Tuesday, 12 November 2019

On Cults & Contradictions

Part I.

When NZ journalist Philip Matthews weighed in last year on the reaction to a NZ Herald piece by columnist, Rachel Stewart, I was pleased because I’ve always engaged with him amicably on Twitter, I respected him as a journalist and I thought he’d bring professionalism and balance to what too often degenerates into a highly charged slanging match. I thought he’d help shed light and turn down the heat and, when he came under fire, I offered to discuss the issues with him. He never took up the offer but he did say in reply that he’d never encountered, and was baffled by, such intolerance, rigidity and hostility. 

Fast-forward a year and that’s pretty much how he now describes those who he was then defending. Such a dramatic U-turn clearly warrants a more in-depth explanation than is possible on Twitter, and he expanded on his reasons in a Q and A with the digital editor of Metro magazine, Tess Nichol. 

The resulting polemic is headlined : “TERF Wars: adopting - and then abandoning - "cult-like" movement”. The sensationalist headline doesn't disappoint and in the body of the piece, the following heavily charged words and phrases appear:
dogmatic political ideologues; consume its acolytes; cult-like; destructive and hostile; gender essentialist; visceral and emotional reactions; flimsiest cloak of feminist platitudes draped over disgust and hate; disgust is at the heart of it for a lot of people; portray themselves as marginalised, silenced minority; dogmatic parroting; hound; denounce; obsessiveness; single-mindedness; alarmist, conspiracy theories; extremely cruel TERFy ideas; down the TERF rabbit hole. 
The same polemical tone is evident in a footnote:
*Many TERFs now reject this label and prefer to use the term “gender critical feminists”. It has been alleged the term TERF is a slur, and abusive. However the acronym was used for a long time by those who agreed with the political philosophy to self-identify. Although it is often used by critics of the movement, often in highly critical or even aggressive contexts, Metro does not agree it is a slur, and is a more accurate description of the groups’ politics than Gender Critical feminism.”  
There is a degree of cant involved in, on the one hand, giving unquestioning support to the right of trans people to gender self-identification (GSI), and on the other hand, haughtily declaring groups of women do not have the right to name themselves.

What is apparent is the writer either doesn't understand or accept that gender critical feminism (GCF) sets out to challenge the very nature of gender as an oppressive ideology, but rather sees the movement as primarily, or even solely, trans exclusionary. 

In this, Metro and Matthews are singing from the same song sheet – a tune written by US YouTuber, Natalie Wynn. They don't define GCF and they echo Wynn's assertion that TERFs have decided to call themselves GCF because it has fewer negative connotations. In reality they claim, it''s just a cloak over transphobia - with the implied corollary that all those who are progressive have a moral duty to use the term TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminism) and reject GCF. (1)

For the record - the acronym TERF originated in the US in and was coined to describe one side of a split in US feminism between women who were ok with including trans women in feminist discourse, politics and women-only spaces; and women who were not. There tended to be a high proportion of radical feminists and lesbians in the latter group. The term was disinterred by transactivists to use as a label for anyone who challenges any aspect of the current trans agenda - irrespective of their political or feminist position or beliefs.

The groups and individuals labelled as TERF these days have at their core, both radical and socialist feminists, and there are also growing numbers of women who don't necessarily see themselves as feminist, let alone be prepared to specify which type.

In the crucible of social media, TERF has taken on a highly pejorative character – ie it is used to express contempt and disapproval, and to corral and to brand a group or groups of persons. It has most definitely taken on the character of a slur - in the sense of an insulting or derogatory term that is applied to individuals who are deemed to belong to a targeted group. (Contrary to Wynn's claim – a slur is not confined to race, religion, gender or sexuality.)

A slur is also an allegation or an insinuation that is intended to insult or to harm reputation - something that is definitely intended and which definitely happens. 

Clearly TERF is not simply a descriptor; it is pejorative, and it has become a slur.  More importantly, it has moved into the realms of agit prop given the frequent hyperbolic claims that TERFs are equivalent to Nazis, white supremacists, holocaust deniers, homophobes etc etc.

The inconvenient fact that many of the women who are corralled and branded as TERFs are lesbians and/or politically left-leaning is disposed of by the highly ideological mechanisms of declaring such women to be ‘biological or vagina essentialist’; or asserting that being a TERF cancels out any claim to being progressive; or by portraying them as the hapless victims of a cult, or as damaged in some way. 

I know quite a few perfectly lucid, principled and progressive people via social media who are labelled as TERFs.  I have a lot of progressive, highly intelligent and principled friends who would be so labelled if they felt able to comment on the subject publicly. I've been labelled a TERF and blocked, muted and unfollowed on Twitter by a number of people (most of whom I suspect have overly reactive knees and a tendency to fling themselves heedlessly onto passing bandwagons) but I'm neither TE nor RF. I own to being a socialist  feminist and to be sceptical of aspects of the current trans orthodoxy - so turn that into a snappy acronym if you can. 

