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184 responses to “Overflow Thread”

  1. mindy

    There is a strong link for example, between firebugs and people guilty of violent offences against the person and a history in childhood of cruelty to animals.

    Fran can you provide us with a link to the research that shows that?

    This sounds like a classic serial killer profile: fire lighting and hurting animals as a child and then moving onto people in adulthood.

  2. GregM

    I agree with you Mindy. It looks like the profile for serial killers.

    My understanding of adult firebugs (or at least those who start bushfires in Australia), though, is that they have a different pathology, which presents a different profile, which is why I am interested in the research that Fran will provide the link to.

  3. Fran Barlow

    GregM

    for example:

    http://www.zackrosen.net/tobesorted/x/j/public/dmarkwat/2009-2010/Committees/Glenn/CJ205/Enuresis,%20Firesetting%20and%20cruelty%20to%20animals.pdf

    see also:

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S135917890800058X

    There is clear evidence that cruelty to animals may co-occur with other violent behaviors, such as assault. Animal cruelty, particularly towards domestic pets, tends to occur disproportionately within the wider context of intimate partner violence. A factor that may contribute to the associations between interpersonal violence and animal cruelty is a compromised ability to experience feelings of empathy. The current paper sought to provide an overview of empathy and its relationship to violence, with particular emphasis on attitudes towards animals.

    Childhood cruelty to animals and later aggression against people: a review Am J Psychiatry 1987;144:710-717.

  4. Paul Norton

    Thought I’d mosey on over to Catallaxy and see what dem fools is up to these days. Here is the thinking of the habitues of Australia’s self-styled “leading libertarian and centre-right blog” on JFK and his assassination.

    https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1oey1AebrfbbhFgtApN1eJjHjvjcPoGBXthqk9ayJrhI/viewanalytics

  5. Fran Barlow

    I gave up visiting that place long ago. Sense recoils in disgust at what is offered as insight there.

    Really, last time I looked, it was one long cri de coeur against humanity and all things collaborative, in which each person’s hatred was celebrated with yet more hatred uttered in stream of consciousness form.

  6. Val

    I am responding to a comment by Mk50 of Brisbane on the ‘Climate Change: reconnecting politics with reality’ in which he (I understand he) said, amongst other things:

    ” the post-1880 social and legal values of western civilisation are superior to all others … ”

    By chance I went from the debate following that comment to reading my twitter feeds, which led me to this http://www.altlj.org/news-and-views/law-and-culture/law-and-culture-vol-38-3/614-conspiracy-of-silence-queensland-s-frontier-killing-times

    In the light of such truly horrifying information about our history, how any historian living in Australia, let alone in Queensland, could make such wild claims for western civilization is beyond me. Mk50 also claims that western civilization was (and is) technologically superior to any other.

    Certainly the people representing “western civilization” living in Queensland in the late 1800s had superior technology in one way, as the review discusses. They had really good guns, they could kill loads of people.

  7. Taylor

    To characterise half the world as a civilisation having one set of values involves a very high degree of abstraction.

    Nonetheless if there were “whistleblowers” at the time who were willing to expose those killings that suggests that, away from the frontier, there was a formal set of values which would sanction those crimes. Of course they weren’t adequate to the practical task at that time. They still aren’t and won’t be until universal civil and political rights are enforced everywhere.

    Not much chance of that if they have no defenders.

  8. Val

    @ 7
    Yes indeed to suggest that so many ( would it have been half?) all have the same values is of course too much of a generalisation. And the difference between what happens at the heart of empire and what happens at the colonial frontier is of course not just a ” western civilization” phenomenon.

    It was just such a shocking juxtaposition, to read someone speaking with what seemed almost imperial certainty about the superiority of “western” civilization – I haven’t heard anyone speak that way for years – and then to read that review immediately after, that I felt I had to register a protest.

    I don’t understand this ranking of ‘civilizations’ (or cultures as I would say). There is so much we can learn from others.

    Human rights is a fruitful area, but the growing ecological emphasis on interconnection between people/s, species and the environment is another. It is interesting how we can theorise these together, the individual as individual, but also as part of something more.

    The recent debate over Zoe’s law in NSW exemplified that we don’t have in our culture, philosophically and even more, legally, a sense that someone can be an individual (or in this case the potentiality of an individual) and at the same time part of someone else. I tried to raise this on some online discussions, but I think in the context of the immediate debate it was too abstract. Nevertheless I think it is the way we have to go – thinking simultaneously of individuals with rights, but also as part of something bigger.

  9. Helen

    The recent debate over Zoe’s law in NSW exemplified that we don’t have in our culture, philosophically and even more, legally, a sense that someone can be an individual (or in this case the potentiality of an individual) and at the same time part of someone else. I tried to raise this on some online discussions, but I think in the context of the immediate debate it was too abstract.

    Val have you read anything about the consequences of foetal personhood lawmaking in the US and elsewhere?

    News just in that an Italian woman in Leeds was sectioned on a flimsy pretext, incarcerated, strapped down, and given a caesarian without consent and her baby removed.

    The world is moving closer to Margaret Atwood’s dystopian vision of The Handmaiden daily, and foetal personhood laws are an important and dangerous element in that.

    Not. abstract. at. all.

  10. Katz

    Yes. The Zoe’s Law thing is interesting.

    If it is established that a foetus has individual rights, then it might also be conceivable that an individual may have rights against the actions of a foetus. Specifically, a mother carrying a foetus may have the remedy of self defence against the actions of a foetus endangering her life.

    Imagine a child or an idiot found fiddling with the pin of a hand grenade in a crowded, locked room. A person may perceive that her life and the life of the others in this room are endangered unless she immediately shoots the handler of the grenade dead, even though the handler may not understand the nature of the act of fiddling with the pin.

    The shooter would in many jurisdictions be able to claim self defence.

  11. Chris

    If it is established that a foetus has individual rights, then it might also be conceivable that an individual may have rights against the actions of a foetus. Specifically, a mother carrying a foetus may have the remedy of self defence against the actions of a foetus endangering her life.

    The mother wouldn’t need to invoke any self defence type strategy because under Zoes law (as I understand it) she has a blanket exemption from being prosecuted for any harm to the foetus even if its due to recklessness, deliberate self harm etc. There is also an exemption for medical procedures, though doctors would be concerned about the fine print around that (eg if they are found to be negligent are they still exempt)

  12. Val

    Helen @ 9
    I understand that Helen and I am not trying to defend those laws. That’s why I thought it was not appropriate to try to discuss those abstract issues in that political context.

    I think the concept of foetal personhood is an example of patriarchal thinking in the same way that the individualism of neo-liberalism is, but it would have been confusing to have tried to discuss that further in that specific political context where women’s right to safe legal abortion was under threat from a legal system that is based on that way of thinking.

    Don’t have time to elaborate on this right now but hopefully can do so later, if my meaning is still not clear. However can I just say, I am absolutely in favour of safe legal abortion. ['possible implied suggestion' redacted. Please do not ascribe motives to other commenters on this basis. Mod]

  13. mindy

    The mother wouldn’t need to invoke any self defence type strategy because under Zoes law (as I understand it) she has a blanket exemption from being prosecuted for any harm to the foetus even if its due to recklessness, deliberate self harm etc.

    Do you have a link to that Chris? I am asking because the US laws that Zoe’s Law is like have been used to interfere in cases where there could be perceived harm to the foetus by the mother’s actions.

  14. Fran Barlow

    I don’t agree that we should use the term “Zoe’s Law”. Doesn’t this beg the question which those of us who support choice want to argue?

  15. Katz

    Trouble is, it is not established that a termination of pregnancy is a “medical procedure”.

    On the other hand, even unqualified abortionists may also invoke the principle of vicarious self defence on behalf of the alleged victim against the alleged putative perpetrator.

    Weird, huh?

  16. Val

    Ok mods I won’t speculate on motives, but I would like to know, so I will ask directly

    Helen @ 9
    Was “Not. abstract. at. all.” meant as a reprimand (because that is how it looked to me)?

    I’m not going to get all upset and outraged and flounce out of the discussion or anything, but I would like to know

  17. Chris

    Mindy @ 13 – I think it significantly differs from some US state legislation which does allow for prosecution of mothers if they say are a drug addict and cause harm to their foetus.

    2 This section does not apply:
    (a) to anything done in the course of a medical procedure, or
    (b) to anything done by or with the consent of the mother of
    the child in utero.

    The legislation can be found here http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/Prod/Parlment/nswbills.nsf/131a07fa4b8a041cca256e610012de17/ba190f0cd248b9fdca257a1b00282e56/$FILE/73592623.pdf/b2010-088-d19-House.pdf

    Usual disclaimers about not being a lawyer but part b seems to be a pretty blanket exemption. So even if say abortion was not technically a medical procedure part b would apply if the mother gave consent (perhaps there could be a debate about informed consent etc).

    From what I see, that apart from the push from the usual right-to-life crowd, its a symbolic issue. Legislation already exists for extra punishment to be given which can take into account the harm or death of a foetus. But its a symbolic recognition that its common for parents of foetuses which die before birth and have not deliberately sought an abortion, see the foetus as a baby, an essentially as an independent person and not just something that is part of the mother.

    From what I have heard (and it hasn’t been much) of statements from the mother who lost her baby that started this latest round of legislation, she primarily wanted her baby to be explicitly listed as a victim of the offender. Rather than it only be classified as an injury to her.

    But as lots of people have stated, there’s the problem of unintended consquences.

  18. Katz

    (b) to anything done by or with the consent of the mother of
    the child in utero.

    On the face of it this legitimises termination right up to the moment of birth.

    However, an overriding principle of personhood may apply. What may even a mother be allowed to do to her child?

    The sticky point is what is meant by “child”? And what inherent rights does it import?

  19. Helen

    Chris, I’m aware that foetal personhood laws (thanks Fran) may contain a clause like the one in the so-called Zoe’s Law before the NSW senate now, but the Bar association, the AMA and obstetricians as well as lifelong reproductive justice advocates ALL agree that it will NOT be possible to maintain this clause in court once the underlying Foetal Personhood principle takes hold. This is why this type of law is so popular with anti-choicers.
    Have you ever wondered why a MP would go out of their way to promulgate legislation to make a victim of crime feel better “symbolically”? No way are they doing it just because they’re such nice guys.

  20. Chris

    Have you ever wondered why a MP would go out of their way to promulgate legislation to make a victim of crime feel better “symbolically”? No way are they doing it just because they’re such nice guys.

    Oh I think people like Nile are undoubtedly supporting it because they think it will be a step towards tighter anti-abortion laws. It will in a way introduce a contradiction in the law that they will try to exploit in the future and will get them press coverage that they want every time someone is prosecuted under the law.

    But at the same time, I don’t think the importance of the symbolism should just be ignored. It’s not feeling better “symbolically”, but the symbolic recognition which may help in their healing – this is hardly the only case where there are calls for symbolic acts such as apologies because people believe they will help in a substantial manner.

    It may well be that its just not possible to maintain such a contradiction in law and so won’t proceed, but perhaps it will be an incentive for the legal system will be able to find an alternative that allows for more formal recognition for parents of foetuses which are killed that doesn’t have the unintended consequences

  21. Val

    Helen @ 9, 19
    sorry I got a bit distracted by other things but I should have acknowledged your point about the implications of foetal personhood laws and the case you mentioned – i had heard about it, it is horrific.

    I still think though at some point we have to do the complex thinking around how can we get a system of law that doesn’t just reflect patriarchal forms of knowledge – so that the desire of a woman for her unborn child to be recognised as a potential person could be achieved without having the sinister implications you discuss.

  22. Val

    Helen @ 9

    the reason I got distracted was I thought your statement “Not. abstract. at. all.” seemed pretty harsh on me given that I agree with the concerns you are raising and what I was saying was that my broader concerns about patriarchal laws were too abstract to discuss in that context (even though I think they should be discussed at some point)

    [mods, I hope this is ok and if you want to delete my previous attempt to explain this in the comment nominally at 16 that is sitting in moderation, I'm happy to let this stand]

  23. Helen

    Val, I understand what you’re getting at.

  24. mindy

    find an alternative that allows for more formal recognition for parents of foetuses which are killed that doesn’t have the unintended consequences

    BDM will issue a commemorative birth certificate for foetuses lost before 20 weeks. They will not issue a formal birth or death certificate under 20 weeks. I guess it depends on the parents involved and the circumstances whether this is enough recognition or not.

  25. Chris

    mindy @ 24 – yes, that’s an example of the sort of thing which is done these days which is pretty much just symbolic but at the same time important. But I think that the woman whose case started this was looking for recognition within the criminal justice system (eg I think basically she just wants her child listed separately as a victim from herself – is there way for the legal system to handle that?).

  26. mindy

    Quite possibly, but foetal personhood laws are not it. But then what about beloved pets as dearly loved as children? Should they be listed too? They are after all actual independently living beings.

  27. Paul Norton

    Indeed. Dogs, cats, horses and chickens all possess more personhood than a foetus is ever capable of.

  28. Chris

    Quite possibly, but foetal personhood laws are not it. But then what about beloved pets as dearly loved as children? Should they be listed too? They are after all actual independently living beings.

    Well if someone came along and assaulted someone and in the process killed their pet, the offender would be able to be prosecuted separately for both the assault of the person as well as the pet, albeit under completely different legislation. And not just under the destruction of someone’s property. But there is existing separate legal recognition for those offences and its not all rolled into one crime of assault against the person.

    Perhaps some lawyer can come up with some alternative legislation which does not have the same problems before Zoe’s law comes before the senate?

  29. GregM

    Indeed. Dogs, cats, horses and chickens all possess more personhood than a foetus is ever capable of.

    The problem of that argument is that a foetus is capable of becoming a human being, and therefore having personhood as a human being, given time and being left to do that, which is the natural progression of its being.

    That can’t be said of dogs, cats, horses or chickens.

