Meanwhile, over at ‘Reason’ magazine, another writer participates in an interesting debate. ("We are all cultural libertarians", by Kerry Howley, November 2009 issue, pp.32-5, available only in print until the next month’s issue comes out.)
She has set herself the task of demonstrating to ‘libertarians’ (the readership of ‘Reason’) just why feminism is perfectly admissible within the libertarian umbrella of ‘individual liberty’ concerns.
A most interesting project.
Although I’d say first off that there is a rather large gap between ‘feminism’ and feminism-as-it-has-evolved. That ‘evolved’ form is radical; revolutionary; divisive; joined to Multiculturalism and that ‘deconstruction’ which rejects ‘abstractions’, the power of thought and reason and substituting instead the primacy of raw emotion; rejecting the usefulness of any authorial intent (such as, say, the ‘text’ of the Constitution and its dead, white, male ‘authors’); dedicated to the revolutionary proposition that The People ‘just don’t get it’ and that there is no People anyway; and now as established a Player in the Beltway lobbying frakfest as any corporation.
But that’s not where she goes with it.
She asserts that libertarianism is not simply a political caution, keeping government out of the affairs of the individual and preserving ‘negative’ liberties and the freedom-from governmental intrusion and control. Rather, libertarianism should be about “cultural values”, since those are what feminism sees as really and truly interfering with the ‘liberty’ of ‘women’.
In this view, “cultural values” are soft, and as such far more malleable and pliable than ‘political’ values.
But I don’t think that’s accurate at all.
A nation’s culture is far more than simply its manners, and its folkways. A nation’s culture is the expressed fruit of a wide and deep public consensus on matters of fundamental belief. Each great civilization evolves a culture precisely to express and therefore unite its members in matters of the common belief.
And ‘belief’ is not merely a private matter, as to whether you go to this church or that one, subscribe to this philosophy or that one. ‘Belief’ stems from one of the most profound – perhaps the most profound – of human characteristics: the need for Meaning which will ground one’s life and endow it with Purpose. This is one of the most enduring and fundamental human characteristics.
And crucial, because without such Meaning and Purpose human beings tend to drift into alienation, lawlessness, and a profound ‘boredom’ with life that renders them lumpish and – depending on their temperament – either lethally passive or lethally violent, and always irrationally so.
None of which bodes well for a civilization, and certainly not for a democratic politics and a Constitutional ethos. (In this regard, perhaps the ‘fear’ of crime which has in the same time frame as the feministical ascendancy raised this country to be the world’s most prolific imprisoner of its citizens, surpassing even the USSR in its heyday and China under Mao and China today, stems from some visceral awareness that the feministical agenda will lead – as Montesquieu and others saw – to such widespread human dysfunction.)
Further, I would say that “cultural issues” are therefore not simply extra frosting on the cake of civilization – mere “convention” – but rather constitute the deepest ‘structural’ level of human functioning. Thus you can’t simply be changing or ‘reforming’ them, deeply and widely and all at once in the bloom of a hundred simultaneous revolutions (as Gerald Ford sorta burbled, seeking to placate feministical pressures of his day but unintentionally channeling Mao).
Radical feminism’s borrowing from the Boomers the hippie fantasy that ‘good’ arises naturally and ‘culture’ simply gets in the way of that ‘natural goodness’ served the Movement well, but has been a disaster for the nation and for American civilization and its Constitutional ethos and polity. For while the hippie dampdream presumes an infinite and ‘good’ plasticity in humans and their affairs, it then also ‘justifies’ all the ‘changes’ you might demand to make, and further assures you that any such ‘deconstruction’ of ‘culture’ will only yield a fuller and richer explosion of ‘good’ stuff.
And the Constitution is quite actually a ‘machine’, a conceptual machinery constructed carefully precisely because there is no such ‘easy goodness’ that is ‘natural’ to humans or to their affairs, and certainly not to governments to whom humans surrender their power to conduct their common weal. And of course, the actual result of the feministical agenda has been precisely to engorge the government power over the lives of its citizens, demanding State and, increasingly, Federal and Congressional intervention, even in matters of home and hearth and of sexual and relational intimacy.
I would venture that no government in the history of the species has been as ‘empowered’ to interfere so profoundly in the lives of its subject people as has the US government and the States since the dawn of the feministical ascendancy. Not Stalin’s Russian, not Calvin’s Geneva, nor Rome at its height, nor Egypt nor the Babylonians nor the Sumerians.
Of course, the grounds presented for what must be admitted as the feministical demand for government engorgement are and always have been presented as ‘facts’ that could not be questioned but could only be accepted: there are the “social pathologies” of “patriarchy and nationalism”.
