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 stands...is 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 kinswoman...it 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 break-up...by 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. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

What is wrong with Mr Hobbes? (Part 1)

I am reading The Invention of Autonomy by J.B. Schneewind. I reached chapter five which is on Thomas Hobbes and, predictably, only read a couple of pages before becoming enraged and wanting to fling the book at a wall. This happens every time I read something on Hobbes - he is the person in world history I revile the most.

Interestingly, some of his contemporaries had the same reaction. For instance, in 1676 a German by the name of Samuel Rachel wrote: "We will give the last place to Thomas Hobbes for filth falls on the hindmost...Never...have I lighted on any writer who has put before the world views more foolish or more foul." Schneewind goes on to note that "Hobbes's theories...aroused lasting hatred and fear in some of the strongest thinkers of the time."

Why my visceral disgust? I think it is because Hobbes is incompatible with the best of the Western mind and soul. His ideas make impossible a distinction between what is noble and elevated and what is base and common. His ideas undermine the traditional concept of the good, the beautiful and the true. His ideas deny the affinities which naturally tie together human communities. His ideas are incompatible with finding a common good for human communities based on virtue or on the ordering of the social, spiritual and biological nature of man. 

Thomas Hobbes

By the time I had finished the chapter I had calmed down. Schneewind does a decent job of explaining why Hobbes took the positions that he did. Hobbes was radically committed to scientism, nominalism, materialism, determinism and voluntarism and he was concerned, in an era marked by religious and civil war, to block any justifications for rebelling against the monarch.

It is a little difficult to condense Schneewind's arguments, so I'll focus on picking out a few of the more interesting parts. 

First, Hobbes states directly that the point of moral philosophy is to avoid the calamity of civil war: "all such calamities...arise...chiefly from civil war...few in the world that have learned those duties which unite and keep men in peace...the knowledge of these rules is moral philosophy."

This is a poor foundation for moral philosophy but it shows how much the historical context matters.

Hobbes's materialism was radical. He thought that humans were just clusters of atoms. Sometimes the atoms move toward something and this is named desire. Sometimes they move away and this is named aversion. The radical consequence of seeing things this way is that the meaning of the term "good" changes. As Schneewind puts it:

When we are moved toward something, we call that toward which we are moved "good". Thus we do not desire something because we think it good. We think it good simply because the thought of it moves us to get it.

We are not moved toward the good; the good is a word we apply to whatever we are moved toward. As Schneewind puts it, "for Hobbes to call something good is only to say one wants it". 

The endless pursuit of desire is, for Hobbes, the very thing that constitutes the motion of the self. Therefore, there can be no "final end" such as contentment in the knowledge of God, because "for Hobbes the absence of desire is the absence of motion, and that is, simply, death. Felicity lies rather in seeking and obtaining whatever we happen to want."

For Hobbes, our desires "stem from the interaction between our bodies and causal chains originating outside them, and they determine literally our every move". They are simply material effects that are part of the physical world. Therefore, Hobbes believes that desires cannot be ordered toward higher goods which might then form a common good around which communities might be harmoniously ordered. 

This is not possible, first, because we will not find like-minded people, as the causal chains will act differently on people, creating desire in some and aversion in others. Second, there is no rational deity in this scheme of thought ordering the world toward harmony - the physical laws that act on people do so indifferently and without meaning. Finally, I would presume as well that Hobbes sees individual behaviour as being too rigidly determined by causal chains to allow for a process of rationally ordering goods.

What all this means is that Hobbes does not believe that you can find the civil peace, which he believes is the foundation of moral philosophy, via a common commitment to a set of goods (i.e. to a common good). He writes that there is no "common Rule of Good and Evill, to be taken from the nature of the objects themselves".

Schneewind proceeds to note Hobbes's famous belief that humans form communities not out of natural sociability or through love of other people but through self-interest. Here we get to specific pronouncements about the nature of man that form Hobbes's anthropology. Hobbes thinks we share a fear of death and a desire for glory. We have "an insatiable desire for security" (Schneewind) which makes us want to perpetually have superior power over everyone else, leading to a war of all against all. Our natural state is the most low trust condition you could imagine.

For Hobbes, this means that there are two laws of nature. First, to seek peace as a means to obtain security. Second, if this is not possible do what it takes to stay alive.

