The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Coping mechanisms

I've been thinking a lot lately about the things we do to get by in the society we live in, how we cope.

Partly this has been spurred on by reading The Personal is Political (Hat tip: Capitalism Bad), and thinking about the pro-woman line espoused in that article. I've never really studied feminism and I'm bad at reading non-fiction, so some of the stuff that will seem elementary to some of my readers is All New to me I'm afraid.

The pro-woman line recognises that we shouldn't blame individual women for actions that they undertake to survive or cope in a sexist society. For example, it would be a pro-woman action to picket the Miss NZ competition and criticise the competition itself, but it wouldn't be pro-woman to attack the actual competitors for taking part. (Someone correct me if I've got that hideously mangled).

Similarly I think there is a need to recognise coping mechanisms that other groups use to deal with a society that discounts them. Those on low incomes often turn to crime or fraud, or addictions, or violence, for example. While I don't endorse their individual actions, far from it, I can have some sympathy for those who do these things as a means (conscious or not) to survive in a capitalist system which values greed above all things.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but I would be interested in some feedback.


Gerrit said...

Could it possibly be capitalistic greed that the "poor" display when stealing from "rich".

By sympathising with the poor for stealing you are actually condoning capitalistic greed of the worst kind. They steal from me (at no cost to themselves) to on sell to you at a huge profit.

Not to mention not paying taxes on their ill gotten gains thus directly depriving the "poor" even more. Capitalistic tax avoidance at its worst.

Some may steal for a personal gain but I suggest that 95% is for resale.

I suggest that socialist need to draw a line in the sand and plainly state that theft is capitalism at its worst and be most severe in its condemnation as the worst kind of capitalism ever created.

There is absolute no "need" to recognise stealing as a coping mechanism.

span said...

So Gerrit when I wrote:

"While I don't endorse their individual actions, far from it..."

you took that to mean that I was really saying:

"Steal, people, steal like you've never stolen before! Now that's one in the eye for capitalism!"

Gerrit said...

No but you leave the impression that it is "understandable" and looked upon "sympathaticly".

Just draw the line in the sand. No matter how "poor" you are stealing is not right.

By implication you think people steal in order to survive in a capitalist system. No body steals in Cuba or North Korea?

Dont blame capitalism on all social ills.

"Steal, people, steal like you've never stolen before! Now that's one in the eye for capitalism!"

Can you explain that statement to me?

PabloR said...

Where want exists, or where there are needy people, theft will always exist quite happily.

Socialism aims to spread the wealth amongst all citizens, ie to make us all rich. Capitalism works by creating value through scarcity - there will always be haves & have nots, it is intrinsic to the system.

Unfortunately the socialist systems we have seen in history so far have failed to eliminate that scarcity so yes, theft of course happen in those countries too (and worse, graft by the elites in those countries). 1984 addresses this point in a much better way than me.

It is a bit too easy to claim that the world has never seen a true socialist state, but all the communist countries created elites that had better access to wealth that the proles, which is a fundamental inconsistancy with the socialist ideal. Fanon states that replacing one elite (capitalists) with another (bureaucrats) will not eliminate oppression of the working classes (although he is specifically referring to colonialism and replaces working class with indigenous peoples).

I have a theory that socialism/communism can never work while capitalism exists elsewhere. It is impossible for any country to be completey isolated from the rest of the world and still provide for all its natural resource needs.

span said...

Gerrit, I'm not sure how to explain myself more clearly. My "Steal!" statement was an effort to flush out what you had actually read from my post, seeing as your claim that I was encouraging stealing was a million miles from what I had written.

Understanding the reasons why someone does something, and even sympathising with them, does not mean you necessarily excuse their actions. I feel like I've already had this debate recently, about the Kahui twins case. But you seem to be quite determined to misunderstand me as much as possible...

stef said...

I think it's easy to have sympathy until the crimes are commited against you, then you want revenge. It's human nature.

Though I remember reading a few years ago about this couple who's daughter was murdered in South Africa. They've been taking a active role with the killer of their daughter to get him educated and on the right track along with his community. That takes a level of compassion that many of us just don't have.

