Category Archives: our doomedness

Men critique things of me: of Winterson and Solnit in #Manchester #activism

aka some cishet white guy’s uninvited commentary on two feminist literary icons. But it’s his website and he can say what he likes. Nobody is forcing you to read it, ‘kay?

Rebecca Solnit will be known to the casual reader as the woman who wrote the (fantastic) ‘Men Explain Things To Me’. Last night she was ‘in conversation’ with Jeanette (Oranges are not the only fruit, Sexing the Cherry, Why be happy when you can be normal) Winterson as part of the Manchester Literature Festival.  A capacity crowd (female to male ratio 3:1ish) filled the Martin Harris  auditorium at the University of Manchester.

After a brief welcome, and announcement that Manchester is now a UNESCO city of literature, it was on with the program itself.

Solnit read from the lead essay in her new book The Mother of All Questions which  contains essays about the powerlessness of silences, men in/and feminism, the perniciousness of rape culture.

As ever with Solnit, the questions are apt, the prose measured, incisive.  She pointed out that the standard importance of happiness, and the standard belief that ‘ducks in a row’ (spouse, security, possessions) doesn’t in fact guarantee this ‘happiness’, and gave the example of a successful friend who despite a seventy-year marriage and all the other accoutrements that should lead to ‘happiness’ is despondent because her compassion makes her think of t’other species, t’other generations

Winterson kicked off the discussion with a question about the longest essay, ‘A short history of silence’.

Solnit says she quoted bell hooks on patriarchy begins with men’s silencing of other men, and that growing up in San Francisco during the 70s meant she could learn from queer men parodying and undermining traditional (heterosexual) masculinity.

At this point, I forget the context, she also uttered one of her axioms – “everyone has the right to be an asshole” (regardless of race, gender, class).
Winterson pressed on – the need of  (#notall) men to control women. Solnit concurred, pointing out that Weinstein could easily have bought sex if that was what he had wanted.

She also pointed to what she called ‘annihilatory acts’ (as in, actresses having their careers destroyed by Weinstein’s behaviour).  She then riffed on a 2007 article of here in which a guy who had directed straight porn returned to the industry and started directing gay porn, realising that there were ‘no humiliation scenes’.

She made the point that there are “a tonne of leftwing men” with deeply problematic behaviour, and that this is a really interesting moment, one of those ‘seismic lurches’ in the same way that Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony about Clarence Thomas was (‘before we had hashtags, we had bumper stickers, like ‘I believe you Anita’).

She made reference to the 2014 Isla Vista killings by a young man whose sense of entitlement crashed up against, well, reality, and pointed out that the woman who created the #yesallwomen hashtag, a young Muslim woman, had been hounded off the internet for six months

Winterson then, oddly imo, asked Solnit what she thought Weinstein would do next. Solnit labelled him a serial rapist, with crimes dating back forty years, and said she thought he’d probably been lying to himself and would continue to do so, that she expected nothing of him but that we should expect of ourselves the important work of liberation.

In the context of the Bechdel Test, Winterson introduced a Star Wars statistic of Solnit’s that clearly enraptured her.  If you take the original trilogy (and let’s pretend the Phantom Menace never happened, okay?) Three hundred and eighty six minutes and if you take out Princess Leia, (who never talks to anyone who isn’t a male), then there are only 63 seconds of females talking across the three films.

Winterson noted that for ages we imbibed this stuff and thought it normal. Solnit mentioned that women have had to be hermaphroditic in their reading, in order to be Odysseus rather than Penelope, and mentioning Hong Kong action films, where women get to kick ass, as liberatory zones.

On the subject of ‘Men explain Lolita to me’ – Winterson recalled that Martin Amis had said to her that she simply “did not understand her (the character Lolita’s power”.  Solnit was scathing about male critics and their ability to not see that this is a book about a young girl trapped and serially abused, trying to get away. She invoked James Baldwin “it is innocence which constitutes the crime” and argued that what was shocking in the Weinstein revelations is that men have been shocked by the breadth of sexual harassment and abuse.

Conversation then turned to the essay “Men explain things to me”.  Solnit pointed out that women being silenced can have potentially fatal consequences (women being ignored when trying to report ‘my (ex)husband is trying to kill me’ etc) and moved on to think of Sylvia Plath being born now rather than fifty years ago being ‘free to sleep under the stars’ (i.e., as they said, Virginia Woolf’s thought experiment of Shakespeare’s Sister).

