Mary Wollstonecraft Day - 1999
The First Annual Political Postings Day
for Male Voices
April 28, 1999
The Male Voices bulletin board is not, in general, intended as a place for political messages and discussion. Rather, it is devoted to the discussion of the literary vision of Jane Austen. However, one important part of this study must be the context for Jane Austen's development and that context was one of radical political thought, rhetoric, and action. For that reason, we thought it might be useful--and fun--to emulate those conditions for at least one day of each year. Mary Wollstonecraft was a political radical, a feminist, a bisexual sexual-libertarian, and a contemporary of Jane Austen. Ms. Wollstonecraft was many other things that Miss Austen was not. So, this day is devoted to that other extreme and, in fact, should be considered a celebration. That is to say we devote this single day of the year to emulate Mary Wollstonecraft and express our own frustrations along with our utopian dreams. Enjoy!
A Pretty Flower...
I don't think that this will make Jane smile, unfortunately, but there seems to be little to smile about, lately. I will submit a fairy story.
Once upon a time, on a little island far from anywhere important, there was a boy. This boy was a bit strange. He was dumb, and did silly things. Other children laughed at him, and he had no friends, and he was lonely. As he grew up, he stayed lonely. His father died, and he had no-one to talk to.
One day, he met a lady. This lady was a little bit strange, too, and she had no friends. The boy went to live with the strange lady, and they were happy together. Then the lady died. The boy was lonely again, but, this time, he had lots and lots of money, because the lady was, very, very rich, and had left him all her money, and her house, and all her things. So the boy could buy things, and go places but, still, he was lonely, because people thought he was strange. So, one day, he bought a great big gun, and drove to a lovely park, and blew thirty-six people's brains out.
That happened here, at Port Arthur, on April 28, 1995. The boy, Martin Bryant, was found to have a mental age of less than eight years. He used to buy airline tickets to Britain and Japan, just so he could sit beside people and have someone to talk to. The fact that he was left so much money by the eccentric old woman with whom he lived (it was not a sexual relationship, by the way), meant that he seemed to slip through the net of our social services, with the tragic result I have just mentioned.
But, there is an ending to the fairy story. All the people were so upset by what had happened, that they made their king (Prime Minister, really) use the island's money to buy up all the horrible guns and melt them down in a great, big furnace, and people were not allowed to buy or own guns any more except for very, very special reasons. Some people were very angry about this, but we made them do it anyway. Whenever people argued that they wanted their guns, one man, Walter Mikac, whose wife, three year old daughter (hiding behind a tree) and little baby girl in a pram, were all shot dead, would come and talk to these people and tell them what it feels like to have your whole entire family wiped out in minutes by a lunatic with a gun.
Martin Bryant is in a great, big, jail now, and quite likes it, really,
because he has people to talk to every day, but he can't understand why he can't
go home now, and doesn't remember much about April 28, 1995, as it was such a
long time ago.
Multiculturalism is, in essence, post modern/deconstruction theory applied to daily life. All beliefs, we are told, are equally valid, as are all cultures. All histories are equally without merit; worthy only as myth and as studies in ethnocentrism. This is an excellent theoretical principle, and one should always encourage interest in and tolerance of other cultures. But in reality multiculturalism is more often used to deny any value in Western culture while uncritically accepting all aspects of non-Western ones. In addition, multiculturalism is becoming a tool to validate a new era of racist and misogynist beliefs.
The American tradition has always been that one's actions, rather than one's ancestry or religious beliefs are the measure of an individual's worth. It's true that we have often fallen short in making our lofty ideal a reality; but it's this tradition and our attempt to live up to it, that represents the best not only of American culture, but of the Western tradition behind it.
Multiculturalism, on the other hand, treats ancestry and religious beliefs, rather than action, as the offense. Just look at the stereotypes perpetuated by multiculturalism: all southerners are bigots, all mid-westerners are hicks, all orthodox Jews are Zionists, all who oppose abortion are fundamentalist Christians. All fundamentalist Christians are gun toting extremists. All Europeans are sophisticated, all non Westerners are psychic, all Hindus are non-violent. Is there one of these any more true than the stereotype of the drunken Indian or the African American gangbanger?
For me, there is a strong temptation to dismiss multiculturalism as a fad. To enjoy the irony of its hypocrisy and wait for it to pass into well deserved contempt and obscurity. The problem is that beneath its veneer tolerance, hides a number of misogynist and racist attitudes.
Despite what dedicated multiculturalists would have us believe, abuse of women in non-Western cultures is rampant. Denied basic human rights in much of the Arab world; sold as property in parts of Asia; forced to endure sexual mutilation in Africa; and physically abused among many indigenous cultures from North America to Australia. Such things are seldom mentioned at public school multicultural fairs, and one must assume this is a deliberate attempt at misinformation.
