Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Florence Gaub & the anticulture

In my last post I discussed these comments by Florence Gaub, a member of the World Economic Forum:

She believes that Russians aren't really European because they do not have a liberal and postmodern concept of life, a life that each individual designs for themselves.

I criticised this way of defining being European, in part because it leads to porous borders as anyone, anywhere can qualify as being European by these standards. A liberal Chinese person, in this way of thinking, would be more European than a traditionalist Dutchman. I noted as well that the liberal principle, by itself, undermines some of the core elements of both classical and Christian Western culture.

A reader left a comment which added very usefully to the discussion. He wrote:

Haven’t they been trying to run this play for a long time? You aren’t a real true American if you’re not liberal; you’re not a real true Brit if you’re not liberal; you’re not a real true Australian if you’re not liberal. Gets a bit old, doesn’t it?

Second, a community (not a voluntary association or group of mutual interest) is by definition a web of interdependencies. If you’re a free and independent individual how can you possibly belong to a community? That would make you dependent on other people and therefore not independent (and in the real world not free to make whatever choices you want).

Third, how can one be culturally liberal? A culture is shared customs, practices, traditions, heritage, identity, and (arguably) beliefs, which the liberal project is opposed to. The ideal liberal society is one where one isn’t bound by any of that and is a completely unique individual, sharing nothing in common (except property, according to the socialist liberals).

It would be more appropriate to call liberalism an “anti-culture” than a culture.

Besides, if we’re all just unique individuals then how can we be commonly defined by one culture anyway? And how can one have a culture where a defining aspect is being able to choose to be part of the culture or not? Wouldn’t that make choosing to not be European (whatever that means) an intrinsically European act in line with European culture? And am I therefore European if I choose to be since by the mere act of being able to freely choose my culture I am being culturally European? Wouldn’t that just mean that “culture” means being liberal and nothing else, except perhaps some superficial distinctions of no consequence like cuisine, dress, language, and entertainment — all of which could be aped by any human being?

It all begs the question of what the point of this category labeled “European” is even for, since it doesn’t really seem to signify anything. Tax residency? Is a “European” just a liberal who happens to be a subject of a government in Europe? Why bother using the word?

The reader makes an important distinction here between community and voluntary association. Liberalism has no issue with voluntary associations; it is perfectly in line with the liberal ethos for someone to join a fishing club or a service organisation. What liberalism has difficulties with are interdependent relationships, which, as the reader points out, are the markers of a true community. In a true community there are mutual loyalties and obligations and a sense of a common identity and a shared fate. These are incompatible with the notion of radical autonomy fostered by liberalism, which is framed around the atomised individual choosing freely from whatever options are left to someone in such a position (they will tend to be relatively trivial lifestyle options).

The reader's next observation is profound. We might talk about a "liberal culture" but this makes little sense, given that the impetus of liberalism is to "liberate" individuals from the shared commitments that form a distinct culture. Liberalism, in this sense, represents an anticulture: it dissolves actual, embedded cultures and replaces them with a relatively homogenised way of life heavily influenced by the global market. I am reminded here of a discussion I once had with a bellicose American liberal who did not think much of culture, seeing it as a threat to his ideal of liberty. He took the view that,

Cultures and religions are either about weddings and music and fancy clothes or they're about to get their asses kicked.

In his next paragraph, the reader draws out the lack of coherence in the liberal position:

And how can one have a culture where a defining aspect is being able to choose to be part of the culture or not? Wouldn’t that make choosing to not be European (whatever that means) an intrinsically European act in line with European culture?

That's what it comes to. If being European is defined in the liberal, Gaubian way, then if I choose not to be European I am affirming that I am, in fact, European. The reader's next observation is equally striking:

And am I therefore European if I choose to be since by the mere act of being able to freely choose my culture I am being culturally European?

If we follow the logic of the definition set out by Florence Gaub, then the answer is yes. I become European simply by the act of freely choosing to be European, since that too makes me an individual designing my own life, which is how Florence Gaub defines being European.

So I become European through the acts of either choosing to be or to not be a European. Either option leads to the same result.

Finally, the reader points out that the real content of the category itself, "European", is diminished when it is defined in liberal terms:

It all begs the question of what the point of this category labeled “European” is even for, since it doesn’t really seem to signify anything. Tax residency? Is a “European” just a liberal who happens to be a subject of a government in Europe? Why bother using the word?

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Florence Gaub: Russians aren't Europeans

Florence Gaub is a Franco-German political scientist who works for the World Economic Forum and who advises various governments on international security issues. She works in a field that emphasises "foresight" in politics.

