The Marriage Act: what is it good for?

30 Jun

vintage_cat_bride_and_groom_wedding_poster-rb775e43b418c4418bb91943fdadaf714_wvg_8byvr_324

 

In 2004, the Howard LNP government amended the Marriage Act of 1961 to read as follows:

Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
Certain unions are not marriages. A union solemnised in a foreign country between: (a) a man and another man; or (b) a woman and another woman; must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.

Then federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock introduced the amendment in order to prevent any legal challenges to the concept of marriage as a solely heterosexual institution.

It would be useful if religious organisations opposing marriage equality took note of the origins of this amendment. It did not come from god. It was authored by Philip Ruddock and John Howard.

Then Greens leader Bob Brown described the amendment as “the straight Australia policy.”

There was no plebiscite held on the amendment, and no referendum.

I have yet to be convinced that the state has any role at all to play in the voluntary unions of its citizens, and would prefer to get rid of the Marriage Act altogether rather than just the 2004 amendment.

As it stands, the Act is discriminatory and has no place in a just society. It privileges traditional heterosexual marriage, an institution that functions more in its idealisation than its reality, and whose many and massive failings remain largely unexamined.

We do not need the state to define and control our expressions of love. Of all the situations in which we ought to be able to act with agency and autonomy, this must surely be the most fundamental. All citizens are entitled to enjoy this agency and autonomy, regardless of whom we love.

The fight for marriage equality is also the fight for everyone’s freedom, and our right to live without state intrusion, definition  and control of the most deeply intimate aspects of human life.

Do you really want politicians deciding what marriage is?

 

 

On Turnbull and stability

27 Jun

turnbull

 

Turnbull relying on Australians seeking stability during a time on [sic] unrest in Europe is the headline of Malcolm Farr’s précis of the LNP election campaign launch, held yesterday.

The problem with the word stability is that far too often, particularly in politics, it’s taken to mean “everything staying the same” regardless of whether that “same” is desirable or not.

According to Turnbull we need to avoid changing government at all costs, and we need to avoid a hung parliament at all costs. We need to stick with the stability (read sameness) of the two-party system, despite the profound lack of stability within both those parties, publicly demonstrated over the last six years.

Admittedly, the ALP seems to have pulled itself together and united behind its leader, achieving temporary internal stability. The same cannot be said for the LNP as Turnbull attempts to straddles the chasm between himself and the right-wing of his party. Revenant-in-waiting, Tony Abbott, continues to grimly stalk the Prime Minister and although he has been muted during the election campaign, it’s unlikely he’s relinquished all ambition to heal his pain by overthrowing Malcolm and reasserting himself as leader.

If it’s stability you’re looking for and you choose the LNP, you’re looking for love in all the wrong places.

It takes strength of character to weather uncertainty and instability, which together are the very substance of change, and, as Dylan said he [sic] who isn’t busy being born is busy dying. A politics with which we have become very familiar is in its death throes: look at Brexit and look at Trump in the US. This isn’t a time of stability it’s a time of change, and if we don’t get busy birthing the change we’ll get busy burying the dead.

Turnbull’s call for stability is a cynical and opportunistic attempt to co-opt the Brexit decision to his very unstable cause: governance by a party that is cataclysmically divided, and therefore incapable of providing the country with that which the government itself so conspicuously lacks.

The LNP will undoubtedly ramp up the emotional manipulation with its faux assurance of stability in an unstable world: Brexit is the best thing that could have happened for them at this time. Brexit could well be Turnbull’s Tampa: create fear, then offer yourself as the only protection from the terror you’ve manufactured.

It’s not about the policies, stupid. It’s about the emotion.

 

 

 

The word that Turnbull dare not speak

13 Jun

Flag. Half Mast.

 

I’m at a complete loss as to understand why that rasping husk of compromised humanity we’ve had inflicted on us as Prime Minister decided to co-opt this morning’s hideous mass slaughter of gay people in Orlando, Florida to the service of his government’s pathological border protection policies.

