Losing privilege is now a crime against humanity.

18 Nov

 

rights

 

It’s becoming rather tiring, listening to privileged people with large platforms complain that their freedom of speech is being denied, and we have to get rid of anti discrimination laws that allegedly silence them.

As far as I can tell such people are incapable of dealing with criticism of their speech, and are unable to distinguish between that criticism, and the oppression of silencing. Criticism is not denial of free speech. It’s criticism. I don’t think they know this, which is surprising.

Neither are you being “silenced” if you don’t have the guts to speak. That’s not denial of free speech, it’s lack of courage. The “I can’t say anything because of political correctness” whine is an admission of cowardice.

“Stop political correctness” actually means, “make the world absolutely safe for me to say whatever I like without fear of criticism” which is in itself interesting, because the “stop political correctness” cohort also seems to oppose the idea of safe spaces for people who might actually need them.

The complaint of denial of freedom of speech currently emanates overwhelmingly from those incapable of tolerating a challenge: they wish to engage in bigotry without anyone calling them on it. Somewhere, in one of their developmental stages, somebody hurt them by giving them critical feedback for bad work and they never got over it.

Apart from all that, it is rather ludicrous when someone with a platform regularly provided and paid for by Newscorpse et al (not to mention those privileged by their presence in parliament) complains they have no freedom to speak. Cowards, every one.

There were mixed reactions when the Human Rights Commission dropped its inquiry into the Australian’s cartoonist, Bill Leak, after complaints were lodged against him under the now infamous Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act

I found the cartoon under scrutiny (you can see it in the first link) obnoxious, an expression of white paternalism, privilege and assumed supremacy. I also believed the complaint would fail under the exemptions permitted by Section 18D, and I can’t see how that potential failure could do anything to further the cause of those racially humiliated by Leak in his cartoon, not for the first time or the last, I might add.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right, without which many other rights collapse. We also live in a country in which it is regrettably necessary to have a Racial Discrimination Act, because we are racist, and because the concept of freedom of speech is frequently abused to justify racially motivated attacks.

The two are not always compatible. Section 18C is perceived by some as a threat to free speech or, as Attorney-General George Brandis so memorably put it, the freedom to be a bigot. However, nobody is prevented or can be prevented from being a bigot: they just need to be aware that there may be consequences,  just as there are consequences, positive and negative, for every other choice we make.

I’d prefer to see the words “offend and insult” in 18C changed to “vilify.” I think it’s extremely difficult to make laws about offending and insulting: vilification is far more specific and contains within it the notions of offence and insult. Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs is not opposed to rewording the Section.

The concept of freedom of speech is in danger of becoming grotesquely distorted by those who have no need at all to be protected from the loss of it. But this is the neo liberal way: co-opt the safeguards put in place to protect people from vilification and exploitation, and frame yourself as the victim. Losing privilege is now a crime against humanity in the new world order. Oh, yeah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t give Trump a chance

15 Nov

noam-chomsky-neoliberalism

 

There are situations that arise from time to time in which to act with civility may cost you your life, metaphorically or literally. If you haven’t encountered such a situation may your good fortune continue, however, I’d argue that the world has collectively come up against just this challenge with the endorsement of Donald Trump as President-Elect of the United States.

Over the last few days I’ve read what to me are profoundly stupid calls from the US, from Australia and from other countries, to “give Trump a chance.” He may “settle down” once ensconced in the Oval Office. Actually being president may “tame” him. He “only campaigned as he did to win,” not because he really believes all that stuff about punishing women who have abortions, deporting “illegals,” building a wall, banning Muslim immigration, dismantling the health care system, and men’s freedom to sexually assault women.

The wall is interesting. It exists only as a metaphor, claimed more than a few commentators, it is the wall in our minds. How baffled they must feel to hear that Trump is already discussing materials.  Yes, a wall is a clichéd metaphor (we don’t need no education on that) and, what a surprise, it also has a concrete reality. Ask any number of nations about literal walls. Donald is no innovator in this field. Yet many in the US media did not see this, as well as much else including Trump’s victory, coming.

