Truth, reality and baby elephants

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It’s slowly getting better now, I think, following the “distractions of a pressing nature” reported in the middle of the month. I was felled like a Christmas tree at the time, though, and for me the festive season, although joyous in its way, has also seen a great shedding of needles onto the carpet.

Needles of truth; shards of reality.

Loads of bollocks. What use has the carpet for truth and reality? Why would a Christmas tree make such an improbable gift?

What can I say? Not much, unfortunately, except that I fear for this blog’s mojo: will it be lost? And if lost, might it be found again? As you see, I am floundering in riddles. My life has been an open book and now it is closed. How can any mojo be retrieved from that? How can I share with you, with passion and vigour, all that needs to be said when there is literally that “whereof one cannot speak”?

Maybe we do not always need words. Their absence may lack the clarity we crave, yet still speak more eloquently than their presence.

Then is there anything of which I may speak? Let’s see. There is Christmas itself, of course, and New Year, with its resolutions, and all that. I could review the year past, or the year ahead. There’s a whole heap of stuff to talk about, as usual, no problem.

So let’s just pile in with something on the telly: Gogglesprogs. Did you see it? Marvellous! It can be seen for the next three weeks or so on Britain’s Channel 4 TV. If you can pick it up in your part of the world it’s an absolute must. Elizabeth Day, writing in The Observer, reckoned it was the best thing on TV over the festive break. I wouldn’t know because I didn’t see much telly, but I am happy to take her word for it.  The programme is apparently a spin-off from what she calls “the popular Gogglebox format”, as applied to kids in a number of households around the UK who were filmed while watching TV throughout the year. Day wrote:

“I know I’m being manipulated by an onslaught of cuteness. I know that kids say the funniest things. I know this isn’t revolutionary programme-making but, goodness, it was brilliant. I laughed, I cried and I marvelled at the ability of small girls to get supremely excited by Frozen while all the boys rolled their eyes and hated every single chord of Let It Go.”

As for what I liked, I’ll come to that in a minute. Like Day, though, I definitely feel under some compulsion to start by offloading a somewhat cynical response. She complains of “being manipulated by an onslaught of cuteness”. Her newspaper’s format, requiring her to review an entire week’s TV, left no space for developing this thought; but I do have that luxury, so here goes.

For starters, it is not the children who are doing the manipulating. They can’t help being cute and nor would we want them to. I don’t blame the programme makers for that either: they know what makes “good telly”, or chart-topping ratings at least. So I do not in the least mind them spending what must have been a good many hours in the editing suite, winnowing out chaff in which the kids just sit there, relatively expressionless, watching silently, or with bored inattention, or saying something racist or obscene or otherwise politically incorrect and unbroadcastable that they might have picked up from their parents, or a whole lot of stuff that is just not that clever or appealing.

No, I am perfectly happy for them to bin all that footage. But there are potentially other, less benign forms of manipulation going on too. We can see it even in that short quote from Day, in which she accurately reports a sharp gender contrast between the reactions of the boys and the girls when they were watching the “girlie” film Frozen, thereby reinforcing the view that kids will naturally and inevitably have gendered reactions. But what we cannot know, without seeing the entire uncut footage, is the extent to which selective editing played up these gender differences. We did briefly see one of the littlest boys emoting along with the girls though: unlike “proper” boys of 8 or 9 who have learned the gender rules, a 5 or 6 year old can be allowed a girlish reaction without having to feel ashamed – and for that reason, too, we viewers are allowed to see it. Even in a year when transgender identity has been to the fore, it seems gender stereotypes must, for the most part, be reasserted on behalf of the nation’s normal kids.

Also, manipulation-wise, some of the kids’ utterances were so perfectly cute one had to suspect they might have been prompted – as, for instance, when they were watching political news, which may not have been entirely their voluntary choice! They are seen watching a post-election speech by defeated Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, in which he says he tried and is sorry he did not succeed, but is sure that in the future Labour would come back strong again – to which two little girls respond with wildly unlikely applause, while a male prepubescent political sage dryly responds that prime minister David Cameron would never say he was sorry!