I want to pause here to reflect on the ramifications of this. Hobbes was committed to scientism in the sense of believing that a moral theory had to have a kind of mathematical certainty. He was not alone in this commitment; his chief English detractor, Richard Cumberland, felt obliged to respond to Hobbes via a scientistic approach to morality as well (there had been a strain of scepticism which denied that we can know anything with certainty which was one reason why some were pushed toward scientism).

You can see where this leads. You end up with some very basic foundational propositions. Man here is almost abstracted out of existence. All that Hobbes can say about man's nature is that he wants to live and that he wants power and glory. Hobbes does later claim that you can build a superstructure of beliefs about virtues and vices on the basis of his "natural laws", but it is still ultimately motivated only by the desire for self-preservation.

In the more traditional view, man as a creature has a distinct nature that a person will seek to develop to its higher purposes and ends in order to fulfil his or her own being. There are, for instance, qualities of manhood that a man will rightly seek to embody because they are an "essential" aspect of his nature, through which he completes or perfects his being in the world, and which represent a higher good that he aspires to embody. What this traditional view requires is not one or two "mathematical" foundational propositions, but an insightful description of what constitutes a masculine ideal for men to seek to live by - and this will be relatively complex, as it will bring together the physical, social and spiritual elements of a man's being and will also include the distinct roles of men within the family and society.

This makes little sense within Hobbes's world picture, as for him there are no objects that are inherently good, as something is made good simply by virtue of us wanting it. Hobbes's view does, it must be admitted, fit well within a consumer society based on the pursuit of individual choice in the market - perhaps this is part of what gives me the unsettling sense that we are living excessively through Hobbesian values in the modern world.

(I'll finish reporting on Schneewind's account of Hobbes in my next post.)

Monday, January 02, 2023

Repression, DV & the Freudian left

Earlier this summer eleven Australian women were murdered over a three week period. It led to a debate on social media about domestic violence and how it might be tackled.

On one side of the debate were those who emphasised two things. First, that women are the victims of violence and men the perpetrators. Second, that the solution is for men to change, in particular, by becoming less repressed and by better expressing their emotions. For instance, one woman I engaged with ("Megwa") began by demanding that we "Fix the men". When I asked her what she meant by this, she replied "by taking down the patriarchal bs that inhibits teen boys from showing their emotions, oh sorry, fighting’s okay, but don’t cry."

a) The narrative

There is a strong tendency in these debates for the facts to be filtered to uphold a narrative of men as perpetrators and women as victims. This is despite the fact that men are considerably more likely than women to be the victims of violence (for instance, 70% of those murdered in Australia are men). 

It is true that men are also more likely to be the perpetrators, though not to the extent that those who believe in the narrative imagine. For instance, my female colleagues guessed that when it comes to domestic violence that 95% of the perpetrators are men. The real figure is not nearly this high. The NSW Government provides up to date data on those brought to court by police on charges of domestic violence (i.e. physical assault). In the period from October 2021 to September 2022, there were 10,790 men proceeded against by NSW police and 4,531 women, giving a roughly 70/30 split. 

If violence is caused by the socialisation of men, how then do you explain the 30% of domestic violence assaults that are perpetrated by women? There must be another explanation.

b) Men and emotions

There is a commonly held belief that problems in society are caused by boys being socialised to repress their emotions. If boys could be raised to be more girl-like in their emotions, the theory goes, then you would not have the pathologies of "toxic masculinity". 

This idea is taken so seriously that there are organisations in Australia which go to schools and conduct group therapy sessions for the boys to guide them to release their feelings as a future model of masculinity.

Where does this belief come from? It is a survival of left Freudianism, one of those "accretions" within the larger political culture. I'm not as well versed in left Freudianism as I'd like to be, but my current understanding of it runs as follows. Freud himself thought that repression led to discontent within the individual but that it was necessary for civilisation. The left Freudians, in the mid twentieth century, took a different approach. They thought that it was not enough to have a political revolution to reform society - this had been tried in places like Russia but had led only to a new type of authoritarianism. To succeed, there had to be a psychological transformation of the individual and this would occur when the individual ceased to repress their instincts, feelings and emotions.

You get a sense of this left Freudianism in the claims that masculinity is toxic because it leads men towards dominance and power which is exerted in oppressing women through acts of violence and that the path forward is for men to not be socialised to repress their emotions and feelings. In other words, we have a left Freudian claim that an authoritarian personality type is being created via psychological repression.

