Mind vs. Body; sex and repression

[Updated] I’ve just read a book by Jack Holland, entitled Misogyny. Holland develops what appears to be a thorough case showing that repression of women stems from influential men’s fear of their own lust. The argument (in something like three parts) goes something like this:

  1. Mind is distinct from and superior to body.
  2. The needs of the body are therefore to be devalued.
  3. Lust is a need of the body.
  4. Therefore, lust is disgusting.
  5. Women arouse lust in men.
  6. Therefore, women are to be demonized.

In this argument, observe how lust is singled out as particularly disgusting. We see no such complaints about hunger, thirst, or the need for sleep. The singling out of sex, or the desire for sex is significant. Gayle Rubin opens her essay, “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality,” (to be found in Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, edited by Carole Vance, no longer in print) writing:

The time has come to think about sex. To some, sexuality may seem to be an unimportant topic, a frivolous diversion from the more critical problems of poverty, war, disease, racism, famine, or nuclear annihilation. But it is precisely at times such as these, when we live with the possibility of unthinkable destruction, that people are likely to become dangerously crazy about sexuality.

Rubin’s essay builds on an idea that sexual relationships, particularly stigmatized sexual relationships, are unfairly singled out for suspicion. Sex is bad, therefore lust is bad, therefore, as a number of feminists have wryly observed, women (who arouse lust) are bad. So bad, indeed, that we would rather condemn sex (and women) than “poverty, war, disease, racism, famine, or nuclear annihilation.” And so it goes through the history that Holland lays out, not just in Western civilization but in varying degrees throughout the world.

In Holland’s thesis, it is apparent that the idea that women’s fidelity was important for inheritance of property isn’t so much a cause as an effect. The demands for chastity and “virtue” come not just from those with property but from men in government, religion, and philosophy, people with interests beyond the question of whose son (women’s property rights have historically been severely restricted or nil) inherits which father’s property. The property inheritance issue can therefore be seen as being structured around discrimination rather than supportive of it.

But what Holland doesn’t develop is an answer to the question of why these views of these influential men were accepted and allowed to prevail. If men have needs and women have needs and they can satisfy them cooperatively, making everyone feel better, why should men instead despise women for their own failure to restrain their own lust? Why not simply have sex?

Holland concludes, returning to a theme which appears throughout his book that “[f]rom Plato onwards, it has been the goal of every totalitarian regime to stop women from putting on make-up.” If lust is the problem, then anything that women do which might enhance their attractiveness to men is further evidence of their manipulation for evil. Holland quotes psychologist Nancy Etcoff that “the solution cannot be to give up a realm of pleasure and power that has been with [women] since the beginning of time.”

If I am going to find faults with Holland’s work, it will likely be that he misses nuances. Because while women may use beauty to attract men, this has not often obviously served the cause of their liberation. Faye Ginsburg, in “The Body Politic,” (also in Pleasure and Danger) argues that women’s opposition to abortion rights stems from a fear that they will lose “a significant leverage point in enforcing male responsibility for the care of mothers and children;” that is, that some women use male responsibility for sex and resulting offspring to ensure their own support in a traditional nuclear family structure, with fathers as breadwinners and mothers secure in their roles as housewives.

Expanding on Ginsburg’s idea just a bit, we can understand possibly that the male need for sex drives a need for control–a desire for power–over the means of satisfaction, and that the women Ginsburg criticizes act to manipulate this desire for power. The picture that thus emerges is more complex than a simple case of misogyny. As Holland writes, “the true horror was the realization that man was not autonomous, rather he was dependent.” Indeed, only in a baby’s act of nursing from its mother is the fulfillment of a human need elsewhere so intimately dependent upon permission from another; such a comparison hardly flatters a self-sufficient masculine image.

Holland makes a powerful case that repression of women sometimes represents misogynous attitudes among powerful or influential men, but acknowledges “the fact that not all men are misogynists. . . . If [misogyny] were the entire story, then the progress that women have made towards equality in Western or Western-style democracies over the last two centuries, which has been achieved with the advocacy and support of men, would hardly have been possible.”

