The Barbie Wedge

It all started with Barbie, "the vampy fashion doll" that "helped to bring about the sexualization of childhood." At least that’s how the Manhattan Institute’s Kay Hymowitz remembers it. According to Hymowitz, Barbie is "not-so-spiritual godmother of Britney Spears" and a signal of a culture in trouble.

Now the Australia Institute is taking aim at Barbie Magazine claiming that "fully threequarters of the content is sexualising material." In a report titled ‘Corporate Paedophilia: Sexualisation of children in Australia’ Emma Rush and Andrea La Nauze call for a public debate over the "trend towards increasing sexualisation of children by advertisers and marketers".

Not surprisingly the Australia Institute focuses its attack on advertising and consumerism. But for Hymowitz sexualized advertisements are a symptom of broader cultural change. Responding to the anti-marketing arguments of Juliet Schor and Susan Linn Hymowitz argues that:

… the market, while undeniably a powerful influence in contemporary childhood, is not quite the cultural steam engine the writers make it out to be. Culture regulates the market as much as, perhaps even more than, the market influences culture. When marketers do their focus groups and their brain-imaging, they are not simply trying to figure out how best to manipulate children and transform childhood into their own image. They are trying to determine how to appeal to children who are growing up under new demographic, political, economic, and social conditions–in other words, in a new culture. Marketers in the 1980s and early 1990s did not invent the empowered child; they took advantage of–and, yes, doubtless hastened–a transformation already at work in the culture.

It’s no surprise that Hymowitz’s 2005 article appeared in the Public Interest. Back in 1973 one of the magazine’s founders, Irving Kristol, argued that large corporations were happily publishing books, magazines and movies which celebrated pornography, attacked the family and generally undermined bourgeois society. Kristol, argued that culture was the one thing free market libertarians ignored — the one thing that could bring capitalism undone.

One of the interesting things about this issue is the way it exposes divisions within the right. After all, it’s not just anti-corporate activists who oppose the sexualisation of childhood. If the Australia Institute can lure free market liberals into a debate on this terrain it will be able to put them on the wrong side of conservative public opinion. Pay close attention to who doesn’t join the debate.

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Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
15 years ago

David Jones is threatening to join the debate with legal action against The Australia Institute.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
15 years ago

If this works out well maybe TAI can produce a report which exposes the sexualization of tween-age animals — Brandy from Brandy and Mr Whiskers etc.

Ken Parish
Admin
15 years ago

In fact Bratz dolls rather than Barbies seem to be the current focus of angst about sexualisation of kiddies, at least among savvy Gen X parents anyway.

And leaving aside DJs, I can’t really see Clive and his secularist wowsers successfully wedging anyone on the right or elsewhere, any more than their nonsense about happiness research has done. Andrew Norton might rise to the bait (in fact he already has judging from comment 1) just as he has with Clive’s happiness research silliness, but most other classical liberals wisely ignore TAI as irrelevant. Nor is the sexualisation of kids gambit even likely to energise the Christian Right. Hypocrisy is a core value among the Pentecostal prosperity gospellers and much of the American Religous Right. Jessica Simpson’s father/manager is a Baptist preacher, after all.

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
15 years ago

I think TAI is usually wrong-headed (I haven’t read the paper Don is writing about), but I don’t think it is irrelevant. Hamilton is a very effective intellectual entrepreneur writing on the impact of markets on society and individual well-being, issues that I have been interested in since the 1980s (my PhD was going to cover elements of the critique he makes). Unless I wanted to abandon the field completely, I could hardly pretend that he doesn’t exist.

Ken Parish
Admin
15 years ago

Andrew

I quite like reading your regular debunking of TAI’s happiness obsession, so don’t misinterpret me. They draw silly and unjustified conclusions from the research, as you always ably highlight, and we probably need someone who is willing to take them seriously enough to take the time to rebut/clarify the research and its implications, lest Clive’s position becomes uncontested wisdom at least for some readers merely by repetition.

Ken Parish
Admin
15 years ago

I should say that, although I regard the prospect of any wedging of the Tories on this issue as highly unlikely, I do personally regards some of the marketing of clothes, dolls etc to pre-teen girls as pretty disturbing verging on sicko (not quite in the JonBenet Ramsey league but not that far short either).