Even more disturbing is that multiculturalism has taken up the banner of the "White Man's Burden." Like the mustached Army man of Victorian times, our modern armchair warrior believes he knows what's best for indigenous cultures around the world; and what's best for them is to be protected from the evils of Western culture. While couched in different terms, the gist of the argument is that our little brown brothers are not capable of making the correct decision whether or not to allow new (Western) industries or products into their countries. "Correct decision" naturally being defined as the decision an American sociology professor, who has never missed a meal in his life, who makes as much money annually as most of the rest of the world can expect to make in a lifetime; and who plans to vacation in a quaint tropical paradise next year, would make. Just as "correct decision" was defined one hundred years ago as "what best would benefit the Commonwealth." (This patronizing attitude also extends to women in the Western world, but that's another diatribe.)
The "little brown brother" attitude makes its presence felt in other ways also. The blatantly racist novel Mutant Messages From Downunder became the overnight darling of the liberal arts set when released in the US a few years ago. Purportedly autobiographical, it tells the story of an American physician who learns untold wisdom while on walkabout with an Australian Aborigine clan. Aborigines we're told, have survived treks into the harsh environment of the Australian interior not because of their skills as trackers or hunters, not because of their knowledge of their native land's geography and weather, not because of their sophisticated and beautiful maps, but because they're psychic. This work and others like it denies native peoples the basic dignity of equal intelligence with whites as well as disregarding their native technology. (See: Chariots of The Gods?)
Combating the evils of multiculturalism requires a great deal of courage. First, we must declare that universal tolerance is wrong; that some evils, such as slavery and genocide, are absolute. Second, we must treat each other as individuals, not as stereotypes whether flattering or unflattering. Third and most difficult, we must combat benevolent racism both in ourselves and others and allow the varied peoples of the world the dignity of their own intelligence and the right to make their own decisions.
I know that in the light of last week's massacre at Columbine High, everyone has been talking about school violence. I feel, as well as many others feel, that the media has perpetuated this trend by having so much coverage of it on the news. Last night I turned on my local news channel and the top story was that they had held a moment of silence and rung church bells for the victims. Earlier this week there was coverage of the memorial service in honor of the victims. And on the very day this tragedy occurred, the media was shoving microphones and cameras into the faces of children who had only minutes before escaped from the building after witnessing the most terrible and traumatic event of their lives. In my opinion, all of those topics demonstrate the fact that America's news media is going too far in the pursuit of a story. The people of Littleton need to grieve for their friends and family members, not have news cameras shoved in their faces.
Kids all over the country are seeing this coverage and hearing about how this is the worst school shooting yet. Well, the only thing that all of this news coverage is doing for them is making them think, "Oh, I bet I can top that. I'll just go out and get a gun and take revenge on such and such a teacher for failing me and such and such a student for breaking up with me." My school is thinking of installing security systems because of the fear that this type of violence could happen anywhere. That is another effect of all of the news coverage of these tragedies. Kids should not be forced to go to school in what is tantamount to a jail. It is not fair and it does not make for a good learning environment. Ask yourself, would you have wanted to go to school in a place like that? I certainly don't.
I am asking you to take a stand and refuse to watch any more coverage of this type of tragedy. Last week six of the twelve highest shows were network news magazines who happended to be first on the scene and get on the air with a special hour-long report. You can help to stop this kind of school violence. Just imagine this happening to your son or daughter or niece or nephew or nieghbor. Would you really want a news camera shoved in your face as you cry?
God, what a mess we are in. The pendulum we are always hearing about is going to have to swing the other way and I dread it. Those of us who can live with freedom are going to have to give it up in bits and pieces. If we do not give it up, our grandchildren will not survive.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood sets forth the aftermath of just the road we are going to have to head down. What had happened to America was that the people, in order to provide some order and protection for themselves had given up all their rights. What resulted was a police state run by a group of hypocritical religious moralists. It is very hard for me to say this but frankly I had rather my grandchildren live under such a system than to live (or try to live) in a society such as we have now, a society in which violence is the coin of the realm.
Any person in their right mind can clearly see that our popular culture is leading us towards doom. Can anyone deny that we would be better off if everyone read Jane Austen and listened to Lawrence Welk? No, they can not deny it. They might not like it but they can not deny it. Would we be better off if kids shared a common culture with adults as we did when I was a child? Of course we would.
Pat Robertson and Jerry Faldwell are waiting in the wings. Are they the only ones that can save us? Probably so, and I am sick about it. There is so much else that could be done but we are without the gumption to do it. All we know to do is to take ribbons and either tie them around trees or wear them on our lapels, hold memorial services complete with guitar strumming and bagpipes (mandatory), and listen to a bunch of gas bags (Calvin Trillin’s term) pontificate on what it all means.