Nationalism, certainly, is a dangerous thing, especially when its cycling in the negative, violent frequencies of its spectrum. But there is that patriotism, that ‘love’ of one’s country which Montesquieu even postulated as more important for a citizenry than the ability to think, to deliberate, and to reason. (Most folks never really master their rationality, he thought, but everyone can ‘love’ their country.)
But “patriarchy” is a very new ‘discovery’, and far too quickly termed in the current age’s trumping conceit, a “social pathology”.
For one thing, it is uncertain just where “patriarchy” shades over from a purposeful instrument of political oppression by an oppressor class to being the evolved expression of and solution to characteristics and pressures that the species has tried to deal with since its earliest times.
Second, if “patriarchy” is presumed to be so ingrained as to be unintentional because thoroughly pre-conscious, then this is an assertion of an immaterial cause that requires the most extensive analysis. (Which is not what revolutionaries like to see; they want results, they want them now, and those who ‘just don’t get it’ will learn to like it after it’s been imposed – or else.)
And if “patriarchy” is so thoroughly ingrained through loooong human usage, then it must have been doing something right, responding to some species-wide awareness, for it to have lasted so long. Hell, Lenin’s great ‘gift’ didn’t last 80 years – and yet We are informed that “patriarchy” has been going on since somewhere just after the beginning of the species. Which kinda gets you thinking.
And what about the “social construction of gender”? Yes, folkways evolve in different places and in different ways among different civilizations. And it’s conceptually as conceivable to alter a “social construction” that profound as it is to replace the keel and hull of a ship. But only with the most careful and informed planning, and only after the most careful preparations, and with the ship in a competent drydock.
To replace a civilization’s “social constructions” and greatly alter the presumptions – shrouded in the mists of the past and in the depths of a human civilization’s extended historical experience and consciousness – is an exponentially more daunting project.
And certainly not one to be undertaken for merely political reasons, accepted by a political authority not interested in conducting extended and wise deliberation, and pushed forward by a ‘revolutionary’ Movement that is convinced that it ‘gets it’ and that whether the agenda is rightly or wrongly conceived and justified, people will just get used to it once it’s a ‘fact on the ground’ through the strenuous and extended impositions of an engorged government authority.
And that objections and the notice of dangerous and bad consequences is to be dismissed as merely ‘backlash’ that deserves to be ignored and the noticers re-educated into better ‘perceptions’ (Mao’s most humane solution to the reality of opposition; though the barrel of the gun was always handy for the stubborn cases.)
And what is “patriarchy” and has it really existed in so florid a form that it is clearly identifiable?
And in so demonstrably widespread a purview that the ever-dangerous latencies of engorged government power can justifiably be summoned and raised up? This may occasionally be a required resort, but it is never free from danger; it’s like summoning the Devil to cast out a Demon, and that almost never ends well. As the Communists and their sorely bethump’t peoples discovered, after much wrack and wreck and ruin.
And even if “patriarchy” is demonstrably a major and urgent problem, then the ‘solutions’ must be carefully evaluated.
From the point of view of the feminist agenda, it is conceptually necessary that a ‘woman’ must be freed of the age-old burden of unwanted children, and without the burden of having to maintain a closer control of her sexual experiences than ‘men’ have to do. Thus abortion – in any instance the woman desires it – must be granted political legitimacy. (It need not achieve ‘moral’ legitimacy because there is no such abstraction as ‘morality’ in the deconstructed and Flattened universe of radical-feminism, and the only ‘morality’ is that the individual can do what the individual thinks best – so long, that is, as it doesn’t impose violence on anybody else, although – neatly – the unborn are not somebodies … a nice and neatly wrapped philosophical package, though a poorly constructed product.)
But the child-bearing capacity is not simply a political arrangement, imposed by the oppressive males who thereby keep themselves free to make whoopee. It’s an evolutionary reality – and Evolution, demonstrably, never does anything half-assed (as it were), and certainly not in the matter of a species being able to sustain the absolutely vital ability to reproduce itself.
So it has to be imagined that Evolution would endow the selected sex – the female – with an awful lot of specialized capability to ensure the success of reproduction, and this would be especially so in a species whose young take so long to mature. Thus maternity (and parenting and family).
Early on this was pooh-poohed by the feministical agenda as “essentialism” – that the female is oppressed by such constraints. But the Evolutionary logic seems incontrovertible.
And while there may be those females who wish not to have children, are there enough to overturn or hugely alter the vital arrangements made by a civilization to adapt to those stern but vitally important Evolutionary realities?
And – to continue on a conceptual and philosophical path for a moment – the result of this politically-necessary concept of “essentialism” is to undercut all of civilization’s grounds of Meaning and Purpose. Because if there is no ‘essence’ to anything, if there is no genuine ‘nature’ to anything – humans included – then the entire human enterprise as it has evolved to sustain itself – is cut loose from its moorings at a stroke.