Here in Australia we have a “ring of steel” to protect our borders, and I feel fairly confident this is a metaphor but who can say for sure anymore?

Australians need to proceed with caution when pointing our shocked fingers at what people who wish to be civil now describe as “only” Trump’s means to his end. Decades of torturing asylum seekers and refugees who arrived here perfectly legally by boat, because an influential number of voters believe it is acceptable to do that. Supporting both major parties in their transgression of every human decency and the UNHCR Convention as well. We are disqualified from planting our flag on the means to an end high moral ground. As was pointed out by Naomi Klein, Trump is at this point still talking about a wall. We already have one.

Trump was “only campaigning as he did to win” has to be a justification given life and voice by those who value winning above all else. Have they forgotten already the vileness of Trump’s campaign, or do they minimise the horror, given that it brought him victory? Is everything secondary to winning? Trump thinks so. When questioned on his campaign tactics he shrugged off all criticism. “I won,” he said.

This piece by George Monbiot describes Trump as the product of a neoliberalism that found its political expression through Margaret Thatcher’s enchantment with the theories of Nobel Prize winning economist Frederick Hayek. Competition and winning the competition is the neoliberal credo: democracy comes a very poor second.

He (Hayek) justifies this position by creating a heroic narrative of extreme wealth. He conflates the economic elite, spending their money in new ways, with philosophical and scientific pioneers. Just as the political philosopher should be free to think the unthinkable, so the very rich should be free to do the undoable, without constraint by public interest or public opinion.

Trump certainly seems set upon doing the undoable (in the sense of the morally and ethically undoable) without constraint of any kind.

Women well know the limits of civility. Asking a man set on harming us to please don’t rarely works, for example. Civility doesn’t work with despots and tyrants and psychopaths, and people who care only about winning. They will sneer at your civility, indeed, they will crap upon it.

Donald Trump is a man entirely willing to cause harm in order to achieve his goals. How any one can doubt this for a nano second is beyond me, given the nature of his campaign and the vile forces of hatred he has unleashed already against anyone who isn’t white and male.  So if Oprah Winfrey advises us to have hope, as she has, I say, WTAF is wrong with your head, lady?

Giving Trump a chance means overlooking or accepting his manner of campaigning, which in itself should disqualify him from high office. Giving Trump a chance means normalising the most base of human instincts. Giving Trump a chance means endorsing a savagery towards our fellow humans that will eventually deaden every communal and societal instinct we possess. Giving Trump a chance means surrendering to the dehumanisation of ourselves and others, a path with which we in Australia are already overly familiar through our treatment of refugees and Indigenous peoples.

This is not the time for civility. This is the time to call a spade a fucking shovel, and refuse to allow Trump’s narrative to be normalised, as it will be in this country unless we fight back, by politicians and media, many of whom perceive great gains in assisting the elevation of Trump’s narrative.

As Monbiot concludes, those who tell the story run the world. Let it not be Trump’s story, and the story told by those in this country who share his beliefs.

Let’s not give him, or them, a chance.

 

On Hanson’s claims that women lie about sexual assault

14 Nov
Michaelia Cash, Minister for Women, hugs Senator Pauline Hanson

Michaelia Cash, Minister for Women, hugs Senator Pauline Hanson

 

My default attitude to Pauline Hanson is that my life is too short to spend much time contemplating her, however, an interview on Sunrise (no, I’m not linking) in which she gloated about the Trump victory and sputteringly claimed that women who accuse him of sexual assault are liars and women in general should toughen up when a man, uninvited, strokes our breasts and grabs our pudendas enraged me to the extent that I have to address it.

Aside: Sunrise enrages me as well, as does all breakfast television: who the hell wants to start the day with overly-cosmeticised women in tube frocks, and self-congratulatory men in nifty suits cackling & exclaiming, not me, I’d rather listen to the parrots & wattle birds brawling outside my window, they make more sense. Somebody thoughtfully sent me a clip of the Hanson debacle. It’s the only thing that’s consistently distracted me from Leonard Cohen up and dying.

