s much harder for us to fix things for ourselves. Facing it can often bring nothing but the realization that you can’t undo your mistakes.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

On national greatness

There is an argument in a later chapter of Patrick Deneen's book, Why Liberalism Failed, that deserves wider notice.

In "The Degradation of Citizenship" Deneen spells out the specific ways that popular control has been deliberately stymied in the American liberal order. One aspect of this was a trend from the early 1900s to seek to base government policy not on the "whims" of the electorate but to implement "rational and objectively sound public policy" formulated by expert administrators. Deneen writes:
Major figures in the discipline like Woodrow Wilson sought to advance the scientific study of politics in the early years of the twentieth century, laying the groundwork for the rise of social scientific methodology as the necessary replacement of value-laden policy. Early figures in the institution of political science...called for the scientific study of politics as the prerequisite for objective public policy. "Nothing is more likely to lead astray," wrote A. Gordon Dewey of Columbia University, "than the injection of moral considerations into essentially non-moral, factual investigation." (p.160)

But what would be the measure of "objectively" good policy shorn of moral considerations? Deneen answers as follows:
Classical and progressive liberals shared not only the ambition of constraining democratic practice and active citizenship but a substantive vision of what constituted "good policy". Good policy for the Founders and progressive alike were those that promoted the economic and political strength of the American republic and the attendant expansion of power in its private and public forms. Liberalism sought not the taming and disciplining of power, along with the cultivation of attendant public and private virtues like frugality and temperance, but institutional forms of harnessing power toward the ends of national might, energy and dynamism. (pp.166-67)

Deneen rolls together the aims of liberal modernity in the following passage:
For all their differences, what is strikingly similar about the liberal thinkers of the Founding Era and leading thinkers of the Progressive Era were similar efforts to increase the "orbit" or scope of the national government concomitant with increases in the scale of the American economic order. Only in the backdrop of such assumptions about the basic aims of politics could there be any base presupposition in advance of the existence of "good policy" - and that policy tended to be whatever increased national wealth and power. In this sense - again, for all their differences - the Progressives were as much heirs as the Founders to the modern project of seeing politics as the means of mastering nature, expanding national power, and liberating the individual from interpersonal bonds and obligations, including those entailed by active democratic citizenship. (p.172)

Something along similar lines was happening in Australia at this time. If you look at the decision taken in the early 1940s to end Anglo-Australia, you find the same themes. First, the decision was kept from the general public - it was not subject to democratic choice. Instead, the key discussions took place within an "Inter-Departmental Committee" with much influence from the work of political scientists like W.D. Forsyth who used population data and labour force statistics to recommend policies that promoted "development". The politician most responsible for the shift in policy, Arthur Calwell, was determined to move toward an ethnically heterogeneous society (though not at this stage a racially heterogeneous one).

The key point to take away from this is that traditionalists need to take care with calls to national greatness. In the context of liberal politics, this may not advance the existence of an historic people, their culture and embedded way of life. This aim of conserving an existing people is not what has been understood by "national greatness" within the liberal order; instead, such greatness is measured by economic growth and the attainment of political power which then becomes the measure of good public policy. Immigration policy, for instance, is considered sound within this liberal order to the degree that it advances economic growth ("development") and political power (and liberates individuals from interpersonal bonds), rather than to the degree that it promotes the continuity of the life of a particular people.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Swedish theory of love

In 2016 a documentary about life in Sweden was released with the title "The Swedish theory of love". A preview of the documentary summarises it this way:
In February of 1972 a group of Swedish politicians gathered together to define a new idea for the future. Motivated by a strong need to challenge traditional social structures, they outlined a new goal. Their vision was to create "a society of autonomous individuals". A manifesto was written in which it was concluded that no "citizen should be dependent on another." Cut to present day, forty years later. Scandinavia is the loneliest region in the world. Sweden statistically has the highest number of people dying alone and tops the chart for single households with 47% of people living alone.

