Thursday, 25 June 2009

What the .....!?

I had just edited the last post and a dialogue box popped up on my edit page from somebody telling me that their god loves me and inviting me to click on a button to enter their website to say a prayer or something What arrogance impels them thus to intrude on my privacy? I write what I write in a public way for the people who choose to read it - the many millions out there mainly totally ignore it. That is ok. They have the freedom to read or not. I would not dream of invading anyone's private space - what gives these people the right to invade mine with their toxic propaganda?

If they have anything sensible to say they are free to comment underneath.

and god divided...

I was born in 1947. My early days were lived out in the memory of the war, from which my father had returned from a long period of being besieged in Malta a year or so before I was conceived. I remember having my first cigarettes - at the age of five -in an old air raid shelter and I also remember the acres of urban wasteland, courtesy of the Luftwaffe, that we would pass on the tram journey from our suburb into central Birmingham in order. I remember playing in one of the bombed out houses that were around. I do not know what had happened to the occupants - I hope they were in shelter when the bombs fell- but in those days I did not really have any concept of death. It was unreal, far from the perceived realities of my relatively comfortable - and completely mono-cultural - middle class existence.

The Second World War, however, formed a constant background against which my life developed. For my father it seemed to be where his life had most meaning. He finished the war a sergeant-major and would always awaken his children with the command, "On Parade!" and use army slang constantly in his discourse. Later, in some of the few conversations I had with him, it was clear that, apart from the hours on the Rugby pitch, his army years had been, despite the considerable danger and privation, the most meaningful of his life.

It was therefore perhaps inevitable that I should want to understand the war, its causes and effects. In School, European history stopped in 1914- with the outbreak of World War 1. From the perspective of the text books we had, focussing as they did on the networks of alliances and the emergence of nationalism in the decaying parts of the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires, there was a ghastly inevitability to it all. And there were also patent injustices in the treaties that followed the victory of the western powers.

It was with this background that I began my study of Nazism in my late teens. I immersed myself in it, for I could see no way to understand from the outside - I had to become a Nazi - insofar as that was possible. And so I was, for about a year when I was 17. I read Mein Kampf then and can still remember feelings of empathy as I read Hitler's account of his early years. I devoured every book I could find on the Reich. By this time, I was living in a deeply conservative town in the East of England, Huntingdon, steeped in the history of Oliver Cromwell, who had attended the same school as I, and the simple certainties of bible-based Protestantism. I had myself, however, recently converted from the nominal Anglicanism of my upbringing to Catholicism. (This was, I am glad to say, to last no longer than my Nazism - although its echoes rang for an agonisingly long time.)

Concurrent with my studies in Nazism, however, there was the counter narrative of Zionism which came to me largely through the works of Leon Uris. As I said above, my life had been totally mono-cultural- apart from trivial transactions such as paying my bus fare , I had never encountered a person of colour. Even more remote from my experience, being somewhat more invisible, were Jews. And yet, these people, the ancient enemies of the "Aryan race", emerged from Uris' pages as deeply heroic. Romantic as well for within the books there was always sex "behind the barricades". So I moved from Nazism to Zionism - a move that seemed seamless then and still does now. For they were and are akin.

Beneath both Nazism and Zionism is the assumption of divine mandate. Zionism, however, had the advantage that the Jews had long been the whipping boys of Europe and their fight for recognition and respect accordingly seemed more justified. The return to Eretz Israel and the subsequent fight for the survival of the new Jewish was therefore both just and heroic.

I applauded this state as it expanded its borders during the six day war in 1967. I was, by this time, quite unequivocal in my support. The Jews seemed, at last, to be secure in their ancient homeland and freed from the millennia of persecution by Christendom. As the 70s progressed, however, I became ever more perturbed by the growing closeness between Israel and apartheid South Africa. I could no longer ignore the implicit racism within the very concept of Zionism. For this has its roots in the Abrahamic convenant - the very idea that any particular people can have a divine mandate. I had also, by this time, read the biblical accounts of divinely sanctioned genocide - something that was a sharp spur that impelled my eventual parting from any adherence to christianity. Or either of the other faiths that derive their claims to legitimacy from the pernicious myth of the Abrahamic covenant.