Hanson articulates (?) a distressingly common attitude by some women towards claims of sexual assault, an attitude I confess confounds me. Their sympathies default to the accused man, innocent until found guilty as of course he is, but here’s the thing: so is his accuser. It’s quite something to accuse a woman of lying about sexual assault when you weren’t present, have limited knowledge of the circumstances, and are basing your judgment entirely on your feelings for/impressions of the accused, and/or dislike of the woman.

In the event that you are wrong, you’ve further harmed an already seriously harmed woman and added to the entrenched narrative that women lie about being sexually assaulted. That narrative is challenged in the link, and it’s well worth a read.

I recently watched the BBC Channel Four series National Treasure, inspired by the ghastly revelations that celebrities such as Rolf Harris and Jimmy Saville sexually assaulted and molested women and children during their highly successful careers. Paul Finchley, played by Robbie Coltrane, is a celebrity comedian charged with the historical rape of a minor, and sexual assault of another woman. Marie, played by Julie Walters, is his blindly devoted (and controlling) wife, who has long since come to terms with his many infidelities on the condition that he tells her about them.

Finchley’s two accusers are torn to shreds by the defence counsel, demonstrating why so many women do not pursue action against their attackers. However, what for me is most riveting in a series whose every moment is absolutely riveting, is the gradual admission by Marie to herself that her husband has “many layers,” his most obvious being that in which he plays the role of a harmless, loving husband and father, as well as a much-loved public figure.

With great and admirable courage, Marie slowly allows herself to see what has always been present in Paul, but brilliantly disguised: the sexually predatory, self-obsessed, emotionally immature man who believes, if he even bothers to think about it, in his entitlement to gratify his needs and desires whenever and however he sees fit.

(This acting in this series is beyond superb, btw. I haven’t recounted much of the story, in case you haven’t seen it. If you have any doubts about the complexities of sexual assault, this series will go a long way towards unpacking the life-shattering effects those complexities have on everyone involved.)

The point is that even wives and girlfriends of sexual predators can live in ignorance and denial of their partners’ “hidden layers,” so how does Pauline Hanson or anyone else know if a woman is lying about a man sexually assaulting her?   Of course she doesn’t, and what’s so deeply troubling is the need by some women to deny the experiences of other women, when it comes to the actions of men.

Hanson is the current poster girl for this attitude, in her ludicrous defence of Trump, and her vicious attacks on women who’ve made claims against him. Hanson is a member of the Australian parliament. She has a platform and she is inspired by Trump’s victory.  So, much as I resent spending even part of my morning writing about her, I can’t ignore her poisonous views. They have to be challenged. She has to be called.

It is never, ever acceptable to accuse a woman of lying about sexual assault until one knows, beyond a reasonable doubt, if she is.  It is never, ever acceptable to base one’s judgement on dislike of her, or affection for the man she’s accused. Until we as a society get past defaulting to the assumption of false claims there will be no justice for women, and perpetrators will remain free and unaccountable.

 

 

 

 

Leonard Cohen. Donald Trump.

12 Nov

leonard-cohen

 

I will not forget the day Donald Trump became President Elect of the USA, because it’s the same day Leonard Cohen died, and that is almost too much of a coincidence to bear.

It seems excessive, that one should have to deal with the arrival of Trump and the leaving of Cohen in the same twenty-four hours. As the poet departs the soulless prepare to take over: it’s a bad succession and I can’t help wondering if there are too many of us who took the poetry for granted and lost our focus, and while we weren’t paying attention the hollow men moved in.

The two men, Cohen and Trump, represent extreme points on a continuum of human possibility. The former mined the infinite richness of love, sex, loss, grief, joy: the mysteries of feeling, experience and meaning. The latter reduces human experience to its most crude and its most base: not for him the mystical transports of a thousand kisses deep, his desires are far more readily satiated.

It’s the poet’s task to find words that express the inexpressible. The poet/musician Cohen found the chords as well and while he didn’t think of himself as possessing a voice of any great interest, like Bob Dylan his voice, its timbre and rhythms, its hesitations and its forcefulness, its yearning, its anger and its joy, struggled to describe what it is to be here, to be human and divine, to love and to hate, to fully live this inexplicable life on earth.

