Posts Tagged ‘Marriage’

Boris’ Insulting Views on the Children of Single Mothers

December 5, 2019

Yesterday Mike put up a piece revealing our comedy Prime Minister’s views on the children of single mothers, taken from Mirror Online. As you would expect, they were characteristically ignorant and boorish. Johnson had written in a magazine column that they were ‘ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate’. Men were ‘feeble’ if they were reluctant or unable to take control of their children. It was also ‘outrageous’ for married couples to have to fund the desire of single women to procreate without fathers, and he felt that a way had to be found to ‘restore women’s desire to be married’.

Mike goes on to demolish these awful generalisations, and begins by pointing out that many children raised by single mothers are actually valuable members of society. Also, may single-parent families are the product of the break-up of two-parent families. As for men being feeble if they’re unable to control their wives or female partners, some of the best women he knows are uncontrollable, and woe to the man who tries. He also characterises Boris’ remarks about ‘women’s desire to be married’ as that of a ‘sexist control freak’, and points out that he says nothing about men’s desire to be married.

Mike states that

Allowing such a sexist, misogynist ignoramus to the highest office in the land will reflect appallingly badly on the UK among other nations – and who knows how much harm he could do domestically?

and asks if the people who think he has something to offer are prejudiced in their own ways against good government.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/12/04/boris-johnson-thinks-children-of-single-mothers-are-ignorant-and-illegitimate-charming/

In fact Johnson’s views are fairly standard Social Conservatism. This values marriage and the traditional sexual morality of restraint and rejection of homosexuality. Now I’m concerned about the decline of marriage and the traditional family in Britain, and I don’t feel that it is healthy, either psychologically or for society, for children to be brought up by a single-parent. But many single mothers, it has to be said, do an excellent job of raising their children. During and after the War there was a generation of children raised by single mothers, which had nothing to do with family break-up or illegitimacy. They were caused through the fathers’ death during the War. Furthermore, evidence suggests that the absence of a father may make no difference to the psychological welfare of the children of such families if there is another male figure around, who can perform that role, such as an uncle. As for women’s desire to be married, that was the product of the very restrictive norms past society placed around women, which located them very definitely in the home raising children. It’s the traditional women’s role which has been comprehensively attacked and rejected by feminism. As for his attacks on single women’s desire to procreate, not only is he here objecting to ordinary married couples having to support single women, but there’s also an implied objection to the state having to provide fertility treatment for them. He hasn’t articulated it, but it could also be seen as a coded attack on conventional, heterosexual couples having to fund through their taxes fertility treatment for single, lesbian women.

Of course these view aren’t confined to Boris by any means. The Conservatives always have had a deep hatred of single mothers. Way back in the 1990s they were included among the various groups Peter Lilley despised, and who he claimed he had in his little book as he pranced across the stage at a Tory conference in a parody of the Mikado. And then there was Thatcher’s mentor, Sir Keith Joseph, and his infamous comment about how single mothers were a threat to ‘our stock’. Which is a eugenicist statement that could have come from the Nazis. In fact, I’m surprised they haven’t adopted the Nazis’ watchword for creating a good marriage – ‘choose a partner, not a playmate’.

As for the attitude towards men, there are two, mutually contradictory reasons for Johnson’s silence on male willingness to marry. The first is that he probably subscribes to the traditional view that it’s women, who are most concerned about securing a long term relationship, while men are more interested in keeping everything casual. It’s the received view you can see every day in agony columns with titles like ‘Why Men Are Afraid of Commitment’ and so forth. The other, opposing view, which is far more common on the anti-feminist right, is that men are more concerned with marriage and preserving the traditional family. It’s women that are a threat to this, because of their promiscuity. They’re only interested in settling down after they’ve had their fun, are entering their middle years and need a provider. As you can see, it’s a misogynist view that is deeply distrustful of women’s sexual freedom.

Boris also clearly shows his own reactionary view of family structure with his comments about ‘feeble’ men being unable to keep their women in line. He obviously doesn’t believe that marriage or the bond between two partners shouldn’t be one of equals, but rather the women should be clearly subordinate to the male head of the house. It’s another view that’s been justifiably attacked and largely discredited by feminism.

There’s undoubtedly much more that could be said of Johnson’s comments. They clearly those of someone, who has a highly reactionary view of the family, and they’re dangerous. I’d like to see the traditional family preserved, but families break up for a reason, and not all of them are as trivial as some of the more notorious instances. Spousal abuse – most often by the male partner against the female, but sometimes the other way round – is very often a factor. The Tories have cut down on funding for women’s refuges, which has left some women in abusive relationships in real danger, as they no longer have safe spaces they can flee to.

