Saturday, May 31, 2014

Breaking with Marx is easy, but can we break with Hannan?

This is a longish post - but it's an important one, so I encourage readers to take the time to read through it.

Conservatism is not unknown on the right-side of politics, but it is overshadowed by a right-liberal tradition that has dominated since the 1800s. I want to make a blunt case in this post that we ought to be more concerned about being trounced by the right-liberal tradition than by the Marxist one on the left. It is easy for people on the right to break with Marx, it has not proven easy to break cleanly with right-liberalism.

As readers know, I recently read the book The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America by Eric Kaufmann. According to Kaufmann, in the 1800s the American elite had a dual consciousness. They identified positively as Anglo-Saxons, in the sense that they thought that Anglo-Saxons had a special dispensation to bring liberty (in the classical liberal sense) to the world. However, the commitment to this kind of liberty meant that open borders prevailed bringing millions of immigrants from many parts of the world to the U.S. The idea was that they would all assimilate to become WASPs themselves, but this didn't happen. Immigrant groups preferred to maintain their own religion and identity and sought political influence themselves. An alternative, pluralistic view of the U.S. emerged by the early 1900s in which Anglos were, first, reduced to just one group amongst many and then relegated further to being a group lacking a vibrant, worthwhile culture of its own.

Now, you would think that lessons would be learned and that this particular classical/right-liberal tradition would be seen as having failed historically. Instead, it has found ways to endure and even to continue to dominate on the right.

This brings me to a current day English journalist, author and politician named Daniel Hannan. He is prominent within the Conservative Party, being an MEP, Secretary-General of the Alliance of European Conservatives and President of the Young Britons' Foundation (which trains future conservative leaders and activists).

Hannan is by no means the worst amongst the Tories. He is a Eurosceptic; he defends national sovereignty and he supports the family. Nonetheless, it is remarkable just how much he is carrying on the nineteenth century classical/right liberal tradition rather than a conservative one.

Hannan wrote a column recently about the demise of the Liberal Democrats. In it he praised the Whig-Liberal tradition (the one that was opposed to the Tories in the 1800s). He went so far as to claim:
The Whig-Liberal movement was responsible for the finest developments in our history... 
...Whig-Liberal principles survive best in a goodly part of the Conservative Party.

The takeover happened slowly, through successive transfusions. The first occurred in the late nineteenth century, when traditional Palmerstonian Whigs, alarmed by the Liberal Party’s drift towards social democracy, sidled up to the Conservatives, formally amalgamating in 1912...There was a second transfusion with the assimilation of some of the “coupon” Liberals following the First World War, and then a third with the absorption of the National Liberals during the 1950s and 1960s.

Ralph Harris...once told me that he had held a number of meetings with other classical liberals in the 1950s. They had concluded that their best tactic was to convert one of the two potential parties of government. Since Labour was hopelessly statist, they would try their luck with the Tories.

It worked. A party that was still imperialist, militarist and mildly protectionist in its outlook began to make space for what we would nowadays call libertarians. A few key individuals were convinced, including Keith Joseph, who after reading Hayek (a self-described “Old Whig”) declared that he thought he had been a Conservative all his life, but now realised he had only just become one. Keith Joseph had several disciples in the party, one of whom was the daughter of a Methodist grocer with a classic Whig-Liberal background. She, too, was convinced, and went on to become our country’s greatest ever prime minister. The revolution had happened peacefully and benignly in one generation.

Pure liberalism will always struggle to secure an electoral majority. While some of its positions are popular – tax-cuts, welfare reform, Euroscepticism – others are not. I always tell libertarian students to focus on the big issues, such as the economy and education, rather than fighting losing battles on relatively minor questions such as drugs and pornography. As part of a wider conservative alliance, as under Thatcher or Reagan, classical liberalism can enjoy meaningful triumphs. On its own, it will only ever be a fringe movement.

And yet, more than a century after its death was proclaimed, Liberal England lives on in large parts of the Conservative Party. We Whigs are not finished.

Revealing, isn't it? Hannan has a considerable influence in the Conservative Party, even though he identifies explicitly as a classical liberal. He believes that there was a "takeover" which transformed the Conservative Party into a classical liberal/libertarian one. He admits, too, that classical liberalism wouldn't win on its own but needs the electoral support of rank and file conservative voters.

Here's something else that is remarkable. Hannan wants to follow a very similar political course to that of the Anglo elite in America in the 1800s - despite the historic failure of that policy. He wants to lead the UK down a similar path.

For instance, he has a similar view that the English speaking peoples have a special dispensation to bring classical liberalism to the world. He has written books with titles such as, Inventing Freedom: How the English-speaking Peoples Made the Modern World. He does, it is true, advocate an orderly rather than an uncontrolled immigration programme; nonetheless, he writes very positively of the waves of immigration that transformed America into a "global" civilisation:
Immigration – controlled, legal immigration – can bring advantages to the destination state.

...Human capital is the most valuable resource in any economy and, by and large, the people who have the energy to leave everything behind for an unknown country are the kind of people who will boost their new home’s GDP.

A museum has just opened in Antwerp in the old warehouse through which more than two million emigrants, including Einstein and Irving Berlin, passed between 1873 and 1934 on their way to North America with the Red Star Line. The display manages to convey the vastness of the population movement without losing the scale of the individual families.

