Sunday, August 31, 2008


It is very difficult to navigate when you can't see the terrain. This is what happens when no-one will tell you what they think, one way or the other, when no-one takes a stand for you or against. Even if the stand were against, it provides a reference point against which to fight.

The social terrain has landmarks near and far. A campaign of isolation removes near landmarks and make far ones indistinct. The greater the isolation, the farther the landmarks on which one relies and the greater the local errors.

The game of blind-man's-buff you're forced to play means not only that people can't speak to you, but you can't speak to them. The information exchange that is the lifeblood of social cohesiveness and integrity is blocked. To survive without information, one must work in absolutes, hard truths, choosing them, deciding what they are for oneself.

But people are not used to working in absolutes, even if they exist. Inflexible truth is anathema to getting on with people, each with his or her own expediencies for getting through life. Everyone bends with the flow. But if you don't know where the flow and its obstructions are, you cannot bend with them. You collide with prejudices and get driven up against assumptions, sometimes being forced in a direction you know not to apply but unable to find an escape.

What is hidden becomes far more important than what you can see. People's secret desires and fears come to dominate, mostly keeping them distant or quiet, but always alert and distrustful, and sometimes leading them to take advantage for their own gain should the opportunity arise.

To start this nasty little game, break free a few moorings by disrupting relationships between what people see and what they believe. It helps if those beliefs are rooted in falsehood, as many are. Play to prejudice to deny the obvious. Stretch the truth and twist it into unfamiliar shapes until everyone is unsure of themselves and looking for a scapegoat. Spin an attractive, scandalous tale with unverifiable bases. Do things that look decisive and assertive, but sew discord and fear. Never stop hounding your target. Smile as you aim, then laugh as you loose the shot so your fans will cheer while you take the innocent down for their sport. Try not to look at the blood.

She would not have survived what she put me through.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The silence of the crowd

"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." - Martin Luther King Jr.

Of all the aspects of my fight to remain a father to my son one which I have found among the hardest to come to terms with is the reticence to comment and apparent indifference displayed by a wide variety of people, from old friends to unknown bystanders. In particular, it hurts most that so many friends and colleagues when faced with manifest injustice do little more than tut, if that. It is as if they are struck dumb, and I am left confused and uncertain because I cannot tell what it is that they are thinking. If they really do think I am truly the abusive father that my ex would have them believe in, then they do not say so and I cannot address the question. If they believe that I am not than monster, then likewise they do not say and I cannot be reassured.

I have wasted much anxiety on this issue and can only conclude that MLK is right, eventually I won't care what my enemies have said. I know they are wrong. There is nothing more to consider. But my friends, who said nothing and simply watched, that I shall remember.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I love women, but...

How often have you read discussions of gender begun with some claim that the speaker thinks women are just great, but, well, if only…? Every time I hear it, it makes my hackles rise, no matter how I might agree with the following claim. Either that person is about to say something not terribly well thought out or he doesn't have the courage of his own convictions. (Women, as far as I can tell, don't have to bother with the qualification. Not even if they're talking about men to men.)

Thinking about it, it is a reflexive and obligatory obeisance to an emotional component of the discussion which ought to have no place. The speaker must claim a default positive inclination towards women as a class, or it is suspected that he has a negative one instead, that he is a misogynist in the old-fashioned sense. "Women" as a class, is neutral, but not to claim some sort of pangeyrical feel-good warmth towards them all together implies a dangerous and subversive aversion.

Or, perhaps, it means that he is not interested in getting laid and doesn't care if he upsets a woman or not. Maybe these are the same thing. Now there's a thought - not being interested in getting laid as a subversive position. The only reason for that could be that the man's sex drive is a route to power for the women and his indifference to sex implies a threat to her. Must she then defend herself against this by demanding his fealty even when it is undeserved?

To my mind it is indicative of a mature woman that she does not need his irrelevant claim and can follow the line of reasoning without it.

When I think of "women", I feel the same as thinking of "people" - it runs the gamut from knowing that there are some truly good people who are worth getting to know and spending time in their company all the way to knowing there are some that are truly evil and should be avoided or fought at all costs. The same is true of gender, class, race, whatever. Why should I need to preface a less than flattering observation of my experience of women in general with some sort of disingenuous claim that I am well disposed towards them any more than I am towards any other group? It is because convention seems to demand it, because objective criticism of women is today immediately and effectively, if not rationally, vulnerable to claims of misogyny. That is, in discussions of gender, "misogynist" has come to describe anything which is not overtly and explicitly positive towards women for fear that anything that is not so, is necessarily anti-women. As such, it has so degenerated that it is only useful as a means to rouse the rabble against whomever it is aimed. Yet to begin "I love women" hints at an awareness that what is about to be said might draw such accusations and thus seems to grant a validity to them. Better not to say it, and be sure enough of yourself to fend off the accusations if and when they come rather than exhibit insecurity and invite irrationality with the first words.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A working mum's guide to rousing her rabble

What does a working mother do when told something she doesn't like to hear? Throw a snarky tantrum of course, toss out a few anecdotes, ridicule some stereotypes and then blame men and employers. Along the way, there might be one or two reasonable points, but it'll be hard to tell. Above all, don't examine the possibility that some working mothers might have more interest in their own "choices" than their children's wellbeing.

The piece is mildly amusing in its own way, much as any empassioned rant might have you smile at its more extreme exaggerations, but what caught my eye, even tripped me up halfway through the article and forced me to start reading it again, was the line: "I feel as if the told-you-so-sayers are plonking working mothers in a category of villains that includes paedophiles and violent dads."

Wait, what?

Suddenly, I found myself not thinking about working mothers, but why such a one would a) group paedophiles with violent dads and b) use this artificial group as a shibboleth against people who would disagree with her choices.

The point, of course, is to gather a couple of stereotypical bad guys into one band and say "look, we're obviously not one of them, therefore you're wrong". Not a particularly intellectual means of argument, it nevertheless works remarkably well with your typical idiot in the street. Not wanting to be thought of as considering working mums as on a par with abusive fathers and child molesters, the only concievable alternative is to dumbly nod in acquiescence.

But why this particular selection of bad guy? Paedophiles are the easy and first recourse of the lazy rabble rouser. Most of the western world now immediately shuts down its critical faculties at the merest suggestion of impropriety with children, making it the quickest route to shutting down dissent too. So, green light to identifying the out-group as a bunch of pedos.

But that really isn't enough because to suggest working mothers are being cast as simply like paedophiles is really too silly for even the dumbest of Telegraph reader, so she needs something slightly less risible to lend credulity to the claim. "Abusive fathers" might have done it, but it's not really down to earth enough. Better to say "dads" because that'll bring it right into everyman's, or everywoman's, home and say "violent" to make sure we know what we're talking about. (Shhh! Nobody point out that child abuse is primarily perpetrated by mothers and their boyfriends, well before actual fathers enter the picture! You'll spoil her fun!)

Interestingly, this is the only explicit mention of fathers in the entire article. Even when she starts complaining about men not "pulling their weight domestically", it's just "men", not fathers. Mention of fathers is reserved for association with violence and proximity to pedophilia.

So, what does author Cassandra Jardine betray about her true agenda? I'd say it's something like rather than examine the possibility that some working mothers are putting their own choices ahead of their children, she'll fan the fires of father hate and fall back on a couple of safe canards. For me, that rather proves the point she's trying to deny.