Monthly Archives: February 2013

Catholic distaste for bad press

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THE MOST DAMNING PHOTO PUBLISHED BY A BRITISH NEWSPAPER THIS YEAR?

From mirror.co.uk: ‘Jimmy Savile and the cardinal…’

Cardinal Keith O’Brien quit just 24 hours before he was due to fly to Rome to help choose the next pope. His resignation followed a series of recent allegations against him dating back to the ’80s by three priests and one former priest regarding inappropriate sexual behaviour. He ‘strongly denied’ those claims, but revelations of a relationship with Savile dating back to the ’70s will undoubtedly bode badly for his chances of being believed.

Another priest at Kilsyth (O’Brien‘s parish) at the time has been suspended following claims of abuse against two young victims. Ironically, it was Cardinal O’Brien who ordered the investigation last September; and when allegations against Savile first broke in the MSM last year, it was the cardinal who called for him to be stripped of his papal knighthood.

Also ironic is the fact that Cardinal O’Brien is known for his strong anti-gay views: he recently criticized the Scottish government’s plans to enshrine same-sex marriage in law by 2015, describing the latter as a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”. No wonder he was named ‘Bigot of the year‘ by Stonewall Scotland in 2012. His stance on women’s rights is no less forgiving: six years ago he claimed the abortion rate in Scotland was equivalent to “two Dunblane massacres a day”, also describing the implications of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill as akin to “Nazi-style experiments”. In all ways an exemplary Catholic, then.

It’s extraordinary that in the 21st century, an organization of such far-reaching social and political influence can continue to practice discrimination based on sex and sexual orientation with impunity. But the church has a real problem with sex, full stop. It’s clearly learnt it’s lesson from the last few years of public outrage over institutionalized abuse, and their media machine has been quick to swing into action following the O’Brien debacle:

Jack Valero, of lobby group Catholic Voices, said it was right for Cardinal O’Brien to resign.

He said: “I am very happy that this has been taken seriously, that the nuncio – the Pope’s representative in the UK – has written to the four people who have made the allegations to thank them for speaking out, and that the whole thing has been done so quickly.

I think this shows a new spirit.”

O’Brien tendered his resignation November last, and it was officially accepted by the Pope last week, but his sudden departure was unexpected. Was immenent exposure of the Savile connection a factor? New spirit or not, division, and confusion around the issue of priests and sex run deep in the church to this day, in particular the failure to grasp that the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sex tilts on consent, not the gender or sexual orientation of the participants. The church’s exception to homosexuality is not ‘homophobia’ per-se, so much as calculated propaganda in the interests of furthering it’s world-dominating, sex-dimorphic agenda. When O’Brien spoke of a ‘human right’ to marriage, it was the right of men to produce (Catholic) offspring he was defending. And who are ‘celibate’ priests to be dispensing this advice, anyway? That the Bible highlights the sinfulness of homosexuality*, yet not of paedophilia is scarcely surprising, given the social context of its time: that the church cleaves to those same standards 2000 years later, and that we give credence to the esoteric beliefs of this homophobic, misogynistic rape cult is the real scandal.

* See ‘Intercourse’Dworkin, Andrea. Ch. 8 ‘Law’ p. 185-211 for a penetrating, nuanced understanding of why homosexuality is such a ‘big deal’ within religious orthodoxy; and why policing men’s behaviour is really all about policing women.

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Fresh from the vault (10)

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Liverpool aside, is there a city in the UK more crucial in the history of our rock scene than Manchester? The Hollies, 10cc, Buzzcocks, Joy Division/New Order, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Oasis, The Happy Mondays/Black Grape… The now defunct Oceansize continued that tradition of making daring, against the then-fashionable, superlative guitar-based rock music. Their trio of EPs in the late ’90s/early ’00s garnered attention in the British indie press, and debut LP Effloresce earned them an instant cult-following with it’s post-rock soundscapes, driving riffs and compositional complexity. Thanks to the likes of The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Mansun, Pure Reason Revolution and Porcupine Tree, musicality and ambition were back in, and prog was no longer the dirty word it had been back in the Britpop years.

