The movie as metaphor for conventional reality given by Joseph Goldstein is troublesome for a number of reasons. First, it is too simple. A movie is so easily seen understood as make believe. Second, the effort require for movies is to believe what is seen and heard as real, not the other way around. In watching a movie, most people willingly suspend belief. But to appreciate conventional wisdom, much effort is required to understand that what we see and hear in daily life might well be an illusion. The idea of conventional truth is that it encompasses what we believe is true about our lives. The idea is that with meditation and investigation we may be able to see much of our views of the world as delusion.
And then, I have no difficulty in accepting that truth might exist – that there is something called reality, which exists in unique and absolute terms. I just have difficulty accepting that humans might ever be able to know this reality. When I was about 8 or 9 years old I realized that I would never be able to know what another person was thinking – so how now do I accept the words of a dying man as proof of anything, let alone an ultimate reality.
So then I got out some more books. Simon Blackburn’s book entitled Truth. A guideis very interesting. In the Introduction he sets up the discussion as a ‘fight’ (war, conflict) between Absolutists and Relativists. He refers to GK Chesterton’s remark that the problem with people who lose belief in God is not that they end up believing nothing but that they will believe in anything. He also notes that David Hume wrote that mistakes in religion were dangerous whereas generally speaking mistakes in philosophy were merely ridiculous. Blackburn disagrees with Hume describing the issue as philosophical one about the “sources of reason and the control of belief by fact’. He continues:
“It is an epistemological use … about which methods of inquiry and which claims to authority and knowledge we should endorse’…”
“The implications of relativism, and the flashpoints that concern us today, may be new but the war between those who locate themselves as something like ’relativists’ and those who sound more like ‘absolutists’ is not. We know that it raged a long time ago, when Socrates confronted by the sophists in Athens of the fifth century BC. It was probably old then, but that encounter will form one point of entry.”
“What, then is the conflict about? When we are absolutists we stand on truth. We like plain unvarnished objective fact, and we like it open, transparent, and unfiltered. We may not like it everywhere, so we may feel like confining truth to some area: scientific truth or moral truth, for example. But somewhere absolute truth can be found. And as well as truth, absolutists cherish its handmaidens: reason, which enable us to find it or certify it, and objectivity, which is the cardinal virtue of reasoning.”
“Relativists mock these ideals. They see nothing anywhere that is plain, unvarnished, objective, open, transparent or unfiltered. They debunk and deny. They see everywhere what the philosopher William James called the trail of the human serpent. They insists upon the universal presence of happenstance, brute contingencies of nature or culture or language or experience, that shape the way we see things. Nietzsche said “There are no facts, only interpretations’. That will do as a relativist slogan … ” Blackburn Truth at page xv
This duality allows for statements such as “Absolutism gives us security and self assurance; the relativist sees dangerous unthinking innocence and complacency”. Absolutists suffer from what James described as ‘religious ambition’. They seek something ‘haughty, remote, august, exalted’ whether as a ‘religion’ of some deity or ideology of the Market, Science and so on. Relativist recoil from conviction and embrace Toleration but for Blackburn the toleration of the relativist goes beyond respecting the opinions of others to a sense that one has no right to disapprove of what anyone says. Relativists disrupt the symmetries reason and knowledge, objectivity and truth.But then Blackburn introduces the skeptic. While the skeptic is often associated with the relativist, for Blackburn there is a significant difference. The skeptic believes in the existence of truth but is disinclined to believe that humans are capable of obtaining (possessing) such truth. For the skeptic, the truth is precious – priceless. For the relativist the truth (your truth, my truth, any truth) is essentially worthless – too cheap to care about.
“Four basic principles, or understandings lie at the heart of One Dharma: first, that philosophical concepts are only descriptions of experience, and not the experience itself; second, that mindfulness, compassion, and wisdom weave together as essential strands of a nonsectarian path of practice; third, that what is called in Buddhism “the two truths” – the relative and ultimate perspective of reality – together provide a framework for holding divergent points of view; and, last, that the mind of nongrasping is the essential unifying experience of freedom.” Goldstein One Dharmaat page 5.
