Sunday, June 06, 2021

It's not just the left

If you oppose open borders, you can't just identify the left as the problem. There is an influential part of the political right which also adopts this policy. Take Sam Bowman as an example. He is a Senior Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute and describes himself as a neoliberal. His mindset is what you'd expect from someone whose intellectual formation took place in a university economics/commerce department.

Bowman tweeted that he favours huge amounts of immigration of unskilled workers into Britain even if it reduces the welfare of his countrymen, for instance, through higher rates of crime.

He advocates this despite describing himself as a selfish person in his personal behaviour:

This is a utilitarian approach to morality, in which it is thought that something is moral if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number. Bowman is arguing that the good for the immigrants would outweigh the evil for the natives and therefore the policy would be moral.

It is a mechanical, calculative approach to morality in which it is assumed that the good is the pursuit of material self-interest in the market. Most of the replies to Bowman quite rightly reflect a different view of the human person, as valuing natural forms of relationships that generate particular duties and loyalties. Many of these replies accused Bowman of being a traitor for urging that the welfare of his own countrymen be sacrificed.

It was also suggested by many of Bowman's critics that he was flaunting his upper-class status in his tweet. A wealthy person would be less likely to be adversely affected by the mass immigration of low-skilled workers. Bowman and his supporters responded by claiming that it was a good thing that the rich would be advantaged:

And this:

Bowman and friends believe that their own living standards will be improved by a mass of low-skilled, low wage immigrants, who can act as a kind of servant class to the wealthy. The mindset appears to be that if some native working class people are negatively affected, this is justified by the benefits to the upper classes and to the immigrants.

Although most people do not share Bowman's Economic Man approach to life, a great many influential people at the top do. If we want to create a better political class, we have to be just as critical of the right liberal types as we are of the left liberal ones. 

(One final point. It is difficult to draw any viable notion of a common good from Bowman's politics. The basic idea of the common good is that the rulers of the UK should rule on behalf of all social classes rather than just their own. But if morality only considers the selfish individual and the entire mass of humanity, i.e. if these are the two parts of the equation, then it is likely that the welfare of one part of the community will be sacrificed, as Bowman advocates. In a sense there is no "polis" for a common good to be exercised within, when there is only me as a selfish individual and the whole of humanity as political and moral actors.)

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.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

The mechanical girlboss narrative

Helen Roy has written a terrific article on the topic of motherhood. It is impressive because it not only clearly describes the problem, but digs down into the underlying ideas which bring it about.

I encourage you to read the whole piece, as it's difficult to isolate a few key parts. The argument begins in the 1950s when there was already a trend to dissociate women from the biological aspects of motherhood. For instance, only a minority of women breastfed their children and women were drugged and restrained during childbirth.

Helen Roy doesn't mention it, but the technocratic approach to women's lives had crept into Western culture much earlier. In the Melbourne Argus newspaper in 1921 it was argued (by "Vesta") that industrial methods should be applied to the home:

That time means money and that method saves both time and material, that co-ordination of work leads to efficiency, that exactitude in the smallest detail is necessary if a perfect product is to be secured - what a transformation of domestic work would result if these principles could be brought to rule in the kitchen as they do in the factory.

Vesta wanted women to bring into the home "a passion for efficiency" and "a zeal for method and organization".

This same technocratic/industrial mindset was applied in Australia to infant care in the 1920s and 30s: "the very naturalness of mothering became redefined in the light of discussions about the need for mothercraft and for the application of rational, scientific knowledge to the process of childrearing" [The disenchantment of the home, p. 139]. This led to mothers being given extraordinarily detailed timetables for feeding their babies which were to be kept to "absolutely" and some of the more severe advocates even suggested that mothers limit the cuddling of their babies to a "mothering hour" in the late afternoon. A Dr Dunlop from Sydney wrote "It is not good to nurse babies more than can be helped. When breastfed babies are being fed they get their fair share of nursing and cuddling". 

Helen Roy goes on to describe the formation of a countermovement called the Le Leche League and notes that,

The Le Leche League saw considerable success in their struggle against the dissociative view of womanhood prevalent in American culture at the time. But the founders consistently found a foe in the dogmatic belief of liberal feminists that women’s bodies and their reproductive functions were discrete, acute nuisances and impediments to be overcome and neutralized in service of making women economically competitive with men.

And that,

Progressive feminists and scientists shared a perception of the human body divorced from both its immediate personal relationships and its final cause. Denizens of these two powerful cultural entities wrote and practiced as if women and their bodies were arbitrary material sums of discontinuous, infinitely malleable components—not as unique formations of irreplaceable souls, as in the classical model.

The League ultimately failed:
Despite many successes in preaching the gospel of breastfeeding worldwide, this deeper implicit message—about the indispensable character of a woman’s real presence to her family, and about the inextricable connection between her physical and spiritual nature and her duties—was swept away by a more powerful unholy alliance between feminism and science remains undefeated in a forever war against the female body.

Why have liberal feminists triumphed? Here Helen Roy connects the positions adopted by liberal feminists to their philosophical foundations:

The movement is unstoppable precisely because their fundamental assumptions about humanity—their rejection of metaphysics, their pious devotion to an always-forthcoming, progressive technological utopia, their obsession with power over their own nature—remain unchallenged. What the Le Leche League needed to, but probably could not, communicate explicitly about womanhood and motherhood was not so superficially emotionally satisfying as the mechanical girlboss narrative.

Helen Roy does not shy away from attempting to challenge the liberal feminist mechanical girlboss narrative:

The truth hurts: motherhood is a permanent sacrifice of one’s body to another. Beyond the acute pain of childbearing and the sometimes frustrating journey of breastfeeding, motherhood means involuntarily suffering when your child suffers, as well as voluntarily conforming your will to your child’s objective good no matter what. Motherhood in all its forms—including spiritual mothers, mothers of unborn children, adopted mothers, de facto mothers, godmothers, and bereaved mothers—indicates the female telos, which is sacrificing oneself for the sake of another for the rest of your life.

This is an unchanging, self-effacing, radically anti-individualist orientation to the world. It is pain with a purpose, punctuated by moments of inarticulable joy. I don’t know a mother who would not die for her children. There is no greater love, and, speaking politically now, there is no greater responsibility. Contrary to the oft-parroted shibboleths of modern feminism, a mother’s role is not beneath her. It is actually above her, in the sense that motherhood inherently elevates women as cultivators of the gratuitous gift we know as life itself. Perhaps they already know this. Perhaps this is the point.

The reciprocal truth of the female body and the female soul is fundamentally incompatible with the progressive, individualist, materialist, liberal feminist worldview. So the two were divided, and in this division, subjected to an antispiritual regime that aggressively robs women of their dignity and unified purpose. For women to be restored in their fullness in public and private life would mean to expose and oppose this centuries-long project of the physical, social, spiritual deconstruction of women’s bodies and minds. It would be to uphold a maternal ideal so radiantly beautiful, powerful, and yet humble, as to make her detractors run and hide in shame. No wonder the enemies of humanity would like to make that Woman disappear.

