Saturday, October 04, 2014

The old church was different

Was the Catholic Church always in favour of an anti-national universalism? The answer is clearly no. Bonald, for instance, has found an encyclical of Pope Pius XII from 1939 in which there is a harmonising of the claims of patriotism and universalism. Bonald has posted a longer transcript (worth reading), but I'll try a summary.

Pope Pius begins with a reminder of the basis of the unity of humankind:
that law of human solidarity and charity which is dictated and imposed by our common origin and by the equality of rational nature in all men, to whatever people they belong, and by the redeeming Sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ on the Altar of the Cross to His Heavenly Father on behalf of sinful mankind.

But this doesn't mean that nations don't have an important place:
And the nations, despite a difference of development due to diverse conditions of life and of culture, are not destined to break the unity of the human race, but rather to enrich and embellish it by the sharing of their own peculiar gifts and by that reciprocal interchange of goods which can be possible and efficacious only when a mutual love and a lively sense of charity unite all the sons of the same Father and all those redeemed by the same Divine Blood.

There is no contradiction between the unity of the human race and our membership of nations - that is what Pope Pius is emphasising here.

To further underline the point Pope Pius goes on to say:
The Church of Christ, the faithful depository of the teaching of Divine Wisdom, cannot and does not think of deprecating or disdaining the particular characteristics which each people, with jealous and intelligible pride, cherishes and retains as a precious heritage.

And then this:
The Church hails with joy and follows with her maternal blessing every method of guidance and care which aims at a wise and orderly evolution of particular forces and tendencies having their origin in the individual character of each race, provided that they are not opposed to the duties incumbent on men from their unity of origin and common destiny.

The balance here is good. We cannot treat those not of our tradition in any way we like, as we share a common humanity; however, the church blesses the effort to wisely develop the unique tradition we belong to.

Pope Pius then goes on to speak about the proper role of the state:
Hence, it is the noble prerogative and function of the State to control, aid and direct the private and individual activities of national life that they converge harmoniously towards the common good. That good can neither be defined according to arbitrary ideas nor can it accept for its standard primarily the material prosperity of society, but rather it should be defined according to the harmonious development and the natural perfection of man. It is for this perfection that society is designed by the Creator as a means.

The state should not be "something ultimate to which everything else should be subordinated and directed". In particular, the state should not usurp the role of the family. Parents have an important and independent role in guiding the formation of their children:
Undoubtedly, that formation should aim as well at the preparation of youth to fulfill with intelligent understanding and pride those offices of a noble patriotism which give to one’s earthly fatherland all due measure of love, self-devotion and service.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

It's the state ideology

Via Laura Wood a story about how moral issues are decided in Germany. A German man who married his biological sister and had children with her has been punished under existing incest laws. However, a government committee (the German Ethics Council) has decided that incest should be permitted. On what grounds? The expected ones:
Incest between siblings appears to be very rare in Western societies according to the available data but those affected describe how difficult their situation is in light of the threat of punishment. They feel their fundamental freedoms have been violated and are forced into secrecy or to deny their love. The majority of the German Ethics Council is of the opinion that it is not appropriate for a criminal law to preserve a social taboo. In the case of consensual incest among adult siblings, neither the fear of negative consequences for the family, nor the possibility of the birth of children from such incestuous relationships can justify a criminal prohibition. The fundamental right of adult siblings to sexual self-determination has more weight in such cases than the abstract protection of the family.

So incest is now considered to be a "fundamental freedom" - the language of freedom is being invoked once again. And what is meant by freedom? It is the "fundamental right" to "self-determination" - and it is this right to self-determination which is thought to trump all other considerations, such as negative consequences for the family or the problems that arise for the children born to such relationships.

Here again we have a problem doing great harm to Western societies. Freedom is held to be the sole, overriding good and freedom is understood in a limited way as individual autonomy. Other goods in society are sacrificed to this one reductive understanding of morality - which means inevitably that people don't even end up feeling free or autonomous.

The better option is for a community of people to try to get as close as possible to an understanding of an "order of being" - in which a range of goods are harmonised as far as possible. That is not only the best way to uphold more than one good, it's also the best way to maximise freedom and to make freedom meaningful. (Is it really a meaningful understanding of freedom when incest starts to be considered a "fundamental freedom"? What's next?)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Kalb on the 60s

Jim Kalb has written a piece for Crisis Magazine about the 1960s. He takes a generous approach to the 60s radicals, arguing that their reaction to a materialistic culture was understandable but that their solutions made things worse.

It's written to Jim Kalb's usual high standard and is well worth reading. I'm not sure, though, to what extent the 60s radicals really were motivated by idealism (I'm not old enough to remember that decade).

When I looked into the main figures that Australia contributed to the 60s counterculture (e.g. Richard Neville, Germaine Greer) I found that many of them had been members of the Sydney Push. And the Sydney Push itself was strongly influenced by the left-libertarian philosophy of John Anderson.

Anderson's philosophy was not exactly idealistic. I've written a more detailed account here, but in short he laid the groundwork for some of the beliefs of the 1960s radicals by arguing that there is no morality embedded within reality; that reality can only be understood through a scientific methodology (scientism); and that the only "good" activities were those which were free, critical and creative. This meant that what mattered was not reform but an attitude of opposition.

Anderson also believed that sexual repression was a major means by which freedom was constrained. You were not supposed to have sexual hang-ups (jealousy, attachments etc.).

So the underlying philosophy of the Australian leaders of the 60s flower children was, seemingly, a harshly soulless one from the beginning (but, again, I wasn't there - maybe some of the rank and file were attracted by the idealistic sounding slogans of the movement).

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sweden Democrats make gains

Good news from Sweden. In the recent elections, the Sweden Democrats surged from 5.8 per cent of the vote to 13 per cent. They are now clearly the third largest party in that country. They have become particularly popular amongst young and rural voters.

More information here and here.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Choosing Kate

Laura Wood posted a really interesting piece on Kate Millett recently. Kate Millett, if you aren't already aware, was one of the leading lights of second wave feminism. I've written a post on her myself (here) about her later descent into loneliness, unhappiness and poverty.

What's new in the Laura Wood post is (amongst other things), the perspective of Kate Millett's sister, Mallory (see here - it's well worth a read). It seems clear that Kate Millett was suffering greatly from mental illness at the time that she was being lauded as a leader of the feminist movement.

What does it say when our elites choose to promote someone like Kate Millett to leadership in society?

Monday, September 01, 2014

His dream is not my dream

Paul Mason has written a Guardian piece about his dream city. He appears to be serious in setting out what would make up his utopia. So what does he want?

He says he wants neighbourhoods designed around hipster economics, and goes on to add "In the ideal form, these areas are home both to hipsters and ethnically diverse poor communities, who refrain from fighting each other."

In reality, they are usually just home to hipsters (that's true for Melbourne anyway).

He also wants a taxi system "under the control of old-style London working-class cabbies, who've been persuaded to give women and ethnic minorities equal access to the trade" (what a strange thing to think about when designing a utopia).

He also wants sleaze: "a massive ecosystem of gay, lesbian, transgender, BDSM and plain old sleazy heterosexual hangouts: clubs, bars, dancehalls, cabarets and all the dim-lit alleyways and grassy knolls inbetween."

Here's something I've noted already. The left is congregating in areas given character by historic, traditional architecture: "it must be happy with its Victorian and Edwardian architecture, and with anything salvagable that used to be a factory or warehouse. Harlem in New York, Fitzroy in Melbourne, Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin all derive an intangible positive atmosphere from their combination of brick, ornament, renovation and re-use."

Maybe modernism in architecture has lost its lustre for the artsy left.