“As a way of understanding these two truths, think for a moment of being in a movie theatre, completely engrossed in the story on the screen. We may feel happy or sad, excited or terrified, all depending on the movie being shown. Now imagine looking up at the beam of light that is passing through the film creates all these images on the screen. As we sit in the darkened theatre and see that light above us, we realize that there is nothing really happening on the screen at all, except for a play of light and color. And yet, when we are absorbed in the story it feels very real. On the relative level, we live and act and relate as individuals, one with another, with all our personal stories and histories. On the ultimate level, there’s no “self”, no “I”, no one there at all. It’s all a play of momentary, changing elements. Moreover, what happens even to our perception of light when there’s no screen, no dust particles in the air, no place for it to land? “
“One of the most illuminating stories illustrating the relative and ultimate is told about the death of His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa … In the last days of his illness, surrounded by his students and disciples who were saddened and concerned about the imminent death of their great teacher, he turned to them and said, “Don’t worry, nothing happens.”
“This is quite an amazing understanding: on one level the body is sick and dying, and on another, nothing happens. The union of these two truths, the relative and the ultimate, is the great mystery of our lives.” Goldstein.” One Dharmaat page 105-106
Over the years I have often listened to teachers answer difficult questions about ‘no self’ (and emptiness) with the ‘two truths’ explanation. It always rankled. While I was prepared to accept that there were some things I didn’t understand, I found it unsatisfying. I remember when I first started work for External Affairs being often told that I didn’t understand because I was ‘I had not been there or done that’. I felt that if someone couldn’t offer a better answer than ‘wait and you will someday see’, then they likely didn’t really understand themselves.
In the example of the two truths offered by Goldstein as the experience of watching a movie, I understood that the issue was one of perception (a mental factor arising after contact and feeling). This suggested to me that ‘truth’ or ‘reality’ lay beyond ‘normal’ perception, but the idea could also be that it was just experience, not some ‘ultimate reality’. He also had noted as the first principle of One Dharma that “philosophical concepts are only descriptions of experience, and not the experience itself.”
Still there is this word ‘truth’. Truth is as Stephen Batchelor has pointed out an important concept in western philosophy. And I had spent years trying to understand the great philosophers. By using this word, truth, especially with respect to the explanation of understanding the world, Buddhism seemed to enter the world of metaphysics – ontology, epistemology and the rest – a concern with what is real and how do we know what we know?
In the story of His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa’s death, Goldstein seemed at first reading to take the ‘two truths’ into what Arthur J. Lovejoy labeled in The Great Chain of Beingat page 11 “metaphysical pathos”. This Lovejoy wrote was exemplified
“… in any description of the nature or things, in any characterization of the world to which one belongs, in terms which, like the words of a poem, awaken through their associations, and a sort of empathy which they engender, a congenial mood or tone of feeling on the part of the philosopher or his readers … Now of metaphysical pathos, there are a good many kinds; and people differ in their degree of susceptibility to any one kind. There is, in the first place, the pathos of sheer obscurity, the loveliness of the incomprehensible … The reader doesn’t know exactly what they mean, but they have all the more on that account an air of sublimity; an agreeable feeling of awe and exaltation comes over him as he contemplates thoughts of so immeasurable profundity … Akin to this is the pathos of the esoteric. How exciting and how welcome in the sense of initiation into hidden mysteries! And how effectively certain philosophers – notably Schelling and Hegel …- satisfied the human craving for this experience, by representing the central insight of their philosophy as a thing to be reached, not through a consecutive progress of thought guided by the ordinary logic available to every man, but through a sudden leap whereby one rises to a plane of insight wholly different in its principles from the level of mere understanding.” (at page 12)
Lovejoy describes as a variant of metaphysical pathos, the ‘eternalistic pathos’ defined as the “aesthetic pleasure which the bare abstract idea of immutability give us…”
The great mystery of life is death. When life ends, what happens is called death, but nothing besides this label is truly understood. Traditionally, death and life after death was the reserve of religion – of gods and, for Christians, God. His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa died, as did Jesus, passing beyond life into this great silence leaving behind a body and hope, it seems for believers, for eternal life.
