Flanagan. Rachmaninoff. The Dog.

22 Nov

Richard Flanagan may well be the only writer in the history of the prestigious prize to win the Man Booker, and be nominated for the worst sex scene in fiction in the same book by the London Literary Review, in the same week. The scene is in The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and involves “circumnavigating” lovers being interrupted in their coitus by a dog with a dead fairy penguin in its mouth. I have to agree, it isn’t one of the book’s best bits.

Flanagan is interested in desire, the myriad ways in which it might manifest, the unforeseen consequences when it is lost, repressed or denied, and when it is fulfilled. I first felt the impact of the author’s reflections on this topic when I read his 2008 novel Wanting in which he dissects the complex desires of Lady Jane Franklin and her explorer husband Sir John, as well as those of Charles Dickens for his mistress, Ellen Ternan. I thought the link between Dickens and the Franklins a tenuous one on which to hang the novel, but Flanagan has such insight into the human condition I can forgive him almost anything.

In The Narrow Road, protagonist Dorrigo Evans enters into what is to become a long, unsatisfactory but absolutely binding marriage that creates in him “the most complete and unassailable loneliness, so loud a solitude that he sought to crack its ringing silence again and again with yet another woman.” The presence of the absent woman he deeply loved and lost has shaped his life and his marriage: “As a meteorite strike long ago explains the large lake now, so Amy’s absence shaped everything, even when – and sometimes particularly when – he wasn’t thinking of her.”  Yes.

It takes determination to stay with the descriptions of life in the Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma railway, and yet it would be cowardly to turn away from knowledge of what humans perpetrate on one another, what can be survived, and how desperate the desire for survival can become in conditions where one would imagine death to be a better option. Oh, he is a fine, fine writer is Flanagan.

Narrow Road to the Deep North

 

It’s been about ten years since I last listened to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor. I came across the CD this morning, put it in the player and lay down on the floor to listen. It’s a big, dramatic concerto with surging melodies, rhapsodic in nature, and has at times been dismissed by critics because of its “gushing” romanticism and alleged lack of subtlety. It’s been used in a remarkable variety of films, including David Lean’s Brief Encounter, Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch, Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, and Japanese anime. I don’t know how it became so familiar to me, but when I listened again after so long, I knew it as well as if I’d been listening to it every day. It is, I think, quite beautiful. There was a tosser in the seventies who used one of the themes for his popular song, All By Myself, for which he should have been hung.

 

Rachmaninoff

 

And finally, today has been a very sad day. Our vet Terry, Mrs Chook and I decided it’s time to say goodbye to our old Big Dog. He’s fourteen, almost blind, full of arthritis, deaf as a post and Terry says his lungs are fucked. I did tell him to stop smoking but would he listen? We have him till Wednesday, and after that he’ll be under the mango tree in the back yard. He’s a ripper dog, Terry always says. I don’t quite know how we’ll get used to being without him.

The smiling dog.

How to say I lub you

21 Nov

 Speech Acts: verbal assurances and promises which seem not only to refer to a speaking relationship but constitute a moral bond between speakers.  Judith Butler

 

 The three-year-old sat on her lap and said he was going to teach her how to say “I lub you” without using her words. He pointed to his eyes. He folded his small hands across his heart. He took one hand from his heart and held it palm up towards her. See, he said. Now do it to me. She pointed to her eyes. She folded her hands across her heart. And then she handed him her heart in the palms of her hands. Do it again, he said. Lub me again. Pease.

Her lover has said I love you more times than she could ever count. Oh, Lordy yes I love you, he says if she needs reassurance. Sometimes he writes ditto when she tells him she loves him, but he stopped that when she told him it wasn’t very appealing. Instead he wrote, and I you. I adore you, she wrote and he always replied, and I you. Every bit of me loves every bit of you, she told him. Aaaah, he sighed. And I you. You know I love you, he says. I told you. She has to explain to him that although she knows, she likes to hear it because they aren’t physically together and can’t show their love. They have to say it. Ah, he says. I see what you mean. Sometimes she thinks he is a little slow in these matters. Though willing.

Her husband told her he loved her about ten times a day. And every single time it had meaning. How did he manage that, she wonders.

I love you is a speech act. It constitutes a moral bond between speakers.

 

 It is September. She’s in the pool. It takes perhaps fifteen minutes of swimming laps before she feels completely at one with the water. This is why she does it, for the sensation of pushing effortlessly through aquamarine liquid velvet. Lifting her head to see the thick bush surrounding the pool, the blue sky streaked with high white cloud. The weightlessness and grace of the human body in the foreign, watery element. The aquamarine is her birthstone. She has a ring she can no longer find, a pale blue gem with a small diamond either side of it, set in white gold.

As she swims she thinks of her lover, he has written to her that morning telling her he has begun the process of encouraging his wife to go away on trips without him. They usually do everything together, he’s told her, like everyone else they know. His wife is reluctant, he says, and he has faced much opposition, but he needs this to happen so that it will not seem strange to the family when he wants to go away alone to be with his lover. What a pity the timing doesn’t work for his lover, they could have spent the days his wife is absent together without fear of arousing suspicion, but it was such short notice, and she has already arranged to be with her family and their babies.

“This was a sudden thing,” he writes. “It only happened at all because I strongly encouraged it over opposition and great reluctance, thinking that it was a first step to establishing the idea of doing things alone. At least,” he writes, “we can have phone calls at nice and unusual times like early morning and bedtime, while my wife is gone.”

He has recently persuaded her to be sexual with him on the phone. She’s not at all sure about it. It’s exciting at the time but when the call ends she feels an aching loneliness and a sense of having done something she didn’t really want to do. Not long after they’ve begun this experiment she stops it. It would be different, she tells him, if they were living together and separated for a while and the phone was an interim measure. But they are separate most of the time. Being separated from the man she loves more than she is with him is an entirely new experience. She is used to being a wife.

He can feel her, he tells her. It is her hand holding his cock, not his. Her hand stroking his nipples, her finger tracing the ridge between his balls. She is his first thought when he wakes, he tells her, his last before he falls asleep, and when he wakes in the night she is there.

You say you’ve gone away from me but I can feel you, feel you when you breathe…

As she swims she thinks two things. She thinks how glad she is that he wants to be with her so badly he will instigate long-term plans to change the whole pattern of his married life. The other thing she thinks is how manipulative he must be to be able to convince his wife it will be good for her to go away without him, when his real motive is to re-educate her so he can take time away to be with his mistress. She allows the first thought to push the second off the edge of an escarpment, into a bottomless abyss.

 

 Once she knew a man who taught her to use all her senses from her heart. She learned to see with her heart, feel, taste, smell, and hear with her heart. It’s not always safe, he warned her. There are circumstances in which the heart ought to be left out of things. While she can tell if a situation is obviously not one she wants to experience so fully, she’s not very good at judging the more subtle scenes.

When she first met her lover her heart was feeding all her senses, and she thought nothing of it. The sight of him leaning against the wall waiting for her, the shape of his body, the height of him, the pull of him, were all noted by senses rich with her heart’s energy. Long before she knew anything with her mind, her heart and all her senses whispered, I lub you. She handed him her heart in the palm of her hands, and she didn’t even know she’d done it. A moral bond. I lub you.

 

 For months, a year, and for more months, she protects him. She does without most of what she would really like to have, in order to protect him. She has no idea why she has entered into this agreement to protect him. Sometimes, she loses patience and threatens to tell his wife. She knows she never will. He knows she never will. He trusts her absolutely to protect him. She gives him the great gift of absolute trust in her. Because I love you is a moral bond.

 

 She tucks the three-year-old into his bed. Giddy, he says, that’s what he calls her, Giddy, will you sleep in my bed for a little while? He scoots over to make room. She lies down, and curves her body around his. In moments he’s asleep. She lies with him for a long time, listening to the night birds, watching the full moon rise over the mountains, hoping his small, strong body can help her heal herself. In her worst moments, when she wakes into terror, she thinks of her lover and then she thinks of this little boy. He has her smile. He has her scowl. He has their hearts in the palm of his hand. Lub me again, Giddy, he says. Pease.

Remember that words, the right and true words, have the power of deeds. Raymond Carver.

Male violence against women. Call it what it is.

20 Nov

This piece in Daily Life yesterday by Jane Gilmore raises some important questions about how we talk about male violence against women.

One of the most startling revelations is the difficulty and the expense of discovering, in Victoria at least, the gender of the majority of perpetrators of violence. While information about the victims of such violence is publicly released, information about the offenders is not, and Gilmore had to pay $700 and wait nine weeks to obtain this information. What Gilmore eventually discovered about the Victorian statistics is this:

In 2013/14

* 87% of homicides were committed by men.
* 98% of sexual assaults were committed by men.
* 83% of non-sexual assaults were committed by men.
* 90% of robberies were committed by men.
* 92% of abductions were committed by men.

I strongly recommend you read the article for a more comprehensive view of these figures.

I don’t want to start a gender war. But these statistics are irrefutable. I can understand that many men, especially those who are not violent towards women and don’t engage in criminal acts, might feel unfairly attacked and defensive when women raise our voices in protest against male violence. However, I would urge you not to waste your energy feeling unfairly attacked (you aren’t nearly as unfairly attacked as we are) and defensive. Most women don’t think all men are violent. But there’s no escaping the reality that most of the violence in our society that comes to the attention of the authorities is perpetrated by men.

If you can get outraged by the king hit and rush in laws overnight to increase penalties for the very few instances of that particular type of male violence, how do you explain the ongoing refusal to be equally and more outraged by the fact that sixty-eight women have been killed in Australia this year, by men? (from Destroy the Joint’s Counting Dead Women project.)

We have a Minister for Women, though you’d never know it. He’s about as useful as the non-existent Science Minister. His name is Tony Abbott. Tell him you want to hear what he intends to do about all the women dead this year and those yet to die, at the hands of violent men.

DV1

Pyne. Turnbull. Hubris.

20 Nov

christopher-pyne-1200-vertical

When the goddess of language came up with the word hubris meaning overconfident pride or arrogance that incurs the wrath of the gods who then punish the offender, mightily humiliating him, she had Christopher Pyne in mind. Look:

Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.

Yes, that could apply to most of the government. Sad, isn’t it?

Pyne’s latest caper is setting up an online petition to protest ABC production cuts  leading to the loss of jobs in his own electorate, as a consequence of budget restrictions imposed by his own government. His move has been described as hypocritical, but I think of it more as calculatedly provocative, designed to arouse precisely the reaction it has. Pyne loves above all things to cause outrage. It makes him feel powerful. He needs it like he needs the air he breathes. This is not a good characteristic for a politician in government.

Pyne’s move is also an example of conservatives adopting left-wing methods of protest in a “look, we can do this too” attempt to undermine those methods with ridicule, and it is a co-option that is intended to render them puny and ineffective.  However, as the tactic is blatant, hypocritical and just plain stupid, all it succeeds in achieving is a few laughs for the in-group and in this case, Pyne momentarily in the spotlight where he most loves to be.

Like his leader and many of his colleagues, Pyne has all the substance of a stick of fairy floss, or cotton candy as our friends in the US like to call it. I am struggling to find any sign of vision, or genuine concern for anything other than their own power in the government, no matter at what cost to the country and its citizens. This consuming self-interest  is destroying them, individually and collectively, as consuming self-interest always will eventually. Hubris.

Malcolm Turnbull for example used to have some authority in the world, a short term in the Abbott government has transformed him into the most hollow of hollow men, as if the virus of ambition has worked on him like psychic Ebola, leaching out of him all his vital fluids and leaving him dry as a bone in the Western Desert. The man is pathetic and utterly dismissible. He was not always thus.

A good leader inspires and embiggens her or his followers. Abbott is slowly but surely destroying every decent thing there might once have been in the members of his government. The man is satanic in his talent for destruction. In opposition he was very noisy about it. As Prime Minister he is far more stealthy, and even more lethal.

Betrayal

18 Nov

There was a message for her when she arrived home from her swim. The sea that day was Caribbean blue with indigo blooms. It reminded her of Isla Mujeres, off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. Before she met him she was a woman who travelled alone to Mexico even though her oncologist advised against it, a woman who took the ferry to Isla Mujeres without having booked accommodation in advance, a woman who when she arrived at the island of women strolled through the hot midday streets looking for a place she might stay and found one, as she knew she would, an apartment above a shop that sold beaten tin images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and postcards of women who fought with the Zapatistas. She had a life before him. A big, rich beautiful life, full of the love of her family and its babies, and her husband before he was stricken with illness.

Hey, lovely lady.
Hey, my love. I’ve been swimming in the sea.
Have you showered?
Not yet.
Good. I want to lick the salt from all your secret places. I want to taste your salty juices. I want my tongue in you. I want you to come on my lips… 

 

Early in their relationship he said, we mustn’t make comparisons. He surprised her. She didn’t want to know anything about his sexual life before her, and had no intention of sharing hers. It would be odious, she agreed, to compare.

But then he wanted them to have their list of “firsts.” And it didn’t occur to her immediately that anything either of them claimed as a first revealed some of their history. When she realised this, she felt guilty. Her ill husband would never again be her lover but still she felt guilty, that she was betraying him, that she was perhaps indicating he had not been satisfactory, which was far from the truth. She wrote to her lover, saying that she had not meant to imply that her sexual life with her husband had been lacking or unsatisfactory because that would be dishonest, and he replied that he understood.

Likewise, when he told her he had not experienced this or that, she knew his history and wondered how he could reveal such things while still in his marriage, even if they no longer shared a bed and sexual intimacy. Her inside voice set up a minor clamour. Don’t trust him, it said, look how he is betraying his wife, don’t be so foolish as to think he wouldn’t betray you too. She knows he will. She has written to him, you will leave me if your wife finds out, won’t you, and he replies, you can’t know that. You can’t know that. His reply feels like both a rebuke, and an appeal that she not make assumptions about how he will behave.

Then he tells her he is working out how they can be together, he’s making a concrete plan he’s doing all the financials and she is startled, and says, you are thinking like this? I’m not thinking like this. I haven’t even considered this. She doesn’t know him, she hasn’t even spent a night with him, this isn’t like any other relationship she’s had when people have time to know one another, to fall asleep and wake up together, they haven’t done that and she’s not ready to leave her life for him and besides, her husband is still breathing and there is no way on this earth she will throw in her lot with another man as long as there’s breath in her husband’s body.

He is with his wife as he works out the financials and plans a new life with his lover, and his wife is with him, in complete ignorance of the future he envisages without her. How, she wonders, is it possible to plan a new life with another woman when you haven’t made any mention of it to your wife? What will he do? Walk out one day? Leave a note? She imagines doing the same thing when she lived with her husband, when he was well. She imagines an abyss separating them that never existed in reality, but would have to be there for her to secretly plan to leave him for somebody else.

Again and again it will come between the lovers, the difference between her knowledge of marriage and his. She thinks they would not do well together, that she would expect the intimacy that is marriage to her, and he would expect the distance that is apparently marriage to him. He tells her that he is not allowed to close his study door when he works because that hurts his wife’s feelings, and she marvels that he cannot close his study door but he can plan a new life with another woman, won’t that hurt his wife’s feelings? She asks him how he works if he can’t close out distraction and interruption. He says he’s learned to work around it. When she works she needs solitude it was the same for her husband, they always closed their doors. Would you object to me closing the door when I wanted to work, she asks him, and he laughs and tells her of course he wouldn’t, but she is unconvinced.

There’s a cause and effect, she thinks, between the distance in his marriage that allows him to plan a new life under his wife’s unsuspecting nose, and the fact that he can’t hurt her feelings by closing his study door. I have no privacy, he tells her, only in my thoughts. I will always have my secret thoughts, he says. She tries to imagine what it would be to live without privacy, and knows she would go mad.

She talks to her friend about her marriage. You know it was very unusual, don’t you, her friend tells her. No. How could I know that? You two, the way you loved each other was extraordinary. Don’t ever expect to find anything like that again. And anyway, lots of couples live without privacy, you know.

Ugh, she says, I never want to know everything about anybody. How boring. And she remembers how she loved the ultimate unknowableness of her husband, of any human being but especially him, the impossibility of possessing him, his otherness, his alterity, the absolute not-me-ness of him. The delight when he emerged from his study or she emerged from hers, and he took her in his arms as if they’d been behind closed doors for days. Oh, you, he’d say. You.

I don’t understand him, she thinks of her lover, I don’t understand what he means by love. She struggles to grasp how he does what he does, her, his wife, the secret life, the power of his desire, if she felt like he does about someone else she could no more be in the same house as her husband than fly to the moon. She couldn’t hurt her husband like that, even when, especially when, he didn’t know the damage that was being done to him, the denial of him, of the life they’d had together. Her lover seems to be of the “what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her” school, but she’s never believed that, people know stuff, even if they don’t know they know, and it wreaks damage and havoc and they can’t understand why.

 

Bluff Beach

 

Every day while the weather held, she swam in the warm sea, usually naked unless strangers wandered onto her deserted beach. She was golden brown all over.

Send me photos of your golden breasts.
Aaaaah, he writes when she does. When I look at you the juice from my cock flows down my thigh, like it does when I hear your voice, or read what you’ve written. When you come for me, strong and long, I feel such joy that I have touched you so deeply. I want to suckle from your salty nipples, let me lick up your juices then kiss you so you taste them like the sea on my tongue. Oh Lordy, yes, I love you. You know I do.

 

When she was alone on Isla Mujeres she was happy, and occasionally lonely. She’d left her husband behind, much to his annoyance, but she knew it was essential for her to do this without him. He’d cried at the airport and she almost gave in, but her family in Mexico were expecting her so she boarded her flight and forgot about him almost immediately. She did this again when she went alone to Stockholm, and he was savage about her intending to fuck some Lars or Sven. That’s projection, she told him. You’re imposing on me what you are likely to do. I hate it when you talk psycho babble, he’d told her, and walked off. She wonders what he would think of her lover and the relationship she has with him. Apart from being insanely jealous that she had a lover at all. Fuck him if you must, he’d say, but don’t love him. I never loved anyone but you. Don’t you love anyone but me. Anyway, he’d conclude, he’ll never know you like I do. Then he’d sing something, like, I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know about her.

 

The island of women is where Caribbean pirates kept their mistresses, imprisoned by the turquoise sea, unable to leave. The pirates took whichever woman they fancied at any particular time, but the women had no say in who they would lie with. When the pirates left for work, away for weeks, months at a time, the women were free to be with themselves, each other, and their children. She lay on the white sand of Isla Mujeres, her feet in the shallows where tiny striped fish nibbled her toes, and thought about the pirate women, and about love and because she has a cancer that will only ever be in remission, death. When she returned to her apartment above the shop she wrote to her husband. I’ll be home soon, she told him. Keep a candle in the window.

 

Her lover writes to her, several times a day for months and months and months. All the while his wife is there and he may not close his study door. When his wife goes out, they speak on the phone. His thigh is wet from the juice of his cock that leaks as soon as he hears her voice. They are perfectly matched and they should have met decades ago, he tells her from the house, the rooms, the home he shares with his wife.

There is one thing, and one thing she knows for certain about him. That he is capable of the most awful betrayal. Not only will he desire her, he will love her and want her in his life forever, and tell her, you are my second wife. And in spite of that love he will leave her, in the most cruel of ways, without a goodbye.

He was living a life that was unknown to his wife. Why is she shocked when he does this thing to her?

“The end is in the beginning, and yet you go on.” *

 

Isla Mujeres One

 

 

*Samuel Beckett

The pointlessness of Tony Abbott

18 Nov

tony-abbott-1

 

Tony Abbott’s most outstanding feature is, for me, his pointlessness. I look at him and I think, why? Why?

He reminds me of nothing as much as an unreconstructed Catholic priest. Old-fashioned paternalism. Meaningless clichés and stultifying slogans that won’t withstand a moment of even the mildest interrogation. Delivered with a most eerie absence of affect, indicating that even he doesn’t believe what he’s parroting. Speech designed to repress thought, smother questioning with a patronising blanket of faux fatherly authority that in truth means, don’t you question, we know best for no reason other than we are in possession of the power.

All designed to sap the public political life force, to grind it into submission the better to impose the kind of authoritative, unquestioned governance that is every conservative’s wet dream.

And what of his own life force? Think of him in opposition. Daily fired with destructive energy, unstoppable in his attacks, alive in every cell, thriving on abuse, insult, deceit, manipulation and spin. As the country’s leader he is a mere shade of his opposition self, far from what any country needs in today’s dangerous world, unremarkable except for his staggeringly stupid public utterances, thought of in  Europe as “the blunder from down under,” our very own suppository of wisdom, though whatever is in that suppository is very far from wise.

That he is dangerous in his pointlessness is incontestable. Abbott believes he is wise. He believes he is a statesman. He believes he has a god-given authority that imbues all his decisions with rightness and righteousness. He believes himself to be appointed and guided by his god. He is, to the very core of him, a devoutly religious man, and from that central belief system, all things Abbott flow. For Abbott, the point of him is him, and god endorses that point.

You can take the man out of the priesthood. But you can’t take the priesthood out of the man.

 

CardinalwithhisAbbottWin

 

 

 

Desire, and good men

17 Nov

wings-of-desire-title

 

My lover writes to me: So, we discover another everyday thing that we charge with sexuality. I would love to soap you all over in the shower. Your back, your legs, your arse, your cunt, your belly, and linger long over your breasts…

There is an erotic book by Cameron S. Redfern titled “Landscape with Animals,” that tells of her affair with a married man. Redfern is the pseudonym of Sonya Hartnett, author of novels classified quite wrongly in my opinion as young adult fiction.