Manipulation or fakery of this kind is merely amusing. A more serious source of bias and reinforcement of current social values was to be seen, ironically, in an even better programme, or rather series, about children, also from Channel 4, in the run-up to Christmas. This was The Secret Life of 4, 5 and 6 Year Olds. Unlike Gogglesprogs, which had no pretentions to being anything but entertainment, Secret Life charted the progress of a scientific investigation monitored by Paul Howard-Jones, an educational neuroscientist at Bristol University, and Sam Wass, a developmental Psychologist with the Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Unit, Cambridge. The series started with ten four-year-olds in a specially equipped nursery using cameras hidden at the youngsters’ eye level, enabling producers to gain a unique insight into the children’s social interactions with each other. Later programmes followed children’s growing understanding and social skills as they reached 5 and 6.

The scientists, closeted away in a wired-up monitoring suite where they could observe and hear everything, subjected the kids to sneaky but hugely revealing experiments, such as getting an early-years teacher to leave a chocolate cake on a table and then leave the kids on their own, put on trust not to eat it – with inevitably hilarious results, starting with one little delinquent’s sly lick.

The treehouse provided a great location for intrusion on the kids’ privacy, notably Sienna and Arthur, who took to playing “mums and dads” there. She wanted him to kiss her but Arthur claimed he “had to go to work”. Meanwhile, in his own den, we see Dr Howard-Jones getting positively excited over the prospect of a bit of amorous action. Losing his academic detachment completely, he is rooting like crazy for his little man: “Come on Arthur, stop stalling. Just go for it mate!”

Even the Daily Mail was charmed by this infant romance, to the extent of running a move-by-move description that ran to nearly 900 words, would you believe, just on the one brief encounter, under the headline “Is this the cutest TV moment ever?

But despite this apparently pornographic detail, and the academics’ blatant voyeurism – which would surely be damned as “creepy” in any other context – something is missing from our screens, namely any evidence of manipulation. The major premise of the whole set up, remember, is that this is a ground-breaking way of observing and studying little kids as they really are, enabling very precise study of their psychological and social development “in the wild”, as it were, in their natural habitat, or at least behaving “naturally”, without adult interference or even (so far as the kids are aware) knowledge. But this is an illusion, at least as far as the “romantic” side is concerned. The impact of culture has already made its mark.

In the relaxed environment of Swedish pre-schools, as  encountered at Heretic TOC a couple of years ago in Mickey and Maria make out in kindergarten, kids could get naked if they wanted, and a Swedish Dr Howard-Jones would have found no reason to be overly excited over a kiss that never quite happened. That would have been very small beer compared to Maria caressing Mickey’s penis, and doubtless a whole lot of other action between other kids. In Britain, by contrast, we are presented with a sanitised, culturally pre-determined (or pre-inhibited) view of what childhood intimacy can be about. What we see, in terms of kids falling in and out with each other, learning the rudiments of diplomacy and understanding each other’s feelings, is very real and important. But we need to know also that the footage is culture-bound, and therefore limited in its scope.

But, hey, this is heavier than I intended. Let’s get back to cute, and to Gogglesprogs.

My favourites, for once, were not the prettiest kids – of whom there were plenty in Secret Life, especially – but a pair of quite plain but enormously expressive ginger-topped lads in Gogglesprogs called Jacob and Connor. Connor gave a fantastically accomplished, superfast blast of the tongue twister “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” in its full, glorious four-sentence version, finishing with an ecstatic burst of triumph, commanding Jake, “Oh, suck on that!!!”

Jake’s admiration is, shall we say, less than overwhelming.

But Connor’s limitations are laid bare as they watch a documentary about the development of a foetus in the womb.

“What’s the womb?” he asks.