Second album, Everyone Into Position, though generally critically-acclaimed, lost marks in some quarters for attempting to be too diverse: to me that’s its strength. Over its 70-min duration, the mood is constantly shifting and evolving, both within individual songs and as a unified piece. It’s a cliche to talk of a ‘musical journey’, but totally apposite here, and it’s a journey at times as blissful and awe-inspiring as gently orbiting the Earth, at others more akin to an extended motorway pile-up; full of jarring impacts, life-before-my eyes slo-mo and time-stands-still moments. And on the subject of cliches, how many bands boast – exaggeratedly, in the main – of being musically hard to pin down? Oceansize were genuinely difficult to categorize, though: there are moments of metal intensity, sparse post-rock repetition and enough tricky time-sigs to please the prog-heads, with flashes of Manc rudeboy swagger. Deep, bowel-stirring riffage is interspersed with lush atmospheric passages, vocalist Mike Vennart employs similarly-diverse approaches from a darkly-seductive whisper to demented, unintellible screaming: he cites Cardiacs and Mr Bungle as his favourite rock artists, also slyly admitting to being a big Maiden fan in his youth – that’s an interesting mix of influences right there…

Imagine members of Tool, Deftones, King Crimson, The Beta Band, Radiohead and Gazpacho joining forces to form the ultimate art-rock supergroup: it’s that good.

Since the band’s demise following fourth long-player Self-Preserved While The Bodies Float Up, Vennart and guitarist/keyboardist Gambler have followed the more atmospheric thread with their British Theatre project, whilst guitarist Steve Durose has joined the ranks of fellow-Manc-based heavy space-rockers, Amplifier, following a stint as their touring guitarist. Both bands have created fine music, but for my money Oceansize combines the best of both: pummelling rock intensity and nuanced atmospheric beauty. Like Sweden’s Opeth, it’s the sheer contrast in musical mood from moment to moment, song to song that gives them their edge: the Home and Minor EP, like the latter band’s Damnation album, eschewed their more metallic leanings in favour of a more mellow vibe, and like Damnation, whilst undeniably beautiful it’s the band’s least interesting release. Everyone…, along with third album Frames is a record I come back to time and again and it never fails to blow me away.

The elephant

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The circumstances around the death of Reeva Steenkamp are shot thru with bitter irony: she was known, amongst other things for her staunch opposition to violence against women and an advocate for self-empowerment. Shortly before her tragic demise, she Tweeted:

“WEAR BLACK THIS FRIDAY IN SUPPORT AGAINST #RAPE”

In response to South African public outrage over the brutal rape and murder of a 17-year-old: “I woke up in a happy safe home this morning. Not everyone did. Speak out against the rape of individuals in SA (South Africa). RIP Anene Booysen #rape #crime #sayNO.”

On St Valentine’s Day morning Steenkamp had been scheduled to give a motivational speech to school students in Johannesburg. “It was about empowerment and inspiration and what inspires you and how to follow your dreams,” a day that “…should be a day of love for everyone.”

For her, the ‘day of love’, and her life, ended around 4am when she was shot and fatally wounded in a home that, as it turned out wasn’t so ‘happy and safe’. As tragic as that is, the overarching tragedy is that many thousands more incidents of domestic violence, many fatal, never make the news. Despite being an accomplished and respected career woman in her own right, in death she is in danger of being reduced to an appendix to her partner, and killer, Oscar Pistorius. In human terms, his and her ‘celebrity’ changes nothing: a death is a death. But some deaths are more ‘newsworthy’ than others, a fact reflected by the byzantine speculations around cause and effect in the media:

”Roid rage’: why does our desire to triumph blind us to the dangerous side-effects of synthetic androgens?

South African gun culture and the racial divide: why is it “… inconceivable that a hero to so many millions of people would do such a thing.”

And most ludicrous of all, ‘sportsman’s instinct’ (though one can scarcely blame Pistorius‘ father in his attempt to come to terms with the family tragedy)

The simpler explanation is in danger – as so often the case – of getting lost in the mix: Oscar Pistorius is a man. The sad and terrible truth is that we, men, are responsible for the vast majority of crimes, especially crimes of violence. This is not to dismiss the possible significance of Pistorius‘ alleged-steroid use, or of gun-culture; rather to state that whether one is considering the privileged socialization of males, or a much-mooted biological predispostion towards violence, his sex/gender is undoubtedly a factor. Women do employ violence – a fact I can vouch for, having been on the receiving end – but inarguably less frequently towards men, and rarely with such ‘extreme predjudice’. Male violence is such a given, it’s rarely considered remarkable. We rape, we murder, we prosecute wars…

Stories like Savile, and Singh-Pandey, picked up and carried around the world via Twitter remind us that every victim matters, and the public cry of outrage over the latter is heartening: every death, every rape, every beating is deserving of this level of protest. It rarely happens. And in the meantime, the bloodbath continues

M.E.N.