I try to be careful with my anti-anything stuff. Rather than looking at things like Miss NZ and complain about that, I think it's better to promote multpile lifestyles and choices. If a girl wants to enter a beauty pageant, good for her. If she wants to be a nuclear scientist that's just as fine. The point is that she should make the decision and feel good about making them not conforming to what you, I, feminisim or the partirachy wants from her.

Gerrit said...

I'm glad you dont encourage stealing.

The word "stealing" was meant to be interpreted in the widest sense, stealing somone's property, stealing somebodies health and liberty through violence, stealing once own health and liberty through addiction...etc.

My point was that these crimes are actually the most right wing and extreme form of capitalism. And to then lay blame for this at the feet of capitalism greed is pretty poor. As if it would be impossible under a fully socialist regime.

I fully understood your post until that last line.

I guess that keeping the "poor" as victims of a heartless capitalistic system is a convenient way for the socialist to deny the poor to take responsibiilty for anything to improve their lives.

As a father and grandfather, no I cannot even begin to comprehend the Kahui case. I must be a poor excuse of a human (I am a bloke after all) to not understand how and why the family did what they did.

You maybe able to understand it but I cannot.

But I will live with that.

span said...

Stef - I think we need to think about why people make the choices they make, and whether they are really free choices. Some of the things we do as women, as supposedly free choices, are pretty counter intuitive when you think about them. Eg getting breast implants - increasing your risk of breast cancer, having an unnecessary medical procedure which always has risks, possibly giving yourself back pain for the rest of your life, reducing your ability to breast feed, etc etc. Why would someone choose to do that to themselves if they were truly free about the choices they are making?

The pro-woman line (I think) is that you don't blame the individual woman for getting those implants, but you do ask the questions I have, and you think about what forces in society act on women to encourage such a counter-productive act. And of course, who is advantaged by those acts.

span said...

Gerrit - I've never really thought about whether stealing is right wing or left wing. I've just noticed that it seems to be a coping mechanism, by some people, for living in a society that encourages greed and materialism, but doesn't provide resources evenly.

I don't deny that people need to take some responsibility for the problems in their lives. However I do think that society in general and Government agencies in particular have a duty to help people as much as possible with those problems - both in a preventative and ambulance sense.

As for the Kahui twins - if we can't understand what causes these things then we can't stop them from happening again. I can comprehend your revulsion though - it is incredibly upsetting to think that anyone is capable of that kind of thing, but unfortunately some people are.

libertyscott said...

"society that encourages greed and materialism, but doesn't provide resources evenly"

This is the point it is not true that "society provides resources". You have one resource, your mind which you use to apply your body to the world around you. There isn't a resource tree that grows somewhere that people pluck and distribute to others. You either create value in what you do (which is labour, whether it be talking, writing or physical activity) or someone gives it to you (they had to create it or have it given to them first) because they see value in doing so (whether it be benevolence or self interest).

Psycho Milt said...

We see this demonstrated in the fact that only clever people who work hard are rich - er, hang on a minute...

stef said...

Span, it's fine to talk about how people make those choices, but it's a very fine line as you found out when you hired a maid.

At some point you do need to realize that some people want the fake boobies for them and nobody else and if they want to do it, then it's their body and their choice.

span said...

Stef said:
"Span, it's fine to talk about how people make those choices, but it's a very fine line as you found out when you hired a maid."

Stef, how is getting a cleaner an anti-woman thing to do? How is it a choice that harms another woman, or indeed myself?

stef said...

You said you were frowned upon for doing it, yet you are right there is no harm in that choice aside from you losing some money.

A friend here I know here got fake boobies and she loves them (so much so the first thing she did was show them to me within a few hours of meeting). She knew the risks but still wanted them, and is happy. Who is anyone to tell her any differently or second guess her decision?

span said...

I guess it would be quite like doing anything dangerous that you don't need to - why do you do it and are there any societal pressures that support doing the dangerous activity? I'm just sceptical that any woman would choose to do something as harmful as get breast implants - I'm not attacking your friend though, I'm glad she's happy, but I reserve the right to wonder about why she made that choice.

