Tony Abbott: the human face of evil

1 Jul

silencing dissent

 

More than forty current and former workers at Australia’s detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island are challenging Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton to prosecute them under the new secrecy laws for speaking out over human rights abuses. 

What, exactly, is the government going to do to these forty professionals, and others who will no doubt join them? Arrest them all? Charge them?

While the very notion of threatening professional workers who speak out about human rights abuses in their workplace with prosecution is, in any western democracy, a travesty that is beyond comprehension, what’s even worse is that we are governed by individuals of such gargantuan stupidity they believe this is reasonable action to take in the first place, with an opposition that colludes, and apparently a demographic that supports this intimidatory silencing.

The government is on a hiding to nothing with these threats of prosecution. The legislation may well work as a deterrent, silencing those who might otherwise speak out, and that is likely its core purpose. However, the government now faces a direct challenge to its new laws, and the world will be watching what it does next.

No such laws have ever existed in our country before today, and I can’t think of any other comparable country in which they exist. What other liberal democratic government threatens professionals with imprisonment if they speak out about human rights abuses, including the sexual abuse of children, violence against women, and ill-treatment of people who are not criminals, not terrorists, and are in a situation of absolute helplessness and vulnerability.

They arrived seeking asylum in Australia by boat, a perfectly legal enterprise, and as we are still signatories to the Refugee Convention, though god knows why, we invited them to seek asylum here in the first place, using any means of transport they chose.

Now we have taken away the very last right they had – the right to a voice, albeit via a third-party, by threatening those third parties with prosecution if they bear witness. Yes. If you bear witness to the atrocities permitted by the Abbott government to be visited upon innocent people, you risk imprisonment. This is what we’ve come to.

This legislation has not been passed to protect Australian citizens. It has been passed to protect politicians. It will allow them to do what they like when they like to waterborne asylum seekers, without any accountability at all. This government and the opposition, who couldn’t oppose a wet lettuce, will permit all kinds of torments to be visited upon women, children and men in offshore detention, and they will prosecute and imprison anyone who reveals their secret savagery.

I’m not much given to use of the word evil. But evil has a human face and the human face of evil today is Tony Abbott. What the ALP has done is supporting this vile legislation is perhaps even more evil: they had the opportunity to resist it. Yet they did not, they endorsed it without as much as a murmur of dissent.

This is a government dedicated to secrecy, silencing, authoritarianism and the sowing of discord and disharmony, supported every step of the way by a spineless opposition. I have no idea where this will end, but every time I think it can’t get any worse, it does.

Why I don’t have to be offended by the same things as somebody else

29 Jun

 

offending people

 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is the 2013 update to the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) classification and diagnostic tool. In the United States the DSM serves as a universal authority for psychiatric diagnosis.

A friend of mine sent me a public tweet listing the DSM 5 criteria for one of the borderline personality disorders, with the wry observation that Tony Abbott’s public behaviours seemed to fulfil them all.

I thought this was pretty good on several levels, the most imaginative being that I know both my friend and I regard the DSM 5 as a frightful load of bollocks, and using its criteria to categorize Abbott, whom we also think of as a frightful load of bollocks, made a satisfying little irony.

However. Within hours we were set upon by two blokes who stridently accused us of using mental illness as a political tool against an opponent, and in so doing, being unbelievably disregarding of other people’s pain. One of them was a psych student. The other said we had no right diagnosing Abbott when we hadn’t ever treated him. Which is true, of course, except that my friend wasn’t diagnosing Abbott, she was pointing out the self-evident truth that the DSM 5 criteria bore a striking resemblance to Abbott’s way of being in the world, a way of being we can all daily, even sadly hourly, observe.

I am very sorry that I have never treated Abbott. I would give my right arm to treat Abbott, and to what, I will not, at this point, say.

I should say here that both my friend and I have our battles with mental ill-health, and we both feel comfortable with finding certain characteristics in the DSM 5 that seem to scream at us: Abbott. I do not feel using such criteria to describe Abbott is a personal insult to my mental health or lack thereof. That everyone will not share my view is inevitable, as I pointed out to the angry blokes, and I see no reason why they should. However, I insisted, I do have the right to express a differing opinion without incurring abuse, as do they.

What I understood afresh after the increasingly abusive exchanges we were treated to on Twitter, is that there is apparently an expectation that everyone with, say, a mental illness, will feel the same as everyone else with a mental illness, react to stimuli in the same manner, be offended by the same things, and that if you don’t you either aren’t really suffering mental illness, or you are a traitor who cares nothing for the suffering of others. In this mindset, there appears to be little distinction between mental illnesses: they’re all the same, apparently.

This, to my mind, is offensive. The assumption that there is a stereotypical mentally ill person offends me profoundly.

It doesn’t matter to which situation this totalitarian perspective is applied. I’ve heard it used about survivors of child sexual abuse, and  survivors of all kinds of trauma. If this has happened to you, you will think, feel, and behave in these ways. At its source, it is a typical right-wing nut job argument, and Tony Abbott employs it better than anyone: if you don’t think like we do you aren’t one of us, ergo you are bad because we are good.

The totalitarian mind cannot bear variation: what offends it must offend everyone.

Defending against the mindless stupidity of this argument is what got me embroiled in the Twitter fight in the first place: one cannot, in this zeitgeist, pass up any opportunity to take on these hive minds who believe that if you do not think as they do, you are a very bad person in urgent need of re-education. These minds turn up in the most unexpected of places: they are as common amongst the so-called Left as they are amongst the Right. They are why the victorious revolutionaries always become the bourgeoisie.

While there are definitely characteristics common to certain human experiences, reactions to those experiences are as individual as the human beings involved in them. Even within the individual reactions to trauma will change over time, and what brings us to our knees initially will, hopefully, lose much of its force and its ability to hurt.

Everyone has, to my mind, the inviolable right to deal with their mental illness, or trauma, or physical illness in ways that best suit them, within the parameters of everyone’s safety. So I sat in a cafe with my friend who’d just lost a testicle to cancer and we told one another cancer jokes someone else might very well find extremely offensive: does this mean we can’t tell them, even though for us, black humour is a central part of how we cope with our circumstances?

I understand you are offended by my friend’s tweet, I told one of the angry blokes. I am not offended. I do not have to be offended to please you. Are you intending to attempt to bully me into pretending offence, because I will not do that. I have the right to not feel offended. I have the right to be true to what I feel, and I do not feel offence.  Would you like to shoot me, because this is where the continuum you are on eventually leads.

We have a terrifyingly secretive government, and a useless opposition. We are, as citizens, being controlled and silenced to a degree many of us have never before experienced. Our freedoms are being eroded, bit by little bit. There is no freedom without the freedom to offend. There is no freedom without the freedom to decide what is offensive to you, and what is not.  I can imagine a future in which if we are not overtly expressing offence at circumstances the government decrees we must find offensive, we could well find ourselves in all kinds of trouble.

There is no I in team, yet without I, the team is nothing more than a herd.

 

 

When will women learn?

28 Jun

see_what_you_made_me_do_postcard-rc8b8f0ec48a84a79bc384bc46d470d0a_vgbaq_8byvr_324

What is it we need to learn this time? Oh, yes, women need to learn not to send intimate photos of ourselves to people we trust. For christ’s sake, this isn’t rocket science, women. We already know you can’t bloody learn that. No, all you have to learn is not to point the camera at your bits and press send. How hard can it be?

And if by chance those photos are used as revenge porn, or hacked, or, as happened in my case, the relationship breaks up and the ill-mannered swine refuses you the reassurance of telling you he’s deleted them, you have only yourselves to blame because if you hadn’t taken them in the first place, nobody could have exploited you.

Actually, it’s worse than that. If you didn’t have a vagina in the first place nobody could have exploited you. If you didn’t have breasts nobody could have exploited you. If you weren’t female, nobody could have exploited you so if we’re being completely honest none of this is about what you do, it is really about who you are. 

Yes, yes, yes I know there are men who are exploited, and they can speak for themselves. I’m currently dealing with the apparently never-ending story, most recently perpetuated afresh by channel 7’s Sunrise Face Book page, that women need to learn we’re asking for trouble if we express our sexuality because men cannot help themselves.

These men who cannot help themselves in the face of female sexuality are, when I last looked, the same gender who are running corporations, governments, intelligence agencies, police forces, universities, the armed forces, the medical profession, the legal profession, media – the planet, actually. Yet they allegedly cannot govern either their own desires, or the desires of their fellows. The sight of a woman’s naked breasts will call forth unmanageable primal instincts, which, if they are expressed as abuse, assault, threats of violence, threats of rape, scorn, disparagement, and unbridled lust will not be the man’s responsibility but yours, woman, for putting your tits and bits out there in the first place. 

You won’t only hear this from men. You’ll hear it, at times ferociously, from the women who enable men in their childish abdication of responsibility, and the self-serving perpetuation of the myth of the male as unable to control his desires in the face of female irresistibility. These women will not hold men accountable, they will hold women accountable. It takes two, they’ll say, when their man sexually assaults another woman. Yes. I’ve actually heard that. It doesn’t get much more sickening.

What is at issue here is a woman’s right to perform her sexuality in any way she chooses without fear of violent repercussion, emotional, physical, and mental. We do not need to learn how not to do this. Men, and the women who enable male ill-treatment of other women need to learn, among other things, about consent. You don’t just take because you want it and if you do, it’s your bad behaviour, nobody else’s. This is what we teach two-year-olds. Why are we still trying to teach it to adult men and enabling women?

Our youngest family members are boys of roughly two and almost four. The two-year-old has recently taken to persecuting his older brother with various types of bodily torment. Archie has learned to say, Stop it, I don’t like it. But Ted hasn’t learned to hear that yet. So he has to be hauled off his brother, taken to another room, and have it explained to him ten times a day that when you’re being physical and somebody says, stop it, I don’t like it, you have to hear that and you have to stop. This instructing is most often done by his dad, backed up by whoever is in charge when dad isn’t. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but I know none of us are giving up. These little boys are tomorrow’s men. They are learning about consent. It isn’t rocket science so how come so many men, the gender that rule the damn planet, don’t fucking know it?

I am absolutely fed up with hearing about what women “need to learn” to protect ourselves from men who are dangerous to us, physically, mentally and emotionally. This is an arse-about and spurious load of codswallop. What we are witnessing, as is evidenced by the outrage generated by the Sunrise Face Book question, is that women are learning, and what we are learning is to hold men who hurt us publicly accountable for their actions.

Women are still being held accountable for crimes that are committed against us. Enough already. There’s only one way this will change, and I believe it’s begun. Challenge the myth. Challenge the men and women who are in its thrall. Treat them like two-year-olds who need to be taught ten times a day that when I say stop it, I don’t like it, you fucking well have to hear me, and stop.  

Rudd, Gillard, Abbott, Women, Sex, Why?

24 Jun

So, if I came away with anything after last night’s final episode of ABC TV’s The Killing Fields, oops, sorry, The Killing Season, it was a sense of profound shock and awe at the ALP’s astounding ability to squander political capital to the degree that in six short years they went from owning the room to a derelict mob of squabbling, self-important cane toads with over-active thyroids and a death wish, oozing poison from every pore, who had become and remain of little use to anyone, especially themselves. Don’t let your dog lick  them. It will cark.

Apart from anything else, what kind of lunatics install Australia’s first female Prime Minister after she’s executed a midnight assassination of her ludicrously popular male predecessor? Women cannot do that, for christ’s sake. Men can coup. Women can only be behind the man who coups. What is wrong with everybody?

In the penultimate episode Rudd, quite understandably in my view, took serious umbrage at Gillard’s babbling efforts to psychoanalyse him. Last night Gillard made the breathtaking claim that she believed knifing Kevin at midnight would provide him with the opportunity for a good rest he badly needed. This put me in mind of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s claims that sacking workers offers them the chance of a new beginning. I find it interesting that two leaders from opposing ends of the political spectrum share such similar moral opinions on the misfortunes of others.

I have no idea who was lying and who told the truth in that three-part account of the ALP’s downfall, nor do I care. Mostly I just wanted to bang their stupid heads together. It takes a particular kind of perverse talent to have a country at your feet and still manage to turn it into a cock-up.

Speaking of Abbott, I once attempted to imagine him as a sexual being. My mind exploded. Everything went black. I regained consciousness in the  compost heap, with the dog licking rotting mango flesh from my eyebrows.

I pushed myself to this brink because I had just read the following comment by the Minister for Women:

I think there does need to be give and take on both sides, and this idea that sex is kind of a woman’s right to absolutely withhold, just as the idea that sex is a man’s right to demand I think they are both they both need to be moderated, so to speak.

Reading this statement I wonder first what kind of impoverished universe Tony Abbott inhabits if in it, sex comes down to a gendered right to “withhold” and gendered a right to demand, both of which, according to him, require moderation.

The word “withhold” implies an act of calculated deprivation as in withholding payment, withholding supplies, withholding access to bank accounts, withholding information. In order to use this word at all, Abbott must be starting from the assumption that men are always entitled to sex, like a worker is always entitled to payment, and if a woman doesn’t want sex for whatever reason, it’s a hostile act of denial on her part.

In other words, women are not permitted to not want sex, in Abbott’s world, without being perceived as denying a man what is his due.  In more other words, in Abbott’s world women have no autonomy, and no agency over our own sexual desires, because our sexual decisions are perceived as being entirely to do with whether we withhold or gratify male desire.

It’s in the use of the word “withhold” that Abbot reveals his attitude to women and sex. The idea that sex is a man’s right to demand part of the statement is irrelevant, really, because in the use of the word “withhold” Abbott has assumed a man’s right to demand.

This is our Minister, ladies. He doesn’t think we just don’t feel like it, are tired, have cramps, don’t find the male partner especially exciting. No. Women withhold.

Finally, if you want to see how little things have changed for women in some parts of the legal system, read this enlightening piece in Overland titled the Ethics of Defence, by barrister Catriona MacLennan . (Thanks to Maria for alerting me to this.) It takes a great deal of courage to even use the words ethics and morals these days without being laughed off the planet, unless you’re the government talking about ABC TV’s Qanda.

 

witholding sex

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abbott will keep you safe: unless you’re a woman and as long as you vote for him

17 Jun

Abbott's mouth

 

The release of the Lowy Institute’s latest poll on the rising fears of Australians and our insecurities regarding the potential effects on us of terrorism, gave Prime Minister Tony Abbott what he likely considers a God-sent opportunity to reassure citizens that his government will do anything to “take care of our people and keep you safe.”

We heard similar paternalistic reassurances in the preceding days, this time on the matter of doing anything to keep our country safe from job lots of asylum seekers, including paying people smugglers good taxpayer money to steer their fragile craft in the direction of Indonesia. If you didn’t see a business opportunity in that offer,  you’re a total failure as a people smuggler.

This keeping you safe business is one of Abbott’s core manipulations: while hyping up the threat of stranger danger, he rarely refers to the dangers that are literally in our own back yards. In February 2015 he promised that “with every fibre of his being” he would “keep us safe” from terrorist threats, but there was not one mention in his Press Club speech of the deaths of two women every week in Australia from the domestic terrorists who murder, abuse and sexually assault us. This omission is made even more remarkable because Abbott holds the portfolio of Minister for Women.

“I will with every fibre of my being keep you safe.” It’s a wedding vow. It’s the overwhelming emotion of the father when he first kisses the head of his newborn infant. It’s a language that has little relationship to reality and reason, and while appropriate as expression of feeling in a personal context, in the political it’s emotionally manipulative, duplicitous, and deliberately employed to soothe fears that cannot, in reality, be soothed.

It sounds so seductive, doesn’t it, to humans who yearn for certainty and safety in a world where neither can ever be on offer. Abbott is the wolf in the fairy tale grooming children with wild promises, dry-mouthed in anticipation of the ecstasy of devouring them, smacking his lips at the prospect of savouring their sweet flesh. Orally fixated, I want, I want, I want is Abbott’s true three-word mantra, and like any seductor, he projects his desire onto the objects of his lusts and convinces himself that they want it just as much as he does. I will keep you safe and that’s what you want me to do, he whispers, lick, smack, lick, smack, the eerie rhythms of his drily ravenous mouth the stuff of nightmares.

Just who Abbott means by “our people” is unclear, but I suspect it means only the brain-dead cohort who are satiated into a coma by hollow sloganic rhetoric. He won’t want to be keeping anyone safe who doesn’t give him a vote, you can count on that. This is how Abbott decides who to regard as fully human: do they vote for him?

All too often, the one who promises I will keep you safe turns out to be the one who presents the greatest threat. Paternalism is never honest. The paternalist inevitably has tickets on himself: it’s always about him and his superior ability that entitles him to know what’s best for you. So he invades your privacy and commands your metadata, he erodes your liberties bit by tiny bit, all the while whispering, I am keeping you safe, just like I said I would, and in the end, you are entirely his.

There’s only one way to understand this government: get out your original copy of Grimm’s’ Fairy Tales, the one before the frightened people sanitised it, thinking it too nasty for children, overlooking how very nasty children can be. Abbott is speaking to adults in denial, to a childlike audience so desperate for reassurance it will settle for the temporary quelling of anxieties, the temporary relief of a leader promising, I will keep you safe. Abbott is the monster who manufactures monstrosities, from which he then promises to protect you. Like little children, his gullible demographic flock to his promises of protection, never understanding that like the waterborne asylum seekers, they are fleeing into danger.

