Category Archives: Argument

My mother and the non-binding, non-compulsory postal survey on same-sex marriage

Here’s a modest contribution to Australia’s ‘debate’ on same-sex marriage.

My mother and the non-binding, non-compulsory postal survey on same-sex marriage

My long-dead mother would have voted yes.
She’d be five score and four this year and still
devoutly Catholic, her faith no less.
The Church’s many scandals couldn’t kill
her heart’s still centre. I believe she’d bless
a Jack who’d wed a Jack, a Jill a Jill.
You say she’s voiceless now to say I’m wrong?
I’ll put my case. Read on. It’s not too long.

Point 1. Back then, I doubt Mum would have thought
that marriage was a right. More like a duty,
a sacrament, life sentence – though the sort
she had embraced. Outside it, rooty-tooty
[not her term] was forbidden. She was taught
that when you wed you’re locked, her nuptial beauty
(she wore her mother’s veil) proclaimed a life
henceforth not hers: five children’s mum, Dad’s wife.

When my first son was born some forty years
ago, we’d skipped the patriarchal rite.
She wouldn’t talk. No worse if I’d hurled spears
into her heart, it seemed rebellious spite.
But she might lose a son, her worst of fears.
‘Your baby’s in my prayers,’ she said one night,
and later (did a priest give her the nod?)
she said, ‘You’re married in the eyes of God.’

Heart led. Head followed as its mate,
not as its slave. Her reasoning was sound.
The sacrament needs neither priest nor state:
what’s sacred is the vows. And so the ground
had shifted. It was 1978.
And not just her. She asked her friends and found
her story echoed back. That coin was spent.
Non-marriage had become a non-event.

Point 2. A woman heard mass every day
in Innisfail for decades, but she never
took Communion: public price to pay
for marrying a man divorced. Whenever
Mum spoke of her, compassion steely-grey
and horror at the cruelty would hover
in her voice. The Church gave so much pain.
Thanks be to God the State was more humane.

Point 3. She rarely spoke of sex. She burned
her Female Eunuch (‘Why write about that?’).
She was in her fifties when she learned
that same-sex sex existed – in a chat
with youngest daughter. Memories now churned
to yield new meanings: like the nun who spat
such puzzling venom when two schoolgirls kissed
each other’s lips (they’d aimed for cheeks and missed).

Or Rod, the tenor star of Merry Widow,
White Horse Inn in local Choral Soc:
she’d called him pompous, now knew he was ho-
mo-sexual – a wonder, not a shock.
To see his lover (male) he had to go
two hundred miles each way. She didn’t mock.
Lover? Not her word. Mate? Boyfriend? Friend?
The language failed her. Could it ever mend?

Of sixteen grandkids, two came out as queer.
The Church said they offended God above.
’Don’t shout it from the rooftops,’ said her fear,
but they were hers and when push comes to shove
head follows heart. Her heart’s deep idea:
Thou never shalt disown the ones you love.
She’d pray for them, part hoping they’d be cured,
most wishing for them happiness assured.

Point 4. The love and marriage song, the rhyme
with horse and carriage broken. Church and State:
you can have one without the other. Crime
if Church law hurts these children, but she’ll wait:
a pope will change it. State law: now’s the time –
the State asks her opinion – now that gate
can open. Put an end to this distress.
She’d opt for love, her love, and she’d tick Yes.

She’d sympathise with Abbott, I suppose,
and his split lip. She’d certainly abhor
Ben Law’s most famous tweet, and hold her nose,
but she’d tick Yes, Yes, Yes. Of that I’m sure.

Go little verse, more heavenly than prose,
float up to meet the eyes of Esme Shaw.
I hope, on reading it, not only she
but all the saints and angels would agree.

.

Francis vs the Neocons

Just in case you haven’t seen it already, here are some fabulous bits from the new pope’s recent exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (full text here):

. . .  some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume  that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

No to the new idolatry of money

One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money,  since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Exodus 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is  the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common  good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their  own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving  tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market, which become  the only rule.

No to a financial system which rules rather than serves.

Does this man worship the same God as our Prime Minister who with each passing day reveals that he has steeled his heart against yet another sector of humanity, and the environment, ‘defenceless before the interests of a deified market’.

‘The death rattle of the fossil fuel industry is likely to become extremely nasty.’

