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.

DSCN0892

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.

Abbott’s ‘War on Everything’

13 Jan

Before the September 2013 election, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a staunch Catholic who once embarked on training for the priesthood, revealed that he prayed to God every day that he would win the contest, and form the next Australian government.

It would be interesting to ask the PM how much of his victory he attributes to God hearkening to, and answering his prayers. I assume Abbott gives no small measure of thanks for achieving his deepest desire.

I also assume that as well as a believing in his mandate from the people, Abbott believes he’s mandated by God. At least, it feels safer to assume that is the case, than to pretend it couldn’t be thus. Know thine enemy.

This aspect of Abbott occurs to me every time I hear he has declared war on yet one more issue. His ‘wars’ seem to be based on moral assumptions infused with traditional Catholic morality, argued like the crafty theologian he almost became. As an example his statement on November 15 2013, on torture: ‘My government deplores the use of torture but we accept that sometimes in difficult circumstances difficult things happen.’ This sentence seems to me to encapsulate the trickiness of being simultaneously moral and amoral,  a talent I have long associated with some theologians, most recently those who’ve argued for the Catholic church in the matter of child abuse.

Perhaps it’s being too generous to assume any morality in the statement at all, rather it gives merely a token nod in morality’s direction.

So far we’ve had the war on scientists and the entire body of climate change science, the war on education, the war on drunken louts ‘king-hitting’ innocent bystanders, the war on Holden, the war on NDIS, the war on the NBN, the war on same-sex marriage, the war on everything the previous ALP government introduced for apparently no reason other than that it was introduced by them, and then we have the war on people smugglers. This latter war is perhaps the only ALP policy Abbott has chosen to retain and build upon.

I imagine Abbott envisioning himself as a war-time PM, chosen to implement the policies his deity wants to see enacted, some of which include a good deal more attention to said deity’s alleged preferences than we are used, as a secular state, to allowing. What little we are allowed to hear the PM say is invariably infused with moral references, even the ‘liberation’ of those sacked by Holden has moral overtones in its implication that an opportunity for self-improvement has been offered to the newly unemployed, and it is their moral duty to avail themselves of it to the utmost.

There is much in Abbott’s sanctimony and righteousness that reminds me of Tony Blair at the height of his zealous and wickedly dishonest prosecution of the invasion of Iraq. The notion of a ‘just war’ got all Blair’s boyish juices flowing, and I imagine the same can be said of Abbott, even if he has not, as yet, had any war of global significance that he can use, as did Blair, to thoroughly establish his faux gravitas at home and on the world stage. We have as yet seen only glimpses of Abbott the unctuous moral crusader, disguised in the garments of a benevolent guardian, solemnly assuring us that it, whatever it happens to be, is for our collective own good. I suspect we are in for a good deal more.

The two Tonys even look a bit alike:TonyBlair

Abbott also appears to hold a traditional conservative Christian perspective on the natural world, that is, it is here for man’s [sic] use, not as a source of wonder, pleasure and enrichment, but rather as a resource for exploitation. So there’s a war on the natural world and all its sentient beings as well.

The war paradigm would seem to be Abbott’s central organising principle. His natural state perhaps, a mentality born of the confluence of ignorance, fear, prejudice and profit, a mentality shared by enough of the voting public to get him into office. This paradigm is closely related to the law and order paradigm so enthusiastically embraced by that other Liberal head of state, Campbell Newman. Deterrence and incarceration are its hallmarks, supported by the Christian virtues of teaching, reproving, correcting, cracking down with the full force of the law, and training in righteousness for those who are conspicuously lacking in these qualities.

Whether or not Abbott will wage a war on women remains to be seen. His views on abortion are well known, as evidenced in this piece authored by him and titled ‘Abortion rate highlights our moral failing.’ Personally, I doubt anything dramatic will be done by this government to offend women, rather, there will be a slow erosion in the form of the reduction of services with a timely dollop of theatrical distraction so we hardly notice what’s happening until it’s too late and they’ve changed the legislation enough to cause us inconvenience and distress. With Cory Bernardi and DLP Senator John Madigan doing all the dirty work, Abbott doesn’t have to say much. There’s also a strong group of anti-choicers in the ALP and we’ve learned, to our amazement, how certain moral panics can bring about the allegiance of very strange bedfellows, such as the Christian right and radical feminists in the matter of pornography.

By far the most cruel war currently being waged by Abbott is his sustained and increasingly vicious attacks on asylum seekers. Abbott and his Minister Scott Morrison, another Christian, though of different variety, unashamedly use the full-blown rhetoric of war when justifying the government’s position on refugees arriving here by boat. The efforts of these two publicly religious men to beat hapless asylum seekers into submission, as detailed in the above link, beggar belief, from a secular point of view at least.

When asked what is the best piece of advice he could ever give anyone, Abbott replied ‘Avoid the occasion of sin.’ So if he is committed to his war mentality, one can only assume that for him every war he’s fighting is a just one. This, for mine, makes him a dangerous man.

Or as Yeats observed in The Second Coming: The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ are full of passionate intensity.

Abbott intensity

On the Aldi shirts

9 Jan

I agree with Tom Calma on the matter of the t-shirts marketed by Aldi and Big W to celebrate Australia Day. The former Race Discrimination Commissioner does not believe the design to be ‘intentionally racist’ but:

“What we can say is that it is not accurate, is bad taste and does not in itself lead to an understanding of Australia’s history and heritage,” he said. “In the lead-up to Australia Day it is important that we educate the community, the nation and the international community about what Australia Day celebrates.”

However, I think we’ve reached the use by date of the argument ‘not intentionally racist.’ There’s no possible excuse for anyone who is at all engaged in daily life in this country to be unaware of racism,and ignorant of its myriad manifestations. If they are, they are likely intentionally unaware, because you’d have to be living under a rock to not notice the everyday racism to which Indigenous people are subjected.

‘We didn’t mean to be racist’ is the pathetic bleat of a lazy privileged twat. How could those shirts not offend, with their logo stating that Australia was ‘established’ (in itself crap, we weren’t a nation till 1901) in 1788 when white people invaded, leaving a trail of slaughter and tragedy whose aftermath resonates to this day, in their wake?

Incredibly, the shirts were approved by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, in July 2013.

What the fucking fuck?

If you ‘don’t mean to be racist’ then fucking educate yourself, and maybe you won’t be. This is the prime responsibility of the privileged. If you are fortunate enough to have been born into the dominant culture, fucking educate yourself about those who are not, and what that means.

But don’t bloody bleat ‘I didn’t mean to be racist’ or ‘I didn’t mean to be sexist’ or what the fucking what. Just learn.

That is fucking all.

Asylum Seekers not treated harshly enough, say vengeful Australians.

9 Jan

TONY ABBOTT ASYLUM SEEKERS PRESSERAccording to a poll reported in The Age yesterday, 60 per cent of Australians surveyed want asylum seekers arriving by boat treated more harshly.

59 per cent of those surveyed oppose government welfare for refugees.

Although there is a strong perception that boat arrivals are not ‘genuine refugees,’ in fact 99.7 per cent of asylum seekers from Afghanistan held on Christmas Island were assessed as refugees, as were a further 96 – 98 per cent from Iraq, Iran, and Burma.

The efforts of both major parties to reframe asylum seekers as illegal and threats to the country’s sovereignty, appear to have succeeded.

The chilling reality is that the majority of boat arrivals are fleeing conditions so severe that they are willing to undertake such a journey rather than remain in a country where they are at great risk, yet the majority of Australians, if the poll is to be believed, wish to see them further tormented when they arrive here.

Apparently the majority of Australians have a crippling lack of imagination coupled with a complete lack of desire to consider circumstances that drive others to flee their homes and beg for refuge at the other side of the world. Worse, they want asylum seekers treated more harshly than they already are when they arrive, a desire that borders on the psychopathic.

I suppose it is still possible to deal out harsher treatments, but people might die and that would be awkward.

The argument is frequently made that our treatment of asylum seekers is ‘inhumane.’ Asylum seekers are human beings, just like us, and because of that are entitled to as much consideration as we afford ourselves. This argument is obviously falling on deaf ears. According to the poll results, the majority of Australians lack any concept of a common humanity from which notions of equality and rights  spring.

Actually, it’s worse than that. They also want to harshly punish the suffering for bringing their suffering here.

My impulse is to beat such people around the head with a stick until they beg for mercy and flee, seeking refuge from my persecution. Of course that would achieve nothing, but it’s a gratifying fantasy. The minds of those so opposed to decent consideration of refugees’ circumstances are unlikely to be changed by any intervention, kind or unkind. However, the good news is 68 per cent of the 60 percent of Australians hostile to refugees are over 70 years of age, so they’ll hopefully cark, or become too demented to vote, and be replaced by saner minds.

Challenging such entrenched ignorance and lack of imagination is a formidable task, and those who undertake it haven’t made many inroads so far, though not from lack of effort.  Asylum seekers are now treated more harshly than they were nearly two decades ago. It was possible then for anyone who was prepared to jump through bureaucratic hoops to visit detention centres. This is no longer the case, and asylum seekers are almost entirely isolated off-shore, from those who would otherwise give support and assistance. This is still not sufficient for vengeful Australians. That their water is ridiculously rationed is not sufficient. That their medical care is below decent standards is not sufficient. That the children are imprisoned, that the latrines are foul, that many have no shoes, that we force them to suffer in high temperatures while offering no relief, that they live in an emotional and psychological limbo sure to destroy what their original persecutors didn’t manage to destroy, no, none of this is sufficient. Our vengeful Aussie majority want them treated even more harshly, which to my mind can only be putting them to death. Painfully.

I don’t think there’s any point anymore in speeches about our inhumanity to other humans. Frankly, not enough of us give enough of a shit about our common humanity, and the quaint notion that if you cut us we bleed just like you.

What, then,  is to be done?

Abbott dumps on low income Australians from the ski fields of France.

30 Dec

There can be no doubt that the proposed government tax of $6 on visits to the doctor will only seriously affect those already struggling to keep heads above water, and one has to ask, why would any government decide to make things even more difficult than they already are for a considerable number of its citizens?

Pensioners and those holding concession cards will be exempt from the charge, however, this exemption does not cover low-income earners ineligible for such assistance.

The proposed GP tax is intended to be  “a simple yet powerful reminder that, as far as possible, we have a responsibility to look after our own health, not simply pass on all the costs of, and the responsibility for, caring for ourselves to fellow taxpayers…” reads the report provided to the government by The Australian Centre for Health Research, a conservative think tank, why am I not surprised.

Of course those of us who are able ought to take as much responsibility for our health as possible, and visiting the doctor when ill is taking responsibility, whether we’re well off or not. There is little more irresponsible than self-neglect, except of course a government that places a group of its citizens in a situation where self-neglect becomes their only option.

As is usual with conservative think tanks, no allowance is made for those who are as morally responsible as anyone else, but lack financial means.  One could be forgiven for taking this one step further, and assuming conservative think tanks and their masters conflate a lack of means with moral turpitude and its attendant irresponsibility. The outcome of such thinking is that those who are too poor to pay for their own health care really should be left to die, as there is no place in a conservative world for anyone who can’t, for whatever reason, fund their own lives.

As the purpose of the new tax is to relieve the burden of demand on our health care system, conservatives are obviously of the opinion that it is the less financially fortunate among us who are burdensome. No middle class individual goes to her or his GP unnecessarily, it is assumed, as a mere $6 is unlikely to dissuade them from this practice. No, only the poor are responsible for draining our medical resources, presumably because of all the burgers, fries, & coke they consume instead of the healthy food they could afford, if only they would stay home from the doctor’s long enough to put their minds to their budgets.

Obviously a $6 charge whenever one visits the doctor isn’t going to be an oppressive discouragement for those who are reasonably well off, though depending on one’s state of health and number of children, it could quickly add up. However, if finances are already stretched in a household, an additional $6 for every doctor’s visit could conceivably lead to a decision not to make that visit in circumstances where it’s necessary.

It will almost certainly lead to increased pressure on already stretched hospital accident and emergency facilities, as an option for those unable to afford the tax.

That a government even considers creating a situation in which any citizens are discouraged from attending to their health and the health of their children is an obscenity. The message Prime Minister Abbot is sending from the slopes of the French Alps where I understand he and his family are enjoying a ski ing holiday, is that below a certain level of income, the health of Australian citizens is of no interest to him and his government. It is, it seems, incomprehensible to the leader of this country that for many people there is simply not $6 to spare.

Such failures of imagination are predictable in a politics in which middle class welfare and protection of the wealthy are the priority of government that increasingly appears to govern in their interests.

Or as Gerry Harvey unforgettably expressed it when offering his views on charity for the homeless:

“It might be a callous way of putting it but what are they doing? You are helping a whole heap of no-hopers to survive for no good reason. They are just a drag on the whole community.

“So did that million you gave them help? It helped to keep them alive but did it help our society? No. Society might have been better off without them but we are supposed to look after the disadvantaged and so we do it. But it doesn’t help the society.”

It’s a slippery slope you’re ski-ing Mr Abbott.

Happy holidays?

22 Dec

It’s here again, that time of the year. I don’t know whether to wish everyone happy holidays, or send best wishes for your survival, emotional, spiritual, physical and mental. I’ll do both, to cover every eventuality, unless of course you voted for the government, in which case I AM NOT FEELING THE LOVE.

