Monday, March 13, 2023

The Jena set

I've begun reading Magnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of the Self by Andrea Wulf. It is about a group of German intellectuals (Fichte, Schiller, Schelling, Schlegel, Novalis) who gathered in the small university town of Jena in the very late 1700s and who subsequently had a major influence on the West. 

Andrea Wulf is herself a supporter of liberal modernity and so sees the influence of these men in very positive terms. Obviously I disagree, but nonetheless the book is useful in identifying the larger trends within philosophy at the time.

The book begins with the arrival in Jena of Fichte, who in his first lecture as a professor at the university declared that "A person should be self-determined, never letting himself be defined by anything external". This idea is very familiar to us today, being a core feature of the ruling state ideology of liberalism. How did Fichte get to this idea?

Johann Gottlieb Fichte

I think it's important to go back to an earlier wave of modernity - the one that took place from about the mid-1600s. Europe had been ravaged by wars for over a century by this time, so philosophy was focused to a considerable degree on peace and security. Philosophy had, by this time, also disenchanted the external world - the new cosmology was a mechanistic one. By 1686 the following exchange was recorded (by Fontenelle):

"I perceive", said the Countess, "Philosophy is now become very Mechanical." "So mechanical", said I, "that I fear we shall quickly be asham'd of it; they will have the World to be in great, what a watch is in little...But pray tell me, Madam, had you not formerly a more sublime idea of the Universe?"

Well, this was still the situation when the Jena set were starting out. The poet Novalis complained that,

Nature has been reduced to a monotonous machine, the eternally creative music of the universe into the monotonous clatter of a gigantic millwheel. (p.13)

And so the focus of the Jena set makes sense within the historical context. They reacted against the previous emphasis on shoring up political authority by agitating instead for political freedoms. And this focus on freedom extended into their cosmology. They did not like the mechanistic view which suggested that everything is causally determined.  

And so we come to Fichte's philosophy. This is how Andrea Wulf puts it:

As Fichte stood at the podium in Jena, he imbued the self with the new power of self-determination. The Ich posits itself and it is therefore free. It is the agent of everything. Anything that might constrain or limit its freedom - anything in the non-Ich - is in fact brought into existence by the Ich. 

This does open up a sphere of freedom from causal necessity but at a considerable cost. There is a rejection here of the idea that human reason can perceive the given nature of things, the "thing in itself" and that there exists, at some level, a divine order to the cosmos in which humans are embedded. Instead, it is now the task of the Absolute I to assert itself against the non-I. Ficthe wrote:

My system is the first system of freedom: just as the French nation is tearing man free from his external chains, so my system tears him free from the chains of things-in-themselves, the chains of external influences. 

One consequence of believing this is the idea of the individual will tearing down external reality as an act of freedom:

My will alone...shall float audaciously and coldly over the wreckage of the universe. (p.46)

It should be said, though, that Fichte did not envisage this as destroying moral foundations. Again, context matters here. There were British philosophers who thought that people were driven by sensations and by desires such as fear and greed, rather than by moral principles. For Kant and Fichte, the existence of a rational will meant that the individual was not merely reacting to external stimuli in his actions but could choose freely to act morally. In this way, Fichte was able to link freedom and morality. Again, in Andrea Wulf's words:

The ultimate purpose of each individual was 'the moral ennobling of mankind', and it was the task of the philosopher and scholar to be the teacher of the human race - and to be that he had to be 'morally the best person of his era'.

So Fichte did not discard the long held Western moral understanding which distinguished the noble from the base. This understanding, though, had its roots in a very different cosmology, one in which there was a hierarchically ordered chain of being. It is difficult to see how Fichte's cosmology, of the self-positing I, could adequately support the older understanding. If the point is to be free within my own subjective sense of self-awareness, and not conditioned by anything that is not-I, then how do distinctions between the quality of acts or thoughts come about? On what grounds are some ordered as more noble or more base?

The second reaction of the Jena set to the inherited mechanical view of the cosmos was to emphasise the need to rebalance reason with feeling. There was an emphasis on the imaginative faculty (drawn from Kant) and of a poetic sensibility. The poet Schiller complained of utility being "the great idol of our time" and wanted aesthetics (an appreciation of beauty) to be a bulwark against greed and immorality.

It's interesting to note how all of this came together in Beethoven, who is known to have been influenced by figures like Fichte. His music expresses not only the commitment to political freedom of the Jena set, but also the poetic sensibility and the expression of the noble and the beautiful. 

The assertion of feeling against the cold rationalism of the Enlightenment is one of the more positive outcomes of the romantic movement. However, set against this is the shift into a radical subjectivism and an extraordinary emphasis on the individual will. Later on, Fichte's philosophy encouraged both nihilism and the demonic. The Dutch philosopher Paul van Tongeren explains the nihilism this way:

...the affirmation of the “I” takes place through the negation of a separate reality. But this negation of all independent reality leads to the enthronement of the “I” in a world of complete emptiness. It has no other, no reality to face, no communion in which to engage. There is naught but the nothingness and loneliness in which and from which the “I” creates its own world. The “I” becomes an endless egotist in a world that is eerily empty. (p.21)

And the demonic as follows:

...this terrifying vision reflects back onto its creator: within the world it has created, the “I” discerns its own—apparently destructive—representations and desires! The emotions of the empirical “I” (such as boredom, or terror) are not in response to an outside—there is no outside, after all—but an experience of the self-positing or self-confirming activity of the (absolute) “I”. It becomes clear that the creator isn’t the bright light of reason, but a dark force. The absolute “I” becomes a demonic power that the empirical “I” is at the mercy of 

The romantic movement did not descend to this in its entirety. The emphasis on beauty and subjective experience did allow some artists, for instance, to experience a communion with nature or to be inspired by feminine beauty. But you can see the negative side there as well, from early on. 

So what can we conclude from the Jena set? Perhaps I will have more to add when I finish reading the book. For now, I would point out the importance of metaphysics in the shaping of society. We are still Fichteans in the sense of connecting freedom to the self-positing individual. It is a dubious project, as it sets the individual against the givens of existence.

A traditionalist metaphysics would, amongst other things, connect the individual more positively to the created reality of which he is a part.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Empowered to be alone?

Chrissie Swan is a 49-year-old Australian TV and radio presenter. Last year she confirmed that she had separated from her partner of 15 years, with whom she has three children. They still live amicably under the same roof.

She recently discussed the reason for the separation. It piqued my interest because it resembles what other middle-aged women have told me about why they left their husbands/partners. saying goodbye to this chapter, she regained herself. When Chrissie was 45-year-old, she noticed – like many other women – she took care of everyone's needs before her own. Four years later, she is happier than ever and is embracing her best single life.

"I was 45 and I thought, I'm not having much fun. To be honest, I was doing exactly what most women do and I was putting everyone first," she told 7News.