Amused
Amused
15 years ago

Well then Ken, if you find the sexualisation of prepubescent girls and boys objectionable, why not engage in the very interesting issues that that Hymowitz paper, and the TAI paper raises?

I am no particular fan of TAI, because I think Clive Hamilton simply doesn’t grasp what has happened in the last thirty years, and besides I am no fan of the kind of politcs that purses its lips and tut tuts at the spending of others. I am however, disgusted with the images used to represent the ideal ‘self’ to prepubescent children that the TAI paper reproduced. I do not have children, so I suppose it came as a shock, but the images were easily recognisable to me as debased and ‘popular’ versions of much contemporary ‘high art’ media representations of sexuality and power, as expressed in both straight and gay cultural production. The clothes were one thing, (I hope they are cheap as chips, because there sure is very little fabric in a midriff top for an eight year old) but far more insidious were the representations used to create the ‘desire’ that contemporary consumption relies on to increase both the pace of consumption and its space as an activity and distraction in everyday life? Iam far from being a wowser, but ‘come hither’ looks from a nine year old, whose lips are painted a gloss pink, is simply, gross.

The issue as always is, who should have the cultural and social power to ‘enculturate’ children in the ways of the ‘culture’? What is the ‘culture’?
Who gets to transmit it, and on what terms? If the MARKET is to be the main, or even sole, organising and coordinating mechanism for aggregating both ‘interests’ and ‘rights’, from what basis can one engage in ‘criticism’, of the kind of soft porn imagery that the ads for kids clothes clearly reproduces, even if those reproducing the images, strenuously deny both the provenance of the images, and the intent of a pornographer? Is any and all criticism to be labelled ‘wowserist’? Are there no grounds at all for denying the reach and power of the ‘market’, other than appeals to the sacred or religious?

Are parents then to be held solely responsible for both the culture they navigate, and the circumstances in which they try to enculturate their children?
I have no doubt that DJs is highly offended at the charges levelled by the TAI paper. That in itself is interesting. It seems when it comes to images of desire, we are all ‘innocents’ now.

It is indeed a failure of intellectual nerve, for those who have so much to say about a host of ‘freedoms’ and ‘liberties’ in other circumstances, to refuse to engage in cultural ‘criticism’ that goes beyond “I did it my way”.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
15 years ago

Amused

The only thing I take issue with in Don’s post is the probability that the TAI paper will do anything to “wegde” the right. As for the substance of the TAI paper, as I said I agree that this sort of marketing is disturbing. Hymowitz
OTO is making some fairly obvious chicken and egg points as between popular culture and marketing, and suggesting that there might be a countervailing conservative trend (at least in the US). I don’t see much to engage with there.

As for the TAI paper, I am not in any sense an advocate of unregulated market forces as the answer to everything, as you would know if you’d been reading Troppo when I was posting regularly. But Howard certainly isn’t going to fall into the trap of making this a political issue: there’s nothing in it for him politically. Nor will Beazley, altough Labor might give it a burl if Rudd was leader, which I’m beginning to see more and more as a positive thing (his interview about Christianity and politics last week was very impressive, despite the offputting head prefect manner). I reckon there should be enforceable advertising standards regulating this stuff, although I remain profundly suspicious of TAI and its moralistic, wowserish stance in general (Internet censorship being another example as well as Hamilton’s happiness research obsession).

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
15 years ago

Ken – I think the only way for the free market/anti-regulation right to avoid taking a hit on this is not to argue about it. I’m guessing they’ll do one of two things:

1. Keep quiet and hope that the issue falls off the agenda.
2. Attempt to ridicule Emma Rush and the Australia Institute.

The risk they face is that cultural conservatives like Peter Jensen will join the debate and keep it alive. Conservatives may decide to link this to what they see as the other anti-family aspects of neoliberal policy — eg industrial relations reform.

Whatever happens I think TAI will be in a favourable position. If their free market opponents keep quiet then they get to make their argument unopposed. If they get mocked the issue gets more exposure. And if cultural conservatives join the debate then it’s a coup.

