Bill Clinton does the business… and meanwhile Desmond Fennell and the white woman’s burden… August 28, 2008Posted by WorldbyStorm in Society.
Anyone who writes a blog or posts comments on a website will, from time to time, have experienced that sickening thought, “Jesus, did I go to far that time” or “what was I thinking of” in reference to one thing or another. It might be an over-emphatic criticism, it might be a fear that PUMA supporters will spam the site or it might be something written casually about a subject a little further from the writers comfort zone (for which read actual working knowledge) that might come back to bite them.
It’s a fine art this process of making public thoughts, opinions and processes which in any other age would more than likely have been secret or only shared amongst close friends. And because writing on blog or posting is immediate with no real delay between thought and action the dangers of shooting ones mouth off are very real indeed. I’ve commented here and there on the net and wondered afterwards were my comments crossing a line of implicit tetchiness – or worse again appearing arrogant. I hope not, but I’m not sure – and if I’m not sure then I probably did. And because a blog is a work in process where new information and facts come to light, and others contribute opinions and insights there is an evolutionary aspect to opinion. Look back through the last two years posts on here and you’ll probably find shifts in emphasis if not necessarily in substance.
And let’s note that Bill Clinton last night did what the Gabfest on Slate suggested at the weekend and rose to the occasion. A very interesting piece of theater indeed, with more than a hint of chutzpah, not least when as Slate argues he implicitly suggested:
Vote for Obama – He’s Just Like Me!
But as John Dickerson noted, the dynamic shifted very subtly last night from the Clinton’s to the contenders. Sure, Bill gave it his all, and mighty effective it was too – the media is replete with how he went for unity. And why wouldn’t he? What choice does he have? His reputation took a hammering over the past year in a way which can hardly be to his satisfaction, and I’m betting that for some it was a revelation just how much of a political street fighter he was. So time to reburnish his credentials.
Yet look at Biden and how he was unleashed. First up he assuages doubts about Obama.
After Clinton, there wasn’t much oxygen in the room for Joe Biden. But he didn’t need to deliver the most beautiful speech. That’s not his job. His job is to use his quirky approachability to introduce Obama to voters who have been skeptical about him. A guy named Barack needs a guy named Joe as his running mate. (In political-speak, they call this being the validator.)
Then he goes folksy. Again to assuage doubts about Obama:
Biden’s best pitch came not on the issue of foreign affairs, Biden’s strong suit. It came shortly after he began, when he offered a little collage of kitchen-table conversations about families facing hard times. “Should Mom move in with us now that Dad is gone? Fifty dollars, $60, $70 to fill up the gas tank? How in God’s name, with winter coming, how are we going to heat the home?” Working-class and Catholic voters may identify with a guy who drops the expressions of their faith or tells gritty stories about how Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden taught him how to defend himself. (In case you didn’t notice, she’s Irish.) If they identify with Biden, they might listen to him—and that’s the first step in overcoming their doubts about the man at the top of the ticket.
And then he goes attack dog:
He was all over John McCain Wednesday night—and will be for the rest of the race. He has perfected the senatorial two-step of lathering his victim in friendship first (“John McCain is my friend”) before dismantling him repeatedly. That lends weight to the attacks, and Biden knows his brief when talking about foreign affairs.
It may work.
So, at least Clinton has nothing to regret today, and perhaps quite a bit to be cheerful about. And that holds true for Hillary as well.
All that said, the issue of writers/speakers regret came to mind because of a letter by Toby Joyce in yesterday about an article by Des Fennell from last week which I happened to miss. And it’s interesting how little has been made of this article because it’s quite fascinating in its own way. First up I have to admit to being a fan of Fennell’s writings although not his conclusions. I’ve always enjoyed his work and found him perceptive and interesting.
Now that said there’s been something of a shift in his work over the years, from insightful thinker and commentator on the pretensions of the Irish middle classes, and their supposed betters, to something a little more apocalyptic.
Go to his website and see how an undue concern with ‘white heterosexuals’ is part of his schtick where in his second but last book he writes about:
…the stimulation of compassion for a great variety of approved victims; the fomented assault on able-bodied, heterosexual, white-skinned men and the civilisation they created.
