Season Three; Covid in the Antipodes.

It’s fascinating watching New Zealand’s Covid journey from New South Wales. There’s the sense of watching a TV series for the second time. Oh, here’s the initial panic episode and the strong and comforting central government. Oh, and the one with the lockdown, I loved that one, people are putting teddies in their windows! 

Then there’s the self-congratulatory faux humbleness, (surely New Zealand’s strongest suit), the confident commitment to technocratic, sensible management of crises, the endless positive affirmations of kindness and community mindedness. And then there’s the subsequent inevitable unraveling of aforementioned narrative, as pre-existing cracks in the technocracy are rendered not only visible but festering. 

New Zealand is up to the part where Covid illuminates every social faultline; The racism, the hungry kids in garages, the self-aggrandising carpet-baggers, the tragic Facebook warriors and through it all, the monolithic government like a doughty, bristle-lipped governess reminding everyone to be kind and ‘do the right thing’ while nimbly avoiding the service class downstairs. 

It turns out the Team of Five Million is actually more of a round-robin arrangement, and no-one’s washing the jerseys. 

And here’s where our Antipodean Covid TV series differs. New Zealand’s government assumes the best in people and governs in line with its expectations. New South Wales, which, you might recall, stuttered into life as a penal colony, expects the very worst of its citizens and plans accordingly.

Covid in New South Wales was a very Sydney affair. It hit the eastern suburbs and gathered pace, all lip-gloss and lattes, a beautiful, slick and sweaty shambles. Eventually, it crossed the Opal Line into the sprawling Western suburbs and got seriously on the razzle. 

There was a lockdown, for sure, but the Berejiklian government, and NSW Health both seemed to understand one thing; tipping points. That is, once a city reaches a certain size, movement around it will reach a critical mass, a tipping point, even under a lockdown.  

And this is where I think the NSW government got serious and decided to try to ‘vaccinate out’ of the outbreak. From the start, even before the rancorous anti-vaxxers really got cracking, NSW made it clear that if you were offered a vaccine you should bloody well take it, and that this was the key to ‘freedom’. 

Berejiklian’s management of the pandemic was widely supported. She was decisive and did something stunningly obvious but remarkably clever; she presented the virus as immutable. It would move from one person to another regardless of their family arrangements or how essential their work was. The virus doesn’t care about us, we are its environment.

It might seem obvious but compare this to alternatives. 

At the beginning of the first long outbreak in Victoria, workers in Melbourne’s boiler-plate suburbs were diagnosed and ordered to stay home, while other household members continued to attend school and work. This was viewed as reasonable, fair and kind. The reasoning was based on the idea that kids shouldn’t miss out on school, or employees on work. The virus, however, does not care for your feelings or ‘rights’. And so, constraining the movement of some but not others had a punitive feel about it, ‘You caught the virus, but your housemates shouldn’t be punished for it [sotto vocce: but you should]’. It served to further personalise the virus.

And the results of this approach were predictable – further spread of the virus, prolonged restrictions. 

Berejiklian knew her people. She knew that most people would get vaccinated, but worried that the final proportion would be too low to ‘end’ the outbreak in NSW. She also knew that the good burghurs (ratbags, all of us) of Sydney would be unmoved by Strawberry Shortcake moralising. And, most importantly, the Berejiklian government wanted to avoid a situation where citizens attempted to pressure one another socially over vaccination. This is an extremely poisonous situation, still evident in many places even now, where people align themselves into pre-existing ‘camps’ and politicise the shit out of vaccination. This is a very, very dangerous game to play.

The NSW government knew perfectly well that most people would get vaccinated with a bit of a push, and that this was preferable to the damage of a prolonged outbreak combined with the social disruption of pitting one ‘group’ against another. 

A consummate politician, I have no doubt that Berejiklian herself was also well aware of the Australian media’s thirst for whipping up polarising and dangerous debates.    

The government assumed, quite rightly, that people would lose interest in the pandemic once life started to resemble something close to normal. A leader who could make that happen had a lot to gain.

New South Wales had the benefit of watching the pandemic churn its way through similar jurisdictions with lower vaccination rates, and the social consequences of its inevitable politicisation. The wittering pomposity of the middle classes set against the white-hot rage of the disenfranchised, refracted through a prism of ethnic sectarianism that would make the Balkans look frankly vanilla is exactly not what a New South Wales Premier would like for Christmas.

