Monday, July 30, 2007

"Christians" attack another book that explodes cultural myths about childhood.

Activist says Nobel laureate's book could be 'child porn' (OneNewsNow.com)


Via Digg, where I hope a lively discussion will ensue.

A pro-family activist in Michigan says legal action against a school district may be necessary after high school students in that district were given a reading assignment which could amount to child pornography.

The president of the American Family Association of Michigan says it's an outrage that officials in one public school district have asked students to read a book that involves the sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl.

Officials in the Howell Public School District were flooded with calls from angry parents after high school students were assigned to read The Bluest Eye by 1993 Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison. The book, originally published in 1970, focuses on Pecola Breedlove, an 11-year-old black girl who, according to comments at Amazon.com, is "spat upon, ridiculed, and ultimately raped and impregnated by her own father."


The top amazon reader review says this:

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful: I would give it a million stars if I could, June 12, 2007 By haile gebre "Rahwa Gebre" (Arcadia, CA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)

Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, I can safely say, is my favorite novel of all time. It's depressing, complex, and downright tragic as an innocent little girl is destroyed by a vicious society set on convincing her that she is both ugly and worthless. Through a brutal rape by her own father, Pecola's life is ruined as her childhood is permanently destroyed and the one pathetic hope that keeps her alive is her strong desire for blue eyes.

Morrison refuses to depict this story in chronological order, as the narrator explains that it is not the "why" that we are able to answer but rather the "how." With that in mind, Morrison quickly summarizes the story and then dives in to the analysis of how this little girl's tragedy was made possible. We, as readers, are then opened up to a broader explanation of not merely this girl's tragedy on an isolated, individual level. Rather, she is the physical manifestation of the psychological problems faced by African-Americans living in a hostile society that told them they were inferior. Pecola's problems are slightly mirrored from those considered at the high ranks of black society (Geraldine), all the way to black society's most tragic victims (the Breedloves). Morrison refuses to allow the reader to simply pity Pecola's mindset. Instead, she forces us, no matter the background or race, to feel guilty. We, a society that has not yet completely embraced people from all portions of our community, are completely responsible for her downfall. Because, Morrison argues, in a world that continually controls us into believing that all minorities are inferior, we have left her to suffer.

But Toni Morrison doesn't stop there, a point that would already label The Bluest Eye as an amazing novel. Morrison expands the picture from psychological racism into a rarely considered topic of psychological sexism. All of the main female characters in this story are in some shape or form sexually assaulted by the dominant male figures. Morrison brilliantly expands the picture to fearlessly explore sexism and how it has damaged the psyche of our nation's society.

I won't lie, I was initially disgusted by several of the scenes in this novel, the main one being a brutal rape described in great detail. But I realized that this book was meant to horrify me and open my eyes to what Morrison was exposing. The book is incredibly complex, so it deserves your utmost attention. I can not overrate this book; you must read it.
Of course it's worth reading the negative reviews. I kind of get the picture of the usual HS lit requirement that any book that is enjoyable or that doesn't "enlighten" you in some way is no better than reading comic books in class. So, if the objection were that such trenchantly depressing and admittedly complex and difficult-to-follow literature might well sour students on reading for pleasure, I'd be jumping up and down with agreement.

However, many objections seemed to focus on how horrible and dirty it was - equating all descriptions of sexual activity with "porn," no matter what the intent of the artist. And that, of course, is the reason stated by AFAM in pushing to get it banned.

It always seems that these efforts come up when it seems like such a book might get children to disclose similar abuse. My wife, an elementary school teacher, has several stories about that, where a book or video provokes disclosure from 5 or more kids in a class of thirty.

As a long time online sexual abuse and sexual rights advocate, I'm very familiar with the depressing fact that scenes such as the book describes are very real, and far more common than we would like to believe. They are crimes that also tend to be perpetuated by a certain type of person; generally an authoritarian personality.

Ever since the publication, half a century ago, of The Authoritarian Personality (Adomo, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sanford, 1950), the idea that social and political beliefs could be understood in terms of basic personality structure has captured the imagination of psychologists. A gripping issue in the era of World War 11, authoritarianism was conceived by these early researchers as the potential for fascism. Then and now, the authoritarian could be characterized as conventional, submissive to authority, and aggressive toward deviants and outsiders (Altemeyer, 1981). [emphasis mine]
P
ersonality and emotional correlates of right-wing authoritarianism;


Attempts to discuss such crimes or disclose such events are often attacked viciously with well-funded smear campaigns and claims that it's "an attack on the family." An examination of the origins of the "False Memory Syndrome Foundation"is highly interesting, as is this Noel Packard paper about their tactics, which might start to seem familiar in the context of this particular controversy.