The ‘y’ chromosome.

The elephant in the room.

‘y’, oh! ‘y’ (the end is nigh…)

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A few days ago my world shifted a little on its axes: this is not hyperbole. The world is always going to look a little different  since I read a post on a wp blog dissecting the story of the ‘y’ chromosome’s decline thru a radical feminist lens. It immediately struck a chord, for reasons I will attempt to divine in this post. It ruffled a few feathers in the MRA camp, too; and their response was typically ignorant, spiteful and misogynistic. Much to my annoyance – though perfectly understandably from the blogger’s point of view – the post was closed to public comments 😦

The post in question had been reblogged by another feminist blogger who helpfully pasted in a link to a Tumblr site where said MRAs were ‘discussing’ the implications of this aspect of human evolution from their oh-so-enlightened perspective. Since that link and the original post are no longer available, I’m forced to paraphrase, but the gist was ‘without men, who would empty the garbage, who is going to change a lightbulb, work factories etc etc’. And you know what, guys, if this is the extent of your insight then I’m embarassed for you: on your terms we’re so conceited we deserve to be extinct immediately.

A comment from one radfem that grabbed me was her realization that, ‘I have no father’ which for a woman is literally true. Genetically – and how much more basic can you get? – a woman inherits her ‘building blocks’ from her mother and from her father’s ‘female’ sperm which contain the genetic information (‘X’ chromosomes) he inherited from his female forbears. There is literally nothing of him in her: the ‘father’, then, is entirely a social construct, at least as far as females are concerned. This is – to me, at least – a radical idea. Also radical is the post’s ‘angle’ that males ‘understand their condition’ on some level and that such instinctive knowledge is a – largely subconscious – driver for our tyrannical behaviour and systems. This inevitably led to speculations/assertions that males are not only biologically weak but inherently destructive in their behaviour and by nature of their very existence. Evolution would seem to be trending towards the same conclusion. There are arguments for ‘helping nature on its way’ – it’s theoretically possible already to make babies from the genetic material of women only; to sex-select at the embryonic stage – females are being aborted in their millions already for ‘cultural’ reasons – and recent research has shown that kids of same sex mums are actually healthier and better-adjusted than their mum and dad counterparts – and for leaving well alone, on the basis of well-intentioned but misguided scientific interventions in the past. Alternatively, some feminists, such as Andrea Dworkin have advocated for sex-segregated communities*.

Either way, and contrary to what one might infer from the MRA response, the decline of the ‘y’ poses less a threat than an opportunity for the future of humanity. The implications for future generations of males appears bleak, on the surface anyway – though this scarcely excuses the apparent need on the part of men of today, to step up their hate-campaign againsts women of today and all time – but provides worthwhile insights into the false premise of patriarchy. I’m going to focus on a couple particular examples here, the first because it’s personal; the second because it’s current. I don’t claim any kind of expertise when it comes to radical feminism – very much a newbie, and plenty investigation to be done in that area on my part – and my thoughts about this are very much a ‘work-in-progress’, so if any readers feel that my inferences are wide of the mark or that I’m misrepresenting anyone, please do feed back if you want to. I’m listening…

Adoption: As an adoptee, my perspective on family is a little different to most peoples’. There’s no biological connection between me and my father or mother so the legitimacy of the child/parent bond has never depended upon biology for me. The implication that all girls are essentially ‘adopted’ by their fathers is a game-changer in a world where adopted kids (female and male) are presented as exceptional (and not in a good way). This got me thinking about need for biological parents and offspring (specifically mothers who give up kids for adoption, and adoptees themselves) to ‘know’ their place in a family tree, as it were. Why do many mothers find it so traumatic to surrender their children thus, whilst many men are able to ‘father’ and abandon sometimes many children indiscriminately and without compunction? Here are my thoughts. The simultaneous ubiqity and differentness of women – in terms of their universal connection thru the proliferation of the ‘X’ chromosome – coupled with the fact that all men are half-‘X’ hints at a deep-rooted imperative and capacity to ‘mother’. This is not to subscribe to the ‘biology-as-destiny’ line of reasoning ingrained in patriarchy, nor to suggest that ‘mothering’ implies relating to males in a way that infantalizes them, excuses bad behaviour and makes domestic tyrants of many a wife and mother. I’m inferring that women, whether or not they choose to have children, whether they give birth or adopt, are biologically-empowered to feel connected to both males and females in a way that we – the half-‘y’ brigade  aren’t. Biologically, they’re enabled to choose parenthood in a way that we’re not: men may literally bombard women with our genetic material in hope of impregnating them, but ultimately it’s the woman’s metabolism and state of health that set the agenda; with a hefty dose of plain old-fashioned chance. In a fundamental way, men cannot be ‘pro-choice’, only pro women’s choice; and even our support in this department is contingent upon women accepting it; or would be, in a society that was less hierarchical and more democratic. Accepting as much is a big ask in a world where ‘control’ is a fundamental tenet of ‘manhood’; but accept we must, for the sake of peace, ours and in the world at large.

