Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Sex and the porn industry –  a time bomb

The feminist movement has achieved considerable progress over recent decades, but what it still has not been able to successfully counter is sexual objectification. This issue affects both men and women, but for women it is arguably more insidious because it invariably involves characterising them as passive and (sexually) submissive.

With the internet everyone now has access not only to useful information but also to numerous pornographic sites. With virtually no controls or regulation, these are increasingly being accessed by children and providing their sexual initiation.

Since the advent of mass advertising, young people, particularly girls have been under extreme pressure to conform to its fashion standards of beauty, from body shape to facial expression. Now, on top of those pressures, comes the impact of pornography. Even very young girls are increasingly facing demands made on them by boys whose only sexual experience has been gained through watching pornography.

Online pornography has become the number one source of sexual ‘education’ for many boys. From such sites they learn to view women as sexual objects for their sole gratification, to be used, abused and demeaned. The examples they see, encourage them to make demands on girlfriends to perform and behave in ways they see women doing in porn films. Many girls not only find such demands and pressure difficult to reject, but find themselves bullied and ridiculed if they try to.  We have reached  a new crisis in adolescent rites of passage, not only in the UK.  The ubiquity of pornography is perhaps even more insidious in those countries with little structured education and certainly no sex education and often discriminatory attitudes towards women, but widespread access to the internet.

One recent survey on the effects of pornography and the internet is Don’t send me that pic published in October last year by Plan International Australia and Our Watch.
The survey gathered responses from girls and young women aged 15-19 in all states and territories of Australia. In the report participants said that online sexual abuse and harassment were becoming a normal part of their everyday interactions.

If there are still any questions about whether porn has an impact on young people’s sexual attitudes and behaviours, perhaps it’s time to listen to young people themselves, the reports argues. Girls and young women describe boys pressuring them to provide acts inspired by the porn they consume routinely.

It found that girls are tired of being pressured for images they don’t want to send, but they seem resigned to send them anyways because of how normal the practice has become. Boys then use the images as a form of currency, to swap and share with their friends.

Girls describe being ranked at school on their bodies, and are sometimes compared to those of porn stars. They know they can’t compete, but that doesn’t stop them from thinking that they have to. Girls who don’t undergo porn-inspired waxing are often considered ugly, dirty, or gross by boys, as well as by other girls. Some girls suffer physical injury from porn-inspired sexual acts, including anal sex and even torture.
Requests for genital surgery among young women aged 15-24 has increased starkly, the report says.

Sexual bullying and harassment are part of daily life for many girls growing up as a part of a digital generation. However, more girls are now speaking out about how these practices have links with pornography – because it’s directly affecting them.
Pornography is moulding and conditioning the sexual behaviours and attitudes of boys, and girls are being left without the resources to deal with such porn-saturated boys.

The Australian Psychological Society estimates that adolescent boys are responsible for around 20 per cent of rapes of adult women and between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of all reported sexual assaults of children. Emeritus Professor Freda argues that online pornography is turning children into copycat sexual predators, acting out on other children what they are seeing in porn.

Another, earlier report found that adolescent consumption of internet porn was linked to attitudinal changes, including acceptance of male dominance and female submission as the primary sexual paradigm, with women viewed as sexual playthings eager to fulfil male sexual desires. The authors found that adolescents who are intentionally exposed to violent sexually explicit material were six times more likely to be sexually aggressive than those who were not exposed’.

According to some experts the new pressures are causing widespread depression, even suicidal tendencies and a deep crises of self esteem among girls. Enormous pressure, not only from boys but also from the girls to fit certain roles or conform to bodily perfection demands, like the shaving of body hair. There is great pressure to be ‘attractive’ and if you aren’t considered to belong to that group, then you are ostracised.

The Guardian (6 October) reported that the incidence of mental health issues among all school students is at an all time high. In the UK, more than 50,000 young people called Childline last year seeking help with serious mental health issues. The helpline has seen a 36% rise over four years in young people needing help. In the 12-15 age group girls were seven times more likely to seek help than boys.