Despite the pressure for women to find 'the one' in their 20s and 30s, Chrissie feels that she has rather gained a better appreciation for life and everything on offer. "I think society tells us that we don't need to be by ourselves as women," she said. "We are the mothers, the friends and the wives... we're supposed to get our life blood from being of service to people, and that wasn't true for me at all."
What Chrissie Swan is describing, in talking about service to others, is the altruistic love that was once thought to characterise the feminine personality. For instance, in 1958 Marie Robinson wrote that,
Related to this feeling in her, to her sense of security, seeming almost to spring from it, indeed, is a profound delight in giving to those she loves. Psychiatrists, who consider this characteristic the hallmark, the sine qua non, of the truly feminine character, have a name for it: they call it “essential feminine altruism.” The finest flower of this altruism blossoms in her joy in giving the very best of herself to her husband and to her children. She never resents this need in herself to give; she never interprets its manifestations as a burden to her, an imposition on her.
So here is the unusual thing. Chrissie Swan is rejecting altruistic love, even though it is how past generations of women expressed a core aspect of themselves, and even though she was not making that many sacrifices in terms of her own individual ambitions and lifestyle. After all, she was pursuing a busy, high status, successful and well paid career during this time, and she had the wealth to outsource much of the domestic work. 

In other words, her service to her family did not prevent her from pursuing other aims in life; nor need it have been burdensome in terms of workload. So why then choose to go solo?

A possible reason is that the world picture that women like Chrissie Swan receive from the culture includes the idea that the aim of life for women is empowerment. This is defined as having the power to freely do whatever you have a mind to do without negative consequence or judgement. As evidence that this mindset has influenced Chrissie Swan there is the following social media post:

She is justifying her decision to leave her partner on the basis that "I am the Captain of my own life. And I can do whatever I like". She is asserting here her "empowerment" as an individual and her commitment to solo development.

What this is leading to is a phenomenon in which some middle-class Western women are now seeing the family stage of life as a temporary aberration. They have a single girl period in their teens and twenties, then find a decent family-oriented guy to have children with in their 30s to mid-40s, before reasserting a full commitment to the empowerment model in later middle-age.

Chrissie Swan

The empowerment model is incompatible with marriage and family life. It is sold to women as representing the good of their sex, but this is highly questionable. Here is how Chrissie Swan describes her new lifestyle:
I have been spending a fair bit of time utterly alone...It’s a weird kind of exhilaration and joy from knowing all I need is myself....Last Friday I even went apple picking alone - and I highly recommend it. I’ve spent some time in my vege patch (I have no idea what I’m doing). I’ve also been buying myself flowers and taking myself out on walking dates, coffee dates, lunch dates and to the movies. Best company ever!
Yes, having quiet time to decompress is important for people with high pressure working lives. I cannot believe, though, that she could not have negotiated this with her partner. And I simply do not accept the idea that a woman buying herself flowers and taking herself out on dates is the higher good for the female sex. It is, rather, a deprivation of one of the higher goods in life, namely spousal union.

There is a conflict in our culture between the goods of empowerment and spousal union. The good of empowerment I think is not only a lower good, but mostly a false one. To date yourself and then later to spend old age alone does not fit the design for human life, at least not for the ordinary person. It takes a great deal of energy for someone to convince themselves otherwise and to make their peace with it.

The good of spousal union, like all higher goods, is not easily achieved. It does not just happen naturally, but requires an uncommon level of commitment for a couple to work their way through difficult times. It also has a logic of its own. For instance, it makes sense for those oriented to spousal union to try to maintain a sexual polarity, so that we bring something to the union that we cannot provide ourselves - hence, no pride in being entirely self-sufficient. In the past, marital unions were conceived in terms of spouses gifting something to each other, which is difficult to do if there is a complete flattening of distinctions between men and women. 

It is also the case that a spousal union asks of us that we be worthy of being joined together with our spouse. We are challenged to show a better aspect of who we are. The emphasis is not just on feeling, or for that matter, on receiving. There is instead a challenge of being - of what we are called to be in relationship with our spouse.

Monday, February 20, 2023

The original "What is a woman?"

The American political commentator Matt Walsh released a documentary recently titled "What is a woman?" It showed the difficulty many moderns have in answering an apparently simple question.

The question was posed, however, much earlier by the woman credited with kickstarting second wave feminism, Simone de Beauvoir, back in 1949 in her book The Second Sex. Her discussion of the question is interesting because it deals with the metaphysical origins of modernity. 

She opens her argument with this:
But first we must ask: what is a woman? 
She acknowledges that some people would answer that there is a feminine quality that women embody and express, an "essence", that is part of the definition of womanhood. However, she rejects the existence of such a quality of femininity:
It would appear, then, that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries? Or is it a Platonic essence, a product of the philosophic imagination? Is a rustling petticoat enough to bring it down to earth? Although some women try zealously to incarnate this essence, it is hardly patentable. It is frequently described in vague and dazzling terms that seem to have been borrowed from the vocabulary of the seers, and indeed in the times of St Thomas it was considered an essence as certainly defined as the somniferous virtue of the poppy

But conceptualism has lost ground. The biological and social sciences no longer admit the existence of unchangeably fixed entities that determine given characteristics, such as those ascribed to woman...Science regards any characteristic as a reaction dependent in part upon a situation. If today femininity no longer exists, then it never existed. 

She claims that there are no innate qualities, and notes that in her time the sciences held character to depend on the social environment. But if there is no such thing as femininity, and we are simply products of our environment, then what does it mean to be a woman?:

But does the word woman, then, have no specific content? This is stoutly affirmed by those who hold to the philosophy of the enlightenment, of rationalism, of nominalism; women, to them, are merely the human beings arbitrarily designated by the word woman. Many American women particularly are prepared to think that there is no longer any place for woman as such; if a backward individual still takes herself for a woman, her friends advise her to be psychoanalysed and thus get rid of this obsession. In regard to a work, Modern Woman: The Lost Sex, which in other respects has its irritating features, Dorothy Parker has written: ‘I cannot be just to books which treat of woman as woman ... My idea is that all of us, men as well as women, should be regarded as human beings.’
This is interesting for several reasons. First, it shows that at the end of the long first wave of feminism, the same result occurred that we are seeing today. The term "woman" lost all meaning. Today, if you ask a progressive what the term means, they will simply say "whatever a woman wants it to mean". If you follow up by asking "can it mean anything then?" they will answer "yes". In 1949, the category was also thought to lack any signifying substance - it was held by progressives to be an arbitrary category that should be jettisoned.

Simone de Beauvoir

Second, Simone de Beauvoir is aware that this attitude has its origins in certain philosophical positions, including that of nominalism. Nominalism is the belief that there are only individual instances of things and that universals have no real existence but are only names. In this view, the feminine is not a really existing quality or essence that gives a distinct nature to women.

Simone de Beauvoir's position on nominalism is complex. On the one hand, she thinks it inadequate because she believes the categories of man and woman to be real - unlike certain later feminists she rejects the idea that there is liberation in escaping the category of woman. However, she also rejects the idea of the masculine and the feminine as being innate qualities that men and women embody and express:
But nominalism is a rather inadequate doctrine, and the antifeminists have had no trouble in showing that women simply are not men. Surely woman is, like man, a human being; but such a declaration is abstract. The fact is that every concrete human being is always a singular, separate individual. To decline to accept such notions as the eternal feminine, the black soul, the Jewish character, is not to deny that Jews, Negroes, women exist today – this denial does not represent a liberation for those concerned, but rather a flight from reality. 
Her defence of the distinction between men and women is not exactly encouraging:
In truth, to go for a walk with one’s eyes open is enough to demonstrate that humanity is divided into two classes of individuals whose clothes, faces, bodies, smiles, gaits, interests, and occupations are manifestly different. Perhaps these differences are superficial, perhaps they are destined to disappear. What is certain is that they do most obviously exist.
Which leads her back to the question her book is intended to answer:
If her functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we decline also to explain her through ‘the eternal feminine’, and if nevertheless we admit, provisionally, that women do exist, then we must face the question “what is a woman”?
I have not read all of the remainder of her book. Part of her answer is that women have been defined only in relation to men, as "the Other". She wants, in line with modernity, for women to be autonomous. She has the following negative take on traditional womanhood:
Humanity is male, and man defines woman, not in herself, but in relation to himself; she is not an autonomous being
Her solution is the familiar feminist one of claiming that the differences that have existed between men and women are not the product of an innate masculinity or femininity but are due to socialisation:
One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman. No biological, psychological, or economic destiny defines the figure that the human female acquires in society; it is civilization as a whole that develops this product, intermediate between female and eunuch, which one calls feminine.