Starhawk writes, as ever, movingly and powerfully about the myth that underlies the foundation of Israel. It is a beautiful and powerful myth and I was held captive by it - although I am not, unlike Starhawk, Jewish. This captivity was however to a romance - the heroic underdog surviving terrible adversity and surviving to create a new, redeemed, world. Despite my deeply held political convictions, I held to this myth for a long time. I justified Israeli excesses by constant reference back to the holocaust. I could not, however, forever ignore the realities that were so evident in the 80s. The close cooperation with South Africa, for one example - the realities on the ground for the descendants of the dsplaced people who had occupied the land before western guilt had chosen them for scapegoats and ceded that land to the survivors of the genocide committed by a nation that was in many ways the exemplar of advanced European civilisation. The people of Palestine were decreed, in an explicitly racist manner, to be less worthy to occupy their homeland than those upon whom whom European civilisation had unleashed the horrors of Holocaust. Their vote was cast by the colonial power, Britain. They had none of their own. They do not, in any meaningful use of the word, have a real vote today.

There are two questions here. The first is "Do Jewish people have the right to live and thrive without persecution?" The answer is a clear and unequivocal "YES!" The second, however, is less easy to answer and that is "how can this right be defended?" The post-holocaust answer to the second question was the establishment of a Jewish State built in a part of the ruins of the old, previously defeated, Ottoman Empire. Europe could then wash its collective hands clean of the stain of pogrom. Neglected in this decision were the rights of those who lived there already. Between 1933 and 1945 one "divinely mandated" nation, Germany, had striven to eradicate another "divinely mandated" people, the Jews, while the rest of the world was, by and large, unconcerned if not actively complicit. In Mein Kampf, Hitler was quite explicit about his aims. And yet, until his armies marched into Poland, he was given a free hand. Many, on both left and right, applauded the rise of the new Germany - albeit with a little hand wringing at some over-zealous excesses. None seemed to have read the book, or, if they had, not seemed to have noticed what it said. For anti-semitism was not restricted to Germany. Anyone who has read the literature of the period can see the same pathology in other countries - certainly in Britain. The pseudo-science of eugenics - the purification and perfectability of the "race" was, far from being an aberration, mainstream. In many ways it still is. See, for example, the forcible sterilisation of those considered to be less than worthy - which has persisted to this day, most recently with Roma women in Eastern Europe.

I am a radical. I believe we need to look to the roots of the problem - not its branches. And it is in the dominant myth that these roots can be seen. Here is the beginning of the first chapter of Genesis- because of personal familiarity I use the King James version:

1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3 And God said, "Let there be light:" and there was light.
4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
6 And God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters."
7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
9 And God said, "Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear:" and it was so.
10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
11 And God said, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth:" and it was so.
12 And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.
14 And God said, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
15 "And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth:" and it was so.
16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,
18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.

What is noticeable here is the word "divide". God, according to this myth, divides. Just as Marduk divided the goddess Tiamat in the Babylonian myth, of which this is an echo, and created the universe from her corpse. The god of the bible does not create ex nihilo but from a pre-existing "deep" which he divides.

Thus was the template for our patriarchal civilisation drawn. Although the goddess Tiamat is not named in the biblical story She is there - in the image of the deep - the chaotic process of life and death - growth and decay. Throughout the rest of the bible, this process of division continues -Jews and Gentiles, sheep and goats - and then continues into the present day. And at each point one pole of these binaries is privileged. Catholic, heretic, Muslim, Christian, Nazi, Zionist. An infinity of mirrors - each reflecting the other and shielding us from the true, apparently chaotic, fecund, reality of life. It can be scarey to be without these things - for then we are faced with the chaos of emotions and impulses that are a necessary component of our physical being. It is far easier to identify an other who can embody these things and thus deny them in ourselves. It is in dividing us one from another that patriarchy has maintained control over our very souls and beings. Depending on what our core assumptions might be - the frightened 18 year-old Israeli soldier exercising apparently arbitrary power at a checkpoint in the West Bank is a heroic defender or a cruel oppressor. The suicide bomber martyr or monster.