But more of that later. In the meantime we say love one another if you can, and if you can’t, stay away from sharp implements.

 Caloundra Xmas 2013

And here’s one of my favourite Bob Dylan songs, Forever Young. Listen to the lyrics, (which are here if you can’t hear them) they are everything No Place for Sheep wishes for everyone.

Marriage equality: what is it good for?

8 Dec

Marriage Equality

I realised during an enthusiastic debate on Twitter yesterday with @amicus_AU and @chronicfemme on the question of marriage equality, that apparently both ends of the continuum fear that same-sex marriage will result in an apocalypse for their cause. Marriage conservatives fear equality will bring about the death of marriage in an inexplicable metaphysical erosion of heterosexual values, while some in the queer community fear it will bring about the death of queer, as queer couples reject the radical demand to abolish state-sanctioned commitments altogether, and instead seek acceptance within the heteronormative paradigm of marriage.

The marriage equality debate inevitably becomes conflated with the debate about the institution of marriage, which is unfortunate, to my mind. They are two separate and equally important issues, and neither is done justice when they are intertwined.

Nobody wants the state in their bedroom. It is not the state’s business whom one chooses to marry, or live in a de facto relationship with. At the same time, when such arrangements break down, there must be protections in place for the wellbeing of vulnerable parties, usually women and children under current arrangements, who are likely to come off second best in serious matters such as property settlements, child support, access to a parent and all the other miserable detritus that commonly litters the personal landscape when things go wrong.

Humans being what we are, and being even more what we are in times of relationship breakdown, many of us cannot be trusted to behave reasonably when we are in the grip of extreme emotion provoked by the collapse of hope and future and the losses involved. We need laws at these times, and state-sanctioned relationships provide us with these laws.

If the argument is for no state involvement at all then we cannot argue for recognised de facto relationships either, as these are also governed by the state at times of breakdown, though not in precisely the same way as is marriage.

If it is heteronormative for queer couples to marry, is it also heteronormative for them to be covered by the protections offered to de factos?

Are queers arguing against marriage equality actually arguing that creating a couple is heteronormative? This is to my mind an interesting argument, and one that takes us into the fascinating territory of theories of constructed desires, et al, however, in practice as a society we have to contend with coupledom and its consequences for the vulnerable being currently rather more in our faces than theories of desire, and requiring our urgent practical attention.

Which is not to say people shouldn’t think about these things if that is our inclination, and radically interrogate entrenched norms.

I’m at a loss to imagine a system of relationship in which the state is not involved. It cannot be left up to individuals to fairly sort out the messes that occur when intimate relationships break down. Therefore, it is absolutely unjust for that protection to be denied to couples other than the heterosexual. There is simply no valid argument to deny marriage equality: every human being is entitled to the same protections, regardless of sexual orientation.

If you don’t “believe” in the state having anything to do with your relationship, don’t call upon its laws to protect you if your relationship breaks down. Find a radical new paradigm, rather than simply calling for our current arrangements to be abolished. I haven’t heard or read any discussion of viable alternatives that can achieve what state intervention achieves when marriages and de facto relationships collapse, and people have to salvage what they can of their lives and the lives of any children involved.

As for the supernaturally destructive powers invested in marriage equality by opponents of all kinds: if your ideology is so fragile that people loving each other in the manner they choose is going to destroy it, maybe it’s time to find a new ideology?

Save the last dance for me

1 Dec

When a performer has reached the age of  seventy-nine one can be forgiven for fearing every appearance might be his last, and it was clear at Leonard Cohen’s concert in Brisbane last night that thought has also crossed his mind.

Though he is enviably fit (he drops to his knees with strength of feeling, and there’s not a catch in his voice when he rises again without even putting his hands on the floor) and his voice has thrillingly deepened since I saw him last some three years ago, he is an old man and I have prepared myself for last night to be the final time I see him.

Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey 
I ache in the places where I used to play 
And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on 
I’m just paying my rent every day 
Oh in the Tower of Song

The man was on stage for well over three hours, finally remarking that he really wouldn’t mind if we all decided to go home, but nobody wanted to go home, nobody wanted to leave him,  and we stamped and clapped and yelled “More please, more please,” like two-year-olds presenting our empty bowls for refills.

And refill them he did. Perhaps it’s to do with his sojourn in a Buddhist monastery, but Cohen has a talent for living in the moment that allows him to sing every song as if it’s the first performance, with a freshness and passion that lets the audience hear the lyrics anew, even though some of us can recite them in our sleep. He’s surrounded himself with musicians who can do exactly the same thing, performers for whom Cohen expresses the most gracious respect, granting them time and space to shine as he steps quietly away, his hat doffed, his head bowed in deference to artists such as Javier Mas, the “sublime” Webb Sisters, and long-time collaborator Sharon Robinson, whose breathtaking interpretation of Cohen’s “Alexandra Leaving” I present here for your pleasure.

Music is, of course, from and for the emotions, but it takes a rare talent in any genre to convey the kind of feeling that deeply moves the heart, mind, body and spirit. Cohen and his fellows share the ability to imperceptibly nudge their audience out of the everyday into the realms of poetry, that is, to evoke meaning over and above the prosaic, the obvious. Cohen stirs the emotional imagination, the man can’t help it, a brief account of his journey through the Brisbane tunnels on his way to the Entertainment Centre becomes a metaphor for life. The tunnels were therapeutic, he says. He entered them feeling not so well but by the time he emerged he was feeling splendid. Through darkness into light: there is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.

Although Buddhism became a significant part of Cohen’s life, like Bob Dylan he is also fascinated by Christian imagery, and often references the traditions of that faith, especially in his latest album, “Old Ideas.”

I have to add here that there’s not much else Dylan & Cohen have in common attitudinally. Cohen assumes everybody likes him and won’t hold it against them if they don’t. Dylan assumes everybody is his enemy and especially hates them if they like him. I could write a thesis comparing the two, and I might well one day.

“Old Ideas” has the feeling of a man preparing for the end of his life, especially the quite lovely “Come Healing:” Behold the gates of mercy in arbitrary space, and none of us deserving the cruelty or the grace…

Yet it is a measure of Cohen’s astounding talent that he can imbue the 1960′s Drifters classic “Save the Last Dance for Me,” recorded by, among many, Dolly Parton, the appalling Michael Buble, Ike & Tina Turner, Harry Nilsson, Emmylou Harris et al, with such poignancy, as he performs it as his last song of the evening (no matter how much we shout and plead he’s skipped off stage, yes, he skips, and he won’t come back) and the familiar song takes on the quality of a farewell to the audience that he loves, but knows he must finally leave, and he wants us not to forget him, he wants us to save our last dance for him cos he loves us, oh so much.

Ah, Leonard. Right back at ya.

I love Leonard, because he is sublime.

27 Nov

In three more sleeps, I’ll be at the Leonard Cohen concert in Brisbane. 

It’s impossible to choose a favourite quote from Cohen’s sublime output, but I do rather like this one, bearing in mind the man spent fifteen years of his life in a Buddhist monastery, from which he emerged to discover his manager had fleeced him of every cent:  I’ve studied deeply in the philosophies and the religions, but cheerfulness kept breaking through.

Cohen’s sense of humour underpins everything he writes: those unbelievers who  claim he creates “songs to cut your wrists to” entirely miss his often gentle, sometimes darkly ironical humour, his innate”cheerfulness breaking through,” his extraordinary self-deprecating modesty that he manages to combine with an equally extraordinary dignity. Cohen is great. Cohen is humble. Cohen is, always, the one whose lonely love is unrequited: My reputation as a ladies’ man was a joke that caused me to laugh bitterly through the ten thousand nights I spent alone, he wryly observes, and in the  beautiful “Ain’t no cure for love” he mourns:

I’m aching for you baby 
I can’t pretend I’m not 
I need to see you naked 
In your body and your thought 
I’ve got you like a habit 
And I’ll never get enough 
There ain’t no cure, 
There ain’t no cure, 
There ain’t no cure for love
 

I use the word “sublime” to describe Cohen’s work reservedly. While “sublime” indicates the presence of an emotional depth and integrity that transcends rational thought and language, strictly speaking it also requires the presence of horror and fear inspired by that which is, in Kant’s terms “absolutely great.” Kant explains the difference between the beautiful and the sublime thus:

Whereas the beautiful is limited, the sublime is limitless, so that the mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt. 

The boundlessness of the sublime inspires a desire to transcend the limits of the self,  a fear-inspiring project if ever there was one, most commonly experienced when falling in love, that chaos of intense emotions, sublime delight, and necessarily, if one is offering one’s heart to another, trembling fear. To be in Cohen’s stage presence is to be for those few hours in an open-hearted state of  love without the fear: the man emanates an almost tangible love and generosity, you are the only audience he has ever had or ever will have, he is, like the best of lovers, entirely focused on you, given over to your pleasure, he lives, for these few hours, only to delight you. You feel Leonard Cohen in all your erogenous zones but it isn’t about sex. Cohen’s presence is sublime.

It is not so easy to find horror and fear in Cohen’s work, mediated as it is by humour, melancholy, and melody, however lyrics such as “The Future” describe a chilling dystopian vision:

Give me back my broken night
my mirrored room, my secret life
it’s lonely here,
there’s no one left to torture
Give me absolute control
over every living soul
And lie beside me, baby,
that’s an order!

I can’t argue that Cohen’s music and lyrics are by themselves sublime. But the man’s presence and delivery make them so. Of course, like any text, they are not fully realised without the participation of the reader or audience: if you want to feel Leonard’s great-heartedness, you have to open up your own. He is a spiritual man, whatever one takes that to mean, and many of his love songs can be read as addressing either a mortal lover or a transcendental exteriority.

I’m counting the sleeps.

Like a bird on the wire, 

like a drunk in a midnight choir 
I have tried in my way to be free. 
Like a worm on a hook, 
like a knight from some old fashioned book 
I have saved all my ribbons for thee. 
If I, if I have been unkind, 
I hope that you can just let it go by. 
If I, if I have been untrue 
I hope you know it was never to you. 
Like a baby, stillborn, 
like a beast with his horn 
I have torn everyone who reached out for me. 
But I swear by this song 
and by all that I have done wrong 
I will make it all up to thee. 
I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch, 
he said to me, “You must not ask for so much.” 
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door, 
she cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?” 

Oh like a bird on the wire, 
like a drunk in a midnight choir 
I have tried in my way to be free.

leonard_cohen_1208796c

On infidelity

10 Nov

cheating spouse

My husband, whom I’ll call Bill, was unfaithful on two occasions that I know about and there were likely more, though it does the heart no good to dwell on possibilities.

I became aware of the first infidelity when Bill’s lover, whom I’ll call Emma, came to me in something of a state, and confessed. I knew Emma a little, we had both been Bill’s students, however, what I hadn’t known was that she’d been in love with Bill all through university, and had for the years since nurtured a deep loathing for me, provoked by our marriage. Which she had attended at Bill’s invitation, and on the day of the confession I remembered, as one remembers the most unlikely things when trapped in situations of intensity, noticing odd hand contact between them at our wedding party. Bill, when I asked him about it later, shamefacedly admitted it  involved passing between them a bag of weed, the smoking of which was apparently a ritual they shared in his office from time to time, and one he could not share with me because it made me chuck and weep.

Some months later, after our US honeymoon, in itself an extraordinary experience during which I was welcomed into a large Jewish Russian Polish American family whose matriarch liked to tell people in front of me that I was “just a doll of a girl, even if he has married out,” postcards began arriving for Bill from Emma, who was now in Italy on her honeymoon. “Caro,” the postcards began, which can be dear, beloved or darling, but Italian always sounds deliciously sensual and intimate, and I did ask why she was addressing him thus from her brand new nuptial bed. I don’t know, Bill said, I wish she wouldn’t, it’s embarrassing. After that, I forgot about Emma for years, and if anyone had asked me, would have said I presumed she’d forgotten about us.

It turned out that Emma’s marriage was not successful, hardly surprising since she said she’d never stopped loving Bill. They had been meeting for coffee & cake at the Gelato Bar at Bondi Beach for several months after her marriage collapsed, but as Bill and I had friendships that didn’t necessarily include the other, and he was always meeting with students anyway, their encounters never got a mention, and I conducted my life in blissful ignorance of what was building.

I should say here that Bill loved women, and women loved Bill. He was the smartest man I’d ever met, he was very funny, he had a way of speaking to others as if they were the only people of significance in his universe, and he was very seductive, though he swore he wasn’t on purpose and I think that was probably true. He could have had just about anyone, indeed, I once overheard a successful author wail at a gathering, “I offered myself on a platter and he turned me down.” When he asked me to marry him it went to my head, even though he said he only wanted us to get married so I would have his superannuation. Marriage as a thing in itself was politically and emotionally problematic for both of us, we’d both done it before, unsuccessfully, but him caring about my future without him (he was much older than me) won me over, so we did it.