Part II. 

Philip Matthews knows how it feels to be on the receiving end of a social media backlash - including implied and actual threats to livelihood. I remember the tone and scale of the reaction to his very mild questioning of the hostile response to Rachel Stewart’s column, and how that ratcheted up to manic level when he tweeted the content of a direct message he’d received. As I recall, a member of NZ Twitter’s self-mandated moral majority threatened to complain to his employer and – perhaps wisely - he backed off. 

Latterly however he has publicly and fulsomely confessed his wrongdoing and he blames his briefly aberrant behaviour on the mind-altering influence of the cult of the TERF. In seeking absolution he’s performed the required public acts of self-flagellation, recited his mea culpas and has been rewarded by being welcomed back into the fold of the congregation of the righteous.  (Apologies for the religious overtones but it seems strangely fitting.)

People who attacked him at the time – some of them unreasonably and disproportionately so - are saying ‘sorry mate’ and giving him cyber hugs, but on the other side of the fence, the women he's dumped on are angry and not just because of the poacher turned gamekeeper schtick.

On the basis of his very brief foray into public support for GCF, Matthews claims special insight into the dynamics of the whole global movement - including the psycho-social motivation of “a lot of people” in it. He not only declares ‘TERFs’ to be “cult-like” but says lots of the people drawn to it are motivated by “disgust and hate” towards trans women. (2) He hastens to add that of course he was not so motivated. 

Whilst it is possible that some of those he and Metro would call TERFs do feel “disgust” towards trans people, most feel no such thing and the numbers of ordinary, decent, intelligent and principled people who are questioning aspects of the current transgender orthodoxy ought to give journalists reason to engage the frontal cortex - not indulge in their own amygdala-driven, aversive responses. 

Anyone who thinks that the liberal feminists who are in opposition to GCF are representative of most women’s views on this, really needs to think again and wake up to the fact that a wide range of women are being drawn to GCF arguments and many of them are angry. It’s stating the obvious that anger is never conducive to calm, rational and productive debate, which is why the Metro article and others like it are irresponsible.

People who are reflexively anti-TERF probably don't care but some of these women are also bewildered or frightened by the vitriol they encounter or which they know they would encounter if they ever went public with their concerns. Those feelings are intensified when they're accused of being both the initiators of, and the worst culprits in, the all too common hurling of vitriolic threats and abuse. 

Consider what’s actually being said here by a magazine editor who writes under the still powerful banner of professional journalism:
“One bugbear of mine is the way anyone who disagrees with the (TERF) ideology, especially if they do so in a way that is rude or uses swear wordsis incorrectly labelled as engaging in “abuse”.  My emphasis. 
The logic behind this is, it’s not abuse because the people saying it were provoked. Seriously, with "sisters" like this, who needs misogynists?

Is saying to a young woman “choke on my girl dick" incorrectly labelled as abuse? How about offering to shit in the urn containing the ashes of the stillbirth you wished on a woman who questioned you?  Or a man calling a woman and fellow party member, “a deplorable TERF cunt”?  Or a group of male proto-anarchists singing that TERFs “deserve to be kerb-stomped”? Or a high profile academic saying “TERFs should die in a grease fire.”

I wish I could say those sort of comments are rare or unusually extreme but if they were I wouldn’t bother highlighting them. 

I’ve been reading and thinking about this issue for a long time and with renewed interest over the past five years or so (3) and it wasn’t GCFs who ratcheted up the inflammatory rhetoric on social media, but, having absorbed the punches for a long time, some women are now openly expressing anger, possibly feeling emboldened, in part by their steadily growing numbers and – dangerously, in my opinion – by apparent support from the political Right which is being typically cynical and opportunistic. (4)

In the ramping up of the on-line rhetoric on both sides, it is true that some people are unkind and even cruel towards, and about trans women. Although a lot of that may be in reaction, I won't employ the Metro argument and try to claim it's justified because people have been provoked. There’s no excuse for unkindness or cruelty and it’s a fact that social media encourages and enables that to flourish. It's also a fact that there are people who cynically whip up the polarising rhetoric for dodgy political or personal motives.

Another reason that social media acts as a bellows and intensifies the heat of debate is that it is a global platform on which people can lose sight of the specific nature of the situation in their own country. Social media allows fears to be both magnified and globalised and pretty soon people look at each other and see only threats.

The situation in the US (which informs Wynn's analysis) is very different from the UK and  NZ, which have more in common with each other in terms of how the law works generally and the role of central government in establishing equality law. Both are also more trans-friendly countries than the US where trans people have very good reason to be fearful. 