It is no pleasure for a civilized person to be living in our times. Think of how great it would be to live in a time when more freedom was needed, not less, a time like the forties and fifties when I came of age, a time when we had to smuggle Tropic of Cancer into this repressed land, a time, when my father frothed at the mouth when he saw me bring a copy of Playboy into the house (twenty years later he had a subscription himself), a time when we could stand against book burners instead of standing with video game burners as I am ready to do now. It is just no fun to be liberal anymore.
None of us are so naïve as to think that movies, magazines, and books are not going to have to be censored after the video games. Is the price of my grandchildren’s survival going to be the necessity of having Jerry Faldwell’s minions going through out libraries looking for books that do not suit? Make no mistake about it they are ready. I have just seen Faldwell on TV and what he is saying is not only starting to sound good to me, it is actually beginning to make sense.
I am well aware that the standard response to persons such as myself who are decrying the current state of affairs is to remind me that people have been decrying the state of affairs since the time of Aristotle. Please save your breath. I stand with Aristotle and we are right. What America is doing and where America is headed is not working out.
Strangely our recent discussions about how Jane Austen seemed to rise above the horrors of war and poverty which surrounded her, now seem to point the way for me. I am ready to sit at a small table (not so small as our lady’s--I have a seventeen-inch monitor) and look for humor and lightness in the human condition. If Jane Austen could find delight amid life as it was in her time, surely I can do the same. I’m going to try. It’s my only hope.
Dear Madams and Sirs,
One problem with modern liberalism is that it abhors the dramatic. For example, modern liberalism opposes the death penalty. This is all well and good - abolishing the death penalty would doubtless protect innocent people from being wrongly executed, protect the vengeful public from drenching its hands in the blood of the guilty, and advance civility.
But advancing civility does not always promote morality, or even humanitarian causes. Civility is a fine thing, but it is a veneer disguising the dramatic realities of life. Good breeding (Mark Twain wrote) consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves, and how little we think of the other person. Far be it from me to object to concealment on principle. But liberalism is supposed to promote openness.
The death penalty is a perfect example. An execution used to be a dramatic, public event. The murderer, heavily shackled, was paraded through the streets of the town in a donkey cart. The family of the soon to be deceased wept. The relatives of the murdered watched. The condemned man spoke his last words, which, if the audience was lucky, were something dramatic like, "See you in hell, mom."
Today the drama of an execution has been demeaned, what with "lethal injection", an execution technique that makes killing someone look like a medical procedure. Liberalism got rid of the public square, the donkey cart, the guillotine and the gibbet, although we have yet to get rid of the needle. But why should we get rid of the guillotine and the gibbet? Although lethal injection may save the witnesses from queasiness, it is hard to argue that it is much more humane for the guest of honor. And it is certainly less humane for the city desk reporter, who in olden days could write, "The great blade flashed, and X's head and body (like his soul and body) were permanently severed." What can be written about lethal injection?
Modern liberalism promotes excessive (and phony) civility. If we can't ban executions, let's at least disguise them. If we can't get rid of poverty, let's at least get these homeless people off of the street, so we can't see them any more.
Don't misunderstand. I'm a bleeding heart myself. It is precisely because I oppose the death penalty that I support the guillotine. If we are going to execute people, we should have the courage to avoid concealment. Let's do it right. In the public square. With a guillotine. If a little blood makes us squeamish, if a head falling into a basket seems inhumane - why, maybe (just maybe) we should abolish the whole thing.
The being who discharges the duties of its station is independent; and, speaking of women at large, their first duty is to find themselves as rational creatures, and the next, in point of importance, as citizens, is that, which includes so many, of a mother. The situation in life which dispenses with their fulfilling this duty, necessarily degrades them by making them mere dolls or cogs. Make women rational creatures and free citizens, and they quickly become good wives and mothers--that is, if men do not neglect the duties of husbands and fathers.
Confined to trifling employments, women naturally imbibe opinions which the only kind of reading calculated to interest an innocent frivolous mind inspires. Unable to grasp anything great, is it surprising that they find the reading of history a very dry task, and disquisitions addressed to the understanding intolerably tedious and almost unintelligible? Thus they are necessarily dependent upon the novelist for amusement. Yet, when I exclaim against novels, I mean when contrasted with those works which exercise and regulate the imagination. For any kind of reading, I think better than leaving a blank a blank, because the mind must receive a degree of enlargement and obtain a little strength by a slight exertion of its thinking powers. Besides, even the productions that are only addressed to the imagination, raise the reader a little above the gross gratification of appetites, to which the mind has not given a shade of delicacy.
The best method, I believe, that can be adopted to correct a fondness for novels is to ridicule them: not indiscriminately, for then it would have little effect; but, if a judicious person, with some turn for humor, would read several to a young girl, and point out both by tones, and apt comparisons with pathetic incidents and heroic characters in history, how foolishly and ridiculously they caricatured human nature, just opinions might be substituted instead of romantic sentiments.
Read a brief comparison of Jane Austen's nature and biography with that of Mary Wollstonecraft
Read a short description of other women writers in Jane Austen's time.
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