Emma, it turned out, had sought out Bill after her marriage collapsed for comfort, which he would have given, initially anyway, in the most innocent of ways, because that was another thing about Bill, his empathy with the more difficult experiences of the human condition was legendary, and people sought him out when they needed someone to unconditionally accept them and their personal chaos. This sometimes led to us extending hospitality to characters you could think of as a little unsavoury, if you were feeling judgemental. It also meant having various former girlfriends to stay when they were passing through Sydney, and just wanted to have “a bit of his mind,” as one put it to me.

I don’t know how things escalated from comforting Emma to getting into bed with her, or at least, that isn’t true, I can imagine exactly how that progressed, but even these many years later I don’t want to talk about it, except to say that when one discovers a spouse has been intimately involved with someone else whilst conducting their ordinary life with you, it’s as if that period of time no longer has validity, it is not what you had thought it to be, you believed it to be what it absolutely was not, and that is something like the feeling of clinging desperately to a stair rail on the fortieth floor of a swaying building in a Tokyo earthquake.

The affair went on for several months, until Bill decided he had to end it. He told me he felt too guilty to continue, to which I rather scathingly responded that it had taken quite some time for that guilt to kick in, hadn’t it? Later he admitted he just didn’t desire her anymore and had found himself in the ridiculous situation of desiring his wife more than he desired his lover. In fact he always had, he continued, he’d just been so moved by the powerful combination of her distress and her unflagging long-term desire for him that he’d capitulated to her need. Desire begets desire. Don’t enhance it, I told him. A mercy fuck is a mercy fuck.

And then, because some of us are incapable of protecting ourselves and seek to know what can only cause our hearts to bleed half to death, I asked “Were you very passionate with her?”

There was a long silence.

“What else would you have me be?” he finally answered.

I was breathless at the audacity of his reply, at the excruciating hurt it caused me, and finally, at the truth of it. I would not have had him be a man who dithered about these things. If it is to be done, it ought to be done with feeling, holding nothing back. The man I loved was incapable of acting without passion in all things, and no, I would not have had him be less than passionate about his infidelity either.

However.

I was a that time involved in a family court matter with my first husband to do with property and child maintenance and all the detritus of a broken-down marriage. I had a lawyer. This lawyer made it obvious to me, by rubbing his leg against mine under the table as we sat in front of a magistrate hammering out details of the settlement, and with various other attentions I hadn’t known were included in his fees and that I ignored, that he fancied me as a potential sexual partner. I was about as uninterested as anyone can be, my preferred mode of relationship being serial monogamy, and being as deeply in love with my husband as it’s possible to get.  Sam didn’t stand a chance. But after Emma’s confession, everything changed. My hurt was a constant dark companion that made me feel quite maddened. I’d smashed up the kitchen, broken every thing I could break, started smoking, and in the most bizarre expression of grief I can ever recall in my life, shaved my head. All my long blonde hair, so loved by Bill, lay in a tangled slippery mess on the bathroom floor, and I refused to clean it up. Every time he brushed his teeth he tried to avoid treading in it but would always come to bed with strands  of my hair between his toes.

“I can’t believe you’ve done this,” he moaned the first night, and tried to stroke and kiss my head, but I swatted him away in a fury and removed myself to sleep in my study.

My newly bald look did not deter the lawyer. This was before the time bald immediately made everyone think of chemotherapy, when it was still exotic. I made up my mind. I would fuck the lawyer. If Bill could do it, so could I.

I cared not a fig for the lawyer, the sex was terrible, I cried the whole time and then I did it again. The affair was brief, over a couple of weeks, and I told Bill straight away, otherwise what would have been the point of it? This caused an explosion I could never have foreseen. It was, apparently, one thing for Bill to fuck around, but quite another if I did it. He didn’t smash anything because there was nothing left to smash, but he did insist on meeting with Sam to “discuss” the “situation.” They met at the Gelato Bar.  Sam’s contact lens fell out into his coffee, he said Bill was better looking than him, and he felt at a disadvantage. They agreed if I wanted both of them, they would learn to share me with as little acrimony as possible.

I heard that news from both parties initially with bemusement, and then rage. I could not believe the arrogance and stupidity of men. And Emma wouldn’t leave me alone.

Bill had, it turned out, made promises. He’d led her to believe he was in something with her for the long haul. She had offered him what she called an “unconventional” relationship, in which she would be his mistress, she accepted that he would stay with me, and he had agreed to the arrangement. I said I couldn’t think of anything more conventional than being some man’s mistress, and I let them both know I very much did not appreciate finding myself in such a fucking cliché.

“She isn’t going to let this go,” Bill told me, trembling, after another long, fraught phone call.

“Why should she? You gave her your word. You let her think it was a long-term thing. Is she now to think that either she’s a fool, or you’re an opportunistic liar? You knew she’d been in love with you forever. What do you expect?”

“I changed my mind, surely a man can be allowed to change his mind?”

“You really have to be careful about “changing your mind” when it involves relations with another human heart. Did you think she’d say OK, and thanks for all the fish?”

I’ve since noticed, listening to others describe their affairs with married men, that there seems to be an assumption on the part of those men that the words they say to their mistresses don’t carry the same weight and gravitas as the words they say to anyone else. In general, these men are amazed when their lover protests, but you said…and repeats back to them the undertakings they have made. There seems to be an assumption on almost everyone’s part except the women involved, that married men are not to be held to anything they say when they are involved in an extra marital affair. The woman, it’s generally thought, is a fool to believe them, and ought to behave graciously when he wants to return to the safety of his marriage, and should not remind him of what have become for him embarrassing promises and declarations of love.

This has never seemed quite right to me. I felt a certain sympathy for Emma. I felt furious with Bill for behaving like any other boring stupid married man who thought for a while he could have a wife and a mistress and then when it got complicated ditch the mistress, and then have the temerity to complain when she didn’t shut up and go away and instead held him to his words, and let her messy broken heart bleed all over his life. I didn’t care how much trouble she caused him. Bring it on, was what I thought. I never got annoyed if I answered the phone and it was Emma asking for Bill, even in the middle of the night. Of course, I’d say, he’s right here. Then I would sit, glowering at him, listening to his uncomfortable side of the conversation  while he made helpless shrugging gestures at me, as if to say, I can’t get away, she won’t shut up. Good, I’d mouth. Serves you fucking well right.

Eventually, Emma did give up and I have no idea what became of her.

I count myself as fortunate to have loved and desired Bill to the degree that I never wanted anyone else, so I didn’t have to struggle with what is, in Western culture, forbidden desire. Though I never managed it, I would like to have been able to deal with his infidelities with more equilibrium, because I don’t think there is anything wrong with desire, and I think  it’s probably much better to act on it than to attempt to repress and deny it. I tend to agree with William Blake:

Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling.
And being restrain’d it by degrees becomes passive till it is only the shadow of desire.

He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence

When Bill asked me, in response to my tortured question about his passion with Emma, “What else would you have me be?” I understood that a human being can never be enslaved by another, and though his infidelity was like death to me at the time, I could not have wished him to do it in any other way.

I don’t think Blake is suggesting I act on every whim, like a rude child selfishly doing whatever I want with no thought for anyone else. But desire isn’t whim. I think Blake is saying that desire is a powerful force, and to be reckoned with, that it is transgressive, that it will break down all my boundaries and lead me into the unknown, and if I turn away, if I refuse desire, I will be the lesser for it in the end. Desire is perhaps incompatible with convention and fidelity. Perhaps this is why cultures are so anxious to restrain it, and the infidelity that so frequently accompanies it, whenever it so subversively appears.

Blake- Marriage of Heaven & Hell

Stranded in the shit field

30 Oct

Now and again in a life, one runs into what I like to call a shit field – a series of apparently unconnected events that occur simultaneously, or hard on one another’s heels, all of which share a common theme.

It can be difficult to recognise you’re in the shit field at the time, because its very nature clouds the mind and takes a toll on perceptions.

For the last twelve months, and particularly the last four or five, some of the effects of trudging through the shit field have been an increasing lack of creativity, loss of interest in the world, crippling anxiety, depression, and a sense of having completely lost control of my life and my ability to make good decisions.

I apologise to everyone who has stayed with the blog, for my increasing lack of output, and the deteriorating quality of the posts I have managed.

I wrote here about the experience of being with my beloved husband last year, after he suffered a massive stroke. I underestimated the length of time it would take me to recover from the loss of the man with who I had shared a long, fraught love affair of such intensity that I couldn’t ever imagine loving anyone else. I’m familiar with the Kubler Ross theory of the five stages of grief, though in my experience they are not necessarily consecutive, and I don’t recall ever doing any bargaining, probably because I don’t believe in a higher power so I don’t have a transcendental exteriority in my life with whom to cut a deal.

Apart from that, I’d say the model is fairly accurate, and applies to important loss of any kind, not solely death and dying, if one needs a framework to help explain the chaos inside.

I also underestimated the exhaustion I would feel and for how long I would feel it, after week upon week of sitting at my husband’s bedside, watching him deteriorate, watching in shocked despair as he railed and screamed at me in a language I could no longer understand, and at the end of these rantings, trembling as I watched him break down, as he stroked my face with his one good hand, and begged me for I knew not what. I assumed comfort. Many times I climbed onto his bed and laid my body the length of his frail frame, and held him while he fumbled, sobbing, for my breasts.

I would leave him at the end of these gruelling days, and make my way back to the Bondi Beach apartment a friend’s daughter had loaned me while she was overseas. Sometimes I’d catch a bus. More often I’d walk, as a way to calm myself, and reconnect with the world outside of the nursing home. I was not really a fit companion for anyone, and generally too exhausted for dinners or meetings with old friends. I found it difficult to sleep. These days I hate the city, and found adapting to its racket after the silence of my north coast home, almost impossible. I missed my dog. I missed him something awful.

Our life together, mine and A’s, had been largely conducted in Bondi where we lived at the beach, apart from a brief period when A realised a life-long dream, and bought a converted Pittwater ferry that we moored at the Newport Marina and lived on for a couple of years on and off. Our weekend pleasure was to motor slowly round the waterways, and come back to haul up our crab pots full of blue swimmers that A would then cook in a huge pot and we’d eat for supper with wine or a beer.  I remember once standing beside him at the boat’s wheel, my skirt flying open in the wind, my hair whipping at my face, and A turning to me and saying “If I died now, here with you, I would die a happy man.”

I told him this and other stories of our life as I sat beside him, holding his hand. I think he heard. I think he remembered. I think it gave him some sense of who he was, and had been.

I know now that I had never loved him more than I did those months I sat vigil at his bedside. I don’t know where that love came from. I felt it enter me as I walked through the nursing home doors. I felt its energy fill me as I climbed the stairs to his room. I felt that love sustain me through everything that occurred, every day it occurred. That love overwhelmed me.  Without it, I couldn’t have lasted a week. I’m not a believer in anything much. But I believe in that love.

When my friend’s daughter returned from New York, I moved to the glorious cliff top eyrie owned by my friend, Elisabeth Wynhausen, who recently died, who swore me to secrecy when she discovered her cancer, and whom I miss.

The theme of my shit field is emerging.

Then, to my utter surprise, when I had decided such things were over for me, earlier this year I fell in love.  The circumstances were challenging. Everything indicated this was not going to be easy. And yet again, out of nowhere, that love swept in with such power and took hold of me, even harder than before if that was possible, and I said a yes.

Well, in keeping with the theme of the shit field the challenges were too great, and I find myself once again in the stages of grief, or perhaps I never really got out of them.

What strikes me as remarkable, however, is that something so comparatively short-lived can cause an anguish not dissimilar to the loss of the love affair of decades. Of course there isn’t the history to mourn. But the loss. Oh god, the loss.

Or perhaps it is an accumulation of loss that finally overwhelms. I can’t tell yet. I’m still too much in love. I haven’t caught up with events. I’m still talking to him in my head as if he hasn’t gone. I’m still hurt when there’s no good morning and goodnight. I haven’t got used to the loss of him beginning my days and ending my nights. The absence of his presence.

So, I doubt I’ll be out of the shit field anytime soon. Thank you for staying around.

 

Immigration Minister Morrison instructs his staff to lie

20 Oct

In this article in The Age today, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison orders his staff to publicly refer to asylum seekers as “illegal” arrivals , “detainees,” and “illegal maritime arrivals.”

As seeking asylum in Australia is not an illegal, criminal act, no matter how potential refugees arrive, Morrison is in effect instructing his staff to lie to the public.

Describing asylum seekers in the above terms criminalises innocent people, and this false criminalisation is then used to justify the Coalition’s treatment of them.

There can be little more offensive in a workplace than a boss ordering his staff to lie to the public. That a government minister should take this action is serious cause for alarm.

That this same minister is also a very public Christian should give even more pause for thought.

Dark vision: the world of Melinda Tankard Reist

24 Sep

Last night’s Australian Story on ABCTV invited its audience into the world of the remarkable photographer Poli Papapetrou and her family, in particular that of her daughter, Olympia.

When Olympia was six, Poli took a portrait of her naked in a re-creation of a much earlier image made by Lewis Carroll, known as the author of Alice in Wonderland, as well as for his photographic studies of young girls.

Poli’s photograph caused expressions of outrage from Kevin Rudd, Bravehearts founder and child advocate Hetty Johnston, and of course my old nemesis, Melinda Tankard Reist, all of whom found Olympia’s image highly offensive and her mother even more so for making it.