The highly charged and increasingly polarised debates in the UK and here in NZ were provoked by demands for gender self-identification by statutory declaration (GSI/SD).  (5) The questioning of this has led to threats towards, attacks on, and denial of platforms to, dissenting women. People who support these attacks need to ask themselves - when relatively powerful women are subjected to waves of abuse, have their livelihoods threatened and are denied platforms to speak - whether that be on social media, in mainstream media or in a university - what message does that send to women who are relatively powerless?

Part III.

A sentence in the Metro piece, in reference to TERFs, took my breath away :
“It took me a while to learn that just because someone is a minority, they are not necessarily the underdog.”
Aside from the fact that this may equally apply to some trans people, how could a white, middle class, professional, heterosexual man not know that being in a minority doesn’t necessarily make someone the underdog?

Matthews tweeted recently about the “strange bedfellows” In the GC movement - referring to Sean Plunket’s support for Speak Up For Women.  He's right, there are indeed some “strange bedfellows” but these are strange times and a right-leaning radio host providing a platform for SUFW is surely no more strange than a neo-liberal Conservative government in the UK deciding to lead on GSI/SD for transgender people. 

And, for every right wing misogynist who is pretending to support GCF – there are self-styled progressive men who are using it as an excuse to take their misogyny out of the closet to give it an airing.

Metro and Matthews aren't alone in sidestepping the fact that, in  most of the Anglophone world  (5) - and running counter to the claims of the most extreme personal and collective vulnerability and marginalization - the trans community actually enjoys a considerable breadth of governmental, institutional, professional, NGO, corporate, voluntary sector, academic and media support.

That breadth of support exists despite the fact that, as an ideology, transgenderism challenges one of humanity's most deeply rooted sets of beliefs, which flow from the biological reality of sexual dimorphism and which cut across the divides of sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, class, political allegiances, religion etc.

The rightwing press in the UK (Matthews cites The Spectator and the Daily Mail) do indeed publish some articles that are critical of transgenderism, but it's nothing remotely like it’s capable of doing when it really wants to demonise a movement, or a person. Ask Jeremy Corbyn.

And then ask, why would a neo-liberal Conservative government - committed to outrageously harsh policies that have destroyed working class collectives and communities – have been fully supportive of GSI/SD, even though that risked alienating at least some of its traditional ultra-conservative support base?  

Take off the ideological blinkers and the answer's obvious  - it was a classic 'dead cat'. The UK Labour Party’s response (driven by its internal divisions and by a large influx of people who are politically ultra-left and/or socially transgressive) was to pick it up and run with it in advance of the promised legislative change and diverting precious time and energy and expending political capital - only to have the Tories subsequently back off from delivering. 

But, while there's no denying either the breadth of the support that transgenderism currently enjoys, or the speed with which it has progressed, both as an ideology and in terms of positive responses to lobbyists - the important question is how deep and stable that support is. 

That question becomes very important when we pose it in the context of a world at risk of fracturing along an ancient fault line that is a far more powerful driver of behaviour than this one small facet of modern Western identity politics. 

That ancient fault-line is the divide between the socially cautious and conservative, and the socially radical and transgressive. The former will tend to cleave to the known and be more comfortable submitting to authority; the latter will tend to challenge established norms and authority. 

A healthy society acts as a fulcrum that keeps tendencies to the extremes of each in balance. If the seesaw of public opinion were to tip all the way in one direction in the current era (either because the fulcrum point shifts or because of a sheer weight of opinion) it's most likely to tip towards the ultra conservative because of the existence of far more powerful drivers of extreme social anxiety and unease than how members of a numerically tiny minority are able to legally define and socially describe themselves.

In what remains a powerfully phallocratic world (for all the formal equality gained by some women) the ever-widening bandwidth of what it means to be transgender and a rise in heedless assertions about, and questioning of, what it means to be female and a woman, could prove to be a tipping point that causes the social and political balance to shift heavily and/or rapidly towards the ultra-conservative and authoritarian.  

If there is such a shift, the outcome for swathes of people could be truly awful. That is why this debate is so important and why anyone who acts in ways that cut out light and turn up the heat deserves to be given a metaphorical clip round the ear.

Metro and Matthews -  consider yourselves clipped.


(1) If GCFs are expected to use preferred pronouns as a gesture of good faith, why can’t transactivists and allies use the term GCF instead of insisting on using TERF?  After all it might help smooth the pathway to a more productive exchange of views instead of endlessly chasing each other in a circle shouting slogans.

