Thursday, November 18, 2021

The misandry files

One of the worst features of our culture is misandry. The hostility toward men has become so open that it is beginning to draw criticism - just this week I have read two articles in the media focusing on this problem.

The first was written by Bel Mooney. She describes herself as a 60s feminist, but nonetheless is "disturbed" by the "wave of man-hating pervading our TV screens". She mentions several TV shows as evidence, but focuses particularly on Maid which she experienced as "deeply depressing" because every single man depicted in the show is "horrible".

Maid - the misandrist TV show
Maid - misandrist TV

Bel Mooney believes that "we do not help women by demonising all men". However, when she suggested on Facebook that not all men were evil, she met with opposition. One woman told her that "You have to accept that men as a group really are s***".

Mary Wakefield also watched Maid and was similarly struck by its misandry:

I have Netflix, and in particular the series Maid, to thank for the startling discovery of how easy it is to slide into a form of man-hating — not a righteous feminist rage, but a sort of dopey, palliative, unthinking misandry.

She writes about the series that,

The distinctive thing about it is that every male character is an absolute horror. I mean: every single one.
She admits that she was initially influenced by the anti-male message, before drawing back:
I looked back at any odd, unasked-for lunge in my past and saw it suddenly as part of a continuum of male sin that ends in wife-beating...My power trip lasted for 24 hours. At breakfast the following day, it occurred to me that I wasn’t remotely oppressed.

She continues:

I suspect it’s everywhere now, this almost invisible bigotry, streamed into our psyches via Netflix and Amazon Prime — what the French philosopher √Člisabeth Badinter calls ‘the binary thinking of belligerent neofeminism’.

Where does this misandry come from? Something worth noting is the inversion of values. In traditional societies the role of men was to protect and to provide for women. It seems to me to be no coincidence that men are now characterised as having played the very opposite role. Instead of being protectors, it is asserted that men have historically been abusers of women. Instead of being providers, it is argued that men were exploiters of women (or even that they held women as property).

Inverting a truth is a way of rewriting an aspect of history or of reality. This process did not begin, on a mass scale, until Western society was wealthy enough for upper and middle class women to feel secure and less reliant on the traditionally masculine role.

When was the tipping point? Most likely when the industrial revolution really kicked in and considerably increased average incomes. This took place over several decades from about 1830 to 1860:

According to estimates by economist N. F. R. Crafts, British income per person (in 1970 U.S. dollars) rose from about $400 in 1760 to $430 in 1800, to $500 in 1830, and then jumped to $800 in 1860...Crafts’s estimates indicate slow growth lasting from 1760 to 1830 followed by higher growth beginning sometime between 1830 and 1860.

What was happening to feminism during this time? During the slow rise in income, there was no mass feminist movement. There were individual feminists like Mary Wollstonecraft, but the movement did not catch on. It was toward the end of the period of rapid income growth that feminism in the UK became an influential movement that began to be supported by the state. By the 1860s, the writer Eliza Linton was criticising the feminists of her era as "you of the emancipated who imitate while you profess to hate" and by the 1880s a Girton College girl was no longer looking to men much at all, having adopted the outlook that,

We are no longer mere parts - excrescences, so to speak, of a family...One may develop as an individual and independent unit.

What I am arguing here is that once society reaches a certain level of wealth, to the degree that upper and middle class women no longer fear material deprivation, that conditions exist for the traditionally masculine role to be attacked and subverted.

Modern metaphysics have also laid the groundwork for misandry. Traditionally, for instance, it was thought that the masculine had a real existence as a principle or essence that men could meaningfully embody and that potentially ennobled men as bearers of masculine virtue. 

There do still exist women who think along these traditional lines and who associate the word "man" with positive characteristics which they admire:

However, there was a turn away from realism in philosophy centuries ago. What replaced it was nominalism, which emphasised instead the idea of there being only individual instances of things. Masculinity was no longer thought of as a transcendent good connected to virtue, but could now be rejected as being merely a social construct created for the purposes of empowering one group at the expense of another. 

Modernist metaphysics is also grounded on a radically individualistic anthropology. Humans are understood to exist in a state of nature as atomised individuals pursuing their own selfish pleasures. They are only brought together into society through a social contract which has the aim of preventing violent conflict.

