About Irrational Utopias or the American Dream as a Nightmare

“The owners of this country know the truth: It’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.” – George Carlin

“(…) occupiers and protesters seem to have awakened from a “dream” that only privileged a few”

For a European like me, the American dream is often invoked in mainstream Hollywood films and TV series, which portray an idealised picture of individual heroes fighting against a usually hostile world or pursuing epic dreams of material prosperity, fame and fortune from the bottom of society. In popular culture, the American dream is usually described as the hope of anyone who comes to America, the land of limitless space, a land where everything is possible if individuals work hard enough, a land where it is always possible to go beyond, to achieve more, to make ideas infinitely productive and therefore, income generating. Apparently, everyone has the same opportunities to live the American dream so whoever is not able to do so must, apparently, be less fit, less clever, and less deserving of God’s grace. But this is not an article about inequality and the failure of the American dream for many US citizens who simply were not lucky enough to be “successful”,whatever that word means. My intent here is to provide a more historical and philosophical insight into the human implications of an ideology underpinned by a sort of messianic idealism. The American dream is profoundly idealistic in the sense that isolated individuals seem to inhabit a world where material and economic prosperity is permanently possible and can only go upwards; citizens are in permanent competition with fellow citizens. Obviously, not every American citizen is driven by the same values and principles. The history of the US is plagued with struggles for democracy and civil rights scattered throughout the country, a very significant portion of progressive citizens with libertarian and emancipatory values trying to survive in the tsunami of mainstream America. Still, whether it is for the most reactionary or the most progressive segments of American society, the American dream demands a serious reappraisal if we consider how much American society (and the rest of the world) have changed compared to the society that saw the birth of this ideology. The notion of the American dream is idealistic because it is a “dream”, that is, intangible and unconnected to the real, physical world. If we contextualise this idealism in light of the social and environmental problems suffered not only by the US but by much of the rest of humanity, to believe in the ever-growing progress of material prosperity of a society formed by a majority of isolated and atomised individuals pursuing false notions of success, fame, or their own idealised life, then the chances are the American dream becomes a nightmare of anguish and isolation. I am saying this keeping the Occupy movement in mind. Witnessing the terrible consequences of the American dream (or the particular interpretation an elite has made of it) on the American economy in this last crisis, occupiers and protesters seem to have awakened from a “dream” that only privileged a few, and are now beginning to reinterpret their own history in search of new paradigms for social and economic organisation.

“Can the ideals of the American dream, born in a completely different historical and cultural context, hold any validity in the 21st century?”

Having a look at definitions of the American dream in various dictionaries and other sources, the American dream reflects the tenets of this irrationally idealistic ideology. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the American dream as “a happy way of living that is thought of by many Americans as something that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S. especially by working hard and becoming successful”. On the other hand, this web page  uses the words of the founding fathers to illustrate how the American dream has been conceived historically; according to Thomas Jefferson, the American dream is that in which “[n]othing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude”. Similarly, Abraham Lincoln sees America as a country where “[y]ou can have anything you want – if you want it badly enough. You can be anything you want to be, do anything you set out to accomplish if you hold to that desire with singleness of purpose”. Beyond biased interpretations and historical contextualisations, the previous definitions seem to be sustained on two leitmotivs, individualism and infinite material progress. But this particular idea of how human beings should organise their life as embodied by the values of the American way of life is historically and culturally rooted in an age where what was known about the nature of human beings and societies was quite different from what we know today. However, for a significant number of US citizens, the dream of the American dream still seems to embody the ideals of social cohesion and equality as part of the shared set of assumptions about the moral principles that should guide the nation. Can the ideals of the American dream, born in a completely different historical and cultural context, hold any validity in the 21st century? If not, how can it be rethought so as to suit it to the challenges of our times?

If we want to understand how and why the ideology of the American way of life is ill-suited to provide an ethically and environmentally sound framework for sustainable life in the 21st century, we need to go back to the European Renaissance. The roots of the ideology of the American dream might be traced back to the early puritan pioneers who arrived to the coast of what was going to become New England onboard the Mayflower back in December 1620. But a bigger picture emerges when consider the historical and religious context of the transition from medieval times to the Renaissance, in other words, the advent of modernity, and of the new economic order of capitalism, with its new work ethic. Towards the end of the 15th century, the crumbling down of the oppressive yet well-ordered and stratified medieval society implied a liberation from the shackles of medieval superstition and social immobility. Little by little, the new commercial and capitalist middle class offered a whole new world of commercial possibilities, and ever growing monopolies began to threaten and dismantle the old guilds, which provided a sense of economic and cultural stability in medieval society. However, instead of a true and lasting emancipation, such liberation was experienced as anguishing and isolating as the old certainties of the medieval age disappeared, old ties were cut, and individuals were left to face loneliness and isolation in a world with a new economic scenario. Anguish and doubt in a world bereft of any sense of belonging and stability defined the experience of the European middle class when facing the uncertainty of the world opened before them. This is the beginning of capitalism, when man becomes an instrument of the economic machinery created by himself, as Erich Fromm (1) claims:

“The spiritual liberation of man initiated by Protestantism was taken to mental, social and political levels by capitalism. Economic freedom was the basis for such development embodied by the new middle class. Individuals were not tied anymore to an unmovable social order founded on tradition […] Now men were allowed to put their faith in economic success”.

As Fromm suggests, the religious doctrines of reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin attempted to provide a sense of guidance and stability to the disoriented middle class although their proposal meant to surrender to another form of submission to God. In other words, what Luther and Calvin proposed to alleviate the anguish and powerlessness felt by the middle class facing a threatening and hostile “New World Order” was self-humiliation, which would eventually grant access to the divine world of God. Gone was the medieval world when dignified men and spiritual salvation were ends in themselves. Now, man (the middle class) becomes an instrument for a higher design: economic activity and the accumulation of capital. Thus, the protestant work ethic emerges at this point: incessant and compulsive work appears as a way of avoiding the anguish and fear of their (the European middle class) new situation in the new economic scenario (2). As philosophers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer brilliantly argue, the hopes of freedom and democracy aroused by the collapse of the medieval order and birth of a new economic order (capitalism) were betrayed by the new scientific and religious dogmas of Newtonian atomism and Protestantism. Apart from shaping the cultural climate of Europe that was to be imported to America by Puritans and pioneers, both Newtonian atomism and Protestantism were interpreted to suit the economic needs of the ruling elite. In short, the new world that emerges with the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment conceived of man in the image of the philosophical and scientific ideas of the age: man became a commodity “free” to pursue his/her own dreams in a world of terrifying competition for apparently limitless economic opportunities and, likewise, nature became a commodity to be exploited. These are the two pillars of the American dream. But what kind of rationality is embodied by these ideas and principles?

“(the) US economy (…) depends crucially on the assumption that society is formed by individuals pursuing their own self-interest without interference from the state”

It was in this historical context that the Puritan movement appeared, embodying the new zeitgeist as shown by its passion for thrift, their attempt to purify what they perceived as a corrupt and decaying Church of England. In line with Luther and Calvin, the Puritans stripped themselves off the authority of the church and decided to follow their own truth as found in the bible, hence their prosecution and their fleeing to the new world. Fiercely Calvinists, the Puritans enacted the Protestants work ethic which would eventually shape the American dream: work from dawn till dusk and thrift in order to secure salvation. If the concept of reason is defined as the human capacity to question and verify and justify facts through human intellect, then the Puritans’ strong and unquestioning belief in the authority of an unmerciful God contradicts the spirit of reason. As I mentioned before, the Protestant mentality acted like a Prozac; it justified compulsive work and material accumulation as a means to avoid thinking about death, uncertainty and cultural disorientation in a world that did not offer the security and stability of medieval societies.

As the pioneers grew in numbers, settlements expanded and with them, the frontier war with the local indigenous population, the tribes of North America. The frontier war reinforced the protestant ideas and preconceptions that formed the backbone of puritan ideology: the new settlers faced a hostile environment with which they maintained a permanent struggle for survival. But the new waves of immigrants did not cross the Atlantic Ocean with an empty cultural baggage. The philosophical and scientific ideas of the 17th and 18th centuries not only exerted an influenced but also certainly reinforced the individualistic mentality of the pioneers. One of the most powerful ideas holding sway at that time was Newtonian atomism. As part of the cultural framework of modernity, nature and society were conceived as mechanisms, large machines formed by replaceable parts, as Freya Matthews claims (3):

“How’s the natural order of atomism to be imitated in the social sphere? As long as each individual pursues his or her own interest and obeys his or her own ‘law’, viz. the law of self-interest subject to certain, outer, social and legal constraints, then, the Newtonians attest, ‘order’ will automatically establish itself at a collective level […] In this way, Newtonianism gave birth to the idea of a free market economy in which individuals would pursue their own material interests subject only to minimal legal constraints. The intention is to use the Newtonian philosophy to provide a fresh legitimation for the new socio-economic order embodied in the commerce of the middle class”.