...Every migration involves courage – often a quiet and unremarked heroism. We know it better than many peoples: the Anglosphere became the first global civilization, and English the first global language, largely as a result of massive migratory flows.

“Every immigrant,” as Ronald Reagan put it in a characteristically upbeat phrase, “makes America more American.” The reason that immigration worked in the United States was precisely that it was regulated and controlled...In a country that was hungry for labour, there was scant interest in absorbing those who would be unable to work.

It's not exactly the same as the laissez-faire attitudes of the nineteenth century, but it's not far off: there is an idea that the needs of the market are what matters (migrants as "human capital") and that making yourself in the market is a higher purpose, so that immigrants who uproot themselves to do this are heroic, ideal citizens. Hannan believes that the transforming waves of migration to the U.S. are a lesson for the UK and Europe to follow rather than avoid, despite the fact that the long-term result in the U.S. has been the creation of a large political constituency for the leftist party rather than the rightist one.

Hannan is aware of the problem. He has admitted that if Ronald Reagan had faced the same ethnic balance as exists today he would not have been elected. Immigrant voters have stuck to the left:
The GOP faces a problem common to Right-of-Centre parties around the world. Immigrant communities, despite the initiative required to relocate to another country, and despite their often conservative values when it comes to enterprise, self-reliance, family and so on, tend to gravitate to the Left.

Again, that's a revealing comment. In his mind, the waves of immigration are made up of people who want to be self-made in the market and who are therefore right-liberal brothers-in-arms. And yet they vote for the statist, left-wing party.

He finds hope in the success of the Canadian right-wing party in appealing to immigrant groups by granting them special favours, for instance, in granting visas or in getting them into parliament.

Whether such outreach programmes work or not (I'm sceptical), the larger point is that the right-wing parties are still carrying on as if it's 1839. The message is still that being Anglo is positive in the sense that Anglos have brought liberty to the world; that this liberty involves a focus on the individual and the free market; that it is such a positive to uproot oneself to another country in order to be self-made in the market that the immigrant identity becomes a focus of national identity (a nation of immigrants); that immigration policy should be focused on the needs of the market for human capital; and that immigrants will naturally assimilate to (and be a natural constituency for) this view of the world.

The right-liberal view is a radically transforming one, that won't leave much behind of the original populations which adopted it. We are supposed to bequeath to the world not ourselves but a certain understanding of liberty, but it isn't even likely that this understanding of liberty will survive in the leftist, technocratic states that grow from right-liberalism.

Let me return to my starting point: if we focus on criticising Marx, then who is going to criticise Hannan? What is the greatest negative influence on our current PM, Tony Abbott? Surely it is more the influence of figures like Hannan than anyone associated with Marxism?

We can contribute something positive by creating a political culture that has broken cleanly with right-liberalism. I don't think we've achieved that yet.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Where is liberalism taking the family?

She's a 21-year-old with no more influence in society than I have. But even so, she's picked up the liberal attitude to the family and run with it, so her views are interesting for that reason.

Isabel Chalmer's parents divorced when she was a young girl. This is her idea now about "what family truly is":
I believe in the cliché that states that family is who you chose as much as it is who you are biologically related to. I have some friends who I would consider family, based on the length, dedication and unconditional love within our relationship and some blood relatives who I do not consider family because of the lacking of all those previously listed qualities.  Family to me is anyone whom you unconditionally love and whom unconditionally loves you...

Family is really indefinable. It is much less tangible than people are led to believe. Family is a feeling you get with certain people in your life, much like home is never actually a place. Family is whatever you choose it to be and is to be felt more than seen. It is wherever you feel loved and secure and is a very subjective and personal experience to each and every person. [italics mine]

There's something of a contradiction in this, as Isabel claims that family is indefinable but then proceeds to give a definition ("it is wherever you feel loved and secure").

Still, you get a sense of where liberalism is taking things. There is an insistence that the family is something that has no fixed character, but is fluid and evolving; its character is vague and not something that can be objectively defined.

The point of this liberal drift is to make family relationships a matter of personal choice and to keep as open as possible the idea that family relationships can be defined subjectively (so that we don't impinge on the freedom of others to self-define how they live).

The problem, of course, is that not much is left of the family at the end of all this. If the family can be whatever I choose it to be, then it has little real meaning or significance. It has become formless. At best, if we take the definition allowed to us by Isabel Chalmer, family is a circle of friends we feel supported by.

It's a long way from the very particular family relationships of husband and wife; father and mother; brother and sister; grandfather and grandmother; uncle and aunt and so on, with each of these roles having a particular character, set of duties, form of loyalty, and experience of love which form part of the way we fulfil ourselves as men and women.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Valenti blames white terror

You will have seen the news that a young American man, Elliot Rodger, killed six people in California.

Rodger left behind a manifesto. It details the thoughts of a young man who was filled with hate and rage because he wasn't in a relationship; there is also much evidence of extreme narcissism..

I was interested in how those on the left might see such a crime and found a piece by the feminist Jessica Valenti at The Guardian. She highlights the fact that Rodger was a misogynist - which he most certainly was. But she then tries to tie this into a left-liberal world view in which all evil is supposed to flow from white males as a privileged oppressor class.