Misogyny indeed is not “the entire story;” the larger story–which surely includes misogyny–lies in a reliance on power rather than cooperation for the fulfillment of need. I cannot imagine a more profound attack on the present social order than that it relies on the subjugation not only of a vast majority of the poulation (workers) to provide financial security for a very few, but on the subjugation of “[w]orking class women . . . in the words of the Irish revolutionary socialist, James Connoly, ‘the slaves of the slaves’,” and of women in general to provide reliable relief for men’s sexual needs.

Who’d have guessed?

The New York Times reports that a “classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.” It “represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government.”

What a surprise. “The BBC’s defence correspondent Rob Watson says this is not the first time the US intelligence community has said that the war in Iraq has made the problem of Islamist extremism worse.”

The report will make uncomfortable reading at the White House, [the BBC’s] correspondent says. In a series of recent speeches, President George W Bush has been portraying the war in Iraq as the central front in the war on terrorism.

This report implies while that may be true, that it is a front of America’s own making.

As governor of Texas, George Bush amassed quite a record for encouraging the judiciary to kill people. Now he uses the military. By precipitating war and fueling hatred of the United States, he makes us less safe, and generates propaganda support for ever more infringements of civil liberties.

I try to imagine what it would be like if a gang leader behaved in this manner. We would label him a homicidal maniac. Upon his arrest, prosecutors would surely urge the death penalty. And we wouldn’t listen to any of that liberal nonsense about how the defendant suffered a sociopathic upbringing.

I try to imagine what it would be like if the leader of say, Venezuela or Iran behaved in this manner. We would already be at war, killing civilians in order to save them. As a bumpersticker says, “Be nice to America or we’ll bring democracy to your country.” At least if there’s oil around.

Pope can’t dig out

This time, the pope got himself in trouble by quoting an ancient text–which he claims does not represent his personal views–harshly critical of Islam. The Islamic world was outraged. The pope apologized, possibly going to unprecedented lengths to do so.

It still isn’t enough. Some Muslims are molified, but others are not.

I have been critical of Muslims in the past who have not had the grace to allow others a bit of humor–even when in truly bad taste–or a divergence of view. Yet this is clearly inadequate as I have also criticized “hate speech” as an incitement to violence. And it is inadequate because Muslims have been under attack from the West almost as long as their religion has existed, through means as diverse as the Crusades to the imposition of the state of Israel. A series of western imperial powers have colonized and carved up territory throughout what we now call “developing nations,” including Islamic lands over a period of centuries.

It seems a little unfair to expect of Muslims the same grace we would expect of their conquerors. And it is hardly fair to expect of Muslims any tolerance for western arrogance while Palestinian civilians face daily terror from the Israelis, Iraqi civilians die by the tens of thousands, and the United States threatens Iran while simultaneously pursuing the Taliban in Afghanistan.

So this time, I will restrain my criticism of Muslims for their intolerance. Yet I must comment that this problem is not just about the Pope; it is far larger and involves many more players, of which the United States is hardly the least, and hardly the least threatening.

Catholic politicians don’t get to slam back

“In a toughly worded statement, Pope Benedict XVI Friday singled out Roman Catholic politicians in Canada who voted for gay marriage, urging them not to sacrifice their personal beliefs for the sake of opinion polls and social trends.” I find it striking that this old man, whose last job was head of the Inquisition (yes, it still exists), gets to declare what anyone’s “personal beliefs” are. Worse, these Catholic politicians don’t have a right of reply. They, like innumerable Catholics who disregard Church teachings favoring sexual repression, must simply accept the criticism, for to do otherwise is to commit a sacrilege. Do that enough, and I suppose they might be excommunicated.

There is a distinction between choosing a church because you agree with its doctrine, and having been raised in that church, been moved by its ritual, and feeling a kinship to that church that might be likened to home. But in this home, The Holy Father (not the god of Abraham, you understand, but the pope) brooks no disagreement. As the pope pretends, I wish that more Catholics would follow their consciences, and leave that home. The Catholic hierarchy might then see how much support it really has.