Undoubtedly, this socio-cultural framework is the DNA of the American dream, and also one of the most important pillars of US economy, which depends crucially on the assumption that society is formed by individuals pursuing their own self-interest without interference from the state. During the 19th century, the American dream adopted its most extreme form aided by a particular interpretation of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, contained in his book The Origin of Species. As capitalism was beginning to consolidate as the hegemonic economic system both in the US and in the world, so did the idea that society is made of individuals who struggle to survive, condemning the “weakest” to poverty and marginalisation. Thus, it was seen as “natural” that society and businesses adopt a predatory mentality where only the strongest survive. Again, the doctrine of Calvinism seems to be perfectly adjusted to the transformations of North American society: the only way to survive in society is by taking the Calvinist working ethic to justify an extremely opportunistic and materialistic society because material accumulation was seen as the only way of obtaining God’s acceptance in heaven.

“the American dream must confront the sheer fact of finitude”

Finally, the ideology of the American dream found sustenance in psychoanalysis. At the turn of the 20th century, Sigmund Freud discovery that consciousness is internally driven by innate and irrational forces. If social Darwinism exploited what was thought the most “rational” part of human nature during the 19th century (namely selfishness and strength), in the 20th century, the theories of Sigmund Freud were used to promote habits of consumption to suit the needs of consumer capitalism. Freudian theories were adopted by the Public Relations industry to address and maximise the irrational drives for consumption that were thought to exist within human beings. The objective was to sustain capitalism through the creation of a mass of consumers with consuming appetites that could always be satisfied. Again, is this rational? What conception of the world and of human beings is offered by this ideology of mass consumerism? What is the purpose of human beings in life under this ideology?

Luther, Calvin, Newton, Darwin, Freud – whether these religious thinkers, philosophers and scientists genuinely believed in a more emancipatory conception of humanity is difficult to know; they were all part of the socio-cultural landscape in which they were educated and lived. However, in the case of Luther and Calvin, their idea of both human beings and society was filled with fear of an almighty God in front of which humans could only show their humbleness and insignificance as their human nature was, a priori, corrupted. Fear of the world, fear of fellow human beings, fear of death and thus, fear of life; certainly this is a recipe for a society dominated by anguish, repression and isolation, a society where citizens become instruments in the machinery of larger ideologies and economic systems. As in the 16th century, the American dream throws human beings into the void of a world devoid of meaning except for the sterile ideal of mass consumption and unquestioning acceptance of the economic system they are part of. From this perspective, the American dream seems the perpetuation of a Calvinist mentality that seeks in compulsive work and action evasion from the uncertainty and anguish of a threatening and hostile society, just like mass consumption helps us avoid thinking about death.

From an ecological perspective, the American dream must confront the sheer fact of finitude. The “dream” of living in a country (in this case the US though it could be any) of bountiful and infinite natural resources seems nowadays at least suicidal. According to the Energy Bulletin of the Post Carbon Institute, oil, natural gas, fresh water and top soil will start to decline in a few years and it does not take a rocket scientist to observe the increase in temperature of our planet Earth. It is terribly ironic to see how the American way of life has been exported (by force) to other countries and constitutes, at present, the hegemonic economic system in Western societies. And precisely at a time when we need to think differently, to reconsider the way we have been inhabiting the planet, China and the European Union seem to be adopting their particular versions of the American way of life. In a nutshell, at a time when we have the most advanced philosophical and technological resources to create a more humane world, the economic and political elites continue to live in their bubble of abstraction, infinite economic growth, infinite consumption and infinite loneliness and isolation for human beings. At a certain point in its development, capitalism seemed to hold the promise of freedom and democracy, but its economic engine seems to have reached a point in which it will have to absorb and collapse the whole world that, ironically, serves its function.

“It is time for us the people to enact the change now with or without the elites.”

Why do we have to accept this fate if knowledge in the 21st century tells a completely different story of how humans behave and interact with each other and with the world? Why do we have to accept that just when a new and truly enlightening humanism seems to be emerging form the convergence of scientific and humanistic knowledge, political and economic elites seem to be guiding us in the opposite direction? Human beings do not act out of utter selfishness for no reason. Recent developments in neuroscience tell us that babies display signs of empathy shortly after being born. Human evolution is based on learning and learning is a form of empathy, because in order to learn from others we need to, at least momentarily, situate ourselves in the place of others, feel like moving as they do (4). The fittest will survive, yes, but the fittest may not necessarily be the physically strongest but a member of the species showing particular adaptational traits to a particular and changing environment, so each particular environment will demand particular adaptational qualities.