I can't improve on this. I would only observe that Helen Roy's complaint about liberal feminists having an "obsession with power over their own nature" fits in with Patrick Deneen's observations about liberalism, for instance, that "Second-wave liberals increasingly approve nearly any technical means of liberating humans from the biological nature of our own bodies". Similarly Deneen criticises liberalism's "insistence on the human separation from and opposition to nature".

I think as well that women's "unified purpose" has also been undermined by liberal feminism when it comes to relationships with men. Here too there is a "dissociative view of womanhood" in which a woman's love for a man was thought at times to be an impediment "to be overcome and neutralized in service of making women economically competitive with men" (see here).

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.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Which orthodoxy? Which clerics?

Sohrab Ahmari has written a very good piece for The Spectator ("The unenlightenment: liberalism comes at a cost", 1st May 2021), which I encourage you to read in full. I want to focus on the core aspect of it, in which Ahmari contests the liberal claim to neutrality. Ahmari summarises this liberal ideal as follows:

The ideal is that a new liberal order ushers in a new, rational, tolerant and secular regime: cleaving apart day-to-day politics from religion and metaphysics. So instead of enshrining any one orthodoxy, a liberal neutral ground would be created, one that could be contested by rival accounts of the good life. The religious would be able to live happily beside the unbelievers, with all minorities protected.

Ahmari points out the obvious: that in practice the public square in a liberal society is not neutral but that one orthodoxy has been replaced by another:

But has that really come to pass? Given man’s inclination to worship, to build altars in the public square, our societies will always enshrine some orthodoxy or other (and, therefore, empower some clerisy or other). The only questions are: which orthodoxy? Which clerics? If the past couple of years have made anything clear, it is that there is to be no neutrality. The West must choose.

Do we enshrine the orthodoxy of the latest theories on race, sex and gender? Do we empower the woke clerisy, the army of blue-check Twitterati and HR managers who can destroy careers and lives in a matter of minutes over the smallest of ideological infractions, and whose judgments are subject to no reasoned appeal and no code of canon law? Do we live under their new blasphemy laws, ostensibly designed to prohibit ‘hate speech’?

Or do we choose the more forgiving, perhaps old-fashioned orthodoxy that sustained western culture for the better part of two millennia? The Judaeo-Christian values and institutions that venerated natural reason, that by their discipline tamed the big and small would-be tyrants of Europe, reminding them that there exists a higher power than theirs?

I thought this part very good as well:

Anyone, left or right, calling today’s progressive order into question — or daring to propose alternatives — is first asked to apologise for these horrors, stretching from antiquity to whenever enlightened time began (which may be as recently as a couple of years ago). This is a type of intellectual blackmail, and the best defence against it is to go on the offence: no, it’s the actually existing present that increasingly resembles a dystopia, and the onus is on the liberal to give account and apology. The non-liberal’s rejoinder can be summed up with three simple words: look around you.

Look around you: has liberalism delivered on its own terms, on its promise of neutrality between world views?

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Is Tucker a trad?

I admire Tucker Carlson. He is one journalist who is prepared to take a stand on principle, even if that means going against the narrative and drawing fire on himself. He has stood firm even when activists have, literally, arrived on his doorstep.

I think it is unlikely, though, that he could be termed a traditionalist. He recently gave an online interview in which he was asked what a 22-year-old Carlson would do in 2021. Carlson gave a typically trenchant answer, explaining that he would do his own thing in some rural part of the US rather than enter a big corporation, because "the system is collapsing" and "It certainly doesn't want people like me".

So far there's no problem. But then Carlson muses that the current American regime is based on lies and that if he were 22 he might even look further afield, to another country. He states, "but if I were 22, I might look to see if there's another place that's going to treat me as an individual and not as a member of a tribe. A system that actually cares about people, not identity".

This is a very modern, rather than a traditional, way of seeing the world. Remember it was the liberal radical Shelley who, back in 1820, wanted people to be without tribe and identity. Shelley looked forward to the emergence of a new leftist kind of man, whom he described as follows:

The loathsome mask has fallen, the man remains/ Sceptreless, free, uncircumscribed, but man/ Equal, unclassed, tribeless, and nationless,/ Exempt from awe, worship, degree, the king/ Over himself

There is a considerable irony at play here. Shelley helped set in motion a politics which was based on the idea that we would be free when there were no more distinctions between people that might lead to inequality. Once this state of affairs was reached, then human nature would be regenerated and we could do whatever we wanted as individuals, living a kind of Edenic existence on earth.

Shelley targeted the aristocracy and the church as institutions blocking the path to equality. Later on, Marx targeted the bourgeoisie. More recently, we have feminists and critical race theorists targeting white men like Tucker Carlson.

Tucker, quite reasonably, does not want to be targeted. The answer, though, is not to abandon the most recent phase of leftist thought, merely to return to its Shelleyan origins. It's better to dig deeper and uproot the tree that bears such poisonous fruit.

In this spirit, I'd like to go back even further than Shelley. I find it interesting that Tucker believes that unless you treat each person solely as an individual that you are denying their nature. He says, "And never deny who you are. I thought this was all sort of common knowledge, that we all agreed on this some time ago that we shouldn't have to deny our nature in order to succeed. We should celebrate each person as an individual, but we've given that up completely."

This too is a modernist idea. Tucker is suggesting that it is our nature to be wholly individual. That we are just one instance of a thing, rather than being a member of a class of things. If true, those asserting that there are hundreds of different "genders" would be on the right track. 

Where does the idea come from? I'm currently reading The Theological Origins of Modernity by Michael Allen Gillespie. His argument is that toward the end of the medieval era there was a philosophical turn to nominalism which overturned the long established Western belief in philosophical realism. Nominalists reject the real existence of universals, so that there are no really existing "essences" by which things might be grouped together, or share a common nature (for example, no masculine or feminine essence that individual men or women might represent or express).

If you were to remove the nominalism, it is unlikely that you would set apart human nature and identity. Instead, you would see the two as being closely connected. If there is a masculine essence, and I am born a man, then there is a "given line" along which I can develop and fulfil my nature and define my telos (my purposes). Of course, each man is likely to do this a little differently (so there is still individuality), but I belong to a particular class of being (men), and this is deeply infused in my sense of self (being an "essential" part of who I am). Being a man or a woman is not, as Shelley put it, a "detestable distinction" but a core reality that inevitably helps to define us.

Leftists take a radically nominalist approach, usually claiming that "masculine" and "feminine" are merely oppressive social constructs. However, because they also see "patriarchy" as the oppressive social structure that they wish to destroy in order to liberate humanity, they retain male and female as legitimate terms if they are understood as classes within a political system. 

Nominalism has, perhaps, unhelpfully trained the modern Western mind to think only in terms of the discrete individual. This carries over into issues of national or ethnic identity. We do not, as we should, see our membership of a nation or ethny as helping to fulfil aspects of our nature by deepening our connection to a people and place, which then strengthens our commitments to preserve our heritage, to maintain the health of family life, to uphold unity and solidarity (including between the sexes), to love the natural environment of our homeland, and to uphold what we owe to past and future generations. 