And although he hasn’t mentioned it, the right are also worried about the declining birthrate throughout the developed world. In Britain and many other countries, it’s actually below replacement levels, so that without immigration the population would actually be shrinking. But I can remember reading an article about this over a decade ago in the New Scientist. Some demographers concerned with this problem have pointed out that the most fertile nations are those like Scandinavia, where men take more part in domestic chores. They’re lower in nations like Italy and even China, where they tend to be left to women. From which you could argue that if you want to create more stable, fertile families, then men should be encouraged to help more around the house.

I’d like to see a revival of the two-parent family, but Johnson’s views don’t offer this. Instead, they’re just a reactionary yearning after an idealised family unit that ignores the real problems besetting family life, problems that have caused families to break down for perfectly good reasons. Johnson and the Tories would like to restore that family by severely restricting women’s freedoms to leave.

And finally, Johnson himself is a massive hypocrite. For all he’s written about two-parent families, he himself has been married many times and has fathered a number of children outside the marriage bond. He isn’t married, but lives with his current girlfriend in No. 10, which should make some of his supporters with very traditional attitudes to marriage take pause.

He is here, as in so many other areas, a bigoted hypocrite, whose views may actually be dangerous, and prevent the creation of happy, secure families. He should not be in No. 10. Get him out!

 

Documentary Tonight on the Works of SF Author Ursula Le Guin

November 17, 2019

The Beeb are tonight screening a programme ‘The Worlds of Ursula K Le Guin’ at 10.00 pm on BBC 4. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

The American feminist writer, who died in January 2018, was best known for her ground-breaking science fiction and fantasy novels such as A Wizard of Earthsea and The Left Hand of Darkness, Produced with Le Guin’s participation over the course of a decade, this documentary explores how she defiantly held her ground on the margin of “respectable” literature until the sheer excellence of her work forced the mainstream to embrace fantastic literature. Tyhe film features contributions from the likes of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell and Michael Chabon. (p. 65).

The additional piece a few pages earlier by Huw Fullerton on page 63 reads

It’s fair to say that Ursula K Le Guin was a one-off. While plenty of sci-fi and fantasy authors could be described as ahead of their time, there are few to whom this applies as aptly as Le Guin, who was writing piercing, feminist and race-sensitive works as far back as the 1960s and 70s with works such as The Wizard of Earthsea, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, elevating her storytelling beyond the literary fringe.

In this new film, luminaries including Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood and Michael Chabon pay tribute to Le Guin’s life and legacy, interweaving with unusual animation to bring her story to (appropriately) fantastical life. 

I read The Dispossessed back in the 1990s, and I can’t say I liked it. It’s about a scientist, Shevek, from a desolate world colonised by Anarchists to its twin planet of Aieio. Shevek has been working on a Faster Than Light communication device, an ansible, a concept found in other SF writers, like James Blish’s Dirac Telephone. Unable to complete it on his world, he defects to its capitalist twin, now undergoing massive worker unrest and an ecological crisis. He becomes a figurehead for the working class radicals, and helps to inspire a revolution. He gives a speech, which is praised by Earth’s woman ambassador. The planet has been left a desert thanks to capitalism’s destruction of the environment. Conditions are consequently very basic, but humanity has been taken to the stars by the Hainish after they discovered Earth. After the revolution’s success, he travels with a member of an alien race, the Hainish, an ancient race of space travelers who have established interstellar contact between themselves, Earth and Aieio and its twin, back to his home world.

Shevek’s anarchist world is a harsh environment with no animal life on its dry lands, although it certainly exists in its seas. The society is based on the ideas of Odo, a female political thinker of a century or so earlier. There is no private property, no prisons and marriage has been abolished. However, couples may live together as partners. Children are brought up in state nurseries away from their parents, who may visit them. The harsh environment and puritanical ideology means that individuality in dress is frowned on as wasteful and extravagant. Everyone basically wears the same costume, although some do make it more individual in the towns and settlements away from the Centre devoted to dyeing. There is no government, but material goods are administered by the Centre, which contains the computer complex used to administer the society.