This anthropology undermines a deeper understanding of a common good in which we develop in relationship with others. Instead, as the Girton girl quoted above put it, it is assumed that we develop as "an individual and independent unit". 

If so, we can be reckless in breaking faith with the opposite sex. We no longer need positive relationships between the sexes to fulfil the deeper aspects of our nature or to achieve our higher purposes in life. 

What does fit within this modernist metaphysics is the pursuit of individual pleasure. And so, unsurprisingly, there is a shift in which relationships between men and women depend to an ever greater degree on sex itself - on the libido. This is not a basis for relationships that is likely to promote harmony and admiration. Eros alone does not provide for stable and secure relationships: the results over time will often be jaded feelings and a loss of trust, and this too can underlie the expression of misandry from women.

One of the consequences of liberal modernity having such an individualistic anthropology is that there is a loss of the group-focused moral foundations, such as loyalty, that are a part of more traditional societies. When people are focused on the good of the larger communities they belong to, and are loyal to them, it promotes a fellow feeling between the sexes. Men will express pride in "our women" as will women in "our men". 

This concern for the larger community is one reason why Eliza Linton, who I quoted earlier, was so critical of the feminists of her time. She wrote of the movement in the 1870s that "it is still to me a pitiable mistake and a grave national disaster." Compare Eliza Linton's loyalty to her nation with the radical disloyalty of the English feminists described by Bel Mooney in her article on misandry. She attended an event to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of a charity for single mothers. The keynote speaker was not only hostile to men but, more specifically, to the men of her own tradition:

The party was held in the fine 18th-century surroundings of London’s Foundling Museum, set up by the great Thomas Coram who was horrified children should be abandoned by mothers too poor or shamed to care for them. The guest speaker was Jane Garvey, then a presenter of Woman’s Hour on Radio 4. She stood on the podium and began with the scornful jibe that there we were, in that room, ‘surrounded by portraits of fat, old, white men in bad wigs’.
Again, there is not just a change of moral beliefs here but an inversion. It is no longer loyalty which is thought moral, but a mocking disloyalty.

There is one further aspect of liberal modernity that has encouraged misandry. One feature of liberal politics is an understanding of freedom as the absence of external constraints on the individual pursuing his own desires. One strand within liberal thought has held that individuals are by nature selfish and that you either need a strong state to uphold a contracted peace or else a kind of hidden hand would transform selfishly oriented behaviour into a prosperous and peaceful social order.

But there has been another strand within modernist politics which has rejected this assessment of human nature. This strand has emphasised instead the idea that human nature has been corrupted by power structures in society and that if these structures were removed that humans would revert to their unspoilt natures and live in freedom and equality with one another. Human nature would then be "perfected" and we would reach the end point of history.

But what are these power structures that stand in the way of the ultimate realisation of human purposes? At first, kings, aristocrats and priests were identified as standing in the way of progress. The French writer Denis Diderot went so far as to claim (in the 1700s) that "Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."

Attention shifted in the 1800s to the bourgeoisie. Marx was one of a number of philosophers who thought that the power structure that had to be overthrown, for utopia to be ushered in, was the capitalist one. In the later 1900s different culprits were identified: men (& the patriarchy) and white people.

It's not a good thing to be targeted by this political movement. It is assumed that your particular group is clinging to its historic privilege, failing to cease its exploitative ways, and perversely holding back human progress. It will be thought for the best for your group to be disempowered and ultimately deconstructed.

This outlook is all too common within polite middle-class society. If a woman is educated within such a milieu it is to be expected that she will think of men as being an oppressor group and women as victims. I am reminded here of the words of Kate Gilmore, appointed in 1994 by Australian PM Paul Keating as head of a national campaign for women. She was blunt in her appraisal of men:
You can see the tyrants, the invaders, the imperialists, in the fathers, the husbands, the stepfathers, the boyfriends, the grandfathers, and it's that study of tyranny in the home...that will take us to the point where we can secure change.
It is only a short distance from this characterisation of men as tyrants to a more active hatred of men as a group. The misandry is not just an unfortunate quirk of a few unhappy women but rests on a set of metaphysical and political assumptions that are, for the time being, baked into our culture.

It should be said that some of the metaphysics I've described are also beginning to impact negatively on the status of women, by erasing womanhood as a meaningful category. This has led a number of feminists to reconsider the philosophical underpinnings on which modern sexual politics is based. I've already written on this theme in regard to Kathleen Stock (here and here), and there are others to be added to the list.