To say, "Why can't we just be individuals?" not only strips us of all this, it leaves us vulnerable to those with a stronger sense of who they are as a people. 

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.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Haili on love & freedom

Haili Blassingame has written a story for the New York Times explaining why she broke up with her boyfriend of five years:
I longed — not to be alone, not to be without love, but for freedom and autonomy. Since we had gotten together, I had felt our identities weaving into a beautiful quilt, and I didn’t see how to disentangle myself without alienating the man I loved.

 She goes on to add:

I was resisting something greater than our individual relationship, and my resistance was political.

She has opted instead for something she grandly calls solo polyamory, which basically means having non-committal sex with different people:

I liked how solo polyamory cherished and prioritized autonomy and the preservation of self, and I found its rejection of traditional models of romantic love freeing.

Her mother prudently warned her about this understanding of freedom but to no avail:

I knew my mother would be devastated by the breakup. A divorcée of 20-plus years, she often warned against “ending up like me,” a woman untethered to a man.

Haili doesn't want to be boxed in:

What I want are relationships that operate with a spirit of possibility rather than constraint.

Haili is acting both with and against the culture in adopting these ideas. On the one hand, most young women are not opting for a lifetime of solo polyamory. There are still very many young women who choose coupledom.

On the other hand, Haili is following our state ideology to its logical ends. Our state ideology is liberalism, understood to mean the maximising (and equalising) of individual autonomy. As Haili points out, we lose autonomy when we are in closely bonded relationships with other people. Therefore, the relationship with her boyfriend became a "constraint" that she needed to be freed from.

It's rare for the liberal principle to be applied exactly this way, though there have been cases in the past. Alexandra Kollontai, a radical woman of the early twentieth century, wrote about how the New Woman would forsake love for the aim of independence:

this motive was a leading force in my shape my personal, intimate life as a woman according to my own will...Above all, I never let my feelings, the joy or pain of love take the first place in my life...

I still belong to the generation of women who grew up at a turning point in history. Love...still played a very great role in my life. An all-too-great role!...We, the women of the past generation, did not yet understand how to be free...

It is certainly true that we...were able to understand that love was not the main goal of our life...It was, in fact, an eternal defensive war against the intervention of the male into our ego...
A biographer of the Danish writer Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), most famous for her novel Out of Africa, noted that,
The most compelling heroines in Dinesen's tales...make a sacrifice of sexual love for some more challenging spiritual project─self-sovereignty, knowledge, worldly power─which enables them to be themselves.
It's possible that the conflict between love and autonomy is more acute for women than for men. Women in love are more likely to blend their interests and their beliefs into those of the man than the other way round - and not because of male intransigence, but rather from feminine impulse. The autonomy principle therefore puts women in a difficult position. To love fully might be perceived as transgressing the aim of maintaining an autonomous self.

Should women therefore not love fully? Well, one obvious way to answer this is to question the idea that autonomy should always and everywhere be the highest good in life. Kollontai herself associated the liberal idea of freedom as autonomy with loneliness and solitude for women in a comment on a novel by the French writer Colette:
Freedom, independence, solitude are the substance of her personal desires. But when Rene, after a tiring long day's work, sits at the fireplace in her lovely flat, it is as though the hollow-eyed melancholy of loneliness creeps into her room and sets himself behind her chair.

"I am used to being alone," she writes in her diary, "but today I feel so forsaken. Am I then not independent, not free? And terribly lonely?" Does not this question have the ring of the woman of the past who is used to hearing familiar, beloved voices, to being the object of indispensable words and acts of tenderness?
Apart from this, when a woman is in a relationship with a strongly masculine man, there is something to balance any loss of self from the blending process. Such a relationship allows a woman to settle into her deeper feminine self - so she gains more in terms of selfhood than she loses. (Something similar applies to men. Men might experience their love for their wife as a finer quality of self, i.e. it gives expression to a significant aspect of self that otherwise would not be present.)

Finally, I mentioned earlier that Haili is an outlier in embracing solo polyamory as a means to pursue autonomy. However, it is likely that many women do allow this pursuit of autonomy to at least weaken their orientation to love. They might, for instance, decide to defer a commitment to more serious relationships until they are in their late 20s; they might hold back from truly giving themselves to their husbands when married; they might too be more inclined to jettison their marriages once they have achieved the basic aim of motherhood. Haili and her ideas should not, therefore, be too lightly dismissed.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Freedom, necessity & the utopian dream

The past week saw the withdrawal from sale of certain Dr Seuss books. On right wing social media it was observed that we live in a society which cannot tolerate Dr Seuss but happily votes for WAP as song of the year.

Most of you will already know about the WAP song. It's by an American singer, Cardi B, and could not be more sexually explicit. It's a strange thing to listen to, as there is no modesty left in it at all, no sexual restraint. 

I've already written a post exploring the link between Cardi B's songs and the philosophy of female empowerment. The link is clearly a strong one, but I'd like to look at things from a different angle in this post, this time delving a little into human psychology.

The starting point is the recognition that we as humans often find ourselves subject to necessity, i.e. to being placed in a condition in which we do not make the rules by which we must live, in which we must follow a particular order of life and so on. 

This feeling of being subject to necessity has most likely intensified since the beginning of the industrial and technological ordering of society. We live by industrial work routines under the supervision of a managerial class tasked with using techniques to constantly raise productivity; at the same time, there has been a decline in the place of the home as a private realm insulated against the market forces ruling over public life.

There is a psychological reflex, I think, when individuals feel overly subject to necessity, to find a way to assert some level of individual freedom. The most low grade way of doing this is via moral transgression. It is a way of breaking the rules governing our existence, to relieve the sense of being subject to necessity, but it is maladaptive as it is ultimately harmful to ourselves, to the common good of the society we belong to, and, as has often been observed, it makes us slaves to our own moral vices - and therefore less free than where we started from.

There is a political dimension as well to this struggle to assert freedom when we are placed within the realm of necessity. Even in the ancient world, there were those who saw a solution in rejecting civilisation and social convention, in favour of a more radically simple life within nature. This has been a recurring theme throughout Western history, from the Arcadian ideal, to the noble savage, to Wordsworthian romanticism, to the hippy communes and perhaps even to the anprim (anarcho-primitivism) yearnings held by some younger people today.

Radical leftists have responded in a different way, through a kind of Edenic politics. In the Biblical account of creation, Adam and Eve initially are less subject to necessity, being able to freely and innocently wander the Garden of Eden. It is only when they commit original sin that they must accept burdens such as that of ploughing the fields and childbirth.

Early leftists like Shelley hated Christianity with a passion for suggesting that we must, as fallen creatures, accept necessity. In his utopia, humans would return to an Edenic existence, wandering around poetically within nature, much like Adam and Eve before the fall. Shelley believed that the only reason this wasn't a reality was the existence of social exploitation. If you abolished power structures, you would return to Eden.

Marx's utopia is similar. To give credit to Marx, he did believe that there would still be a need for productive labour. But in his ideal community, there would just be individuals wandering around choosing to do whatever work they wanted to, when they wanted to. It is Eden with a bit of fishing and carpentry and the like thrown in. Again, Marx thought you got to Eden by abolishing social distinctions and therefore structures of exploitation.