  30. Paul Norton

    Fair point, GregM. Of course, when a foetus becomes a human being it is no longer a foetus, so from that angle my point stands, although I should probably have been more circumspect with my original wording.

  31. Paul Norton

    On another matter, I don’t want to go into specifics, but I have recently had an argument in another forum about a public policy issue on which Tony Abbott has bemusingly become a convert to a position that has long been supported by trade unions and feminists (and by myself) but to which he has previously been vocally opposed.

    I and others have taken the view that If we have come to a position on an issue on the basis of substantial research and consideration of the evidence and arguments, it is not rational and not principled to abandon our considered position purely because someone we generally disagree with and oppose politically becomes a convert to the position (for whatever reason) and complicates the partisan politics of the issue.

    For taking this position in the debate, I and others have been attacked as “advocates for Tony Abbott’s policies” and a prominent public intellectual who has been involved in campaigning on the issue for decades has been attacked by the same person as someone who “has form” as “pro-Tony Abbott” and who “has become” an “[advocate] for Tony Abbott’s policies”.

    I won’t name the person responsible, and in the interests of non-sectarianism I won’t name the political party that they are a member of. But it’s disappointing that this sort of thing is out there.

  32. Chris

    Paul @ 31 – paid parental leave where the Greens and LNP have very very similar policies, but the ALP oppose it?

    I won’t name the person responsible, and in the interests of non-sectarianism I won’t name the political party that they are a member of. But it’s disappointing that this sort of thing is out there.

    I don’t think this sort of thing is that uncommon. People dislike the person or party they belong to and end up opposing anything they propose simply out of reflex.

  33. Paul Norton

    Chris @32, in terms of the political dynamics, it can be compared to the response to the Port Arthur massacre in 1996. On that occasion there was a view in some quarters of the left that, regardless of what people thought about the issue of gun control, Howard should not have been allowed the political success associated with getting his policy response through parliament. Federal Labor decided that the policy principles involved were more important than partisan political considerations, and voted with the Coalition to pass it.

    Likewise, while there are attempts being made to come up with reasons of confected principle why the policy itself should be opposed, there is also a view that, regardless of one’s view on the policy issue, Abbott should not be allowed the political success associated with having some version of his PPL policy get through the parliament. My view is that, given the degree of common ground between the long-standing Greens policy and the Abbott scheme, the Greens should treat this issue the same way Kim Beazley treated the guns issue.

  34. Fran Barlow

    Paul Norton

    I certainly think it wrong to attack someone merely because their view on a particular matter may be shared with someone who is normally objectionable. If for example, Eva Cox supports the Abbott PPL proposals, it doesn’t make her an advocate for Abbott, or subversive of progressive politics or similar.

    I don’t share her (presumed) view that Abbott’s PPL proposals meet reasonable tests of equity or even are near the top of the list of things one would want to do in empowering women in the workplace.

    It seems to me that workplace entitlements should be supplied directly by employers rather than the state (unless of course, the workplace is operated by the state).

    It seems to me that means-tested high quality childcare would be a better thing and that in so far as compassionate leave might also be needed, then the employer should supply it. If the employer can’t supply it and the person is not in the top four deciles of income, then perhaps they should get leave without pay and qualify for income support from the state during that time at a rate reflective of their income or AFTWE (whichever was the higher) for 20 weeks.

    If it is good policy to levy large companies 1.5% then those funds should support the many programs government must underwrite including, presumably, this one.

  35. Chris

    Paul @ 33 – I’d guess the origins of Abbott’s policy is what makes the difference. It is seen as some as a cynical attempt to increase his popularity amongst women at a time when he was battling Gillard. Also, the Greens and the ALP had only recently introduced a parental leave scheme of their own and didn’t want to see themselves out-trumped.

    If Abbott had introduced it when he was already in government I think there would have been a much greater chance of bipartisan support for it.

    My view is that there’s lots of things that could be fixed with his proposal – eg its always the mother’s salary which used as the reference salary for the parental leave, not the one who is actually taking the leave. There are a few other problems with it as well. But overall its an improvement.

    Fran said:

    If it is good policy to levy large companies 1.5% then those funds should support the many programs government must underwrite including, presumably, this one.

    I think ideally parental leave at your normal pay rate would be a core entitlement and would be 100% funded by the companies employing the people who are taking the leave. But I think there is general acceptance that doing so has a very high probability of resulting in employers (especially small ones) discriminating against women who they believe have a higher probability of taking parental leave than other candidates.

    Having a levy on all employers is quite a clever way to remove the incentive to discriminate as they all share the cost of the leave regardless of their hiring decisions. It would be better if the levy covered 100% of the cost and the revenue raised was quarantined such that it could only be used to fund parental leave, but I think its a good step in the right direction.

  36. Ootz

    Val @6, thanks for that link, I passed it on to my friend and author of Conspiracy of Silence Timothy Bottoms, who was not aware of this review by Stephen Gray. It is probably the sharpest I have read of that particular work of Tim’s. Could you tell me on what twitter feed and context you came across it? Tim is always interested in how the discussion on the subject is travelling.

  37. Paul Norton

    Chris @35, yes, there’s plenty of things to be negotiated over when the scheme goes to Parliament. Capping the maximum benefit at (pro rata) $100K rather than $150K would realise the same gains for parents on low to middle incomes as the current proposal, while making it much more politically defensible.

    In this debate there is also the question of what stakeholders such as women’s organisations, trade unions, etc., should do when there is the possibility of a significant and long-desired reform that will benefit their members being enacted within the next six months, but the real danger that if it is defeated in the current Senate:

    (a) the next opportunity for any legislated gains in parental leave entitlements may not come for several years; and

    (b) the opportunities for winning negotiated gains at workplace level will be severely constrained for some time to come under the preferred IR regimes of current Federal and State governments.

  38. Val

    Ootz @ 36
    Did a big search and finally found it! It was a tweet by Marcia Langton, which I got because it was retweeted by Melissa Sweet of Croakey – so the context I got it through was a retweet through public health – Aboriginal health channels.

    (I don’t currently follow Marcia Langton although I certainly may think about it now – I actually saw her at one of the referendum consultations in Melbourne and found her very impressive)

    I’ve only read the review so far but if I can say congratulations toTimothy Bottoms on that basis I would like to do so – the book sounds extremely powerful and I look forward to reading it.

  39. faustusnotes

    I would like to point out to all and sundry that Japan has had this PPL scheme for years now. Nice to see Australia finally catching up with countries that have good gender politics …

  40. GregM

    I would like to point out to all and sundry that Japan has had this PPL scheme for years now. Nice to see Australia finally catching up with countries that have good gender politics

    Or a rapidly declining population which it is desperate to reverse any way it can short of immigration.

    And so far without any notable signs of success.

  41. Chris

    Paul @ 37 – I’d be surprised if the 150k vs 100k cap actually makes much of a financial difference in practice. But as you say perhaps more defensible for the ALP to its own supporter base.

    faustusnotes @ 39 – is the PPL scheme in Japan paid by the government or the employer and if its the latter do they have much of a problem of employers not wanting to hire women who they believe might be wanting to have children soon?

  42. faustusnotes

    Chris, it’s social insurance, not funded by the companies, as far as I am aware you get about a year at about 60% salary, and you can work a bit during that year too. It’s been around for a while, I’m not sure how long but for at least as long as I’ve lived in Japan (so at least 6 years).

    Childcare is also subsidized and the cost fixed to a portion of your income, I think, and as I understand it the ratio of kids to carers is 4:1. They have a good reputation too (I work with women who have children in childcare and they say the childcare service is amazing). So going back to work is a viable option at any income. Also they have 24 hour childcare services in Tokyo.

    GregM, I don’t know if that was the reason that the system was setup, but who cares if it was? A declining birthrate is a good thing.

  43. Terry

    The Greens appear to be reinventing themselves as a centrist party like the Australian Democrats. Joe Hockey is all of a sudden saying very nice things about them.

  44. Fran Barlow

    Terry

    The Greens appear to be reinventing themselves as a centrist party like the Australian Democrats.

    Only if the term “centrist” describes something closer to the left than either of the governing parties, which would make us a “centrist party unlike the Australian Democrats.

    Unlike them, we stand for things. We always thought the demonization of debt, the fetishization of surplus and the legisaltion of a debt cap to be ignorant populist pandering (OK those are the words Milne should have used but that’s the consensus amongst Greens I meet regularly) and in that view, most “centrist” economists (not to speak of the more left-of-centre ones) agree with us (or we with them).

  45. Paul Norton

    “I would like to point out to all and sundry that Japan has had this PPL scheme for years now. Nice to see Australia finally catching up with countries that have good gender politics”

    Or a rapidly declining population which it is desperate to reverse any way it can short of immigration.

    And so far without any notable signs of success.

    The reasons for cross-national differences in fertility rates are complex. However if we take Gosta Esping-Anderson’s classifacation of advanced capitalist economies into “three worlds of welfare” – conservative, liberal and social democratic, we broadly find that:

    * the conservative countries (which include the PIIGS of Europe but also Germany, Austria and Japan) that are unsupportive of women combining work and parenting have all experienced catastrophic fertility declines. Some of these countries have recently begun to see the light and adopt more enlightened policies on parental leave and the like, but there remain structural and cultural factors that are harder to turn around;

    * the liberal countries (basically the English-speaking world) have relative high fertility rates, in some cases almost at replacement levels, but a significant part in this is played by high rates of teenage childbearing, as childbearing at an early age is strongly associated with the subsequent bearing of larger numbers of children;

    * the social democratic countries (mainly Scandinavia) have relatively high fertility rates (although on the whole slightly lower than the liberals) combined with low rates of teenage childbearing, suggesting that they are performing best of the three groups in terms of supporting adult women’s desire to combine work and parenthood.

    That said, I do not support the framing of parental leave policies primarily around the desire to achieve national demographic goals, and I think it is unfortunate that some elements of the environmental movement do approach the issue this way.

  46. Paul Norton

    Two other groups of countries that have experienced very sharp declines in fertility rates in recent years are:

    * the Newly Industrialised Countries of East Asia;

    * the former communist countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

    Different factors are at work in each of these two groupings, IMHO.

  47. faustusnotes

    Paul, I think the analysis you cite privileges a very conservative and sexist western/anglosphere view of equality over a wider range of possible ways of interpreting population movements. It is based on a fundamental assumption that women always want children, and that declining birthrates thus represent a failure rather than a feminist win. Furthermore, replacement rates are a fundamentally and unavoidably sexist goal. Here’s why.

    1) any society that aims for replacement rates requires all women to have 2 children, and for every woman who chooses 0 some other woman has to have 4. Such societies are going to by necessity require prescriptive and anti-choice measures (either laws or social pressure) to force this mathematical fact, or are going to allow “choice” for some at the expense of a heavy child-bearing load for others

    2) in societies with decent labour rights, pro-choice measures, and women’s rights, in times of peace, declining birthrates are always and everywhere a win for women

    3) it has been the goal of all of society for as long as society has existed to be able to reduce the number of children women have. For most of history childbirth has been a terrible and dangerous thing, and any society that can liberate women from the responsibility of this task has made huge gains for women.

    4) It is not necessarily the case that if women are given the option to have a career and children, they will choose both. Many women may not want to have children.

    5) Govt policy is not the main determinant of career/child choices. In Japan it is work: although Japan has a wide array of extremely progressive policies supporting women with children in work, they overwhelmingly choose not to take them. This is because work in Japan is largely extremely demanding and exhausting, and in the modern world the only way for women to easily drop out of work is to call on conservative notions of family. This is especially easy for married women in Japan because they are socially supported in this choice and they control their husband’s money

    6) Many women in Japan choose not to have husbands and children because they don’t want the responsibilities and dramas of family life. Rather than portraying this as a sickness in Japanese life we should see it as a win for feminism and liberal notions of choice.

    7) Most western analyses of Japan’s declining birthrate and govt/work policies ignore the role of extended family in caring for children, ignore the role of corporate policies on relocation and transfers in delaying family life, and ignore the general Japanese notion that no one is really an adult until they are 25 – a notion, incidentally, that is entirely consistent with a society learning to come to terms with aging in a feminist context.

    Really, I find most analysis of Japan’s declining birthrate to be completely worthless and ignorant, and usually infected with the three common racist assumptions about Japan: that it is sexist, that Japanese men are infantile and sexually weaker than western men, and that the society is weird. I don’t accuse you of this, but the analysis you cite seems very shallow.

  48. Paul Norton

    fn, I agree with much, perhaps all, of what you’ve just posted. If I had time now I’d clarify my previous comment.

  49. Chris

    fn @ 42 – thanks! Sounds like they have a pretty good system. Do they have any specific schemes to encourage men to take parental leave? Which is the another approach to decreasing discrimination against women – the more even the likelyhood that men will take parental leave as women, the less reason there is to discriminate against women.

    * the Newly Industrialised Countries of East Asia;

    Singapore has tried some schemes in the past as well to encourage higher birth rates. Even some rather eugenics related (eg financial incentives aimed specifically at couples who both have university degrees). But from what I’ve heard it hasn’t really worked.

    I wonder how much high house prices has to do with it as well. Not only is there more choice for women to work and not have children if they want to, but for those women who would really like to have say 3-5 children, its a lot harder for their families to cope financially with them out of the workforce for a long period of time, even if childcare costs weren’t a factor. Their partner would have to be on a really good salary, which often brings all sorts of other pressures (such as very long work hours, lots of work travel etc) on to the family.

  50. Val

    Fn @ 47
    There’s a lot that I find problematic in this comment as a feminist and a historian of maternity, but I will just take two points in particular.

    Childbirth as a “terrible and dangerous” thing: it is true that childbirth is more dangerous than most other things a woman will do in her life, even now, although the risk of dying in childbirth is now very low. However many things that people choose to do are dangerous. Your apparent assumption that women need to be protected from this particular risk seems to reflect more a patriarchal attitude towards women as weak and vulnerable than a view of women as responsible people.