Olympia, now sixteen,  has become interested in what’s known as “selfies” which for the uninitiated are self-portraits, usually taken by teenage girls in various stages of undress, and posted on the internet. Her critique of this practice can be read here.

Australian Story  invited Melinda Tankard Reist to comment on selfies, and the manner in which we gaze upon young girls in our culture. Tankard Reist declared that because our vision is so tainted by pornography thanks to the pornified, sexualised atmosphere in which we dwell, it has become impossible for us to innocently view images of girls, whether they be those made by Poli Papapetrou of her daughter, the notorious photographs of Bill Henson, or selfies.

My damn spell check will not accept selfies as a word and insists on changing it. That means something, doesn’t it.

The sudden appearance of Ms Tankard Reist in the middle of what had, up till then, been an engrossing  portrait of a loved-filled, creative family life complete with what I suspect were rescued greyhounds, was something akin to the shocking effects felt at the  manifestation of a bad fairy at a joyous christening. Dark, forbidding, increasingly grim-lipped, Tankard Reist described to us of our loss of innocence, our inability to ever see a naked child as anything other than sexual fodder, thanks to the porn saturated universe we have wilfully allowed to engulf us.

We have, whether we realise it or not, had our capacity to gaze innocently upon the young stolen from us by pedophiles. In some abominable alchemical exchange, that gaze has been replaced with their dark and evil vision, and most of us do not even know what we have lost. Obviously, it is up to Melinda to tell us.

I don’t know about everybody else, but when I see a naked child the last thing that comes to mind is sex. I don’t think, oh my, that child is sexualised!Heavens, I even take photos of my grandsons with their willies out and their gorgeous naked buttocks that I could just kiss and kiss!

Set against the backdrop of Olympia and her family, Tankard Reist’s message has never sounded so insanely deviant. Of course there are situations in which girls are exploited and abused. But to lose the ability to tell one thing from another is a dangerous tragedy. Most of us retain that ability. Tankard Reist does not. In warning us of the loss of the innocent gaze, she reveals only that hers is lost. Mine is not and no matter how many pornographic images I’m bombarded with, it will never be lost.

Olympia’s family are an excellent example of how to combat pornographic assaults on the gaze, and raise children capable of distinguishing between art and beauty, and exploitation and abuse. Tankard Reist’s dark vision has no place in this world, and indeed, brings only destruction.

Why I don’t care that there’s only one woman in cabinet.

18 Sep

Look. It’s not as if we didn’t know Prime Minister Abbott’s attitude to women before enough of us voted for him to lead the country.

In case you’ve forgotten, here’s a reminder.

Abbott on women

So it should come as no surprise that the new PM has only one woman, Julie Bishop, in his cabinet.

Anyone who can make the above observation is not going to apply the same merit test for women as he is for men.  Abbott claims the LNP promotes on merit, leading in this instance to a vast majority of males in positions of power and influence. He doesn’t reveal his criteria for assessing merit, but if he starts from the position that women are destined to exclusion from large numbers of areas because of our lady bits, one is inclined to think one of them is owning a penis.

It is, of course, shameful that in 2013 a first world country should be led by a man with such biologically determinist attitudes. I don’t believe for a minute there aren’t women in the LNP as worthy and capable as many of the men Abbott has chosen. However, I have no  sympathy and no respect for any of them, if they are content to stand silently by while their leader treats them with such contempt, simply because they have vaginas.

Although a willingness to be treated with contempt because vagina is likely a precondition of joining the LNP.

Neither do I believe that Abbott’s policies would be any different if his cabinet was crammed to the ceilings with women, so in that sense it doesn’t matter if they are present or not.

The PM has further enraged many by appointing himself the Prime Minister for Women.  He has done this because he can. He is taunting us. We should do our very best to ignore him.

There is certainly a gender issue in play here. However, it is one for Coalition women to fight, not me. Coalition women don’t give a toss about those of us who aren’t of their number. Why do I care if they have positions of seniority or not? They aren’t going to do anything I’d like with their power. So they can fight their own battles, and if they don’t, it won’t keep me up at night.

Abbott & daughters

Why I can’t call Abbott a cunt

7 Sep

One of the most telling revelations Tony Abbott has ever made about himself occurred in his chat with Annabel Crabb on ABCTV’s Kitchen Cabinet last week.

Describing the circumstances that led to his abandonment of theological studies and his goal to enter the Catholic priesthood, Abbott explained that while struggling with a 500 word essay on the desert fathers, he had a conversation with a mate who was about to leave for London to enable the satisfactory conclusion of a billion dollar business deal. Upon hearing his friend describe his venal life, Abbott experienced a Damascene moment. Christopher Pyne will tell you how to correctly pronounce that word.

What the hell, Abbott wondered, am I doing sitting in a seminary writing about the desert fathers, when I could be carving out a future for myself in the world of power, money, and fame?

Well, that’s not a verbatim report of what he says he thought, but it would be, if he’d been truthful. He couched his moment of enlightenment in terms of doing good, however, in the context of the billion dollar business deal, one is given cause to ponder that ambition.

In short, Abbott found God sadly wanting in comparison with what the world could offer, and without much ado, quit his service.

Some may say it was at this point that Abbott embarked on what was to become a lifelong commitment to selling his arse. In my book, arse-selling has been his highest and most consistent achievement, and before too much longer he’s going to need a colostomy bag to contain his excrement when his arse, abused beyond endurance, finally falls out.

So why can’t I call Abbott a cunt, as do so many others?

I’ve long been ambivalent towards the co-option of this female body part to perform as the worst expletive Western culture can manage. I acknowledge the admirably explosive possibilities of the cunt word. Its unique ability to convey a profound, rage-filled and terminal contempt is undeniable.

And yet, and yet and yet…

The cunt houses the only human body part whose sole purpose is to provide its owner with pleasure. How this can possibly bear any relation to Tony Abbott I’m damned if I know.

The cunt, pink, plump, shiny with the juices of desire, is a thing of exquisite beauty, hidden from view, shown only to the chosen one, repository of what is most astonishing in human sexuality. When I think of the cunt, the last association I make with it is, yes, you’ve guessed right, Tony Abbott.

The cunt, with its miraculous ability to open beyond imagining when fulfilling the task of delivering new life into the world, does not in the least remind me of Tony Abbott, whose desiccated countenance and impoverished speech patterns symbolise a shrivelling of human spirit I cannot associate with any life-giving qualities at all.

Or am I being too harsh?

In truth, I love my cunt and everything she can do. I have never been entirely comfortable using her name as a means of conveying contempt, though I fully understand why that is done, and I’m not getting up a petition to have it stopped.

This leaves me with the problem of how best to describe Tony Abbott. I like to think of him as a rat-fucking piece of human excrement who sucks dead dogs’ balls.  I know that is far clumsier than cunt, and takes more breath.

But please, do consider my argument for the beauty of the cunt, and think twice before likening our next Prime Minister to her.

How to do an ending

3 Sep

It’s occurred to me many times as I’ve watched quality television drama, how few script writers manage a good ending.

I’m thinking specifically of the ABC TV drama Broadchurch, a series that finished last week.  It was pretty good I thought, and I hadn’t picked the villain. That revelation was an unpleasant shock (Oh, no! No! I cried) which I won’t reveal, in case anyone is planning to watch the DVD.

However, after the critical denouement, things went south fairly rapidly, sinking into a swamp of sentimentality that left me irritated and offended. It was as if the script writers didn’t quite know what to do next, and settled on an unrealistic coming together of an intolerably fractured community as their nod to catharsis. Obviously they felt compelled to attempt a resolution, in a situation in which such a thing would take decades to achieve, if ever.

The final scenes worked as an exposition of the kind of overwhelming public emotion experienced after a catastrophic event, the short-lived euphoria of  an intense and temporarily bonding experience. But it told me nothing about the morning after when everyone woke up to find themselves inescapably trudging through daily life in a bell jar of emotions, most of them necessarily dark.

The other ending that comes to mind is that of The Sopranos. No easy resolution for these scriptwriters: the Soprano family are seated in a cafe, Tony looks up, and everything goes black. What the fuck? I yelled. Then I thought we’d lost our power. However, I count this as one of the finest endings I’ve ever seen. Not even the merest nod to catharsis, bugger audience desire for resolution, everything just went black so figure it out for yourself.

My interpretation was that we were offered Tony’s perspective as his life abruptly and unexpectedly ended.

Of course, everything has definitely gone black now, with the recent death of James Gandolfini, who played Tony. There can be no change of plans and further episodes. It is ended.

Endings are rarely easy. The lovely innocence of Aristotle in Poetics, in which he declares his belief in a beginning, a middle and a cathartic end, seems in 2013 to belong with fairy tales and Hollywood, though in the latter case, innocence is long-lost. The ending has to be happy in Hollywood because that’s what brings in the money. There’s also an infuriating rush to resolution in most media: after the most horrific events, people are urged to seek “closure” and “move on” with what seems to me a most unseemly haste. Grief has its own unpredictable timeline, and Freud referred to the “labour” of mourning, implying the hard slog of it. If you’ve lost a sentient being under any circumstances, you’ll know the rewards of  “closure” and “moving on” have to be earned and they don’t come easy. And they aren’t the only losses some of us have to grieve: loss of health, body parts, hopes and ambitions unrealised. Sorrow is, to varying degrees, an inescapable aspect of human life, so why there is such emphasis on hastily tidying up the dark and difficult with such lack of due respect, is a mystery to me.

“I can’t believe it, I can’t believe I’m alive,” snarls Bob Dylan, in one of his many angrily grieving lyrics written for some woman who’s abandoned him, “but without you it doesn’t feel right…”

It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel the same. Something has irrevocably changed. That’s endings for you. And that’s what I want the scriptwriters to show me. Bugger the confected catharsis.

Happy-Ending-quotes-35206692-500-425

Politics, Melancholia & Vulva Vulva Vulva.

23 Aug

I don’t know if it’s a consequence of my recent encounter with melancholia, but I can’t recall a time when I’ve been less engaged with politics around an election period.

The word melancholia reminds me of the 2011 Lars von Trier movie of the same name, an apocalyptic tale of planetary collision, inspired by the director’s post-depression insight that those of us stricken with this disorder behave with far more calm than do others when subjected to stress.

Why this is a surprise to anyone is beyond me.  We aren’t calm. We just don’t care enough to get excited. I don’t know how von Trier missed that difference.

When I consider the current political scene I do so with low levels of enthusiasm, and a good deal of despondency. David Horton articulates some of my ennui here, in describing our choices as between the lesser of two evils, that is,  an ideological extremist on the one hand, and a man lacking all belief (other than in himself) on the other.  In this faux presidential race, we have little to compare beyond the personalities of two white middle-aged men, both of whom, to me anyway, have all the appeal of a three-day-old boarfish.

I have no idea where they got the notion that repeating a word three times imbues that word with magical magical magical qualities qualities qualities.

I feel some sympathy for those obliged to earn their living autopsying  seemingly off-the-cuff comments made by one candidate or the other, in a desperate effort to manufacture meaning. At the same time I am fed up to the back teeth with the hours of “analysis” of one sentence, usually Tony Abbott’s. I am of the belief that everything he says is determined by the focus group du jour and that there are no “gaffes.” If he is sexist, that is because he is dog whistling sexists. Which is not to say it should not be remarked upon, of course it should. It is a sad situation, when in order to win an election a candidate must resort to sexism and xenophobia, but what is even more alarming is the willingness of potential leaders to capitulate to what is least desirable in the human.

Fed up with it all, my interest was briefly aroused by a kerfuffle at Sydney University over featuring female genitalia on the cover of Honi Soit.  Just because I can,  I’m going to link you to the Mamamia  account of how university educated women don’t know their vulvas from their vaginas. As will be clear to anyone who looks at the uncensored collection, these are vulvas on display, not vaginas, though the women involved set up a Twitter hashtag to deal with the fall out that read: #vaginasoit.

They’re following on from our globally acclaimed Convoy of Cleavage, I thought, momentarily emerging from my lugubrious state  mildly pleased to have been an inspiration to women.

It is alarming, though, that so many among us do not know the correct names for the female genitalia, adding weight to the women’s claims that we need to be more upfront about our bits. Who would ever call a penis testicles, or vice versa? Add to that the opinion of the university’s vice-chancellor that the cover of vulvas is “demeaning to women” and we have, in one  fleeting moment, been granted a view into the abyss to which female sexuality is cast by, erm, the patriarchy. An abyss of ignorance, contempt and desperate desire.

In their defence, the women cited an occasion on which Honi Soit featured a flaccid penis on its cover and nobody gave a toss. So to speak. Fair enough. Radical women must not be subdued by social conventions that insist a flaccid penis makes a more acceptable magazine cover than a series of resting vulvas.

Lars von Trier used Wagner’s (much-loved by Hitler) Tristan und Isolde prelude as the soundtrack for Melancholia. In his post screening interview in Cannes, von Trier lost his head and claimed to be a Nazi as a joke, he later protested, a joke that saw him banned from screenings for a period and roundly castigated for his sense of humour. Like the Honi Soit women, he crossed a line.