The affair is initiated by the single woman who is described as unashamedly predatory, and utterly determined to have him. This is both a subversion of the heterosexual dance of infidelity in which the woman is pursued by the married man, and a repetition of the myth of woman as sexual temptress who, like Eve in the garden, brings the man to ruin by offering him knowledge neither of them, according to the rules of the culture in which they live, ought to have.

The married lover in the book is portrayed as a good, gentle, honourable man, who loves his wife and children. He succumbs, but not before he announces to his mistress and to himself, “I am doomed.”

When I read those words I remembered how my married lover (who pursued me, then accused me of the crime of “irresistibility” thereby having it both ways) told me, “I am ruined,” referring to the effects of our affair. And yet, torn, he writes:

Being with you gives me pleasure, gratitude, happiness, amazement, delight, wonder, excitement. It gives me succour and strength and a new lease on life. I need to see you. I need to be in bed with you on a Sunday morning…

The doom and ruin are offset by the extraordinary knowledge found in the discovery and exploration of sexuality and sensuality that at the same time seriously threaten the established order of marriage and family life. Freud was onto this in his “Civilisation and its Discontents” in which he explores the conflict between what he calls the pleasure principle and the reality principle. It is necessary, he argues, for the desire for pleasure, especially sexual pleasure, to be repressed in order for civilisation as we have constructed it to survive. Desire realised for anyone other than the partner will cause destruction to varying degrees, threatening the foundations of monogamous relationship on which our culture rests.

Is it morally wrong for an individual to desire the expression of sexual and sensual aspects of him or herself that have been repressed and unrealised?

I’ve long held a theory that the rule of monogamy, as with many other societal restrictions, is enacted in an effort to bypass difficult emotions, in this case jealousy and deep hurt. Morality is merely the sign language of the emotions, Nietzsche argued. That is, we construct our moral codes not from our rational mind but from our feelings, reactively. I do not like the way this makes me feel therefore it is morally wrong. Infidelity may bring pain, discord and even destruction, but why do we declare all of these uncomfortable experiences to be morally wrong?

He writes before we meet: I want to fuck you physically so badly it hurts…

The fear of doom and ruin expressed by both men is complex. Goodness, gentleness and honour are qualities both identify and value in themselves. The deceit and betrayal of an extra marital affair will make it difficult to maintain that self-image. “I was a good person,” my lover told me, “I want to go back to being that good person.” But of course it was much too late, and one can never go back to the person one was before significant events. The whole point of significant events, it could be argued, is to move one along and if one stays stuck, the universe has done its best.

Both men fear the doom and ruin of their marriages and their families, as well as of themselves, as if their personal ruin must terminally ruin the lives of those who are close to them. Yet none of this prevents them pursuing their goal, so powerful is their desire to experience themselves, to discover who they are in the bed of the other woman.

We are so deep in such complexities, he writes. I could (and do) desire you an infinite amount but still be mentally ravaged by guilt feelings about my wife and family. You are my second wife. That sums it up. I so loved hearing your voice. Don’t have any idea how to deal with this terrible tangle we are in…

Whenever my lover spoke to me of his distress at having ceased to be a good man as a consequence of his love for me, I would tell him that none of us is entirely good or bad, that we find a temporary point on a continuum, move further towards one end or the other, then back again, and again, and this is how we live out our lives on earth. I had no interest or belief in his self-described goodness. If we are indeed “good,” we will never deny the capacity for “badness” that resides within every one of us and may emerge at any time, given the right circumstances. To define myself as “good” limits my human potential. Inside me, there is the possibility of everything.

I would rather you were real than good, I told him.

Then I thought of Freud. Sexuality unconfined by monogamy is bad because it risks the destruction of civilisation. Reality, which demands repression and denial, is good and will enable civilisation as we have constructed it to continue. I don’t think Freud was necessarily in agreement with the way society is constructed, given how he laboured to uncover and defang repression, but I think his observations are accurate. Desire is the most powerful of all the transgressors. It will not be denied without inflicting terrible individual and collective suffering, and it may not be expressed in our monogamous culture without risking the infliction of terrible suffering. I was his second wife, he said, but there is no place for a second wife in a monogamous society.

Do you love me? I ask

Oh, Lordy, yes, I love you. You know I do. I told you.

DCF 1.0

 

 

Domestic violence is torture and the UN Convention must be changed

12 Nov

On Monday night, representatives from the Australian government appeared before the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) as part of a current review into Australia’s obligations under its treaty. In their submission, our government argued, “As a matter of international law, domestic violence does not fall within the scope of the Convention … as it is not conduct that is committed by or at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

In other words, violence against women does not constitute ‘torture’. Clementine Ford, Daily Life

Unfortunately, the Convention against Torture reads as follows:

1. For the purposes of this Convention, the term “torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

Domestic violence does not constitute torture according to the UN Convention, so the Australian government representatives are correct.

What is tragic is that the Australian government is not arguing for an amendment to the Convention that will include domestic violence in the definition of torture.

Given that the Minister for Women, Tony Abbott, has shown no interest at all in the horrific abuses against women in this country, I doubt there will be any initiatives from Australia along the lines of amending the Convention.

 

Asylum Seekers: what it costs Australian governments to persecute stateless persons

12 Nov

 Asylum Seeker Three

 

The foreigner is the political precondition of the nation state… Costas Douzinas.

Australia, while remaining a signatory to the United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees, long since gave up any pretence of observance of international human rights in favour of a nationalistic observance of state sovereign rights. State sovereignty permits governments the right to exclude persons the state deems unworthy of inclusion.

The power of the state to exclude is perhaps the fundamental state power.

Ideological, racial, economic and political factors are the criteria for deciding who is and is not included in the nation-state. As Hannah Arendt noted, statelessness is not a problem of geographical space, but of political space.

The stateless person has as their only descriptor the fact that they are human. Ironically, this strips them of their right to human rights, rights which are only available to them if they are citizens of a state. It is not enough to be human. One must also belong to a state in order to claim human rights. Arendt suggest that the only fundamental human right is the right to have rights. Asylum seekers who have a legitimate right to arrive by boat in Australia are stripped of the right to have rights once their vessel is intercepted by Australian authorities.

 

Stateless Persons UNHCR

Persons seeking asylum from persecution who attempt to access Australia by boat are singled out for exclusion, and though their method of arrival is perfectly legitimate under the Convention, they are criminalised and detained in off-shore camps. Detention camps on Nauru and Manus Island are all that is offered to de facto stateless persons, that is, refugees unable to claim the human rights afforded by citizenship. Persons detained in these camps are exempted from “normal” laws. The methods of addressing their plight are containment and repatriation, or resettlement in another country, rather than granting asylum and legal integration into the Australian nation.

This action against asylum seekers is justified as being in the “national interest,” an abstract concept in which the mystical “nation”  is prioritised over the interests of singular human beings who are dispossessed non-nationals, and therefore considered rightless.  The state is committed to protecting only legitimate members of the nation, the rights of asylum being in conflict with the rights of the state. There is in Australia no concept of offering sanctuary and refuge to those fleeing persecution who arrive by sea. Their loss of place in the world, their loss of belonging, has the effect of reducing them to physical objects, bereft of human dignity, because without rights one is not a person, one is not an agent in the public realm.

In reaction to this deliberate and systematic dehumanisation, asylum seekers held in detention camps on Manus and Nauru behave as did those held in mainland camps such Woomera and Baxter. They sew up their lips in a symbolic protest against the silencing of their voices. They harm their own bodies. They suffer depression and anxiety, and hopelessness. Their suffer the abjection of those who have ceased to belong to any state.

Asylum Seekers Two SMH photo

 

Sovereignty, like religion, is a constructed knowledge imbued with faux mysticism. The Abbott government’s “Operation Sovereign Borders” appeals to this pseudo-mysticism, offering citizens the opportunity to come together in unity, led by a concerned, fatherly government to protect our nation against the breaching of its borders by the unwanted, stateless foreigner. As Douzinas points out, there can be no nation state without the foreigner; one must have someone to protect oneself from in order to maintain the perceived power of sovereignty.

The asylum seeker is equally imbued with mysticism, of the most negative kind as the assumption is peddled that merely due to the fact of her search for asylum she is morally corrupt and corrupting. Her crime is breaching sovereign borders. She is used as a scapegoat to unite citizens and strengthen boundaries, ultimately supporting the ideology of sovereignty.

What we are doing in this country is wrong. The idea that we must treat people horrifically in order to discourage others from attempting sea journeys is morally corrupt. Action the state is legitimised to take against one group can be and will be extrapolated to other groups, when the state deems it in the national interest. When the fate of human lives is secondary to the rights of the state, we are all at risk.

Is it really in the interests of the citizens of this country that so many billions of taxpayer dollars are eaten up in the pursuit and detention of a relatively few people who arrive here by boat, in the pursuit of the maintenance of our sovereign borders? No, it isn’t. It is, however, in the political interests of both major parties. The cost to the taxpayer of pursuing these political interests is obscene, and it is rising, as this graph from The Conversation shows:

 

The Conversation

 

The major parties continue to persecute stateless persons seeking asylum and refuge, solely because of their method of arrival. Australia moves further and further away from the undertakings we made when we signed and later ratified the Refugee Convention. Human beings suffer appallingly in concentration camps, out of sight and out of mind. The matter of the future of stateless persons is a massive global problem, and one that will continue to increase. Australian governments have long thought it is a problem that they can continue to outsource to countries far less capable than are we of providing the possibility of a decent life to those who by no fault of their own, are dispossessed of the lives they once had. This cannot go on. In all conscience, it cannot go on.

The end of the affair

9 Nov

Adultery

(Posts on this topic can be found consecutively in the page “Infidelity”)

When the ending came, it was brutal.

She went to bed the night before as usual, with their goodnight messages of love: Night night, lovely lady with the beautiful breasts. And their rows of kisses. The next morning he rang. She was waiting for me at 2 am when I got up for a pee, he said. She said, I know what’s going on. I’ve known from the beginning.

I can’t see you anymore, he says. I can’t talk to you anymore. She says I either end it with you or leave. I can’t leave. I can’t lose my family. If I lose my family I won’t be the man you fell in love with.

She is having trouble taking this in. She hasn’t slept for the three nights since her husband died after a prolonged illness, in the nursing home. She’s taken any number of sedatives, and drunk a fair bit as well, and nothing has even hit the sides. She keeps seeing her husband when she goes down the street. She’s on the brink of stopping some bloke in jeans and a flannelette shirt and throwing her arms round him. She’s ill. She’s in about as bad a shape as anyone can get, and still be on their feet. So if he expects her to comprehend weighty matters such as the ones he’s putting to her, he’s dreaming.

Don’t, she says. Don’t, not now I’m grieving my husband, don’t.

She hangs up on him.

Later that day or maybe the next day, she can’t recall the days, the nights, he phones again. She begs him again not to do this. Relationships end, Jennifer, he says. You’re strong.

What seems like five minutes ago she was the centre of his world. If he didn’t hear from her for a few hours he’d message that he was worried about her. If she didn’t respond he’d write: more worried. Getting anxious. Until she replied and reassured him she was all right, they were all right. Now he’s telling her, relationships end, Jennifer and her husband is dead but she keeps seeing him in the street. The combined shock is indescribable. She is numb, but not numb. She is feeling but it is chaotic, unfocused pain, like babies when they hurt one small part of themselves and feel it in their entire bodies.

She listens as he lurches between two seemingly opposed personalities. On the one hand: Relationships end Jennifer. I can’t lose my family. On the other: I love you, I miss you, it’s impossible, I don’t know what to do.

When he says, I can’t lose my family, she thinks, but they’ve been here all along. They didn’t just appear. They were here at the beginning. Why didn’t you think that then?

This is brutal, she tells him. What you are doing is brutal.

Brutal? he replies. My radical change of circumstances, getting caught, is brutal?

She begins to understand he has unquestioningly assumed that he was entitled to everything he had with her, and entitled to walk away unhampered when it became necessary. He has assumed that he was entitled to have this affair with her long as he wanted, and when he was caught he was entitled to say, relationships end, you are strong, and walk away.  The privileges accorded to him by marriage give him that entitlement he believes, without even thinking about how or why he believes it.  It’s just there. Like the sun rising and setting.

His marriage neutralises the importance of anything she might feel, because it is his marriage. Relationships end. They end four or five hours after you’ve told someone you how much you love them and their beautiful breasts. This is not brutal. This is an expedient adult response to the radical change of circumstances in a married man’s life.

She remembers this is one of the things she has at times despised about some married people, that they believe anything and anyone can be sacrificed to keep their marriages intact. If it’s that important, she’d often thought, why risk it in the first place. She sure as hell didn’t risk hers with betrayal.She abhors the way marriage can be used to justify all kinds of lousy behaviour that causes anguish to somebody else.

You aren’t the man I fell in love with anyway, she tells him. I have no idea who that man was or if he exists or ever existed. Then she hangs up the phone.

When weeks later his wife tells her he’s done it before, she begins to understand his sense of entitlement, and privileged assumptions. Obviously, he has got away with it who knows how often, his wife won’t tell her that. Obviously he has told other women I have to end it I can’t lose my family, and they’ve buggered off without much, if any protest, his wife’s taken him back and now he believes that’s all he has to do.

Then out of nowhere he rings her up and tells her he won’t leave her, not while she’s sick, not while she’s in this awful state grieving her husband. He’s told his wife she’s having a hard time and they’ll be “staying in touch.” I am being circumspect with her, he says. In this situation, she replies, circumspect is just another word for lies of omission. You are being forensic, he says, you’re making me anxious.

His wife has not reacted well to this news. She cries every morning and evening, and it emerges later that she feared every contact the lovers had would result in her husband leaving her.

At the same time, every phone call she has with her lover she expects him to tell her again he’s had another ultimatum and relationships end, Jennifer. He now has two women in a state of appalling distress.

She is not grateful for his decision to stay with her. She has lost all trust in him, she knows he can say again at any second what he has already said. She doesn’t actually want him to stay with her. She wants him to have a conversation with her in which they say goodbye. The conditions he has outlined for staying with her are outrageously selfish, and she wonders how any man could think a woman would find them acceptable. They may only have phone contact a couple of times a week when his wife is out, she must ring so it doesn’t show on his phone bill, and they may not refer to any of their former intimacy, or say anything newly intimate. They must be friends, he says, although he has just spent an afternoon telling her they can’t be friends because it’s all black and white with them, there’s no grey, it’s all or nothing. She has never understood this notion of a nano second’s transition from passionate love to just friends, and bridles at the utter dishonesty of it. He will remember everything about her, he can’t turn his head off like a tap, he will think about her just as obsessively as he always has, but they must not say anything. Nice for your wife, she says. You thinking about me every minute while you’re repairing your marriage. How will that work then?

At least he will get to hear her voice on the phone he says, and that will keep him going.

It fucking well won’t keep her going and he can get fucked, is pretty much the short version of what she tells him.

She wants to end it as well as it can be ended, because they love each other, but she is incapable of coherently conveying this, and shouts at him instead. She can’t clearly articulate what she wants at that point, but she knows it isn’t what he suggests. He tells her he can’t bear not to know what happens to her. He cries when he thinks of never seeing her again. He will keep it staggering on like a mortally wounded animal, bleeding over everything and in terminal agony before he’ll agree to say goodbye.

She does not convey her wishes to him well, because she is governed by excessive emotion and she can’t work out if her awful grief is for her husband, her lover, both, neither, and she is now running fevers every morning and evening.

I’m risking my marriage staying in touch with you, he tells her. She realises she is supposed to feel grateful that he is staying with her on his terms, as he always bloody well has.  She becomes increasingly recalcitrant and objectionable. I can’t lose my wife, he says. Relationships end, she tells him.

I don’t care about your fucking marriage, she tells him. I’d like to blow it to smithereens. Which isn’t exactly true, because if she did she’d feel she had to look after him, and she isn’t at all sure now she’d want to do that.

All she wants is a face to face conversation in which they say goodbye. She doesn’t want him to lose his wife and family. She just doesn’t want to be treated like a piece of shit he’s trying to get off his shoe so he doesn’t trail it into the marital home. He has spent countless hours poring over photos of her naked body, and now he can’t even look at her face and tell her goodbye?

No, it would seem that he can’t, and there follows months of silence that she can’t see him ending.

There is perhaps no more powerful way of staying enmeshed than refusing to say goodbye. Once you’ve said goodbye you’ve closed the book, there’s no reason to go back. Being too angry, too hurt, too mean, too afraid of the sorrow to say goodbye means you’re still there, in the worst possible way. And it’s poison.

With all the marital mess he’s got to clean up you’d think the very first thing he’d want to do is say goodbye to her, close the book, and try to put his marriage back together. If she was his wife, that’s what she’d need him to do as a sign of his good faith. If she was his wife, she’d be wondering every time she looked at him  if he was thinking about his lover. Because he has refused to say goodbye, and a wife would want to know why.

And he still hasn’t told her if he’s destroyed her naked photos.

Words of love

9 Nov

Several people have asked me, is it ethical, what you’re doing, writing about the affair, publishing his words of love to you, have you thought about the ethics of that?

Yes. In principle it could be argued that it’s unethical, even though I don’t identify him. It is a breaking of his trust, making public words of love he meant for me alone.

As long as I kept the shared secret I was joined with him in events the extent of which no other person was aware of. I did not want that bond. I won’t keep any secrets for him. I won’t allow him to think there is anything left between us that binds us.

He said, we will always have this secret, we will always have these magic memories. He said, even after he’d been caught, we can have phone calls, you can ring me when my wife is out so it doesn’t show on the phone bill but we mustn’t speak of anything intimate. We can only have one another’s voices. We will both know what we want and what we are thinking but we mustn’t say it to each other. I will still have my secret thoughts, he said. I will always have my secret thoughts.

It’s the one thing, the only thing I had left to refuse him. He’d had everything else of me. I could take nothing back.

It’s tempting to make comparisons: what he did to me versus what I can do to him, which of us is the least ethical. But that isn’t the point.

All there was left was the secret. And I’ve refused him that in the most public way available to me. There is no secret anymore. I will not give him that.

Is this ethical? Frankly, I don’t give a damn.

There’s a lot more that can be said about the ethics of writing private experiences. That’s for another post.

 

 

 

The Exotic Woman

6 Nov

Georgia O'Keefe Exotica

The exotic is: …routinely described as feminine, its riches as fertile, its main symbols the sensual woman… Edward Said. 

 

When it begins he writes, you are exotic, I’ve never met any one like you, you are from a different tribe.

It has never occurred to her to think of herself as exotic. The word signifies not only the foreign (that which is literally outside) but the intriguingly unusual, the excitingly strange, the necessarily irredeemably other. She has never thought of herself in any of those terms. Her adult sons lovingly call her a muppet.

The female body is of course in Western culture implicitly conflated with the exotic, with potential to threaten the normative masculine order. The exotic is nothing if not transgressive.

The sovereign boundaries of his marriage bend and warp under the threat of an invasion he has invited. When he later accuses her of wanting to destroy that marriage, she reminds him that it was he who began the process of marital destruction when he broke out of its confines with his first desperate kiss, like a man who has been underwater too long and explodes to the surface fighting to breathe, terrified that he has by the skin of his teeth escaped death.

She tells him, When you took my hand in the cafe you began the destruction of your marriage. And everything you have done since has built on that initial act of destruction.

She’s noticed he has a tendency to avoid taking responsibility. It’s there when he tells her, You are irresistible, that is why I’m doing this. I wouldn’t do it with anyone else. It’s you. Because you.

And it sounds to her uncomfortably like an accusation, though she imagines his intention is to express how much he loves her.

When his wife finds out, she notes wryly that in a matter of moments, perhaps seconds, he has discovered a way to neutralise her irresistibility.

I want to be inside you, he writes when he first sees the photos of her body. I want to stay there and never have to come out. I want to feed from your breasts, I want you to nourish me, heal me.

We are perfectly matched, he tells her. In our sexuality, our sensuality, our intellect. I have never felt so perfectly matched.

She attempts to internalise his gaze and see herself as he does. She gazes at her photos, wanting to see them as he does. For the first time in her life,  she experiences an awareness of the power of her female body. He writes, I worship you. I worship your cunt, your breasts, every part of you. I love the feel of your shoulder in the palm of my hand. The soft skin of your inner arm. Holding your ankle in my hand while I stroke your calf. Your skin.

His adoration of her body amazes her. She has never thought about herself in these ways, it is like discovering a hidden or repressed self, a rich discovery that floods her with an inner radiance  she feels flowing and pulsing, just under her skin.  She loses herself entirely in his visionary worship, they become lost together in her body and what it can do and feel, and desire.

After they have been together she finds her breast is bruised. His mark. She cannot, however, mark him and he says, don’t scratch me, love. Don’t scratch me.

The exotic is like dirt, or weeds. It is matter in the wrong place. Compared to hers, his life could not be more conventional. He tells her his friends live just like he does, in long marriages, always doing everything together.  He has never, he tells her, questioned the basic structure of his life, a piece of information that leaves her gobsmacked. Ever since she can remember she has questioned everything. Her life has no basic structure, it has always been liquid. He suggests that she is attracted to him because of his stability. She laughs and laughs. She has never in her personal life met a less stable man, she tells him, affectionately. Doing the same thing all your life isn’t stability, she tells him. It’s atrophy! Stability is an inner thing, a platform from which one may take risks, ask frightening questions, instigate big changes if necessary, no, my love, I’m not attracted to what you call your stability. I am attracted to the efforts you are making to break out of it.

