Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Demise of the Daggy Dad?

"Who would want to be a TV dad?" begins a recent item by Wendy Tuohy in The Age newspaper. "If you're in a sitcom you are most likely a man-boy buffoon, clueless about fatherhood or marriage, self-indulgent but not self-aware, unreliable, immature, and usually the butt of the family joke."

Fathers, it seems, are either made absent in TV families (eg The Gilmore Girls) or are portrayed as harmless buffoons (The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle, Everybody Loves Raymond). It's hard to think of a single example on TV today of an intact family in which a father exercises a wise and protective paternal authority.

I don't think this is accidental. Paternal authority is fixed and unchosen, and therefore runs counter to the liberal principle that we should choose for ourselves according to our own will. Liberals are more comfortable with forms of authority with which we can "contract," or give individual assent to. We simply don't "contract" to place ourselves as children under the authority of our fathers: it's not something decided by individual will at all, but rather by the chance of inheritance.

Even in the nineteenth century you can find signs of a discomfort with the idea of paternal authority. Even the generally conservative Jane Austen often portrays both Anglican ministers and fathers as vain and inept (Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice).

American popular culture seems to have preserved the conservative ideal of fatherhood for the longest time. There was a very popular series of American films, made mostly in the 1940s, called the Andy Hardy series. The father in these films, Judge Hardy, is a very traditional representative of fatherhood: in sharp contrast to modern entertainment, it's the teenage son who provides the comedy, whilst the father provides knowing guidance.

I have (vague) memories of watching American TV shows of the 1970s in my childhood, such as The Waltons, and Little House on the Prairie. My recollection of these programmes is that the fathers were strong and respected by their families, whilst the mothers were lovely and maternal.

But American popular culture no longer redeems itself by presenting such positive images of family life. There are even some male scriptwriters who are getting annoyed by the relentlessly negative image of fathers on TV. For instance, veteran Australian television writer, Bevan Lee, says,

My personal idea of TV viewing hell is these (dopey dad) sitcoms, things like Everybody Loves Raymond, Home Improvement, Malcolm in the Middle, where the father figure is a central figure running around like an idiot, and he's the butt of everyone's jokes. It's my idea of The Hague war crimes torture to tie me to a chair and make me watch those on loop.

Similarly, Queensland University television course coordinator, Alan McKee, complains that,

In the last 10 years there have emerged new representations of families where the characters, the dads in particular, are incredibly flawed - to the point of being moronic. The kids are often terrible to point of demonic and mother is strained to the point of hysteria.

It seems that some people in the industry recognise the problem, but their solution is not too promising. They want to replace the "daggy dad" with the "complex, damaged, dramatic dad". Thus script editor Diane Cook believes that The Sopranos is a turning point in portraying a more "engaging" father figure (a mafia mobster) who is "conflicted" and has "deep and complex feelings about family and fatherhood."

And similarly Neighbours script writer, Luke Devenish, says that the show's "daggy dad" prototype is being left behind, with the reintroduction of a founding character, Paul Robinson, described as follows,

The character is desperately trying to pick up where he left off, with five children by three failed marriages, carrying the baggage of a murder, time on the run and a jail term, as well as the stigma of three divorces. It is a coming-of-age for fathers on the show, and something of a turning point for them in Australian soap history.

I'm not sure which is worse: to be portrayed as harmlessly incompetent or to "come of age" through divorce, murder and imprisonment. Either way it seems that there is still no room on TV for a moderately competent, respected father who lives together with his own family.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Jay's conservative nationalism

I always like finding examples of genuinely conservative thought in history. It makes a nice change to be able to present these gems, rather than to be always a critic of liberalism.

So I was pleased to find the following piece of writing by John Jay, who was a Founding Father of America and the first Chief Justice of the United States. Jay wrote that,

It has often given me pleasure to observe that independent America was not composed of detached and distant territories, but that one connected, fertile, widespreading country was the portion of our western sons of liberty. Providence has in a particular manner blessed it with a variety of soils and productions, and watered it with innumerable streams, for the delight and accommodation of its inhabitants. A succession of navigable waters forms a kind of chain round its borders, as if to bind it together; while the most noble rivers in the world, running at convenient distances, present them with highways for the easy communication of friendly aids, and the mutual transportation and exchange of their various commodities.

With equal pleasure I have often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people - a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.

This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous and alien sovereignties.

Jay is very clearly upholding the benefits of an ethnic nationalism. For him it is important that people be "united to each other by the strongest ties" which include having the same ancestry, language, religion, manners and customs, form of government, as well as a shared history of sacrifice. Jay considers it a providential blessing that America is to be ethnically, as well as geographically, connected and bound together as a nation.

What went wrong? Jay's traditional understanding of nationalism did not survive the inroads of liberal ideology. Liberals believe that to be fully human we must be free to create ourselves by our own will and reason. Therefore, they don't like the idea that something as important as national identity should depend on an inherited ethnicity, which is something that lies outside of individual will.

Hence the liberal hostility to ethnic nationalism, and hence the liberal preference for forms of identity which are "fluid," "complex" and "diverse" (since fluid, complex and diverse forms of identity can be "individually negotiated").

For a little sample of the way that academic liberals talk about such matters, consider Michelle Lee's assertion that "identity must be seen as much more fluid and as crossing boundaries rather than being defined by them" or Mary Kalantzis who claims that,

Instead of a nation as it might be represented through some 'distinctively Australian' essence, the essence of a postnationalist common purpose is creative and productive life of boundary crossing, multiple identities, difficult dialogues, and the continuous hybrid reconstruction of ourselves. This is the new reality of Australian identity, multicultural and multilingual.

Note the great phrase "continuous hybrid reconstruction of ourselves." It sounds like academic gibberish, but it encloses an important meaning for liberals: that our identity has to be kept open to an active, individual self-creation. And this is exactly what John Jay's conservative vision of a people unified by a common ethnicity (understood in the broadest terms) does not allow.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Canadian freedoms?

Damian Penny runs a Canadian website called Daimnation. It's very much right-liberal in its politics.

As we know, left-liberals are keen to declare "I am ashamed of my nation because we aren't yet free and equal". Right-liberals like Penny are different. They declare "I am proud of my country because it embodies liberal freedom."

At one level, the right-wing form of liberalism is more appealing to conservatives. It at least allows for a bit of national pride. Unfortunately, though, it has a negative side. It leads a lot of right-liberals to define whatever happens in their society as a positive example of human freedom. Even hopelessly corrupt things are treated as important aspects of liberty.

For instance, Penny recently discussed the case of Kassim Mohamed. He is a former Muslim resident of Canada who returned to make some videos and was arrested on suspicion of being a terrorist. His defence was that he was taping some of the decadent aspects of Canadian culture to prove to his family the benefits of returning to a Muslim country.

For Penny this was proof positive that the "Islamofascists" hate the West because of our "freedoms". Penny wrote "I defy anyone to read this article from today's National Post and still deny that Islamofascists do have a problem with the free, open societies of the West."

The problem is that many of the things Mr Mohamed objected to are indeed examples of Western decadence: he didn't like a billboard of a naked woman being hung over a Toronto mosque, prostitution, drug addiction and Canadian men abusing young girls in the Caribbean.

For Damian Penny the fact that Mr Mohamed objects to these things is enough to prove that he is an "Islamofascist" who hates the "freedom" of the West. So we are supposed to embrace things like drug addiction and prostitution and sex tours as proof positive of our Western liberty.

Better just to admit that the modern West does have corruptions and decadence. It doesn't mean we have to become self-hating left-liberals. There is the option of doing what our ancestors were forced to do often enough: to undertake long-term reforms to improve the situation.

Irreversible harm?

Studies are increasingly showing that marijuana is not the soft drug that many users believe it to be.

A Melbourne research team has found that weekly cannabis use in teenagers "predicted an approximately two-fold increase in the risk for later depression and anxiety." So marijuana, it seems, should not be associated with being cool and relaxed, but the very opposite: with low, depressed moods and being anxious.

Meanwhile a Dutch research team from the University of Maastricht has found that "exposure to cannabis during adolescence and young adulthood increases the risk of psychotic symptoms later in life."

Why does cannabis use by young people cause such problems later in life? The answer is quite disturbing. It's increasingly thought that our brain development continues until at least our early 20s. At this late age the frontal lobes are still developing and increasing our more sophisticated mental abilities.

It's thought that cannabis use by teenagers impairs this important stage of mental development. What this means is that some of the damage done by marijuana use may be irreversible. Young people may be missing out on developing "higher cognitive functions" by their use of cannabis.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Moving further away

Lawrence Auster made the following observation in a recent item at VFR:

This is what liberals and leftists ALWAYS do. They sense something is wrong. But instead of going back and revivifying things at the root, which is the answer, they move further away from the root, in search of something new.

This is a valuable insight. When left-liberals describe history they are sometimes surprisingly kind to tradition. They'll say that a certain tradition once bound people together, but that it's now broken down (because of capitalism etc) leaving people uncertain and confused. The answer, say the left-liberals, is not to return to the tradition but to abandon it more completely in favour of an intensified modernism.