The echoes of this live on in the leftism of today. There are feminists who believe that men are not subject to necessity the way that women are, i.e. that men get to do whatever they like, thereby preventing women from doing the same. Their solution is to abolish patriarchy. Whiteness theory runs along similar lines.

It would be better if we accepted that in this life there will always be a realm of necessity that confronts the individual. There is no political or lifestyle solution to abolishing it. We can deal with it instead from two different angles.

First, there do need to be limitations put on the demands made on individuals in the workplace. If people spend all their time and energy meeting the demands of paid work, then their development is inevitably stunted. We need time to devote to family life, to physical health, to church and religion, to polis life, to the intellectual and creative life, to connecting with nature and so on. 

If this is achieved, then work itself can potentially be seen in a more positive light, as an aspect of necessity that contributes to individual life rather than detracting from it. 

Why do we allow paid work to become so excessive? One reason is that we have diminished, for ideological reasons, the other aspects to human existence. Our worldview is so materialistic that we see the earning of money and status within the paid workforce as the highest good in life. Therefore, despite our grumblings about overwork, when it comes to the crunch we accept what is demanded of us.

The first step, in other words, is to take more seriously the other aims and dimensions of life. And this requires us to have a different view of man and his purposes than what we have today. 

The other way of dealing with necessity is to integrate it with our own will, so that the two are aligned rather than set apart. When this happens, necessity impinges less on our freedom. If anything, we achieve a higher sense of freedom when we successfully cultivate our will to move and to act within the realm of necessity.

If you recall, I started all of this with Cardi B and her WAP song. Let's say that necessity gives to women the task of preserving their dignity, modesty, beauty and purity. Cardi B has two basic options in response to this. She could see it as something "external" and therefore imposed on her as part of the realm of necessity, so that freedom is to be found in the act of rebelling against it. Or she could see it as a given of life (and so as part of the realm of necessity) that expresses a good of womanhood that she would rightly be ordered to. Her will, in other words, would seek to align itself with this good, and it is in the successful ordering of her will toward these goods that freedom is achieved and necessity is no longer so burdensome (because it is no longer felt as "necessity" but as a free act of our own will expressive of our personhood).

For men, this should be even easier to comprehend, as it is part of our masculine nature to seek to order and to build. We have to "make" something of ourselves; it is not enough for us to preserve what is gifted to us. So this self-disciplined ordering of ourselves as a microcosm of the ordering to be found within the larger reality of the macrocosm should come more easily to us. 

One last point. The liberal mantra that a person can do anything or be anything they want does not help with the process of reconciling freedom and necessity. It solves the issue artificially, by pretending that the realm of necessity does not exist, that there is only an absolute freedom. Pretending only defers dealing with the issue, it does not overcome it in real life. Arguably, it makes people angrier when they do ultimately find themselves subject to necessity, and more likely to blame the malevolent intentions of others.

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.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

California takes the next step

Well, news just in is that the state of California is set to ban boys and girls clothing and toy sections in department stores. There will now only be unisex "kids" sections in these stores.

This is just one more step along the liberal path we have been travelling now for generations. Liberals believe that that highest good is personal autonomy. They consider autonomy to be a freedom to self-determine or self-define. Therefore, whatever is predetermined is thought of as an oppressive limitation that the individual needs to be liberated from. Our sex is predetermined, therefore it must somehow be made not to matter.

The bill to ban boys and girls sections was sponsored by Cristina Garcia. She justified the legislation with the statement:

Time to let our kids have the freedom to express themselves in all sorts of ways instead of limiting them to predesignated pink & blue sections. (Tweet 4:31am· Feb 21, 2021)

Note carefully the language. The aim is to free children from the "limiting" effects of something that is "predesignated". Pure liberalism.

She also justified the proposed law as follows:

To Garcia, the laws is about “not limiting ourselves and our kids into certain boxes.”

“It’s really important that toys and kids’ sections be neutral in order to give kids as many opportunities to flourish and develop and be creative,” mentioned Garcia, a Democrat who leads the California Legislative Women’s Caucus. “We should allow our kids to explore and try different things and let them come to their own conclusion of how they will identify themselves.”

Again, you have the assumption that recognising our predetermined sex is "limiting ourselves...into certain boxes" and that instead children should be self-defining.

How do we answer this ideologically driven desire to create a unisex society? That will vary from person to person. For me, masculinity is a kind of transcendent essence that gives meaning to who I am. The point is to embody it and express it in the best form that I can achieve. It is therefore not something "limiting" to who I am but something ennobling and "completing" of self. I do not want to be free from it, but free to develop along masculine lines. 

But that's not the only possible answer. Another obvious one is that heterosexuals hardly long for a more unisex society with more mannish women and more effeminate men. That is not the heterosexual vision of a society in which we are free to develop in a complementary relationship with the opposite sex. Are we really free if we do not have a realistic chance to meet an attractive person of the opposite sex to form a family with? 

And there's also the basic rejoinder that our sex is not just a social construct but has a biological basis so that the liberal aim of creating a genderless society is unrealistic. The real effect of liberalism is not so much to erase differences between men and women but to make difficult the formation of masculine and feminine character according to ideal forms. It is the lower impulses that are liberated - the reality of hard-wired sex distinctions still remains.

Finally, we can learn from experiences elsewhere. Sweden has already done the whole unisex childrens clothing thing decades ago. Pushing the idea onto children that boys and girls are the same only leads to confusion when puberty arrives and it becomes so obviously untrue. Here is how one Swedish woman, Cordelia, describes the process

When I started getting breasts and boys started changing their voices I felt somehow cheated...There wasn’t supposed to be any difference between boys and girls! But we all started changing to be more and more different.
Cordelia went on to reject the liberal unisex project:
It started becoming increasingly clear to me as if man and woman are two pieces of a puzzle that fit together because they are essentially differently shaped… That their physique and psyche complemented rather than duplicated each other. The idea that they are identical pieces seemed to me as a tremendous misconception and I was terribly irritated at having been fed an incorrect version of things all through my childhood. What I had been told simply wasn’t true. All my recent experiences showed that men and women were different and that men could no less be like women than women could be like men.

Since I wouldn’t want a man who behaves and looks like a woman, it makes sense that a man wouldn’t want a woman who behaves and looks like a man! True?

Why this ridiculous pretence that we are the same, when we very obviously are not? If I had been brought up more as a girl/woman instead of a gender-neutral being, I would have been stronger and more confident as a woman today! As it is, I had to discover the hard way that I was not the same as a man in a multitude of ways...
Until quite recently, every time I noticed a difference between me and men I kept thinking; this is wrong...I ought to be like the men...I felt like I was letting other women down unless I constantly strived towards the male ‘ideal’ that was set for Swedish women...But let me tell you, it’s hard work hiding your true nature and pretending to be something you are not!
Discovering that being feminine is not a ‘crime’ (in fact, it can be a positive thing) was a big revelation for me. I don’t actually want to be like a man!
I wish Northern European society would stop denying women the opportunity to be female! What good does it really bring? Who benefits?