Nobody can keep us safe. Abbott offers the image of an Australia protected from all outside threat by the vigilance of his government, but this will never be anything other than a dangerous illusion. What we must do is learn how to live with uncertainty, rather than accept the dummy of false reassurance to soothe us, and silence our cries. Nobody can keep us safe, least of all a mad man like Abbott.

Women know this. We are never safe. And the biggest threat to our safety is not ISIS, or terrorism of any kind, but the other humans who share our lives. Will Abbott, our ministerial saviour, call on every fibre of his being to keep us safe from them?

 

 

It isn’t the only question that matters, Mr Abbott.

15 Jun

immanuel-kant-philosopher-quote-always-recognize-that-human

 

“Again I keep making the point the only question that matters is, is this government prepared to do what is necessary to keep the boats stopped, the answer is yes.” Prime Minister Tony Abbott when asked about alleged payments to people smugglers by the Australian government.

There is never only one question that matters. When the leader of the country reveals this conviction as his bottom line, you know he has abandoned the basic the principles of liberal democracy.

Abbott has now publicly confirmed that in his world view the means absolutely justifies the end. If you believe he will only apply this conviction in order to “stop the boats” you’re dreaming.

What it sounds like to me is that Abbott is constructing rationalisations, minimisations and justifications for misappropriating taxpayers’ money  in order to engage in the illegal act of bribing people traffickers to find a destination other than Australia, in preparation for these allegations being confirmed.

The levels on which this is corrupt, degenerate, and potentially lethal to human life are myriad, but Abbott hopes to reframe these acts of bastardry as the necessary means to the noble end of keeping Australia safe.

If it is Abbott’s creed that the means justifies then end, he is without doubt crazed. It’s a belief that can be, has been and will continue to be used to justify every kind of violence, genocide, repression, oppression and suppression, and those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

There is, in the Australian abhorrence for waterborne asylum seekers as represented by both ALP and LNP governments, more than a tinge of racism. The vicious punishments meted out to them, such as indefinite detention in off-shore hell holes, demonstrate a disregard for humanity other than our own that is but a few steps away on the continuum of contempt from murdering  them.

Let’s not forget that Abbott once memorably and bizarrely observed that Jesus didn’t intend everyone to come to Australia, so not only do we have the means to an end conviction in Abbott, we have the religious fanatic’s belief that he knows what God wants and is carrying out his wishes.

“The only question that matters” is a phrase favoured by those who have something to hide. It’s an avoidance phrase, and it’s a phrase intended not to inform but to obfuscate. It’s up there along with “the details don’t matter.” As soon as someone tells you the details don’t matter you know those details are central, and someone desperately doesn’t want them revealed.

It is not for a politician to determine the “only question that matters,” at least not in a western democracy. That’s the language of dictatorship. If Abbott is using taxpayers money to pay off people smugglers that’s a question that damn well matters. Apart from that, nobody thinking straight wants to be at the mercy of a government that is so flagrantly prepared to use human beings as a means to their own ends.

 

 

Abbott’s denial of reality

14 Jun

LivingInDenial

 

It’s the goal of every political party to impose its particular concept of reality onto the nation over which it desires governance. Treasurer Joe Hockey, for example, wants to convince us that if we have a “good” job that pays sufficiently well we will be able to buy a house, even in what governor of the Reserve Bank Glenn Stevens describes as Sydney’s “crazy” market.

In other words, Hockey wants to impose his party’s ideological belief that all that is required is hard work to get you where you want to be. In the matter of affordable housing this fallacy is easily challenged: nurses, emergency workers, teachers, police, all essential to the safety of any community, are paid so comparatively poorly they have reduced opportunities to purchase a home in the city in which they serve, yet their jobs are “good” in every other sense of the word, and they work hard in traumatic and difficult circumstances.

In Hockey’s ideology the individual is entirely responsible for his or her fate, and the wider social and cultural context in which we exist is of no relevance whatsoever.

Even cabinet ministers occasionally have difficulty meeting their mortgage payments, Prime Minister Tony Abbott folksily tells us, and his own daughters are wondering how they’ll ever get into the market. These comments only serve to confirm the “craziness” referred to by Glenn Stevens, however this is not Abbott’s intention. In yet another cosy homily, the Prime Minister is attempting to brainwash the nation into the belief that it is normal to struggle mightily to own a home, and that housing is a privilege, not a human right.

The LNP ideology in general, not just as it is revealed through the prism of the housing market, is based entirely on the denial of the reality of everyone other than themselves and the like-minded. So as another example, in what must be the most twisted effort thus far to keep the country free of asylum seekers arriving by boat, we now hear that the Abbott government is allegedly using tax payer dollars to persuade people smugglers to turn their over-loaded boats towards Indonesia where they presumably will either offload their cargo of human misery, or conceivably turn right back around in the hope of being intercepted by another representative of the Australian navy and border patrol who will, if they are lucky, pay them more thousands of dollars to turn back to Indonesia.

This interesting variation on Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence will, the government assures us, ensure ongoing success in its campaign to turn back the boats and keep Australia safe. The fact that we pay those vile people smugglers to turn around will not, of course, encourage the people smuggler trade, because the Abbott government wants to stamp that trade out and paying them to turn back will stamp that trade out, dummy, what is wrong with you that you can’t get that?  It won’t even risk more drownings at sea because paying people smugglers to turn back their boats will stop drownings at sea, or at least in the bit of the sea that belongs to us, because the people smugglers have been paid and paying them means nobody will drown.

Are you gas-lighted yet?

The government has zero interest in the reality of waterborne asylum seekers, their struggles and their fate. The only reality that matters is that of a group of largely white males who currently comprise the orthodoxy, and whose sole goal is to remain in power. Their task is, by hook or by crook, to quote their leader, to persuade enough of the citizens of this country to share that reality and vote them back in. Denial of every other reality is essential to achieve this outcome, onshore and off.

Denial is an insidious psychological mechanism, on a personal, community, national and political level. One of the most destructive of its effects is the barrier it inevitable constructs against change. Nowhere do we see this played out more dramatically than in the Abbott government’s fanatical loyalty to the continued use of fossil fuels, brought yet again into stark focus this week by the Prime Minister’s brain fart on the aesthetic offensiveness of wind farms and his intention to find, by hook or by crook, expert evidence to prove their danger to human life.

A few weeks ago Jeff Sparrow tweeted about the demented wind farm phobia displayed by both Hockey and now the PM. Its roots, he claimed, lie in the fear that at their every turn the turbines are whispering: “Hang the bourgeoisie. Hang the bourgeoisie.”

Denial, in the psychological sense, causes a refusal to accept evidence-based reality, refusal to acknowledge the repercussions of one’s own actions and the effects those actions have on others. The denier uses minimisation, rationalisation and justification to cling to a status quo under challenge, and the more frightening the challenge, the more desperately the tools of denial are brought into play.

The Abbot government suffers a group psychosis, so deeply ingrained is its pathological denial of any reality other than its own; its callous disregard for the effects of its actions on any other group, and its narcissistic belief in its own entitlement and superiority. This can only go one way: downhill. Currently, we have no significant organised challenge to the Abbott government’s dominance, but when we do, and we must, even if it means widespread civil disobedience, the orthodoxy will decompensate, and hopefully implode. This will not be a pretty process: overthrowing tyrants never is.

Change is an anathema to conservatives, and we are in a time of enormous global changes that must be maturely addressed. They will not cope. They are already not coping, and if we had an opposition with any kind of a spine, the government’s sick reality would be under real and consistent challenge.

 

Leave of absence

12 Jun

leave of absence

 

I might not be around on Sheep very regularly for a while as there are personal circumstances to deal with.

I’m writing about them on The Practice of Goodness from time to time, they aren’t political in the ordinary sense, and I need to keep them separate from No Place for Sheep.

All the best to everyone.

 

How to avoid the democratic process within your own party

7 Jun

power

 

In December 2014, then Immigration Minister Scott Morrison made this alarming lunge for sole power over citizenship decisions without recourse to judicial review:

The DIBP submission to a Senate committee argues that an elected member of parliament and minister of the Crown has gained a particular insight into the community’s standards and values. This particular insight therefore qualifies Morrison to overrule AAT decisions. It is the bill’s intention to grant a minister, in this case Morrison, the power to determine an individual’s “good character” or otherwise, regardless of any ruling made by the AAT. Morrison’s decision will be unchallengeable.

Peter Dutton has now replaced Morrison as Minister for Immigration and is in the process of attempting a similar grab for sole power over the stripping of citizenship from those he alone deems unsuitable to retain it.

No citizen can have confidence in a government or an opposition that supports one politician being granted absolute power over such decisions. It is absolutely contrary to all democratic instincts and practices. The question we must ask is why is it thought necessary to invest one politician with this much power? The answer is obviously that the government cannot risk internal debate, and is determined to avoid that democratic process. The Minister is answerable to no one within his party, let alone outside of it. It is only a matter of time before more Ministers are granted similar authority over who knows what circumstances, and anyone who believes or trusts otherwise has their head in a sack. The government has no mandate to invest a Minister with absolute power, not even within its own ranks.

 

 

There are currently so many disturbing events initiated by the Abbott government it’s difficult to triage, however, surely one of the more alarming is the decision to imprison for up to two years doctors, nurses and teachers who disclose adverse conditions at asylum seeker detention centres on Manus and Nauru.

In spite of the border protection rhetoric that surrounds this decision, it’s apparent to anyone with a brain that the only interests served by imposing these draconian restrictions on professionals who, in Australia, are mandated to report abuses they become aware of in the course of their work, are the interests of the Abbott government, supported by the Labor opposition.

Neither major party wants us or the rest of the world to know what goes on in the off-shore detention centres. Knowledge of abuses inflicted upon the detained cannot possibly be a threat to our national security, and if that is what the major parties continue to insist, they need to explain exactly how they justify that claim.

Indeed, if there was any logic to the government’s argument the ill-treatment of asylum seekers ought to be trumpeted from the rooftops as a deterrence to anyone else attempting to come here by boat. Not only will you never be resettled in Australia, you and your children will be subjected to inhumane treatment and conditions in tropical hell holes as well.

As head of the Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs so eloquently pointed out, we are currently being subjected to an erosion of rights that ought to have us taking to the streets in protest at the over-reach of executive power by the Abbott government. It is not far-fetched to imagine that a government prepared to imprison professionals for doing their jobs in off-shore detention centres will extend that threat to professionals doing their jobs in the homeland, should it serve their interests. There’s certainly no future in entreating the ALP to take a stand, indeed, the ALP seems more than happy for Abbott to do this dirty work.

Porn is a symptom, not a cause

6 Jun

Porn Rescue

 

In a piece titled Porn’s Distortions on the ABC 7.30 Report of June 4 2015, it was claimed that the sexual expectations of the young are being unrealistically shaped by the pornography they view, and that there is no education available that presents them with a perspective other than that of the stereotype of male as entitled aggressor, and female as submissive.

It goes without saying that the discussion was confined to heterosexual relations, but I’ll say it anyway.

I’ll also say that the moral and religious alternative of no sex without love (or “romance”) is a load of codswallop as well. Show me a romance in which a woman is not ultimately required to be just as submissive as she is in mainstream porn, albeit in different ways. Consensual and satisfying sex is perfectly possibly without intense emotional involvement, and to claim that it isn’t is, in its own way, just as distorting as the model provided by stereotypical porn.

Young women are apparently feeling overwhelming pressure to perform sex as their young male partners, educated by porn, want it performed, and this can include the demand for sexual acts young women do not want and do not enjoy, but feel obliged to comply with if they want a boyfriend.

What struck me most forcibly about the role of pornography in this impoverished notion of sexuality is that it is a symptom, not a cause, and what it is a symptom of is the entitlement some human beings feel they have to use and abuse the bodies of other human beings for their own gratification. This profound dysfunction expresses itself most notoriously in the entitlement many men feel they have to use the bodies of women, for sex, as punching bags, as objects of ownership and in other indignities major and minor that we read of every day in domestic violence reports and most starkly, in the murders of two women each week at the hands of men.

I am not conflating the pornographically tainted sexual expectations of the young with the slaughter of women by murderous men, but I am pointing out the sense of entitlement to a woman’s body, her mental and emotional attentions, and the demand for her compliance that underlies both situations, and all the situations on the continuum.

I believe this is often referred to as “rape culture.” I prefer to think of it as “entitlement culture.”

Nor do I have any objection to pornography when viewed by consenting adults, but as a sex education tool I fear it has little going for it. On our honeymoon, my beloved late husband took me on a visit to a movie house in San Francisco famous for its porn screenings, just for the hell of it, and after the first half hour I was bored witless by the unrelenting pneumatic drilling and the fake ecstasy the women on-screen displayed at being drilled. The thought of the young being offered such scenes as modelling for an enjoyable sexual experience is, I admit, disturbing.

I don’t know how we are going to overthrow or subvert a culture in which male entitlement to women’s bodies, hearts, and minds is so profoundly entrenched as to be normalised, and goes largely unremarked. This entitlement is the root of the problem, stereotypical porn that enacts that entitlement merely a branch.

I want girls to be able to say to boys who demand sexual acts or any other performance a girl does not wish to engage in, piss off, I’m not doing that, and then to grow into women who can say the same thing.

A sense of entitlement does not allow for the acknowledgement of another’s humanity. A sense of entitlement breeds the perception of another as a means to an end, as less than human, as an object of gratification. The age of entitlement is far from over in heterosexual relations, and it serves nobody well, least of all the young.

Porn is not distorting anything. Stereotypical porn accurately reflects the prevailing cultural attitude of entitlement to women’s bodies. Anti-porn campaigners have got it the wrong way round. Abolishing porn, or restricting access to it will not change a thing. The problem runs far deeper, is far more confronting, and far more frightening. It’s that of human beings believing they are entitled to the use of another as a means to an end, and acting on that belief.

 

Perpetrators and enablers. Abbott’s deafening silence.

28 May

Catholic church

 

Watching convicted pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale give evidence at the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse yesterday was not easy, yet his appearance emphasised, as I believe is the Commission’s intention, the reality that his crimes did not take place in a vacuum. They were perpetrated within a community, and others in Ridsdale’s community knew of them, though the offender is unclear as to how many knew what, and how much. It might be more accurate to note that it is unclear how many members of Ridsdale’s community are prepared to admit what they knew or suspected. However, it seems that his crimes were known by at least one of his superiors, who did absolutely nothing to help either Ridsdale or his victims and who bears a terrible responsibility for the suffering of hundreds of children over decades because of his lack of intervention.

Revealing his own connection with Ridsdale on Radio National Breakfast, journalist Paul Bongiornio noted that pedophiles are extremely good at hiding their activities, and hardly likely to boast about them. He made a comparison with a partner who carries on daily life with his or her spouse whilst conducting an affair: the spouse can be completely unaware of the betrayal, even while living in an intimate relationship. It’s not surprising, then, that those who like Bongiornio shared a house and a community with Ridsdale had no idea of the man’s predilections, and the extent to which he was acting them out.

It was, I have to admit, a comparison that hadn’t occurred to me but on reflection I see that the two activities have much in common: secrecy, the thrill of the illicit, the ability to behave in a profoundly duplicitous manner, the talent to present one face to those closest, whilst concealing from them powerful and secret sexual desires and acts. Obviously there are also differences, but to take Bongiornio’s point, people are infinitely capable of constructing and living double lives, and it has become a cliché to exclaim, when the next door neighbour is found to have dead bodies buried in the cellar, oh, he seemed like such a nice quiet man.

What is incontestable is that senior members of the Catholic church worldwide knew of the activities of their pedophile priests and did nothing to help and protect the victims, or to assist their profoundly disturbed clergy. They enabled priests. They created the conditions in which it was possible for the priests to continue to abuse and destroy lives.

As I watched Ridsdale I thought, this didn’t have to happen. All the hundreds of children he abused did not have to suffer, for the rest of their lives, his appalling attacks and their ongoing aftermath. Multiply that by how many thousands globally who also did not have to suffer if only, if only those who knew about the pedophile priests had not enabled them, and created the climate in which they could continue wreaking their awful havoc on the young.

It isn’t possible to overestimate the guilt and responsibility of the enablers. I have no sympathy for Ridsdale, but I did think as I watched this man, now in his eighties, attempt to give an accounting of himself to the Royal Commission, that he did deserve assistance from his superiors as far back as the nineteen sixties when his crimes first were brought to their attention. They owed him guidance, advice, treatment, and even prosecution for his crimes against children. Instead, they let him loose, shunting him from parish to parish, an out-of-control pedophile with a mind so deranged and distorted he thought his desire for “closeness” was appropriately expressed and gratified by terrifying and damaging the young in his care.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott remarked yesterday, in connection with those who leave Australia to fight in foreign wars and will lose citizenship as a consequence of their choices, that “A crime is a crime is a crime.” I continue to be astounded on a daily basis that the Prime Minister remains so uncharacteristically silent on the crimes committed by pedophile priests and the superiors who enabled them. Abbott is a staunch Catholic, and a great friend of Cardinal George Pell, who was also Abbott’s confessor. Surely the Prime Minister, who has such enviable clarity on the nature of crime, ought to be passing some comment on the crimes committed by pedophile priest and their enablers on such a massive scale over so many decades? Were Abbott not so outspoken on practically every other crime that comes to public attention, his silence on this one would seem unremarkable, however, we have come to expect his moral opinion on just about everything of note, bar the criminal priests and their enablers within his own church.