In his opening Dharma talk on the Satipatthana sutta, Goldstein commented that as a young man, before encountering Buddhism, he had studied philosophy. He said that it was only when he began to study Buddhism that he realized that part of his disquiet with western philosophy was that it offered little by way of practical insights into life. In his brief comment, he didn’t mention what kind of philosophy he studied or how deeply he looked into it, but point was that Buddhism was taught as a practice. In this sense, until we stumble onto things like the “two truths’, most western philosophy and Buddhism seem quite different. Buddhism as it is taught is more like psychology or, even, cognitive behaviour therapy. Western philosophy may be misguided (or wrong), but it has always been about trying to understand this life. The focus of Western philosophy was on ‘truth’ and ‘reality’. Christian faith was deeply challenged by the horrendous cruelty of the religious wars and many thoughtful men (and women although there is little record of their thoughts) struggled to find refuge – a foundation for their lives other than God. As the Enlightenment unfolded, belief in God faded. Many scholars were likely surprised that they no longer believed in God, in a society in which such beliefs were ‘natural’ and ‘true’. Scholars worried about a notion of truth, which required belief. How could one know God? And if God was unknowable, how was knowledge of anything possible? It is not surprising that David Hume with his claim that there was no rational basis for morality woke Emmanuel Kant from his dogmatic slumbers. And the repercussions of such thinking continue today – for example in ideas about the Rule of Law or the theory of rights.
The theory of “two truths” echo Kant’s argument that reality is constituted by phenomena, the appearance of things, which constitute our experience, and noumena, things, which are the things in themselves and lie beyond our ability to experience directly. Thinking of this I return to Lovejoy who writes:
“Now a formulated doctrine is sometimes a relatively inert thing. The conclusions reached by a process of thought is also not infrequently the conclusion of the process of thought. The more significant factor in the matter may be, not the dogma which certain persons proclaim – be that single or manifold in is meaning – but the motives or reasons which have led them to it. And motives and reasons partly identical may contribute to the production of diverse conclusions, and the same substantive conclusions may, at different periods or in different minds, be generated by entirely distinct logical or other motives.”
The idea that reality is comprised of phenomena, which can be experienced, and nouema, which cannot be, is similar to the idea that truth is conventional, reflecting experience, and ultimate, being reality. The motives or reasons for proposing such ideas are different. Kant was interested in providing a description, and to a certain extent a defense, of human ability to understand, even know, through reason, if not God, then reality. Goldstein was offering a summary of what he had had been told and, I imagine, found useful about Buddhist dogma. He may have felt no need, and perhaps no interest, to examining the idea of two truths more critically. However, I wonder if he had been aware of the intellectual history of ‘truth’, if he would have offered a better explanation of the doctrine in a book intended for western readers. Perhaps the doctrine, as suggested by the cinema example, is meant to provide students with an explanation of experience, rather than of ultimate reality – intended as a pedagogic device rather than an ontological statement.
The doctrine, as a basic tenant of Buddhism, seems to impose a burden of on followers to believe, although what one is being asked to accept as a matter of faith is unclear. On the one hand, one might be accepting the truth of the doctrine of ‘no self’ or ‘emptiness’? On the other, one may be accepting as truth any statements of the Enlightened? And I am uncertain as to why it is necessary as part of one’s practice to accept anything. It may be more useful simply to be mindful. Faith is necessary, but belief that there is some “ultimate truth” available to the Enlightened seems as Lovejoy might describe it as an “eternalistic pathos”
Second, quotes from Stephen Batchelor After Buddhism
“The Dharma may have started out as a twofold ground and a fourfold task, but Buddhism ended up with two truths and four noble truths. You will not find any reference in authoritative sources on Buddhism to either a “twofold ground” or a “fourfold task”. These are examples of ideas that either failed to take off or were forgotten, suppressed, marginalized or lost. Sometime in the centuries after Gotama’s death, Buddhism seems to have taken a metaphysical turn. By adopting a language of truth, Buddhists move from an engaged agency with the world to the theorizing stance of a detached subject contemplating epistemic objects. Rather than consider injunctions to guide their ethical actions, they adopted the truth of propositions to support their beliefs. They shifted, seemingly en masse with little if any resistance from prescription to description, from pragmatism to ontology, from scepticism to dogmatism.” Batchelor, After Buddhismat page 116.