Ken Parish
Admin
15 years ago

Don

Even if someone like Jensen or Pell jumped into the discussion, it would only function usefully as a wedge if Labor came in with a policy supporting regulation of the area, and I can’s see Beazley having the “ticker” to do that. He’d be frightened of antagonising some on the libertarian end of his own party.

At least among young people the issue doesn’t seem like a goer. I just took a straw poll among the 22 students attending my online tute in constitutional law, and all of them thought it was a bullshit issue and that there was nothing wrong with the pre-teen clothing ads etc. So Labor would be taking at least a slight risk of alienating younger voters by identifying itself with a wowser old codger issue. You’d need to workshop it carefully in focus groups, I think. And Emma Rush certainly exuded that humourless moralising left vibe on the TV earlier, with Catherine Lumby rubbishing the whole thing and sounding a lot more mainstream and sensible. And although a couple of the highlighted images I looked at earlier today at TAI were a tad sexualised/distatsteful, the ones shown on this evening’s TV news etc looked relatively innocuous. My guess is that this is a storm in an A cup (or whatever size cup if any they have on kiddie bralettes).

pablo
pablo
15 years ago

Ken
Catherine Lumby looked far from comfortable to be sensible to me on this issue. (ABC-7.30 report).As a member of the Advertising Standards Council and one who has argued against those who see the advertising demon everywhere in kids television, Lumby looked decidedly uncomfortable debunking the TAI view. I think DJ’s will be spooked on this and there will be a sizeable turnover in modelling kids’ mums-come-managers. That will probably fall into the ‘keep quiet and hope it falls off the agenda’ guess, unless a few of the mum/managers buck up and talk to the tabloids.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
15 years ago

Ken – Three points:

1. I wasn’t thinking about Labor vs Liberal. What I was thinking about was non-government groups who are trying to influence policy. TAI competes with other think tanks like the CIS and IPA.

2. For TAI the problem isn’t just the sexualization of childhood — it’s the effects of unrestrained marketing and advertising generally. Their preferred solution involves increased government regulation.

3. If TAI can find an issue that enough people are worried about AND where a majority of people support their preferred solution they’re on the way to success.

The question for free market groups is whether they can defuse this issue by talking about it (which seems to have worked for poverty) or whether it’s safer to ignore it and hope it drops off the media agenda. I suspect the second but I could be wrong.

I missed seeing Rush and Lumby on TV so you’ve probably got a better feel for how this is playing out than I do.

Ken Parish
Admin
15 years ago

OK fair enough Don. I can’t get all that excited by the battle for hearts and minds between Clive’s crew and CIS and IPA. But given that, as you say, they’re all trying to influence government policy, we still end up back at the point I focused on: how Howard and Beazley would react. I’d be surprised if either does any more than mumble platitudes (unless Alan Jones fulminates about it, which is also very unlikely I suspect, though for different reasons).

Jason Soon
15 years ago

You two are salivating over nothing.

Couple of points:
1) I dislike calls for regulation everytime a perceived problem arises.
2) But the Australia Institute is actually playing two roles here. if it wasn’t so keen to regulate everything out of existence, which is its main agenda here as elsewhere, even libertarians would salute its other role as a kind of critical voice which is raising social and consumer awareness of particular practices which may or may not be inimical to the interests of consumers in the long run or at least their kids.

If one thing this report does is create awareness of such practices and induce some consumers to boycott and pressure and engage in moral suasion which in turn induces businesses to drop some of these practices, what business is that of anti-regulation libertarians? That’s just the market at work, just like some Christian groups choosing to boycott Disney. If these practices are not profit maximising for businesses in the long run because the advertising doesn’t actually convince anyone to buy more clothes and it loses them some custom then they will and should be dropped anyway since they’re obviously not efficent.

3) You’re overestimating the influence of us libertarians guys. At the end of the day the Dictator is the Opinion Poll.

4) But insofar as you think we matter you’re salivating over nothing with this wedge business. Those few of us who are true market libertarians care bugger all for the opinions f social/cultural conservatives – that is, we care for their opinions as much as we care for those of the Green Left weekly street vendors, and if anything probably less.