California is plunging headfirst down the same path that Sweden took decades ago, with the same likely result of making adolescence more confusing and ill-preparing young people for adulthood.

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.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

So why is the future female?

I was walking through a local shopping mall some time ago when I saw an unusual advertising slogan painted on a shoe shop window. It read simply "The Future is Female".

Now, I'm a bit late to this party, as it turns out that what follows is already common knowledge among some groups online, but this slogan has an extraordinary origin. It comes from the title of a manifesto published in 1982 by a radical lesbian separatist feminist by the name of Sally Miller Gearhart:

Gearhart outlines a three-step proposal for female-led social change from her essay, "The Future–-If There Is One–-is Female":
I) Every culture must begin to affirm a female future.
II) Species responsibility must be returned to women in every culture.
III) The proportion of men must be reduced to and maintained at approximately 10% of the human race.

Gearhart meant, quite literally, that the future would be female - she thought that through the use of modern technologies of cloning and ovular merging that a society made up overwhelmingly of females could be created.

It gets more interesting. Gearhart feared the existence of male spaces:

Gearhart does not base this radical proposal on the idea that men are innately violent or oppressive, but rather on the "real danger is in the phenomenon of male-bonding, that commitment of groups of men to each other whether in an army, a gang, a service club, a lodge, a monastic order, a corporation, or a competitive sport." Gearhart identifies the self-perpetuating, male-exclusive reinforcement of power within these groups as corrosive to female-led social change. Thus, if "men were reduced in number, the threat would not be so great and the placement of species responsibility with the female would be assured."

As so often happens, what was radical in 1982 is less so today. Gearhart's radically separatist feminist message is now so commonplace that it can be used to attract customers to a shop in a suburban mall. And in the decades after 1982 most male spaces in society were made unisex - from the boy scouts, to football clubs, to the army.

Gearhart managed to combine this hostility to men and to the masculine with high-minded professions of her commitment to universal love, declaring that "love is the universal truth lying at the heart of all creation". I suspect that leftists are attracted to such professions because they leave our real commitments formless and indistinct. But this very commitment to formlessness is now making Gearhart's slogan less meaningful. We live in a society that dares no longer to clearly define who or what a woman is, and it is thought wrong to define things as masculine or feminine or even to assert a "gender binary". In this scenario, the future is simply unsexed.

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 08, 2021

Tidbits from Twitter

I'm not sure how much longer independent social media will remain independent, but it exists for now and sometimes it's a source of genuinely alternative views. Here are some recent highlights from Twitter.

First, a comment on the purposes of art:

The thread continues:

Liberals wanting our sex to not matter is still a thing. In the U.S., the House has voted to change the following terms in official communications:

On multiculturalism:

Here's a woman expressing one angle of female nature when it comes to relationships:

These rules never hold for all people in all phases of life. But I think we all know what she is getting at. For many women, the status of the man she is able to attract is felt to be some sort of measure of who she herself is. There is both a lesson for society here, but also a challenge. The lesson is that the more men a society can place in positions of status, the more successful marriages there are likely to be. The challenge is that it's not possible for all men to stand out when it comes to status, so there has to a managing of expectations if family formation is going to work well. 

Here's another one on the topic of womanhood:

I always find it interesting when I read liberal philosophy that it so often hinges on a concept of human flourishing in which it is assumed that individuals will realise themselves in some sort of creative,  high-end career, such as being a concert violinist or a celebrated author. The problem is not just that it's not possible for everyone to stand out in this way, nor that it's so hopelessly an individualistic view of human society, but that it is blind to the meaning to be found within family and parenthood. To procreate, after all, is to participate in the ultimate act of creation, that of a human person.

And now for some black-pilling:

There is a reason why fathers dread the dating choices of their daughters and why there was once some effort to apply limitations. There are some women who are simply not physically attracted to "got together" men - these men don't meet them at the level of chaos and drama they are seeking. They want a Heathcliff. 

Before the men reading this get too downcast, none of this rules out women being raised to accept marriage to decent men - it has happened before and can happen again. It just can't be taken for granted.

Finally, a positive message that I think hits the right note:

Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Queen's Gambit - review

One of the most popular TV shows this year was The Queen's Gambit. It is based on a 1983 novel by an American writer, Walter Tevis. In brief, it tells the story of an orphaned girl, Beth Harmon, who becomes a chess prodigy in the 1950s and 60s.

Like most other people I enjoyed watching the series (it has a 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes). One striking thing about the series, that soon becomes apparent, is the lack of rancour toward men and toward the era in which it is set. The men generally act as admirers of Harmon and become her willing mentors. Nor is there much heavy-handed criticism of the larger society; instead considerable attention is paid toward period detail. It is striking, too, that the character of Beth Harmon is allowed to be visibly feminine. She spends most of her time wearing beautiful outfits of the era - she is not the usual mannish type of heroine.

So that's the good part. There is, unfortunately, a more negative aspect of the series to report on. There is a tussle in the story between the forces of tradition (faith, love, service & family) and that of the new order (an independent, glamorous life based on money, consumerism, sex & career). The contest is not made one-sided, but ultimately the new order dominates.

Most disappointing is the way that family is treated. Some old tropes are wheeled out here. The girls who want to marry are portrayed as air-headed, mean girl types who get by, after marriage, with drink. And the only men who are portrayed negatively are fathers, who are coldly cynical and abusive.

I couldn't help but wonder, as I watched, how the new order would work for most ordinary people. We can't all be young chess prodigies feted for our extraordinary talent, achievements, beauty and desirability. The "goods" promised by the new order can only be enjoyed by a relatively small part of the population. And if we only live for ourselves, then how would a Beth Harmon ever survive the difficulties of her childhood? The people who gave themselves to her did so out of charitable love, motivated in part by religious conviction.

For all that, The Queen's Gambit is well-written, well-produced and visually stunning.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

What forms of identity do right-liberals permit?

We have for some decades been caught between two opposing political currents, namely a left-liberalism and a right-liberalism, neither of which is supportive of traditional national identity. Clearly, we won't get anywhere until we start to lead people away from both options.

The starting point for both currents is a belief in autonomy: the individual is to be free in the sense that he is self-determining or self-creating and therefore subject only to his own will or reason or desires. This means that whatever is pre-determined, rather than self-determined, is considered an oppressive limitation to be overcome.

For right-liberals, this means rejecting a traditional ethnic nationalism, since this is something we are born into rather than being voluntary and self-chosen. The types of identity right-liberals would allow us to have would be relatively inconsequential ones, such as membership of sporting clubs.

The left-liberal view has developed over time in a more complex direction. There is a major strand of thought on the left which believes that the regeneration of human nature will only take place when power structures have been abolished. At first, these power structures were thought to be mostly class based. But in recent decades the emphasis has been on race and sex (whiteness and patriarchy).