Then there's this: "it must be ethnically mixed and tolerant and hospitable to women...The city of Gijon, in northern Spain, has a government that plasters the streets with ever more inventive propaganda against sexual harassment, domestic violence and general sexism. Stuff like that."

Right, plenty of sex war in Paul Mason's dream city.

Another oddity: "any slums have to be what UN Habitat calls "slums of hope" – staging posts for upward mobility, self-policing and non-chaotic." Is this supposed to add a bit of vibrancy into the picture?

Then, despite his initial support for microbusiness he writes that his utopia "indispensably, is a democratic political culture the inhabitants are proud of, that calls them regularly to the streets, to loud arguments in small squares, keeps their police demilitarised and in check, and allows them to assimilate the migrants that will inevitably flow inwards, and to self-identify as products of the city as they themselves navigate the global labour market."

So the city is to be borderless and subject to the global labour market but still think itself as having a unique identity with a strong level of civic commitment.

He finishes with this rousing call to arms: "If you could cut and paste everything east of Bondi Junction on to London's Soho and Barcelona's Raval, giving the whole city a feminist government recruited in Scandinavia, you might come close. But you can't so you have to dream."

They're not the same as us, are they?

Friday, August 29, 2014

And now Hungary?

Things are interesting now in Hungary:
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Monday lashed out against immigration, setting one of the main policy objectives of his next term in power after winning parliamentary elections in April. “The goal is to cease immigration whatsoever,” said Hungary’s prime minister. “I think the current liberal immigration policy, which is considered obvious and morally based, is hypocritical,” Mr. Orban said.

Orban urged, at a meeting of European PMs, that Europe set itself the aim of ceasing immigration. The response was mixed:
“There were two types of reactions: some envied me because they mustn’t say things like that although they’d very much like to. The others disagreed because they’ve failed to turn around demographic trends with family politics; have kept social tension at bay by subsidizing the jobless; and aren’t fazed if the ethnic basis of a nation state is broken,” Mr. Orban said.

Orban believes that European countries, instead of financing mass immigration, should boost development in the immigrants' home countries and focus on increasing the birth rate at home (he has five children himself).

Orban has introduced a number of measures to help boost the Hungarian birth rate, including an appeal to patriotism:
Another way the government means to boost newlyweds’ mood to make babies was the social ministry’s congratulation card, which couples received after state weddings. The card included quotes from Hungarian poets and the ministry promoting childbirth as a way to keep up the Hungarian nation.

“If your love for one another becomes the source of a new life, that’s the greatest gift to your family. A child is a blessing, and the pledge of survival of the family and our nation.”

I don't know a great deal about the politics of Orban or his party, but it's certainly worth watching the Hungarian situation for further developments.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Was Locke a Gnostic?

Has Gnosticism played a role in the decline of the West? I've just read an excellent article by Mark Shiffman (from 2009) which provides a good argument that the answer might be yes.

It's difficult to summarise the article adequately but I'll try. The traditional Christian view sees God's creation as a good thing:
The doctrine of creation presented in the Book of Genesis tells us that the world is good, that human beings receive this world as an undeserved gift, and that this makes them dependent upon their creator and bound in humility to acknowledge this gift with gratitude.

Gnostics, however, reject this outlook as suggesting limits and dependence and see the spirit or will as being "trapped" within such a created world.

Mark Shiffman argues persuasively that one of the fathers of liberal modernity, John Locke, was a gnostic in this sense. A gnostic outlook is assumed, first, in his economic theory:
In chapter five of his Second Treatise, Locke defends the individual right to property by arguing that the entire value of commodities derives from human labor. After reflecting a bit on the complexity of human economic activity, Locke ends up estimating that human labor contributes all but about 1/1000 of the value of things, whereas “Nature and the Earth furnished only the almost worthless materials.” The given world is essentially worthless, except as a source of the raw materials for human making...the attitude of Locke and Marx toward the given world can hardly be described as one exhibiting gratitude and reverence. It’s all what we make of it.

Second, Locke carried over this argument into his theory of the human person. Our own body and mind is worthless raw material until we labour on it through our will:
This is the sense in which Locke understands human beings as being their own individual property. All that they are that is of any value results from the labor they exercise upon themselves. Parents are, at best, the enablers of our self-creation, providing us with the material that is nearly worthless until improved by our own efforts.

In short, just as nature and the earth constitute the worthless world whose value lies in what humans can make of it, so too my body and mind are initially parts of that worthless world. It is when my will reshapes all this and turns it into some embodiment of itself that I lay claim to it. The world as given is essentially worthless, and the value things have results from our laboring to make the worthless material suitable to our wishes. It is the will that imparts value both by determining what will make something valuable and by causing that valuable something to be built up in it.

Pope Benedict (as Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote of Gnosticism that:
Human beings want to understand the discovered world only as material for their own creativity…. Gnosticism will not entrust itself to a world already created, but only to a world still to be created.

I've pointed out before that modern liberals reject most aspects of our created nature, but the one aspect they retain is that of the creative spirit. The argument put forward above helps to explain why liberals would have this focus.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Marital happiness and partner count

Researchers at the University of Virginia have found that a woman's marital happiness decreases the more sexual partners that she has before marriage:
According to  new research by the National Marriage Project, more than half of married women who had only ever slept with their future husband felt highly satisfied in their marriage.

But that percentage dropped to 42 per cent once the woman had had pre-marital sex with at least two partners. It dropped to 22 per cent for those with ten or more partners.

The researchers surmise that this might be due to women with a high partner count judging their husbands according to their experiences with other men; or because it means that women with a high partner count will have experienced multiple break ups and therefore be more jaded about relationships.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Some thoughts on patriotism and religion

There's an Australian Aborigine (Mohammed Junaid Thorne) who has converted to Islam and who is now supporting ISIS. In one of his messages he criticised patriotism because it is a term that was not given authority by Allah:
The 25-year-old also went on to mock 'The ones who spew the nonsense of "patriotism", "Australian Muslims", "deradicalization", and other terms for which Allah has sent down no authority.'

I'm not someone who supports blind patriotism or patriotism in any circumstance. But at its best patriotism is a profound love for a people and a tradition you are closely connected to. It can be one of those transcendent loves, through which we recognise a good that goes beyond our own self-interest, and which draws out our loyalty and our willingness to serve. It can be, in other words, an expression of caritas (of "charity" in the Christian sense).

Now, there are certainly references in the Bible to the existence of nations and peoples, and there is a clear message that this is part of God's plan for humankind. But there is not (as far as I know) a commandment that we are to be patriotic. But it seems to me that we would be turning religion into a dead letter if we took this absence to mean that patriotism is therefore never a spiritual good.

The following aphorisms by Don Colacho could be applied, I think, to the kind of love I am referring to:
The particular creature we love is never God’s rival. What ends in apostasy is the worship of man, the cult of humanity.

To love is to understand the reason God had for creating what we love.

Nothing surpasses the beauty of loyal love, of the love that is not loyalty with love, but the loyalty of love itself.

Friday, August 22, 2014

More women against feminism

The Tumblr site Women Against Feminism is still going strong. A lot of the arguments the women there are making are spot on, e.g. defending the existence of sex distinctions, not wanting to denigrate men and arguing against men and women being pitted against each other. Here's another selection of the WAFs:

Monday, August 18, 2014

I do not know...

“I do not know of a sin which is not, for the noble soul, its own punishment.”

Nicolás Gómez Davila

(Hat tip: Happy Acres)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

More link love

Sorry about the light posting. There's much being published elsewhere though.

Mark Moncrieff has a good post up titled Why don't the poor marry?

