against purity politics

‘“If we want a world with less suffering and more flourishing, it would be useful to perceive complexity and complicity as the constitutive situation of our lives, rather than as things we should avoid,” she writes. We can’t help that we’ve inherited these problems—a warming Earth, institutional racism, increasingly antibiotic-resistant bacteria—nor can we help sometimes perpetuating them. Better to stop pretending at purity, own up to our imperfections, and try to create a morality that works with them.’

READ THIS ARTICLE.

why monsanto is evil (it’s not science-fiction)

agent orange

HERE is an article discussing some of the non-“woo” (pseudo-scientific hippie freak-out) reasons why companies like Monsanto pushing genetically modified products are doing evil: the corporate imperatives and corruption surrounding the development of GMOs, how their use disempowers farmers (especially small farmers in non-first world contexts, although this article only talks about the USA) and what we can do about this deception being perpetrated against the world.

Apart from being economically unsustainable, there are also other compelling health-related reasons why GMOs are a bad idea, which don’t involve a non-specific, irrational fear of genetic mutations being dangerous to consume per se. For example, the seeds are engineered to be resistant to pesticides so that crops can be sprayed and only the weeds growing among the GM plants die. Studies have shown that GM food (or the meat of animals that ate GM food) can be contaminated by traces of the pesticides used during the plants’ growth, pesticides that are teratogenic (causing birth defects) and carcinogenic (causing cancer)  to humans. These modifications also lead to resistance in plants and insect pests – “superweeds” and “superbugs” that make sustainable farming more difficult.

If you are South African, please GO HERE to sign a petition as part of the formal public participation process against an application by multinational agricultural company Dow AgroSciences, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dow Chemical Company, to import GM cottonseed products to South Africa, for use as food, animal feed and in processing. 

desmond tutu condemns uganda’s proposed new anti-gay law

“We must be entirely clear about this: the history of people is littered with attempts to legislate against love or marriage across class, caste, and race. But there is no scientific basis or genetic rationale for love. There is only the grace of God. There is no scientific justification for prejudice and discrimination, ever. And nor is there any moral justification. Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa, among others, attest to these facts.”

— Desmond Tutu reacting against the proposed enactment of homophobic legislation in Uganda. Read more about it HERE.

tutu

two simones on banality and evil

“Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvellous, intoxicating.”
— Simone Weil

“In particular those who are condemned to stagnation are often pronounced happy on the pretext that happiness consists in being at rest. This notion we reject, for our perspective is that of existentialist ethics. Every subject plays his part as such specifically through exploits or projects that serve as a mode of transcendence; he achieves liberty only through a continual reaching out towards other liberties. There is no justification for present existence other than its expansion into an indefinitely open future. Every time transcendence falls back into immanence, stagnation, there is a degradation of existence into the ‘en-sois’ – the brutish life of subjection to given conditions – and of liberty into constraint and contingence. This downfall represents a moral fault if the subject consents to it; if it is inflicted upon him, it spells frustration and oppression. In both cases it is an absolute evil. Every individual concerned to justify his existence feels that his existence involves an undefined need to transcend himself, to engage in freely chosen projects.”
— Simone de Beauvoir

not chicken

(not chicken)

a new and alarming study on teens and sexual coercion

Excerpted from an article by Martha Kempner, published at RH Reality Check, October 9, 2013 – 12:43 pm

A new study finds that almost one in ten teens and young adults admit to forcing someone into some form of sexual activity. Even more surprising: 50 percent of perpetrators blame the victim for the incident. According to the study, “links between perpetration and violent sexual media are apparent.”

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(RobinThickeVevo / YouTube)

A new study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that one in ten teens said they had coerced another person into some form of sexual activity. In an online survey in 2010 and 2011, researchers asked 1,058 young people ages 14 to 21 whether they had ever “kissed, touched, or done anything sexual with another person when that person did not want you to?” The results surprised even the lead researcher, Michele Ybarra, who told NPR, “I don’t get creeped out very often, but this was wow.”