(2) Matthews draws heavily on You Tuber Natalie Wynn's video on GCF. In this video Wynn is far more trenchant in her rhetoric and specific about it being her own views than usual, ie she does not hide behind one of her many personae as she often does on other subjects,  ie. present herself as "an abstract figure" thus "easing the burden of being directly held accountable for every opinion (she) express(es)". Her ‘alter-ego’ in this video is a black clad, Medusa-like/witch hybrid character who presents a number of the easily critiqued GCF talking points that litter Reddit - where Wynn seems to harvest her TERFisms.  This specificity is possibly because she'd been the subject of her own woke-Twitter auto da fé when she agreed to be interviewed by Jesse Singal and do an interview with rightwing trans woman vlogger, Blaire White, and attacking TERFs is an easy way to regain woke brownie points. Or maybe she just really hates TERFs. In any event, if she wants us all to unite to fight for women’s rights, maybe she should stop using the term ‘fish’ – it’s extremely offensive. 

(3) This is not something that has happened since a small number of feminist academics in the UK became active on Twitter, although they and a few brave celebrities have given it a big boost

(4) Some of the broad Left are busy playing at being revolutionaries and lobbing Molotov cock-tales at the regiment of monstrous women, but a lot of left wingers are staying schtum and hoping it will all blow over and not impact too heavily at the polls.  Neither is a very sensible or politically mature strategy.

(5) In NZ, GSI/ SD was included in draft legislation at select committee stage in response to a petition – a move that precluded proper public debate over the implications for wider equality legislation and especially sex based exceptions.

(6) In Trumpist USA the far right media is far more overt about using transgender issues as a rallying call for the right and as a stick to beat liberals with.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

A woman by any other name ...

There has to be a common sense and widely agreed definition of ‘woman’ and ‘man’ or we’ll all disappear up our own fundaments - which very likely is the point of all this, i.e. keep us fiddling while the world burns. 

I don't see trans people per se as a threat to women or to women's rights - it is what is behind the rampant growth of self declared gender identity as an ideology and a political movement, that worries me. It's a localised battle in a far bigger and potentially more destructive war - and the latter is why I've written more about it recently than any other topic. 

The underlying, material reality is that, in nature - and we are natural beings however much some of us try to pretend otherwise and however hard others work to maintain that pretence - sex exists for reproduction. It does not exist purely for pleasure or fun, or as commodity, a marketing tool, a weapon or a competition. 

Peel off all the social layers and the core of reproductive sex is unambiguously dimorphic -   
ie the creation of new life needs the coming together of functionally distinct female and male elements - of which the female is the far more important because of a long gestation of a, mainly, single foetus and the birth of utterly dependent and slow maturing offspring, the care of which has always fallen mostly to females. 

This arrangement was and is not just because that suits males, but because in the subsistence societies that make up the vast bulk of our evolutionary and social history,  human infants were utterly dependent for a long time on a lactating female - most commonly the biological mother. 

Every human life that has ever existed came out of the body of a human who was functionally female. Despite the best efforts of trans humanists who would argue it is in women's interests to use technology to transcend that fact - to  'free' women from their reproductive 'burden' - it will always be that way given the same sort of people who want to create artificial wombs, clone humans from skin cells etc, are likely to destroy the world as we know it before such technologies can come to pass. That's aside from the host of ethical questions posed by such research.

Those who see trans humanism as the new frontier of human evolution also need to be aware that these super technologies only ever benefit the elite - the mass, as always, will be of no consequence.

We form ideas about sex and the roles we occupy in relation to it, the behaviours and characteristics that flow from, and are linked to the dimorphic elements of reproductive sex - because: 
our reproductive behaviour is not strongly instinctively or hormonally driven; 
we have big, active, energy demanding brains; and, 
we are profoundly, ineluctably social i.e. we have to cooperate with, and learn from other humans in order both to become fully human, and to survive, and the key element of group and species survival is efficient reproduction. 

The importance of reproduction may seem to have receded in a world populated by 7+ billion of us but, should reproductive fitness change, for example as a result of the saturation of the world with endocrine disrupting and DNA damaging chemicals, it may re-emerge as a powerful social driver - as it almost certainly did in the aftermath of the last great genetic bottleneck. 

Gender sits on the bedrock of, and draws its power from, the material realities of dimorphic reproductive sex, with its millennia of biologically determined and conditioned layers of functions and roles. 

You can’t just turn all that off by an act of individual will or even by a collective making the declaration that the follow on act from the ‘end of history’ is the ‘end of sex’. Nor can you force a change in reality for all those who live outside the bubbles of relative privilege in which the gender performance artists mostly live.

Gender is best understood as a set of norms about what it means to be socially and reproductively female or male. It is enshrined in common sense notions, and encoded in religious lore and secular law and has served, and still serves, an ideological function.  

The aspects of gender which enshrine relations of male dominance and female subordination, were created by, and wielded in the service of the dominant sex class, which - for the past 10k years or so, and across much of the globe – has been male. The dominant social orders across the globe for pretty much all of recorded history, have been, and remain, phallocratic. 