Kristor has been writing up a storm lately. He has a piece at The Orthosphere titled There is No Patrimony and a comment of his has been posted at Collapse: The Blog as More on Far-Right Self-Identification (it's a more "advanced" piece, and maybe not for everyone, but I thought it interesting).

James Kalb has a good article up (which I might comment on later) called How to Accentuate the Positive.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Even more curious

There have been some more immigration sceptical articles published in the left-wing Fairfax press. One concerns immigration fraud:
Hundreds of pages of leaked confidential departmental documents obtained by Fairfax Media reveal that Australia's national security is being compromised by wide-scale visa rorting and migration rackets operating with impunity, including some with links to terrorism or organised crime.

Secret departmental operations have estimated that as many as nine in 10 skilled migrant visas may be fraudulent, while an internal inquiry into Afghan visa applicants in 2012 assessed that more than 90 per cent of cases contained "fraud of some type" and raised "people smuggling, identity fraud, suspected child trafficking and national security implications".

Also, a 2010 report reveals that immigration investigators had uncovered a Somali people-smuggling cell in Melbourne linked to terrorist suspect Hussein Hashi Farah, who "is believed to have links to the al-Qaeda offshoot al-Shabab" and who fled Kenyan counterterrorism officials using an Australian passport in 2010.

The other is by businessman Dick Smith pointing out that endless population growth is likely to affect living standards negatively:
Mr Smith said, left unchecked, Australia's population would hit “80 to 100 million by the end of the century if we keep growing”.

He said that kind of perpetual growth would only serve wealthy Australians, while the majority of the population would suffer a decline in living conditions and be worse off.

“The cake is a certain size, mainly coming from our mineral reserves and our primary production from farming, and double the population, I believe everyone's worth half as much,” he said.

Again, interesting that this is happening at Fairfax.

Saturday, August 09, 2014


This week Professor Bob Birrell warned (here and here) that high rates of immigration were making it difficult for young Australians to access the job market. Immigrants who have arrived in the past three years have filled 380,000 out of 400,000 newly created jobs. According to Professor Birrell:
The hardest hit are amongst young people seeking entry-level semi-skilled jobs and recent graduates in a widening range of professions, including nursing, information communication technology and accounting.

Professor Birrell goes on to show that the current immigration policy is not successfully targeting shortages in the labour supply. An example given is that there were about 7,000 accountants trained in Australia last year; despite a current oversupply of accountants, the government nonetheless went on to issue visas to an additional 7,000 overseas trained accountants. Australian graduates will be competing in a very tight job market with thousands of additional workers from overseas.

Why is it curious that this information has been published? Well, it appeared in the Fairfax press, which in Australia represents the politically correct left-wing point of view.

Additionally, a similar report has appeared in a business paper. The business writer is concerned that the government is trying to shift young Australians off welfare, whilst at the same time making employment access for young Australians more difficult through its immigration policies. He agrees that Australia's immigration policy is not meeting its stated aim of addressing labour shortages.

So here we have reports in both the left-wing media and the business media pointing out the failings in the current immigration system. I find this an interesting development.

Monday, August 04, 2014

To my surprise a left-wing economics professor...

Professor Robert Rowthorn is an Emeritus Professor of Economics at Cambridge University. He is said to be one of the most eminent of left-wing economists in the UK. So I was pleasantly surprised by the findings of his research paper on the economics of mass immigration.

In short, Professor Rowthorn's review of current research does not find any significant boosts to the economy from mass immigration. This means that the other negative effects of mass immigration, such as building on the green belt or crowding in the cities, means that the consequences of mass immigration ‘are mostly negative for the existing population of the UK and their descendants’.

From the Daily Mail report:
Professor Rowthorn, a former consultant to the International Monetary Fund and the UN Trade and Development Commission, said in his report that there may be no economic gains from immigration at all.

If there are, they will be outweighed by extra costs imposed by the strain on housing, land, schools, hospitals, water supplies and transport.

He said in a landmark report for the Civitas think tank: ‘Unrestrained population growth would eventually have a negative impact on the standard of living through its environmental effects such as overcrowding, congestion and loss of amenity.

The Professor notes that it is possible for mass immigration to have an overall negative effect:
‘If many of the immigrants fail to get jobs, or if they end up in low skill jobs or displace native workers, large-scale immigration will have a negative impact on GDP per capita and on government finances,’ he added.

The impact could be positive or negative but either way it is unlikely to be very large. The only thing that is certain is that immigration on the present scale, if it continues, will lead to much faster population growth and a much larger total GDP than would otherwise be the case, with consequent pressure on infrastructure and the environment.’

(Related to this last paragraph see the data on the disability pension in the UK here.)

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Women against feminism hits tumblr

Here's some good news. A tumblr site called Women against Feminism has taken off and is clearly rankling the feminist establishment. The site shows pictures of women holding up signs explaining why they are against feminism. The reasons vary. Some of the women don't want men to be treated as the enemy; others feel that as stay at home mothers they aren't supported by feminists; some don't like the vilification of all men as potential rapists; some believe that feminism is pushing toward female supremacy rather than equality; and some don't like feminist attacks on femininity.

Here's a small sample to give you an idea of what's at the site (you can click on the photos to read the text more clearly):

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Choosing our own path?

In my last post I wrote: "I've never understood the appeal of the right-liberal idea about freedom in the market."

I got a few responses, which seemed to boil down to the idea that we are better off today, thanks to the free market, because we get to choose what we do more than previous generations did:
You and I have far, far more liberty than any previous generation in human history. That means we have vastly more power to choose our path than they did.

I want to thank those who did write in; however, I mostly can't accept the argument, for the following reasons.

First, I don't think that freedom should be defined as the ability to choose our own path. If that becomes the accepted definition then much else follows.

First, it means that our sex, our race and our sexuality will be thought of as having no proper bearing on our life path. If I am free because I can choose my own life path, then why should my sex stop me from choosing to do something? Why shouldn't a woman be able to choose to be a combat soldier? And if I choose to follow my rational self-interest and migrate to a country with a higher standard of living, then why should I be prevented from doing so on the basis of my nationality, ethny or race? And what if I am homosexual? Why should I not be able to choose to marry, if freedom means choosing my own life path? In fact, if freedom is choosing my life path, then why should I not be free to choose whether to be a man or a woman (this once would have been considered an absurd argument, but we are now seeing the whole transsexual issue become prominent in society).

Second, if freedom means being able to choose our own life path, then the proper focus of life will be thought to be those things that we can choose as individuals. That, perhaps, partly explains the big focus on market freedoms. We do get to choose as individuals what career we have, what we buy and sell and what investments we make. It fits within what is permissible within the liberal concept of freedom. What doesn't fit so well are those aspects of life with a communal dimension or that involve stable relationships with others. For instance, my inherited national identity might be important to me, but there is no defence for it when freedom is defined as a self-chosen life path.

Third, the focus of modern society in expanding the freedom to choose our own path hasn't created a higher level of this freedom. What, for instance, if the path you want to choose is to marry in your early 20s and to enjoy a stable, lifelong marriage? The fact is that you had a better chance of being able to choose this 60 years ago compared to today. What if you would like to support a family on your own wage, to save money and to quickly pay off a house and to put your children through private schooling? Again, you had a much better chance of choosing this 40 years ago compared to today (when housing is so expensive and the male wage is stagnant). What if the life you want is one in which men are respected, in which moral standards are encouraged, in which a European civilisation is highly regarded and admired, and in which the fine arts are flourishing? Again, we were born too late for this. Yes, we can go to a food court and choose 20 varieties of food. You couldn't do this a generation ago. But is it really a good trade off? I don't think so.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The freedom debate

Back in 2006 there was a debate on freedom between some British left and right liberals. Much of it is predictable and unenlightening, but there were a few points of interest.