I didn’t find Le Guin’s anarchist utopia appealing. It’s far too like the totalitarian Communist societies, and particularly Maoism in its uniforms, hostility to religion, marriage and the family. I am also not sure that feminists would like a world where the differences between men and women are so extremely minimised. While women obviously want to be free to enter masculine professions, like science, engineering, construction and so on, there’s still a desire to retain some forms of traditional femininity. This was demonstrated in a piece on the one show about three Air Cadets, who had been voted its top people, and had won a trip to America to see where the latest high performance jet fighters bought by the RAF, were being made. Two of them were young women, and the third a young Black man. It shows that the RAF are trying to recruit a more diverse membership. What I found particularly interesting was that one of these prospective fighter pilots, a woman, outside of the Cadets blogged about makeup. This seemed to me to be the RAF reassuring prospective female recruits that the could still be girly and feminine while piloting an awesome engine of death. I also remember reading an interview with the psychotherapist Suzie Orbach, the author of Fat Is A Feminist Issue in the Financial Times in the 1990s where she said she didn’t want women becoming exactly like men, or men becoming exactly like women.

Also, I found Shevek himself to be a bit of a prig. He was very sanctimonious, pronouncing on the superiority of his planet and its culture at every opportunity. Le Guin recognises that it would have problems, like hoarding, as well as the administrative elite using their authority to suppress music and literature of which they don’t approve, but looking at the problems the Communist societies experienced, it struck me that these problems would be much greater. It also struck me that there would also be a serious problem with crime and criminality, simply because of human – or in this case – humanoid nature – which could not be solved through social engineering alone.

But there is no doubt that she is one of the great SF authors with a very wide following, and I’m sure that this programme will be an excellent examination of her works.

Hooray! BBC War of the Worlds Adaptation Begins on Sunday

November 13, 2019

At last! The BBC is set to screen its adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic SF novel, The War of the Worlds, on Sunday 17th November 2019 on BBC 1 at 9.00 pm. The blurb for it on page 64 of the Radio Times runs

Dramatisation of the HG Wells’s classic Sci-Fi tale, set in Edwardian England. Lovers Amy and George are among the first to notice when a mysterious capsule lands on Horsell Common near Woking in Surrey. Some thing it is an asteroid, but then it starts to shudder and move.

The additional article about the drama on page 63 by Alison Graham says of it

There’s an angry red planet, burning with fury, and its murderous emissary is falling to Earth, ready to destroy life as we know it by landing directly on, er, Woking. Blameless Woking in Surrey, the heart of the Home Counties. Surely it can’t be a twisted dislike of middle-class southerners that powers this gigantic beast?

The HG Wells sci-fi classic is dusted off in a thumping adaptation, with Rafe Spall as journalist George and his “wife” Amy (Eleanor Tomlinson), who have scandalised the town by living together unwed. She’s very progressive, considering this is Edwardian England, having a degree and a job as an assistant to an astronomer, Ogilvy (Robert Carlyle). 

But one night there’s a shattering noise, strange clouds fill the air and soon an unspeakable foe stalks the land, killing at will. Woking will never be the same again.

The I wrote a little piece about the adaptation yesterday, but instead of talking about the plot concentrated instead on the changes to the female lead, who is barely mentioned in the book, and that the astronomer, Ogilvy, is now gay. Peter Harness, who has adapted it, said that this made the story more interesting as Amy and Ogilvy were both outsiders. It’s definitely an attempt to make it more contemporary. Amy’s character obviously has been changed in order to introduce a strong female lead, and I suspect the decision to make her a scientist follows the campaign to get more women into science and engineering. As for the pair’s domestic arrangements, this seems partly based on some of the ideas circulating in very radical circles at the time – that marriage was a burden to women, and should be abolished and free love practised instead – and Wells’ own promiscuity. The decision to make Ogilvy gay also seems to me to be an attempt to make the story more contemporary. Or it might simply be following the lead of Dr Who, which has had a series of gay characters since its revival.

Regardless of the precise reasons for the changes, it looks excellent. It’s also been a long time in coming. It was due to be released last October and I wondered if it was ever going to be released at all. Now it seems it will, and I’m looking forward to it.