In this regard I recall a comic book from the 1950s, where aliens attack earth with ‘water weapons’: when aimed at an object the weapon’s ‘ray’ turns it into water. So with no explosions or gunfire the aliens are mopping up the planet simply by dissolving the ground floors of buildings (and ditto dissolving military equipment) so that one ‘dab’ and the whole thing dissolves and buildings collapse.
This is precisely what has happened to the foundations of the ‘building’ of Western civilization (and any other civilization at which the radical-feminist dissolution-ray is fired).
And so much of the structure has started to collapse in on itself. And how can there be any realistic “individualism” or any “personal agency” and the freedom to embrace it when it is unknown what the nature of the individual human is or when (according to your assumptions) the human being has no nature at all?
I'm not sure what's worse: a radical-feminist assertion that they never meant to undermine the entire culture and ethos - which can only be a lie or evidence of stunning obtuseness; or that they very much indeed meant to - in which case either they assumed that 'individuals' now 'empowered' by 'free agency' could live together without a culture or it means that they assumed that they could easily enough build a replacement culture after they got through disposing of the original one. And you are welcome to take your pick as to which of those two is less stunning in its frakkery.
Are We really to accept the mooncalf bleating of the Supreme Court in Casey to the effect that every individual has the unbounded right to define whatever it is that s/he would like to be?
Are humans Shape-shifters? Or so fluid that our natures and being have no shape at all? This was the adolescent conceit of the Boomers: that knocking over an entire structure built laboriously over the course of millennia, airily dismissing an accumulated body of thought that had provided guidance for millennia – on the basis of their certainty that they knew better and that anything ‘new’ must be better than anyone or anything over thirty” as the saying used to go.
Is the corporeal human shape nothing but an empty shopping basket into which the ‘consumer’ can load whatever goodies s/he wishes?
Is the radical-feminist vision correct: that a female ‘self’ is just the same as a ‘male’ self, but simply poured into a body that is ‘perceived’ as female? Such that if a female self were merely poured into a male body it would function just the same as the male (and with all the fun bennies)?
I doubt it’s a coincidence that after decades of this type of thinking pressed upon it by the radical-feminist Advocacy in support of its demands, the Beltway conceived of the Iraqis in just the same way: that they inhabit Iraq the same way, say, that Norwegians inhabit Norway: simply waiting to be ‘democratic’ if poured into a ‘democratic polity’? (An image recently used by the strategist Edwin Luttwak in assessing the fundamental mistakes in the Iraq and Af-Pak misadventures.)
As if – then – you could ‘pour’ an Iraqi into Norway and s/he would instantly be a competent Citizen of a democracy just like any Norwegian. If the example of the Iraqis did not destroy this reckless fantasy, then the Afghanis most certainly will.
There is some sort of Shape to human beings; they are not limitless plastic and infinitely adaptable. Ditto a Shape to the female ‘self’ and to the ‘male’ self.
And while I am not here making a veiled plea for the female’s return to Kinder, Kuche und Kirche (kids, kitchen, and church), I am suggesting that the whole ‘total plasticity’ and ‘total interchangeability’ presumptions are hugely wrong. And everything that the ‘revolution’ has built upon them is thus also hugely ungrounded.
In this regard, it’s interesting to note that the Navy, recently, has been plagued by a problem very much similar. The traditional method of acquiring a new type of ship is to designate it first, according to its Purpose and Mission; then designers are given the task of putting together an array of equipment; and over them is a special supervisory office responsible for coordinating the visions and desires so that the basic hull is not overloaded with equipment that is either unnecessary or incompatible.
Because no matter how ‘ingenious’ the overall dream of what the ship should be able to do, there’s only so much that one hull and one crew can effectively manage, especially under at-sea and combat conditions.
The new class of amphibious ships is in deep trouble on precisely this score. They are already supposed to be amphibious assault ships, carrying and landing troops and equipment via helicopter and watercraft.
But on top of that, since there isn’t enough money for lots of new escort vessels, budgetary and political considerations dictate that the ships actually be capable of also doing the tasks of their own escorts: providing gunfire support to the landings and performing their own anti-submarine and anti-mine chores as well. They are supposed to be able to function as frigates and destroyers as well as already-complex amphibious landing ships.
This is wayyy too much of a good thing. Nor is there any technology so advanced as to keep itself organized and coordinated if all these tasks must be performed more or less simultaneously, which is hardly an unlikely scenario in combat operations. Nor is there any crew that can handle all of those tasks, unless it be much larger than the size and make-up of crews currently slated for the vessels.
So you see the problem.
And the entire development program is in trouble.
The feministical assertion of pure fluidity, unbounded and unboundaried possibility, all imagined as operating in a best-case fantasy of perfect operational competence … has migrated to the Defense Department, clearly. And wreaking a havoc that will only be surpassed if such vessels – assuming they can be built and manned – ever enter into serious combat conditions.
