Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chapter 3: Sex distinctions

What is it that liberalism doesn't allow?

In a liberal society, autonomy is the highest good. To be autonomous means to be self-determining. This means that whatever is predetermined is held to be a negative limitation on the individual.

The fact of being a man or a woman is predetermined. It's not something we get to choose for ourselves. Therefore it is part of the liberal project to make distinctions between men and women not matter.

If you read through liberal commentary on the issue of sex distinctions you find certain recurring themes, all of them flowing logically and predictably from the underlying premises of liberalism:

  • Since liberals want to be self-determined, and sex distinctions are predetermined, liberals will often describe masculinity and femininity as restrictions on the individual. They use terms like fetter, prison and straitjacket to describe masculinity and femininity.
  • Liberals assume that we are made human by our capacity to self-determine. Therefore, there are liberals who believe that by dropping the idea of being men or women we finally get to be human beings.
  • Liberals want to be self-determined, so they particularly resent the predetermined biological fact of being male or female. Liberals are especially resentful of the link between being female and motherhood as this is held to be an unchosen biological destiny.
  • Liberals want to be able to transcend being male or female. Therefore, liberals often describe masculinity and femininity as being artificial social constructs, as this means they are categories that can be deconstructed. Liberals usually reject the idea that masculinity and femininity are natural, or that there are masculine and feminine essences or ideals.
  • Liberals want to be able to self-define. If there is only a binary choice between being male or female, the opportunity to self-define is limited. Therefore, liberals reject the idea of a binary, in favour of the idea that there are multiple and fluid sex identities.
  • If the aim is to self-determine, and sex distinctions are predetermined, then abolishing differences between men and women will be thought of as a liberation from outmoded prejudices and injustices. Liberals therefore believe there is a moral purpose in abolishing masculinity and femininity; it is looked on by some as a path to salvation.

How do liberals themselves formulate these themes? Let's begin with Susan Moller Okin, a professor of ethics at Stanford University, who once wrote:

A just future would be one without gender. In its social structures and practices, one's sex would have no more relevance than one's eye color or the length of one's toes. [1]

According to American scholar Carolyn Heilbrun,

our future salvation lies in a movement away from sexual polarization and the prison of gender toward a world in which individual roles and modes of personal behavior can be freely chosen. [2]

Ann Snitow recalls being asked what motivated her political activism:

An academic woman sympathetic to the movement but not active asked what motivated me to spend all this time organizing, marching, meeting.

I tried to explain the excitement I felt at the idea that I didn't have to be a woman ... It was the idea of breaking the law of the category itself that made me delirious. [3]

A professor of journalism, Robert Jensen, warns us that,

We need to get rid of the whole idea of masculinity … Of course, if we are going to jettison masculinity, we have to scrap femininity along with it … For those of us who are biologically male, we have a simple choice: We men can settle for being men, or we can strive to be human beings. [4]

A liberal writer, David Fiore, explains that,

Any time a human being chooses to describe themselves as anything but a "human being", liberalism has been thwarted.

... The liberal subject is always merely that - he or she can have no group affiliation, no "sexual orientation", no gender in fact! [5]

It is Olga Silverstein’s considered view that,

until we are willing to question the very idea of a male sex role ... we will be denying both men and women their full humanity. [6]

In 2008, a European Union committee urged that ads showing women as mothers or men as builders be outlawed as such a portrayal of gender,

straitjackets women, men, girls and boys by restricting individuals to predetermined and artificial roles... [7]

In 2007, two new publishing houses for children’s books set up in Sweden. They are both committed to a liberal policy:

Vilda and another small publisher, Olika, both opened their doors last year with the express aim of making children's books that promote liberal values and challenge traditional views on gender.

“Our goal is for all people, regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity or other such things, to have the freedom to create their own identities ..." said Karin Salmson, the co-founder of the new Vilda publishing house.

Vilda has therefore introduced a so-called "hug label", guaranteeing that its books ... contain no details "based on prejudice or traditional gender roles that rein in individual freedom".

Olika's co-founder Marie Tomicic also says her publishing house aims to "break down traditional gender roles and offer children broader role models, allowing them to be all they can be."

Together the two small publishers have so far only released about a dozen titles, including a book about a boy who wears pink sandals. [8]

More simply, Gloria Steinem has complained about,

the false division of human nature into the "feminine" and "masculine" [9]

The Australian social commentator Hugh Mackay has called for a national holiday to celebrate those who,

were prepared to fight a culture war that has radically refocused our understanding of the supremacy of personhood over gender [10]

In 1972 a children’s songbook was released called Free to be … You and Me. It sold over 500,000 copies. Judith Stadtman Tucker has summarised its political message:

its principal strategy is portraying traditional gender roles as limiting, hurtful and old-fashioned ... the creators of F2BY&M seem intent on ... imparting the value of female autonomy ... the first step to freedom and self-respect for girls is to do the same things that boys do...

The record itself included these notes written by a child development expert:

By raising doubts about traditional restrictive models for men and women alike, the record opens up for children the happy vista that all individuals, male or female, are people above all.

One of the songs, Girl Land, celebrates the future demise of a distinct girlhood:

They're closing down 'Girl Land'
Some say it's a shame
It used to be busy
Then nobody came

... And soon in the park
That was 'Girl Land' before
You'll do as you like
And be who you are.

Another song put the liberal idea of what makes us human this way:

A person should wear what he wants to wear
And not just what other folks say
A person should do what she likes to
A person's a person that way [11]

The Russian political activist Alexandra Kollontai told readers of her autobiography that as a young girl in the late 1800s she already knew,

That I ought not to shape my life according to the given model ... I could help my sisters shape their lives, in accordance not with the given traditions but with their own free choice ... I wanted to be free. I wanted to express desires on my own, to shape my own little life. [12]

Kollontai was a supporter of the “new woman” of the early twentieth century who was “independent inwardly and self-reliant outwardly”. She described the modern woman as having “broken the rusted fetter of her sex” to become “a human being”. In public lectures she wished that women were less physically distinct:

[Kollontai] longs for the female body itself to become less soft and curvy and more muscular ... She argues that prehistoric women were physiologically less distinct from men... [13]

In 2005 an officer of the Melbourne University Student Union argued that separate toilets for men and women should be replaced by “pan-toilets” to cater for “all gender possibilities”. He explained that,

Part of our intention is to break down the belief that there is just man and woman. Ideally we'd like to see a world where there are so many gender expressions that you just don't see there being man and woman any more. [14]

Australian academic Dr Michael Flood is another liberal who believes that we should not,

take as given the categories of "men" and "women". The binaries of male and female are socially produced ... [15]

A Swedish minister, Jens Orback, once declared it to be the official policy of his government that sex distinctions were not natural but were social constructs:

The government considers female and male as social constructions, that means gender patterns are created by upbringing, culture, economic conditions, power structures and political ideologies. [16]

An official of the Swedish state, Monica Silvell, has confirmed that as a result of the “sex role debate” it was no longer thought that there were natural sex distinctions:

The old view of men and women complementing one another was replaced by the notion that the sexes were basically similar. [17]

Laurie Penny, a young English political activist, believes that “liberated women” have successfully reacted “against the artificial prison of Western womanhood”. She complains, though, that our culture has been “achingly slow to even begin to let go of the archetype of masculinity”, so that men haven’t grown up to learn how to be “whole human beings”. She urges that,

we cannot allow ourselves to think in binaries - men and women, boys and girls ...

So I have this dream ... one that recognises that it is not only about liberating biological women from the constraints and indignities associated with their sex, but about liberating all human people from the cruelties and limitations imposed on them by their gender...

She sets herself against a “gender prejudice” in which things are “pre-ordained” and considers as her ally in the struggle against sex distinctions “every person trying to live their life as a complete human being”. [18]

The French writer Simone de Beauvoir thought that pregnancy compromised a woman's autonomy, by tying women to a biological role and to her children:

She regains some autonomy after the birth of her offspring – a certain distance is established between her and them [her children]...