But there is a real question of just who should leave that home. Why should it be the faithful, following their god in their own light? Why not the hierarchy itself, which has effectively sanctioned pedophilia over a period of decades and now presumes to tell others what their sexual proclivities should be? Why hasn’t everyone from the level of Archbishop on up been thrown in prison as accomplices to child abuse? Why not?

The answer, of course, is that laws do not exist for those on top. Laws exist for the unsanctified sinners, the people who go to church every Sunday, the little old lady who does nothing but say her prayers.

Blair clings to power, forced to yield

[Updated] This has been building for a while, and it is difficult to say how much is due to British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s servile stance towards the Americans, in which he has emulated several of his predecessors. Some of it surely is that he’s held office for a long time; recent criticism has focused on the possibility of his repeating “Margaret Thatcher’s mistake” by trying to stay in office too long. But joining the Americans in a war in Iraq based on lies and failing to adequately condemn Israel for its recent failed invasion of Lebanon have clearly not helped.

In the wake of “an all-out power struggle,” the BBC reports that Blair has announced he will step down by September 2007. The statement may “not be enough to quell dissent.”

Likely successor Gordon Brown “is understood to have demanded that Mr Blair quit by Christmas, with an effective joint premiership until a new leader is anointed by the party” and “that Mr Blair personally announce a timetable under which a new Labour leader would be in place before next May’s elections to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and English local authorities.” Some have called for him to step down now.

Taliban now control southern half of Afghanistan

I just don’t get it. Obviously.

You see, I figure that if you deprive people of their livelihoods, you really need to make sure they can feed their children, among other things. Of course Bush administration (and conservative) ideology doesn’t recognize this. So we’ve been merrily destroying poppy fields in Afghanistan.

Of course, these are opium poppies.

“We are seeing a humanitarian disaster,” Emmanuel Reinert, executive director of The Senlis Council told IPS. “There are around Kandahar now camps with people starving, kids dying almost every day, and this is obviously used by the Taliban to regain the confidence of the people, and to regain control of the country.”

The poppy eradication programme has been a disaster, he said. “It is a direct attack on the livelihood of the farmers, so there is a clear connection between the eradication and this humanitarian crisis. All this is being used by the Taliban to say that when we were there we were maybe hard and cruel, but you could feed the family, now look what’s going on. They are more and more providing support, social services to the local population.”

But Bush probably won’t even admit that “[t]he Taliban frontline now cuts halfway through the country, encompassing all of the southern provinces.” He’s too busy fighting al Qaeda in Iraq, where it didn’t exist until he sent in the troops, diverting them from the ongoing battle in Afghanistan. He won’t admit that he and Osama bin Laden have had this wonderful symbiotic relationship which encourages more disgruntled youths to join al Qaeda, and allows the Bush administration to sow fear in support of increased executive power (at the expense of civil liberties). The Taliban sheltered Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda training camps; now we have fanatics running rampant in both Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the ones in Washington, D.C. (and Jerusalem — I’m just guessing what Hezbollah recruiting is like following the botched Israeli invasion of Lebanon).

But, oh yes. The Republicans are pushing a national security agenda through Congress to show how tough they are and how lily-livered the Democrats are. This, in a bid to retain control of the House of Representatives and arrest predicted Democratic gains in the Senate in November’s elections.

“Taliban forces now operate freely within Afghan borders without fear of U.S. or U.N. troops and now control regions previously thought free from the organization’s control,” says a classified Pentagon memo. “Their ability to regroup is directly related to the decision to withdraw forces that were deemed necessary to complete the mission.”

But too many prominent Democrats have supported this absolute foolishness and continue to rationalize their support for it today. They don’t want to appear “soft” on terror. The consequence is that few people will have a viable choice for sanity in November. Just like with Vietnam, in most parts of the country, those who would vote for peace will have no one to vote for. The Democratic Party’s rightward shift means that even if they do make gains, it’ll make little difference, whether we talk about the so-called War on Terror or any of a number of other issues.

So, um, tell me again why I’m supposed to vote? I’m so confused.