Of course, it is not my intention to paint an unrealistic and idealised picture of human beings as inherently and merely benign and altruistic, this would not be helpful to understanding human nature except for simply placing the emphasis on the opposite aspect of human nature. But human nature is not a matter of black and white opposites. Human beings are not inherently destructive or loving creatures; rather, both impulses to creation and empathy and to destruction are likely to emerge depending on the conditions of the social-cultural context. In other words, human beings do not inhabit an abstract vacuum like the American dream. On the contrary, human beings inhabit a physical world with which they are in constant interaction. In a society that fosters the values of cooperation, empathy and solidarity, such values will probably manifest themselves in more profusion keeping selfishness at bay, although both cooperation and selfishness might be useful for survival in certain contexts. Similarly, societies governed by the principles of selfishness and individualism will naturally tend to see these features govern the cultural climate. In the same line, as professor Enrico Coen suggests, competition and cooperation are two of the seven recipes for life that make it possible, they go hand in hand: “[c]ompetition leads to cooperative spatial units and these in turn provide the assemblies that drive further competition”.8 There is no reason not to believe that a more profound understanding of human nature can emerge from the recent interdisciplinary contributions in several fields of knowledge, and there is no reason not to think that these developments can provide effective frameworks for the maximisation of human and non-human welfare and the creation of a better world. Will the ruling economic and political elites might be in favour of a change of paradigm that might possibly endanger their privileges? If they don’t then people will because cultural change has always gone hand in hand with human evolution. The so-called civilisation of money and mass consumption in a world of individuals in a no-society (which is the core of the American dream) does not and cannot possibly offer reasonable answers to the socio-cultural and environmental challenges faced not only by Americans but by the entire world in the 21st century. It is time for us the people to enact the change now with or without the elites. If it wants to survive, the new American dream needs to arise again from a new conception of modernity that places humans and nature in the centre of a society ruled by compassion, gentleness and knowledge in the service of nature and man.

(1) Erich Fromm, El Miedo a la Libertad (The Fear of Freedom), Barcelona, Paidos, pages 130-131.

(2) Erich Fromm, El Miedo a la Libertad, 107-115.

(3) Freya Matthews, The Ecological Self, London, Routledge, 1991, p. 24.

(4) 7 Enrico Coen, Cells to Civilizations: The Principles of Change That Shape Life, Princeton University Press, (to be published on May the 27th 2012). Cited by kind permission of the author.

“My grandfather told me about this Congressman from Texas.”

Ron Paul

Every so often, a political candidate comes into the already established house to rouse officials and voters. Ron Paul is such a candidate. Perhaps the only congressman to hold a steady and unflinching voting record as an anti-war, pro- gay rights candidate, Ron Paul has been making headlines as this year’s most surprising candidate for the Republican primaries. Sitting among Tea Party hopefuls such as Michelle Bachmann and fellow independent John Huntsman, Ron Paul has always been seen as the least credible contender, the outsider, the small poller. Strong of his strong percentage in Iowa and his most surprising second place in the New Hampshire voting polls, Ron Paul, who is almost impossible to label politically, could perhaps be the third way to defeat Obama and lead the United States towards the alternative to dual party politics. Criticised for his pro-life stance on the left, and for his anti-war position on the right, Ron Paul is a mystery. Loyal follower Bobby Wilbert is helping us shed some light on America’s new political figure.

Tell us how long you’ve been supporting Ron Paul and how you came to favor this candidate.
I have been “following’ Ron Paul since the mid eighties when my grandfather told me of these Congressman from Texas who were exposing The Federal Reserve: Henry  Gonzalez (first Mexican American from Texas to become a Congressman) and Ron Paul. Being in high school at the time, I was like, what the hell is “The Fed”? As for when I came to favor him, I was living in a one-bedroom garage apartment in January 2007 reading some non-establishment newspaper from DC and it said Ron Paul was running for president to educate voters on the Fed, etc. I ordered some stickers and painted downtown Jacksonville with them.