In politics, the masters and mistresses of spin have co-opted the innocent (if at times stupid) crossing of lines, and turned it into strategy. When Abbott is sexist, when either man is xenophobic, they are crossing lines and offending many of us, just as many were offended by von Trier’s Nazi references, and the sight of vulvas.  However, politicians cross the lines because research has told them that below those lines dwell the voters for whom there are no lines beyond their own self-interest. There is no innocence or even stupidity left in such border crossings. It is cold and it is calculated. It cares not what havoc it might wreak. It wants only power.

Politics. Melancholia. And, vulva vulva vulva. It’s magic.

Black dog

10 Aug

She feels as if she’s walking through treacle, that is, she feels the effort of pushing her body through a thick, sticky substance whenever she wants to move from one place to another. This isn’t anything like she usually feels. Usually she moves effortlessly, through friendly light air, like a dancer, with grace, as she was taught, a being responsive to music even when it’s only in her head, a being on good terms with the element that supports her life.

In the mornings, she wakes to find she’s crying. She’s detached from this crying. Nothing of her is involved in it. There’s no sobs. There are no physical convulsions. There’s just tears down her cheeks, an overflow. She wipes her face on her sheet. She gets out of bed. She goes into her bathroom. She avoids looking at herself in the mirror. She sits on the toilet. She pees, her elbows on her knees, her head in her hands. She feels like really crying but she won’t. This is her goal for the day, the same goal as yesterday and the day before and the day before that. She will not cry.

She puts on pyjama pants, socks and the dressing gown hanging on a hook in the bathroom. It’s chilly, in what passes for winter in northern NSW. She looks in the mirror. Her hair is wild from the night. She pushes it off her face, behind her ears. She looks into her eyes. I don’t even know who you are, she thinks, without emotion.

She goes into the room where the dogs sleep. There are two dogs since she inherited Little White Dog from her son. Her own dog, called Big Dog now, is old and can’t accompany her on the long walks she likes to take on the beaches and through the forest. Little Dog, though, has proved fearless and inexhaustible and follows her over all kinds of difficult terrain, and though she has never been drawn to fluffy white dogs, she is fond of this one.

She goes into their room and they greet her joyously, as if they’ve been separated from her for months, not one night. She strokes them, tells them they are beautiful, and urges them out into the garden. Then she goes upstairs, into the kitchen, puts on the kettle, finds the teapot, puts bread in the toaster, by which time the dogs have peed and are lined up at the kitchen door waiting for breakfast.

She has learned that things will remain fairly manageable if she takes one small task at a time. If she attempts too much, she’ll be overcome by despair and a crippling sense of incompetence. She’s usually very good at doing a lot of things but since the air turned to treacle and since she’s had to spend so much time making sure she’s not crying, her energies and her attention span have diminished. If she gets this toast and tea made and served up to Mrs Chook and feeds the dogs, that’s a good early morning.

She makes an extra piece of toast for the dogs. She used to share the crusts from her own, but with two of them she doesn’t get any. She hears Mrs Chook waking up. She takes the tea and toast into the upstairs bedroom where Mrs Chook is struggling to fight her way out of sleep and the mountain of doonas, books, scarves, papers, socks, pillows and various other detritus littering her bed. She sets the tea and toast on a minute space on the cluttered bedside table, mutters good morning and quickly leaves, because talking just now is way beyond her capabilities and besides, she can’t think of one single thing to say.  Language is leaving her, at least in its spoken form. It’s still present in her head, her own words, the words of others, poems, lyrics, conversations. But the effort of getting it from her mind to her mouth is beyond her and anyway, she thinks, what’s the point? Talking was always over-rated, wasn’t it? I would like, she thinks, to sit with someone, with him perhaps, in absolute silence. I would like, she thinks, with him perhaps, to simply gaze and be gazed upon. Then I would like, with him perhaps, to touch, just fingertips. I would like, she thinks, with him perhaps, to let the bodies and the hearts have their moment, released from the obligations of the spoken word. I am, she thinks, too tired for speech. Too tired for the enunciation. Too tired.

She takes her tea back downstairs to her domain, and turns on her computer. There’s mail. Stuff in which she has no interest, and a video from her daughter-in-law of her toddler grandson laughing. Mrs Chook says Archie laughs like his grandmother. If you look at photos of grandmother, son and grandson you can see they share the same full-faced grin, showing their teeth, joyful beings engaged with life, the three of them. She’s always loved it, that they share her laugh.

Archie, in the video, is beside himself with laughter. It seems to be inspired by a game his dad is playing with him. The child laughs with his whole body. He shivers, and prances with delight. He holds up his little hands and shrieks. He doubles over, clutching his belly and his hair flies out around his head, electrified with joy.  She watches the video over and over again. She isn’t crying, but the tears are running down her cheeks again quite without any input from her. She wipes them away with the sleeve of her dressing gown, and wipes her nose while she’s at it.  She turns up the sound. Archie’s laughter fills her study. She wants to be with him. She wants to hold his squirming body, catch his small hands in her own. Last time she saw him he was sick with a cold. He languished for long periods in her arms, and let her love him. He hadn’t been so long in her arms since he was a tiny infant, when she never wanted to put him to sleep in his cot where he ought to have been, even though his parents told her not to spoil him.

It’s all right, she thinks. Hold on. You can still want, so it’s not too bad. The worst time is when she can’t want. When all desire slips away, out of reach, and she can’t even remember how desire feels.

She turns off the video. She makes a plan. Shower. Dress. Take the dogs for a small walk, one that won’t exhaust Big Dog. Come home. Domestic tasks. One at a time. Then write. She must write. She must not give up writing.

Go out again, this time for a long walk with Little Dog. Take music. Stay out all morning. That way she won’t have to talk to anyone. That way she can concentrate on getting through this day the best she can.

It occurs to her that the only thing she knows how to do is to keep on keeping on.

She loads the dogs into the truck. The sun is shining. It’s warm now.

She can only write about herself in the third person. It’s better than nothing, she thinks.

Let’s talk about trust.

9 Aug

Faith-Trust-Pixie-Dust_6E9B819CFor reasons that escape me, this election is,  I’m told every time I listen to analyses, being fought on the issue of trust.

It isn’t being argued on the grounds of which party the voter ought to trust, but which man. And so we find ourselves with our feet in two incompatible electoral systems: on the one hand Westminster, bequeathed to us by the colonisers, and on the other, a Presidential system that we have voluntarily adopted from the US. Our election is to be fought presidentially between Tony Abbot and Kevin Rudd and more specifically, on the trustworthiness or otherwise of these two men. However, we are governed by the Westminster system, in which either party can replace its leader without recourse to the opinions of voters.

It’s difficult to imagine a more advanced state of political lunacy.

Leaving aside the matter of which man is more worthy of our trust, or perhaps not entirely leaving it aside, because I can’t help but observe that there’s a bee’s dick of difference between them, and neither of them ought to be trusted as far as I can spit, but be that as it may, what is this thing called trust that will determine who will govern the country for the next three years?

The dominant paradigm for trust is generally accepted as the relation held between two morally mature people, although the trust of a child is the exception to this. For our purposes, I’ll stick to the morally mature. It’s almost impossible to will oneself to trust: a cause is required, in other words, what is the justification for trusting this person?

Trust inherently involves risk, and there are arguments made for trust as the very basis of morality. Moral integrity is required for all trust relationships: when I trust you I make myself vulnerable to betrayal so I want to know before I embark on that hazardous course that you have integrity, and that the risk I’m taking, while never entirely absent because human beings fall and stumble, is minimal.

There’s a great deal of difference in the distress one feels when betrayed by a politician, and that felt when betrayed by a lover, or friend, or someone in close relationship. I hope there is, anyway. If not, that gives a whole new meaning to the term political tragic. Indeed, I wonder if the term trust is  even appropriate when it comes to our relations with politicians. Perhaps there’s an argument for replacing it with reliability. When I only rely on someone, as opposed to trusting him or her, I’m not going to feel betrayed when he or she lets me down, I’m only going to feel disappointed. Trust and betrayal. Reliability and disappointment. Yes, trust does sound entirely too intimate to be applied to the political relationship.

However, trust is a powerful word, evoking powerful emotions, compared to which mere reliability carries little emotional weight and appeal. The very fact that  politicians choose the word trust is evidence of their desire to emotionally manipulate, and therefore good reason to be wary of trusting them.

If we were asked to judge and compare Rudd and Abbott on their reliability most of us would laugh like drains and that would be the end of the campaign. When we’re asked to trust them that’s a whole other ball game, and because of the emotional power of the concept, a far more serious one.

When I Googled “trust” I encountered such gems as “Loving someone is giving them the power to break your heart, but trusting them not to.”  And “Trust starts with truth and ends with truth.” And my personal favourite from Twitter: “Truly falling in love with you is not one of the greatest mistakes of my life but trusting you madly is one of the biggest mistakes of my life ever.” Trust, then is generally perceived as belonging in the private, not the political domain. The betrayal of trust is rather a serious matter, and has consequences, most of which are very unpleasant. Once lost, it’s hard to recover.

It seems to me that fighting this election on which of two politicians is the most trustworthy is a sign of our escalating political insanity. The records of both men demonstrate their lack of integrity, and their wavering moralities. There is no justification at all for placing trust in either of them.

How much better to focus on the policies espoused by both major parties and ignore their leaders.  I need a good deal more than the faith, trust and a little pixie dust offered by Rudd and Abbott in their presidential race to win government. Gentlemen, neither of you cut the mustard in the trust stakes and you aren’t that reliable either. And if I consider a final Google gem: “To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved”, well, chaps, forget it.

Abbott Rudd

 

When politicians create scapegoats.

26 Jul

Humanity is therefore a graded and ranked status with many shades and tiers between ‘superhuman’ Western, white, heterosexual male at the one end and the non-human, the concentration camp inmates or the fleeing refugee at the other. Costa Douzinas

It began in 2001 when John Howard introduced into our politics the language of border control, illegals and queue jumpers with which to define asylum seekers arriving by boat. In the context of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Howard seized the opportunity to exploit a xenophobia unleashed by Pauline Hanson, and sought to create a bond amongst Australian voters by uniting us in fear of invasion by the boat-borne, allegedly diseased, allegedly potentially terrorist refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

The fabricated threat of invasion, together with Howard’s promise to protect the electorate from imagined perils, won him an election he looked set to lose.

What was absolutely necessary for Howard’s success, and what continues to be necessary to the present day, is the successful dehumanisation of boat borne asylum seekers by politicians. The humanity of asylum seekers must be negated so that their suffering appears both inauthentic and uninteresting to sections of the electorate perceived to control the re-election of governments. Primarily, they must be constructed as threats to the well-being of Australians, their lives stripped of experience and meaning. The implication of such treatment is that asylum seekers are less than human, and that seeking asylum is a criminal offence.

The theoretical underpinning of Howard’s political moves is explained by Douzinas thus:

The refugee is a representative of total otherness…This is the reason why the refugee is seen as such a threat…the terrifying absolute, total Other, the symbol of contamination that otherness may bring upon community and identity.

The asylum seeker, the ultimate foreign other, is employed as a scapegoat to strengthen the boundaries of the nation-state by uniting its citizens in a common rejection of the foreigner’s humanity in favour of maintaining the ideology of sovereignty. In raw terms, the suffering of boat borne asylum seekers is as nothing compared to Australia’s sovereignty which, it is claimed, is dangerously threatened by their arrival and their requests for sanctuary. Once this principle is established, the dehumanising process has begun.

It is hardly surprising that when such a principle is promoted by the country’s leaders, mistreatment of asylum seekers in detention centres occurs. Permission has been granted from the highest political level to act towards them as if they are less human than us, and less entitled to fundamental considerations Australians may take for granted, such as the human right to access to legal assistance, for example.  In other words, boat borne asylum seekers are denied the right to rights. There is not much more that can be done to dehumanise an individual than to deny her or him the right to rights.

They have been cast as an underclass, displaced persons without citizenship, stateless, belonging nowhere, anonymous. Indeed, to the state and its supporters, the stranger seeking asylum is assumed to be corrupt because of her very circumstances, regardless of how far out of her control those circumstances are.

It can be difficult to understand the situations that have caused asylum seekers to undertake life-threatening boat journeys rather than stay where they are. With no experience of prolonged terror, daily fear of death or torture, or the crushing despair of indefinite uncertainty, it’s not unusual for people to imagine they would do much better than asylum seekers, and show greater resilience and courage  in similar circumstances. This is an attitude politicians exploit, encouraging the electorate to position itself on the high moral ground that casts asylum seekers as inferior and weak. In reality, there are likely few among us who would voluntarily embark on those boat journeys that in themselves speak to us of courage, tenacity, a will to live and a determination many of us never have to seek and find in ourselves.

Politicians carry an enormous burden of responsibility for the mistreatment of asylum seekers by others. They have given permission, indeed they have actively encouraged a perception of asylum seekers that casts them as less worthy of care and concern than anyone else in our community. They have deliberately created a scapegoat. It is inevitable that the scapegoat will be treated horribly. They are now holding the scapegoat hostage as an act of “deterrence” to others desperate enough to risk their lives at sea.