The survival of the normative depends on the destruction of the exotic. There are many ways in which to bring about this destruction. Colonisation. Co-option. Assimilation. Shunning. Banishment. Scapegoating. In this instance he chooses to shun her, she who, only hours before he was caught, he told again of his love and desire. She who, the last time they’d met he’d found himself almost unable to leave. I can’t leave you, he said, trembling, his face contorted with pain. I can’t leave you and I have to go. This is impossible, he cried, and pulled her to him and wept into the cradle between her neck and her shoulder.

The survival of his marriage is dependent on her annihilation, that is, he must do everything he can to ignore her existence.  He loves her as he has never loved anyone. He desires her as has he has never desired anyone. He has never felt so perfectly matched.

These truths nothing can annihilate. These truths belong to the exotic.

But he belongs to his tribe.

Thou hast committed/ Fornication: but that was in another country,/ And besides, the wench is dead.

black_orchid1

All the dead horses

5 Nov

What a vile species we are. Not satisfied with mistreating and murdering one another, we let other species die in our pursuit of entertainment and spectacle.

The overworked term tragic is used to cover all contingencies, the slaughter of civilians, the rape of children, and the  untimely deaths of two magnificent animals, Admire Rakti and Araldo,  after yesterday’s Melbourne Cup. Or as the Guardian reporter puts it, “the race was soured” by these deaths.

What is sour as a barrel of lemons is the sight of animals enslaved for human gratification. I loathe bloody horse racing, and I especially loathe the Melbourne Cup. I was unfortunate enough to be passing a television when a close up of Admire Rakti’s last collapse appeared on the screen. The horse was clearly distressed in his stall, then slowly his poor legs buckled, and I watched, sickened, as he sank to the ground for the last time.  It was fucking awful.

There’s something badly wrong with us. Sadly, this isn’t news, and on the continuum of bloody awful things people do, a dead horse isn’t at the high-end.

You look at the Melbourne Cup spectacle and you think, Christ, these humans, their stupid little “fascinators,” their ugly, ill-fitting clothes, their spine-destroying  heels, red-faced men squeezed into suits and tight cravats, drooling and drunk, all of them screaming at  horses running round in a circle, what the fuck?

All that was missing was Gerry Harvey ranting about how many horses in the Melbourne Cup aren’t Australian anymore, and damn me if we didn’t get that as well.

My friend included me in a sweep. My horse? Unchain my heart. Fucking bloody Jesus, I said. Kill me now.

 

 

 

Disbelief

4 Nov

Her life has not been sheltered by any means, but she is forced to acknowledge that in the matter of extra marital affairs, she’s an idiot. For example, she’s  never understood how a partnered person invades the life of a single person and asks for a relationship. A sexual fling, a brief sexual affair where neither party wants involvement, these events are explicable, if morally fraught and painful to the betrayed. But when there’s more than that?

There’d been times during her marriage when she’d imagined being with someone else, but she knew she’d never want anyone more than she wanted her husband, and that without him she’d rather be alone. She couldn’t, she felt, enter into any affair knowing that. If one’s life is already taken up, what right does one have to invade another’s and ask for love, knowing that one has no intention of staying?

It seems to her that if her desire for another is strong, the first person entitled to know this must be her spouse. Who knows what chaos that might unleash, but  at least it remains a chaos between the couple and doesn’t trash a third life. That was how she looked at it. It didn’t feel like a moral position, more like common sense.

After her lover let his desires be known, after he took her hand in the café and gazed into her, after they’d left the café and he’d pulled her to him and kissed her mouth, she wrote to him: Perhaps this is one of those things that will readily subside, perhaps we will very quickly get it out of our systems and he replied, No. That is not our situation. It is cellular. I will only want you more and more.

In his life he was struggling with great difficulties, and his fear and need were palpable. Her desire to comfort him was great, as was her desire for comfort, her husband finally lost to her through illness. She told him she would not have a sexual relationship with him, she told him she did not want such a situation with a married man. He told her he had no sexual intimacy in his life, and hadn’t for years. Still she demurred. It might start again, she said. I have a horror of being used to supply sexual fantasies that will help you begin again. I won’t be used like that, she said. I can’t see that it would ever start again, he told her. We’ve never talked about it.

She wonders again what his life is like. She imagines sexual love ending in her marriage and neither of them mentioning it. It’s unimaginable, both that it would end, and that if it did end they wouldn’t grieve the ending and want to understand. Even at their worst times they wanted each other. Even when she visited him in his nursing home and listened to the garbled language that was all he had left of his speech, she knew he wanted the comfort of her, and she undid the buttons on her shirt and leaned into him and gave him her breasts to fondle.

She understands that people can lose desire and there are many other experiences that hold them together. She has to decide if he’s telling her the truth, she doesn’t know him well, she only has impressions of him from his work, their long written communication, his apparent values, his aura of honesty and decency.

She fails to ask herself the two most important questions. What is honest and decent about this man revealing the most intimate details of his marriage to me in the hope that I will agree to have a sexual relationship with him?

Why would a man who says he loves me ask me to take on the demeaning role of mistress, a role that can only do me harm?

I know I have no right to ask this of you, he wrote, but if you can stay, please stay.

What she suddenly understands after he rings her to say he’s been caught and it must end is that for all this time they have loved one another he has, at any moment, been ready to leave her with a phone call, an email, with any means at his disposal because for him, she has not actually been real. If she had ever been real to him, he would not have been able to disregard the myriad consequences for her of creating a mutual life that he was ready, in a heartbeat, to end.

For some reason that makes her question her intelligence, it has not occurred to her that anyone would go to such lengths to make a life of this intensity with her if he planned to abandon it at any second. The two concepts are absolutely incompatible. What kind of mind conceives of such a plan, or entirely fails to consider its consequences?

You’re a fucking bigamist, she tells him. You’ve built this life with me. You’ve left your life there in every sense but the physical, you’ve stayed there like a ghost at a banquet, every bit of you has been consumed with me, with us. Now you’ve been caught, as you put it, she’s given you an ultimatum, and you want me to disappear as if I never fucking existed.

You’re like every other married man who has an affair, she went on. Your wife finds out and you just want your lover gone, only in this instance, you’ve built a life with me, it wasn’t just some fucking sexual fling. Every word you’ve said to me, every touch, every intimate fucking moment, knowing even as you built this love with me that you would devastate my life in a heartbeat if you were caught.

How does one human being do that to another? How do you use another human being like that?

Do you think being married gives you the right to become a liar in another woman’s life?

You should not have loved me like this, and let me love you, you should not have deceived your wife by loving me this much. You should have kept it to yourself and done without me. If you knew you would leave me you should have done without me.

She lies on the kitchen floor and howls. What else is there to do?

He rings her and tells her he’s leaving her two days after her husband has died. Two days before he rings her and tells her he will never see her again, she has climbed up beside her husband on his hospital bed and whispered to him that he can let go, he can die, he doesn’t have to stay here any longer. She holds his frail body against her and whispers, my darling, let go now. He hears her. Twenty-four hours later, he has let go. She has given him perhaps the greatest gift she has ever given him. And now she must mourn.

Don’t do this, she begs her lover, I am newly grieving my husband, don’t do this, I can’t survive this much loss, don’t do this now.

As they speak, she has in front of her an email he sent the day she went to see her husband:

How worried I am about what you have to do today and how it will distress you. How beautiful you are. How sexy and sensual your body. How magic your tongue and fingers. How firm your thighs. How shapely and full your breasts. How much I love your voice. How anxious I get and how you reassure and comfort me. How well we have come to understand each other now. How good it will be to hear your voice next week. How beautiful you are. How I hope this letter will help you a little tonight. 

I didn’t choose the time to do it, he says. I was caught, my circumstances have radically changed. Relationships end. You are so strong, he says, you have survived things I could never survive.

Relationships end? The psycho babble doesn’t sound like his language, and later when his wife tells her the same thing she realises he’s been given a script with which to end their affair.

He has complained about her anger from time to time and she’s told him it isn’t anger, it’s distress, there’s a difference. She is hardly ever angry and when she is, it is as if some other being has taken her over and she is dangerous, and she doesn’t shout but the timbre of the voice he loves so much changes, and it trembles with tightly controlled fury:

How dare you. How dare you use what you know of my strength to justify what you are doing? I am strong therefore you can damage me? How dare you?

He is silent. The he says: You want to destroy my marriage.

There are words that feel like a fist to the heart.

 

 

 

 

The unbearable lightness of…

2 Nov

Her lover said: It’s good to have a secret, isn’t it?

She didn’t immediately reply. Because that wasn’t how she thought. Because she’d spent decades digging herself out of darkness into the light of day. This felt like a backward step.

She said: Not really. I don’t like secrets.

Then she realised she had no spouse to keep such a secret from. He had a wife, but her husband was dying in a nursing home and no longer seemed to know who she was. She wouldn’t want her family and friends to know she was making love with another woman’s husband, but that wasn’t a secret of quite the same intensity.

Making love. We make love with every word. With every word we construct our grand design, our folly.

She wondered what his life was like, that having such a secret gave him pleasure as well as guilt.

She hadn’t thought about what it might do to her to return to lies and secrets, after so many years struggling to live lightly. She hadn’t considered this aspect of the situation when she agreed to be his lover.

 She’s listening to the Brandenburg Concerto Number 5 in D. She remembers that her husband used to try to dance to this, his immense delight in its intricacies demanding he attempt physical expression, however clumsy. She can see him now leaping over the low table in their sitting room and landing on his toes like an imp. That was when he wore a beard. She remembers his beard on her breasts when he kissed them. She cried when he shaved it off. He thought she didn’t like the face beneath but that wasn’t the reason. It was the feel of it she needed. She begged him to grow it back but he wouldn’t. He didn’t want to hide himself anymore, he said. At the same time he gave up smoking dope forever. I have given up smoking dope forever, he announced. I want to live clean. Forever? she echoed. Yes. Forever and ever. Like I love you.

She remembers when she first took him home to meet her mother and her sisters. Her mother served tea with little cakes and sandwiches. Her youngest sister was stoned out of her skull. The other sister was in her radical separatist feminist phase and could barely bring herself to speak to a man, but he charmed her eventually. When he saw the baby grand piano he said, play for me, I’ve never heard you play. So she played him the Brahms Rhapsody in G minor, and when she’d finished he sat beside her on the piano stool and she saw he was crying. Your concentration, he said, wiping his eyes and laughing at himself. You were chewing your lip like a five-year-old and you forgot about everything, even me.

He told her years later it was at that moment he fell entirely and irrevocably in love with her. Her fierce concentration. It was like seeing you naked, he said. For five minutes it was like seeing truth.

With her lover, she could never get used to the rules. Her brain refused to adapt itself to simultaneous love and secrecy. The two seemed antithetical. Love and truth. That’s the order of things. Secret sex disturbed her in ways she didn’t want to think about. Once they decided they mustn’t be sexual anymore, they must only be friends. So they arranged to meet in a public place and stay there. When she arrived he was standing beside his car, which was on a yellow line. He couldn’t find anywhere to park, he told her. She needed to pee. They got in the car and he drove her to an amenities block. When she came back they looked at each other and he leaned in to kiss her. Once they started they couldn’t stop. He found a private place. They kissed and touched each other. Show me your breasts, he said. Show me how you touch them when you’re thinking of me.

She wanted to be there and at the same time she didn’t. She wanted to do those things and at the same time she didn’t. Afterwards she realised she didn’t want to do those things in that way, in a car, in bushland, even though she wanted him more than anything. Afterwards, when she was alone, her thighs began to tremble so hard they wouldn’t hold her up. Her cheeks were flushed and hot, but the rest of her felt arctic. She got into bed in her clothes under blankets but she couldn’t get warm. She realised the cold was coming from the pit of her belly. It felt like death. She wanted her husband. He knew why she couldn’t be in a car with a man in bushland. He knew the lies and secrets that felt like cold death in her belly. It was her husband who warmed her, who loved the cold death away.

 She remembers their last concert together, shortly before his stroke. They caught the bus from Bondi Beach to the Opera House to hear Mahler’s Ninth. He held her hand so hard she thought he’d break her bones, while he shook with silent weeping. The last slow, slow movement of the ninth symphony achingly spans the vast distances between presence and absence, life and death. She slips the CD into the player and tries to listen, but she can’t bear it.

She doesn’t know when the grieving will stop, for her husband and her lover. She tries to separate the two griefs, she doesn’t want them confused, but it’s difficult. She’s trying to make sense of things, she’s afraid she won’t have enough time. She would like to be able to speak to her lover but he will not allow that and she is left breathless and aching every time she remembers that the man who has known her more intimately than any other, more intimately even than her husband, will not allow them to say goodbye to each other. She thinks there is possibly no more cruel thing than this, that he will not allow them to tell each other goodbye. When she came for him she cried, and begged him to hold her and he did, tightly, to his heart. This final shunning of her does not feel like truth. It has the cold, deathly feeling that belongs to secrets and lies. She’s back where she started. And she has no idea how to get warm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear You

1 Nov

Georgia O'Keefe

I don’t know if you still visit here.  There are times I hope that you do, because of the extraordinary phone call we had the day you rang me in such fury and distress about your husband’s affair with me and its aftermath. When we stopped shouting we talked about so many intimate things and I find it remarkable, given our circumstances, that we found any trust at all in one another.

That trust fluctuates on my part. I don’t know you. I know you are protecting your husband from my fury and I don’t like that. He should deal with the mess. That’s what I told my husband. Deal with the mess you’ve made, I’m not saving you from its consequences. If she wants to scream at you it’s the least you can let her do, I told him. If I was her I’d poke your fucking eyes out, I said. Maybe I will anyway, I said.

I’ve no time for men who hide behind women like little kids clinging to their mother’s skirts. Raising boys can do that to a woman. When you’ve got them to adulthood you really don’t want to be taking on another man-child.

Anyway.

I think about you every day, and wonder how you are, and if you have anyone you talk to about these events. I wonder if you want us to talk again, and if that would help us or not. You sound brave. You sound strong. I imagine you always putting up a good front. I imagine how shocked and hurt you must be about what he and I have done to all our lives. I still can’t grasp how he has caused so much devastation to two women who love him, and whom he says he loves. It makes me wonder just what he thinks love means. Not that I’d know, love’s manifestations are apparently  infinite, and who hasn’t been beguiled by them at one time or another.

There are times I hope you aren’t visiting here. What you’d read could only make you feel worse. Perhaps you think I shouldn’t write about these things, but I’m a writer and writers are cannibals, we devour our own kind, digest them, and expel them out on the page.

I’ve kept back details that might give clues to his identity, which means there’s much I haven’t written about the genesis of the affair. It hasn’t done me any good to be reticent about this, and I’ve only done it for you. I don’t actually care if the entire world finds out who he is and the shitty things he’s done to both of us, but you don’t deserve that much exposure.

I only ever dreamt about him once or twice, but I dreamt about you a lot, or the woman my unconscious imagined you to be. I’d be at your house and we’d be talking, and walking round the garden. He’d be a shadowy presence in the background, sometimes asleep, a figure I’d see as I walked past his bedroom door, huddled under his blankets, nothing of him visible, a shape in a bed. All the energy was between you and me, and it was amicable and warm. I’d wake up thinking, what is this about, it’s bloody unnerving to be dreaming like this about my lover’s wife, there’s something going wrong with my head. Then after we talked I thought, she sounds exactly like I dreamed her.

He once asked me if I dreamed about him and I said not much, but I dream about your wife a lot.

I don’t know what he made of that.

 

He felt guilty all the time, he said. Guilty about me, guilty about you, guilty about the family he was putting at risk. Guilt is such a useless emotion, I told him. It rarely stops people doing what they want to do. It doesn’t do anything to help the people they hurt. It just exists inside the guilty party’s head and they think it means that deep down they’re good, just because they feel guilty.

Guilt didn’t stop him telling me to “remember my hips between your thighs” while you sat in another room crying because he was talking to me on the phone and you knew he was.

 ∫

 I was a complete failure at being a mistress. The demeaning limitations of that role almost destroyed me. I can’t imagine anyone who could be worse at it than me.  I would say to myself, I love him, I can do this, and cripple my nature for another day. His need of me overwhelmed me. I learned very early in life to respond to the needs of men before my own. You don’t have any choice in the matter when you’re a child and then the pattern is set, you don’t even recognise it and when you do, breaking out of it is the work of a lifetime. If there’s anything good for me in this sorry situation, it’s that I’m coming to understand how what I think of as love is distorted by the obligations imposed on me as a child. I thought I had all this sorted. Obviously I didn’t. Because honestly, no matter how attracted I’d been to him, I’d have done nothing if he hadn’t been in a state of desperate need, and begged me for me.

I’m not a feminist who believes in a sisterhood because we all have vaginas. I am a feminist who can see the politics of the miserable configuration in which we find ourselves.

If it’s any consolation to you, I am still a fucking mess and don’t expect that to change anytime soon. At the same time, I realise that your pain must be excruciating, and what’s more, you have to see him every day and find some way of living with him. He said to me after you’d found out, You are crying on the phone, my wife is crying in the next room, this is impossible. Did you think we’d fucking get over it in five minutes, I shouted. Don’t you realise the impact of this on us?

I don’t think he had a clue, really.

I am here if you want. I understand if you don’t. I won’t stop thinking about you and wondering how you are. I never imagined I would be part of bringing so much hurt into another woman’s life.

Oh, I found my music. It is yellowed, and there are silverfish.  I think it is too late for me to think of a piano. But I often imagine you playing yours.

Jennifer.

Quint Buccholz Two

Julie Bishop and the prism of gender

30 Oct

Gender Inequality

Look. Julie Bishop doesn’t have to call herself a feminist if she doesn’t want to. Her public disavowal of the very political movement that made her success possible says far more about her than it does about feminism. But her refusal to “look at the world through the prism of gender” is insane.

There is nothing in this capitalist world that should not be viewed through the prism of gender, especially if you are  a member of the bloody government. Bishop is one woman who has achieved success at the highest level because of a constellation of fortunate circumstances, including, I’m sure, hard slog. However, there are millions of women who slog just as hard in circumstances far less conducive than those experienced by Ms Bishop. “I’ve had a very privileged upbringing as many women in Australia have,” she says. “We don’t fear violence, we don’t fear hunger. We don’t have the degraded life that many women around the world suffer.”

Um, what? There are millions of women and girls in Australia who fear violence. There are thousands of women and girls  in Australia who go hungry, and are dependent on charity for food and somewhere for themselves and their children to sleep. They don’t count as women? The “we” Bishop speaks of excludes anyone whose life experience does not coincide with her own, a lack of imagination that is a given in conservatives circles.

I don’t give a toss if Bishop doesn’t call herself a feminist. I’m a bit challenged by that myself these days, when feminism seems to have become about the right to sculpt our labia, and binge drink till we vomit in the gutter just like the blokes do. But the ignorant refusal to consider the world through the prism of gender is a symptom of a self-absorbed, smug woman entirely out of touch with reality.

Apart from that, I’m wracking my brains to think of one thing, one single thing Bishop has ever said publicly that is interesting, original or enlightening. She’s like a bloody Stepford wife in the Abbott government.

Christ.

The cupboard under the stairs

29 Oct

A combination of illness and heart carnage has resulted in weight loss that has seen me holding myself together for the last few months with safety pins, and belts with new holes gouged in them by Mrs Chook’s screwdrivers. I knew that somewhere I had a store of thin clothes but I’ve lacked the energy and interest to look for them. I always hurl everything I don’t immediately need into a vast cupboard under the stairs that has no adequate lighting so a torch is required, or one of those reading lights that fit around the head. Having light doesn’t stop me forgetting that at some point I can no longer stand up in the cupboard, and I always crack my head on a beam. Nothing is stored in any kind of order so I have to trawl through all kinds of stuff to find the one thing I need. The whole process drives me mad, but seeing as I couldn’t stand safety pins for another day, I had to do it. I found my thin clothes, which are probably vintage by now but that’s all right, vintage is good, it’s like having a new wardrobe, and the pleasure of wearing something that actually fits me is great.

In the cupboard I found my husband and me a long time ago on Bondi Beach

Arnie and me

Arnie was a very unobservant Jew, except for Passover feasts which he loved, but I never acquired a taste for gefilte fish and matzah ball soup and fortunately, he delighted in cooking them. He loved as well getting into vigorous arguments with the man from Jews for Jesus up at Bondi Junction, and if he could, he’d bale up the Hasidic Jews who lived round the corner from us and have a robust exchange with them about the Talmud. Very occasionally he would go to the synagogue, and in his seventies he started Hebrew classes. I used to say he was conflicted about his tribe, to which he invariably responded “Ah, conflicted, schmicted,” with a rabbinical shrug. When I first met my mother-in-law in Hartford, Connecticut, she said, “For a shiksa, you’re a doll.” He always said that when we die we become energy in the universe. I don’t know in which part of the universe he has become energy, but I hope I can find him.

I discovered all kinds of things in my rummaging, including Mexican kitsch I’d forgotten all about. While living there a few years ago I became fond of the Virgin of Guadalupe, not least because she is also known as the Woman of the Apocalypse, “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” I found her on a handbag in a market

Virgin bag

I found her in another market on earrings made from beer bottle tops

virgin earrings two

I found her on a postcard that I’ve put in a frame beside my bed

virgin photo

I found her on matchboxes and scarves, and in beaten tin that I’ve hung on the sitting room wall where she can watch over me while I sleep on the couch. She comforts me, and there are times in life when we must take our comfort wherever we can find it.

virgin guadalupe

Then I found my hair, cut off when I was twelve

Hair aged 12

And then I found this

In labour

The child I gave birth to that April day is now the father of these two

farm boys

And after being in that cupboard I like to fancy that we are all women of the apocalypse, clothed with the sun, and the moon under our feet, and upon our heads a crown of twelve stars, and if I can remember that when I go into the universe perhaps my husband will find me, and I won’t even have to look for him.