And it can hardly be a surprise that even the least-philosophically-inclined humans are going to feel deep and visceral misgivings about such a vast and deep social-policy project, simply on the grounds of what it surely promises to result in, and not on the grounds of any ‘genderism’, ‘sexism’, ‘patriarchalism’, or stodgy and fuddy-duddy old ‘backlash’.
We are corporeal beings, after all, and cannot simply function with the infinite and exciting plasticity of ‘Deep Space Nine’-type Shape-shifters.
It remains to be discovered just what capacities and competencies have been down-played in the female in the Evolutionary trade-off to ensure the species.
Certainly, males have been saddled with an aggressiveness that can hobble their conduct of a life significantly and the male requires a great deal of training in how to master his energies and channel them constructively within society (for which, of course, good parenting and family experiences and strong cultural support are crucial – and yet … those are precisely what the feminist agenda has been working to eliminate, in order to make room for its own views and visions of how society should be re-organized). This cannot end well. There are certain requirements that apparently go along with embodiment, and they create parameters and – yes – boundaries. But they also impart a Shape to human living and self-definition.
Culture forms a trellis, upon which the wild but dynamic plant of human-personality and being can be guided into a (hopefully genuine) Shape. Without a trellis, the human plant simply runs wild along the ground, growing haphazardly like kudzu or weeds. This will not yield a bounty of a productive Garden, but rather a Jungle. (And perhaps We are seeing that now.)
And such human vitality needs to be Shaped – in its male mode as well as in its female mode. The male is prepared by Evolution to be assertive and aggressive. Civilization’s task has always been to shape, channel, and harness that energy.
The first instruments of such Shaping are the concepts grounding the civilizing process – including those capital-letter words and realities that serve to restrain and refine the most primal Evolutionary urges. And the hands-on work is then done by mature parents in the family setting as the long development of the human child is guided.
But precisely the capital-letter words (and any dimension of the Beyond which grants them a beyond-human authority), the stable family structure, the parental responsibility (and maturity) … these are precisely the instruments and realities that radical-feminism has ‘deconstructed’ and done away with in order to create tactical and strategic space for its own utopian visions. This is a form of insanity.
(Although, the process does create an ominous type of feedback loop: the more un-Shaped the male vitality becomes, the more the radical-feminist Advocacy can point to ‘ale violence’ as an ongoing problem – resulting, as the Pentagoons like to say, in the marvelous ‘self-licking ice cream cone’, the Beltway bureaucrat and lobbyist dampdream … paradise indeed.)
Am I thus declaring a trumping-judgment against ‘feminism’ and against ‘women’? No. I am not ready to make any judgment because I don’t know the answers to all these questions. But then again, who does? Analysis was not allowed (since the revolutionary Modus Operandi is precisely and adamantly to prevent it).
Although the accumulated experience and thought of millennia of human history and its human actors cannot simply be dismissed as “patriarchy” that has to be immediately and thoroughly uprooted and burned. Bonfires are fun – if you have the time and leisure to enjoy them – but when you’re burning the Trellis, the conceptual Vessel that human civilization has constructed over millennia, then you’re going to have a real problem in the morning when the hot dogs, beer, and marshmallows have run out.
Ditto if you’re going to go ashore on a desert island paradise and burn your ship for bonfire fuel to celebrate your new paradise.
And yet how can such profound changes be imposed – and quickly – without serious analysis and deliberation?*
So either such “cultural changes” ain’t but a thang because ‘culture’ and its bases are sort of not-important, or else “cultural changes” are a verrry important thing indeed, but so much so that time can’t be wasted thinking them through.
This is an impossible and lethal choice, and a false one. We should not accept its terms and be distracted by the ‘choice’ that then has to be made, no matter who crows that their ‘side’ has been “totally victorious”.
And that We are “vanquished”.
We are The People. If We are “vanquished”, if half or more of Us ‘just don’t get it’, then the entire American Project is already doomed.
And is that what’s happening? And is that where We want to go?
*In this regard, I can’t help but notice the simultaneous and convenient rise of a certain concept in feminist-influenced legal theory called “expressive law”: when there’s a good ‘message’ that needs to be ‘sent’, then legislators should pass a law expressing that message, with no obstructive analysis as to workability and consequences, all of which can be ‘worked out’ or ‘dealt with’ later, either by the courts or subsequent legislation.
This is a recipe not only for policy disaster but for undermining the legitimacy of law-making and of the Legislative authority itself.
And since it stretches credulity to imagine that legislators will ever admit that they are passing a law to repair the mess made by their frakked-up passage of a prior law, then the chances of an unworkable law or one with dangerous consequences ever being rescinded or substantially repaired are slim indeed. Seen any ‘temporary’ taxes repealed recently?