    In my research, in as far as women found childbirth “terrible” it was more likely to because of the attitudes and behaviour of birth attendants and doctors than because of birth in itself. Labour is frightening, yes, it is a much more powerful and frightening thing than most of us do normally in everyday life. But birth can be, and is for many (I don’t know if anyone has quantified this) joyful and awe inspiring. A couple of examples for you (births in the 1970s-80s):

    “The birth itself was really nice, but the labour beforehand was horrible – nurses coming in and saying ‘Relax – what’s the matter with you? … You’re all tense”

    “It was absolutely awful … They had no empathy at all”

    “The births were fine – it’s just the hospital … I get cranky just thinking about it”

    Fortunately birthing practices in Australia seem to have have improved a lot since those days, from what I have read and the experiences of my daughters.

    The other issue is that you say women leave work because it is “extremely demanding and exhausting” – but that is the whole basis of capitalist patriarchy. It makes work conditions impossible for women with children and then says ‘look we don’t have any women’.

    There has been a strand of feminism that sees childbirth as something women need to be liberated from, but in societies where women can combine having children and paid work reasonably well, birth rates have actually risen in recent years, although they are still below replacement level in all wealthy countries as far as I know.

  51. Linda

    Val, I think fn might mean that until very recently, entire generations of women were quite literally impregnated to death. Obviously the more often you do the dangerous thing the riskier it is, but I think fn may have also been thinking of the accumulated health risks involved with repeated child birth as much as the immediate risk of actually dying in child birth. I may be wrong but that’s how I read it.

    I agree completely that western practices and norms around labour and birth ruin the experience for a lot of women. But I agree with fn that cultural expectations coerce a lot of women into having children than might otherwise. I would also add that normative patriarchal living arrangements and the male entitlement that goes with it continue to put many women at risk of unwanted pregnancies.

  52. Val

    Linda @ 51
    I think a lot of people (including some early feminists like Shulamith Firestone or Kate Millett) fall into the trap of seeing maternity as an essential ‘natural’ burden that women need to be freed from, rather than recognising patriarchy as the social burden that women need to be freed from.

    We would I think probably agree on this, but I’m not sure that Fn sees it.

  53. faustusnotes

    Chris, I don’t know anything about Japan’s paternity arrangements.

    Val, I guess I shouldn’t have said “terrible,” but I meant it in the sense that Linda points out, and also in the sense that something that kills as many women as childbirth does is obviously terrible (not the experience itself). Consider Afghanistan, for example: the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) is 460 per 100,000 this year, and 10 years ago it was 1300 per 100,000 live births. That is, 1% of births killed the mother, just 10 years ago. That is why I say that the goal of all societies everywhere has been to liberate women from the demands of childbirth.

    I don’t think women need to be protected from childbirth because of some paternalistic view that women are weak. I think they need to be protected because childbirth is the most dangerous thing that any human being can do as part of their routine daily lives, and most of society agrees with me. This is why so much effort goes into making childbirth safe. As you observe, this effort hasn’t always considered the views of the mother, but that’s a reflection of the flawed attitudes and personalities of those involved, not a critical comment on their basic purpose. Indeed, it was during the period you mention (the 1970s – 1980s) that MMR plummeted in developed nations.

    I don’t think women should be stopped from having children, but any society with rapidly declining birthrates has obviously, by definition, made the choice to avoid childbirth possible, and women take that choice more often than a lot of people expect. To me that’s a good thing, and I think it’s a win for feminism that women are able to make that choice. If society thinks that declining birthrates are bad for some other reason (e.g. “replacement rates” or whatevs), then it’s likely (as I said) that they will reverse feminist gains in order to produce those higher birthrates. I can point you to a large and relatively well-researched phenomenon of women in Japan who are consciously choosing to ignore family life well into their 30s, and are happy with that; there are whole industries here springing up to cater to them. To me this is a good thing, but if society wants to have replacement level birthrates, the simple fact is that those women cannot be allowed to exist. They are a mathematical impossibility.

    When I say work is “demanding and exhausting” I don’t mean for women with children. In Japan, this is how work is for everyone. But there is only one group of people in Japanese society who can easily opt out of work: women willing to call on conservative family values to leave work and care for children. It’s the only way most people can drop out.

    Let me give two examples, one of a woman working in a female-dominated industry, and one a woman in a male-dominated industry (by “dominated” here I mean in terms of numbers; both are dominated by men). The first, my friend who has graduated from university last year and entered a tourism company. She works 12 hour days 7 days a week. Her senior colleagues also do; there is no sense in which this workload will ever let up for her. The second: a hairdresser, 10 years into her career, who works from 9am to 9pm without lunch break, is paid maybe $25k a year, gets one day off a week, and is often expected to stay back unpaid to study new styles. If these women can marry after 5 years of work, they can get pregnant and claim child-rearing as a reason not to go back to work. Who would not do that? Their worklife (and the worklives of men they might date) preclude forming relationships, let alone families; and the sheer effort of these worklives guarantees that they will want to drop out after 5 or 10 years. But the only people who can drop out of work are women who marry and have children.

    That is part of the reason why women in Japan still choose to drop out of work when they have children, rather than take up the generous benefits available to them and continue working and raising a family.

    This doesn’t mean that I don’t agree with your statement that patriarchy is the social burden women need to be freed from. I simply presented it as a counter-argument to the simplistic idea that Japan’s birthrate is declining due to poor government policies or sexist work practices.

  54. Val

    Fn @ 53
    I support that you wanted to challenge simplistic notions about Japan. However an issue that concerns me a lot is that people conflate the dangers to women caused by poverty, racism and patriarchy with those caused by childbirth as such.

    It’s the same with AIDs in Africa – the same conditions explain why women are at so much greater risk of AIDs there.

    It’s important to distinguish between what is related to the condition as such and what is related to the prevailing social conditions. Sometimes childbirth is presented as a terrible danger to women in a way that obscures the fact that poverty, racism and patriarchy are threats to women’s health. Childbirth is always more dangerous than everyday life, but those conditions explain why it is so vastly much more dangerous in Afghanistan than here.

    In most countries women have a longer life expectancy than men, but in really poor patriarchal societies they don’t.

    Regarding the work situation, I think the issue is you’re only talking about one side of the question. You’re saying women leave because they can, but you’re not (at least not explicitly) also talking about the fact that it’s bad enough for anyone to work 12 hours a day, but it’s even worse if you also have the major responsibility for housework and childcare (you know the old double burden).

  55. faustusnotes

    Val, I think the dangers caused by childbirth are caused by childbirth. The main interventions that prevent maternal mortality are those due to wealth and modern medicine. For example, the simplest way to make childbirth safe is to deliver every baby by caesarean. The goal of any society that cares about the 50% of its population that give birth should be (and has been!) to do whatever is required to reduce the risk of childbirth. And a key part of that – recognized by every society as it developed – has been the reduction of birthrates. No society has achieved one without the other.

    Another way in which I think this reducing birthrate situation is misunderstood by commentators talking about Japan from outside is the obvious implication that Japan must have empowered women. There is no society on earth that has managed to reduce birthrates as part of normal development without simultaneously empowering women. Yet when people look at Japan’s low birthrate they always somehow manage to ascribe it to the deep sexism of Japanese society. Yet there is no deeply sexist society on earth that has managed to achieve low birthrates. But when was the last time you read a commentator on Japan suggesting that Japan’s low birthrate could be a sign that they are doing something right viz a viz feminism?

    I’m not explicitly talking about the old double burden because I thought everyone assumed it was an outstanding issue that no society has yet solved. I do think that the double burden is less of an issue here precisely because work itself is an overwhelming single burden here, and it’s physically impossible to carry the double burden for a fair proportion of Japanese people. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. My suspicion is that women in a job with that level of work are looking forward to leaving work for children, and that makes comparison with countries like France a little difficult. This is why I stated in my original comment that I think there is not enough attention on the importance of labour issues in assessing policies to change birthrates.

    [Though I should again say: I don't believe it's possible to eliminate sexism and have replacement levels of birthrates, at least not in societies with our current levels of automation. Replacement level birthrates require some form of anti-choice policy]

    Re: the double burden, I see it play out in a very different way here in Japan. I think here, there is a strong history of grandparents basically raising children while the parents work full-time plus overtime. This means that working women don’t face the double burden. For example I know a woman who spent 5 years working full time and raising two kids, but she never once in that time cooked a meal during the week, prepared her kids’ school lunches, or even helped them with their homework – while she worked her in-laws did all that. So what this means is that her child-rearing tasks were actually pretty easy, and she had a much lower burden of housework than an equivalent working mother in the west (maybe a 1.25 burden or something). However, what it also means is that when she retires she will then be expected to look after her own grandkids. So the double burden in Japan (much more than the west) means child-rearing activities extend into your retirement, and many women don’t start doing a great deal of housework for others in full until they retire. The double burden is deferred, or smeared out over a much longer period… and I think a lot of corporations know this, and don’t bother with family friendly policies because they know their employees’ elderly parents are doing the heavy lifting.

  56. Val

    Oh Fn. As well as having written a 60,000 word thesis on maternity, I am a middle class, highly educated woman in a wealthy society, and I have given birth to three children. I know that I face nothing like the dangers that a woman in Afghanistan faces in childbirth.

    I’m sturdy, well nourished, I know a lot about childbirth, I have a political voice, and I had control over my own fertility and when I had children. I was an adult when I got married, and although my society wasn’t entirely free of patriarchy, I had a fair degree of autonomy in my life.

    I wasn’t chronically frightened, I wasn’t beaten up if I tried to speak in public or go to school, I wasn’t chronically under- nourished and I didn’t have TB or parasites.

    I mean for crying out loud Fn, have a heart. You think the fact that women in poor, patriarchal societies don’t all have access to hospital births and caesareans is the sole reason for their high maternal mortality rate? When the majority of women in Australia first started having hospital births in about the 1930s, maternal mortality rates went up, and that was in conditions that were far less oppressive than women in Afghanistan face.

  57. Val

    Fn @ 55
    And btw do you have any evidence that caesareans are safer for mothers? Caesareans, even though much safer and simpler than they were in earlier decades, are still major surgery, with a six week recovery period.

    Most of the women I know who have had caesareans have done so for the welfare of their baby. Often it’s a sad decision, but one they make because they believe they are doing the right thing for their child.

    I think talking about deep emotional things that you don’t know a lot about is risky and you should be very careful about dismissing the views of women in this area. That’s all I will say.

  58. Val

    Fn @ 55
    WHO says that caesareans without medical indications carry an increased risk of adverse outcomes (including death) for the mother. That’s why they are trying to reduce them http://whqlibdoc.who.int/hq/2010/WHO_RHR_HRP_10.20_eng.pdf

  59. Linda

    It is also important to acknowledge that the associated health risks to western women are not just from the physical impacts of pregnancy and child birth itself, but the increased risks for domestic violence/homocide, poverty and homelessness that occur when women have children. Also, the majority of child births in western societies are uncomplicated – caesarians are not the answer.

  60. faustusnotes

    Those WHO global survey studies are subject to a lot of controversy due to the choice of comparison group – one in the Lancet caused a storm for similar findings.

    I think you are dismissing the experience of a lot of women outside the modern bourgeois west when you try to blame all the dangers of childbirth on patriarchy. You’re also ignoring a huge international movement of some 30 years’ experience, which aimed to give women reproductive control as part of the battle against maternal mortality.

    Off to a day of role-playing so no time to respond in more detail …

  61. Val

    Fn @ 60
    I haven’t tried to blame all the dangers of childbirth on patriarchy. I specifically said that it was inherently more dangerous than everyday life, but the dangers were greater for women in

    poor patriarchal societies

    .

    I also specifically said that control of one’s own fertility is important as well as a lot of other things like education and autonomy. Btw I also support stabilising or reducing population, I just pointed out that in most wealthy countries the birth rate is below replacement rate now – which many people don’t seem to know. It is actually also below replacement rate in a number of Indian States, which is interesting. WHO predicts population will stabilise mid century.

    I have noticed in this exchange that you are reproaching me for saying things I haven’t said. It would be more respectful to respond to what I have actually said.

  62. mindy

    the simplest way to make childbirth safe is to deliver every baby by caesarean.

    Sorry FN but I have to join the chorus of ‘hell no’ on this one. The simplest way to make working hours easy for obstetricians is to schedule caesars. This is not always the safest option for mother or baby. It is major surgery and like any major surgery things can go wrong. I was guilted into having a caesar so my Obs could go on holidays. My child is fine, and probably would have been fine had I delivered normally as well. But then he might not have been there when I had the baby and the $$ would have gone to someone else.

  63. Val

    Fn thinking about your comments on birth and caesareans reminded me of an attitude common amongst doctors and paediatricians that I found in my study (this in mainly post WW2 when paediatrics was becoming established as a profession in Australia). They seemed to conceptual use the human body (but most particularly the maternal female body) as ‘naturally’ imperfect and see ‘science’ as offering the answers – improving on nature.

    Your attitude in this instance seems similar. I find that puzzling in one who seems to support feminism and ecology?

  64. Val

    Sorry, that should be ‘conceptualise’ – as ever my iPhone believes it knows better than me!

  65. Chris

    My child is fine, and probably would have been fine had I delivered normally as well. But then he might not have been there when I had the baby and the $$ would have gone to someone else.

    Wow, the way obstetricians are paid is seriously flawed then. I would have thought that they would have just filled in for each other when on vacation or they can’t attend. After all if they have two patients needing their attention at the same time they might not be able to anyway and the last thing you want them to be doing is trying to take on too much at once out of financial concerns.

    And besides that sort of behaviour should be considered malpractice – its one thing to inform a patient that they’re going on holiday and so if they want them to attend that a caesar is the only option (doctors have to on holiday sometime), but its another to completely different thing to coerce them into doing so for financial gain.