The Recording Angel

24 May

ilustraciones-quint-buchholz-L-S3pwdL

 

Twelve months ago, I found myself in a situation that eerily replicated scenes from childhood. I had done everything in my power to avoid the circumstances, knowing the damaging effect they would likely have on me. In the initial example of traumatic repetition the matter was taken out of my hands by the other party in a betrayal of trust that continues to leave me stunned, and exhausted by the fatigue that accompanies the struggle to come to terms with events over which one has no control.

I behaved exactly as I had when a child. I became compliant. I tried to anticipate the other’s wishes. I did what I thought the other wanted me to do. I felt outside of myself, an observer rather than a participant. I fled, as I did as a child, into the persona I came to think of as the recording angel, the only part of me with any agency, the part of me that witnessed, the part of me whose role it was to remember.

I’ve watched and listened as survivors of childhood sexual abuse give their wrenching testimony to the Royal Commission. Every one of them has, like me, their own recording angel who witnessed, and remembers the events that determined the course of our lives. Every one of us found ways in which to stay alive except for those of us who didn’t, and who died of grief, and despair, and wounds that would never heal. Every one of us knows what it is to live a life in which every choice we make, every step we take, is steeped in the aftermath of our experiences and so is never free, and all too often self-destructive or at the very least, not in our own best interests. We have tainted perspectives on our own best interests. How could it be any other way?

My experience of a year ago plunged me into an ongoing nightmare of flashbacks, sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, terror, self-blame, and ultimately despair that I will never be free of my history. I thought I was free, or at least as much as I could expect to be. I thought I had learned to manage the ongoing fallout from childhood. I thought that managing it was the best I could hope to achieve and all in all, that wasn’t too bad an outcome. Yet out of nowhere I encountered circumstances that released the demons; as an adult I failed to protect myself though I was certain that I had, and in a matter of minutes I found myself as powerless as I was when I was ten.

My life-long belief in my ability to manage, even overcome the damage of childhood was destroyed in those few minutes. That was the scaffolding on which I built my adult life, and it collapsed.

When survivors tell the Royal Commission their lives were stolen, this is one of the things they mean. We are never free. We never know what circumstances lie in wait that might hurl us back at the speed of light into the terror and powerlessness of childhood experiences. We cannot trust that our scaffolding will hold fast, subject as it is to the vagaries of memory provoked by unforseen reminders of hideous events.

There is what the abusers did to our bodies. There is what the abusers did to our hearts. There is what the abusers did to our spirits. And there is the recording angel, witness and testifier, speaker of truth.

To Cardinal Pell I would say, find the courage to face the testimony of the recording angels. If you wish to salvage something of your soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On entitlement and celibacy

23 May

entitlement

A sense of entitlement is listed as one of the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which seems so obvious you probably don’t need to go to the DSM-5 or the Mayo Clinic webpage to find that out.

Over the last couple of years there’s been debate as to whether or not celibacy requirements in the Catholic church contribute to the sexual abuse by priests of children in their charge. Personally, I think that theory is ridiculous and a red herring.  There are plenty of child sex offenders who are not Catholic priests and not celibate.

(How utterly awful it is to continually acknowledge the prevalence of this crime.)

It takes a particular type of psycho sexual mindset to cause a man or woman, (though male offenders far exceed female) to seek sexual gratification from the body of a child, and many offenders engage in adult sexual relationships as well as preying on children.

What is common to all of them, I’d argue, is a sense of entitlement. Child sex abusers feel entitled to gratify their desires, regardless of the effects on the life of their victim. This sense of entitlement is not, of course, peculiar to child sex offenders: anyone who acts upon another as if he or she is a means to an end is exercising a sense of entitlement that allows them to disregard the effects of their actions, and focus solely on their own gratification.

The Catholic church is unlikely to admit that it attracts narcissistic personalities, given that its  purpose and mission is service. That human paradox is of a depth and complexity greater even than the fantasies of god, faith, belief and transubstantiation.

A sense of entitlement takes many forms, feeling chosen by god is just one of them, but they all have in common a feeling of superiority, perhaps an overcompensation for deeper feelings of inferiority, if you want to use the psychoanalytic rather than the moral framework to deconstruct the narcissist.

Whatever the perils of enforced celibacy, and I imagine they are many, it is reductionist and simplistic to claim that priests sexually abuse children because of those vows. It takes a particular kind of attachment to secrecy, danger, duplicity, power, self-gratification, self-delusion and compartmentalisation, as well as the ability to care not one jot for the life of the child you abuse to construct the personality of the child sex abuser, not the vow of celibacy. It may well be easier for the church to look to celibacy as a cause, rather than admit that the psycho sexual dysfunction of so many who join its ranks precedes any vows of celibacy they may take.

The sense of entitlement is a scourge.  Not only as it manifests in those who abuse children, but wherever it rears its head, in all situations where people are used as a means to another’s end. Politicians can be leading entitlement practitioners, indeed, a sense of entitlement is almost entirely normalised in Western culture, to the extent that it is virtually invisible.

Whether everyone with a sense of entitlement is also a narcissist is up for discussion, though it would appear to be the most significant symptom of that disorder.

Is narcissism a necessary component of capitalism? Is patriarchy inherently narcissistic? Is the Christian god a narcissist? Do helicopter parents create narcissistic children? Are you entitled to exploit me to get what you think you need? Are we entitled to destroy the planet in order to get what we think we need to have?

If we can manage nothing else at least we have to ask the questions, because the sense of entitlement is, one way and another, perhaps currently the most destructive of human characteristics. It is not one we are born with, we are encultured into the attitude to a greater or lesser degree, damaging the sense of common vulnerability and humanity that might otherwise ameliorate narcissistic impulses.

This is what the Catholic church needs to investigate. Celibacy may well bring all kinds of challenges, but the sexual abuse of children is a deeper, greater darkness that cannot be explained away by the church denying adults a mature sexual life.

The Cardinal Pell: Slouching towards Bethlehem

22 May

Cardinal George Pell Two

 

In my experience one of the more dangerous types of human is the man or woman with an intense and unshakeable conviction that he or she is a “good” person, doing the “right” thing.

The danger is that such a person will see everything they think, say and do through the prism of perceived good and rightness, and this vision inevitably blinds them to the damage they are, like every other human being, capable of inflicting. Because they are unable to see they are incapable of taking responsibility, let alone making atonement or working towards change. So they continue on their blundering path, leaving havoc in their wake, entirely unable to acknowledge they’ve had any part in its production.

Or as Yeats puts it:  The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.

(Actually, that poem, The Second Coming, is worth a read: it seems eerily appropriate for these times. Decades before Jacques Derrida’s Structure, Sign and Play…,  Irish poet William Butler Yeats noted that “the centre cannot hold.” I find this strangely reassuring. That the poets got to it before the post structuralists, I mean. But I digress…)

The Cardinal George Pell is one such human. Indeed, the most powerful conviction I can see in Pell is his conviction that he is always innocent, always good, and always right, and he clings to these self-perceptions with all the passionate intensity of a man clinging to the lid of an esky in a turbulent sea into which he has been unceremoniously pitched from a sinking vessel. The Catholic church is not holding its centre: The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned…

Serious allegations of bribery and cover-up have yet again been made against George Pell at the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sex Abuse. The Cardinal, strategically parachuted into a leading role in the Vatican’s finance department when things got a little hot for him here in Australia, responded with a written denial, fully supported by his good friend and failed priest Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Abbott, who has a moral point of view on everything, is strangely reluctant to offer one on this matter, saying only that it is up to Pell whether or not he returns to face the Commission’s questioning.

I cannot recall a conversation I had forty years ago, declared the Cardinal, however, for those who were traumatised by such conversations they remain unforgettable. The Cardinal has the luxury of forgetting what continues to haunt and torment victims to this day. For this alone one would expect him to express some gratitude.

It is difficult to imagine that a conversation in a swimming pool change room in which Royal Commission witness Timothy Green informed the then Father Pell that boys were being sexually molested by pedophile Brother Dowlan could have been invented by Mr Green forty years later, in an effort to further discredit George Pell.

It would perhaps be fitting for Pell to emulate the crucified Christ, who died in agony for the sins of the world even though according to the mythology he committed very few if any of them himself. Of course I’m not suggesting a literal crucifixion for the Cardinal, rather a metaphorical sacrifice of self on the altar of the Royal Commission. A written statement from his luxury accommodations in Rome does not, contrary to Prime Minister Abbott’s view, seem nearly sufficient. George Pell needs to front up, and not simply for himself, but for the victims and for the Catholic church, if he wishes that institution to retain any last shred of credibility.

The extent of the sexual abuse of children in institutions, and in the family, is almost beyond comprehension. The frequency with which it is and was committed, and is and was covered up by people who consider themselves “good,” reveals an epidemic of psycho-sexual dysfunction that has been repressed and suppressed to a degree that is also incomprehensible. This denial has occurred at the centre: the centre of institutions, the centre of families, the very centre of our culture and our society.  The reality of the margins is confronting the fantasy of the centre, and the centre is no longer holding.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Funeral music

15 May

I’ve spent much of today compiling a playlist for the funeral of a member of my extended family who died suddenly on Sunday night.

I wanted songs like I did it my way by the Sex Pistols.

Give over, they said.

So next I thought of Amazing Grace by the Dropkick Murphys

For god’s sake, they said.

Hey, you get off of my cloud I suggested.

I’m coming up soon, get the party started. Pink’s version? I asked tentatively.

Another one bites the dust. Queen?

We’re sacking you as musical director, they threatened. I never asked to be anyway, I retorted, stung.

So they went with:

You raise me up. Il Divo.

I first and last heard this at very loved one’s wedding. The bride’s mum asked for it. The officiating priest was drunk as. The quartet, dependent on his erratic cues, got themselves right out of sync. The bride docked the priest ten dollars from his fee for every mistake he made, and twenty dollars for asking the groom if he wanted to marry himself.

At the reception the good father spent much of his time on his mobile, betting on the horses. Then he danced with me and said, Jennifer, I’m a better drinker than dancer, and I was forced to agree. There are photos of me holding him up. It was the best wedding any of us have ever attended.

Bridge over troubled waters. Johnny Cash

Come Healing. Leonard Cohen. (If they refused Leonard Cohen I was done with them. Forever.)

Thank you for the music. Abba. A good metaphorical note to go out on, I think.

 

As for the Sex Pistols, and the Dropkick Murphys – they’re on my funeral playlist.

And this one:

 

Vaya Con Dios, R.N.

 

 

 

 

Abbott’s latest attack on women: “rorting and fraudulent mothers”

14 May

 

 

PPL2

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, aka The Minister for Women, has a long history of disparaging, degrading and disrespecting women, as well as substantiated allegations of violence against one woman who got in his way.

Abbott’s latest attack on women is his government’s declaration that there are women who are double dipping, defrauding and rorting paid parental leave schemes, in spite of the fact that there is nothing in the least fraudulent about women accessing available support from both employers and government when they give birth.

This is a new low in Abbott’s misogyny. When the leader of the country allows his ministers to use language such as rorting and fraudulent about women who are acting entirely within the law, we’re in a hostile and dangerous environment.

There is the issue of how the Abbott government’s latest variation of PPL will affect women. Then there is the separate issue of how the Abbott government describes women, from the “women of calibre” lauded by Abbott in his first attempt at creating a PPL, to the allegedly fraudulent and rorting female schemers attempting to take allegedly illegal advantage of both employer and government generosity when they give birth.

How much longer are we going to tolerate these tired, dishonest variations on the old madonna/whore dichotomy? Women are either of calibre (good women) or fraudulent and rorting (bad women). Language matters. Language is revelatory and what is revealed by the Abbott government’s latest linguistic attack on women is contempt, an utter lack of understanding, and a despicable willingness to exploit us and our babies for short-term political gain. Just how far have we come, when our government can describe us in such derogatory and debasing terms? Not much further than Euripides, it seems.

 

 Good woman:bad woman

 

 

 

A small photo essay

13 May

Greetings from the mountains.

 

Thredbo River

Thredbo River

 

Thredbo River near Crackenback

Thredbo River near Crackenback

 

Thredbo River again

Thredbo River again

 

Thredbo River, sorry

Thredbo River, sorry

 

Thredbo River. Cos I can

Thredbo River. Cos I can

 

Very cold blogger. Charlotte Pass

Very cold blogger. Charlotte Pass

 

Frozen blogger.

Frozen blogger.

 

Evening sky. Jindabyne

Evening sky. Jindabyne

 

Evening sky again

Evening sky again

 

There. That should cheer everybody up. xxx

The freedom to offend

13 May

 Freedom of Expression

 

This morning I’m thinking about Freedom Commissioner Tim Wilson’s infamous “Occupy Melbourne” tweet; this piece I wrote about Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s tyrannical demand that public servants “dob in” workmates they suspect of speaking ill of the government, and the fantasy of the “freedom to be heard.”

Wilson’s Timsplain on the “civilising” and “regulating” goals of curbing freedom of speech, specifically in employment contracts, can be read here.

The tweet:

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

While sending in water cannons certainly serves to “regulate” behaviour, it is not in itself a civilised reaction to citizens exercising their right to speak freely about the principles and actions of governments. It still disturbs me to know that the Australian Commissioner for Freedom advocates state violence to suppress what he regards as “time-wasting” dissent, and considers such action “civilised.”

There is no such thing as the freedom to be heard. It’s impossible to make someone hear if he or she doesn’t wish to hear: they may give all the appearance of listening, but that doesn’t mean they’re hearing. It’s part of the vulnerability of being human that we can’t make anyone hear us, we can only hope that the other will care enough to bother.

Exercising the freedom not to hear is not a license to forcibly silence, whether by the use of water cannon or by implementing laws designed to protect those who don’t want to hear. For example, if Mr Wilson doesn’t want to hear protestors he doesn’t have to: he can take an alternative route, turn up his iPod, ignore news reports, in short, he can take responsibility for protecting himself from what he doesn’t want to hear, rather than depending on the state to do it for him.

While there is no right to freedom to be heard, there is no right not to be offended either. The increasing demand for the state to protect individuals from what is regarded as “offensive” across the entire spectrum of human behaviours is alarming, and crippling. It is paradoxical that conservative politicians and public figures make much of their desire for “small government,” while simultaneously seeking to prescribe state enforced restrictions on a wide range of attitudes and behaviours in their attempt to establish a society in which no one behaves in a manner determined by them to be “offensive.” To “offend” someone has become a significant, well, offence.

It goes without saying, one imagines, that to commit any crime against another is inherently offensive, and our laws already have crimes covered. Offence is subjective: I am offended by Mr Wilson’s use of social media to advocate state violence against protestors, however, even if I wanted to, I have no means available to me to turn the water cannon on him because he does not have the freedom to be heard. I can ignore him. Block him on social media. Complain about him on my blog. In other words, take responsibility for regulating and civilising my own world without calling upon the state to do it for me.

The only citizens the state will protect from “offence” are those with whom it is in agreement. All others it will seek to silence, one way or another. Even in a liberal democracy such as ours, the state will and does seek to silence dissent. It is in the nature of political power that those who have it seek to retain it, by any means available. The courts are hog-tied by whatever legislation the government of the day manages to implement.

For an insight into this demand for protection from the “offensive” on a popular cultural level, it’s worth reading Helen Razer’s piece on how difficult it is to be a “bad girl,” and the effort now required if one is to be at all transgressive, and why.

Transgression is impossible without causing offence. Transgression is by its very nature offensive to someone. A society that punishes what it considers offensive, making the offensive a crime in itself, is a society in which transgression of all kinds  is increasingly curtailed and silenced. The current dearth of satirical political comment in this country is but one example of this curtailing of transgression on the grounds that it is “offensive” and, as Mr Wilson would have it, uncivilised.

There is no human right that promises the freedom not to be offended. It is to say the least extremely unfortunate that we have in this country a Commissioner for Freedom who advocates turning water cannon on those who offend him. The protestors did not attack him. They did not threaten him. They merely spoke what he did not wish to hear. If we are entering or have entered a period in which another’s free speech is just cause for advocating state violence in order to silence them, we are in very dangerous waters indeed.

(I just looked out of my bedroom window to see snow falling. Ah.)

 

 

Is Struggle Street poverty porn?

7 May

Struggle Street

SBS aired the first episode of the documentary Struggle Street last night, amidst the kind of publicity and controversy media outlets dream of.

Briefly, the program follows the daily lives of families and individuals who live in Mount Druitt, a suburb in Sydney’s far west where unemployment and poverty are rife, and all the complexities created by lack of opportunity and marginalisation serve to oppress, in some cases, beyond endurance.

In this erudite review in The Conversation the program is described as “poverty porn,” created by the entitled for the entertainment of the entitled. It’s worth noting the author of this piece had not seen the program before writing his review of it. Always a mistake, in my opinion.

An alternative perspective can be found here, written by a journalist who has, thankfully, actually watched the documentary.

For the first ten minutes I found Struggle Street almost impossible to watch, so palpable was the pain, confusion, frustration and sorrow of the people involved. There seems to be an inevitability about the trajectory of their lives: the possibility of a happy ending, or an even slightly improved ending seems severely limited, not because the people involved are inherently undeserving or morally lax, but because of circumstances so complex that unravelling them requires skills and resources that are simply not available, and that authorities are unwilling to make available.

