Sunday, 26 August 2012

"Fifty Shades of Grey" has now sold 40 million copies worldwide.. We need to look at the way we seem to be saying...rough sex is sometimes OK when it's a turn on!

As a feminist woman I welcome national and international debate about subjects like rape and the exploitation and abuse of women which have appeared across the media and the internet recently. 

For too long we've been reluctant to talk about rape, unless it relates to a story involving a predatory sex attacker previously unknown to the victim.  Seldom does it get discussed in context of marriage for instance, or for that matter war, because we know male rape is being used increasingly now as an act of terror on captured soldiers and civilians - young lads are apparently particularly at risk of this form of abuse with some so injured they spend the rest of their lives wearing incontinence pads and sanitary towels as a result of horrific injuries.

Rape is a heinous crime which inflicts enormous physical and psychological trauma on victims - I don't imagine any intelligent person would say otherwise. 

Unless a man is absolutely certain a woman (or man) is a willing and consenting sexual partner of course he should never attempt to have sex with her - this protects both parties - obviously.  If he finds himself coercing her in any way he leaves himself open to the allegation of rape or sexual assault at some point after the event - we need to be emphasising this message to teenagers.  But are we?

Although rape has always existed in our society, we know sexual assaults have increased dramatically over the last couple of decades, and as it happens that seems to have coincided with a tidal wave of increasingly graphic pornography people can access very easily from their living rooms now - without the previous embarrassment of having to go to seedy looking shops to ask for girlie mags, as they would have been known in the 50s, 60s etc...

We also know that sex, including the suggestion of very rough sex, is increasingly being used as an advertising tool, such as the ad launched by PETA earlier this year which caused outrage from many women's health groups.  Please be aware before watching that this advert has an adult theme...

And then there's "Fifty Shades of Grey" - the erotic novel which is selling even faster than the UK's beloved "Harry Potter" books - over 40 million copies have been sold around the world.   The focus of the book is the sado-masochistic relationship between a wealthy business man and a college graduate, and women apparently are lapping this up... It's OK..  they say ..because the male abuser buys the women expensive presents, creams and things for her injuries, showing he does care for her, it's just that he can't stop abusing her.  A story I'm sure many women's refuges hear every night of the week "I know he loves me really...", "When he's nice he's lovely though..."

The concern for many of us is, that this type of novel is being presented as some sort of love story and the male abuser as a romantic hero.

Some have drawn similarities between scenes in "Fifty Shades of Grey" and Fred West's abuse of young girls which sickened most of us to the stomach back in 1994 - and yet 18 years on women are seeing this sort of sexual depravity as erotic.  Is that really what we've become as a gender having been dragged away from caring for babies at home from the 80s onwards and forced into fulltime work to help pay for extortionate mortgage payments if we wanted to keep a roof over our heads.  Are we losing the very qualities men still say they desire in women?

And adding into the equation also, the way in which an increasing number of young women opt for behaving like young lads, going out each weekend to get extremely drunk - staggering along drunk in the early hours, fighting with other women and throwing up in the streets - it's like a lot of women have lost all sense of self respect. 

And when you factor in as well, that both men and women have a lot more casual sex now than was once the case and one night stands are far more common, it all paints a pretty ugly picture of society where the positive values communities need to function successfully are getting more and more rare as people care less and less for their own physical safety and mental health and struggle to really respect other people either in the process.

I would suggest if we're serious about bringing the incidence of sexual assaults against women down, we need to look at this hideous mess which has evolved since the 1980s and we have to think about how we're going to encourage people to start valuing themselves again and not putting themselves in positions where they become more vulnerable to an attack.. whether that's being drunk outside in the early hours, or waking up in the bed of a stranger. 

Yes men have to take responsibility, of course they do... but so do women...  We all have to address this problem and the way we seem to be saying rough sex is sometimes OK when it's a turn on!

In the past, religion offered some sense of morality and social guidelines but I don't think that would work anymore - too many people in the church have been found to be as lacking in morals as the people they used to condemn in their Sunday sermons!

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to return to a time when women were shackled to the kitchen sink - that must have been a miserable existence for so many.  But I don't think this so-called liberation is making women happy and fulfilled either...

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Breaking Australia's silence: WikiLeaks and freedom

'Breaking Australia's silence: WikiLeaks and freedom' was a public forum held on 16 March 2011 at the Sydney Town Hall. The event was staged by the Sydney Peace Foundation, Amnesty, Stop the War Coalition, and supported by the City of Sydney.