The left liberal was Neal Lawson. He began with this observation:
Politics is about competing conceptions of liberty or freedom. What is it to live freely?

In a sense he is right. The banner of liberal politics has for a long time been the word freedom. Our current PM, Tony Abbott has said:
The dream of greater personal freedom is probably the Liberal Party’s nearest equivalent to a “light on the hill”

The Liberal Party’s animating principle is freedom

There are two responses to be made to this. First, it is limiting and distorting to see politics as being only about freedom. People do want to be free, but they also want other things as well: happy marriages, the opportunity to raise children, a work and life balance, membership of a community they are proud to belong to, achievements in culture and the arts, a productive economy, an attractive environment, some level of cultural continuity, the upholding of a national identity and so on.

The proper role of a government is to hold in balance a range of goods that sometimes compete with each other, to the point that there is a framework of society that fits together. Part of this framework will be an understanding of what the proper limits of a government are.

Second, if politics is about freedom alone, then what freedom is understood to be matters a great deal. According to Neal Lawson, it is the right-liberals who have managed to define freedom in market terms (he calls right-liberals "conservatives"):
Conservatives have taken ownership of the word and therefore its meaning. Freedom from the state, from trade unions, freedom of exchange, free markets and free enterprise – the lexicon of freedom is the language of the right.

Again, he's correct that right-liberals do see a freedom to be self-made in the market as a key aspect of freedom. He contrasts this with the left-wing view of freedom here:
Neo-liberalism equates individual liberty solely with free markets. In contrast, 'social liberalism' suggests individual liberty requires some kind of collective welfare provision. Both of these visions are part of the liberal tradition but come to very different conclusions about what it means to be free.

There are a few points to be made here. First, he overstates the difference between left and right. Both have the autonomous, abstracted individual as a starting point. But when it comes to the issue of how a society of such individuals is to be regulated, right-liberals look to the market whereas left-liberals tend to look to the state.

Second, the left-liberal view of solidarity is not persuasive. The left-liberal idea is that we express our social natures by accepting a "collective welfare provision," i.e. by agreeing to pay taxes to fund the welfare state. If that's supposed to be the alternative to right-liberalism, then excuse me for not getting excited. The sense of connectedness between people should run deeper than this: there are supposed to be loyalties to family and ethny; an impulse running between men and women; a bond existing between groups of men (comradeship, brotherhood); a connection felt by those belonging to cherished institutions (e.g. school, university alumni) and so on. In the left-liberal conception, my social nature is complete after I hand in my tax return.

However, I have to say that reading the Neal Lawson piece did get me thinking about what freedom in the market might mean to people. I've never understood the appeal of the right-liberal idea about freedom in the market.

But think of it this way. If you live in a society in which the "sideways" connections between people (family, ethny, sex etc.) have been considerably dissolved, so that the individual is treated only as an individual, then the sense of agency that we have in life is considerably reduced. What can you do as a private individual? What effect can you have on anything? For most people the answer will be: very little. It will be just you as an individual, with no role except to steer your own individual course (which most people find difficult to do, as the surrounding culture exerts such an influence over us.)

So what is left to the average person to salvage some sense of agency? Well, if you get money then you have buying power - you have a freedom to distribute your financial resources as you see fit. You have freedom in the market in the sense that decisions to purchase are in your domain.

You might have to work all week to get the money, but come the weekend you have agency to please yourself or your family with purchasing decisions.

To me it's not central to what freedom should mean, but in the absence of anything else, perhaps it has its appeal to people.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Twisted admissions

Dennis Saffran has stood as a Republican candidate in New York and has written columns for City Journal - so he is somewhere on the right of the political spectrum.

He has had a column published in the New York Post regarding the racial balance in the eight elite specialised high schools in New York.

It's an interesting case study in the way that race is spoken about now.

Entry to the high schools is by a competitive examination:
But now, troubled by declining black and Hispanic enrollment at the schools, opponents of the exam have resurfaced. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has filed a civil-rights complaint challenging the admissions process.

Here is the first point to note. It is true that black and Hispanic enrolments have fallen. But the most notable decline in enrolments has been amongst whites:
white enrollment at Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech has plummeted as well, dropping from 79 percent, 81 percent and 77 percent, respectively, in 1971 to just 22 percent, 23 percent and 20 percent today.

So why not be up in arms about the decline in white enrolments? Why the concern only for blacks and Hispanics?

As it happens, Saffran does not want the exam to be dropped. He argues that this would be unfair to the Asian community which now dominates these high schools. Asians are 13 per cent of the New York population but 73% of the specialised school enrolments.

Now, if whites were 13 per cent of the New York population but 73 per cent of the elite high school population, you would never hear the end of it. There would be talk of privilege and racism. And Saffran does seem to believe that he needs to justify the discrepancy. So he makes the claim that Asians are poor and therefore, unlike privileged whites, deserving of the high school places.

He makes this argument despite admitting that:
True, Asians nationally have the highest median income of any racial group, including whites — and in New York City, their median household income ranks second to that of whites and well ahead of blacks and Hispanics.

So Asians in general are the wealthiest (and also the best educated); however, Saffran provides some welfare data suggesting that some of the Asians attending the specialised schools are from poorer families.

This may well be true, but let's face it - poor whites are never given such consideration. If you're white you're considered privileged no matter what; a struggling white family will be thought more privileged than someone like Oprah Winfrey.

I'm not writing any of this to have a go at Asians; it is an aspect of Asian culture that the young are pressured to compete academically for entry to elite schools.

But again, if white families value education more highly on average than black families and have better educational outcomes for that reason, nobody says they achieved that on merit, it is assumed to be an aspect of racism.

It's that idea, again, of whites being exceptional - in a negative way. It is assumed that whites created systems of oppression and injustice, and therefore the worst is to be thought of them, even to the point that Asians, who do better on average than whites on most social indicators, get to be praised for achieving on merit, whilst the poorest of whites are advised on ways to confess and to overcome their privilege.

I don't write this with the intent of further demoralising those white people reading this, but to try to make clear how lacking in credibility the whole approach to race is. There is every reason for us to treat it as lacking in credibility and to dismiss its moral claims.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Australian women less happy

Government data has revealed that life satisfaction is declining amongst Australian women.

Jenny Ulichny, a university researcher, expected the reverse to be true:
“These results are surprising,” she says. “In most westernised democratic countries, females have made significant strides in terms of social changes towards equality over the previous two generations. It would be reasonable to expect these changes to increase female wellbeing and happiness.”

You'd be a bit disappointed if you were a feminist, wouldn't you? After many decades of social change to implement your philosophy, women are not only not becoming happier, they are feeling worse off.

It's hardly surprising. Feminism is one strand of a modernity that is dissolving traditional relationships, including those of family, community and nation. In their place is supposed to be the self-authoring, free to choose individual, but what that means in practice is a focus on people being self-made in the market, i.e. through careers.

For a few women in high status, creative careers that might seem a good trade off, but for a lot of women it will just mean a daily grind at work.

Jenny Ulichny thinks that the problem has to do with social connectedness:
Australian men and women are saying that they see friends and loved ones less frequently and are participating less and less in community-based events and hobbies.

That could be because of the increasing demands of paid work, or it could have to do with the "hunkering down" effect that Professor Putnam has identified in more diverse societies.

Whatever the cause, this is more evidence that feminism in particular, and modernity in general, are not progressive but are connected to decline - in this case to a decline in women's sense of well-being.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cog status

Naomi Wolf, the American feminist, has noticed that quite a few of the leaders of the more patriotic parties in Europe are women (e.g. Marine Le Pen in France, Pia Kjaersgaard in Denmark and Siv Jensen in Norway).

