Sunday, 12 January 2014

The Pre-Eminent Rights of Man

At some point in very early human history, there was a shift away from matrilineal and matrilocal family arrangements to patrilineality and/or patrilocality, and from intra-group cooperation and mutuality to competitive and stratified arrangements. The groundworks for the emergence of the patriarchal arrangements which have predominated throughout recorded history, were laid when men took physical and psychological control of women's productive and reproductive capacities.

The reasons for that are too complex to go into in this article in any depth but, despite all the evidence of the greater efficiency and effectiveness of matrilineal/matrilocal family forms within balanced and essentially cooperative wider social arrangements, human social arrangements became dominated by descent (and transmission of wealth and position) via the male line and with that, came the need to control female fertility.

The more importance that was placed on the fact of paternity, the greater the need was to sequestrate  and control women - either physically or, more practically, through the use of a combination of religious ideology and secular law. The most common form of that is monogamous, religiously proscribed and legally sanctioned, heterosexual marriage in which the man's conjugal RIGHTS are, at times, absolute and at least, take precedence over the woman's.

In patriarchal religious lore, the husband was deemed to have 'divinely ordained' conjugal RIGHTS over his wife's person and property, and she was deemed to have 'divinely ordained' conjugal DUTIES of chastity, modesty and obedience. If she had any rights at all, they flowed from, and were subordinate to those, first of her father, and then of her husband.  Even today, in the formal Christian tradition, a bride is shielded from the eyes of men by a veil; she wears white to symbolise her virginity; she is 'given away' by her father; she vows to be obedient and chaste within marriage; she and her children take her husband's name.

This is all to do with the need to guarantee paternity - to protect the male line. The dominance of patrilineal descent and patrilocality laid the foundations of the full blown patriarchy that has dominated human recorded history. It was the first and the most fundamental clash of interests.

The most blatant and stubbornly resistant manifestation of this is in the fact that a man could not be charged with the rape of his wife because the principle of consent on which rape law hinges, was clouded by the religious notion of patriarchal conjugal rights.  It was the same 'problem' that the law had with wife beating - and its ugly sibling, the beating of one's offspring.

A husband's RIGHT to have sex with his wife when he chose, and her DUTY to be obedient to him meant that, in the eyes of the law, she could not withhold her consent - ergo, rape could not occur in marriage. Similarly, a man's right to chastise his wife and his children meant the law was slow to intervene in cases of domestic violence.

The contradiction and conflict between the emerging formal rights of women and patriarchal relations in marriage sharpened until eventually the law makers in many countries (but far from all) have had to accept that the legal right of a woman to say 'no' to sex was greater than the ideological right of her husband to demand it  - which meant the crime of rape could occur in marriage.

The first country ever to criminalise spousal rape was the Soviet Union - in 1922. It took until close to the end of the 20th century for this to be accepted in British and related law. NZ recognised marital rape in 1985 and the UK did not end the marital rape exemption until 1991. The Australian state of New South Wales was the first to criminalise spousal rape but it took until 1993 for all the Australian states to follow suit.

It was not until 1993 that marital rape was criminalised throughout the USA and even today in some states, marital rape is treated differently from other rape e.g.  shorter penalties, or excluding situations where no violence is used, or shorter reporting periods.  To understand why this is so we need to consider the fact that the power of the conservative religious Right in the USA has ensured that there still is not an Equal Rights Amendment to the US constitution 90 years after it was first tabled in 1923. And today Russia is dominated by right wing and patriarchal financial and religious oligarchs.

The problem with the idea of human and legal rights is that invariably those who are denied them start to question why that should be.  Men who were wealthy, or thought they had the right to become wealthy, resented the old orders whose authority rested on the notion that their power was a divine right - devolved to them from god. This acted as a barrier to the advancement of those who were assigned a lower place in the 'god-given' order of things. They may have had a formal right to own property but that right was devolved from those with the divine right to rule and they could (and did) seize that property if and when it suited.