Chaired by Mary Kostakidis, it featured speeches by John Pilger, Andrew Wilkie MP (the only serving Western intelligence officer to expose the truth about the Iraq invasion) and Julian Burnside QC, defender of universal human rights under the law.

"....Sweden has not been a neutral country for 30 years....The Swedish Prime Minister is a warmongering mate of George W Bush and has hired Bush's crony, Karl Rove to advise him on the problem of Julian Assange...."

Watch the speeches in full here

taken from
The films and journalism of John Pilger

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Debates about the alleged Assange rapes are designed to distract...

Debates about the alleged Assange rapes are designed to distract.  We don't need famous faces on the telly telling us what rape is and what rape isn't. 

Julian Assange should have been more careful about who he decided to go to bed with while visiting Sweden - that's evident enough - and the rape allegations need to be addressed and answered in a court of law at some point in time, if there is sufficient evidence for a prosecution.  I don't think any intelligent person would disagree with that.

But of course Assange is right to fear extradition to the United States if aided by Sweden.  Too many good people who have spoken out against the US government have lost their lives in the process.  There is every reason to suspect Assange's life would be in danger one way or another if he found himself there. 

On 19th August a speech from the highly respected journalist and film maker John Pilger was read out, outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London.  This is what he said...

I have known Julian since he came to London and gave the world vital information about Afghanistan and Iraq, which governments had suppressed and denied.
What is always left out of the public portrayal of Julian is the moral dimension of WikiLeaks. The very mention of morality, of principle, embarrasses those who consort with great power; but ordinary people recognise it straightaway and are not embarrassed; they're inspired.
WikiLeaks is about the public's right to know, and the right to practice the kind of real journalism that has made Julian powerful enemies — enemies he should wear as a badge of courage. Indeed, the whole point about Julian Assange is courage. That's why this is a day of triumph — triumph for human courage, for principle and for truth.
Julian has not broken free, not yet, but with the help of the admirable Rafael Correa and his comrades in this embassy, he has seized back the initiative from those who think they have a divine right to rule the world and to lie and commit war crimes in our name. We should celebrate our resistance and salute Julian.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

RSA Animate - Changing Education Paradigms

I love RSA Animate films, they're absolutely brilliant.  This one makes compelling viewing for anyone who works in the field of education and for parents and their children alike...

Saturday, 18 August 2012

At the very core of our being as humans, is the greatest drive of all - the need to belong and the need to be loved...

I wrote yesterday about bankers and politicians and how clinical research seems to conclude that they're predestined to cheat and lie, given the culture they operate in.

I've also written at length about Freudian theory and how insecurities deep within our psyche and embedded in infancy make us particularly vulnerable to advertisers and the capitalist, consumerist society.

But even deeper in the human psyche, at the very core of our being is a greater drive still - the need to belong and the need to be loved.  It was John Bowlby's famous work on attachment that revealed the value of positive emotional connections in our early life and we now know that babies brains physically grow differently if that ancient need to be loved and nurtured unconditionally is severely lacking from caregivers in early life.
Some of us were lucky enough to recieve the right kind of nurturing as babies and this enabled us grow up trusting people, and to prioritise our love of people over our craving for objects.  But an alarming number of us did not grow up with this type of parenting, because parents for generations now have been urged not to spoil their children with too much attention.  Parents have been encouraged to pursue their own interests - to leave the baby crying.. to go back to work when the child is still very young.. and to indulge the child with possessions as a replacement for time and energy parenting.

This is how the capitalist society has flourished - from childhood people have been encouraged to seek comfort from objects that can be bought, rather than human kindness and emotional intimacy...

But for most of us, that craving still exists...  That deep longing to be close physically, emotionally, is still a huge part of what makes us human.  A new iPhone or a pair of Alexander McQueen high heels can satisfy emotional cravings for a short time, but the pleasure of owning things very quickly leaves a hollow void for most of us.  You can't have a laugh with a pair of shoes.. a mobile phone can't put it's arms around you when you're sad...

There's some need deep in our heart.. our soul.. our psyche - call it what you will - Some people try to satisfy it with sex but sex by itself isn't enough, and frustration develops as we think we're getting close to fulfilling that fundamental psychological need but then sex without genuine love leaves us just as empty as the phone and shoes...

Addressing that need, acknowledging how much it's a part of us is a step towards feeling more complete, content as a human being.  Lots of people are so scared of the strength of that need, they try to deny it exists.. do their best to suppress that longing, become quite callous in the process.. but at times feelings of loneliness become overwhelming for these people because the longing is still there...