“That’s where you get made, says Jake.

“Disgusting!” says Connor.

Both of them crack up when they hear the voiceover about “our ancient, fishy ancestors”.

Jake, puzzled: “But we don’t have fish as our ancestors”.

Connor, with grave, almost philosophical, deliberation: “In some distant way we’re related to everything.”

Jake, sensibly sceptical whatever the truth of the matter : “Ummm… not really.”

Connor: “Yes, really.”

Jake: “Not really. How?”

Connor: “Because we are.”

Jake’s killer question has made it game set and match – not that Connor is going to admit it!

As for the emergence of a face on the foetus, 8-year-old William finds it so shocking he censors it, covering 5-year-old little sister Molly’s eyes with his arm.

Opinions vary as to what the foetus face looks like. The presenter calls it “human”.

“That’s not human, that’s ET!” says Connor.

“I’m scared. I used to look like a deformed potato!” says another boy.

Maybe the best one-liner came in a discussion of Jurassic Park. A dinosaur, according to one girl, “is basically like a violent giraffe”.

My favourite sequence, though, is where they are all watching a wildlife film of a herd of elephants crossing a swollen river with their babies. The adults try to protect the babies, stopping them from being carried off downstream into the muddy, turbulent current. But there are too many to look after. A couple of them do indeed get swept away. Their mothers, stuck with looking after the rest of the brood, can do nothing.

The kids are appalled.

“Are they leaving them without no help?”

“They can’t just let them drown!”

Their anxiety is palpable, and so is their relief when the babies are eventually rescued: the sudden sunbeams lighting the faces of some, the suppressed – and not so suppressed – tears of others. It’s all there in these kids: the raw emotion, the humanity. Very moving too, and something to cling onto, perhaps, as we move on from a year in which drowning humans, including infants, have featured more terribly on our screens than drowning baby elephants.

 

 

 

 

Truth will not survive the survivors

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Distractions of a pressing nature unfortunately prevent me from focusing on the new blog that heretics will be expecting round about now. So forgive me if I confine myself to noting some topical items that ought not to go unmentioned, albeit without much original analysis.

Most obviously, the Goddard inquiry has stirred into some sort of life again after twice being almost strangled at birth by the very “victims” who are most insistent on the importance of its success.

It may be recalled that the so-called Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (it will be “independent” of any heretical input, we may be sure) in the UK, is now headed by Justice Lowell Goddard, a member of the judiciary of New Zealand, after false starts under other leadership deemed by the victim lobby to be too close to the British Establishment. ­­

Goddard, appointed chair of the inquiry in 2014, announced what the “first 12 investigations” of the inquiry would focus on. First 12! Each one of these tasks, taking in alleged abuse across a broad swath of institutions including churches, children’s homes, schools, hospitals, and the as yet elusive VIP “abuse linked to Westminster”, could take decades. By the time this lot has been finished and they are into the next batch (the next 12?!) many of the complainants, and perhaps all of the alleged “abusers”, will be long gone.

Also elusive is what it is meant to achieve, given that the law has become ever more restrictive, its enforcement ever more vigilant and intrusive, and the penalties for transgression ever more draconian.

Luke Gittos, writing in Spiked, where he is the law editor, wrote an excellent piece on this, “The Goddard inquiry: therapy, not justice”. Far from making children safer, he noted, the inquiry would merely stoke up paranoia and further corrode the relationship between adults and young people.

On one point I slightly disagree with his emphasis. He takes the government to task for plans to teach children “as young as 11” about sexual consent. There is of course nothing wrong with teaching children about consent, at this age and considerably younger. But as Gittos knows perfectly well, the government would be thinking only about how to deter kids from sexual encounters, by dinning into them that they cannot consent, and that sex is only for adults. In any case, the NSPCC is already running rampant in schools across the country peddling their abusive propaganda, poisoning young minds with the overwhelming message that sexual encounters are necessarily dangerous and doomed to end in tears.