That’s how the light gets in

28 Oct

My lover and I are eating lunch outdoors. My usual habitat being the coastal sub tropics I’m cold in this southern city in winter, and swathed in a shawl, wool coat and boots. He laughed when he saw the number of garments I needed before I ventured outside.

“One of the most amazing things to me about human beings,” I tell him this day, “is our capacity for forgiveness.”

He looks at me as if I’ve said I believe in God, and says,  “There are people I will never forgive, and I’d still do them harm if I could.”

For a moment I think he’s teasing me.

The topic of forgiveness is of great interest to me, so much interest, in fact, that I wrote a whole chapter of my doctoral thesis on it, an argument for the reclamation of forgiveness from religion, for a secular forgiveness that belongs in the discourse of human rights and has nothing to do with any transcendental exteriority. So I stare at him with my mouth open.

“You don’t know my story,” he says, and gives an account of events many years ago when he was wrongfully treated and as I will never know the other side of the story I can’t make any assessments and it doesn’t really matter because what strikes me with such force is that the man sitting beside me, whom I love, is apparently a long-time nurturer of vengeful desires who has just scoffed at me for thinking humans have the capacity for forgiveness.  It ought to frighten me, that I’ve opened my heart and mind and body to someone who apparently carries resentment and the desire to harm about with him for decades and thinks that normal, and as I suddenly feel cold and my food tastes odd, I suppose it has.

I have no idea how long it’s sensible to give sustenance to deep grudges against someone we feel has done us harm, but from experience I’d say as little time as possible because who wants to live with that kind of darkness and as I argued in the thesis, forgiveness is primarily a release for the victim rather than the perpetrator, not to mention the advantages to society if we manage to refrain from poking out one another’s eyes and making the whole world blind.

The experience of being injured is not a pleasant one. It fundamentally disempowers. The urge to pay back with commensurate harm is strong. In the early post-injury stages people do all kinds of things that they may later regret (or not) but if the initial desire for revenge stays in my life for years, I’m inclined to think the perpetrator has won.

As Derrida points out, the problem with forgiveness is that the word itself is so imbued with religion it’s difficult to think of it without that baggage. Professor Charles Griswold of Boston University wrote a philosophical exploration of forgiveness in which he seeks to provide the concept with a secular context, however, as I argue in my thesis, Griswold creates a framework of requirements for forgiveness that strongly resembles a dogma, a crypto-theology that presupposes an unidentified, unacknowledged authoritative presence that corresponds to a supreme being. In this, Griswold’s exploration mimics religion. Many of his requirements are difficult if not impossible to attain, with ideal, baseline conditions that must be met before entry is granted into the state of forgiveness. In the absence of these requirements, Griswold concludes, forgiveness is impossible, or inadequately if not delusionally partial.

My own concept of forgiveness is grounded in the acknowledgement of a common humanity, of our existence in an unavoidable state of constant vulnerability to one another, a state that defines all sentient beings. In the emergency room of the hospital is a sign that reads “We see the person behind the behaviours” which is, if you think about it, an extremely difficult thing to do when the behaviours feel injurious. I’m not even sure if it’s possible to separate the person behind the behaviours from the behaviours, or if those behaviours constitute personhood, but I think I know what the sign means.

There are in my experience times when the person behind the behaviours is all one can see. I think of my stepfather, a man who almost literally killed me, and through the aftermath of his actions made my life difficult to this day. Over a period of three days, after my mother left him taking their two children with her, he worked on killing himself. I was sixteen, and I witnessed, alone, his first day and his last. What I remember of those three days is my increasing desperation that I could do nothing to help this man, which is quite a burden for a sixteen year old girl. When I saw him in that extreme state I didn’t think of his behaviours. I thought only of the man’s despair, and I knew that he was dying. I grieved him as a human being, without considering his behaviours, and I suspect, with hindsight, that was the beginning of my engagement with forgiveness, one that would take a long time, there was much to forgive, but one that ultimately gave me freedom from the horrors of my past. One does not necessarily forget, that isn’t a requirement for forgiveness. But one remembers without hatred, and the desire for revenge.

Of course, the problem for my lover in refusing to countenance the possibility of forgiveness is that, like everyone else, he needs and will continue to need to be forgiven. None of us is so good as to never inflict injury on another, and some of us inflict serious injury. Our lunches were when we talked and teased one another, and sometimes, if we were sitting side by side, he would suddenly bend his head and kiss my lips, forcefully, as if a surge of desire had coursed through him that wouldn’t be denied expression. This is one of the things I loved about him. That he allowed himself when we were out in public to be overcome by his need to place his mouth on mine, and lost himself entirely in that moment. When, after one such kiss he told me his story of long-held grievance I was alarmed. He didn’t seem to know that there is a crack/ a crack/ in everything / that’s how the light gets in… and I feared for both of us.

However, if forgiveness isn’t an option there’s always the advice given, I think, by Confucius: Like when kicked by a donkey, there are some injuries one should always overlook, when considering their source.

Intimate images: after the love has gone

24 Oct

So, won’t you let me see, /I said, won’t you let me see, /I said, won’t you let me see/ your naked body?

 

The Victorian Parliament has introduced draft legislation that makes distribution or the threat of distribution of intimate images online without consent a criminal offence. There is, it appears, a burgeoning of “Revenge Porn” sites where aggrieved and bitter ex lovers can post photos taken in happier times of their partner’s private bits, often selfies taken by that partner. Anecdotal evidence has it that perpetrators of revenge porn are mostly male, however, it is not unknown for wives or girlfriends to post sexually explicit photos of their former partner’s new lover online, if they’ve managed to get hold of them.

Common advice as to how to avoid having your lady bits made available to the public gaze without your consent includes never taking or allowing photos of them to be taken in the first place. This is tantamount to advising us to avoid rape by staying inside unless we’re accompanied by bodyguards – the fault lies not with those of us who’ve given lovers intimate images, but with the lovers or their associates who distribute them without our consent. This ought to be self-evident, after all, who is ever advised never to leave home if their house is burgled, but because it involves sex and female bodies, responsibility defaults to women to protect ourselves by crippling our lives.

As a woman who has (for the first time in her life and at an age where one would not expect to do such things) taken intimate photos of herself and given them to a lover, I feel a certain interest in this topic. When my lover first asked for photos I inwardly baulked. I was a long way from my twenties, I had never before even thought of engaging in such an act. The most I had seen of my own bits was when, like many other young feminists, I squatted over a mirror and had a good look, then later when my sister crouched between my legs with her camera and recorded in astonishing detail the birth of my second child. As a delaying tactic, I asked him what he actually wanted to see. You know, he replied. Not your toes.

I wrestled with this. Deeply in love, I didn’t want to refuse. I feared my reluctance was to do with sexual inhibition that I would do well to overcome, and much of our relationship was about both of us testing sexual boundaries, creating a list of what he called our “firsts.” I love him, I reasoned, so I can do this for him. I began with my breasts. I was pleased with the result, and so was he. We added this to our list of firsts. We moved on to even more intimate bits and I began to enjoy myself, it was exciting, it was fun, it brought us very close to each other, and so I wouldn’t feel alone in the venture and in good faith, he sent me pictures of his bits as well. I loved them because I loved him, but truthfully, a bloke’s bits don’t come near a woman’s for beauty and complexity.

Never in my wildest imaginings did I consider I might one day regret all this.

But I do. The relationship came to an emotionally devastating end. For the last few months I’ve fretted and churned about those pictures that I no longer want him to be able to look at. Several times I’ve contacted him by email, snail mail, and phone messages, asking that he let me know he has deleted the photos and that I don’t have to worry about them anymore. He has not responded to any of my requests. I’m not quite sure what to make of this. Is he exercising vengeful power over me, by refusing to tell me what has become of my intimate photos? Is he determined to keep them, and rather than lie to me has decided to say nothing at all? While I cannot bring myself to believe he would misuse the photos, I don’t know that others with access to his computer would be as discreet, and besides, I don’t want anyone else even looking at them, as they shouldn’t without my consent.

The reality is, once I sent those images to him I relinquished any control over their fate. Sent in deep love and absolute trust, a powerfully bonding “first,” I now no longer have any idea who will see them and in what circumstances, and my former lover seems to want me to live with that distress.

Although I regret engaging in this “first” with someone who was obviously entirely the wrong person to trust, I don’t regret overcoming my inhibition. I don’t regret the deeper acquaintance with my body, though I wish I’d shared that discovery with someone who was trustable. I’m beside myself with rage and hurt at his refusal to reassure me as to the fate of the photos, and at my powerlessness to do anything about this. It is indeed a foul betrayal, and I can only imagine how much worse it is for women whose ex partners actually do post intimate images online without consent. The problem lies not with those of us who share images of our bodies with lovers, but with lovers who lack the sensibility to honour the intimacy of that sharing, and instead choose to cause us fear and distress in their abuse of our trust.

As Leonard Cohen tells it, I don’t have to be forgiven / for loving you that much…

 

Everything is politics. Discuss.

20 Oct

In this piece on The Drum today titled “Labor misreads the politics of Ebola,” Paula Matthewson argues that the Opposition has misjudged its stance on the Abbott government’s response to the current Ebola health crisis. There was a momentary lament on Twitter about the term “the politics of Ebola” to which Matthewson responded “Everything is politics.” To which I responded “And that is the biggest problem we will ever have to face.”

Everything has a “politics” to be sure, but not everything is solely politics. Good governance, of the kind we have yet to see from the Abbott government, doesn’t reduce every situation to its politics, unless that governance is entirely dedicated to self-interest in which case it isn’t good, or even adequate. Yes, there is a political dimension to the Ebola crisis, and there is a humanitarian dimension, and an economic dimension as well. Privileging the political is of benefit to politicians and their extended entourage, but rarely does it benefit the broader community to have any issue reduced to only one of its dimensions.

This isn’t to criticise Matthewson’s piece, she’s clear about the dimension she’s focusing on. However, some of us nursed a secret hope that the Opposition’s critique of Abbott’s hardline position in refusing to supply boots on the ground in West Africa indicated its humanitarian leanings, rather than being merely the assumption of a conveniently contrary political position, but so bereft are we of trust in politicians we can’t be sure of any of their motives. Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten delivers his set lines with all the conviction of a wombat brought down by a tranquilliser dart, and while the Prime Minister performed superbly in opposition as the world’s best bovver boy, his affectless promises to shirtfront Putin at the G20 are a bad fit with his current manifestation as our country’s leading statesman. As my grandmother liked to say, you can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear, more’s the pity as the political landscape is currently littered with pigs’ ears, with barely a silk purse in sight.

It’s probably sadly true that every issue has become distilled to its politics, to the exclusion of any other consideration. So we treat asylum seekers abominably, break our necks in our urgency to become involved in distant wars, refuse to send medical personnel to assist with globally threatening diseases, and the rest, all because of political expediency. It has got to the point where to even raise humanitarian concerns will likely lead to a tsunami of mockery. Matthewson may well be right: everything is politics, and if that’s the case, that is indeed the biggest problem we’ll ever have to face.

Should Uthman Badar’s talk “Honour killings are morally justified” have been cancelled by the Festival of Dangerous Ideas?

25 Jun

Uthman Badar is the Media Representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic organisation whose goals are described on its website as follows:

 4. Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Work

The work of Hizb ut-Tahrir is to carry the Islamic da’wah in order to change the situation of the corrupt society so that it is transformed into an Islamic society. It aims to do this by firstly changing the society’s existing thoughts to Islamic thoughts so that such thoughts become the public opinion among the people, who are then driven to implement and act upon them. Secondly the Party works to change the emotions in the society until they become Islamic emotions that accept only that which pleases Allah (swt) and rebel against and detest anything which angers Allah (swt). Finally, the Party works to change the relationships in the society until they become Islamic relationships which proceed in accordance with the laws and solutions of Islam. These actions which the Party performs are political actions, since they relate to the affairs of the people in accordance with the Shari’ah rules and solutions, and politics in Islam is looking after the affairs of the people, either in opinion or in execution or both, according to the laws and solutions of Islam.

Badar was until today scheduled to give a talk at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas titled ” Honour killings are morally justified.” After a public outcry, Mr Badar’s session has been cancelled.

The fact that I have great reservations about Badar’s proposed talk, and question the title and accompanying précis, does not mean I think it should have been cancelled. The fact that I don’t believe a festival of ideas is a platform for defending or advocating murder does not mean I think Mr Badar’s talk should have been cancelled either, in light of the story becoming rather more complicated with Mr Badar’s assertion that FODI dictated both the title and the content of his presentation, and neither were of his choosing.

It’s a mistake in a debate about free speech to assume that questioning or contesting an opinion equates to a demand for silencing that opinion. It is possible to hold two apparently opposing views simultaneously, for example, objecting to a position while allowing it to be presented and argued. It doesn’t seem possible in today’s climate to argue against a point of view, without an assumption being made that you are attempting to silence that point of view. My right to freely express my doubts and objections is not synonymous with me calling for the speech I’m questioning to be banned. Indeed, accusing someone of denying someone else free speech when they are robustly questioning a perspective, is an effective way of closing down debate.

We still have, if by the skin of our teeth, legal protections in place for when free speech becomes an incitement to perpetrate harm.

If I see a talk advertised under the title “Honour killings are morally justified,” given by an individual who advocates Shari’ah law, I’m not going to read that title as ironic, as has been argued by some. I might if, say, The Chaser used it. I have never associated irony with proponents of Shari’ah law, which might well be a grave misunderstanding on my part, however, the dire consequences of the implementation of that moral code, particularly for women and girls, lead me to believe a statement such as “honour killings are morally justified” is more likely to be literal than ironic when it apparently originates from an advocate of Shari’ah law. I am not Islamaphobic, xenophobic, racist, closed-minded, in favour of censorship, or a denier of free speech, when I question a talk that purports to commence from the alarming proposition that honour killings are morally justified.

It was once in Western culture perfectly acceptable to drown women suspected of exercising supernatural powers, which may not be vastly different from murdering women suspected of offending male sensibilities. I seriously doubt, however, that a talk with the declarative title “Drowning women who might be witches was morally justified” could be offered as an “exploration” of the topic.

Badar has been denied access to one platform, arguably not a particularly large one. He has other platforms available to him from which he is at liberty to express his views. To claim that his freedom of speech has been denied is ludicrous. Should he now post his talk on his website, for example, I’m fairly sure he’ll have a much wider audience, given the publicity, than he’d have enjoyed at the festival. Far from curtailing him this outcry, should he take advantage of it, will allow him to explain his opinions to a much wider audience.

Badar claims he did not want the title used, or the accompanying précis in which he argues that the West’s attitude to honour killings is a form of Orientalism, following Edward Said’s ground-breaking work. In itself this is a problematic thesis as the abhorrence of killing women and girls who have allegedly “shamed” their menfolk is an abhorrence of ghastly murder, rather than an abhorrence of Muslims. Like any other cultural practice, it can be and is employed in racist slurs, but to assume all objections to honour killing are racially motivated is ridiculous.

That the West’s position on honour killings is hypocritical is beyond doubt, given the numbers of women killed by their male family members in Australia alone every year. If this is the direction in which Mr Badar intended to take us, then FODI would have done well to better explain his intentions, and the talk would indeed have been dangerous.

Given that Badar denies that he supports honour killings, albeit it with the caveat “as they are understand (sic) in the West,” I think his talk should have gone ahead. I suspect FODI did not have the appetite for the demonstrations it would likely provoke, and so refused Badar access to their platform. However, if Badar’s claims are true, and FODI orchestrated both the content of his talk and its publicity, one has to wonder what their moral justification might be for the exploitation of honour killings of women and girls, in the pursuit of controversy and publicity.

Those of us who challenged Badar’s advertised thesis have not silenced him. FODI removed him from their platform, with Simon Longstaff, Director of the St James Centre for Ethics, claiming he would not be given a fair hearing. In other words FODI is unable to deal with the public reaction to a dangerous idea they proposed, apparently in their terms and contrary to the beliefs of the speaker, which, when you think about it, makes the whole purpose of FODI rather open to question.

This morning Longstaff tweeted as follows: “The session to explore ‘honour killings’ has been cancelled. Alas, people read the session title – and no further. Just too dangerous.” Unfortunately the session title does not suggest an exploration. It is a declaration: Honour killings are morally justified. Presumably the FODI publicists are aware of the power of a title, and the belief readers are entitled to hold that titles are an indicator of content, unless of course we’re reading News Corpse.

I do not accept there is a cultural context that warrants the barbaric practice of honour killings, anymore than I accept that the Puritans should have tied alleged witches to a stool and thrown them in the river. Therefore, quite what there is to “explore” on the topic is a mystery to me. The slaughter of women and girls for the alleged crime of offending male sensibilities is not a topic for clever intellectual play. Shame on the FODI for considering it to be such.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The house of widows

23 Jun

Mrs Chook, with whom I share a home, two dogs, and much of my life, became a widow some considerable time ago, after nursing her husband through lung cancer. For a while she was a member of the local Widows Club. They had good times, played cards and golf, got drunk and raucous, spoke realistically of the men they’d lost, acknowledging their aggravating complexities, at times speaking ill of their dead because there’s no human being who can’t be spoken ill of to some degree, and the Widows Club women were nothing if not honest.

I was once invited to become an honorary member, not because I was widowed but because I was separated, living life without my husband’s daily presence and sharing it with Mrs Chook, but I declined, feeling out of place. Yes, I’d lost my husband in a very real sense, but to see that misadventure as widowhood did not feel true to me.

A separation is indeed a kind of death. But death has different dimensions, and they must be given their due.

I’m sitting in a bus station watching the World Cup on the overhead TV. I’m between worlds, and remembering another bus station, another World Cup on an overhead TV in Cancun, Mexico, another country when I was alone just like now, and it occurs to me that there is something of a pattern in this, bus stations, football, overhead televisions, a heart in a confusion of desire, loss, grief, a woman facing an unknown future. A sense of the complete unknowableness of certain events, transgressive events that tear apart the fabric of the ordinary, events that force open the portal into the extremities of human experience. I realise I have no control over death, or desire or love, and should I attempt to exert any illusionary control I will make myself ludicrous. There are forces abroad in the world that far exceed my puny human capabilities, and there is nothing to be done but ride them out as best I can.

The bus station today is not in Cancun but Sydney, my husband is dying, and I suddenly recall with bizarre accuracy the notice on the door of a hotel room in Mexico City:

 Many people are injured having fun in Mexico.
Air pollution in Mexico City is severe.
Failure to pay hotel bills or pay for other services rendered is considered fraud under Mexican Law.

 

 I’m at a loss to understand the workings of my memory until I recall that my journey to Mexico caused my husband great angst, indefinite as I’d announced it would be, determined as I was to go without him as he had travelled so often without me. It marked a turning point in the dynamics between us. I had asserted myself as the leaver rather than the left. Twenty years older than me, he was outraged and bewildered, having spent much of our marriage wishing me to be Penelope, spinning faithfully at my wheel at home and keeping suitors at bay while Odysseus travelled the earth. The role never sat well with me and seemingly out of nowhere I exploded out of it, like a woman blown from the mouth of a cannon. This turning of the tables unhinged my husband somewhat, and he wept at the airport. Not even his tears could melt my determined heart. A woman has to do what a woman has to do I didn’t say, but I could have. These were serious endings. I was no longer who I had been up to that point, and neither was he who had never in his life before wept at an airport, while a woman he loved left him behind.

It is tempting to describe these endings as deaths, but I have a profound distaste for the appropriation of death as a metaphor. There is nothing in life for which death can be asked metaphorically to stand. There is nothing in life that can be likened to the radical absence that is the signifier of death. Death is the one situation in which all hope for presence ends. Up to that point, one has merely endured absence.

I have recently become a legitimate member of the Widows Club, though it no longer exists in its original form. More than three decades of marriage, always unconventional, have ended and I am no longer just living separately from my husband while we continue to love one another in spite of our differences. I am widowed. I have begun the labour of mourning, as Freud described the gradual relinquishing of all hope of connection with the loved one that is made inevitable by his or her death. I will never again see his face. I will never again hold his hand. I will never again climb up on his hospital bed and lay my warm body along the length of his frail and shrunken frame.

It’s the finality that brings me undone. I find myself repeating, in my struggle to come to terms with his departure, I never will again.

In the end, I did not leave him weeping at an airport. He left me. I don’t know if he heard me tell him I will always love him. I don’t know if he heard me tell him he did not have to stay, that I did not begrudge him this journey, that I did not need or want him to remain here with me, that I wanted only his release, that he could leave with my blessing, I don’t know if he heard those things I whispered as I laid my body the length of his, and held his beloved head against my breasts.

 Because we’re alive, we inhabit the country of the living; that which is outside, we don’t have the heart to believe, I read, in Hélène Cixious. She’s right I don’t have the heart to believe, yet it is necessary to find the heart to believe, what else is there to do?  We live in the house of widows, I tell Mrs Chook, sitting on her bed in my dressing gown, Little Dog lying on my feet, you’re so pale, she says, and I don’t tell her I’ve woken up maybe ten times in the night, crying those tears you know are serious because they are hot, and burn their way down your cold cheeks. We will be all right, she tells me. You will be all right. In time. It takes time.