This means that leftists do not simply see "white identity" as a limitation on autonomy that the forces of progress will increasingly make redundant, but as a baked in power structure that violently oppresses others. The left does view race as an artificial social construct that will eventually be abolished, but at the same time it also frames politics around race (and sex), with "whiteness" being the evil element and "colour" being the positive liberationist one.

If you are a white person, the right-liberal position can seem comforting as it does not frame you as an evil oppressor. To illustrate, however, why it is a mistake to resort to right-liberalism, consider the article by Robert Lynch in Quillette titled "Kin, Tribes, and the Dark Side of Identity". The hostility of right-liberals to any substantial forms of communal identity are very clearly spelled out by Lynch in this piece.

Lynch begins by admitting that kin group preference is likely a hard-wired evolutionary trait. He admits too that it has a benefit of encouraging social cooperation. He sees it, though, as also involving animosity toward out-groups. Therefore, the task in his view is how to reap the benefits without triggering any negative consequences. His solution is, not surprisingly for a right-liberal, to only permit voluntary, self-chosen forms of group identity:

The key to balancing tradeoffs between cooperation and parochialism lies in understanding that not all groups are created equal. Groups with voluntary memberships that allow people to be part of multiple, transient, and overlapping communities—for example, sports fans, chess clubs, or single-issue political organizations—tend to generate widespread cooperation both within and between groups...In contrast, groups that are formed around fixed, unchanging and non-overlapping identities—for example, sex, race, or ethnicity—while fostering tight bonds between their members, will tend to sow division and cultivate hatred between groups. These groups are likely to breed resentment, foment animosity, and promote tribalism.

Note the degree of negativity that the unchosen forms of identity are associated with. The terms applied, even to something as basic as our sex, are condemnatory ones like animosity, resentment, division and hatred. Note too how shallow the alternative forms of identity are: we are not allowed to be, say, English or men, but we can safely be a member of a chess group. This is supposed to be the new basis of our social commitments and our willingness to make sacrifices for the larger society.

Lynch goes on, again unsurprisingly, to criticise the left for framing politics around categories like sex and race. The language he uses is predictable:

It isn’t hard to imagine what happens to bridging social capital when our stone age brains make contact with a culture that sanctifies the most visible, involuntary, and unalterable markers of our identity. Nor is it hard to guess the likely effect on social cohesion when our institutions echo the view that we are not individuals, but are rather embedded within a system of interlocking group identities

Even though he is criticising the left here, his comments reveal the depth of his opposition to any traditional national identity. A love of one's people is, in his view, merely an expression of "our stone age brains" rather than, as was traditionally thought, a nobler expression of a man's character. Again, he uses liberal terminology in opposing traditional identity, complaining that it is "involuntary" and "unalterable".

Lynch also worries that politics has become overly partisan, becoming another form of tribalism. He consoles himself with the thought that being Democrat or Republican is something that can be cast off:

At the end of the day, however, Republicans and Democrats are able to take a break from these suffocating identities and get to put on their dentist, mom, Patriots fan, or “I love birding” hats.
This too is interesting in revealing Lynch's permissible identities. Of the four listed, three are predictably "voluntarist": your profession, your sports team, your hobby. Again, it's difficult to see these as a basis for larger social commitments (are you really going to make sacrifices for the greater good because you identify as a bird watcher?). It's interesting, however, that he accepts the identity of "mom" as this rests on an unalterable sex characteristic - if he were entirely consistent in his politics he should probably include this as one of his "suffocating identities".

In the very next paragraph Lynch returns to his condemnation of identities that, unlike the political ones, are unalterable aspects of self:

Contrast this with how our tribal impulses are triggered by the outwardly visible markers of group membership that are branded to our skin or etched into our sexual characteristics. These identities are like inescapable castes into which we are born. Not only do we exercise no choice over our membership, our affiliation is stamped on our face and imprinted in DNA sequences. Unlike groups assembled around freely chosen common interests, we can identify these people on sight. We can start with the business of hating them without ever having to engage in the unpleasant task of actually talking to them, getting to know them a little, and possibly even recognizing their humanity.
I would like you to take note, once more, of just how intransigent this all is. There is a vast gulf here between traditionalism and right-liberalism - we do not share a common politics. For Lynch, any identity or form of commonality that is etched into us becomes a violation of the principle of "voluntarism" and is regarded as as aspect of hatred and inhumanity (is it not just as likely that qualities that are etched into us, such as our sex, are foundational to our self?).

I made the point previously that patriotism was once associated not with, as Lynch puts it, "the nastiest impulses natural selection has to offer" but with the higher, nobler faculties of man. In 1805, Sir Walter Scott made this point in verse form, asserting that a man with a living soul would love, and identify with, his own people and place:
Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d,
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Fury, protest & fatherhood

Mary Eberstadt has contributed an excellent piece on fatherhood at First Things. I say this despite her accepting aspects of liberal modernity (e.g. she is clearly a civic nationalist). What she does do, however, is to draw out an argument that I've made before at this site, namely that a father symbolically represents the larger social order, so that if the paternal relationship is absent or hostile, children are more likely to grow up to reject and act against that order.

What I particularly like about Mary Eberstadt's article is that she recognises the way that filial piety creates a tripartite loyalty, namely to one's father & family; to God & church; and to nation/patria. That is why it is unwise, say, for a church to ask for loyalty to itself whilst seeking to undermine a loyalty to patria, or for someone seeking to uphold national loyalties to attack the loyalties of individuals to their own fathers or to the churches. The three tend to stand or fall together because it is given to us, as a deeper part of our nature, to either honour the virtue of filial piety or to act against it. To put this another way, it is difficult for an individual to have a deeply developed sense of duty and fidelity in the absence of filial piety.

This is how Mary Eberstadt explains the outbreak of political violence in American cities earlier this year:

The explosive events of 2020 are but the latest eruption along a fault line running through our already unstable lives. That eruption exposes the threefold crisis of filial attachment that has beset the Western world for more than half a century. Deprived of father, Father, and patria, a critical mass of humanity has become socially dysfunctional on a scale not seen before.

I am particularly impressed by the next quote in which she directly connects the three loyalties that emanate from filial piety:

Plainly, weakened bonds in one phase are not an isolated phenomenon; they encourage weaker bonds elsewhere. Filial piety, perhaps, is like a muscle that is strengthened by different forms of exercise.

We are only beginning to understand how filial ­piety operates, such that loss of patriotism, loss of faith, and loss of family each seem to encourage breakdown in the other parts of the triad.

Mary Eberstadt sees the young people who lack the ordered existence that is brought into being via the father and what he represents as suffering from ressentiment. She makes a good case that this helps to explain the targets chosen by activists during the protests:

Like Edmund in King Lear, who despised his half-brother Edgar, these disinherited young are beyond furious. Like Edmund, too, they resent and envy their fellows born to an ordered paternity, those with secure attachments to family and faith and country.

That last point is critical. Their resentment is why the triply dispossessed tear down statues not only of Confederates, but of Founding Fathers and town fathers and city fathers and anything else that looks like a father, period...It is why bands of what might be called “chosen protest families” disrupt actual family meals. It is why BLM disrupts bedroom communities late at night, where real, non-chosen families are otherwise at peace.