“… A statement is “true” because it corresponds with the “truth”, and the person who makes such utterances is said to be “truthful”. “
“Such a correspondence theory of truth came to be taken for granted in Buddhist philosophical thought, much as it has been in most Western philosophy. … One of the dangers … in such a view is that it easily gets elevated into a basis for certainties about what constitutes “the Truth”. It becomes… “the shorthand for something like ‘a natural terminus to inquiry, a way things really are, and that understanding what that way is will tell us what to do with ourselves.” … Truth thus assumes qualities of ultimacy and finality, which turn it into a rhetorical weapon in the armory of religious, political, and scientific fundamentalists alike.” (at page 118)
“As the concept of truth metamorphosed from a virtue into a synonym for reality, it exerted a deep and lasting influence on how Buddhism came to understand the nature and purpose of their practice.” (at page 120)
““Craving is the origin of suffering’ is a metaphysical dogma no different in kind to “God created heaven and earth.” It claims to state a fundamental truth about the source of all experience, a truth that is impossible to verify or to falsify. As Buddhism became an Indian religion, this dogma became one of its fundamental tenents. “
“… the doctrine of two truth: ultimate truth (paramattha sacca; Sanskrit: paramartha satya) and conventional truth (sammuti sacca; Sanskrit: samvrti satya). The germ of this idea may have originated in the Buddha’s vision of twofold ground, that is, conditioned arising and nirvana. … Simply stated, the two truth doctrine is a way of distinguishing between the conventional truths of everyday life that we need in order to function as social and moral agents and the ultimate truth. By gaining direct non conceptual insight of the latter we achieve the liberating knowledge that frees us from suffering and rebirth. There are different Buddhists interpretations as to what constitutes the higher or ultimate truth, but for the Madhyamaka school … the term refers exclusively to the emptiness of inherent existence. Such emptiness is constantly and irreducibly true; everything in one’s experience is at best only conventionally true.” (at page 130)
“… “Ultimate truth” becomes a signifier of what really is, whereas “conventional truth” signifies merely what people agree upon as true and useful.” (at page 131)
“… Part of the appeal of the two truths theory is that it seems to make life so much more straightforward and clear-cut. The “enlightened” can now be understood as those who have gained a direct understanding of ultimate truth, whereas the “unenlightened” are those who remained mired in the ambiguous truths of custom and convention. When phrased in this way, the achievement of enlightenment become the private affair of a person who has gained a privileged mystical cognition of the Truth with a capital T.”
I spent many years studying after graduating from high school. Fifteen years – a BA (Political Science), an LLB (or JD), LLM, and then a PhD. I also worked between each degree and so was in my late 40’s when I received my PhD. I was introduced to Buddhism in my 20’s but did not begin to practice until my early 40’s. When I read the credentials of Buddhist teachers such as Joseph Goldstein and Stephen Batchelor, the comparing mind arose. And I envied their years as Buddhist monks. What did I gain through my years of study? – certainly not enlightenment, but a sense that I understood the magic and mystery of this life and this understanding, I feel, enhances rather than detracts from my practice.
Not infrequently “Buddhist” teachers would suggest that it was necessary to think less, to move from the head to the body, and so on. For me, so often lost in my head, this was helpful in developing mindfulness and concentration. I constantly work on it. At the same time, I feel that the mind, the intellect, is at the heart of the process. To breath and to know that one is breathing – to train the mind and, maybe to understand the mind, is the point. Non-reactivity is a process of the mind. Thinking is an amazing, and, at times, joyous, quality of life. However, this does not mean that there is a mind and body split. For me, we honour the mind, even as we learn how to think critically. As Batchelor notes “The quality of your ‘doubt’ – of the questions you ask – is directly correlated to the quality of your insight” (at page 10).