It seems that Australia’s new Prime Minister really meant it when he said he’d dismantle even the moderate steps taken by previous governments to meet the challenge of climate change.

Luckily, however, the future isn’t completely determined by Tony Abbott, the Murdoch media and those whose interests they serve. Among myriad initiatives taken by non-government, non-Murdoch people, 350 Australia recently launched a divestment campaign, Go Fossil Free Australia. From their web site:

As members, beneficiaries, and customers of super funds, banks, educational and religious institutions, and governments, each of us can play a powerful role in divesting Australia’s economy from fossil fuels.

As part of their project of building public dialogue and awareness of fossil fuel divestment and alternative investments, 350 Australia is hosting public forums around the country in September and October 2013, with the intention of presenting a variety of perspectives, both for and against divestment.

Just in case you were hoping you could trust in the Murdoch–Abbott complacency, here’s a talk by Ian Dunlop at a recent forum, outlining just how grim things are.

A 2 degree increase in temperature, which apparently is pretty inevitable, will be bad enough, but if we keep on as we are, we’ll have a 4 degree increase, and the planet then would only be able to  sustain 1 billion humans. I guess anyone reading this will all be dead anyhow before that load of disaster hits the fan, but Tony, how stupid do you have to be not to even try to stop it from happening?

‘weapons of mass distraction’

The US politician Anthony Weiner outdid even Shane Warne or Peter Slipper in having sexting behaviour exposed to the harsh glare of public scrutiny. A recent issue of  New York City newspaper The Villager has an article by K Webster, ‘Wounded Weiner just a symptom of society’s isolation‘, that looks past the scandalousness of it all to what it means about men in our societies. Given that very few of my readers are likely to read The Villager, I thought I’d point you to it:

Men are set up to be isolated. Thus they are often plagued by a seemingly endless quest to staunch insecurity and loneliness through some version of sexual contact. Too often, the search winds up landing them in the arena of the sexual exploitation of women. Lots of guys are derailed by the billion-dollar sex industry (or by self-driven intrigues) while seeking the very real human need for touch. Usually it ends in settling for the illusion of contact — a numbing or briefly satisfying relief.

Anthony Weiner got busted for his oddly disconnected effort at connection. Although self-driven, it happened in the context of a highly sexualized society that keeps men manipulated and preoccupied.

Profit seekers deliberately and increasingly entwine sex with the hardwired need for closeness. It sells. It tantalizes. It promises excitement in a seemingly dreary landscape. But despite the ads, commerce really doesn’t belong in between two people’s liking/loving/wanting each other. And trying to use the act itself or hints of it to avoid loneliness is a bit of a dodge. In a better world, the use of sex as a weapon of mass distraction would be seen for the aberration it is. Sex can give us back our sense of closeness, the goodness of life and passion. But really, when the sex is good, it almost wasn’t the point.

The rest is here.

(Footnote: I accidentally uploaded this from my iPad when it was just a title. That minimal post provoked a comment about Syria: which makes me think that K Webster’s description of the porn industry as a weapon of mass distraction has profound implications. Imagine if the time and attention currently soaked up by porn was directed to, say, creating world peace, preserving the environment, ending racism … !)

What do you want to do when you grow up? Create?

On the front page of today’s Sydney Morning Herald, there’s an article by Rachel Browne on a survey of 6200 children aged between 10 and 12 in 47 countries asking them what they want to do when they grow up. Cathy Wilcox’s cartoon gives the gist of the article – two white children are chatting: ‘Lots of kids in developing countries want to be doctors’ says one, and the other replies, ‘They don’t have the luxury of squandering their education on a sporting career!’

You have to read to the seventh paragraph to discover that, while ‘professional athlete is the highest ranked career choice for Australian children’, the second rank is ‘entertainer and professional artist or creative professional’. The latter is immediately dismissed by someone associated with the study as ‘probably influenced by popular TV shows’. Lisa Power’s article in the Telegraph, presumably based on the same press release, includes a table that seems to indicate that Rachel Browne got it wrong:

If you combine ‘Entertainer’ with ‘Artist/creative professional’ you get 26%. What’s that? More Australian children want a career in entertainment and the arts than in sport. But that doesn’t fit the media narrative, so let’s bury it.