Not once in his obligatory comments on the mass murder (this link has since been updated by SMH to include Turnbull’s third press release in which he refers to gay people) did Turnbull acknowledge the identity of the victims, rather he carefully framed his remarks within the “terrorist threat facing the Australian way of life” narrative, a threat for which the LNP, with the full support of the opposition, created for our salvation the paramilitary border protection force.

Turnbull stopped short of invoking “stop the boats” and I suppose we should be grateful that even he, apparently, was unable to draw his stinkingly homophobic bow that far.

Had the victims been children they would have been identified as children. Had they been black, they would have been identified as black. Had they been Palestinians, Jews, women, protestors, Australians, ISIS, students, politicians, doctors or the homeless, they would have been identified as such.

But these were members of the LGBTQI community and Malcolm Turnbull could not speak their name.

Other politicians, including Obama, Clinton, Shorten & Plibersek have made a point of speaking directly to that community in their commentary, acknowledging that this has been an attack that will affect LGBTQI people wherever they are.

The murderer’s motives are as yet not fully known. But what is unquestionable is that he targeted a gay venue, and that he has been described by his own parents as “not religious, didn’t pray or fast, was very angry when he saw two men kissing.”

It might behoove us to remember at this time that the most vocal opponents of LGBTQI communities in Australia are white Christian men, some of whom are in the LNP, and some of whom gave Malcolm Turnbull his job. Could this perhaps go some way to explaining the PM’s bizarre reluctance to acknowledge the Orlando massacre for what it clearly is? A murderous attack on a particular community because of that community’s sexual orientation.

Whether or not the murderer was informed by other political motives as well does not alter the fact of his choice of target.

Let’s not forget that Turnbull  recently bowed to pressure from Christian homophobes to gut a Safe Schools program that sought to educate, and protect LGBTQI kids from bullying, depression and suicide.

Let’s not forget that Turnbull has decided on a completely unnecessary and highly expensive plebiscite on marriage equality, an event that will permit all manner of hate and bigotry against LGBTQI people free expression.

Let’s not forget that Turnbull has firmly established himself on a vile homophobic continuum (making himself clearly part of the problem) that begins with playground bullying, and ends in the mass slaughter of gays who’ve just gone out dancing for the evening.

This is our Prime Minister, people. The man who denies the dead their identity. The man who dares not speak the word.

Since I wrote this post, and after a great deal of criticism on social media, Turnbull has made another statement in which he refers to the gay club and the deaths of gay people. 

All traces of his first statement, on which this post is based, have vanished from the SMH and other media. ABC Radio’s Patricia Karvalas tweeted that she’d never heard of an earlier statement, and I don’t doubt her. 

Extensive tweets remain, as proof of Turnbull’s initial presser. Unless the Libs own Twitter as well as the MSM

 

 

 

 

What Barrett’s explicit videos say about family values

12 Jun

family-values

 

Northern Territory Sports Minister Nathan Barrett resigned his portfolio last week after the Northern Territory News revealed he’d sent two videos of himself masturbating “with his left hand” (this detail seems to have captured the NT News collective imagination for reasons I can’t fathom) in his bathroom at home while simultaneously filming the events and sending the videos via Facebook to a female constituent with whom he’d had an online relationship for several months.

One of Barrett’s mates later remarked on Facebook, apparently without any sense of irony, that the man is “very tech savvy.”

There is, in my opinion, no moral value at all attached to the consensual exchange of intimate images and it’s nobody’s business what two people consensually undertake.

The problems for Barrett are that he’s married, and has campaigned on the strength of his “family values” and his “deep commitment to his local church.” The woman involved states that although they’d developed a close online relationship, she did not invite videos of him masturbating. She also states that he’d promised her a job, though he denies this.

Obviously Barrett has some significant problems, and has committed himself to “counselling” in order to help him work through them. He’s also apologised to his boss, constituents, wife, family, and the woman with whom he formed an “inappropriate relationship.”