(It's almost like saying that a little bit of poison hurts but that a larger dose will cure.)

There's a clear example of this in the writings of Alexandra Kollontai. She was a Marxist (a radical left-liberal) who became a leading figure in the Women's Department of the Bolshevik Government in Russia.

She wrote an article called Sexual Relations and the Class Struggle in 1919. She begins the article by describing the "long and drawn-out" crisis in the relationships between the sexes. She writes of "troubled people" and "frightened people" unable to untangle the "confused knot of personal relationships."

No doubt, she is exaggerating the crisis in family life and gender relations in 1919. However, it's worth noting that by 1919 first wave feminism had been around for over 50 years and had reached a peak of influence just a few years previously. Many of the features of the modern feminism that we know were also in existence at this time.

The solution according to Alexandra Kollontai? She writes,

The conservatively inclined part of mankind argue that we should return to the happy times of the past, we should re-establish the old foundations of the family and strengthen the well-tried norms of sexual morality.

The champions of bourgeois individualism say that we ought to destroy all the hypocritical restrictions of the obsolete code of sexual behaviour. These unnecessary and repressive "rags" ought to be relegated to the archives - only the individual conscience, the individual will of each person can decide such intimate questions.

It's to her credit that Alexandra Kollontai describes here the basic dynamic of things reasonably well. She understands that liberal individualism has undermined the traditional family by requiring the destruction of restrictions on individual will. Furthermore, she writes of how in history the "triumphant principles of individualism ... grew and destroyed whatever remained of the idea of the community" leading men to wander "confusedly".

So, you have here a radical leftist who believes that modern people are alienated, and who believes that liberal individualism has broken down a once stable and unifying tradition of family life.

So does she wish to conserve at least a part of this tradition? The answer is decidedly no. In another article, Communism and the Family, she describes her ideal of a new family life. Marriage, in the new communist family, is to be,

a union of two equal persons of the communist society, both of them free, both of them independent ... the woman in the communist city no longer depends on her husband but on her work. It is not her husband but her robust arms which will
support her.

So, the underlying aim is little different to the modernist liberal one. It is to maximise individual independence, in particular, female independence. This is necessary, thinks Kollontai, so that a woman may have a "will of her own". We are back, in other words, to the "bourgeois" liberal idea that politics is about removing impediments to individual will, as a means to achieve higher levels of personal autonomy.

Therefore, Kollontai comes up with a strategy familiar to modern times. She insists that women no longer depend on men as providers. This in turn means that women have to go out to work and that the tasks of motherhood are taken over by the state. That's why Kollontai proudly boasts that,

Here, also, the communist society will come to the aid of the parents. In Soviet Russia, owing to the care of the Commisariats of Public Education and Social Welfare, great advances are being made ... There are homes for very small babies, day nurseries, kindergartens, children's colonies and homes, infirmaries, and health resorts for sick children, restaurants, free lunches at school ... the more the workers became conscious of their rights ... the more society would show itself to be concerned with relieving the family of the care of the children.

These measures were no doubt radical in 1919, but the fact that they rest on familiar liberal principles is shown by the fact that other Western societies have gradually "caught up" with the more radical liberalism of the Bolsheviks.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Not so redundant after all

Chris Bonnor wants Australian boys to be more like girls. In 1997 he was a principal of a boys' school in Sydney when he gave an influential speech on the issue of boys and education.

The gist of the speech was that the world of work had changed. Male skills were no longer required and therefore boys would need to learn to "cross gender boundaries" to succeed in life. According to Bonnor "gender is something that is socially constructed" which meant it was his school's "core business to reconstruct boys". What about the influence of traditionally masculine teachers? A simple solution: "Schools need to simply sideline those male teachers who spend their school lives and probably their other lives simply perpetuating destructive gender messages."

Several years ago Chris Bonnor repeated this message in an address to schoolboys. He said,

It's a new world out there, boys ... When dad left school it was a more predictable world for boys. Boys could get a reasonably long-term job, and one in which 'male' skills were more highly prized. If you were good at woodwork or metalwork, there were plenty of these jobs ... Many of these things have changed. You now have little chance of getting one of these traditional 'male' jobs full-time, and for the rest of your life ... The new types of jobs want people who can think and communicate ...

So what do you do, boys? Some men want ... the workplace to change ... to give boys a chance once again. Apart from being a silly idea, this simply won't happen. Boys need to gain a wider range of skills, especially the skills that girls so often display. Boys also need to cross the gender divide and become good at the things that the workplace now needs. If some of these things are traditionally 'girl's skills', then so what!"

Sure. Even back then it was hard enough to get a plumber. And now we read in this morning's Age newspaper, that there is such a shortage of tradesmen that one Melbourne company has flown in 60 welders from China as guest workers. These men, I presume, don't speak English. So it seems that at least some Australian boys should just have kept up with their metalwork and not worried too much about competing with girls' communication skills.

Chris Bonnor is simply another liberal who wants to overthrow the influence of gender and is willing to use junk arguments to justify it. Why is he really so keen to argue against masculinity? Because liberals believe that we are truly human and free when our individual choice is unimpeded. We don't get to choose our sex. Therefore, for a liberal we can only be free if our masculinity or femininity is something that is socially constructed and can therefore be overthrown, preferably in the direction of something that is gender neutral.

That's why Chris Bonnor talks of the need "for boys and girls to develop in an atmosphere free of restrictive and potentially damaging stereotypes." Note the kind of language employed. Traditional masculinity or femininity is a "stereotype" (negative connotation) which is a "restriction" from which we have to be freed.

It also explains why Chris Bonnor is so hostile to boys playing sport. Sport encourages what most of us would think of as a healthy masculinity in boys. This is a problem for someone wanting to deconstruct this masculinity. So Chris Bonnor is moved to write,

Sport. Heavily masculinised contact sports celebrate and reinforce dominant roles of gender. These sports serve to define dominant masculinity, connecting manhood with violence and competitiveness and often marginalising girls and women.

Two final points. Although most right liberals wouldn't carry on like this, they do often share the underlying idea that traditional manhood and womanhood are restrictive stereotypes which need to be overcome. The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, for instance, claimed happily in 2002 that the feminist battle had been won for young women, the "good thing" being that "we have broken through some of the old stereotypes". Nor are these mere words: the Howard Government has actively tried to break down gender "stereotypes" by providing funds to get women onto boards of management and into engineering courses. (Let me, though, compliment Mr Howard for promising today to provide funds to train Australians to fill the tradesman shortage.)

The second point to be made is that gender is not just a product of socialisation. It's also hardwired into human biology. Therefore it won't be shifted as easily as the Chris Bonnors of the world think it can be.

I witness the resilience of gender difference in my job as a school teacher every day. I recently supervised a class of junior high school students who had an hour of free time on the computer. The girls spent their time looking through class photos or playing a game in which you place different fashion accessories onto pictures of celebrities. The boys played sport or adventure quest type computer games, or watched humorous cartoons. There was no overlap at all in what the boys and girls chose to do. When given any chance at all, the natural differences between boys and girls readily assert themselves.

Monday, December 20, 2004

What are men for?

There was once a time when it was considered the role of men to be protectors.

This role can be imagined as men forming a kind of defensive outer circle or wall, within which the more vulnerable qualities of women are able to flourish.

Such a concept only works, of course, if men highly regard what they are protecting; in other words, it implies a respect by men for the more feminine life that exists within the realm they are defending.

The male protector role operated firstly at the family level. Men, whether as husbands, brothers or fathers, were expected to provide material comfort and security; to physically defend the family from attack; and to be a source of emotional reassurance.

The role operated also at a larger social level. Men physically defended the larger community from foreign armies and they upheld the formal public structures needed to support a human community.

A dying role?

The American actress Meg Ryan recently had this to say about modern men:

Why are men confused? Is it because they have this role to play and women don't need them to play that role any more? Because women are more self-reliant. I don't understand why it's so mystifying for men.

Meg Ryan is expressing here the modern attitude in which women are no longer supposed to need male protection, because they aim to be independent and self-reliant. The male protector role is supposed to be redundant.

How did this change of attitude come about? Primarily, it's due to the political philosophy which Western intellectuals have adopted en masse. Western intellectuals follow an ideal of liberal individualism, in which human dignity requires that we be self-created by our own individual will and reason.

The aim is that we become unimpeded, autonomous individuals. It's hardly surprising, given this aim, that it should be considered wrong for women to be dependent on male protection. According to this philosophy it is more correct for a woman to aim at independence.


A young man of today will grow up in a world which can be demoralising to his protective instincts. He is likely to see endless images of kick-boxing women, of women in the army and the police force, and of female body-builders. He is likely also to observe the intense careerism of women in their 20s and an ever-rising number of single mothers.

He will often hear women like Meg Ryan talk of the redundancy of the male role in society and of the need for men to take on a more feminine role in relationships and in society.