Has it occurred to anyone else that our governments are willing to back young people’s sporting aspirations with millions of dollars, but leave their artistic aspirations unresourced so that for most of them it remains an unrealistic dream? It’s not just that winning gold at the Olympics is seen by the press and politicians as more important and newsworthy than making things ‘with which the soul of any witnessing human being can resonate and conceivably find comfort, catharsis, awakening, provocation, solidarity, beauty and, perhaps, enlightenment,’ as Clare Strahan put it recently on the Overland blog. Young people’s desires to do the latter must also be trivialised and marginalised. The current precipitate withdrawal of funding from fine arts education in TAFE is symptomatic. So is the Sydney Morning Herald‘s almost total silence about the cuts.

And now a quick sonnet:

Sonnet 8: To children who responded to a survey
We ask you what you want to do
and what you fear. It’s no surprise
if drought, rape, kidnap threaten you
you don’t desire a glittering prize
but want to build the general good,
to teach or heal. And in a land
where gold and silver most command
acclaim, of course it’s understood
your heart goes bling! Celebrity
can look like meaning when you’re ten.
The headlines mock you: Sport! again!
Oh child! child! We’ve corrupted thee!
They don’t hear that your brave young heart,
wants to make, give, create art.

Revisionism?

Along with about 30 other people, the Art Student and I heard Paul Ham talk at Gleebooks last night. It was one of the smallest Gleebooks turn-outs I’ve seen, and it’s hard not to think the subject may have had a bit of a deterrent effect: his new book Hiroshima Nagasaki. In fact it was a terrific talk. I’ll save whatever I have to say about his argument for when I read the book, which may be some little time. (He was on Lateline recently – here’s a link if you want his gist.)

What I want to note here is that he described what he does as Narrative History. I’m sure learned historians have many finely nuanced definitions of  that, but I liked his version, which is that it is history told without benefit of hindsight – that is, trying to get to the story as it was understood by the actors themselves. He is categorised as a revisionist historian, but objects, saying that the orthodox version (that the bombs were the ‘least abhorrent option’, that they saved a million US lives, that they brought about Japan’s unconditional surrender) is itself revisionist – a recasting after the event that distorts what actually happened on almost all counts.

Fortuitously, I have just been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s article in the Atlantic,  ‘Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?‘ I can’t recommend this article strongly enough for its eloquent challenge to received versions of history. The bit that chimed with Paul Ham’s talk, and with some reading and thinking I’ve been doing about massacres in Australia, was this, in reference to the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Gettysburg:

Speakers at the ceremony pointedly eschewed any talk of the war’s cause in hopes of pursuing what the historian David Blight calls ‘a mourning without politics’. Woodrow Wilson, when he addressed the crowd, did not mention slavery but asserted that the war’s meaning could be found in ‘the splendid valor, the manly devotion of the men then arrayed against one another, now grasping hands and smiling into each other’s eyes’. Wilson, born into the Confederacy and the first postbellum president to hail from the South, was at that very moment purging blacks from federal jobs and remanding them to separate washrooms. Thus Wilson executed a familiar act of theater—urging the country’s white citizens away from their history, while continuing to act in the spirit of its darkest chapters.

Urging the country’s white citizens away from their history, while continuing to act in the spirit of its darkest chapters. Familiar indeed, but ne’er so well expressed.

Open letter to an unnamed man on the news

Dear sir

I didn’t catch your name, but I saw you on the ABC News last night. I think there had been an earlier moment when you chanted directly to the camera, ‘No man date!’ and I guessed then that you weren’t a hardened participant in demonstrations. You didn’t have that ‘Here we are again, it won’t do any good but at least we’ll have stood up and been counted’ look about you. You actually looked as if sitting in the gallery of Parliament House and chanting should have achieved more than getting yourself expelled. You even looked as if the fact that you and you friends are opposed to a piece of legislation made it an act of tyranny for the legislation to be passed.

All the same, I was taken aback when you spoke to the television cameras and called the Prime Minister a scr*g. I understand that you were furious and speaking in the heat of the moment. I don’t know if you signed any kind of release permitting the ABC to use your image and words, or even if that’s required. You might feel pleased that you were able to make your point of view known to the whole country, indeed the world. But are you aware that by using that word, you have created the impression that from your point of view there’s something deeply affronting about having a woman for Prime Minister? I do hope you wouldn’t defend that position in your cooler moments.

