The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

11 September 2005

A kinder, gentler clusterphück

The problem with Louisiana's emergency planning, says Alan Sullivan, is vestigial Sixties feminism:

The Louisiana plan was the product of a matriarchy, not a patriarchy. This is the work of a caring, nurturing government, increasingly run by and for women, or men who think and emote like women. Consider the performance of the feckless Louisiana Governor, or the shrill Mayor of New Orleans. Granted, not all women think like women, and not all men are girlie men. But everything about our society, from elementary school to the nursing home, seems increasingly calculated to entrench the values of 1960's feminism. And I mean entrench in every possible sense.

Well, not exactly everything:

After 9/11 the US created huge new bureaucracies to remedy a signal failure of bureaucracy. Is America more secure? Only because airline passengers will beat the crap out of anyone who acts up. But now a totally predictable disaster has killed thousands — and where was our vaunted Department of Homeland Security? Again the bureaucrats failed. Maybe a couple of placeholders will actually get fired this time, but nothing fundamental will change, except the deficit. Why not? Because women and ninnies run most governmental institutions, other than the military — the only public sector organization that functioned well, when it was finally summoned.

Two points:

  1. Womanhood and ninnitude are not mutually exclusive (cf. Barbara Boxer, Kathie Lee Gifford).

  2. This trend started before the 1960s, says Francis W. Porretto:

Get into your time machine, go back fifty years, and walk the streets of any of the great cities of this continent. They were safe. They were almost perfectly clean. People didn't jostle one another, hurl obscene imprecations at one another, deface the sides of buildings with moronic scrawling, or pollute the air with pain-threshold levels of their preferred "music." Men treated women with courtesy, respect, and a certain protective affection. Even the poor, of which, though they were less numerous than they are today, there was no shortage, were clean, self-reliant, self-respecting, and courteous.

The police would sort out those who couldn't meet the prevailing standards and would unceremoniously tell them to "keep moving," in which effort they were overwhelmingly reinforced by the non-uniformed public. If you wanted to surround yourself with degeneracy, you had to find the local Skid Row, the only place where such things were tolerated. It wasn't a big place, and the folks you found there permitted themselves no pride about their condition. No one indulged in nonsense notions about the "dignity" of the homeless, of welfare dependents, of drug addicts, of gang members, or any of today's mascot-groups for the coercive-compassion camp. As a result, government, which fattens on public perceptions of danger and disorder, was relatively small and unintrusive.

And what happened during the fifty years that followed?

We made it unacceptable to be a man, at least in public.

The word "man" in the above is, for a change, not to be interpreted generically. I don't mean "a member of the human species," or even "a masculine human being." I mean a man, the sort that fathers used to try to raise their sons to be, even if Dad wasn't quite one himself, because he knew it was his duty, and because it was expected of him. In 1950, the chattering classes and their hangers-on were already at work trying to make the manly virtues into vices, and to promote their opposites in their place.

At some point, this was cutesified into "Real Men don't eat quiche." But Bruce Feirstein, who wrote the book which bore this title, pointed out that the Real Man wasn't necessarily retrosexual, inarticulate and possessed of an indiscriminate palate. The Real Man, in fact, wasn't even necessarily male (cf. Katharine Hepburn, Commander Susan Ivanova).

What does it take? The two criteria (Porretto again):

  • Knowledge of right and wrong, and the willingness to fight for the right;
  • Knowledge of his own obligations, and the willingness to meet them.

Louisiana, pre-Katrina, manifestly had problems with both of these.

Posted at 4:04 PM to Political Science Fiction


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The police would sort out those who couldn't meet the prevailing standards and would unceremoniously tell them to "keep moving," in which effort they were overwhelmingly reinforced by the non-uniformed public.

Or, at least, the non-uniformed public of light skin color.

It is impossible to take such Pleasantville-style nostalgia seriously from a writer (Poretto again) who dismisses the racial problems of 1955 America thusly:

A residuum of racism encumbered the black population's efforts to raise its condition -- though in fairness it must be remembered that a popular movement largely composed of white people was already afoot, and just fourteen years later it swept all race-based legal restrictions into the dustbin of history.

Fifty years ago was 1955. Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1954. "Just fourteen years later," in 1969, "all race-based legal restrictions" certainly had not been swept into the dustbin of history. And as for a movement of mostly white people trying to get it fixed, that would have surprised Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, John Lewis, and most of the others. Not to say that white folks weren't involved, but "largely composed of white people?" Baloney.

But that's not even what I was going to say until it just leapt out at me. The bit about "nurturing liberals vs. paternal conservatives" comes straight from progressive George Lakoff's book Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate--The Essential Guide for Progressives. I haven't read the book, but I've always thought that formulation a bit too simplistic. It's odd to see someone on the right adopt it.