    They seemed to conceptual use the human body (but most particularly the maternal female body) as ‘naturally’ imperfect and see ‘science’ as offering the answers – improving on nature.

    Aren’t vaccines an example of imperfection and medical science stepping in to improve on nature? I don’t think it would be too hard to come up with lots of other examples where something hasn’t necessarily go wrong in an explicit way (natural processes or variation), but science can significantly improve quality and length of life.

  66. Val

    Chris @ 65
    It’s interesting, I don’t think it’s necessarily an either /or question, it’s more a matter of degree.

    I think a good analogy is organic farming vs ‘industrial’ farming – both are trying to improve the ‘given’, but one is trying to work with nature to create the conditions for flourishing, whereas the other is more focused on trying to control.

    In terms of maternity, breastfeeding is the prime example – a lot of medical people had a very mechanistic understanding of breastfeeding, leading to some far fetched claims such as that modern women had lost the ability to breastfeed and therefore bottle feeding was a superior alternative.

    It took a lot of advocacy before they could accept that there were a lot of social reasons why women had difficulty breastfeeding and that these needed to be addressed, rather than just assuming the problem was inherent to the women.

  67. jules

    Vaccines are a minor improvement on an already effective and impressive system, not an improvement of an imperfection.

  68. faustusnotes

    Val, here is the Lancet’s 2006 article on maternal mortality. There is not a single expert in the field who does not see medicalization as key to reducing maternal mortality, and all the work done on this by policy makers, nations that have successfully reduced their MMR, and frontline workers trying to deal with dying mothers, has recognized the role of high fertility and lack of access to proper medical care as the two key determinants of mortality. They also all talk about “female empowerment” (put in quotes because it’s the term usually used, not because I don’t believe in it). There is a clear relationship between high birthrates and low levels of female empowerment and no country has improved one without the other.

    It’s also not just about poverty, though poverty plays an important role in childbirth. For example (from the Lancet article) Cote dIvoire, Vietnam, Yemen and Sri Lanka have very different GNI but very similar MMR; huge disparities exist within countries too (e.g. in Afghanistan, MMR is 450 in cities and 6500 in the country).

    I guess I’m confused as to how you can disagree with the important relationship between feminist gains and reduced birthrates. I’ve never heard anyone dispute this theory before, and maybe it’s only a public health perspective but in my experience everyone accepts that childbirth is incredibly danerous; it is an empowering and special experience for western wealthy mothers precisely because the midwife-driven, medicalized model of delivery common in Japan, Australia etc. is based on the recognition and management of these huge risks.

    I also can’t see what the rhetorical or political gains are for feminists denying that childbirth is dangerous. If your concern is the risk of having it characterized as a burden rather than a joy, then fair enough, but this is exactly my point (I think): childbirth only stops being a burden when it is a choice, and societies that fully empower women to make this choice will always have lower birthrates; any increase in birthrates for such societies will necessarily impose a burden on some women, that burden including death for a small minority of women.

  69. faustusnotes

    Val re: your 63, I don’t conceptualize the female body as inferior or in need of (patriarchal, male) intervention. However, I like to think of myself as a scientific leftist and I’m completely unimpressed by arguments based on “it’s natural.” There are some things that human bodies do that are inherently dangerous, and childbirth happens to be right at the top of the list. I have no doubt that it’s position on the list is intimately connected with the reason women are viewed and treated as inferior. But just as I think the pill is a huge advance for women’s control over their bodies and don’t eschew is as a tool for women’s empowerment because it isn’t “natural,” so I don’t eschew medical intervention for childbirth.

    Vaccines are also not an “improvement on an effective system.” Smallpox wiped out whole races. There is not a single person on earth who is confirmed to be immune to HIV. Vaccines do not “improve” on this situation, they completely revolutionize it.

    I’m glad you note my support for feminism, but I think you’ll find that a lot of the people working in obstetrics and gynaecology who are completely uninterested in feminism are deeply committed to saving women’s lives, and I doubt you’ll find many people in that field who don’t consider childbirth to be an amazing thing. It’s possible for feminists and non-feminists alike to recognize the enormous danger inherent in childbirth, without having any conceptual model of women’s bodies at all, let alone as being inferior. I’m sure you can find many midwives who are fiercely feminist about natural childbirth and also fully aware of the risks that unmanaged childbirth brings with it.

  70. mindy

    There is not a single expert in the field who does not see medicalization as key to reducing maternal mortality

    Two things – medicalization =/= caesarians, it is much more than that and midwives in Australia have long been fighting for less interference in labour and to let women labour more naturally where there are no contraindictions rather than demand that women dilate at 1cm an hour or get given drugs to speed up labour. Some aspects of medicalization make childbirth safer, some just make it more convenient.

  71. mindy

    Midwife led birthing is not unmanaged in any sense. You don’t need an obstetrician for every birth. Many only turn up once the baby is just about out. Many western women give birth quite safely at home in the care of a midwife or in a midwife led birthing centre.

  72. faustusnotes

    Mindy, my reference to medicalization there was about the whole process, not caesarians. Rest assured I have no interest in or support for an intervention to reduce maternal mortality based on routine planned caesarians.

    Broadly speaking the best practice for interventions to reduce MMR seems to be a midwife- and mother-led process of facility-based birth with rapid, guaranteed access to tertiary facilities when the whole thing goes south. Interventions based on this model work across the world, in poor and very patriarchal countries and in wealthy and very sexist countries. They work best when supported by women’s empowerment, reduced birthrates, universal access to healthcare, free access to safe abortion and education of girls and women. As far as I know there is no model for reducing MMR based on women predominantly giving birth at home.

    Hence, “medicalization.”

  73. faustusnotes

    [my 72 appears to have crossed with your 71].

  74. mindy

    Well I’ll stop furiously agreeing with you then :)

  75. Russell

    “childbirth only stops being a burden when it is a choice, and societies that fully empower women to make this choice will always have lower birthrates; any increase in birthrates for such societies will necessarily impose a burden on some women”

    FN, I’ve just read through the comments and there seems to be a sort of contradiction where you say a declining birthrate goes along with empowering women, but then you tell us about Japan, where the working hours don’t really allow for much of a free choice??

    I wonder, if the birth rate went up again it could be because this experience of many women not becoming mothers comes to be seen as a problem. Yes, this is just anecdote, but I know quite a few women who for various reasons, and the conditions of modern life, didn’t have children, and then later experienced serious regret and depression over it. I see now that the issue flares up again as they miss being grandparents. The choices that modern life is allowing people to make may not add up to a satisfying life, over the longer term.

    Looking back to my grandparents generation there were women who never married, perhaps because so many young men were killed in the war. They were, without much choice, still living in a close family relationship with parents and siblings, but it was at least being in a communal situation. Perhaps social media will connect the younger generation who don’t form family relationships – who knows? – but for women my age, the empowerment to not have children has created its own unforseen difficulties.

  76. faustusnotes

    Russell, I don’t think it’s a contradiction. Women in Japan have the choice not to have children; they don’t have the choice not to work unless they have children. Work is horrible; hence a surprisingly large proportion of women stop working when they have kids. On top of that, many corporations don’t support maternity leave (even though the govt pays for it!); women in these corps have the “choice” of work or children; they choose work. What does that tell us about women’s attitude towards having children? And finally, there is a third and growing group of women in Japan who choose not to have children without regard for work issues – they just choose not to have children.

    If Japan wants to increase its birthrate to replacement levels, two of those groups of women are going to have to have their choices taken away. The second group will have to be forced to choose work and kids (or join the first group); the third group will, somehow, have to disappear. It’s mathematically impossible to raise birthrates without doing that.

    Furthermore, every year about 40 women die in childbirth in Japan. To increase birthrates to replacement level will require an approximate 50% increase in the number of births. This means 20 more women have to die every year.

    There’s nothing about raising birthrates at a population level that benefits any women.

  77. GregM

    Broadly speaking the best practice for interventions to reduce MMR seems to be a midwife- and mother-led process of facility-based birth with rapid, guaranteed access to tertiary facilities when the whole thing goes south.

    FN I think you mean if, not when.

    Which means a birthing centre attached to a hospital where the mother gives birth supported by her midwife and, in the best of circumstances her partner, and even with her children around, but with effective medical interventions available promptly if things do not go as they should and are hoped.

  78. Val

    Fn @ 68

    I guess I’m confused as to how you can disagree with the important relationship between feminist gains and reduced birthrates.

    This is the kind of comment that leaves me feeling a bit disrespected. I didn’t ever say anything like that, and it’s a misrepresentation of my position to suggest I did.

    Maternity and childbirth are very complex issues and the way that women experience them is always socially constructed. Yes, there is an inherent danger in childbirth, we agree on that. But the degree of danger, the way childbirth is experienced, and what it means in women’s lives, depends on social circumstances. As Russell has alluded to, not having a child can be a tragedy for women in some circumstances – having a child can be a tragedy in another.

    Part of the disagreement between us is that you are talking about proximate causes and I am talking about social determinants. It’s like saying that HIV (proximate case) causes AIDs, but a woman’s susceptibility to HIV will also be related to social determinants such as whether she is forced or pressured into having unprotected sex, and whether she has unhealed lesions related to TB (which is in turn related to poverty, nutritional and immunological status) or sexual violence. These are some of the possible reasons why women in Africa, unlike other countries, may be at greater risk of AIDs than men, and they illustrate the difference between proximate causes and underlying social determinants.

    If you look again at that Lancet article, you will see that similar issues about proximate causes and social determinants are canvassed there. Many of the more proximate causes of maternal mortality can be effectively addressed by skilled care during maternity and especially at birth, but there are also more complex issues particularly related to social determinants and inequalities (or inequities as we say in health promotion, since they are socially determined and avoidable), within countries as well as between them.

    I think we would be in agreement that there should be a response on both levels: addressing social and economic inequities AND providing skilled care and social support in maternity, including midwife led care with back up specialist facilities in childbirth.

    In terms of fertility, women having control over our own fertility is absolutely a feminist issue, and patriarchy is definitely the problem. In terms of what we want, some women would not want any children, some one or two and some more. Birth rates seem to be levelling out a bit under replacement rate (ie slightly less than two per woman) in wealthy countries, although they seem to be slightly higher (though still below replacement rate) in countries which offer better work-family balance.

    I think this is enough on the issue, but I do want to add, I won a postgraduate prize for epidemiology. I always feel bad saying things like that, because people’s views should be taken seriously no matter what academic awards they have or don’t have. Nevertheless I guess it’s a short hand way of reinforcing that I think you were at times a bit too quick to dismiss or misunderstand my views instead of really trying to understand what I was saying.

  79. jules

    Vaccines are also not an “improvement on an effective system.” Smallpox wiped out whole races. There is not a single person on earth who is confirmed to be immune to HIV. Vaccines do not “improve” on this situation, they completely revolutionize it.

    Vaccines work by hacking the immune system. By tricking it into being more effective and responding a lot faster. There are lots of potentially fatal things your immune system protects you from (which is why AIDS won’t kill you.) The fact that one thing you mentioned – smallpox – doesn’t infect everyone and then mostly only kills a one percent to a third of those infected suggests that immune systems across a human population can cope with it.

    Smallpox vaccination only improved the resistance of humans to Smallpox – admittedly this was a very significant improvement with far reaching consequences cos no one gets it these days but it wouldn’t wipe out whole populations either.

    Has smallpox actually wiped out any “race” – on its own? Has it made any population genetically unsustainable? I know its had a terrible effect during pandemics across the world, and that lots of non European cultures have been hit very hard by it, but I don’t think you can say it alone is responsible for the wiping out of any particular genetic line of humans. If it has can you name them?

    And how many people across the planet have been tested to confirm whether or not they are HIV resistant? I thought there were proteins associated with very high resistance to HIV infection and furthermore that one individual who was confirmed to be immune to AIDS (and possibly even HIV) actually killed themselves only a few months ago.

  80. Val

    Fn @ 76
    Nobody here is talking about forcing women to have children. What I for one am talking about is creating the conditions where women are genuinely free to choose whether to have children or not, knowing that they will not be socially, economically or politically disadvantaged by doing so.

    No society that I am aware of has yet reached that stage.

    Your comment seems to imply that giving women a real choice would be bad because some women who choose to have children might die in childbirth. By that token, we shouldn’t be allowed to drive cars either.

  81. faustusnotes

    Val, I’m not ignoring what you say, I’m just disagreeing with you. Disagreeing with you is hard because we’re largely agreeing on many things, and I think we’re talking past each other because it’s not clear where our theses actually diverge.

    I’m not trying to argue that social determinants are not relevant to the risks of childbirth, I’m simply trying to point out that the proximate causes are a fact that has been unavoidable for most of history and has led to the singular quest to find ways to reduce birth rates. The commonest cause of maternal death is hemorrhage, and I’m sorry but that is not primarily a consequence of social determinants. It is a thing that happens to women giving birth, and it requires medical treatment. Consider vaginal tears: a common part of childbirth, potentially fatal in women without tetanus vaccination. Episiotomy is also obviously dangerous if conducted in a non-sterile environment without tetanus vaccination. Obviously the absence of sterile environment and tetanus vaccinations is strongly related to social determinants of health but those two things – sterile environment and tetanus vaccination – are absolutely at the cornerstone of modern medical practice. They are the poster child for “medicalization.” The Lancet article i linked to lists a whole range of these interventions that are simple, cheap and taken for granted, that prevent mortality. This isn’t about saying that women’s bodies are inadequate, but that they are taking on an incredibly dangerous task that demands support.

    I am also talking about “creating the conditions where women are genuinely free to choose whether to have children or not,” but I am arguing that any increase in birthrates to replacement level necessarily requires that these rights be curtailed. It’s a mathematical fact. Replacement rates are a social goal; choice about childbirth is a personal goal. The two in this case must be in opposition, in which case it’s possibel that some of the excess deaths occurring in the march to replacement are occuring in women who didn’t want to have the birth that killed them.