Gender in this sense, is not fixed; it shape shifts to reflect societal needs (usually defined by the dominant social class) and it adversely affects women in varying ways and degrees, according to such factors as class, race and age – but the averaged effect on women is negative. 

However, the ideology of gender also benefits men differentially; it cements averaged male power over females but, being part of the dominant sex is an illusory compensation handed down to otherwise absolutely or relatively powerless men. 

To me, the common sense definition of female is the human being who is presumed at birth to have the potential to bear children, and who is presumed will go through the menarche, and the menopause.

Whether she is in fact able to, or chooses to have children, or if she no longer has the ability to have children, is beside the point. She will still carry her share of the weight of thousands of years and current forms and degrees of oppression and exploitation within various sorts of phallocracies.

The current trans orthodoxy (which does NOT reflect the views of all trans people) with its dogma, its catechism, and its tactic of branding, demonising and ritually insulting anyone who dissents from it, is actually phallocentric.

It is why over the past five years or so, male bodied people claiming to be trans women have popped up all over the internet abusing and threatening dissenters – especially lesbians – with phallocentric insults like, ‘suck my lady dick’.

If you think saying this makes me a TERF, transphobe, transmisogynist, bigot, literal killer of trans people - then I respectfully suggest that YOU have a problem, because I am none of those things and frankly, I will match my socialism and feminism against all comers. 

I have followed this debate for years - not just dipped my toes into it recently and I smell the presence of all sorts of political rats and spin-doctored dead cats - as do a lot of other rational, reasonable and progressive people. 

The amount of time and energy being expended on this is not proportionate to its importance in light of global warming, mass pollution, species extinction and the growing threat of right wing authoritarianism. 

In other words, gender is still being used ideologically and the best part of the joke for those driving it lies in making those who are being the most ideological think they're actually being liberationist - that by self declaration of a gender identity which runs counter to social norms, the entire edifice of global corporate capitalism and its servant states will crumble and reform into something positive and sustainable.

All those involved – on both sides - need to calm the amygdala, allow the frontal cortex to regain control, take a deep nose breath and see if they too can detect the stench of a classic divide, divert and rule tactic. 

On Fools and Fumaroles

This post was inspired by a Facebook thread shared by someone I know. I haven't used full names because I wasn't involved in the discussion. 

First up is Alex who approvingly posted this meme on his facebook page but made little further contribution to the ensuing discussion apart from bemoaning how sad it is that posts about Syria do not attract the same attention.  

 This meme is one of the host of calls for acts of literal and symbolic violence against women that now litter most of the social media wrangles around this issue. It’s driven by the same sorts of attitude that fuelled the recent actions of trans rights protesters in the UK - squirting water in women's faces at a time when acid attacks are becoming increasingly common. 

It's a call for harm to be done to women and those who make these calls hide behind the claim that so-called ‘TERFs’ are causing a far greater harm to trans people, and are literally all equivalent to ‘Nazis’. 

It is shameful and unworthy of anyone who calls himself a socialist.

And then there is the more outspoken, Shayne, whose attempt to forensically dissect gender critical feminism foundered in the swamp of his own overblown rhetoric and whose hyperbolic views were informed more by misogyny than political analysis, viz: 

"Fucked up bigotry", "Disgusting bigotry," "Hate activists", “Hate preachers”, and - even that favourite rejoinder of anal-obsessed boys - "Eat farts."

In Shayne’s world ‘Terfism’ " ... is about creating an exclusive club for which only those defined by an archaic essentialist conception of sex is allowed into the magic circle of "woman"… "

Woman - that'd be the half of all human beings who have ever lived, within whose archaic and essentialist bodies all humans have been gestated - hard though that might be for pomoblokes to accept.  

Females are the sex that is so often subjected to selective abortion and infanticide because male lives are so much more valued in cultures steeped in millennia of misogyny – a misogyny whose tentacles seem to have wrapped tightly around parts of Shayne’s political and critical anatomy.

TERFism, he claims, is an "arcane system of essentialism that defines a persons worth by the physical attributes they where born with...betrays the whole project of feminisms and winds back the progress of women by decades.”

 Ah, don't you just love a self-proclaimed progressive who sees the four decades of neo-liberalism as having been good for all women. Perhaps Shayne should step outside his bubble of western male privilege and look at the lives of women globally and at the poor within his own, very wealthy country – and consider how many women have been shut out of neoliberal capitalism’s ‘menu of choices’ and how very easily all those things by which the progress of women in the west are often measured, could be lost. 

Doing so might stop him from saying things like, TERFism -  “… actually becomes dangerous to a group of women who are grossly over-represented in statistics on sexual assault victimhood, suicide, and all the assorted cultural and institutional repercussions of being an othered minority.”