This intense reaction stems from the fact that 9 percent of teens said they had coerced another person. Specifically, 8 percent said they had kissed or touched someone when they knew that person did not want to, 3 percent said they “got someone to give in to unwilling sex,” 3 percent said they attempted rape, and 2 percent said they actually raped someone. (This adds to more than 9 percent because young people could admit to more than one behavior.)…

… The authors also note that 50 percent of all perpetrators said that the victim was responsible for the sexual violence. Moreover, most perpetrators said no one ever found out about their actions. The authors conclude, “Because victim blaming appears to be common while perpetrators experiencing consequences is not, there is urgent need for high school (and middle school) programs aimed at supporting bystander intervention.”…

… The survey was conducted as part of an ongoing study called Growing Up With Media. In addition to asking about sexual coercion, respondents were asked about the media they watched. The study found that perpetrators tended to report more frequent exposure to media that depicted sexual and violent situations than those who had not coerced another person, but the results were not always statistically significant. Still, the authors conclude:

[L]inks between perpetration and violent sexual media are apparent, suggesting a need to monitor adolescents’ consumption of this material, particularly given today’s media saturation among the adolescent population.

Elizabeth Schroeder, the executive director of Answer, an organization that educates young people about sexuality and trains teachers, agrees that media consumption is part of the problem. She told RH Reality Check, “This study is extremely distressing, but unfortunately, not a surprise. Sexuality education rarely starts before high school, and by then young people have already received very distorted messages about sex, relationships, and boundaries from other sources such as the media, their peers, adults in their lives, and so on.” Schroeder added, “Age-appropriate lessons about relationships need to start in early childhood and continue throughout high school.”

Read the full article HERE.

anne carson – the gender of sound

William Etty - "The Siren and Ulysses", 1837.

William Etty – “The Siren and Ulysses”, 1837.

Madness and witchery as well as bestiality are conditions commonly associated with the use of the female voice in public, in ancient as well as modern contexts. Consider how many female celebrities of classical mythology, literature and cult make themselves objectionable by the way they use their voice.

For example, there is the heart-chilling groan of the Gorgon, whose name is derived from a Sanskrit word, *garg meaning “a guttural animal howl that issues as a great wind from the back of the throat through a hugely distended mouth”. There are the Furies whose high-pitched and horrendous voices are compared by Aiskhylos to howling dogs or sounds of people being tortured in hell (Eumenides). There is the deadly voice of the Sirens and the dangerous ventriloquism of Helen (Odyssey) and the incredible babbling of Kassandra (Aiskhylos, Agamemnon) and the fearsome hullabaloo of Artemis as she charges through the woods (Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite). There is the seductive discourse of Aphrodite which is so concrete an aspect of her power that she can wear it on her belt as a physical object or lend it to other women (Iliad). There is the old woman of Eleusinian legend Iambe who shrieks obscenities and throws her skirt up over her head to expose her genitalia. There is the haunting garrulity of the nymph Echo (daughter of Iambe in Athenian legend) who is described by Sophokles as “the girl with no door on her mouth” (Philoktetes).

Putting a door on the female mouth has been an important project of patriarchal culture from antiquity to the present day. Its chief tactic is an ideological association of female sound with monstrosity, disorder and death.

— From “The Gender of Sound”, in Glass, Irony and God. New Directions, 1995: pp 120-121

The brilliant Anne Carson presents a history of the gendered voice, from Sophocles to Gertrude Stein. She outlines what is at stake in our assumptions around sound, questioning whether the concept of ‘self-control’ is a barrier to acknowledging other forms of human order, feeding into wider debates on social order, both past and present.

Read the whole essay HERE.

expose yourself to reality exposed

Diff-Opening-2Written by Sarah Dawson

On July 18, the Film and Publication Board’s refusal to classify the would-be opening film of the Durban International Film Festival, Jahmil XT Qubeka’s Of Good Report, became the flint that sparked the latest South African aesthetic controversy.

Unclassified films are illegal to screen, which means that this is a functional ban on the production. The ruling was imposed on the basis of having interpreted the representation of a sexual encounter of a Grade 9 pupil, Nolitha, (played by the 23-year old actress Petronella Tshuma) as being child pornography.