Berejiklian knew that faced with similar circumstances to those overseas, the good people of New South Wales would likely dither over vaccination and ongoing restrictions would fan the embers of pre-exisitng discontents into an inferno. By about mid August, New South Wales had the makings of a nuclear shit-show. 

And so the NSW government went hard on its campaign; Get Vaxxed or Get Fucked. 

And it worked. 

The reason it worked is because it removed the immediate problem – Covid overwhelming the hospital system and people dying as a result. It provided ample opportunity for pissing and moaning about the ‘manufacture of consent’ but the threat was defanged. Suddenly, it seemed, most people couldn’t give much of a toss about Covid, or the vaccine. And many of the ‘social dilemmas’ that were acute at 60% vaccination rate are quite benign at 95%. You might balk at inviting the unvaccinated cousin to Christmas dinner, but no-one’s really going to take it outside. It turned a potentially devastating debate about the social contract into a parlour game for the Twitterati.

To be clear, the New South Wales government forced many people into getting vaccinated, on the basis that it was for the greater good, even if it was unlikely to benefit them personally.

Berejiklian’s Get Vaxxed or Get Fucked campaign was precisely to avoid fostering acrimonious debates about whose individual rights should prevail over the collective, a debate that always taps into the deepest, extant notions of just who has been wronged, like a tongue on an open nerve. No government ever wants to provide the conditions for these kinds of excavations. It bears repeating, there is nothing more corrosive than a deep and searching public discussion over whose individual rights should prevail over the collective. It ferments a kind of toxic grievance-based partisanship that can never, ever end well.

Berejiklian knew that the path to social harmony was not paved with goodwill and community spiritedness (are you listening, NZ?). Rather, it is a gravel road, shellacked with a quick and dirty layer of prosperity and self interest.

I can’t wait to see what Season Four, Covid in Aotearoa brings.  

*to be clear, I am not referring to Ms Ardern as a bristle-lipped governess. I use this term to refer to the government of the day, as is clear in the sentence. It infuriates me no end that Ms Ardern has personal attacks made against her, especially given that she is arguably the best Prime Minister New Zealand has had in recent times.

Calculated Risk

Those who’re anti vaccine mandate, or anti public health lockdown provide the best support for broad scale public health measures; they’re privileged enough to be alive to prosecute their case, in spite of their ability to interpret the dangers of a dead possum in the water tank.

We’re now in the second year of endless arguments about the ‘public’ in ‘public health’, defining once and again, both the ‘precise tragedy’ and the exact dimensions of ‘the commons’. Fighting, time and again, about who has the right to swing their fist and who should move their nose.

Those who’re anti lockdown, or anti vaccine are arguing that there is no such thing as the collective, no sum that is greater than its parts. Many historians have argued that the first governments emerged as a direct response to disease – the need to organise people in accordance with a rationale that was not immediately understood by those on the ground. It required a new thing called ‘trust’.

And it’s in short supply, blah blah, we’ve heard it all before.

But the real question for the ‘freedom warriors’ is what is the endgame? What if SarsCov2 was as fatal as MERS, or smallpox? What if it only killed children? How many ‘warriors’ would support vaccine mandates and lockdowns? None? All? How many would go to their righteous graves? How many would be chastened?

This is the real question. If your answer is ‘never’ then you’ve given up on the collective altogether. For you, personal sovereignty looks like those adults in those religious sects in the US who watch their children die from the most excruciating conditions, because the government, other people, can’t intervene.

And let’s be clear, the next MERS is probably within my lifetime. We will face this question again.

Where does ‘the public’ in public health kick in?

On discrimination and ableism.

As the lockdown lifted in NSW, many stores and cafes took to their social media feeds to announce their intentions. 

Many decided to only open their doors fully after December the 1st, when the state vaccination rate reaches 90% (now looking like 95%). 

The first of many such announcements was from a local cafe and health food store, on Instagram, a beige screenshot of the ocean with a beautifully composed homily about light, spirit and wellness and kindness. Love everyone, it intoned.

This is Instagram speak for, ‘We won’t be opening our doors if we can only let the vaccinated in’. 

Some are more direct; ‘We do not discriminate against anyone, regardless of their beliefs. All are welcome here. We won’t be opening until December 1st”.