    GregM, the system you describe is pretty close to how I understand it is done in Japan.

    Russell, I should have said “cultures” not races – I think some south american cultures were basically exterminated by smallpox. HIV-immune individuals are the holy grail of vaccine research and still haven’t been found, even though 34 million people worldwide are living with HIV. I think we can conclude it hasn’t happened yet, and any vaccine that works against HIV is going to be revolutionizing the human immune system, not just “hacking” it.

  82. Val

    Fn @ 81
    Are you suggesting that I think birth rates should be at replacement rate, or are you talking about some abstract ‘other’? Because I don’t think it, and I haven’t said it.

    Theoretically, that could be a problem in 100 years or so, if population starts to decline too much, but basically at present I don’t think a population decline is a problem. A bit of population decline would be a good thing I think. I think what I said in my post – that women should have the right to choose without being disadvantaged.

    Can’t be bothered arguing any more Fn – you’ll just have to be wrong on the internet

  83. Helen

    Leslie Cannold’s “What, no baby?” is a good analysis of the problems women in Western society face. Different to the Japanese situation, but not dissimilar in the way that work is still run to the mid-Twentieth-century Perfect Employee model and women are effectively punished financially and socially for having children.

    http://www.theage.com.au/news/Reviews/What-no-baby/2005/02/11/1108061845053.html

  84. jules

    FN It appears an individual named Stephen Crohn was immune to HIV infection. He died earlier this year after committing suicide, possibly due to PTSD/”survivors guilt” having lived through the worst of the destruction wrought on the north American gay community. Another individual – according to this site named Timothy Ray Brown – appears to be HIV free after a bone marrow transplant to deal with leukemia. While Brown may not actually be completely free of HIV it does appear he is no longer susceptible to the immunity destroying consequences of it. I think Brown was declared medically free of it a couple of years ago.

    Crohn had a particular mutation that seems to be the focus of some work wrt vaccinations against HIV. Check wikipedia here if you want to start sussing this out.

    … and any vaccine that works against HIV is going to be revolutionizing the human immune system, not just “hacking” it.

    That depends on how that vaccine is developed. If therapeutic “vaccines” are developed that directly attack diseases such as cancer. If tweaked monoclonal antibodies, and completely “artificial’ ones are successful (and that appears to on the cards at the moment,) then that actually will be a revolutionary breakthrough that will change modern medicine forever.

    As far as indigenous cultures and smallpox – I would say its one of many factors, but not the only one that led to their devastation. It played a massive role in the destruction of the Aztec and Inca Empires, but not the Aztecs or Inca themselves – they are still around today.

  85. Chris

    The fact that one thing you mentioned – smallpox – doesn’t infect everyone and then mostly only kills a one percent to a third of those infected suggests that immune systems across a human population can cope with it.

    It works really well on a large scale – eg the immune system will normally ensure that enough people survive. But on an individual basis its got a lot of room for improvement and vaccinations make a huge difference to an individual’s outcome. Perhaps antibiotics are another example.

  86. jules

    Yeah Chris that is true.

    We look at things on an individual scale, but over populations and over time that is a small part of the overall picture.

    Human epidemics seem to be associated with large, close living populations of humans and domestic animals. This is a relatively recent development on an evolutionary scale so it is unreasonable to expect the immune system to be as effective at dealing with emergent diseases associated with larger populations and higher population density. Although it does seem to be adapting.

    The mutation mentioned above (CCR5 – delta 32) is associated with European genetics and appears to have increased in response to epidemics in Europe – possibly as a result of the first outbreaks of smallpox.

    I know for individuals who suffer cos of disease this is no real comfort, and seems far from perfect, but on an evolutionary scale it is a very effective process.

    Antibiotics – 30 years ago they seemed like a great idea, and if they weren’t subject to massive overuse they might still be – but we’re seeing the failure of antibiotics and the evolutionary response of bacteria to them – in a couple of human generations (or less) they may be useless. For a while they worked tho, and were/are an example of scientific improvement.

    I think Val is talking about something else tho – an attitude. I was told about a conference years ago – the title or a presentation in it was along the the lines of “Motherhood – too important to leave to women”. May have been “Childbirth too important…” There were no women speaking at the conference tho it was full of “scientific types”. (Perhaps the same hubris has lead to the overuse of antibiotics too.)

    Val is that the sort of thing you’re referring to?

  87. Mindy

    “Motherhood – too important to leave to women”. May have been “Childbirth too important…” There were no women speaking at the conference tho it was full of “scientific types”.

    This is very much the case when it comes to midwife led care vs Obstetrician led care. I wouldn’t be surprised if the authors of the Lancet paper FN referred to are all blokes either.

  88. faustusnotes

    Antibiotics are another good example of a medical intervention that does what the human body can’t. And they are an awesome invention.

    Mindy, both authors of that article are women. I don’t know how the whole of the maternal survival world works, but certainly the leading lights in the field include a lot of women including midwives. There is strong recognition of the importance of midwife-led care. I don’t think it’s very useful to characterize modern approaches to maternal care by things that were done or believed in the 70s and 80s, though I certainly agree with Val’s caution about the rhetoric of that era.

    jules, two people confirmed with that mutation does not constitute evidence that the human immune system is doing okay or that vaccines won’t be a radical transformation of that system. I don’t think it would be unreasonable to say “the human body can’t deal with HIV, it needs medical help.” The human body can handle childbirth, but it obviously needs medical help to ensure that every body can handle childbirth, rather than just 95-99% of them.

    Val at 82, I’m not talking here about whether population decline is good or bad. I’m suggesting that lower birthrates always benefit women and should always (in peacetime, etc.) be seen as a win for feminism. You said above that

    they [birthrates] seem to be slightly higher (though still below replacement rate) in countries which offer better work-family balance

    and I was responding to that: higher birthrates means reduced choice for some women. Birthrates at replacement rate mean reduced choice for many women. Countries which achieve higher birthrates through “better” work-family balance are unlikely to be improving choice relative to countries that have lower birthrates, except in very unusual circumstances.

    Remember, replacement rates mean every woman must have 2 children. You can slice that any way you want, but it’s going to produce a restriction on some people’s choice.

  89. jules

    jules, two people confirmed with that mutation does not constitute evidence that the human immune system is doing okay or that vaccines won’t be a radical transformation of that system. I don’t think it would be unreasonable to say “the human body can’t deal with HIV, it needs medical help.”

    Yeah fair enough, but thats not what you said. You said there were no confirmed cases, I just pointed out 2, but they aren’t the only two, just two i could name. There’s actually a term for people who are HIV resistant, tho I can’t remember what it is off the top of my head. And in evolutionary terms it is evidence that the immune system is doing okay. How many generations have we had HIV infection for? yet already the potential for natural selection for HIV resistance is emerging.

    I disagree that vaccinations are a radical transformation of the human immune system. They are an enhancement of it, but they don’t change how it works and they rely on its innate properties. The therapeutic vaccinations that may involve artificial antibodies would be the sort of radical transformation you refer to because they would involve introducing a new level/layer of effectiveness to the immune system.

    And we could well be on the verge of that revolutionary breakthrough. An artificial antibody that binds to specific cancer cells or HIV infected immune cells and allows specially designed drug to attack those cells is a transformation of the human immune system that really is a revolutionary breakthrough and people are working to develop these medical technologies right now. It’d be to a vaccination what a PV solar cell is to a campfire.

    Vaccination is a fantastic thing, but its primitive compared to building artificial antibodies that target a whole series of things the immune system could never manage.

  90. faustusnotes

    jules, if the immune system were doing its job then somehow (e.g. through interbreeding and the like) the immunity to HIV would be spreading. It isn’t; these two people are immune due to a rare mutation, and the immune system of others isn’t adapting to HIV – hasn’t for 20 years. The few who are immune aren’t spreading their genetic diversity through selection – indeed how can they? The main mechanism would be for people without the trait to die off before they could spread the disease, while those with the trait were able to stick around and reproduce. But because of HIV’s 10 year incubation period, nobody dies off before they spread the disease. There’s no selection pressure and the mutation isn’t spreading, and in the absence of a generational change in the distribution of such mutations, we’re waiting for the immune system of the broad swathe of hosts (all 34 million of them) to come up with something, but they aren’t. That’s not a system that is functioning without the help of science!

  91. Val

    Fn @ 82
    I thought you understood statistics? Not being rude, I’m genuinely puzzled. For a replacement birth rate, there needs to be an average 2.1 children born per woman. That does not in any conceivable sense mean that every woman has to have two children! How could you possibly think that? Speaking as a woman who chose to have three children, I am baffled by how you could possibly make such an assertion.

    The reason that women in wealthy countries with better work- family policies have slightly more children than in those countries that have less favourable policies, appears to be that there is less disadvantage attached to having children in those countries.

    I’m sorry Fn but you are just not being logical about this. I can’t discuss it with you any more.

  92. jules

    Fn 20 years is nothing in a species that takes as long to reproduce as humans do. Without any other treatment or intervention do you really expect something like natural selection will move so quickly that we see it “finish its job”. I hit puberty around the time AIDS first was recognised, but before it was properly understood, people my age with adult children are rare. That is such a short period in evolutionary terms that its unreasonable to expect any mutations that convey an advantage against HIV to be everywhere. What mechanism do you expect to spread immunity over such a short period of time?

    I don’t see how you can say this:

    jules, if the immune system were doing its job then somehow (e.g. through interbreeding and the like) the immunity to HIV would be spreading.

    without waiting hundreds of years to test it.

    There are a variety of potential paths to HIV immunity – a variety of mutations across genes themselves, T-cell receptors, there are proteins that stop virus reproducing in some humans and they also stop HIV. 34 millions people have HIV, so not many more than the population of Australia. Thats 0.5% of the human population, its hardly a real selection pressure and yet already potential pathways for natural resistance are emerging – these form the basis of the future treatments we’re both hoping will become available.

    From an individual perspective it might seem as tho the immune system isn’t working but thats because an individual human life is a tiny part of the overall progress of evolution.

    Its a short sighted anthropocentric attitude that defines our immune system as dysfunctional, this is the same attitude that has led to nuclear weapons that could still destroy our civilisation, destruction of countless habitats and to the very real that of global warming – something we’re still struggling to deal with.

  93. GregM

    Its a short sighted anthropocentric attitude that defines our immune system as dysfunctional, this is the same attitude that has led to nuclear weapons that could still destroy our civilisation, destruction of countless habitats and to the very real that of global warming – something we’re still struggling to deal with.

    Jules when you are dealing with a virus that is human specific such as HIV it is sound policy and sheer common sense to take an anthropocentric attitude to it. Indeed I can’t conceive how you would take anything other than an anthropocentric attitude to it. After all that’s the attitude the virus is taking.

    Doing so doesn’t define our immune systems as dysfunctional for they do a wonderful job in holding off and defeating many, many viruses.

    It’s just that for some; HIV, smallpox and poliomyelitis being outstanding examples, their track record of conferring general immunity from things that they are meant to protect us from; things such as death or lifetime disfigurement or disablement, is not good.

    And this anthropocentric attitude to disease which you decry as “the same attitude that has led to nuclear weapons that could still destroy our civilisation, destruction of countless habitats and to the very real that of global warming” has also led to the elimination of the scourge of smallpox to humans and, if we get a break, will lead to the elimination of poliomyelitis, both anthropocentric viruses.

    I don’t consider that the elimination of those diseases is short-sighted. I consider them to be triumphs of human accomplishment and long-sighted in the benefit they confer on humanity.

    You, however, apparently hold a different point of view premised, I can only surmise, on the proposition that diseases which regularly cut a large swathe through human populations are a good thing. Well to each his own.

  94. faustusnotes

    jules the way the immune system typically works is that it is exposed to a disease and then becomes immune if you don’t die (as in e.g. influenza). But for a range of diseases this is impossible (HIV, HSV, HPV). These need to be more than hacked, because the immune system doesn’t work. The two people with confirmed immunity to HIV didn’t get it through the natural function of the immune system, but through the blind luck of mutation. Unless selection pressure can make this immunity spread (which we both agree it can’t) then the immune system needs scientific help.

    This is also true of HPV, which has been around for millenia (probably) and has never led to any form of widespread immunity that we know of; HSV; and HCV.

    [actually it seems that all the "H" viruses are bastards].

    Thus, vaccines are essential. But I guess since there’s no biological definition of a “hack” vs. a “revolution,” this debate about how far removed from our “natural” biologies vaccines are is kind of impossible to resolve …

  95. jules

    Greg you seem to be mistaking me for someone who thinks medicine is bad/vaccines suck. I’m simply pointing out that the vaccines against smallpox and polio (both of which I received btw) involve a pretty simple process not some revolutionary change, and that on a scale other than the one we usually view things with the immune system works very well for human populations over evolutionary length timescales.

    Go back and read the thread.

    Fn and I are arguing over this comment:

    Vaccines are also not an “improvement on an effective system.” Smallpox wiped out whole races. There is not a single person on earth who is confirmed to be immune to HIV. Vaccines do not “improve” on this situation, they completely revolutionize it.

    Which I disagree with. Ironically HIV shows how effective our immune systems are – cos it or AIDS don’t kill people, but the myriad of other infections we’re regularly exposed to and deal with do kill people with AIDS, cos their immune system isn’t functioning. OK I’ll concede that vaccines will revolutionise some peoples lives cos they won’t die of smallpox or end up like Alan Marshall or Robert Anton Wilson. On an individual scale thats good for those people. But a vaccination is a simple little tweak that jumpstarts something that would happen anyway, tho in many cases this saves lots of pain. Thats why its just a clever hack.

    As far as the anthropocentric attitude -

    Antibiotics are another example. I dunno if my grandkids will ever benefit from antibiotics the way I did. Cos their overuse and the misunderstanding of how they work and the overall system antibiotics and bacteria are part of is making them less effective all the time. There’s overprescription, but also I wonder about their use in animal feed. Its taking a good idea and fucking it up cos of lack of thought about the system that idea is part of.