At times when she is free from maternal servitude she can now and then equal the male

In the species capable of high individual development, the urge of the male towards autonomy – which in lower animals is his ruin – is crowned with success ... he leads a more independent life...

De Beauvoir welcomed menopause as liberating women from being female:

Woman is now delivered from the servitude imposed by her female nature ... she is herself, she and her body are one. It is sometimes said that women of a certain age constitute ‘a third sex’; and, in truth, while they are not males, they are no longer females. Often, indeed, this release from female physiology is expressed in a health, a balance, a vigour that they lacked before. [19]

Anne Fausto Sterling believes that it is merely a "cultural conceit" to think that there are two sexes and she views labelling children as boys or girls as a "social decision":

A tenured professor at Brown University recently published a book in which she claims that the division of the human race into two sexes, female and male, is an artificial invention of our culture. "Nature really offers us more than two sexes," she claims, adding, "Our current notions of masculinity and femininity are cultural conceits." The decision to "label" a child as a girl or a boy is "a social decision," according to this expert. We should not label any child as being either a girl or a boy, this professor proclaimed. "There is no either/or. Rather, there are shades of difference." [20]

And how does Professor Judith Butler explain the existence of sex distinctions? She believes that they are made up, "performed":

... gender is a performance ... Because there is neither an “essence” that gender expresses or externalizes nor an objective ideal to which gender aspires; because gender is not a fact, the various acts of gender create the idea of gender, and without those acts, there would be no gender at all. Gender is, thus, a construction... [21]

Finally, there is the example of the Men's Manifesto put out by the German Green Party. Jan Philipp Albrecht, a Green MP for the EU, introduced the manifesto with this complaint:

Equal rights in the year 2010? We men see that our society is still pervaded by a deep seated spirit of sexual polarity which reduces women to femininity and men to masculinity. We have to finally put a stop to it. We no longer want to have to be macho, we want to be people! ...

You aren't born a man, you are turned into one ... Sex roles for men are also a corset, that does them more harm than good ... [22]

In this last brief quote, most of the liberal bases have been covered. Being a man, we are told, is a social construct (something that we are turned into); masculinity is a restriction (a corset) that does us harm; the sex binary (or polarity) which limits us to the choice of male or female is false; and instead of being men we should aim to be human.

The blunt, liberal conclusion: we have to put a stop to sex distinctions.

In defence of sex distinctions

So liberals have set themselves against sex distinctions. What happens, though, if you disagree with this view?

Liberalism has been such an orthodoxy in the West, that the positions taken by liberals have been assumed to be the correct, legitimate ones. So liberals aren’t likely to discuss with an opponent the evidence for or against autonomy theory. What is more likely is that liberals will see an opponent as breaking a moral category. The opponent will be called sexist or prejudiced; they will be portrayed as being backward or ignorant, in contrast to those who are modern and liberated.

In a way it’s understandable that liberals should respond like this. If you really believed in autonomy theory then you would assume that sex distinctions undermine the very humanity of individuals. So for a liberal it all becomes a basic question of social justice. It becomes an important moral issue.

Those of us who don’t assume autonomy theory to be true are likely to reach a very different conclusion. The liberal campaign to make sex distinctions not matter, or even to abolish the categories of male and female, will seem misconceived.

It’s noteworthy that the liberal campaign against sex distinctions reached a peak at the very time that science was confirming a range of biological differences between the sexes, such as differences in the effects of hormones and even in the structure of the brain.

Science, in other words, has confirmed that there are significant hard-wired, biological differences between the sexes. So sex distinctions can’t be entirely treated as social constructs; they do exist as part of our unchosen, inborn nature.

Liberals have two choices in responding to the science of sex differences. One is to deny the science or even to suppress the research. For instance, in Sweden a county government withdrew funding for a book when it was learned that it contained an interview with a leading Swedish neurobiologist, Annica Dahlstrom. She is one of the scientists who have researched differences in the brain structure of men and women.

The editor of a Swedish newspaper supported the withdrawal of funding on the following grounds:

Our Swedish gender equality policy is based on us being equal and socialised into different gender roles. Annica Dahlstrom is an essentialist feminist and believes that boys and girls are totally different. The county government cannot publish material with that opinion. [23]

So because Annica Dahlstrom did not subscribe to the political view that sex distinctions are socialised and should be abolished in the name of gender equality, it was thought right that her research be suppressed, no matter how scientifically valid it was.

Another option for liberals is to accept the science but to insist nonetheless that sex distinctions be made not to matter. Some liberals have even gone as far as to suggest that human genetics be tampered with to overcome hardwired differences.

For example, in 2005 the President of Harvard University, Lawrence Summers, sparked a controversy when he speculated that there might be more men than women with an innate ability for high-level science. The establishment liberal magazine Time ran an eight page story on the issue which accepted recent scientific research into differences between the male and female brain; the Time reporters suggested however that human biology could be genetically “tweaked” to overcome the effects of these differences:

Now that scientists are finally starting to map the brain with some accuracy, the challenge is figuring out what to do with that knowledge. The possibilities for applying it to the classroom, workplace and doctor’s office are tantalizing. “If something is genetic, it means it must be biological. If we can figure out the biology, then we should be able to tweak the biology,” says Richard Haier, a psychology professor who studies intelligence at the University of California at Irvine. Maybe Summers’ failure was not one of sensitivity but one of imagination. [24]

There are other problems with the liberal denial of sex distinctions. An obvious one is that most of us identify as male or female. We don’t think of ourself in sex neutral terms but as men or women. If we deny sex distinctions we attack a significant aspect of who we are – of what we hold ourselves to be.

Heterosexuality, too, is based on an appreciation of sex distinctions. A heterosexual man doesn’t observe a beautifully feminine woman and wish that she were less distinct. He isn’t likely to long for her to be less womanly and more androgynous.

Which raises a further issue. Sex distinctions are important to our identity and our sexuality. Therefore, it won’t be easy for anyone to live consistently by a liberal politics. Most people will be forced to resort to what the American political writer, Lawrence Auster, has termed unprincipled exceptions.

What this means is that liberals will call in public for sex distinctions to be abolished, whilst finding in their own private lives that sex distinctions continue to matter. They will therefore make exceptions in their own private lives to the liberal principle, according to their own comfort level, without admitting to themselves or others that they are doing so.

Nor does the liberal position on gender work well even on its own terms. It is based on the idea of maximising autonomy so that individuals can be self-determining – so that they can choose to define their own individual self.

But the end result of the theory is to place a major restriction on how we may define our own self. We are no longer supposed to define ourselves in a significant way as men or women.

This contradiction in the theory was picked up on in one of the sources I quoted earlier. It was Judith Stadtman Tucker who described the liberal political message of the 1972 children’s record Free to be … You and Me. She went on to make the following criticism of this message:

I have a problem with children's literature - no matter how well-meaning - that assures boys and girls "A person should wear what he wants to wear/And not just what other folks say/A person should do what she likes to/A person's a person that way," then turns around to suggest that being a certain kind of girl - the kind of girl who likes to wear perfume and play in "Girl Land" - will lead to a bad end. [25]

In other words, there is a contradiction in a politics which tells girls that they should be free to do as they like but not act like girls. A major restriction is being imposed in the name of freedom from restrictions.

Nor has liberalism succeeded, in spite of all the social changes in recent decades, in raising women’s sense of autonomy: their belief that they are determining their own lives rather than being controlled by external forces. According to Australian researcher Clive Hamilton, things have even gone backwards:

we are told endlessly … that the course of our lives is a matter of personal choice. The evidence, however, shows that the opposite is the case. Compared to the 1960s, young Americans today are substantially more likely to believe that outside forces control their lives...

Even more remarkably, the same studies show that ... the increase in 'externality' is greater in young women than young men. [26]

What all this suggests is that the liberal approach to freedom is mistaken. It would be better to seek a freedom to live our lives as men and women rather than to deny the legitimacy of sex distinctions.

Next chapter: The family

[1] Susan Moller Okin, Justice, Gender, and the Family (New York: Basic Books, 1989), 181, 171, quoted in David Blankenhorn, Fatherless America (New York: HarperPerennial, 1996), 91.