As far as the race angle goes, she writes:
Yet, as the artist Molly Crabapple pointed out on Twitter: "White terrorism is always blamed on guns, mental health – never poisonous ideology."

She is arguing that Rodger carried out an act of "white terrorism" inspired by a "poisonous ideology".

Now, that's an odd claim as it's more accurate to put things the other way round. Rodger was of mixed race, with a white father and an Asian mother. And he made clear his hatred of blonde women ("I will slaughter every single blonde s*** I see"). So the truth is that a mixed race man set out to attack white women - how can this be described as an act of "white terrorism"?

And then there's the gender angle. Valenti writes:
The truth is that there is no such thing as a lone misogynist – they are created by our culture, and by communities that tells them that their hatred is both commonplace and justified.

It's that feminist idea that the average man hates women and that the culture supports them in this. As it happens, Rodger in his manifesto is perplexed that the other men he befriends, who also haven't been able to form relationships, aren't angry and hateful like he is but choose instead to pursue their strengths. The reality is that he did, indeed, end up as a lone misogynist.

One of the patterns of these types of crimes is that they tend to be committed not (as the leftist theory might expect) by masculine and traditional white males, but instead by socially maladjusted, loner young men, who feel themselves to be outsiders to a system they feel alienated from.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Interesting thoughts from Lord Glasman

The electoral success of UKIP has brought some interesting thoughts from a Labour peer, Lord Glasman:
UKIP has done us all a service in one key respect: it has forced the elites to confront the flaws in our democracy.

...I have come to the conclusion that Labour is in danger of losing England.

...the cohesive world which the [labour] movement helped to create has now fallen apart.

People are isolated and lonely, and feel both dispossessed of their inheritance and abandoned by their rulers.

It is no surprise, therefore, that so many core Labour voters – people who work and are members of a real village, not the global one, who love their country and their family – feel abandoned and neglected by the party that was established by their forebears.

That is why it is not just the Conservatives who are bleeding support to UKIP.

UKIP has benefited because people feel powerless.

The dispossession they feel is not an individual complaint, but a shared grievance.

I believe that this Government is incapable of responding. The Conservative party is nowhere near conservative enough. It is a liberal party that serves the interests of those who already have much.

Neither the Conservative nor Liberal parties are held in the hearts of people as the local election results show. They lost seats by the hundreds.

I'll go on to mention Lord Glasman's proposed solutions in a moment. It's worthwhile pausing first to consider what is important in Lord Glasman's observations.

First, he admits that diversity and globalism have undermined a sense of belonging to a cohesive world. So much for the "diversity is strength" mantra.

Second, he admits that people feel dispossessed and powerless. This raises the issue of agency. Much of what liberalism does was supposed to increase the sense of agency possessed by individuals. Agency means an ability to self-determine rather than to be constrained by aspects of the social structure:
In the social sciences, agency refers to the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. By contrast, structure are those factors of influence (such as social class, religion, gender, ethnicity, customs, etc.) that determine or limit an agent and his or her decisions.

If people are feeling increasingly powerless and dispossessed then it can hardly be said that the liberal approach to agency has worked. I would suggest that two things have gone wrong. First, liberals have emphasised individual agency at the expense of collective agency (so that, for instance, a nation of people no longer feels that it has the capacity to determine its future). Second, the underlying assumptions of agency itself are mistaken: "structure" sometimes helps to enhance agency, as structure provides the framework and cultural support that provides the context for meaningful choice.

Third, it is interesting that Lord Glasman wishes that the Conservative Party really were conservative rather than liberal. He's not the first left-winger I've heard utter this thought. At some level, people do understand that you need a genuinely conservative force in society to hold things together and to represent a truly national interest.

So what does Lord Glasman propose the Labour Party do? Amongst his suggestions are the following:
Labour’s policy review is built around three themes: family, place and work.

That is what people care about.

Only through coming together for a common good can a decent human life, based on faithful relationships and an attachment to the people you live and work with, be forged. It is an active task not a passive policy.

Immigration and Europe, which are closely connected, have ruptured Labour’s relationship with its own supporters.

We need to heal that rift.

People feel powerless because we do not control our borders, we cannot shape our destiny and we have lost our sense of political community.

We need the Church and unions to find a common good between them to support people to fulfil their obligations to their loved ones and ensure normal dramas don’t turn into a catastrophe.

The future is based on skilled work and respecting work, and preserving our proud inheritance of shaping our own destiny together.

What's good in this? Well, he does state clearly that open borders makes people feel powerless and not in control of their national destiny. He believes that Labour lost support on the issues of immigration and Europe. (Note, though, that he doesn't offer a firm policy of limiting numbers in future.)

He also talks about the importance of faithful relationships and family, but again without any particular policy recommendations about how a culture of stable family life might be upheld.

In a more general sense, he also recognises that there is a problem within modern liberal societies of people losing particular attachments and a sense of togetherness.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Liberal intolerance is getting noticed

Kirsten Powers, a Democratic commentator, is bewildered that liberals, who are supposed to be committed to the value of tolerance, are increasingly intolerant of opposing views:
How ironic that the persecutors this time around are the so-called intellectuals. They claim to be liberal while behaving as anything but. The touchstone of liberalism is tolerance of differing ideas. Yet this mob exists to enforce conformity of thought and to delegitimize any dissent from its sanctioned worldview. Intolerance is its calling card.