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
15 years ago

Jason’s quite correct (no division here!). Even if conservatives do think that some of those pics are sexual – and I must admit that I could not see how most of them are – I suspect most conservatives would be happy to leave it to pressure on DJs to sort the problem out. After all, even far more explicit, though admittedly adult, sexual portrayals on free-to-air TV haven’t turned into a serious political issue.

And in terms of ‘wedge’, this is really only a relevant concept in party politics. The electoral system requires parties that can get more than 50% of the vote, which in turn requires very ‘broad church’ (so to speak) coalitions on each side. Hence the possibility of strongly divided views within the coalition. But for a wedge to work, the other side’s supporters need to be united on the issue. Labor’s base would also be divided on this kind of issue.

In the intellectual world, classical liberals/libertarians and conservatives aren’t united in any formal sense, and therefore can’t split. There is no expectation of agreement across multiple issues, even if views coincide on some matters. If you want to split liberals, try IP law or bills of rights instead.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
15 years ago

Jason – I don’t think anyone in the ideas business has much influence. But groups like TAI and the CIS don’t exist just to have opinions. Even though their influence on policy is marginal they still hope to influence the climate of opinion and — even if it takes decades — nudge policy in their direction.

I’m assuming that most groups in the ideas business form around shared policy goals — not shared principles. The more successful they are at influencing policy, the greater the incentive for the group’s members to ignore their differences.

To use just one example, Heritage’s Ed Feulner has never made any secret of the fact that:

Libertarians are at odds on many questions with Burkean conservatives; cultural conservatives sometimes think economic conservatives have misplaced their priorities; and so on. Heritage actively seeks to dismantle fences and build coalitions among such disparate groups.

It seems to me that it’s impossible to attract the funding you need to run a successful think tank, recruit skilled staff and influence policy if you insist on being ideologically pure. The people who fund you, the people who work with you, and the people who you are trying to influence all need to be on side.

To make sure it stays that way, there are some issues it’s best to avoid. These are issues that:

* promote disagreement between the various constituencies the group depends on; and
* where the group has no hope of influencing policy makers because its position puts it on the wrong side of public opinion.

Andrew – I take your point about the term ‘wedge’.

BTW: it would be useful to know if you think I’m mistaken about this. Both of you are in a better position than I am to know how the business works.

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
15 years ago

Don – I agree with building coalitions, but on particular issues rather than creating a single, broad movement. Heritage’s unusually close relationship to the Republican Party (usually think-tanks keep their distance from partisan politics) perhaps explains Feulner’s stance.

You don’t need complete purity in a think-tank – in practice there are plenty of disagreements. But I think overly wide and persistent deviations from the ‘brand’ ideological position are at best confusing, and at worst as you suggest ‘divisive’. Many of the CIS’s more libertarian supporters criticised the now-defunct family and religion programmes (though I think the latter programme was widely misunderstood; people thought it was promoting religion when it was intended to convince religious people that their anti-liberal ideas were unsound).

I don’t think anyone associated with the CIS would find the stance Jason and I took on the child models the least bit controversial. Even if they were more uncomfortable than we are with the pictures, there is a sensible solution we can all agree on. People who are against free speech just don’t get involved with the CIS in the first place.

In practice, I think more internal disputes arise over how ‘pragmatic’ we should be than about ultimate policy goals – do we go for the pure liberal position, or one that is less liberal but more likely to be accepted and move us in the direction of liberalism. As I think the first thing you ever wrote about me suggested, I am a bit conflicted on this, but retain Liberal Party membership in the hope that this contributes to getting things done, even if they are not what would happen in an ideal world.

The main variable in deciding whether we pursue issues is whether we have/can find anyone capable of doing a good job with it.

Jason Soon
15 years ago

I should point out that an analogous ‘wedge’ issue for the CIS under the reasoning of this post would be Internet censorship. Under this reasoning the more conservative members of the CIS would have been expected to react positively to calls to regulate the Internet. In fact the CIS ended up publishing an anti-regulation paper
http://www.cis.org.au/IssueAnalysis/ia10/ia10.pdf

Amused
Amused
15 years ago

Couple of points. This is not an issue of political ‘wedge’ politics for me. I couldn’t give a rats frankly, about how it plays in the think tanks, or about what political parties make of it. Mostly they will ignore it, sensibly in my opinion because the issue is a mindfield for both political parties, and there are no dollars usefully gained by CIS or the IPA in enagaging in these issues. These issues are not their business after all, unless talking points on the fecklessness of the underclass and the need to develop and ethic of personal responibility is required to fend off some attempt to decrease personal dependence on market relations.