She's not happy about it. She's written an article in which she crudely attacks these parties; however, she does a good job in explaining why ordinary women might find these patriotic parties appealing:
right-wing movements benefit from the limitations of a postfeminist, post-sexual-revolution society, and the spiritual and emotional void produced by secular materialism.

Many lower-income women in Western Europe today – often single parents working pink-collar ghetto jobs that leave them exhausted and without realistic hope of advancement – can reasonably enough feel a sense of nostalgia for past values and certainties. For them, the idealized vision of an earlier age, one in which social roles were intact and women’s traditional contribution supposedly valued, can be highly compelling.

And, of course, parties that promote such a vision promise women – including those habituated to second-class status at work and the bulk of the labor at home – that they are not just faceless atoms in the postmodern mass. Rather, you, the lowly clerical worker, are a “true” Danish, Norwegian, or French woman. You are an heiress to a noble heritage, and...also part of something larger and more compelling than is implied by the cog status that a multiracial, secular society offers you.

The attraction of right-wing parties to women should be examined, not merely condemned. If a society does not offer individuals a community life that takes them beyond themselves, values only production and the bottom line, and opens itself to immigrants without asserting and cherishing what is special and valuable about Danish, Norwegian, or French culture, it is asking for trouble.

There's a bit of snark in this, but she does recognise that things have gone seriously wrong within liberal modernity (see, it's not just us).

Monday, July 21, 2014

John Dickson Batten

Here's a painting by a British artist, John Dickson Batten, titled The Family (1886) (hat tip: Happy Acres)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A sign of the times: the god Thor becomes a....

Won't dwell on this, but will take it as a sign of the times that Marvel comics has decided that from now on the Norse god Thor is to be a woman.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Mass man

I've just read an interesting post by Bonald. It's a summary of a book written in 1930 by Jose Ortega y Gasset called The Revolt of the Masses:
A century of security and prosperity (the nineteenth, that is) has produced a populace of spoiled brats.  That’s the main contention of Ortega y Gasset’s famous book.  The new type, which he calls “mass man”, is distinguished above all by ingratitude and complacency.  He has grown so used to stable government and a rising standard of living that he has come to imagine that these exist automatically without any human effort.  Being oblivious to the effort needed to maintain and run a civilization, he certainly feels no responsibility to contribute to the endeavor, but rather settles for demanding a greater and greater share of the spoils.  Mass man has no interest in the science that gives him his technology or in the history and culture that form his civilization.  The mass calls on the state to gratify its desires by bullying those who stand in its way, oblivious to the ruin this will eventually bring.

The noble man always serves some good or outside himself and judges himself by a harsh external standard.  (Noblesse oblige.)  Mass man is satisfied with himself as he is.  (He has self-esteem, we might say.)  He has opinions, picked up from the prejudices and buzzwords of his surroundings, on every topic.  He has no interest, however, in investigating whether his opinions are actually true.  He doesn’t feel the need to have what he regards as good reasons, much less to investigate the reasons for and against each view before coming to a decision on a particular issue.  He thinks his opinions have value just because they are his.  This is only a particularly obnoxious example of mass man’s total self-complacency.  Experts in narrow technical fields are some of the worst mass men, as their expertise in one field makes them even more smug and incurious in their ignorant appraisals of everything else.

It seems to me that a certain percentage of traditionalist intellectuals are in reaction against something like Ortega's mass man. They have an instinct toward nobility of character and bearing, of moral integrity, of the pursuit of a higher, complex truth, of an elevated culture and companionship, of beauty and refinement, of self-discipline and courage.

However, from at least the late 1800s onward, it has been clear that Western culture was slipping increasingly toward dominance by that of the mass man (and by the mid-1900s that dominance was close to complete).

What does all that mean? It means that we have a potential problem with traditionalist intellectuals. In the early 1900s, a group of liberal intellectuals felt alienated from their own culture and so turned against it, preferring to form a subculture of their own - with disastrous consequences for Western history.

And what does a traditionalist intellectual do who similarly feels alienated from a culture based on mass man? I wonder if it pushes some to become curmudgeonly or bitter, and to feel a superior disdain for the mainstream of their own society. In other words, there is no longer a positive regard for the ordinary man and woman of their own tradition, which then sours the whole outlook.

There has to be some sympathetic understanding that it is not given to everyone to set a higher ideal for themselves; but that there is still much within the life of the ordinary person to admire; and that the role of those who are drawn to higher ideals is to act creatively in the world to positively influence their own society and culture.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Dr Stoet: do we really care that...

Gijsbert Stoet is a reader in psychology at the University of Glasgow. He has stood against the temper of the times by arguing that it is normal for young men and women to have differing preferences when it comes to careers. He also wants attention to be paid to the performance of boys at school.
Dr Stoet said it was ‘really hard’ to attract girls to subjects such as computing, telling the British Education Studies Association in Glasgow: ‘Girls will say, “Well, that’s boring, I’m just not interested in it”. ‘We need to have a national debate on why we find it so important to have equal numbers.

‘Do we really care that only 5 per cent of the programmers are women? … I don’t care who programs my computers. A wealthy, democratic society can afford to let people do what they want.

‘What is better? To have 50 per cent of female engineers who do not really like their work but say, “Yeah, well, I did it for the feminist cause”. Or do you want 3 per cent of female engineers who say “I really like my job”?’

Dr Stoet went on to question the national focus given to girls’ struggles in subjects such as maths, when boys generally performed worse at school.

‘Nobody seems to be that interested that boys have problems. We have, as human beings, a natural tendency to see women as vulnerable and needing help. But if it’s a boy who needs help, he’s responsible for himself,’ he said.

Dr Stoet believes that people are influenced by a combination of biology and culture; his opponents emphasise the influence of culture alone:
To me, it seems often that some activists find it more important that we have equal numbers of men and women in every job that needs to be done than that people are choosing something they really want to do. That is based on the wrong assumption that those activists think that men and women make those career choices because of the wrong type of socialisation (such as specific colours of toys). They never seem to consider that our vocational interests can at least be partially influenced by our biology.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Yesterday's crazy radicalism is tomorrow's new policy

Back in 2009 I wrote some posts about the most radical feminist I had ever come across, an American who called herself Twisty.

To give you an idea of her radicalism, she wanted women to oppose motherhood, which she believed was a partriarchal construct:
We are desperate for women to stop buying into the patriarchy-sponsored message about women’s fulfillment ... We want women to reject marriage and the nuclear family. We want women to not have kids in the first place.

A world without children? Twisty was quite on board with this:
In light of a remark I made in a recent post ... that women should just quit having babies ... I thought it might be fun to revisit the Voluntary Human Extinctionist Movement.

I've made my point, haven't I? Twisty was one way out crazy radical feminist.

Well, I should have known that society would catch up to Twisty. One of Twisty's favourite themes was that women should be held to be in a state of perpetual non-consent, so that if a woman ever accused a man of rape, that there would be a presumption of guilt:
According to my scheme, women would abide in a persistent legal condition of not having given consent to sex. Conversely, men ... would abide in a persistent legal state of pre-rape.

Women can still have all the sex they want; if they adjudge that their dude hasn’t raped them, all they have to do is not call the cops.

But if, at any time during the course of the proceedings ... or if, in three hours or three days or, perhaps in the case of childhood abuse, in 13 years it begins to dawn on her that she has been badly used by an opportunistic predator, she has simply to make a call.

Presto! The dude is already a rapist, because, legally, consent never existed.

That was Twisty's solution to giving women a perfect sexual autonomy, whilst making sure that men are kept well and truly under the thumb of women.