Laudable sentiments. No one likes to think of themselves as discriminating against people, especially not those who wear crystals. 

My dear friend has stage 4 cancer. She is vaccinated, but it is unlikely to have had much of an impact. Her family engages with the world. Her partner works in a shop, her kids go to school. Her family members need to work and go to school, and obviously, there is still risk, but the risk of passing Covid on is much smaller if there’s a high rate of vaccination.  

To someone with cancer, or a disability that impacts their immunity, shops that say, ‘We don’t discriminate against anyone’ are actually saying, ‘….except you, weaklings. We don’t give a fuck about you at all and if we’re honest, you probably brought your conditions on yourself. Have some potentiated dried bees’ testes!’

This position, where you assume that everyone is well and that vaccination only impacts on the person who chooses to be vaccinated, is the very definition of ableism. Making self-aggrandising comments about your ‘commitment to non discrimination’ gives the middle finger to those people who have experienced the most discrimination in their lives – disabled people. 

I have and will continue to boycott local places that cheerfully announce their lack of accumulated fucks for the most vulnerable in society. Just like them, I will discriminate.

Bushfires and kids

Just before school finished for the holidays the RFS and ‘State Mitigation’ (such a great Orwellian name) undertook a controlled burn in the bush immediately to the south of our suburb. These burns are not usually advertised in any way, except on facebook which means most people don’t know about them. Obviously then, these proscribed or controlled burns usually elicit some level of panic.

We knew about the burn because we know the landholder. However, many did not. In fact, the first we knew that the burn had started was a flurry of frantic text messages from friends in the area – ‘where’s that smoke coming from? what can u see from your place?’

The kid was on the school bus. As it wound its way alongside the river, the schoolkids caught sight of the huge plume of smoke rising out of the bush behind their homes. They all began screaming and crying, and asking the teens on the bus (who had phones) to call their parents to find out if the fire was coming to burn their houses down.

Imagine sitting on a bus with 30 odd kids screaming and crying at the sight of a controlled burn.

That’s the impact of the 2019/2020 fires. I know kids who can’t sleep, still. Kids who started wetting the bed. Kids who became overly worried about every small thing. Then, when Covid came along, these particularly anxious kids were affected particularly badly. Others, often those who hadn’t experienced the fires (many families had left the area over Christmas as the air quality was so poor) mocked and teased the more anxious of their number.

We’re fortunate – our lives are relatively un-touched by the fires. We’re adults, we can monitor and mitigate risk, and had a sense of control over it. We knew, for instance, that we needed to stay awake and monitor the bush behind us for fire, as the RFS comms was not reliable. We also knew that our suburb was one of the safer areas, skirted by a large river that acts as a fire break. Finally, we were prepared to GTFO. We had several options, so if roads were closed there were other ways we could get to the river or the beach. We’d been thinking about this for literally years.

Kids don’t have this adult thinking.

 

The Noble Victim, a cartography of absolutism.

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Ah, the ABC this morning.

Click bait, aimed at provoking transphobic hatred from all corners. Whoever made the decision to choose this story has a lot to answer for.

Here’s the intro:

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That’s right, Mara was locked up for 23 hours a day because she’s transgender.

We’re told that Mara is terrified, alone and scared in prison.

One week in, another inmate calls her a ‘faggot’. She punches him and is placed in ‘unit one’ (solitary).

Now we are told something different, that Mara was placed in solitary because she punched another inmate, not “because she is trans”. This would have happened in a women’s prison too. Likewise, the fear, confusion, terror, alienation, sadness and drug withdrawal. This article is not exactly an exercise in balance.

Obviously this story violates the ABC’s editorial policies that require it to accurately report facts. ‘Mara is placed in solitary because she is trans gender’ is not true. The editorial policy makes a clear distinction between reporting or editorialising and crusading. Clearly, this is the former.

However, I am not interested in the explicit misrepresentations in this story. What I am interested in how these stories come to be made in the first place. What causes a journalist to write such tabloid crap? Year 11 creative writing at Cremorne St Patricias College for Ladies has a lot to answer for.

Mara is positioned throughout this story as a victim. Her background is described. It is harrowing (assuming it’s true). Her prison experience is detailed as something extreme, which of course makes you realise that the authors aren’t aware that being strip searched and called names is a bog standard part of the prison experience, no matter which one you go into.