As is to be expected at the death of a loved one, memories are crowding in on me, our life together parading itself well out of any chronological order, according to some time line I cannot recognise as having anything to do with reality. I see him dancing towards me across our sitting room, singing, You made me love you, I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to do it, which always symbolised for me his infuriating reluctance to take responsibility for anything. Give me give me give me give me what I sigh for, you know you’ve got the kind of kisses that I’d die for redeemed him, as he always knew it would. The night before he died I found on YouTube a video of him talking about poetry, made just before his stroke. And then, for reasons I cannot explain, I recalled a scene from The Sopranos in which Meadow Soprano sits beside her unconscious father, crime boss Tony, whom she fears is dying, and reads the Jacques Prevert verse:

Our Father which art in Heaven
Stay there
And we shall stay on earth
Which is sometimes so pretty
 

I shall stay on earth, which is sometimes so pretty. Vale, Arnold Lawrence Goldman.

Arnie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When your dad is not the PM

16 Jun

Frances Abbott, 24 year-old daughter of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, made news a couple of weeks ago when it emerged she’d been offered a $60,ooo scholarship to attend the Whitehouse Institute of Design. The scholarship has been awarded only once before, to the daughter of the school’s director, and students interviewed say they had no idea such a scholarship was available, and would have applied for it if they had.

As the scholarship is apparently awarded on merit, the Whitehouse Institute of Design appears to have a remarkably low number of meritorious students, the Director’s daughter and the daughter of the Prime Minister being the only ones considered worthy of such financial largesse in the Institute’s entire history.

Today it’s been revealed that Ms Abbott broke her lease agreement  on an apartment she rented in Prahan, citing lack of security in the ground floor dwelling, and telling a VCAT hearing that “My dad is the Prime Minister” and he and his security teams did not consider the apartment safe for her. Ms Abbott had signed the lease without first consulting her father on the security issue because she wanted to be “independent.”

For reasons I find completely incomprehensible, not least because they haven’t been explained, VCAT found in Ms Abbott’s favour, and she was not obliged to pay $1000 requested by the landlady, a single mother recovering from cancer who was forced to default on a mortgage payment to cover her costs after Ms Abbott broke the lease.

Nobody would disagree that members of the PM’s family need security, however, it is remarkable that Ms Abbott herself did not think about this, or consult her father prior to signing the lease. This does not sound like the same standard of mature, responsible behaviour Mr Abbott demands from other 24 year-old Australians, especially those who are unemployed.

If you are in this category, and your dad is not the PM, you will have to apply for 40 jobs every month for six months before you are eligible for meagre government assistance, and quite how you are going to house, feed and clothe yourself during those six months is anybody’s guess.

Mr Abbott clearly believes young people ought to be independent, unless, of course, they are his young people. Handouts never encouraged anyone to stand on their own two feet, unless of course they are handed out to his children in the form of $60,000 scholarships. If your dad isn’t the Prime Minister, you won’t be offered scholarships nobody else knows about to get you through university, private college, or TAFE,  if you choose to learn instead of earn between the ages of seventeen and thirty. Indeed, the cost of your learning, set to double or triple in the coming years, plus interest, may make it difficult for you to carry the burden of a mortgage as well, so you will be facing extraordinary challenges of the kind we are not used to in Australia, where education has been a right, and not simply a privilege available to the wealthy and powerful.

The matter of Ms Abbott’s security, and the matter of the broken lease are two separate issues. While I sympathise with Ms Abbott’s struggle to carve out her independence, something many of us had to do before we were twenty-four but let’s not carp, surely it is Ms Abbott’s responsibility to fulfil her legal obligations. The lease was signed. The property proved inappropriate after the lease was signed. If this happened to me, or you, we’d be stuck with it or we’d pay the penalty for breaking our agreement. If our dad earned half a million dollars a year, he might help us out with whatever costs we’d incurred, but only if he had political power could we get off scot-free, leaving another out-of-pocket and paying for our irresponsibility.

Mr Abbott insists that families should be off-limits in the political arena. However, he did rely heavily on the presence of his wife and three daughters throughout the election campaign, not least of all to prove he isn’t a misogynist, though I remain unconvinced by that dubious evidence. When politicians’ families benefit from the spouse and parents’ occupation, it is impossible to argue that they should be left out of the fray. They can’t be in it for the goodies, and out of it for the critiques. Ms Abbott is an adult. Her father is making enormous demands on adults of the same age, and much younger.  It is these very demands made by their father that will continue to ensure the Abbott daughters remain under intense scrutiny. The Prime Minister cannot see his daughters favoured, while he subjects the daughters and sons of others to harsh and cruel demands that have the potential to ruin their lives.

No love in Abbott government’s tough

12 Jun

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey have taken to describing their budgetary cruelty as an act of “tough love” for which we may well rail against them in the present, but will respect them for in the years ahead, presumably when we can see how their tough love has achieved the goal of all tough love, that is to bring the poor amongst us to their senses and force them to live non-vulnerable, standing-on-their-own-two-feet lives, or die.

Tough love is a phrase usually associated with advice given to parents of drug-addicted offspring: refuse support in order to achieve a drug-free outcome. It demands that one have sufficient strength to withdraw all assistance that might enable the addict to continue on their self-destructive path. It requires the stamina to watch another spiral into an abject desolation and marginalisation that is allegedly entirely his or her own doing, and in which, the theory would have it, the addict will hit their own personal bottom line and in so doing begin the long trip back to sobriety and a decent life. I have no idea if it works or not.

There is no love in the tough Abbott and Hockey are dealing out to the vulnerable who will bear the brunt of their withdrawal of government support. Indeed, it is very telling that Abbott and Hockey appear to equate (with no evidence whatsoever to support their bigoted assumptions) economic vulnerability with anti social addictions, and have set about “curing” the vulnerability by withdrawing already meagre support in the deranged belief that if you make people starve, they will stop being vulnerable. Vulnerability is, in the Abbott and Hockey ideology, a choice, and people must be forced to stop making it by using the harshest possible methods until they hit their bottom line, and wake up one morning enlightened, repentant, and ready to get a job.

This government has no interest in equality. The admirable ethos of the “fair go,” so intrinsic to what we fondly think of as our national character, has been mangled beyond recognition in the first few months of the Abbott incumbency. Instead, we have Hockey thundering why should you pay for someone else’s education, completely overlooking the fact that someone else paid for his. We contribute to the costs of educating others because it benefits all of us. Educating people gives us the professionals who are absolutely essential to our daily lives and well-being.

Abbott and his government are in the business of installing a new regime of truth, one that is foreign to us, a regime that casts fairness and concern for others in a negative light, a move that is made even more inexplicable by the Christian affiliations of the PM and his Treasurer. The marriage of religion and neo liberalism apparently spawns an extreme of wilful ignorance, and the inevitably cruelty that accompanies the trait.

In his excellent piece in The King’s Tribune, Tim Dunlop argues that progressives need to change the current conversation, that there is little to be gained in agitating for a change in LNP leadership, or castigating Abbott, pining for Turnbull or bringing back the ALP in its current configuration. The Australian ALP appears to be in its own downward spiral, following the lead of the UK Labour Party, described by George Monbiot in this Guardian piece  as selfishly committed to inequality in its acts of omission, and its commitment to supporting aspects of the obscene Tory attacks on that county’s vulnerable.

What progressives must do, Dunlop argues, is work from the premise that we do want a country in which it is possible to offer everyone a fair crack at a decent life, a premise that will lead us in a very different direction from that offered by the LNP. The way in which we might achieve this revolution is by vocalising our resistance to the government’s imposition of inequality as a way of life in our country, using protest and withdrawal of labour. Where there is power there is always resistance, as Foucault noted, and the most powerful form of resistance available to citizens in situations such as ours is taking to the streets, as often as we have to, and letting the government know we are not a people who desire the increased suffering of the already vulnerable, rather we are a people who will fight for the fair go.

There is no love in the Abbott government’s tough. Much as Abbott and Hockey seek to portray themselves as men of character who are willing to risk short-term popularity for long-term gain, the reality is these men have gone for the jugular of the most vulnerable human beings in our country. There will be no long-term gain for the vulnerable. There will be increasing hardship, despair and disintegration. Abbott and Hockey will deliver us a new underclass, generations of citizens who have never been given a fair go.

Vulnerable people have never experienced entitlement, that is the province of the wealthy and comfortable. The age of entitlement is not over, it thrives. The age of the fair go has come to a sticky end, and we will all be the poorer for its death.

Abbott redefines “human” to exclude vulnerable

29 May

I don’t know if anyone else is feeling traumatic fatigue as a consequence of the unrelenting assaults on truth and decency perpetrated by the Abbott government.

Where to start, recovering HECS debts from the dead, lying about the circumstances that led to the death of Reza Barati in the Manus Island riot; $111 million cut to CSIRO while $250 million given to school chaplains; Abbott and Hockey’s persistent efforts to sell their draconian budget as “fair” when anyone who looks for more than a nano second can see it patently is not, favouring, as it does, the rich, while demanding that those who have little give more than they can bear from what little they have, must I go on?

One thing all the government’s ideologically inspired torments have in common is their attack on human dignity, be it the dignity of asylum seekers, of disabled people, of pensioners, of students, of women who are unfairly disadvantaged, of the young unemployed, of the children who will be born into generational disadvantage as a consequence of this government’s policies, must I go on?

Attacking the human dignity of just about everyone, in fact, except the comfortably off and the rich, causing me to conclude yet again that in the conservative mind, the only human who deserves to conduct their life with dignity is the human with power and money.

Which one of the bastards said it is necessary to break eggs if you want to make an omelette?

Denial of human dignity discredits the worth of any cause that needs such denial to assert itself… What may be true for omelettes becomes a cruel lie when applied to human happiness and well-being.*

The ideological assumption from which many, if not all of the Abbott government policies are born, is that if you find yourself in a position where you need government assistance of any kind you are exiled from humanity, that is, they have redefined human to exclude the vulnerable. Indeed, you are not vulnerable at all, as the conservative mind does not accept the notion of vulnerability. You are a bludger, a scrounger, an importunate failure whose existence can only serve to drain the resources of the successful, and this has nothing at all to do with the circumstances of your life, or the society in which you attempt to live it. To the conservative mind, vulnerability equals immorality.

No evidence is ever presented by either politicians or the media who support their ideology, to substantiate claims of bludgers sitting on couches living the high life on the dole. No evidence is ever provided to substantiate the stereotypes of profligate youth, lazy mothers, thieving pensioners, criminal asylum seekers, people faking disability, et al, all of whom apparently exist only to deprive the successful and the powerful of what they claim to have worked their arses off to achieve, that is, depriving the humans who deserve to survive, and survive with dignity.

The value, the most precious of human values the sine qua non attribute of humanity, is a life of dignity; not survival at all costs. *

Yes, Prime Minister Abbott reassures his audiences, this is a hard budget, it will be hard but it is necessary. Yes, Prime Minister, this is a hard budget and it is hard on those who can least afford the pain it will bring. It is an attack on the vulnerable, an attack on human dignity, a disgraceful, undisguised war on anyone who is not, in conservative terms, successful.

And if Bob Ellis is right, though I dare not hope, I dare not, it will bring you down so hard on your unsellable arse that you will never get up again.

The world found nothing sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human, wrote Hannah Arendt. And neither does the Abbott government.

 

*Zygmunt Bauman

The Budget: All cruelty springs from weakness

19 May

Cruelty springs from weaknessIt can’t be denied any longer, conservatives really do believe they have no responsibility to the vulnerable, and it is perfectly acceptable to the Abbott government that those who can least afford it endure the most harsh of financial limitations.

This piece in the Sydney Morning Herald reveals that while high income couples stand to lose scarcely at all, families on benefits may lose up to 10% of their income. Known as “Detailed family outcomes,” this information was withheld from the budget, contrary to custom, by Joe Hockey, obviously because it reveals the Abbott government lie that everyone will be doing their fair share of the heavy lifting allegedly required to get the budget back on track.

Abbott also stated in an interview with Alison Carabine on Radio National Breakfast this morning that the highly paid, such as politicians, judges and senior public servants, will suffer a pay freeze for twelve months, costing Abbott something like a $6000 addition to his $500,000 plus benefits salary package. Not even the most witless among us could possibly believe this can be in any way comparable to the situation of a young person without resources denied Newstart benefits, and low-income families and pensioners having to choose between a middy, a treat for the kids, the doctor’s bill, and medicine, for which they will also have to pay more.

Pensioners also stand to lose extras such as free car registration, and reductions in rates, water and electricity. These concessions were made available to the people in the community who were recognised as vulnerable and needing assistance by governments unlike this one, governments who were capable of making such acknowledgements.

The question I am waiting for a journalist to ask the Prime Minister and the Treasurer is, why are they placing an intolerable burden on the most vulnerable while the wealthy are called upon to do comparatively very little?

What is it in the conservative psychology that makes such unfairness acceptable to them?

No country can afford to be governed by people who hate and fear vulnerability, as do these Australian conservatives. Far from being adult such people are dangerously immature, incapable of understanding any life experience other than their own. Convinced of its superiority, this government asks little or nothing of those best placed to contribute to the country’s needs, while demanding that those least able, relinquish what little they already have. In other words, the Abbott government is determined to punish the vulnerable for their vulnerability.

All cruelty springs from weakness, declared the philosopher Seneca. Wealth and power do not guarantee strength of character, and it’s hard to detect that quality in Abbott and Hockey. Strength of character requires the ability to identify vulnerability and refrain from taking advantage of it. Hockey and Abbott have indeed identified the vulnerable, and have proceeded to take the most appalling advantage, of the kind they would never dream of imposing on the wealthy and comfortable.

Conservatives are, in general, weak and cruel. Our government is weak and cruel. We are in dangerous times, with this weak and cruel government. As we have seen with the treatment of asylum seekers in this country, (and this has been demonstrated by both major parties) once the bar has been lowered for the treatment of a particular group of human beings, it is very easy to escalate ill-treatment.

This budget is devastating for the vulnerable, and pays no mind to their survival. This budget will lower the bar on the treatment of vulnerable people in our society. It will become easier to treat them even more harshly, to consider them even less worthy, to demonise them as threats and parasites, just as has been done to asylum seekers in the last fourteen years. And in the way of things, as history has demonstrated over and over again, ill-treatment becomes normalised, and scapegoats become the bitter focus of a community’s fears and discontents.

Beware of cruel governments. They will only become more cruel. Because they are, at their heart, cowardly and weak, and when the cowardly and weak attain power, the vulnerable will be the first they destroy.

In his own words: Abbott brings our democracy into disrepute.

17 May

 “It is an absolute principle of democracy that governments should not and must not say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards. Nothing could be more calculated to bring our democracy into disrepute and alienate the citizenry of Australia from their government than if governments were to establish by precedent that they could say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards.” Tony Abbott, August 22, 2011

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink

I’m Joe Hockey. You’re not.

15 May

Stop the war on the poorTreasurer Joe Hockey’s comments today on the effects of his budget cuts on those less financially advantaged  should convince, if one is not not already convinced, that the conservative, or as some would have it the neo conservative mind lacks the imaginative ability to consider the inevitable complexities of a capitalist society, and is also singularly lacking in any desire to inform itself on the same.

In an interview with Chris Uhlmann on ABC radio’s AM program  this morning, Hockey declared that those strapped for cash will have to realise that a $22 packet of cigarettes will pay for three trips to the emergency room, two middies of beer will do the same, and surely, any parent worth his or her salt will choose the emergency room for the kids over their own pleasure.

When asked how he would fare if  in his twenties, out of work and denied benefits Hockey replied, “Well, I’d expect to be in a job.”

Uhlmann then says: “People on a fixed income, pensioners for example, might find it difficult…they might have to make choices in life.”

Hockey: “Well, we do have to make choices…”

In Joe Hockey’s ideology a packet of cigarettes and a couple of middies enjoyed by the poor is a vice. The poor are not entitled to enjoyment of any kind because they are poor, and poverty is immoral. Immoral people without means can’t expect to have any fun. That’s the price they must pay for their immorality.

Hockey’s own enjoyment of cigars and Grange Hermitage is an entitlement, basically because he’s Joe Hockey and the poor aren’t. Hockey may also be immoral, there are many who might hold that view, but he is comfortably off and immoral, so he is entitled to enjoyment.

Yes, the Abbott government’s awareness of the complexities of Australian society in 2014 is that simplistic. It’s Dickensian. Soon they’ll bring back debtors’ prisons.

If a government cannot afford compassion, it is a government of sociopaths. If it cannot govern with common sense, it is a crazed government. If it is driven entirely by ideology and considers its citizens merely as stereotypes, it is a gravely dangerous government and it ought to be thrown out at the earliest opportunity. If it wages war on the unworthy poor in order that it might protect the interests of the worthy wealthy it’s on its way to becoming an oligarchy.

But hey. I’m Joe Hockey. You’re not.

 

Abbott uses society’s vulnerable as means to an ideological end

2 May

It seems to me that it’s a core conservative tradition to use  the most vulnerable people in society as a means to an ideological end. There are endless current examples of this: threats to pensions, restricted access to Newstart for unemployed youth, destruction of universal healthcare, proposed reduction of the minimum wage and a cap on that wage for the next ten years, all part of the Commission of Audit’s recommendations to the Abbott government prior to its first budget in a couple of weeks.

None of these measures will affect anyone as disastrously as they will affect the poor, and while middle class journalists  on a good wage, some of whom are Abbott’s most vocal supporters,  scream like stuck pigs about the flagged “debt levy” on incomes over $80,000, nobody much is pointing out the ideologically-based, systematic crippling of the lives of those who struggle hardest to keep poverty from their doors.

Conservatives seem to hold the ideological position that poverty is a moral failing, for which the individual is solely accountable, and if that individual has been incapable of taking care of her or himself and his or her family, they’ve no one to blame but themselves. If they do sink into a morass of underprivileged misery then they ought to be able to find ways to redeem themselves. If they don’t manage this feat, they obviously only deserve what little they get, and the conservative will do his or her best to take even that away.

This unexamined belief that the less financially fortunate are immoral and a drain on the prudent is, it seems, impossible to eradicate from the consciousness of the privileged and entitled, who lack any ability to comprehend context, and the myriad forces at work in society that affect the course of a life. This, coupled with the conservatives’ traditional love of a good clichéd stereotype, works to reinforce their sense of entitlement, and their contempt for anyone less blessed than are they.

The conservative disregard, some may even allege contempt,  for those other than (lesser than) themselves, allows them to use rational agents as a means to an end, contradicting the Kantian position that to use others as a means, and not an end in themselves, is to flout the fundamental principle of morality.  Perhaps this is nowhere as starkly obvious as in the current and previous governments’ treatment of asylum seekers. Both major political parties have, for many years now, used boat arrivals as a means to achieve political success, and not as rational agents deserving of consideration as ends in themselves. In this sense, the ALP finds itself on the same side as conservative politicians, something that should chill the heart of any ALP supporter.

There is no point in decrying the lack of humanity and compassion in conservative ideology. Both qualities are regarded as belonging to the bleeding hearts of the left, hindrances to freedom, obstacles to profit. So we find ourselves in the bizarre position of having a Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom, Tim Wilson, who recently claimed that McDonalds has “human rights to own property” and that “spending” is an expression of free speech.

It’s a dangerous situation when a Commissioner for Human Rights equates the ability to spend with the right to freedom of any kind, including speech.

It makes no sense to take any measures that prevent or discourage people from taking care of their health, such as co-payments for doctor visits for example. This will increase the pressure on accident and emergency departments, already stretched beyond their means, and result in people becoming chronically ill, at much greater expense to the taxpayer.

It makes no sense to continue to spend billions of dollars incarcerating a few thousand asylum seekers, for example, when there are many less expensive options  such as allowing refugees to live in, work, and contribute to the community.

It makes no sense to waste billions on a paid parental leave system when the money could be much better invested in increased child care for parents who want to work, but find it difficult to access adequate care for their offspring. Good child care is also an investment in our future: children can benefit enormously from early education and socialisation, a child care centre doesn’t simply “mind” them, it educates them.

However, none of the above is of any consequence to a political party driven by ideology. Humans are, to such a party, a means to an ideological end, not an end in themselves. Obviously, it is much easier to treat the less financially blessed as a means to an end, and if you already believe poverty and disadvantage to be  indicators of lack of morality and worth, why would you care anyway?

You may not agree with Kant’s categorical imperative, but there is something very dark about the Abbott government’s willingness to impose harsh circumstances on those already doing without in this wealthy country. It is easy, Mr Abbott, to make life more difficult for those without the power to protest. It is more of a challenge to work towards an equitable society based not on ideology, but common sense, and respect for everyone’s humanity.

Note: It’s with my tongue firmly in my cheek that I use this conservative image of Jesus.

conservative-re-write-conservative-values-politics-1361875456

Mountains. Foucault. The Abbott. And the shrivelled human heart.

29 Apr

After a lifetime of wanting to be close to the sea, in the last couple of years all I’ve desired is to be inland, and particularly in the Snowy Mountains, where I am right now.

THREDBO FOUR

Yesterday, we walked Dead Horse Gap, a venture that necessitates taking the chair lift to Top Station, an activity I usually enjoy, however the lift was closed so we had to take the Snowgum which was slower and buffeted by very high, very cold winds, which I didn’t enjoy at all, and I spent the ascent struggling to control incipient vertigo while Mrs Chook yelled through the howling gale that I should not look down but at something off to the side and keep my eyes fixed on a particular object, none of which advice helped me, as my brain gradually froze from the combination of icy gales and terror, and I could not absorb her instruction. All I could think was “Archie no liiiike,” a phrase we have all adopted since our second youngest family member took to referring to himself in the third person when in situations that seem unpleasant to him.  “Archie no liiiike” I whined at Mrs Chook, and she patted my arm.