Enter the New Zealand Labour Party. This party is going into an election with a policy that changes the burden of proof in a rape trial, so that the defendant has to prove that consent took place. Given that there are often no independent witnesses to what happened, this won't always be possible for men who are innocent of the crime. In effect, the accused man is being presumed to be guilty of rape unless he can prove otherwise.

That's still a little different from Twisty's view. I'm not sure that Twisty even wants there to be an opportunity for the accused to defend himself.

But even so, if the Labour Party wins power in the election, then New Zealand will have followed a long way along Twisty's scheme.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Rita Panahi on the Tamils

The Australian Navy has intercepted boats of Tamils intending to claim asylum in Australia. It has caused more debate in Australia about whether those on the boats should be returned or allowed to claim asylum.

Rita Panahi has written a column in the Herald Sun arguing that they should not be accepted. These are her reasons:
  • those on board were said to have sailed for Australia from India; a country where they are not under threat
  • One must ask the question why a Tamil would sail more than 5000km to Australia when they can travel 30km to Tamil Nadu in India?
  • the one person who was assessed as possibly having a case for asylum, asked to be sent back when told he would be processed offshore (i.e. he'd rather return than be resettled somewhere other than Australia)
These are all good points. I have pointed out before that Tamils are in the lucky situation of having an ancestral homeland in India (Tamil Nadu) very close to Sri Lanka that has a developing economy. A genuine refugee could very easily resettle there, unless, that is, they decide to go country shopping and move to Australia for economic purposes.

Tamil Nadu (in red) 30km from Sri Lanka
It is highly likely that the Tamils are economic migrants rather than genuine refugees.

I'd like to repeat here my own proposal for reforming the refugee system. The wealthier countries (including Asian and Middle-Eastern nations) should pay into a central fund that would distribute money to those nations resettling refugees. However, a person found to be refugee would be resettled in whatever country was deemed to be closest in culture and living standard to the one that was being fled.

That would give no incentive for people to abuse the system; it would provide for those in genuine need; it would give a financial boost to those nations bearing most of the burden of resettling refugees; and it would allow for an assimilation of new arrivals without forcing a radical change to the demographics of the host nation.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A French manifesto

There is a French website called Vigi Gender which has helped to lead the fight against gender theory in that country. You can find at the site a post defending sex distinctions, the first part of which I have reproduced (in rough translation) below:

Become what you are

We are born male or female. Our whole being is gendered in its physical, psychological and spiritual dimension. Male and female cells are different: all male cells are XY and all cells of the woman XX. Sex hormones of men and women are different: testosterone in men; in women, estrogen, the hormone of femininity and progesterone, the hormone of motherhood. Several scientific studies show that differences in the aptitude, interests, psychology and behaviour of men and women can be explained in part by differences in male and female body, especially the differences in hormones and the male and female brains.

Man is an incarnate being endowed with a mind capable of reason and will. Our body is a source of meaning; it expresses the person, "my body is me." To deny the body, to deny the influence of the sexed body on behaviour, interests, psychology, skills, not only contradicts numerous scientific studies, but is to deny that the human person; is an embodied being and to make of it a pure spirit, a being which only defines itself.

We are born male or female and all our life we fulfil ourselves as man or woman, we become what we are in completing what we received at birth (nature), and by what we receive throughout our lives through culture (relationship to the father and the mother, education, history, language, customs ...)

If what we received from the culture was completely separated from our bodies, we would not be united, as we would be torn between the meaning carried by our body, and what we received. This would create serious psychological disorders, a despair of not knowing who we are.

The male-female distinction runs through us as each of us is born of this difference. Mankind is founded on this distinction. Neither man alone nor woman alone says what humanity is but in the meeting of the two.

The word "sex" comes from the Latin verb "secare" cut. Sexual difference is like a wound. Sex, as difference, is that which forbids man to look at himself. Thus, knowledge of masculinity clarifies femininity and vice versa.

"The woman becomes a woman in the eyes of man, but it must be said with equal force that the man really becomes a man in the sight of the woman; sexual differentiation is a phenomenon of mutual humanization "(A. Jeannière anthropologist)

Man and woman are of the same nature, human nature, the foundation of their dignity and rights attached thereto. Everyone, as a man or woman is worthy to be loved, regardless of their differences, innate or chosen.

The differences between men and women are a treasure for themselves, for the child and for society as a whole. They do not imply a hierarchy of one sex over the other, but are complementary to the good of each. For this, we learn to understand them, to socialise them, to love them.

Proponents of gender theory argue that the differences between man and woman were created by men to enslave women. They want to impose a society where there would be no difference, where the woman is a man like any other, free from the injustice of motherhood, where only the masculine values ​​of competition and risk can be desirable. This society is simply inhuman.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Another victory in France!

The French Government has pulled the plug on its "ABCD of equality" programme in French schools. That's a wonderful victory for the groups battling the programme, including VIGI gender, French Spring and the JRE (the JRE is the group organising monthly boycotts of French schools - they have had over 250,000 student withdrawals so far this year - a successful strategy it seems).

Why was it so important to confront this programme? The ABCD programme was based on a 'gender theory' which claims that sex distinctions are socially constructed to oppress women. The aim, therefore, was to have a school curriculum which sought to suppress the differences between boys and girls.

This, of course, fits in with the general aim of liberalism of promoting individual autonomy. If the aim is for individuals to be self-determining, and our sex is something that is predetermined, then it will be thought of negatively as a restriction on individual freedom. The aim of liberals will be to make sex distinctions not matter.

Here is one academic explaining the implications of gender theory:
"Claiming the equality of all people regardless of their gender and sexual orientation is deconstructing the complementarity of the sexes and thus rebuilding new republican foundations" (Réjane Senac researcher at CNRS, professor at Sciences Po Paris and University Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3, pages 24-25).

In this view, equality means deconstructing the complementarity of male and female. It is a radical outlook. Here is another official statement on what the gender theorists want to achieve:
the report by IGAS (General Inspectorate of Social Affairs) recommends "replacing the terms 'boys' and 'girls' by the neutral terms 'friends' or 'children', telling stories in which the children have two dads or mums, etc." According to the report, the aim is to "prevent sexual differentiation and the interiorisation by the children of their sexual identity."

If you look at the teaching materials supplied to teachers as part of the ABCD programme you get a sense of how far the French state was willing to go to achieve these aims. Teachers in all subject areas were expected to micro-manage their lessons to break down sex distinctions.

For instance, when it comes to Physical Education the gender theorists were not only concerned that girls preferred rhythmic gymnastics to boys, but more than this they were concerned that girls preferred the aesthetic aspect of the sport, whereas boys were more oriented to the ball skills component. Detailed lesson plans were supplied to teachers to overcome this aspect of sex differences.

Similarly, there was concern by the gender theorists that in group play girls were more likely to seek activities in which there was no confrontation, which were calmer and which took up less physical space. The gender theorists were concerned, in other words, by the existence of subtly different styles of play existing between boys and girls, assuming that these were socially constructed to disadvantage girls.

The French people were right to demonstrate against the imposition of such a curriculum:

The banner reads "No to gender theory"

In my next post, I'm going to publish an excellent statement from the VIGI site in defence of sex distinctions.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Another Grimshaw

Another John Atkinson Grimshaw painting. Not sure of the title of this one (you can click it to expand it).

Can liberal morality work in reality?

I've presented the following quote from Dr Leslie Cannold, an Australian ethicist, a few times now:
Defining our own good, and living our lives in pursuit of it, is at the heart of a moral life.

It captures an aspect of the liberal attitude to morality, namely that objective goods either don't exist or can't be known to us, and that therefore what matters is a freedom to subjectively define our own good, and not to interfere in others doing the same.

