Love and War

The questions I've been returning to this week are these: are we intrinsically good? Does everyone/anyone care about anyone/everyone else, truly? And are those even valid questions? Does caring matter? Is it better or safer for us not to? In order to answer these questions, definitions of specific terms are important: 'Love' is a sticky word (no pun intended) given its catch-all definition. It's whatever anyone thinks it is. It's what bridezillas make of it. It's what movies make it out to be. [Insert other clichés here.] It's probably John Cusack in every good film he's ever been in.

'Humanity' as a word, is an abstract concept, and is equally difficult to pin down. It's an old-fashioned word - perhaps problematic for the modern reader to grasp.  I always visualise 'Humanity' as signifying the personal side of culture more than anything else, be it culture bound to negative or positive connotations. Eg. High culture versus gang culture. Some people seem to have confused it with a kind of potential intellectual richness. I always imagine it as a word screamed, hyperbolic, in a horror film, by someone about to meet a nasty end. Or a word that speaks of the human configuration, of pity, of understanding, of being, somehow, part of a cultured whole. But the word, 'Humanity' has had all of these definitions superimposed onto the basic frame, and has developed over time, into something more than the sum of its parts. It is more than what we think it is.

Recent events (including the assault of a friend) have led me to think about how that humanitarian part of our personalities acts in different situations. It's an intriguing thing to consider.

For example, the Gropegate case is worth looking at under this lens, despite it being 'old news'. What troubled me in this scenario was the deliberate blurring of lines - lines that should clearly have signalled the divide between right and wrong. Despite recent developments, the only constant still appears to be the idea that a woman's voice is still somehow less substantial than a man's, or that women denouncing or reporting sexist behaviour are seen as hysterical 'shouters', or fundamentalist Feminists. Statistics demonstrate this coerced silence, by the conspicuous absence of data. In 2004, the British Crime Survey decided to institute a self-completion module, since they realised that talking face-to-face about domestic abuse, sexual assault, and stalking, actively dissuaded victims from coming forward. The self-completion method appears to have produced "more reliable figures and also includes experiences of victims who did not report the incident to the police" (1).

So why do women not report these incidents to the police? Because they are difficult to prove? Because it might be dangerous? Because it's humiliating? Because they potentially stand to lose everything? That is how victim culture works. It is not always possible for victims to find the strength to stand up for themselves. That is where our humanity ought to kick in; when others need help, and we give it to them.

This wasn't altogether the case, recently, when Rennard's defenders seemed, almost without exception, to be using hideously flimsy arguments to justify his actions, or saying that women should essentially get over alleged sexual misconduct, because shit happens in the real world; it really brought some interesting characters out of the woodwork... Given that 11 women came forward, it makes it very difficult to believe that something untoward did not take place. Whether it can be proved is another thing, but reputational damage, especially in parliament, should count for something if we are to have confidence in this government at all. Rennard's position should be, in terms of reputation, untenable - otherwise (, sorry for the heinously overused phrase) “quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”

When the proverbial hit the fan, press-wise, the first thing that crossed my mind (apart from disbelief) was an intriguing story I remembered about the performance artist, Marina Abramović, who decorated her naked body with various items (amongst them, thorns, and a gun) and stood, still, allowing her audience to do whatever they wished to her. I remembered being a little perplexed at the horror with which the press greeted her treatment (she was essentially assaulted by strangers) given that she had deliberately put herself in that position, provided weapons, and as a very experienced performance artist, was likely to know what would happen in that situation. In a sense, "she asked for it".  But there's the contrast. A woman going to work in an office with a man is not putting herself in the same position. For any man, or anyone, to claim that she is, is self-evidently absurd.

I suppose my point is this: "Touching over clothing" as a caveat for sexual misconduct is not good enough. That's like saying, "Yes, I violated her, but I used a condom. Also, you can't prove anything, and so what?"