He deserves some respect for fully owning his behaviour, without minimisation, excuses and self-justification. It takes some courage to do that, and it’s not something we often see in such situations where the demon drink is frequently invoked as an explanation, or the serious impact of the behaviour is flat-out denied.

The figure of the outwardly moral and committed family man with a secret sexual life is a cliché, and like all clichés, it reveals much about the warped and hypocritical nature of our “values.”  Frequently, the most important consideration is maintaining the appearance of morality while concealing the transgression. The transgression itself is not as bad as others finding out about it. This has been the position of the churches, for example, in the matter of child sexual abuse, as well as the attitude of many families in which abuse of children is perpetrated.

The ideal of the morally intact family dominates the more common reality of the morally compromised family in which everyone involved agrees, consciously or otherwise, to live the lie.

Betraying a spouse is emotional, psychological and mental abuse. Spouses who live in relationships in which there is infidelity are living in an abusive relationship. It’s abusive to subject someone you claim to love to such pain, shock, trauma and stress as is caused by betrayal. When it’s done serially, it’s similar to the cycle of physical violence: discovery of betrayal, regret expressed, promises to never repeat, reconciliation and honeymoon period, then return to betrayal. Both parties are living a toxic life in a regressive relationship in which one enables the other to continue the abuse by continuing to “forgive.”

But hey. As long as no one knows and we’re looking ideal, who cares?

Perhaps nobody does care, however, problems arise when such situations are held up as those to which we should all aspire.  When Barrett became the current public face of treachery and betrayal he exposed the fragile moral high ground of heterosexual monogamous marriage. He crapped all over its presumed sanctity.  He confronted us with an unfortunate truth, which is that these circumstances are far from uncommon, and people lie about them all the time while continuing to promote heterosexual and monogamous family values as the aspirational ideal.

We should actually thank him, and everyone like him, for inadvertently pointing out that the emperor has fewer clothes than he thinks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Politics. What is it good for?

11 Jun

Shewee

 

I don’t know if there are people out there as fed up as I am with this interminable election campaign, with its interminable commentators making interminable commentary and engaging in interminable speculation in between interminable gotcha moments, and what in the name of all that is good and great and human, is the bloody point of it all?

Politics, the art or science of government, has become merely the art or science of winning and holding government, as is irrefutably evidenced by the last two leaders of this country whose overweening ambition was to become Prime Minister, without any idea of what to actually do once that personal ambition was achieved. I’m not partisan: there’s a persuasive argument to include Kevin Rudd in that narcissistic leader pool as well.

Caretaker Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently plumbed new depths of sog with his sepia video of himself as an infant astride the shoulders of his single dad, as if to reassure voters that loving his dad, who left him a property portfolio worth some $2 million, (he probably would have loved him even if he hadn’t: I’m not the one drawing false equivalences here) somehow qualifies him to lead the country.

This humongous non sequitur makes me question, yet again, Turnbull’s much-flaunted promise to treat the punters with respect as a means of distinguishing himself from his predecessor, that lunatic (to quote Turnbull’s father-in-law and former attorney-general Tom Hughes, even though the old man took it back last week) Tony Abbott. It is difficult to take back having described someone as a lunatic, especially when the original comment rings with far more truth than does the retraction.

Then on Friday morning I looked at Twitter only to find a photo of Pauline Hanson or her doppelgänger peeing into a cup at the football. Well, I thought, the day can only improve but I was wrong because election.

Hanson is not welcome in the parliament, thundered Turnbull, which is an astoundingly  stupid comment because if she’s elected she’s in the parliament: this is a liberal democracy and politicians can’t refuse entry to other elected representatives you’d think Turnbull of all people would know that and apart from anything else, he pissed off innumerable Hanson supporters who took the comment personally, as of course anyone would at the prospect of their elected representative being ostracised in a parliament where everyone is meant to be equally representing everyone outside of it.

