May 29, 2009

One must be a person without discernible intelligence or conservative inclination to be allowed to write for the New York Times as a “€œconservative”€ columnist. Otherwise someone would not likely be picked to represent the “€œother side”€ by a publication that makes cultural Marxists look downright reactionary. Although I would not normally clutter my mind with the words of such commentators, I did glance at the remarks produced by the Times‘s most recent “€œconservative“€ Ross Douthat, in a copy of the International Herald Tribune that I found on a table in the food court at the Istanbul airport. I was then returning from a conference in Bodrum, held by Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Property and Freedom Society, which took place at the Aegean resort of Hans’s gracious, multilingual wife Gulcin. Having just listened to the brilliant scholars representing a true international dissenting academy, I was now suddenly confronted by the Times‘s latest distillation of minicon witlessness.

Douthat’s column, “€œThe Happiness Mystique“€ (titled “€œLiberated and Unhappy”€ here in the States), begins with a ritualistic celebration of how much better off women are now than they were thirty years ago. Indeed “€œthey are wealthier, healthier, and better educated”€ and by the time Douthat stops piling on praise for what the feminists have wrought, one has the impression that American women were living in the Dark Ages until the day before yesterday.

Unfortunately I can”€™t recall that women were less well-off or more oppressed in 1979 than they are at this moment, but I”€™ll take Douthat’s word that they were. Anyhow what the Hell do I know, in comparison to a Times-authority on cultural conservatism? 

Ross explains that women should be happy because for the first time they “€œcan leave abusive marriages”€ and “€œsue sexist employers.”€ Still, it seems that in some paper published presumably in an unnamed neocon magazine two publicists have argued that women are less happy now than they were in 1960. That was the time when Betty Friedan was warning women that they had been trapped in marriages that dehumanized them with creature comforts and homes in the suburbs. Douthat talks up the study he paraphrases and tells us “€œthe authors deliberately avoided floating an easy explanation for their data.”€ Nonetheless, he himself plunges into such explaining without the slightest hesitation, and without any confirming data.

Douthat fires away at deadbeat husbands, who leave their spouses and take up with prostitutes or else are on the lookout for trophy wives. This goes to the heart of our social problem and it accounts for the fact that men are presently more euphoric than women, if the upshot of the paper alluded to is accurate. Douthat believes we can get a handle on the problem, providing “€œcultural conservatives”€ of his ilk can be made to cooperate with feminists. It seems that both sides have part of the truth, and are too locked in their preconceptions to realize the whole. Thus feminists continue to complain that women are upset because of “€œa revolution interrupted in which rising expectations are bumping against glass ceilings,”€ while the “€œtraditionalist will see evidence of a revolution gone awry, in which women have been pressured into lifestyles that run counter to their biological imperatives and men have been liberated to embrace a piggish irresponsibility.”€

Douthat believes there is some validity in both interpretations and goes on to define a supposed common ground in which we can agree that women should be able to “€œbalance work and child-rearing.”€ He recalls the happy days in the 1980s when feminists and traditionalists “€œmade common cause against pornography”€ and he thinks they can get together again to attach “€œsocial stigma”€ to randy males. Once this is done, both sexes will be equally happy.

But even we can trust Douthat’s statistics, his interpretation is sheer nonsense. Women may be less content than men because both genders are responding to the view of reality created by the media and cultural industry. According to the consciousness formed by these sources, women continue to be oppressed by a patriarchal society and live in constant fear of religious fanatics taking away their hard-won rights to abortion and affirmative action. Men, by contrast, remain the master class, and no matter how thoroughly changing job entry preferences and professional advancement may contradict the feminist view that I encounter everyday in the academic world, men continue to be viewed and may even see themselves as Top Dogs. Needless to say, in a sexually promiscuous society men also get the chance to fool around, but that too is limited by the fear of being put into delicate situations in ones professional life and then being prosecuted as a “€œharasser.”€ Colleges and business enterprises have already set up guidelines that favor female accusers in such situations, and the picture of heterosexual men living in a world of infinite sexual prospects (even forgetting about the geeks) has been vastly exaggerated.

In any case women who believe what they hear from media and college professors would feel powerless confronted by the other sex. They would also think that men are dissembling when they claim to have lost influence, and they would imagine that women have every reason to feel unhappy about their continued second-class status. This view of female oppression and male dominance, which illustrates the concept of “€œfalse consciousness,”€ hardly existed in 1960. In the mid-twentieth century, American women were generally delighted to have had more material amenities than had been available to their grandmothers or even mothers; and they were pleased that their hardworking spouses supported them and their offspring, which was the reason for the single-family wage that an earlier and less neurotic generation of feminists had striven for. These women had presumably not been educated by the cultural industry that has shaped the opinions of a later generation, including those of the “€œcultural conservative”€ Ross Douthat.

I”€™m hard pressed to find evidence of any alliance between traditionalists and feminists, on the issue of pornography or anything else. Perhaps Douthat can elaborate on his revisionist history in a future Times commentary. Although feminists and traditionalists may both equally lament the naughty pictures and smutty prose flooding our society, they do so for different reasons. Traditionalists dislike pornography because they view it as inimical to the view of women as mothers and wives within the kind of community they hold to be normative. Feminists decry pornography because they identify it with the kind of patriarchal world that they”€™re trying to overthrow. I”€™ve no idea how one forms an alliance between those holding such polar opposite views. And if this alleged alliance dating back to the 1980s ever took place, it had no practical effect. We”€™ve now progressed from adult heterosexual to child and homosexual pornography, and all sorts of weird variations of this consumer product are now available on internet as well as in stores. But working as the premiere “€œcultural conservative”€ at the Times may be too demanding a task for Ross to notice what is going on around him.


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