I also felt an alarming compulsion to lift the safety rail and jump. Instead, my water bottle fell from my backpack where I had failed to properly secure it, and I had to be nice to Mrs Chook for the entire day so she’d share hers.

In ways I have not yet found the strength to unpick, this could be a metaphor for much of my life.

There is little to compare with the sense of insignificance a human can experience in the physical and metaphorical shadow of a mountain. The Snowy Mountains are not particularly high, as I remarked to Mrs Chook we were closer to the blue dome in Mexico City, if you could fight your way through the layers of toxic smog, but in these mountains the combination of wild, impersonal beauty, imperious height, absence of human intervention, and isolation works to remind one that we are always and forever at the mercy of the natural world, a reality politicians would do well to acquaint themselves with by, in my opinion, being made to spend a certain number of days every year in a challenging wilderness as part of their job description. THREDBO SIX

 In my gloomiest moments I feel certain we are ensuring our own destruction not through more world wars, but through our abominable disregard and despicable destruction of the planet that provides us with the only means we have to sustain manageable lives. This catastrophic behaviour makes us the most ignorant and wilfully stupid species in the known universe. But there’s no convincing deniers. One might as well attempt to convince the religious that their god is imaginary. When unexamined belief and ideology hold sway, change of any kind is impossible, as these two influences are so mindless as to willingly engage in the perpetuation of their own destruction, rather than question the tenets of their faiths. If you don’t believe me, look at the ALP.

One of the most valuable things I ever learned was to question the structures of my life, rather than blindly accept them as the conventional wisdom that is so often nothing more than an obstacle to fresh ideas and new ways of living, a protector of a status quo rather than any truth, and for that, I thank feminism as it used to be, before it was colonised by capitalism and mainstream politics and reduced to the pitiful shadow of its former self it is today. I also thank Foucault, and I came down from the mountains late yesterday exhausted, and determined to read yet again Foucault (and others) on the limit experience, which is, in short, voluntarily undertaking experiences that seem at first impossible in their intensity, and extremity, whether physical, mental, or emotional, as a method of breaking through the treacherous barbed wires of received wisdoms of ideology, religion and other conservative monoliths, to see what one might discover on the other side. These are times in which it seems to me some of us ought to be doing this, if anything is to be salvaged from the wreckage unmitigated capitalism and the crippling rituals of conventional society leave in their vile wake.

There are no prescriptions for limit experiences, obviously one must discover one’s own personal barbed wire fences and seek a way through them, as I think the Dalai Lama once said, or was it Gandhi, I don’t recall, societal change always begins in the individual human heart, something something, something, and  I think it’s indisputably true. Of course, one does not fight one’s way through barbed wires without incurring injury, which should not deter, because even if the wounds kill you, at least you’ve made your small bid for human progress, and what else is the point of life?

And this to me is the crux of my opposition to Tony Abbott and his ugly gang of repressed and repressive conservative thugs. They are the self-appointed guardians of the status quo, driven entirely by their ideological beliefs, and they will see us destroyed as a society in the service of their ideology. They are at their happiest behind the barbed wires, and they intend to herd the rest of us into secure compounds they determine most suited to the crass stereotypes with which they populate their limited world. They reduce the vast array of human possibility to that which best suits their ideological purposes, with no regard for difference and variation. They are the dark side of human possibility. They are the people of the shrivelled heart, and it is their intention to shrivel all hearts, because the un-shrivelled heart is their greatest enemy.

When I was finally released from that bloody chair lift, I was completely disoriented, I could have been anywhere bitterly cold and miserable, with no direction home. I then found I was faced with a long and practically vertical hike to the beginning of Dead Horse Gap, the icy gales still whipping me about, searing my skin, bringing tears to my eyes, cutting through my clothes. I almost gave up. I knew there was a several kilometre hike across the top of the mountains before there’d be any protection from the weather. There was Top Station just above me, the cafe where I could drink hot chocolate with marshmallows then catch the chair lift down and bugger the walk. But could I look myself in the mirror if I piked? No, I bloody couldn’t. My heart was shrivelled with cold, and the aftermath of fear.  Nobody would give a toss if I did or didn’t do the walk down to the snow gums’ silver skeletons, still recovering from disastrous bush fires, to the last of the summer daisies in the water meadows, beside the Thredbo river swollen with rains, coursing with heart-swelling clarity over brown stones and pebbles and pale, gritty sand.

Why do we do these things to test, to challenge, to overcome, in short, to grow our hearts? And why must we resist with everything in us, Abbott’s determination to make us the smallest we can be?

Because we have to, for as long as we are alive. Because Archie no liiiike the shrivelled human hearts. Archie no liiike.

Archie & Ted

 

 

What the O’Farrell drama really reveals

17 Apr

money-banking-bribe-bribing-sponsors-sponsoring-politically_corrupt-jsh120716lEx NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell had a spectacular fall from grace yesterday, after first categorically denying he had ever received a $3000 bottle of wine from ICAC person of interest Nick De Girolamo, then being forced, after the revelation of a thank-you note in his own handwriting, to admit indeed there had been such a gift, but he had completely forgotten about it.

Whatever the ins and outs of the situation, and I am certain there are many and they are likely rather twisty, what stands out for me is the sense of entitlement that allows a politician to accept, and probably expect, that gifts will come his or her way, simply because the people have elected them to high office.

A $3000 bottle of wine is no small present, and not one most people are likely to forget, if we accept O’Farrell’s explanation that he did indeed lose his memory of it. How many expensive gifts does one receive before one begins to lose track of them, and why should any politician be showered with such largesse in the first place?

What is repeatedly revealed by ongoing ICAC investigations is a long line of politicians from both sides apparently steeped in a sense of entitlement that is rather difficult to understand. They are elected to do a job. They are paid for their efforts. If they manage to stay in office for a few years, they are assured of a generous life-long pension, and they don’t have to wait until they’re seventy to claim it. Depending on their position, there are generous perks. Yes, they work hard if they are any good, but so do millions of other people.

Why should politicians be permitted to accept any gifts at all? Expensive gifts are clearly offered in order to seduce politicians to particular ways of thinking and acting that will benefit the donors. How can this be justified in any circumstances ?

What O’Farrell did or didn’t do matters, of course, and there will continue to be lengthy speculation on his actions and his character. For mine, the urgent issue here is the culture of entitlement that dominates and inevitably corrupts our politics, to the degree that we now measure the worth of politicians according to their likely level of corruption. Forbidding all gifts to politicians would go some way to addressing this entitlement culture.  When gifts come from those whose sole aim is to influence decisions in their favour, there is no question but that they must be declined.

By the way, if you need a good laugh, this exchange on Lateline last night between Gerard Henderson of the Sydney Institute, and journalist Kate McClymont on the O’Farrell scandal, is hilarious.

Am I a feminist? Or why a woman without a label is like a fish on a bicycle

15 Apr

FishOnBicycleAnd we have yet another article on feminism, this one titled “Am I a feminist?” prompted, it appears, by Senator Penny Wong’s call to all Australian women to identify ourselves by that label, because a woman without a label is like a fish on bicycle or something something something politics.

The most interesting comments in this latest feminist selfie come from Paula Matthewson, who points out that Senator Wong’s real intention in exhorting us to proudly embrace feminism  is likely to be entirely politically motivated, rather than springing from warm fuzzy feelings of sisterhood strong enough to cross the political divide. That is, the good Senator doesn’t really want ALL women to be feminists, because if Liberal women identify as such, Labor loses the high moral feminist ground. Matthewson also rightly reminds us that it is not in a conservative’s nature to be an activist, therefore feminism would seem an anathema to Liberal women, something Wong must be aware of, making her call for feminist unity somewhat disingenuous.

Matthewson’s observations settled on my soul like a dank cloud. I took to my bed, where I embarked on a period of extended navel gazing that led to me discovering enough lint, as my good Twitter friend @newswithnipples put it, to felt a blue tie.

I have long suspected that feminism has been so thoroughly co-opted by capitalism and politics as to be rendered utterly meaningless. To understand as well that Penny Wong has now become the Alain de Botton of feminism is, frankly, more than I can stomach, and confirms my worst suspicions.

As de Botton dumbs down complex philosophical concepts into mere self-help twaddle, so forces beyond my control have dumbed-down feminism to “issues” of having IT all, self-actualisation by way of cosmetic surgery, and the freedom to be who we want to be, whatever the hell that means, ask Alain de Botton.

When a movement degenerates into mental masturbation about who is entitled to be in it and who is not, and disingenuous political exhortations to the effect that everyone should be, it’s a sign the movement has ceased significant movement. Like the ALP, feminism has disappeared so far up its own fundament, it’s blinded by the shit in its eyes.

Abbott’s tyrannical silencing of 1,892,100 possibly critical political opinions

9 Apr

GovernmentThe recent directive from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet on the lack of freedom of speech public servants have as private citizens, includes the expectation that government employees will dob in colleagues they believe are criticising the government.

This report in the Guardian, linked above, begins with a declaration by Tony Abbott before he became PM:

There is no case, none, to limit debate about the performance of national leaders. The more powerful people are, the more important the presumption must be that less powerful people should be able to say exactly what they think of them.

I’m baffled as to why this noble sentiment isn’t applied to public servants. Engaging anonymously on social media is no protection for them, as is evidenced by the sacking of Immigration Department employee Michaela Banerji who tweeted critically of the department using a pseudonym, and lost her job.

In subsequent action, Ms Banerji argued that there is an constitutionally implied freedom of political communication for public servants, however, the prospective costs of prolonged legal action caused her to withdraw and settle out of court, leaving the claim untested.

There are some 1,892,100 public servants in Australia, accounting for 16.4 per cent of the workforce. None of them are permitted to offer personal political opinions critical of the government on social media. It is unlikely that this restriction will be challenge by an individual. The government has deep pockets and access to the best advice, when it comes to defending legal action against it. Yet it would seem a matter of urgency that a challenge to such tyranny is launched.

It is tyrannical to forcibly silence critical political opinion with the threat of loss of livelihood. While no one can reasonably endorse public servants using knowledge obtained in the course of their work to criticise the government of the day, general personal opinion, of the kind expressed by Ms Banerji in her tweets ought to be permitted, unless the government is so insecure it cannot bear scrutiny.

A robust and confident government should not fear robust critique. Politicians need to be reminded that they have their jobs only because the electorate allows them that privilege. Stifling dissent will never endear governments to the citizenry. Part of a politician’s job is to weather the inevitable storms of criticism, and if they are too weak to do this, they are too weak to govern a country.

Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom, Tim Wilson, has this interesting take on the responsibility of public servants to the governments that employ them, noting that respect and civilising behaviour are the admirable goals of speech conduct codes.

As Mr Wilson once tweeted that protesters should have a water cannon turned on them, his notions of civilised behaviour are likely unreliable:

@timwilsoncomau Walked past Occupy Melbourne protest, all people who think freedom of speech = freedom 2 b heard, time wasters … send in the water cannons

Wilson also draws a comparison between criticism and respect, which to my mind is totally false. Respect does not, and never has implied inevitable agreement or lack of criticism. It is a very dangerous conflation Mr Wilson makes, and it is especially concerning that the Commissioner for Freedom (I still don’t know what that means) seems unable or unwilling to consider the complexities of competing rights.

My sympathies are with the many people I know who work for the government. To live in the knowledge that one must be constantly aware of one’s speech for fear of losing one’s job is not how one expects to dwell in a liberal democracy. It is absolutely unacceptable that so many Australians must live this way, with the additional fear that a colleague may at any time dob them in. I am at a loss as to understand just what kind of society the Abbott government envisions for our country. The tyrannical silencing of so many people because it is too weak to withstand critical commentary, does not augur well.

If any public servant wants to be an un-named source, he or she is very welcome on this blog.

Don’t blame the victim for society’s failures

2 Apr

New legislation introduced in Victoria makes not reporting child sexual abuse a criminal offence, however, some victim support groups fear women in a domestic violence situation whose children are being sexually abused by the violent partner may be charged and imprisoned if they do not report that abuse.

At first blush the legislation appears to apply primarily to organisations, however support groups are concerned criminal charges could be laid against individuals within the family who have knowledge of the abuse and do not report it.

News Limited journalist Joe Hildebrande today added his opinion to the discussion: “Frankly to say that you’re going to not report a case of child abuse or child sex abuse by your partner because you are scared for your own safety, I’m sorry it’s not an excuse,” he said.

In my own family, my mother took no steps to protect me from sexual abuse by her husband for over five years. She was also violently abused, and the situation was at times so dire we both feared for our lives. I’m fairly certain that my mother’s fear was not just that she would be harmed if she reported her husband to the police, but that he would seriously damage or kill our whole family.

For many years I was unable to understand why my mother did nothing to protect me, and after having my own children, I found it even more difficult to understand. I also understand the state of mind of a woman who is subjected to ongoing physical, psychological, emotional and sexual abuse by her partner, and that one of the consequences of this is an inability to take any positive action at all. Obviously, this state of mind is not easily understood by people who have never experienced it, hence the all too familiar question, why doesn’t she just leave?

Much as I still struggle with having been unprotected by my mother, I can image little worse than her being charged and imprisoned for that failure.  Neither do I regard her fear for her safety, and mine, as an “excuse” for her lack of action.

I am very, very weary of the moral judgements made against women who live with violent partners. The main reason women do not just leave such situations is that there is nowhere safe for them to go, and apprehended violence orders are not worth the paper they are written on. Unless society is willing to provide many, many more safe houses for women and children, and far more support in terms of rehousing, finance and protection, women and children will not “just leave” and cannot “just leave.”

What there is no excuse for is domestic violence and the sexual abuse of children by perpetrators. Victims cannot prevent these crimes. Society can have a far more powerful impact, if there is the political will. Minister for Women, Tony Abbott, has so far had nothing to say on the topic of domestic violence, which is to my mind the most pressingly urgent matter in women’s and children’s affairs.  Some leading feminists are, unfortunately, focused largely on the lack of female CEOs and each to their own, however, when we consider that after some four decades of feminism the domestic violence statistics have not improved one iota, I have to wonder exactly what are women in positions of power and influence actually doing about this?

What I do know is that to blame and punish women such as my mother for not protecting children such as myself is to my mind an admission of defeat, and a victory for every perpetrator. A woman who is already suffering horribly, who is aware that her child or children are suffering horribly and is too afraid for their safety or lives to speak out, is not the problem here. The perpetrator is the problem here, and the society that by its despicable lack of adequate action allows these horrors to continue.

 

Abbott’s only claim to fame: persecuting the utterly helpless.

1 Apr

As far as I can tell, the Abbott government’s proudest achievement in its first one hundred days has been its ongoing persecution of asylum seekers arriving by boat. It has also been its most costly, and I refer you to this excellent ABC fact-checked site titled Operation Sovereign Borders: the first six months for a breakdown of the billions the government has committed to spending to maintain its “stop the boats” policy, and the mandatory detention of asylum seekers already apprehended.

What the government never admits is that “stopping the boats” is not something it can conceivably cease – as long as there are asylum seekers there will be attempts to access this country by boat.  Surveillance, interception and transfer of asylum seekers to lifeboats (which we must keep on purchasing anew as we never get them back) has no foreseeable end. Stopping the boats arriving on Australian shores is an immensely costly business, and open-ended.

Some weeks ago, the Guardian revealed that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection had inadvertently released the personal details of one-third of asylum seekers currently in Australia, possibly putting them at great risk if they return or are returned to their countries of origin. The result of this data breach is that asylum seekers may now legally claim refugee status in Australia solely on the grounds of sur place. 

Eighty-three asylum seekers detained at Villawood Detention Centre have launched this action, and the directions hearing challenging the government over the data breach is due to be heard on Friday.

The DIBP have advised the Villawood asylum seekers that they are to be transferred to the remote Curtin Detention Centre in Western Australia on Thursday, the day before their directional hearing.

Last week, Scott Morrison announced that all taxpayer-funded legal aid to asylum seekers who arrive by boat would be terminated. One of the consequences of this decision is that there are no longer any free telephone interpreter services available to boat arrivals. Plaintiffs transferred from Villawood to Curtin the day before the directional hearing of their claims, will be unable to freely access interpreters to communicate with their lawyers.

According to the UNHCR, asylum seekers are entitled to legal services and to deprive them of access is a denial of justice.

This is just one of the recent examples of the Abbott government’s unrelenting persecution of boat arrivals.

There is something monstrously pitiful about a government that has as its greatest achievement the persecution of a small group of utterly helpless people. Such persecution is the hallmark of the bully: attacking those who have no possible avenue of escape, or of fighting back, and then boasting of your  achievement.

Abbott and Morrison continue to bring the full weight of their contemptible authority to bear on asylum seekers who arrive by boat, and no expense is spared in the scapegoating and persecution of this group of human beings.

You may not particularly care about asylum seekers and their fate. But every one of us should care a great deal about the characters of the men who govern us when their greatest satisfaction comes from persecuting and ultimately defeating, even to the death, a human group who are amongst the most vulnerable on earth. Such men are dangerous. Such men do not deserve to govern us. Such men will not stop at one group of human beings. When this group ceases to serve their purpose, they will seek out another, equally helpless, equally unable to fight back, because bullies can only feel good when they make others feel terribly bad.

Bullies and bigots. Australia, 2014.

 

The unbearable ignorance of Tim Wilson, Human Rights Commissioner for *Freedom*

30 Mar

Tim Wilson, recently appointed Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom, declared today that race hate laws are bizarre and unequal because while members of a community are permitted to use “racially loaded language” among themselves, outsiders are not permitted to do the same.

Mr Wilson clearly does not understand that *racially loaded language* used by outsiders is always, without exception, deliberately employed as a racial slur intended to insult, hurt, demoralise, ridicule and devalue the human beings  hate speech targets. When such language is used amongst members of a community it is used ironically, defiantly, and as a method of defusing and ridiculing the racist intentions of outsiders.

Everyone, Mr Wilson asserts ought to be allowed to use the term “nigger,” for example, because it is widely used in black communities. Wilson reveals his monumental ignorance and gobsmacking stupidity, through either his incompetent or  deliberate misunderstanding of the difference in the meaning of that term, when used within communities or by outsiders.

This dangerous call for absolute free speech favours only white people, and only certain highly privileged white men are demanding it. Wilson’s call for “personal responsibility” in this matter is ridiculous. There are matters society cannot afford to leave to an individual’s sense of “personal responsibility” and as has been proven over and over and over again, hate speech is one of them.

Like many others, I am enraged and heartbroken to see the gains that have been made in my lifetime crushed by the severely limited intelligence and utter lack of imagination of privileged white men such as Brandis, Wilson, Abbott et al. That a Commissioner for Human Rights (Freedom) is now campaigning for everyone to be free to use loaded terms such as “nigger” against our fellow human beings  because “equality,” signifies a journey through the looking-glass that leads to nothing less than insanity.

There can be no “equality” in the use of racially loaded language when the intentions behind the speech are utterly opposed.

This is a bald act of white supremacy, a brutal attempt to claw back what is perceived as a loss to the power of privileged white men.

PS: On a personal note, Tim Wilson recently blocked me on Twitter when I asked him a valid question about competing human rights.

 

 

Freedom to speak badly: one rule for protestors, another for Bolt?

24 Mar

Peter van Onselen devotes almost an entire page in the Australian this morning (paywalled, sorry) to complaining about the “unedifying” display of bad manners by some protestors who took part in the March in March rallies, comparing them with the infamously abusive banners held aloft by the three hundred or so activists who took part Alan Jones’s 2011 Convoy of no Confidence against Julia Gillard and her Labour government.

I would appreciate someone drawing up a comparison of the two situations, given my impression that the number of participants in the Jones rally carrying offensive placards constituted a far greater percentage of the whole than those in the March in March rallies.

As van Onselen concedes, in the Jones protest virulent expressions of rage and hatred were legitimised by the presence of leading politicians photographed under the placards. No such validation took place of the relatively few offensive banners on display during March in March.

“Calling a conservative a fascist and portraying his image to replicate Hitler is deliberately designed to undermine their ideological positioning in the same way that calling a woman a ‘bitch’ or ‘witch’ carries clear sexist intent,”  van Onselen states, in his comparison of the two situations.

I would not so readily presume an equivalence between sexist intent, and the desire to critique, albeit with a degree of hyperbole, an ideology. Sexism attacks the woman for nothing other than being a woman. Describing Abbott as “fascist” in no way attacks his gender, and is merely commentary on the manner in which he is perceived to enact his conservatism.

Placards claiming that the Abbott government is “illegitimate” are not abusive, offensive or threatening, rather they are simply wrong, and likely being employed as payback for the years of the LNP opposition equally inaccurately describing the Gillard government as “illegitimate.” What is apparent is that there are hot heads and wrong heads on both the conservative and Labor side of politics. This should not come as a surprise to anyone.

Along with Tim Wilson, Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom, (I’m sorry, I don’t know what that title means) van Onselen is disturbed not at the exercise of freedom of speech demonstrated by both rallies, but at the ill-mannered, impolite, potentially violent and “irresponsible” speech used by a small number of participants in their signage. A similar rabid element is guilty of foully derailing many otherwise useful Twitter discussions, claims van Onselen, quite rightly in some instances, though there are sensitive souls renowned for “rage quitting” Twitter when they confuse disagreement with abuse.