It is convenient to cast people in such situations as being entirely responsible for their own misfortunes, ignoring the vast web of circumstances created by the more privileged sectors of society, circumstances that inevitably create an underclass whom the privileged then have the satisfaction of despising.

To be poor is to be surveilled in a manner entirely alien to the middle class, where the possibilities of concealment are many and varied, and to whom “privacy” and the right not to be offended or embarrassed is a privilege enshrined in law.  It could be argued that the documentary is yet another form of surveillance of the marginalised, ostensibly entered into voluntarily, to which the middle class would never subject itself. It could also be argued that the privileged creators and viewers who perhaps voyeuristically consumed the program last night found moral gratification, if they needed to look for it, in the abyss between the them of Struggle Street, and the us of the entitled gaze.

For me, what fought its way through the grim despair that haunts the daily lives of many of the participants in this documentary is their humanity. The love of a father for his recalcitrant offspring who steal from him to buy drugs. The determined attempts to create, from nothing, a party atmosphere for small children. The yearning of a young woman, homeless for two years owing to family disruption, to return to learning and thus make something of her life. The ongoing adversarial encounters with authorities such as Centrelink and the police that are part of the daily grind that must be faced and endured. People keep struggling to love, to make things better, to stay alive, all against the overwhelming influences of forces beyond their control.

Struggle Street is not, to my mind, poverty porn, though there are those who will choose to view it as such. This says more to me about them, than it does about the program and its participants. There will be the righteously self-congratulatory who measure their success against the apparent failures of the residents of Struggle Street. That can’t be avoided, however, that they need to make such a measure speaks volumes, and not about Struggle Street. What I would hope is that this documentary will confront us with the ferocious inequalities in our society, and the inhumanity of political authority that refuses resources and care to those who most need it, opting instead to blame and punish and marginalise. Mount Druitt does not exist in a vacuum. If this series demonstrates anything, it ought to be that reality.

PS: And the Guardian agrees with me.

Truth, employment and freedom of speech.

2 May

President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, yesterday proffered this analysis of the sacking of SBS sports presenter Scott McIntyre, after he posted a series of tweets that suggested, among other things, an alternative and previously unspoken view of the actions of the ANZACS.

In her piece Professor Triggs refers to the case of Banerji v Bowles (2013) in which Department of Immigration former employee Michaela Banerji was sacked after tweeting criticisms of detention centres, the Prime Minister, and the Minister for Immigration. Ms Banerji used a pseudonym for her Twitter account, and argued that her comments are “constitutionally protected by her right to freedom of political communication as an indispensable incident of representative government.” The Federal Court rejected this view.

Ms Banerji has now replied to Professor Triggs’ observations on her case here.

I know there are readers of Sheep who are as intrigued by legal forensics as am I, and the arguments made by both parties are of significant import to anyone who is employed and uses social media. I won’t add my comparatively ignorant voice to those of Professor Triggs and Ms Banerji, rather I’m interested in Trigg’s observations on the use of social media and Truth.

Triggs begins her piece with a quote from John Milton’s Areopagitica in which the poet passionately opposes censorship, arguing for freedom of speech. “Whoever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?” he asks.

Triggs argues that “today’s near universal access to social media challenges the idea that freedom of expression ensures truth will be victorious over falsehood.”  The poet Milton could not have envisaged the extent of free and open encounters awaiting society in its future, and made his observation at a time when only the privileged had access to a public platform.

There are a couple of assumptions in Triggs’ argument that ought to be noted. In claiming that universal access to social media dilutes the possibility of Truth triumphing over falsehood, Triggs, inadvertently I’m sure, is claiming not only that Truth is, as it was in Milton’s time, defined and controlled by a particular demographic who enjoy freedom of expression due to their privilege, but that this is still a legitimate manner in which to determine what is Truth.  Now the masses have unprecedented access to public platforms that democratise freedom of expression, Truth will inevitably be vanquished by the freely expressed opinions of these masses. Whatever is publicly expressed by those other than the privileged and entitled will inevitably be falsehood, is what her argument implies.

Truth is a tricky concept, fluid in the extreme, determined by the orthodoxy, enforced by the state and its agents, and religion and its agents. Social media offers the most expansive and democratic opportunity for the contestation of what Foucault calls “regimes of truth”  that has ever existed in human history.

Truth, argues Foucault, does not exist outside of power:

 on the contrary, truth “is produced by virtue of multiple constraints [a]nd it induces regulated effects of power”. This is to say that “each society has its regime of truth”, and by this expression Foucault means: (1) “the types of discourse [society] harbours and causes to function as true”; (2) “the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true from false statements” and (3) “the way in which each is sanctioned”; (4) “the techniques and procedures which are valorised for obtaining truth”; (5) “the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true” (Foucault 1976, p. 112; 13).

Therefore, “truth” is “a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and functioning of statements”; it is linked “by a circular relation to systems of power which produce it and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which redirect it”. 

It is the function of social media, exemplified most recently by the tweets of Scott McIntyre, to contest truth regimes produced by systems of power that control and sustain what comes to be normalised as “Truth.” Scott McIntyre, Michaela Banerji and countless others have used social media to contest the constructed regimes of truth, to their cost. Whether these challenges to the orthodoxy are accurate or not, the point is they must be made and in a liberal democracy the people who make them ought not to be punished.

There is absolutely no correlation between freedom of expression and what we might, at any given time, consider to be Truth. The very best we can do is, as Foucault recommends, constantly question the origins of our current regimes of truth, by whom are they determined, whose ends do they serve, what techniques and procedures are valorised for obtaining truth and by whom. Our most powerful weapon for contesting regimes of truth is social media. Professor Triggs is quite wrong: today’s near universal access to social media ensures an unprecedented freedom of expression that in turn ensures an unrelenting contestation of truth claims, and herein lies its power, and its threat to authority.

Freedom of expression has never ensured Truth, not in Milton’s time and not in ours. Social media is a powerful tool for the examination of regimes of truth established by the privileged and entitled, regimes that all too often have little to do with what is true, and far more to do with what is advantageous to those who declare it to be true.

Foucault: Regimes of Truth

 

Pluto shits on the Universe

1 May

Pluto-and-charon-artists-impression

 

This is the title of a pome, sent to me by the lovely M who sends me pomes to wake up to most days, and I’ll include it in this post because it is spectacularly attitudinal, and a ripper of a metaphor.

Back again at last in my beloved Snowy Mountains, I woke this morning with a vivid memory of the birthday I celebrated after my first round with cancer. My sons, who were teenagers at the time, broke into their piggy banks and cadged off their dad to buy me a luxurious Yves Saint Laurent bathrobe of thick white towelling with delicate pink and green satin embroidery on the collar and cuffs. I said, unwisely, wow, is this for me to cark in, and nobody but me thought it funny.

My sense of humour was always dark grey and the cancer experience turned it black. The colour black is, of course, the result of the absence of, or the complete absorption of light, depending on your point of view when you wake up in the mornings. I prefer to think of it as the latter because I’m cheered by the notion of darkness needing light for its very existence, rather than being the consequence of light’s total absence.

Anyways, this Yves Saint Laurent bathrobe is the most luxurious item of clothing I have ever owned, and it is still almost as good as it was the day of that first survival birthday. I may yet cark in it. I most certainly will insist on being buried or burned in it. I’m kicking myself that I left it at home, because it would be perfect for running from the hot tub on the freezing verandah back into the glow of the fire-warmed sitting room. I don’t know how those louts of mine even knew about Yves Saint Laurent at that obnoxious stage of their lives, but I’m ever so glad they did.

The pome:

Pluto Shits on the Universe
BY FATIMAH ASGHAR
On February 7, 1979, Pluto crossed over Neptune’s orbit and became the eighth planet from the sun for twenty years. A study in 1988 determined that Pluto’s path of orbit could never be accurately predicted. Labeled as “chaotic,” Pluto was later discredited from planet status in 2006.

Today, I broke your solar system. Oops.
My bad. Your graph said I was supposed
to make a nice little loop around the sun.

Naw.

I chaos like a motherfucker. Ain’t no one can
chart me. All the other planets, they think
I’m annoying. They think I’m an escaped
moon, running free.

Fuck your moon. Fuck your solar system.
Fuck your time. Your year? Your year ain’t
shit but a day to me. I could spend your
whole year turning the winds in my bed. Thinking
about rings and how Jupiter should just pussy
on up and marry me by now. Your day?

That’s an asswipe. A sniffle. Your whole day
is barely the start of my sunset.

My name means hell, bitch. I am hell, bitch. All the cold
you have yet to feel. Chaos like a motherfucker.
And you tried to order me. Called me ninth.
Somewhere in the mess of graphs and math and compass
you tried to make me follow rules. Rules? Fuck your
rules. Neptune, that bitch slow. And I deserve all the sun
I can get, and all the blue-gold sky I want around me.

It is February 7th, 1979 and my skin is more
copper than any sky will ever be. More metal.
Neptune is bitch-sobbing in my rearview,
and I got my running shoes on and all this sky that’s all mine.

Fuck your order. Fuck your time. I realigned the cosmos.
I chaosed all the hell you have yet to feel. Now all your kids
in the classrooms, they confused. All their clocks:
wrong. They don’t even know what the fuck to do.
They gotta memorize new songs and shit. And the other
planets, I fucked their orbits. I shook the sky. Chaos like
a motherfucker.

It is February 7th, 1979. The sky is blue-gold:
the freedom of possibility.

Today, I broke your solar system. Oops. My bad.

ƒ 

This pome is infinitely applicable to all kinds of situations. I particularly enjoy the use of “chaos” as a verb.  I like to recite the pome to the regiments of cancers and their tired metaphors of war. I say it to a couple of people who shit me to tears. I say it to the goddamn state and all its agents. I say it to everybody who

Somewhere in the mess of graphs and math and compass…
 tried to make me follow rules. Rules? Fuck your
rules.

I pass it on to you, dear reader. Go forth and chaos like a motherfucker.

Now there’s an epitaph.

When abuse is just another news story

16 Apr

 news

I was driving home from my appointment with my shrink, with whom I’m attempting to unravel the mystery of how events of the past inescapably determine the present (“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” George Santayana. Remember it) when I heard on ABC Radio National’s The World Today this report of evidence given at the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse.

The report was preceded by a warning of “disturbing” content.

The content is disturbing. It might make you weep. It might make you remember. It might make you rage. It might make your heart break.

But what is even more disturbing is the manner in which this disturbing content, like all other disturbing content, is transmogrified from a heartbreaking, terrifying, rage-provoking account of one man’s childhood into nothing more than another news story in a busy news cycle, the majority of which is comprised of disturbing content of one kind or another. In other words, as soon as this disturbing event is reported we move immediately onto something else, as is routine, as is expected in a media-drenched world where news is barely considered interesting unless it’s disturbing. The need of comfortable people for the thrill of vicarious disturbance should never be underestimated.

What we should have had after Mr David Owen’s story is a minute’s silence. What we should have had is a minute to absorb the magnitude of his suffering. What we should have had is a minute to reflect that Mr Owen’s story of childhood sexual abuse is repeated and repeated and repeated, perhaps a billion or more times around the globe.

What we also should have had is the opportunity to reflect that while it is on the one hand a “good” thing that these matters are now public, it is also possibly a “bad” thing that they are treated as one more story in the news cycle, and that as a society we are becoming so inured to disturbing content that we can be momentarily appalled then move on, within seconds, to the next piece of news without as much as a moment to catch our breaths and reflect upon what we have just heard.

Everything is a damn hashtag. Everything.

It is unrealistic of me to want a minute’s silence after reports such as that on Mr Owen’s childhood suffering. Yet I was outraged by the manner in which his account of the details of his abuse was slotted between other items of interest to the ABC’s midday audience, and I was infuriated by how we are expected to lurch from stories of such atrocities to something Tony Abbott said with nary a second to catch our breaths. How can atrocity become anything more than wall paper when it’s doled out on the hour in sound bites? And what is this doing to us?

I don’t know what purpose was served by the ABC reporting Mr Owen’s evidence, in all its aching detail, in little more than a sound bite. Fair enough if some time is dedicated to the topic. Fair enough if some respect is accorded to the man, and to his experiences. But to sandwich it between Abbott and the jobless figures is a step too far.

While everyone ought to know what happens to far too many children, and the aftermath, it isn’t a sound bite. Mr Owen is a man of tremendous courage and resilience. His story isn’t fodder for the news cycle.

All we have is a voice

9 Apr

No post today, but sharing a poem that seems alarmingly appropriate, especially the penultimate verse.

 

there-is-no-such-thing-as-the-state-and-no-one-exists-alone-hunger-allows-no-choice-to-the-citizen-or-the-police-we-must-love-one-another-or-die-wh-auden

 

September 1, 1939
W. H. Auden, 1907 – 1973

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Protesting a broken system is not emotional blackmail

8 Apr

Peter DuttonImmigration Minister Peter Dutton yesterday declared that he would not submit to what he described as “emotional blackmail” by Iranian asylum seeker Saleed Hassanloo, who has been on a hunger strike for forty-four days in protest at the DIBP’s refusal of refugee status.

Asylum seekers imprisoned indefinitely in Australia’s off-shore detention camps have few methods available to them to protest their plight. That the camps on Manus and Nauru are hellish has been apparent for some time now. This has been recently confirmed by the damning Moss Report, commissioned by former Immigration Minister Scott Morrison some seventeen months ago after the government alleged Save the Children workers were “coaching” asylum seekers to self-harm in order to attract the government’s attention.

Peter Dutton obviously doesn’t know what emotional blackmail is. For a start, it takes place in a personal or intimate relationship, such as that between husband and wife, mother and child, siblings, bullies in the workplace, or close friends. It’s a manipulative behaviour intended to control the other party through fear, obligation, and guilt, and it isn’t a one-off occurrence, it’s a pattern of behaviour established between two or more people as a primary means of communication and interaction.

Detained asylum seekers have virtually no avenues for legitimately  protesting their situations. Self-harm, which is using the body as the vehicle of protest, is all they have. This is not the fault of the asylum seekers, but of governments that have created conditions in which human beings have no hope, extremely limited rights, and are forced to lives that can only be filled with despair.

Dutton’s reason for refusing to respond humanely to Hassanloo’s protest was that if he did, hundreds of asylum seekers would self harm, seeking the same humane outcome. This likelihood should tell Dutton there is something terribly wrong with the system he oversees. If the people incarcerated in it, including children as young as five are willing to harm themselves in order to escape the detention camps, the problem obviously lies in the detention system, and not in the human beings Dutton is forcing to endure it.

It is the default position of the coward and the bully to blame the victim for his or her reaction to the bullying he or she has been subjected to. Australian governments, both ALP and LNP, have bullied boat-borne asylum seekers for decades now. For decades now both governments have criminalised, demonised and dehumanised asylum seekers for their own nefarious political purposes.

Whenever asylum seekers have self-harmed we’ve heard the same old government spin about emotional blackmail, and the same old complaints about the duress these important politicians have been subjected to by asylum seekers protesting with their bodies. We’ve heard this from every Immigration Minister, from Philip Ruddock who infamously made repeated references to a child asylum seeker who refused to eat as “it,” onwards.

The problem and the fault lies with the treatment of boat-borne asylum seekers by both major political parties. Human beings detained under the conditions these governments have imposed are human beings who are, daily, being severely abused by governments. Our governments are bullies and serial abusers. Their victims self-harm, as victims of serial abusers and bullies frequently do. Our governments blame their victims, as bullies and abusers inevitably will. Our governments then claim victim status for themselves, as they accuse their victims of causing them duress by emotionally blackmailing them.

This is sick. This is dysfunctional. This sickness and dysfunction are at the heart of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection as they implement pathological government policies. Every Minister who heads that department, of either political persuasion, perpetuates the sickness and dysfunction by intensifying the secrecy surrounding boat-borne asylum seekers arrivals, and the conditions of their incarceration.

Increasingly, attempts to threaten and silence anyone who attempts to speak out about the daily abuses, fail. These attempts at silencing have been taken so far by the Abbott government as to personally attack Human Rights Commission head Gillian Triggs, when her report on the detention camps was released.

You can’t shut everybody up, though Transfield, to whom maintenance of the off-shore detention camps has been outsourced, is working very hard to assist the Abbott government in this mission with outrageous attempts to gag its workers.

You are only as sick as your secrets, and this government is fatally ill.

A new low in corporate paranoia: Transfield, Manus & Nauru

7 Apr

Zip It

 

There’s a report in the Guardian this morning that Transfield, the company responsible for the administration of detention centres on Manus and Nauru,is taking extraordinary measures to curtail the civil liberties of its employees.

New policy issued in February 2015 restricts religious and political freedoms of Transfield staff working at the detention centres by forbidding membership in or support for any “incompatible organisation,” such as political parties and churches opposed to off-shore detention. Support for the United Nations, Amnesty International and the Australian Human Rights Commission could also lead to staff losing their jobs.

At first blush, this looks like denying the human rights of workers to religious and political freedom.

A job for our Freedom Commissioner, Tim Wilson?

A staff member can also be sacked if a detainee or former detainee follows them on Facebook or Twitter, even if the employee is not aware of the following.

For previous Sheep posts on Transfield, and the association with the St James Centre for Ethics and the Black Dog Institute of one of its directors, Douglas Snedden, see here.