Nonetheless, things are improving for (some) women, in the West, and Solnit argues that the genie is out of the bottle and won’t be forced back in. Citing marriage equality, she cited the observations of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg that in until 1991 husbands in Louisiana could dispose of joint property as they saw fit under its ‘Head and Master’ law.

Q and A

There was only time for three questions (since we started late). Mercifully none were the sorts of chest-beaty ‘look at me’ stuff that can happen at these events and I am sure this had nothing to do at all with the fact that the questions all came from women).
First question:  Under Trump we may not be able to do just maintenance work but need to do recovery work. How can we be resilient?

The answer wasn’t so hot, imo.  Civil Rights gains rolled back by Republicans [aka the new Jim Crow]. Don’t be dismayed, activism isn’t just boredom and nastiness, can be fun/meet great people [yeah, I used to believe that].  Berlin wall, Apartheid ending.  Solnit also noted that good work is one of the best things you can have, noting that she had the privilege of getting to write for a living.

Second question: in wake of #metoo Social media – good or bad?

Solnit also in my opinion flubbed this one. Wondered if any quantitative work comparing snark/death threats and opportunities for co-ordination/mutual support. Facebook and Twitter not going answer.  Attention span is disrupted when everyone is checking phone every five minutes. What would search engines look like if designed by someone other than ruthless white male libertarians chasing advertising dollars?

Richard Flanagan article as crucial here

Also the amazing Zeynep Tufekci and her recent “Fighting Surveillance Authoritarianism, One Pull-up At a Time”

Third question: How can we shift blame to perpetrators? What can men do?

Solnit didn’t mention the French hashtag ‘name your pig’.  She expressed surprise at men pledging ‘I will no longer laugh at misogynist jokes, I will no longer stand by while…’ .  “I can’t believe your admitting that you’ve been doing that until now.”

My friend was seething, judging that Solnit had in fact not answered the first question, and that anyone who thinks feminism has made major advances is living in a (rich and white) bubble and that – in response to the second question you do not ‘give a voice’ but in fact stop silencing or colluding in the silencing of

 

So what?

Both lovely stylists, if you like that sort of thing.  But (and this is where I stick my big fat mouth and head above the parapet) it all seemed to me a little bit self-regarding and self-satisfied, with serious questions about the viability of ‘blockadia’ (to use Naomi Klien’s term) left not merely unanswered but in fact unasked.

If the radicals are so right (and I think they are) and it is shocking that men are shocked by the scale of sexual harassment (and yes it is shocking) then doesn’t that mean that social movements are doing something wrong/could be doing better?  (And a shout out to Everyday Sexism here – I think it is a great project).   Perhaps all this is answered in the book, but it wasn’t answered on the night, and my experience of a big fat long book of Solnit’s – A Paradise Built in Hell – was that there was some lovely rhetoric and powerful denunciations of patriarchy/bureaucracy etc, but not so much on how to sustain moments of passion and the liberatory moments, how to escape the sclerosis of the “system.”

Verdict –

  • Someone whose opinion on these matters I respect v. much and counts for more than mine decided to stay home under the cat.  Missed little, I think.
  • Glad I got a freebie, 8 quid seems a bit steep for an hour, tbh.  Maybe I am cheap…
  • Will defo read this collection of essays, once I can get a copy from a library or buy a year from now for £1.99 in an Oxfam in Chorlton. Will probably like various essays and even stick post-it notes in here and there, while being irritated by the wordiness and lack of concrete critiques of the good guys.
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Lobbying, lies, prostitution, disruption #climate – extraordinary truth-telling

The problem with studying the rich (well, one of many) is that access is hard.  So you end up relying on leaks and whisteblowers. Both can be deeply problematic.  But every so often the curtain DOES get pulled back.  With Australia and climate change two great examples are

a) the leaking of the minutes of the 2004 meeting where then Prime Minister begged big fossil fuel companies to help him kill off the pesky renewable energy target which was working too well

b) the PhD of Guy Pearse, who had talked to fellow lobbyists. They explained how they had captured and ‘reverse engineered’ Australian energy policy.