Tongues have been wagging in creative circles and the media, and given that the film is divorced from any overt perspective on political matters (as in the case ofThe Spear), it is clear that this matter relates to some quite primal conflict over the interpretation of a particular image.

In this case, the battle over meaning is taking place in the awkward, sexually liminal space of the moment of the young female character’s transition from archetypal “virgin” to archetypal “whore”, and what she, the figure of the girl, means.

It probably wouldn’t be completely unfair to assume that the film is objectionable to the classification board because of this very liminality, and the way in which the morality embedded in the process clearly regards anything that isn’t exclusively either “virgin” or “whore” as a kind of abomination.

This act of censorship is fundamentally based on a conflict of representation – meaning it’s as much an aesthetic one as it is an ideological one. This means that we need to be asking not the obvious and common question of whether we should or shouldn’t be allowed to depict female children in an erotic light, but rather what actually is a female child, and what is an erotic light?

South African film and South African audiences remain equally conservative. The idea that representations of people, places, things and events can have a lot of different meanings and aren’t consistently, singularly defined is, surprisingly, not taken for granted by the typical South African viewer, practitioner or institution of film.

We aren’t yet comfortable with the multifarious nature of representation, and expend a lot of hot air trying to settle on the one, all-encompassing, so-called “South African voice”, which it turns out, we’re really struggling to locate.

It’s a self-evidently flawed project, because its ridiculous to think that such a thing could ever actually exist in a finite sense.

Read the rest of this article HERE.

justine musk – redefining what it means to be bad

This piece by Justine Musk was first published HERE. Thanks to Emma Arogundade for sharing it on Facebook.

Justine Musk – “Well-behaved women seldom make history”: Redefining what it means to be bad

I posed topless for a female photographer who specializes in boudoir. I’m lying on the bed in a man’s velvet smoking jacket, hair blown across my face. I look at the camera. It’s a beautiful portrait (the photographer is very talented) and I’m proud of it. It reminds me slightly of Manet’s Olympia. That painting caused a scandal at the time (1863) — not because the subject was nude — but because of how she stares at the viewer instead of looking away demurely.

It’s that act of shameless eye contact that makes her – according to the moral dictates of the era — truly “bad”.

Édouard Manet - "Olympia" (1863)

Édouard Manet – “Olympia” (1863)

I once said to someone, “I don’t know if I’m a good girl with a bad streak, or a bad girl with a good streak.” But I was being ironic. My real point was that, like any other woman (or man), I am both and neither.

In fact, it’s kind of amazing to me that the good girl/bad girl dichotomy still exists. It came up again when movie star Reese Witherspoon accepted an award on television and took her speech as an opportunity to slam other, younger women for being “bad”.

“I understand that it’s cool to be bad, I get it,” she said, in that tone of false camaraderie women sometimes use before they slip in the knife. “But it’s possible to make it in Hollywood without being on a reality show….And when I was coming up, a sex tape was something you hid under your bed…And when you take naked pictures of yourself, you hide your face! Hide your face!” She finished off by declaring that she was going to try to make it “cool” to be a “good girl”.

But imagine this:

Instead of criticizing the same young women for the same things that everybody else is already criticizing them for, she could have slammed reality shows for their misogynist (and monotonous) depiction of women.

She could have criticized the kind of media that turns a girl like Paris Hilton into a celebrity in the first place.

She could have pointed out how advertising – which is so very everywhere that we no longer notice it as we’re breathing it in – co-opts rebellion and sells it back to girls in the “you’ve come a long way, baby” pseudo-liberation supposedly found in a package of cigarettes.

She could have criticized a culture that trains girls to define themselves by their sexual appeal only to punish them for it.

She could have echoed Laurel Ulrich’s famous comment that “well-behaved women seldom make history” and pointed out that ‘bad’ doesn’t have to mean shallow and self-destructive. It can mean cutting against the traditional good-girl dictates of passive and pretty and pleasing and quiet. It can mean speaking up against the status quo, the double standard, the beauty myth. It can mean rejecting the idea that your moral nature depends not on what you do, but on what you don’t do (have sex).

It can mean revolution not rebellion.