The issue again which no-one has addressed here, is how and who determines the nature of the culture that people both ‘create’ and within which they must operate as ‘aware’ and critically ‘engaged’ consumers. I know the question has no ‘answer’ as such. My post was in response to the ‘who cares’ shoulder shrugging pose adopted on a topic that is serious, not because I happen to be a cultural conservative, but because the issue of children, and their obvious, proper claim to ‘care’ on the grounds of a ‘blameless dependence’ , (in contrast to able bodied scoungers), exposes the shallow and facile poses of both ‘hey its up to the market’ on the one hand, and on the other, that the issue of the representation of children to themselves, is a matter of no cultural curiosity whatsoever. Strange indeed.

You don’t have to be a fan of Clive hamilton to understand that the issues in themselves raise interesting and improtant quesitons, and the jibe of ‘humourless feminist’ directed at the women who did the study is so obviously peurile, that its very use suggests a great deal of unwillingness, or an inability to engage with the issues.

Ken Parish
Admin
15 years ago

Amused

It wouldn’t be a bad idea if you attempted to comprehend what people are discussing before turning them into stereotypes against which to vent your spleen. I was trying to seek clarification from Don of the point his post was pursuing. I didn’t see how the concept of “wedging” applied to thinktanks (as opposed to political parties) in a meaningful sense. The discussion between Don, Andrew and Jason has clarified that point. It was in that context that I observed that Ms Rush came across on TV as having a “humourless moralising left vibe” (note not ‘humourless feminist’) by contrast with Catharine Lumby. The point needs to be understood in the context of the discussion we were having i.e. how likely it was that socially conservative CIS or IPA members and supporters might be induced by TAI’s campaign to demand tighter regulation of advertising standards, thereby creating some tension for these bodies whose core ethos is essentially laissez faire liberal. In that context, whether Ms Rush IS in fact a humourless leftie (or humourless feminist), or even whether I think she is, is completely irrelevant. The issue is what effect the portrayal of the issue is likely to have on socially conservative CIS/IPA members/supporters/sponsors. What I was suggesting was that the effect of Rush’s public persona, as the front person for TAI marketing a particular idea (in this case that advertising should be more strongly regulated), was likely to be a negative factor in persuading the target market to respond in the way TAI presumably hopes they will. A more caring, motherly persona might have worked better.

As you might have realised if you had removed the ideological blinkers for a couple of seconds, in a tangential way this aspect of the issue does in fact raise the very points that you say concern you (and they concern me too). To what extent does marketing shape culture and vice versa? To what extent do consumers (in this case consumers of thinktanks’ ideas) make real choices and to what extent are their responses intuitive and therefore capable of manipulation by framing, heuristics and other mechanisms adapted from cognitive science and employed by marketers and political spin doctors? Employing “actors” who subliminally portray the desired message – e.g. concerned motherly type for this message – is a part of the armoury marketers use; you don’t generally see fat middle-aged blokes like me used as models for teen-oriented products, for example (except occasionally as figures of fun to contrast with the cool kids they want the consumer to identify with). To what extent therefore can consumers sensibly/usefully be regarded as self-interested, rational utility maximisers? Given that children are even more susceptible to this form of marketing manipulation than adults (or are they?), to what extent does that justify a more stringent regulatory response than for marketing in general (at present all marketing is essentially self-regulated by the Australian Advertising Standards Bureau). These are all important and interesting issues, and they are potentially raised by the TAI paper (and Hymowitz’s one from 2005). But they weren’t the subject of our discussion above, which was merely about whether IPA/CIS supporters etc could be “wedged”.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
15 years ago

Andrew – I take you point about the way the Religion and the Free Society Programme.

One of the most significant sources of opposition to free market ideas is church-based social justice activism. Unless there’s a counterveiling message, many Christians might assume that their religious beliefs are incompatible with free market policies.