  96. Graham Bell

    Tim Macknay (@ 67 on the Galilee Basin thread – if you happen to be here too):

    From what I recall, extracting Thorium from Monazite, etc. is a rather complex process using large amounts of corrosive fluids with the potential to be very, very polluting (unless excellent recovery and recycling systems are designed in and staff are very well trained).

    The big payoff, in 2013, is all the rare elements that appear as tiny weeny by-products – that’s why I thought there might have been a recent technical – and financial – breakthrough.
    It is the presence of these rare elements – and future demand for them – that makes the export of Thorium-bearing ores from Australia sheer lunacy.

    Everyone commenting on health:
    Just lurking for now.

  97. Paul Norton

    From an individual perspective it might seem as tho the immune system isn’t working but that’s because an individual human life is a tiny part of the overall progress of evolution.

    The issue here is that most human ethical systems, and systems of public policy based on those ethics, accord the individual human life a greater significance. When we remember that epidemic diseases kill, disable and deform many millions of individual human beings, it is understandable (and IMHO a good thing) that medical science doesn’t simply wait for evolution to do its work (which in any case may or may not turn out to our liking).

  98. jules

    Paul thats not the issue here at all – neither FN or myself have actually argued that we should wait until evolution does its thing. I’ve actually described vaccines as fantastic things – just not a revolutionary change to the way things work.

    OK for arguments sake they are a revolutionary change … but no more than proper hygiene and sterilisation. The role of proper hygiene could be a more useful and revolutionary finding of medical science than either antibiotics or vaccines but its difficult to measure the number of people who didn’t die because good hygiene (including efficient sewerage) stopped them getting sick. All vaccines do is tweak a very efficient and useful system to make it work quicker.

    Which leads to FN @ 94

    The two people with confirmed immunity to HIV didn’t get it through the natural function of the immune system, but through the blind luck of mutation. Unless selection pressure can make this immunity spread (which we both agree it can’t) then the immune system needs scientific help.

    The reason we have immune systems and they work for so many infections is the blind luck of mutation. Thats part of the process, and while at the moment the selection pressure probably isn’t there its easy to see it emerging as we pass peaks of energy, food, water and reasonable climate. But there are more than those two people with confirmed (tho varying) levels of resistance and immunity to HIV. I looked up the term – people who don’t develop AIDS and in some cases don’t even get HIV are called long term nonprogressors which sounds better than the old name – elite controllers. Its studying these people that forms the basis of all attempts to develop vaccines.

    HPV and HSV simply aren’t big enough threats to provide any selection pressure either, and hep C has only been around for a very short time. Its main (Possibly only) transmission methods are also far removed from natural processes. HPV vaccinations are a great thing but that disease takes a tiny toll on humanity compared to so many other things, and HSV – well believe it or not HSV variants have been associated with toxicity to some cancers.

    I don’t object to science or even the improvements it makes, but I do object to devaluing the immune system and other natural systems that actually work very well. If the immune system isn’t perfect thats no big deal, because there is nothing else under any sky, medical science included, that is.

    But I guess since there’s no biological definition of a “hack” vs. a “revolution,” this debate about how far removed from our “natural” biologies vaccines are is kind of impossible to resolve …

    Yeah maybe … one of the reasons i think they are so cool is cos of how they work – to me tricking an immune system into thinking its had an infection so it responds quicker is a simple but incredibly effective idea.

    On the other hand the idea of artificial antibodies and the artificial immune response that would have to with them seems to me a revolutionary thing, if it happens (and I think it will very soon). Being able to design and build/grow something that acts as a cellular marker to attract anti-cancer drugs, anti-HIV drugs or therapeutic drugs for any other infectious thing will change medicine forever and make antibiotics and possibly even vaccine obsolete.

  99. GregM

    Greg you seem to be mistaking me for someone who thinks medicine is bad/vaccines suck. .

    Jules I hear what you say but I wonder if I can believe it.

    You gave FN a right good serve over his anthropocentric perspective on vaccines. You pointed out the evil of taking such a perspective.

    Your words were

    Its a short sighted anthropocentric attitude that defines our immune system as dysfunctional, this is the same attitude that has led to nuclear weapons that could still destroy our civilisation, destruction of countless habitats and to the very real that of global warming – something we’re still struggling to deal with.

    I really can’t square that profoundly misanthropic statement with a concern on a minor disagreement with fn on whether:

    vaccines against smallpox and polio (both of which I received btw) involve a pretty simple process not some revolutionary change, and that on a scale other than the one we usually view things with the immune system works very well for human populations over evolutionary length timescales.

    From an anthropocentric point of view, and you have pointed out above in the most strident terms that this is the perspective we should NOT take, the following things have occurred in the lifetimes our grandparents, our parents and ourselves, which have transformed human life in a way that Paul Norton has pointed out to you @97

    1. The collecting and delivery of clean water for human consumption and for use for human hygeine
    2. The development of safe ways of disposing of human waste, something you rely upon every time you flush a toilet.
    3. Securing and delivering to people a regular sufficient, safe and balanced food supply
    4. Soap.

    All of those things are pretty simple things. And none of those things, either by themselves or all together, could be described as revolutionary. We have known of the effects of each of them since ancient times.

    And yet!

    All of which, coming together since the beginning of the last century, have brought about a revolution in the way humans live and their expectations for the lives they will live.

  100. faustusnotes

    Jules, hygiene and sterilization prevent exactly which vaccine-preventable infectious diseases? Not rubella, measles, mumps, Hib, pneumococcal, HBV, HPV, HIV, smallpox, polio or influenza. What point are you making there? Hygiene and sterilization are effective against the agents that cause tetanus, sepsis, etc. but they don’t prevent the causes of tetanus as well as vaccination (that’s why pregnant women get tetanus vaccines).

    No matter how long we wait there will never be a selection pressure for immunity to HIV because it replicates during its 10 year asymptomatic phase. People who are not immune to it will always be able to spread it, because there is no case isolation mechanism and they don’t die fast enough. So, revolutionizing the immune system is the only way.

    Noone is devaluing the immune system. We’re just pointing out that the human body is not perfect, and the battle against all the slower and more subtle diseases will never be won by natural selection alone.

  101. Helen

    Besides the fact that natural selection involves, like, death.

  102. Paul Norton

    The other thing is that all species modify their environment and themselves in various ways, as part of the process of evolution. Humans have the power to do so intentionally and more radically than other species – we can’t avoid doing so. The issue really is whether we do so in an enlightened and benign way that improves our own conditions and chances of life while also preserving and enhancing the life of non-human nature (considered as a whole).

  103. Val

    Fn @ 100

    We’re just pointing out that the human body is not perfect, and the battle against all the slower and more subtle diseases will never be won by natural selection alone.

    I think this comment exemplifies why most of you are missing the point of what Jules is saying. It’s just not as simple as the human body not being perfect.

    Experts are now saying is that we have moved from the Holocene (the period in which life has flourished) to the Anthropocene (the period in which humans are shaping the climate with unknown but potentially threatening consequences for life as we know it).

    This has arisen because human beings thought we could control nature (as Weber explained, people thought rational scientific method could remove the unknown and make life safe). I am perfectly aware, and I have no doubt Jules is aware, about the arguments that the concepts of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ are both socially constructed. Nevertheless the reality that confronts us is that we thought we could control ‘nature’, or the given, or Gaia, or whatever you choose to call it, and that arrogance has got us where we are today.

    There is a kind of scientific arrogance in the belief that clinical medical and pharmaceutical measures (such as vaccination or antibiotics) have been the major contributors to the improvements in health that we see today. They have contributed, but much more of it comes from social, including political, measures.

    The big problem we have now is how do we maintain improved living standards and consequent health gains without using fossil fuels. In the health area one step towards that is to look for measures that improve health and sustainability (eg reducing inequality, promoting more active and connected communities, improving access to locally grown fresh food) rather than spending ever increasing amounts on treatment of chronic disease.

    Another key thing about this is that the improvements in health and longevity we have observed can be achieved at a much lower level of GDP per head than in most wealthy nations. As I’m never tired of saying, Cuba has a longer life expectancy than the USA.

  104. GregM

    In the health area one step towards that is to look for measures that improve health and sustainability (eg reducing inequality, promoting more active and connected communities, improving access to locally grown fresh food) rather than spending ever increasing amounts on treatment of chronic disease.

    Not much joy in doing that for people who have chronic diseases even if they have led abstemious lives with regular exercise but have now reached the twilight of their lives which is when most expenditure on chronic disease occurs.

  105. Val

    GregM @ 104
    Just put a long reply to this which I accidentally deleted! Anyway gist is our cultural expectations and forms of knowledge always make it easier get political traction around ‘saving lives’ rather than prevention, especially addressing social determinants. And as the example of Jules here has also shown, if you try to talk about population level risks, you are likely to be seen as cold-hearted. It’s a big problem for public health.

    Returning to the infectious diseases debate, I came across an interesting article by Weiss and McMichael in Nature Medicine 2004. Extract from abstract below:

    The emergence of these diseases [30 new infectious diseases emerged in recent decades] , and resurgence of old ones like tuberculosis and cholera, reflects various changes in human ecology: rural-to-urban migration resulting in high-density peri-urban slums; increasing long-distance mobility and trade; the social disruption of war and conflict; changes in personal behavior; and, increasingly, human-induced global changes, including widespread forest clearance and climate change. Political ignorance, denial and obduracy (as with HIV/AIDS) further compound the risks. The use and misuse of medical technology also pose risks, such as drug-resistant microbes and contaminated equipment or biological medicines. A better understanding of the evolving social dynamics of emerging infectious diseases ought to help us to anticipate and hopefully ameliorate current and future risks.

    Good example of complexities in this field.

  106. Val

    Just while I’m on the subject – there is an industry interest in creating ‘new disease’ scares. If I remember rightly the latest one (can’t remember which, the one that started in Mexico) had a lower mortality rate than normal flu.

    The thing is these diseases can, for example, start in the new peri-urban areas that Weiss and McMichael are talking about, where people are living in very close contact with each other and with animals (eg chickens or pigs in the back room, not the back yard as we think of it). They also can have a relatively high mortality rate, partly because people are living in conditions of poverty, therefore don’t have a high immunological status.

    That does not mean the diseases would necessarily have anything like the same mortality rate in countries like ours, where there is less overcrowding and poverty and people’s immunological status is higher. Nevertheless, it is in the interests of the companies that are producing vaccines or medications to suggest that there is a ‘big new threat’ and the government needs to buy up stocks of whatever the latest vaccine or drug is eg Tamiflu.

    It’s definitely worth looking at the article on the Conversation around Tamiflu (and some of the other links at the bottom of that article) to understand more about the complicated interplay between disease scares, commercial interests and evidence.

  107. Val

    sorry forgot to include the Conversation link referred to in my last post https://theconversation.com/the-tamiflu-saga-shows-why-all-research-data-should-be-public-13951

  108. faustusnotes

    people said that about HIV, Val.

  109. Val

    Fn I came across a couple of articles by Bates et al in the Lancet 2004 that explored some of the issues around HIV and vulnerability – they are worth looking at if you have the time.

    The inter-relationship of viruses and vulnerabilities (due to the social conditions I discussed earlier, plus coexistence of diseases) is not simple, but basically it cannot be reduced to an either/or question.

    Australia as far as I know is recognised as a world leader in AIDs prevention, and I understand a lot of that was about public health people working with vulnerable or at-risk groups as partners and leaders in prevention.

  110. jules

    Greg @ 99 – my comments were in resposne to FN basically describing the immune system as a useless piece of shit.

    That may be true from some individuals perspectives if they suffer from things it can’t stop. No doubt coal miners feel something similar cos how would they feed their kids and pay for their homes without if we shut down the coal industry? Something that needs to be done right now.

    I don’t mind an anthropocentric perspective at times. Its kind of important if you want to keep living, but if its the only thing that ever structures your thinking you’re gonna end up fucking things up for everyone and everything else.

  111. jules

    FN -

    Noone is devaluing the immune system.

    Well I think you did. Thats what this whole argument is about. The reasons vaccines exist is cos people understand how efficient the immune system is and how and why it works so well.

    I also disagree with your thinking that HIV will never provide selection pressure. Humans need to live till at least 45 to provide successful, fuctioning and stable/sustainable societies, getting HIV before you are 20 interferes with that.

    People who are not immune to it will always be able to spread it, because there is no case isolation mechanism and they don’t die fast enough. So, revolutionizing the immune system is the only way.

    In the short term that is probably true. If by revolutionary you mean an artificial compound that can bind to HIV and help drugs that kill the virus target it. It may be possible to develop something that blocks the binding sites HIV relies on to attach to immune cells. If a simple vaccination process was possible to stop HIV wouldn’t it have happened by now.

    You’re missing the point about sterilisation too – how many lives has it saved? Honestly if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t use the provided hand sanitisers when you enter a hospital then you’re not that far removed from someone who won’t vaccinate their kids.

    Paul N @ 102

    The issue really is whether we do so in an enlightened and benign way that improves our own conditions and chances of life while also preserving and enhancing the life of non-human nature (considered as a whole).

    Yes I totally agree – that is the issue.

  112. faustusnotes

    jules, I think you’re misinterpreting my position there … also in comment 111 are you implying some form of group selection? I thought that had been done away with?

    HIV won’t provide selection pressure because people who are vulnerable to it can have children before they know they have the disease, and they can spread the disease. I guess that means that if left unchecked it might lead to selection pressure, but it would be a pressure in which 99% of the human population was dead or dying after 20-30 years and a few unique individuals survived. More likely it would just lead to collapsing societies and poverty.