Mara is described as wholly innocent, without culpability, a complete victim of her circumstances. It reminds me of the simple binary moralising of the ‘Noble Savage’ discourse that occasionally pops up – describing people whose very existence is noble and unblemished, spiritually superior, higher-than-human.

The noble savage idea is a dangerous one – it positions some groups of people as so different they’re not really human, reinforcing the idea that some people are irreconcilably different. It has extremely serious consequences for indigenous people and groups who try to forge claims for compensation or recognition, because it delineates which claims are legitimate and which are ‘outside the frame’.

Mara’s victimhood operates on a similar, simple set of binaries. Her past experiences render her unable to be responsible for any of her negative actions. Her bad behaviour isn’t her fault. Consider the language in the article:

Mara’s relationship was turbulent. She was convicted for assaulting her partner.

All in the passive voice, as if she was just standing there in the self check out at Woolies minding her own business and then got convicted for assault.

The article deviates from the details of her incarceration in ‘unit one’ at the critical moment: when we would otherwise hear why she’s actually in there. There is no discussion of Mara’s victims, simply the ‘turbulent’ relationship.

Mara’s victimhood status denotes her as having a childlike innocence. She is absolved of wrongdoing. It’s a form of holiness. The parallels with Christian puritanism are overwhelming.

An accurate representation of Mara’s situation would do her better service. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that being a trans woman in a men’s prison is not a good scenario. Australia was actually one of the first countries in the world to recognise this and make some arrangements accordingly, but of course, it’s not a perfect solution. Mara would struggle in a men’s prison, and would be considered too dangerous to be placed in a women’s prison. It’s a simple logic – the justice system has privileged the rights of female inmates (in a women’s prison) over Mara’s individual rights. Mara gets the raw end of the deal. There should be improvement in the arrangements for trans gender people in the justice system, and we should all advocate for that. This article doesn’t do that, it simply states that Mara should not be in a men’s prison.

How did we get here? How did we get to the point where the ABC will sensationally lie in the opening paragraphs of an article in order to create their blameless, Disney child-victim, to obviate and sabotage any real chance of sensibly discussing a real problem?

Social media increasingly polarises people. True story. As a consequence, there is now an entire generation of young adults who’ve grown up with the idea that culture can be neatly ascribed along very simple, binary lines. It’s the Disney-fication of morality. You see it all the time in the debates around BLM, feminism or trans politics – anything that is nominally cast as an ‘identity’ issue (when, in my view, is mostly likely a structural class issue, but that’s for another day).

Of course there are real children who actually are real victims of their circumstances (child soldiers blowing each other away with fully automatic machine guns, teenaged girls being abducted into fundamentalist military groups to produce babies).  We see these victims when they turn up in Australia, battered, emotionally ruined, unable to speak English. They are widely pilloried.

To be clear, childlike, innocent victimhood is for some and not others.

So who makes these decisions? Who trivialises stories and agendas like Mara’s, with such sycophantic, polarised, misrepresentative, sensationalist rubbish?

No doubt the authors/producers of Mara’s story felt like they were doing her a favour. They’ve been had, in the truest sense of the term.

What’s most clear of course, is that the ABC chooses to publish this ‘content’ at the zenith of funding crisis, when hundreds of staff are losing their jobs. This expensively produced feature article appeared on the main ABC news page, demonstrating to even the most left of ABC audiences that if this is the calibre of one-eyed, crusading, hysterico-drama the broadcaster is cobbling together it could probably do with a bit a trim, if we’re honest.

So who made the editorial decision to run this and why now?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melting

For me, the big, terrifying topic du jour is the Arctic melt, currently carrying on apace. When there are temps into the high 30s in the Arctic, it’s perhaps safe to say that COVID is looking pretty minor really.

That said, I’ve been prompted, via my kid, to explain why ‘everyone hates JK Rowling when she’s awesome’. The kid knows what climate change is but she’s absolutely baffled about hate-speech directed at her favourite author.

I think I did a serviceable job of explaining the issue. I rely pretty heavily on scientific explanations for more or less everything, and the kid is familiar with basic biology, so the idea that almost every human is made of cells that are sexed – that is, XY or XX, was pretty straightforward. This is quite essential. 10% of spontaneous abortions, for instance, are due to Turner’s syndrome.  It’s very important to have functioning chromosomes, in the right number and stacked up the right way. Yes, this is a reductionist view, but my kid thinks that humans start at DNA so I crack into things from there. Almost all humans that make it past 24 weeks have ‘sexed’ cells.