The 1972 manifesto referred to above was called "The Family of the Future". According to the documentary the manifesto called for a liberation of individuals from the traditional family with its dependent relationships. In the future there would only be "true" relationships, formed by wholly independent, autonomous individuals. As an academic explains in the documentary:
The Swedish theory of love. What does it say? It says that all authentic human relationships have to be based on the fundamental independence between people...The ideal family in Sweden is made up of adult individuals that are fundamentally independent, working for themselves.

But instead of authentic relationships, the plan led to a loss of human relationships, with large numbers of Swedes living a solitary existence. If you look at the following chart you will see that more than 50% of households in Sweden consist of a sole resident, well above most other countries:

The documentary presents some of the more dystopian aspects of the Swedish emphasis on autonomous relationships. It is now the case, for instance, that more than 50% of the clients of the region's largest sperm donor bank are single women. The manager of this bank has a futuristic vision in which women could have a virtual reality experience of being with a man whilst impregnating themselves without needing to have any physical contact with a man during the process.

And what of life for these single women? Here is one of the women featured in the documentary with her child (on a swing):

I think in comparison of the beautiful family homes built in Melbourne in the 1800s and early 1900s and cannot see much evidence of progress in the photo above. The Swedish state might provide for these single mothers but it does so along coldly functionalist lines.

It is also the case that 25% of Swedes die alone, having no contact with family members. We are shown in the documentary the work of agents of a specialist Swedish government agency tasked with investigating these deaths. These workers comb through the dead person's apartment, looking for clues for any family relationships. (As a point of comparison, when my first Australian ancestor died in the early 1900s she had over 80 surviving descendants.)

Why does the Swedish theory of love not work? It is true that when people depend on each other in marriage that they might stay from necessity rather than love - and that this is something not to be desired.

This does not mean, though, that if people have no need for each other, that there is a stronger and more pure emotional bond. The psychology of relationships tends not to work this way. Modern women, who have been "liberated" by the state from any need for masculine support, often talk about no longer needing a man. It tends to make such women feel less impelled toward serious relationships; to be less attracted to what ordinary men have to offer; and to feel less of a sense of gratitude toward men (toward individual men and men as a class). Some women end up confused; they have a nagging idea in their mind that they should be in a relationship, but nonetheless don't feel compelled to actually commit to one.

In contrast, when men and women do fulfil distinct roles within the family, and rely on each other for support, there is a more positive expectation of what a relationship might bring to one's own life, leading to a greater desire at an earlier age to make a serious commitment, as well as a stronger sense of gratitude (and the love that flows from this) towards one's spouse.

It's even the case that if the state steps back, so that the family is the key source of support for individuals in a society, that the family then also brings a greater measure of independence for its members. The family might then allow, for instance, a young woman to leave her parents' home to form a family of her own, or it might allow a more stable accumulation of wealth with the financial independence this creates, or it might give to the individual a degree of material and emotional security within which life goals might be more confidently pursued.

The emphasis on autonomy when it comes to relationships has also made it easier for individuals to treat relationships casually. If we don't need family relationships, because the state guarantees our independent existence, then we can more readily play the field.

But the experience of recent decades suggests that this leaves significant numbers of people jaded and more emotionally distant from others, rather than primed for pure and authentic relationships as the theory suggests. People left in this condition are, if anything, even more likely to feel that they are "settling" if and when they do eventually form a more longstanding relationship.

One final point. Sweden is the end point of most Western societies. As the narrator in the documentary puts it,
The idea that we should be able to manage our lives on our own autonomously, that's not a Swedish invention, it's part of a belief in individuality that has been defining life in the whole Western world for some time. But here in Sweden we've been unusually effective at turning words into reality.

I think that we can expect our own societies to develop along lines similar to Sweden - unless there is a change in the political philosophy (i.e. the state ideology) which currently dominates in the West.

Below is the best version of the documentary I could find. The sound falls away occasionally and there are only Croatian subtitles when Swedish is spoken. But much of the documentary is in English.