Then there was the brou ha ha I wrote about here, surrounding Transfield’s support for the 2014 Sydney Biennale which caused several artists to withdraw their work and led to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull describing those artists as “viciously ungrateful.”

You may not think highly of people who undertake employment in detention centres. I’ve heard this perspective and spoken to employees, and it’s complicated. There has been, ever since the days of Woomera and Baxter, a culture of secrecy surrounding detention centres, asylum seekers, and those who are employed in the industry, a culture that serves no one well and from which very few emerge unscarred. Governments are entirely responsible for this culture, for imposing it and maintaining it, to the detriment of everyone involved at the coal face.

These recent actions by Transfield are alarming, and have widespread implications. They are designed to suppress dissent of even the most innocuous kind: being sacked for who follows you on Twitter must be a new low in corporate paranoia.

This morning on ABC Radio National Breakfast, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton insisted that he would not make decisions about refugee status “under duress.” The “duress” he is referring to is the hunger strike by Iranian Saeed Hassanloo that has brought the asylum seeker close to death. Iran will not accept deported asylums seekers: they must return of their own free will. If they do not wish to return, they are kept in indefinite detention by the Australian government.

The message from the DIBP is clear. If you flee duress in a manner we consider inappropriate you will be subjected to more duress, and if you respond to that duress with actions that cause us to experience duress, we will subject you to indefinite duress. We win.

The message from Transfield to its employees is of a similar nature. If you want your job you will relinquish the right to everything we say you must relinquish the right to, otherwise you will not have your job. We win.

The Abbot government to all citizens: If you’re thinking about blowing the whistle on anything think again, because we have captured your metadata and we don’t need a warrant to trawl it and we can make any use of it we like and we win.

All you have to do is what you’re told, and everything will be all right and we win.

Freedom Boy! Where are you?!

Freedom Boy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retribution v Rehabilitation

5 Apr

Prue Goward, recently appointed NSW Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, last week expressed her disgust at prominent community members writing “glowing” character references on behalf of convicted rapist Luke Lazarus, in the hope of achieving a noncustodial sentence for his crime of anally raping an eighteen-year-old woman in a lane way behind his father’s nightclub. Ms Goward was subsequently taken to task by barristers for her comments.

I exchanged tweets with my Twitter friend Nick Andrew on the situation and he followed up with an email that I thought raised interesting points on the topic of punishment, imprisonment, and rehabilitation. With Nick’s permission I’m publishing his correspondence. 

Rehabilitation

 

G’day Jennifer,

I’m sending this by email cause it’s way too long to attempt to tweet,
and would probably cause misunderstanding as well.

You wrote: “Must say I find it very odd that anyone could believe
imprisonment is ‘completely undeserved’ for a rapist”

I replied: “Only if they thought gaol was undeserved for any crime.”

Then: “I’ll have to reread the article but I think it was only one
person, who gave a justification for that assertion.”

I’m not disagreeing with you, but it ties somewhat into an area which
intrigued me a few years ago – retribution vs rehabilitation for
criminals. My thoughts on this are still very unformed. It’s something
I should look into one of these days when I get around to it.

The article I read this morning was

I agree with Goward, and I find it appalling that these prominent people
supported the rapist rather than the victim. The person who made the
“completely undeserved” comment was the parish priest and not who I
thought was being quoted when I replied to your tweet. I wonder if this
priest’s dismissal of the seriousness of rape is an attitude he would
take toward all his parishioners, or only the rich, well-connected ones.

The person I was actually thinking of was Waverley mayor Sally Betts,
who:

“… insisted that her request was based on her long association
Bondi’s Ways Youth Services, where she saw the benefit of
non-custodial sentences for some young offenders.”

There may be benefit yes, for some crimes, but it’s only half the story
when considering if incarceration is also a benefit or does harm.

My interest came from a regular commenter on Pharyngula blog, Walton,
who I gather may be a lawyer or criminal defense law student. Walton
has commented a few times on this subject and of course I don’t have
links from years ago but I found this in a search, to give you a flavour:

Walton wrote:

“I’d argue that imprisonment should be used, if at all,
exclusively for rapists, murderers, domestic batterers and
other seriously violent people who pose an immediate danger
to others’ physical safety.”

It’s prevarication to say “if at all” here; Walton is leaving an
opening in which rapists may not be imprisoned but is not providing
an alternative response.

I wouldn’t say that; I’d argue that imprisonment is necessary to
keep the general population safe from people who pose a danger to
society (and if not prison, then something equally effective at
keeping us safe … ship them to the Moon perhaps??)

Moving on to Walton’s last paragraph:

“Criminalization is a crude and destructive tool for
effecting social change, and I’d argue that the criminal
justice system’s intrusion into our lives should be kept
to an absolute minimum. [etc]”

A few minutes of research should demonstrate the truth of this. I’ve
read about the US’s justice system, and their “school to prison”
pipeline, and the way it sucks people into a vortex they can’t escape
(which is a money-maker for various parties). There has been research
to understand what factors influence rehabilitation such as this one
from the UK in 2013.

My opinion is that prison is minimally rehabilitative at best, and at worst it is quite the opposite, teaching “survival skills” in
an environment where might makes right. The research (including
the above link) shows that authorities are trying to improve
prison’s effectiveness.

The flip side to rehabilitation is retribution, and I think this is
where a lot of people’s’ mindsets are stuck. After some heinous crime
is proven, people want to see the offender punished good and proper,
with little regard for whether the offender will do it again. People
(to generalise) want their pound of flesh.

I believe this attitude belongs to the infancy of our society. If
free will is an illusion (which I think it is – our brains work
with chemistry and electricity, and these things are physics) then
the person didn’t have a choice in the act; the choice was the
culmination of everything that person experienced in their life
and the working of their brain. Some people’s’ brains don’t work
properly – the flaw might be “hardwired” or learned – which leads
them to make really bad choices. Punishment becomes an obsolete
concept – the *only* thing that matters is stopping them doing
the crime again, which is rehabilitation (or execution, but I
won’t go there in this email). That leads me back to my main point,
that prison is only useful insofar as it rehabilitates a person
or protects society (or individual victims) from that person and
the chance that they will re-offend.

Interestingly, while writing this email I read the Wikipedia article
on Rehabilitation.

It pointed out that psychopaths often re-offend. Psychopaths have “an
uninhibited gratification in criminal, sexual, or aggressive impulses
and the inability to learn from past mistakes”; they’re resistant to
“punishment and behavior modification techniques” and worst of all,
they’re the ones most likely to be released from prison.

Maybe we should keep all the psychopaths in prison.

Nick.

As Nick points out, the privatisation of prison services in the US is a “money-maker for various parties,” as is the off-shore asylum seeker detention system the Australian government outsources to private companies. When imprisonment becomes a profit motive, rehabilitation inevitably takes second place. 

I don’t think I can recall agreeing with Prue Goward on anything, however, I do agree with her stand against the “glowing references” provided by powerful people for rapist Luke Lazarus. I have no way of knowing if these references influenced his sentencing. As well, providing references in such circumstances is perfectly legal and ought not to be otherwise. It’s down to the judge to determine how much weight to give references in light of the crime committed. 

My questions would be to those who provided the references. Do you have any understanding of what rape is, and do you think it is less of a crime when perpetrated by the son of a wealthy family?  

Grief makes you do weird stuff

4 Apr
Mourning Woman. Egon Schiele

Mourning Woman. Egon Schiele

 

I’ve just been re-reading Freud’s remarkable essay, Mourning and Melancholia, in which he presciently paves the way for current controversies on the differences and similarities  between mourning and depression. These differences are an ongoing topic of robust debate in psychiatric and psychological circles: when does grief for the loss of a loved one become depressive illness requiring treatment; should mourning be immediately treated with anti depressants, what are the wider repercussions of diagnosing grief as a pathological state?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is the 2013 update to the American Psychiatric Association’s classification and diagnostic tool. In the United States and in Australia, the DSM serves as an authority for psychiatric diagnosis. According to this informative Q and A in the Huffington Post, in the DSM’s last edition the committee removed the “bereavement exclusion” from both depression and adjustment disorders. What this means in its simplest terms is that a person who is grieving a loss potentially may be diagnosed with depression or an adjustment disorder It is the removal of the bereavement exclusion from these diagnoses that has become highly controversial.

A major aspect of this controversy is that with the pathologising of grief and the introduction by the DSM-5 of a category of mental illness known as “complex” or “abnormal” grief, drug companies now have a wider market for anti depressants, and doctors could be encouraged to prescribe these drugs as soon as two weeks after the death of a loved one.

This pathologising leads to an economy of grief that Freud likely did not imagine, though one of his three core principles of the conceptual architecture of psychic organisation was his Economic Hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, psychic process can be evaluated in terms of gain and loss, for example, when a symptom mobilises a certain quantity of energy, other activities show signs of impoverishment. There is a circulation of value, a distribution of resources in the psychic household, or what he also referred to as the household of the soul.

In mourning, it’s not unusual for the mourner to withdraw her interest from the world, so demanding is her labour of grieving. In melancholia, a similar withdrawal might occur, with the distinct difference that in melancholia it is not necessary that there be an external loss: the depression can emanate from internal sources. In both cases, psychic resources are focused on loss, depriving other possible concerns of energetic engagement.

When grief is co-opted by capitalism it is commodified: by defining it as an illness, the opportunity arises for the marketing of a cure, or an amelioration of its symptoms. In a similar manner, the pathologising of post traumatic stress disorder in American war veterans has led to intense drug therapy, often causing uncontrollable and deadly side effects.

There is little abnormal in the intense reaction of an individual to traumatic circumstances of all kinds. The pathology lies not in the individual’s reaction to a situation, but in the situation itself. War is pathological. The sexual abuse of children is pathological behaviour on the part of the abuser. The distress and dis-integration of people subjected to pathological events is a normal human reaction to diseased circumstances.

Capitalism profits from pathological circumstances, and it’s in the interest of capitalism that such circumstances continue to exist. Those who suffer adversity as a consequence find their adversity pathologised, commodified and exploited, in the instance of grief and the war veteran’s post traumatic stress, by pharmaceutical companies.

There is a growing body of dissent on the usefulness of  intense drug treatment of war veterans, and an increasing suspicion that the unholy alliance between drug companies and the US military is the driving force behind what many medical professionals regard as dangerous over-medication. Psychiatrist Dr Peter Breggin, author of “Medication Madness: The Role of Psychiatry Drugs in Cases of Violence, Suicide and Crime,” claims the increase in drug treatment of veterans: …cannot be accounted for by anything other than military decisions at the very top that were certainly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry, which markets from the top down, then the drugs flow to millions.

The economy of the household of the soul is obliterated by the capitalist economy of Big Pharma, and the labour of mourning, which is also a significant aspect of post traumatic stress, is named as mental illness requiring drug therapy.

This is not to say that drug therapy is always unnecessary or unhelpful. That would be a ridiculous position to take. Rather, as well as drug therapy we ought to be considering a causal inversion in which the circumstances are recognised as pathological, rather than the normal human reactions to traumatic situations that give rise to disturbing symptoms, disrupting the individual’s psychic economy.

Today, all mourning is in danger of being defined as melancholia in the interests of profit, and we are all impoverished as a result.

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As readers of this blog and The Practice of Goodness will know, I’ve been struggling with the loss of my husband for some time now. My loss began not with his death, but when he suffered a massive stroke that left him paralysed, unable to speak, and subject to a degenerative process that was agonising to witness, and during which he became increasingly comatose and unable to recognise me. This went on for over two years, culminating in his death in June, 2014.

It has only been in the last few months that I’ve allowed myself to begin to grieve this awful period. Instead, I engaged in a variety of displacements, including embarking on an affair with a man who was also seriously ill, but well enough to ask for and respond to love, concern, and desire in ways in which my husband could not. For much of my life I had also sublimated a powerful wish (and its devastating regrets) to have been able to help and save my stepfather, who committed suicide when I was sixteen. I was in the zone, as I put it to myself, of desperately wanting to save men to whom I had a powerful attachment.

Were I to be Freudian about my affair I would name it as transference, the unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another, frequently but not necessarily originating in childhood experience.

Grief makes you do weird stuff.

It was only when the affair came to a horrible end that I collapsed for several months into a state of profound grief during which I couldn’t write, or read, or engage with the world, and during which I had consistent and terrifying suicidal thoughts. I spent hours every day trying to work out a way in which I could end my life without anybody knowing I’d done it on purpose, because even in the midst of this collapse, I couldn’t bear to leave such a legacy for my loved ones to deal with. I imagined in great detail the methods I could avail myself of. I stockpiled drugs. I could simply disappear, I thought, and die in the forest, but then I realised the anguish my disappearance would cause, without even as much as the resolution of knowledge of my death.

The only circumstance that kept me in my life was my love for my three-year-old grandson, Archie, with whom I have an exceptional bond. There is much yet to pass between Archie and me, and I could not, even in my worst hours, deliberately leave before seeing that through. He will never know that he saved my life, and nor should he.

I sought no psychiatric or psychological help through this period. I mostly stayed in bed or lay on the couch, exhausted. I suspect that had I presented myself at the doctor’s in this state I would have been diagnosed as severely depressed, probably hospitalised, and encouraged to take anti depressants, and that would have been a responsible reaction on the doctor’s part. Although I had to visit the doctor for other reasons I never mentioned my state of mind, and my physical illness accounted for weight loss, lethargy and other symptoms.

In retrospect, I think I simply didn’t have the energy to find the words, let alone speak them. As Freud would have noted, the symptoms of my mourning drew heavily on my psychic resources, and left every other aspect dangerously impoverished.

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Grief is always complicated. Nobody comes as an adult to the loss of a loved one without an accumulation of losses and griefs of varying degrees, many of which remain unresolved because we aren’t taught or encouraged to resolve them. The shock of loss, which is always as shock even if you have, like I did, two years to know it’s coming, ruptures the protective membranes that allow us to conduct productive daily life in an environment that is, although we might deny this, all too frequently hostile to our psychic and physical well-being.

One of the unforeseen side effects of the massive rupture caused by significant loss is that it allows other sorrows, other traumas, other losses that haven’t been dealt with to leak through, infusing and complicating the main event and causing overwhelming feelings that transport us to an altered state. Grief is an altered state. It is nothing like “ordinary” life. Once you’re in grief, anything can happen, although that might not always be evident to observers.

Increasingly, we are encouraged to medicate these altered states so they achieve a two-fold outcome for capitalism: we buy drugs to get us off the couch, back into the workforce and consuming again, but what does such an approach do to stabilise our psychic economy?

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The greatest sacrifice we make to live in our current dominant culture is the sacrifice of self-knowledge and self-understanding. Who has time to unravel the psychic complexities that drive us? And yet, what could possibly be more important to us as individuals and as communal beings than understanding how and why we do what we do?

Instead, we have drugs whose sole purpose is to render us capable of functioning within this society, in the manner that supports its capitalist goals. The adverse effects major and minor of anti depressants, for example, were for me antithetical to a life fully experienced, fully lived. They dulled my senses and my mind, and didn’t suit my chemistry at all. There is little opportunity offered for the processes of the psyche, which can often seem slow and laborious, to unfold, and anything that takes one’s attention away from worldly considerations is regarded as a symptom of pathology.

I’m not done with my labour of mourning.  I will be grateful for the rest of my life that this crisis occurred at a time when I was able to withdraw, and allow it to take its course. When eventually I got myself to a psychiatrist I chose an analyst, one who would not persuade me to medicate myself out of the psychic processes, but on the contrary, travel with me through them.

Freud was, of course, both formed and constrained by his times, as are we all to some degree. There is much to disagree with in his theories, especially for a woman like me, who found her first liberation in feminism. Yet to revisit his writings is to be astounded at his vision, and the poetic manner in which he expressed that vision. Just now, his essay on Mourning and Melancholia is a source of great comfort, like the right poem at a particular moment can ease the heart with the reassurance that others have felt these things, mad and isolated as they might seem to be.

Grief makes you do weird stuff. True fact.

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The question for Good Friday: What is truth?

3 Apr

 

orwell truth

Yesterday, human rights lawyer George Newhouse won his defamation case against News Corp blogger Andrew Bolt. A confidential settlement was reached, with News Corp paying Newhouse’s costs:

Justice McCallum found the five defamatory imputations pleaded by Mr Newhouse were capable of arising. These included that Mr Newhouse “has fraudulently represented to the public that people whom he represents are refugees when they are not”; that he “lied to the High Court”; that he is “motivated by deceit” and that he has “acted immorally”. 

In 2011, Bolt was found guilty of breaching the Racial Discrimination Act with a blog in which he’d implied that light-skinned people who identified as Aboriginal did so for personal gain. 

In 2002, magistrate Jelena Popovic was awarded $246,000 damages for defamation after suing Bolt and the publishers of the Herald Sun over a 13 December 2000 column in which he claimed that she had “hugged two drug traffickers she let walk free.”

Obviously, Bolt is in the business of mischief-making, as is his employer. There is a certain satisfaction in witnessing this activity come back to bite them both, however, Bolt’s narrative genre, bereft as it is of truth or any pretence at interest in it, is a vehicle for the conservative ideology that is currently struggling for control of western democracies.

