Posts Tagged ‘Decadence’

Trump and the Republicans’ Attack on Transgender Rights

February 25, 2017

On Thursday Mike also posted a short piece about another minority that is now under by Donald Trump – transgender people. After trying to ban people from seven majority Muslim countries, Trump has decided to revoke Barack Obama’s legislation about the use of toilets by transgender students. Obama ruled that students should be allowed to use the bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity, rather than biological sex. This has been too much for Trump and the Republicans. In his article commenting on Trump’s repeal of the ruling, he makes the point that transgender people don’t pose any threat to the people of the US, as far as he could see. But Trump’s discrimination against them does make him a threat to the transgender community.

Milo Yiannopolis, one of the Alt-Right Breitbart squadristi, turned up on the Bill Maher Show on American TV. Yiannopolis is a strange, contradictory figure – a half-Jewish, self-hating gay with a Black boyfriend, who is bitterly anti-feminist and also very racist. Yiannopolis tried to claim that the ruling was quite correct, because there was a dangerous of transvestites entering female toilets to abuse women and girls. He claimed that there was a far greater rate of sex offences amongst transgendered people than amongst ordinary, straight individuals.

Where did he get this statistics? Where do you think! He made it up. And while Maher apparently did little but fawn over Yiannopolis, according to some viewers, one of the guests, Larry Wilmore, solidly refuted Yinnopolis comments again and again. See this video below.

For some reason, the Republicans have had a bee in their collective bonnets about transgender people for some time now. In fairness, not all of this concern is fear-mongering based on prejudice. Right-wing critics of the current medical attitudes towards those, who have problems with their gender identity, have pointed to a paper by a doctor, which has questioned whether many of those undergoing gender realignment surgery really want to be women. According to the paper, those undergoing the transition have a higher rate of suicide than those who remain in their biological gender. Now, there have been instances where people, who have made the transition, have regretted it and taken their own lives. There was a case in the British papers a few years ago about a transwoman, who drowned herself in a river. She left a note stating that she now wished she could return to being a man.

Such cases are tragic, and should be a cause of legitimate concern. But I don’t think this is really what’s driving the issue.

This is really all about cultural decline and the politics of masculinity. The Right has a very traditional attitude towards gender roles. I’ve blogged before about the various right-wing politicians in America, like the highly obnoxious Anne Coulter, who don’t even believe women should vote. The idea that gender roles, and gender identity itself, can be fluid and subject to change is bitterly rejected. Hence this attack on the toilet rights of transgender students.

One of those, who has weighed into this debate is the anti-feminist philosopher, Camille Paglia. Paglia had been a feminist, I gather, before she did a complete reversal some time in the 1990s, and decided that feminism was damaging men and having a generally destructive effect on society as a whole. I think she still considers herself some kind of feminist, but, as Mel Smith’s blokeish character on his and Griff Rhys Jones’ spoof of the BBC talk show, After Dark, she seems to be ‘the kind of feminist, who is not a feminist at all’.

There’s a video on YouTube of her arguing in an interview that transgenderism is responsible for the fall of all civilisations, from ancient Rome to the European empires of the 19th century. This can be seen in the way Greek art moved from depicting muscular hunks to a more androgynous style of masculine figure.

I don’t know enough of Greek art to refute this, but I know enough history to say that it’s twaddle. Despite the comments by Roman moralists, like Tacitus, about the decadence of late Roman society, what actually brought the Empire down were a mixture of severe economic, political and military problems that have precious little to do with gender identity. If at all. The late Roman empire was beset by galloping inflation, massively disproportionate taxation falling on the poor as the senatorial elite sought to evade the tax burden, depopulation caused by plague as well as economic decline, and, of course, the barbarian invasions.

In the east, the late Roman and Persian Empires were overrun by the Muslim Arabs basically because they had fought each other to exhaustion, and simply no longer possessed the military power to fight off the invading Arabs. In the case of Egypt and some of the other eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire, the Arabs offered religious tolerance to Christian denominations persecuted by the official Greek church. The politics of gender identity simply weren’t involved.

As for the European empires, these fell, retreated or transformed themselves due to the rise of nationalist movements in their colonies and the decline of the metropolitan centres. Much of this was hastened by the Second World War. Britain and France emerged exhausted from the conflict, and global power passed to America and the Soviet Union. Again, gender politics weren’t involved.

Paglia, however, draws on the literature of late Victorian writers, including the French Decadents, for her views. These did see the decline of gender identity and roles as a sign of cultural and racial decline. The French Decadents, who saw madness and genius as inextricably linked, celebrated androgyny, while at the same time holding very strong misogynist views. They felt that, like ancient Rome, the fall of the new French empire was also inevitable, and were going to enjoy being Decadent as much as possible during it.