She made some controversial comments in a TV interview, when she argued that Russians were not really to be considered Europeans:

She says in the interview:
We should not forget that even if the Russians look European, they are not European in a cultural sense. They think differently about violence and death. They have no concept of a liberal, post-modern life, a concept of life that each individual can choose.

(A more exact translation of the last part might read "a life as a project that each person designs individually for themselves".)

This is not a good way to think about what makes a European. First, there are distinctions in national character across Europe. If, for instance, you have an Anglo background, then the character of, say, Dutch or German women will seem remarkably blunt and undiplomatic. Who, then, gets to claim to be more European? Thought of in terms of character traits, there would be no unified category of "European", but rather distinctly national, or even regional, peoples.

Second, once you base identity around values alone, then boundaries become porous. If, for instance, you claim that adopting liberal values of a self-choosing individualism is what makes you a European, then anyone, anywhere can be a European, the more so given the dominance of liberal institutions in much of the world. In fact, you could logically argue that some Japanese people were more European than some native Swedes, if those Swedes happened to be conservative or traditionalist rather than liberal. 

Third, if you really had to choose a value as a marker of belonging and identity, then making it the liberal one of an individually self-chosen life is not a great decision. Yes, having some considerable scope to make decisions about your own life is obviously a human good. But the principle cannot work by itself; it is ultimately dissolving of human society and of the human personality. After all, the principle says nothing of what kind of life is worth pursuing. Is a woman opting to make money on Only Fans really as equally valid as a woman opting to marry and have children? According to the liberal principle, the answer is yes - as long as she is choosing it without coercion, it becomes a moral good.

In a society based on liberal values, there is a loss of what was once a notable feature of Western cultures, namely a distinction between the noble and the base within human nature. There is a loss, too, of the Western moral culture that once defended the integrity of the human personality, by rejecting behaviours or influences that were dissipated, or profligate, or incontinent, or dissolute - moral terminology that seems old-fashioned now but which recognised that our moral choices might either uphold or undermine the integrity of our personhood.

Liberal values are also radically individualistic, in the sense that they acknowledge only the life we might design as an atomised individual. What we derive as a person from our membership in larger bodies, such as families or peoples, is neglected. Liberal values, therefore, also undermine what was once a core aspect of Western culture, namely an emphasis on fidelity and loyalty - on being "true". Western cultures are slipping from being high trust to low trust societies as a result, this being most evident in the current state of relationships between the sexes.

Finally, liberal values make it difficult to uphold prudence, this being one of they key virtues in both the classical and Christian West. Prudence is lost because the emphasis in a liberal society is on the freedom to choose in any direction, rather than on natural limitations imposed by the given reality we inhabit. If we can self-define, or self-author, according to our own will, then prudence will be relegated in significance, as increasing numbers of people come to believe that they themselves get to decide their own subjective reality, so that society and the larger world should simply conform to whatever they choose to do or to be.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Are Terfs really any better?

If you were to set out the basic traditionalist position on sex distinctions it would look something like this:

1. We are born male or female

2. If we are born male we are connected in our nature to the masculine; if female to the feminine

3. Masculine and feminine are real qualities. If we wish to fulfil our own created nature, we will seek to embody the better qualities of the masculine if we are men, and the feminine if we are women. In doing so, our self manifests a transcendent good that helps give meaning and purpose to our existence.

I got into a debate yesterday with a group of Terfs on this issue. These are "trans exclusionary radical feminists", i.e. feminists who do not believe that males can suddenly declare themselves to be women. They insist, just like traditionalists, that a woman is an adult human female. They would agree with traditionalists on the first proposition I set out above, namely that we are born male or female.

What struck me during the debate, however, was not the common ground but the vast gulf separating these Terfs from my own politics. I came away thinking that they had extraordinarily awful beliefs about men and women. I think it's useful to set out the reasons why I came to this conclusion.

a) Terfs still reduce the category of womanhood to a point that it becomes meaningless

Terfs might agree with traditionalists on the first proposition, but they entirely reject the next two. What this means is that they define a woman as someone who has female reproductive organs, but that is it. For them, a woman (or a man) can be absolutely anything else that they choose to be. Being a man or a woman has no further relevance to anyone's life, except for the fact of reproductive organs. So why then think it important? What is the point of the category itself if it is irrelevant to anything we might do or be?

In short, Terfs still hold very strongly to the distinction between sex and gender. They accept the fact of biological sex, but they think any sex based characteristics are merely "gender" that is socially constructed and oppressive. 