I rebel against the anti intellectualism implicit in the dogma of the two truths. Why two truths? Why not none or many? The disregard for Western philosophy also bothers me. If Buddhism is to move to the ‘west’, it will have to engage with Western thought, and yes, western concepts of truth. For such ideas about ‘truth’, the impossibility or the immutability of truth, is part of this world.
And then, truth
The Buddhist doctrine of “two truths” may be lost in translation. In English – “truth” is reality. It is possible, if not likely, that it is not intended that this “truth” is not what was intended in the original Pali (or whatever other language spoken by the Buddha). In the critique of modern philosophy, with pragmatism and then the ‘post modern’, the coupling of truth and reality has, it seems, been loosened. In science, with Kuhn and Popper, even scientific facts were gradually recognized as ‘true’ because they were found true in the particular context or paradigm in which they were true. As Batchelor noted, quoting Gianni Vatimo, “We don’t reach agreement when we have discovered the truth, we say we have discovered the truth when we reach agreement.” The problem is, again as Batchelor notes, is the “so embedded is this usage of “truth” in our language that we generally fail to remark upon it.” (all at page 119).
Goldstein’s explanation of conventional truth suggests that while using the word “truth”, he is not intending for the word to be an accurate representation of the reality but rather an example of ‘experience’ and how easily experience may be misapprehended. The movie is experienced as real until it is examined and seen as simply the play of light on a screen. His discussion of the death of His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa as an example of the union of conventional and ultimate truths is more difficult to interpret. How are two truths ‘united’? If an understanding of the play of light of the screen is ‘ultimate truth’ in the sense that it is reality and the experience of the movie as ‘real’ is conventional, where does unity lie? Can there a union between the conventional truth that the reality is the movie and the ultimate truth that it is not? Perhaps what is meant by ‘ultimate truth’ is it is the experience of the world as related by those who have “done what is needed to be done”. Their understanding of the world and their ability to describe and explain this understanding – to teach others how to follow the path – is ‘ultimate reality’. This suggests that in this sense of the word, there are not only two truths, but many. They may all be ‘true’ in the sense that they represent some aspect of reality or reality itself, which in turn suggests that some may be more real that others.
What is important is to accept that the elephant has many parts – and it is important not to cling any understanding as ‘this is’ or ‘this is not’. However, it is a matter of right view, not no view. The elephant does exist. There is gravity and things fall down. I feel that the radical idea of the Buddha was not that there was no truth or two truths or many truths, but that in order to live without suffering we needed to learn, through practice, to experience the world for ourselves without preconception (need the name of sutta here).
So the “Truth” of emptiness / no self
Watching the cat, I cannot help but think, she knows that she exists. From the way she eats the cat treats, it seem clear that she find the treats pleasant. When she sees the neighbour’s cat, she knows that this cat exists and, as she races out to run her off, it seems clear that she finds this cat unpleasant. At the same time, I suspect that this cat does not know that she is Charlie (short for Charlotte). Nor does she care that the other cat is Esme, that she is ‘owned’ by Sammy and that Esme lives down the street.
While I have a ways to go, I am beginning to understand ‘no self’ and ‘emptiness’. It is not simply an intellectual exercise – although I have thought a lot about it. For ‘my’ whole life, I have accepted that “I” existed. And as long as I can remember, I have been ‘me’. Over the years, my body and my thoughts have changed – everything has changed except, the thought that “I am still here”. I would constantly find myself asking myself when meditating ‘who is watching’? And then – it came to me that the watcher was ‘me’ but this ‘me’ was simply a thought. It is no more than a pulse of energy in my head – gone as quickly as it comes. I had been looking for something only to realize that it didn’t exist. The thought arose from somewhere deep in myself that this “I” was nothing but in that thought, there was the realization that this “I” was everything. I could only laugh. It seemed so true – and liberating.
True. But maybe not… this “I” keeps looking and asking questions.
NZ Police advise that they do not work underground.
The story about the police refusing to working underground misses the point.
First, the police are publicly funded and responsible for the investigation of crimes. Should they be able to ignore a suspicious death which happened underground? Should criminals now see the underground as a rule free place?