Most of all, he is likely to have a sense that it is useless to try and protect what no longer exists. If women join men on the outer defensive wall, then what exactly is it at the centre of life that is being protected? What is all the effort of society for?

Should a young man give in to all this? I don't think so. If you look carefully, the protector role still has its place, even within a radically liberal society.


In what ways has the male protector role survived?

Firstly, many women haven't lost the general psychological need for masculine protection. For instance, journalist Jane Freeman notes the complaints of some of her female friends regarding their husbands,

Like my friend Anna ... who has just had her first baby. "I guess every so often when I was pregnant I thought it would be nice if he was taking heavy boxes out of my arms or insisting that I stop work at six months and have a nice rest ..."

Similar experience for Belinda ... "When I was hugely pregnant, I was still staggering around lugging all the groceries in. And even when we go on holidays now he expects me to pack the car, whereas I remember when I was a kid that was always Dad's job. I guess it's a sign that he sees me as competent but ..."

Caroline, the capable businesswoman, was lamenting the disappearance of chivalry when she had to join her husband in Sydney ... "He was already up there so he told me I should just lob into the airport, grab a cab and join him at the hotel. It did occur to me that my dad would never have dreamed of letting my mum walk into the airport alone, wrestle with her own bags and then queue for a taxi while he sat around in a hotel room. I know it's because my partner thinks of me as so independent and self-sufficient, which is true, but ..."

But what? Women are perfectly capable of doing all those traditionally "male" jobs ... But where does this odd yearning for the occasional piece of male protection come from? ... maybe it's human nature." (The Age, 8/3/98)

In fact the three women quoted above aren't alone. A 1997 Australian survey asked whether it was a husband's role to provide protection for his wife. 75% overall agreed with this statement (although amongst younger people the figure dropped to 68%).

Nor is this surviving support for masculine protection simply a psychological leftover from an earlier age. It still has its practical benefits for women.

For instance, a woman is still likely to feel more physically secure in the company of her husband. Deborah Forster gives a glimpse into this when she writes,

The other night I went for a walk in Melbourne just before the sun set. I walked with my husband through the inner city streets ... We walked through the cold air in our coats. It's not something you'd want to do alone; people swim towards you out of the dark and somehow these days we seem to fear so much, but with my tall companion beside me, it was all right. (Age, 12/7/96)

Men can also still help to protect women by providing emotional strength, stability and reassurance. The American comedienne Ruby Wax has paid tribute to her husband Ed Bye in this regard, calling him her "human Valium".

It's important to remember also that even in modern life a woman needs some amount of protection if her softer, feminine nature is to survive. Kate Fischer, the Australian model and actress, has spoken of this when describing her efforts to forge a film career. She has admitted that,

The people in Hollywood can be very pushy and will walk over you unless you have very strong boundaries.

I've found I've had to become a bit pushy in return, and sometimes a bit tough, and I don't like that.

I don't want to become a hard woman. (Herald Sun, 15/11/ 2000)

Similarly, there is Juanita Plas, married to an American farmer, who admits that she has been hardened by the struggle to survive on the land. She says, "He married me because I was soft and sensitive but I would not have survived the last few years if I was so soft and sensitive as I was then." (Age 3/2/200)

It's still the case, then, that a man can help the more feminine qualities of his wife to unfold if he is able to shield her from some of the harsher aspects of making a living.

Finally, male protectiveness is still an important part of creating stable relationships between men and women.

The independent modern girl ethos tries to make sex appeal alone the basis of relationships. That's why there's so much emphasis in magazines like Cleo and Cosmo on sexual technique, and it's also why films like Charlie's Angels combine a high level of female independence (women who can more than take care of themselves in physical combat) with a high level of sex appeal.

But there's a flaw to this. If relationships are based on sex appeal alone, then the more self-confident men will go from one relationship to another, taking their pleasure with many different women. This isn't what most women want to happen.

Those men, though, who choose to follow not only the sex instinct, but the protector instinct as well, are more likely to prefer monogamy. These men will want to set up their own family life, through which they can exercise their protective instincts, and they will be reluctant to harm through infidelity what they have sworn to protect.

Making it work

It's true that it would be unwise for men with wives or girlfriends in their 20s to be too open about male protectiveness. Women in this age group often believe fervently in the independent modern girl ethos.

By the early 30s, though, many women don't want to do it alone anymore. If men can fulfil the protector role intelligently at this time, it can be well-received.

In the meantime, we need to work to overturn the underlying liberal principle of individualism which creates the ideal of autonomy in the first place. Rather than seeking an atomistic independence, we need to return to the goal of a balanced interdependence of men and women.

(First published at Conservative Central 09/11/2003)

Saturday, December 18, 2004

A real danger

Helmut Schmidt was a leader of the left-liberal SPD and Chancellor of Germany from 1974 to 1982. He recently gave an interview to a Hamburg newspaper in which he spoke freely about his attitudes to Turkey joining the EU.

He told the newspaper that though he supported favourable trade deals for Turkey, he opposed Turkish membership of the EU. Why? His answer was as follows:

I'm against it because it means giving free movement to Europe for 70 million Turks. If Verheugen were to say yes to the entry of Turkey, but without emigration, then it would be a different situation. But I haven't heard that either from him or from the members of the European Parliament. Secretly though they're hoping for a change in the situation, so that the free movement doesn't need to be adhered to. They're just not saying it openly.

Helmut Schmidt was then asked why he was so much against the provision for free movement. He replied:

The living standard in Turkey is fundamentally lower not only in relation to Western Europe but also even to the new entrant countries. The European diplomats have been deceived because they only know Istanbul, Ismir or Ankara. But they don't know Turkey. And this enormous difference in living standard will lead to emigration. We know this from history.

Helmut Schmidt is being clear-sighted in making these observations. If Turkey joins the EU then there will be a mass immigration of Turks into European countries, especially into northern Europe. This will lead to a radical change in the demographic makeup of Europe. It's possible that countries like Holland will be propelled even more quickly toward an Islamic majority.

For evidence of this consider the following. The Melbourne Herald Sun reported this morning that, "A recent poll in Turkey revealed almost half of all Turks want to move to another EU country."

This poll result is made all the more credible when you consider what has happened to the small country town of Kulu, which is situated only 100km south of the Turkish capital of Ankara. Kulu has a population today of 34,800. Yet, 35,000 of its residents have already packed up and moved to Europe, many of them to Stockholm in Sweden, with Holland being another favoured destination.

In other words, even with some immigration restrictions in place more than half of the town's population has shifted to Europe. So if Turkey's population is already at 70 million (and growing rapidly) it's more than likely that many millions, perhaps tens of millions, of Turks will move to Europe when Turkey is finally admitted to the EU.

It will be very difficult for the smaller EU countries, like Sweden, Holland and Denmark to absorb such an immigration stream without very radical changes to their population makeup.

Meanwhile, another small northern European country, Norway, has been targeted for staying out of the EU. A propaganda campaign for the EU, aimed at children, features a "Captain Euro" who battles for a "Europe without borders" against the residents of a country closely resembling Norway, who are depicted as "evil dirty terrorists".

Finally, there is the question of why so many European leaders are said to privately oppose the free entry of Turks into Europe, but are unwilling to act on these private opinions. I think part of the explanation is that these politicians have committed themselves to a civic nationalism, rather than an ethnic one, and therefore find it difficult to intellectually justify their personal feelings on the issue.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Insulting law

A law has passed through the French lower house making it illegal to insult women or homosexuals. More exactly the law prohibits "defaming a person or a group of persons on account of their sex or their sexual orientation." The punishment is up to six months in prison.

Two things stand out about this law. First, it was passed by a "centre-right" government rather than a left-wing one. In fact, some members of the "centre-right" party rebelled in order to make the law even stricter. Which goes to show that conservatives need to be critical not only of the mainstream left-liberal parties, but also of the mainstream right-liberal ones.

Second, the French Human Rights Commission opposed the law as being too much against free speech. If even a human rights commission can't stomach the legislation, then it really must be radical in its intent. The French Human Rights Commission warned that not only might individual words, as well as books and films, be deemed outside the law, but so too might the Bible.

In the end, the claim by liberals to be the champions of free speech has been revealed to be false. Liberals are perfectly willing to curtail free speech in order to uphold their own version of political morality.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

South African land siezure

Will South Africa suffer the same fate as Zimbabwe? There are some ominous signs. The following Age newspaper report tells the story of white South African farmer Abraham Duvenage who once ran a successful 1780 acre farm. That all changed when 40,000 immigrants from Mozambique took over the property. The courts have upheld the rights of Mr Duvenage to his property, but the local and national authorities have ignored the court orders. The squatters have effectively expropriated the land, the farm is no longer productive, and Mr Duvenage has so far failed to gain any compensation.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Do supermarkets make us free?

The main political debate in Western societies isn't between conservatives and liberals. It's between two different wings of liberalism.

Both wings of liberalism share the same underlying understanding that the purpose of life is to maximise individual autonomy. What all liberals want is to leave individual will and reason unimpeded, so that we can act in any direction and be whatever we want to be.