Van Onselen and Wilson’s desire to see public speech free from offensive, insulting and at times threatening expression is shared by many people, but quite how to achieve that remains a mystery. Bad speech must be countered by good speech, Wilson has asserted, however, taking the case of Andrew Bolt as an example, it’s difficult to see how someone with a large public platform such as Bolt, or fellow shock jocks Alan Jones, or Ray Hadley can be challenged by the people they offend and insult, who rarely have an equivalent public platform from which to counter their attacker’s bad speech with good. It is for this reason we have legislation intended to protect people from racial vilification, for example, the very legislation Mr Wilson is now intent on seeing repealed, as he believes it interferes with the absolute freedom of speech he appears to favour.

I can see Wilson’s point, however, as long as there are more powerful enunciators of bad speech with large platforms than there are good, perhaps we need other precautionary measures.

I couldn’t help but wonder, as I read the article, what van Onselen and Wilson would make of public demonstrations in other countries, Mexico perhaps, where I witnessed protests in which politicians were represented by enormous papier-mache figures with grossly exaggerated sexual organs, accompanied by banners that claimed they fucked both dogs and their mothers and ate children. Nobody saw any cause for offence. Compared to such robust expression, the complaints seem rather prim.

Amusingly, van Onselen concludes his article with the reminder that “Protest is as an important part of democracy as are institutions designed to uphold democracy, but only when practised within the spirit of Australia’s well established political structure.” I am completely unable to see how any of the offensive signage fails to fit in with that spirit. Australian politics have, for the last few years and most certainly during Gillard’s entire term of office, been such that one would think twice before taking school children to witness Question Time, and I really don’t know who van Onselen thinks he is kidding.

The ongoing discourse about how we should conduct our discourse is unlikely to change anything. Van Onselen’s piece appears to make the claim that those who offend middle-class sensitivities undermine the more moderate message and concerns of mainstream protestors, and destroy their credibility. This may well be the case, but only because people such as van Onselen make it so, opportunistically denigrating the whole on the basis of the actions of a very few.

It is not possible to eradicate voices some consider undesirable from public expression. Otherwise we would not have to put up with the Bolts. A sign held aloft at a demonstration cannot do one tiny fraction of the harm done by Bolt, Jones and the like. If we are to conduct serious conversations about how public discourse influences attitudes and behaviours, surely we must start by interrogating the enunciations of those with the furthest reach.

Do your job, Malcolm Turnbull, it’s what we pay you for.

21 Mar

I had a robust set-to with Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Twitter this morning, after he arrogantly informed a regionally based small business owner that if she wanted reliable internet connections she ought to have bought her house in a different area.

Vaucluse, maybe?

Perhaps I was exceptionally irritated by this comment because it reminded me of when my entire family went missing for a week in a Mexican hurricane, & Alexander Downer remarked that it was their own fault for living in a hurricane-prone place.

I didn’t argue with Turnbull about the government’s plans ( I use the word reservedly) for our future communications. I argued with him because every response he made to me referred not to the issues, but to the deficiencies of the ALP when in government. No matter how consistently I pointed out to him that his tactic of attempting to deflect a questioner from her concerns by arguing that “the ALP started it and were worse than us” only serves to convince me that the government fears its own policies aren’t worthy of mention, the man would not cease his epic struggle to gain a political point.

“You’re winning no support trying to avoid questions by point scoring,” I tweeted. ” You’re in charge, govern, in our best interests.” To which the Communications Minister replied” “So it’s shameful to tell the truth is it? Or is it that you are ashamed of the mess Labor left us to clean up?” And so on. The battle is still going on as I write this, though Malcolm retreated a couple of hours ago. I obviously struck a nerve: there are a lot of people wanting governance from this lot, and increasingly fed up with them behaving as if they are still in opposition.

What the Abbott government and their advisers are apparently unable to grasp is that every time they attempt to deflect the focus from their policies onto a critique of the ALP, they reinforce the impression many of us have that their policies either don’t exist, or are too inadequate to be discussed, leaving them obliged to resort to employing critique of the former government as their only narrative. This is not governing the country.

This is not building a better future for Archie:IMG_1756It isn’t building a better future for Ted:

IMG_1755It’s a serious abrogation of responsibility.

The Abbott government seems to me exceptionally disregarding of the future. This causes me great concern for the well-being of my grandchildren and their peers. Surely it is a government’s job to do everything possible to ensure the best for our young, now and as they become adults.

The Abbott government must understand that governing a country is not a game: it is the most profoundly serious enterprise anyone can undertake, it affects the lives and futures of millions of people, and arrogance and point scoring will not cut it.

You won the election, Mr Turnbull. Get governing, or get out.

Taking to the streets: why protest matters

13 Mar

shit is fucked up and stuffThis weekend, there’ll be a series of protest marches around the country known collectively as ‘March in March.’

The overall aim of the rallies is to protest against the manner in which the Abbott government is running the country. There is no single issue focus, and people are invited to peacefully state their own particular grievance/grievances against the LNP.

The protests have been organised by people who have no affiliation with any political party and indeed, little or no experience in organising protests. It sprang from increasing discontent expressed on social media by citizens who have no significant public platform through which they can vocalise dissatisfaction with and anger against the Abbott government. In every way, the March in March protest appears to be a genuine grass-roots movement, and no big names are associated with its initiation and execution.

March in March has come in for a fair amount of criticism for its alleged lack of focus and purpose.For some reason, ordinary citizens expressing grievances against their government is not regarded as being focused, or as having any purpose.

Protest itself, it’s also claimed in some quarters, is a waste of time, useful only to give participants a warm inner glow, and unlikely to achieve anything more than that.

I don’t know how the outcome of a protest is measured.  I’m fairly certain that change is usually very slow, and requires any number of ongoing actions to bring it about. I doubt anyone would argue that protest alone can achieve great things, however, it is one action among many that together can cause upheaval. As several people told me today, protest didn’t stop John Howard taking us into Iraq, however, nothing was going to stop Howard doing that, and in our parliamentary system the Prime Minister alone is permitted to make such grave decisions. What the protests did was allow citizens a unique opportunity to peacefully and publicly express their opposition, and in itself, this is something we should neither denigrate nor easily relinquish. Ordinary people without a public platform must have a voice.

While this Guardian piece criticising March in March contains much with which I agree, it entirely misses the point that this weekend of protest has sprung not from any organised political movement but from the rage of seriously offended citizens who have no other means of publicly expressing their fury. The peaceful public expression of  rage against those who govern is in itself a privilege many in different political systems do not enjoy, and we should treasure our freedom to take to the streets in protest at our governments. We may not, if conservatives have their way, have such freedoms available to us for much longer.

Hopefully, the March in March rallies will be the first in an ongoing public protest against the Abbott government that will reach its climax at the ballot box in the next election. It is a beginning. It’s an opportunity for motivated strangers to meet and engage. It’s a chance for a more finely honed focus to emerge and be developed. The grass-roots nature of these protests is thrilling. No Get-Up. No charismatic leaders. No political parties. Just citizens exercising their democratic right to peacefully dissent. Don’t knock it. Treasure it. Abbott is about to do everything he possibly can to take this freedom away.

Turnbull, Transfield, The New Democracy Foundation, & the vicious ingratitude of artists

11 Mar

In the last two days Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and former Chairman of the Sydney Biennale and Transfield Executive Director, Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, have provided the Australian public with an unusually revealing insight into what the ruling class expect from the artists they support.

Belgiorno-Nettis is an investor in the Transfield company recently awarded a $1.2 billion contract to provide “Garrison and Welfare” services to the Australian government’s detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, commented on earlier by No Place for Sheep here.  It seems that wherever one goes, from the St James Ethic’s Centre, to the Black Dog Institute, to the Business Council of Australia, to the New Democracy Foundation (see below) to the arts, one encounters a director of Transfield.

Ten artists withdrew their work from the Biennale because the event was heavily sponsored by Transfield, and the ten considered themselves to be benefiting from profits gained from the exploitation of human misery. Transfield was a co-founder of the Biennale some 41 years ago, but has only become problematic since it was awarded the government contracts for Nauru, and most recently Manus.

Turnbull described the artists as being “viciously ungrateful” to their benefactor.

On Radio National’s Books and Arts program today, Belgiorno-Nettis expressed his revulsion at the allegedly personal nature of the attacks on him and his family by “radical protestors” against the Manus and Nauru prisons, and when asked by presenter Michael Cathcart what he thought about the boycotting artists returning to the Biennale now Transfield was no longer involved, stated that as far as he was concerned they weren’t welcome back. They had, he insisted, used “guerilla tactics” against him.

The Transfield Executive Director’s explanation of his position was disappointingly self-indulgent. His outrage at being personally “insulted” is more than a trifle ironic, given the depths of misery and torment suffered by those legally seeking refuge from persecution, who are illegally imprisoned in the tropical hell holes (“garrisons”) overseen by Transfield.

Here is the letter written by the artists explaining their position. I can find nothing insulting to Belgiorno-Nettis or his family, and given Transfield’s withdrawal I see no reason at all why the artists should not now participate.

Neither can I find anything “viciously ungrateful” in the text of this letter.

Turnbull and Belgiorno-Nettis are as one in their contemptuous attitude to artists who disagree with both government policies, and the corporate support of those policies for profit.

Whether you agree or disagree with the stand taken by the ten artists, what the saga has revealed is the attitude of the ruling class to artists it supports. Both the Turnbull & Belgiorno-Nettis outrage at the audacity of artists supported by the establishment who defy that establishment is extraordinary, and the threat, loyally promoted by their middle class emulators, that now corporate sponsorship will become dangerously problematic because of this rebellion, is utterly predictable.

That the establishment’s reaction to robust critique of its policies and actions is outrage at the manner in which the challenge was mounted, and outrage that artists should have the nerve to bite the hand that feeds them, says everything about the lack of spine and imagination in the ruling class. The expectation that artists ought to be “grateful” to the degree that they keep their mouths shut when faced with intolerable and inhuman cruelty  shows a complete lack of understanding of what art is about, though I’m certain both Turnbull & Belgiorno-Nettis have art on their walls, and perceive themselves as cultured.

Belgiorno-Nettis is also the founder of The New Democracy Foundation, whose mission is to forge a new path to democracy through a “better system.” Lucy Turnbull, wife of Malcolm, is also a  member of this Foundation, along with other recognisable names. The Foundation’s mission statement:  The new Democracy Foundation is an independent, non-partisan research organisation aiming to identify improvements to our democratic process. We aim to replace the adversarial with the deliberative, and move out of the “continuous campaign” cycle.

It seems to me that the ten artists were peacefully exercising their democratic right to protest injustice with the most powerful means at their disposal – their work. According to Belgiorno-Nettis’ founder’s message, his New Democracy Foundation supports the right of people to express their opinions, and then for those opinions to be argued, Athenian fashion:  The Athenians called their discussion group The Council: 500 men [sic] selected by lot; 50 from each of the 10 tribes.  In this way the Council was a mirror of the population at large: a mini-public.  No one person, or tribe, could bully any other, because they were all equally represented. The Council’s job was to propose the laws for city, after which another discussion group, called the Assembly, would then meet and vote.  Any man [sic] could attend the Assembly and speak and then after all the arguments for and against, a vote would be taken, and that would become the law. They called this system Demokratia – meaning rule of the people.

Of course, trying to avoid dirty money must be an almost impossible task. However, the direct nature of the link between Transfield and the vile conditions in which those legally seeking asylum in this country are held is impossible to ignore. Australian politicians have singled out a group of people who they have determined are not deserving of decent, humane treatment. The group singled out is one whose members are almost entirely fleeing persecution of the most extreme kind. They are not criminals. They have committed no illegal act. They have requested protection from their persecutors. In response, they have been indefinitely detained, attacked, wounded and in one case, murdered, in extremely hostile and isolated conditions.

The company responsible for these “garrisons” and the “welfare” of those imprisoned, is Transfield. Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, as an investor in the company, makes money from the cruel injustice wrought upon asylum seekers by Australian politicians.

I’m hard-pressed to think of a situation more deserving of protest by artists, and anybody else.

Transfield, detention centres, ethics, depression & Abbott’s Commission of Audit

2 Mar

Douglas Snedden, Non Executive Director of Transfield, the global operations, maintenance and construction services business awarded  the $1.22 billion dollar contract to provide ‘Garrison and welfare services’ to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, is also a director of the St. James Centre for Ethics, and Treasurer of the Black Dog Institute.

Tony Shepherd, handpicked by Joe Hockey as Chairman of the Abbott government’s Commission of Audit,  was until October 2013 the Chairman of Transfield. His record is far from exemplary, according to this report by Bernard Keane, in which Shepherd is described as ‘Transfield’s doyen of debt.’

The St James Centre for Ethics works with business to promote ethics and ethical decision-making. It is extensively supported by the business community. The Black Dog Institute is concerned with the treatment of mental illness, specifically depression and bi polar disorders.

Transfield subcontracts  the security management of the detention centres on Nauru and Manus to Wilson Security. Counselling and medical remain the responsibility of International Health and Medical Services.

‘Garrison and welfare’ services are the responsibility of Transfield. ‘Garrison’ is a military term meaning a permanent military post. Transfield have considerable experience with defence.

Quite what welfare services the company is responsible for providing to the prisoners held in the camps I have not yet been able ascertain. Presumably these are the services that were previously supplied by the Salvation Army. I have also been unable to ascertain if Transfield have any prior experience of providing welfare services. Based on the company’s own account of their business, the specific welfare needs of the prisoners held on Manus and Nauru would not appear to be included in their expertise.

Former Transfield ChairmanTony Shepherd is also President of the Business Council of Australia, an association of CEOs of one hundred of Australia’s leading companies, as well as a past (2012)  Director of the Migration Council of Australia.

Isn’t this all nice and cosy?

Many thanks to @mix1127 for first pointing out some of these connections.

What a woman wants, what a woman needs…

28 Feb

Yesterday I visited a place on the NSW south coast that once served as a sanctuary, a place to which I fled after an almost terminal encounter with cancer left my whole being drastically weakened, terrified to live and equally terrified to die. Daily life had become impossible, I no longer knew how to fulfil its expectations. I needed solitude, away from city life, I needed to escape the claims and demands of human interaction, even with those I loved and who loved me, and I needed this so desperately I think I might have physically attacked anyone who tried to hold me in place. Fortunately, nobody did, I was reluctantly let go when I promised to allow visits, as long as nobody stayed too long, and how long was ‘too long’ was to be determined by me.

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It was also fortunate that we owned a caravan behind the sand dunes on a largely deserted beach. You can’t live in a caravan, they said. You can’t live there all by yourself, you’ve been so sick, look at you, you have no hair and all your bones are showing. Fuck off, of course I can, I told them, unkindly. Any attempt at what I perceived as thwarting me made me frantically distressed, as if I was being pinned down by a body stronger and more powerful than mine that I had to fight off, or suffocate.

The caravan was in one of those old-fashioned parks where families spent their holidays year after year for as long as anyone could remember. When I arrived, exhausted from the four-hour drive and the emotion of goodbyes, the place was largely empty, being out of holiday season and in the middle of autumn. It was cold. The south coast climate is at best fickle, I have known us wrapped in sweaters and blankets on Christmas Day. The caravan, unoccupied for months during my illness and initial recovery, was musty and damp, a habitat for spiders and insects. The day was overcast, adding to the gloom, and while our spot beside the creek in a grove of melaleucas was idyllic, it allowed for little light under such a low grey sky. I had a panic attack. I couldn’t stay in the spider-infested gloom. I couldn’t go back to our light-filled Bondi Beach home where I suffered anxiety attacks every time I went out the front door into the neighbourhood I had, prior to my illness, loved to inhabit, with its cafes where I met my friends, ate weekend breakfasts with my husband and whoever else happened by, where we swam or walked the winter beach hand in hand talking as we always did with such energy and delight, even at the times we disagreed with practically everything the other said.

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After the cancer, I couldn’t talk about anything anymore. The ongoing blows inflicted by the illness, so unexpected, so unpredictable, they seemed unending in their variety and persistence. After cancer is a time largely underestimated in its power to disrupt. Generally, people think you ought to be relieved, happy you got away with it this time, determined to embark on a recovery regime that will get you back in the swim of things just like you were before. In reality, at least for me, it’s when the horror of the experience actually hits home, something that is impossible when you’re going through the treatments and your world has become medicalised to the extent that it overwhelms all other realities. Post cancer, every little twinge in your body is noted with alarm: is it coming back? For months I woke in the night drenched in sweat, from nightmares the details of which I could never remember, and a debilitating weariness dogged my days. There was nothing that did not leave me exhausted, and tearful. I couldn’t manage all this, and human beings as well.

I walked along this same beach yesterday, under a similar low, soft grey sky, the familiar smell of kelp, the haunting cries of seagulls, the gritty south coast sand between my toes. At the end of my beach there’s a broken wooden jetty where I used to lie on my stomach, peering intently at the stingrays gliding through the clear water beneath me. The rhythm of those days and weeks and months of solitude came back to me. In the mornings waking up sweat-soaked and panicked, climbing out of my single bunk bed to make tea on the gas stove, cold, even if the day was warm, because what I remember from those months is how I could never warm myself, even under piles of blankets, even in the hottest sun, it was as if I had a frigid core that nothing could reach, it was as if I had entirely lost my previously automatic ability to regulate even my body temperature. The trembling of my body, most especially my thighs, and the cold sweat drying on my skin. The fear of moving. The terror of putting one foot in front of the other. The utter loss of everything ordinary.

My husband and my adolescent children would visit and though I loved to see them, the relief I felt at their departure, at the resumption of my solitude, made me ashamed. I remembered yesterday the feeling of my starved gulping, my greedy devouring of nourishment not from my loved ones whom I invariably felt I had to reassure, but from the solitude of the natural world in which I was immersed. That was my healing. My guilt at abandoning them was great. But my need to be alone in this wild landscape overwhelmed it. I wanted nothing except what I needed to stay alive, some books, some music. The hurt I caused them did not become fully apparent till some years later when my eldest son, beside himself with unexpressed distress from that whole period of our lives, shouted at me, You didn’t need any of us! You just left us! You didn’t let us help you, you are such a fucking loner, Mum, you don’t fucking need anybody!

Which left me speechless. And reaching out for him and he came into my arms, grown up, so much bigger than me, and sobbed.

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I don’t know how it is for others, but I’ve always had a dreadful struggle between what I need for myself, and what others need from me, and what I want to give them because I love them. Sometimes I think I will die if I don’t have time absolutely alone. Sometimes I cannot bear to engage in one more conversation about, essentially, nothing, the kind of conversations that make up so much of our daily discourse, the words that serve to weave the binding threads between people, and that is their purpose. Sometimes I think if I am not able to sit in silence in the natural world for as long as I need to, I will start breaking things. It’s as if the healing never really finishes, needs to be topped up from time to time with a return to the inner self who increasingly becomes more solid, more real, than any outer persona and whose needs are so far from anything found in the everyday world with its constructed conventions, and its claims that largely require almost incessant, low-intensity interactions for their fulfilment.

For a woman to do what I did, leaving home, husband and family who cared for me through the desperate and dangerous phase of my illness, insisting on solitude rather than accepting their love was seen largely as selfish, and it was, there’s no denying that. It had a price, for all of us, but yesterday I understood that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong or frightening about paying a price for something deeply desired, these are deals we strike every day, choices made, choices rejected, and almost every one of them has some effect on someone to a greater or lesser degree. I still don’t know, after all this time in this life, how much I am allowed to take for myself, how much selfishness I am allowed, how many choices I may make that cause another hurt or discomfort, how responsible I must be for protecting another from disruption in the pursuit of my own desires and needs. With every situation this must be weighed up anew, and I have made some horrible errors. It seems that the important thing is that I continue to bother to attempt these fraught calculations, even though my sums may be dreadfully wrong. I hope that is the case, though I don’t expect I shall ever know.

Quint Buchholz. lemaze-studio.com

Quint Buchholz. lemaze-studio.com

The fundamental reason people seek asylum in Australia: because we tell them they can.

19 Feb

Both the ALP and LNP governments have, for more than a decade now, chosen to ignore the fundamental reason why people seek asylum in this country: we are signatories to the UNHCR Refugee Convention, and as such, we currently offer asylum to anyone who seeks it, no matter what their method of arrival.

Instead of withdrawing from this Convention, the “honest” thing to do as apparently we no longer consider it to have any validity whatsoever,  the current Australian government has issued a comic book, explaining to potential refugees why they should not come to this country in the belief that we will honour our commitment, because, quite simply we will not.

We will not speedily assess their claims for refugee status in Australia. We will, in fact, transport them to hideous off-shore processing centres where they will languish in indefinite detention with no certainty at all about their futures, and if that is not enough, they will be subject to violence resulting in serious injury and death from sources that as yet remain unidentified, because we do not adequately protect them.

This is what we do, instead of honouring the obligations we undertook when we first signed the UNHCR Convention in 1951, then ratified it in 1967.

We are despicable. Our politicians have made us a despicable, lying, obfuscating nation without the courage to withdraw from a commitment we have no intention of honouring. Australia enjoys the kudos of being a civilised signatory to the UNHCR Convention. At the same time, Australia has no intention of honouring our voluntarily undertaken commitments to that Convention.

This is our primary shame. Our hypocrisy. Our disgrace.

And both the ALP and the LNP have brought us to this.

The murderous refugee “policies” of Australian governments

18 Feb

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has just confirmed that one asylum seeker is dead, another has been flown to Australia for treatment after having been shot, and seventy-seven more are injured, twenty-two critically, after tensions at the Manus Island detention centre exploded yesterday.

This country, our country, my country, by virtue of being a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, invites those fleeing persecution and danger to seek sanctuary and asylum here, NO MATTER WHAT THE METHOD OF THEIR ARRIVAL.

