If you think she’s less human because of what she wears, you’ve got the problem not her.

31 Aug

Sexualisation of girls

 

There’s an article in The Conversation this morning titledSexualised girls are seen as less intelligent and less worthy of help than their peers.

The piece is the result of a study conducted with the goal of ascertaining if adults are as condemning of “sexualised” girls as they are of “sexualised” women. “Sexualised” in this instance refers to the clothing girls and women are wearing.

The conclusion is yes, study participants perceived girls in sexualised clothing as less moral, less intelligent, and less worthy of care and concern than are their less sartorially “sexualised” peers. This mirrors societal attitudes to “sexualised” women, attitudes that can determine, for example, empathy or lack of it for women and girls who are rape victims. This empathy can be considerably reduced if the victim is perceived as immoral, unintelligent, and even deserving of rape if she was wearing “sexualised” clothing at the time.

“Sexualised” women and girls are perceived as less human than the non-sexualised, as objects lacking in intelligence and up for use and abuse, and as more likely to be responsible for sexual assaults perpetrated upon them.

While I have no doubt that the study is accurately reporting its findings on society’s perceptions of women and girls,  it seems to me the problem is not the clothes we wear, rather the problem is society’s attitudes towards us.  These attitudes and perceptions remain unchallenged by the authors of the study, indeed the study appears to be assuming such attitudes are inevitable and  acceptable, and that women and girls must conform to them by policing what we wear.

The entire notion of “sexualisation” is born from a repressive and unhealthy attitude to sex, and to women who enjoy our sexuality, and who dress in ways considered to emphasise our sexuality. There is absolutely nothing wrong with us enjoying our sexuality and dressing how we like. What is wrong is a societal assumption that we are immoral, less human, and deserving of rape if we do.

Obviously there must be something inherently dodgy about sex, if women are deserving of punishment for overtly expressing enjoyment of our sexuality.

There is no question that given societal attitudes, it’s hideously perverted to dress young girls in the same way. It should come as no surprise to anyone that if young girls are dressed in a “sexualised” manner, there are adults who will perceive them as potentially objects for sexual gratification, and not much use for anything else.

However. What opponents of “sexualisation” consistently avoid or overlook, is that dressing girls and women in garments considered modest will do absolutely nothing to change a dominating perception of overt female sexuality as immoral, dangerous and an indicator of sub-humanity and low intelligence. This perception will persist, no matter what women and girls wear, and this is what urgently needs to be challenged and changed, not some bits of cloth in which we clad or omit to clad ourselves.

Look to those doing the “sexualising” if you want attitudes to women and girls to change. You can wrap us in burqas and they’ll find a way to “sexualise” us. People who perceive women and girls as sexual objects are the problem, and will remain the problem.

Why the hell should we be called upon to repress ourselves because of their brutish ignorance?

And why don’t the authors of studies such as this one in The Conversation turn their attention to the cause, rather than the symptom?

Abbott says we should be ashamed and he should know.

30 Aug

In his reaction to ribald public outrage against the Australian Border Farce yesterday, The Huffington Post today reports Prime Minister Tony Abbott as saying that mockers of all kinds should be ashamed of ourselves, and those Melbourne people who were actually there are especially culpable in contributing to the ruination of Operation Fortitude.

 

Abbott in Mankini

 

Meanwhile, back in the bunker, Hitler learns of the failure of Operation Fortitude:

 

 

Government by distraction

29 Aug

Sans Papiers

 

It behooves us to speculate what might have happened if there hadn’t been a public furore yesterday in protest at the aggressive assertion by Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s paramilitary Blackshirts, the Australian Border Force, that it was their intention to confront anyone who “crosses our path” on the matter of whether or not he or she was abroad in the streets, sans papiers. 

Someone of my Aryan appearance, fair-haired, blue-eyed, white-skinned (tbh my hair is very short and dyed candy pink at the moment and that’s another story however,  a pink-haired female may well have necessitated further investigation…) is unlikely to be stopped by the Border Force and asked to produce evidence of my right to be walking around Melbourne. The only possible criterium the Border Force could employ when deciding whom to accost and whom to leave alone is appearance, and that is racial profiling.

Had it not been for the extraordinarily prompt mobilisation of protesters via social media, yesterday might well have been the first day in this country that people have been stopped in city streets by a paramilitary force purely on the grounds of their appearance, and told they had to prove their right to be here. What a milestone, on what a road.

(In case you missed it, here is the ABF’s explanation of yesterday’s fiasco, given by Commissioner Quaedvlieg. Ummm…)

Look, this just keeps on getting more nutty. The operation in which the ABF were involved yesterday was codenamed Operation Fortitude. Do look up the history of this title, initially used in World War Two to describe a military deception…(Thanks Forrest)

However, this farce is but the latest in the ongoing spectacle performed for us matinees and evenings by the Abbott government. They can’t govern worth a toss, so they are left with little choice but to seek to distract us with increasingly ludicrous cock ups. Abbott endorses an ex-SAS candidate for Canning, who has an unfortunate history to do with the mutilation of Taliban corpses. Be that as it may, it seems the candidate’s other chief claim to suitability is that he hasn’t wasted his life “behind a desk.”

I have. I have totally wasted my life behind a desk when I should have been out and about fighting foreign wars because in Abbott’s Australia, that’s what our values are, none of this subversive thinking and writing, and btw, we only want art that furthers the government’s agenda. Yes.