Hmmm… That can’t be good.
But really, his latest piece is the sort of thing that would – had I written it – have me slapping my head with my hand and muttering ‘Feck!’.
For under the heading Grim reality of why the West’s white race is now a dying breed [and although this hasn't as far as I can tell been picked up by bloggers it has by Stormfront - oh yeah] he writes:
We will have to change societal rules devised in the 1960s and 1970s if we are to halt the steady decline in the western population
Now let’s stop there and reflect upon how every commentator or writer or blogger seems to have a bugbear. With me it’s fact checking. Just do it, okay? But with more exalted others, I think of Peter Hitchens and his horror of the 1960s, his brother and his adherence to ‘humanitarian’ intervention, Melanie Phillips and her horror of the 1960s, Seamus Milne and the fixed and constant star that is his ability to see the absolute worst in US actions and the absolute best in those of other great powers, Peregrine Worsthorne and his horror of the 1960s – oh yes, and his undying affection for the era of ‘great houses’ which ‘civilised’ the surrounding countryside and inhabitants therein. And so on. And so forth.
And with Fennell there’s more than a little of that ‘horror’ of the 1960s too. I can never decide whether it’s a horror at change itself, or a sense of mortality as time sweeps forward or the old thing of being unable to accept others having a bit of fun if one isn’t oneself. But either way it often seems to affect people in a near-pathological way.
Anyhow Fennell continues:
LAST WEEK the news came from the United States that white people will be in a minority there in 2042, eight years sooner than previously predicted, according to US government projections. The reason for this is that in North America, as in Europe, the white population is not reproducing itself.
It is likely that there is a similar reason for the flagging will of white westerners to reproduce their kind. Their historical background is in European or western civilisation which first took shape around a thousand years ago. That its core set of rules made sense is evidenced by its long endurance and by the mighty will to reproduce which it generated. Westerners overflowed from Europe to populate much of the world.
Alright. Not usually an argument one would expect from him. And certainly not one that was regarded as positive. And actually factually wrong.
Then, beginning at the end of the second World War, white westerners, first in the United States, then in America’s post-war European satellites, embarked on a great experiment. For the best of reasons – the pursuit of more justice, wealth and empowerment for all – they replaced many of the rules of European civilisation with new rules. Or rather, their democratic governments did this, employing left-liberals as their ethical guides, and enjoying enthusiastic support from the business corporations. The main rush of rule change took place in the 1960s and 1970s. Most white westerners, especially the younger generations, have made the new rules their own and have been living by them, or trying to.
Is that right? Is that an accurate summation of shift in social policy and society in the 1960s? Really?
The new collection of rules includes some of the old rules. It covers every sphere of behaviour: personal, interpersonal, male and female, parental and juvenile. It comprises, besides dos and don’ts, do-as-you-like rules.
Do they? But do go on.
It is unlikely, even if the explanation I am offering for the flagging fertility of white westerners is accepted as valid, that any serious corrective measures will be undertaken. Our post-European collection of rules is the basis on which our successful consumerist system has been built, and everyone in power wants that to continue.
But if the reality were different, and white westerners could act in their own long-term interest, they would institute an authoritative, critical examination of their prevailing rules system. And that would begin – but only begin – by scrutinising the prevailing, “politically correct” rules that bear on women’s lives, and particularly on motherhood.
There is a problem with this analysis. Actually there are many, but let’s start with one. It is near indistinguishable from one which clogs up Politics.ie and is echoed on numerous right wing blogs, about the inexorable ‘decline’ of the West and the rise of Islam. I find it no more convincing coming from Des Fennell than I do from those other sources. Societies change. They change radically. They may well be changing faster than ever before. And the thing is… there’s nothing that can be done about it. It’s going to continue like that. Forever. But change isn’t decline, it can be evolution. I could go on, but really, why bother?
Secondly it is a disturbingly close to a misogynistic thesis. The idea that there are ‘”politically correct” rules that bear on women’s lives, and particularly on motherhood’ is, at the least, an unpleasant charge and arguably insulting. I’ve always found it somewhat entertaining how men, and it often is men, pontificate about birth rates when they have the luxury of never having to experience the visceral reality of child-birth and all that it entails. This isn’t to in any sense decry child-birth, simply to say that many multiple births are easier said than done and there are reasons, good compelling reasons why a woman, any woman, might feel that a lower rather than a higher number suited her better. And more to the point, it is – to borrow a phrase – her choice, not that of Desmond Fennell and some vague – indeed nebulous – appeal to a ‘greater good’ or more pointedly, to this ‘white race’.