[2] Carolyn Heilbrun, Toward a Recognition of Androgyny (New York: Norton, 1993), ix-x, quoted in Blankenhorn, 269.

[3] Ann Snitow, "A Gender Diary," in Conflicts in Feminism, ed. Marianne Hirsch & Evelyn Fox Keller (New York: Routledge, 1990), 33.

[4] Robert Jensen, "Men being men is a bad deal: guys should evolve beyond masculinity," SFGate, 8 October 2006.

[5] David Fiore, http://www.ynot.motime.com1074827498#204625 (accessed September 2007).

[6] Olga Silverstein and Beth Rashbaum, The Courage to Raise Good Men (New York: Viking, 1994), 76, 237, quoted in Blankenhorn, 91.

[7] "EU wants to ban 'sexist' TV commercials," The Telegraph, 5 September 2008, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/2686538/EU-wants-to-ban-sexist-TV-commercials.html

[8] "Kids' books become ideological battleground in Sweden," The Local, 4 August 2008, http://www.thelocal.se/13474/

[9] Gloria Steinem, Moving Beyond Words, (Simon & Schuster, 1994), 274.

[10] "Lest we forget ... what?," The Age, 22 April 2000.

[11] Judith Stadtman Tucker, Mommies are people: Revisiting Free To Be…You and Me, http://www.mothersmovement.org/features/07/06/f2b_1.html, (2007).

[12] Alexandra Kollontai, The Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman, http://www.marxists.org/archive/kollonta/1926/autobiography.htm, (2001)

[13] Anna Rotkirch, "New woman with old feelings? Contrasting Kollontai's and Colette's writings on love", in Ebba Witt-Brattström (ed.) The New Woman and the Aesthetic Opening. Unlocking gender in twentieth-century texts (Södertörn, Södertörn Academic Studies, 2004), http://www.valt.helsinki.fi/staff/rotkirch/kollontai%20and%20colette.pdf

[14] The Age, 20 July 2005.

[15] Michael Flood, "Between Men and Masculinity: An Assessment of the term "Masculinity" in Recent Scholarship on Men," in S. Pearce and V. Muller, Manning the Next Millennium: Studies in Masculinities (Black Swan Press, 2002), 210. http://www.xyonline.net/sites/default/files/FloodBetweenmenandmasc_0.pdf

[16] "Swedish Government bans science on gender differences," Secular blasphemy, (12 February 20005), http://blogs.salon.com/0001561/2005/02/12.html#a6795

[17] http://www.human-rights.hr/dokumenti/speech-Monica%20Silvell.pdf (2004)

[18] Laurie Penny, "Gender anti-fascism and the fourth wave," 10 January 2009, http://pennyred.blogspot.com/2009/01/gender-anti-fascism-and-fourth-wave.html

[19] Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex ("Chapter 1, The data of biology"), http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/ethics/de-beauvoir/2nd-sex/ch01.htm

[20] "Are boys and girls hardwired differently?," 15 February 2005, http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/6941270/ns/today-today_books/page/3/

[21] Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory” (1988), http://www.mariabuszek.com/kcai/PoMoSeminar/Readings/BtlrPerfActs.pdf

[22] The Green Men's Manifesto, 9 April 2010, http://blog.gruene-nrw.de/2010/04/09/maennermanifest/

[23] "Swedish Government bans science on gender differences," Secular blasphemy, (12 February 20005), http://blogs.salon.com/0001561/2005/02/12.html#a6795

[24] "Who says a woman can't be Einstein?," Time, 27 February 2005.
[25] Judith Stadtman Tucker, Mommies are people: Revisiting Free To Be…You and Me, http://www.mothersmovement.org/features/07/06/f2b_1.html, (2007).

[26] Clive Hamilton, "The Disappointment of Liberalism and the quest for inner freedom," (The Australia Institute, August 2004), 40. https://www.tai.org.au/file.php?file=DP70.pdf

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Judith Warner a Mad Man feminist?

Judith Warner is a Mad Man feminist. She treats the show as if it were a truthful eyewitness account of the early 1960s, rather than a TV drama written by a man only slightly older than myself.

Here is Judith Warner using the show to warn us about returning to the "bad old days":

“Has Congress become like an episode of ‘Mad Men’?” California Congresswoman Linda Sanchez asked this week, after the House of Representatives approved a version of health care reform that contained what some pro-choice advocates are calling the toughest restrictions on women’s access to abortion since the Roe v. Wade decision.

Her evocation of the bad old days was well-timed. For this past weekend saw not only the political sleight of hand that stripped millions of women’s abortion coverage from the House’s health care reform bill; it also brought the season finale of AMC’s highly popular pre-Roe-era series, which concluded with the unhappy housewife heroine Betty Draper leaving her philandering husband, Don, for the promise of marriage to another man she barely knows.

As her lawyer, and Don, have made clear, without a man Betty is nothing. She has the right to nothing — not to marital money, not even to custody of her children.

It was, in large part, to free women from this utter dependency upon — and definition by — men that the women’s movement came into being. Self-determination, at base, is what abortion rights in particular have always been about.

Americans ... have embraced many aspects of women’s “liberation.” ... But true self-determination, on the most intimate level, has remained problematic, particularly in the past decade or two, as memories of the prefeminist ’60s have dimmed.

Lives blighted by lack of self-definition?
What was bad about the early 1960s according to Judith Warner? Her answer, predictably, is that women did not have enough autonomy. Liberal moderns see autonomy as the one overriding good and so Judith Warner believes that women were oppressed by their lack of it. She thinks women were not independent enough and did not "self-define" who they were. (Jim Kalb wrote recently of moderns that "They believe the essence of humanity is self-definition.")

She puts the lack of female autonomy in very strong terms: women were utterly dependent on men, had the right to nothing, and were nothing without men.

So are women more autonomous today? Not in the sense of feeling more in control over their own lives:

On the face of it, the rise of individualism and the falling away of the social constraints on people imposed by their class, gender, race and so on should have given rise to a much stronger internal locus of control in the populations of rich countries.

...The evidence, however, shows that the opposite is the case. Compared to the 1960s, young Americans today are substantially more likely to believe that outside forces control their lives ...

Even more remarkably, the same studies show that ... the increase in 'externality' is greater in young women than young men.

So women felt more in charge of their lives, more "self-determining", in the Mad Men 1960s than they do today.

Note too how the idea of autonomy dominates the moral reasoning of Judith Warner. She supports abortion on the grounds that it gives women a greater amount of self-determination (rather than on the moral status of the act itself).

It's the same story when it comes to ending the life of adults. Leslie Cannold is an Australian ethicist who wrote a column recently for the Sydney Morning Herald in support of euthanasia. Her moral reasoning?:

Opponents of dying with dignity will tell you that the core moral principle in a civilised society is respect for life. This is outdated tosh. The central moral value in a modern multicultural society is autonomy, the right of individuals to determine the course of their own lives and deaths according to their own needs and values.

What is held to matter morally is that we get to self-determine. What prevents us from self-determining? Quite a lot. Our sex is predetermined and so is our ethnicity - so it is part of the liberal project to make them not matter. So too are the things that come to us as part of a tradition predetermined, including the traditional family.

The logic of autonomy is ultimately a radically destructive and self-defeating one. It may have become a "central moral value" but at a considerable cost to the future prospects of Western societies.

Why do feminists like Mad Men?

One thing seems to unite feminist women. An absolute craze for the TV series Mad Men.

The show might be popular amongst women in general, but the feminist women I know are utterly obsessed with it. I was so intrigued by this that I did a little survey at work, asking these women why they liked the show so much.

Is it odd for feminists to be obsessed with these characters?
The answer I got was that they like observing how far women have advanced since the 1960s. They seem to imagine that they are watching a documentary piece of history rather than a work of fiction.

Mad Men portrays the men of the early 1960s as womanising chauvinists. The lead character, Don Draper, is a kind of alpha male who beds a succession of women, whilst his wife, Betty, is a Stepford wife, who is loyal and sweet, but who is driven to psychotherapy by her role as a housewife.