There’s the murky account of how the US President rang Abbott from Border Force One, oooops, sorry, Air Force One, and begged him, begged him to send six of our fighter jets to end the turmoil in Syria. Not so, say senior government sources. Abbott begged the US President to let us play.

There’s the tortuous unravelling of Abbott’s beloved Trade Union Royal Commission, as the unfortunately named Dyson Heydon retires to consider in solitude whether or not he is guilty of apprehended bias. The vacuum cleaner jokes have been marvellous. The emails just won’t stop coming. At $12,500 per day, Heydon is free to pace his rooms in hand-wringing angst, as he struggles to arrive at a decision about his own behaviour. I could tell him in five minutes at a fraction of the cost, but we live in times when common sense and the bleeding obvious count for nothing.  Nothing, I tell you!

There’s the ex Speaker of the House of Representatives and the PM’s political mother Bronwyn Bishop’s penchant for crowd-stopping arrivals at party fundraisers in luxury helicopters underwritten by hapless taxpayers.

There’s Treasurer Joe Hockey’s tax plan speech the other day that has been lambasted by financial notables including the usually reticent Certified Practicing Accountants, leaving me wondering just who ought to be certified.

There’s Abbott’s much-vaunted journey along the narrow road to the deep north. In the community of Bamaga, the PM displayed his ignorance and ill-preparedness on the matter of Indigenous education, and was firmly corrected by people who actually know. He didn’t do his homework, they claim, but I fear there is something more serious at work here. Abbott has his own ideas about the world around him and increasingly, they do not coincide with reality. There is what Abbott insists is going on in the world, and there is what is actually going on in the world. The man has little interest in the latter, and is enchanted by the former. This isn’t an uncommon state and mostly those who suffer from it get by and are little more than irritants to others around them. But when it’s the Prime Minister, we all need to be worried.

The Abbott government seems bereft of policy, vision and nous about governance. Instead, we are treated to spectacle after spectacle and while it might once have been legitimate to suggest these spectacles were deliberate distractions from matters upon which the government did not wish its citizens to dwell, it’s now no longer possible to tell which are the fake cock-ups and which are the real.

I am becoming nostalgic for the days when all we had to worry about was slipping in the spilled blood of knifed ALP leaders.

 

Probing the anal

26 Aug

 

In a pig's arse

In a pig’s arse

 

On Monday night’s Qanda, somebody in the ABC’s employ allowed a tweet with the hash tag #abbottlovesanal to appear onscreen with Annabel Crabb, and the Twitterati haven’t stopped cacking ourselves since.

The situation was only exacerbated by Malcolm Turnbull who protested too much, methinks, at the allegedly inappropriate nature of the hash tag.

It was pointed out on Twitter more than once that Abbott can’t expect to have it both ways (lol). After all, he has cut the ABC’s budget to an alarming degree, and it must be very difficult to stretch meagre funding to cover censorship of Qanda tweets. Annabel Crabb then revealed her disappointment that the guilty tweep had misspelled her name, and had surely meant to write #abbottlovesannabel. ABC managing director Mark Scott issued another abject apology to the Prime Minister, thus ensuring the scandal an extended life. A creative type photo shopped an image of Abbott and Christopher Pyne, languid with post-coital bliss and naked under the Australian flag. Relief was widely expressed: at last we know the reason for the PM’s peculiar gait, and questions were raised about butt plugs.

Scott Morrison attempted a diversion, posting an image of an Irish pilot-boat in the Irish Sea, to which was added the caption, Border Force One. He claimed the craft was being used to convey himself and the PM around the Torres Strait. I tweeted my disbelief, and the manager of the Minister’s Twitter account, employed by the taxpayer, promptly blocked me. The attempted distraction, genuinely inappropriate, tasteless and hubristically arrogant, failed dismally, and Morrison himself became the target of social media mirth. They simply do not learn, these people, do they?

But it’s worth unpacking (sorry) the reasons anal sex was at the root (sorry) of all that mirth. The most unpleasant explanation is that it’s (wrongly) associated primarily with homosexual practices therefore the joke has homophobic origins. Anal sex in heterosexual relationships is not uncommonly portrayed as forced and undesirable: an act intended to degrade a woman. To anally penetrate a man is to feminize him, and for a man to welcome anal penetration is an indicator of his lack of masculinity. These are common cultural assumptions about anal sex, and they all contribute to the reasons why the #abbotlovesanal hash tag works as a source of widespread mirth.

The alliteration helps as well.

The psychoanalytic theory of anal retention also bears a mention. Freud’s anal retentive personality displays character traits similar to many apparent in our Prime Minister’s demeanour, such as stubbornness, a compulsion for control, repetitive speech, infantile desires for the security of institutionalised hierarchical structures such as the military, the Catholic church, and the police. These traits have their origins in conflicts experienced during toilet training, and in the PM’s case, could account for classic Freudian slips such as his misspeak on the suppository of wisdom.

A little deconstruction of the #abbottlovesanal hash tag reveals its complexity, and perhaps that is the fundamental (sorry) reason it’s turned out to be such a rich source of wit and pants-wetting jollity. The best jokes are the ones with many layers, the deceptively simple, the multiple meanings initially hidden.

Then of course there is the most obvious explanation: our Prime Minister commands no respect, and nothing delights us quite as much as making an arse of him.

Oh, and don’t forget, he did say he’d sell that arse to get the job…

 

 

Trust, and the Ashley Madison hack

25 Aug

Infidelity

 

Look. Call me unsophisticated, but I would not describe myself as “happily married” if I, or my spouse, were having a secret affair.