I think the tactics and strategy the FMS Foundation uses is a formula approach to make people feel unsafe about debating issues about a common sense of truth or morality, or even a personal sense of truth. I think such tactics help set the stage for people to need authority figures such as parents, scientists, doctors and politicians to dictate to them what is truth, justice and trustworthy. Weber
might have called such a network of authority figures a “status society” (1978: 305-6)
History shows us that sometimes people allow others to dictate them - as if they were
“adult-children.” -

Without making any direct accusations, I do observe what anyone can confirm for themselves: the American Family Association of Michigan is the group that is publicly gloating about taking away same-sex benefits from the spouses and children of gay parents.

Personally, I think there should be a special place in hell for those who deliberately and maliciously take actions they know will harm children. In a state the size of Michigan, some spouses and some children will die or become disabled due to their activities as a statistical certainty.

It's also enlightening to read their "religious freedom" page, in which they warn readers that it may become illegal for their kids to beat up "fags" if anti-bullying statutes are passed. The advisory is code-worded, they are not fools - but the message is clear enough, simply by placing the topic ON the "religious freedom" page. They are claiming that they have the right to harass, confront and abuse homosexuals as a legitimate free exercise of religion.

I believe Jesus had something to say about that sort of thing, involving leaping into the ocean with millstone around their neck being a better option than to cause a child to sin.

For myself, I don't find flinging bible quotes to be persuasive, but some do, and whatever else one may say about it, the Bible is a fine guide to practical ethics.

Matthew 18:6
But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
Matthew 18:5-7 (in Context) Matthew 18 (Whole Chapter)

If you teach your child to blindly follow authority, to trust it above their own sense of right and wrong, you will be doing just that, for they will, sooner or later, be led by the nose to do something vile. So to shield children from a practical understanding of what right and wrong is, within their own social context, is an evil thing.

But clearly, harm to children in the service of an authoritarian, self-righteous cause gives the good folks at AFAM no difficulty sleeping at night. They link to James Dobson's Focus on the Family. Dobson is the author of one of the milder "baby beating manuals', Dare to Discipline."

I have had personal experience peer-councelling many who know first hand how far such a self-righteous sense of possession and entitlement can go, and how much psychological damage can ensue, even when the abuse does not involve overt incest, literal beatings or both. Far too often, it does.

Please do not confuse this with a condemnation of even the most Conservative form of Christianity. Believe what you will, or do not. My objection is to those who misuse the language of faith to excuse and justify their actions to themselves and to deceptively gain support for those actions from believers. My only criticism is that Christians are far to quick to accept professions of faith at face value, while too quickly forgiving and forgetting manifest and profound violations of trust .

The same reluctance to "know the tree by it's fruit" seems to be extended, culturally, to those in political office who claim to be serving Christian values.

I have long maintained that the thrust of child porn laws, as written, seem more directed at covering up the prevalence of such crimes or even speaking frankly about the crime than addressing the foundational crime. That makes a great deal of sense to a person with the degree of learned cynicism I've developed. Certain people - mostly heterosexual males, mostly within families or other structured contexts - tend to use the abuse of those less powerful, often children, to enhance their own sense of power and self worth. Doing it, getting away with it, and taunting the victim with their powerlessness seems to be a large part of the thrill.

These same people are often those attracted to positions of authority and power - priests, pastors, politicians, police officers - and they tend to co-operate to stifle discussion, investigation and inquiry. For instance, should a reporter choose to do an investigative report on the prevalence of child porn and where it might lead to, they will be hysterically waved off by corporate council. There is no safe way for the media to legally investigate the existence, nature or distribution of child porn in the US or Canada.

You just have to take authority's word that they are taking all necessary steps to thwart a problem that you cannot independently investigate. In any other context, a photograph of a crime is considered evidence. In this case, possession of the image is very often a greater offense in law than the act itself.

I by no means defend the production of child porn. I encourage tracking down those who do produce it to hold them accountable. But such laws make such investigations very difficult indeed, and impossible for any of the actually injured parties who might otherwise be using cheap computer power and face-recognition technology to document evidence of their abuse.

But we are not even speaking of real events. Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye is a work of fiction.

To equate a fictional depiction of all-too-common events written to make the harm such things cause with "child porn" is bizarre. Porn is meant to titillate, and from the description of this book by readers, pro AND con, any judge that got an erection from it clearly would need psychotherapy. This is an attempt to suppress an idea and forestall any discussions or disclosures that idea might provoke. I find their motives repulsive, immoral and essentially if not literally Unconstitutional.

Is child rape indecent? Damn straight it is. And any child suffering it or knowing of another child suffering it should KNOW that it is indecent - and that they can ask for help and be believed. Stories like this serve that task and therefore are very often attacked by such "Family Associations."