So you can see why feminists might like the bias of the show: the men are uncaring cads, the women are either oppressed housewives or else struggling at work to make it in a man's world. The feminist women can watch the show and glow in the knowledge that feminism was about to burst onto the scene and deal the womanising cads an almighty blow.

That's how the women at work explain it to me. But I don't think that it's an entirely satisfying explanation. None of the women admitted it to me, but I'm willing to bet that they find the male characters appealing. Mad Men resembles female romance fiction: the male characters are difficult to tame, roguish, high status bad boys, the women are fully decked out for heterosexual encounters in their stylishly feminine dresses.

I'm guessing that Mad Men allows political women to escape back into a less casually androgynous world - but without the political guilts.

And what of the idea that feminism rescued women from womanising men like Don Draper? It's a pretty difficult theory to defend. In the 1970s, feminists pushed for a sexual revolution in which women were to be "liberated" to pursue relationships for sex alone, rather than for marriage or romance.

Inevitably, this changed what men and women selected for in relationships. If men weren't selecting for marriage or romance, but for sex, then what mattered was whether a woman was hot. Therefore, the culture became increasingly sexualised, with the development of a raunch culture influencing increasingly younger women.

Switch on the music videos on TV and try with a straight face to claim that women have been rescued by feminism from being sexually objectified.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Newsweek: men should man up for feminism

Newsweek is one of the dirtiest of liberal rags.

Take a recent article Who needs men? We do. The heading sounds sympathetic to men and the subheading, Let’s call a ceasefire on the “battle of the sexes” — the New Macho is good for women, too, even sounds accepting of masculinity and sex differences.

Too good to be true? You betcha.

When you read the article you get something else, a blatant and arrogant assertion of the supremacy of female autonomy.

The unnamed author of the piece begins by noting how well women are doing in education and careers:

we’re tipping the scale at 51 percent of workers; we make up the majority of college graduates, M.A.s (and now even PHDs), and we are the primary or co-breadwinners in most American households.

But it's still not good enough:

we still have trouble penetrating the highest echelons of the corporate world, and no matter how many hours we spend trying to close that gap, we remain burdened by domestic life.

Burdened by domestic life. It's that pesky thing called the family getting in the way of women again. But how did the family get to be considered a negative feature of life for women, a burden, an impediment?

It's orthodox feminism. Feminism, following liberalism, declared that individual autonomy was the key good in life. Feminists then decided that the money, status and power derived from careers was the gold standard of autonomy, in comparison to motherhood which was an unchosen, biological role (and therefore not self-determined, and therefore not autonomous).

So equality meant liberating women from the family in order to compete with men for career status and pay.

Much of modern society is geared toward this pursuit of female autonomy. Men are mostly expected to fall in with it.

But the project hasn't gone exactly to plan. Women do eventually marry and have children. And then they tend to spend at least some years focusing on their own babies rather than the autonomy project. So men still end up earning a bit more over a lifetime and doing a bit better in the corporate world.

The feminist response? The orthodox position of late is to agitate for men to take over half of the motherhood "burden" so that there is no disadvantage to women pursuing the "important" part of life, namely careers. Men, too, it is thought should occupy more of the lower paid, non-corporate jobs, so that women can better compete in private industry.

But how do you sell this to men? If you really believe that the good in life is a corporate job and that motherhood is a negative role, a burden, then how do you get men to accept a "downgrade"?

The Newsweek author recognises that she somehow needs to get men onside to take the female autonomy project a step further:

women still need men to prosper. We’re not talking about Mr. Cleaver bringing home the bacon—we need men so that we can excel at work, to level the playing field at home. We need them as dads, partners, and cheerleaders—from the classroom to the boardroom.

Men prospering is defined in terms of women doing better at school and at work.

And how does she pitch her ideas to men? Here's a sample of her rhetoric:

In today’s economy, the industries that have long been female-dominated—teaching, nursing, and so on—are the ones that, in the coming years, will grow the most. Encouraging men to “man up,” as our colleagues put it—and enter these fields should be something we all push for. 

I'm a school teacher myself, and am obviously not at all opposed to the idea of men teaching. But notice how ridiculous the appeal is. She wants men to "man up" to get on board a project which is aimed at creating genderless roles in society. She supports an ideology which holds that sex distinctions are oppressive social constructs and yet she still makes an appeal to men's innate sense of masculinity.

She goes on to talk about the importance of "welcoming men to underpaid professions". And this gives the game away. She's not interested in what is in men's interests. Nor is she interested in what's best for the teaching or nursing professions. What matters for her is what serves the female autonomy project (as defined by feminists). Getting men out of the corporate world and into underpaid professions is the real aim here.

Exactly why men should be keen to jump on board, if pay and status are what really matter in life, still remains a mystery.

Here's a final quote from the Newsweek article, this time on men taking paternity leave:

The same goes for parental leave. It’s no coincidence that Iceland has the most generous paternity-leave program in the modern world—three months!—and also, the smallest wage gap. These things go hand in hand. And no, it wasn’t a raging man-hating feminist who pushed the legislation through—it was a male prime minister, who recognized that Icelanders of both genders would benefit, and not just in the short term. The reasoning? As more men take time off to care for their children, the burden of parenthood no longer falls on women alone. Ultimately, employers will stop looking at young, fertile women and thinking, why bother investing? We’ll all be equally worthy of investment.

Again, if pay is the great good in life, and taking paternity leave reduces men's pay, then why would men accept the deal? It's simply wrong in that case for the Icelandic Prime Minister to claim a benefit for both genders. The paternity leave is not intended to benefit men, but to further the female autonomy project.

The only consistent argument that the feminists can make is that men should accept less pay out of a principled commitment to equality. But this then depends on men and women accepting the dubious first assumptions of feminism: that autonomy is what matters in life and that careerism is the gold standard of autonomy.

Why don't careers give us autonomy? Most jobs are not high in status or power. Most people, too, are not self-employed and so are under the direction of others when at work. Paid work also takes up most of our time and energy, leaving us less free to do the things we would otherwise choose to do.

So it's not necessarily a case of women suffering unequal autonomy if men spend more time in paid work than women over the course of a lifetime. It could in fact be argued that the husbands are sacrificing a degree of their own autonomy by working long hours in an office or factory in order to support their wives.

Nor is autonomy the one good that matters in life. Most people want to marry well, experience fatherhood and motherhood and enjoy a happy personal life.

So equality can't be measured by autonomy alone. A woman who finds it fulfilling to be at home looking after her young children is in a perfectly equal position to a man who finds it fulfilling to support a family financially through his labours. They are equal in what matters most, which is not autonomy. And, anyway, it is arguable whether the husband or the wife is more autonomous in such an arrangement (is the man who trudges off to an ordinary office job really more autonomous than the woman who is busy looking after children at home?) 

And that, Newsweek, is why I won't be manning up for feminism.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What does a liberal think unites us?

I like Theo Hobson for one reason only. He is a liberal who says what is usually left unsaid.

Some background info on Theo: he is an Englishman who writes a column on religion for the left-liberal Guardian newspaper. It's not surprising that he got the job. He has the vaguest kind of allegiance to the Anglican Church, but at the same time strongly supports the secular liberal order in the UK.

In a recent column, Theo imagined Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats leader, giving the following speech:

In the past decade, religion and secularism have been coming into conflict in a new way. On one side, some religious groups feel hard done by, as if their rights are denied by the secular state. And on the other side, many secularists feel that faith communities are given too much leeway.

There's a conflict between the churches feeling they are losing their rights to follow their beliefs in a public setting and secularists who think the churches are given too many exceptions to liberal principles. How does Theo want Clegg to answer the conundrum? The imagined Clegg speech continues:

I think that the Labour government has got the balance wrong: it has been over-respectful of the claims of religious institutions, and has allowed the principle of secular liberalism to get rather lost.

Well, that's a clear answer. The churches lose out. Why? Because the ruling ideology of the UK is liberalism. Clegg is imagined continuing his speech as follows:

many of us in the party, myself included, feel that the whole idea of an official national church is outdated. We as a nation are bound together not by Anglicanism, or any other form of religion, but by liberal values. Maybe it's time to be honest about that – even if it means a process of constitutional change.