For me, the value of a so-called “committed” relationship is to be found in the trust between parties. If that’s not there everyone might muddle along reasonably well to all appearances. However, there is a depth of intimacy that is inaccessible in such a situation, because it only blossoms in trust. Trust is inherent in the concept of monogamy, and once it’s broken, the entire concept is under challenge.

The possibility of experiencing those intimate depths with another is the only reason I can see for committing to the monogamous state. Without that experience it seems a tiresome, repressive and unfulfilling arrangement.

I also find it difficult to imagine much equality in a relationship where trust is absent, and where one party is necessarily surveilling the other.

I admire those who manage to negotiate the complexities of trust in polyamorous relationships: humans being as possessive, jealous and psychologically perverse as we are, the challenges in those situations must be enormous.

When my husband had an affair I asked him (after we’d cleaned up the broken dinner plates) do you want a monogamous relationship with me or not? Realising such an arrangement would work both ways he decided in the affirmative, and we carried on in that understanding. Neither of us considered ourselves suitable candidates for polyamory.

(There are limits to the number of times this understanding can be reached: serial betrayers make a mockery of it.)

However, if my partner or I were secretly active on an infidelity website, the deliberate intention to deceive and betray implied by that choice would crash through our trust like a wrecking ball. So it is with some disbelief that I’m reading comments by the hacked that they don’t want their spouses knowing because they’re so happily married.

It makes me wonder, what constitutes a happy marriage, then? Apparently not trust and equality.

I don’t think any of those people deserved, in some wowserish moral sense, to be outed as they have been. It’s more a case of actions and consequences than it is of morality, as in, if you do a, b is likely to result. It’s a bit rich, though, for individuals engaged in betraying the trust of their nearest and dearest to make a song and dance when someone else invades their privacy. The same can be said for the Ashley Madison website: if you’re dedicated to deception, why complain when someone betrays you? There’s a kind of inevitability about it, really.

For mine, I’d much rather my partner told me if he or she felt desire for someone other than me, desire that he or she wished to act upon. While I don’t know what I’d do in reaction to such information, at least telling me would allow us to maintain our trust. Feeling desire for another isn’t the deal breaker: deception and betrayal are. You can’t swear you’ll never want anyone else: you can promise to put trust and equality first, and be honest about your desires.

Unless of course you’re dedicated to the illicit, and then you’ve no business doing monogamy in the first place. The two are entirely incompatible, aren’t they?

 

 

 

Domestic violence and the bourgeoisie

23 Aug

Domestic Violence Silence

 

In the last few weeks two rather disparate male journalists, Martin McKenzie-Murray in The Saturday Paper and Mark Latham, late of the Australian Financial Review, have observed that the current orthodox position on domestic violence against women and children holds that domestic violence can affect any woman, in any demographic, and is not socioeconomically determined.

Both men contest that position, arguing instead that women living in poverty are disproportionately vulnerable to domestic attacks, and that current opinion is based on the erroneous belief that patriarchal notions of male domination, entitlement and privilege (otherwise known as rape culture) are the cause of violence against women.

Personally, I don’t subscribe to the concept of so-called rape culture as the sole cause of violence against women, but neither do I agree that violence against women is predominantly determined by socioeconomic conditions.

What I find interesting is that two white middle class males have within weeks of each other put forward the argument that middle class women are significantly less subject to domestic violence perpetrated by intimate partners than are less affluent women. It’s interesting because feminists have spent the last few decades struggling to expose middle class violence, and it has been a far more difficult exposure than one might at first imagine.

Both Latham and McKenzie-Murray point to statistics to support their view, however, neither explores the possibility that domestic violence is quite likely underreported by middle class women. Without even trying, I can think of a wealth of examples of women and children living middle class lives, all of whom have endured or are enduring violence perpetrated by intimate partners and who have not, and will not, report the crime to police.

The middle class life has long been associated with denial and repression, and a pathological dedication to privacy, all of which are designed to build a wall of silence intended to keep things in the family. The common prescription is to refrain from airing dirty family linen in public. To transgress these bourgeois norms is to commit a social crime that is not readily forgiven or forgotten by peers. If you doubt me, reflect how only very recently have we begun to hold institutions and public figures to account for decades of sexual transgressions against children, and how so many offenders got away with it because it was wicked of them to say bad things about that good kind man. Why, even our Prime Minister appears in court to provide character references for paedophile priests!

It’s perfectly possible to account for domestic violence as both a socioeconomic issue, and a product of male privilege and entitlement. There is also, as McKenzie-Murray points out, the criminological aspect of domestic violence, which acknowledges the individual pathologies of perpetrators. Surely, if we are to have any chance at all of halting this epidemic we have to address all possible contributing factors?

I am uncertain why this argument that ostensibly pits the middle class woman against the less affluent in terms of their comparative rates of suffering, has suddenly emerged. I don’t think it’s a good sign. For far too long domestic violence was framed as an us and them problem: consigned to the poor, to Indigenous communities, far removed from the middle class whom, it was unquestioningly assumed, did not behave like that.

What we ought to be doing is making it easier for middle class women to come out of the closet about our experiences of family violence, not advocating a caste system of suffering based on socioeconomic factors. Domestic violence and violence against women is not an us and them situation, however comforting that delusion might be to some. It’s alarming to note the beginnings of a swing back to that delusion, after so many years of feminist efforts to escape it.

In the interests of fairness I disclose that I grew up in a professional family whose male head, a doctor, perpetrated unspeakable violence on its members.