I was looking for intersex examples where ‘chromosomally’ males present as females, and of course, found the world of athletics useful. Caster Semenya in particular, because so much has been written about her. I explained that biologically she has male chromosomes and ambiguous genitalia. This explains why her body looks mostly but not entirely male.

Caster Semenya considers herself a woman and should be considered thus. That’s not biology, that’s just basic respect.

It’s distasteful that we have worldwide conversations about a person’s genitals but I’m old enough to remember this happening before – with East German olympic athletes. I’ll come back to that.

In the course of reading about athletics, I found this article, in The Conversation, which I read as one side of the debate – supporting Semenya’s inclusion in women’s sport. Here, the author explains how women’s sport could be changed to fairly include women like Caster Semenya.

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And this, I realise, is a perfect example of why people are getting rather upset about JK Rowling.

This article makes the statement that women should be allowed to take performance enhancing testosterone to bring them closer to their XY competitors, and make up for the other biological differences that being XY gives to an athlete (muscle development and mass, etc.,.). The article states it would not entirely level the playing field (“reduce the advantage”), as more than just testosterone dictates body development, but it would enable these women to possibly perform a little more like men, and therefore be closer to their intersex or XY competitors.

To be clear, this article says that women should ‘dope’ so that their sports category, women, can include XY women.

There is no discussion of any negative health consequences for this doping.

Sanctioning athletes taking performance enhancing, sex altering drugs that will damage their life long health has been done before, in East Germany in the 1970s and 80s.

And this is why it’s such a good teaching example.

In this case, XX women must change to accomodate XY women if they want to participate in elite sport. They may damage their bodies to do so. Is this fair?

Well, consider this; Up until this point, it’s been the case that XY women must change and potentially damage their bodies to meet the requirements of XX women. Is this fair?

Neither situation is fair. There is no situation where both groups’ needs are met. Both ‘solutions’ require one group to alter their body in potentially damaging ways. This is because in sport, unlike almost every other facet of life, one’s biology and physical capacity is the arbitrating factor.

So who will win?  she asked.

Well, that’s what the fuss is all about.

 

 

Getting real on university funding shortfalls.

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The cost of Humanities/Arts degrees is set to double at Australian universities, while halving for STEM and medical courses.

Apparently, this is due to a huge increase in enrolments following the COVID shutdowns. Dan Tehan has claimed that changes will encourage new students into more ‘work ready’ degrees, in STEM and healthcare, in particular.

The rationale is to curb spiralling enrolments, especially in courses that don’t lead directly to a job. There’s a difference however, between reality and what we might charitably deem bullshit.

Sure, sending a price signal sounds like a good way to contain costs, and price signals are baked in to government policy. It simply assumes that rising the price will curb the demand. What the government is not saying is that the demand also reflects potential students’ opportunity costs of NOT enrolling in a degree.

In the current COVID recession, if you’re a young person with a fairly average high school education, your choices are either university or casual work/dole.

Let’s be clear, despite the focus on school leavers’ choices in the media, the main increase in enrolments will come from young people who’re over 25. These are people who’ve been casually employed, often underemployed, and are now unemployed.

Over 25s are eligible for Austudy, and, compared the alternatives, this looks like a good option. The dole, on the other hand, comes with social stigma and punitive conditions. Yes, students will pay for their degrees with a HECS debt but the repayment threshold is 45k. For many young people, earning this much money, in a casualised underemployment market, is so far away it’s almost irrelevant.

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It’s worth mentioning the silliness of the debate around humanities degrees too: I giggled at Julia Baird stating that most Arts/Humanities student do in fact get a job. That’s nice, but Baird makes no comment as to whether this is related to their degree. Without that, her statement is meaningless. Most Australian adults will get a job, whether they attend university or not. Youth unemployment is high, so perhaps what we should be asking is; do Arts/Humanities students get jobs when they leave university simply because they’re three or four years older than they started? This is a classic case of post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Now, back to the COVID recession. If you’re under 35 and newly unemployed, university study looks good. Sure you could go to TAFE, if you can find one that’s open and offers something sensible, but TAFE is now non-existent for many young people – it’s so hollowed out, and many of the courses so irrelevant that only the most essential, regulated and dictatorial courses remain viable (for instance, nursing, which can also be done at university).