Now of course our change of emphasis will be accused of being anti-religious, as if we want religious believers to be persecuted by the secular state. But this is wrong. All we seek is a reassertion of liberalism as the nation's common ideology.

Isn't that just swell. According to a liberal like Theo, the one thing that is allowed to unite the residents of the UK is liberal ideology. That must make the 5% of the country committed to liberal ideology feel just great.

Theo goes on to describe the UK as a "liberal nation" and in another column he writes:

We need to clarify our national story. Liberalism is what unites us, and this must be made explicit. It is, in effect, our national creed...

We need a revolution that makes our latent national identity explicit. What unites us is not Anglicanism, or any form of Christianity; it is liberalism. That does not make us anti-religious, but it does make us suspicious of any form of religion that is at odds with liberalism.

We need to get a bit fundamentalist about the superiority of liberalism.

So religion is OK if it is not "at odds" with liberalism, liberalism being held to be the superior creed. Of course, any serious kind of religion will inevitably find itself at odds with liberalism, since modern liberalism holds that the source of morality is in the self and its desires and that the highest aim of man and society is to achieve an equal measure of individual autonomy.

(Nor is a political ideology like liberalism much of a basis for national unity. First, it's non-distinct. Liberalism is the orthodoxy in all the Western countries. So someone who is a liberal in England is not distinct in his identity from a Canadian, a Swede or a New Zealander. Second, it requires a level of group think that more traditional national identities don't require. Third, it's shallow, as it doesn't connect people as deeply as kinship, history, culture, language and religion. Fourth, the trajectory of liberalism is toward internationalism and open borders, making it even less suitable as a vehicle for maintaining a national entity.)

Once Theo has pronounced liberalism to be the superior creed, much else follows. For instance, Professor Robert Trigg has written a report which complains that when there is a clash between freedom of religion and other human rights, the freedom of religion is usually held to be secondary and sacrificed. Theo replies:

Trigg has a point: why should one human right trump another? If the right to religious freedom is real, then why should it have to bow to some other right as a matter of course? ... He is right that the current orthodoxy is to limit the right to religious expression: it must not interfere with other rights, so it is only fully operative in the private sphere.

What Trigg's argument proves is that, when it comes to pondering the place of religion in society, the language of rights is a mistake. There is no such thing as "human rights" in relation to religion. Some may say that there is no such thing as human rights at all, but the concept is generally benign: for example talk of the human right not to be tortured motivates opposition to the practice. In relation to religion, by contrast, the concept of human rights is simply not helpful...

... religious liberty is the creation of the liberal state, and it's a non-absolute condition: religious forms that are deemed reactionary, or illiberal, will necessarily be curbed. The classic example is the proscription of Roman Catholicism in early modern England. Was this illiberal, a denial of the Catholics' rights? Sort of, but to say so gets things the wrong way round. The old illiberal form of religion had to be banned, for relative liberty to be allowed to grow...

Does this mean that the liberal state has the right to curb whatever forms of religious expression it wants? Quite simply, yes. It must protect the new space it has created, of relative religious freedom, from reactionary religion. It must decide what is tolerable and what is not – we must trust our elected representatives to draw these ever-shifting lines.

Some interesting admissions here. Theo doesn't really believe in the notion of human rights, though he supports the concept when it serves the liberal cause. He states bluntly that there are no human rights when it comes to religion.

As there are no rights when it comes to religion, other secular rights are to rule in society. Religion is to vacate the public square.

Catholicism is held by Theo to be an illiberal religious form.

The liberal state, according to Theo, has the right to curb whatever form of religious expression it wants. We are supposed to trust our elected representatives to draw the ever-shifting lines between what is to be permitted and what isn't.

(The lines shift not because church beliefs change but because liberalism continues to push its principles in more radical directions. So a church belief that is acceptable today might not be considered so in 20 years time. The churches are expected to keep adapting to the "superior" creed of liberalism.)

So Theo is an honest liberal. He doesn't try to hide liberal rule behind claims of neutrality. He wants liberals to be out and proud. He wants liberal ideology to be recognised as the state creed. Nor does he attempt to uphold a pretence of liberal toleration. He expects that liberals in power will curb, on principle, that which is illiberal.

But there is a lot in the life of man which is illiberal, not just in the realm of religion, but in our national identity, our family life, our relationships, our moral beliefs and our masculine and feminine identities.

We can reject these things or we can reject liberalism. Theo has made his decision, but I'd like to think as the failures of liberalism mount that many others will choose differently.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Swedish breakthrough?

Supporters of Sweden Democrats celebrate the results
Sweden has been one of the most stiflingly liberal countries in recent decades. But cracks are beginning to appear.

The Sweden Democrats have won 20 seats in the national elections. I should state from the outset that I'm no expert on the political character of the party. But there is much in their policy platform for traditionalists to support.

Most notably the Sweden Democrats are opposed to open borders. They want to make large cuts to immigration numbers on the basis that this will protect the national identity and social cohesion. They also want to renegotiate Swedish membership of the EU and they oppose the expansion of the EU to include Turkey.

The Sweden Democrats have also come out strongly in favour of the traditional nuclear family.

It really is significant for a party with these policies to make headway in a country like Sweden. At the very least, I hope they have success in breaking down the damaging political orthodoxy in Sweden.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Greed is good? No, guilt is says the liberal

If you are a liberal you shouldn't feel guilty for feeling guilty. So runs the argument of Guardian columnist Theo Hobson:

A basic British political division is not between left and right, or liberal and conservative, but between Schlegel and Wilcox. What separates the two families of EM Forster's novel Howards End is that the Schlegels worry about how to make the world fairer, with occasionally embarrassing consequences, while the Wilcoxes worry about their stocks and shares. In other words, the Schlegels are afflicted by the complaint we sneeringly call liberal guilt.

Sneer ye not. Liberal guilt is nothing to be ashamed of. It's really just the political expression of that rather old-fashioned thing, conscience.

And why should our conscientious liberals feel guilty?

To "suffer" from liberal guilt means that you are somewhat uneasy about all sorts of awkward things that it is tempting to harden your heart against, like global injustice, global warming, racism. It means that you are troubled by the stubborn persistence of our class system, though you personally have done fine by it. It means you sometimes worry that you might be prejudiced against all sorts of people. It means that your vague patriotism is laced with uncertainty about whether our ancient constitution is able to be truly inclusive. It means, for goodness sake, that you fail to be completely fatly smugly relaxed about this problematic world we inhabit. Is that really so shameful and wet, so laughably mentally effeminate?

It strikes me that this kind of thinking makes sense if you accept the underlying premises of liberalism. Liberalism is highly reductionist when it comes to thinking about the good in life. What matters is equal autonomy. A lack of equal autonomy is explained in terms of privileged groups (white males) enjoying an unfair advantage at the expense of others.

If you train yourself to think in this way, then you probably will think guilt is the appropriate default setting. After all, if you are a white male you will think yourself to blame existentially for the one evil you recognise as existing in the world, a lack of equal autonomy.

To make the point clearer, think of what the non-liberal alternative might be. Imagine you recognise a whole series of goods: a stable and loving family life, an ongoing communal tradition, a morally virtuous life, a productive working life, a responsiveness to nature and to the arts, a masculine and a feminine ideal and so on.

If you did this, then there would be two significant consequences. First, the ability of "the other" to lead a good life would not be seen to rest so completely on having equal autonomy. You would not have to be a white English middle-class male to have a good life. You could do it living as a farmer in Vietnam or as a woman in Fiji. In fact, people in less liberal countries might even have certain advantages in enjoying communal traditions or family life or an enjoyment of nature.

Second, whether you were a good person would depend not on how much guilt you felt for being a middle-class white male, but how good a father you were, how loyal you were to your tradition, how morally virtuous a life you led, how much you contributed to society in your working life, what your character as a man was, your connectedness to nature or to the arts and so on.