Bringing his lawyerly view to bear, Gittos notes:

Where previous inquiries at least helped to establish the facts of particular cases for the purpose of making recommendations, truth has been the first casualty of the Goddard Inquiry. As part of the so-called Truth Project, complainants will give evidence in private, many avoiding the process of cross-examination altogether. What’s more, those giving evidence to the inquiry, who claim to be the victims of abuse, will not be referred to as complainants, or witnesses, but as “survivors”. The truth of their testimony, it seems, will be assumed. These individuals held enormous sway over the inquiry’s chairperson selection process, with two previous chairs rejected because of survivors’ concerns about bias. This inquiry is not about getting at the truth – it’s about lending official recognition to people’s experiences and providing them with emotional closure.

 

The panic-mongers have been busy on the survey front lately, too, with the BBC giving a new twist to the old “tip of the iceberg” cliché as a metaphor for the scale of “child sexual abuse” (CSA). A report by the BBC’s social affairs correspondent Alison Holt on research by the Children’s Commissioner for England was headed “Child sexual abuse – How big is the ‘iceberg’?”.

The big theme here was that the tip of the iceberg – cases of CSA that are visible because they have come to the attention of the authorities – amounts to only one eighth of the ice. So in the case of seven children out of eight, the CSA remains hidden below the waterline.

Bearing in mind that this “research” for the Children’s Commissioner (CC) may well have been designed to manufacture exaggerated results – like the NSPCC, the Commissioner’s office knows that hyperbole will raise its public profile  – I believe we are entitled to be sceptical. The BBC report says there were extensive interviews of “survivors”, but there is no explanation of how the scale of unreported abuse was determined.

For the moment, though, let’s take the claim at face value. The media and the lobby groups throw up their hands in horror, natch. Appalling! Scandalous!

But what we can guarantee about the CC report (as per above I haven’t had the opportunity to check it out in detail) is that it makes no distinction between real abuse (forced or coerced) and willing participants in “abuse”.  In other words, the huge underwater bulk of the iceberg may well contain a high proportion of children, and now grown-up former “victims”, who are not visible to the authorities for a very good reason: they do not want to be.

Yes, some will stay silent out of shame or fear, which is the usual mantra. But there would be a lot less of either if youngsters were encouraged to speak openly about the full range of their experiences. It is important to air real abuses, but positive stories should also be heard, without anyone having to worry about being labelled against their wishes as victims. In a truly open society, with real children’s rights, it would be so much easier to distinguish abuse from “abuse”, and to act accordingly.

 

R.I.P. MARK BEHR (1963 – 2015)

Mark Behr, who died recently at only 52 years of age, is best known to Kind readers as the author of Embrace, a novel set in a real, named, residential boys’ choir school in South Africa – no doubt much to the embarrassment of its hierarchy for its depiction of a thoroughly brutal institutional ethos, albeit one in which mutually desired and intensely passionate illicit sex found its clandestine place.­­

Appropriately enough, I was introduced to this novel by a fellow inmate while incarcerated in HMP Wandsworth, another tough place where the residents are detained regardless of  their wishes, albeit nothing like as vicious as Behr’s choir school! Embrace is beyond question a masterpiece, not just as a work of great Kind (or deeply unkind) interest but also as Literature with a capital L. Superbly written, Behr’s evocation of its remote Drakensberg setting is mesmerising.

Behr reportedly died of a heart attack. Born in Tanzania in 1963, and grew up in South Africa. His first published novel, The Smell of Apples (1995), brought him fame and literary prizes.

Embrace (2000), his second novel, was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize.  I suppose it is theoretically possible that the winner (I have no idea who won) could have been more deserving of the honour. My suspicion, though, is that the book’s extremely controversial nature was the deciding factor against it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom strangled by macabre fantasies

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Herewith the concluding part of Dissident’s two-part guest blog, which began with Apple bites man from the government.