Attack of the Clowns: Widdecombe Compares Brexit to Slaves’ and Serfs’ Revolts

July 6, 2019

How stupid, moronic and just plain offensive can the Brexit party get before the British public wake up and realise that they’re a bunch of Fascist buffoons turning Britain into a laughing stock. A few days we had Nigel Farage himself going full Nuremberg at a rally, which began with the sound of air raid sirens. You know, to evoke the spirit of the Blitz, because Britain leaving Europe is exactly like that time in the Second World War when Britain stood alone against the might of Nazi Germany. Except that, er, we didn’t. We had the resources of the entire British Empire, as well as the members of the free forces of occupied Europe to help us. Like the Poles, who served in the RAF, and who shot down more Nazi planes than the bryl-creem public school boys. Zelo Street was particularly offended, posting up an article about the real horror of the Blitz, and the carnage Britain suffered, especially in area vital to the war effort, like Liverpool. Of course Brexit isn’t remotely like the horrendous death and destruction Britons suffered during the War, and to make the comparison trivialises it.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/nigel-farage-back-to-nuremberg.html

The at the opening of the European parliament, they all turned their backs as the EU’s anthem, Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ play. Despite their bluster and protestations, this is exactly what the Nazis did in the Reichstag, and similar shows the Brexit party’s Fascistic psychology. Especially as Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ looks forward to peace and harmony amongst the world’s peoples.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/brexit-partys-ode-to-nazism.html

And now the woman one gay Christian I know refers to as ‘the Widdy bigot’ position of her attitude to gays has also joint the ultra-patriotic orgy of crass stupidity, and compared Brexit to slaves’ and serfs’ uprisings and colonial revolts.

After first stating her objects to what she considered the unelected status of particular EU officials, Widdecombe declared

“There is a pattern throughout history of oppressed people turning against their oppressors. Slaves against their owners, the peasantry against the feudal barons”. 

To which she added her comment about ‘colonies rising against their empires’.

She’s wrong about the various officials and leaders of the European Union being unelected, as Zelo Street has pointed out in this article here:

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2019/07/eu-leaders-unelected-my-arse.html

As Mike reported yesterday, EU leader Guy Verhofstadt’s response to her nonsense was to call her a ‘clown’.

Widdecombe says Brexit is like the emancipation of slaves. No wonder Verhofstadt called her a clown

Black politico and activist David Lammy was particularly offended by her comparison to slavery. He tweeted

Anne Widdecombe just compared Britain leaving the EU to “slaves” rising up “against their owners”.

It is impossible to explain how offensive and ahistorical it is for you to equate my ancestors tearing off their chains with your small-minded nationalist project. Shame on you.

Exactly. To show how grossly offensive Widdecombe’s statement is, let’s consider the status of Black chattel slavery in the British Empire.

There have been different types of slavery throughout history, some types milder than others. But Black chattel slavery – which is the closest in history, and whose effects are still being felt – was particularly horrific. In this form slavery, which Mr Lammy’s ancestors suffered along with millions of others, slaves have zero rights. None. Nada. Zilch. They are property.

  • They have no political rights. They cannot vote in elections, nor stand for election to parliament or some other representative assembly. They cannot act in any official capacity whatsoever.
  • They have no legal protection under the law. They cannot serve on juries, nor can crimes committed by slaves be decided in a court of law. They have absolutely no right to due process or legal protection.
  • They may not claim equality or associate themselves with Whites.
  • As property, they have no property rights. Any property they hold is that of their master.
  • They have no right to family life. Families can be split up at their master’s pleasure. Slave women may be separated and sold apart from their men. Slave children may be separated from their parents and sold.
  • Their masters may feed, clothe and work them how they wish. Some colonies passed legislation providing that their masters had to provide some clothing for them. This was a shift – petticoat – for women, and drawers – underpants – for men. That’s it, provided once a year. Visitors to the West Indies described slaves frequently working naked in the fields.
  • They are absolutely and completely at their master’s mercy. Their owners may treat them how they wish, as they are property, not legal persons. Punishments for slaves include gagging in horrific iron masks, flogging, castration, amputation and being dissected alive. Along with other punishment too disgusting to be described here.

The status of European serfs during the Middle Ages is similar, but less severe. Serfs differ from slaves in that they are bound to the soil, while slaves are the property of individuals. European serfs also had some property and legal rights. However, they were still considered property themselves.

  • Serfs are not free but the property of the lord of the manor. Crimes between serfs are decided in the manor court.
  • They have families, but these are referred to in law as sequelae – broods.
  • They have their own land to work, but must work several days a week for their lord. They are subject to a beadle, an overseer, who presides over them with a whip as a mark of his authority. Like the slave drivers in later chattel slavery.
  • Women are not free to marry as they wish. Apart from being under their father’s authority, they are also considered property of the lord. Thus, if a serf’s daughter wishes to marry, then her father has to pay the lord compensation, called a merchet.
  • At a serf’s death, any property he holds from the lord immediately escheats back to him, and the parish priest may take his ‘best beast’. Widows have to plead in the courts, and follow various ceremonies in order to be granted their former husbands’ land and property.

