Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Choosing our own path?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The freedom debate

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

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

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

The Liberal Party’s animating principle is freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Twisted admissions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Australian women less happy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cog status

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 21, 2014

John Dickson Batten

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

Thursday, July 17, 2014

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

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

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Mass man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Dr Stoet: do we really care that...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Yesterday's crazy radicalism is tomorrow's new policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Rita Panahi on the Tamils

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 11, 2014

A French manifesto

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

Become what you are

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Another victory in France!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The banner reads "No to gender theory"

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

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Another Grimshaw

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

Can liberal morality work in reality?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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