Bolt’s blogs largely consist of great swathes of unsubstantiated personal opinion, that if subjected to a moment’s elementary Socratic interrogation would disintegrate into dust. The only way to deal with the man is to haul him before appropriate courts, an option open to very few. The cost to News Corp is little in the scheme of things, and is no doubt outweighed by the talent the man has for rousing ugly public opinion that favours conservative prejudices.

In conservative politics and in the media that support the ideology, truth long ago exited stage left and won’t be coming back. Prime Minister Tony Abbott boasts of his own dodgy relationship with the truth, and the ABC’s “Promise Tracker” records the number of pre-election assurances by the coalition that have been broken since Abbott assumed power.

Does truth matter? It would seem we’re in an era of norm renegotiation: at one time in our social evolution a man’s [sic] word was all that was required, and any man who broke his word was ostracised and shamed for it. We have apparently devolved to a state in which the leader of our liberal democracy can quite cheerfully say whatever he likes at any particular moment, then blame his audience for being daft enough to believe him.

On Good Friday, the day on which Christians such as Prime Minister Abbott grieve the death of their Christ, it seems appropriate to recall Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who handed Jesus over for execution by literally and symbolically washing his hands of the whole ghastly affair and asking, rhetorically, Quid est verities? What is truth?

Prejudice, arrogance, entitlement and ideology have triumphed over truth in Australian political discourse. Truth is now regarded with the same jaundiced mocking eye as is compassion. It matters not if Andrew Bolt and Tony Abbott spin narratives bereft of truth, populated with stereotypes, peppered with clichés. Truth is crucified. Ideology rules. OK?

 

 

 

 

 

On the moral outrage of the “normal.” A response to Madonna King

2 Apr

PeripeteiaI’d planned on a peaceful afternoon following a few arduous days but then I read this piece by journalist Madonna King, titled “Billy Gordon must stop making excuses for bad behaviour” and honestly, if this doesn’t encapsulate everything I’ve been writing about for the last few days I can’t imagine what would.

King opens by observing that Andreas Lubitz, co-pilot of the Germanwings flight that ended in tragedy after he flew the plane into the French Alps might well have been suffering from depression however, that doesn’t mean he ought not to be recorded in history as a mass murderer responsible for the deaths of 150 passengers.

From this King moves onto the saga of Queensland politician Billy Gordon, currently facing universal disapprobation for past crimes and present misdemeanours. Many people, King claims, suffer difficult childhoods and depressive illness, but they don’t all fly planes into mountains or resort to criminal activities, so why should anyone excuse the behaviours of Lubitz or Gordon on the grounds of their struggles with their personal demons?

Indeed, goes the illogic of her argument, Lubitz and Gordon are even more morally bankrupt because they did not manage to deal with their demons in a manner that did not cause anguish to others.

Let me unpick King’s moral dummy spit.

While there are undeniably common factors in depressive illness, and in the reactions to childhood trauma, it should never be forgotten that every circumstance is individual, and neither depressive illness nor childhood trauma occurs to robots and replicants but to human beings, formed by genes, nature, and nurture, different in every case, different even within the same family. To argue that because one person does not react like another to trauma indicates that they are exceptionally morally deficient, is the worse kind of middle class, self-righteous, pseudo-psychological conservative claptrap.

Lubitz undoubtedly will quite rightly be remembered as the murderer of 150 passengers and the bearer of anguish to hundreds of others. However, no human action takes place in a vacuum, and understanding Lubitz’s circumstances is not “making excuses” for his acts, but informing ourselves, the better to avoid such catastrophes in the future.

Likewise, knowing where Billy Gordon is coming from is not “making excuses” for his actions, but adding to our knowledge of how the events of an individual’s life form him or her, and of the enormous variety of responses and reactions individuals can have to what on the surface appear to be identical or very similar circumstances.

Taking a moral stand on these matters does nothing to inform us of anything. This is a classic example of how pointlessly destructive moral stands can be. If we say, as has Ms King, that explanations and understanding are “excuses” for certain types of behaviour, we come to a dead-end. If we want to reduce and prevent certain types of behaviours, we won’t do it by simply deciding they are “bad.”

Gordon has at some point this week described a deprived childhood. To which King replies: Guess what Billy. You should have spent less time wanting what others had, and less time breaking the law too.

He should have spent less time wanting what others had? What? It is an offence have nothing and want what others have? The poor must not envy and covet the privileges of the comfortable? They must simply accept they can’t have them?

King goes on: Excuses are now the reason for bad behaviour across the community. An act of road rage because someone cut someone off at the pass. A scratch along the side of a car because someone took somebody else’s car park. One punch outside a night club because someone thought someone else’s drink had been spiked. 

There is a vast difference between excuses and reasons, a difference that entirely escapes Ms King. These are explanations, however inadequate, of certain actions. They are vital to increasing our understanding of why some of us behave so abominably at times, and therefore indicators of how our abominable behaviour can be addressed and hopefully reduced, in the interests of the common good.

There’s not one among us, including Ms King, who can know with any certainty that we will not at some time become the victim of peripeteia. How we react in unexpected circumstances is determined by any number of factors, the majority of which are likely entirely unknown to us.  Morality is largely unhelpful in these situations, and is particularly so when applied after the fact.

Apart from anything else, it is profoundly arrogant for anyone to assume or demand that every individual who suffers trauma and/or mental illness reacts to her or his circumstances in the same way. Using some of us as a yardstick by which to judge the others is a game of the privileged and the entitled. Traumatised and mentally ill people do not lose our individuality because of our experiences. We have the right to be who we are, without the burden of the expectations and moral judgements of the “normal” and the “healthy.”

Thank you Eroticmoustache (I think :-)) for the link that led to this rant.

What is Conservatism and What is Wrong With It?

2 Apr

australian-conservative

 

Former Associate Professor of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, Phil Agre, defined  conservatism thus:

Q: What is conservatism?
A: Conservatism is the domination of society by an aristocracy.
Q: What is wrong with conservatism?
A: Conservatism is incompatible with democracy, prosperity, and civilization in general. It is a destructive system of inequality and prejudice that is founded on deception and has no place in the modern world.

It’s worth reading Agre’s essay, to which I’ve linked above.

The core assumption of conservatives is that they are an aristocracy, that is, they are “the best type” of human being, and being the best type of human being are therefore entitled to govern. Here Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s phrase “women of calibre” springs to mind. Women and men of calibre, as determined by the conservative measure of calibre, are entitled to thrive and are entitled to rule.

This is what is at the heart of Joe Hockey’s protection of the wealthy: because they are wealthy they are by definition the best of human beings, of the highest calibre, and the most worthy of support and tax exemption.

With this assumption at the heart of political and social convictions, a sense of entitlement will inevitably be the driving force. In Australia this sense of entitlement does not generally originate in bloodlines: we are egalitarian to the degree that those of humble origins can and do form the conservative political aristocracy that considers itself the “natural” ruler, the “best” group to govern. The essential requirement is not breeding or wealth, but that one subscribe to the  ideology of entitlement, fuelled by the fervent belief that nobody else can do it as well.The conservative assumes, for no apparent reason other than the assumption itself, that he or she is born to rule.

Conservatives have become even more delusional than they were when they largely sprang from the ranks of the wealthy and the “well-bred.” At least in those instances wealth and breeding provided some perceived external justification for the born to rule ideology. Currently, the ideology requires no external justification: it has come to be justified simply because it exists.

If this is your starting point you will be unable to regard anyone outside of your privileged ruling class as anything other than a lesser being. This thinking is not conducive to democratic government.

As Agre observes, conservatism is founded on deception, largely self-deception. It requires only a belief in one’s superiority but no external proof of any particular accomplishment other than the ability to convince others of that inherent superiority and its naturally ensuing entitlement.

On the whole, the current crop of conservative front benchers are quite unfathomably stupid, blinded and halted and lamed by the conviction of entitlement that is their raison d’être.

Where do babbies of calibre come from? They just are.

Where do babies come from

If you can’t deal with vulnerability you’ve no business being in government

1 Apr

Vulnerablitiy

 

If there’s one single characteristic that defines the Abbott government, and increasingly the ALP opposition, it’s their utter lack of care for people who are in some way vulnerable.

One might once have been tempted to use the phrase “lack of compassion” but it’s been rendered almost meaningless through overuse, and besides, in the current political discourse the word “compassion” carries negative value,  being framed as a weakness unless directed towards victims of plane crashes, and hostages. Almost everyone else faced with difficult circumstances is implicitly blamed for finding themselves in them, denied care, and all too frequently punished.

The public attitude politicians seem most to represent is one expressed to me on Twitter yesterday, after I’d remarked that it was time to leave Craig Thomson alone as he looked like a man at the very end of his rope and enough is enough. He’s putting on an act, he’s putting it on, a couple of people responded. And you know this how? I felt like replying, but didn’t, thinking it pointless to attempt to challenge that level of ignorance in 140 characters. I’d be at it all day to no useful purpose.

He or she is “putting it on” is a phrase that has always been used by people with a particular mindset towards anyone who reveals vulnerability. It’s used repeatedly about asylum seekers who express their distress through the only means available to them, their bodies. It’s used about people who attempt or express the desire to attempt suicide. A variation of the phrase was used by the former headmaster of Knox Grammar Ian Paterson, about a boy who was being sexually abused on his watch, when he claimed the victim was a “drama boy.”

This lack of care has brought us to situations such as this one, in which a five-year-old child currently in Darwin with her family, has attempted suicide because she so fears being returned to detention on Nauru. I’m waiting to hear Peter Dutton declare she’s “putting it on.”

For mine, this attitude reveals a great deal more about the person expressing it than it does about the object of their derision. It tells me they are bereft of imagination, and incapable of thinking themselves into another person’s shoes, even momentarily. It tells me they are terrified of vulnerability and must attack anyone who confronts them with it, however distanced from that vulnerability they may be.

Consider the mental attitude of a person who is compelled to declare on social media that an individual unknown to them is “putting on an act” when he says publicly that he is close to suicide. It is this mental attitude that forms the Abbott government’s demographic, and to whom the government plays with callous contempt for any vulnerability it does not consider legitimate, that is, vulnerability experienced by anyone other than the group with which the government  identifies.

The conservative mind dehumanises those it does not perceive as one of its tribe, because it does not consider the concerns of “outsiders” as valid as its own. The Abbott government exemplifies this in its attitude to tax reform for example. Consider this piece by Ross Gittins on Treasurer Joe Hockey’s budget spin, skewed to benefit the tribe to which Hockey belongs, at the expense of those who are most financially vulnerable and thus, outsiders.

No matter where you look in government and many opposition policies, you will find they have in common lack of interest and care for the vulnerable, and overwhelming bias towards groups they consider their own. The Abbott government’s attempts to push through a budget almost universally regarded as unfair, and its attribution of that failure as a failure to properly  “sell”  unfairness, reveals everything you need to know about the conservative mind. They couldn’t sell unfairness, which is their ideology, so they need to work out how better to do that in the future.

There’s a building body of opinion that the conservative mind is incapable of compassion for any other than those it recognises as its own, and the attitudes and actions of this conservative government, and to an increasing degree our supposedly left-wing opposition, fit this conservative ideological profile.

This harsh and unyielding position, erroneously claimed as strength, extends itself beyond the immediately human to vital matters such as climate change, with Abbott’s reputation as the world’s worst climate villain perfectly expressing conservative contempt for the vulnerable situation of the very planet on which we must all exist.

We need politicians who can cope with vulnerability of all kinds. It isn’t so much compassion we need as intelligence, and particularly active emotional intelligence, of which compassion is a part. I doubt there has been a time in our living memory when Australian politicians have been further from this intelligence, or a time when it has been more dangerous for them to be so.

They’re “putting it on” is a particularly invidious perspective to take on the vulnerability and distress of others. It’s ignorant, it’s defensive, it’s dangerous. If you can’t deal with the sight of another’s vulnerability that’s your problem, not theirs. Vulnerability is not legitimised or delegitimised by the social class to which you belong. When a government can’t deal with vulnerability of all its citizens it is not a democratic government. It’s an ideological tyrant.

 

 

Drugs and Depression

30 Mar

 

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Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot believed to have deliberately guided Flight 4U9525 into the French Alps killing all 150 people on board was reportedly suffering from depression, and possibly taking anti-depressants to treat his illness.

What hasn’t been mentioned so far is that many anti-depressants disclose in their list of possible side-effects a warning that they may trigger suicidal ideation, suicide or attempted suicide, and in some instances, violent and aggressive behaviour. While clinical studies continue into the association between these drugs and certain behaviours, the evidence is sufficient for drug companies to be compelled to disclose the possibilities to potential users.

There is, justifiably, a concern that depression and those suffering from it will be increasingly stigmatised as a consequence of this tragedy.  As the Guardian reports: In a sign of continued nervousness in the light of the tragedy, there were reports on Saturday of pilots offering personal assurances to passengers. One woman tweeted: “Pilot on my @Delta flight announces he and co-pilot are ex-military and ‘we both have wives and kids and are very happy’.” 

Apparently being “ex-military,” male, and with a wife and children is some kind of guarantee against depression which will be news to many people given the astronomic rates of post traumatic stress disorder diagnosed in military personnel, to address just one aspect of an idiotic comment that is a small example of the facile discrimination and prejudice anybody with a mental illness can encounter.

Australia has the second highest use of anti-depressant medication in the world after Iceland, from which we can conclude that depression is a common illness in our society and a lot of us are using drug therapy to help us manage it. Death from drug overdose is twice as likely to be caused by drugs prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia and stress than by illegal substances, a Victorian coroner recently reported.

And it isn’t just drugs prescribed for depression that can cause mental disturbances. I have beside me a box of Metoclopramide, prescribed for nausea caused by other drugs, with a list of potential side-effects as long as my leg, one of which is “mental depression.” There are antibiotics that can cause anxiety. There are anti psychotics that can cause hallucinations. There are sleeping tablets that can cause bizarre sleepwalking behaviours.  If anything we need more awareness and education about the possible side effects of prescription drugs, and how those side effects can be safely managed.

It would be the worst possible outcome if the tragedy of Flight 4U9525 was used to stigmatise people with depression not only in the airline industry but in every other occupation. There have already been demands that airlines dismiss pilots with depressive disorders, and while no one wants a pilot in the throes of a seriously depressive episode flying a plane, depression can be managed and people do recover.

As usual there’s been a scramble, instigated by the country’s most reliable drama queen Prime Minister Tony Abbott, to ensure such a tragedy doesn’t occur on an Australian airline. Australia’s national security committee met on Sunday at Abbott’s insistence to discuss preventative measures.

Good luck with that. Absolute safety can never be guaranteed, and flying is still a whole lot safer than driving the Pacific Highway, and a whole, whole, whole lot safer than being a woman in a domestically violent situation in Australia. So far this year, the average is two dead women each week. Still waiting for the Minister for Women to call an emergency Sunday meeting about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Pretty Woman’ is to blame for luring women into sex work. Right.

30 Mar

Everybody told me not to read this exceedingly stupid Mamamia piece alleging the film “Pretty Woman” caused young women to become sex workers by glamourising an industry that can be highly dangerous, but I did it anyway.

My question: how many films glamourise marriage and lure young women into that industry, only for them to become victims of violent partners to the extent that one woman each week in Australia is killed by that partner?

Which situation is the more dangerous for women?

And what are we, that we need to even ask such a question?

And when will Mia Freedman get her bourgeois morality off our bodies?

Runaway_Bride

You will meet a tall dark stranger

29 Mar

wish-upon-a-star-andrea-realpeI watched the Woody Allen movie of this title last night, and was saddened by the slide into banality of a director I once found extraordinary. As is his wont, Allen again dissects the emotionally tormented relationships between comfortably off but miserable professional couples driven by their hunger for love, and the ensuing complications of their search for love’s validation.

The ironical musical theme of the movie is a sweetly gentle version of “When You Wish Upon a Star” and as the narrative unfolds it becomes apparent that while your dreams might indeed come true, dreams fulfilled don’t necessarily make you happy. In other words, be careful what you ask for. You might get it.

The film begins with an epigraph, Macbeth’s observation that life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. This announced the movie’s fundamental lack of imagination: as an epigraph this one has been done to death and I was reminded of how, as raucous and irreverent schoolgirls, we screeched the quotation at one another as we draped our adolescent selves across our wooden desks, mocking its nihilistic sentiment.

What the movie did cause me to ponder, however, are the many ways in which human beings can emotionally cripple ourselves and one another, believing we’re doing what we are supposed to do living respectable coupled lives, pursuing respectable ambitions, and conforming to the expectations of our culture. All the while, as in a witch’s bubbling cauldron, deep and guilty dissatisfactions are coming to the boil, provoking unforeseen behaviours that erupt from their repression and cause chaos in outwardly conformist lives. Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble…to stay with the Macbeth references.

As Freud observed, in order to maintain civilisation we must make a trade-off, and the price we pay is the voluntary relinquishing, through repression, of desire. This is the essential paradox of civilisation: we have designed it to protect ourselves from dissatisfaction and danger, yet it is simultaneously our biggest source of both. Allen’s characters are quintessentially civilised, yet their desires rupture their civilised veneer and reveal the turmoil and misery that lies beneath. Truth will out.