BTW in regard to the cleaner, no one really told me why they disapproved, but the gist I got was that it was because Nickname Pending and I should share the cleaning. I agree, but neither of us have time, so we "share" it by sharing the cost of getting someone else to do it ;-)

stef said...

But see I think that anyone who gets pierced or tattooed is just as crazy. Why would you put yourself through pain just to change your apperance?

span said...

So have you no earrings? It is pretty minimal short term pain, and basically no danger, compared to actual surgery. I'm quite startled at how much I like wearing earrings, being a later comer to the piercing thing.

Insolent Prick said...

What's wrong with Miss Universe competitions?

Apart from the fact that those chicks often wear far too many clothes, and the sham about personality being an important factor, which we all ignore anyway as we ogle their boobies, what's to complain about? It is the ultimate glorification of hot women!

span said...

Nice try at getting banned IP, but I think I'll just leave your comment there as a perfect example of the attitude of some men that women are meat.

How does it feel to be justifying the (unfair) assertion by some that men only think with their penises?

Insolent Prick said...

What, suddenly an expression of an opinion gets a guy banned? That's very fascist of you, Span.

It's not an unfair assertion that men think with their penises. The only guys who don't think with them have extremely small ones: i.e., the pinko hippies.

span said...

Do you see me banning you? Are your comments not still up?

Sheesh, not exactly a good advert for your gender are you IP?

Would any other male commenters like to agree or disagree with Messer Prick?

Psycho Milt said...

Obviously IP has a bit of a struggle with reading comprehension, and has a fantasy in which he's an Okie from Muskogee. Have to back him on the guys thinking with their penises thing though.

pete said...

Heya mon,
Your lines re Miss Nz comp are analogous to the whole "Tits or Wits" thing of Julie Burchill (Julie Burchill has been quiet lately so try the Observer for Barbara Ellen's articles) or others of what is occasionally called lipstick feminism.This is unashamedly a violation of copyright and, more critically, written for the English/Post-feminist market but you get the general idea - Jordan gets her norks out as a rational economic choice.
I figure that anyone who's got chance stacked against themselves should give it a go but it comes back to the old caveat emptor. Life isn't fair.

What's the bottom line, girls? Beauty or brains?

One of my favourite Hollywood quips came from the perfectly formed lips of a young aspiring screenwriter who, while touting her talent around the rough-and-ready Hollywood of the 1920s, caught the eye of a lecherous studio bigshot.
"You’re a beautiful dame — why you wanna be a writer?" the muck-bucket demanded. "You should be a movie star. I’ll getcha all done up in a fur and an Edith Head dress, take ya to the Coconut Grove — you’ll have the whole town at your feet!"