The challenge for us is in helping people find the courage to pursue an emotionally enriching life in preference to a materially indulgent one...

Friday, 17 August 2012

Psychologists reveal why politicians and bankers appear to be driven to cheat and lie... (and what we could do to make society more moral)

Psychologists carrying out recent experiments into dishonesty and cheating discovered that all around the world, in all types of culture, people cheat the same and their findings rejected the standard theory of dishonesty that people rationalise and weigh up the benefit of being dishonest against the cost.  So the potential consequence, fear of prison or even the death penalty, is not a very effective deterrent.

The crucial factors determining whether people were likely to be dishonest, were actually things like :
  • culture - if people saw their peers cheating and getting away with it, getting rewarded for their dishonesty, they were far more likely to cheat themselves
  • benefiting others - being convinced that others were going to benefit from their dishonesty - This perhaps explains why politicians might lie before an election, a belief that others would ultimately benefit - the lies become justified
  • being one stage removed - for instance from money, from actual cash.  People were more likely to cheat in the experiments where they got tokens which they could then exchange for cash, than experiments where their dishonesty rewarded them directly with dollars in their hand
All of this does seem to present some insight into why bankers and politicians (those with all the power in society) seem so driven to be dishonest. 

Psychologists were also interested in what was likely to make people cheat less, and it turns out that being reminded somehow of moral values before taking part in the experiments caused the rate of dishonesty to actually go down.  So being asked to name the 10 commandments or swearing on the bible before the cheating experiments caused participants to be less dishonest.  Even when atheists swore on the bible - they cheated less!

People also appear to respond more morally when given the opportunity to confess to previous dishonesty and start again - to open a new page.  And this was perhaps the value of catholic confession in the past; when you give people the opportunity to acknowledge they haven't been as good as they would like, they do seem, for a while at least, to enjoy that sense of being absolved. 

Most of us don't have that opportunity these days to disclose our darker, more vulnerable side in an environment where we won't be blamed, but we'll be understood - the possible exception being when we are in therapy - this can offer huge psychological release, to express feelings and thoughts and stuff we've done which the world outside the therapy room would perhaps judge and condemn.

So it's possible to identify why people are less honest now than they might have been in the past - a greater culture of dishonesty combined with much less focus now on moral values (when is the last time you watched a TV show which even hinted at the idea it's better to have good moral values!)

The psychologists concluded that there is little point in just changing the personnel at the head of banking, politics etc.  It's the whole culture that needs to be addressed, a whole new model needs to be created if we want our societies to regain some of those positive moral values previous generations grew up with and lived by.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Why the Poll Tax Riots and then Major's election success should serve as a warning for a less than vocal Labour Party...

I'm old enough, and ugly enough - as they say, to have lived through the last Tory administration.  I witnessed as Margaret Thatcher's unpopularity reached a thrilling climax in March 1990 when an estimated 250,000 people took to the streets of London in protest of her brutally unfair poll tax which had replaced the traditional rates system.

The riots are now famous of course for being instrumental in bringing about Thatcher's slow and painful political demise, she was finally booted out of Downing Street in November 1990.  John Major was her successor...

Like most Labour Party supporters, I believed the Conservatives would lose the 1992 general election.  Thatcher had been more than just upopular, she was hated and remains hated to this day despite being out of the limelight for 20 years.  Margaret Thatcher was far more despised than Cameron ever could be. 

John Major looked sure to face defeat but psychologists running his now famous focus groups had told him he could be quietly confident, and sure enough on April 9th 1992 he secured a 4th victory for the Tories against, what seemed to be, all the odds............

This Coalition's programme of harsh austerity measures, seeking mainly to punish the poor is arguably as unpopular as Margaret Thatcher's agenda.  The Conservative and Lib Dems Welfare Reform Bill is as extreme and sadistic as the Poll Tax was, and maybe a quarter of a million people could be encouraged to march on Whitehall to make their voices heard.

But Labour MPs cannot continue to sit on their hands and complacently assume David Cameron is already throwing the 2015 general election away.  We're fairly sure Cameron won't be leading the Tories then anyway, most people share the view that it'll probably be Boris Johnson.  Do Labour think Boris Johnson is less appealing than John Major was back in 1992?

Everything in politics these days is played out on Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and rolling news and that irritating Skycopter which buzzes over the London skyline like a particularly persistent  wasp.  Boris Johnson with his wacky one-liners and bizarre bedhead barnet is made for this world.. Young voters are naive enough to lap him up and you can be sure their iPhones will be bombared with vote B-J messages, in all probability paid for by Rupert Murdoch.