Widdecombe’s stupid speech recalls the reasons why the great Black anti-slavery activist, Frederick Douglas, once attacked White American patriotic celebrations of independence in his speech ‘What To The Slave Is The Fourth of July?’ Douglas pointed out the complete irony of White Americans claiming to have thrown off the yoke of British slavery, when their Black brothers and sisters were still very much in chains.

American independence did not free all Americans from slavery. And Brexit isn’t remotely like any slave revolt or uprising. And it’s massively offensive and ahistorical, as Lammy says, for Widdecombe to claim it is.

Anti-Feminist Pamphlets from Tory Free Market Thinktank

July 23, 2016

feminism pamphlets

The pamphlets in question. Picture courtesy CJ.

This will annoy nearly every woman and also a very large number of men. Looking round one of the charity bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday with a friend, I found a whole load of pamphlets from the Institute of Economic Affairs. They’re a right-wing, free market thinktank connected with the Tory party. I think they were also trying to promote themselves as non-party political when Tony Blair was in power, as I think he was also very sympathetic to their message. Put simply, their pro-privatisation, anti-welfare, anti-poor – one of the pamphlet’s was Alexis de Tocqueville’s Pauperism, anti-Socialist – another was Von Hayek’s Socialism and the Intellectuals. And anti-feminist. Two of the pamphlets were anti-feminist screeds, intended to encourage women to forget any notions of equality, independence and a career, and return to their traditional roles as wives and mothers.

The two pamphlets were entitled Liberating Modern Women…From Feminism and Equal Opportunities – A Feminist Fallacy. They were collections of essays on individual subjects within the overall theme of rebutting feminism. The contributors seemed to be an equal number of men and women. Among the policies they recommended were measures to preserve the family from break up and end ‘no fault’ divorces. They claimed that men and women pursue different goals because of innate biological differences. And rather than being a patriarchal institution, the family was actually a matriarchy. They also attacked women working, because it meant that the household economy was now based on two people having an income, whereas before it was only the husband’s wage that was important. And, almost inevitably, there was an attack on single mothers. Left-wing welfare policies were attacked for taking them out of the jobs market and placing them into ‘welfare dependency’.

My friend decided to buy them to see how extreme, shocking and bonkers they actually were. Though he insisted that I tell the woman on the desk when paying for them that we we’re buying them because we agreed with them, which raised a smile from her. While walking round town afterwards he said he would have felt less embarrassed holding these pamphlets if he’d had something less offensive to put them in, to disguise the fact that he had them. Like one of the porno mags. I didn’t recognise most of the contributors to the pamphlets, but one name stood out: Mary Kenny. She had been a journalist for the Guardian or Observer, but moved to the Torygraph. My friend was also shocked, as the Institute of Economic Affairs has been on Channel 4 News several times. It’s one of the organisations they’ve gone to for ‘balance’ discussing particular issues. My friend’s point is that they’re policies are so extreme, they really aren’t providing any kind of reasoned balance at all, just more far-right opinion.

There’s an attitude amongst some Republicans in America that feminism really is a terrible Marxist plot to destroy Western civilisation, despite the fact that it existed before Marxism, and its campaigns for votes for women and equal opportunities cross party-political boundaries. Despite the institute’s arguments, there really isn’t one of their views that isn’t vulnerable to disproof. For example, it’s true that men and women tend to perform different jobs, and have different personal goals and attitudes. But it’s very debatable how far this is due to biological differences. A few years ago, back in the 1990s there was a lot of interest and noise about supposed sex differences in the organisation of the brain. Men’s and women’s brains were made differently, and this was why men were better at maths and parking cars, and women were better at language and communication, but couldn’t read maps. Since then, the situation has reversed slightly. One female neuroscientist, Cordelia – , wrote a book a few years ago arguing that any psychological differences and intellectual aptitudes that differed between the sexes weren’t due to physical differences in the brain. With the exception of individuals at the extreme ends of the scale – very ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ brains, brains are just brains, and you can’t tell their former owner’s sex simply by looking at them.