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.

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Two moralities?

It can seem at times that liberal moderns have a disdain for moral standards. I once wrote a post, for instance, about a controversy surrounding the singer Cardi B. She had made a music video featuring a host of semi-naked women "twerking". In response to criticism she argued that the video showed that women could do whatever they wanted. Fans similarly defended her by arguing that it was empowering for women to express their sexuality however they wanted to and that the video positively expressed female bodily autonomy.

This is the libertine or permissive aspect of liberalism. It almost directly expresses a Hobbesian metaphysics. Hobbes, if you remember, believed that humans were acted on to pursue their passions. No desire could be held to be either better or worse than another. What mattered was a freedom to pursue our own desires with the least constraint from other people. To have this freedom required power. We are therefore "empowered" when we can act with the least constraint in pursuit of our desires whatever they might be. Just like Cardi B.

However, I don't believe that this is the end of the story when it comes to liberal moderns and morality. As I attempted to describe in my last post, most of my liberal acquaintances are not libertines. On the contrary, they are conscientious to a fault and keenly want to be thought of as good people (which perhaps helps to explain their moral conformism, i.e. their need for a group consensus in taking a moral position).

The problem for these liberals is that they are attempting to process moral decisions through a distorted moral framework. Professor Jonathan Haidt identified five moral foundations in world cultures; unsurprisingly the three "group focused" moral foundations have withered away in liberal societies, leaving just the two "individualising" foundations, namely fairness and harm. If you no longer believe that it is moral to uphold the group you belong to, then issues of "fairness" will not consider the impact of moral decisions on the cohesion of your own longstanding communal traditions. 

Imagine you are a liberal and have no concern for the "loyalty" moral foundation. It might then seem perfectly moral to you to have open borders because if you are only considering things in terms of "disgrouped" individuals, then there will be no reason to see your relationship with someone living in a different and distant culture any differently to your relationship with your own countrymen. It will, in fact, seem unfairly "discriminatory" or even "racist" to make such a distinction.

It has profound consequences to abandon the group focused moral foundations. Not only does it dissolve, over time, the "thicker" forms of human community, it means that we are no longer culture bearers, but rather something like tourists looking on as outsiders to the cultures of others, or even (as in welcome to country ceremonies) acknowledgers of the ancestry of others rather than our own. If we are no longer culture bearers, then we lose to some degree a meaningful connection to people and place and to a tradition that connects us to past and future generations. We have less reason to feel a sense of duty to uphold, defend or improve upon the standards of the tradition we are responsible for and there will not be the same sense of pride and achievement in what our own forebears have accomplished.

As an example of a more traditional mindset, consider the Ephebic oath that the young men of Classical Athens swore:

My native land I will not leave a diminished heritage but greater and better than when I received it.

Of course, having the group focused moral foundations does not mean that you cannot also have the individualising ones as well - it is a matter of balancing the two. In Jonathan Haidt's research, he found that this is what conservatives tend to do.

Which brings me to my final point. It is common for the churches to try to signal a more selfless kind of morality by emphasising the idea of service to others. This, it is true, does not fit in readily within a Hobbesian framework.

It is notable, though, that the end product is usually the same as that of liberal moderns. It leads the churches to call for more porous borders, for a greater flow of refugees, for an end to discrimination and so on. The problem, again, is that the ethos of service to others is being interpreted through the individualising moral foundations that have been left standing within a liberal culture. 

There are honourable exceptions to this trend that show how differently an ethos of service appears when it is expressed through a more complete set of moral foundations. You can see this in the writings of Cardinals Robert Sarah (herehere and here) and Raymond Burke (here). Historically, you have figures like Bishop Clemens von Galen of Munster. 

Joining a church might therefore have a positive benefit to an individual, but it is not a political solution in itself. It will not, in itself, restore the group focused moral foundations, particularly when these have already been so deeply undermined.

There is no easy way out, but one positive step would be to decisively reject the metaphysics that we have inherited from men like Hobbes. How, for instance, can we restore the moral foundation of loyalty, if we still follow the anthropology which begins with the idea of men being set apart from each other in a state of nature, in a war of all against all, and only brought into coexistence via a social contract?