However, all liberals then have to solve a basic problem with this philosophy. How do you stop millions of individual, competing wills from conflicting with each other and causing chaos?

One group of liberals believe that they have found a solution to this problem in the free market. According to these liberals the market, if left alone, will take millions of people acting "selfishly" (according to their individual wills) and create positive outcomes of prosperity and technological advancement.

Not surprisingly, these right wing liberals focus their attention on the Economic Man. For them it is through the economic market that society is best regulated and that the liberal goals of freedom (the unimpeded individual will) and progress (economic growth and technological advances) are best realised.

Right liberalism became a very popular creed in the nineteenth century when the urban middle class, whose money often came from trade and manufacturing, sought to break down the political dominance of the landowning classes.

Today, not surprisingly, it gets its support mostly from the commercial classes (stockbrokers, corporate lawyers, managers and so on).

A major revolt against right liberalism occurred toward the end of the nineteenth century. For right liberals it was only important that each man was allowed to compete in the market without impediment. Right liberals accepted that there would be unequal outcomes: that some would succeed more than others.

For a right liberal philosopher like Herbert Spencer this meant that even large scale inequalities in life ultimately served the public good. He wrote, in 1851, that,

Pervading all nature we may see at work a stern discipline, which is a little cruel that it may be very kind ...

... those shoulderings aside of the weak by the strong, which leave so many 'in shadows and in miseries,' are the decrees of a large, far-seeing benevolence...

It seems hard that widows and orphans should be left to struggle for life or death. Nevertheless, when regarded not separately, but in connection with the interests of a universal humanity, these harsh fatalities are seen to be full of the highest beneficence─the same beneficence which brings to early graves the children of diseased parents.

Obviously, the idea that their sufferings were for the long-term good of humanity was unlikely to appeal to the mass of the working class. Furthermore, some liberals couldn't accept philosophically the idea of an unimpeded "right to compete" leading to unequal outcomes; they believed instead that individual autonomy would best be achieved when everyone was set upon equal conditions of life.

The result was the rise of the social democratic movement. This was a movement with much working class support and led by left wing liberals. Such left liberals did not believe in the "solution" of the market to the problem of regulating individual wills.

Instead, they looked to the state to create social conditions in which each individual could follow his own will and reason, and be self-created in any direction.

What this meant was that left liberals replaced a focus on Economic Man with one on Social Man. They also emphasised the idea of public goods (man acting deliberately through the state to achieve social outcomes) rather than private goods (man acting to achieve personal benefits and thereby unwittingly creating a positive social benefit).

So, by the early twentieth century Western societies were already caught in the debate that we are still having today: the debate between left and right liberalism.

It's usually easy to spot which side of the fence liberals are on. Here, for instance, is the Australian journalist Phillip Adams writing about modern childhood:

Yes, there are hundreds of millions of kids running about, but they're not meant to be children any more. This is not permitted. They are, instead, to be little economic units. Diminutive adults with fully fledged appetites for junk - junk food, junk films, junk ideas, junk toys and junk culture ...

Let them be children for a few, short years before they're turned into cannon fodder for the Great God Economy that modern societies seek to serve.

Here we obviously have a left liberal complaining about the right liberal focus on Economic Man. The same complaint pervades the following comments by a President of the Uniting Church in Australia who asks,

What about the estimation of human life where the only value applied to each individual is economic? Or, more precisely, where each individual is only valued as a consumer or as a value-adder? What does that say about life?

What about the totalitarianism of economics, seen in economic rationalism and globalisation ...

Are human beings to be measured primarily, or even solely, as consumers and value-adders?

What does it say about human life if the fundamental factors required for human existence are to be totally at the mercy of the market─the Great International Croupier?

... a society thus defined and based on the totalitarianism of economics can be described as no less than an evil empire. (Age 17/7/2000)

It's not just left liberalism which is easy to recognise. Consider the following statements by George Will, a Townhall columnist. He begins by quoting the left liberal Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson who once asked,

With the supermarket as our temple and the singing commercial as our litany, are we likely to fire the world with an irresistible vision of America's exalted purposes and inspiring way of life?

George Will can see in this a left liberal attack on his own right liberal beliefs and so hastens to defend,

a society that produces the abundance, and honors the emancipation of choice and desire, that results in supermarkets, advertising and other things that are woven inextricably into the fabric of a free society. (Town Hall, 26/10/03)

So, for the right liberal George Will, achieving liberal individualism (the emancipation of choice and desire) means accepting all the trappings of the free market. Individual freedom and supermarkets go together in this world view.

For conservatives, of course, the aim is not the "emancipation of choice and desire" at all, but rather the fulfilment of our higher, given nature as men and women.

What conservatives need to avoid, therefore, is being trapped within the confines of the debate between left and right liberalism.

At times we will agree with left wing criticisms of free market ideology, at other times we will agree with right wing criticisms of the left. What we shouldn't do is react against right wing free market ideology by identifying with the left or vice versa.

As conservatives we will be best placed when we can present ourselves clearly as an alternative to both left and right forms of liberalism.

(First published at Conservative Central 02/11/2003)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Biased History Award 2004

There's a lot of history with a left-wing bias out there, but I think I have found a clear-cut winner for the Biased History Award of 2004.

In a Year 8 textbook used widely in secondary schools here in Victoria, students are taught the following about the Christian knights who went on the crusades:

They were all fanatics. Crusaders were fundamental extremists - mad warriors who were intent on causing havoc for whatever they believed. They were virtually religious terrorists.

For an alternative, more grounded view of the crusaders click here.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

The backlash

In a recent Age newspaper column Joanna Murray-Smith questioned the feminist values she had been brought up with. She felt that feminist careerism hadn't left her enough time to properly mother her children.

Predictably there was a backlash. There have been five newspaper columns in The Ageattacking the single Joanna Murray-Smith column. On Friday alone, there were two such columns.

There was nothing terribly new in these opposing pieces. One of the Friday columns, by a single mother and full-time writer, Allison Croggon, was most interesting for the kind of liberal language it used.

According to Allison Croggon motherhood has been a lot more fun than she expected. However, she describes the "role" of being a mother, rather than the "tasks" (which she enjoys), as an "iron cage" from which women have to seek "freedom".

Why attack the "role" of motherhood in this way? Because liberalism (on which feminism is based) insists that we choose our own roles. Traditional motherhood is not a role that women choose for themselves but is, according to liberal thought, a mere "biological destiny" from which women have to escape. That's why Allison Croggon can simultaneously confess that she enjoys the actual work of motherhood, but still insist that women need to "escape" from the "iron cage" of the motherhood role.

Again, you can see the language of liberalism when Allison Croggon twice talks about "negotiating" her role as mother. She says of the rights of women versus those of children that "These rights are not incompatible. They require constant negotiation" and later of her family that "For the last 16 years we have lived argumentatively and hilariously together, negotiating all our different needs."

Why is negotiation such a key word for liberals? Because it helps to sustain the pretence that we are rationally choosing our own roles and identity. When we negotiate we use reason to decide on outcomes and we finish by giving our assent to a decision. This means that we are creating ourselves through individual will and reason as liberalism wants us to do.

Of course, as a conservative male the idea that I would "negotiate" what I'm supposed to be doing as a father with my own young children seems absurd. For a liberal, though, believing that you're a mother by negotiation makes the role appear more legitimate and respectable.

The other Friday column was written by an academic and writer, Liz Conor. She does not deny the basic assertion made by Joanna Murray-Smith, that important things get lost when women try to combine full-time careerism with motherhood. She admits that,

Every week I drop a bundle of some description in the effort to combine care and career. My kids will give graphic accounts to their therapists in years to come.

She writes also that "the present conditions under which [women] are mothering are doing their heads in."

Her argument, though, is that feminism is not to blame for this. First, because feminists aren't so anti-maternal as people generally believe, and second, because things would be better if only men gave up work to take over the motherhood role.

For Liz Conor, therefore, the task is to keep up the feminist fight, until men have changed their ways and stay at home to care for children.

This argument presumes, of course, that men and women have no masculine or feminine nature and are therefore interchangeable in their roles within the family. It presumes also that the traditional male role is unnecessary and that male involvement in the family can only mean taking over mothering tasks.

I believe Liz Conor is wrong in presuming these things. The fact that after several decades of feminism only 1% of Australian families have stay at home fathers also strongly suggests that fatherhood and motherhood roles are not as collapsible as Liz Conor believes.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

More tolerant liberals

News from sunny Queensland is that a six year old boy has been suspended from his grade one class for a day for sexual harassment. His crime was to poke a girl in the bottom during class.

Spot the difference

In yesterday's Age there was an article on Australia's fertility rate. The good news is that the fertility rate has stopped falling, and has beeen stable at 1.75 children per woman for six years now.

But what really caught my attention were the comments of a demographer from the Australian National University, Rebecca Kippen. She said that,

Countries like France and Norway that have high fertility are also the ones with very good maternity leave provisions...