Who got to control wealth and to wield the power that wealth buys became a battle field between the old feudal order and the newly emerging capitalist class. The American War of independence was the quintessential expression of this struggle.

With the triumph of capitalism, the old notion of the divinely ordained rights of the ruling class with its patriarchal underpinnings, simply changed clothes.  The new order had demanded the right of economic freedom and access to political power and, once it achieved it, the doors were slammed shut on all others. The Rights of Man - were actually the rights of those men who owned property.

In early capitalist economics and jurisprudence, the RIGHTS of the property owner were starkly pre-eminent.  The Capitalist was not seen as committing the economic equivalent of rape when he expropriated the products of people's labour and enclosed commonly owned lands because the ideology of capitalism ensured the RIGHT to exploit other humans and the natural world for PROFIT was granted an a priori ascendance over all other rights.

As with patriarchal marital rights - which granted the male head of household legal and moral authority over his wife, children and servants - the property owner was regarded as having an equally absolute RIGHT to extract profit by whatever means possible and this RIGHT to make profit preceded and was greater than any rights of those he extracted profit from.

Creatures in the natural world had no rights because religious lore (written by older patriarchs) decreed that God had granted men complete 'dominion' over the natural world. The labouring humans who were the means by which the natural world was exploited, had no or few rights and also were deemed to have a divinely ordained DUTY to accept their lot and to labour for the property-owner.  This DUTY to labour and accept one's lot in life, like the marital duty of the wife, was enshrined both ideologically and legally. 

The Capitalist needed to be legally free to invest his capital and to utilise that capital, he needed to be able to 'buy'  labour either in the form of slaves or in the form of people who lacked the means of producing their own subsistence and who had to sell their labour in order to live.  Neither had any control over the conditions in which they exercised their labour nor the products which resulted from it. Their lives, and the lives of their families, were moulded to fit the needs of the machine. When the machine no longer needed them, if they could not be remoulded, they were discarded. 

The situation led inexorably to workers combining to improve legal status and wages and conditions and it also led to Capitalists combining to deny and depress them.  The intersection of the RIGHTS of Capitalists to exploit maximally and the RIGHTS of Labour to resist exploitation always have been and always will be a battleground. 

At various points in time and place the balance of power evens out enough that Capitalists are forced to accept that their RIGHT to extract profit is not PRE-EMINENT, that they too have legal and moral DUTIES - the prime one being to acknowledge and respect the legal and moral RIGHTS of other people - and other creatures.

But they, and those who support them, are driven by a rigid belief in the immutable, PRE-EMINENT RIGHT to make as much profit as possible, by whatever means possible. It is their literal raison d'ĂȘtre, and in defence of that right, they will always try to undermine or rescind the rights that have been gained by those they need to exploit.  

The triumph of neo-liberal economic theory saw the mushrooming of finance Capitalism and the rise of mammoth global Corporations run by powerful 'technocrats'. The fatuous theory was that they would generate so much 'wealth' that even the poor would be sustained by the' trickle down'. The situation became more opaque, so much so that to some it seemed to some as though the class struggle was over.  But that was all smoke and mirrors. The capital has simply been moved to places where greater real profits can be extracted by a more intensive exploitation of people and the environment, and the profit makers found new and more devious ways to make false profits out of such contrivances as trading in currency and debt.

It's so obvious that it is hard to know how anyone can be fooled by it. But, just as the crime of marital rape was clouded by the ideology that underpins patriarchal relations of reproduction, corporate wrong-doing is clouded by the ideology that underpins capitalist relations of production - the business of business is to maximise profits by whatever means necessary.  If those means stray into areas that are in conflict with the current law or public opinion - the end is usually judged to have justified the means.

Even when the means and/or the ends are simply too harmful to be justified, the sanctions that are applied to the wrong doers are different in type and scale from those applied to ordinary citizens and they do not fundamentally interfere with the exercise of the PRE-EMINENT RIGHT. 