Hanson retaliated by observing Turnbull to be arrogant and I, for one, find myself agreeing with her on this if nothing else. I don’t agree with her (or her doppelgänger) crouching on their haunches to pee into a cup in a football stadium: women can actually pee standing up (with or without assistance, see image above) and in such a situation it might be more seemly to do just that. Or there’s always bush wees, as we’ve taught the young ones in our family bush wees are good, until we realised they thought we meant peeing in any bushes anywhere anytime rather than peeing in the forest, but anyway.

It signals the end days of a society, said Aristotle or Plato, I can’t remember which and am in such a state of election-induced lethargy I can’t be arsed using my Google finger, when tolerance and apathy become the dominant public sentiments. Are we there yet?

There is so much one can hardly bear to see and hear: the unending violence against women, the cavalier destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, the determination to mine the country into eternity, the neglect of and disinterest in our most vulnerable citizens, the wicked scapegoating of waterborne asylum seekers, the increasing privilege and entitlement of the haves: how can my one vote possibly have any real effect on any of these sites of heartbreak?

As Bob Dylan observed, the only thing I know how to do is to keep on keeping on, a line I have on many occasions found useful and here we are again. Our politicians are a sorry-arsed lot on the whole, at least the ones who claw their way to the top. We have not yet created a Trump, but I don’t doubt it’s within our capabilities and neither does Jonathan Green in this gloomy piece.

But all is not lost. I can see some use for that Shewee thing, in the kayak, yes definitely. I don’t attend footy matches but there are traffic holdups on the Pacific Highway when you’ve forgotten to pee before you left home.

It doesn’t seem at all remarkable that a post on the usefulness or otherwise of politics should end up with commentary on urination, so I might just leave things here, wish you all well for the next few weeks of shameless propaganda, and take myself back to the couch to continue my binge re-watch of Mad Men. Ah, they knew how to treat women back then. No Shewee for you, sweetheart.

 

 

 

 

 

Victims, Trauma, Spinoza, and Butler

5 Jun

 

Trauma Narratives. University of Zaragoza

 

I’ve never met anyone whose ambition it was to be a victim, though I don’t doubt such people exist.

Victimhood is not considered an honourable state, rather it’s an abject one, shrouded in shame and often guilt: had I done something differently, been a better person, had more sense, (insert your favoured self-blaming admonition) this thing wouldn’t have happened to me and I wouldn’t be a victim.

Victims are frequently blamed by others and victims frequently blame themselves, so all in all, no one in a healthy state of mind would desire the experience. In the current economy of victimisation, the victim is always deeply in debt.

Being confronted by your own vulnerability isn’t an easy experience: many of us spend an inordinate amount of energy convincing ourselves we aren’t vulnerable, which is entirely unrealistic as we are, every minute of our lives, vulnerable to something or someone. Vulnerability is one of life’s inescapable conditions.

I suspect, though I have no proof, that one of the elements of victim blaming is anger at a being confronted by a victim’s obvious vulnerability that can’t help but remind us of our own precarious state in the world, a state many of us would rather not admit to. It doesn’t bear thinking about, the things that can happen to us, and victims can make us think about it.

If the injury can somehow be made to seem their own fault that makes us feel safer. We have control: we just won’t do what they did. These convoluted self-delusions are a sorry waste of psychic energy: denial is ultimately exhausting and it’s entirely unfair to project our own vulnerability onto someone else, rather than learn to live with it.

When I visited the doctor last week we got into a conversation about the 17th century Sephardic/Portuguese philosopher, Baruch Spinoza. I’m not sure why this topic came up but anyway, we talked about how Spinoza was banished from his Jewish community for what were perceived to be his heretical views. A cherem, or herem was declared against him, a form of shunning and ostracism employed as punishment for his refusal to accept god as some kind of divine human with emotion, intention, and desires. For Spinoza, god was Nature, and there was nothing beyond Nature and the laws of the natural world.