While Trump knows the power of words as well as Cohen did, he uses them to conceal truths rather than unveil them, and there is no music to be found in him that makes any sense. Trump is discordant, senseless, unconnected, deadly. Cohen knows this darkness:

Give me back my broken night
my mirrored room, my secret life
it’s lonely here,
there’s no one left to torture
Give me absolute control
over every living soul
And lie beside me, baby,
that’s an order!
Give me crack and anal sex
Take the only tree that’s left
and stuff it up the hole
in your culture
Give me back the Berlin wall
give me Stalin and St Paul
I’ve seen the future, brother:
it is murder.

I’m mourning Cohen and I understand that this mourning is complex. That he should die at this precise moment in the history of the world is significant. It’s as if his death is an alert to examine what might have died unnoticed in us, leaving an absence of feeling that permitted the ascension of Trump and those like him. They represent a world without poetry, and I use the word in its broadest sense, that of a sensibility that permits the recognition of another’s humanity, vulnerability and frailty as being common to all of us rather than the characteristics of an alien other, to be despised and denied. A sensibility that recognises tenderness towards others and our earth as strength, and not as weakness ripe for exploitation. Cohen died, but what Cohen represents has been slowing dying in many of us, and perhaps a poet had to die before we could understand what we’ve been losing.

There’s a more personal sorrow: Arnie, my  husband, loved Leonard and bore a remarkable physical resemblance to him, especially, I realised today looking closely at images of Cohen, their hands and fingers. They shared a similar sensibility and they were both Jews, with a certain ambivalence towards their traditional culture and religion. Cohen spent five years living as a monk in a Buddhist monastery, Arnie cherry-picked his religious observances and like Cohen, never quite turned his back on his heritage. I think most days Cohen sang in our house.

So for me, Cohen is inextricably bound up with our love and our life. Losing Cohen is like losing another part of us, and I am staggered, still, to find that there are yet more aspects of us I must lose and grieve over.

Cohen left behind a body of work from which can be constructed a soundtrack for a revolution. This is the man’s miraculous gift: he created a soundtrack for the most intimate of relationships, and a soundtrack for a world that must, if it is to survive, find poetry again. In that poetry must be found the means to overcome the hollow men who today, the day after the poet’s death, the day after the most hollow of hollow men was appointed leader of the most significant country in the world, seem disastrously, unassailably powerful.

Come healing of the reason, come healing of the heart: 

 

 

Leonard Cohen. Democracy.

11 Nov

Leonard Cohen died yesterday, our time. 

He died on the day the USA elected Donald Trump as its next President.

Cohen wrote this song called Democracy.

Listen, & weep.

 

Women in a Trumpian world

11 Nov

trump-women

 

World markets took a frightful tumble when the US President-Elect turned out to be Donald Trump, something I found temporarily mystifying as you’d think they’d be elated at the prospect of a billionaire business man in the White House, what could possibly go wrong?

However, after months of repulsive orations President-Elect Trump managed a nano second of “statesmanlike” rhetoric, made possible, I believe, by the euphoric release of claiming victory after the mounting excitement of witnessing his electoral college votes accrue to the point of certainty.

Buoyed by this split second of Trumpian civility, the markets rallied. I’m guessing we can expect these wild fluctuations to become a regular thing over the years of Donald’s incumbency, given the man’s well-documented volatility.

All well and good for the markets, but what about the ladies?

Only moments after it became apparent Trump was on the road to victory, a marauding mob of young males in a Sydney University bar began chanting “Grab them by the pussy that’s how we do it.” There have since been many reports on social media of women in the US being intimidated by white males, inspired by Trump’s advice to treat women like shit.

There are hundreds of Trump quotes on women, including lengthy extracts from his interviews with Howard Stern, and they all demonstrate ways in which to treat women like shit.

Trump’s elevation to leader of the western world gives license to men who want to treat women like shit. This attitude was no barrier to him achieving his goal, and it confirms what we’ve long suspected: women are not believed to be as fully human as are white men. We are allowed to do more than we used to be allowed to do but how we are regarded and treated is not an issue important enough for many (including women) to consider when electing a president.

And whatever gains we’ve made, we’ve made because they allowed us to. Let’s not forget that.