The Shadow Cabinet need to replay 1990 and then 1992 and have a long hard think!! But please, not too long!

Friday, 3 August 2012

Ultimately it comes down to the health of millions of ordinary people versus the wealth of a few big corporations

Like a growing number of people, I do not accept that capitalism is the only way to run a western economy.. I don't accept that some people always have to be poor in society.. I don't accept that every person who isn't wealthy has to do a paid job, for long hours and often to the detriment of their own health and the health of their families.. I don't think education should be reserved for rich kids, I don't think it's right that governments can sell off our beloved institutions like the NHS and I dont think it's civilised to wage blatant attacks on the unemployed, the sick and the elderly...

So what do I believe in...

Respect yourself.. respect your fellow humans and other creatures.. respect your planet... Adopt the philosophy that says ...I am as good as anyone else, and no better than anyone else...

Ethical economics, working together -
The obscenely rich need to be weaned off their addiction to capitalism, consumerism and the exploitation of human beings, other creatures and the planet for the sole purpose of satisfying their endless greed. If you can't produce it without inflicting misery on someone or something, somewhere, then we really don't need it, be that the latest iPhone, lipstick or drug to "cure depression"...

Leaders with integrity -
I'm never convinced by the anarchy argument (too many egomaniacs run anarchist groups for my liking...) so I can see that good leaders do benefit society as things stand at the moment. Many in positions of power do however seem to have a shocking lack of empathy and compassion and this can be seen in the way the coalition government has been so nonchalant about attacking the poor, the sick and the elderly, regardless of how brutally cruel most of us consider those attacks to be. Chronic lack of empathy tends to be indicative of severe personality disorders - these people are not well equipped mentally for governing others and need to be encouraged away from politics and other positions of power, for the good of mankind.

Health Service, Education and Ethical Care for the Elderly -
In a civilised society all of these things are provided to a high standard and completely free... paid for out of general taxation. What is taxation for if not to provide these essential elements of a compassionate society. Without access to health, education and elderly care there is no civilised society.

Low carbon housing available at genuinely affordable rents -
It is not civilised to live in a society where some people have 3 or 4 homes and some people have no home at all. Those with extra and 'holiday' homes they seldom live in should be encouraged to forgo these luxuries in life that society really can't sustain. New houses need to be built with sustainability in mind and also at the heart of planning needs to be consideration for people's mental wellbeing, concrete jungles contribute more to mental illness than anyone will admit.

The Citizens Income in place of inhumane means tested benefits -
Under this approach every person leaving school would get a basic monthly income - enough to meet basic needs but not enough for luxuries like holiday homes and 3 cars on the drive. This would be paid automatically and a person could then choose to top that up with a paid job, or work in a voluntary capacity for a cause they might be passionate about, they might choose to stay at home and look after their children or they might prefer to go into education or pursue other activities to enhance their sense of fulfilment in life such as art and culture. All four main parties are said to accept the Citizens Income will inevitably come in one day because, for one thing, it's more cost effective than the deeply flawed benefits system. Only the Green Party and Labour appear to have party members who openly embrace the idea at the moment, but the day will come and I'd have it sooner rather than later.

Commitment to society's mental health -
Mental health problems are on the increase again, with latest figures suggesting around one in three of us now will suffer a significant spell of psychological illness in our lifetime - so that's a similar rate to the figures for cancer. There is a relatively simple way to reverse this trend but politicians don't want to know about it, partly because terms of office are only 5 years long (so future governments may reap the rewards of a current administration's investment in mental health) and also mental illness as an industry is worth billions. But mental illness, including addiction, personality disorders, depression and anxiety could be solved, to a large degree, for future generations by ensuring that all pregnant mothers are psychologically well throughout pregnancy and in the months and years after birth. That includes support with any psychological problems, it also includes making sure these women have their physical needs met such as adequate housing, good nutrition, good social support and a general good quality of life. For so many pregnant women the exact opposite is the case and this is, in fact, the root of many of the mental health problems we see in society today - if you don't care for the mother, you are in fact neglecting her baby too. We know from studies that pregnant women who suffer prolonged stress will produce high levels of cortisol and norepinephrine and this is tranferred to her baby's blood supply and affects its developing brain - it changes the actual architecture of the fetal brain with the amygdala (the emotional centre of the brain) growing larger than normal. This will make emotions harder to manage - the child (and then adult) will physically feel negative emotions more intensely but will find it harder to register positive emotions. Children whose mothers were stressed in pregnancy have a much greater predisposition to addiction later in life and they will also struggle to form secure attachments, as babies to their care givers and as adults to their friends, partners and their own children too, so the cycle goes on. Therefore it really makes sense to look after pregnant mums, particularly those who are less well off and don't have a good support network or the love of a reliable committed partner. Society at the moment actually punishes such women for getting pregnant in the first place!