"Mr X, a girl can bet on heads or tails in this life — and I prefer to bet on heads. They last longer," was the reply.
The slang meaning of "tail" when applied to women has changed a few times over the years but, whether you read it as booty or pootie, the message remains the same; given a hard choice between brains and beauty, go for IQ over T and A any day. This isn’t in any way a "moral" statement, by the way; the distribution of brains is easily as random and unfair as that of beauty, and being beautiful demands far more effort than being clever. When beautiful people behave badly they usually do so from a sheer surfeit of opportunity, whereas many clever people see behaving badly as a sign of superior intelligence.
The woman who decides to live off her wits rather than her tits is making as cool and calculated a decision as any gold-digger; Alzheimer’s may interfere with your equipment eventually, but it’ll arrive a good 30 years later than gravity. In fact, the girl who goes for broke with her looks could actually be seen as a hopeless idealist; to rely on an attribute which goes relentlessly into decline in one’s late twenties is hardly the act of a cold-eyed carpetbagger. No, the professional beauty is an eternal innocent who refuses to learn by the example of the numerous lovelies valued briefly for their freshness and cast aside as soon as the bloom of youth begins to fade.
We have never been so confused about beauty as we are now, and it really is the oddest thing to be confused about. You can understand people not getting quantum physics or being baffled by the offside rule, but even a tiny baby shown a series of mugshots ranging from the grim to the gorgeous will smile at the lookers. Being without jealousy, sexual desire or status anxiety, perhaps only a baby can see beauty for what it is; a wonderful thing, as meaningless and transient as a perfect rose. But once these gatecrashers make their presence felt, beauty stops being simple and becomes all about us. And we all know how peculiar that particular can of worms is.
I’ve always thought that having a love-hate relationship with anything was a sure indicator of profound stupidity — surely you know if you like something or not! — and beauty brings out this cretinous tendency in so many of us. While pursuing it for ourselves and slavering over those who have it, we also — women even more so than men; this is not a feminist issue — mock those who undergo cosmetic surgery or who live off their looks. The tyranny of the sisterhood has made many professionally beautiful women apologetic as never before; Michelle Pfeiffer thinks she looks like "a duck", Uma Thurman is forever pointing out how weird she is, while Keira Knightley claims never to have been chatted up.
Maybe I’m missing something, but for the life of me I can’t understand why such body-dysmorphia (if they really mean it) or sucking-up (if they don’t) should be seen as a sign of being pleasingly modern, normal and nice, and make these starry creatures "one of the girls"; in my book it’s old-fashioned female self-loathing/cultural cringe/lying to keep the peace, and as such it should be discouraged. The shameless, blameless days when Ursula Andress was asked why she stripped off for Playboy and answered simply "because I’m beautiful" are long gone; now we get our kit off in a caring way, to empower ourselves/other women/heal our dysfunctional child inside.
This culture of tits-out self-righteousness is so much the norm these days that when the breath of fresh air that is Jordan comes along, stating plainly and repeatedly that she does it for the money, that she can earn more in a day doing this than she would in a year doing the sort of job generally available to someone of her social class, she is reviled as a moron and a monster, someone not quite human. Just for telling the truth, and for being robust and sensible enough to see her beauty as a thing apart from herself.
Our society has never been so sexually uncensored, and it’s all happened so fast; in the 1980s you couldn’t say "come" in a pop song without being banned, but now you can ho’ and blow till the mother-freaking cows come home and still get on Top of the Pops. The idea of the sexually repressed Brit is as dead as the Empire; all through the capitals of Europe our scrapping, shagging young sick up on streets that their forefathers once marched down.
But you can’t just wipe out all those centuries when we were taught, however hypocritically, that self-control was next to godliness for a true Brit, and that modesty was the same as morality. It takes more than a few Slow Screws on the Beach to evict such deeply ingrained racial memory. Thus, the young girl who has sex on a reality TV show bursts into tears and sobs "I want my Mum!" directly after the deed has been done and Jordan turns out to have slept with not enough men to make up a football team — as opposed to the 1920s flapper Clara Bow, who by the same age had seen to an entire team in the same night, including the substitutes.
Our confusion and contradictions leave us torn, a veritable Pushme-Pullyou of the pleasure principle. On one hand we are determined never to be the sexual wallflowers of the Western world again ("Europeans have sex lives; the English have hot-water bottles," wrote some smug old Hungarian); on the other hand we live in a permanent morning-after, both amazed and amused by our own fantastic antics. It’s no coincidence that we are the biggest binge drinkers in Christendom. And unable to reconcile these feelings, we have settled instead for blaming a collective Typhoid Mary for our incontinence; female beauty.
Of course, nobody in their right mind wants to see the return of the endless centuries when women were valued for their beauty and nothing else. But it is equally shallow to ignore the very real reasons why a young woman might decide to pursue the wealth that our society so fetishises through the one avenue in which she has not been dealt a bum hand. To bet on brain over bust — should you have that choice — as a way of getting what a girl wants in this life may well indicate that you are slyer and slicker and more cynical than the girl who chooses to cast her fate, and her front-fastening Wonderbra, to the winds. But it certainly doesn’t mean you’re "better" — morally, spiritually or intellectually. And if you actually have the time or inclination to mock a thing of beauty rather than enjoy her firefly glory, then you really do prove one cliché to be true. Which is that beauty is only skin deep — but ugliness goes right to the bone.