Being wisely charitable to those less fortunate than yourself could still be part of the definition of a good man. But the default setting would not be guilt for existing as a white male, nor would this guilt be redeeming proof of your goodness compared to others.

To answer Theo's question, it really is "wet" to go through life feeling guilty for being a white male. What he really needs to do is to re-examine the first principles that he's working off, in particular the impoverished concept of the good that he's picked up as part of his liberalism.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why anti-clericalism in a secular age?

The Pope's visit to Britain has unleashed some astonishingly hostile reactions:

Journalist Claire Rayner:  I have no language with which to adequately describe Joseph Ratzinger, AKA the Pope. In all my years as a campaigner I have never felt such animus against any individual as I do against this creature. His views are so disgusting, so repellent and so hugely damaging to the rest of us, that the only thing to do is to get rid of him.

Scientist Richard Dawkins: the Pope .... A leering old villain in a frock

Philosopher AC Grayling: If the head of a drug cartel was involved in a conspiracy, we would ask some very serious questions once he came to the UK. Why should we treat the Pope any differently?

Author Philip Pullman: In one way, I hope the wretched organisation will vanish entirely.

Peter Tatchell: He has strayed from the moral and ethical values of most Catholics and most of humanity.

This is not just advocacy of secularism or atheism. It is so emotionally charged and hostile to the Church that it better deserves the name of anti-clericalism.

Which raises a question. Anti-clericalism has mostly featured in countries in which the Catholic Church played an influential role in society. There were intellectuals in these countries who, in rebelling against society, sought to attack and undermine the Church through acts of mockery, sacrilege, dispossession or violence.

But modern Britain is run along secular, liberal principles. So why would intellectuals there feel the need to kick so viciously at the Pope?

I'm open to ideas, but I would answer this way. For some decades, a pure form of liberalism has asserted itself. Liberalism no longer accepts values drawn from aristocratic codes of honour, or a family ethos, or identification with a national tradition, or ideals of masculine or feminine behaviour.

So there is no tempering of a liberal world view. Liberalism is going it alone and this is leading to ever more radical forms of liberal concepts of equality and justice.

Admittedly, there are some liberals (e.g. Tony Blair) who seem to want to take the Church with them, i.e. to liberalise the Church. But for those who don't, the gap between what the Church holds in principle and what they hold in principle will have grown - not because the Church has become more radical in what it holds, but because the secular liberals have.

To put all this another way, if you want your liberalism pure and "uncompromised", then you may not react too favourably to the Pope arguing that Christian institutions should be allowed to be run along Christian, rather than liberal, lines. The Pope's views would have been far less controversial even 30 years ago, but now they conflict with the expectations of a section of the political class - even to the point of rousing powerfully anti-clerical feelings amongst some of those most committed to secularism (and betraying the fact that liberal toleration isn't always so tolerant).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

When tomorrow comes

On the island of Malta, as elsewhere, a certain generation of women were encouraged to be sexually liberated, which meant the pursuit of relationships for sex alone, rather than for marriage or romance:

They were brought up to have fun, fun, fun which meant as much sexual freedom as the boys. And they certainly did have fun in their twenties when their bodies and hair was at its best, when it seems tomorrow would never come.

And how did this work out? Was it a triumph of womanhood? Not according to Marisa Micallef. She writes despairingly of the position that these women have now been left in. It seems that once these women hit their mid-30s, that men of their age and older won't make commitments to them, preferring the company of younger local or Eastern European women. The only men available are poor immigrant men, who don't have the money to finance the lifestyle that these women want:

But the minute they start to hit their mid thirties, the minute they realise they have slept with everyone they wanted to sleep with, they look around and see a very reduced market indeed, a very unattractive supply of potential male partners...

Whatever the reason the supply is not matching the demand. The only glut of men are the very sad illegal immigrant, and very obviously these are not what the beleaguered Maltese female is looking for especially if she is looking for a degree of financial security to finance her coffees with girlfriends complete with the whole nail, skin and straightened hair look which doesn’t come cheap, but is now de rigueur, even for many single parent mums living off benefits.

What can a 30-something woman do? The men of her age seem to have the advantage:

Some of my thirty and forty something male friends complain that the girls they meet, especially the local ones are all a mite too keen to settle down, find husbands and make babies. The thirty something girls on the other hand complain there just aren’t enough men around, and the ones that are, around that is, are fine as friends go but are not interested in any form of commitment. And that indeed when they do decide to commit they find someone much younger, much more malleable, perhaps foreign, but in every case girls who are prepared to play second fiddle to them.

This includes hanging around with his male friends and his partners, remaining pretty and well maintained while he deteriorates physically to an astonishing degree, and generally having pretty unbalanced relationships despite years and years of equal educational and other opportunities. At the end of the day if there isn’t enough of a supply of men and of heterosexual men particularly, and if men can pick and choose and go younger and younger, or foreign or more foreign, the imbalance and the catholic-arab attitude we have in many relationships is bound to persist.

So perhaps traditional marriage wasn't such a source of inequality after all. And perhaps it would be in women's interests to marry a little earlier in life, before their own attractiveness has declined and before they have helped to create a culture of casual relationships.

Marisa doesn't consider these options. She thinks the solution might be for mothers to bring up their sons differently or for wealthier foreign men to be brought to Malta:

it certainly is a boy’s world, and here in Malta and Gozo particularly so. The only way to improve things might be a different generation of mothers and importation of the male equivalents of all the East European women who are here. Trouble is though our girls still seem to like the local talent, even though it is in ever reducing supply?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

An atheist conservatism?

The Social Pathologist wrote an excellent post recently on the foundations of conservatism. He noted that for most of history Western Man accepted the validity of knowledge drawn from both an empirical and non-empirical realm.

The word empirical is being used here in the sense of knowledge that is directly available to the senses and can be scientifically verified by observation or experiment.

In modern times, only knowledge drawn from the empirical realm came to be recognised as valid. This created a major problem: it is difficult to recognise the existence of an inherent good or value from this realm alone. Therefore, how do we know what good to follow? How should we act and what should our life goals be?

If there is no source for morality or life goals in an external reality, then they are derived instead subjectively from the self. As the Social Pathologist says of moderns,

They had to place the locus of these goals in the mind or self.

This has consequences. As I wrote in an earlier post on this issue:

And here too perhaps are (some of) the seeds of liberal autonomy theory. If human aims and goods are particular to my own mind or self, rather than something grasped as part of a non-empirical reality, then the world becomes a radically individualised place, a place of wandering individuals seeking to follow their own self-generated good, whatever that may be.

I had a comment from a reader calling himself EmoCivil. He writes as an atheist who accepts the "empiricist limitation" on knowledge, but who doesn't want it to lead to the dissolution of existing cultures and societies. He wrote:

Atheists are left with only desires (our source of motivation), and beliefs (our means of desire fulfillment). So our goals, aims and morals are all reducible to sense/desire/emotion (otherwise they are non-sense).

He accepts, as the Social Pathologist predicted, that the "ought" of human behaviour is located in the self and its desires. The self has a desire, based perhaps on emotions, and then we have beliefs about how best to satisfy these wants.

Can a society be held together on this basis? EmoCivil puts forward a case that it can:

Does that lead to moral relativism or liberalism? Maybe. But not necessarily, because of: the desire for homogeneity; the homogeneity of desires; and the desire for group strength...

Also, the desire for ethnic group strength (relative to other ethnic groups) may push the culture in yet another direction: towards behaviours which promote genetic strength.

So we have more desires to balance other than to just be "radically individualised". Perhaps the better aim is: slowly towards a culture that is homogeneous, strong on group self-defence, and otherwise fulfilled individually.

In other words, people desire to live in an homogeneous society and to maintain the strength of their ethnic group. Therefore, desire can still be appealed to in order to justify conserving one's own tradition.

EmoCivil draws out the argument at his own site:

...we do need to justify everything we say. The obvious starting point is: why should emotion be authority? The short answer is: because emotion is all that honest atheists have to direct our lives with. And emotion is the only justification for suggesting how we ought to behave.