(Trump also thought Muslims should be treated like shit, an opinion shared by enough Americans to be of little consequence in the electoral contest. However, I understand his master plan to ban all Muslim immigration has vanished from his website which must feel like a betrayal to Pauline Hanson and George Christensen, but there you go.)

The western world just became a much more dark and difficult habitat for women. It would be my hope that our own government will stand up for us against the new president’s misogyny. And then I look at our government and I see there is absolutely no hope of that.

We have a very long way to go before women are recognised as equal in western culture. We are blocked by the men who are threatened by equality, and who will take the opportunities legitimised for them by Trump to express their fear and hatred in university bars, on the street, in the privacy of their homes, in workplaces, in the world. Such men are unrelievedly ignorant and stupid; overtly and covertly brutal. They’ll be celebrating right now, as their leader prepares to move into the White House.

Trump’s ascension will have a ripple effect in every western country. We have already seen Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull shamefully search for similarities between himself and Donald. We are both business men, he said, and the new president will be pragmatic, as business men always are.

However, a true pragmatist would work to establish equality, because a true pragmatist would instinctively grasp the immense gains awaiting us in equality, rather than the abject losses of discrimination that are currently our established norms.

A true pragmatist would refuse to countenance the incomprehensible loss to society of treating women like shit. But we don’t have true pragmatists in charge. We have the men who treat women like shit.

Fasten your seat belts, ladies, & up your flaps. We’re in for a bumpy ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living with Trump

10 Nov

 

president-trump

 

The single most important asset Australia must have to adjust to the new world order we face from next January is a government capable of dealing with the considerable challenges a Trump presidency will bring to us and to our region.

We don’t have such a government. What we have is a gaggle of at best mediocre, self-interested, belligerent geese, irreconcilably divided amongst themselves. None of them have grasped that they are no long in opposition, and none of them have shown the slightest talent for governance.

Their most observable attribute is an aptitude for wedging: this attribute has its place but when it’s the lone core strategy it’s an alarming signal that the government doesn’t actually know how to do anything else. It is also an adolescent triumph that achieves nothing of worth, but does make them feel temporarily clever. The Turnbull government’s need to feel individually and collectively clever by discovering new ways to wedge its opposition reveals a profound emptiness where vision, policies and governance should be.

It’s like being governed by teenagers whose brains have not yet fully formed.

As things stand nobody, including our man in Washington Ambassador Hockey, has the slightest idea of what is going to hit them, and how to deal with it when it does.

The lunatics in parliament such as Abbott, Bernardi, Christensen, Hanson, Roberts and the closet Trumpites (of whom there are more than a few, I hazard to guess) have not yet grasped that Trump is not of their faith. The man is not an ideologue, he will have no more interest in their brand of ideological claptrap than he does in that of his own party. Trump is an opportunist who sees himself as the leader of a movement, not an ideology, and he will cherry pick whatever he needs to maintain that movement’s momentum and his own pride of place at its head.

Indeed, it’s my opinion that he’s done this throughout the lengthy campaign: telling every group he’s addressed whatever he believes they need to hear in order to persuade them to support him. What he will actually focus on when he becomes president is anybody’s guess.

I’m not getting into hand wringing, although I was temporarily disturbed by the Trump family’s collective reluctance to genuinely embrace their patriarch when they all gathered onstage to claim victory. Nobody seemed to want their body close to his. This tells us much about the man.

There’s nothing to be done except pay serious attention as to how we’re going to negotiate this brave new world without going under. Kim Beazley, who preceded Hockey in Washington and how I wish he was still there, made the alarming judgement that our region is likely to be the most severely affected by a Trump presidency. We are ill-equipped to face our future, given the inadequate government we’ve got.

For a start, we desperately need a real foreign minister. As I heard Richard Bronowski remark last evening, Ms Bishop was very well made up and spoke calmly and collectedly, the only problem was she said absolutely nothing. I’ve been observing precisely this for years now.

Will they grow up in time? Are they capable of maturing? Because if ever we needed the adults in charge, it’s now.

As for the woman thing, I’ll leave that for another post.

 

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