 

But he is an honourable man…

15 Aug

Dyson Heydon

What is notable in the impassioned defence of Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Attorney-General George Brandis, and Christopher Pyne (what’s he do again?) is the choice of descriptors such as eminent, esteemed, distinguished, above reproach, honourable…the list is long, you get the idea.

While Mr Heydon may well enjoy some or all of those qualities in certain aspects of his life and personality, we ought to know by now that such attributes in no way preclude their bearer from undesirable and even unethical actions, neither do they make those actions any the less heinous.

We know this from the frequent exposure of esteemed, respected, eminent, irreproachable, honourable men (sorry, but they are overwhelmingly men) who are publicly revealed to have a darker and more dangerous side, from the eminent legal and political members of pedophile rings, to the growing list of globally renowned entertainers who’ve sexually preyed on women and children, to the irreproachable religious leaders who’ve succumbed to worldly temptations. You think we’d know by now that the words eminent, irreproachable, distinguished, honourable and so on mean, unfortunately, absolutely nothing when used in defence of men of achievement who’ve been outed as alarmingly two-faced.

And yet Abbott et al seem to believe that the increasingly desperate enunciation of these linguistic accolades will put Dyson Heydon beyond accountability, in much the same way as Abbott’s description to the court of the convicted pedophile Father Nestor as a virtuous and upright man was intended to distract from, or at the very least ameliorate, his crimes. These blokes make mistakes but they are essentially honourable men, so come on.  Yes. Indeed.

It’s beyond belief that Dyson Heydon, given his experience and eminence in his profession, could be unaware that he is required to be free of all political allegiances. If by some oversight he was unaware of the nature of the Liberal Party invitation to give the Sir Garfield Barwick lecture, rumour has it that Attorney-General George Brandis was also invited to the same event some time back in April. Surely he noticed that looming conflict of interest? No?

Indeed, did no legal personage in the ranks of Liberal lawyers grasp the ethical implications of a Royal Commissioner heading an investigation into trade unions and the Labor party simultaneously giving the keynote address at a Liberal party fundraiser? Because if they are that thick, how are they making a living?

The collapse of institutions once respected and even revered has eroded popular faith in the perceived trustworthy and honourable nature of authority, simply because it is authority. Too often those who wield the power of authority have been shown to have abused that power and we are increasingly disillusioned. Or perhaps we’re on the road to a more healthy realism and self-responsibility. Like believing in the sky fairy, trusting a man because he is eminent in his profession, no matter what his field, is, sadly, a loony and outdated idea. It belongs in the era when a man’s word was binding: how many centuries ago was that?

Besides, if Abbott found Nestor virtuous and upright that tells us everything we need to know about his capacity for good judgement.

Abbott say SSM is a deeply personal issue but you can’t have a free vote. What?

12 Aug

same-sex marriage dolls

 

Two notable outcomes resulted from the Coalition’s six and a half hour joint party room meeting called to debate the legalising of same-sex marriage last night. The obvious outcome is that there will be no legal same-sex marriage on Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s watch, and that should surprise no one, remembering how Abbott once famously remarked that he felt “threatened” by gays.

The second is that the Liberal party is not a party that is supportive of the free vote for its members, contrary to decades of received wisdom on the noble nature and purpose of core liberal ideology. The Liberal party is actually driven entirely by right-wing ideology, much of which is firmly grounded in bizarre religious beliefs that have no basis in reality, and do not withstand the most rudimentary logical and rational enquiry.

It’s my personal opinion that the State has no place in anybody’s bedroom. Neither am I particularly enamoured of the inherently exclusionary institution of heterosexual marriage, and have witnessed many crimes committed under its state-sanctioned umbrella.

That being said, when participation in an institution is a legal hallmark of belonging in a culture, it is clearly an aggressive and hostile act to deny that sense of legal belonging to any social group, purely on the basis of sexual orientation. In other words, if LGBTI people wish to throw in their lot with the heterosexuals and commit to the exclusivity of the institution of marriage, it is ridiculous for any government to go to this much trouble to stop them.

Now we are faced with the ludicrously unnecessary and immensely expensive prospect of a referendum on the subject after the next election, should the LNP win government. Unlike Ireland, it is not necessary for us to have a referendum to change the Constitution (see 1.2.3.) on the definition of marriage and who may and may not enter into that state. Indeed, when John Howard was Prime Minister in 2004, he thought the Constitution so open to interpretation he found it necessary to amend the Marriage Act to define marriage as an event that could take place only between a man and a woman.

Deeply conservative ideological forces are fighting an increasingly desperate and losing battle to control society’s narrative. According to polling, the majority of Australians are at ease with the concept of same-sex marriage, a fact Prime Minister Abbott steadfastly chooses to ignore. This is a ridiculous, unnecessary and anachronistic debate.

Abbott continues to insist that same-sex marriage is “a very personal issue.” This apparently contradicts his refusal to permit a free vote, and yet again, we see the trickery of this profoundly duplicitous Prime Minister as on the one hand he concedes the deeply personal nature of the matter, while simultaneously denying every MP the right to address it in accordance with their “deeply personal” feelings.

In so doing, he denies the Australian public the right to live according to our “deeply personal” opinions on same-sex marriage in pursuit, yet again, of his ideological, religious, and in this particular case, “deeply personal” sexual prejudices.

 

 

 

 

Abbott: is the cur taking a whipping?