I can see how it would make sense to take on a Christian classical liberal in an effort to try to peel Christians away from the social justice lobby. Someone like Samuel Gregg could be a useful member of a coalition.

At the same time I can see how this would be awkward. As far as I can tell, most classical liberals tend to be tolerant rather than enthusiastic about religion and libertarians are often frankly antagonistic. (All that teaching about obedience and humility perhaps?) To outsiders it can look a bit cynical.

I’m curious about how this came together. Would it have happened without Gregg? And didn’t the CIS get some support from the Earhart Foundation for this?

Geoff R
15 years ago

Reminds me of the late 1980s ‘old right’ campaign against ‘economic rationalism’, some saw this as presaging a fundamental split in the ‘right’ and the emergence of new political alignments, but of those involved Robert Manne evolved into a mainstream social democrat, John Hirst votes for Howard and John Carroll has zip public profile. In the US currently much is made of alleged conservative disaffection with Bush, John Dean and Goldwater nostalgias, but in the real world of electoral politics this is not the case.

Bring Back EP at LP
Bring Back EP at LP
15 years ago

I think TAI has done a right favour in showing this tasteless advertising.
However my preference as the blogosphere’s most socially conservative waka would be do as young Jase says and allow the Parents to do the right thing.
DJs would soon wake up and change.

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
15 years ago

Don – Liberalism generally has an odd relationship to religion. On the one hand, one of the key aims of early liberals was to protect the free practice of religious belief (from other religions, rather than atheism). On the other hand, liberalism is closely related to the Enlightenment, so there is tendency among liberals to see religion as superstitious nonsense.

I don’t see the religion programme as cynical, though. If you are going to persuade anyone, you must address the concerns they have, and these will often be derived from beliefs you don’t necessarily share, but in the context of which you will need to work. I don’t see how diverse societies can work unless we find ways to agree on ways forward, even if we do not share underlying belief systems.

If Sam Gregg had been pretending to be a Catholic then that would have been cynical, but I saw no evidence that he was anything other than entirely sincere.

Bring Back EP at LP
Bring Back EP at LP
15 years ago

Sam Gregg was very sensitive on the protestant work ethic and was a little tardy in his defence of the Catholic denomination.
There was also my old football mate and theological sparring partner Gordon Preece writing at least on one occasion

Jason Soon
15 years ago

Count me as a libertarian who is generally antagonistic to religion. That said, religious and socially conservative people would be more likely to be left alone to practice their religion in peace and educated their kids as they like under us than any of the current lot. Hence there is some utility to the libertarian-religionist outreach as long as these types are willing to give up claims to using the State for any positive purposes.

Bring Back EP at LP
Bring Back EP at LP
15 years ago

Jase, I don’t know of anyone advocating using the State for any positive purposes other to lobby for changes like any other minority can do.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
15 years ago

Andrew – We’ve discussed the idea of authenticity before. Many people feel that it’s morally wrong to encourage others to believe things that you have good reason to think are false. This might extend to hiring someone who offers a sincere justification of markets that you think is intellectually indefensible.

For example, imagine if Jason started up a libertarian think tank and went out of his way to recruit theology graduates. He gives them a bit of media training and they then go out and argue that supporting big government is a sin. Some people might say that that was a little cynical.

A critic might describe the approach as “Who cares if it’s bullshit — just as long as it’s bullshit that gets you doing what I want you to do.”

But, as you say “If you are going to persuade anyone, you must address the concerns they have”. So this creates pressure on think tanks to promote ideas that get results — even if some of the people behind the organisation think those ideas are nonsense.

It seems to me that think tanks tread a fine line here. Part of what gives a think tank more credibility than a PR company or politician is the perception that — regardless of where the money comes from — they are an organisation of ‘true believers.’

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
15 years ago

Don – I don’t think this is treading a fine line, because nobody is saying anything they don’t believe. All they are doing is pointing out that given his/her beliefs perhaps person X should draw conclusion A rather than conclusion B.

Say somebody opposes university fees because they think it will increase inequality. Personally, I don’t attach much importance to inequality. In itself, it is neither good nor bad in my view. But given that is their concern, I can point out that given that most uni students come from affluent families, and an even larger percentage end up in affluent families, then free education in fact increases rather than decreases inequality. This is not being cynical: it is respecting other people’s beliefs.