Who precisely is this ‘white race’ we’re talking about Des?
That is – in my opinion – in a piece replete with offensive insinuations the cream of the crop.
White women in western societies are producing on average fewer, sometimes much fewer, than 2.1 children per woman – the number of children required for the maintenance of a population. As things stand, therefore, the white race in the West is a dying breed.
There is no such thing as the ‘white race’. It is not a ‘breed’. This is a point made in the letter in the Irish Times in response to the piece.
If any achievement of Western peoples exists, it resides in cultural and legal norms which are universal. “Race” is an artificial, social-cultural construct. Ideals such as common citizenship, civil rights, gender equality, civil decency and universal humanity are birthrights of all mankind. It is nonsense to suppose that “civilisation” is exclusive to a certain combination of genes, and can be transferred selectively by sexual reproduction
Fourthly, and implicitly for he does not articulate it clearly but it is there nonetheless, is the implication that the supposed ‘white race’ must for some specific reason maintain its numbers. And that can only be in relation to others. Who could they be? He does not say. He will not tell us.
But I think we can guess. For if there are ‘white’ races, then clearly there must be ‘non-white’ races. And why must we ‘maintain our numbers’? What existential urge pushes us to procreate?
Ooops. Whatever way one interprets it that can’t be good either.
And as the letter writer notes:
His views are straightforward 19th-century Social Darwinism. He believes, apparently, in a “struggle for existence” among races which will be won by the race with superior fertility and virility.
Granted Fennell doesn’t use the phrase ‘struggle for existence’ but the language trips unpleasantly close to it. And for him to be making this argument is near-astounding. What happened to the man who talked about the local, about political structures which reflected all that was good about sustainability community and eschewed over-arching nationalisms, that sought a Europe (and if memory serves correct he had a nifty hand drawn diagram) and a world of communities?
But there’s also a contradiction at the heart of the thesis. Falling populations will actually assist in rising sustainability. They can in tandem with that result in a diminuition of consumer culture – a consumer culture that in part is fed by the residual memories of when times were bad. I’m not a population controller, at least not by instinct. But I can see the utility of overall global populations stabilising. And here’s the thing, that is more than likely as societies around the planet reach certain developmental stages, just as it happened here in Ireland and in a remarkably short period of time (in my class in national school and later in community school it was far from unusual for there to be people with multiple siblings – today, very much the exception than the rule. That’s under forty years). And what’s this I read also this week, that Ireland’s population in 2060 will reach 6.7 million? And the UK, France and Germany are also expected to have strong population growth. The picture in other countries is more mixed, and the trend is indeed for a certain degree of population decline:
Overall, the population of the EU is projected to increase to a high of around 520 million in 2035 before dropping to around 506 million by 2060.
Is this a disaster? Is this catastrophe? Or is it the ebb and flow of populations? Same as it ever was.
But that this should fuel fears about the ‘white race’… and that Des Fennell should trot out this reactionary screed is remarkable (although note how he and the IPR have become close to the point that his last book was published by Athol), but as noted it’s not the first time he’s expressed such thoughts. Then I wonder is he merely following Cruise O’Brien down the long travelled path of hyperbole to the temples of over-heated near-apocalyptic (or actually apocalyptic) nonsense. After all, not that far back CC O’B was telling all who would listen that Islam and Roman Catholicism would combine in an orgy of reaction. Problem was it was difficult to tell did he approve or disapprove. This isn’t that different. It really isn’t. Which leads to the glum conclusion that you can take the middle class lad out of Belvedere, but you can’t take Belvedere or residual middle class fears of otherness, out of the lad.
That the Irish Times should not tap him gently on the shoulder and say “Ahem… Desmond, think again would you?” is telling. That he himself does not see this for himself more than a pity.
I hope, but doubt, that he’s engaged in a lengthy bout of head-slapping. He should be.