She could have said: If you’re going to be ‘bad’, make it MEAN SOMETHING…other than self-sabotage.

Recently I was struck by two different dialogues on Facebook. One was about Charlie Sheen. The other was about Britney Spears. A man posted a status update about going to Sheen’s show, and the thread discussed how smart and funny and talented Sheen is and that despite the controversy and general hubbub, “he’s fine, he’s okay” and “a brilliant marketer” and “totally knows what he’s doing”.

Meanwhile, I’d posted a link to a Britney Spears video on my own Facebook page, partly because I’m fascinated by the way people react to her.

Britney immediately came under fire for being “a poor role model” to young girls everywhere.

No “brilliant marketer” comments for her.

Both Sheen and Spears have a noted history of drug use. Both are sexy and openly sexual. Both are, or have been, at the top of their professions. Both have undergone episodes of bizarre, even tragic behavior that is suggestive of addiction and mental illness.

Yet in the buzz around Charlie Sheen at the height of his notoriety, what I didn’t hear was anything about how he serves as a poor role model for boys.

This is interesting to me, because – unlike Britney, at least to my knowledge – Sheen has a documented history of domestic abuse.
As in: he hits women.
As in: he once shot a woman in the arm.
Let me repeat that: he freaking shot the woman.

But this is no big deal. It gets glossed over. Whenever I brought it up – in person or online – people would lift their virtual shoulders in a virtual shrug and move on.

(Possibly because the women involved were so easily characterized as ‘bad’ girls.
Which in the end comes down to this: slut.
Which means: vile and disposable.)

In comparison to Sheen, Britney did reveal her belly button at a young age. And that, of course, is a threat to civilization as we know it.

Spears is held up as a “poor role model” because we can perceive her as trashy and slutty and “asking for it”. Once you reduce a girl to her sexuality – and god knows that never ever happens in this culture – she becomes less than human, so you no longer have to treat her as a human. Which means the Charlie Sheens of the world – rich, powerful, white – can do with them as they please. If the girls get, you know, a little bit shot — well, it’s their own damn fault. That’s the message that some boys are absorbing from Sheen’s treatment of women and our celebration of him. That attitude, I suspect, will prove more dangerous to girls than any of Britney’s outfits or dance moves or little-girl singing voice.

There’s some irony in the fact that, like Britney, Reese Witherspoon got pregnant at a young age – but unlike Britney, who was married, Reese conceived out of wedlock and had a shotgun wedding.

Also, she said “motherfucker” on stage.
Also, she is still young — and divorced.
Also, she’s an actress (which used to be synonymous with prostitute).

Not so long ago, these things would have pegged her as morally defective. She wouldn’t technically qualify as a “good girl” (which means she’s probably “cooler” than she gives herself credit for).

But what Witherspoon seemed to be getting at in her declaration of herself as a “good girl” has to do with the idea of exposure. Whether it’s a reality TV show or an unfortunate cell phone picture, a good girl does not show herself to the world in this way — or if she does, she “hides her face”.

She guards her shame.

She never makes eye contact.

A “good” girl is not only virginal – and thus qualifies as morally sound, even if, like Jessica Wakefield in the Sweet Valley High novels, she’s kind of a sociopath – but modest and quiet. She covers up. She is seen – without being seen. She talks in a nice voice and smiles a lot. She’s the angel of the house, and stays in the house, which was the historical point of this exercise in the first place.

She’s not loud or opinionated, she doesn’t rock the boat, and she doesn’t draw attention to herself.

All of this is convenient for others. The funny thing about silence is how it tends to favor the dominating person or group. The dominating narrative, the ruling point of view, becomes a sort of truth by default: what we as a culture assume when we’re given no reason to assume otherwise.

It’s the winners who get to write history, after all. The others are silent or silenced.

Which is not my way of saying that appearing on reality TV isn’t a form of evil in its own right, or that a girl should take provocative pictures of herself and post them on the ‘Net. Neither is power so much as a mistaken idea about power (and perhaps too many shots of tequila): when the culture seems to be urging you in one direction (“it’s cool to be ‘bad’”) and you haven’t had time or experience to learn otherwise.