Now, on the one hand, this sounds like the usual left-liberal call for women to be supported by the state or their employers, rather than their husbands. But can you spot the important difference?

Rebecca Kippen is identifying France & Norway as the model social-democratic, feminist countries. What's happened to Sweden?

For the last thirty years Australian feminists have been in love with Sweden. Sweden was always held up as the great example of a successful, progressive country for Australia to follow. It was Sweden which had pushed furthest the ideas of subsidised child-care and paid maternity leave, so that mothers were no longer supported within a family but remained independent members of the workforce.

So why has Rebecca Kippen, to use a term appropriate to the home of IKEA, shelved Sweden? The problem for feminists in keeping Sweden on the front bench (sorry, another IKEA term), is that the figures for Sweden have gone the wrong way. Sweden has done more in terms of paid maternity leave for a longer period of time than any other country in the world, yet its fertility rate in 2003 was a middling 1.54, well below Australia's rate.

In fact if we line up the four European countries which have pushed hard on paid maternity leave and compare their fertility rates to Australia we get this:

France 1.85 Norway 1.80 Australia 1.75 Denmark 1.73 Sweden 1.54

You can see why Rebecca Kippen chooses the examples of France and Norway and prefers to ignore Denmark and Sweden. The examples of Denmark and Sweden ruin her case. In Denmark and Sweden a great deal of money has been spent on paid maternity leave, leading to much higher rates of taxation, and yet their fertility rates are still lower than Australia's.

The chances are that a similar effect will occur also in France and Norway in a few years time and that their fertility rates will fall to a Swedish level. For the moment, though, they get to be the new Swedens in the feminist press.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Love & dependence

How has love been viewed in Western culture?

Love has often been compared to a merging of two souls into one. The Empress Alexandra of Russia said as much when writing to her husband, Tsar Nicholas II, in 1914 that "We make one."

Similarly, the philosopher Alberti praised marital love in 1432 for the "close bonds and united will" existing between husband and wife. In 1958 the poet Sylvia Plath described her love for her husband as a feeling of being "perfectly at one" with him, whilst a much earlier female poet, Anne Bradstreet, wrote in 1678 that she and her husband, even when apart, were yet "both but one."

A final example of the "two makes one" ideal of love is that of the seventeenth century English poet John Donne, who wrote to assure his love that "Our two souls ... are one."

A similar way to describe love in Western culture is as an intertwining of two souls. The Ancient Roman philosopher Plutarch compared the joining of a husband and wife to "ropes twined together." The American philosopher William James declared to his wife in 1882 that "I feel your existence woven into mine;" whilst Agnes Porter, a governess, wrote in 1791 of the children she loved that "they entwine around one's heart."

This raises a problem. Western societies are dominated by the philosophy of liberal individualism. According to this philosophy, the most important thing is that individuals are left independent and autonomous so that they can create themselves in any direction.

But if love is thought of either as a merging or an entwining of two people into one, then love is in conflict with the above aim of liberal individualism: the achievement of an autonomous, unimpeded individual will.

So what happens? How do liberals respond to this conflict between love and individual autonomy?

There have existed liberals who, in theory at least, have taken the logical step and rejected love. My favourite example would be the Spanish anarchists, representing a radical wing of liberalism, who passed a resolution that for those comrades experiencing "the sickness of love ... a change of commune will be recommended."

The Australian/American pianist and composer Percy Grainger was another who was willing to reject love (in favour of lust). He once declared,

That's why I say I hate love ... I like those things that leave men and women perfectly free ... The reason why I say I worship lust but hate love is because lust ... leaves people perfectly free.

Another example concerns the writer Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), most famous for her novel Out of Africa. A biographer, Judith Thurman, has 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.

As a final example there is the more recent case of the New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clarke. She managed to shock even some feminists when she justified her decision to remain childless by asserting that,

You've got better things to do with your life, unimpeded.

Notice the terms used to justify the rejection of love (whether maternal, marital or sexual). The aim is to be unimpeded, to exercise individual freedom, or to claim self-sovereignty─all of which relate to the basic goal of liberal individualism of being an autonomous, self-creating individual.

To be fair, it's unusual for liberals to reject love in such a blatant fashion. It's more usual to try to somehow combine the goal of love with the goal of autonomy.

At a basic level you can see this in the fashionable slogan of single girls in the 1990s that "I might want a man, but I don't need a man." This makes love acceptable within the framework of liberalism by turning it into an act of individual will.

The "solution" of the above slogan, though, is only a face-saver. It papers over the reality that most young singles do experience a need to find someone to love in order to feel complete. This is something inborn and resistant to individual will and reason, which is why it's hard to openly acknowledge in a liberal culture.

A more sophisticated attempt to marry love and individualism has been made recently by the Australian sociologist Don Edgar. Now remember, the task for a liberal like Don Edgar is to somehow imagine relationships in which our individual reason and will would not be impeded. How does he do it?

What he suggests is that there be no external authority in how we choose to express relationships, no restraints, but that instead there should be an "intimate negotiation" between two persons, and a "careful construction of an agreed but unique modus operandi."

Edgar likes the description by Anthony Giddens (another sociologist) of the shift toward more open and negotiated human relationships as the coming of "plastic sexuality," where every permutation of sexual behaviour is acceptable provided it is based on mutual respect, disclosure of personal feelings, an equal negotiation of what is acceptable and not an act based on power or coercion.

The funny thing is that Edgar announces at the end of all this that "I'll personally stick to hetero marriage." And this gives away a major weakness in his convoluted attempt to try to make love acceptable to sovereign will and reason.

Most of us reach an age in which we experience an instinct to settle down and have a family. What we then seek is a happy marriage and not just "some intimacy, some form of commitment" which is all that Edgar is prepared to bequeath to the younger generation.

What the older generation owes to the younger is to uphold the conditions in which it's possible to marry successfully, rather than to leave it to millions of competing wills to negotiate a relationship in a climate of self-serving individualism.

It's not plastic, open or unique relationships that young people need, but stable, secure and workable ones, in which some measure of independence can be sacrificed to a healthy and natural interdependence.

(First published at Conservative Central 18/10/2003)

Friday, November 19, 2004

Conflicted motherhood

Joanna Murray-Smith confesses in this morning's Age,

I am leading the life the feminists of the '70s dreamed of: successful professional and mother - but it's no dream.

Why not? Because of the mental anguish she feels at not having time to spend with her children. She asks,

Where is the play time with our kids? Where are the long hours of unhurried togetherness?

She admits that "I go to bed at night asking myself over and over again how much our working lives really benefit our children?" and that "increasingly I resent the dishonesty of pretending that our children are not guinea pigs in an experiment that is, in many ways, a failure."

What is her response to this situation? On the negative side, she claims that "the true feminist quest [is] to continually re-examine women's choices", as if feminism itself could redress the balance and support the choice of women to stay at home and look after their children. As I've pointed out previously, the logic of feminist theory runs counter to women choosing to stay at home to care for their own children. It's a forlorn hope that feminism might reform itself and allow women to freely choose this option.

More positively, though, Joanna Murray-Smith does question the liberal idea that we should aim for unimpeded individual choice. She realises that women can't do, in reality, what they are told they can do, and simply choose to have everything at the same time. There will always exist impediments to individual choice. She relates how,

my generation of middle-class women, desperate to realise our mothers' dreams, sailed into the professions with the bluster of undimmable expectations

but having also become mothers,

we have woken up in our 30s and 40s and found that you can not be a master of parallel lives, only, with a little luck, of one.

She has become aware, too, that unimpeded individual choice has little to say about what we owe others or what our adult responsibilities are. She writes that women need to be,

vigilant not only to our desires but also to our mistakes, to find the elusive balance between our needs and our responsibilities to our children ... We have been taught to applaud our own rights, but now we need to question how the volume of that applause has rendered mute the rights of our children.

Her conclusion casts doubt on the whole political culture of unimpeded individual choice. She writes,

Perhaps we have reached the point where the feminist cliche of having choices is finally undressed. The gift of choices is booby trapped. The concept of choices is laden with the grief of loss. Something is always lost.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Fairytale Day?

A preschool centre operated by Brimbank Council here in Melbourne has given up celebrating Christmas this year, preferring instead to establish its own festival called "Fairytale Day".

Callers to talkback radio were strongly against the change, as were the talkback hosts. There seemed to be agreement that this was a case of multiculturalism gone too far.

The parents are right to object, particularly as the demand for change seems to have come from council officers rather than from local Muslims. It's another small example of liberal intolerance to long-established traditions that people have a natural attachment to.

However, the parents also need to be clear-minded. It makes little sense to defend Christmas on the one hand, but to support mass immigration and multiculturalism on the other. As non-Christian populations grow, the place of public festivals like Christmas and Easter will inevitably be undermined.

It's sad to say, but a multiculture could never deliver anything like the traditional Christmas experience, in which a whole community gathers around a cherished religious festival. This is a loss in which we are impoverished, rather than enriched, by multiculturalism.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Liberal intolerance

Are liberal societies intolerant of gender difference? If the student leaders at the University of Washington are any guide, the answer is yes. This year the tradition of a homecoming king and queen was abandoned by the student association, and replaced with non-gender specific "homecoming royalty", namely two women.