11 Aug

Abbott Tony

This could well be wishful thinking on my part, however…

Yesterday, as I watched the anointing of the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, I could have sworn I saw in the face and body of Prime Minister Tony Abbott the sullen demeanour of a whipped cur, already plotting his devious revenge.

It seemed to me that in his petulant insistence on yet again prime ministerially exonerating ex-Speaker Bronwyn Bishop of what is potentially criminal behaviour (if anyone ever bothers to seriously direct their investigation in that direction) Abbott reinforced his profound political and emotional identification with Ms Bishop, and his outrage that for a mere mistake or two she has been so ignominiously ejected from the Chair, only to land on her corseted arse in the back benches where she can surely have very few friends.

Abbott is given to prime ministerial exonerations of his mouldy mates. Rather like the Pope speaking ex cathedra, once Abbott has written a character reference or stated in Parliament or out of it that you’re an all right fellow or gal, any formal performance of justice is in his opinion rendered unnecessary, and the courts merely unbelieving saboteurs, damn their eyes.

Bishop was Abbott’s Captain’s pick for the prestigious position of Speaker. This time Abbott was just another party member, and it is rumoured that he isn’t too chuffed about his party’s choice, Tony Smith. This must be a bitter pill for the authoritarian PM to swallow, after all, this is the second time in six months he’s been forcibly reminded that he isn’t a party of one supported by a few potentially duplicitous but for the time being supportive henchmen and women.

In other words, this is the second time in six months the PM has been put in his place by his party and as he sat in the House glowering while the new Speaker promised fairness and admitted to friendships on the other side, Abbott’s lips closed so tight I thought he’d surely swallowed them. The man has little control over his facial expressions and his body language. I’m stout of heart, but there are times when the barely repressed dark fury that emanates menacingly from his physical being almost scares me.

I am slightly heartened by Abbott’s capitulation to public opinion and the demands of his party. Another Captain’s pick for Speaker, or anything much else given the disastrous nature of every pick thus far, may well bring him entirely undone. The man has a tin ear. He is tone-deaf. He is wilfully ignorant. He has an ideological agenda, and lacks the intelligence or the desire to understand its limitations. Like every crazed ideologue, he believes he can force others to adopt his beliefs, simply by the relentless exertion of his will. He runs the country like an old-style priest runs a parish, sermonising to the flock at every opportunity from a position of steadfast denial of reality.

But reality bites, and I dare to hope it has begun to nibble at the PM’s quite remarkable capacity for obduracy. He and Bishop are a perfect match (the expressions on both faces were eerily similar, the grim, thin-lipped smile, the coldly enraged eyes) and that is no recommendation for the character of a Prime Minister. I dare to believe that the majority of the Coalition are not on the same page as either Bishop or Abbott, and that they are, at long last, prepared to take a stand for something more evolved than rampant self-interest.

But hey. What do I know. Like everybody else, I can only live in despair, mitigated by the occasional flash of hope. Hold on, sisters and brothers, and trust in hubris and the karma bus.

The Pynes have never seen the fireworks. Right this wrong.

9 Aug

Fireworks NYE Sydney

 

In defending a $5000 cost for Christopher Pyne and three of his family members to fly to Sydney from Adelaide over the Christmas/New Year period, a spokesperson explained that Pyne did engage in work activities and he and his family had never seen the Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks.

Either this spokesperson has a burning ambition to dump Pyne and the rest of the Coalition government even further in it, or he or she is so steeped in the tradition of political entitlement and privilege that they can see no downside to revealing that we, the hapless taxpayers, many of whom never have and never will see the fireworks in Sydney on New Year’s Eve except on the telly, paid for the Pyne family to enjoy this cultural privilege.

I have never subscribed to the belief that any one human being is of greater significance than any other so naturally, I don’t see why my tax dollars should fund the Pyne kids’ excursion to the fireworks just because they have Christopher for their father. Oh, but wait. They have Christopher for their father. I may need to rethink my position on their disadvantage.

It may be a glitch in my constitution, but I have never found reason to respect any individual simply because she or he holds a particular office. There are actually very few people I do respect, and none of them are politicians or public figures. If I was going to shout anyone a trip to the fireworks, it would be one of them. There is much codswallop bandied about with regard to respecting “the office,” but one cautious glimpse at the increasingly unhinged Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, ought to disabuse anyone of the notion of respecting an office, given the type of lunatic who can apparently hold it. An office, like an institution, is only as good as the human beings inhabiting it, and that can be very very bad indeed.

We do not have “politicians” anymore, in the sense of a class of people willing to give a period of their lives to the service and well-being of the citizenry and the country. We have instead ideologues, intent on pursuing their self-interested goals and taking every possible advantage of us while they do it. It matters little on which side of the House they plonk their narcissistic arses, as is evidenced in the uncharacteristic rush to defend one another’s expenses claims. Of course extravagance is in the rules: politicians wrote the rules and they may not know much about running a country, but they do know how to look after themselves.

Pyne says he will not be repaying the airfares we coughed up  for his family to see the fireworks. Why am I not surprised. Call me cynical, but if anything comes from Abbott’s apparent determination to address the “entitlement” rules I suspect it will be an amendment to permit taxpayer-funded travel to party fundraisers. The man who wrings his hands over the denial of coal supplies to poverty-stricken millions on the sub continent who will, he claims, suffer and possibly die because of the Federal Court decision on the Adani Carmichael coal mine, gives not a fig for the Australian taxpayer who, while increasingly unable to make ends meet, has to watch his or her tax dollars pay for the children of comfortable and privileged politicians to fly business class and see the spectacles.