Second, what was the role of the police during the Royal Commission of Inquiry? Did they refuse at that time to ‘go underground’ thereby thwarting any serious investigation into the cause of disaster? Criminal responsibility for the deaths of 29 men was impossible to establish without forensic evidence. What role did the police play at that time in allowing the guilty to get off? And then what about product liability or professional negligence? Without scene investigation, there was no evidence as to whether the manufacturers of the ventilation system or those who designed the mine were or were not negligent in their work.
And then, lastly what about the Royal Commission? Around 20 million dollars were spent. The documents gathered by this expensive venture remain embargoed for 30 to 100 years. The heralded report resulted in a revamp of health and safety rules but failed utterly in determining why the mine blew up. What was the role of the NZ Police in that fiasco?
No. Once upon a time the NDP was a complicated party. But that was a while ago. It was a time when people joined the party because they believed in social progress. Many saw themselves as part of one or several movements – the union movement, the women’s movement or the environmental movement. The struggle both within and without the party was to create and maintain a coalition of people who wanted to build, in the words of Tommy Douglas, “a new Jerusalem”. This was not easy because there were so many different and passionate views. These were views of and from the left – socialist, not corporate – divergent on many issues but sharing a faith that good government served the interests of all of members of society, not just the rich, and anyone who believed in the possibility of a just and fair community (ie one which respected the rights of all people etc and the environment) were welcome to join.
The NDP was a coalition. As successor to the Canadian Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the NDP retained in parts of Canada a Christian (largely United Church of Canada) hue. In the formation of the NDP, the priorites of the union movement were welded onto the CCF platform of equality for women and Christian regard for the poor and sick. The leadership of the CCF had always included women and Tommy Douglas as leader of the CCF had been instrumental in estblishing the single payer health scheme in Canada. In 1970 Douglas and other members of the NDP voted again the imposition of the War Measures Act. The NDP were long anti-war and the party’s opposition to Canada’s membership of NORAD and NATO were long standing. Members of the NDP even referred to themselves as socialists.
During the 1980’s the NDP lost several key provincial elections. It became clear that BC would not escape the neo Liberal political tide. Elected after 16 years in opposition, the NDP government during the 1990’s struggled to prove that it was not a revolutionary or even radical party of change – but rather it was a competent manager of the economy as it was. Big projects were out and good government was in. But the standard for ‘good government’ was the economy – competence was measured by the business community. Carried by the neo Liberal economic tide and a deep desire for public approval (good polling data), the NDP moved to the centre of the political spectrum. Unfortunately for the party, the business community (ie the right wing) were never going to vote for them and by leaving the aspirations of supporters at the door, the party destroyed its base. Defeated in 2000, took ten years to rebuild. The election in 2013, like the election in 1983, was another turning point. By 2017 the NDP had re-invigorated its base, energized the young and was ready to govern.
Sadly, it is now clear that the NDP had lied repeatedly during the last election. With hindsight the lies seem so obvious, but the party argues that they were not lies, but policy. Party policy was open to interpretation. Set out in a context of the NDP as the historic party – the party of the working class, the party of social justice and environmental action – supporters were willing to accept vague statements on key issues such as Site C, as commitments. And some, like me, simply believed that an NDP would do the right thing. We might not be able to rely on the party technocrats, but surely we could rely on the promises of our elected members. How could such good people be part of a government which approved Site C and the Liberal LNG nightmare? And why wouldn’t a government elected with the support of the union movement refuse to advance worker’s rights or reform the WCB. Surely a government of the left would support electoral reform, address serious issues of fee for service in the health program and of access to justice. But no.
Relying on reputation, a grand coalition of left wing movements, the NDP managed to get elected, albeit with support from the Greens. The subsequent approval of Site C, the endorsement of the LNG program, the failure to campaign for electoral reform, the refusal to address issues at the WCB – all indicate that the platform was misleading. The NDP could have simply stated – “We will do what the Liberals are doing, but we will be nicer. And if we can, we may even address some social issues.”
The result – the government is a bit nicer, although as time goes on people will forget how mean the Liberals were and begin to complain about the NDP as well. The government may be less corrupt – issues with money laundering and casinos are being addressed. Schools seem to have more teachers and so on. But again, the objective is good government as defined and determined by the business community. No structural or systemic reform which might displease the capitalist class are going to be risked.