This is often joined together with another accretion within our political culture, namely the leftist belief that there are power structures which have denied humans an Edenic existence of living in peace, harmony and equality. In this case, the power structure most usually targeted is the patriarchy, which is held responsible for encouraging boys to repress their feelings.

The American feminist Gloria Jean Watkins (commonly known by her pen name bell hooks) wrote a book titled The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love (2004). In this work, she gives voice to these ideas about men. She complains that,

...masses of men have not even begun to look at the ways that patriarchy keeps them from knowing themselves, from being in touch with their feelings, from loving. To know love, men must be able to let go the will to dominate.

She adds:

...by supporting patriarchal culture that socializes men to deny feelings, we doom them to live in states of emotional numbness. 

c) Criticisms

1. Lack of awareness

My first criticism of this common approach to ending male violence is that those who hold it aren't aware of where their ideas come from, i.e. that they are blindly following the accretions within modern political culture.

2. Rousseau

My second criticism is that there is a faulty assumption about human nature in this view, one that shares with Rousseau the idea that humans are good by nature but corrupted by society. This suggests that human nature is perfectible and that it is therefore reasonable to demand an end to male violence as an immediately achievable goal (some of those commenting on social media believe that it is within the power of men to stop other men from being violent). There is too little acknowledgement that human nature is flawed and that a complete eradication of violence is not a likely prospect, even in the most rationally ordered social settings.

3. Solipsism

Some of the women involved in the debate assume that if men are to have emotions they must be experienced and expressed in the same way as women - otherwise they do not exist. It is difficult to explain to these women that a man can have a rich inner life without being "emotional". Men are generally more able to be analytically detached from their feelings and to express them less overtly, but this does not mean that a man is incapable of love and other deeply felt inner states. 

Despite claiming that men are emotionally numb in a patriarchy, Gloria Jean Watkins makes two telling admissions. First, she admits that men are able to love women for who they are, whereas women are more likely to care for men on the basis of a man's performative role:

We struggle then, in a patriarchal culture, all of us, to love men. We may care about males deeply. We may cherish our connections with the men in our lives. And we may desperately feel that we cannot live without their presence, their company. We can feel all these passions in the face of maleness and yet stand removed...Caring about men because of what they do for us is not the same as loving males for simply being. When we love maleness, we extend our love whether males are performing or not. Performance is different from simply being. 

Second, she admits that she did not like her own partner opening up emotionally because it undermined her sense of his masculine strength:

When I was in my twenties, I would go to couples therapy, and my partner of more than ten years would explain how I asked him to talk about his feelings and when he did, I would freak out. He was right. It was hard for me to face that I did not want to hear about his feelings when they were painful or negative, that I did not want my image of the strong man truly challenged by learning of his weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

4. Raising boys

The idea that the key to raising boys is to encourage emotional vulnerability is not harmless, because it disrupts one important aspect in the raising of boys, namely the "make strong" ethos. It is normal and healthy for fathers to want to encourage physical and mental strength in their sons. This does not mean that boys or men should never seek help with problems, particularly if these are acute, but this is not the general mindset by which men seek to develop who they are as men.

5. Tackling violence

If the aim is to reduce the level of violence in society, it is important to understand what promotes it. The data suggests that violence is more likely to occur within a social underclass marked by drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment, homelessness and mental health issues. Anglicare Victoria has suggested that these factors are present in about 80% of cases of domestic violence. In cases of female homicide victims:

James and Carcach (1998) suggest that almost 85 per cent of victims, and a little over 90 per cent of offenders, belong to what can be described as an underclass in Australian society.

The aim should be, therefore, to do what can be done to limit the size of this underclass in if we wish to reduce the prevalence of violence. Asking ordinary men to cry more is not a targeted solution.

6. Repression & emotions

If the aim is to promote a healthier inner life for men, then the left Freudian idea of not repressing our feelings, instincts and urges is misguided. The better aim is to rationally order these feelings, instincts and urges both toward our own good and toward the common good. It is more in the failure to achieve this that our inner life is radically diminished and that we are cut off from sources of love and connectedness, i.e. that we become emotionally and spiritually damaged or broken. 

If we truly want to help men live an emotionally rich life, then we should encourage earlier family formation; a more stable culture of family life; an opportunity to provide and protect for a family; a more secure experience of fatherhood; a reasonable work/life balance, including an opportunity to cultivate male friendships within male social settings; an opportunity for serious participation within a religious tradition; an active participation within a polis; and a culture which connects men to their family lineage and to their own ethny and culture.