As for feminism itself, it’s probably fair to say that many women do feel caught between their careers and their families, and would like more time to spend raising or attending to their children. But their entry into the workforce, and pursuing jobs, hobbies and interests previously reserved for men are the product of profound needs and desires on their behalf. It isn’t a case that they have been somehow brainwashed or indoctrinated by some kind of feminist ‘false consciousness’. For example, you can hear from older women how they felt when they were young, when they wanted to play with boy’s toys, like train or construction sets, like Meccano, but were forbidden by their parents. Or wanted to try their hand at ‘boy’s’ subjects at school, like woodwork. Or join in with boy’s games like footie or rugby. This doesn’t mean that all women wanted to do all of the above, only that a sizable number did want to do some of those, and felt frustrated at the social conventions that forbade them to. When the feminists in the 1960s argued that women had a right to do traditionally male jobs and pursuits, they were articulating the desires of very many women. They weren’t just abstract theorists speaking only for themselves.

As for the statement that the entry of women into the workforce has made family finances more difficult, because mortgages are now based on a double income, that’s also very open to query. It might be that the change to women working has had an effect, but I’ve also seen the argument that women had to go out to work, because the income from the husband’s wages alone wasn’t enough to pay the bills.

As for the family being a ‘matriarchal’ institution, the status of women has changed over time. But in the Middle Ages, women were basically their husband’s chattels. And in the West, women didn’t automatically have a right to hold their property independently of their husbands until the Married Women’s Property Act in the late 19th century. One of the early feminist tracts from 19th century Germany was a polemic attacking the way women’s property automatically became their husband’s on marriage.

I’m alarmed by the break down of the traditional family, rising divorces and absent fathers. I always have been, ever since we did ‘relationships’ as part of the RE course at school, when the news was full of it. But part of the problem isn’t the ease of divorce, although it became more difficult and expensive when Blair was in power. It’s the fact that many people do find themselves trapped in unhappy relationships. Some idea how much of a problem this was can be seen in some of the jokes about how awful marriage was and quarrelling spouses. At a far more serious level, you can also see it in accounts of men, who walked out on their families, and took up bigamous marriages elsewhere in the days when divorce was difficult and all but impossible unless you were very wealthy.

The two pamphlets were published a little time ago. One dated from 1992 – twenty-four years ago -, and the other from 2005, about eleven. But they represent an attitude that’s still very present in the Conservatives, and especially in right-wing newspapers like the Daily Heil. A week ago the Tories elected Theresa May as their leader, and will no doubt be presenting themselves as the ‘pro-woman’ party. This shows the other side to them, the one that’s beyond and underneath Cameron’s rhetoric of flexible-working hours, and the Tories’ embrace of female leaders like Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May.

Financial Times Review of Book on Origins of American Financial Imperialism

October 27, 2015

Also looking through the pile of past newspaper clippings I’ve collected, I found this review by David Honigmann of Financial Missionaries to the World: The Politics and Culture of Dollar Diplomacy 1900-1930, by Emily S. Rosenberg, published by Harvard, in the FT’s weekend supplement for 11th/12th March 2000.

The Real Costs of an Empire on Loan

At the end of the 19th century, the US was acquiring an empire by default, picking up colonial possessions and exerting a sphere of influence it did not quite know how to handle. When the 1896 selection turned on the question of currency reform and the gold-standard advocates won, the next step to export the gold standard to the scattered territories under US control. It spread from Puerto Rico to the Philippines, then Panama, Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Mexico. Eventually, US financial advisers would by plying their trade as far afield as China, Germany and Persia.

Dollar diplomacy was the term coined for an arrangement under which struggling economies would receive loans from US banks in return for accepting “supervision” from American economic advisers. The story of the public-private partnership that tried to bring this about is the subject of Emily Rosenberg’s meticulously researched book.

She traces the three parties involved in pushing dollar diplomacy. Investment banks, anxious for new markets, provided the loans. Academics made, in some cases, small fortunes from providing the advice: Edwin Kemmerer, who became the high priest of dollar diplomacy, made many times his already generous Princeton salary from grateful client governments. (Rosenberg cites personal correspondence to show that Kemmerer was obsessed with the inadequacy of his salary and what this meant for his manliness.

The third party underpinning all this was the US State Department, which played an ambiguous role in approving the loans. Each loan went to the State Department for approval, and when approval was granted there was at least a tacit expectation by lenders that the US government was backing it, protection which could take any form from ambassadorial murmurings to the dispatch of the Marines.