When I suggested that these Terfs were reducing the category of womanhood to something meaningless, these are the type of responses I got:

As you can see, the Terfs were very firm in asserting that being a woman has no meaning apart from the fact of being born female ("women just exist", "individuals with a female body", "just existing in a way they want to", "a matter of biology and nothing else", "being born female...the beginning and end of how to be a woman"). When I challenged them about whether this was a meaningful category, they gave the only answer that they logically could, namely that the biological facts of menstruation and pregnancy gave a point of distinction between men and women. This, it seems to me, reduces women, as women, to something like "walking wombs".

b) Terfs still pander to transsexuals

Despite the fierce animosity between Terfs and transsexuals, the Terfs are still willing to go to extraordinary lengths to remodel the world so that transsexuals might better fit in.

Their idea is as follows. Let's say you have someone who is male but who wants to be female. What the Terfs want is for our concept of "male" to fully embrace what is female. In this way, the transsexual would not need to transition. Being male would incorporate the desire to be female. 

They are serious about this. Look at the following tweet:


What do the Terfs think we need to do to make transsexuals feel more comfortable in their own bodies? The answer: completely sever any connection between our biological sex and our masculinity or femininity. We are just supposed to "exist with a male body" or "exist with a female body" and nothing more.

I would hope my traditionalist readers would understand by now why I think the Terf position is a complete non-starter for us.

c) The Terfs associate masculinity and femininity with negative life outcomes

The Terfs might argue along the lines of "be whatever you want" but when drawn out in debate they revert to the idea that masculinity and femininity are oppressive social constructs that lead to terrible life outcomes, such as domestic violence, rape and misogyny.

This, of course, raises the problem of what younger people are meant to do in response to these beliefs. Imagine you were a 14-year-old girl and you really believed that your own femininity and the masculinity of the boys around you were going to lead to violence and rape. Would it not potentially destabilise your psychological and emotional development? It seems to me to be a kind of mental trap that is difficult to escape from. If you cannot be feminine, and it is equally wrong to be masculine, and if there is no hope of ever having a happy relationship with the opposite sex (because masculinity is tarnished by its association with rape and violence), then along what lines is positive development into adulthood supposed to occur? Is it any wonder that so many young women are developing psychological issues?

Here is just a sample of what "Alliecat" had to say in relation to masculinity and femininity:

You can see that for this woman "gender" has been cast in the most negative terms. Given that it is such a core aspect of life, you can only imagine the detrimental psychological effects that such a worldview must have.

Something else occurs to me here also. For men to love women, they need to be able to form an idealised view of women as having admirable feminine character traits. Men don't need to believe that women are perfect, but they do need to uphold an image of women as being caring, sympathetic etc. But if young women are led to believe that such feminine traits are merely a path to oppression, then they won't be cultivated. Even worse, if young women are led to believe that womanhood is defined merely by reproductive organs, then this even further shifts the emphasis in relationships from love to sexuality. You then start to get the complaint from men that all women are offering is sex appeal.

d) In spite of all of the above, the Terfs are not neutral between men and women but promote radical female superiority

If all this wasn't enough, some of these Terfs are also committed to the idea of a matriarchal future, in which men have a very limited role in society.

This might seem odd, given all the complaints about patriarchy and misogyny and the like. You would think that the Terfs would envisage some form of sex-blind equality. Instead, you get self-descriptors in their Twitter bios that read "unironic Matriarchy proponent". What does this mean? Here is an example:

They are arguing that the family should be a female sphere over which men should exercise no influence, but should merely support financially. The children are hers alone, she should transmit her culture and values and not him, she should be the one to spend the money even if she does not earn it.

If these Terfs really want to live this way they could move to Japan. My understanding is that Japanese men are expected to work long hours, hand over their money to their wives, receive a small allowance and have little to do with the domestic sphere (Japanese men will often spend the hours after work socialising with other men rather than returning home).

Does the Japanese model work? I don't think so. Japan has falling birth rates (down to 1.36); very low marriage rates; a growing avoidance of romantic relationships; widespread prostitution; and a problem of young men withdrawing from society (hikikomori). Young men describe not wanting to get married because they see marriage simply as a burden. From a Guardian report:

Aoyama says the sexes, especially in Japan's giant cities, are "spiralling away from each other". Lacking long-term shared goals, many are turning to what she terms "Pot Noodle love" – easy or instant gratification, in the form of casual sex, short-term trysts and the usual technological suspects: online porn, virtual-reality "girlfriends", anime cartoons. Or else they're opting out altogether and replacing love and sex with other urban pastimes.

The Terfs are not thinking things through. If men have no respected role within the family, why would they bother committing to it? It will come to be thought irrational.

I'm sorry that I can't report more positively on my debate with the Terfs. I suppose that I can commend a few of them for being willing to debate and not just name call, but that's the only positive spin I can put on it. They are still peddling wildly destructive ideas, to the point that it's difficult to see them as any better politically than their transsexual opponents.