I'm sorry to disappoint, but I'm not really sure what her answer is to the question "What is a woman?". She seems to focus on the idea that women are not by nature feminine (which she takes to be a negative thing) and should be autonomous in the sense of living for themselves. She writes of her dislike for marriage, motherhood and family and promotes free love, abortion and careers.

She lived to see her preferences realised in Western society. But we do not live in a culture that can answer the question she raised back in 1949. Our culture still does not know what a woman is.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

A false footing

In 1892 an Australian Christian socialist by the name of William Guthrie Spence gave a speech on the topic of "The Ethics of New Unionism".

He began by noting that the old unionists had rejected the individualism of the past to organise together to improve their wages and conditions. They did not, however, seek reforms outside of their own workplaces.

William Guthrie Spence

Spence wanted the new unionism to go further and to transform the world. In explaining this, Spence revealed himself to be a kind of transitional modernist, in that he mixed together certain more traditional concepts with others that we would recognise today as being modernist.

Like so many other leftists before (and after) him, Spence believed in the perfectibility of human nature:

I take it that the human family is inherently good. I go against that old idea of always crediting our human frailties to original sin. I say that humanity is inherently good if we only let it have a chance to exercise its goodness.

This is an optimistic account, but it leads him into dangerous territory. It allows him to believe that a change of the system in which men live, from a competitive to a cooperative one, will so perfect the nature of man that it will overcome all social ills and usher in a utopia. He does not hold back in expressing this belief:

If I understand anything of the teachings of the founder of Christianity it is that He came to bring heaven upon earth — to set up the kingdom of heaven on earth. I fully believe that we can make this heaven.

...Heaven is an ideal state where we escape from all the ills and sorrows that we experience here. In our present state we see many, very many cases of suffering and of trouble. We can trace its cause and see a way of removing it, and shall we sit idly by and allow the misery to go on? No, a thousand times no. Christ taught men that they could and should bring the kingdom of heaven upon earth. New unionism aims at giving practical effect to that, knowing full well that the inherent good in humanity, if it has an opportunity to expand, will rise, will become practical, and bind the people together.
This is the clearest example I have ever come across of "immanentizing the eschaton" which is defined as an attempt "to bring about utopian conditions in the world, and to effectively create heaven on earth."

This already suggests that Spence's Christianity has been modified by modernist ideas. It is not that Spence is entirely wrong in believing that the conditions people live under affect their behaviour. Nor is he wrong in thinking that Christians might attempt to ameliorate those conditions. But what matters now for Spence is a natural process (evolution) through which humanity acts of itself to create a heaven on earth. It is not far removed from a secular humanism.

When people start to see "humanity" as the significant centre of faith and vehicle of progress, they are likely to prefer a shift toward "higher unities" bringing people to believe in humanity as one larger whole, rather than smaller and localised forms of community. Spence says, for instance,

What is your life or my life worth, unless it has been exercised in doing something to add to the sum of happiness of the human family? Those who are conservative enough to let things run as they are of what use are they to the human family? They retard progress. There are now certain well-defined paths with which you can see the thoughts and actions of reformers are trending. Human energy has hitherto been exercised in a wrong direction. Shall we remove the obstacles and put it in the right direction.

There is no defence here of traditional institutions or ways of life, which now represent the "wrong direction" and are obstacles to be overcome by reformers. The worth of a life is no longer measured by a relationship to God, or service to family or nation, but by adding to the happiness of the entire human family.

His orientation to a single humanity is also expressed when he declares,

We are aiming now at securing an improvement by social and political reforms — and by that means alone a revolution will undoubtedly be effected in time. When I use the word revolution — do not misunderstand me — I mean a quiet one. It will be a change from one condition to the other, which almost deserves the name of “revolution.” I feel certain it will come about steadily and surely and rapidly if we take the proper stand, the only stand — that of common humanity.

He says here that the only stand is that of common humanity. He is consistent, then, when he insists that there should be no distinction of sex:

Women workers will also be included, for the spirit of “new unionism” makes no distinction of sex.
Spence likewise sounds very modern when talking about equality: instead of competition is one of the aims of the New Unionism; giving equality of rights, equality of opportunity, and equality of justice to all men.

I find it particularly interesting that Spence is already, as far back as 1892, expressing something of a technocratic mindset. He argues, for instance, that "In the future things must be done in the mass.'' As we shall see, he also argues for the principle of "efficiency". He is not yet, however, arguing for rule by experts; instead, he wants a landed aristocracy replaced by men of "character, genius and intellect".

In what ways does Spence sound more traditional? Well, his world picture is not yet entirely flat. There is still some sort of vertical hierarchy, of things more noble and more base. He states, for instance, that,
Humanity must, of course, be regarded as part of Nature, and are also influenced by the spirit of evolution. We have been placed at the very apex of the pyramid of created things.
He speaks also of his hopes that if people remove impediments to progress that there will be "an expansion of the good, of the noble, of the best. All these are qualities to be admired in man, and mark the distinction between the higher and lower in humanity." Similarly he later exclaims "The principles underlying this movement are those founded on eternal truth. They aim at giving exercise to the highest and very best qualities of human life and nature."

Spence's version of modernism has managed to withstand a naturalistic logic in which there is no order to creation and no means of distinguishing the high from the low. What Spence does share with the modernists, though, is a rejection of the good within the current order. If evolution is pushing toward heaven on earth, then it is important that reformers remove impediments to progress, which makes it wrong to conserve as a matter of principle. You can see here how politics then develops: there are "progressives" who will push for change in the belief that this will usher in a more perfect world and "conservatives/traditionalists" who are alarmed that the good that exists as part of an inherited tradition will be sacrificed and lost.

There is one final point to be made. In spite of his commitment to humanity as a whole, Spence was still very firmly an ethno-nationalist. As a founder of the Australian Labor Party he wrote:
The party stands for racial purity and racial efficiency — industrially, mentally, morally, and intellectually. It asks the people to set up a high ideal of national character, and hence it stands strongly against any admixture with the white race. True patriotism should be racial.

There is a hint here of the proto-technocratic mindset I wrote about earlier when he uses the phrase "racial efficiency". Spence was not alone among progressives of the time in supporting ethno-nationalism - so too did figures like Alfred Deakin and William Lane. The point I would make is that his overall worldview was unlikely, in the longer run, to support the continuation of an ethno-nationalism.