This goes right to the heart of how to behave in a liberal democratic society: that it is not necessary to share a total worldview in order to agree on a policy.

Jason Soon
15 years ago

Yes what Andrew said. In fact some libertarans (including myself) would see libertarianism as a meta-philosophy, the best means of organising society so that as many cosmic worldviews can be accomodated as possible with minimal friction, as long as the members of each worldview maintain a truce about the limits of State actions.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
15 years ago

Andrew & Jason – OK, we’re all liberals. People have different ideas about the good life and, rather than convince to them accept our ideas, we try to figure out a way to live together peacefully.

But what do you say to someone who doesn’t understand why they should allow others to live as they want to? What if they say that liberalism is the morality of weaklings — people who try to talk their way into privileges they can’t claim through their own strength? Rights, they say, are what powerful people say they are.

Liberals like Hayek argue that moral values are a product of the culture. But it seems to me that Hayek has no answer to the critic. He’s left himself with nothing to appeal to.

This is a little off topic, but I’m curious about how liberals answer this question.

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
15 years ago

Don – Rather too big a topic for this thread, but really at the core of the debate about Islam. Having spent centuries creating a pretty liberal culture, what do we do with people who hold a pre-modern culture where these norms do not prevail?

Jason Soon
15 years ago

Let me solve world poverty first and then I’ll get back to you on that Don;-)

But seriously I think my response would be there is little you can, do but the sort of Nietzschean Ubermenschists you postulate in your hypothetical are not numerically preponderant. So it wouldn’t be an issue. The great thing about libertarianism is that is an appeal to rational self-interest. And true, most people are not perfectly rational. But they are self-interested and risk averse and most are not so confident of their strengths that they would prefer to fend in a world of perpetual war with ubermensch battling it out with each other. Muslim suicide bombers aside, liberalism suits the craven natures of most of us.

Yobbo
15 years ago

But what do you say to someone who doesn’t understand why they should allow others to live as they want to? What if they say that liberalism is the morality of weaklings

Why would you say anything to someone who wanted to enslave you? Why debate a dictator?

You ignore such people.

If they try to force their beliefs upon you, well that’s what guns are for.

Jim Birch
Jim Birch
15 years ago

Ok, you need a gun to occupy the moral high ground, end of story?

Jim Birch
Jim Birch
15 years ago

And on a completely unrelated point, the sexualization of childhood, it seems to me that the debate fails to notice that this is to a large part a flow on from the sexualization of adults. At the time when kids had (well-draped) nurse dolls, nurses were actually social icons. People have varying levels of interest in Paris Hilton but even kids know who makes the news these days.

Jason Soon
15 years ago

Jim Birch

what would you say and what would you do?

what does this have to do with morality anyway? what is morality? it’s a tool that we evolved for keeping traffic flowing smoothly.

Bring Back EP at LP
Bring Back EP at LP
15 years ago

no you drink morality at mornigty with some biscuits

Jim Birch
Jim Birch
15 years ago

When you say traffic I assume you’re not talking about the traffic in human heads. I’d have thought it was basically an ethical issue. An obvious and apparently popular alternate to requiring a metaphilosophy to accommodate differing worldviews would be to kill anyone who you disagreed with. We’d have serious *ethical* problems with that approach. Underneath liberalism are ethical issues like the importance of the individual, it’s not just Miss Manners guide to mixing with different people, is it?

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
15 years ago

Jim – Good point. And it’s not even just people. It’s the sexualization of everything.

Women describe chocolate cake as “orgasmic” or “better than sex”. Then there’s that scene in When Harry Met Sally (“I’ll have what she’s having”). Men talk about sports cars as if they were talking about women’s bodies.

“Sexy” or “hot” become a synonyms for “attractive.” Things that were once strongly associated with sex (eg cosmetics and revealing clothing) are just seen as just desirable in a more general and non-sexual way. When teenage girls dress like Paris it doesn’t mean they want to star in a home made video – they just want to look “hot”.

It’s become so natural to think of “hot” and “sexy” being non-sexual that people are shocked when you remind them of the metaphor.