James Kalb has written a response agreeing that liberalism is intolerant but setting out why this follows from liberal principles.

I'd like to follow on in the same vein. Liberalism is neutral in a limited way. It is neutral only in the sense that individuals are supposed to define their own subjective goods and respect the right of others to do the same. That viewpoint isn't really neutral as it assumes a number of things philosophically, for instance, that objective values can't be known, or agreed upon, or don't exist; and that individual goods can be understood separately from communally held ones.

But leaving that aside, liberalism's limited neutrality runs into another problem. If my main moral responsibility to others is that I tolerate their right to subjectively define their own goods, then that means that what fills the gap in terms of public moral standards are values of non-interference such as tolerance, openness, non-discrimination, inclusiveness and so on. These values then become the new standard of public good that people can be thought of as contravening.

It sounds odd, but liberals can then declare their intolerance of violations of tolerance. Here for instance is the right-liberal Jonah Norberg:
It is time for our liberal societies to stop apologising, to get back our self-confidence and state that tolerance and freedom is our way, and those who are out to destroy that deserve no toleration...We should force everybody to accept every other human being as a free and autonomous individual with the same rights as himself. That is the law of a liberal, open society...Everybody who wants to enjoy that society must conform to it. (The Age, 24/9/05)

Force, conform, liberal law, no toleration - these are the terms employed by Norberg who then states that his highest values are tolerance and freedom.

The contradiction is made worse by the fact that it is so easy to run foul of liberal tolerance on a variety of significant issues. For instance, under Norberg's "law of liberalism" I cannot defend any distinction in what men and women do in society. For instance, I cannot defend the idea that women should not be combat troops, as that would place a limit on how women might define their own good. Similarly, I cannot defend border controls as that restricts immigrants defining their own good; nor can I defend traditional marriage, as that limits all those who cannot accept heterosexual fidelity from defining their own good.

The liberal principle forces the outcome on a great many of the most serious issues to be decided in a society. Instead of defining my own goods, I end up having many of the most important ones defined for me by the procedural principle that liberals have established.

In the traditionalist view, it is better for at least some goods to be decided on by a community, in part formally, through a process of politics, and in part informally, through a process of culture and tradition.

That's because some of the most important goods I am likely to hold are aspects of a communal life; if a community does not uphold them, then they are lost as individual goods. You cannot respect the life of the individual, without taking seriously the goods embedded within the community to which the individual belongs.

Second, the outcome of what goods are upheld within a society ought not to be left to a procedural principle, such as that asserted by liberals. That's a curiously mechanical way to decide what goods will triumph in a society; it is also a way that fails to find a harmonious balance between competing goods, or to weigh the real merits of the goods under consideration.

I'll give a concrete example. Brendan Eich, a man with much success in the technology industry, was forced to resign as CEO of Mozilla because some years ago he made a small donation to a campaign to defend traditional marriage.

That's how things work in a liberal system. There is an issue of whether two men or two women should be able to marry. The issue is decided on a procedural basis: the principle is that we should tolerate people self-defining their own good, therefore it is decided that homosexuals should not be limited in defining their own good and should therefore be allowed to marry. People who oppose this are thought to be contravening the tolerance principle and are therefore treated intolerantly.

That's not how things should be done. It is both too contradictory (intolerance in the name of tolerance) and too mechanical (decided according to a procedural principle). What should determine the outcome are questions to do with the nature of marriage itself as an institution; the purposes its serves; of what upholds it as an institution; and of how it fits within the larger order on which a society is based.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Roundhay Lake

Another John Atkinson Grimshaw painting, this one titled Roundhay Lake.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Clarissa and the Hutterites

Clarissa, the liberal academic, has written a follow up post. She is perturbed that there are people who think than men and women are different by nature. All differences, according to her, are social constructs.

It's not surprising that Clarissa would think this way. She is committed to a liberal world view in which what distinguishes us is that we self-define who we are. In this view, our individuality is threatened by predetermined, collective identities such as that of being a man or woman or belonging to a particular ethnic group. Clarissa believes that we should work out a unique identity for ourselves, as this will give us individuality. She writes:
Sadly, many people are too stupid and lazy to work out their own individual identity, their own unique worldview. This would be a life-long project of self-improvement and learning, and many people choose not to think or make an effort. In the absence of an individual philosophy of life, they allow outside authorities to fill their inner void with content. The easiest way to organize your existence in the absence of a personality of your own is by adopting some collective identity. Gender roles work beautifully for this purpose because zero effort is required to practice them. Why figure out whether you like pink, blue or orange when you can always allow some manipulative salesperson make that decision for you and make you feel like you actually have a meaning as a result of adopting this “preference”?

If this were true then traditionalists would be lazy conformists, whereas liberals would be independent-minded individualists.

The first problem in accepting Clarissa's take on things is that she is the one following an intellectual orthodoxy. It takes a degree of non-conformism these days to be a traditionalist, whereas the liberal view is the standard ruling one. If Clarissa really spent a lifetime of study working out her own individual worldview, why did she arrive at the stock standard one? Why did she join the intellectual herd?