If you set up as an idea that there is a natural evolution of humanity toward a kingdom of heaven on earth; that conserving tradition impedes this progress; that the meaning of life is to serve the human family; that distinctions, such as those of sex, should not be admitted; and that there should be equality of rights and of opportunity for all men - then it will be difficult in the longer run to defend more particular and parochial inherited identities. 

I noted this already in a post on Alfred Deakin, a future Prime Minister. His biographer, Judith Brett, wrote that,

To him the larger, more unified view was always superior, higher and more evolved, less selfish and closer to the divine purpose than the narrow and parochial...
This is similar to Spence's idea that evolution will bring us ultimately to serve one human family. So how did Deakin justify his ethno-nationalism? Judith Brett believes it was simply left as a contradiction:
Liberal nationalism has an inherent contradiction. It speaks of the universal values of liberty and brotherhood, but it applies them to particular populations. Deakin was well aware of the contradiction: his prayer would be "wide as thy would embrace all living things", "were not this to render it pointless and featureless", and so he narrowed his focus "to my kind, to my race, to my nation, to my blood, and to myself, last and least". A couple of years later he prayed for blessings "for my wife and children, family, country, nation, race and universe".
Future Labor politicians would, predictably, begin to extend the focus. Arthur Calwell in the 1930s, for instance, argued in favour of a greater diversity in the Australian population as a matter of equal opportunity and social justice and this led to the expansion of the migration programme after WWII. Calwell's focus did not extend beyond European migration, but by the late 1960s/early 1970s both Labor and Liberal politicians went full focus and adopted a policy of multiculturalism.

You cannot expect something to survive forever when it exists as an unprincipled exception to the larger worldview that you have adopted. If you want a traditional nation to continue, then your worldview needs to accept that there are things embedded within traditions that represent the good and that are worthy of conserving - and that the project of conserving is not just some reactionary offense against progress to an unlikely utopia.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Vacating the field

Matt Wallaert has drunk deeply of the liberal kool-aid. Here is his take on the issue of prostitution:

What he is arguing is that if his wife chose to prostitute herself, she would not need to justify her decision to him as her husband as it would be entirely her own decision.

He is arguing this to be consistent with his liberal beliefs. Liberals generally believe in maximising individual autonomy. When applied to women, this means believing that a woman is only free when she is empowered to choose in any direction, without negative consequence or judgement. Matt Wallaert takes this idea to its absolute logical conclusion by claiming that he has no right to judge the (hypothetical) decision of his own wife to prostitute herself with other men.

It is one example of how the liberal formula can be degrading rather than liberating. Note as well just how incompatible the belief is with the idea of a spousal union and with the pursuit of a common good within family life. In this case, the wife can choose anything at all, no matter how damaging to the marriage, and the husband has no right to challenge or query the decision.

I would also point out that such a belief also undermines the possibility of effective male leadership. If you think the important thing is to be able to choose in any direction without negative judgement or consequence, then how can you put yourself forward to guide or to lead? If your best response is "it's up to her" no matter what she has chosen, how are you leading? Are you not vacating the field?

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Revisiting Juliet

Almost a dozen years ago I posted a story about a New York woman named Juliet Jeske. She was 38-years-old at the time and felt cheated of the chance to become a mother by her divorce (her ex-husband had come out as homosexual). 

She herself noted the discrepancy between her left-liberal politics and her more traditional attitude to family:

My politics are liberal, but my personal life is extremely conservative...Which is sort of why the divorce has been so difficult. My marriage gave me support, stability, a companion that I loved very deeply and most importantly a sense of calm.

My one comment on her situation was that it was a pity that her politics did not match what she considered to be important goods in her own personal life:

I've watched a few videos of Juliet Jeske doing stand up comedy. She adopts the mocking tone of the radical leftist and she poses as a sexual radical. She wants to shock and to tear down and to dissolve standards and yet at the same time she wants the very traditional goods of a stable marriage, a hard working husband who will provide material security and motherhood.

Unusually for this website, she popped up in the comments thread and complained that "making personal attacks on me is just pathetic." I replied,

I'm not sure if it's the real Juliet Jeske posting comments here.

If it is I'd encourage her to engage with the main argument. Is it really right to complain about sexual mores if you belong to a political movement which has brought about those mores?

Out of curiosity I recently looked her up to see how she was going. Unfortunately, she never did manage to marry and have children. She now describes herself as a cat lady and says that she spends 15 to 30 hours a week monitoring Fox News. 

Juliet Jeske

She had previously written a series of articles on the difficulty of dating in New York. These articles are honest and insightful and worth reading. For instance, she wrote one about the difficulties of dating in your late 30s:

When I was in my twenties, dating seemed so much easier. Men and women didn’t have such exact standards, long-term compatibility issues weren’t discussed and everyone seemed so much charmed by each other. I see it now in my friends who are about 10 years younger than me. There is a look of hope and optimism in their eyes that is rare in most of us pushing 40. Even if they have had major heartache, a younger person is less likely to have had the soul crushing experience of a divorce. And very few 25 year olds have had long-term relationships, most are simply too young to have had dated anyone for 10 years or more. People in their twenties are generally more innocent and less jaded, so they are willing to take more risks and have greater hope in another person...When I go out with age appropriate men I find that for some of them, everything becomes a deal breaker.

By her mid 40s things had gotten worse. She wrote a post describing her dating life which included the following topics:

1. If your date actually shows up you are halfway there – It’s next to impossible to get a man to actually agree to a date. Expect nothing.

5. Learn to love spontaneity – Like planning more than a day in advance? Have an unusual schedule that can be difficult to plan around? Well then you’re never dating anyone. If you won’t jump up at a moment’s notice and meet some guy you barely know in a dive bar in the Lower East Side, you’re never getting laid again. Get used to meeting up with men when they’re already half drunk.

8. Find the right slut balance – The Madonna/Whore complex runs deep in the urban male. Men will expect and hope that you will have sex with them minutes after you meet them. If you decide to take the plunge too early you’ll be branded a worthless slut and discarded accordingly. If you try to hold out for a second or third date you might be considered a sexless puritanical old maid.

But the post I want to focus on is her original one complaining about hook up culture:

But the most distressing behavior that I really can’t justify or figure out in New York is the casual sex hook up mating habits that I frankly have no desire to engage in. Yes, I know I get on stage and joke and tell a blue streak of obscenities and adult themed humor, but in my personal life I am a committed relationship type of gal. I make no illusions to being anything but this, and I do not judge others for their behavior. If a polyamorous life of multiple lovers works for a person, then I say go for it. Or if a string of emotionally detached one-night stands with perfect strangers is what makes a person happy then great.

...It is just sort of expected by many that you start the physical part of the relationship first, and then see if either partner wants to continue after you have had sex...Or what I like to call how to be treated like something in between a booty call and a girlfriend. And as a person who doesn’t like being treated poorly, these setups are not usually to my liking. The guy will call or text when he wants to hookup but that is about it.
  • You are supposed to be on call to wait for the opportunity and then run to see him
  • Don’t reveal too much about yourself, but listen to him complain about his trials and tribulations
  • Don’t expect commitment, or exclusivity
  • Don’t expect any emotional bonding
  • Don’t expect much effort on his part to impress you, or make you feel like you are important in his life.
Not exactly what I call fun, but again everyone is different and for some people this situation is ideal.