Many young people will, therefore, enrol at university. And without a good high school education, the humanities, nursing or social work are basically the only doors open to them.

Let’s be clear about one thing, there has been a huge increase in university enrolments but it’s not a new thing. In 1989, 7.9% of Australians held an undergraduate degree. By 2018, that proportion had increased to 27.3%.

As you can see though, most of this increase comes from medicine and nursing.

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Enrolment in the humanities has steadily declined, as a proportion of all fields, since 1989. So has everything else, at the ‘expense’ of medicine and nursing (which is in part due to nursing becoming a degree).

So, I would expect that there will, in fact, be an increase in enrolments in the humanities, as it will pick up newly unemployed students who otherwise would not have gone to university and who are not be eligible for other courses. However, the increase will be small, as the popularity of these courses is generally declining.

So, the government’s intimation that university enrolments are spiralling upwards and we’re in danger of being overrun with Gender Studies grads is, therefore, bullshit. The plan to double the cost of humanities degrees is not justified on these grounds. And, as Mr Tehan well knows, doubling the price will will not curb enrolments.

Perhaps the only real economic justification for cracking down on humanities courses is that they’re predominantly taken by women, who take longer to reach the HECS repayment threshold of 45k.

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You can see here though that the difference is not huge.

Which brings us to the real reason they’re knocking the humanities – the culture wars. Tehan and his ilk have simply been watching too much crappy television. They’re convinced we’re on the cusp of a ‘cultural Maxist’ tea party. Or something. I can never really keep up with their paranoid, garbled ramblings about this stuff.

I should say that increasing the number of humanities students is not an intrinsically good or bad thing, in my view.  After all, I’d rather live in a society with degree educated people than not. Many of the civil liberties we enjoy today are the direct result of social and political awareness and advocacy, gleaned from and through a university education. I personally think university should be free. Certainly there’s a good economic case for it, as well as a ‘Australia is a nice place to live’ case.

Obviously, though, no government wants to pay people to ably criticise it.

 

How to female.

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When I first started uni my wildcard course was Anthropology. I loved it. The lecturer was brilliant, a very terse Brit with a Gatling gun delivery style.

One sunny afternoon I was helping my Mum lift some heavy things for the church fete and saw my lecturer slope across the driveway.

“What’s he doing here?” I asked Mumsy, who told me that my lecturer was a member of the Presbyterian church.

I was stunned. Why on earth would a man who’d peered beneath the curtain of humanity’s Stupid Beliefs willingly adhere to one himself?

I still had, in my mind, a very modern approach to social sciences – that is, I thought they were actually ‘a science’. Watching Dr Gatling unloading boxes onto the church’s cold front porch was like watching an epidemiologist tipping lavender oil into a vial of polio vaccine.

Of course, Mr Gatling knew something I didn’t. As an anthropologist he knew that silly cultural artifice is the defining characteristic of our humanity. He went to church because it was a culturally relevant institution that integrated his personality, his family life and his sense of purpose. It made him knowable, accountable and relevant to himself. Being Presbyterian was part of his identity, and intersected with all the other bits of himself, like being a man, a father, a worker, a socialist and everything else.

Let me tell you another story. Recently I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with young teenagers. ‘Interacting’ might be pushing it, but imagine the kind of shepherding that one might undertake with an algal bloom in a strong tide and you’re getting close.

I like teenagers, the more difficult, the better. And it strikes me that we’ve done something peculiar to the current batch. We’ve told them, their entire lives, that the most important thing in life is to be an individual. Be yourself, screams the television into their cherubic young faces. There is nothing better than being an individual, and what’s more, if you try not to be, you’ll end up UNHAPPY.

Spoiler alert; a lot of them are pretty unhappy.

What we need to tell kids is that culture is important. In fact, there’s very little of ourselves that isn’t mediated through our culture. I’m not saying anything that millions of others haven’t, everyone from Noam Chomsky to Levi Strauss to Jordan Peterson. We, as humans, respond strongly to social roles. We are unmoored without them. It’s bad enough when the roles change because of structural reasons, (think, rust belt unemployment), but when we’re told to abandon them as inauthentic to our true selves, that’s harder still.