But he identifies a major problem. The atheist/empiricist movement was supposed to create more emotionally satisfying lives. Instead, it developed ideologies (like liberalism) which repressed important emotions:

Alas, after the early 20th century failure of atheist leadership, came a vacuum of authority which was filled by the over-reacting and emotionally-suppressing ideologies of diversity and globalisation, etc. And those ideologies continue to dominate today due to a 21st century failure of atheist leadership which is allowing us to be led down ... well, I'm not sure where it's leading, but towards an inhuman and unsafe Western world might be a good description...

It's true our lives are more emotionally satisfying in some areas: we have endless more options to enjoy ourselves in the modern world. And yet, the modern world has become repressive of certain emotions - those arcane desires for: social cohesion, ethnic homogeneity, personal safety, border protection, national security, freedom of speech, limited government, a non-sexualised public space, reasonable norms of citizen appearance, etc. There is much angst out there.

An emotionally satisfying environment needs to be non-invasive:

Most people would agree that, in emotional terms, a non-invasive environment is desirable. And such an environment solves a few of our big current issues. If we agree that pain is something undesirable, that flags a number of bodily invasions to be avoided, including: noise, theft, assault, racial diversity (despite all the propaganda, we still seek out homogeneity), visual diversity (tattoos, piercings, low-hanging jeans, ethnic garb), linguistic diversity (not in my ear, thanks), religious diversity (are you sure Islam is a religion of peace?), cultural diversity (don't teach my kids about homosexuality), diverse body language (effeminate males), threatening body language (gangster chic, public swearing), fear of big government, fear of ethnic crime, over-stimulation from sexualised public space, etc. If we are emotionally conscious, all these are discernible as bodily or sensory invasions in the form of tension, pain, unease, repulsion, worry, fatigue, etc. That makes them undesirable and, dare I say, bad and wrong.

EmoCivil describes the connection between emotional assaults, weakened authority and civilisational decline:

All the above mentioned emotional assaults (broken windows) results in a loss of respect for the ruling authority. There is a prevailing sense that no strong authority is protecting our interests. Also, an analogy between noise and diversity can be drawn, because they both cause pain or tension via the nervous system. Diversity amounts to visual noise. With broken emotional windows and increasingly noisy auditory and visual environments there is a prevailing sense of a civilisation groaning along in pain, with a comfort level and productivity akin to working under an airport flightpath, and resulting decline in empathy and increased drop-out rate, drug use, aggressive behaviour, etc. In such a stressful environment we also see opportunistic groups vying for ascendance to replace the weak authority. So there is an urgent need for a compelling atheistic vision to help reverse our civilisational decline.

You'll notice in this that there is an appeal to human nature, to our emotional nature. This is what allows him to make general claims about what is good or bad for human communities.

What do I think about all this? First, in a secular country like Australia I don't think it will be easy to create the change we need through religious conservatives alone. So it's encouraging that a serious atheist like EmoCivil recognises the damage currently being done by liberal society and is trying to fashion his own response to it.

And there is some force to his argument: it's not difficult to make a case that humans, by nature, feel more emotionally satisfied within a relatively homogeneous ethnic group of their own.

Even so, it seems to me that EmoCivil has a harder time of it as an atheist in upholding his own tradition than a religious conservative would.

The argument that "it makes me feel good" or "it is what I desire" is not as strong as the argument that "it is inherently right or good".

(A religious conservative, or at least someone who does not reject a non-empirical reality, has a realm of transcendent truth or value to draw from: truth or value that transcends particular human wills and that can be known within human cultures. The inherent value of a longstanding tradition, the identity that is drawn from membership of this tradition, our connectedness to generations past, present and future, our responsibilities as men to defend this tradition - all of these can be discerned to have this higher, transcendent meaning.)

There are other hurdles that EmoCivil will have to overcome in pressing forward with his view. What happens, for instance, if desires or emotions conflict? This is an issue that looms large within liberalism. If my life aims and goods are generated by my own self, then who is to say that they should be impeded by some other person whose life aims and goods are similarly self-generated?

How do liberals respond to this in practice? Some liberals get very touchy about who/whom issues. They are less interested in how people orient their will toward an objective good and more interested in the issue of "whose will?". And so they focus obsessively on issues of dominance, privilege, oppression and inequality.

In theory, liberals could solve the conflicting emotions issue by deciding the matter democratically. But, again, in practice most liberals aren't satisfied with this. Liberals like J.S. Mill worried that the general will might get in the way of his individual will. He therefore stressed the principles of non-interference, autonomy and individual rights - and these principles taken together tend to uphold an individualistic view of existence rather than a communal one.

Another way for liberalism to solve the conflicting emotions issue is to make public policy neutral, so that the decisions we make are kept within our own private realm. So some liberal theorists will accept the right for people to choose to live within their own ethnic or national tradition - but only as a private choice rather than as a state policy. But this effectively undermines the opportunity to live in such a manner. If the state is neutral, and runs a policy of open borders and non-discrimination, then it's difficult for private citizens to hold together an ongoing ethnic or national tradition with their own limited private resources.

Finally, liberalism also attempts to solve the conflicting desires issue by limiting the range of choices to more trivial life aims. If an "acceptable" lifestyle involves choosing as an individual amongst shopping choices, or travel choices, or entertainment choices then the desires or emotions that people have aren't likely to conflict in serious ways.

(Note that modern liberal societies also emphasise careers and career choices do lead to conflicting desires. Not everyone can be selected into law or medicine. This does then cause the "who/whom" issue to become a major issue, leading to affirmative action programmes and the like.)

For all these reasons I expect that religious conservatives will have to provide the steadying backbone of a conservative movement. Nonetheless, I wish EmoCivil well in his attempts to provide a more conservative alternative to liberal modernism. I do think his argument that humans by nature are more emotionally satisfied within a stable and homogeneous culture of their own is a good one for him to go with.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

So it's Gillard

Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.

I was hoping during the election campaign that the result would be close. That way the major parties could not so easily afford to ignore public opinion on key issues.

My wish came true but with unexpected results. Neither party achieved a majority, so Abbott and Gillard were forced to negotiate with the independents. Unfortunately only one of the independents, Bob Katter, is in any sense conservative.

It wasn't fun observing the rural independents using their immense bargaining power to push politics leftward. Someone described one of these independents, Rob Oakeshott, in a comment at this site as a "closet lefty". I disagree. He is openly left-wing.

At his website he describes his achievements as follows:

Along with a Labor MP (Graham Perrett MP) and a Greens MP (Senator Sarah Hanson-Young) I have helped re-establish the Parliamentarians Amnesty International Group ... I am also currently serving as the Australian Parliamentary Representative on the all-male ... Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Group of the United Nations Development Program that is working on strategies to minimise violence against women and girls within the region - from a male perspective. This has come about due to my involvement as a White Ribbon Ambassador within Australia ... and a belief that it is men who have to “man up” on matters in relation to domestic violence

(For the political bias of the White Ribbon campaign see here and here).

His comment on population policy is not entirely discouraging, as he believes that there are population pressures in parts of his electorate which need to be addressed. But he's coming at this issue from the left:

And specifically on immigration policy, I know there are many people who worry about issues in relation to asylum seekers, refugees, ‘illegal’ immigrants, ‘boat people’, or whatever descriptor you might currently be using. Being a recipient of most emails on this topic, and listening closely to ‘street-talk’, I am aware of a lot of incorrect information that is making its way into people’s ‘in-boxes’ on their computers, or is being sold as fact in the local pub.

I genuinely ask anyone who wants to get to the bottom of this challenging policy area, to contact our office ... for detailed information that might help with personal views. We have a number of factual resources that can help clarify a lot of the language used in this policy area (there really is no such thing as an ‘illegal immigrant’, or a ‘boat person’, for example), the true statistics, and the options that all policy-makers from all political persuasions are wrestling with.

He knows that his electorate is concerned about the illegal immigration issue but responds with the claim that he has "factual resources" which show that there "really is no such thing as an "illegal immigrant," or a "boat person."

It strikes me that although he might be independent in the sense of not belonging to a party, he is anything but independent when it comes to politics. He is very much embedded into the political class and its orthodox beliefs.