 

Who Loves Being Afraid of the Dark?

Note the suspicious and familiar-sounding claims surrounding the authorities’ move against Eric Eoin Marques, the founder of server Freedom Hosting, who has been touted as the CP kingpin of the world.

I’m not saying “extreme” interests do not exist, or that there aren’t various sites offering means of conducting illegal activity, sometimes commercially. And I’m certainly not denying that human depravity and even pure evil exists out there. What I am saying, however, is that organized cabals of unspeakably evil people commanding vast resources and preying on children is something we have heard falsely claimed so often before that it makes no sense to embrace every new bizarre assertion as true in the absence of strong evidence.

So who are these people outside of the government who spread wild rumors and would seek to visit such places? And why? These are questions that become clearer when we look at similar trends, throughout history, including recent decades.

As suggested in Part One, it seems certain individuals with an “extreme” degree of interest in the darker side of human existence – both real and imagined – are aesthetically smitten by the cloak of mystique and exhilarating terror a demonic vision of the Dark Net provides, which adds “spice” to the mundane and often dispiriting world we have to live in. Those taken in by this phenomenon would logically include less defensible fetishists along with Kind people.

Such a tendency can be seen readily in other minority groups that have struggled for acceptance. This would include the Wiccan communities and New Agers in general, who have seen a small portion of their number embrace what they call the “Left Hand” path, which twists their cherished beliefs and practices into a gothic motif embracing a dark aesthetic, sometimes involving nightmarish images straight from the pages of a medieval grimoire.

Granted, religious/spiritual minorities are not the same as sexual minorities, but both have the parallel of being misunderstood groups in a deeply Judeo-Christian culture who have been pushed to the fringes of society, and whose members have had to struggle for acceptance against a surfeit of media-mutated imagery (note the gothic, stereotyped “witch” imagery for Wiccans). This is bound to have an effect on the psyches of some members of these disenfranchised groups. It also explains the “goth” and “emo” aesthetics favoured by so many youths who have felt marginalized: young people are also a misunderstood and persecuted minority, denied full personhood in a society every bit as gerontocentric as it is Judeo-Christian. Dark, morbid, and depressing imagery revolving around blood, torture, and death (both suicide and murder) seem to be commonly adopted by those seeking to express their disaffection with a society that has rejected them, and to resist it.

Why should heavily persecuted sexual minorities like the Kind community be an exception to this prevalent cultural tendency? My contention is that we aren’t, and the archetype of the callous, sadistic torturer of children and adolescents for erotic pleasure is the contemporary end result. The scary dark alleyways and mysterious woodlands of the past have yielded to the unlit virtual highways of cyberspace as the natural habitat of these mythical demons, perfectly adaptable to both traditional Judeo-Christian imagery and the secular attire of the modern digital age, as needed.

What aspects and aesthetics of the collective human psyche do you think Net-created bogeymen like Slenderman (with elongated arms, all the better to grab you with) come from, and why are these bizarre figures conceived as a threat to children? Add a distinctly taboo erotic element to that archetype, take him out of the old haunting grounds of the wilderness and into the new but equally mysterious digital landscape, and you have the near-perfect image of the sadistic Dark Net child torturer. And let’s note how many people claim they have actually seen Slenderman when wandering through the woods, or in their closet when they have had to get a broom out of there in the middle of the night. Two young girls even claimed the reason they repeatedly stabbed (but thankfully failed to kill) a peer was to appease this version of the archetypal fiend. Once a macabre psychic meme of this nature grasps onto the public consciousness, it takes on a pseudo-life of its own. And it morphs easily, capable of shape-shifting to any form moral crusaders and government-employed fascists need it to.

Freedom is Darkness

The onion-layered mysteriousness of the Dark Net allows governments to play on fear of the unknown; everywhere, people are rendered passively quiescent as the global surveillance state takes shape.