All these categories are a complete fiction. But they are fictions that have the power to eradicate all such categories apart from that of charred and rotting corpses returning to their constituent elements and merging again with the earth that gave them birth. As a species we seem determined to pursue this process of division by unleashing eventually the power gained from dividing the basic constituents of matter. This would truly fulfil the claim of the ever-divisive god of the bible that he is the alpha and the omega - the beginning and the end.

There is time to reverse this urge to collective suicide - this constant process of othering - of division. We can embrace the apparently chaotic diversity of life and of our species. We can revel in ambiguity and uncertainty and the joys and also the pains of the journey from birth to death. Or we can remain in the illusory certainty of our categories and of our judgements. And therefore die by them. Or we can return to Goddess. The choice is ours.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

More on gay, albeit penguin, marriage

One of the epithets levelled at LGBT people is that they are transgressing the laws of nature. That they are, in some way, unnatural. And yet, such variations are not unique to human beings. Some years ago it was reported in the British press that two male swans had set up home together in the swannery in Abbotsbury in Dorset and were behaving exactly in the same way as other pairs of swans.

Today, there is a report from Bremerhaven zoo in Northern Germany of two male penguins who were given an egg rejected by its natural parents and have hatched it and begun to raise it. The zoo has three male homosexual penguin couples who had been observed attempting to mate with each other and to hatch offspring from stones,

The couple who were given the egg are, according to the zoo:
"behaving just as you would expect a heterosexual couple to do. The two happy fathers spend their days attentively protecting, caring for and feeding their adopted offspring."

The report goes on to say
"Homosexuality is nothing unusual among animals," Bremerhaven zoo said on Wednesday.

"Sex and coupling up in our world do not necessarily have anything to do with reproduction."

Are penguins and other animals, then, unnatural? Or are the moralists who use such language merely wilfully, and maliciously, ignorant?

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The murder of Dr Tiller

There is a very good post about this on The Wild Hunt to which I have nothing of real value to add so recommend people to read it.

The murderer, however, is not a lone nutter but has been encouraged in his action by bigoted hate mongers in the media. Keith Olbermann, as he often does, points an accurate finger.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Unreality shows

I am not a great watcher of television - here it would be pretty pointless as I would understand very little. Even when I was living in the UK, however, I did not watch very much. One thing that I just did not get, and still do not, is the whole reality show phenomenon. I was puzzled that people whom I admired greatly would cut short what they were doing so that they could get home in time to watch the latest episode of Big Brother. I therefore decided to see what they liked so much about it and watched an episode. Well, to be more accurate, watched half an episode. After that, I turned it off. I then returned, periodically, to see whether it grew on me. Each viewing left me feeling more and more certain that there was something deeply wrong about the whole concept.

I have never liked blood sports. Boxing actively repels me but at least, in that, there is an honest encounter between two individuals who have chosen to be there and have undergone long training in order to prepare themselves for it. They know what the game is and know the risks they take. The encounter, moreover, is for a limited period in a highly controlled and formalised environment after which they can return to their homes and families.

There is no blood in Big Brother - nor in the rash of similar shows that followed in in its wake. What goes on there is potentially far more damaging to the participants than being knocked about in a ring. What I saw in my periodic dips into it were groups of people being actively encouraged to compete in a knockout competition for the votes of the viewing public. What is more, as the programme moved from series to series, the individuals involved seemed to become ever more unpleasant. From what i saw, I would have paid good money to avoid spending any time with any of them.

Once, many years ago, I lived in a house with a dozen or so others. It was, we told ourselves in our oh-so-naive way, a commune. We had got together as a result of an advertisement placed in the underground press by a psychologist from the Esalen Institute in California - who, if I remember rightly, advanced us some money to get started. Be that as it may, we were a rather ill-assorted bunch that he had got together. So we set up the houses and moved in. For a while, it was great. Fuelled by liberal amounts of hashish, acid and amphetamine, we started to party. Visitors would come - for our address had appeared in some centre of which we knew nothing as a working commune who would welcome such visitors. It was all very strange, but at times amusing. We took pleasure in winding such visitors up.

Anyway, eventually, things got difficult - the party came to an end - and heroin replaced hashish for many of us. The whole thing folded and most went their separate ways.