Spinoza also argued passionately for freedom of thought and speech: it is permissible to speak any thought, although not necessarily permissible to act upon that thought. Forbidding speech causes resentment and an inevitable backlash against the deciders, and only sends thought underground. No wonder Spinoza remains relevant hundreds of years after his time.

This conversation about Spinoza reminded me next of Judith Butler, American philosopher and gender theorist, who in 2002 gave the annual Spinoza Lecture at the University of Amsterdam. This lecture morphed into the book Giving an account of oneself, in which Butler examines, among other things, the concept of injury and victimhood, and what new ethical possibilities these experiences open up for a subject, what she calls…the moral predicament that emerges as a consequence of being injured…

From the traumatic and unpromising site of injury and desire for revenge or redress, Butler argues that …a model of ethical capaciousness… might emerge. This model of ethical capaciousness, she continues …understands the pull of the claim (for retribution) and resists the pull at the same time, providing a certain ambivalent gesture as the action of ethics itself.

As Spinoza’s thinking suggests, ethical capaciousness is permitting the thought without taking the action, a moral victory perpetrators outstandingly fail to achieve.

Much taken with Butler’s notions of un-willed injury as a site of ethical possibility, I wrote a paper that I gave at a conference at the University of Barcelona in 2008, titled The Experience of Being Injured: An Otherwise Perspective. The conference was about myth, history and memory, and I was exploring how traumatic injury and its aftermath, both societal and individual, are contained within these frameworks.

All of this has come  flooding back to me as a consequence of the last post I wrote on Sheep about memoir and trauma. There are, it’s alleged, too many people writing about their personal traumas; public accounts of private trauma will not bring about political change; must we have one more “misery memoir” and why aren’t these things kept private. These are some of the objections to what has over the last years become an outpouring of first person accounts of traumatised lives.

They are the objections of the very privileged, and they are both ignorant and pointless: trauma is not going away and one of the ways assaulted individuals attempt to deal with distress is to give their personal pain expression. This is a way of clawing back some of the agency lost when another exerts silencing power over you.

Criticising traumatised people for doing something that assists them is victim blaming. Unlike the victim, the consumer has the choice not to enter that world: it isn’t a victim’s obligation to stay silent in order to avoid disturbing bourgeois sensibilities.

Granted some media have seen an opportunity and set about exploiting it: take that media to task, not the authors of traumatic narratives.

The sheer volume of traumatised people on the planet is breathtaking: from stateless and displaced refugees escaping wars, to defence personnel, to paramedics and police, to those traumatised in childhood by sexual abuse; domestic violence, and sexual assault. Trauma and post traumatic stress shape and dominate societies and relationships. The effects of PTSD are crippling, not only on the sufferer but on everyone around him or her. The costs to society are astronomical.

Butler’s concept of the moral predicament anyone faces as a consequence of being injured can help shift one out of victimhood into agency. What actions does the injured party take or not take as a consequences of the injury? What does one do about the natural desire for revenge, for redress, for acknowledgement, apology? How far can one go before becoming a perpetrator?  What if the law will not assist you, or fails in its attempts?

The moral predicament that results from un-willed injury is an opportunity to regain the agency that is lost when someone is used by another as a means to an end. It is an ethical possibility that rises out of the ashes of an immoral act. Very often the first step on this alchemical progression is the externalisation of personal trauma through artistic expression.

It’s ludicrous to expect that a memoir or a thousand memoirs of personal pain will bring about political change, then complain when it doesn’t happen. What actually does change is that instead of one or a thousand people crippled and without agency, some will make a partial or whole recovery as they struggle with their moral predicament and give that struggle expression. Every victim experiences a form of cherem, of shunning, of banishment. Having no voice is one form such exclusion takes.  If we find a voice with which to paint the trauma, or write it, or compose it for piano, who cares, if the outcome is functional, productive people?

Expression of our personal pain is indeed a blow for justice: that it may not be someone else’s notion of what justice is and how it ought to be attained is irrelevant. Traumatised people have usually done enough of what other people want the way other people want it done. We don’t have to do it anymore.