 

Now there is another, short and sharp example.  In an article called “Can we be honest about the damage we are all doing?” a chap called Andrew Craig-Bennett dishes it out to the shipping industry’s various trade associations, which have tried to shoot down a recent expose of their activities.

“if you are not influencing the [International Maritime Organisation] and others, there is no point in paying you,and we can all save a few bucks. What we want you to do is to influence the IMO is a less brain dead way.” 

(Later he writes “we can feel nothing but contempt and disgust at the prostitutes employed by our racket to try to put one over on the general public.”)

Craig-Bennet then says he recalls  an incident from more than three decades ago

“I saw a carefully drafted, science-based, regulation, which would have improved safety and been simple to enforce, turned into a pile of scientifically unsound but ‘commercially helpful’ garbage by, in that case, the Australian mining industry, who were pretending to be the Australian government.”

He goes on to extol the virtues of disruptive technologies (“the available means of ship propulsion without emissions are nuclear, solar and wind.”)

It is a fascinating article, that concludes (so, you know, spoiler alert, obvs)

“We all know this change is coming. We can lead it, get rich and be on the side of the angels or we can share the fate of the other rust belt industries. Simple.”

 

 

 

Open letter to Jay Weatherill on #fuckwitgate

Dear Jay,

we are both busy (you with trying to implement climate and energy policy while the Federal Government supplies only ridicule and chaos, me with finishing a thesis) so I will keep this as brief as I can.

When I read what was reported in today’s Australian (1)  ‘Jay says nay on right-wing remark‘  I was both confused and exasperated.  I do not understand why you would wait a week before claiming “I think I might have been misheard. I think I said…” 

I note there are lots of qualifiers there (and no outright denial) and it’s followed by a claim about background noise.  On that, I would point out that you don’t flag any problem with my hearing everything else you said – all those quotes which reflect (well) on your actions since the September 2016 blackout..

I wonder if you worry, that this Clayton’s denial – the denial you have when you’re not having a denial –  just feeds into the public narrative that politicians will try to wriggle out of things they said and that they later wish they hadn’t?

Clearly my prediction that this was going to be a ‘one-day wonder’  was misplaced. Oh well.  I have no interest in continuing this non-controversy, because in the absence of a sound recording, everyone can just say ‘no evidence’ and it goes all Rashomon.  The following  questions seem obvious though-

  • Why did you not claim that you had been ‘misheard’ at the time?  Why is that, as Giles Parkinson pointed out in the Australian article today,  neither you nor your office sought a retraction, correction or apology?
  • Why did you call the remarks ‘lighthearted’ if they were simply indeed ‘rightwing  sceptic’?  That’s not particularly light-hearted, simply banal.  By referring to your comments as light-hearted the day after, surely you were tacitly admitting what you had said?
  • Why did the  entire room burst into laughter and applause if all you did was describe Kenny as a right-wing sceptic?
  • Why did you offer a mock apology ‘oh sorry’ at that time?
  • Why did none of the other 100 people present at the book launch – fans of you and Mark Butler- come forward to challenge my account?  (Of course, some may now do so, now that you have signalled that this is something you want to bury)
  • Why did you call the event – and continue to call it – a private function? It was a book launch, or heaven’s sake!  If you can’t get that right, why should anyone believe what you “think” you said?

Am I surprised by your behaviour? A little. But I  am more disappointed – I thought you had more guts.  But perhaps you have to save those guts for challenging the Federal government’s egregious inaction on climate and energy, and water. If that’s the case, well, then, so be it, and good luck.
Marc Hudson

Footnotes

(1) Of course, the Australian has a very long (27 year) history of reporting climate stories badly. Examples available on request. On the book launch beat up they managed not to credit their source and then mis-identify the location of the book launch (it was at the Publishers Hotel, not the University of Adelaide.  Then, on Friday of last week its stablemate the Advertiser managed to get the day of the launch wrong.  So maybe you were ‘misquoted’ (oh the irony) or were speaking with your tongue in your cheek?

New element – Administratum – discovered

from facebook – here, originally.

“This bit of humor was written in April 1988 and appeared in the January 1989 issue of The Physics Teacher. William DeBuvitz was a physics professor at Middlesex County College in Edison, New Jersey (USA). He retired in June of 2000.”