Shayne's not referring here to poor women, in case you're wondering. Logic says he shouldn't be referring to all those trans women who, by virtue of being white, educated, affluent and having lived and prospered as men (all of which equates to a considerable level of privilege that's not all lost when they transition to living as a woman) are unlikely candidates for the title of most vulnerable and marginalised people on the planet. But of course he is because Shayne is locked into a rigidly binary paradigm of Trans vs TERF, one of which is as idealised as the other is demonised.

Plunging onwards in his dogged pursuit of reasons to shut the mouths of these troublesome women, he made the obligatory link to racists: “As a society we recognize white supremacists as being harmful people who should be isolated and removed from the body politic”

So Shayne would define those who are white supremacists and along with 'TERFs', isolate them and remove them from the body politic. By what means? Denying them a vote? Refusing them access to public services?  Sending them to a gulag? Guillotining them?  

I think perhaps he needs to slough off some of that adolescent certitude and stop saying things like “....we recognize that misogynists are harmful people and deserve deplatforming.”

This - from a man who says calling for women’s mouths to be glued shut is justifiable.  I think Shayne's a rank misogynist yet I‘m not calling for him to be deplatformed. However,  I would love to see him spend a week or two on a factory floor with a bunch of angry women who’ve just been told that a whole raft of treatments for their archaic and essentialist gynaeocological conditions will no longer be funded by the state.

Ah yes, the state, whose coercive mechanisms Shayne - in the true spirit of pietistic twerpism- would like to see directed at the dreaded 'TERFs - "it''s high time the law got involved,"  he huffed.

“… we've created a situation where hate activists get to call themselves "feminist" and actively infiltrate left wing and progressive movements while prosecuting a campaign of harrasment (sic) and hate against one of the most vunerable (sic) minorities in society. I have seen the damage these people are causing, its an absolute travesty that its allowed to get as far as it is.” 

Some of the women Shayne is referring to here were feminists and leftwing activists when he was probably still pooing in his pants; some helped set up those sort of organisations he refers to so proprietorially; some have devoted a lifetime to fighting for progressive change, and some have suffered actual, real harm in so doing but Shayne is so blinded by self-righteousness, the humbuggery of his pronouncements completely escapes him.

“So do I have a problem with silencing TERFs? Fuck No, for the very same reason I have no problem with silencing Neo Nazis, Women beaters and anti Gay and Lesbian hate preachers.”

Like many others, in 'TERFs' he's found a political fumarole that allows him to vent his resentment of women. These days, blokes like him have to keep their resentment under wraps but in 'TERFs' they've found a group of women- many of whom are leftists and a lot of whom are lesbians - and, by performing a truly astonishing contortion of political logic by aligning them with Nazis, abusers and homophobes, he's able to disgorge his misogynistic bile and get to feel noble and righteous while doing so.

It's quite a party trick.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

The Pig in the Middle

I'm struggling to remain calm and rational in the face of on-going provocation from and about the so-called, self-proclaimed 'centre'.  

The world is firmly in the grip of gargantuan global corporations with no moral compass but somehow the answer still lies in trying to keep your political legs either side of the rapidly widening and deepening gap between rich and poor, powerful and powerless, and the protected and the expendable.

I read the following somewhere in the lead up to the election before last here in NZ and copied them but forgot to note the sources. No matter - they sum up a common viewpoint here in Godzone.

"To become attractive to middle NZ, Labour will need to cut its links with the unions. Unions have had their place in history, but are now just far left wing political organisations that have more in common with Mana or the Greens. Cunliffe is beholden to the Unions, so will have to go before this can happen." 
And - 
"The labour movement is dead. Labour needs more than another leader selling old policies. Its (sic) needs a completely new brand and a completely new focus. There's more the world and our lives than the now redundant struggle between workers and employers."

The sheer vacuity and narrow political focus of those assertions about the struggle between capital and labour aside, I get seriously irritated with all this blether about 'middle NZ'. What the hell is it?  Where does it start and stop?  Is it as much a state of mind as a state of pocket? Is one's location in it ascribed or chosen?  

How do we establish the boundaries of this influential construct?  Income level, paid weekly or monthly, educational achievement, shared ideology, square meterage of dwelling/s, number of bathrooms or cars, owning a holiday home, weekly shopping bill, amount of high fructose corn syrup in the diet, the sort of school the kids go to, owning a ride-on lawnmower, level of debt, job security, belief in a deity?

The truth is that middle NZ is a PR concept and pretty meaningless but it's considered to be very important because it's where the floating voters hang out.  To get into government we are told, the main parties have to pitch their policies to appeal to these swinging voters, i.e. to be attractive to 'middle New Zealand' politicians have to be seen to be of, and for the centre - i.e. eschew the politics of the extremes of both left and right. 