Although, in the UK, we are supposed to have sex education in schools, the subject is still treated as an ‘add-on’ if dealt with at all. Teachers themselves often find sexual issues embarrassing or difficult to talk about, and pornography is rarely mentioned. It does little to counteract the pressures young people are facing. 

So what can be done about this disturbing trend, which is common to many countries?

It is certainly criminal negligence to leave sexual formation in the hands of the global sex industry. We need to do more to help young people stand up against warped notions of sexuality as conveyed in pornography.

The proliferation and globalisation of hypersexualised imagery and pornographic themes makes healthy sexual exploration almost impossible. Sexual conquest and domination take precedence over respect, intimacy and authentic inter-human relationships Young people are not learning about intimacy, friendship and love, but about cruelty and humiliation, the Australian report says.

We have to establish counter-culture which can provide the basis for educating boys and girls on these issues.  We need to enlighten not only schools students, but parents and teachers as well about healthy, respectful relationships, and to challenge everyday sexism. Boys need to be taught not to become offenders rather than telling girls not to go out at night or not to wear certain clothing. Women and girls should not have to modify their behaviour to avoid being targets of harassment and abuse. Perpetrators must learn that aggressive and disrespectful behaviour and harassment against women is unacceptable. It is intimacy and tenderness that so many girls and young women say they are looking for, but how will young women find such experiences in men indoctrinated by pornography

The over-sexualised imagery and behaviour we are confronted with daily through the media and internet are also abetted by some publicity-hungry celebrities. Those women who choose to promote their careers through the misuse of their bodies are also complicit in the creation of stereotypical gender attitudes which are so influential on young people. When those in the public spotlight willingly allow themselves to be used as sex symbols and ostentatiously flout their sexuality, they are reinforcing that male view of women as sexual objects for their own gratification.

Each of us is clearly also faced with a mental dichotomy: the internal battle between our rational and ethical selves and our atavistic, visceral animal instincts. While many heterosexual women crave sensitivity and empathy from men, they are invariably attracted by imagery of the savage he-man, the warrior, the muscle-bound hero. Hollywood films in particular invariably glorify such men, and they clearly appeal to many women as much as men. Parallel to this ‘man’ image is a glorification of violence which is not unconnected with men’s treatment of and attitude towards women. Why was there a wildfire-like infatuation with the sight of Colin Firth’s body seen thorough a wet shirt when, in a scene in the film of Pride and Prejudice, he strips off to swim in a lake, or the ecstasy engendered by a naked Aidan Turner in the bath tub in the TV series Poldark, or the incredible popularity of 50 Shades of Grey with its sado-masochism and dominant, handsome male and submissive female. These are just three examples that reflect a widespread preoccupation with raw physicality rather than inner qualities such as sensitivity and empathy. Our deeper psyches are pre-programmed from our animal heritage, on the part of women to react instinctively to the appearance of very masculine males and, on the part of men, to voluptuous females. But the internationalisation of such imagery, the ease of transmission and availability makes it more potent than ever today. Such imagery has nothing directly to do with pornography but does set up role models and helps reinforce clichéd attitudes towards male and female roles.

According to some experts the new sexual and conformist pressures are causing widespread depression, even suicidal tendencies and a deep crises of self esteem among girls. Enormous pressure, not only from boys but also from the girls to fit certain roles or conform to bodily perfection demands, like the shaving of body hair. There is great pressure to be ‘attractive’ and if you aren’t considered to belong to that group, then you are ostracised.

As a society, we need to be able to demonstrate that healthy relationships are built on equality, honesty, respect, and love. In pornography, it is the reverse: interactions are based on domination, disrespect, abuse, violence, and detachment. This generation is the first having to deal with the issue of pornography on such an intensity and scale. If parents, educationalists and the relevant authorities don’t take a stand, the problem will only get worse. The pornographic industry is also complemented by the Hollywood-driven ‘hard man’ films of war and violence that often reinforce stereotyped gender roles. Both sides are driven by the profit motive and a disdain for social values. The profiteering from such forms of ‘entertainment’ needs to be made increasingly difficult.