But can this liberal approach work in real life? I'd like to present some evidence that it's not likely to be held to consistently, not even by Dr Cannold herself.

Back in 2005 Dr Cannold had a book published called What, no baby? She herself was married with children at the time, but the book was about the large numbers of Western women of my generation who missed out on marriage and children.

An interesting review of the book, by novelist Joanna Murray-Smith, begins:
"What most women want is actually quite simple. What they want is men. And babies." So writes Leslie Cannold, a researcher and ethicist from Melbourne University, whose book explores why so many women desirous of children fail to have them. The Australian Bureau of Statistics says up to 25 per cent of Australian women of reproductive age will fail to have children, some by choice, others by "circumstance".

So what happened to "defining our own good"? Dr Cannold is suggesting here that there is a good that can be known, i.e. that most women will identify marriage and motherhood as significant goods. Already, Dr Cannold's liberal formula is failing.

It gets worse, because Dr Cannold goes on to recognise that once we identify this good, that a purely individual pursuit of it won't work. There are some goods that require a certain larger context to make them available or achievable: many women, for instance, won't be able to pursue marriage if there aren't sufficient numbers of men willing to marry; the opportunity to marry might also be affected by other values or lifestyles embedded in a culture or society.
Cannold's premise is that the declining fertility rates in Western countries are not due to a lack of desire to reproduce, but rather to circumstances unconducive to baby-having.

Cannold takes a left-wing approach to making society more family friendly, arguing that women didn't marry and have children, despite wanting to, because they would have had to give up professional status, income and security in the workplace in order to do so.

I don't believe that's the best answer (nor does Joanna Murray-Smith), but the point remans that Cannold has been forced to recognise that there are some goods we can know as an aspect of human nature, and that we have to think through the impact of culture and social organisation in upholding these goods (that the framework of society has to be so ordered to allow the most significant goods to be widely achievable).

If we were to stick resolutely to 'self-defining our own good and living our life in pursuit of it' then the possible range of goods would have to be narrowed to those things that can be achieved at a purely individual level, and these things tend to be relatively trivial aims.

Back, though, to Cannold recognising that the framework of society matters. Joanna Murray-Smith doesn't think it adequate to blame women not marrying on workplace organisation alone:
Cannold makes many valid points, but I don't know any woman who allows the unfriendly workplace to win over her maternal desire.

Joanna Murray-Smith thinks the negative effects of feminism should be acknowledged:
While Cannold energetically cites many hazardous influences to (fertile) women's desire to procreate, feminism is the only thing that is excused...

"Waiters and watchers are women who saw when they were young - often in their own mothers - that children threatened all they were being taught to value in life: financial independence, romantic relationships, high-powered careers." Was feminism no part of this?

Which brings me to a comment that any younger female readers should pay particular attention to. In 2003 an Australian journalist, Virginia Haussegger, lamented that she had followed the advice of older feminists in single-mindedly pursuing the goals of a career and independence, but that this had left her childless and unfulfilled.

Dr Cannold's response to Virginia Haussegger is this:
"It is true that feminists urged all women to shed their domestic shackles and seek fulfilment and financial independence outside the home. But what is Haussegger? A brainless puppet? A mindless drone?"

It's another dismissive response to women who were negatively affected by feminism. It's a reminder, too, of the way that some feminists simply expect to make "unprincipled exceptions" to their own beliefs and consider other feminists who don't do this as lacking social skills (it's like they're saying "you should follow path x, that's the belief, but don't blame us if it goes belly up, you really ought to think for yourself").

Finally, notice the phrase that Dr Cannold uses "shed their domestic shackles". That makes it sound as if hearth and home is a kind of prison to escape from. In saying this, Dr Cannold is once again establishing a culture or influence that is likely to discourage young women from committing to motherhood until it's too late.

Joanna Murray-Smith notices the same thing:
There seems to be a complete lack of awareness that her own attitudes may be part of the problem. The author's commitment to mothers is always in tandem with their ability and desire to work. And while there's absolutely nothing wrong with advocating a world that serves both interests, what is missing is acknowledgement of women (and men) of all "classes" who want to parent full-time; choice rather patronisingly described as "misplaced social nostalgia about white picket fences".

Monday, July 07, 2014

Eltham trads meeting

Any readers who live within driving distance of Eltham in Melbourne might be interested in attending the next Eltham Traditionalists meeting coming up later this month. It's a chance to catch up with others sympathetic to traditionalist politics and to enjoy a meal and conversation.

There's more about the Eltham Traditionalists here. If you're interested and would like further information please drop me an email at

South African liberal wants to close down boys schools

Thorne Godinho is a white South African who describes himself as "a committed social liberal". He wants to shut down boys-only schools:
The behaviour of the men who attend boys-only schools, and the cultural practices that are an indelible part of the boys-school experience, clearly highlight the problems of masculinity and male-centric and dominated spaces...

...the broader culture and traditions associated with boys-only schools, provide the greatest evidence of why we need to re-consider masculinity and how we see, educate and love men.

In such male-centric and dominated spaces boys are taught about what it means to be a man and how to behave and live as a man. Beyond promoting a culture of violence and abuse, the effect of institutional culture is to promote discipline, outdated standards of masculinity and heteronormativity, and subservience to the institutional culture.

He is right about some of the effects of attending a boys-only school (I went to one myself). It's true that there tends to be a bit more violence; at the same time, though, they are masculinising environments which do promote loyalty to the school as an institution.

But why would Thorne Godinho oppose discipline, institutional loyalty and masculinity? His argument is based on liberal understandings of individuality and freedom.

There are liberals who believe that identity is always uniquely individual. If this is true, then a collective identity is something that is falsely imposed on the individual, restricting our ability to be who we truly are. Freedom, therefore, means liberation from any collective identity, so that we can be free to be who we truly are.

Godinho is consistent in treating collective identities as restrictions on the self: not only does he want men to challenge their own masculinity, he has also written a post titled "How to challenge your whiteness".

Here is Godinho putting the liberal view:
Instead of allowing young men to discover who they are on their own, a collective culture is forced upon them – one which suits their fathers, teachers and people who cling to gender essentialism.

There is no space, no freedom to live as one truly is. In these schools, individuality dies at the hands of an institutional culture which values collectivism, muscle and toeing the line.

The ethical feminist Drucilla Cornell has developed the concept of the “imaginary domain” – the space in which one can claim one’s sexual and gender identity. In the “imaginary domain” exists the freedom of every person to choose how to live, love and be – away from the stifling gender constructs shoved onto us by society. This freedom is categorically important if we truly believe that people are equal and are ethically and morally allowed to determine the outcome of their own lives.

Unfortunately, this freedom cannot co-exist with the institutional culture prevalent in boys-only schools. And the freedom to be as one chooses certainly cannot exist in a space where violence and abuse is utilised as a weapon to enforce power relations and collective subservience to the institutional culture present.

It all hinges on whether masculinity is simply a social construct or whether it expresses something real ("essentialism"). Godinho is homosexual and therefore not likely to experience masculinity as an essence. But what if developing a masculine identity is natural and healthy for boys? Then the whole liberal edifice falls down: a boy's identity and development of self will be helped, not harmed, by exposure to a masculine environment.

Furthermore, there is an inconsistency in Godinho's account of individuality. He talks at times of young men "discovering who they are on their own" which suggests that there is some unique, given identity there to be uncovered. But he then talks about the importance of a freedom of every person to choose what to be - which suggests that identity is something that has to be self-created rather than something given to us.

So are we self-creating blank slates? Or do we have a uniquely given identity?

There are problems with both views. If we are blank slates who are free to choose whatever identity we like, then identity doesn't mean much. It is a random thing that doesn't connect us to anything. But if there is a given identity, then Godinho has to drop some of the liberal pretence that we are free to choose whatever we want to be.