Banking was a contested area at the time. The gold standard, with its tendency to deflation, was inimical to small farmers and small businessmen. Marxists condemned it as materialism in action, and opposition to it also drew on a strain of populist anti-Semitism. (In the 1896 election, the Democrats warned against “crucifying mankind upon a Cross of Gold”.)

Attitudes to dollar diplomacy did not split evenly along political lines, however. When President (Theodore) Roosevelt, in 1905, halted the Dominican Republic’s slide towards bankruptcy by turning it into a US fiscal protectorate, and then built it into a model of dollar diplomacy, there was little anti-imperialist protest. The plan was seen essentially as extending “assistance without annexation”.

It was only as client countries began to rebel against the conditions and policies imposed to accompany loans (the Sandino rebellion in Nicaragua in the late 1920s being the most visible) that progressive domestic opposition and the Comintern rallied to denounce it.

Rosenberg dives deepest into the professional advisers and their search for respectability. this was the foundation of the whole system: the professionalism of the advisers reduced the perceived risk of the loans, lowering their price and making them affordable for the client countries. The advisers presented themselves as impartial third parties, aloof from both US governmental interests and the banks, responsible only to client governments. In fact, they received considerable support behind the scenes from the State Department, and Kemmerer was also kept on a secret annual retainer by Dillon Read, one of the investment banks: not so much Chinese walls as Hall of Mirrors.

Despite the technocratic claims of the advisers, dollar diplomacy was not a clean, value-free exercise. Rosenberg locates its roots in the cultural debates of the early 20th century. The Tarzan books and films were only one example of the ways in which other nations and peoples were framed as “primitive” and in need of western assistance.

Dollar diplomacy even became the subject of poplar entertainment, as in Edison’s 1917 film Billy and the Big Stick, whose hero was an American customs officer in Haiti, denied his salary by the Haitian president until he threatens the dispatch of gunboats. All very explicit, it might seem; in fact, as Rosenberg notes, it was the US financial adviser in Haiti who sopped the wages of Haitian officials until they agreed to his proposals.

The crux of Rosenberg’s argument is that dollar diplomacy cloaked geo-politics in the guise of market contracts, but with the iron first ill-concealed in the velvet glove. She draws a parallel with Victorian marriage contracts: “the dominant (male) party promised monetary support (loans) and supervision in return for obedience and acceptance of regulation. Yet, also like marriage, the status inequalities were embedded in the controlled loan contracts of dollar diplomacy, even as the contracts tended to be culturally presented as freely negotiated and based on mutual attraction.”

Financial Missionaries to the World is not easy reading. It is full enough of fiscal minutiae that even fairly central concepts, such as financing currency conversion through seniorage, go unexplained. There is no argument that is not a discourse, no assumption that is not a paradigm, no subordination that is not a “feminization”.

But it works well in explaining how this policy of arm’s length financial administration arose, how it was sustained by cultural pressures in the teeth of growing opposition from both isolationist Right and anti-colonialist Left, and how it eventually collapsed in the gale of the 1929 Crash and a series of armed rebellions.

Rosenberg does briefly trace the evolution of dollar diplomacy through Bretton Woods and the rise of the IMF, although a less scholarly book might have drawn even more explicit parallels with the financial regimens imposed by today’s multinational institutions. But perhaps the warnings are all too clear.

That last paragraph is important. The IMF and the World Bank certainly do act as instruments of American economic imperialism. When countries go for them for loan, these are given with a set prescribed conditions to rectify those nations’ ailing economies: they are to private the state industries and cut down on state expenditure generally, including removing or cutting back on any welfare support they may provide their citizens. The privatised industries are to be sold to American companies.

And the Americans haven’t just tried this with Developing Nations. They’ve done it to us as well. The British Empire was dismembered partly due to pressure from the Americans for their help during the Second World War, as they wanted to open up the closed imperial trading bloc to American companies. And they’ve continued interfering in our economic affairs afterwards. According to Lobster, one of the chiefs and head executives at the Bank of England under Bliar was Deanne Julius, a high ranking official within the American banking system. She believed that Britain should abandon its role as a manufacturer and concentrate instead on servicing American global financial interests.