It means nothing that most of the 47,000 boat arrivals assessed in the last five years have been found to be refugees. Australian politicians are happy to take people whose lives are already in trauma and turmoil, and exploit them even further to achieve their own dubious ends. PM Rudd and LOTO Abbott are upping the stakes. Their increasingly hard-line policies will result in asylum seekers being treated more badly than they have been to date, as the message filters through to the Australian public that these people do not matter. Their lives and their experiences are as nothing compared to the country’s allegedly precarious sovereignty, and the winning of government. They are nothing more,  in the constructed reality of Rudd and Abbott, than scapegoats, and a means to a political end.

In our post-moral politics, something “works” when it gets politicians elected

22 Jul

There’s much discussion about whether or not Kevin Rudd’s “PNG solution” will “work,” discussion that has led me to speculate on what the definition of “work” is in these circumstances.

One way in which it may not “work” is for the well-being and peace of the citizens of PNG. The potential problems of resettling refugees in that country are clearly articulated in this piece. I recommend it to anyone interested in the complex realities of Rudd’s grand plan.

Of course, it could be that Rudd is depending on asylum seekers deciding that the persecution, torture and death many of them face in the countries they are fleeing are, on balance, a whole lot better than being resettled in PNG, and therefore they will change their minds about getting on boats in the first place. The contempt this implies for Australia’s former colony is breathtaking. We are transporting “illegals” to that now independent country, as if we are still its colonial masters.

The plan might “work” in the sense of reducing or preventing asylum seeker attempts to escape their circumstances by boat. Work for the government, that is, and for those among us who apparently live in fear of invasion, the imposition of Sharia law, and people from other cultures who look different and don’t speak English properly and will not queue. It won’t “work” for the asylum seekers, who will still be stuck with lives that are so tenuous they are willing to risk them on dangerous journeys rather than stay where they are.

That we have contributed to the turmoil in some of the source countries is incontestable. Our slavish capitulation to US invasion and subsequent destruction of source countries leaves us bearing certain responsibilities to their citizens. In the same way, our colonisation and exploitation of PNG (see this piece in the Guardian on our vulture capitalist practices in that country) ought to cause us to think carefully before using PNG once more for our own gain, with a cavalier disregard for the effects that will have on its population.

I can attest to some of the ruination inflicted on that country, having spent several years living on Bougainville Island watching the myriad consequences of copper mining there.

The plan might “work” to get the ALP re-elected, much as John Howard’s infamous exploitation of the Tampa and the tragedy of 9/11 “worked” to return government to the LNP when everyone thought they were done for. Howard cleverly whipped up the nation’s fears of terrorists, conflating asylum seekers with those who wrought havoc in the US. Rudd’s narrative of evil is ostensibly aimed at people smugglers, however those who will be most severely affected by his PNG solution are the human cargo, whom Rudd will traffic to PNG in exchange for aid to that country. Rudd’s narrative is also one of invasion by importunate undesirables, implying that we are under such acute threat from asylum seekers we must abandon all moral principles and do whatever it takes to keep them out. Or else, catastrophe.

Quite what form that catastrophe might take is unclear. I am waiting for a politician to spell out the actual dangers with which refugees threaten us, because I can’t think of any. The existential whine about losing our national identity leaves me baffled, as does the irrational fear of a ruptured sovereignty. Both are constructs, reified for political gain.

The xenophobic panic is arrant nonsense, but Rudd is not an arrant fool. He has, however, re-calibrated his moral compass since the days he lectured us on the necessity to behave with kindness towards the stranger at our gate, and espoused in essays his love for Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It would be an interesting entertainment, if one had the inclination, to chart Rudd’s moral decline in the last six or so years.

Apparently in our post moral politics something “works” when it gets politicians re-elected. There is no place in the narrative for moral and ethical considerations.Our political and media elite have attempted to fill this gaping moral abyss with faux concern  for those who drown on the boat journey, especially babies. I say “faux” concern because they have no concern at all for the lives of these people before or after their perilous journeys. If they survive they will be locked up in indefinite detention, some of them even if they are found to be refugees. Babies, children and women are subjected to this treatment, with well-documented evidence of the psychological disasters this inhumane incarceration causes, particularly in the young. The refugees released into the community come to us not only traumatised by their experiences in the source country, but additionally and entirely unnecessarily traumatised by the treatment afforded them by Australian governments. Yet these same politicians will apparently move heaven and earth to prevent the drowning death of a baby. It is, I suppose,  sheer coincidence that this will likely persuade many people to vote for them.

There are times in the lives of nations and individuals when circumstances are so dire, moral and ethical considerations become a luxury that cannot be afforded in the desperate effort to survive. This is likely the situation of many boat-borne asylum seekers later found to be refugees. The concept of waiting in line for one’s turn can be a luxury only the comfortable can observe. Terror, desperation and the impulse to survive will override manners, and if you don’t understand that you’ve never been very afraid, and you suffer from a failure of imagination.

In no sense can Australians claim to be in such a state of terror and desperation at the prospect of asylum seekers arriving by boat, yet our politicians and those who support them have utterly abandoned moral and ethical considerations, just as if we are fighting for our survival.

Whether or not a solution is “workable” is not measured by how it best serves the needs of all stakeholders. It is not measured in terms of human suffering, in terms of decency, in terms of our obligation as human beings to treat our most vulnerable fellows with compassion and care.  It “works” if it is politically successful. That is all.

Love. That is all.

20 Jul

A few months ago I wrote here about spending time with my seriously ill husband, and my experience of coming to terms with the end of a love that had been everything to me.

It took years to accept that love was over, and what I eventually took from that lonely, arid time was painful instruction on the power of human attachment.

When I visited A last year,  desperately ill after a massive stroke, unable to speak coherently and only intermittently recognising me, our life together did indeed parade itself before my eyes, and I laid many things to rest as I sat for weeks beside his bed, holding his hands while he struggled to tell me he loved me and always would.

The miracle was, that after everything that went wrong we did still love each other. I wasn’t altogether surprised to find that in me, because I am very bad at endings. The life may no longer be a shared one, but something in me, deep in my belly, refuses to entirely let go of the love. I don’t know if this is a good or a bad thing, it just is. So I can look at someone I loved years ago and think  oh, yes, I loved you and oh yes, the ending was hard and I hated you for a while, and oh yes, though I don’t want to do anything about it and my life has changed, still there is tenderness, and gratitude for what we knew together.

Grief is an altered state. It can take you by surprise, long after you think you’ve done with it. It becomes less wild, less consuming as time passes. It can take on a sorrowful tenderness that for all its softness, still wrenches the heart. Grief can be triggered unexpectedly, long after you think you’re done with it, and you find yourself needing to hide away while you work out what has suddenly gone wrong with your breathing, and why out of nowhere you badly want to cry.

For example, I walked into a room today where someone was playing Mendelssohn’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, #2 in D Major. I listened to this Sonata, along with the Brahms #1 in F, during a very rough period in my marriage, during the last of many journeys A and I made together, down the Mekong, through Laos. I’ve heard both many times since, of course, but never without some emotion, the power of which has lessened over time. Yet today, for reasons I can’t explain, I heard the familiar first movement as if I was back on that long boat, sitting on my backpack beside A, both of us silenced by the misery of knowing it was too late for this journey or any other journey together, and neither of us able to end it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I don’t have a list of things I want to do before I die. At times I think, vaguely, of travelling to places I’ve never been because it would be excellent to leave the earth having seen as much of it as possible. At times I think I want to go back to the place where I was born one more time, because every time I return to that North Yorkshire country I feel a primitive and powerful sense of belonging that I have never felt anywhere else.

But lately I’ve been thinking that these things come a poor second to love, in all its frequently unexpected and varied manifestations, and it’s likely love that tops my bucket list.

Today my friend said, there’s no such thing as a perfect relationship is there?  There is, I said, after a while. The perfect relationship is the one where you care enough to bother struggling through the shitty bits and find you still want to stay in it. The perfect relationship is the one where you don’t want to struggle through the shit, and you have the decency and the courage to leave before you cause anymore damage to yourself and the other. Love is required for both. Isn’t it?

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Today I re-learned that nothing ends when you think it has. This annoys me, because I don’t live easily with loose ends. Somewhere along the way I’ve got it into my head that one must have “closure,” resolution, well-defined endings in order to move onto anything new. But actually, I’m coming to think that’s crap. My life is a chaos of ongoing love of varying kinds and depths, and I can’t think how to tidy up any of it. Perhaps I don’t have to? Perhaps instead I must learn to live with the disorder of a functioning human heart? Perhaps for years to come I will unexpectedly feel grief for my husband, for my dead mother, for my friend, for everyone I’ve  loved and will love, with various degrees of complexity and difficulty, success and failure.

There is a human being. There is love. That is all.


Why we want bad people to have horns like the devil

19 Jul

Well, I haven’t been here much lately, owing to family responsibilities, ill health, & various other matters like writer’s block and such.

This Rolling Stone cover of alleged Boston bomber Tsarnaev and the outrage it provoked in some quarters captured my attention. Some readers claimed the image was “glamourising terrorism,” “making martyrs out of terrorists,” and portraying Tsarnaev as a rock star, and they cancelled their subscriptions in protest.

One of the shocking realities about those among us who commit horrendous acts, is that they usually look much like everybody else and sometimes, like Tsarnaev, are prettier than average. This seems to arouse a frightened indignation in many people: how dare these offenders exist in the world without some visible sign of their dark hearts and black intentions? The serial killer who looks just like the bloke next door ruptures the imagined and desired order of things. There’s a sense of unfairness, of being duped: how can someone who looks so good turn out to be so bad?

It wouldn’t be easy to transform Tsarnaev, for example, into a physical representation of his thoughts and deeds without resorting to caricature. His alleged deeds are thought of as “monstrous,” implying that they do not belong in the human but in a biological aberration, physically malformed and psychologically hideous. As author of his deeds, Tsarnaev is accorded the descriptor “monster” without possessing any physically monstrous attributes. Judging by the offence taken by some Rolling Stones readers, there is a strong need in the human population for a book to look exactly like its cover, in spite of all our experience to the contrary.

Representing Tsarnaev in caricature as monstrous and evil would resolve the dissonance between appearance and action, but in so doing, would in fact deflect from the appalling nature of his alleged actions. It would satisfy the childlike demand for congruence: the baddy must look the part. But it would obfuscate the complexities of human evil: it is not monsters who perform these acts. It is human beings. Evil doesn’t come from outside the human: it is securely embedded within.

The need to portray Tsarnaev as monstrous, the need to deny his prettiness, his human-ness, springs from the desire to distance ourselves from his alleged acts: if he is human, and has done such things, what does that mean for the rest of us? Can we comfortably admit to belonging to the same species as a mass murderer? It would seem not. We have to differentiate between our selves and unimaginable evil: to acknowledge that evil as part of humanity is far too confronting.

Yet in creating that distance, we reduce the magnitude of the horror, which is not that these acts were perpetrated by a monster, but that they were perpetrated by a human being. We are a dangerous, deadly species. Look around you. How much more proof of that do we need?

 

Why Julia Gillard is my sister

3 Jul

I’m not the type of essentialist gender feminist who believes every woman is my sister simply because we share biological characteristics, unlike leading public figure Anne Summers, who in this article  expresses outrage against certain female MPs who did not resign “in solidarity” with Ms Gillard when she lost the ALP leadership to Kevin Rudd last week.

I don’t usually follow the line that a high achieving woman is making things better for all of those who share her sex. That to me is a romantic idea that has little basis in reality, indeed there are women among us considerably worse off after Ms Gillard’s prime ministership, for example the sole parents shifted to Newstart, and women seeking asylum.

Summers’ test of faith I find entirely self-defeating. What would it serve Australian society if every time a woman in public office was badly treated, her female colleagues resigned? In a nano second, there would be none of us left anywhere. It’s the sort of demand a comfortable middle class feminist can make from her armchair without pausing to consider the ramifications, for individuals and the greater good of our society.

That being said, these last few days I’ve noticed a sense of relief in myself and people around me. What is this about? The cessation of sexist abuse against Ms Gillard, that’s what it’s about.

It’s only since Ms Gillard left the leadership that it’s become painfully clear just how bad and how constant the gender-based abuse was. It’s like the relief you feel when you stop hitting yourself on the head with a hammer, if you are given to that form of self-abuse.  We no longer have to witness the daily public denigration of a woman, because she is a woman. We no longer have to witness the gender war in all its frightening darkness, as fought between Ms Gillard and the sexists from all walks of life, whose first complaint against the Prime Minister was that she is female, and who viewed every other dissatisfaction through that gender prism.

We have never seen such a terrifying display of anti woman feeling in our politics, because we have never had a female leader. We couldn’t see how bad it was until it stopped. We couldn’t see how the sexist abuse distracted from the most important  task of keeping our society functioning, which Ms Gillard’s government achieved better than almost any other Western government.

There is a great deal on which I vehemently disagreed with Ms Gillard. I did not personally take to her, though as Deputy PM I thought she would one day be an excellent leader. That day came too soon, and under fraught circumstances that could not have been worse for our first female PM. That the ALP chose to depose then leader Kevin Rudd in his first term was a questionable decision. That they should seize the opportunity to install the country’s first female leader, who as well as everything else was forced to become the blood-soaked symbol of the fallen man’s “knifing” beggars belief. One can only assume that as usual, the blokes brought a woman in to clean up their mess.