The education system needs to do much more to actively counter artificially-imposed standards by powerful advertising companies as well as pornography itself. There have been a whole number of reports and research papers written about sex education and impact of pornography but little effective action is being taken anywhere as yet.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Electoral manipulation is nothing new

The myth of Trump’s ‘mate’ Putin swinging the election in his favour has now become an accepted factoid in the mainstream media. The real issue behind the public exposure of Hillary Clinton’s emails have, in the meantime, been obscured under the mountains of speculation about Russian interference. Julian Assange’s  revelation of  how Clinton was involved in the process of taking weaponry from Libya and sending it to Syria, and her generally hawkish attitude on the Middle East has been well documented, but has, in the meantime, been well buried.

However much the Russian state was actually involved in influencing the outcome of the 2016 US election, it was actually Hillary Clinton who was doing her best to sabotage that Presidential Election, according to another Wikileaks release. It shows that Clinton campaign staffers bribed six Republicans to ‘destroy Trump’. The evidence includes an email from her campaign chairman John Podesta discussing diverting Clinton campaign funds to various Republicans who were secretly on the Clinton payroll.

Whether Putin and the Russian state were directly involved in the hacking of her campaign team’s emails is still an open question, but the rationale behind it could hardly have been to win the election for Trump (surely a hubristic and fantasy goal anyway), but simply to undermine the ‘clean’ credentials of a hard-line, hawkish and establishment politician. The fact that Trump was in the end elected has more to do with the underlying factors of deprivation, anger and disillusion with mainstream politics by millions of US citizens that anything the Russians could achieve by subterfuge.

Perhaps the most infamous attempt by the establishment and secret services to rig an election was the infamous Zinoviev Letter. This ‘letter’ was a controversial document ‘exposed’ by the Daily Mail just four days before the 1924 general election. It purported to be a directive from the Communist International in Moscow to the British Communist Party suggesting that the resumption of diplomatic relations (by a Labour government) between the two countries would hasten the radicalisation of the British working class. This scare tactic was intended to lose Labour the election and it appeared to succeed admirably, as the Conservatives won an overwhelming majority.

In Iran in 1953 the CIA together with the British secret services launched Operation Ajax and engineered a coup d’état against the democratically elected, progressive and secular government of prime minister Mossadegh. Mosaddegh had nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, cancelling its oil concession and expropriating its assets. The West was determined to prevent this happening. The coup was prepared by the placing of false news stories in the press to the effect that Mossaddegh and his ‘communist friends’ would undermine Islam, thus invoking the ire and outrage in an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

In Italy and France after the Second World War with the communists’ role in the resistance against the fascists garnering them much respect and esteem, they appeared certain to win influential positions in government once free elections were held. The Mafia (in Italy) and the Catholic Church in both countries were mobilised to undermine the communists and a re-invigorated left-led trade union movement. Under the former communist and then avid red-baiter, Jay Lovestone, the US set up AIFLD (American Institute for Free Labor Development). It was a covert arm of the US foreign policy establishment with the aim of preventing the establishment of progressive unions in Europe after the war. Not only did the organisation help mobilise the Church and press against the communists, but nor did it shy away from arranging the murder of leading left trade unionists through its Mafia henchmen.

On 15 July 1948, L’Osservatore Romano, the daily of the Vatican State, published a decree which excommunicated those who propagate ‘the materialistic and anti-Christian teachings of communism’, which was widely interpreted as an excommunication of the Communist Party of Italy. The excommunication extended to any Italian Catholic who was a communist candidate in the parliamentary elections. This decree was actively supported by the Christian Democratic Party which was actively promoted by the CIA. In 1949, the Holy Office issued the Decree Against Communism, which excommunicated any Catholic who joined or collaborated with the Communist Party. In a country with a large population of devout Catholics, this policy was extremely effective.

Twenty years ago, Time magazine reported on the feats of American political consultants who managed — much to the satisfaction of the US government — to ensure Boris Yeltsin won re-election to the Russian presidency.
The report was titled ‘Rescuing Boris,’ and bore a subtitle oddly similar to headline allegations two decades later.  The sub-tile was: ‘The secret story of how four US advisers used polls, focus groups, negative ads and all the other techniques of American campaigning to help Boris Yeltsin win.’