Posted by: Matt at 10:04 PM on 11 September 2005

Thanks for the citation, Charles.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 explicitly overturned all legal encumbrances based on race. If commenter Matt has a case in mind that demonstrates that, contrary to the explicit language of the Act, some legal encumbrances based on race persisted, I would like to see his evidence. I note further that his comment evades the central thrust of the essay, which suggests that he'd like to undermine it, but prefers not to grapple with it directly.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at 4:31 AM on 12 September 2005

The invocation of Pleasantville tends to imply utter horror at the very idea of the 1950s, that anyone who has any kind words for the decade must be a fan of Joe McCarthy and/or Jim Crow, and that luridly-lit loop in the corner must be a noose — or maybe it's a coat-hanger.

Posted by: CGHill at 8:21 AM on 12 September 2005

I prefer not to hijack Charles's blog for something that could turn into a 4-hour post. :-)

I don't recoil in horror at the concept of the 1950s, even though they predate me by several years. Many people living around me tell fond stories about the decade. But this whitewashed nostalgia usually, as in Porretto's case, ignores that it was only a pleasant, defined decade for middle-class-and-up white America. Black people had most rights only on paper, and even some of those were impossible for them to exercise. The very concept that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 fixed everything is laughable, particular from Mr. Porretto, who elsewhere expresses disappointment that its provisions keep people from recognizing all that valid statistical evidence that the "American Negro" really is inferior to the "American Caucasian."

As for the central thrust of the essay, it barely requires undermining: "The world would be more civil if men would obey my idea of gender stereotypes, supported by a Kipling poem." In fact, I support the idea that men should be brave and responsible, have a sense of perspective, be honorable in their dealings, "quick to listen and slow to speak or get angry."

I support this for all people. I don't support the idea that men should be this way because They Are Men And Not Women, or that women should behave according to some other standard because They Are Women And Can't Be Expected To Be As Good As Men.

(Or, as Porretto puts it, women "are not men -- thank God -- and we can't fairly hold them to manly standards.")

Posted by: Matt at 10:34 AM on 12 September 2005

A four-hour post? Migod, we're talking Michener-level verbosity here. :)

And during the first part of the 50s, there was a war police action going on, which hardly makes the era sound idyllic.

I would point out, though, that different does not equal either superior or inferior in and of itself, and cannot legitimately be used as a synonym for either no matter what one's intentions might be.

Posted by: CGHill at 10:50 AM on 12 September 2005

Matt seems so anxious to avoid confronting the manly-virtues thesis that he'll resort to anything, including:

-- Putting words in my mouth ("The world would be more civil if men would obey my idea of gender stereotypes, supported by a Kipling poem." and "the very concept that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 fixed everything is laughable, particular [sic] from Mr. Porretto");

-- Avoiding the question I put directly to him ("If commenter Matt has a case in mind that demonstrates that, contrary to the explicit language of the Act, some legal encumbrances based on race persisted, I would like to see his evidence.");

-- Accusing me of racism, or at least a resolve to deem blacks as inherently inferior, because I acknowledged a well-confirmed, undisputed statistical result (i.e., that standard intelligence tests reveal a disparity of about 12 points between the mean IQs of American Caucasians and American blacks). This last case is especially interesting, since, in the very essay he links to impute racism to me, I wrote:

"Those differences might themselves be remediable, given time, resources, and effort, but no progress can be made that denies the facts out of preference for a villain whose cruelty can be blamed for the "injustice" of the present tableau."

This marks Matt as lacking intellectual honesty, which excuses me from having to take his contentions seriously or deal with him any further.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at 11:13 AM on 12 September 2005

The ad hominem attack must be much easier than facing the truth: passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not magically end legal discrimination in this country, any more than Brown v. Board of Education ended segregation.

Mr. Porretto can parse language as much as he wants, but his original essay asserted that the 50s were an idyllic time in America, and that whatever racial inconveniences may have existed to refute this were wiped out by generous white people in 1964.

Go, read Mr. Porretto's "screed," and decide for yourself which argument is "intellectually dishonest."

As for the other, I decline to re-argue the discussion here a few weeks ago about The Bell Curve and its "indisputable" assertions on "racial intelligence," but it's available in the archives for those who want to read it again. I provided the link, and not just the quotes, so others could read it for themselves.

Please do so. See, for yourself, Mr. Porretto trying to have it both ways:

  • Pretending in one case that the Civil Rights Act ended "legal encumbrances" based on racism even as police in Alabama were turning fire hoses on black people years later
  • And in another case, saying that very act and its accompanying bills made it impossible to "pull the American Negro, whose economic attainments had lagged seriously behind those of American Caucasians, up into the mainstream of our life: to invite him to share equally with whites in the nation's material progress."

Emphasis on "our" added, in case the code words weren't clear enough. I could demolish this for another 5 paragraphs based on the code words and hypocrisy, but this has hijacked the thread enough already and I will decline to do so further, despite the likelihood of another ad hominem attack in response to this.

Posted by: Matt at 1:30 PM on 12 September 2005

"Code words"?

"He may have said that, but what he really means is this?"

Maybe it's just me, but this strikes me as a singularly-ineffective way to respond to a charge of "lacking intellectual honesty."

Assuming, of course, that that's what he meant when he said that.

Posted by: CGHill at 2:33 PM on 12 September 2005