Time to get out the metaphorical tumbrils.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The scent of a lime

8 Aug

I’ve just had a late lunch of Yamba prawns, which, as anyone who is knowledgeable about prawns will tell you are the best in the country, and we get them fresh from the trawler.

But what was more important than the Yamba prawns were the limes I squeezed over them. I can’t smell, let alone taste a lime, without experiencing a powerfully sensual evocation of Mexico, where I encountered more limes than ever in my life before or since, in a variety of situations from beach cafes on Isla Mujeres where we scuffed our feet in the white sand as we ate fresh grilled fish (with limes) and drank beer (with sliced limes) to the mountainous country of the Zapatistas, where we sat snacking on tortillas (with limes) in the zocalos watching shamen pore over the entrails of dead armadillos. Limes, their scent and their flavour, became Mexico to me, along with the odour of the Lismore sewage plant. Ah, I think every time I drive past it. Mexico.

It is just over twelve months since my husband died. He wasn’t in Mexico with me, much to his chagrin. He cried at the airport when he saw me off and for some reason I can see as clearly as if it was yesterday not his face, but his bare feet in his Teva sandals. The recollection of those sandaled feet brings me completely undone: who would have thought?

Twelve months down the goat track of widowhood, his body is as vivid in my memory as it was when we first fell in love, and it is incomprehensible to me how that body can no longer exist in this material world.

I don’t know what is this animal thing in us that can make us weep and howl for the loss of the sensation of the flesh of a beloved against our own.

In Mexico people prepare feasts, take picnics to the graves of loved ones, believing their spirits are present and engaging with the living. Día de Muertos. There are times when I imagine I can hear his voice. There are moments when I think a man I’ve caught a glimpse of must be him. Is this what they mean, the people who believe the dead are always amongst us?

If I return to Mexico as I’ve long wanted,  he won’t be there in his Teva sandals to weep into his handkerchief at the airport, and remonstrate with me for leaving him behind. He’s left me behind, as he always said he would, because he didn’t want to live in this world without me.

There are many reasons why Mexico would inevitably be different next time, but the fact that he will not be waiting for me to come home is the at the heart of them. There is absence, and there is terminal absence. There is a temporary separation, and there is the ungraspable concept of infinite finality.

We never fully live, Freud claimed, unless we acknowledge the inevitability of our mortality. In denying our mortality, we live in rooms untouched by death, wrote Walter Benjamin, dry dwellers of eternity.

I had no idea that when I sliced the lunchtime limes I would be overwhelmed by memories of my dead husband’s slender feet and his gait, lopsided owing to one leg being slightly shorter than the other, and his hand on my shoulder as we waited for a train. Such is the nature of memory: inexplicable as life itself. The scent of a lime. The make of a shoe. A whole country. And the one who no longer waits for me to come home. Vale, beloved.

Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead

 

 

Abbott blames the system. Bishop is its victim. Ahahahahahahahahahahaha! That’s funny

2 Aug

Bishop Bronwyn

 

Prime Minister Tony Abbott today absolves his “political mother” Bronwyn Bishop from all wrong doing:

 What has become apparent, particularly over the last few days, is that the problem is not any particular individual; the problem is the entitlement system more generally,” he said.

“We have a situation where spending is arguably inside the rules, but plainly outside of community expectations, and that’s what needs to be dealt with once and for all.

Surely it is not too much to expect that politicians will exercise ethical and moral judgement sufficient to contain their expenses within “community expectations,” aka the “sniff test?”

Obviously it is, as has been so spectacularly  brought to our attention by the revelation of decades of indulgence and extravagance practiced by Bishop, who seems to be enchanted by the fantasy that she is a reincarnation of Marie Antoinette.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m over Tony Abbott’s sophistry, his constant use of specious and fallacious argument to deceive and obfuscate. If Bishop hasn’t done anything wrong, why has she resigned, and why has Abbott accepted her resignation? If Bishop is a victim of the system, as Abbott apparently alleges, why did she have to go?

And how can Abbott and his henchmen and women expect to escape charges of hypocrisy when the comparison is noted between the excuses made for Bishop, and the ruthless hounding of “particular individual” former Speaker Peter Slipper, over less than $1000 abuse of travel expenses? Slipper made a number of attempts to resolve his matter administratively, that is, to pay the money back, as does everybody else, but these attempts were thwarted and he found himself in court.

Will we see Bronwyn Bishop in court over her outrageous excesses? If not why not?

Abbott’s attempts to spin Bishop as a victim of a system that allows politicians far too much leeway is adding insult to injury as far as the electorate is concerned. Bishop’s sense of entitlement and privilege allowed her to abuse the system to such an extraordinary degree: she is not the system’s victim, she is a practised exploiter who would have continued her exploitative practices until the day she expired, if she hadn’t been caught.

Bronwyn Bishop loves the Australian people, she claims in her resignation statement. So why did she squander so  much of the people’s money, and why has it taken her this long to express remorse, and sod off?

 

 

Perpetrator to victim

31 Jul

finger-pointing

 

It’s your fault for being who you are and where you are, and if you weren’t who you are and you weren’t where you are I wouldn’t be able to abuse you.

If only you’d said it differently I wouldn’t have humiliated you, abused you, hit you, raped you.

If only you’d done it differently I wouldn’t have humiliated you, abused you, hit you, raped you.

If only you weren’t you but someone else altogether I wouldn’t have humiliated you, abused you, hit you, raped you.

If only you weren’t…..(use here whatever comes to mind it doesn’t really matter).