The student association justified the move by claiming that a small scholarship attached to the positions should be awarded to the top two applicants regardless of gender. Even so, it seems intolerant to replace a naturally "gendered" tradition, with an odd and unappealing alternative, simply to rationalise a very small scholarship.

I expect Emi Sumida, one of the female royal pair, was closer to the truth when she said "I think it's great that the UW has chosen to have a nongender-specific homecoming royalty. In our day and age, a lot of the traditional definitions of roles are changing, and this follows in line with that."

It's this negative attitude toward traditional gender roles in liberal cultures which best explains the demise of the homecoming king and queen. For more on why liberals develop a hostile attitude to things "gender specific" there are articles here and here and here and here.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Cardinal: let's imagine an alternative

Cardinal George Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, recently made a criticism of modern Western democracy. He said that it was a failure of the imagination to believe that,

Democracy can only be what it is now: a constant series of "breakthroughs" against social taboo in pursuit of the individual's absolute autonomy.

This is an insightful criticism of modern political culture by the cardinal. It gets right to the core of what is wrong with liberal politics. Liberals believe that we are fully human when we are self-created by our own individual will and reason. This means, though, that liberals can't accept anything important to who we are or what we do which we haven't chosen for ourselves.

Over time, this has led liberals to seek to break through not only social taboos, but also traditional understandings of gender, of ethnic identity, and of family life, all in the name of individual autonomy (as we don't get to choose for ourselves our sex, our ethnicity, our role within the traditional family etc).

Cardinal Pell rightly points out some of the negative consequences of breaking through social taboos, including marriage breakdown and family dysfunction, and a de-sanctifying of human life represented by high rates of abortion, the destruction of human embryos for research and legalisaton of euthanasia.

The cardinal goes on to argue that there are possible alternatives to the secular democracy of today. He proposes as an alternative what he calls "democratic personalism".

Interestingly, he warns that if secular democracy continues the long-term future might belong to Islam. He believes that Islam has the potential to attract alienated Westerners (and he might also have pointed to demographic changes in Western countries favouring the growth of Islam).

(Which makes me wonder, that if senior church leaders understand the potential for "dhimmitude" in the West, why haven't they taken more of a stand against open borders immigration policies?)

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Women quit leadership

Why are there more men than women in positions of leadership? Is it really because men have organised themselves into a privileged social grouping and used oppressive discrimination to deprive women of their rights?

This small item from Norway suggests not. It seems that Norwegian women are being promoted at the same rate as men, but resign from leadership positions in far greater numbers. In fact, a survey showed that within a three year period more than 1 in 4 women in leadership positions had resigned.

As one Norwegian professor commented, this means that the reason for fewer women being in leading jobs is "not that women are not offered these positions, but that they do not remain."

Monday, November 08, 2004

What's the problem with Oz drama?

Why is the popularity of Australian drama shows waning? Maybe it's the kind of people being chosen to write the scripts. Andrew Bolt has written a profile of a very prolific scriptwriter, Marieke Hardy. As you might expect, she is a trendy lefty, who supports the Refugee Action Committee and other such causes. What you might not expect is the utterly low-natured way she chooses to express herself, especially for such a young woman.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Rotterdam mayor apologises!

Further news from Holland. I reported yesterday that a Dutch artist had protested against the murder of Theo van Gogh by placing a picture of an angel on his studio wall with the text of the commandment "Thou shalt not kill". The Rotterdam mayor sent in the police to destroy the painting (because it was "racist") as well as some of the footage of the event taken by a camerawoman.

Well, the good news is that the mayor has now apologised for his actions. (The bad news is that the contents of the letter attached to the body of Theo van Gogh by his murderer have now been made public. The letter states that Holland is under the control of the Jews and calls for a jihad against "infidels, America, Europe, the Netherlands and Ms Hirsi Ali".)

Chris Ripken, the artist who made the "offending" picture, has also described what happened in some detail in a Dutch newspaper (de Volkskrant). I've translated (as best I can) some of this article below:

"Ripken's emotions over the death of Van Gogh were released on Tuesday afternoon in an artwork. He painted the biblical commandment over an ascending angel which he had already created on his facade, with the date below. "The very first time that I had used text to express myself. As a "rule of play" ... A completely values-free and and neutral commandment which nobody at all could disagree with."

"Wrong. The next day the district officer stood at the door: the text is potentially inflammatory, the painting must be removed before 12 o'clock. Certainly because Ripken's studio is right opposite a mosque.

"Then there arises a short discussion in which Ripken suddenly feels completely isolated. The district officer, whom he knows well, suddenly appears like a stranger, even as he talks: stern, official, deaf to argument. Then the chairman of the mosque administration comes and stands nearby. Lucky, thinks Ripken: he'll understand me. But the chairman says diplomatically that although he thinks Ripken's viewpoint is alright, others could interpret the text wrongly."

"Ripken then invites the chairman to add something to the painting, for instance an equivalent in Arabic. "But nobody reacted. It's as if they didn't hear me," says Ripken. "It became increasingly grim".

"The district officer tells Ripken that he is acting directly on the orders of Mayor Opstelten. And that there would exist from the ministry of internal affairs a "line of sight" for similar texts, put out after the murder of Van Gogh. And Ripken also receives the pressing, no, forceful advice to above all seek no contact with the media.

"But two reporters from the Cineac Noord, "the smallest TV station in the Netherlands", which operates in north Rotterdam, get wind of the story, jump on their bikes and arrive at the scene with cameras rolling.

"Shortly afterwards a "spuitwagen" (a cleaning truck?) arrives to remove the artwork. "I'm (not having this)" says reporter Wim Nottroth from Cineac North. He jumps in front of the painting and is removed as a prisoner. He sits for three hours in a cell. Meanwhile the police make the camerawoman show them the footage of the arrest.

"The 52 year old Nottroth says he found it very annoying to sit for several hours in a cell. He is still flabbergasted by it. "Who would have thought I would be locked up on account of God's word? But I found that I had to do it. "

"Practising and normally faithful politicians appear to have less emotions on the issue than atheists like Ripken and Nottroth ... (The article finishes by noting that most politicians responded to the event with a "no comment", and that there was only one, a councillor by the name of Marco Pastors, who openly condemned the destruction of the painting by commenting that "It is crazy to view it as inflammatory. It's a shining example of the madness in which we live.")

Saturday, November 06, 2004

When science is a friend

It's always pleasing as a conservative to be vindicated by modern science.

Take the issue of sex differences. The very first manifesto of feminism, Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (1791), was based on the idea that women are only feminine because of their upbringing.

Wollstonecraft was particularly upset with the philosopher Rousseau for giving "sex to a mind" - for believing that there are natural differences in the psychology of men and women.

More than two hundred years of scientific research later we know that Wollstonecraft was wrong. Sex hormones have been identified as naturally influencing male and female behaviour, and it's known that there are physical differences between the male and female brain.

So the mind does have a sex after all! This is good news for conservatives, who have always argued that social roles for men and women have to take account of natural differences between the sexes.

For liberals, the scientific advances are a philosophical headache. Liberals want us to be creatures of our individual will and reason, not of our sex. It can't be pleasant for a liberal to learn that masculine and feminine characteristics are hardwired into us.

Which brings us to the next bit of cheering scientific news. A group of 33 children's doctors, research scientists, and mental health professionals have collaborated to write a report titled Hardwired to Connect.

The report presents scientific evidence that not only are we biologically "programmed" to connect to others, but that our level of nurture within "authoritative communities" can influence, amongst other things, the healthy development of brain circuitry.

Such findings from neuroscience reinforce the conservative belief that humans are by nature social creatures, and that it's important to uphold the deeper forms of human connectedness.

It's interesting to observe how some liberals have responded to the report. Liberals generally emphasise an ideal of individual autonomy, rather than social connectedness. You might think, therefore, that they would be unsympathetic to the findings of the report.

However, an article on the report by Anne Manne in the Melbourne Age was very approving. She chose to accept the latest scientific findings, noting that:

Neuroscience, too, is showing that all humans from earliest infancy need, seek and flourish in long-term, stable, close attachments.

To seek other human partners is an instinctive, evolved human behaviour. It is, to borrow the report's rather cyborg metaphor, "hardwired" or "pre-programmed" into brain circuitry. Violate these deep human needs and the risks rise.

We now have a heightened awareness of the way enduring, nurturing, stable attachments in early childhood shape a life in a positive or negative direction. (Age, 11/10/03)

These comments, however, don't mean that Anne Manne has suddenly converted to conservative orthodoxy. In fact, when it comes to the question of how you actually create the authoritative communities in which children can flourish, her left liberalism becomes more apparent.

Twice in her article, Anne Manne quotes the views of the Australian of the Year, Professor Fiona Stanley. Professor Stanley believes in following "the kinds of policies that have worked in other countries, like the Scandinavian countries."