    Val you said

    the reality that confronts us is that we thought we could control ‘nature’, or the given, or Gaia, or whatever you choose to call it, and that arrogance has got us where we are today

    but I don’t think that’s right or wrong at all. We are where we are today because we didn’t realize the consequences of burning fossil fuels – that is all. You might hav ea point if we had burnt fossil fuels as a terraforming experiment, but we didn’t. Furthermore if you look at the opinions of the majority of denialists and their hangers-on, many (I would say almost all) of them refuse to believe that humans can control nature. This is the fundamental principle of the Cornwall Alliance.

    Jules, I didn’t deny the importance of sterilization. I just pointed out that it’s not enough. Sheesh!

  113. Val

    In case anyone hasn’t heard, I feel a need to point out that Piers Akerman has attacked Peppa Pig for being too feminist.

    Somehow that makes me so happy

  114. Tim Macknay

    Val @113, my daughter is a big Peppa fan. :)

  115. jules

    FN re sterilisation – sorry I misunderstood.

    I brought it up because I thought the way its importance was recognised was at least as “revolutionary” or important as vaccination.

    And yes part of the selection process would lead to collapsing societies and poverty – thats more what i had in mind than “group selection”.

  116. Val

    Well obviously Tim you’ll have to watch out for what is being done to her impressionable young mind!

    My grandsons love it too – could be even worse for them I guess.

    Apart from the intrinsic ludicrousness of this, I think what I love about it is the idea that Akerman has really, really lost it, and no-one will ever take him seriously again.

  117. paul burns

    Until last night I didn’t even know Peppa Pig existed. Clearly she is not as dangerous as Scrooge McDuck.

  118. Val

    P b @ 117

    Peppa Pig is great Paul, you should catch up. It may also help you with those tricky bits of feminist theory that I’ve sometimes had to pull you up on :)

  119. paul burns

    Val,
    The stereotype of Minnie Mouse?

  120. Val

    Paul I am happy to have a conversation about cartoon characters of my youth ( and yours by the sound of it) but I think you have to do your homework first. Get on Iview and watch some Peppa Pig!

    Today I was at a cafe with various daughters and grandsons and the 18 month old, noticing there was not a chair for him, went over to the nearest table, put his hand on a chair and made some polite enquiring noises.

    As you do when asked a favour by a polite stranger who doesn’t speak your language, the people at the table said ‘of course, we’re not using it’. So he dragged it over to our table and sat down. Ok it was round the wrong way, but that’s a minor matter.

    They’re poised to take over Paul. We’ve got to learn their ways.

  121. Val

    Actually it’s not really the grandsons who are poised to take over the world.

    It’s the daughters. Do you hear the jingling in your dreams? It’s the bells on their saddles. They are waiting at the city gates, and nothing will ever be the same.

  122. Val

    Though unlike the metaphor of the barbarian at the gates, no one will be harmed. The world will change for the better.

  123. Chris

    Val – someone has got to get Piers to expand on his very brief Peppa Pig comment:

    Even the cartoon character Peppa Pig pushes a weird feminist line that would be closer to the hearts of Labor’s Handbag Hit Squad than the pre-school audience it is aimed at.

    It’s been a long time intermittent favourite of my daughter’s but nothing has really jumped out at me at it being any different from most young kids shows. The vast majority of them made these days push the general line of being nice to others with mini behavioral lessons in them which is a bit different from say the old Tom and Jerry or Roadrunner cartoons which she also loves. But there’s nothing radical in them.

  124. faustusnotes

    Handbag Hit Squad. Fuck off! Is Piers really so scared of women?

  125. paul burns

    No. He’s scared of people being nice to each other.

  126. Paul Norton

    It’s been a long time intermittent favourite of my daughter’s but nothing has really jumped out at me at it being any different from most young kids shows. The vast majority of them made these days push the general line of being nice to others with mini behavioral lessons in them which is a bit different from say the old Tom and Jerry or Roadrunner cartoons which she also loves. But there’s nothing radical in them.

    Nothing radical? What about the critique of industrial capitalist technology implied by all those scenes where the Acme Co. products purchased by Wile E Coyote malfunction?

  127. Fran Barlow

    PN

    What about the critique of industrial capitalist technology implied by all those scenes where the Acme Co. products purchased by Wile E Coyote malfunction?

    Apparently, Acme was a real grocery store chain started in 1891 in Philly. “Acme” was one of the earliest words I ever researched and spurred my interest in etymology.

  128. Val

    My apologies I started this conversation about Peppa, Piers and hence other cartoon characters (yes I think fair to include Piers there) in the context of a dispute about viruses and the immune system which was still going on.

    I think it should really have been on Saturday Salon. Do you think we can take it there now?

  129. Katz

    Yogi Bear and Boo Boo were terr/rists.

  130. Paul Norton

    Piers Akerman is a Star Wars character.

  131. Paul Norton

    Readers of David Brin’s Uplift series might suggest that Piers is a Jophur.

  132. Paul Norton

    For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the Uplift series, a Jophur is a composite being composed of a number of semi-sentient fatty toroidal slug-like detritivores that when assembled into a conical stack become a fully sentient entity.

  133. Paul Norton

    And Jophurs communicate with each other by farting.

  134. Val

    Oh well my attempt to move the discussion to Saturday salon obviously got overtaken by events, so – Paul N, on recent form, you’re definitely king of the internet insults.

    It’s wrong but somehow it’s irresistible. I’ve just seen a twitter hashtag #PiersvsPeppa – to which I can’t help adding ‘and may the best pig win’.

  135. Val

    Though of course another way of seeing this is click bait. Annabel Crabb says Peppa Pig is the most watched program on Iview, being watched by over 25 million from January to November this year.

    So by attacking Peppa, Piers is getting himself a very large audience of mummies and daddies and grandparents all clicking on his article to see what nonsense he’s written (as I did).

  136. zoot

    Of course it’s click bait. It’s the only reason Jabba, Blot, Planet Janet and Miranda the Madwoman are employed. If they produced reasoned, rational, well argued analysis News Corpse would drop them immediately. We are seeing the death throes of the Murdoch Newsprint Empire and it’ll probably get worse before it gets better. Ignore them and they’ll (eventually) go away.

  137. Joe Blow

    Val said:

    Actually it’s not really the grandsons who are poised to take over the world.

    It’s the daughters. Do you hear the jingling in your dreams? It’s the bells on their saddles. They are waiting at the city gates, and nothing will ever be the same.

    Sorry to burst your bubble Val but It’s a Man’s World, And It Always Will Be

  138. paul burns

    Re 137,
    Cats among pigeons, etc. :)

  139. Helen

    Camille f****** Paglia. Spare us!

  140. Tim Macknay

    It’s a Man’s World, And It Always Will Be

    Judging by the information on the latest global warming thread, I’d say that’s unlikely.

  141. Val

    Helen @ 139
    Thanks for the warning Helen – saved me wasting a few minutes of my life that I’d never get back!

  142. Val

    Have to admit I’d had a few wines when I wrote the post in question about the daughters at the gates of the city. But for some reason I always find that metaphor – even though usually, and in this case quite inappropriately, associated with war and barbarians and so on – really evocative. It gets to me.

    Anyway whatever nonsense Camille Paglia may have said, I still think the daughters are going to change the world. I reckon that’s been the hope of generations of women, as we put up with the shit of patriarchy – I know it was my mother’s, even though she may have expressed it differently – and I reckon the world is changing, even though still too slowly.

  143. Val

    Maybe to the old style patriarchs, women are the new barbarians. Tearing down the fortresses!

  144. Val

    “Destroying the joint!”

    Ok I’ll stop now.

  145. paul burns

    Well, Helen, some people probably don’t know who she is.

  146. jungney

    Val, going by Marge Piercy’s fictional account of women of the French Revolution, City of Darkness, City of Light, it’s going to take a little more than women tinkling bells outside the fortress gates to force a regime change.

  147. Linda

    Val @ 42 We have the capacity, sister…

    Jungney@146 – check out Suzy McKee Charnas’ fictional account in The Holdfast Chronicles – you too Val, you’ll fucking love them!

  148. Val

    Jungney @ 146
    I said ‘the bells on their saddles’ – underestimating the sisterhood again at all?

    Linda @ 147
    Thanks Linda will check it out

  149. Helen

    Paul @145, you say that like it’s a bad thing.

  150. Paul Norton

    Camille Paglia is just so 1993.

  151. paul burns

    Helen @ 149,
    No. Just referring to general ignorance. (She does seem to have a semi-regular spot in TIME – I was checking out their Arts and Entertainment section.)
    I’ve only read Paglia’s Sexual Personae, which I thought was literary criticism, though I’m willing to be corrected. I found it maddeningly unfinished. You don’t just stop at Austen or the Brontes or whatever it was [read it years ago] with promise of another book to come which so far as I know, has never appeared. At some time or other I’ve glanced very casually at some utterly unforgettable articles by her.

  152. jungney

    Ongoing from Paul Norton’s comment @ 59 on the Christmas thread about Henson’s art, sexuality and subjectivity, herewith then my specific and contingent response, as a victim/survivor of CSA:

    Robert Nelson’s review of Henson’s 2005 retrospective is deadly accurate:

    To me… (his photography) …is a strategy of artificial mystification, as if some Wagnerian gravity superintends the universe and spiritually justifies a vulgar relish in depicting naked, pouting youngsters.

    Henson’s interest in juvenile erotica is not redeemed by the bombast of gloomy sites and leaden skies, nor is it compensated for by slicing up the photographic paper or dimming the lights in the installation (as in room eight) to the point that it is hard to read the labels.

    Unfortunately, the good landscape work is discredited when used as a backdrop for rehearsing the lubricious display of nubile or pre-pubescent children.

    With all its sublime operatic temper, Henson’s content nestles uncomfortably between the sinister and the trivial. He likes to photograph young people either in open erotic transport or as a passive target for the viewer’s lust.

    —————

    Damn right my man. Nelson is a respected art critic, if there is such a thing, whose partner later went on the respond to the Henson debate by publishing a photo, front cover of an art mag, of her naked daughter posed the same way as Lewis Carroll’s portrait of Beatrice Hatch. But that much is an aside.

    I’d been viewing Henson, who is a genius lensman, for years with some disquiet. This arose because of my own subjective and highly contingent feelings in response to his images. Eventually I tracked it down but only after I’d read an article by Val Plumwood (deceased Australian feminist ecological philosopher) about her experience of being taken by a saltie in the NT, three times, which she survived, remarkably. She writes of the quite unique experience of being human prey to an animal.

    Viewing Henson’s images made me feel as she did, as prey. That’s why Henson’s photographs are morally unacceptable: they place the audience in the same relationship to the child as the photographer had, as predator to prey. The viewer sees the sexualized child through the imaginative faculties of the photographer. Henson is a sexual predator, if only as an artist, but as an artist contributes powerfully to a culture of sexual predation on children. The audience is slyly seduced into being a child sexual predator.

    A great photographer but without a moral compass. And a self promoting a controversialist because had he made such images with children over the age of consent then no-one would have had any legal grounds for objection; no grounds for the arrest of his art, no basis for controversy.

    I hope I’ve done justice to the idea that his genius made me feel like prey and that he was wrong to make such images using children. It’s a very specific response to his art but I am far from alone in seeing it this way. Mostly though, as the voices of CSA victims and survivors are usually blotted out around the CSA subject, not always of course, but often enough, many of us feel this way.

    I’m only interested in explaining, not defending my argument; don’t care to stoush on the subject, just put another view out there.

  153. Russell

    Jungney, I suppose if it was porn (I know you didn’t say it was) we would be more likely to have similar responses. But I had a totally different response to you: I didn’t think the pics were at all ‘sexy’ but on the contrary were very much about the interior worlds of the subjects. They took us back to that transforming, uncertain time in our lives, and my response was enormous tenderness for the subjects as they break out of the chrysalis of childhood into adulthood.

  154. jungney

    Russell, thanks for yr reply. I can see how that interpretation is valid for you. Can you see how mine is for me?

  155. Russell

    I can’t really see it, as you do, but I accept that it is like that for you.

  156. Linda

    Jungney, thanks for taking the time to explain your perspective. I agree with you entirely about the Henson case. One of the common rationalisations to come from perpetrators is that they perceived the child to be up for it, so surely we should be more inclined to err on the side of caution and just not accept anything at all that could be remotely construed as sexualisation of infants or children, just to be safer. We would if we actually cared about child safety, but as I have said before, we don’t, we just pretend to. But I am always blown away by the level of cognitive dissonance displayed by people who would happily protest a known pedophile moving on to their street but fail to see how they contribute to the conditions that allow abuse to go unacknowledged.

  157. Russell

    “so surely we should be more inclined to err on the side of caution”

    Linda, couldn’t that give a child (and give us all) a really strange view of the world? Caution, to me, doesn’t avoid putting children on the lap of Father Christmas, in a crowded shop, with Mum or Dad standing nearby; or stopping artists from presenting us with complex images of ourselves as we change through life. We don’t want to raise children with nothing but distrust of other people and their motives. The world isn’t always threatening.

  158. Linda

    Russell you’re reading me out of context a bit there; by erring on the side of caution I mean let’s not ever publicise pics of naked kiddies. I would also remind you that my initial post on this subject was in response to a link containing a series of pics of children in various states of terror when forced onto Santa’s lap. In answer to your question, no, in the current social arrangements it would be better to teach children to trust nobody. Perhaps you are just very oblivious to the prevalence of child abuse. Or perhaps, like most adults, you’re uncomfortable with the idea of children having agency.

  159. Russell

    ” in the current social arrangements it would be better to teach children to trust nobody”

    Linda, I think that would be a horrible way to bring up children. One of the things a parent should try to teach their child is who to trust. Sometimes the trust might be broken, but I think the only way we can have real families and communities is to have them based on a fair amount of trust.

    “by erring on the side of caution I mean let’s not ever publicise pics of naked kiddies” . Really? At this time of the year you see these little tots at the beach with nothing on and is there anything more joyful to see? Cute and wonderful is what they are – are we supposed to think “Oh no, better cover up the kid in case a pervert is looking?” Can’t we have images like the Henson ones that really invite us to recall or imagine how complex a burgeoning sexuality is in adolescence?