There might be a huge swathe of the electorate who do not vote, or who cannot vote for various reasons, but parties must still focus on that flip flopping section of society which does not have a fixed loyalty to a particular party and can be bought with appeals to celebrity and tax cuts or other lifestyle enhancing bribes.

The problem is that - logically - a political centre only exists when there are two opposing sides. When the main parties are actually just the same thing wearing a different coloured tie and waving a different flag -  where's the political centre? 

The right has become very adept at disguising itself as moderate even though its core economic and social policies are overtly rightwing. The appearance of moderation overlays the essence of adherence to monetarist economics.  The left has shifted to the right to counter the right's apparent centrism which effectively shifts anything that might be called a middle, rightwards and it all becomes a bit of a muddle. 

Social democratic politics are labelled hard left by commentators who either wouldn't know hard left from a hole in the ground, or do know and are lying.  

A case in point is the fact that Bernie Sanders is labelled a socialist - but only in the grimly right-wing mess that is US politics could the good senator be seen as being in any way radical. 

The same applies to Jeremy Corbyn who is a socialist and a democrat who is, and always has been committed to the parliamentary route to socialism. He can only be labelled as a hard left radical in the right-wing mess that is British politics.

So - here's to middle New Zealand and all who set their political course to keep it safely ensconsed inside its various little bubbles - may you all soon founder.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Selfie Schtick

Warning: this is another long read – all of 8 minutes of your life.

I’ve been seeing a lot of tweets in which people describe the body as a shell - inhabited by a gender identity that may be different from the sex of the shell the person is born in. 

Some people even refer to their body as a meat sack or a flesh suitwhich is driven or piloted by this disembodied identity - the gender element of which is deemed to be as, if not more, legally and socially important than the sexed body. 

To me, this is a form of extreme alienation and essentially no different from the belief in an eternal (superior) soul that will survive the death of the (inferior) body - the harming of which may be seen or even required as proof of belief in, and submission to, an ideology.

Phallocratic, and especially monotheist religion privileges some humans above other humans, and all humans above all other animals to justify exploiting them and, by so doing, it gets in the way of understanding ourselves as animals.  

In zoological terms we are bi-pedal, big brained, omnivorous hominids that create complex (and often highly destructive to other species) living arrangements. We are sexually dimorphic but moderately so. We have relatively weak instinctual drives. We learn most of what it means to be human, including much of what it means to be a female or a male human.

In subsistence conditions - ie for the overwhelming bulk of our existence as a discrete species - female reproductive capacity has been critically important to group and species survival. (1)  We produce mainly single offspring that are born helpless and are slow to mature, a biological fact that was a critically important foundation of our ineluctably social nature. High sociability combined with high adaptability was our best survival strategy. 

In societies that atomise us and alienate us from our essentially animal and highly social natures, the sense of an inner, eternal spirit or soul, always was an illusion - created initially by, and as a salve to powerful egos that could not countenance the finality of death. But it was, and still is, also a compensatory promise to the oppressed and exploited of something better after a lifetime of misery – a promise always accompanied by the threat of something far worse if they don't behave as required in the here and now.

The notion that this sense of self or identity is separate from, and superior to the body has been called into question by the very science that some people use to try to prove that the metaphor - a woman born in a man’s body (or vice versa) - is literally true. 

The fact is we are our body. The human mind is an extraordinary phenomenon but, unless you believe in some sort of supernatural force that infuses each new human with a disembodied essence at conception or some point in the development into a discrete person, the human mind has to be seen as a product of the interaction between the wonderfully complex and, as yet not fully understood, bio-chemical processes of the body and the wider cultural and natural worlds it inhabits. 
We learn what it means to be human and what it means to be female and male humans - and we do not learn this in either a biological or a social vacuum. 

The distinction between biological sex and social gender emerged with Simone De Beauvoir in the 1940s, was elaborated in the hugely influential work of psychologist and sexologist John Money that began in the 50s, and was picked up by other sex theorists like Alex Comfort in the “swinging 60s”. The idea of socially constructed, imposed and internalised gender roles as key elements in the oppression of women, formed a central strand of feminist theory and praxis in the 1960s-80s. 

Trans theorists and activists have built on bits and pieces from all of this and from queer theory to construct the argument that persons are born with either a fully developed sense of gender identity that is partially or fully congruent or incongruent with their biological sex, or with an innate predisposition to develop a partially or fully congruent or incongruent identity at some point in their life; and that this is a naturally occurring phenomenon of human existence. 

In support of the claim for the universality of this phenomenon, all manner of existing and reconstructed cultural traditions are harnessed to the identity plough that will turn over the soil of patriarchy and allow new forms of individual expression to flourish and shade out capitalism and by so doing, rid the world of all that is oppressive. A Tui 'yeah right' moment if there ever was one.