There's another problem with Clarissa's view that I'd like to raise and I'll illustrate my point with a photograph I posted recently of some Hutterite men:

These men belong to a small religious community sharing similar values and wearing the same clothes. If Clarissa were right, then these men ought to be low on both individuality and energy. But in the photo they don't appear that way. They don't come across as drones at all, but as healthy and spirited young men, of neither the wimpy nor the thuggish variety.

Where Clarissa and other liberals get it wrong is in thinking that we lose individuality when we are connected to deeper, inherited forms of identity. Such collective identities don't make us carbon copies of each other: if you put 100 men together you get plenty of individual particularity, just as you would if you put 100 English people together.

Where individuality is suppressed is when the individual is demoralised by experiencing life as an atomised individual. The Hutterites do not look demoralised.

And then there's the issue of identity. Clarissa uses the word but empties it of meaning. She talks about people working out "their own individual identity, their own unique worldview." As I've already noted, that would mean that Clarissa herself has no identity as she has failed to work out a unique worldview of her own, preferring instead to go with liberalism.

It means too that the word "identity" becomes curiously close in meaning to that of "worldview". That makes identity remarkably fluid and unstable - if I change my worldview then my identity changes along with it. Can there be a sense of continuity of self in such a view?

Connecting identity and worldview so closely means that identity becomes an intellectual, self-generated thing; if it has meaning, it has it as an intellectual conceit ("I'm not like the others, I think differently").

And, anyway, in Clarissa's view it is not so much identity itself that has meaning but the process of selecting identity. In other words, it is not the form of identity we end up with that carries weight or has meaning, but the intellectual effort to form one. So identity doesn't matter in itself.

In the traditional view, identity does matter. For instance, if I identify as a man, then that connects me to facets of my being (physical, emotional, spiritual); to the values associated with the masculine; to one aspect of my telos (i.e. to what I am rationally developing toward in fulfilment of my being); to other aspects of identity associated with manhood (e.g. fatherhood, being a husband); and to the roles associated with being a father or husband (amongst others).

Clarissa claims falsely that this is a passive account of identity; in fact, it is an active, complex and challenging one that no two men will complete in exactly the same way or with the same elements of success or failure.

It is also an account of identity that draws on the whole person, rather than the intellectual one alone. In this sense it encourages an "integrity" of self, i.e. a harmony of mind, body and soul, which again gives depth in comparison to a view of self based on "world view".

Monday, May 19, 2014

A return to Clarissa

I was interested to see Laura Wood run a post about Clarissa's blog. I wrote a few things about Clarissa's blog a few years ago.

Clarissa is a liberal academic. In what way is she a liberal? Well, liberals believe that the highest good is the freedom to be a self-determining individual; therefore, individuals need to be liberated from predetermined aspects of the self. What is predetermined? Our sex and our ethny both fall into this category. Therefore, Clarissa writes:
...There are many people out there who feel confused, lonely and lost in a world where modernity is destroying old certitudes, identities and ways of being. Modernity is liberating in the sense that we are a lot less tied to collective identities ascribed to us at birth. Gender identities, normative sexualities, class origins, religious backgrounds still exist, of course. Nevertheless, they are nowhere as binding as they used to be before the advent of modernity. It isn't easy to challenge the identitarian status quo, but it still can be done...

 ...At birth, you are handed a set of norms that you are supposed to observe as a representative of your gender, social class, religious denomination, etc. You accumulate enough of these collective allegiances and you can guarantee that pretty much every aspect of your life will be defined for you...Modernity is terrifying because it erodes the stability of collective identities.

Clarissa admits that liberal modernity uproots people and their identities, but she nonetheless supports this because she believes that it is the path to true individuality and to independent thinking. Traditionalists like myself would argue against this that our individuality gains in depth when we are connected to the deeper forms of individual identity, such as our identity as men or women or as members of longstanding ethnic traditions.

And in practice liberal moderns who have abandoned traditional identities rely to a considerable degree on careers for a substitute source of meaning and identity. Clarissa is no exception: she places great weight on self-actualisation through a career, to the point that she claims that women who stay home to look after their children are suffering from "self-infantilisation" and are being "castrated".

Which is why it's so interesting that Clarissa has chosen to run a post by a guest writer complaining that her female employees are too emotional and high maintenance and that she will only be hiring male employees from now on. Here is how the guest writer starts her post:
I am a woman, a feminist, a mother, and a passionate entrepreneur. I don’t just stand for equality – I have crashed the glass ceiling in every aspect of my life. I get extremely angry when I come across articles that insist there are gender differences that extend beyond physiology. I am fortunate to have had female role models who taught me through their own examples that I can accomplish absolutely anything I desire.

She is setting herself up for a big fall here. No differences between men and women apart from different body bits? Well, experience proved otherwise:
I have had women cry in team meetings, come to my office to ask me if I still like them and create melodrama over the side of the office their desk was being placed. I am simply incapable of verbalizing enough appreciation to female employees to satiate their need for it for at least a week’s worth of work...

I have developed a different approach for offering constructive criticism to male and female employees. When I have something to say to one of the men, I just say it! I don’t think it through – I simply spit it out, we have a brief discussion and we move on. They even frequently thank me for the feedback! Not so fast with my female staff. I plan, I prepare, I think, I run it through my business partner and then I think again. I start with a lot of positive feedback before I feel that I have cushioned my one small negative comment sufficiently, yet it is rarely enough. We talk forever, dissect every little piece of it, and then come back to the topic time and time again in the future. And I also have to confirm that I still like them – again and again, and again.