The NDP was complicated once but now it is quite simple – do whatever is necessary to win the next election. Betray your supporters, if necessary, because if you want to win, you need not just supporters but right wing people as well. The problem for the party is that having betrayed so many of their supporters one time too many – they have destroyed the party. The proud and noisy coalition of the left has died.
For me, it is sad – all that passion and work, for what? Most people don’t care. But they won’t know what they have lost because they have no idea that this New Jeruselum was once possible.
Soon it will be gone. Another story, maybe a war or forest fire will grab the front pages.
Still, as Polly Toynbee and so many other women have pointed out, Weinstein is just another guy who finally got taken down. She wrote, “I guess that this week all women my age have been mentally re-running the bum-pinching, grabbing, intimidating humiliations from men in power of our youth.” Susan Moore added, “The experience of sexual harassment is not a one-off; it is ongoing – as I wrote last week. It’s the backdrop to many women’s lives. We are numbed by it because to think about it all the time would immobilise us.” And Zoe Williams linked the story to Brexit, Trump and misogyny. Of course, men piled on. No one, save maybe Woody Allen, tried to defend the guy in any way shape or form.
Given that so many women have for so long suffered harassment, in all of its forms and severity, the questions which should be asked are “Why Weinstein?” and “Why now?” What did he do that a guy like Trump didn’t do? Did he annoy some drug dealer or other powerful guy? Or was it political, his financial support of the Democrats or women’s projects lead to his outing? Or maybe it was personal? He felt badly and tried to excuse his behaviour when confronted etc. Certainly Trump didn’t seem to suffer any embarrassment from being shown to be a sexual predator.
The term sexual harassment is a bit distracting as the activity is more about power than sex. Sex does often come into it – but most of the time it is about men using their power to abuse women in any way they can. Sex makes the stories titillating but women usually look bad (cheap, stupid, naive, or worse) in such tales. So talking about sexual harassment without talking about power, who has it and how they use it, is fun, but not helpful.
The problem is misogyny. While there are many more women in the public realm than there were 40 years ago, the equality of women with men remains an idea which is not universally accepted. Many people believe, perhaps unconsciously, that females are, quite simply, an inferior lesser form of human being to males. And it is a matter of belief. The equality between any two people, whether male or female, cannot ever be ‘scientifically proven’. And men still ‘run’ the world. Most countries are ruled by men, most armies are staffed by men, and nearly all sports are dominated by men – some men run and jump faster and further than any women. And most corporations are ruled by men and for men. Very few CEOs are women. The wage gap may be narrowing but that may be more about male workers being paid less, than female workers being paid more. The brutal reality is that in the world as it is, women are not the equal of men. Equal treatment is even seen at times as pandering to political interests. Even in the west, demand for equal respect is often belittled, labeled political correctness Many, including many women, believe that men are more capable than women and the desire to treat women as equals is like being nice – not necessary when the going gets tough. Putting down women is ingrained in our culture… just look at honourifics – an honoured man is a Knight and a woman a Dame; a university degree is a ‘bachelor’ not a ‘mistriess’. It is an insult to ’throw like a girl’ and so on….
It helps to listen to women talk publicly about their experiences with men because the stories reveal the insidious and ubiquitous quality of misogyny. But to say that anything will change is to ask a lot. Things can change but it would require men to publicly call out other men for their bad behaviour. And maybe this is what happened to Harvey Weinstein. Did he make the mistake of harassing the daughter, wife or mother of someone even more powerful than he, who wasn’t prepared to accept his behaviour? Or did he call the bluff of someone trying to black mail him? Or was the male journalist who broke the story better than female journalist who tried to write about the guy a few years earlier?
Writing this reminds me of an email I sent to a journalist who was defending two male colleagues who had been fired for inappropriate comments to a young girl – on air. The two journalist were both well known left wing political commentators who were discussing the “Roast Buster’s Affair” – a tale of young men getting younger girls drunk in order to have sex and to take and post photos of the event on line.