Though I am wary of joining anything, let alone a sisterhood (you will not find a woman less interested in or less capable of belonging than me) every time Ms Gillard was abused because of her sex, I was also abused. The unrelenting sexist and misogynist commentary directed towards her was directed at all women, though the perpetrators would no doubt strenuously deny that. It cannot be any other way, anymore than racism can only be aimed at one individual, leaving everyone else untouched.

We should be outraged at the contempt and insult daily enacted towards Ms Gillard. At any moment it can be and is turned against any woman who falls foul of those men and  women who are so conflicted in their attitudes towards us they can only fear and hate, solely because of our sex. One of Ms Gillard’s achievements, though it is not one any sane person could have anticipated or desired, is that she has shown us, through her personal endurance, the degree to which hatred of women still flourishes in Australian society and the awful toll it takes on that society.

In sexism and misogyny, Ms Gillard is my sister.

Knitted fruit makes more sense than politics

27 Jun

The only political event in the last twenty-four hours to provoke in me a smidgen of fleeting sadness, was the resignation of the two most admirable federal politicians in recent memory, Independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor.

While many around them succumbed (with little or no thought for the well-being of the country they were elected to serve) to bitterness, envy, misogyny,narcissistic rage  and rampant idiocy, Windsor and Oakeshott stood firm, emanating decency, integrity, and, yes, that rarest of all virtues in our 21st century parliament, common sense,  while all around them busied themselves with their daily obsequious capitulation to the demands of their lower, reptilian-brained selves.

On a personal level, I dislike Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard almost equally. But this should not matter. Ms Gillard undoubtedly achieved much while simultaneously behaving despicably towards asylum seekers and single parents. We have no idea what Mr Rudd might have achieved, since he was dumped without warning in his first term. We have now come full circle, a political ouroboros, its head devouring its body in obsessive self-absorption.

When Ms Gillard took over from Kevin Rudd after the coup, she drank from a poisoned chalice, as women in politics frequently do, brought in, as we are, to clear up the messes made by blokes. As well, we are a distraction from said messes, and make the party involved look progressive.  Oh look! We’ll make a woman PM, for the first time evah, and that will take everyone’s mind off our chaos!

The repercussions of the coup were bound to be many, and like uranium rods, they have a lengthy half-life. How much better to install a woman to suffer the fall-out than to put a man at risk!

Now patriarchal order has been restored, the woman has gone, the blokes can get back to their business, fighting an election. Mr Rudd proved himself to be exceptionally adept in 2007, let’s hope none of his gloss has faded in the intervening and humiliating years. That he can lead the ALP to victory seems as likely as me learning how to sew, but if he can save a few seats, that will be better than nothing.

I am now returning to my blog break. I’m knitting fruit, in an attempt to dissuade the  creatures that visit my kitchen every night from chewing on the real fruit in my full fruit bowl. Yes. A real woman keeps a full fruit bowl. When considering our political options, we should never forget that fact.

UPDATE ON CONVOY OF CLEAVAGE: WE ARE NOW IN THE NEW STATESMAN

Knitted fruit

Housekeeping

24 Jun

Hi, everyone,

I’m taking a blog break.

Please continue to chat with each other if you want to.

Be well, be safe, be happy.

Jennifer.

On being stoned by feminists, thank you Bob

22 Jun

They’ll stone you when you’re trying to be so good
They’ll stone you just like they said they would
They’ll stone you when you’re trying to go home
They’ll stone you when you’re there all alone
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

They’ll stone you when you’re walking on the street
They’ll stone you when you’re trying to keep your seat
They’ll stone you when your walking on the floor
They’ll stone you when your walking to the door
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

They’ll stone you when you’re at the breakfast table
They’ll stone you when you are young and able
They’ll stone you when you’re trying to make a buck
They’ll stone you and then they’ll say good luck
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

Well They’ll stone you and say that it’s the end
They’ll stone you and then they’ll come back again
They’ll stone you when you’re riding in your car
They’ll stone you when you’re playing you guitar
Yes But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned
Alright

Well They’ll stone you when you are all alone
They’ll stone you when you are walking home
They’ll stone you and then say they’re all brave
They’ll stone you when you’re send down in your grave
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

Rainy Day Woman. Bob Dylan. 

So our Convoy wasn’t feminist? Bite me, baby.

20 Jun

See here, Convoy critics. I will do whatever I like with my breasts. If I want them in a montage of cleavage, I will put them there. I don’t care if you think this is an ineffective feminist action, or that I am not a feminist if I make it. Who are you to tell me what to do with my body?  Who are you to decide if I’m a feminist or not?

I don’t care if you think our convoy of cleavage was an ineffective protest. I never framed it as a protest. I said it was a frivolity that would achieve nothing. You imposed your own values on it, and then complained because it didn’t meet them.

We had no obligation to fulfil your expectations. Get off your arse and do it the way you want, instead of bitching and moaning that we didn’t do it for you.

I don’t care if you are angry because looking at our breasts will give guys a hard on. If you are angry about guys getting hard ons, take it up with them. Don’t tell me I can’t do what I like with my breasts because it will disturb “men.” Don’t tell me I can’t do what I like with my breasts because I’m playing into the hands of the patriarchy. Don’t tell me I don’t know what I’m doing cos brainwashed by the menz.

Actually, I think it’s the other way round. You are buying into patriarchy’s fear of women, and the myth of the power of our bodies to make men uncontrollably wild.

Personally, I have no problem with heterosexual men enjoying images of the female body. It seems pretty damn natural to me.

Years of patriarchy telling me what to do with my body, now Grace Collier and the feminists as well?

You find it sad that I can’t make a political point without using the “money [ie cum] shot?” It was my cleavage. I didn’t post an image of a man ejaculating on my face. Check this blog. See how many political points I can make. Wanna read my doctoral thesis and see how many political points I made in that? How about I send you any one of the many international conference papers I’ve presented, all of which make political points? Book chapters? Lectures? Articles? How very patriarchal of you to judge me by one shot of my cleavage, not my body of work.

I don’t know why you want to put me and all the other women involved down, for an innocuous display of our cleavage. I don’t care really, though I am an analyst  & I could give you a few theories. Suffice to say that your need to do this is your problem, not ours, and we’re not carrying it for you.

The Convoy of Cleavage was initiated and executed with an enormous amount of good will, joy, friendship, co-operation and laughter. A bunch of women, many of whom have never met, had a damn good time together, and made a point about sexism. It was a moment. It was never intended to be anything else.

UPDATE: WE ARE NOW IN THE HUFFINGTON POST WORLD SECTION.

Also in the UK Telegraph.

The Convoy featured in the UK Daily Mail, a Dutch paper and the Indian Deccan Chronicle.  Yes, we went global, and we find that very satisfying. Because of us, the sexist attacks on PM Gillard, and all women, got international coverage as part of our story. That was the icing on the cake for us.

We didn’t do it in a manner that met with your feminist approval?

Tough titty.

Convoy of Cleavage

This montage of images sent in by Twitter women who formed the Convoy of Cleavage was created and distributed by Destroy the Joint

The Convoy of Cleavage. In which the breast strikes back.

17 Jun

After a week of astounding personal attacks on Prime Minister Julia Gillard, some of us Twitter women have decided we’re done with this shit, and we’re not taking it anymore.

The last straw (at least up to this morning) came yesterday, when AFR columnist and industrial relations consultant Grace Collier complained on ABC Radio National’s Sunday Extra that Ms Gillard had, offensively, according to Collier, revealed cleavage in the House of Representatives.

The PM had displayed too much flesh, Ms Collier declared, and in her professional opinion cleavage is inappropriate in the work place.

Bind your breasts, sisters, lest they cause any man or woman to be distracted from their tasks by that enemy of capitalism, desire.

It seems to me that if we are to stamp out this irrational horror of the female breast, (see DSM-V: Horror of and Repulsion Towards the Female Breast, A Disorder in Both Genders) we have little choice but to use immersion therapy, in which we expose Ms Collier and fellow sufferers to images of that which they so fear, in the informed hope that they may become desensitised, and return to their normal, hinged lives.

With this in mind I tweeted that obviously we must all post images of our cleavage on Twitter. This suggestion was enthusiastically received by one @MsBaileyWoof, herself a deceptively ditzy blonde with attitude who likes to sleep on picnic tables. In an astonishingly short time Ms Bailey Woof created the hash tag #convoyofcleavage which in turn was taken up by racy Twitter women who believe it’s time everyone accepted that women have breasts and got over it, to the best of their ability.

As MPs return to Canberra today, we hope women all over Australia will join us in our Convoy of Cleavage by posting images of yours, remembering of course to use the hash tag. The Convoy will be led by myself and women who have pledged to join me. (Don’t leave me hanging out there on my own, sisters. You won’t, will you?)

They didn’t!

Update: As I have now unveiled my breasts on Twitter, it seems cowardly not to do the same here. In solidarity with Ms Gillard, this is No Place for Sheep’s contribution to #ConvoyofCleavage

DSCN1988

But wait! There’s more! Understandably there will be women who do not feel comfortable making intimate images public. However, it appears that almost every one of Ms Gillard’s physical characteristics have been fair game for the loons. Please feel free to tweet images of your fingernails,your ear lobes, your hair, your glasses, your jackets, or, if you feel like it, your arse. Do use the same hash tag, in the interests of order.

Yes, this exercise is entirely frivolous and will achieve nothing. Yes, I expect we will be gored by Helen Razer (after Baudrillard) for our mindless capitulation to empty symbolism. Though as that lady recently posted an image of her own cleavage, struggling to escape an appallingly tasteless pink brassiere as she held aloft the dripping carcass of a Peking duck, maybe not.

For any of you who are uncertain about cleavage etiquette, here’s an excerpt from Seinfeld, in which Jerry instructs George on how to behave when two breasts loom.

Enjoy your day.

Men who hate women are everybody’s problem.

13 Jun

It’s no surprise that there dwell among us packs of males, whose feelings about women are so conflicted that while outwardly conducting apparently reasonable relationships with females close to them, they display the most base hostility to women they perceive as different, and in some way dangerous.

It also comes as no surprise that this hostility is expressed in sexual terms. Our breasts and our genitals serve as a focus for the fear and hatred felt towards us by some men, all of whom have mothers, some of whom have wives and female lovers, many of whom have daughters and sisters. Our body shapes and our faces are also the focus for this hatred, and our physical characteristics are almost always the first object of complaint when such a man feels himself provoked by something we have or have not done.

What ought to really terrify us, apart from the frequently repressed fear of going about our daily lives amongst these marauding packs, fear we must repress or we’ll never get out of our front doors, is that some of them will likely soon form the government of this country.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has served as a lightening rod for woman hatred , but anyone who thinks it’s only about her needs to think again. Any one of us who crosses any one of those men will be treated in exactly the same way, because that is what they do. They have no idea how to do anything else, and they don’t care to find out.

These men, and the women who support them, will have control over an array of legislation that directly affects women in terms of our reproductive health, and child care, for example. If the ALP defeat is as catastrophic as is forecast, there will be little in place to curb their enthusiasm for controlling our lives. We must not have men who hate us and the women who support them, wielding such power over us. Read this piece, by Lenore Taylor, on the possibilities.

This is Tony Abbott’s statement on abortion

If the last few days of ugliness have shown us anything, it’s that there are men who hate women and women who will make excuses for them, fast heading into a situation where they will have an alarming degree of control over our bodies and our lives.

I know there are men who are disgusted and repulsed by the attitudes and actions of some of their fellows. You have to speak up. This is not just a problem for women. Anything you can do and say. Whenever you can do and say it.

It is a bizarre and isolating feeling, to live in a body that can be so vilified simply because it is female. The slurs may be directed against Ms Gillard in these latest instances, but they threaten every woman. Everyone needs to take a stand against those men who need to belittle women, in order to feel good about themselves. It isn’t fun. It isn’t just a joke. It’s a sick and perverted masculinity.

Come September,vote with your reason not your emotions

11 Jun

Of all the scurrilous campaigns conducted by the Federal Opposition, and maniacally propagated by almost all the mainstream media, the erroneous suggestion that we vote for a leader when we elect a government in this country has to be one of the most dangerous.

Dangerous because it deliberately disguises the manner in which our Westminster political system actually works. We do not elect our leaders. We elect a party that is entirely responsible for electing its own leader. As we know all too well, a party can sack their leader, without consulting us, at any time.  Had any of us been in any doubt about this, it was made graphically obvious when the ALP defenestrated Kevin Rudd in  his first term as leader, and after he’d led them to an extraordinary victory.

Be that as it may.

I’ve heard and read of many people vowing that if the ALP now defenestrates Prime Minister Julia Gillard, they will never vote Labor again. While I can fully sympathise with this enraged despair, an expression of powerlessness if ever there was one, at the same time it is alarmingly nihilistic, and the country can ill-afford dramatic gestures at this point in our politics.

The ALP needs to get its house in order and earn back the trust it squandered with heart-stopping recklessness since 2007. It may well be doing this from the Opposition benches. Things may well have got so bad there really is no hope of them retaining government, no matter who leads them. But disillusioned as many of us are, we have to do our bit and use our heads, not our hearts. If there is any chance at all of minimising a Labor defeat, we have to take it. The alternative, a coalition government led by Tony Abbott, likely in place for decades, is simply too appalling to contemplate.

