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.


  1. Those quotes are astounding, not just for the cognitive dissonance but also for the fact that they are clear-sighted and correct (in one direction) as they are. It’s almost impossible to believe someone can be at once simultaneously capable of such clear thought and utter blind ignorance.

    I did not mean to imply disagreement, merely round out the full set of possible explanations. I’m sure it’s a mix.

    It also occurs to me that a similar phenomenon can be observed in, for example, the movie Dances With Wolves. That is a movie effectively about a white man finding that he has no culture and becoming (might we say transubstantiating into?) an Indian. I suspect this is also the impulse that drives Americans to identify themselves as being of Indian or immigrant descent, rather than descending from the posterity of the American colonists, who are percieved as having no culture or tradition while more recent immigrants such as Irish or Italians have a modicum.

    It could be that Greer has been so utterly liberalized that it’s impossible for her to concieve of herself as having a native culture or tradition to which she might return. I would imagine she percieves herself as being some sort of default, undifferentiated human who came from nowhere in particular and belongs nowhere in particular. I doubt she would be able to imagine Australians having a distinct native identity and culture even if you explained it to her, although such a thing is so weak and liberalized I would suppose it’s difficult for most people to imagine any European people having even as distinct an identity as the Aboriginals.

    The important point I mean by the above is that since she probably feels a yearning for that more human and social way of living, she necessarily looks elsewhere for it and finds Aboriginals. Her American copies likely see it in Indians, even though it’s less acceptable nowadays to wish to “transubstantiate.”

    1. Dances with Wolves works, I think, as a pictorial representation of this phenomenon. So too perhaps The Last Samurai - the Tom Cruise character is so repulsed by his society's treatment of the pre-modern Indians that he becomes an alcoholic until he is adopted into a pre-modern Samurai culture away in the mountains that is attempting to heroically resist the modernising forces in that country. I haven't seen the film Avatar, but from what I've heard of it, perhaps it also has some similar themes. There is also the film Witness, which might not express all this as directly as Dances with Wolves, but it does show the main character undergoing some sort of redemption living within a simpler, pre-modern culture (the Amish).

    2. I have to wonder if Western Europe being the birthplace of liberalism doesn’t contribute to this blindness amongst its peoples to their own heritage — or, you might say, the seeming unconscious belief that the totality of English or French culture, besides the superficial and aesthetic, is liberal.

      Aboriginal (or Indian, or Japanese, or Amish, or even Na’vi (from Avatar)) culture has never developed in liberal directions. Liberalism is, for them, an external and alien philosophy, whereas an Australian attempting to reach for his Anglo traditions and heritage will have to reach back centuries (beyond living practice and memory), before liberalism, and even then will be reaching back to a culture that birthed or developed into the very thing he is trying to escape from.

    3. Yes, that could be part of it. I've been pondering an argument that explains some of this, but maybe falls short. Let's say that the left begins with a vision of Arcadia, in which there is a bucolic life that is relatively simple, with thick communal bonds and closely connected to nature. Not yet disenchanted. There is a natural disposition toward this, but perhaps it becomes even more pronounced after the mechanical cosmos took over in the early 1600s. And so the tendency to romanticise the pre-civilised peoples and to identify them with the good. However, the other pathway is to lead Western societies to some sort of end of history arcadia. This is to be achieved by deconstructing the power structures that exploit and divide people and that necessitate a hard working life in the cities. The "curse" would be lifted as human nature was regenerated and man, in part due to the scientific revolution, would no longer be required to spend all his days in hard labour. There would be liberty, equality and fraternity.

      And so what is applied to the pre-civilised peoples is a defence of them from the encroaching effect of modernity. What is applied to the civilised peoples is an effort to deconstruct in order to clear a path to a new arcadia. If "white man" is the locus of power in the civilised society, then he is to be deconstructed. Hence the failure to universalise - as there are two different paths to the same end (i.e. what is universal is the end rather than the approach).

      One problem with this argument is that the early liberals like Shelley were enthusiasts for the new science and the newer scientific world view. Marx likewise saw himself as a scientific materialist. You would think that they would not be so enthusiastic about the movement that had disenchanted the West to begin with. Perhaps they saw the modernist project as helping to sweep away the older authorities which were holding things back, helping to dissolve the existing culture, and providing the resources for a more comfortable and leisured existence.

      The other problem with the argument is the cognitive dissonance that you would think would still exist in the mind of a Germaine Greer. It requires supporting atheism, feminism, individualism and the like within the civilised culture but traditional religion, patriarchy and a strong collective ethos in the more primitive culture. You would think this would still be difficult to reconcile, even if you are aiming at a kind of arcadia in both instances.

  2. I see the liberal double standard here as clear hostility and malevolence towards Whites and their identities as European ethnic groups. THAT'S what most directly explains the inconsistencies, in fact the outright opposite view towards Aboriginals than Whites.

    First Greer is Jewish-- the obvious implication hardly needing to be stated. Jews have always been hostile towards Whites and Christianity. It is a consistent is subversive attack on other people's than threaten their own power and advancement. The rest is simply intellectual rhetoric to advance those interests--consistency and truth be damned.

    Greer literally says that--- let White man be subsumed under aboriginals!.

    Remember its not a double standard for these liberals, because they see themselves primarily as in competition with OTHER Whites for status and control of the direction of society. Aboriginals are the convenient prop.