While the mainstream media today scream ‘fake news’ and dismiss the successes of alternative media’s reporting on corruption in the Democrat Party and the significance of Hillary Clinton’s emails, by deeming it all ‘Russian propaganda’, it would seem the entire country has forgotten US exploits elsewhere. In fact, those American advisors literally meddled in the Russian election of that year 1991 — and as TIME, itself, pointed out, changed the course of the country’s politics forever.

The more recent hacking and sabotaging of the Iranian nuclear programme by US and Israeli agents using the computer virus Stuxnet is another example of blatant electronic US interference, and what about the hacking of German Chancellor, Angela Merkel’s phone? All these examples are merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg concerning Western interference in other countries’ affairs, but memories are short and deliberately made so.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

To Brexit or not to Brexit?

As Theresa May’s self-imposed deadline of the end of March for triggering Brexit is only 130 days away away, even the run-up process is turning out to be more chaotic and painful than imagined.

I was one of those who voted for Brexit because I wanted to help send a strong signal to the political elite in Europe and at home that we, the people, were not happy with the undemocratic way the EU was being run. I did not imagine for a moment that the majority would vote for it. I felt somewhat uncomfortable about my vote because I found myself, unwittingly, in bed with some unsavoury characters. And, as we have seen the campaign around Brexit, waged by the right wing on both sides of the divide, was mendacious, superficial and incompetent.

The much more cogent left-wing arguments for opting out of the EU were given no airing by the mainstream media, which were more interested in the sensationalist mock battles between Farage, Gove and Johnson versus Cameron and Labour grandees. The right-wing Brexiteers, led by UKIP, played on widespread fears of immigration and whipped up xenophobia. A state, as Lenin noted, can only be truly democratic if its people are fully informed. On Brexit there was scant information but tons of noxious hot air.

It is now generally recognised that the unexpected majority vote for Brexit reflected more people’s anger and disgust at a political elite divorced from and uninterested in the lives of ordinary people, rather that being a vote against the EU as such.

What has become very clear as the details surrounding the Brexit process now emerge is that a so-called ‘hard’ Brexit which seems increasingly unavoidable will be very painful indeed, and it will hit working people hardest. What the Tory government is asking for is akin to someone filing for divorce but demanding that his partner continues to honour her marriage vows while leaving him free to go off and philander as he wishes.

What the government seems unable to understand is – in terms of trade, research, human rights and inter-state co-operation – Britain needs the rest of Europe much more than the other way around. The big players in the EU are making it very clear that if Britain triggers Article 50 there will be no soft landing; they will make sure we land head-first on the rocks. The EU has been so designed that  an injury-free opting out is almost impossible; no parachute has been included in the package.

A document prepared by consultants on behalf of the government reveals that Whitehall officials from different departments have listed 500 projects relating to our departure from the EU that would require 30,000 extra staff to untangle. Article 50 gives the leaving country two years to negotiate an exit deal, and once set in motion, it cannot be stopped except by unanimous consent of all member states. To untangle and renegotiate our contractual relations with the EU could not be done within that timeframe. ‘Article 50 is a bit like The Bomb: best kept as an implicit threat.’ David Cameron’s former special advisor, Mats Persson, once said, but now the timing device is ticking.

There is a whole raft of EU legislation that most of us would agree that we should keep and other items which we could and should dispense with but untangling these many agreements, laws and regulations would take longer than the two-year timetable allowed for leaving the EU once Article 50 has been triggered.

The implications are momentous. Apart from the threatened loss of our biggest trading partner or the imposition of draconian customs tariffs, what happens to all those Britons now working in Europe or married to European partners? What about health insurance outside Britain?

Keir Starmer, Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, says Labour would not block a parliamentary vote to trigger article 50 but would insist on first knowing the government’s plans for how it would proceed. He also said that the party could try to amend any bill to begin the process of beginning Brexit, and would seek to preserve access to the EU’s customs union and elements of the single market. He is said to be furious about McDonnell’s recent policy speech, in which he said: ‘Labour accepts the referendum result as the voice of the majority and we must embrace the enormous opportunities to reshape our country that Brexit has opened for us’.