This is exemplified by the US  Supreme Court which has demonstrated its role as the creature of Corporate Capitalism by creating the legal fiction that Corporations are people. Not just the technocrats who run the Corporations, but the legal / economic entity itself is considered to have legal and human rights.  The Corporations use that legal fiction to further strengthen their PRE-EMINENT RIGHT to exploit people and things for maximum profit.

A surreal and terrifying expression of this is in the fact that under the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement a Corporation may sue a Government if that Government refuses to allow the Corporation to extract profit - because of the legal fiction that the Government is denying the Corporation its right to make profit. 

"If you steal $25, you’re a thief. If you steal $250,000, you’re an embezzler. If you steal $2,500,000, you’re a financier.” A quote from the Nation magazine, during the Great Depression of the 1930s. 

The Profiteers quite literally get to have their cake and eat it. Unfortunately, their cake is the world and they are intent upon consuming it.

Patriarchy - the male control of the means of reproduction, and Capitalism - the private ownership and control of the means of production, are inextricably linked. It doesn't matter that some women scrabble to the top or are born into and able to exercise privilege - just as it doesn't matter that some people of colour or poor people achieve wealth, power and status.

The world is still divided on ancient lines, arguably more divided, more unequal and more unstable than at any point in human history. At the bottom of the social order are the ranks of the Poor and the Utterly Poor - amongst whom the notion of a god-given superiority over women or over people of another skin colour or religious belief - acts as an illusory compensation for their own powerlessness.

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Amygdala Brigade and Confirmation Bias

I was sent an email recently, headed up " 4 Simple Questions from a New Jersey Attorney".  It should have read "4 Questions from a Simple New Jersey Attorney". It is a prime example of right-wing rumour-mongering and confirmation bias. 

We've got a lot of reasons to distrust and to criticise Obama but this Tea Party orchestrated 'birther' nonsense is offensive both because it is motivated by racism, and because it is astonishingly dumb.

So, here's the e-mail- in all its erudite glory. 

"1. Back in 1961 people of color were called ‘Negroes.’ So how can the Obama ’birth certificate’ state he is “African-American” when the term wasn’t even used at that time?

2. The birth certificate that the White House released lists Obama’s birth as August 4, 1961 & Lists Barack Hussein Obama as his father. No big deal, right ? At the time of Obama’s birth, it also shows that his father is aged 25 years old, and that Obama’s father was born in “Kenya , East Africa”. This wouldn’t seem like anything of concern, except the fact that Kenya did not even exist until 1963, two whole years after Obama’s birth, and 27 years after his father’s birth. How could Obama’s father have been born in a country that did not yet Exist? Up and until Kenya was formed in 1963, it was known as the “British East Africa Protectorate”. (check it below)

3. On the Birth Certificate released by the White House, the listed place of birth is “Kapi’olani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital”. This cannot be, because the hospital(s) in question in 1961 were called ”KauiKeolani Children’s Hospital” and “Kapi’olani Maternity Home”, respectively. The name did not change to Kapi’olani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital until 1978, when these two hospitals merged. How can this particular name of the hospital be on a birth certificate dated 1961 if this name had not yet been applied to it until 1978?

Why hasn’t this been discussed in the major media ?

4. Perhaps a clue comes from Obama’s book on his father. He states how proud he is of his father fighting in WW II. I’m not a math genius, so I may need some help from you. Barack Obama’s “birth certificate” says his father was 25 years old in 1961 when Obama was born. That should have put his father’s date of birth approximately 1936 – if my math holds (Honest! I did That without a calculator!). Now we need a non-revised history book – one that hasn’t been altered to satisfy the author’s goals – to verify that WW II was basically between 1939 and 1945. Just how many 3 year olds fight in Wars? Even in the latest stages of WW II his father wouldn’t have been more than 9 years old. Does that mean that Mr. Obama is a liar, or simply chooses to alter the facts to satisfy his imagination or political purposes? If you copy and paste the following into your search engine, you will see Obama making the statement that his father served in WWII. (Preview)  "

Now for some FACTS which have been verified by sources such as Snopes. 