The notion that we vote for our leader is part of the Opposition campaign, which relies almost entirely on disseminating false information through the use of simplistic   narratives. The degree to which it has taken hold in the electorate is shocking. That we behave and vote as if we live in a presidential electoral system reveals a vast and profound ignorance of our reality, an ignorance the Opposition and certain sections of the media manipulates and exploits to its own advantage.

No matter how pissed off you are with those in the ALP who have brought us to this, look first to who is standing in your electorate, not to who will or will not be, temporarily, the leader. I know they don’t deserve our trust. But nobody deserves decades of a Coalition government, while the ALP languishes in greatly reduced numbers, as ineffective in opposition as they have been in dealing with their internal strife.

Come September, vote with you reason, not your emotion. And that way, perhaps the damage can be minimised.

Class, gambling & pornography

6 Jun

Class

Yesterday, author and playwright Van Badham wrote this piece in The Guardian titled “The moral case for gambling,” in which she considers the role class plays in the current campaign to curtail gambling opportunities through legislation. Van Badham writes:

Given the popularity of gambling in this country, I wonder if the public shaming of Australian gamblers has more to do with bourgeois loathing of working-class habits than any genuine moral crusade for public good. It must be very confusing for those who base their social self-esteem on the accumulation of money to witness a pastime that involves the happy sacrifice of it.

I do recommend reading the piece. It’s caused some controversy, and raises points worth considering.

In 2011 I wrote this piece for The Drum, titled “Pornography, the Internet and class”. I’m republishing it here in full, because it seems to me many of the questions I pose are compatible with the current prevailing attitude to gambling. I’m not suggesting the two are interchangeable, however I agree with Van Badham that class does indeed play a significant role in determining prevalent attitudes, and this is a factor we probably need to be aware of when considering legislation.

Pornography, the Internet and class. The Drum, September 8 2011

It seems reasonable when faced with strident action against social mores to require those opposing them to put forward their preferred alternative.

In the case of anti-pornography activists, it’s apparently impossible to persuade them to offer a framework of how they think sexuality ought to be expressed. Like Opposition Leader Tony Abbott they just say no, without proffering any other policies. 

Viewed in the best light, anti-porn activism is a cri de coeur for the protection of women who some activists believe are exploited and degraded by the very existence of pornography; for the protection of children who may access internet content they are emotionally ill-equipped to process, and for the prevention of possible individual psycho-sexual harm that might interpolate itself into the fabric of society. 

At its worst anti-porn activism is an attempt to control and shape the culture to fit particular religious, ideological and/or moral agendas. The moral entrepreneurs who are at the vanguard of the anti-porn movement are overwhelmingly middle class, and it is from a middle class platform that they launch campaigns that express the horror, disgust and outrage evoked in them by pornography, as well as what they believe to be its ruinous effects on sexual relations. 

All pornography is positioned by activists as deviant, regardless of the content. It’s extremely difficult to ascertain just what their range of “normal” sexuality includes. One activist, Professor Clive Hamilton, refuses to use the word “vagina” when attempting to describe close-ups of “well, I don’t know what” in early editions of Playboy, for example. Many would find this male squeamishness towards female genitalia offensive. Are we to regress to such euphemisms as “down there?” 

Those who produce, create and consume pornography are perceived as deviants who must be rescued, punished when appropriate, and hopefully redeemed to participate in non-pornographic sex. Global eradication of anything other than “normal” is the goal, without ever stating just what that “normal” might be. 

Accounts written by activists of what they have seen in their forays into the netherworld of porn are like dispatches from Dante’s second circle of Hell:

The new porn zeitgeist is hard-core sadism. Hard-core porn turns misogyny into sexual fascism and sells it as freedom. There are countless “18 and abused” sites showing young girls being gang-banged while crying, drunk, vomiting, with guns and knives to their heads. Incest porn with girls being bashed about sexually by fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers. There is bestiality porn with dogs, horses, with eels. Torture porn, where young women are tied up and strangled, defecated on. There is Nazi fetish porn, lots of racist porn.

Feminised gay men being beaten and anally raped by hyper-macho gangs. Granny porn where older women are subjected to the now compulsory triple penetration and spat on for being old. There is even “retarded asian porn”, “retarded and horny”, “full on retard porn . . . legless sluts being triple penetrated”, amputee porn, dwarf porn, anorexia porn. 

In this account of internet porn by academic Dr Abigail Bray the porn world is entirely comprised of victims. Young girls, women, grandmothers, feminised men, and animals are subjected to horrific violence, and all of it done to them by men.

I haven’t viewed any of these sites. Taking Dr Bray’s descriptions at face value and imagining myself part of such a world feels unspeakably awful, but that’s my personal reaction, not a universal absolute. Pornography is an expression of the vast and sometimes very frightening range of human sexuality, whether I like it or not.

It isn’t made clear if the victims (other than children and animals) have been forced to participate in these acts, but it is an assumption with which the reader initially co-operates. The description asserts “countless sites” depicting such pornography, so there must be correspondingly “countless” numbers of adult human beings engaging in its production, either by choice or under severe duress.

Who are these human beings and how did they arrive in the Second Circle? As yet there’s no comprehensive answer to those questions. Women who work in hardcore porn are, unsurprisingly, resistant to inquiries by outsiders.

Women who have consented to interviews disassociate themselves from the kind of porn Dr Bray describes. They also express considerable aggravation with anti-porn activists, who they feel are insulting and patronising. They accuse anti-porn activists of making life more difficult for them by portraying them as psychologically sick, morally bad, victimised, and in need of rescue. In so doing, the women claim, activists are in fact supporting porn producers in their opinion of the women they hire as disturbed, and highly exploitable. They also feel unfairly lumped in with women who endure more extreme hardcore violations. In the pecking order of the porn world, some women are proud of the choices they make and resentful of those who see them as part of a homogenous victimised mass.

Activists put forward hypotheticals in an effort to explain why women participate in violent and degrading porn. For example, they claim they are frequently women who were sexually abused as children. They are women who have developed high levels of tolerance for abuse, and have “abnormal” attitudes that permit them to accept degradation and violence others would find abhorrent. They are women who can’t or believe they can’t obtain employment in any other field. They are poor women, uneducated women, ignorant women. They are women who have sustained such damage that the question of choice doesn’t even arise: they don’t know that they are suffering because they have lost or never had the ability to recognise abuse.

There is little research available to confirm or deny these assumptions. The hypotheticals originate from middle-class sexual morality and values, and/or religious beliefs about women and sexuality. There is often little attention paid to the social and political contexts in which the alleged early life abuses take place, or the economic systems that cause female poverty. This lack of analysis could lead to accusations of attempting to treat the symptoms while ignoring the cause, always an exercise in futility.

Assumptions about women who perform in porn need to be investigated through empirical research before they can be evaluated, rather than accepting classist, moralistic and religious prejudices as a basis for public policy. As things stand, a deviant underclass is constructed by anti-porn activists, against which the moral values of middle classes voices raised in protestations of “isn’t it awful” and “what about our children” can be reassuringly measured. This is not helpful.

Very little hardcore porn is currently produced in Australia. There is not much home-grown activists can do to rescue women in sovereign nations that do produce it, and many of those countries already have legislation against some if not all the violence that is acted out.

However, activists are concerned that hardcore porn is easily accessed on the internet and is inserting itself into everyday Australian life. It’s claimed that a degradation of sexual values inevitably occurs, particularly amongst young people, many of whom are allegedly taking their sexual education from sites such as those described by Dr Bray, and enacting loveless, violent and genital-focused sex that uses women as objects for male gratification, and not as equal participants in a mutually satisfying act.

Anti-porn activist and academic Gail Dines claims that 11-year-old boys are viewing violent porn that “deforms their minds,” though she offers no research to substantiate this claim. If 11-year-old boys are accessing hardcore internet porn, the responsibility for that must rest with their parents, who also bear the responsibility for offering their children intelligent sex education. Presumably middle-class parents are considered more likely to do this, so are Dines and her followers referring to lower status families who apparently can’t be trusted to do the right thing? Where do Dines’ porn-consuming 11-year-olds come from? She doesn’t reveal the demographic.

Many activists such as Clive Hamilton see the problems presented by the internet as a matter for the state. They want internet censorship. In other words, the state must assume the role of disseminator of middle-class religious and ideological sexual values, by imposing a ban on anything that class considers deviant and polluting. The activists apparently do not trust parents, or at least parents of a lower socio-economic class to monitor their children’s internet adventures, for example with software that will filter content on the home computer. They argue that this responsibility belongs with government, and they seem to be entirely oblivious to the dangers of giving any government control over what its citizens may and may not view in the privacy of their own homes.

An Australian internet filter will do nothing to assist women who are unwillingly enslaved by pornography producers. It quite likely will exclude innocent sites, or be easily bypassed. The proposed list of banned sites is itself banned from public scrutiny, and that restriction alone should give us serious cause for alarm. As the link also reveals, there are already strict if somewhat mysterious classification laws in place in Australia.

But activists need to justify their existence, to show effectiveness, and to win respect from their peers. In this situation, the only possible measure of their “success” will be an internet filter. Their message is: you can have a sexual life like ours if you follow our sexual rules, (though we have yet to be told what they are) and our Government will help you do that by forbidding you access to anything else. This places the Government’s authority above God’s: at least God apparently permits free will, and the right to go to hell any way one chooses.

As the late Susan Sontag, American author, feminist, literary theorist and political activist, put it in her 1967 essay The Pornographic Imagination:

If so many are teetering on the verge of murder, dehumanisation, sexual deformity and despair, and we were to act on that thought, then censorship much more radical than the indignant foes of pornography ever envisage seems in order. For if that’s the case, not only pornography but all forms of serious art and knowledge – in other words, all forms of truth – are suspect and dangerous.

“Hate is just a failure of imagination.” On racism.

3 Jun

WhitePrivilege

I’m guessing just about everyone is familiar with the recent events surrounding Sydney Swans player Adam Goodes, a young girl who insulted him with a racist slur, the subsequent involvement of Eddie McGuire, and the public debate on racism that has dominated media and social media ever since.

The following are some writings on the topic I found worth reading.

Helen Razer’s piece in Crikey, titled “I am racist and so are you” in which she alleges that anyone white in this country is racist and ought to own it.

Jeff Sparrow’s piece in Overland, an interesting rebuttal to the claim “we’re all racist.”

Blogger Dragonista’s piece “Entitlement should not disqualify me” and the follow-up. It’s important to read the comments as Dragonista engages with Luke Pearson, who explains why Indigenous people can become very weary of explaining their situation to white fellas.

Luke Pearson’s blog in response to Dragonista and others who share her position.

David Horton’s piece “Bone of Contention” in which he recalls some background relevant to the present.

There are of course hundreds of other pieces throughout both social and mainstream media.

A few days ago I wrote aboutprivilege and imagination, in which I argued that the current passion for “checking your privilege” could be more usefully replaced by using one’s imagination, and walking a few steps in the shoes of the other to see how that feels. Checking my privilege rather keeps it all about me, while using my imagination to envisage another’s experience makes it all about them.

I’m of the view that race is a social construct, yet another of the many ways in which some human beings categorize other human beings in order to dehumanise them, to the degree that they don’t have to be considered as equals and worthy of the same considerations as the dominant group. Racism has much in common with sexism. Both allow the dominant group to maintain a sense of superiority by measuring themselves against the perceived failings and allegedly inherent weaknesses of the others. Both allow the dominant group to maintain a sense of entitlement and privilege, because they feel superior to the others.

In both cases, the dominant group  will be extremely reluctant to either examine or relinquish any of its entitlements and privileges.

It struck me as I ploughed through the at times strident, accusatory, smug, ignorant, enlightened, sorrowful, angry, bored, pissed off, exasperated, exhausted and exhausting commentary of the last week, that the discussion of racism itself had quickly evolved into a battlefield on which combatants fought for the high moral ground, casting opponents as “racists,” “privileged,” “entitled,” or in some instances, just plain “white,” the latter used as a racial insult, if we stick to the strict definition of that term.

It’s quite a thing, to besmirch another as a “racist.” It probably isn’t something that ought to be done lightly. I’ve wondered how hurling around that word as a contemptuous insult furthers the debate at all. It’s not likely to make anyone stop and think about their views, quite the opposite, it’s likely to cause anger, resentment and a hardening of the heart.

Again, I believe the answer is imagination:

When you visualised a man or a woman carefully…when you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of  imagination. Grahame Greene

Greene echoes philosopher Emmanuel Levinas’ beliefs about the power of the face, and the ethical responsibility we all have to honour the face of the Other, no matter how different from one’s own.  The responsibility we have to recognise and respect our common vulnerability as human beings, and to refrain from exploiting that vulnerability. To look fully at another’s face, to really see it, immediately places one in a more respectful relation to the other than the cursory, unseeing glance.

I ended the week feeling a great deal of admiration for the man at the centre of the storm, Adam Goodes. I’m not in the least interested in football, but as the rest of my household watched the Swans game I couldn’t help but observe Goodes rise above the slings and arrows of his week and immerse himself, fully focused, in his task.

This debate on the othering of some groups by more powerful groups is perhaps the most important debate there is. Racism, sexism, homophobia, hatred: discrimination of any kind, is a failure of imagination.

How do we teach that?

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