It is your fault for existing as you are, and being where you are. If you didn’t exist as you are, and you weren’t where you are, I wouldn’t be able to abuse you.

It is your fault for existing.

Now I suppose you’ll play the victim card.

Thanks to Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt, Tony Abbott blah blah blah etc etc etc for their valuable contribution to this monologue.

Bishop stays. Goodes goes. Abbott is silent. What is wrong with this picture?

31 Jul

eggs

 

In case you are still in any doubt about what matters and what doesn’t to the Anglo-Saxon hegemony think on this: white Speaker of the House of Representatives and Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s personal pick Bronwyn Bishop remains in charge of the House, in spite of decades of financial abuse of taxpayer funds, the obscene details of which are unfolding daily before our disbelieving eyes. The only thing that keeps her in her job is Abbott’s support, because while the Prime Minister cannot actually sack a Speaker, there’s little doubt that if Abbott pressured her to get on her bike, she’d be mad not to obey.

On the other hand, Indigenous football star and Australian of the Year Adam Goodes has been driven from his sport and public life by unrelenting racist attacks every time he shows his face. Goodes’ reaction to a thirteen-year-old girl calling him an ape has been held up by the racist commentariat such as Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt as being the reason footy crowds have taken such a set against him. However, it seems to have escaped the commentators’ collective memory that it was in fact the illustrious Eddie Maguire who at the same time called Goodes “King Kong.”

What also seems to have escaped their racist filter is that Goodes did not know at the time that a young girl was responsible for calling him an ape, and when he did become aware of this he handled the situation admirably, meeting with the girl and her mother, and engaging them  in conversation about the wounding and divisive nature of racist insults.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, normally a man with an opinion on everything no matter how irrelevant, remains conspicuously silent on both matters. Ms Bishop’s shenanigans with helicopters and luxury limos have left rotten egg splattered all over Tony’s face, an ungracious response on her part to the man who, when he won government, rewarded her with the prestigious job of Speaker. Getting rid of Bronwyn will cause Tony to lose egg-splattered face, as it will be an admission of his lack of judgement of a woman he’s known for decades, and indeed, has been heard to refer to as his “political mother.”

But as Freud would have it, an adult man must at some point cut ties with his mother, and this could be Tony’s moment to sever the umbilical cord.

Abbott apparently can’t say anything on the Goodes’ matter either, given his demographic is fundamentally xenophobic and racist, and he can’t risk alienating them. While the country engages in a national conversation about racism, our leader remains unacceptably silent, missing in action. While the indignation and outrage at Bishop’s fraudulent behaviour escalates, our leader remains silent, missing in action. The number of topics Abbott can publicly engage with seems to be shrinking daily: he certainly seems incapable of entering into the energetic debates that will shape and reshape our nation in a most concrete fashion. In other words, he’s useless.

Ideology can do that to a man. Render him useless.

 

 

 

Politicians: undoing their folded lies

24 Jul

lies2It ought to be self-evident that any individual or politician or government or opposition sincerely concerned with the welfare of waterborne asylum seekers who seek refuge in this country, would find their indefinite incarceration in off-shore detention centres obscene, and altogether unacceptable.

Remarkably, they don’t. Politicians from both major parties currently arguing that “turning back the boats” is an altruistic effort to stop people drowning at sea, need to be confronted with hard questions about what they continue to do to women, children and men after they have saved them from drowning at sea. Report after report, formal and anecdotal, reveals the appalling conditions asylum seekers endure on Nauru and Manus Island, and one has to question the sanity of anyone who advocates saving people from drowning only to treat them as human detritus, by either incarcerating them, or sending them back to a torment they’ve fled.

This is a sick and profoundly twisted argument, emanating from sick, and profoundly twisted minds. Australia treats the lives of waterborne asylum seekers with utter contempt and callous disregard, so why anyone believes politicians give a toss about saving their lives in the first place is a puzzle in an enigma wrapped up in a mystery.

We should also challenge the language in which this turn back option is framed.  it is not boats that are being turned back. It is human beings.

There are two matters that are screaming for our attention. One is the way in which we currently treat asylum seekers and presumably the ALP intends to continue treating asylum seekers, as we’ve heard no plans to address and improve their life conditions expressed so far by the alternative government.

The other is the folded lie, in which on the one hand moral arguments are made by politicians implying concern for saving life, while simultaneously caring nothing for that life once it is saved. The implication is that these lives must not be lost in our waters but they can be lost anywhere else and that is neither our concern nor our responsibility.  Lives we save can subsequently be subjected to all kinds of ill-treatment: our obligations to those lives are ended by saving them from dying in our waters.

It would be naive to imagine there was a golden age during which politicians didn’t lie. Politicians have always been liars, it’s part of the job description. Perhaps the difference is that there was a time when politicians actually cared about being perceived as liars, and endeavoured to convince us and themselves that they spoke a truth.

My distinct impression now is that politicians know they are liars, and they know we know they are liars and they no longer care enough to even pretend they aren’t. What matters most in politics is not the welfare of the country and its citizens, but who can lie with most authority, not the authority that makes a lie sound like truth, but the authority that says, I am the most powerful because I care the least about lying, and I am the most adept at the complex, folded lie.

A Speaker “on probation” cannot remain a Speaker

20 Jul
PM Tony Abbott congratulating the New Speaker Bronwyn Bishop after being elected as speaker, in the House of Representatives Chambers at the Opening of the 44th Parliament at  Parliament House in Canberra.