Money based his original ideas on the existence of an irreducible, binary sex difference and a range of sex-derivative differences- gender – largely from observations of what are now called Intersex conditions or disorders of sex differentiation (DSD).

Some people build on this with the assertions that: 
there is a spectrum of biological sex (intersex conditions); 
gender identity is innate and fluid, to the point of being completely individualised; and, 
when someone has a sense of gender identity that is incongruent with their sexed body, it is the body that should change, or society should accept the unchanged body as being of the sex that matches the person's stated gender identity.

This separation of body and mind is also at the root of trans-humanism in which the body is seen as almost infinitely modifiable - even disposable - such that science could: 
enable the mind to be uploaded to the cloud (immortality)
allow the body to be enhanced by robotic parts (super powers); 
design perfect humans at conception (playing god)
relieve women of their 'reproductive burden' (perpetuating misogyny by obscuring the millennia of oppressive and exploitative ways in which men have turned a foundational human reality into a burden).

I don’t see how it’s possible to look at the intricate thing that is a person’s sense of self and tease out the strands that make up a discrete, coherent gender identityFor me, identity is a complex weave of multiple strands in which the sense of oneself as a sexed being is central but is so intertwined with a multitude of other major elements, it’s almost impossible to separate it out.

Think about all the myriad complex, interacting, changing processes that go into creating and maintaining a sense of self: our genetic blueprint -a critically important element of which, in terms of species survival, is dimorphic sex differentiation; hormonal, nutritional influences in utero; the era, the society and the family into which we’re born; who (or indeed what) we come to be sexually attracted to; our social class, ethnicity, age, physical characteristics, physical and mental state of health, particular talents and how socially valued these are, etc.

All of these things are genetically and socially conditioned and combine to create a sense of self or identity that grows and changes. Some things are more important at some points - even of the day - than others. Consider how easy it is for such a complex sense of self to become fractured, dislocated, harmed - for the fabric of the sense of self to start to unravel. 

Some people's identity fabric is tightly woven, forms coherent patterns and all the strands remain tightly bound together; others may always be, or become, looser, more haphazard and more easily unravelled.  

All humans - psychopaths aside - are driven to congregate; even a virtual congregation is better than no congregation at all. It may be that the stronger the wider social bonds are, the more tightly woven and stable the sense of self is.  

There may always be tensions between the person and the social setting in which that person comes into biological-social-psychological being. In some cultures, some eras or some sets of circumstances, the individual is subordinated to the collective.  In our modern capitalist society, the individual appears to be elevated to poll position. 

But, like many things in the capitalist order, appearances can be deceptive and the rights of the individual for many people are an illusion - a clever trompe l’oeil of choices and possibilities painted on the wall that’s been erected around the sites of real power and privilege.

The idea of self, of a discrete, individual and individualising identity, is amplified in the modern world. Capitalist, and specifically neo-liberal individualist doctrine, is summed up in the famous Thatcher quote - there is no such thing as society, there is only the individual and the family. (2)

Within capitalism - the creation of the individual was key - at the base this was because the sale of one’s labour in an ostensibly free market required the person to own that labour, ie to be free of older feudal ties of place, and of duties and obligations to social superiors, and to religion. 

Initially those new freedoms were at worst, an illusion, at best, heavily conditional but that need for the free movement and sale of labour also created the conditions in which, those whose only means of making a living was to sell their labour, were able to combine to demand greater social and economic freedoms.

The processes involved in creating and promulgating the idea of the absolute primacy of the individual have many benefits for those who rule, not the least of which is breaking down combinations that might threaten the economic and social status quo.

What became known as interest group and latterly identity politics was a response to the oppressive and exploitative processes of capitalism as they specifically or especially  affect women, people of colour and lesbians and gay men, and which were seen as not being addressed by traditional working class collectives.

But, by becoming divorced from those working class collectives - which were under attack by emerging global corporate capitalism, with its drive to commodify literally everything - and, by continuing the focus on essentially accommodative demands within an increasingly inequitable and unstable socio-economic system, identity politics became a player in the destruction of those bigger collectives, and of class based theories of history and political economy.

The promoters of identity politics divorced from class have helped lay the track to the latest station on the line to post-modern individualisation -  gender identity - which, in essence, is just part of the same old ideological drive to divide and divert in order to retain or tighten control. 


(1) If the incidence of DNA damage and endocrine disruption increases, as it very likely will given the scale of chemical pollution, that may become the case again.
(2)  Family was tacked on as a sop to the socially conservative and religious but for corporate capitalism there is only the individual – a tiny minority of whom see themselves as being chosen to rule over all others.