‘The heaviest element known to science was recently discovered by chemists. The element, tentatively named Administratum, has no protons or electrons and thus has an atomic number of 0. However it does have:

1 neutron
125 assistant neutrons
75 vice-neutrons
111 assistant vice-neutrons

This gives it an atomic mass of 312. The 312 particles are held together by a force that involves the continuous exchange of meson-like particles called morons.

Since it has no electrons, Administratum is inert. However, it can be detected chemically as it impedes every action with which it comes in contact. According to the discoverers, a minute amount of Administratum causes one reaction to take four days to complete when it would have normally occured in less than one second.

Administratum has a normal half-life of approximately three years, at which time it does not actually decay but instead undergoes a reorganization in which assistant neutrons, vice neutrons, and assistant vice-neutrons exchange places. Some studies have shown that atomic mass actually increases after each reorganization.

Research at other laboratories indicates that Administratum occurs naturally in the atmosphere. It tends to concentrate at certain points such as government agencies, large corporations, and universities and can usually be found in the newest, best appointed, and best maintained buildings.

Chemists point out that Administratum is known to be toxic at any level of concentration and can easily destroy any productive reaction where it is allowed to accumulate.

Attempts are being made to determine how Administratum can be controlled to prevent irreversible damage, but results to date are not promising.’

 

While we wait, we could all learn the words to Tom Lehrer’s classic…

 

 

“That was a good meeting “– what the heck are your criteria?

So, went to an activist meeting that was dominated by a small core of people.  Afterwards they were heard agreeing that it was an excellent meeting.  And you have to wonder, what were their criteria. I think these.

  • “I got to speak a lot/display my virtue and or intelligence/be the centre of attention”
    (see also ego potlatch)
  • “Issues that were uncomfortable were not aired”
  • “There were agreed doable outcomes that the ‘group’ can do that will lead to benefits for the group and me.”

Other criteria, which would be regarded as irrelevant or hippy nonsense by those who found the meeting ‘a success’ but might actually make the whole damn thing sustainable.

  • Everyone present was given enough information and opportunities to ‘warm up’ so that they could both more easily absorb what was being said at (sorry, ‘to’ ) them and also participate in the conversation afterwards
  • The initial promises of interactivity and time-keeping were kept
  • People were not just encouraged to participate but the meeting was consciously structured in ways that lowered/eliminated the invisible barriers that are in place due to status, information differentials etc
  • The meeting was not dominated by a small core of high-status individuals who have the confidence/cultural and social capital to interact with each other over the heads of a silent observing group of people treated as ‘ego-fodder’

(e.g. in a group of 14 people, 5 people did all the speaking [bar one invited speaker and one self-serving ‘question’] for the first 105 minutes of a 120 minute meeting.  By the end of the 120 minutes, only 9 of the 14 people had said anything (and 3 of them had spoken only once).

 

The obvious retort is that by trying to abolish hierarchy you are pissing in the wind, futilely defying millions of years of evolution.

The retort to the retort is that no, we’re not trying to abolish it, just lessen its impact, and that by that argument, nobody ever managed to knock the rough edges of absolute dictatorship etc etc.   How come slavery was abolished, men can no longer ‘legally’ rape their wives etc  etc.

1973-5 warnings on #climate change #auspol

We were warned a very long time ago about climate change.  I don’t mean by the IPCC. I don’t even mean by James Hansen (bless him).  The warnings were there by the mid-1970s about what might be on the way.

In 1973, in the very first issue of Habitat carried an article by

W. Strauss (Clean Air, Options for the Future, 1, 1, pp.13-15.)

Here’s a screengrab-

1973 clean air strauss article page 15.JPG

The following year Habitat had an article devoted to the topic:

Mainwaring, S. 1974. Carbon Dioxide- Catalyst for Climate Change. Vol 2, 3, pp.20-22.

In 1974 John Coulter (later to be a Senator for the Democrats)\

1975 considerations coal coulter tcpa

Coulter, J.  1975. Considerations surrounding a decision to build another Coal Fired Power Station in Northern Spencer Gulf.  TCPA Newsletter no 45 , pp. 1-11.

And then there’s this, by  J. Bockris, J. Energy sources in a post-industrial society. again in the TCPA newsletter, from I think early 1976

1975 bockris in tcpa on coal climate

1975 bockris in tcpa on coal climate 2.JPG

We knew. Or should have.  We blew it. So it goes….