Unsurprisingly she discovers that many of the key thinkers behind critical race theory lacked a father:

...the biographies of at least some of today’s race-minded trailblazers suggest a connection between fatherlessness and identity politics. The author of the bestseller White Fragility was a child of divorce at age two. The author of the bestseller So You Want to Talk About Race reports that her father left the family and broke off contact, also when she was two. The author of another bestseller, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, was raised by a single mother. The author of another hot race book, The Anti-Racist: How to Start the Conversation About Race and Take Action, was raised by his grandmother. Colin Kaepernick’s biological father left his mother before he was born, but he was then adopted and raised by a white family. James Baldwin, a major inspiration for today’s new racialist writers, grew up with an abusive stepfather; his mother left his biological father before he was born. The list could go on.

I noted the same thing about the leaders of second wave feminism:

Germaine Greer once wrote a book entitled Daddy, We Hardly Knew You. Gloria Steinem said of her father that he "was living in California. He didn't ring up but I would get letters from him and saw him maybe twice a year." Jill Johnston wrote frequently about her missing father who never tried to contact her. Kate Millett adored her father but when she was thirteen he abandoned the family to live with a nineteen-year-old. The father of Eva Cox left the family to pursue a relationship with a pianist "leaving an embittered wife and a bewildered and rebellious daughter".

It was the same with the earlier generation of feminists. For instance, Rebecca West's father left the family when she was a girl and all three of his daughters became radical feminists, as did Rebecca's feminist friend Dora Marsden:

Dora and Rebecca shared certain searing family experiences. Dora's father had left the family when she was eight...

Mary Eberstadt's argument about the significance of fathers when it comes to wider loyalties has been made before, for instance, by Lawrence Auster:

Symbolically, the father is the structuring source of our existence, whether we are speaking of male authority, of the law, of right and wrong, of our nation, of our heritage, of our civilization, of our biological nature, of our God. All these structuring principles of human life, in their different ways, are symbolically the father. The rebellion we've discussed is...a rebellion against the father. The belief that the universe is structured, intelligible, and fundamentally good, and that one can participate in this universe - this is the experience of having a father, which is the opposite of the experience of alienation that drives contemporary culture.

The Danish historian Henrik Jensen wrote a book on the issue, The Fatherless Society, which unfortunately has never been translated. His core argument has been described as follows:

The masculine — which Henrik calls the “father” — is not simply about men as individuals but is an essential aspect of culture.

He sees it as the vertical dimension, which includes everything that human beings have looked up to, from God on high to ideals and excellence as well as the father’s traditional moral authority.

That vertical dimension is the source of our higher aspirations. This upward reach needs a strong foundation of healthy human relationship — which the more horizontally inclusive world of mothering traditionally has provided. As Henrik said to me, there needs to be a balance between the two.
(If you're interested I wrote a post about Jensen describing his theory in greater detail here - it includes his ideas about the shift from a duty based culture to one based on rights and victimhood.)

I'll finish with a quote from a modern feminist, Sophie Lewis, whose desire to abolish the family is very clearly connected, as Mary Eberstadt would predict, to her terrible relationship with her own father. She does not feel filial piety but instead a fury that she has been unable to escape:

The anger and rage we might feel towards a not something we can expel, once and for all, and nor does it yield a clear solution. Rage has instead to be folded into everything else we may simultaneously feel; it does not simply burn itself out.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The failure of a leftist common good

I'd like to continue with the theme of the common good, this time giving some examples of how the leftist common good fails in practice.

But first a quick recap. This series (here and here) began with a leftist claiming that the right is individualist in contrast to the left which cares about community and the common good.

The problem with this way of seeing things is that the leftist view of the common good typically:

a) is built on an understanding of the human person as being autonomous. This "anthropology" assumes that unchosen forms of relatedness are limitations that restrict autonomous choice. Leftism is therefore dissolving of traditional forms of human community and connectedness.

b) assumes that the resulting atomised individuals can nonetheless commit to a common good by supporting state sponsored programmes which aim at inclusion or the provision of welfare or the levelling away of unchosen distinctions between people

The leftist view of the common good starts out with an individualism and ends up with a statism. 

Then there is the issue of the leftist understanding of human nature. Many leftists believe that human nature is perfectible. They have the "hopeful" view that our nature has been corrupted by the existence of power structures in society. If these power structures are abolished, then our nature can be redeemed and we can live in the state of freedom and equality that is our promised land.

At first these power structures were mostly thought to be class distinctions. But the emphasis in more recent times has been on "gender", sexuality and race, with the aim being to abolish patriarchy and whiteness.

This undermines the idea of a common good existing between the members of a community. For instance, men will be thought to belong to a privileged class that exists to exploit the oppressed and victimised class of women. There is no historic complementary relationship in which the good of one sex depends on the achievement of the good of the other. There is no overarching good, such as that of family, which both men and women serve. Instead, there are competing goods set against each other. The good of men stands in a hostile relationship to that of women. 

This has two negative consequences. First, instead of there being a common good, it is thought that the good of men must give way to that of women. Men are there to be allies to women. Within a leftist intersectionalist politics, the good of women ranks above that of men and is therefore the ruling good. Second, men and women are set against each other, perhaps not in terms of individual relationships, but certainly as social classes. The relationship is at least a competitive, if not a hostile, one. There is a setting apart of men and women, rather than a cooperative and complementary relationship.

What does this look like in practice? If I look through my social media feed for the past fortnight, there is no shortage of news items that illustrate these negative outcomes. For instance, it was recently International Men's Day. This is how the United Nations chose to celebrate it:

According to the United Nations men do not pursue their own good, nor a common good, but instead that of women. We are "male allies" who "support women".

And what does standing up for equality mean? Not what you might think it means. The NSW Government, for instance, announced a programme to help those made unemployed by the covid lockdowns get back to work. The Government decided, however, that help would only go to women:
Unemployed women in New South Wales can get a $5,000 boost to their bank accounts from next week.

The state budget will allocate $10million for cash grants to help get women back to work after the coronavirus pandemic saw thousands lose their jobs.

To get the money, women will have to submit an application detailing how they plan to spend it. They can get $5,000 for training and support, $3,500 for childcare, $2,000 for technology and office equipment, $500 for textbooks and $500 for transport.

Consider also the story that ran in the Daily Mail, about a recently published book written by a Frenchwoman, Pauline Harmange, and titled simply I Hate Men. The reviewer, Flora Gill, explained that whilst she did not hate the individual men in her life she agreed with Pauline Harmange that women should hate men in general:

But saying ‘I hate men’ is not the same as saying ‘I hate all men’. Harmange admits this in a roundabout way when she talks about loving her husband.

Hating men means hating not individuals but the toxic traits taught to men and a system that is unfair to women.

So am I willing to say it now in print? To be misunderstood, misquoted and trolled for misandry? Here we go: I hate men.

This setting apart of men and women is evident enough to attract criticism, as in the following tweet:

The following tweet is particularly interesting as it recognises openly the failure of liberal modernity to preserve a common good between men and women:

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Leftism, human nature & the common good

In my last post I noted that leftists see themselves as being committed to a common good and view the right as being individualists.