I’m realising too, as the gender wars kick into high gear and scores of young teenage girls decide they don’t identify as Pole-Dancing Barbie, and are therefore, obviously, not female, that gender is where much of this comes home to roost.

Gender is socially constructed, and yes, it does have a passing acquaintance with biology. Sex is binary, obviously, Otherwise we would have male/female/slime mould. It is also not a scale. When I say binary, I mean discrete categories. There are humans, of course, whose sex is ambiguous – about 0.018% of the humans. This alone is used to determine a ‘spectrum’ model of gender that we tell our children is based in biology, but isn’t.

Gender, on the other hand, is social and malleable. This is of course completely straightforward. And it stands to complete reason that in all of humanity there will be humans who do not feel that they are living ‘in the right body’. These humans must have the same human rights as everyone else. Currently, they do not, and are subjected to the kinds of violence that women have been familiar with for generations.

What we should not do is conflate biology with gender, but that’s exactly what we tell our kids.

It’s scruffy, because kids are being told that that biology is determinative and a big confusing mess that they can make sense of themselves. I think what I would like to say is that we’ve told young people that they should know how to be gendered young people on their own terms, without any cultural reference point. It’s like handing them the fabric and telling them to make a pair of pants, with no pattern, no advice, other than just, ‘Whatever YOU think they should look like, it’ll be GREAT because YOU’RE AWESOME”

Even the ebullient language is enough to bring on a crippling bout of depression.

All other social animals watch their family and community for cues about how to behave. Expecting humans to be so drastically different is both astonishingly arrogant and foolish.

I say this as a parent. I never, ever thought that I would engage in any kind of feminine silliness. I inwardly judged mothers who claimed that their girls were just girly because that’s how they came, fresh out of the box. I am not girly and have lived a very masculine life, but that’s largely because there was little time for anything else. My culture dictated that I be useful, and in the absence of any other option, that meant being able to drop a Salisbury diff out in an afternoon.

I’ve thought a lot about the type of femininity I model for my daughter. And as she gets older, I’m embracing and encouraging her in ‘things girly’. Partly, this is as a way to fit in, and partly, it’s a way to let her know that her femininity can be her own thing. But mainly, it’s because there is value in sociality, it’s what makes us human, and smart people, like my anthropology lecturer, know full well that resistance is futile.

 

Architecture; Framing the View, Richard Leplastrier Documentary

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I watched this last night; Framing the View, the documentary on Australian architect, Richard Leplasterier.

It was good, and there’s no doubt that Leplasterier designs beautiful buildings. But I think the documentary, filmed over 15 years, illustrated the tensions between romance and pragmatism.

Leplasterier’s family home, on a south facing slope in Lovett Bay, overlooking the harbour on the other side of the stratospherically ostentatious Palm beach peninsula in Sydney, is described as ‘bringing nature in’. His designs were undeniably ground breaking in Australian architecture in the 1970s. Simply, he brought an Asian inspired, nature oriented design to what was still a pretty straight-laced colonial outpost.

Years ago I had the pleasure of working with a young architecture student who’d gone to the islands to ‘learn from the locals’ about sustainable buildings, built in harmony with the environment. What he realised, after the vim of colonial obsequiousness wore off, was that the locals kept asking if he could build them a concrete bunker. It turns out that if there is a cultural universal, it’s that people around the world hate having their food stores nibbled at by animals while being eaten alive by mosquitos. The ‘noble savage’ wants a good night’s sleep like everyone else.

I reflected on this as Leplasterier held forth on the the family as the absolute pinnacle of the home – that the house should honour and be in service to the family. As I watched his wife trudging across a muddy track to a storage hut to gather food and utensils for cooking dinner in the outside kitchen, tersely instructing her children what to carry while the head-torch slipped down her forehead, I thought how honoured they all looked. In fact, nature was honouring them with its inimitable incursions into their lives on a moment by moment basis. Like many who’ve spent time in the countries that so inspired Leplasterier, I pondered the asymmetries of work involved in keeping house and home together. It is women who often carry the lion-share of this burden.

Leplasterier’s architecture is perhaps an example of groundbreaking innovation and ossified sexism. The Japanese architecture he so loved is undeniably beautiful but his account of his time in Tokyo is telling – he worked and studied with men. Architecture was designed for the lofty goals of art, show, philosophy, extension of the mind. It was not pragmatic, because the actual gris of getting husband and children fed, wiped and entertained was not men’s business. Leplasterier had the freedom to be honoured by nature because his wife honoured him with the labour for him to enjoy it.