Of course it would be gratifying if we could return to Britain’s glorious past as an independent manufacturing centre, but since Thatcher destroyed all that we have hardly any manufacturing infrastructure left and those few big companies operating in the country today are almost all foreign-owned. To re-establish a manufacturing base – essential if we want to survive Brexit economically ­–­ we would have to invest enormous amounts into manufacturing industries and rapidly develop the skills needed, something that could be done but that would take decades.

These uncomfortable truths have to be faced by all of us, however we voted. To ignore them, would be infantile and dangerous. But once Brexit is triggered our lifeboat will be cast off and set adrift with no land in sight.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

It's the economy stupid - what the Labour Party needs to do

It's the economy stupid - what the Labour Party needs to do
The economy has always been Labour’s Achilles Heel in terms of it being able to win elections. This perceived short-coming is, it has to be said, not all of its own doing. The Tory mantra that Labour cannot be trusted to run the economy, has had a dripping water effect on public perceptions. The Labour Party has allowed the Conservatives to determine the debate and set the economic agenda for far too long. It has allowed them to blame Labour for the global crisis and portray the financial collapse of the banks as a public spending crisis.

However, the clear bankruptcy of the neo-liberal economic model has presented the Labour Party with the rare opportunity of retaking the initiative. The Tories have also demonstrated their bankruptcy in the realm of ideas and like lunatics, continue to implement the same policies in the hope that the outcome will somehow change.

With John McDonnell as shadow chancellor, we have for the first time a socialist economist at the helm, one who listens, consults and offers intelligent insight. He is supremely aware that Labour has to regain public confidence and  demonstrate that it can run the economy better than the Tories, but he also knows that this will involve a fight.

Earlier in the year he gave a lecture entitled, The New Economics, at the LSE where he laid out his vision, his programme and ideas for a radical economic rethink. For this purpose, he has set up an Economic Advisory Council made up of some of the world’s leading progressive economists to examine how a future Labour government could radically turn around our economy.

He has been talking and listening to people in key areas of the economy: trade unionists, small business people, public and private sector representatives, steel workers facing job cuts, the TUC and CBI.  He’s looking for new ideas, he says; he is not tabling a cut-and–dried economic blueprint, but is asking for input from everyone; he knows he alone can not have all the answers, that is why he is appealing for everyone to contribute. However, his bottom line is that the neo-liberal model has failed and we have to construct a new one that can create jobs, bring about fairer wealth distribution and implement a more equitable tax system, a model that will promote social cohesion and stability not division. We must have a new economic policy to deliver such change he argues. We have to end the austerity policies that have hit working people and do nothing to revitalise the economy. We also need to articulate new ideas for state intervention in the economy; the old post-war nationalised industries did not work as efficiently as they could have done, and a centralised state-owned system as in the old Soviet Union is certainly not the answer either.

McDonnell has asked his Economic Council to look at the role of the Treasury, HMRC and judge whether it is fit for purpose, and he has called for a comprehensive tax review.

How can it be that the failed policies of the past are still dominating the political and economic debate? While he is very aware that we need a radical rethink, he also knows that we will have a fight on our hands to get the message across t the general public. That is the main challenge the Labour Party now faces.

Socialists should welcome his approach. In the past there has been a strong tendency on the part of all socialists to imagine that when the banks and the means of production are taken into public/state ownership, then everything will run smoothly. The lessons from the socialist countries of Eastern Europe are that that is far from the case. There the complete abolition of private enterprise and the centralisation of decision-making led to a stifling of initiative, bureaucratisation and widespread inefficiency. State ownership of itself is not the solution. Rather, what is needed is strong state intervention to regulate working and employing practices as well as a robust, adequately staffed tax regime that is fair without stifling private initiative. There should be roles in our society for public, private and co-operative forms of ownership. Large and multi-national corporations can be reined in if such measures are put in place and rigorously implemented, with a tax system that prevents the accumulation of untold wealth by a few individuals. The state should be there to set the rules, regulate and tax in ways that ensure a fairer system, not to function as chief employer and micro-manager. Hopefully, the result of McDonnell’s consultation will come up with the necessary ideas to begin the necessary transformation of our economic system and begin building a fairer society.