Nor is it at all surprising that he's installed Julia Gillard and the ALP into power. Isn't it predictable that someone from the left of politics would opt for the ALP?

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Sexual history, marital stability & empirical reality: posts from the pathologist

The Social Pathologist and I have some differences on a few issues but he does write some very interesting posts.

For instance, he has been discussing the connection between female sexual history and later success in marriage. It turns out that the later a young woman becomes sexually active and the fewer sexual partners she has before marriage the better her chances of marital stability (see here, here and here).

There are several interesting graphs showing the statistics, including the one below.

What's notable is how steadily the first five bars rise. For each two year period that a girl delays sexual activity, there is a significant improvement in her chances of marrying successfully, with the effect lasting up to the age of nineteen.

There's a message to parents here not to give in to the advice that "she's going to start some time anyway." It does make a difference if the girl holds off when she is in her mid-teens.

The Social Pathologist has also written an interesting and very accessible post on empiricism. To briefly summarise: it was traditionally held that the mind was able to grasp elements of both empirical and non-empirical reality (empirical being defined as directly accessible to the senses).

However, the scientific revolution demanded that knowledge be tested through sense experience. This yielded success in the physical sciences, which seemed to confirm the approach.

The problem? The ultimate aims of human life, and the goods of human behaviour, are derived not through empirical investigation but from what the human mind grasps of a non-empirical reality:

Humans are interpersonal beings that relate to each other through behaviour, and behaviour implies imperatives. i.e. How to behave? Empirical observation does not give us a guide on this matter. Since empirical observation can show us how best to achieve our goals but it cannot give us those goals in the first place.

This could be part of the reason why liberalism has become so dominant. What happens if there is held to be no valid way of knowing about ultimate human aims or moral goods? Then claims about such aims or goods will be reduced to the category of subjective opinion (or, perhaps, of mere sentiment). As the Social Pathologist puts it:

The traditionalist view was that the knowledge of these goals came from the non-empirical realm something the empiricists rejected. They had to place the locus of these goals in the mind or self. Morality becomes self-generated or self-optimised. Here are the seeds of moral relativism.

And here too perhaps are (some of) the seeds of liberal autonomy theory. If human aims and goods are particular to my own mind or self, rather than something grasped as part of a non-empirical reality, then the world becomes a radically individualised place, a place of wandering individuals seeking to follow their own self-generated good, whatever that may be.

The one overarching "common good" remaining is to leave people unhindered to follow their personal, subjective, self-generated good or to give people equal resources to implement such goods.

It's interesting to note too that some of the Western thinkers most associated with empiricism are also closely associated with liberalism (e.g. Locke and Mill). So it does seem as if the connection between empiricism and liberalism is worth pursuing.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Yet another way to evade reality

There are some conflicted young women out there.

The reality is that a woman's best time to marry and start a family is in her twenties. But women are being brought up to believe that they should focus instead on an independent girl lifestyle of careers, travel and casual relationships.

So reality is stubbornly resisted. Which leads to the kind of attitude reported by journalist Lisa Pryor:

Don't leave it too late to have babies, girls. There must hardly be a young women out there who has missed out on this warning. It is a lesson pressed on them 100 times over, in the media and over the dinner table.

This generation of young women will not make the mistake some older women made, of believing fertility was simply a matter of mind over ovaries, that if you were smart about it you could give birth to healthy babies well into your forties, just like the celebrities in the magazines, with their dark glasses and boisterous twins and giant cups of takeaway coffee.

This myth has been put to rest only to be replaced by another one I keep hearing from women in their twenties. It goes like this: "If I leave it too late to have babies of my own it is OK because I'll just adopt, which is better anyway because there are so many babies in the Third World who need a home."

 Hollywood actresses have a lot to answer for.

I couldn't help but think of the mindset of the young women saying such things. They are so resistant to the idea that they might marry in a timely way, that they are willing to contemplate the option of raising a child from another country and culture when they are middle-aged.

As Lisa Pryor points out, even this is not an easy thing to achieve. Most countries won't allow adoptions of babies to older women or to single women and international law requires that babies first be offered for adoption in their own countries. Therefore adoptions are rare in Australia:

Additionally, and for good reason, the Hague Convention seeks to have children adopted in the country of origin before overseas adoption is considered. So it is not surprising that in 2008-09 there were just 93 inter-country adoptions across the whole of NSW, with an additional 20 babies adopted locally.

Marrying and starting a family in your 20s ought to be considered normal. There are women in our society who now have to find their way back to normal. I can only hope they get there in time.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Unmade for marriage?

Hephzibah Anderson is a 34-year-old English journalist. She is unmarried and childless. Can you guess why?

It's the same old story. Hephzibah spent her 20s choosing the wrong sort of men:

I told myself I was looking for something more meaningful, more lasting, yet I consistently chose entanglements with men who weren't really available or keen enough to commit, men who were emotionally or geographically unreachable ... What they had in common was that they weren't likely to impinge too much on a life that seemed to be the one I wanted.

One reason that women like Hephzibah choose the wrong sort of men is that it means that the relationships won't "impinge too much" on the single, career girl lifestyle that women in their 20s are supposed to want.

Her encounters with men weren't exactly chosen carefully:

Sometimes my decision to have sex seemed to be based more on what was appropriate to the moment than on what was right for me. At a certain point in certain scenarios, a part of me abdicated and gave in to the inevitable. Tipsily noticing that it was after midnight and I was far from home, say, in a dwindling group that happened to include a man I’d found myself in bed with sometime before. If anything connected my twentysomething dating experiences, it was a profound disconnectedness.

Unfortunately, the moment I fell into bed with a man, I’d fall at least a little in love. Was it biological? As soon as I went to bed with a man, I’d lose any clear sense of perspective. I had consistently mistaken casual hookups for rose-tinted beginnings.

I did badly want sex to be legitimately momentous again, rather than an inexorable conclusion given the right cocktail of time and place, as had begun to seem the case. I wanted to revel in the intensity of it all, to believe in the meaning that my body gave the experience, without worrying about when or even whether he’d call, and without feeling like a failure for letting the thought cloud the moment.

She reached her early 30s and found that she no longer wanted the casual hook ups. She decided to remain chaste for a year (and wrote a book about it). She also started trying to consider the husband material type of men:

Those Quiet Guy traits that I’m finding so entrancing right now—that hint of reticence, the thoughtfulness that offsets his swift smile—would before have been too subtle to register with me. They are of a different frequency. I’d have been carried along on that other current of deafeningly obvious sex appeal.

Pinning down my own type is tricky ... I seem to pick the ones who really do not want to be pinned. The fly-by-nights, the cads, the all-round rotters.

That's a really interesting way to put it. She thinks that the nice guys would have been "too subtle to register with me," lacking a "deafeningly obvious sex appeal".

To be fair, I think something similar applies when it comes to how men select women. I can remember meeting women in my 20s whom I found too dowdy in dress or too mute in conversation. It's not that I was looking for highly extroverted women, but I did need clear signals of feminine personality and appearance to find a woman appealing. I was drawn to women with an expressive femininity.

Perhaps it's the case that women are drawn more to those men who have an expressive masculinity. In other words, it's not enough for the masculinity to be there silent and hidden. It has to be expressed in some obvious, overt way.

But back to Hephzibah. She wasn't able to break the bad boy habit. During her chaste year,

She gets set up with The Boy Next Door, and enjoys his company thoroughly, but bemoans the lack of a “spark.” The Quiet Guy is an object of intermittent interest, but he lives in the U.S., and he ultimately decides to marry someone else. In NYC she meets the seemingly perfect man, an investment banker who turns into a total asshole when he gets to the Hamptons.

And who does she end up sleeping with at the end of it all? The "total asshole" investment banker.

All of this is more evidence that the modernist pattern of relationships, in which women run with the bad boys until they hit their 30s and only then give the family guys a go, isn't likely to work out well in the long run.

The delay is so long that it's likely to recast the way that men and women relate to each other. And there will be plenty of women, like Hephzibah, who won't manage the transition and who will risk spending their lives with pets rather than with families of their own.