But there does seem to be a link between sexual expression and self-expression, in that a ‘good’ girl is not in full possession of either. Her body doesn’t belong to her: it ‘belongs’ to her father, to her future husband, to the government that decides if she can have an abortion or the religion that decides if she can use birth control.

Her voice doesn’t fully belong to her either: she has to be careful what she says, and how she says it, and who she might offend.

‘Goodness’, then, seems to involve an amputation of the self. You make yourself ‘good’ to be loved and accepted, and in the process sacrifice your authenticity. You give yourself away until you no longer know who you are – assuming you ever did.

I’m not sure what you actually get for this, in the end.

Fitting in, as the wonderful Brene Brown so astutely points out, is not the same as being accepted for who you are – in fact, the one renders the other impossible. Being trained to please and serve leaves you ripe for exploitation; the inability to assert your boundaries makes you easy to abuse in large and small ways.

“Raising a girl to be ‘nice’,” a therapist – a woman in her sixties, married and with daughters — once remarked to me, “is like sending her out into the world with one hand tied behind her back.” She should know. Many of these women turn up in her Beverly Hills office twenty years later: divorced, discarded, aging, with no ability to support themselves and no sense of who they are at core.

So honestly, in the year 2011, these are a girl’s options? She can be ‘bad’ (and disposable) or ‘good’ (and turned in on herself)?

I would like to think that there’s another option.

Not ‘bad’, maybe, but badass.

As in: you get to declare yourself. You get to express your sexuality any way you choose, whether it’s indulging or abstaining, and you’re responsible about it and willing to risk the emotional consequences. When you want or need to speak up — you speak up. You write or blog or paint or dance or study or put on puppet shows or raise your kids or start up your own company or nonprofit or do some combination thereof. You stand for what you believe in. You know what you believe in – and what you don’t. You own your life. You find your tribe. You look out for yourself (ie: you are ‘selfish’). And when you offend people, as anyone with an opinion is bound to do at some point — when people step into your space just to tell you that you suck — you shrug it off and move on, because you know disapproval won’t kill you.

You nurture the fire at your core.

I’m reading the book GAME FRAME, about the rise of social gaming, and came across the idea of “the magic circle”. The circle is the arena in which the game takes place. You step over some kind of threshold and into another world. You participate in a conflict that you recognize as artificial but, for a space of time, accept as reality. You willingly suspend your disbelief.

It struck me that we move in and out of different kinds of magic circles. There are games, yes, but also movies and theater and television and books. There are relationships that become their own world of intimacy. They form a private reality between you and your partner, in which you might ignore your actual experience to buy into an entrancement (“we are soulmates”) or belief system (“he is better and always right, and I am lesser and always wrong”).

And then there’s a magic circle that has to do with language and perception, with how we create our shared reality. The good girl/bad girl labeling strikes me as one of those. Instead of recognizing a woman as a complex and multi-dimensional being, instead of allowing her the flaws, mistakes and happy accidents that come with the trial-and-error process known as the human condition, we stomp her into a cartoon. We accept an artificial conflict (good girl vs bad girl) and make it important. We place her on a pedestal or in the dirt (or on the pedestal so we can knock her off later). We accept this as real instead of a game we can choose not to play.

You could say, instead: We’re all doing the best we can. We all do stupid things from time to time. But we won’t be distracted by this game of blaming and shaming each other. We’ll look to larger forces.

I like this video by Jeffrey Wright, in which he transfers the “willing suspension of disbelief” from the theater to the developing world, from acting to entrepreneurialism and social change.

With the power of your convictions, he says, with the ability to suspend your disbelief and act in the face of uncertainty, you have the chance to reshape reality.

Like Olympia staring out at the viewer — like Manet breaking the rules to paint her — you can reject the game and make a new one.

You can invent a new truth.

Olympia has come down to us through the ages. She refuses to “hide her face”. She is shamelessly comfortable in her own skin. She exudes a badass presence.

Her critics, now, are dust.

joan didion on connecting the dots

“We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”
— Joan Didion, The White Album

girl, 5, scolds naughty hijacker

Pretoria – A 5-year-old girl who was in her mother’s car when it was hijacked by an armed man told the criminal he was being naughty and should take the car back to her mother.