These are just a few of the relatively easy ways we could increase our individual and sense of collective health and wellbeing. They're ideas that could be quite easy to sell to the voting public - what's not to like for goodness sakes - all that is missing is the political will from those currently in control of the levers of power, those who are unfortunately all too often bankrolled by the huge corporations whose own continuing wealth relies on a large number of people having miserable lives.

Ultimately I guess it comes down to the health of millions of ordinary people versus the continuing wealth of those few big corporations...

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Boris Johnson is like the drunk uncle who dances to "Satisfaction" and chats up all the bridesmaids at weddings... and actually that could be a real worry for Labour...

"....In the USA in particular, the  electorate in recent years has tended to show a warmer response to candidates who seem approachable and even flawed.  George W Bush's garbled talk and alcoholic past seem to have made him more, rather than less acceptable, whilst both Al Gore and John Kerry, with their more aloof and intellectual personae, struggled to win hearts and minds..............

Until the recent election of Barack Obama, in the last thirty years the only Democrats to succeed at the Presidency were Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, who both came from less privileged family backgrounds, and whose 'smartness' was cloaked with the persona of Southern charm and their emotional ability to relate to other people - a trait shared by Obama...."

In Chapter 7 of her book "The Selfish Society - How we all forgot to love one another and made money instead" psychoanalytic psychotherapist Sue Gerhardt explains how the act of voting is not a clinical, reasoned process but for the vast majority of people the decision of who to give their vote to comes instead from the emotional centre of the brain, and is essentially an unconscious process.

This insight should alert those of us on the left who seem to be assuming that just because the coalition government is held in very low public esteem, this inevitably means Labour will romp home with a respectable majority come May 2015.

This might be true if the current Prime Minister were to lead the Conservatives into the next general election; George Osborne and David Cameron have very little credibility on the economy now and their brutal attacks on the most vulnerable have earned the Tories back the title of The Nasty Party once again...

Rumour has it that Boris Johnson is the favourite to succeed Cameron to lead his party and while he obviously comes across as a bit of a bumbling fool the Labour Party would dismiss him at their peril I think.

As Gerhardt points out, and I completely agree with her, the public like someone they can relate to, someone they feel like they sort of know, they don't mind the mistakes, there's a sense of reassurance that you won't be so ripped off by a bloke who seems down to earth and can laugh at himself even more than you laugh at him.  This perhaps sets Johnson aside from say Neil Kinnock who the media loved to portray as a bit of a loser (but who actually had a very able mind.)

I wrote recently that in my view the Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee would make an excellent leader of a left leaning party because she can hold her own against the best of them on economics.. education.. social affairs to name but a few, but she also happens to have a very likeable personality.  She can be matter of fact and tell it straight with no frills and she can also engage female communication skills too and express genuine compassion when talking about human suffering.  She's greatly respected and much loved and I think she holds the role of the nation's sort of surrogate big sister.  She'd look out for you if the bully's at school were nicking your dinner money...  Something about her feels very safe and reliable...

Ed Miliband meanwhile seems to have this geeky but genius little brother persona.  You'd never take him to a pick up joint, he'd cramp your style too much.. but if you were going to a pub quiz you'd want him on your team to secure the 200 quids worth of HMV vouchers at the end of the night - and you'd probably get them too!

Boris Johnson clearly has bucketloads of charisma, but he does come across as a bit of an amateur who's making it up as he goes along.  And the sort of amateur who tells everyone he hasn't got a f-king clue what he's supposed to be doing but he's having a great time anyhow!  Johnson is like the drunk uncle you always get at weddings, who monopolises the dance floor for the whole of "Satisfaction" and spends the rest of the evening getting tanked up at the bar and saying "My how you've grown" as he drools over all the bridesmaids!!

And that could be a problem for Ed Miliband if come polling day the electorate feel disillusioned with grown up politics but instead feel in the mood for a budget family wedding with a p!ssed up pubsinger!....

Quote taken from "The Selfish Society - How we all forgot to love one another and made money instead"  -Sue Gerhardt, 2010