We are known to those in countries where daily life has become untenable as a signatory to that Convention, as a country where they may safely ask for refuge.

As long as we remain a signatory to the Convention, we are issuing an invitation to those who live in daily fear, danger and despair. Children. Women. Men.

But we are liars. We are extending a false invitation. We do not offer sanctuary. We do not offer a decent hearing in which claims for refugee status will be fairly and legally assessed. We do not offer the possibility of resettlement and the opportunity to contribute.

Instead, we have turned the misery of children, women and men into a political football. With psychopathic disregard for our fellow human beings, we have ignored their desperation, and done everything possible to keep them away from us.

So, Scott Morrison, Tony Abbott, Chris Bowen, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, and the rest of you. You wanted to stop asylum seekers dying at sea? Well, your methods have them dying and critically injured  in detention. Where’s your fucking conscience now, then?

On ladies who fear being silenced by trolls

17 Feb

In order for this post to make any sense, you’ll need to read this piece titled “Twitter: a new world of abuse against women” by Julia Baird in which the author addresses the problem of “evil” trolls.

Then I strongly urge you to read this piece by Helen Razer, titled “A troll in the park” in which, among other things, the author points out some crucial statistical absences in Ms Baird’s argument.

Then you ought to read this piece by Cathy Young, titled “Is there a cyber war on women,” and if you want further complexity, you could read this piece by me, titled “Toxic, online and feminist. Really?” in which I address the matter of white media feminists claiming they are being “trolled” and “silenced”by women of colour, and am chastised in the comments for my audacity by a couple of white media feminists who no doubt have added me to their list of trolls.

No thinking person could quibble with the disagreeability of being targeted online for abuse. While I can control this on the blog, I’ve been surprised by the abuse sent my way when I’ve written for media outside of my control, and sometimes have had cause to wonder if the moderators were sleeping.  It is not nice. It is not acceptable. It can be frightening.  For women who are usually relatively safe, and have managed to construct an environment for ourselves that is relatively safe, the internet is an area over which we have no control.

An argument made by Ms Baird is that if  anonymity is forbidden at sites that provide the opportunity for engagement, the problem of online abuse will disappear. Very few trolls, apart from the famous ones who make a living from it, use their names, so there is some sense in the argument against anonymity.

However, many, many internet users prefer anonymity, not because they wish to abuse and troll, but because they prefer to maintain their own privacy for any number of good reasons. Should everyone be forced to identify themselves in order to provide a safe space for ladies who fear the troll will silence them?

To my mind, this would result in an appalling silencing on an appalling scale, and so is in no way acceptable.

If we are to participate in an online world we have to be able to deal with its reality, which is that we are not discussing topics around the dinner table in our homes, or only with the like-minded, but we are participating in a global exchange that lacks any of the usual social protections normally enjoyed by the privileged. Anyone can say anything to us. And they do.

Some of us may well be silenced by trolls and this is, of course, wrong and unfair. Yet I know many, many women, myself among them, who have endured enormous abuse, physical, sexual, emotional, mental and spiritual, and who have not been and never will be silenced by abuse we’ve experienced.

The world does not adapt itself to protecting us from the massive potential for abuse it contains. In the scheme of things, the sorry-arsed losers whose only source of pleasure is attempting to intimidate someone else on the internet are very low in the hierarchy of potential abusers. Yes, they say very mean things. Yes, they make threats that are alarming and intimidating. No, of course they shouldn’t do it, and we shouldn’t have to be subjected to it.  However, as there is no way of making the internet nice, and perhaps we should be grateful for that, we’re going to have to toughen up and learn, like the man kicked by a donkey, to overlook the insult on considering the source.

Don't feed the trolls

On the “unforgivability” of child sex abuse

3 Feb

Mandela ForgivenessOn the weekend, Dylan Farrow published a piece in the New York Times recounting her experience of childhood sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by her mother’s then partner, Woody Allen.

There was, predictably, an explosion of views on the matter. What caught my attention were the many observations that child sexual abuse is ‘unforgivable.’ As one who has lived through childhood sexual abuse, I find that assertion offensive, ignorant and entirely unhelpful, and I’m about to explain why this is so.

But before I do, there ought not to be any expectation for anyone to forgive injury. Forgiveness is an action that, if embarked upon, can take years to complete. It may never be completed. It may never be begun. I’m writing about my own experience as it has unfolded over many years, and what I needed to do for my own well-being.

What is meant when people talk about forgiveness?  The philosopher Charles Griswold, in his 2007 book Forgiveness: A Philosophical Exploration, states that forgiveness should be understood as:

…a moral relation between two individuals, one of whom has wronged the other, and who (at least in the ideal) are capable of communication with each other. In this ideal context, forgiveness requires reciprocity between injurer and injured. I shall reserve the term forgiveness for this moral relation.

I am in complete disagreement with this definition. Many situations of  injury are such that it is impossible and/or entirely unwise for an injured party to communicate with a perpetrator. Many perpetrators never concede their actions have caused harm. Griswold’s paradigm excludes many from the possibility of engaging in the process of forgiveness, as he admits:

When none of the conditions is met, the threshold of what will count as forgiveness is not crossed;sadly, and painfully, in such cases we are either unforgiven, or unable to forgive.

My own perspective is a secular one, and I think of forgiveness as perhaps belonging in the human rights discourse rather than the religious, or any crypto-theological morality such as that espoused by Griswold.  When I have foresworn all desire for revenge, and any of the other abuses of resentment, I have forgiven. It is irrelevant if the perpetrator knows this or not, unless it is important for me that he/she does.

I don’t believe forgiveness requires the perpetrator’s remorse. I don’t believe an injured person needs to confront a perpetrator, or continue any association with him or her, in order to forgive them. Most importantly, I don’t believe forgiveness is first and foremost for the benefit of the perpetrator, but rather it’s a state of mind that can finally bring relief and freedom for the injured party from cripplingly painful and destructive emotions.

Which is not to say there’s anything amiss if an injured party chooses to confront their perpetrator. Only that this is not necessary for forgiveness.

I see forgiveness as a human rights matter because acts of revenge that cause suffering to another are always a human rights matter. …Using the suffering of a person or persons to satisfy oneself is morally objectionable, because it amounts to the treatment of wrongdoers as a means only, failing to respect their human worth, writes Trudy Govier in her book Forgiveness and Revenge. At the height of extreme pain caused by injury, it’s difficult if not impossible to think of the perpetrator as having any ‘human worth,’ however in order to inflict injury on me, the perpetrator has already used me as if I have no human worth. Am I to become like him/her? How will that help me?

While it’s perfectly acceptable for anyone to say ‘I would find that injury unforgivable if it were inflicted on me,’ it is not acceptable to apply that judgement to another. The state of non forgiveness is a horrific state in which to spend one’s life. Having been grievously injured by an abuser, is one then expected to suffer the agony of everlasting hurt and desire for a revenge that cannot possibly ever be commensurate with the injury? The desire for revenge, the inability to forgive (if we understand that term to mean the relinquishing of such desires) fixes the victim in their trauma and denies her or him the possibility of a life free from the aftermath of injury. The victim is trapped in a relationship of horrible and unwanted intimacy (for abuse is always intimate) the only escape from which is to forgive. Why, then, would anyone cruelly claim there is such a thing as an ‘unforgivable’ offence?

I will never forget, but I must, if I’m to have any life at all, forgive. The injurious act, as Hannah Arendt points out, is irredeemable, it presents us with …the predicament of irreversibility. This is but one of the challenges facing an injured person. The injury cannot be undone, the life-altering impacts cannot be undone, one is forever changed by the experience of being injured, the life that might have been, perhaps should have been is stolen, and one will never forget. As well as grieving the injury, I grieve the loss of who I would have been had this injury not occurred, a particularly difficult process for those injured while children, who can feel their childhood was destroyed by the actions of an adult.

Judith Butler, in Giving an Account of Oneself, The Spinoza Lectures, suggests that …it may be that the very way we respond to injury offers the chance we have to become human. Commensurate punishment or revenge dehumanises the victim of injury, however what humanises her/him is the opportunity to develop ...a model of ethical capaciousness that understands the pull of the claim, and resists that pull at the same time, providing a certain ambivalent gesture as the action of ethics itself.

What I understand Butler to be saying here is that in the space of uncomfortable tension creating by opposing claims (to punish or to abstain from punishing) the injured party has the opportunity to learn to live with powerful and irreconcilable desires and in so doing, move beyond the ‘unforgivable’ into a life free of revenge and its abuses.

In so doing, I am empowered. In contrast, if the injury done to me is deemed ‘unforgivable,’ I am condemned to a life of ongoing disempowerment, in which my actions are forever governed by my desire for revenge, and my bitter hatred of the one who has done this thing to me.

Commensurate punishment of a perpetrator may frequently be impossible. However, forgiveness …becomes possible from the moment it appears impossible. Its history would begin… with the unforgivable…what would be a forgiveness that forgave only the forgivable? asks Derrida.

Forgiveness must rest on a human possibility – I insist on these two words… he continues. Injury is a human action, the rape of a child takes place in the realm of human affairs. Monsters do not sexually abuse children, humans do. Forgiveness arises in the recognition of our common humanity, and the terrifying capacity for injury and destruction that humanity contains.

So this is why I object to child sexual abuse being described as ‘unforgivable.’ If I tell you I have forgiven, do you then tell me I’m deluding myself?

Do you tell me it is impossible for me to forgive what was done to me, and I don’t know what I’m talking about? Do you disempower me yet again with your opinion? Do you know better than I know myself what my life’s struggle has been? Would you have me lose my life to emotions that destroy my freedom, while affecting my perpetrator not one bit?

If I decide that what was done to me is unforgivable, though I may, at times of great distress, use that term, I am terminating all hope of freedom. Forgiveness is a mystery, beyond the reach of justice and punishment, both of which can be, and often are, incommensurate with the injury inflicted.

So let us speak of the mystery of forgiveness. Forgiving is imperative…it is extremely difficult to forgive. I don’t even know if forgiveness exists. Hélène Cixous

Toxic, online and feminist. Really?

30 Jan

 I vividly recall highly emotional encounters with radical separatist women when I was a young feminist, one of whom was my actual sister, on the matter of my then dedicated heterosexuality (synonymous with offering myself up for rape with every sexual act) my disappointing failure to give birth to girl children, the length of my hair, (blonde, which somehow made it worse) my choice of clothing, and my marital status, all of which, it appeared, conspired to brand me a traitor to feminism, and an unreconstructable victim of the patriarchy.

My sister was conflicted, after all we loved each other in our own fraught ways, to the extent that when I decided to give birth to my second child in a bean bag in the sitting room, she wanted to not only be present but to set up her tripod between my legs and record the whole event, including my feminist midwife bringing me to orgasm because she swore it would help. It did.

Never mind, my sister said consolingly, when a male infant fought his way into the world from between my thighs as her camera furiously clicked above both our groans and wails, pity it’s not a girl, but you can’t help it. Her photos I count as among my most precious possessions, and I store them along with vital documents, readily accessible in the event of catastrophe.

In spite of our differences, my sister and I managed to maintain our relationship throughout those tumultuous years of second wave feminism. She was delighted, politically, when I divorced, though somehow she managed to sincerely comfort me and help me with my boys. I nursed her through a massive betrayal by her girlfriend, and, even though I was shocked beyond belief and not a little annoyed considering the shame she’d heaped upon me, into her new relationship with a bloke.

I lost contact with the other radical separatists because I was eventually unable to tolerate their scornful disapproval, and one day a wise woman told me I didn’t have to. This is not to say I don’t owe them: I do. They were some of my most powerful teachers, even if their manner was not always tender. However, whatever our differences we all had one thing in common: our whiteness.

All this came back to me today as I read this essay by Michelle Goldberg on feminism’s current Twitter wars. Briefly, Goldberg writes of a “toxic” online culture comprising an ideological war between white feminists and women of colour, a war of such ferocity that some writers describe being afraid to publish for fear of incurring the wrath of “online enforcers” protesting the domination of feminism by privileged white people. There is, Goldberg writes, “…a nascent genre of essays by people who feel emotionally savaged…not because of sexist trolls, but because of the slashing righteousness of other feminists.” People who feel themselves to be marginalised by white privilege complain of the “tone police” who punish them for their anger, and their methods of expressing it.This, in turn has led to “privileged” feminists fearing they are about to step on an ideological landmine, that they will be “insufficiently radical, too nuanced,” as a consequence of their racial privilege.

Next, I read one of the “nascent” essays, written by Glosswitch of the New Statesman, in which the author makes an impassioned argument for not capitulating to what she feels as intimidation from feminists who attempt to trash her. Glosswitch has even coined a term for such a feminist, the misogofeminist, who she believes misrepresents and abuses her online because “…1. I’m a woman and 2. I have a New Statesman blog and am therefore considered excessively ‘privileged.’” White privilege, Glosswitch continues, is “…a line you cross which makes you less credible, less capable of experiencing pain and less capable of acting in good faith.” Glosswitch is supported in her position by Helen Lewis, also of the New Statesman.

I next turned to the Red Light Politics blog. Here I found a post titled “‘Misogofeminists’ and the white men who profit from silencing critique.” The author takes umbrage at Helen Lewis “…equating critiques from Women of Colour to bullying, harassment and now codifying all this behaviour under a new umbrella term ‘misogofeminism,’ or in lay terms ‘when uppity Women of Colour and other marginalised minorities complain that mainstream publications contribute to their marginalisation.’” There follows a deeply interesting analysis, that I strongly recommend, of the misfortunes of the New Statesman and how the publication was pulled back from the brink of ruin by, of all things, feminism, with a link provided to an Independent piece on the topic that begins:

In the New Statesman’s darkest hours, when the venerable leftist periodical looked like it had no viable future, few would have seen feminism as the source of its salvation. It is an ideology aligned, in the minds of many, to the bra-burning and peace-camp protests of a gender politics which predated Tony Blair’s modernisation of the Labour Party. Why would a magazine that was attempting to be relevant in the 21st century return to the battlefields of a bygone era?  Yet it is feminism which ensures that the New Statesman has not only made it to its centenary but can celebrate that anniversary this week with confidence that it has the caught the attention of young readers, especially young female readers.
It is this conflation of white women such as Lewis and Glosswitch with white men such as the proprietor of the New Statesman, that Red Light Politics argues creates a feminism that perpetuates  and reproduces a centuries-old pattern of marginalisation of Women of Colour. How better to perpetuate this marginalisation than by accusations of bullying and harassment made by privileged women with the kind of platform no marginalised woman can ever dream of? How is a marginalised woman to contest such allegations?
Prior to her employment at the New Statesman, Lewis worked at the Daily Mail. During her time at the Mail, the Statesman published a scathing assessment of that paper’s tactics:
The Mail’s quest to reflect the moral and political values of its lower-middle-class readers frequently goes beyond mere reporting, taking on the shape of a punitive campaign against anybody who says or does anything that challenges those values.
Challenges to one’s ideology are not synonymous with abuse. Anger is not synonymous with abuse. Critique is not synonymous with abuse. Being called on one’s obvious privilege is not abuse. Even “slashing righteousness” is not necessarily abusive. While it certainly isn’t pleasant to be identified as racist, transphobic, privileged or offensive, some of the accusations levelled at Glosswitch, is it automatically abusive? Glosswitch has an enviable platform, supported by powerful media males, from which to refute such allegations. This is part of her privilege, a privilege I can find no real acknowledgement of in her complaints.
Megan Murphy complains of the “wilful misrepresentation of words, thoughts, arguments and life in order to silence you and beat you…into submission…” by feminists who challenge privilege, described by Murphy as “trashing.” She also expresses indignation at being “…expected to divulge every single horrific trauma… before we are acknowledged as credible or worthy of a voice.”
I find this latter grievance extraordinary. Women who have experienced horrific trauma rarely enjoy a public voice. We are speaking here of women with an extraordinary platform, elite women, if you will, women with very big voices who are established in their professions and of whom no one will demand an accounting of their personal traumas as a pre-requisite for expressing opinions that are globally received.  All of the women I quote are white.  All are successful career feminists. I have yet to hear of a successful white career feminist who was forced to reveal her private trauma in order to get her foot on the ladder.
Sadly, but probably inevitably, things have not changed much in feminism since I was a beginner. Feminism is an ideology, and all ideologies are battlegrounds.  I will likely be crucified for this next observation, but there is something in the complaints of the privileged documented here that puts me uncomfortably in mind of the Andrew Bolt school of  white resentment. I am of the belief that in spite of the difficulties of my life, they would have been much worse if I’d been born a woman of colour as well. I’m not usually inclined to advocate a hierarchy of suffering, and I admit my own experiences have toughened me considerably on the question of what is and isn’t abuse. So my sympathies do not naturally gravitate to privileged women with global platforms supported by capitalist press barons. Their power is immense. I doubt the marginalised will do them much harm.  
My thanks to @MsLou and @Sunili for links to these and many other pieces, and discussions over the last months.

Abbott: ABC disses Australia by reporting my cock-ups. This must stop.

29 Jan

ABCIt’s unarguable that Prime Minister Tony Abbott has set his sights on the ABC.

Abbott claims the ABC displays what he terms “lack of affection for the home team” in its reporting of events such as the Indonesian spy scandal, allegations by asylum seekers that Australian navy personnel caused them to suffer burns (earlier described as “sledging the navy” by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison) and, perhaps most heinously, “advertising” the work of whistleblower Edward Snowden whose disclosures led to so much trouble in the first place.

The Prime Minister would like it much better if we were all kept mushroom-like in the dark and showered with LNP shit, rather than informed by the national broadcaster of what our government is actually doing.

Somehow, the inanities, incompetencies and illegalities of the Abbott government are not the problem. The problem is the ABC reporting them!! Who would have thought!!

This reminds me of the Catholic church cover-ups of child sexual abuse, in which victims are blamed  for speaking out and in so doing, risking the destruction of the institution. Similarly, many victims of intra-familial sexual abuse report they have kept silent because they have been told by the perpetrator that they would destroy the family if they revealed the crimes.

According to Mr Abbott, the ABC reporting his government’s failures and alleged failures is “working against Australia,” a classic perpetrator argument when silencing knowledge is his or her main goal. The objective is two-fold: self-protection and protection of the institution, in this case Australia (read Abbott, because he IS the country don’t you know) as the institution with the ABC as the instrument of its potential ruin if allowed to broadcast information that casts the government in a negative light.

This is a classic repressive conservative belief, that certain knowledge must be concealed in the interests of the greater good.

Abbott has confused his and his government’s interests with the interests of the country. As in the church and the family, the institution’s interests and the interests of all its members are not necessarily the same thing. If an institution cannot survive the dissemination of knowledge, then perhaps it does not deserve to survive.

Abbott has also lost sight of the fact that his government does not pay for the ABC, taxpayers do, and taxpayers hold a wide range of views, not just those of the LNP.

The government has its tame media voices in partisan shock jocks and the Murdoch press. Those of us who hold other views are, in this democracy, entitled to hear other voices and one of those voices we are entitled to hear is the ABC.

There is no homogenous “home team” in this country when it comes to political opinion and thirst for truthful information. The only “home team” Abbott can possibly be referring to is his government.

I see no reason why the ABC has any obligation to feel “affection” for this, or any other government. Indeed, we should demand quite the opposite.

The Ministry of Degradation

23 Jan

Operation Soverereign BordersThe history of treatment of asylum seekers who arrive by boat in Australia is a grim one, and both major parties have employed increasing degradation as a means to control, punish, and “deter” those who seek refuge here.

Even if one accepts the false narrative created by both the LNP and ALP that asylum seekers are “illegals” who are committing a criminal act in arriving by boat, this does still not explain or justify their degradation. If boat arrivals have indeed committed a crime, why aren’t they dealt with by our legal system, as is every other person accused of a crime in this country?

In a recent poll, a majority of Australians apparently feel asylum seekers are not treated harshly enough. Obviously the major parties are responding to the electorate’s need for gratification and reassurance through the degradation of a group who are despised by many voters. This can be seen as a chicken and egg situation: politicians post Pauline Hanson realised the advantages of pleasing xenophobic punters, and have since been at great pains to adjust their policies accordingly.

No matter what views one holds on asylum seekers, demanding their increasing degradation is to take a dangerous trip to the dark side. Any government willing to instigate and maintain those degradations ought to give rise to alarm. Whether it’s boat arrivals or the degrading treatment of bike riders in Queensland, any government that opts for degradation as a means of control is a government that has truly lost its way.

The Ministry of Degradation, currently overseen by Degradation Minister Scott Morrison, has been in existence for over a decade, and both major parties bear responsibility for its increasingly despicable treatment of asylum seekers. Railing against this Ministry achieves nothing. Speeches about every individual’s right to human dignity have achieved nothing. Appeals to compassion have achieved nothing. Still politicians drag us ever further along the dark road of degradation as an acceptable means of protecting our society. It isn’t. It never will be.

The only possible course of action is to persist with the contestation of the Ministry’s narrative, with facts, reason and unrelenting determination. It is not acceptable for our country’s government to treat asylum seekers who arrive by boat in a degrading manner. If the government believes asylum seekers have broken our laws, the government must employ our legal system to seek redress, not impose arbitrary punishment in the form of  deliberately degrading practices.

I don’t expect my government to contribute to the destruction of the civilised society we struggle to create and maintain. I expect my government to lead and assist us in this project. We can do a whole lot better with our asylum seeker policies. But as long as we have a government committed to the degradation and destruction of others as demanded by the vengeful, we can’t flourish. Degradation can’t be contained. It contaminates everyone.

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