Paglia’s fears about the social damage created by the decline in traditional notions of gender and sexuality are also really a symptom of more general fears of American social and imperial decline. Martin Pugh in his book on the rise of British Fascism between the First and Second World Wars, comments on the role played in its rise by the moral panic created by Pemberton Billing about homosexuality. Billing was a right-wing Tory MP, who believed that the British war effort during World War I was being undermined by gays working for the Germans. He claimed to have a black book with the names of 50,000 ‘devotees of Sodom and Lesbia’. He was sued for libel by at least one of the people he smeared, but the trail collapsed when he accused the judge of being gay.

Pugh also points out that this period also saw the rise in fears about lesbianism for the first time. He states very clearly that the reason why the British government had not legislated against female homosexuality in the 19th century was because they simply didn’t see it as a threat. It was not because that they, or Queen Victoria, depending on the version of the myth you’ve heard, didn’t think it exist, or because Victoria herself didn’t think it was physically possible for two women to have sex. She and they knew it happened, but weren’t bothered about it. It wasn’t considered to be a threat to society like male homosexuality.

This all changed after the First World War. Pugh makes the point that it was widely believed that the War had killed the flower of British manhood – all the really intelligent, brave and capable men. The guys, who were left, were the second raters. As a result, British society was in crisis, a crisis which only aggressively masculine parties like the NSDAP in Germany and the Fascists in Italy could hope to correct.

And something similar has also occurred in America. It’s been argued that the rapid expansion of Communism after the War was a profound shock to America, not just to the self-confidence of capitalism, but also to notions of American masculinity. This can be seen in depictions of Jesus. For a period after WW2 the traditional depictions of Christ with rather soft features disappeared in favour of more ruggedly masculine representations of the Saviour.

America is a very masculine society, and the link between capitalism and masculinity is very strong in the parties and ideologies of the Right, the Republicans and Libertarians. The Left, and its egalitarianism, is seen as anti-masculine and unpatriotic. It is not accident that Richard Spencer in one of his wretched speeches tried to appeal to American women by saying that his movement offered them ‘pregnancy and strong government’. With the involvement of the gun lobby, we are very much back in the realm of Mussolini’s Fascist slogan ‘Fighting is to man what motherhood is to woman.’ The American Right also strongly opposes women entering the workplace, feeling that they should stay at home instead to raise children to counteract White demographic decline.

This is the real ideological background to Trump and the Republicans’ attack on transgender people. The actual number of transgender people, as a percentage of the population, is probably very small. They’re not really a threat to anyone. Instead, this all about the politics of gender as part of the wider issue of racial decay and American imperial decline.


Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: The Diggers’ Christmas Carol

May 26, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

Not only has Jess provided the words to tune of the Diggers’ Song, which I posted this morning and which I’ve put up in my last post, but she also sent the lyrics for another Digger Song, The Diggers’ Christmas Carol. This expresses the Diggers’ hatred for the forces they felt were oppressing society and preventing humanity from enjoying true fraternal love, in which the Earth and its fruits and bounty would be held in common. These were priests, and the tithes which supported them, lawyers, the manorial lords and the monarchy itself. Lawyers were resented because it was felt that they were venal and exploitative, prolonging and exacerbating disputes in order to fleece their clients. Lastly, the people were oppressed by the feudal lords and the monarchy, who owed their position in society only to their descent from the Normans, who conquered England in 1066. This followed the standard 17th century liberal view that feudalism was a result of the Norman Conquest. It’s not actually true. Anglo-Saxon England was also a feudal state, though rather less developed. Nevertheless, this view of the origins of the feudal aristocracy continued as part of the Liberal view of history into the 19th century. The Diggers rejected the aristocracy and feudal rule, not just because of the injustice of elite, oligarchical rule, but also because the aristocracy’s tile to the land was based on warfare and violence, something the Diggers themselves profoundly detested.

Here are the lyrics, as Jess has given them. She also mentions the work of Christopher Hill and Andrew Hopton and his Aporia Press, who have published editions of Gerrard Winstanley and other Digger writings.

This, though, is not usually included in ‘Digger Collections

“The Diggers Christmass-Caroll.

This for a Christmasse-Caroll was invented,
Which here unto your view is now presented;
‘Twas writ at that time which you Christmasse call
And had come forth then; but this is all
The reason why it came not forth before,
Because we thought for to have added more.
Accept of this therefore with all thy heart,
Thou maist hereafter see a Second part.

To the Tune of the Spanish Gypsie.