Love, Sex and the Song of Solomon

May 2, 2013

The Old Testament Reading at the beginning of March this year (2013) was from The Song of Songs/ Song of Solomon

This is hot stuff. When I was at College studying the Old Testament, we were told by the lecturer that because of its sexual nature, the rabbis would only let people over 30 read it. It was accepted into the Christian canon of scripture – the Bible – because it was seen as an allegory of Christ’s love for His bridge, the church. The 3rd century theologian Origen in his Homily on the Song of Songs states that it was one of four Biblical texts that the Jews would only allow people to read after they had completed their religious education. These other reserved texts included the Creation story from Genesis and the visions of the strange creatures in Ezekiel. These were kept back for advanced religious students because they could be the subject of heretical and bizarre mystical speculation.

Plot of the Song of Songs

Origen himself believed that the Song of Songs was a play written by Solomon in the form of an epithalamium, a wedding poem. Contemporary scholars also believe that it contains love songs sung at weddings. The passage from chapter 4:1 to 5:1 has been described as a wasf, a type of song still sung at Syrian weddings today. This chapter is a love song by Solomon praising the book’s heroine, the Shulammite. The book is about how she has been abducted from her home in the village to become part of Solomon’s harem. She resists his attempts to seduce her, and remains faithful to her true lover, a shepherd. Eventually Solomon realises that he can never have her, and releases her. The Song ends with the Shulammite reunited with her beloved shepherd.

God’s Love for Humanity, The Song of Songs and Monogamous Relationships

Modern commentators on it have stated that it needs to be read more as God’s instruction on the proper nature of sexual love between man and woman rather than as the tradition allegory about Christ and the Church. Nevertheless, there are sections, which may be read as God’s declaration of His steadfast love for sinning humanity. The physical description of the two lovers’ and their respective beauty – the Shulammite’s in 4:1-7 and the Shepherd 5:9 – 16, also show that God is also the God of beauty, who works are to be admired. The beauty of the human body is not something of which to be ashamed. Christians are frequently accused of being against sex and despising the human body. The Church since the earliest times placed a very high value on celibacy and sexual continence. Modern theologians since the sexual revolution of the ’60s are keen to show that Christianity is not against sex, but against its abuse and exploitation outside of an exclusive, monogamous relationship. The Shulammite in 4:12 describes her love as a locked garden. This shows that love most be monogamous in the heart as well as under law. Her rejection of Solomon’s blandishments also show that true love is not to be produced artificially, but only awakens when it pleases. The commentary I read for this talk states that the book is a censure on lust, polygamy, and infidelity, but endorses physical love within a legitimate, monogamous relationship.

Verse 8:7 where the shepherd and his friends ask the Shulammite to speak because they long to hear her voice also shows us the strength of Christ’s love, and how He delights to hear the prayers of His church, as well as the church’s own yearning for His presence.

Biblical God of Love against Graeco-Roman Values and those of Philosopher Nietzsche

Origen in his Homily also shows how the Song of Songs and other passages in the Bible show that God is a God of love, love for whom is shown is acts of kindness like the Good Samaritan in Christ’s parable. Although this is very much a cliché now, in the ancient world it was massively contrary to Graeco-Roman values. The Roman morals accepted and praised clemency, but found the Christian values of mercy incomprehensible and alien. Some Stoic philosophers, such as Seneca, rejected compassion. This attitude was taken up again the 19th century by the anti-Christian atheist German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche was an admirer of what he saw as the heroic, tragic values of pagan Greece. He despised and attacked Christianity’s doctrine of compassion as ‘slave morality’.

Song of Song’s Message on Love Needed for Today’s Youth exposed to Pornography

Commentators on the Song of Songs have also stressed that a proper Christian emphasis on the true meaning of marriage and sexual love is needed more than ever. Since the 1960s western society has been faced with the increasing problems of divorce and breakdown in relationships, and the sexualisation of the young. The Independent newspaper a month or so ago reported a debate between two women writers at the Bath Festival of Literature. While keen not to be seen as anti-sex, they were concerned about the immense pressure now placed on teenage girls to perform degrading and perverted sexual acts due to the influence of increasingly extreme porn on teenage boys. A return to the morality expressed in the Song of Songs – of pure, ennobling love – is surely needed.

The Shulammite’s beloved shepherd, in 6:4 tells her that she is as beautfiul as Tirzah and as lovely as Jerusalem. Tirzah was the capital of the Northern Kingdom from the time of Jeroboam, so this is also a celebration of one of Israel’s greatest cities at its height. Archaeologists have discovered and mapped the location of some of the houses around its north wall from this time.

The Song of Songs is thus a celebration of both God’s love for humanity and His church, and earthly sexual love. It directly attacks both the aristocratic values of Roman paganism, and the modern degrading attitudes towards sex and relationships.