    Greer--as merely a typical example, isn't going to live with Aboriginals, in fact wouldn't be intersted in them at all if they weren't a useful contrast to people she is engaged with in her society.

    “If you can't understand why someone is doing something, look at the consequences of their actions, whatever they might be, and then infer the motivations from their consequences."

    The consequences from these liberals are destruction of the White societies they live in, and continuity of other societies such as Aboriginal, which pose no threat but are useful.

    The art of this subversive virtue signalling is to pretend to a benovolence for other peoples which increases your status and attention, it protects you from criticism and suspicion for your motives.

    It is as Orwell desribed: to know and not to know, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. And to smile while doing it. Its really despicable. The academic language they use helps to hide that however.

    Its a true Schadenfreude. That's what all this is, and its vicious. I see the polite and professional arguements they put forward as cover for this--the evidence being right in front of you with the gross inconsistencies you see here when laid side by side. Of course they ignore it-- truth is not part of the goal. They hope others will too.

    These 2 posts were very informative on a very compelling and ever timely topic. Well done.

    1. Good comment, thank you. One thing to be mentioned, though, is that Greer is not Jewish. She grew up very close to where I grew up (I used to jog there) in a beautiful Melbourne beachside suburb called Elwood, was raised in a Catholic family and attended a Catholic school, Star of the Sea. She did, it was true, from an early age feel like an outsider and rejected the mainstream identity - and had a fantasy of being Jewish (there was a Jewish community in nearby St Kilda). So the issue is why she did not identify more positively with her own culture. It was possible to do so when she was growing up. Melbourne is a long way from elsewhere, had developed its own kind of culture, a very decent culture, with beautiful garden suburbs. There were still strong identities at the time - the traditional ones beginning with your own suburb and radiating outwards to your own part of the city, then your city, then your state, then your country, then to the UK, then to the Anglo world, then the Western world and so on. If you were open to it, it was possible to still feel a kind of "Australian dreaming" at that time, a kind of immersion in a distinct culture and people, with a history of its own, achievements, pride, a sense of extended family that you were closely connected to. But she was very clearly closed to it. Part of the explanation might be the lack of a felt relationship with her father - she once wrote a book titled "Daddy, we hardly knew you". Another explanation is that she was a highly intellectual woman, at a time when most Australian women were dedicated to home and family. It's not that she was held back at all (she was catapulted into academia by the establishment) but nonetheless she would have felt very different at school, not feeling sympatico with the other girls. She "escaped" to an bohemian, anarchist group in Sydney "the Push" (which influenced the 60s counterculture), but this too was not really a home - the free love ethos of this group led to unstable relationships, an abortion - and so she was never really absorbed into anything. I guess too she was intellectual enough to run her life via the intellectual inheritance of liberal modernity - which was running towards individualism, cosmopolitanism etc., rather than by the remnants of a distinctly Australian national culture.

    2. This is the street Greer grew up in in Elwood - much of Melbourne was built beautifully like this, though now the developers have destroyed a considerable portion:
      Ormond Street Elwood

    3. I think it’s worth pointing out that Greer’s generation shares many similarities with boomers, being “proto-boomers” in many ways.

      I think weird or outcast people in general are more likely to adopt anti-cultural sentiments. If she was actually put in the sort of Aboriginal culture she praises she likely would quickly resent being told what to do and what not to do, I think, and would likely feel like even more of an outsider (and therefore begin to resent them more).

    4. "I think weird or outcast people in general are more likely to adopt anti-cultural sentiments. If she was actually put in the sort of Aboriginal culture she praises she likely would quickly resent being told what to do and what not to do"
      That is plausible. Randolph Bourne, one of the earliest of these types, felt himself an outcast, in part because he was more intellectual than his peers, but also because of several physical deformities.
      Also, Greer spent time in her formative early adulthood in the Sydney Push, a left libertarian movement. If you don't want to have to fit in to a culture of your own, observe its mores and accept your duty toward it, then it would make sense to identify instead either with no culture at all, or else redefine culture & identity around political modernity itself, or else identify with a culture which has no such immediate claims over you. Greer, in this reading of things, has chosen the third option.

  3. What to do when we have been robbed of culture for so long? Undoubtedly rediscover it by plumbing the depths of our western tradition and sharing it with those who are willing to listen. This is challenging in modern times. Perhaps deep down liberalised westerners may still have a hunger for it when exposed to their heritage. Kind regards Tom

    1. IMO, the major obstacle to cultural rebirth is the inherent nature of culture. It’s shared customs, mores, traditions, and beliefs amongst a group of people sharing common heritage and common posterity (another way of saying that the group persists as a distinct group through the past and into the future) living in geographic proximity and continuity (i.e. no outsiders interspersed throughout and breaking up the group). That’s not necessarily something that can come from a grass-roots effort to readopt certain attitudes or habits individually. The very nature of culture needs a large group of people all living together. Another way of saying this is that culture by definition is unchosen, so it seems unlikely that it can be reborn through the individual choice of many people.

  4. I've only just remembered to look at your site, after a hiatus. Have you ever considered mirroring this on Substack that provides push notifications and also offers a voluntary donation option, if people wish? Would also provide a secondary layer Google ever pushed you off, instead of just hiding your page in their first results.