Point 1 : 

The original 'short form' birth record that was released by the Obama campaign in 2007 was a copy of an electronic form created in 2001 when Hawaii computerised its birth records, ie it was based on an original part typed/part handwritten document that is kept in a bound volume in an archive. 

In neither that form, nor the 'long form' that the White House later released to try to quiet ultra-rightist rumours about his ineligibility to be President, is there any mention of the term African-American. In both documents, Obama's father's 'race' is given as 'African' - which was very likely how Obama Snr described his own ethnicity.

The originals have been viewed by many agencies and individuals - none of which/whom have found them to be false. All the claims that the electronic images had been doctored have been proven to be false by many independent experts.

Point 2 : 

The British East Africa Protectorate was a combination of what is now Uganda and Kenya and was formed by Britain to protect its colonial interests in the region. It became the colony of Kenya in 1920 and it gained formal independence from Britain in 1964. Anyone born in the colony after 1920 would describe their place of birth as Kenya.
1950 National Geographic map.

Point 3:

The former Kapio'lani Maternity Home became the Kapio'lani Maternity and Gynecological hospital in 1931 and retained that name until it was renamed the Kapi'olani Hospital in 1971.  The KauiKeolani Children’s Hospital merged with the Kapi'olani Hospital in 1978 to become the Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women and Children. There are other people born at the same time as Obama with the same hospital name on their birth certificates and all this is easily verifiable.

Point 4:

Because of the pressure on US political candidates to prove their 'patriotism' by either having served in the military or by laying claim to family who have - Obama made a speech in which he said his father served in WW2.  

Now, Obama was a constitutional law professor and even his detractors will acknowledge that he is a bright man, so, what makes more sense: that he would make the ridiculous claim that either his father or his stepfather served in WW2 when both of them would have still been children; or, that he was referring to his maternal grandfather - who raised him from the age of 10 and who he regarded as his primary paternal influence - who did serve in WW2?  Either he thinks of his grandfather as his father - hardly uncommon - or it was a slip of the tongue, ie he meant to say 'grandfather'. 

He also said an uncle helped liberate Auschwitz and he was attacked for that as well because of course the Soviets liberated Auschwitz.  He didn't lie about the uncle but he did get the name of the camp wrong - his uncle had been in the US forces that liberated Buchenwald. It's an easy enough mistake to make. It might even be a measure of how partisan and partial the US education system is when it comes to both its own and world history and never more so than in relation to the Soviets' role in WW2. 

Once right-wing conspiracy theorists have something in their sights, they plough on in pursuit, disregarding any fact that doesn't support the theory and in the process dispensing with logic. If their assertions are proven beyond doubt to be wrong, they either abandon them and create new ones (and once abandoned it's as if the initial assertions never existed), or they just make up stuff to counter the counter arguments. 

I think that most of these chumps just can't get their heads around someone of mixed race being President of their still profoundly racist country. They have to prove he's not really an American, that he's a puppet of some shadowy, anti-American force - because the disruption to the foundations of their little world simply cannot be borne. The very earth feels unstable beneath their feet; their fused senses of self and nationhood have been wrenched out order - big gaps have opened up in the fabric of their reality. When they salute their flag and pledge allegiance to their country, instead of feeling that deep sense of complacent certainty that comes from the belief in their essential superiority, they are looking at - a person of colour!  Their little brains are screaming "does not compute!!" and their already hyper-active amygdalas go into overdrive. 

And how about all the female and black chumps in the Tea Party?  Well, it all goes to prove that, in the final analysis, it's ALL about class - not the social class you were born into, but the class interests you identify with. 

I distrust Obama because he is in bed with the Corporatocracy - if he hadn't been prepared to pander to them he'd never have been elected or re-elected - but I detest the sort of people who attack him on the grounds of his ethnicity. But, the person who started the 'birther' hysteria was - Hilary Clinton. With friends like that ......