It does make one wonder aloud about what their "family values" are, and what the genetic consequences have been over the years.

At this point, drawing attention to the fact that the protagonist is a black girl experiencing life in a segregated town in the 40's seems redundant. It's not that I'm afraid of pointing out the possible racism here, the reluctance to underline that blacks suffer from abuse "just like real white Christians." (I quote from childhood memories.)

I have found that racism is only one small part of the Authoritarian disorder. And without discounting the damage racism does to all those affected by it or tainted with it, it's simply one manifestation of a syndrome that affects all of us every day, limits our freedom, demands our compliance and assigns arbitrary and excessive punishments for failure to conform to Authoritarian demands. You see, you might be tempted to dismiss racism as a factor in your life, and entirely miss the larger point - people who are racists are also dangerous in other ways to other sorts of people.

You see, I keep tripping over the same small circle of people who all seem to tie into the activist Christan Right Wing, Social Conservatives, if you prefer to distinguish them from People Who Follow The Words of Christ. It's a very tight network - and if you do not actually belong to that network, they quite likely have an issue with what you are, who you are, what you believe, or things you like to do.

And I'm sick of it. I am going to say right out loud, right here and right now, that one cannot be either a Libertarian or a real Christian without respecting the rights, freedoms and dignities of others, no matter how wrong or profoundly silly they may be.

Libertarianism centers around the ethical concept of the "non-initiation of force." I will take it a step further. Any sensible reading of the Beatitudes underlines a very significant, universal principle found in many other religions and indeed, non-religious ethical systems; that even to think of committing an imposition upon another person - angry thoughts, lustful thoughts, hateful thoughts - is ethically and morally equivalent to committing the act itself.

Therefore, a Libertarian - if we may be doctrinaire about it - does not hate, does not promote hatred and never speaks toward the idea that "some people" should be "rounded up," any more than a Christian would speak lies or demeaning allegations about the behavior or motivations of others.

The foundation of both Christianity and Libertarian philosophy is a system of personal ethics, a personal accountability to one's own conscience and (again, reading the scorn for the Religious Authorities of the day conveyed by Jesus) at best a skeptical regard for what religious authorities say the Bible says.

----

Authoritarian Personality Disorder (DSM) (note ironic sourcing)

Cluster D Personality Disorders

301.92 Authoritarian Personality Disorder

A. A pervasive pattern of power abuse marked by the compulsion to control others and nullify their civil rights while glorifying one's own imagined societal role, usually indicated by at least nine (or more) of the following behavior traits:

1) A compulsion to categorize, label, measure, and control other human beings.
2) An obsession with class, accompanied by the delusion that he/she is in a class above others.
3) A grandiose sense of self-importance, i.e. feelings of omnipotence and omniscience. Believes he/she knows the psychological and spiritual functionings of others. A persistent belief that he or she is "special" in the sense that he or she is "a healer", "has all the answers", has more knowledge about the mind than others, etc.
4) A fascination with writing and embellishing disparaging fictions about others.
5) A delusion that all people with whom he/she comes into contact are "sick", accompanied by a need to talk about that "sickness" in a compulsive manner.
6) Fetishism: Over a period of at least 6 months, an obsession with wearing expensive and fashionable attire that specifically excites (either sexually or non-sexually) a personal sense of power and control because it raises his/her imagined social plane and advertises the delusionary class difference between him/her and others.
7) Fear of human emotions, accompanied by the strong desire to subdue the emotions of others through the administration of drugs, restraints, electroshock, incarceration, etc.
8) Shows arrogant, haughty, and/or sadistic behaviors or attitudes.
9) Requires excessive admiration and seeks constant proof of being needed by others, usually demonstrated by acquiring larger caseloads.
10) Unconsciously projects his/her own unresolved psychological issues onto others within his/her care.
11) Engages in fictitious gestures of caring and concern (i.e. provoking a false sense of trust), while lacking empathy: is unable to recognize the true needs of others.
12) Commits frequent boundary violations, while at the same time displaying an obsession with the perceived boundary ‘irreverence' of others. Sets arbitrary, pre-mature, bizarre, and/or compulsive limits, as an excuse to humiliate, berate, control, and de-humanize others.
13) Exhibits a fascination with making money off the psychological pain of others.

B. The symptoms of Criteria A developed during, or within a month of graduating from, a clinical training period in Psychology, Psychiatry, Social Work, or Counseling Psychology.

C. The disturbance is not better accounted for by Substance Abuse, Shared Psychotic Disorder (Folie `a Deux), a Manic Episode with delusions of grandeur, Paranoid Type Schizophrenia with delusions of grandeur, or other Psychotic Disorder.


This post has been edited and revised slightly in homage to the Gods of Grammar and Spelling.

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