Meanwhile the little girl’s mother, Wendy Lombart, 27, was mad with worry about Angie who had still been strapped into the back seat when she pulled the car out of their Silverton, Pretoria, garage and had a man with a gun tell her to back away, reported Beeld. Lombart told Beeld how she tried to open the door and yelled: “Can I please just take out my child?” but had the gun pointed at her and was told to back off.

But little Angie was far from frightened and later explained how she had told the hijacker he “was naughty” and should take the car back. She also said she kept asking the hijacker where he was going with the car and if he was going to take it back to her mother.

When he dropped her off by the side of the road only a few blocks from home, she protested and said she wanted him to take her – and the car – back to her mom. She apparently tried to open the door again to get back in, ordering him: “Take me back home!” and told him he was being naughty.

A resident called the police and Angie was returned to her mother, safe and sound. “She was very brave, she didn’t even cry,” said her relieved mother.

First published HERE.

the righteous mind by jonathan haidt

Andres Serrano´s Piss Christ is a photograph is of a small plastic crucifix submerged in what appears to be a yellow liquid. The artist has described the substance as being his own urine in a glass. The photograph was one of a series of photographs that Serrano had made that involved classical statuettes submerged in various fluids—milk, blood, and urine.The full title of the work is “Immersion (Piss Christ)”.The photograph is a 60×40 inch Cibachrome print. It is glossy and its colors are deeply saturated. The presentation is that of a golden, rosy medium including a constellation of tiny bubbles. Without Serrano specifying the substance to be urine and without the title referring to urine by another name, the viewer would not necessarily be able to differentiate between the stated medium of urine and a medium of similar appearance, such as amber or polyurethane.

Serrano has not ascribed overtly political content to Piss Christ and related artworks, on the contrary stressing their ambiguity. He has also said that while this work is not intended to denounce religion, it alludes to a perceived commercializing or cheapening of Christian icons in contemporary culture.

” Here’s a thought experiment. Are you deeply offended by works of art such as Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, which depicts Jesus as seen through a jar of urine, or Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary, which shows Mary smeared with elephant dung? So offended that you think they ought to be banned and the galleries that display them prosecuted? No? OK, then try replacing the religious figures in these pictures with the sacred icons of progressive politics, people such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. How would you feel if you walked into an art gallery and saw an image of King submerged in urine or Mandela smeared with excrement?

Many people are likely to feel torn. Liberals know the reasoned arguments for freedom of expression and the importance of being consistent on matters of principle. On the other hand, it would be surprising if they did not also feel disgusted and affronted. How dare anyone pass off such gratuitously offensive images as works of art?  Shouldn’t they be stopped? Jonathan Haidt, who gives a version of this thought experiment in his provocative new book, wants us to know that reason and instinctive outrage are always going to co-exist in cases like this. What’s more, in most instances, it’s the outrage that will be setting the agenda.

The arresting image Haidt gives for our sense of morality is that it’s like a rational rider on top of an intuitive elephant. The rider can sometimes nudge the elephant one way or the other, but no one should be in any doubt that the elephant is making the important moves. In fact, the main job of the rider is to come up with post-hoc justifications for where the elephant winds up. We rationalise what our gut tells us. This is true no matter how intelligent we are. Haidt shows that people with high IQs are no better than anyone else at understanding the other side in a moral dispute. What they are better at is coming up with what he calls “side-arguments” for their own instinctive position. Intelligent people make good lawyers. They do not make more sensitive moralists.

Where do these moral instincts come from? Haidt is an evolutionary psychologist, so the account he gives is essentially Darwinian. Morality is not something we learn from our parents or at school, and it’s certainly not something we work out for ourselves. We inherit it. It comes to us from our ancestors, ie from the people whose instinctive behaviour gave them a better chance to survive and reproduce. These were the people who belonged to groups in which individuals looked out for each other, rewarded co-operation and punished shirkers and outsiders. That’s why our moral instincts are what Haidt calls “groupish”. We approve of what is good for the group – our group.”

Read the rest of Runciman´s text here