I know there a plenty of men and women who are frustrated like myself out there. I hear it all the time from my friends, sometimes they think the fast life of hookups and one-night working for them. But they soon grow tired of it and want something steady with one person. But what are we supposed to do when everyone around us seems to be whoring it up? If a guy can so easily get no-strings attached sex, and then never see the woman again if he chooses, then why would they try for anything else? And when a man is tired of the hook-ups himself, how does he then make the transition to getting to know a woman when he has been hooking-up for years?

In theory liberalism is about maximising individual choice. We are supposed to be able to choose in any direction, as long as we don't discriminate against or negatively judge the choices of others. Juliet Jeske clearly wants to be seen to be following this principle, as she nearly always follows up a statement of her own preference with a disclaimer that she is fine if other people choose differently.

But it didn't work for her. She did not get her preference, not even something as basic as being courted, getting married and having children. And there is a reason she did not get her preference: the liberal model does not take into account that many of our deepest aims require other people to act in certain ways. In other words, our own good depends on what other people choose to do.

Juliet Jeske describes the dilemma well. People come to realise that a lifestyle based on casual sex is unfulfilling. However, it is difficult for one person to stand alone against a culture that is already set in place and to defy expectations. She understands that if all women were to be more modest that it would change the culture, but the woman who does this alone is likely to be passed over. And so she feels pressure to be someone she is not and to engage in a dating culture that she knows won't make her happy. There is no "maximum preference satisfaction" for her.

Nor does she help things by running down traditional sexual mores in her comedy routines and by emphasising the idea that goods are merely subjective. 

The traditional approach was to recognise that there is a common good to be upheld. This does not mean sacrificing your own good for that of the collective. It means that your own good is only realised in common with others. The good has to be upheld together within a community. You cannot, after all, marry yourself. And your chances of a good marriage increase or decrease according to the cultural supports, or lack of them, for marriage and family formation that exist within your society.

Monday, January 23, 2023

From Chesty Bond to this?

Bonds is an iconic brand in Australia. Established in 1915, Bonds established their appeal through a very successful advertising campaign for a men's singlet that was launched in 1940. They created a character, Chesty Bond, who was envisaged to be a strong Australian man, kind, likeable and good looking, who would perform heroic deeds when wearing his Bonds singlet. The Chesty Bond comic strip character, although an advert, became very popular and by 1972 100 million singlets had been sold.

Chesty Bond

Fast forward to 2023 and Bonds has changed its tune. It is now determined to be a "genderfree" company, offering a "genderless shopping experience" to its customers in order to be more inclusive. Bonds has announced that it will undertake a "comprehensive audit of all gendered terms used across product, packaging, and stores to challenge their relevance". But perhaps the key statement was made by Bonds marketing manager Kedda Ghazarian:

When gender norms are broken, everyone can feel free to be themselves.

This comment shows just how significant liberal autonomy theory still is in modern Western societies. The idea is that we are free when we are self-determining and self-defining autonomous individuals. Our sex is something predetermined rather than self-determined and is therefore considered a negative limitation on the individual, one that we have to be liberated from. 

And so we go from Chesty Bond to our new "liberated" Australian men:

Quite some journey! From a Chesty Bond singlet to a bra.

I would like to briefly (pun intended) challenge Kedda Ghazarian's claim that by challenging "gender" people are more free to be themselves. The opposite is true. What liberals end up doing is disintegrating what was once a more integrated identity. In the liberal account, our bodies do not point to either our essence or our purposes. They become irrelevant to our identity. We are, in our identity, simply what we experience or what we will for ourselves. 

This is how a traditionalist French organisation, Vigi Gender, responds to the liberal idea of gender:

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 American writer Nancy Pearcey wrote similarly that,
The autonomous self will not tolerate having its options limited by anything it did not choose – not even its own body.

We can call this view liberalism, employing a definition by the self-described liberal philosopher Peter Berkowitz. In his words, liberal thinkers focus on “dimensions of life previously regarded as fixed by nature” and seek to show that in reality they are “subject to human will and remaking.” For liberals, even your identity as male or female is now open to "human will and remaking."

This radical autonomy may be promoted as liberation, but it is a devastatingly disrespectful view of the physical body. The implication is that your body is not part of your authentic self.

…Of course, humans are more than biological beings. But biology gives an objective, scientifically detectable baseline for human identity.

When disconnected from biology, gender identity becomes subjective and ultimately unknowable.

...It treats the body as nothing but a piece of matter that gives people no clue about who they are as persons. It is a self-alienating worldview that teaches people that their identity as male or female has no inherent purpose or dignity.

We cannot ever be liberated from our sex because the attempt to do so disembodies the nature of our self and therefore disintegrates who we are - it cleaves body and self. 

When it comes to our sex, the point is not to be liberated but, instead, to successfully fulfil our potential and our purposes as men and women. Where "gender norms" help us to do this they play a positive role in culture and should be encouraged.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Living through the other? Part 2

 In my last post I set out an argument the gist of which is:

1. Liberal moderns in Australia are not universalising their moral claims. They are asserting that traditional forms of community are a good for Aborigines but an evil for others.

2. One reason for this is that liberal moderns can no longer identify with a communal tradition of their own. However, the goods associated with communal traditions represent important human values. 

3. Therefore, there are liberal moderns who seek to access these values, not through their own tradition, which is lost to them, but through pre-modern cultures, which in Australia means Aboriginal culture.

I had an intelligent reply to my argument in the comments, which proposed a series of other reasons for the failure to universalise:

1) It’s perhaps possible that promotion of “minority” traditional identities is used as a weapon to further undermine the majority identity and thus advance liberalism in the net. It seems a very sure way to deracinate a man by making him promote foreign cultures and peoples over his own

This is most certainly true. If an Anglo-Australian is welcomed several times a week as a guest to Australia, what is left of his own communal identity? It is an effective method of erasure.

2) It’s possible some liberals view the liberalization (and thus destruction) of Aboriginals as being another form of oppression visited upon them.

As we shall soon see in the case of Germaine Greer, this is also true. You would think it would create cognitive dissonance in the minds of liberal moderns (that the political beliefs they hold to are to be regretted for their destructive effects on Aborigines), but they are not called out for it.

3) The anti-human strain of leftism, particularly dominant in environmentalist sects, sees advancement as bad and primitivism as good. Primitive cultures, such as Aboriginals, are thus likely to be celebrated and mythologized.

Well, yes. This is a similar argument to the one I made myself in the post, namely that some leftists have inherited the idea that civilisation corrupts and that therefore pre-modern cultures are more genuinely human. Again, we will see this idea expressed with Germaine Greer.

4) There are, of course, certain groups throughout European-stock countries that are implacably hostile to European peoples. Promoting other groups, deracinating whites, and forcing or encouraging them to acknowledge and praise ancestors and cultures other than their own serves to weaken them.

Yes, this is part of the picture, though it does not explain why Anglo elites themselves should adopt such views.

5) Of course, the aesthetic and superficial trappings of Aboriginals is not really any threat to liberalism, even amongst Aboriginals.

Again, it is true that promoting Aboriginal traditional identity will not disrupt the working through of liberalism in Australia in the same way that promoting the mainstream identity would.

As you can see, I agree with all of these observations, particularly the first three. Even so, I think my argument still stands - that traditional values are human values and that if they are made inaccessible within our own group that some people will seek to share in them or identify with them or uphold them, via their continuing existence elsewhere.