I disagreed and argued that the leftist vision of a common good is built on top of an individualistic understanding of man (an individualistic anthropology). Leftists see man as an autonomous, self-defining individual, who makes his own meaning. The leftist common good consists of a commitment of these autonomous, self-creating individuals to an egalitarian welfare state. The end result is not community but extraordinary numbers of people living alone.

I'd like to extend this argument. It's easier to understand the leftist mindset if you consider the right liberal politics that leftism is reacting against. Right liberalism began with a view that politics should harness the "low" in human nature, e.g. man's selfishness and acquisitiveness, with people being left at liberty to pursue their own individual profit in the market. Does this mean that right liberals have no concept of the common good? Not entirely. Right liberals usually argue that their brand of individualism creates a spontaneous order in society; an economic and social progress; liberation from traditional "constraints"; and an uncoerced moral sphere. It's common for right liberals to point to data showing improvements in global living standards, health outcomes etc.

Again, this is not the way that traditionalists understand the common good, but you can see why leftists might feel it to be a point of difference with the "right". Left-liberals do not generally begin with the "low" as the basis of their politics. If anything, they swing too far the other way, toward the belief that human nature can be redeemed or regenerated through education or through the deconstructing of power structures in society. They have a "hopeful" (at times utopian) belief either in the innate goodness of man or in the technocratic manipulation of human nature to become whatever it needs to become.

What leftists miss is that this understanding of human nature, the assumption of perfectibility and malleability, undermines the achievement of a genuine common good, in a number of ways.

For example, if man is by nature good, but is made selfish by the existence of power structures in society, then leftists will set out to deconstruct those power structures. As we know, leftists assume that men are an oppressor group benefiting from systemic sexism in society ("patriarchy"); the same applies to white people and so on. To deconstruct these power relations, leftists claim that categories of class, race and sex are oppressive social constructs, without any legitimate basis in nature. 

From this two things follow, both of which harm the common good. First, aspects of our identity which tie us to others in distinct ways come under attack. It is difficult to uphold stable forms of family life or of national identity, if manhood and womanhood are oppressive categories to be overcome, or if our culture and ethny are defined negatively. We shift further toward the mass floating particle society, in which each particle is replaceable within the system.

Second, classes within society are set against each other. If the category "men" is an artificial oppressor class, benefiting from the exploitation of women, then what common good exists between men and women? The only thing men can do, in this understanding, is to relinquish their own good in favour of that of women, which is what you sometimes hear called for (the "be an ally but without imposing yourself" idea). There is a splintering effect on society, with an intersectional politics creating a hierarchy of whose "good" gets to be considered relative to others.

The leftist view of human nature also undermines the common good by placing man outside of nature and of natural limits. If we can change who we are as men, through education or social reform or through some other technocratic process, so that we are then free to choose for ourselves how we will live in harmonious relationships with others, then the virtues of self-knowledge, of prudence and of wisdom are no longer as significant as they once were held to be. We no longer exist within a given framework, with natural ends, purposes and roles that we ignore at our peril. The world can be made as we wish it to be, as we believe it ought to be, and it is only the perverse refusal of others to go along with what we want that prevents it from being so.

It is difficult to pursue a common good from within this mindset. If I can choose anything, at any time in life, without any ill-effect on my well-being, then how can a community be ordered toward securing a common good? What happens in practice is that people fail to secure the basic goods for their own long-term well-being (in the belief that life choices either are, or should be, entirely open), and when they become unhappy, they are counselled (or medicated). Some of the trends here are alarming:

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Left behind

I ventured into left-wing Twitter recently. A poster had asked how his fellow left-wingers would describe those on the right in a single word. The most interesting answer was this:

I don't think this is right at all and said so:

It led to an exchange which made it clear that what traditionalists believe to be the common good differs greatly from the leftist understanding. The leftists pointed me to an article on Sweden the gist of which was the idea that Sweden was oriented to the common good up to the 1980s when the Social Democrats began to privatise the economy; it then led to a period of growing inequality which all sides of politics are now attempting to overcome.

Here is the leftist ideal:

The centre-left has governed the country for 81 of the past 100 years, striving to be “the people’s home” – or folkhemmet – in which the social democratic state was like a family, caring for all and with no one left behind. Sweden became one of the most socially equal countries in the world.

So the "common good" means that the state ensures social equality, which apparently means a levelling out of all kinds of distinctions - of class, of ethnicity, of sex:
Karl Möller seems an unlikely poster child for a war on inequality. He is the lone male among a dozen women, each with a baby in her arms.

Möller, 45, is part of a city-wide programme in Gothenburg to mix social classes, genders and ethnicities to make Sweden’s second city a more equal place to live.

New integrated “family centres” such as this one, which opened in March, aim to target support at the families who need it most. “It is important for us to be in mixed areas to create more equality,” says manager Helen Antonson.

This concept of a common good hasn't worked on its own terms - Sweden has seen a growing inequality in income and health for some time. Worse, though, is that the concept itself is misconceived: it dissolves many of the connections between people through which stable forms of community are formed. It therefore tends to create anomie and social withdrawal - an excessive individualism rather than community and a common good.

Consider the following graph comparing the percentage of lone person households in Europe in 2016: 

In Sweden the percentage is double some other European countries. In other parts of the world the corresponding figure is often under 10%:

Why do so many Swedes live alone? One Swedish historian put it this way:
Why, then, does Sweden stand out when it comes to the high number of single households? Trägårdh says that Sweden is a "radically individualistic" country with a social structure that enables people to live independently - that is, to avoid having to rely on one another.

"It has something to do both with values and with the types of institutions we have created in Sweden in more recent decades," explains Trägårdh.

"Individual autonomy has been important for a long time here."

To try to make what is happening here clearer, think of it this way. The Swedes are starting out with an individualistic view of man, i.e. that we create meaning for ourselves as autonomous, self-defining individuals. The "common good" part only comes later and consists of a commitment to a state sponsored egalitarianism, in which distinctions between people are levelled.

A traditionalist common good looks very different because it begins with our view of man, namely that our own good is inextricably intertwined with the good of the larger natural forms of community we belong to, and through which we obtain aspects of our identity, our social commitments, our roles and purposes, our loves and attachments, our connection to a particular culture and tradition, and our connection to generations past, present and future.

The leftist "common good" emphasises independence over interdependence and it wants to level away the distinctions on which a traditional common good is formed. As an example of this mindset, consider the way that Monica Silvell, a Swedish bureaucrat, explains the change of ideas about men and women in Sweden:

The old view of men and women complementing one another was replaced by the notion that the sexes were basically similar.

There is a levelling of distinctions ("the sexes were basically similar) and a loss of interdependence ("the older view of men and women complementing one another"). There is no "common good" here anymore, in the sense of the sexes needing each other to fulfil aspects of their own selves. The "common good" becomes, instead, something very different: a commitment to the egalitarian liberal state. As we have seen, this leftist "common good" tends to create "aloneness" rather than stable forms of community.