By the 1970s when Leplastrier was really getting cracking, Australian architecture was democratising. Houses with huge entertaining spaces and tiny galley kitchens were gone in favour of open plan, kitchen-centred designs. Women still did most of the cooking, but they would no longer be hidden away while doing it. Women, as has always been the case, are at the heart of the family, but Australian architecture started to reflect that. The fact that there were architects working in the 1960s and 70 who were in fact embracing and honouring women through design is a lovely thing.

Perhaps if there is one thing about Australian architecture that really sets it apart from other, older traditions, it’s its ability to embrace pragmatic, landscape inspired design that reflects more egalitarian attitudes to men, women and children.

I love Leplastrier’s work and ethos for its beauty and reverence of nature, but I’d get him to design me a boat.

 

ABC attacks Greens

From the ABC top stories this morning;

Ms Buckland says she went to Mr Buckingham’s Newtown home with another woman after Friday night drinks in August 2011.

When they arrived at the house, she says Mr Buckingham served more drinks.

“Quite quickly I realised that something was happening between this woman and Jeremy,” Ms Buckland said.

“They were touching each other a lot, it was getting really flirtatious. I was really uncomfortable.”

Ms Buckland said she stopped drinking and became so “disgusted” by Mr Buckingham’s behaviour that she took a video.

“I wanted to gently remind him that he was a public figure and that his behaviour was not acceptable,” she said.

“I knew at the time that Jeremy was married with two children.”

What she says happened next is now the subject of an investigation by the Greens.

While there are conflicting versions of events, Ms Buckland’s complaint says she left the house and was standing in the street when Mr Buckingham came up behind her, grabbed her inappropriately and kissed her neck.

“I flung my hands up and said ‘no’, and started walking away very fast towards the main road,” she said.

“I was really shocked and I was afraid because I was on a dark street. I just wanted to get home.”

Jeremy Buckingham says the allegation is false and female witnesses would corroborate that.

I’ve highlighted the bits of this article that are about Ms Buckland’s alleged assault by Mr Buckingham. You notice it’s fuck all.

The rest of the article serves as a pretext for accusing Mr Buckingham of possibly drinking too much and consensually flirting/canoodling with a female colleague. Mr Buckingham was married at the time – a fact that is also unrelated to the complainant’s allegation of assault but mentioned in the article.

I make no judgement on whether Ms Buckland felt assaulted or not. Her claim that Mr Buckingham kissed her neck is the only relevant information in this article. The rest is mud-slinging.

I’m not having a crack at Ms Buckland, rather, the it’s the ABC at fault here. In their quest to smear a Greens figure they’ve trivialised sexual assault, and also undermined the victim’s claims by telling us that the complainant was so disgusted with Mr Buckingham’s flirty behaviour that she videoed him to, “…gently remind him that he was a public figure and that his behaviour was not acceptable,”

The ABC has presented this woman badly (who on earth videos someone behaving badly to ‘gently remind them of their status as a public figure’ instead of talking to them on the spot?). We’re also introduced to the idea that she might be motivated by political rivalry.

It’s poor form all round, but perhaps not as bad as this, from the Guardian, in which an unnamed woman accuses her partner of sexual assault, and makes a police complaint which she later retracts. The Guardian then has her saying,

“I want police to realise not all Australian men and women who have gone through sexual assault have the coping ability or resilience and suicides and loss of life do occur from the devastating impact of these crimes.

“How is it sexual assault is not considered to be a matter of police urgency. Rape victims are prone to killing themselves, why do officers have no power to intervene and arrest a known suspect on the spot?

Yes, why DO officers not have the power to intervene and arrest a known suspect on the spot? And by ‘known suspect’ we mean, someone accused of rape? Anyone? Anyone?

Because this isn’t The Philippines.

Saying that victims are prone to suicide doesn’t make an innocent person more likely to be guilty. I note the QLD police statement is heavily redacted, but imagine it includes something along these lines.

It shits me that the metoo movement has been denigrated to the point where newspapers can simply use it as a pretext to smear politicians or make up polemic that encourages us to think that men (and let’s face it, we’re talking about men) no longer have the right to even the most basic of human freedoms.