The Scandinavian model appeals to Professor Stanley because of the emphasis on social welfare, which means the provision of professional services by a high taxing state. Both Anne Manne and Professor Stanley contrast this model to the economic rationalist one in Australia (and other Anglosphere countries) where expenditure has to be justified in terms of measurable outcomes.

The problem is that the Scandinavian model hasn't worked. For instance, Professor Stanley quotes a rise in male suicide rates in Australia as evidence of what is going wrong in this country. However, when you compare the average rate of suicide in the five left-liberal Scandinavian countries with that in the five more right-liberal OECD Anglosphere countries you find that the Scandinavian countries are actually doing much worse.

The male rate of suicide is 21% higher in the Scandinavian countries, whilst the female rate is 59% higher (which is particularly notable given that the Scandinavian countries are considered to be closest to the feminist ideal).

In fact, the report specifically cautions against the Swedish model. It notes that Sweden has devoted considerable resources to try to improve the economic and material conditions of single parent families. Despite this, a major research project has found that Swedish children living in single parent homes still suffer double the risk of psychiatric illness and suicide and three times the risk of drug abuse.

So what would conservatives suggest as a means to build "authoritative communities"? I won't attempt a detailed answer, but two suggestions spring to mind.

First, there is a need to more actively maintain a culture of family life. This means placing less emphasis in Western culture on independence and autonomy, and more on the fulfilments of family life; it also means openly recognising gender differences and finding balanced and complementary relationships between men and women within a family.

A second suggestion would be to allow the existence of institutions in which adult men can transmit a healthy masculine culture to boys. It's difficult to do this though when associations for boys (even boys' only sports teams) are outlawed by "sex discrimination" regulations.

I won't be holding my breath waiting for these things to happen while liberalism reigns supreme. I will, though, await the further results of scientific research in the field of social connectedness with considerable interest and optimism.

(First published at Conservative Central 12/10/03)

Is the Bolter conservative?

Why is it that liberalism has triumphed in the West? Why hasn't the conservative opposition had more success?

When I decided, some years ago, to look into these questions, I found the answer both easier to find and more startling than I had imagined.

What I found was that liberalism has been so dominant in English speaking countries, at least since the 1700s, that even the "conservative" opposition has operated within the framework of liberal first principles.

What this means is that mainstream "conservatives," both of today and yesteryear, will nearly always turn out to be conservative liberals, rather than straight-out conservatives.

I want to give as an example the case of "the Bolter," as Andrew Bolt is called on Melbourne talkback radio. Andrew Bolt is a very influential journalist in Australia, having guest appearances on radio and TV, as well as a regular page in the Herald Sun, Australia's largest selling newspaper.

He is also arguably the most conservative of Australia's mainstream journalists. He frequently demolishes left-wing opponents with well-researched articles on the arts, Aborigines, multiculturalism etc.

Yet even Andrew Bolt operates intellectually within the framework of liberalism. Liberalism started from the idea that what makes us human is our freedom to create ourselves in any direction through our own unimpeded reason and will.

In the last two weeks Andrew Bolt has written columns which make clear his support for this philosophy. In one column (22/9/03), he explained why he supports Christianity as a religion in spite of his own agnosticism:

Here we come to the nub of why I defend Christianity: If people must believe in some religion, which one would I rather it be?

I happen to think the philosopher Karl Popper was right: our humanity is best realised when we are free and we reason.

But I've also seen that freedom and reason alone can leave us lonely, disjointed from each other, rudderless and afraid.

Or, more positively, there is a yearning in us to feel part of something bigger and better than ourselves.

This can be lethal. See how people buried their individuality in big causes like fascism and Communism, which just crushed their freedom and reason - and their very humanity.

He then talks of the kind of Christianity he admires,

... the Christianity that, unlike many other religions, has evolved so that you don't have to surrender your reason or freedom to believe. The religion that is no enemy of science.

What Andrew Bolt is arguing here is that Christianity is best not because it represents a religious truth but because it is the least harmful to secular liberalism: it least impedes our individual reason and will.

Note too the idea that if you lived under fascism or Communism, in losing your freedom of will and reason your very humanity is threatened.

Most significantly, note the attitude to the atomising effects of liberal individualism. For Andrew Bolt this is primarily a problem because of the potential threat to liberalism itself: alienated people might join causes injurious to free will and reason. He seems less concerned to defend what has been lost; in other words, what has been removed to leave individuals alienated in the first place.

The second column in which Andrew Bolt has recently written in liberal terms concerns Australian Rules Football (2/10/03). The Australian Football League (AFL) is organised so that the worst performing teams are favoured in the recruiting season.

Andrew Bolt condemns such a system, comparing it to socialism. He writes,

It is true that many famous socialist leaders, from Lenin to Castro, have seen society as a bit like an AFL competition, instead of as a field in which anyone can play anything they like, as long as they don't hurt anyone else.

This is a principle we often hear from liberals: I should be able to do whatever I want, provided it doesn't hurt anyone else. It hits the right note for liberals because, in theory at least, it means that our will and reason are unimpeded to the largest degree (in practice, society is so run down by the principle that we lose the choice to do the things that are most important to us).

I don't want to make a lengthy criticism of the liberal principle itself here, as this has been done in other articles on this site. The point to be made is that even the most conservative of mainstream journalists in Australia is very much committed to an underlying liberal philosophy.

I don't point this out in order to condemn Andrew Bolt, as I find much to admire in his work. We shouldn't be surprised, however, when mainstream journalists and politicians, even those of the right, ultimately fail to uphold the values and institutions that we conservatives support.

Their failure is not because they are traitors, or that they have sold out, or have been captured by other interests. It's because they have always held to liberal first principles, and understandably do not wish to act against these principles.

Conservatives will start to have a chance of long-term success when we act on our own principles, rather than being merely a wing of liberalism.

(First published at Conservative Central 03/10/2003)

Is this Commandment racist?

An incredible item from Holland. An artist in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, Chris Ripke, was upset by the murder of fellow artist Theo van Gogh. So he painted a small picture on the outside wall of his studio with a picture of an angel and the text of the commandment "Thou shalt not kill".

A pretty reasonable response you would think. But some members of a nearby mosque found the text "offensive" and complained to the mayor. The mayor ordered in the police to destroy the "racist" painting. A courageous news journalist stood in front of the painting in protest, but was arrested. A camerawoman was ordered by the police to erase part of her film of the event.

The journalist, Wim Nottroth, remarked later in an email about his arrest: "Wat een land. Het is echt niet to geloven." Which means, putting my limited knowledge of Dutch to use, "What a country. It's really unbelievable."

I haven't seen anything yet about this in the mainstream media. But there's a bit of discussion at conservative websites. There's an item at Vdare and one at Majority Rights.

By the way, thank you to the various people who emailed me with the text of Theo van Gogh's last newspaper article. My impression is that van Gogh was a liberal, but one who realised that an older liberal Holland would not survive mass Islamic immigration.

To his credit he did not shut his eyes to the situation, but was willing to speak out and criticise the open borders type of liberal. He was even willing to publicly defend the rights of the ethnic Dutch majority. So, in his own way, perhaps he can be remembered as a defender of the West.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Bahai vision of unity

I was walking through a local arcade recently when I came across a pamphlet from the Bahai church.

I'd heard of the Bahais before but didn't know much about them. I was surprised to discover just how intensely liberal the Bahai faith is.

The Bahai church originated in Persia in the mid-nineteenth century. It operates now in many countries, including America and Australia, and claims a membership of around 6 million.

The central tenet of the Bahai faith is the unity of mankind. The idea seems to be that as God made us out of a single substance we are to aim at a kind of single identity.

Thus one of the Bahai prophets is recorded as saying:

Since we have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest.

The result of this belief is that Bahais must attempt to transcend particular forms of identity in favour of a single universal one. As the Bahais themselves put it:

Bahais see unity as the law of life ...

Guided and inspired by such principles, the Bahai community has accumulated more than a century of experience in creating models of unity that transcend race, culture, nationality, class, and the differences of sex and religion, providing empirical evidence that humanity ... can live as a unified global society.

What's interesting is that the Bahais have arrived, through their religious beliefs, to a similar political outlook as Western liberals. Western liberals also want the individual to transcend particular forms of identity, as these are believed to impede our self-creation through individual will and reason.

In fact, Bahai writings sound remarkably like liberal ones, promising that the abolition of particular distinctions will bring about peace, liberation, equality and progress.

The thing is, though, do we really want to abolish particular forms of identity? Would we really want to live in a world in which, according to the Bahais, there would only be "one common fatherland," "one universal langauge," and the abolition of anything, including "cultural expression" which would make one portion of humanity "intrinsically distinct from another portion."

Think about what this would mean. We would no longer be able to enjoy a special sense of connection to our own particular national tradition, nor appreciate contact with other distinctive national cultures.

We would no longer be able to enjoy the more positive aspects of gender difference, nor identify in a positive way with our own sex (one Bahai pamphlet specifically outlaws the practice of men identifying as being a "masculine soul in a male body").