What none of us knew, and I cannot remember now how I found this out, was that one of us had been making regular reports back to the psychologist who had introduced us to each other. We were, it appeared, an experiment. And it is one that I find ethically dubious, to say the least.

But at least we were not televised. At least our dysfunctions and interactions did not become public property - to be debated and dissected ad nauseam in the tabloid press. We may perhaps have appeared, anonymised, in some learned journal but that is far from the mass prurience encouraged by reality TV.

For prurience is what it is. And what is more is that it is manipulated prurience. For what it is not is "reality". First of all, it is highly edited - 24 hours in several people's lives edited down to 30 minutes. No way can that be objective - the tv company is, after all, looking for "good television". This imperative for good television must also determine the behaviour of the contestants, who are all competing for public favour. Thus, in no way can it be anything other than an artefact. Its very concept is a fraud.

I know that the contestants are volunteers and that they compete for the chance to be exhibited in these latter day freak shows. They have volunteered to have their characters examined and dissected for the delight of strangers upon whose votes they depend for the opportunity to display themselves more in a perverse sort of psychological gladiatorial contest in which there will only be one left standing at the end.

One of the things that most disturbs me is that some of those whom I know watch such programmes describe themselves as being opposed to pornography - describing it as exploitative, demeaning to the humanity of those involved - reducing them to nothing more than objects to be gazed at. It also coarsens and demeans, they say, the societies that tolerate it. All these charges can be levelled, and to a far greater degree, at Reality TV.

More on the name change

The last few weeks have largely - and strangely - been devoid of the desire to post anything. It is not that I have not felt indignant, inspired, happy, angry etc at events and thoughts that have occurred during that time. My internal life has certainly been active and I have also been busy doing things. But a desire to share any of these on this blog has not been present.

I think much of this is due to the name change. I have felt strange and found this strangeness difficult to articulate. It has been a sort of limbo - suspended between identities neither of which seems completely fixed. And neither of which seems completely me.

Medusa, in a comment to an earlier post, mentions that some people reserve their new name for spiritual and creative work and retain their old one for other purposes. There is a lot of sense in this and there are many ways in which it would be a lot easier. For example, when signing a birthday present for a friend, I found myself writing Brian. Which is hardly surprising - I had, after all, been Brian for 62 years. Idris, although a given name, was hardly ever articulated. In fact, it was often almost hidden and denied - an occasion for mockery at school and outright hostility from my stepfather at home. So to hear myself addressed as Idris, as my partner does, is strange. It will take a bit of getting used to.

Perhaps, I never will get used to it. In this case, I may find myself simply using Idris as a magical name. And as such it would remain on this blog and other written works. I am not sure. I have a very real feeling that a complete change is necessary. This may be due simply to the fact that I am a quadruple Aries and have in many ways an all or nothing outlook on life. This has certain virtues but there are also associated difficulties. For one thing, it has meant that the (possibly necessary) compromises of the day-to-day are very difficult for me to make and I have often fled from the necessity to do so into a depressed and alienated state. The emptiness that this entailed then would become filled with a sterile self-reproach which would then feed into even further inaction. Not a healthy, and certainly not a happy, state of affairs but one with which I have been horribly familiar.

As I mentioned in the post referred to above, one of the first things that happened after the ceremony in which I claimed my new name was the loss of my glasses. I thought I knew where they had fallen and when I returned to that place looked all around but could not find them. A few notices were then placed around but no response. Then, last weekend, a full two weeks later, as I was coming home from the shops I glanced at a low wall and found that someone had placed my glasses there. They were undamaged and yet the place where they had been lost was a verge where many cars were parked. I could see comfortably again.

Like Medusa in her comments, I saw the initial loss as a sort of sign or commentary and certainly I slipped into a period of unseeing - in which all was fairly indistinct. And in the week since finding them I have found that many things have become clearer. Something new has entered my life. Vague and indistinct still - but definitely there.

Problems remain. My financial situation in particular is pretty dire and this causes an occasional bout of fear. And yet, the amount of money involved is very small on a global scale and even on the level in which I live. One successful workshop or a dozen or so tarot readings will sort it. That is all.

And here is where the name change is important. I know how Brian used to react to such difficulties and I do not want this to be an option any more. There is too much to do.