Contrary to the impression created by the Leader of the Opposition and others, insulting individual politicians, on the basis of their being female or any other basis, is no substitute for argument. You had your moment in front of the cameras and however sensible, self-reliant, generous, thoughtful or even visionary you may be in the real world, you were seduced by those who set the tone for our national debate into giving the world the impression that you are a bullying misogynist. I hope your grandchildren will understand the pressure you were under and manage to be tactful.

If it’s any consolation, any number of us who protested against the Vietnam War, Apartheid, the Invasion of Iraq, the turning away of the Tampa, the Northern Territory Intervention, etc etc have undoubtedly had moments that were just as silly and noxious. Mind you, most of the time we didn’t have anything like the Murdoch machine backing us, so however self-righteous we were we lacked your apparent sense of entitlement.

I hope it’s been a good learning experience for you.

Jonathan

On the Carbon Price etc

The mining industry and their pals and puppets (I especially like the Popeye puppet) have already started their billion-dollar disinformation campaign about the Carbon Package unveiled yesterday. Thank god for GetUp! I’m about to send them some money. Here’s their modest but very clear video:

Happy birthsday

When I was in Rome 30 odd years ago with a toddler, we visited a laundromat in the Campo Dei Fiori every couple of days. ‘Buon giorno!’ the woman in charge would greet us. Then one day, she said instead, ‘Auguri!’ It took a bit of nutting out, but I realised that Easter was approaching, and her greeting was the equivalent of ‘Happy Easter!’ Literally, I’m guessing it means ‘Good wishes!’ No need to mention the festival that gives rise to the wish.

Here in Anglophone Australia we don’t have such a sweetly noncommittal greeting. My doctor, who has a mezuzah fixed to the doorpost of his surgery and wears a yarmulke, wished me a Happy Christmas the other day, and I didn’t know what to say in reply. Then I didn’t know what to say to his receptionist, who didn’t have any obvious signs of religious heritage.

I’ve heard people wish each other Happy Holidays, but that sounds like an awkward transplant from the US. ‘Seasons Greetings’ works fine in print, but it’s weird when spoken. Referring to the solstice just feels prissy and evasive – Christmas may originally have built on a Druidic celebration of the northern winter solstice but it’s part of the Christian tradition in its present forms.

I’ve been ruminating on what Christmas means to me. When I was little it was important to me that there was a baby in the middle of all the celebrations. Christmas was like a birthday, except that presents were given, not just to one special person, but to everyone. Unpacking that thought: if on someone’s birthday we celebrate the fact that they are alive, regardless of anything that they have done or endured since their birth, then at Christmas we celebrate all of us in the same way. And you know, in the crowd competing for attention at the fish market counter this morning, the mood was so amiable and generous, that it doesn’t feel like a stretch to say that the often mentioned  Christmas spirit is actually about something of the sort. Sure, some people see it as a sectarian event or a consumerist orgy, but I think for me its secular meaning is a celebration of our common humanity. The baby Jesus is a symbol of what Quakers call ‘that which is of God within each of us’, a formulation that an atheist like me, stuck for words, will accept as good enough.

When I tried to talk about this at dinner last night, the conversation became heated, so maybe I’m being controversial here. But Happy Christmas to my readers anyhow, and if you don’t celebrate it yourself for whatever reason, I’m still thrilled to share the planet with you and say Hi in the name of our humanity.

Blessed-to-be John Henry

Assuming that the Pope isn’t arrested when he sets foot in the United Kingdom, he will be beatifying John Henry Newman there on 19 September.

I admired JHN greatly in my early 20s, and Apologia Pro Vita Sua is high on my To Be Reread list. His notion of the Development of Doctrine was a bit of an intellectual lifesaver to me as a young Catholic facing such dogmas as ‘extra ecclesiam nulla salus‘, which would have condemned all non-Catholics to Hell for eternity, and helps me to have some grasp of how friends I respect can adhere to a church that requires one to believe, for one example, that Mary was a virgin before during and after the birth of Jesus (ante partum, in partu, post partum).

Sadly, the heroes of one’s youth look a little different forty years later. I recently read a friend’s Eng Lit Hons thesis on Newman’s novels, and was shocked to encounter this quote:

He is only half a man if he can’t put his book into the fire when told by authority.

I suppose that’s not so different in spirit from the challenging line from Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, ‘The truth is not always revolutionary.’ All the same, this beatification is not one that betokens a softening of hard line Catholicism.