PM Tony Abbott congratulating the New Speaker Bronwyn Bishop after being elected as speaker, in the House of Representatives Chambers at the Opening of the 44th Parliament at Parliament House in Canberra.

 

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s decision to put his handpicked Speaker Bronwyn Bishop “on probation” demonstrates, as perhaps little else can, his contemptuous disregard for our Parliament and its processes.

As Speaker, it is Bishop’s job to discipline all MPs, thus setting the tone for parliamentary behaviour, and using the authority of her position to ensure that behaviour is within the guidelines and traditions of the Westminster system.

There is already considerable discontent abroad concerning the incompetent and biased manner with which Bishop has performed her powerful job. This latest scandal surrounding her dodgy use of taxpayer funds to enhance her lifestyle and feed her apparently insatiable sense of self-importance and entitlement ought to be the last straw.

It is unclear, at least to me, exactly what Abbott means by declaring Bishop to be “on probation.” Her expenses will be scrutinised for a period of three months perhaps? She will be obliged to stay away from helicopters and limousines for six weeks? How, exactly, is a Speaker of the House of Representatives put “on probation” and more importantly, how does a Speaker “on probation” retain any authority at all over any MP in that House?

A Speaker “on probation” cannot possibly remain a Speaker. A Speaker “on probation” has lost all her authority. A Speaker must be above being put “on probation” by her Prime Minister. The very idea is an insane notion that makes absolutely no sense in any known universe. It demonstrates Abbott’s utter contempt for the Westminster system he claims to revere.

Abbott assures us that Bishop is “contrite,” however, Bishop has given the public no indication of contrition at all.

Obviously, Abbott considers his Speaker to be at fault, otherwise there would be no talk of “probation” in the first place. The errors Bishop has made disqualify her from the extraordinarily demanding requisites of her position: a Speaker of the House of Representatives cannot authoritatively carry out her duties while “on probation,” and a Prime Minister who believes that is a satisfactory solution is demonstrating his profound contempt both for Australian voters, and the Westminster system of government over which he presides.

It’s time. For both Bishop and Abbott to go. Every day they remain is a further insult to this country and to our system of governance.

 

 

Bronnie’s shoes: a fractured fairytale

19 Jul

Bronwyn Bishop

 

Back in the day, second-wave feminists warned us to ditch our high heels because they hampered us if we needed to move fast or even at a reasonable pace, and if you ever wear high heels, you know that to be true. I just dug out an ancient pair, red satin with a high gold heel and long pointed toes and if the heels don’t cripple you the toes will become trapped in pavement cracks and you’ll go either arse backwards or head forward and either way, your progress will be impeded and physical injury may result.

My heels aren’t anywhere near as high as those worn by the Speaker of the House of the Representatives, Bronwyn Helicopter Bishop. So I absolutely understand why, on a recent European jaunt, she ran up a bill of around $1000 per day on a specially equipped black BMW limo to transport her from her luxury accommodations to wherever she needed to be. Only a spiteful, ill-wishing fairy would think she should walk, or take a cab or even an everyday embassy car, none of which would be safe enough to accommodate both her and her stilettos.

Women’s feet, and the type of shoe in which we encase them, have been the stuff of fairy tales in many cultures. There’s the ancient Chinese custom of foot binding. There’s the Grimm’s fairytale of the pubescent mermaid, who so desperately wanted to love a landlocked prince she exchanged her glorious asexual mermaid’s tail for legs, feet, and a clitoris, and forever after suffered as if she was walking on daggers, unless she was flat on her back. Yes. We’ve all been there, haven’t we.

Then there’s the grotesque Hans Christian Anderson saga of the red shoes, which involves a little girl the author describes as vain, who, after complaining of her ungainly footwear is given a pair of red shoes that won’t stop dancing all by themselves, leading to a desperate amputation of her legs at the ankle, and crutches for life. The ill-natured shoes, with her mutilated and bloodied feet inside them, hubristically continue to boogie in front of her everywhere she goes, reminding her of the wages of vanity and self-indulgence. It is this latter story that is perhaps most pertinent to Ms Bishop, as us punters struggle to establish which is the larger insult: the helicopter hired to serve the country (club) or the limo cos shoes.

As accounts of Bronnie’s indulgences at the serfs’ expense continue to unfold, I am reminded of nothing as much as a syphilis maddened British monarch demanding the gratification of every whim, which surprises me, as I had previously held this image as belonging solely to the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. But hey nonny, the two are apparently cut from the same cloth, and Bronnie, rumoured to be one of the Captain’s earliest picks (after his nose) continues to enjoy the unqualified support of her leader, against the advice of  at least one of his party elders.

Bronnie is out of step with the times, so to speak. She would be far more at home in the Georgian era, getting about in a sedan chair with a couple of bearers she could flog if they didn’t keep up the pace or jerked her about. A couple of hair extensions fashioned into ringlets and she’s all set to go.

sedan-chair

 

I don’t know that we should advocate severing Bronnie’s legs at the ankle. However, there is something to be said for casting her feet (in stilettos of choice) and ankles in bronze, and placing them in a glass case in the entrance hall of Parliament House. These shoes, the placard might read, caused taxpayers to fork out $1000 per day for over two weeks, as they rendered the wearer incapable of using her god-given ability to walk. Only women of calibre should contemplate wearing such shoes, and then only when some other patsy foots the bill for the limo.

 

 

 

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.

ƒ

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.

ƒ

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?

ƒ

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.

freud01

 

 

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

 

drugs two

 

 

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

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