The catalyst for rupture is always desire, the “tall dark stranger” encountered at times of blind yearning for one knows not what, a yearning that is always at bottom a hunger for growth, and escape from circumstances that have come to represent imprisonment and stagnation. Yet few of us can pursue these needs without savage consequences, as they fly in the face of civilised culture and its constructed desires, leaving trails of wreckage that are largely perceived not as opportunities, but as destruction. Our culture values certainty, continuity and predictability. Our culture values what is antipathetic to desire. Those who break out, yielding to desire, are judged and found wanting.

Allen knows these truths well, given his own torturous history with desire. It’s disappointing that he hasn’t found a fresher way to dissect them: he’s become formulaic.

For mine, the meeting with a tall dark stranger is the meeting with truth or the real possibility of it, a possibility generally denied us by cultural demands and expectations. Discontent is a necessary by-product of civilisation. Civilisation, as Freud would have it, inevitably makes us neurotic. The only cure is love, and love is a stranger in an open car, tempt you in and drive you far away…

 

 

 

 

 

At the mercy of the state

25 Mar

Surveillance-State

 

There is something very rotten in the state of a nation’s politics when both its government and its opposition are able to co-operate on the introduction of legislation for intrusive mass surveillance of the nation’s entire population.

If you want to better understand the repercussions of this legislation for the individual, I’d recommend reading this piece, sending the suggested letter to your MP, then retreating to a corner to weep for what we’re becoming.

The government and opposition argue that these extreme surveillance measures are necessary to apprehend terrorists, pedophiles and major criminals, all of whom will by now have devised encryption methods to bypass government surveillance, and most of whom will have had such methods securely in place for years.

What has been most alarming in the lead-up to the Senate debate on the legislation today has been the apathy of mainstream media towards proposed state surveillance that frames every citizen who uses the Internet as a suspect. Not as a potential suspect, but as a suspect whose online activity can be accessed by agents of the state without a warrant, if they decide to go after you.

If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear, claimed AFP Assistant Commissioner Tim Morris. However, in Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s own words institutions aren’t perfect, as we well know from the institutional abuses of all kinds that are exposed daily by whistleblowers, many of whom will be left without a means to reveal corruption under the new legislation.

The “if you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to fear” argument implies that the state and its agents have the right to know everything about you in the first place, and that they will determine what is deserving of their attention in your daily activities. The term “hide” is used in this argument rather than the term “privacy.”

In the replacing of one word for another, the citizen’s right to a life kept private from the state is pejoratively reframed as having “something to hide.” We are now guilty until we can prove ourselves innocent, because what else can we be if our online lives can be investigated without even a warrant?

Metadata retention legislation does not uncover what every citizen is necessarily “hiding.” It destroys every single citizen’s right to privately go about her and his online pursuits under the assumption that privacy equates to hiding, and thus becomes the object of suspicion and intervention.

Like a suspicious spouse or the interfering parent of an adolescent, the government now assumes if you want privacy you must be guilty of something.

Those who have “something to hide” will continue to find ways to hide, just like Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull who uses an encryption service to send his text messages.

We know governments can’t be trusted simply because they are governments. We know institutions can’t be trusted simply because they are institutions. To give these bodies unrestricted access to our online lives is an insanity. We are now all at the mercy of the state and its agents to an unprecedented degree, a situation that is intolerable in a liberal democracy.

The ALP are a disgrace for supporting the Coalition in this Big Brother legislation.

Get encrypted. It’s not complicated. Senator Scott Ludlum makes some suggestions on RN Breakfast this morning.

And here’s a Get Up campaign that will help you go dark.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Tony Abbott  tells us he was never worried about metadata collection when he was a journalist so what’s the problem?

That man really knows his onions. It’s breathtaking.

 

 

 

Women are not responsible for the crap things men do. End of.

17 Mar

This piece by Paula Matthewson totally nails it on the “Credlin, Horsewoman of the Apocalypse” narrative aggrieved men in LNP circles are telling themselves and everybody else to explain away their shameful, dishonourable gutlessness, and I include Prime Minister Tony Abbott in this sweeping gender generalisation.

If Credlin is indeed the only person Abbott trusts and takes advice from, that demonstrates an appalling weakness in the character of the leader of this country. Not because she is a woman, but because Abbott is apparently fool enough to listen to primarily one advisor.

If Abbott allows his chief of staff to tyrannise all comers, that is evidence of Abbott’s inability to handle responsibility and decision-making.  Nature abhors a vacuum and Abbott is a vacuum and fate has given him Credlin to fill the vacuum that he is. It is the vacuum running the country we need to be concerned with, not the filler who can be replaced by another filler, and another, but always leaving us with the vacuum at the top.

 

empty head

 

The weakness is not Credlin’s but Abbott’s, and it will still be Abbott’s weakness if Credlin is despatched.

Even more alarmingly, Credlin’s advice seems to be driving Abbott on a hiding to nowhere and still he takes it, which only goes to prove my point. The man is stupid beyond redemption.

It is customary in this patriarchal sewer in which we dwell, fighting off the bloody rats, to blame women for the crap pathetic things men do. I’ve had a gut full, to be honest, having experienced this on a very personal level for the last few months. Women are not responsible for the crap things men do, whether it’s in politics or the personal, women are not responsible for the crap things grown men do, end of.

I do not say this to offer support for Ms Credlin, because I don’t feel any. I cannot abide people who wag their finger at other people, and Ms Credlin seems to do this rather a lot. It’s a gesture that reveals a multitude of other characteristics, none of which I find in the least appealing. Be that as it may, whatever Ms Credlin’s undesirable traits may be, they have absolutely nothing to do with Tony Abbott’s. They just happen, at this moment in time, to be a spine-chilling fit.

This is why Abbott got it so wrong when he attempted to use charges of sexism against Credlin’s many critics, and where the critics got it wrong as well. The problem is the Prime Minister handing over so much of his power to his chief of staff, regardless of gender, and what it says about the PM that he is willing to relinquish so much power to an unelected employee.

Abbott is a dangerously inadequate leader.  It’s got nothing to do with Credlin. He was before her and he will be after her. This is what we should be worrying about, not the bloody horsewoman of the apocalypse, which is about as big a piece of hyperbole I’ve heard in many a day.

Let me say it one more time. Women are not responsible for the crap things men do. If this is a government of grown ups, they need to acknowledge that first, and urgently.

 

Abbott shirtfronts an onion. It’s a lifestyle choice

16 Mar

Seinfeld. George eats an onion

 

Prime Minister Tony Abbott made international news the other day by eating a raw onion, skin and all.

This is a peculiarly Australian test of hegemonic masculinity – ruling class males must, before reaching retirement age, eat a raw onion to camera, ensuring a visual record of arrival at full status in the dominant group.

It is required of males in the political hierarchy that the Initiation of the Onion be performed sooner rather than later. Prime Minister Abbott has been somewhat tardy in fulfilling his obligations, as was evidenced by the discontent among his back benchers, who attempted some weeks ago to move a spill motion in an attempt to unseat him.

Eat the raw onion! they demanded, or get off the pot.

Hopes are running high now that after completing his final initiation Abbott, having absorbed the mystical power of the onion much in the way that primitive peoples believed that eating the heart and liver of warrior enemies would increase their strength and fortitude, will change his leadership style to one that better accommodates the many layers of complexity any leader must deal with in his followers.

It is the opinion of this writer that Prime Minister Abbott might have better served the country and his own interests by retaining the onion, intact, between his teeth, in the manner of a pig on a spit with an apple in its jaws. That way he would not have been able to yet again put his foot in his mouth, as he did when two days ago he decided to describe Indigenous people living in remote communities as making a “lifestyle choice.”

There are perhaps few other phrases so redolent of white middle-class privilege as the phrase “lifestyle choice.” Such language could not be more irrelevant when discussing remote Aboriginal communities, unless the Prime Minister is so impoverished in imagination as to believe that forty thousand years of attachment to country can be reduced to the contemporary concept of  “lifestyle choice.”

A more outstanding example of solipsism would be difficult to find, even from this Prime Minister whose great talent is his ability to perceive the world and everyone in it as existing only through his eyes. If he stops looking at us, we aren’t here.

Of course the term “lifestyle choice” has been used by ruling-class hegemonic masculinists before in relation to asylum seekers arriving here by boat. These people are not refugees fleeing persecution, they are serial pests flitting from country to country, stubbornly intent on fulfilling their lifestyle choices. Otherwise they are terrorists. Yes. The hegemonic masculine mind projects its own understandings on to the world outside of it, and look what it comes up with.

Personally, I think it would have been far more interesting had the Prime Minister shoved the onion up his arse. Much more of a talking point, and a unique way of adding value to that asset. After all, the apprehension is taking hold amongst Australian people that our PM speaks, increasingly, from that orifice.

Of course it would first be necessary to remove the suppository of wisdom in order to make room for the onion, but the shelf-life of suppositories is a short one, and much of it may have melted, making removal a relatively straightforward procedure.

Perhaps the consumption of the onion indicates the PM has taken a new if tentative  step along the long and winding road to wisdom. It was Socrates, I believe, whose advice for a good, wise and moral life was to first, Know Thine Onions.

onions-300x225

 

 

 

Pachamama. The earth is our mother.

14 Mar

pale_blue_dot

I’ve just heard a Radio National Science Show story that has stirred my imagination more than anything in a long time.

Robin Williams interviewed Canadian environmental activist, scientist and academic David Suzuki, who is  the driving force behind a movement to have enshrined in the Canadian constitution a clause that states everyone has the right to clean water, clean air, and food.

One hundred and ten countries already have protection for the earth enshrined in their constitutions. Ecuador, Bolivia and Mexico have guaranteed protection for Pachamama, Mother Earth, in theirs. Suzuki, together with First Nations peoples, artists, musicians, and writers such as Margaret Atwood, are taking the Blue Dot Tour around Canada and having extraordinary  success in their campaign to persuade cities and municipalities to adopt the Blue Dot Declaration for a Healthy Environment.

However, this isn’t merely a grand statement. So far fourteen cities, including Montreal and Vancouver, have committed to enacting legislation protecting the environment within the next two years.

The Blue Dot Tour takes its name from the famous essay by Carl Sagan, written after Voyager I cameras were, at his suggestion, trained on earth. Our planet appeared as a pale blue dot in a sea of darkness. Here is an extract from Sagan’s essay:

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on the mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. 

The significance of the proposed Canadian environmental protection legislation is considerable. The burden of evidence will shift from  activists who currently must prove a developmental project will damage the environment, to developers who will have to prove it will not. Such legislative shifts immediately change the discourse, putting the well-being of Pachamama and the human beings living on her and with her before economic considerations and profit.

As Suzuki points out, without air we die in three minutes. Without clean air we become sick. Without water we die in a few days. Without clean water we become sick. Without food we die in a couple of weeks.

In NSW, changes introduced by the LNP government now determine that the “principal consideration” for decision makers such as the Planning Assessment Committee must be the economic benefits of the proposed mining project. The massive Shenhua coal mining venture in the Liverpool Plains, vigorously opposed by environmentalists and farmers for almost seven years, was given approval at the end of January 2015, after twice being knocked back, under this “principal consideration” change.

However, the matter is now before federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt, who has “stopped the clock” on the project until further investigation into the effects of the mine under federal government Water Trigger Legislation, which states that

Australia’s national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), was amended in June 2013, to provide that water resources are a matter of national environmental significance, in relation to coal seam gas and large coal mining development.

It will be very interesting to see how Greg Hunt handles this situation.

Those of us living on this part of the mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam could send an email to Greg Hunt, quoting the extract from the Carl Sagan essay above.

Pale-Blue-Dot

I don’t effing care if you call yourself a feminist or not.

8 Mar

Like Groundhog Day, International Women’s Day yet a fucking gain, finds itself hijacked and imprisoned in the eternally recurring culture war chatter, I won’t dignify it with the term debate, as to whether you call yourself a feminist or not.

I could not give a rat’s chlamydic arse if a woman calls herself a feminist or not. In fact the minute I get a whiff that the argument’s on I want to start flame throwing.

I don’t care about your personal philosophies on this day at this time. I don’t care if you are personally confused about whether or not to put on make-up in the morning. I so, so do not care if you have a luxurious bush or a full Brazilian. I do not care if you are sometimes a good feminist sometimes a bad one, whatever the fucking hell either of those things actually are. Fuck off with all the confessional shit just for today, and engage with a bigger picture, I’m begging you.

I have a dream. In my dream every woman with a public voice just for once refuses these speaking and writing engagements and instead throws her weight behind a National Day of Mourning on March 8, for the women world-wide, and particularly in Australia because this is our homeland where we can best have influence, who are murdered and abused by intimate partners, as well as the children who witness and suffer.

I have a dream that if women with a public voice do accept speaking and writing engagements on this, our one fucking day of the entire fucking year, they will agree to speak out all day long about domestic violence, government responsibilities, and the safety and protection of women and children, and nothing else.

I have a dream that we will march in the streets with banners and posters and candles on this day, protesting the deaths and injuries, emotional and physical, that so many of us across all demographics endure or have endured in the place where we are supposed to be safe, our homes.

I have a dream that we will unite to take on this Abbott government full frontal in its despicable cuts to frontline domestic violence services that will leave women in the most remote and already under-serviced areas with absolutely nowhere to go.

It is far more important, sisters, that we keep women alive and capable of adequately functioning than it is that we get more already privileged women on to fucking boards, or listed in Wikipedia, or winning fucking literary prizes. The only way we will do this at this point, is to get our lady arses out into the sodding streets, and if necessary, just like the women who got us the vote, chaining ourselves to the fucking railings until politicians give our dire, deathly situation priority.

Dear ladies, for 364 days of the fucking year you can write and speak all you want about your bush or your Brazilian, or your personal philosophy, or how women have to learn achieve within the same rotten, stinking, oppressive power structure as men without even questioning that fucking structure, otherwise they will be automatically forbidden entry to it, but for one day, for one fucking, fucking day, can we focus on the biggest, most life-threatening danger to women in this country, and how nothing has improved in family violence statistics since feminism’s second wave, over forty years ago.

And if we can’t, I’m going to poke everybody’s eyes out with fucking burnt sticks.

Listen to this Background Briefing report this morning on the effects of the Abbott government’s funding cuts to frontline domestic violence services. Then tell me your fucking pubic hair choices matter. Tell me after listening to this whether you call yourself a feminist or not matters jack shit in the scheme of things.

Sorry for all the language.

No, I’m fucking not.

I-am-a-feminist

 

 

Vale all the dead women. IWD 2015

8 Mar

“IWD is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.” Right. We’ve come a long way, baby. Can’t deny that.

Though I don’t see a lot to celebrate recently, to be honest. Perhaps we’ve hit a plateau. I hope it isn’t a brick wall.

I’d attend a dawn candlelight memorial service for women and children all over the world murdered by violent partners, but I don’t think that’s caught on as an International Women’s Day ritual. It’s alarming that it hasn’t, really. So, at the risk of raining on the self-congratulatory feminist talk-fest parade, here’s where my thoughts are at, and who IWD ought to be for.

No celebratory event should begin today without first acknowledging the women and children who’ve died, and those who live and suffer often for their whole lives, from the violence perpetrated against them.

May no woman be murdered in Australia today.

coffin_full

For women who today will be subjected to violence in their homes everywhere in the world.

For women today who will suffer sexual violence.

For women in Australia, and the children who are with them who have no sanctuary, because the refuge nearest them has been closed down by the Minister for Women.

For women who will be admitted to hospital every three hours today with injuries sustained in attacks by intimate partners.

For the children who witness.

For women in Australia who can no longer access legal aid to protect them from violent partners, because the service has been terminated in their area by the Minister for Women.

For Indigenous women who remain consistently overlooked, disregarded, disrespected and silenced.

For women and children who are homeless.

For women everywhere who are in harm’s way.

For women who struggle with every kind of oppression for no reason other than they are women.

 Lily. Georgia O'Keeffe

 

For the women who believe they have smashed a glass ceiling by being permitted, that is being permitted to eat their celebratory lunch at Tattersalls’ men-only club in Brisbane.

You’ve been colonised by a particularly insidious type of masculinity. Or, to put it more crudely, you have pricks in your heads.

For the Minister for Women. No you aren’t.

Violence-Against-Women-is_Page_01

So, remind me. What’s to celebrate?

International Women’s Day. Australia. 2015.

Candles

A Royal Commission worth its salt

7 Mar

royal_commissionFormer headmaster of Knox Grammar, Ian Paterson OA, has over the last few days experienced a most spectacular fall from grace as he attempted, before the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse in Institutions, to ‘rewrite’ the history of his mismanagement of the sexual abuse of students under his care, by what appears to be a nest of pedophiles employed by the school as teachers.

Stripped of all his considerable power, Paterson was confronted by the realities of his alleged failures and their consequences, while arrangements were made at Knox to rename the Paterson Centre for Ethics and Business as part of an eradication plan that includes calls for him to be stripped of his Order of Australia.

If ever a Royal Commission was worth its salt, this one is. I understand there have been some five hundred referrals by the Commission to police for further investigation.

However, what the Commission demonstrates more powerfully than anything else is the complex web of secrecy and denial that allows the sexual abuse of children, both in institutions and the home, to continue at unthinkable levels for many, many decades. Only with the enabling silence of others can crimes such as these flourish.

We have witnessed, heartbreakingly, since the Commission shone its light on the Catholic and Anglican churches and the Salvation Army, as well as other institutions, that their common practices were designed not to protect the children in their care, but the pedophiles who filled young lives with confusion, fear, and long-lasting trauma.