You people which be wise,
Will Freedom highly prise;
For experience you have
What ’tis to be a slave:
This have you been all your life long,
But chiefly since the Wars begun.
When great Men disagree
About Supremacy,
Then doe they warn poor men
To aid and assist them
In setting up their self-will power,
And thus they doe the poor devour.
Yet they cunningly pretend
They have no other end
But to set the poor Free
From all their slavery:
And thus they do the poor deceive,
In making them such things believe.
Their blinde Guides will not spare,
These things for to declare;
Ye they aloud will cry,
Stand for your liberty;
The Gospel that lyes at the stake;
Rise therefore ’tis time to awake.
The Priests very sensible be,
If the poor their Liberty see;
Their Tythe-plundring trade will fall,
And then farewell Tythes all.
Then would they not be finely fed,
But they must work for their own bread.
The King an Army did gain,
His power for to maintain;
That Army did pretend
For to be England’s friend,
In saving of their Libertie
Which lay at stake and like to die.
Another Army then
Was raised by mighty Men,
That Army to oppose,
Looking on them as Foes:
Likewise these powers did agree
To make the English Nation free.
A Covenant they did take,
And promises they did make
All burthens to remove,
And to unite in love;
Yet we cannot see that good hour,
The taking down of Kingly power.
The Nation willingly
Did maintain this Army,
Their Freedom for to gain;
But as yet all in vain:
For still a Kingly power doth stand
In many persons of this Land.
A Kingly power I say
Doth in most men bare sway,
But chiefly in Lords of Mannors,
And in the Priests and Lawyers:
This Kingly power is their Self-will,
Which in this manner they do fulfill.
The Priests they tyrannize,
By taking of the Tythes;
The poor they much oppresse
By their pride and idlenesse:
No Scripture warrant they can show,
Why any of these things they do.
Therefore I pray consider,
And lay your heads together;
For you will never thrive,
Whilst Priests do gain the Tythe.
But let them work as well as you,
For Reason bids them so to do.
They neither plow nor sow,
Nor do they reap or mow,
Nor any seed do finde,
But Priests the people grinde:
The tenth of all things they do crave;
And thus each man is made a slave.
The Lawyers they are next,
By whom the poor are vext;
Their practice is most base,
For they will plead mens Case,
According to the length o’th’ Purse,
And so the Lawyers prove a Curse.
Another trick they have,
The Nation to inslave;
Mens quarrels they’ll maintain,
Their Moneys for to gain:
Therefore if Lawyers you uphold,
They’l cheat you of your silver & gold.
Therefore my brethren dear,
The Lawyers quite Cashiere;
Go not to them for Law,
For they your sides will claw;
They’l tell you that your case is good,
When they doe mean to suck your blood.
Therefore be rul’d by me,
And do not Lawyers Fee,
But end your suits at home,
Lest you be overthrown;
For if Lawyers gain your estate,
You may repent when ’tis too late.
Besides the Priests and Lawyers,
There be the Lords of Mannors,
Who lay claim to waste Land,
Which by blood-shed was gain’d;
For Duke William the Norman King,
By much bloodshed this land did win.
When he this Land had gain’d,
He presently Ordain’d,
That his chief Souldiers should
This Land by parcels hold,
Owning him to be the Supream,
In paying tribute unto him.
From hence came Lords of Mannors,
VVith Fines, quit-Rents and Heriots,
And all such cursed things,
Which are payed to these Kings:
And thus the people be broughtdown
By Lords of Mannors who wear the Crown.
The Lords of Mannors, I say,
Do bear a mighty sway;
The Common Lands they hold,
Herein they are too bold:
They will not suffer men to till
The comon Lands, by their good wil.
But Lords of Mannors must know,
Their title to Commons is low;
For why their title came in
By WILLIAM the Norman King.
But now the Norman successor is dead,
Their Royalty to th’ Commons is fled.
Therefore let me advise
All those which Freedom prise,
To Till each Heath and Plain,
For this will Freedom gain:
Heriots and Fines this will expell,
A bondage great men know full well.
For we do plainly see,
The Sword will not set’s free,
But bondage is increased,
Because our wealth is wasted
By paying Taxes and Free-quarter,
Expecting Freedom would com after.
But Freedom is not wonn,
Neither by Sword nor Gunn:
Though we have eight years stay’d,
And have our Moneys pay’d:
Then Clubs and Diamonds cast away,
For Harts & Spades must win the day. ”

Robert Coster; “The Diggers mirth or, certain verses composed and fitted to tunes, for the delight and recreation of all those who dig, or own that work, in the Commonwealth of England. Wherein is shewed how the kingly power doth still reign in severall sorts of men. With a hint of that freedom which shall come, when the father shall reign alone in his Son. Set forth by those who were the original of that so righteous a work, and continue still successful therein at Cobham in Surrey. ”

Christopher Hill edited a selection of Winstanley’s work “The |Law of Freedom”, 1973. But mention should also be made of Andrew Hopton’s “Selected Writings of Gerard Winstanley, 1989.

Hopton’s publishing venture, Aporia Press, reprinted many scarce and otherwise unobtainable tracts from the Thomason Collection.

One of the bizarre works of 17th century mysticism from the British Civil War, A Fiery Flying Roll, published by Aporia, was for a long time one of the items listed in the Counterproductions’ catalogue. Counterproductions were a radical London bookshop, specialising in Anarchist and radical artistic literature – Decadent, Dada and Surrealist, as well as contemporary fringe literature and general high weirdness. Another of Aporia’s items which was also included in their catalogue was a radical appeal to stop people enlisting in the army for Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland. That’s important, and it’s a pity more people didn’t take heed of it, as then the atrocities Cromwell committed against the Irish people would never have occurred, and relations between Britain and the Emerald Isle would have been just that bit better.