We would no longer be able to uphold the positive aspects of class cultures within our own countries. These class cultures traditionally provided standards of behaviour and distinctive forms of culture within a national community.

What we would have, instead, is a further descent into a society built on atomised, rootless, denatured individuals. Such societies seem to be easily dominated by a globalised commercial culture of little depth. They are not characterised, as the Bahais would have as believe, by a profound spiritual life.

In short, what the Bahai church offers is a religious pathway into liberal political activism. Even though the origins of Bahai lie outside Western liberalism, by asserting an absolute and abstract unity between people, the Bahai faith requires, just as Western liberalism does, the abolition of particular distinctions - an abolition of the very things which enrich our lives spiritually and which a church concerned for the spiritual life of its adherents should seek to support.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Does the law favour men?

A big news story here in Victoria has been the trial of James Ramage. Ramage confessed to killing his wife after she allegedly told him that sex with him repulsed her and that she had found herself a lover. A jury determined that Ramage was guilty of manslaughter rather than murder because of provocation.

As you might expect, feminists have reacted by claiming that the courts support a patriarchal attempt by men to control women. Mary Crooks, for instance, has a column in today's Age newspaper titled "It's time women had a better deal from the law". She uses statistics from the Victorian Law Reform Commission which, she claims, show that the provocation defence is used nearly always by men who have killed their female partners, that one third of these men had their sentences reduced to manslaughter, whereas the few women to use the defence were unsuccessful.

She concludes that this,

sends an awful message to women. Don't try to fight his abuse and his desire to control you, hide your fear, don't try to leave, because in society's eyes, as reflected and symbolised in the decisions of the courts, your safety seems to be of no real moment, and your life can be snuffed out because your man is angry and jealous.

Now, this all too conveniently fits in with feminist theories. Feminists want us to believe that men as a group have organised a "will to power" over women, leaving women as the oppressed victims of a patriarchy.

That's why the picture painted by Mary Crooks is one in which men are the oppressors and women the victims, with the courts asserting male power and control by letting the men off lightly but punishing the few female culprits to the full extent of the law.

Now, any person with knowledge of the way that feminists often distort the facts ought to be a little sceptical of the statistics provided by Mary Crooks. I wanted to check her figures, so I did a quick search of the internet and came up with the excellent NSW Law Reform Commission site.

As expected, the data provided by this site completely contradicts the information given by Mary Crooks. I'm going to quote a large chunk of this material just to show how willing feminists are to completely distort the real facts of an issue.

The NSW website summarises the findings of a Victorian Law Reform Commission report as follows:

3.93 The Victorian study found that more male than female defendants use the provocation defence ... However, where female defendants do use the defence it is more likely to be successful. No female defendant who argued provocation was convicted of murder, although 25% of male defendants who raised the defence were.

3.94 ... It was also found that male defendants were less likely to receive a manslaughter [rather than a murder] conviction where their victim is female.

3.95 Provocation was raised in 8 of the 26 cases of female defendants presented for murder or manslaughter. There were no murder convictions and four were convicted of manslaughter.

3.97 The Victorian Law Reform Commission found that its data:

does not support the conclusion that the provocation defence generally operates in a gender biased way. It refutes the claim made by some commentators that juries routinely accept provocation defences by males who have killed females.

3.99 Where provocation was an issue and a manslaughter verdict returned, the Victorian study found that 33% of women received non-custodial sentences (compared with 10% of men) and that the most common sentence for men was 6-8 years and for women 3-5 years.

So there you have it! First, there are many more cases where women are the perpetrators of violence than Mary Crooks is prepared to allow. Second, when men are the perpetrators their victims are sometimes other men rather than women. Third, when men kill a woman rather than another man they are punished more heavily. Fourth, women are more likely than men to have their charges reduced to manslaughter by the provocation defence. Fifth, women subsequently charged with manslaughter are much more likely to avoid prison and when they do get prison terms they get lighter sentences than men charged with the same offence.

So the facts do not so easily fit into the male oppressor vs female victim stereotypes that Mary Crooks tries so hard to establish. In fact, the whole issue, if anything, shows a systemic bias by the courts against men rather than against women.

PS If you read the NSW Law Reform website further you find more evidence of the generally light sentences handed out to female offenders. For instance, of ten women charged with neonaticide (killing of a newborn) in NSW between 1968 and 1981 only one was sent to prison and she had killed six babies.

Regarding infanticide (killing of a child under the age of one) 70% of the perpetrators were female. Of seven women charged with infanticide in NSW between 1976-1980 all were released on good behaviour bonds.

Such data hardly supports the feminist theory that the courts are harsh on women because of a patriarchal bias.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Do we need the OSW?

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Pru Goward, has an article in today's Age defending the Office of the Status of Women (OSW).

Mrs Goward begins her article by complaining that the OSW only has several dozen policy officers compared to several hundred generalist policy officers. This, in itself, is a revelation. John Howard has retained 35 or more feminist policy officers to comment on and scrutinise all cabinet submissions.

This is yet more evidence that the Liberal Party is what its name suggests, a party based on a liberal, rather than a conservative, philosophy (all the talk of left-liberals, that Howard is a 1950s kind of guy, acts like a kind of smokescreen, obscuring the fact that the Liberal Party leans more toward feminism than against it).

In her article, Pru Goward argues that there are four reasons for preserving the role of the OSW. These are:

1. Women are physically weaker than men and so are more likely to be the victims of domestic violence. The national programme against domestic violence must therefore specifically consider the issue of gender.

The problem with this argument is that the great fault with the national programme on domestic violence is that it focuses too exclusively on male violence against women. If any reform of the programme is needed it is to recognise not only that men are at times the victims of domestice violence, but that women are frequently the perpetrators (not just against men, but against children and other women).

Is it likely that the feminists at the OSW will rectify this problem and thereby justify their existence? I think not. They are, in fact, part of the problem.

2. Pru Goward also argues that women are economically disadvantaged. She uses as evidence the fact that men have more retirement savings than women, and that sole parent mothers are not especially wealthy.

These, however, are weak arguments. Of course men have more retirement savings than women: men are in the workforce longer and thereby accumulate more superannunation. But presumably much of this "male" superannuation will be spent to support both the husband and the wife in their retirement. It is, in fact, in the interests of most women to encourage their husbands to accumulate additional retirement savings.

And of course single mothers won't be counted amongst the wealthiest in society. Many will be on a government pension, and the rest won't have the advantage of a husband's wage. But how could this be different? Pru Goward suggests giving women more educational advantages, but as she herself admits, females are already outperforming males at school and university. Do we really want this trend to be even further intensified?

A better option would be to try to reverse the trend toward single motherhood, but again, the feminists at the OSW are not exactly the right people for the job.

3. Pru Goward also suggests that as a small country Australia must lift its female workforce participation rate in order to compete economically.

This is further proof of the fact that feminists, despite officially promising "more choice" for women, are usually opposed to the choice of women to stay home to care for their families. (I've explained this further in an article at Conservative Central, "Is family a valid feminist choice?")

Do we really need more mothers in the workforce? The evidence suggests not. Pru Goward states that Australia has a relatively low workplace participation rate. And yet Australia's economy has been one of the strongest in the world for a decade or more. This hardly suggests that there is a vital connection between participation rates and economic growth.

4. The final argument Pru Goward makes is that Australia needs to lift its fertility rate, and that "Wherever you look in the Western world, countries that provide support for working motherhood enjoy higher fertility rates than those which do not."

This is simply a feminist myth. The Western countries which provide the most support for working mothers are the Scandinavian countries, particularly Sweden. The Western countries which intervene less in the family are the Anglophone ones, particularly America, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia.

If we compare the two groupings we find that fertility rates are generally lower in the Scandinavian countries. In fact, out of the 28 OECD nations the two countries with the highest fertility rates are America and Ireland, then Iceland and then New Zealand. Norway and Denmark are 6th and 7th, Australia is 11th and Sweden is 13th.

Not only does Sweden, the most feminist of all nations, come in a middling 13th in the fertility stakes, it also has the dubious honour of having the world's second highest divorce rate. It is hardly a model for countries like Australia to follow.

It's also instructive to look at recent research by Dr Bob Birrell of Monash University. He studied Australian fertility data and concluded that the key problem was a decline in marriage, rather than a failure to support mothers in the workforce.

Women are still having children once they marry, but fewer women are marrying and those who do marry later. According to Dr Birrell, a key factor in the decline in marriage rates is a growing underclass of men with insufficient education and poor incomes. So if we really want to improve fertility rates, a key focus ought to be helping to improve the employment prospects of low income men.

Once again, I doubt if the feminists at the OSW will offer their services to support this aim.

So do we really need an OSW? Not on the basis of Pru Goward's arguments. It is wrong, I believe, for feminists to be privileged the way they are now. It is not even the case that most women identify as feminists, let alone men. What then is the justification for having feminist policy officers scrutinising all cabinet submissions?