It is worth remembering that our Prime Minister and Minister for Women, Tony Abbott, himself provided support and a reference for convicted pedophile John Nestor, describing him as “a beacon of humanity.” (This link is a thorough and interesting read, by the way.)

It is also worth remembering that Cardinal George Pell, compassionately challenged towards the victims of his pedophile priests, was a moral and spiritual advisor to both John Howard during his term as Prime Minister, and Tony Abbott. Pell was Abbott’s personal confessor, and Abbott is a staunch Pell defender. The Cardinal’s recent hasty removal by the Vatican from the Commission’s inquiry into sexual depravities in the Catholic church, to take on fiscal responsibilities in Rome, was convenient for both men.

The conspiracy of silence perpetrated by those with power and authority such as Paterson, Pell, Abbott and many, many others has caused the misery and ruination of untold young lives. If the Royal Commission achieves nothing else, it has exposed this conspiracy and some of the powerful names who supported it. Most will not, of course, suffer the same fate as Paterson, though they undoubtedly deserve to.

We can thank our lucky stars this Royal Commission was instigated by the previous government, because the likelihood of the Abbott government allowing these atrocities against children to be exposed and interrogated is less than none.

We are witnessing, and not just in Australia, the overthrow of a cruelly silencing and mendacious narrative, and in its place, the narrative of experiential truth. This is a global shift of extraordinary proportions, and I think we can take heart from it, even in these dark times.

 

 

 

 

 

A government of barbaric inconsistency

5 Mar

Only weeks after announcing cuts to frontline services that assist women and children escaping domestic violence, Prime Minister Tony Abbott today announced the government will spend $30 million on a domestic violence “awareness campaign.”

While public education on the matter of domestic violence can never go astray, funding such education while simultaneously removing frontline safety nets for women and children experiencing violence in real-time is an act of unconscionable duplicity, and barbaric inconsistency.

One woman each week is slaughtered by an intimate partner during episodes of domestic violence. One woman is hospitalised every three hours with injuries due to domestic violence. KPMG reports domestic violence cost Australia 14.7 billion last year, some 1.5 billion more than in 2012.

Minister for Women Abbott has slashed funding to front line services such as legal aid, and refuges to which women and children in fear of their lives can flee. Offering a sop of $30 million for education while leaving women and children unprotected and with nowhere to turn, is political expediency of staggering proportions.

I do not recall money being offered for “awareness campaigns” on the matter of young men subjected to king hits. I recall an absolute outcry from all levels of politics, and proposals for immediate legislative changes.

I do not recall any politician, state or federal, ever holding a prayer vigil for women and children slaughtered in their homes by an intimate partner, though there was no shortage of them at the vigil held this morning for Chan and Sukumaran, the Australians sentenced to death for drug smuggling in Indonesia.

Let’s not forget Abbott’s reputation for punching the wall beside a woman’s head, and his reference to a woman as a “chair thing.”

In fact, if you want to refresh your memory about the many disparaging things the Minister for Women has said about women here you go

This man doesn’t care about women. No man who cared about women would remove services that helped them escape violence, injury and death. Any man who cared about women would move heaven and earth to ensure essential services are in place.

No man who cared about women and children would financially prioritise an “awareness campaign” before actually saving lives.

The Minister for Women is a dangerous and opportunistic fraud. He has blood on his hands, the blood of women and children who now have nowhere to go to escape violent homes. How many more will he allow to die before he reinstates front-line funding?

Or does he think he can get away with a band-aid?

domestic_violence

 

 

 

 

ABC TV Qanda excludes Indigenous women yet again

4 Mar

 

Adventures in Democracy

 

ABC TV panel show Qanda will mark International Women’s Day in its March 6 program with a panel consisting entirely of women, and hosted not by the urbane Tony Jones, but by Kitchen Cabinet’s Annabel Crabb.

The panel consists of Julie Bishop, American Roxanne Gay, Professor of English at Purdue University; Holly Kramer, CEO of Best and Less; Germaine Greer, “feminist icon” etc. and Yassmin Abdel-Magied, founder of Youth Without Borders, an organisation focused on enabling young people to work together for the implementation of positive change within their communities. 

Indigenous women are not represented on this panel.

As was noted in the recent Qanda panel on domestic violence, no Indigenous women were invited to participate in that either, although Antoinette Braybrook, CEO of the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria, was allegedly asked by producers if she could recommend an Indigenous man to appear on the show.

The exclusion of Indigenous women from the national broadcaster’s celebration of International Women’s Day reveals again the depth of racism and apartheid  in which this country is so thoroughly steeped it is normalised, and unremarked.

There is no possible excuse for this exclusion. It is absolutely shameful.

If you are moved to ask Qanda why Indigenous women have been excluded from their IWD panel you can do that here. You could also invite the producers to get really adventurous in democracy, and adopt the practice of  inclusion.

You could also remind the ABC that Indigenous women and men pay taxes, and it is their ABC as much as it is any other citizen’s of this country.

I also wish they would stop wheeling out Germaine Greer as our “feminist icon.” I don’t know what a feminist icon is, but I do know Greer hasn’t said anything interesting for a long time though other women have, including Indigenous women.

This woman won’t be watching.

 

 

 

 

 

Censured: The problem is Brandis not Triggs.

3 Mar

George Brandis

 

Yesterday’s Senate censure of Attorney-General George Brandis for his treatment of Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs, has no direct constitutional or legal consequences. It is important, however, that the censure motion is on record as an example of attempts to bully into silence the head of a statutory authority the Attorney-General is obliged, in his job description, to defend against malicious attack.

If the government of the day is dissatisfied with the performance of the head of a statutory body there are presumably procedures in place to deal with that situation. I doubt very much that one of them is instigating personal public attacks. At the very least, the Attorney-General should be aware of the proper way to go about addressing perceived performance failures, and follow those guidelines.

Professor Triggs was entitled to natural justice. Instead she was subjected to an appalling attack by the very person who is obliged to ensure her right to natural justice is honoured.  This alone is just cause for censuring the Attorney-General, who could not have more blatantly failed to carry out his duties.

An Attorney-General who behaves in such a manner has gone rogue. He is not upholding the principles and duties of his office. He is making up the rules as he goes along. He is supported absolutely in his feral abrogation by his Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

This is our problem. It isn’t Gillian Triggs. It’s a government that has scant regard for any statutory body, any procedure, any law that doesn’t suit their ideological ambitions. The HRC is an anathema to the Abbott government, not least because one of the Commission’s responsibilities is to monitor and report on the actions of that government. What better way to demoralise and disempower the HRC than to publicly and ferociously go after its head?

 

 

An Abbott hagiography. Wonder and awe.

1 Mar

true-believer

 

You all know about The Australian’s paywall, right?

The first paragraph of the Greg Sheridan hagiography of Prime Minister Tony Abbott reads thus:

NO Australian prime minister has been quite so complex, or quite so spectacularly misunderstood, by supporters and detractors, and indeed the public, as Tony Abbott.

I implore you to read this if you haven’t already. It is an outstanding example of delusional thinking. It isn’t spin, which is calculated and deceitful linguistic manipulation employed in order to achieve a specific outcome. Sheridan is a true believer, an acolyte, a devotee, a worshipper at the altar of Abbott, and I read this piece with wonder and awe. Look:

Abbott is decisive…But decisiveness is a bit like papal infallibility. As Pope Pius IX is said to have remarked: when you are infallible, you have to be very careful of what you say. 

Abbott loves to write. He loves words in the service of ideas. He is a truly gifted headline writer: stop the boats; a great big new tax on everything;

He loves soldiers, I suspect, for two main reasons. They have a culture of getting things done. And they have engaged in heroic sacrifice beyond even that which he has done himself.

It is a rich personality, as varied and complex as that of any occupant of the Lodge in our history.

Right now, Australians find him a riddle wrapped inside an enigma. After all these years, they don’t know him yet.

As Ray Charles grieves, so does Tony Abbott:

You give your hand to me
And then you say, “Hello.”
And I can hardly speak,
My heart is beating so.
And anyone can tell
You think you know me well.
Well, you don’t know me.
(no you don’t know me)

 

 Sheridan does acknowledge some of Abbott’s faults, but to him they are only temporarily misdirected strengths and he will, if allowed to remain Prime Minister, grow out of them into full maturity.

I can truthfully say this is the first time I have ever heard the notion of the Prime Ministership as a training ground, a learning space reminiscent of Montessori or Steiner in which the incumbent is awarded the opportunity to fully realise his or her potential according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I honestly thought the position was something to do with the interests of the country and its citizens, rather than a path to personal fulfilment.

Abbott does not, according to Sheridan, hold grudges. Someone needs to tell that to Philip Ruddock before he stumbles off like a defanged Shakespearean Father of the House of Liberals, overthrown by a trusted son whose rampant ambitions would see the old man banished to the chilly outers to languish and rot, friendless and unmourned.

On reaching the end of the Sheridan piece I was reminded of a Seinfeld episode in which George observes of a mutual acquaintance, “There’s more to him than meets the eye.”

“No,” says Jerry, “there’s less.”

 

 

 

 

Labor is the despicable winner in the Triggs affair.

27 Feb

 

The Abbott government’s attacks on President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, have served the ALP’s interests more than any other.

They certainly have done nothing to ease the ongoing plight of the 1,129 children successive Australian governments have kept in mandatory detention in appalling circumstances. Many of the children suffer long-term damage from the experience of being treated as criminals for no reason other than that they exist. The conditions under which the children have and continue to be incarcerated would likely make Charles Dickens flinch and look away, yet since the release of the AHRC report, nobody in the major parties has bothered so much as to mention their suffering.

Abbott’s attacks on Triggs have done nothing for the

233 assaults involving children
33 reported sexual assaults
128 incidences of self-harm
34% who require psychiatric support

documented in the recent AHRC report.

However, what the government’s latest lunacy has done is to hand the ALP on a silver platter access to a high moral ground which they do not for one moment deserve, having been as despicably callous towards asylum seekers for their own political gain as has the LNP. There is not a bee’s dick of difference between the two major parties in terms of their ill-treatment of those they consider less worthy than the rest of us, and therefore infinitely exploitable in their mutual pursuit of power.

The ALP is now bellowing self-righteously about the government’s treatment of Professor Triggs, but not, of course, about the contents of Professor Triggs’ report. About that they cannot bellow, as the report condemns equally ALP asylum seeker policies implemented under the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd incumbencies.

Labor has now referred Attoney-General George Brandis to the AFP for allegedly inducing Triggs to leave her position at the HRC for something less disturbing to him. Carefully worded denials have ensued, reminding us that language can be used for ill, and in politics, invariably will be. In case we forget what was said about the Triggs “inducement” at the estimates hearing:

 

If this disgraceful fracas surrounding Professor Triggs tells us anything, it’s that the majority of our elected members on both sides of the house care nothing for the lives and fates of asylum seekers, and logically, it is only a matter of time before they care nothing for the lives and fates of many of their own citizens. Once a government makes scapegoats of one group for political expediency,  they’ll have no qualms scapegoating any other for the same motive. Indeed, there are those who could put up a good argument that this is already the case.

We do not, in this country, have a good record for the treatment of children by authorities. The history of child abuse unfolding before us in the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, for example, demonstrates as nothing else ever has the prevalence and consistency of the savage mistreatment of children across all demographics, from institutions that house the most underprivileged child, to institutions that house the children of the wealthiest and most influential citizens in the country. It is inevitable that our cruelty seamlessly extends itself to children of asylum seekers.

We are in dire need of politicians of calibre, who are capable of and willing to refuse the lure of political gamesmanship and instead do what they are elected to do, and represent the interests of those who gave them their trust. The ALP has no high moral ground on which to pitch its tents on the matter of the Triggs report and the ensuing unseemly brawls. Given its own foul record, the ALP has no choice but to either admit its failures and undertake reform, or make whatever miserable and poisoned political capital it can from the government’s sickening attacks on Gillian Triggs.

All in all, we are one of the most fortunate nations in the world, cast adrift in a tumultuous sea aboard a ship commanded by fools.

 

PiersonShipOfFoolsLE27x32WS

 

 

 

A PM who only knows aggression is a threat to the country

26 Feb

Agressive Abbott


The Abbott government’s attempted defenestration of President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs has, like so many of this government’s ventures into domination through aggression and bullying, badly backfired.

This latest debacle is yet another example of the Abbott government’s pugilistic default position, and follows hot on the heels of the Prime Minister’s combative approach to Indonesia in the matter of the looming execution of Australian drug smugglers Chan and Sukumaran.

Attorney-General George Brandis, chief instigator, along with Abbott, of an extraordinarily vitriolic personal attack on the head of a statutory authority, was yesterday asked what next in their campaign to publicly eviscerate Triggs, presumably to force her resignation which does not seem to be forthcoming, and why should it?

I can’t unscramble the egg, Brandis replied, in a rare admission of stupendous failure.

The egg certainly is all over the faces of Brandis and Abbott. In a move of unfathomable stupidity, Abbott decided to focus personally on Professor Triggs, rather than the report on children in detention the HRC published last week. Seemingly bereft of all politically savvy, Abbott made this choice despite the fact that the report fully covered the previous government’s abysmal record on this matter, and despite the fact that more children have been released from detention by the Abbott government than were by the previous Labor incumbents.

The down side is that this government keeps fewer children in detention for much longer. However, in spite of this reality there was much political capital to be made had Abbott chosen to take that path. Instead, he embarked upon a vicious campaign to force Professor Triggs out of her job, to be replaced, rumour has it, by the Brandis/Abbott protegé  “Freedom Boy” Tim Wilson, who, as you may recall, was parachuted by Brandis into his position at the HRC without so much as an interview.

This latest in the Abbott government’s expressions of contempt for the HRC has caused the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights to write to the government protesting its attacks on Professor Triggs.

As Wayne Janssen explains,  the ICC  co-ordinates relationships with the UN human rights systems. Its accreditation system is based on compliance with the 1991 Paris Principles and grants access to UN committees. Australia currently enjoys “A” status which allows us speaking and seating rights at such committees.

Abbott’s attacks on Triggs imply state interference with the independence of the AHRC that may be a transgression of the Paris Principles. If this is the case, Australia stands to lose our A status, and the access to speaking and seating rights this status confers.

Add to this the suggestion that Brandis attempted illegal inducement by offering Triggs another job to get her out of the HRC, an allegation now referred to the AFP, and it’s difficult to see how this move has brought the government anything other than ongoing grief.

Abbott’s aggressive, combative, high conflict personality dominates his thinking and his decision-making. He has proved repeatedly that he is not capable of controlling his pugilistic instincts. He is entirely unable to overcome his primitive need to shirtfront somebody, anybody, even his own back benchers, by instead employing mature, considered thinking and mental clarity. This is a personality defect that has catastrophic potential for a country led by him. It has equally catastrophic implications for the party he leads, as many of its MPs surely know.

Like an abusive partner in an intimate relationship,  Abbott is in the process of isolating this country from the rest of the world, and from international bodies such as the United Nations that offer what little opportunity there is for cohesion and communication between nations. He is an isolationist, as the violent always are. He seeks to sow seeds of discord and disharmony within our own communities, in his efforts to assert the superiority and domination of white, middle-class alpha masculinity, to the exclusion of all other groups.

He’s a threat to this country. He may be the biggest threat this country faces. He needs to go.

Men. This is what you can do for us.

24 Feb

 

keep-calm-and-respect-women-37

The increasing tension provoked by men participating in public discussions about family violence is serving only to distract us from our focus on the topic.

This excellent piece by Amy Gray in The Guardian in which she analyses the problematics of a dominantly male panel on ABC TV’s Qanda last night (unfortunately titled “Family Violence Special”) affirms my assertion and I urge you to read it.

Denying anyone a voice is not my thing, often to my own disadvantage and at times almost ruin, but on this topic, at this stage, I don’t think men on panels are doing us much good at all.

I speak only for myself, and when I see that a panel on family violence, perpetrated by far more men than women, is a panel actually dominated by men, my question is WTF?

Followed by, I’m tuning out because there is nothing men have to say on this topic that I am ready and willing to hear at this point. That doesn’t mean I don’t like you, respect you and in some instances, love you. It means you need to step away because we need our moment, like we need the air we breathe.

I want the issue handled publicly by women, and there are thousands of women in this country who have the most extraordinary insight, expertise and personal experience to keep a thousand panels going for a thousand and one nights.

If I was a man I can’t imagine fronting up to such a gig and thinking my point of view counted for very much at all in that setting.

Addressing reasons why men are violent towards women and children is of course fundamental to prevention. Perhaps this is a topic that could sustain a panel all of its own, and not be conflated with the rare opportunity for the primary victims and survivors of family violence and their advocates to speak publicly on the topic.

I am likely going to cop all kinds of shit for saying this, but what I ask of men is that you focus your attention on other men, and vacate the space, just quietly leave the space of public discussion such as last night’s Qanda, for women. This is what you can do for us.

I know not all men hit women and children, and I know it’s offensive to some men to be lumped in with the hitters. But what I say to you is your sense of offence is nothing compared to us being hit, so don’t ask us to deal with it, and don’t expect us to listen to it because we can’t, and there’s no reason why we should.

We cannot stop violent men making non violent men look and feel bad. You have to do that yourselves.

Women need our moment. We need it like the air we breathe. You can do this for us. Respect.

 

 

 

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