I want to use the Australian feminist Germaine Greer as my prime example. Some years ago she wrote two long essays on Aboriginal issues. The first was called "Whitefella Jump Up: the Shortest Way to Nationhood" (2003). At the time, her central thesis was startling. She wanted all Australians to embrace Aboriginality as a path to nationhood. She wanted Australians to declare themselves Aboriginal "as if by an act of transubstantiation" (she uses deeply religious terms to express her hope that the Australian identity might become an Aboriginal one). She was ahead of her time. What seemed crazy in 2003 is now increasingly the model of Australian identity.

Germaine Greer

Even more startling, though, is her essay "On Rage" (2008). In this essay she explains the propensity of some Aboriginal men in remote communities to be violent toward Aboriginal women. She blames white men, of course, but it is the detail of her argument that is interesting. For instance, she sympathises with the lament of an Aboriginal woman that "Our communities are like a piece of broken string with women on one side and men on the other". This suggests that it is important for the intactness of a community that men and women not be placed in opposition to each other - but a setting apart of men and women into opposing political classes is what Greer spent much of her life promoting as a Western feminist (the essay itself breathes the very air of Greer as a white woman demonising white men). So here we have an instance of that failure to universalise; Greer applies a socially dissolving attitude to the mainstream, but laments its appearance within Aboriginal communities.

Greer then complains that governments are enabling Aboriginal women to live independently of their men:
The fact that government welfare payments are often made to women...means that more and more women can live independently of men, and are doing so.

...When hunter-gatherer societies begin to break down, it is invariably the gatherers, the women, who combine to hold them together, but in doing so they further marginalise their menfolk, including their own sons.

Again, Greer fails to universalise this position. In 2010, just two years later, she argued that economic independence for Western women was a good thing because it enabled them to divorce their husbands:

As women's economic independence increased, their tolerance of infidelity, cruelty, neglect and emotional and physical abuse on the part of their spouses dwindled steadily. Divorce rates throughout the developed world rose in unison.
She wrote of Western women who chose to divorce and live as single mothers:
Women who face this fate with equanimity have my unstinting admiration. They are choosing a tough but honourable life over a servile and dishonourable one.

But when it comes to Aborigines, she sympathises instead with the men who lose their most cherished possessions and who are humiliated by the loss of family structure:

According to anthropologists RM and CH Berndt, traditionally "the most cherished possessions of men were women, children and their sacred heritage," in that order...The Aboriginal man's wife was not simply a woman he met by chance and fancied, but a is the level of avoidance which signifies just how fundamental, how absolutely shattering this loss and humiliation must be.

Why this inconsistency? Why claim that financial independence for Aboriginal women has terrible consequences because the men lose their most cherished possession - their women (imagine if Western women were described positively as being a possession of the men) - and are therefore deeply humiliated; whereas financial independence for Western women is a good because it allows them to leave, en masse, men who are simply assumed to be cruel abusers?

One possible reason is that if you are serious about wanting a society to continue into the future and to reproduce itself you will focus on maintaining family structure and on upholding a common good between men and women. Therefore, Greer is a traditionalist when it comes to Aborigines (who she wants to see continue on), but a liberal when it comes to the mainstream.

Which brings me to the key part of Greer's argument. She explains the rage of Aboriginal men as being due to them losing "what makes any life worth living". So, what are these essential human goods? They are the traditional ones, not the liberal ones. She writes that Aboriginal men have lost "all the important things" such as "their families, their social networks, their culture, their religion, their languages and their self-esteem".

Remember, Germaine Greer rose to fame for writing The Female Eunuch in which she proposed abolishing the family and instead placing children on communal farms where parents might occasionally visit, but anonymously, with a child not even knowing that a woman was its "womb-mother". 

For Aborigines, though, the important things that make life worth living include family, religion, culture and self-esteem. How many leftists uphold these things for Western man?

Again, she complains that Aborigines have come to live in "polyglot assemblages", i.e. mixed in with other Aboriginal tribes. This is by modern standards a minor experience of ethnic diversity, which is considered a great good for Westerners, but a catastrophic denial of the things that make life worth living for Aborigines.

Similarly, when Greer discusses the violence of Aboriginal men toward Aboriginal women she is not concerned, as feminist women usually are, to blame the patriarchy and to insist on abolishing masculinity. Instead, she is alarmed that this violence might harm the racial self-preservation of Aborigines:

What is now undeniable is that violence towards women and children across the same spectrum has reached the level of race suicide.

So here you have, as blatant as it is possible to be, the failure to universalise moral goods. The goods for Aborigines include racial self-preservation, ethnic exclusivity, family, culture, religion, self-esteem and the promotion of harmony between men and women. For Westerners, though, the goods are female autonomy, even as expressed in divorce and in an ongoing feminist revolution, diversity and the beating down of national self-esteem (Greer characterises white men throughout her essay as rapists).

What I would like to emphasise is how Greer frames her position. She is enraged that Aborigines might lose the things that make life worth living, the things that are important in life. These are the traditional goods that are expressed within traditional communities. Greer does not even begin to think that these traditional goods that make life worth living might ever be found within the Australian mainstream and so unsurprisingly she asserts that the path forward for Australia is a nationwide adoption of Aboriginality "as if by an act of transubstantiation". 

That she is not alone in thinking this way is suggested by the success of the reframing of Australian identity along Aboriginal lines over the past decade. 

What traditionalists might draw from this is clear. We should highlight the failure of liberal moderns to universalise their moral claims; we should also highlight Greer describing traditional goods as being "what makes any life worth living"; but, unlike Greer, we should seek to uphold these goods within our own communities, rather than attempting to transmogrify into something we are not.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Living through the other?

If you look at the website of Zali Steggall, an independent MP, you find this at the bottom:
Zali and her team acknowledge and pay deep respect to our diverse First Nations communities, the Traditional Custodians, Elders past, present and emerging, whose country we work on. We...are committed to nurturing the world's oldest adapting culture and our First People's connection to land, sea and sky.

This type of thing is very common now in Australia. There is a veneration of Aborigines as a traditional people. This stands in stark contrast to the general attitude to traditional nationalism, which is severely criticised as failing the tests of non-discrimination, tolerance, openness, diversity and inclusion. 

It is as if there are two separate tracks of development. A traditional one for certain Aboriginal peoples and a modern one for everyone else. I say "certain" Aboriginal peoples because the same veneration does not apply to the indigenous peoples of Europe. It is applied only to those Aboriginal peoples who might be thought of, in some way, as having a pre-modern culture.

How do we explain this? Usually moral positions are universalised. If it is thought good for Anglo-Australians to give up a distinct identity because it is discriminatory or exclusive it will likewise be thought good for Aborigines to do the same. Or, if it is thought good for Aborigines to maintain a unique sense of peoplehood, culture and relationship to the land, it will likewise be considered a good for Anglo-Australians to do the same.

But in this case we have a puzzling failure to universalise. What is a good for one group is an evil for the other. The difference cannot be explained on the basis of "Aboriginal groups were there first" because, as I have mentioned, this would then lead to a support for traditional people-hood for the indigenous Europeans - which clearly does not happen.

All across Australia people hold meetings where the first step is for the speaker to pay respects to Aboriginal elders past and present. Now, if it is a good for us to honour our ancestors (which I think it is) then this holds true equally for Aborigines and for non-Aborigines. Therefore, if we universalise this principle, the speaker should be paying respects to his or her ancestors or perhaps to those of the people in the room. But, again, there is a failure to universalise this moral precept. It is considered a good for Aborigines alone. 