Finally, it should also be noted that liberals don't really give up on collective identity. They just replace natural forms of human community with political ones. Liberals are adept at forming communities based on the political principles of liberalism (i.e. where you claim membership by various kinds of political markers, e.g. using certain academic terminology, following PC codes etc.)

Godinho finishes by suggesting that girls should be used as a battering ram against boys:
Maybe the best way to ensure difference is to flood the halls of boys-only schools with young women. Maybe we need to start exposing pupils to ideas and ways of thinking which do not restrict them. We can begin to challenge the ideology of masculinity and what it’s doing to South Africa’s men.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Knowing it's wrong, unable to say why

Magaluf is a tourist resort on the Spanish island of Majorca. It has hit the news because of an incident at a bar there in which an 18-year-old British woman performed a sex act on 24 men in under three minutes (she won a free drink).

She (and the men involved) have been universally condemned, with the mayor expressing his "total rejection" of and "absolute indignation" at what took place.

But here's the thing. Under the rules of liberalism what the girl did isn't wrong at all. As Dr Leslie Cannold, an Australian ethicist, put it:
Defining our own good, and living our lives in pursuit of it, is at the heart of a moral life.

What matters for liberals is that we get to subjectively define our own good. What it is that we happen to choose doesn't matter (as long as it doesn't interfere with others equally defining their own good).

Under the terms of liberalism, what the girl did might in fact be thought heroic. After all, she defied a moral taboo to act as she wanted to.

And yet what she did will strike just about everyone as being very wrong, as a new low point in the moral life of the West. Even most liberals are going to instinctively think of it as wrong.

So how do liberals extricate themselves from this dilemma? Their moral philosophy says that what the girl did was virtuous, but their moral intuition tells them that it is deeply wrong.

Well, there is an underhand way out of the dilemma, and that's to claim that the girl's choice wasn't really her choice after all, that she didn't give consent adequately and so on. And that's how the left-liberal press is treating this:
Katie Russell, a spokesperson for Rape Crisis said: “The exact circumstances are unclear but we are very concerned about girls and young women being coerced or exploited in situations where they are potentially vulnerable for example through alcohol consumption.

“There are obvious issues of consent here; it is not clear whether this video was made with the young woman’s consent and it is not clear whether those who have posted and shared the video widely did so with her consent."

Holly Dustin, Director of End Violence Against Women said: “This incident and the wide online sharing of the video points to enormous questions of lack of consent and abuse."

That is what is left to liberals in expressing moral disapproval. All that they can do is to query whether the choice is authentic or coerced.

It's not persuasive. Let's say the young woman involved hadn't drunk any alcohol at all. Would her actions then strike us as being morally legitimate? And here's another problem with this approach to morality: it is easily defeated. What, for instance, if the young woman insists that she was not, in fact, coerced?

That's the defence that the organisers of the bar crawl are making. They have released a statement saying:
All you need to do is look at the video and you can see she clearly isn't drunk and knows what she is doing. Definitely not forced in any way.

And they pointed out that:
The girl and her 8 friends bought tickets for the next BARCRAWL as they said it was AMAZING!

Even those involved in organising bar crawls are aware of the rules of play. Anything goes as long as it's consensual. Therefore, moral debate has to focus on the issue of consent, rather than on the quality of the actions themselves.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Why give up the benefits of traditional community?

I've just returned from a short holiday in the countryside. I spent some time in a couple of smaller towns, where a more settled way of life still prevails. I could feel in these towns that sense of people and place which gives a special charge to the experience of life. Another way to put this is that it gives a more spiritualised experience of life.

And yet there are many people who have chosen to commit themselves instead to an internationalist, multicultural ideal. But why?

Here are some of the possible reasons why some Westerners have chosen such an option:

1. At the top of society there are reasons for wanting to break people apart from one another. If people are allowed to have "sideways loyalties" then there is a possible source of resistance to a complete domination of society by the logic of the market and by the regulation (and remaking) of society by intellectual "expertise."

This is significant because it means that the side of politics which is opposed to traditional communities has both money and intellectual support.

2. Liberals are likely to turn against traditional communities. This is so for a number of reasons. First, liberals are (formally) committed to a pluralistic vision of society, in which society is declared to be a neutral space in which the state regulates the relations between different groups holding an equal status (except that the traditionally dominant group is often not given equal status). This view leads liberals to criticise traditional communities as being too monocultural or "whitebread".

Second, liberals are often committed to an individualistic vision of society. Liberals have rejected the classical view of man being a social creature, with some of our identity and purposes being drawn from the social entities we belong to, and have instead looked upon the abstract, atomised individual (the individual considered apart from his community or family) as being the starting point of philosophy. For this reason, liberals are not as sensitive to the importance of a traditional communal life to the individual (this is the aspect of liberalism that communitarian writers have criticised).

Third, liberals hold to a concept of freedom in which freedom is defined as individual autonomy. We are free, in this view, if we are unimpeded in living a self-determining life. This means that predetermined qualities, such as our sex or our ethny, are thought of, negatively, as restrictions or limitations that the individual should be liberated from. This concept of freedom has ruled out many of the more significant aspects of human identity; what it has left for many liberals is the idea that life is about being self-made in the market. Hence the view of the individual as "economic man" in pursuit of his rational self-interest in the market. The more that this view dominates, the more that people are seen as interchangeable units rather than as members of distinct communities.

3. There are some Christians (not all) who have set themselves against traditional communities. This is despite what I pointed to at the start of this post, namely that the experience of traditional community life is a spiritualising one that is likely to bring the individual closer to, rather than further from, the acceptance of Christian belief.

Why might some Christians promote a shift toward a more mundane internationalism? One reason is that some Christians are reductionist in their world view. They want to distil Christianity into just one principle, and sometimes choose to go with an abstract, indiscriminate love for everyone equally. The value of particular human relationships aren't recognised in this outlook.

There are also some Christians who see particular loves and relationships as competing with, rather than leading people toward (or being aspects of), the relationship with church and with God. Some Christians even claim that the only legitimate community is that of church.

4. Intellectuals often don't share the same interests as others. Growing up they can feel like the odd person out, unappreciated and unrecognised by those around them. As young adults they are likely to seek out others like themselves and to form communities which are defined against the surrounding mainstream culture. Their form of community, in other words, defines status according to how far distant its members are from the ordinary mainstream of society. Intellectual communities have therefore tended to deny that their own society has a worthwhile culture of its own and have instead set out to identify with and enjoy the cultures of others.

5. In modern times, some Westerners may simply never have had the experience of living within a traditional community. In the larger, multicultural cities it is now possible to not know what it is like to be part of a living tradition of one's own.

6. Some people are not spiritually sensitive souls. They are more inclined to understand things materialistically and are therefore less likely to recognise the value of belonging to a settled community.

7. Some people of mixed ancestry, or who belong to minority ethnic groups, don't experience the existence of the (mainstream) living tradition as positively as others, not feeling that they belong to it as closely.

You can see from this the challenge of holding onto traditional community life, no matter what it brings positively to people's lives. Traditions won't go on just by themselves, not when they are up against the forces I have listed above. There has to exist resourced, organised, institutional support for them.

Traditionalists ought to be concerned that the economic structure of a society gives business interests reasons to support community; that the theology of the churches is a sophisticated one that brings the churches into the mainstream of social life, rather than marginalising them as cults; that intellectuals are brought into normal social life rather than forming hostile sub-communities and that they are encouraged to seek status through intellectual and cultural leadership rather than through rejection of the mainstream; and that rank and file traditionalists are given the chance to exert influence through organisations of their own.