You recently expressed criticism re: the issue with the newsletter. Explain how it made you feel and what you thought you should reconsider.
I first heard about the newsletters in January 2008 on the eve of the 2008 New Hampshire primary when Drudge posted two pieces about them. I was in a consumer law unit meeting at legal aid, and as I read it on my dumb-phone, my heart dropped. I was shocked. I talked to Ron Paul five or six times at events about them and was convinced that he does not hold any racist views. Then in December 2011, the issue came back up. He was on Hannity’s show and told Hannity that he has “no idea” who wrote them. This is what led to my criticism: I find it hard to believe that he doesn’t know who wrote them. I am still struggling with this issue.  I want Ron Paul to come out and say who wrote them. Recently a piece said some one associated with Forbes wrote them.

One of Paul’s main concern is the Federal Reserve: how it operates, how it used, and how it should be used – ie not at all. Can you elaborate on that and explain how Paul’s point of view stands out against other candidates on both sides of the spectrum?
As he said in his speech in New Hampshire last night, Ron Paul is the only candidate who talks about The Fed and the negative effects it has on  middle class and lower income Americans.  Seniors and savers get killed with 0% interest rates (ZIRP) as do savers: I have a 401(k) with $12,000 cash in it and it earns 11 cents interest per month. And The Fed lies about inflation–says they ain’t none, because they define inflation to exclude food, energy and education–and who needs those to survive, right? Obama thinks Big Ben is doing a wonderful job destroying the dollar and Romney–the “Bain” of Ron Paulers–thinks the Federal Reserve is necessary and may not need to be audited. Bernie Sanders gets The Fed since he is an honest, independent politician.

Paul chose to run in the GOP race, but felt really out of place next to personalities such as Bachmann and Perry. What were his other options? Do you believe he had better run as a third party candidate?
Now that he placed well in New Hampshire, I don’t see him running independent or third party. I hear that major players in the GOP have told him to stay in the GOP or his son Rand’s political career will be over in 2016. Ron Paul says he won’t run third party since he won’t get into the debates in the fall–but he would. Remember John Anderson in 1980 when he sued on this issue and won at the US Supreme Court?

What do you make of Paul’s appeal amongst progressives? 
I think this is fertile ground that must be nourished. Being a leftist-libertarian, I have yearned for a left-right alliance. Ralph Nader gets this point and has reached out. An independent  run by Ron Paul in 2012 could get this movement going and make a real impact on the future of  American policy. A platform against war, against the drug war, for gay rights, against crony capitalism, for protecting American jobs, a reformed tax code, and the end of Too-Big-To-Fail ideology would draw a lot of people in and get the message out as well as votes. Ron Paul attracts a hell of a lot of college students and their energy need to be harnessed. Willard Romney  does not attract them, and Obama has let them down. Romeny will lead to Obama’s reelection.

Paul was the first elected official in Congress besides Bernie Sanders to express himself on Occupy Wall Street. How would you align his views on those of the movement?
By taking action to end crony capitalism and and ending the banking system as we know. End the Fed=kill the big banks. Replace the system not with a gold standard but with competing currencies. I also support Ellen Brown’s ideas [my liberal side coming out–give me debt free greenbacks like they has in the Pennsylvania colony but not like th Mass. ones] as detailed in one of my favorite books, Web of Debt.

Lastly, on the day following the Iowa win – do you think Paul can remain a serious dealbreaker in other states?
Yes–even more so after New Hampshire’s second place finish.
What drives me crazy is that Ron Paul supporters too often marginalize themselves and then blame it on others. Since the New Hampshire primary, many media outlets including the New York Times have asked if Ron Paul’s supporters will support any other GOP nominee.  The Paulites shout our in near unanimity “No One But Paul.” This led Tea Party Senator Jim DeMint of SC to tweet: “@JimDeMint I don’t know a single Ron Paul supporter that will vote for anyone but Paul. If Paul isn’t the nominee, I expect Obama wins.
But the Paulites with complain when the GOP disregards them after they act this way.  Why should the GOP care about them if they stated that they will only vote for Ron Paul? If he doesn’t get the GOP nod, Paulites are useless to the GOP. This Cult of Personality for Ron Paul is disturbing. As Bruce Springsteen warned us–having faith in a person or your government is dangerous. If Paulites really care about liberty, they will rally behind the message and stop worshiping their chosen messenger.

MORE: How Ron Paul is affecting the Republican Primary // Paul’s Role at the 2012 RNC // Can Ron Paul beat Obama?