November 2013 – outdated views?
To quote – “Against the rage of that pernicious culture’s opponents “the finer points of freedom” didn’t stand a chance. Willie and JT may be proud (some would say arrogant) men with an outdated and utterly insufficient grasp of the meaning and pain of Rape (and of how very easy it is to rekindle that pain through insensitivity and doubt) but they did not deserve what happened to them. There are better ways to correct ignorance; other ways to humble pride.” – Article by Chris Trotter published in the Daily Blog. See more at: http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2013/11/15/the-finer-points-of-freedom-chris-trotter-replies-to-martyn-bradbury/#sthash.3MO0k46r.dpuf
What harm did these men suffer? They lost a platform for their views – a radio show on which their ignorance could be made public and where, if not corrected, would help shape public opinion. What harm did the young woman suffer? Perhaps none as she didn’t have a public platform and her views were simply fodder or background noise against which the wit and wisdom of JT and Willey could be revealed.
These men were not jailed or stoned for their views. In some places in this world women who are raped are jailed and stoned.
I suppose it is radical to suggest that women do not have equal voice in this society. I condemn myself as a ‘feminist” when I ask when will the finer points of the freedom men enjoy be shared by women? You could point to Helen Clark and say, “See. Women are equal.” Sure elite women seem to survive even thrive. But how deep or enduring is this “equality”? How many women only radio talk shows do you know of?
Can one ask the tough questions and get genuine answers? What do men believe about rape? Women set the tone… men simply follow? Consent is circumstantial – implied by context? Or simply, that rape is complicated? And Willie and JT are simply confused about the right words to use?
Perhaps the confusion arises because it is very hard for women to talk about rape even with other women – once the issue becomes their own experience. I know. But it is only my own experience, anecdotal, unscientific. No reason for anyone to believe me. So I too remain silent.
And then maybe women just need to harden up – be able, like JT and Wille, to see rape as a bit of mischief.
So you, as a good man, have stood up for for the rights of other good men. You have used your public platform to be kind to your friends. Good men do that – they stand by their mates. Women see it all the time, even when the good mates have done something dodgy…
I accept that you believe that these men deserve better. But I remember your column about Helen Clark in 2008. You mourned the fact that the ‘lads’ had won. And so, I ask you – is it any surprise that one of the lads so keen to see her go was JT? She was after all a “front bump”… and while he may no longer refer to women publicly as front bumps, I am not sure that his views on women have changed.
You think that he should continue to be given a public platform – to say exactly what?
Several years ago I took this photo of Christina Lake. It was just after dinner with light fading, the room was dark. Mom was in her chair reading. By chance I caught a faint reflection of my mother in the window.
It has been a year since I last wrote. I was starting then and I am starting now. It is time for the story to begin.
Dawn or dusk? Does it matter? The sun continues its journey. Oh for each day to be a new beginning. Start over. Do what has not yet been done.
So here I am. I abandon blogging for 18 months. Blogging is no longer what it was – so many words and so few readers? But to write is not necessarily to be read. Writing is a tool for understanding. And there is a lot to be said for trying to understand.
“To apprehend what is is the task of philosophy, because what is, is reason. As for the individual, every one is a son of his time; so philosophy also is its time apprehended in thoughts. It is just as foolish to fancy that any philosophy can transcend its present world, as that an individual could leap out of his time or jump over Rhodes…. ” Hegel, Philosophy of Right
Hegel also pointed out that even when one understands, it is not enough because the sun keeps moving across the sky. New day, new reality. So why not start again and again….
“Only one word more concerning the desire to teach the world what it ought to be. For such a purpose philosophy at least always comes too late. Philosophy, as the thought of the world, does not appear until reality has completed its formative process, and made itself ready. History thus corroborates the teaching of the conception that only in the maturity of reality does the ideal appear as counterpart to the real, apprehends the real world in its substance, and shapes it into an intellectual kingdom. When philosophy paints its grey in grey, one form of life has become old, and by means of grey it cannot be rejuvenated, but only known. The owl of Minerva, takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering.” https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/pr/preface.htm#xxx