I would like to suggest three reasons for this placing of Aborigines on a different moral plane of existence from others. All three reasons push toward the same outcome.

The first reason is the one suggested by the American historian Eric Kaufmann, namely liberal minoritarianism. Kaufmann explains that liberalism originally sought to uphold the rights of majorities, but then later on, in the 1800s, turned toward minority rights. This outlook took on a life of its own, forming a kind of emotional reflex in which majorities were looked at negatively as potential oppressors and minorities as victims:

The emotive pairing of majority with malice and minority with empathy began this way. What started as a modest habit of mind has deepened into a reflexive demonization of majorities and lionization of minorities

Kaufmann explicitly connects this to the ethnic double standard:

The result is what I term asymmetrical multiculturalism: ethnicity as wonderful for minorities, poisonous for majorities. This contradiction in the worldview of the left-modernist bohemians established a minoritarian, anti-majority mold which occupies the very soul of today’s woke culture.

What I would emphasise here is that this minoritarianism is one avenue through which Westerners lose a sense of their own positive identity. If you develop this emotional reflex, in which your own ancestors are demonised as oppressors, then you will lose a positive connection with your own tradition.

The second reason is one I have written about at length. One wing of liberal modernity believes that the end goal of politics is a freedom understood as maximum individual autonomy. We are to self-create and self-define who we are. What this means is that having an inherited identity will be cast negatively as a limitation on this individualistic notion of self. Not only does traditional nationalism give us an identity that we don't get to self-define, it suggests that we have duties to a people and a tradition, which also limits an absolute freedom to choose in any direction. For these reasons, modernity turned away from traditional forms of communal identity. To be a modern came to mean losing your place within a traditional ethnic nation in favour of a more individualistic mode of being.

The third reason is the development of technocratic means of regulating society within liberal modernity. Modernity began with a project of using science to conquer nature. However, this desire to impose control through science turned to the idea of the "rational" control of human populations. We ourselves became the ones acted upon, we became the objects of the experiments to manage and to exert control. 

For this technocratic project to work, human communities needed to be made open and accessible, uniform, unified and predictable. Aspects of common life that were embedded in particular or localised loyalties did not fit well. That's why Leon Trotsky condemned the family as a "shut in, petty enterprise" to be replaced by a "finished system of social care". What technocrats want are systems run by experts, that are efficient and where results can be easily quantified. Again, this does not fit well with a traditional communal life, which flourished on the basis of particular loves and loyalties, and so was never going to be a universal, unified managerial system based on bureaucratic expertise. And so modernity, for this reason as well, came to be associated with a disenchanted form of society, one in which deeper bonds and attachments gradually withered away.

What all this means is that there are Westerners now who simply do not have a positive communal identity of their own. It has been lost due to demonisation of ancestors, a radical individualism, and the impact of technocracy.

I'd like to illustrate this by introducing Stacy, a country vet here in Australia. Stacy is one of the nicer leftists I have debated on social media. She was as curious to understand my mindset as I was to understand hers and she did not descend to name calling but remained polite. Our debate began on the topic of the Aboriginal Voice to Parliament. Predictably she was resolutely focused on the idea that Aborigines had been uniquely mistreated historically. I attempted to correct some of what she was claiming, but eventually decided to get to the crux of our differences by probing her for her own loyalties and commitments:

This is what she came up with:

It is not surprising that she went for professional associations as career is something allowed to moderns. But, as to whether she had any deeper attachments, her answer was an "honestly, no":

She went on to describe herself as follows:

But here's the thing. Let's say you are a Westerner and, like Stacy, you have lost any deeper communal identity of your own. Is it not the case, then, that if you wish to live through communal values you must now do so by identifying with some other group who still has them? 

From a leftist point of view, it makes sense to select a "pre-modern" Aboriginal people to do so. First, because the left have historically followed Rousseau in believing that human nature was originally unspoilt and only corrupted by the effects of civilisation. Therefore, Aboriginal culture will be romanticised as being more authentic or enchanted than Western culture. Second, if modernity is marked by a commitment to individualism and technocracy, then the carriers of traditional human values will have to be pre-modern. 

This identifying with Aborigines can be seen directly in the case of Germaine Greer, who had herself adopted into an Aboriginal tribe. The emphasis on Aborigines having a more enchanted culture is seen in the writings of the leftist Australian academic Robert Manne, who described Aborigines as living in,

not an Edenic but an enchanted world, in the technical sense of the sociologist Max Weber. They discovered an intricate social order in which, through the kinship structure, every human being held a precise and acknowledged place. They discovered a world that was filled with economic purpose; leavened by playfulness, joy and humour; soaked in magic, sorcery, mystery and ritual; pregnant at every moment with deep and unquestioned meaning.

This positive evaluation then led Manne to adopt the double standard I wrote about earlier. He very clearly wanted Aborigines to survive as a traditional people, rather than being subject to modernist standards:

...if the traditional communities are indeed destroyed, one distinctive expression of human life - with its own forms of language, culture, spirituality and sensibility - will simply become extinct. Humanity is enriched and shaped by the diversity of its forms of life. It is vastly impoverished as this diversity declines. If contemporary Australians allow what remains of the traditional Aboriginal world to die, we will be haunted by the tragedy for generations.
And so we arrive at the failure to hold to universal moral standards in which what is good for Aborigines is also good for other people. Modernity has left many Westerners devoid of a deeper identity of their own, and to compensate for this loss of significant human values, they have begun to live through the communal identity of others (to some degree through "vibrant" immigrant cultures, but here in Australia increasingly through that of Aborigines).

So what do we do? There may not be immediate solutions, but I do think it is important to challenge the minoritarian narrative which filters reality to always emphasise the idea of Westerners as oppressors. This narrative disconnects people from a positive identity of their own. It leaves them bereft of important aspects of being human, which they must then search for in other cultures. We should take whatever opportunities arise to foster and to express a positive identification with our own tradition. 

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, January 13, 2023

Clementine's confession

Clementine Ford is notorious here in Australia as a man hating feminist who is nonetheless given considerable exposure in the media. As an example of her feelings towards men, she was criticised in 2020 for complaining that Covid was "not killing men fast enough".

What I'd like to comment on is her description of her journey to motherhood. She begins her story with the assumptions she made about marriage as a girl:
I assumed that one day I would be married. It wasn’t a question of ‘if ’ but of ‘when’. I wasted little energy worrying about the chap involved, presuming he would arrive just as the seasons did.

I've read this kind of thing from women before. It's the idea that marriage will just happen by itself without any effort or cultivation of character from themselves. It is true, I suppose, that women can find a husband due to things that happen naturally, like their looks, rather than being selected on achievement. Even so, I think this assumption that things will just fall into place is a significant error. Women do still have to preserve the things that nature grants them: not just their looks, but feminine qualities of character and, also, as we shall soon see, an ability to love and to pair bond with a man. There are also challenges that women will face as wives and mothers that girls should be raised to expect and to have the strength to deal with. 

The mentality that "everything will just fall into place, and I will get my happily ever after just as a matter of course" is a dangerous one, a Disney outlook that sets women up to be disappointed in life. 