I am also yet to have a single male employee come to my office to give me dirt on a co-worker or share an awkward gossip-like story. My female employees though? Every. single. one.

Most of my work colleagues are women and I've haven't experienced such behaviours at this level. Even so, I smiled when she wrote "I start with a lot of positive feedback before I feel that I have cushioned my one small negative comment sufficiently, yet it is rarely enough" because I have the same problem with my wife. I've never really figured out a way to cushion a negative comment with her - it never works (reader advice?).

Now, you would think the obvious conclusion to draw would be "well, there are differences between men and women". But Clarissa herself has added to the bottom of the post this comment:
People: in the past 2 hours I have had to Spam 63 comments from losers who tried to inform me that “men and women are psychologically/emotionally, etc. different.” Once again, anybody who embarrasses him or herself by chirping idiotically “yes, men and women are different” will be banned outright. This will be my small investment into sparing these losers further public embarrassment. Stop wasting your time, such comments are not going through on my blog.

Interesting. Clarissa has:

a) hosted a post which complains that female employees show different behaviours to male employees

b) then claimed it is idiotic to believe that males and females are psychologically and emotionally different

Personally, I find it amazing that anyone could go through life without realising that men and women are psychologically and emotionally different. How can you be in a relationship and not have a sense of this?

Clarissa did let through one comment (from a woman) attempting to explain the different work styles of men and women. Such observations are never strictly scientific and are always highly generalised, but I found some of it interesting nonetheless (e.g. the chain of command idea).

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A question of honour

Any world view is based, in part, on the answer to the question "What makes a person good?" We know the answer given by the dominant Western philosophy, liberalism. The good person is the one who doesn't interfere in others self-defining their own good; the good person, therefore, doesn't discriminate, isn't prejudiced, is tolerant, supports diversity, is accepting of otherness and so on.

What do traditionalists think makes a person good? Our answer has a more positive focus: it has less to do with passively not interfering (a procedural ethics) and more to do with upholding qualities that are inherently good or virtuous.

Many of these qualities are uncontroversial, but I'd like to look at one that might be seen as having both positive and negative characteristics, namely honour.

Honour isn't spoken about much anymore in Western cultures, in part because it was embedded most strongly within an aristocratic culture and aristocrats no longer make up the larger part of the ruling class.

Honour does, too, have a negative side. It can make people so conscious of their dignity that they won't deign to relate to those beneath them; it can encourage people to have such a sense of their own moral worth that they become self-righteous or sanctimonious; and it can make people so self-conscious of their reputation that they will defend it with violence.

Honour at its very worst: the thug who king hits (sucker punches) someone because "they looked at me the wrong way" or the father who kills his own daughter "for besmirching the honour of the family" or (historically) the young men who killed each other in duels because of perceived slights to their reputation.

The Bible very clearly condemns these manifestations of honour. For instance, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, showing that there is no dishonour in serving those beneath his station (this was incorporated into Christian societies - in Austen's novel Emma the upper-class heroine delivers food hampers to the poor and is rebuked by the hero when she mocks one of the poor women.)

The Bible also tells us to turn the other cheek. There are a number of interpretations of this, but the general sense of the command is that we are not to be easily provoked to violence - hence we are not to turn immediately to violence if we feel that our honour has been slighted in some way.

The Bible also condemns the self-righteous, particularly in the figure of the Pharisee. Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector to correct "some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else"; the Pharisee loses out for standing by himself and praying "God, I thank you that I am not like other people--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector."

But here's the question. Is it the intent of the Bible to discard honour or to perfect it?

It seems to me that there is a strong case for perfecting honour rather than discarding it. Why? Because it is honour that helps to make morality matter. Honour gives us the sense that a part of who we are - of our self and identity - is our moral being, so that to lose in our moral being means to lose something important of our own self.

Honour, in other words, is a consciousness of the importance of our moral integrity to our sense of self. It is the sense of not wanting to be lesser, in our moral behaviour, than what we were made to be; of wanting to remain complete or whole in our moral integrity; and of there being forms of behaviour that are beneath our dignity.

If someone is conscious that morality matters to who they are, then they are also likely to be sensitive to their moral reputation within a community. If a man, for instance, faces the taunt of cowardice or a woman that of promiscuity, then it will be thought of as affecting how they are perceived, significantly, as a person. The two things go together: if morality matters then to at least some degree so will reputation - whether it is our own reputation or that of our family or community.

I'm not suggesting in all this that honour becomes the main focus of a moral life. My point is that in a society in which morality is taken seriously, there is likely to be some sort of expression of honour. It's not a good sign if honour goes missing.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Fighting gender theory in France

It's great to see more resistance to gender theory taking place in France.

Here's a quick summary. The French Government released a report claiming that sexism is rampant in French schools. Girls are supposedly the victims of gender stereotypes in education, despite the fact that they are doing much better than boys in terms of graduation rates.

The assumption behind the report is that "gender" (sex distinction or differentiation) is a bad thing that is harmful to women and that therefore it should be collapsed. For this reason, educational authorities in Nantes have approved a day of action against sexism - in which schoolboys have been invited to wear skirts to school.