Take a histrionic claim made recently by James Michael Cole, Deputy Attorney General of the United States, during an October 2015 meeting with top-level Apple execs for the purpose of convincing them to betray their customer encryption program. Given an authoritative status in the august pages of The Wall Street Journal, this claim was examined more skeptically by Jason Mick for DailyTech, who wrote:

“The report states that DAG Cole, the second highest-ranking official at the U.S. Department of Justice, claimed that children would die if Apple carried out the scheme. His argument reportedly boiled down to that law enforcement might be able to find details in a missing child case on a suspect’s phone, but be stymied by encryption, leading to a delay in finding the child. Such a delay, he argued could allow a child to die. Apple executives weren’t buying into the DOJ official’s hypotheticals. The WSJ report states: The meeting last month ended in a standoff. Apple executives thought the dead-child scenario was inflammatory. They told the government officials law enforcement could obtain the same kind of information elsewhere, including from operators of telecommunications networks and from backup computers and other phones, according to the people who attended [emphasis in original].”

The “safety of the children” issue is constantly used by officials to justify just about any invasion of civilian privacy. The Kind community is most certainly concerned about the safety of children, but we take two things into consideration that the government would rather the public refuse to think about rationally: 1) child abduction by strangers is exceedingly rare; and, 2) as Apple officials noted, there are other readily available means of a technical sort to siphon pertinent information that would help lead to the rescue of an abducted child.

Clearly, these concerns are not actually about protecting children, but simply excuses for gaining access to anyone’s private communications and transactions, in order to dig for anything that could be construed as embarrassing or compromising personal “dirt”, including evidence of reading material preferences and potential signs of political dissent. The government knows how Americans decry unwarranted intrusion into their privacy by state or corporate officials. So “stranger danger” and the stereotypical pedophile are invoked to make such intrusion seem necessary and to circumvent constitutional protections.

This is not to claim that corporations like Apple or Google are inherently friends of the common person or of freedom in general, let alone our natural allies against the state. As Mick notes in his article: “Both Apple and Google have been very cooperative with detecting and reporting child abuse material detected in their messaging and cloud storage services. In fact, they’ve been so proactive that they’ve actually come under fire from some users who claim the companies shouldn’t be inspect[ing] user data for signs of child abuse.”

Yet corporations looking through private customer data on the off-chance of finding naked pics of a six-year-old in the bathtub isn’t going far enough for the state; they insist on doing the job themselves. Could it be, perhaps, because Apple and Google officials have no major interest in looking for political dissidence? As further noted by Mick, even as some users criticize the big corporations for “violating their privacy” by inspecting the data that users willingly give them, federal law enforcement agencies are attacking from the opposite direction, claiming they are not doing enough to assist law enforcement. Mick cites the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s director, James Brien Comey Jr., as the leading voice of criticism against smartphone encryption.

Could this be due to the FBI’s long and sordid history of monitoring law-abiding citizens for no better reason than a suspicion that they may be unpatriotic by jingoistic standards? As Mick noted:

“In a recent interview, [Comey] admitted that the FBI had abused the public’s trust in the past with investigations against civil rights activists and other abusive actions. And he admitted that his agency operates relatively non-transparently so the public has no real way of knowing if those kinds of abuses have stopped. But he argued that the public should take the FBI’s word that it’s since improved.”

Mm-hmm. Let’s at least be thankful that Director Comey had the character to own up to something that’s been proven numerous times over.

Let’s not join the herd under the spell of the Dark Net mythology; let’s not be too eager to embrace a sinister story for whatever macabre excitement it may bring into our lives, mistaking it for a reality. It is to the benefit of the fascist elements of governments across the world that we endorse such a vision. We do ourselves no favors by swallowing without question what they want us to believe. We need to oppose the game, not get sucked into it ourselves. We do not need to compound any real darkness in the world with variants of all the usual archetypes, which moral crusaders and their government-based allies are eager to use against us and other minority groups—or anyone fighting for progressive change.

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