As an adoptee who, like most, has wrestled for years with conflicting emotions around my sense of ‘connectedness’ to both my adoptive and biological parents (I’m not in touch with the latter) the understanding that a desire for ‘family’ is rooted, at least in part, in patriarchal lies absorbed by osmosis from a young age, is a psychic weight off my shoulders. I’m not at fault and nor are my adoptive parents: the underlying problem is bigger than us. The patriarchal over-emphasis on blood-relation as a prerequisite for ‘familial’ love (and the customs, rituals and laws built around this premise) have real consequences for children, for women and for men: that pharma companies and healthcare providers are raking in millions a year from couples desperate to have ‘their own’ children whilst thousands of kids languish in a ‘care’ system that often neither meet their needs or protects them from abuse is criminal on two counts; to which we mght append a third kind of crime: the oftentimes isolation of the vulnerable in care institutions is a state of affairs that certain men are keen to maintain, to their sexual and material advantage. Women, seduced by patriarchal myth and who thus feel that they couldn’t love ‘someone else’s’ child are selling themselves short, if everyday evidence of women’s capacity for love is anything to go by. They, in accord with partners and social norms may well have come to regard adopted kids as second-best, and guess what, many kids grow up feeling the same way about themselves.

Transgenderism: a phenomenon that will inevitably be rendered obsolete along with males. Accepting that we men are, on some ill-understood, instinctual level, aware of our own impending extinction points the way to a theory of Transgenderism fundamentally different to the currently-fashionable notion of being ‘trapped in the wrong body’. Maybe it’s the inherent obsolescence of the biological male, rather than the learned confines of the masculine role that MtTs are symbolically rejecting?

A comment by (MtT) Soran on the GenderTrender blog post ‘Male to Eunuch, Asexuality and Gender Nullification’ came close to articulating this, when he** said:

‘…maybe the extreme breadth and fluidity of the human mind is simply rendering the human body obsolete, and we’re going crazy trying to escape it? All of this seems to boil down to the human body itself, which was ‘designed’ by blind processes that had no conscience … I just don’t understand why we’re assuming that ‘sanity’ means accepting an evolutionary accident…’

Soran‘s attempt to grapple with his conflict sidesteps addressing the issue of gender directly (he states earlier in his comment that ‘…gender is BS…’) and looks instead to biology for an explanation, admitting its falliblity and inherent randomness. It may be then, that those who identify as Trans*women are simply a little closer to a conscious awareness of the ‘y’ problem and utilise the best tools that society – i.e. patriarchy – can provide, inadequate as they are, to ‘escape’ their fate. The futility of gendered thinking is laid bare.

In a single sex world, is woman without man still ‘female’? No and yes. No, in the sense that the current, popular understanding of female – for which the definition in engineering terms ‘hollow space into which a corresponding male part might fit’ is a good analogy – will inevitably lose meaning. In a more fundamental sense, yes: the elimination of a patriarchically-defined standard of female will pave the way for a much fuller, more diverse, integral one. Feminists often talk of women being ‘less-than-human’ under patriarchy: evolution towards a single-sex – though by no-means asexual – model of humanity and human reproduction represents as much a fulfilment of human potential as female potential, in a world where the two become at last, synonymous and realise ‘the extreme breadth and fluidity of the human mind’ that Soran describes.

I’m only sad I won’t be around to see it happen…

* Sheri S. Tepper’s engaging and insightful novel, ‘The Gate To Women’s Country’ explores some of these ideas in a fictional context. I highly recommend it, and many of her other stories.
** His preferred pronoun