Clementine Ford then followed exactly the modern girl pattern of life. She spent her formative years in her teens and twenties pursuing a number of short term relationships with men, before changing course in her early 30s, meeting the future father of her child and then asking for a child at age 34:

after the torrid years of my twenties, with the series of broken hearts that decade brought (mostly mine, sometimes other people’s), I met the man who would become my son’s father.

It needs to be noted here that a woman spending such a long time having affairs and having a "series of broken hearts" is terrible preparation for marriage. It is, in effect, practising for divorce. We aren't designed to repeatedly go through this process and still have our pair bonding faculty intact.

She waited until her son was four and then, predictably, dropped the bombshell on her partner (I don't think they were married) that she was leaving him. It is not unusual for women to wait until the youngest child is about this age, as the child is a little more independent by then and the mother is less reliant on the father for support.

Her explanation of why she left her partner is the one I expected. Despite the fact that he was going out to work to support her, she blamed him and resented him for the disruption to her life caused by motherhood:

In the pre-dawn hours, after another night of broken sleep and relentless feeding, I’d look at the man lying asleep next to me...and think, I hate you.

One of the things I had always valued about our relationship was how independent we could be of each other—which is to say, I had valued how independent I could be.

I am an introvert by nature, and the emotional toll of being so busy also means I have to recharge in solitude. When it was just the two of us, it was an ideal situation. But the introduction of a third, defenceless creature to our situation upended all of this.

For the first time in my life, I needed help. I needed respite. I needed to feel supported in some fairly basic ways. And like so many women stunned by the reality of the ‘happy ever after’, I felt myself to be abandoned.

I experienced the shock of motherhood and its impact on our relationship as a huge betrayal, and I blamed him for most of it.  

She blamed the one person doing the most for her for her predicament. It would have helped if she had had a more realistic view of motherhood. To her credit, she does admit that she had unrealistic views:
The genteel life I imagined for myself was cast in soft, pastel focus. I would finally be a published author. I’d have a placid, chubby little baby who cooed at all the right times and cried only when absolutely necessary, which would be never. And I’d have a loving partner who supported me emotionally in both of these endeavours, understanding without question or conflict what needed to be done and simply getting on with it.
The last part I've also heard before: the idea that some women have that their husbands/partners should simply intuitively know exactly what needs to be done and to put things right. It is a gross misunderstanding of men and of the masculine role within a relationship.

I do agree with Clementine Ford that first time motherhood can be tough and that it's best if supports can be in place for the woman experiencing it. But this support traditionally came from other women within the family, perhaps a woman's own mother, or her sisters, or her aunts. The problem with expecting a husband/partner to completely take over this role is not only that he will be away for considerable times at work, and not only that he will have no experience of what is happening himself, but even more crucially that he will then be responsible for a woman feeling comfortable in her new role and so be blamed if she does not - to the long term detriment of the marriage.

Sometimes when the topic of divorce is mentioned it is claimed that women initiate divorce in order to rid themselves of abusive men. But in my observation the Clementine Ford cases are the more common ones. Her partner loved her, but she left him and dissolved her family without even communicating to him her unhappiness or the reasons why she was leaving:
My desires were modest, but they were important. I wanted to stop feeling sad. I wanted to start feeling happy.

In the months before I decided to leave my relationship, I found myself thinking about what I wanted my life to look like. Did I want to wake up at fifty and realise that I had no idea who I even was anymore beyond being someone’s mother or someone’s wife?

I didn’t feel seen, and the knowledge left me with a deep wound.

Outside of my home, I was championed and celebrated...Yet despite this, when I laid my head down at night I felt invisible. I couldn’t understand why this man who claimed to love me didn’t also seem to notice that I was disappearing.

On an afternoon in late May, I piled the last of my things into my car and drove away from the house I had shared with a man I had once loved.

I did not cry as I drove away, just as I had not cried as I listened to him ask me again, Why? Why are you doing this?

[In fact] I hadn’t cried much over the then my heart had sealed over. I had watched myself moving slowly out of the relationship long before I moved out of the house, but he, like so many people seemingly blindsided by the end, had not noticed.

Even being a writer with a considerable national profile wasn't enough for her. She was "disappearing" and "didn't feel seen". 

The truth, I think, is that Clementine Ford had wanted to be a mother much more than she wanted to be married. She chose a man she knew was conscientious and decent to play a certain role for a certain time and then she returned to the kind of independent girl lifestyle she was more habituated to, but with the benefit of also being a mother:
I drove to my new flat, and I looked at the new home that I had made and I wondered at all the possibilities left to me...There would be love, I knew that. There would be laughter. There would be magic. 

I love living alone. I love having my own space...

I imagine a world in which our entire notion of ‘family’ is reinvented. Where women’s desire for motherhood is divested from our belief that it can only happen if we enter into a nuclear partnership.

I feel as if I have the best of both worlds now. I am a mother, and this brings to my life a particular meaning and resonance that is important to me.

But I am also a woman outside of this, and I don’t need to struggle to remember this fact. I move easily between the two states of being, without the risk of one consuming the other.
She wants to be a mother but also to be "a woman outside of this", which I think is her way of saying she wants to be free to express her sexuality in the pursuit of affairs.

She says that she "chose well" when selecting the father of her child as he has stuck around and they still all get together at times for meals and movie nights.

So, is this a future pathway for relationships? I don't think so. If women were to generally treat men the way that Clementine Ford treated her partner, then men would quickly lose interest in the idea of family. Nor do children raised in single mother homes generally fare as well as those raised more traditionally.

And the "magic" isn't happening for Clementine Ford to the degree she expected. She is in her forties now. She recently uploaded a Facebook post of her clutching a glass of wine, drunk and talking about how romance is a lie and that it's better to be alone. 
"I had lunch today with my researcher. I'm very drunk, that's why I'm slurring. We were talking about how more women of age like us need to impart to young women that everything you've been told about romance is a lie and the best thing you can aspire to is life on your own terms." 
You can only imagine that things will get worse as she ages. She is already cynical, already jaded and incapable of imagining a committed relationship. She has banked everything on sexual attractiveness:
I took my friend and researcher Jane out yesterday for lunch and we got absolutely trollied. Evidently I then went home and made some stories and took about a million photos of me in my knickers. Reassuring to know that even when I’m absolutely plastered, I’m still hot.
Anyway, even though I’m sozzled here I’m going to share this because the advice is sound. As a woman in her middle years (and living her best life), I want to keep telling women just beginning the journey that they are all the ingredients they will ever need to make a bloody great meal...Don’t settle for some bozo because you think it’s better than being in your own company. My company is great! Stay single, stay hot.

Is she really going to live by this "stay single, stay hot" philosophy in her fifties? In her sixties? In her seventies? 

Clementine Ford, drunk advice

I would hope that young women reading this would take her example as a fate to be avoided. 

Let me end on a more positive note. I've been on holiday and have had the chance to spend time at the beach. Whilst there I saw three young couples (they arrived together as a group of friends) who between them had a small army of toddler children (I counted nine). The children played happily on the sand, the husbands flirted a bit with their wives (one of the husbands swept his wife off her feet and they laughed together as he carried her to the waves). At one point one of the girls accidentally knocked over her little sister. The dad took the baby out of his wife's arms so that she could comfort her daughter.

Perhaps you had to be there, but I was struck by how "right" all this was - by how powerful this idyll of family life is as a human good and as part of the design of human life.