Usually governments get away with this kind of thing, but there is popular resistance to it in France. There is an anti-gender theory group in Nantes which will be protesting against the skirt day. And a member of the UMP, Véronique Louwagie, passionately denounced the skirt day in the National Assembly, saying:
What do we learn? That the Nantes school district is inviting the boys to wear a skirt on Friday and this is - hold on - to fight against the stereotypical contracts of social sexual relations! You knowingly hid the actions that you intended to take to impose gender theory! Are you going to stop this project of systematic demolition of the values that provide structure for our children, yes or no? (hat tip: Tiberge)

It forced the Government onto the defensive, denying that there was an attempt to impose gender theory in French schools.

It's terrific to see the radical liberals pushed back like this - forced to deny their own agenda. It means that for the time being that the moral ground swings back our way.

To demonstrate just how important this fightback is, consider the agenda that was on the table in France until resistance broke out:
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."

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mistaking the state

From a comment at Bonald's site we get the following:
Rachida Dati, herself a Muslim and former French Minister of Justice (garde des Sceaux) told the National Assembly that “The Republic is alone capable of uniting men and women of different origins, colours and religions around the principles of tolerance, liberty, solidarity and laïcité making the Republic truly one and indivisible”

When I read that I was struck immediately by its cruelty: it establishes the Republic as a neutral space with "procedural values" (values aimed at function) at its heart.

But France is not a neutral space, it is the homeland of the French and the one place that the French tradition has a chance to exist.

It would be different if representatives of the French state were to proclaim "We represent and defend the French tradition, but we will provide protection within our society for those minorities who do not belong to the mainstream tradition."

And what happens if you do belong to the mainstream tradition in a society which decides to be a neutral space ruled by procedural values? Most likely the state can't wait to reduce you to one amongst many, as this fits in better with the concept of such a society. Why should one group predominate if the focus is on neutrality?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Crossing the stream

Just thought this was a great photo. It shows three men from a Hutterite community in Manitoba, Canada. You can click it to view it full size.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Oh Europe

The Eurovision song contest has been held and the most popular act across the continent was a bearded Austrian gay man in drag, calling himself "Conchita Wurst" (this name being a play on words to refer to female and male genitalia).

Here is the winner:

Mr Wurst appealed for support by drawing on the liberal principles that currently dominate Western thought:
"I created this bearded lady to show the world that you can do whatever you want," said Wurst, the drag persona of 25-year-old Austrian singer Tom Neuwirth, at a recent press conference in Copenhagen.

"If you're not hurting anyone you can do whatever you like with your life and, it's so cheesy, but we've only got one (life)," she added.

He's right that what he does fits in well with liberalism. Liberalism says that what matters is that I choose autonomously for myself what I am and what I do: that I am to self-determine or self-create my own being and identity and that this is what creates meaning or purpose in life.

If that is true, then Conchita Wurst is a better person than the rest of us as he/she is not "limited" by the sex identity that he/she was born with, but has played creatively to mix and match it.

But I don't think it's true at all. There is an emptiness at the heart of liberalism; the assumption is that there is nothing "already there" in life that has intrinsic meaning or value, so the only thing that we can do is to assert such value through acts of unfettered will. But that's lame. Why should we think that the assertion of individual will creates value?

The alternative view is that we fulfil one part of self and identity by being strongly connected to our masculinity (if we are men) or femininity (if women). If we reflect on who we are, and part of the instinctive answer is "I am a man" and that we then have a sense of what is essentially meaningful within masculinity, then we are on track with that one life that we have. It then becomes something to admire if a man is able to represent in his nature and in the way he acts a higher masculine personality.

But what if someone has grown up confused in their identity? My own view is that that is something to be regretted, as a loss of connection between self, identity and objective value. It doesn't mean that that individual can't find other points of significance in life elsewhere, but it's not something to cheer on.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Boko Haram

There is an Islamic group in Nigeria called Boko Haram which has hit the news for kidnapping several hundred school girls. It seems that the group considers girls captured in holy war to be slaves:
In the video, Shekau also said the students "will remain slaves with us." That appears a reference to the ancient jihadi custom of enslaving women captured in a holy war, who then can be used for sex.

"They are slaves and I will sell them because I have the market to sell them," he said, speaking in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria.

There are reports that the Christian girls amongst the group have been forced to convert to Islam; that some have already been married off to the men who abducted them; and that others might have been taken to Chad or Cameroon to be sold.

When I read this I couldn't help but think of the contrast between the kind of narrative that has existed over the past few decades, namely that of the white, Christian, oppressor male, and what really exists on the ground.

Monday, May 05, 2014

An Iranian opens up on refugees

Rita Pahani is a columnist for the Melbourne Herald Sun. She is a member of the Iranian community in Melbourne which is why her comments on Iranian asylum seekers carry some weight:
The lies sold by the refugee advocates have been laid bare in the past four months. We were told that the boats couldn’t be stopped, that they were full of frightened souls fleeing persecution and fearing death, despite the inconvenient fact that they were boarding boats in a country that is stable and safe.

We were told that there were no pull factors; that nothing Australia did could slow the flood of boats and yet they have stopped. There has not been a single boat in more than four months. Compare that with last year where 47 boats arrived in April alone carrying more than 3300 asylum seekers.