And most of all we do not have to observe the bourgeois values of “privacy” that silenced many of us in the first place, and made our abuse possible.

 

 

The memoir police

2 Jun

Derrida Quote

 

A couple of years ago, British concert pianist James Rhodes succeeded in his efforts to have the English Supreme Court overturn an injunction granted to his ex-wife that prevented him publishing his memoir of a childhood in which he was sexually abused.

Hs ex-wife was granted the injunction on the grounds that the book would upset their son, should he ever read it.

Rhodes’ memoir has since been published.

Spectator journalist Brendan O’Neill thought this was a just outcome, however, as he argues in this piece titled Another child-abuse memoir: why can’t the past be private, the injunction should have been a personal one, applied by Rhodes against himself, because people should simply not write “misery memoirs” whose “take-home message is that humanity is ultimately wicked.”

A few days ago, SMH journalist Kath Kenny published this piece titled Our insatiable appetite for women’s tragic stories, in which she expresses her frustration with what she calls a “first-person traumatic complex” or as O’Neill would have it, the misery memoir industry. Apparently it’s virtually de rigueur to disclose traumatic events if you want to get ahead in reality TV or the published world, and people who don’t have anything traumatic enough to relate are being discriminated against.

Then Helen Razer published this piece titled Writers and artists your personal pain is not a blow for justice, in which she argues that the personal is no longer political and, puzzlingly, that we don’t need any more personal stories, we need more bulk-billing, as if one has any effect at all on the other.

Like O’Neill, Razer states her belief that some traumatic tales are too horrifying to be publicly told, and it would be better for everyone if they were kept private. There is, she argues, no longer a possible political outcome from  the writing of the self: that ship has sailed. Whether or not you agree with this statement depends entirely on your definition of the political.

Razer’s piece is more interesting than either of the others, and I believe that out of the three, she is the only one to have written her own memoir of surviving suicidal depression. I learned this from someone who took her on in the comments with barely disguised accusations of hypocrisy.

While none of these journalists have the ability to silence those who choose to write or speak about traumatic events they’ve survived, it is interesting that all three are making a bid to prescribe what our public narratives should and should not accommodate, and to determine what is suitable for public consumption and what ought to remain private. None of the journalists offer any evidence to substantiate their views: apparently they just feel it’s all gone too far, or to be specific, it’s gone too far for their comfort.

I’m not entirely sure how to respond to these complaints from the privileged about there being too many published accounts of private trauma. I think, certainly for women, it has only been possible to write the self at all for the last three decades or so, which in the scheme of things is barely a nano second so it seems a little premature for cultural critics to be telling us we ought to shut up about it.

There is also an enormous amount of scholarly literature on autobiography and memoir, that reveals the genres to be rich and complex. Indeed I wrote my Honour’s thesis on that very topic. For example, who is the “I” who writes? “I am spacious, singing Flesh, onto which is grafted no one knows which I…” exalts Hélène Cixous.

“Writing so as not to die,” observed Foucault “is a task as old as the world.” There are trauma survivors who write so as not to die, either metaphorically or literally. I find it extremely difficult to speak about my childhood trauma. Writing is my liberation, my mastery of what once governed me.

Nobody is forcing anyone to read our work.

To claim that work isn’t political is ridiculous.

To be sure, there’s some bad writing in the memoir genre, as there is in every other genre but that’s a matter of aesthetics and taste. I’m about to read Nick Cave’s The Song of the Sick Bag and after that there’s Patti Smith’s The M Train waiting on my bookshelf. There’s some memoir I wouldn’t go near, which doesn’t mean it ought not to have been written, but that this is a question of interest and personal taste.

It is, I think, mean-spirited and not a little ignorant to complain about others writing memoirs of trauma.

The division between public and private has always worked in favour of the powerful and the abusive. It’s not a little chilling to find our cultural critics calling for a withdrawal of traumatic stories back into the private from which they have so recently been liberated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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