  160. Paul Norton

    by erring on the side of caution I mean let’s not ever publicise pics of naked kiddies

    OK, so where does this leave us with the people that are stirred in disturbing ways by pics of kids in school uniforms, kids dressed up for parties, kids in sporting gear, kids dressed up for fashion parades at the races, etc.?

  161. Paul Norton

    And, for that matter, the relatives, priests, sporting coaches and other trusted adults who have never needed, and do not need, any kind of visual stimulus to take advantage of the positions of power over children and adolescents with which they have been entrusted?

  162. Linda

    Paul and Russell I’m sensing we have very unequal levels of investment in this topic, not to mention knowledge, expertise and insight. My perspective is informed by professional knowledge and experience and I am so fierce about it that one of my tattoos reflects my profession- I live and breathe child protection. You’re just some guys who have casually noticed some statements that seem kinda weird to you, on a blog. It would be silly for me to continue this with you. Have a fun holiday season.

  163. jungney

    Linda, you’ve made a good case. PN and Russell also make valid points. The issue for those of us with experience in child protection is the difficulty in conveying the degree of damage done when sex or other abuse happens. For mine, I don’t underestimate the cultural authority of an artist like Henson whose works, hanging in public galleries, serve to create a normalized culture of exploitation.

    Cheers.

  164. Russell

    Linda – thanks for the good wishes, it is indeed perfect beach weather in Perth and I’m feeling quite benign after a swim and lying in the warm early morning sun.

    It does seem strange that you say that you are fierce about the subject, but yet not want to add your perspective to the general sum of knowledge developing here. Jungney’s perspective/experience didn’t change my mind, but it’s there in my mind, as something that has a certain weight.

    I expect like most subjects there will be a range of views: for example, some people might regard terrorism as such a terrible threat that they are prepared to let the government intercept any and every private communication, as one tool to combat terrorists, other people won’t accept that trade-off, valuing privacy more highly.

  165. Chris

    I expect like most subjects there will be a range of views: for example, some people might regard terrorism as such a terrible threat that they are prepared to let the government intercept any and every private communication, as one tool to combat terrorists, other people won’t accept that trade-off, valuing privacy more highly.

    Yes I think there’s great similarities around the arguments about where you draw the line. On the one hand you have a very high cost to a small number of people where there is failure (mass murder, child abuse) and other you have in general a relatively small but widespread cost (loss of privacy, freedoms, assumption of guilt “just in case”, secret arrests etc). And somehow you have to balance the two competing concerns when its not really possible to in anyway measure the benefit you get by sacrificing the small costs (but it looks like there should be of a non zero benefit to what you are trying to prevent).

    Given the coverage that is given in the media when there is a dispute over public photography of children, I’ve been quite pleasantly surprised that none of the places my child has visited (swimming pools, ballet, school events) has had a strict prohibition on photography. But instead what I think is a more a commonsense approach – eg try to take photos/video which include only your child though with the understanding that this is not always possible and there will be some group shots and footage.

  166. mindy

    Sometimes Russell when you have had the same conversation/argument over and over again with the same results every time you don’t feel like going through it again. It might be the first time that you have had this conversation but I’m guessing that Linda has been here before many times. I am not surprised that she doesn’t wish to go over it again.

  167. Russell

    Mindy – could be, but in that case, that would be the thing to say?

  168. Graham Bell

    Okay Gentlefolk. This is the Overflow Thread but I’ll stick my oar in anyway.

    “Prevention is better than cure”.

    Child protection is a foundation block of our society – whether that protection is formal or informal – so why the blazes aren’t research funds being ripped out of less vital areas and put into finding better ways of protecting children? Sorry but the trogs we have running us are too thick and stupid to see anything other than in terms of a zero-sum, so it has to be this way for the time being.

    Study thoroughly each and every one of the situations that led to kids being molested to find out the common features and from that research develop practical ways of protecting kids out in the real world. Study the perpetrators vigorously day-in-day-out (water-boarding perhaps, if it would help?) until all their common features are a well understood and effective counter-measures put in place to detect such people BEFORE they do any harm. And …. just to upset all the narrow-minded conventional thinkers on the subject …. study those children, parents and carers that have never had any problems at all to do with this evil so as to find out what they were doing right and where there are common features and clever harm-avoidance hints; make these widely known, in understandable language, to EVERYONE and not just to the professional peers fan-club. There’s no sense in doing brilliant research if the results are locked away like some treasure and are obscured in high-register waffle and semi-scientific argot.

  169. Paul Norton

    Another point that I think is important is that child sexual abuse, and child abuse of all kinds, is (a) pervasive; (b) something which our society and some of its major institutions have conspicuously failed to address and (c) an issue where there are not always clear shiny lines between what constitutes outright abuse, what constitutes “sexualisation” and what are the issues that Casey referred to in her response to me on the other thread. In other words it is the sort of issue where certain kinds of soft targets (such as artists doing edgy work) become lightning rods for communal angst.

  170. jungney

    Yea Paul. But you’ve have to agree that Henson made himself a lightning rod by ignoring changed community standards around the sexualization of children and persisting in using under age models.

    Partly because of my widespread dispersal of Robert Nelson’s review among a community of adult survivors of CSA, they made a co-ordinated move against him on the opening day at RO gallery; this was a response to paying serious attention to the power of art. It came as a surprise, for sure. I must say I enjoyed the irony of seeing art under arrest in police custody immensely.

  171. John D

    I am not talking from experience, but, it seems to me that some of the damage from pedophile encounters may have come from the incident itself, some from a later re-evaluation of what happened and some from being told that you should be traumatised by what happened and/or that what happened in the past is the explanation of things that have gone wrong in your life. The later re-evaluation may involve looking at what happened in terms of a more developed sense of sexual morality and feelings of guilt re what happened.
    Many people deal with various past traumas better than others. Perhaps more research is needed re what makes the difference.

  172. jungney

    John D:

    Like many survivors I’m not looking to excuse such life failures as I’ve had by referring to my personal history as a vic. I see myself as a success: still alive, at almost sixty, not in gaol, not a junkie, not living rough, employed. By any measure as a survivor, that’s a success.

    If you want to explore the realm of PTSD then I’d recommend Bessel van der Kolk for a scientific examination.

    Like I said, I’m not into a stoush around this. If you have the gentleness of heart to explore it, on your terms, then welcome.

  173. John D

    Jugney: You are right. People like me need to be careful not to be judgemental about something outside our experience or to advocate versions of the “take responsibility for yourself” approach on the basis of our success with dealing with far less serious problems than what we are talking about here.
    The situation is complex. On one hand there are dangers in encouraging people to tough it out when all this does is encourage a sense of failure when it doesn’t or stress related problems when something stays bottled up. On the other hand, we need to be careful that we are not suggesting that all people who are abused will suffer from long term trauma. It is too easy for suggestions to create avoidable trauma.

  174. Brian

    Back @ 159 Russell said:

    ” in the current social arrangements it would be better to teach children to trust nobody”

    Linda, I think that would be a horrible way to bring up children. One of the things a parent should try to teach their child is who to trust. Sometimes the trust might be broken, but I think the only way we can have real families and communities is to have them based on a fair amount of trust.

    I think both statements are true. I’m an Eriksonian, as in Erik Erikson. He holds that to learn trust and mistrust is the first significant task in personality development. Young children need to learn to trust their environment and the constancy and goodwill of their mothers and other significant adults. But they need also to learn a healthy mistrust, as a prelude for developing autonomy and other developmental tasks.

    He looks for what he calls a favourable ratio between the two.

    In the Santa caper the link showed some kids in distress and some kids happy to be photographed sitting on the old geezer’s knee. It was all happening in a safe environment and those in distress were undoubtedly rescued in short order.

    But in the Santa caper we also learn that our parents are capable of telling significant porkies if they think it’s for the best, and it’s all to the good that we do.

    BTW I’m not saying I like the Santa caper as a cultural phenomenon. I don’t.

  175. Graham Bell

    Gentlefolk:
    Each of you have contributed worthwhile recollections, ideas and suggestions or pointed a direction we might take to relieve or prevent harm.

    If you few can do this so effectively on a social and political ideas blog in only a few days – (extrapolating now) – then why the blue blazes can’t governments, major organizations and the Law do even more?
    They have the time, the resources, the personnel, the collective expertise, the reach and the responsibility, authority and duty to do even better. They have had plenty of time to take effective action; this evil has been known about for ages; it hasn’t just suddenly erupted.

    There is no excuse whatsoever for child exploitation, sexualisation, molestation and abuse still being a major problem in Australia at the end of 2013?

  176. Chris

    He looks for what he calls a favourable ratio between the two.

    I think that’s a good way to look at it. I try to encourage a healthy level of skepticism in my daughter. To try to get her to think about what people (including myself) are telling her rather than just accepting it because everyone is fallible (and importantly including herself in this). But no one has the time or the capability to research everything totally themselves so at some point its also important to be able to trust others. And also as she is still quite young, the ability to recognise emergency type situations and follow instructions immediately is very important.

    In the Santa caper the link showed some kids in distress and some kids happy to be photographed sitting on the old geezer’s knee. It was all happening in a safe environment and those in distress were undoubtedly rescued in short order.

    And really you get those sorts of expression in kids in all sorts of every day circumstances – eg getting them to try something new at the playground or riding a bike for the first time. One moment its complete fear, the next you can’t stop them from doing it over and over again.

    If you few can do this so effectively on a social and political ideas blog in only a few days – (extrapolating now) – then why the blue blazes can’t governments, major organizations and the Law do even more?

    Because in practice its a really hard problem? And that you can’t just impose solutions, you need to take the wide community along with you? Compulsory notification of potential abuse situations I think was a big step forward because it helps to negate the grooming of adults. Banning smacking of children by parents is something I think will eventually be introduced in Australia, but would fail if they tried it today. It needs a lot of discussion first and other methods widely adopted in the community to get consensus in the community for it.

  177. Graham Bell

    Chris @ 176:

    you can’t just impose solutions, you need to take the wide community along with you

    Agree with you there. That is one of the obvious reasons many preventative measures have failed to date. Some overpaid highly-credentialed drongo with zero experience of what happens in the real world has imposed their whims and fancies on everyone with no thought whatsoever about the practical implementation of safe and preventative practices nor about the consequences of their bright ideas.

    What say we sack all the posers and put the victims of abuse themselves – regardless of formal qualifications – in those very same jobs ..,. and watch out for rapid effective action.

    It needs a lot of discussion first

    No. There has been more than enough “discussion” …. and waffle and duck-shoving and hearings and reports and excuses already. What is needed right now is work (and I make no apology for using that dirty four-lettered word: work!).

  178. jungney

    GB and Russell: I’ve enjoyed your exchanges a lot. Here’s my solution: heavy sentences for abusers, first and foremost; the victims of CSA get a life sentence, for sure, and the perps need to know that the offense is serious, worthy of good time in bird. Second, yes thanks GB, lets at least hear a lot more from those who are avengers in favour of children because that’s who we are, sword in hand, bloody avengers capable of setting things to right.

  179. Russell

    Jungney, sorry to disappoint you then, but I feel uncertain about what kind of treatment/punishment should be meted out to offenders. I sense a witch hunt mentality about this – do you think that a female teacher who had sex with a 14 year old male pupil should get life imprisonment? Because I don’t.

    I know that there were child victims involved in the making of child pornography (that too would cover a wide range of material) but there have been so many cases of people caught for looking at that stuff whose lives have been effectively ruined, that I wonder if a punitive response is really the right one.

    Surely it isn’t that CSA is only the result of adults using their power against children; how is it that abusers can see little children as sexual partners? Or is that part of the natural spectrum of human feelings that we have ruled out as acceptable? I really don’t know, I haven’t read about it, I’m just concerned that we might be dealing very harshly with something we don’t understand.

  180. paul burns

    jungney,
    I was a bit thrown off by your stance of “I don’t want to stoush about this” in regard to the Henson photographic exhibition and your lamentable part in having it shut down, so I didn’t bother responding immediately. (My own response to those photos was ‘So What?”, btw.)
    I am completely against photographs, paintings, books, music, movies etc being destroyed or burnt because people don’t like the content. The destruction of works of art, whatever their form, is the first step towards totalitarianism, whether of the right, left or centre, and should always be resisted on principle. The history of the first half of the 20C has surely taught us the end result of book-burning etc is as truly undesirable as the depredations of rockspiders.

  181. Paul Norton

    I think it is possible to argue that Henson’s photography of 2008 was imprudent, or even irresponsible, while at the same time arguing that the law should not be prohibiting or penalising such work. There was some good discussion along these lines at the time on the Skepticlawyer blog (and also on LP threads that are sadly no longer accessible).

  182. Paul Norton

    This, of course, relates to a more general debate about the possibility – indeed, the necessity – of being able to simultaneously argue in favour of the legal right to freedom of expression while engaging critically with the moral merits of particular exercises of this right.

  183. jungney

    PN: yes, pretty much what I thought at the time. As an exercise, it was worthwhile in so far as it produced a committee who drew up a charter or standard with which Australian artists can conform, or not, as they see fit.

    More importantly, however, arresting the images helped serve public notice of a significant sea change among abuse survivors that there is no room for ambiguity when it comes to establishing safe boundaries for children. This, I suggest, fed directly into creating a public culture in which, among other things, the major churches have been brought to account for their conduct.

    Artists usually put society on trial, or they do if they are worth their salt, but this time the artist was put on trial and found wanting. Fair enough, it seems to me.

    PB: I’m sure you wouldn’t tell rape survivors how they ought to respond to rape culture and nor would you castigate war survivors for bringing their specific knowledge of war trauma to the public sphere. Why do you discount then the views of CSA survivors when it comes to interpreting Henson’s work?

    Like I said, not here to stoush, but to persuade, and if I can’t do that then not to worry :)

  184. tigtog