When the Rudd government came to power in 2007, there was only a handful of people in detention. After completely losing control of our borders, Labor finally admitted what anyone with an IQ above room temperature knew; that pull factors were the key.

Former foreign minister Bob Carr said as much last June: “They’re not people fleeing persecution,” he said. “They’re coming from majority religious or ethnic groups in the countries they’re fleeing, they’re coming here as economic migrants.”

Carr’s comments came after a surge in the number of Iranian asylum seekers arriving by boat in the first half of 2013. More than 4300 Iranians arrived by boat between January and June last year. Carr was right to say the majority were economic refugees.

It’s well known in the Iranian community that having your claim of asylum approved is as simple as reciting a story that can’t be disproved and has worked successfully in the past. Those paying smugglers know what to say and what to omit when interviewed. They are not going to uproot their whole life, sell everything and risk their life at sea and not have a compelling story to tell. The attitude of many in the Iranian community, even those who have been here for decades, is that those arriving by boat are essentially decent people who have sacrificed a great deal to come here for a better life, so if they have to tell a few “white lies” to appease the white man, then so be it. Though many are scathing of those who put their children’s lives at risk by putting them on a leaky boat.

I'd like here to reiterate my own policy suggestion for asylum seekers. I believe that the wealthier nations (not only of the West but also those in Asia and the Middle-East) should pay into a central fund to resettle asylum seekers. However, an asylum seeker would be resettled in whatever country was nearest in living standard and culture to that which he had fled.

This policy would enable genuine refugees to find asylum whilst at the same time discouraging economic migrants and allowing for relatively easy assimilation and resettlement of displaced persons.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

The future of marriage?

Well, this was predictable. A group of three American women have "married" each other and are now expecting a baby.

I don't know on what basis liberal moderns can object to this. If marriage is understood to be a public commitment ceremony only, then any conceivable configuration of marriage can take place (why not three men?).

The alternative (traditional) understanding sees marriage as a uniting of distinct and complementary masculine and feminine persons, as an embodiment of faithful love, and for the lifelong purposes of conceiving and raising children and maintaining an intergenerational link of family.

It is from this particular understanding of marriage that marriage becomes something that involves two persons only; that it becomes exclusive; and that it has a lifelong character.

You can't take away the traditional understanding and then expect marriage to retain the same characteristics that it once had.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Why does liberalism attract support?

For many decades the Western intellectual classes have been firm supporters of liberalism. But why?

I want to put forward two reasons. The first is that liberals have been able to dominate the question of what makes a good person, albeit in a roundabout kind of way. After all, liberalism begins by claiming that we should self-define our own concept of the good. You would think that would then leave open the question of what makes a person good.

But the question is not left open. Instead, liberals do set up moral criteria of goodness, according to the following logic:

a) There either is no objective moral good or else we cannot know what it is

b) Therefore we can only subjectively define our own good

c) Therefore we should not interfere with other people defining their own good

d) Therefore qualities of non-interference are what are moral: for instance, tolerance, diversity, openness, non-discrimination

e) Therefore it is right to suppress those who contravene a morality of non-interference, even if this involves high levels of coercive interference

f) We can show we are a good person by following the morality of non-interference, for instance, by showing how far we will support diversity and non-discrimination

This has been thoroughly accepted as the criteria of what shows that we are a good, compassionate person; it doesn't really require a test of character, or any personal sacrifices, only a willingness to adopt a certain world view. If you sign up to liberal political causes, you therefore get to believe that you pass the test of good personhood. This is, I believe, a feel-good factor that attracts the intellectual classes to liberalism.

The second reason for liberalism attracting intellectual support is that liberalism has acted as a kind of tribal marker for those who aspire to intellectual status. Young intellectual types often have a sense of themselves as different from the hoi polloi. They don't like the ordinary, outer suburban lifestyle and mentality - they feel themselves to be set apart from it.

There has been a trend for such aspiring young intellectual types to gather together into lifestyle communities of their own. Such communities often employ boundary markers to set themselves apart from others. The markers might include where you live; for instance, in Australia the intellectual classes have preferred inner urban locations, so that even the Greens will live far away from any forests in suburbs like Fitzroy or St Kilda. Similarly, it can be a marker of intellectual hipness to follow an academic fashion - it doesn't really matter how true or profound the academic theory is as the point of reciting it is to prove your intellectual credentials. It's much the same with the arts; the liberal intelligentsia don't really care much for highbrow art and are happy to cede this ground to conservatives (think of the house conservative in MASH, Charles Winchester III, with his classical music); what matters more is that the art is cutting edge (a sign of being trendy or with the in crowd).

To be fair, the liberal intelligentsia have shown some skill at establishing a pleasant lifestyle culture for themselves. They often pick out the inner suburbs with the most character in which to pursue a pleasant, gentrified, café latte lifestyle.

What does all this mean? It helps to explain why it can be so difficult to shift the intelligentsia from liberalism, even as the long-term negative effects of liberalism become more obvious and immediate. It means as well that to break intellectuals from liberalism we need to:

a) revisit the criteria of what it means to be a good person


b) find a way to allow intellectuals to distinguish themselves and to have a niche in society they feel comfortable in, without defining themselves in opposition to the ordinary members of their own ethny.