 Bobby Wilbert is a bankruptcy lawyer based in Jacksonville, Florida. He is a graduate of Salisbury University (summa cum laude), the University of Mississippi and Tulane University, where he graduated with distinction with an L.L.M. in Admiralty Law. Today, he is a member of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid’s Predatory Lending Unit, where he handles primarily Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases in order to save the homes of low-income clients from foreclosure. Actively involved in local and national politics, Bobby is distinguishing himself as an independent, thoughtful, informed and educated voter fighting for the rights of low-income and middle class citizens. He has been following Ralph Nader and Ron Paul’s career since the beginning. He is also a huge Bruce Springsteen fan.

Rape not sexy, just awful

Herman Cain

The relation between sex and politics is as old as politics themselves; however, the last eighteen months have seen a dangerous increase in rape and sexual assault allegations against candidates, left to defend themselves in the public eye, away from the clinical and supposedly objective eyes of a courtroom. What those “scandals” – such a salacious word to cover such a traumatizing event – appear to reveal is a blurry line of consent. The old rule of “no means no” is now barred with buts, ifs, would haves, could haves, and other rhetorical tools to discredit the accuser. From the Clinton era to the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair, from Julian Assange to Herman Cain, rape is in itself redefined. When US lawmakers created the fictitious “forcible rape” concept, our contributor Josh Kitto raised the red flag and called for a state of the union in matters of rape and sexual assault. The consequences  in collective consciousness and court room tribulations are way too important to be overlooked. What is consent and why are we walking away from it?

 

“It is (…) revealing that sexual violence is seen as a natural extension of sexuality, rather than a weapon”

Who wants to hear some juicy gossip? Herman Cain, inexplicably a frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, was forced to drop out due to a “sex scandal”! At least four women said he had sexually harassed them. How naughty!

Something sound wrong here? The disintegration of Cain’s campaign was framed as due to a “sex scandal”. One woman who said they had a consensual affair with Mr. Cain was put into the same category of “accusers” as those who said Mr. Cain had harassed or assaulted them. There are several revealing implications here. The use of the word “scandal” implies something salacious, not potential illegal conduct. The women are seen as equally controversial (further exacerbated by the use of “accusers”). But it is also revealing that sexual violence is seen as a natural extension of sexuality, rather than a weapon.

Discussion of sexual violence does not focus on the important second word, but on the former, almost as ‘sex gone too far’. Immediately, even if most blame remains with the ‘accused’, there is at least some shift in the burden of blame to the ‘accuser’. Rape in particular gets discussed as something almost accidental, as the next step from the condom splitting. The corollary is that rape is seen as either done by serial rapists randomly attacking women, or not at all. For a third of people according to an Amnesty International UK study in 2005, if a woman has been behaving flirtatiously (how dare they), she is partially or totally responsible for being raped. One in four believes revealing clothing leaves women totally or partially responsible for being raped. One in five had the same view if a woman had had many sexual partners (however that is defined), with one in 12 believing women were totally responsible for being raped if having had many sexual partners. The attitudes expressed in the rest of the study are also not indicative of a feminist gaia.

 

Nafissatou Diallo, DSK's victim, during a press conference

It’s tempting to cast all this as part of a right-wing framework. But it crosses the political divide, particularly if a beloved figure is threatened. Cain’s candidacy was destroyed by his support flatlining amongst Republican women. While his support fell from the mid-thirties to the mid-twenties amongst Republican men, his support amongst Grand Old Party women fell from around a quarter to about 5% in some polls. Fellow male lefties have repeated the same excuses Cain’s supporters used for their own figures ‘under attack’. Juanita Broaddrick said during the Lewinsky scandal that she was raped by Bill Clinton in 1978. She was derided by “liberals” and never given the credibility she was due. Interestingly, she was also put in the same uniform category as Lewinsky of an “accuser”. Dominique Strauss-Kahn backers immediately blamed women saying they had consensual affairs with Strauss-Kahn, and those saying that he had attempted to rape them. They were dismissed as traitors, or as right-wing plants trying to destroy his 2012 French Presidential campaign. The infamous case of Julian Assange has been framed according to the same rules. The interests who seek his prosecution do deserve scrutiny. But the women saying they were raped by Assange do not deserve the vilification offered by supposed “radicals”. Usual lines about the women’s sexual history, whether they had been flirting with Assange etc. were trotted out. Rape apologism apparently joins anti-Semitism as the ‘socialism of fools’ for some.

“When there are no trauma experts to explain that not all people being raped will scream for help or clearly say no, the jury room can easily equate this with consent.”

However, these attitudes are not limited to sexual violence towards women being seen as a natural extension of sexuality. The child rape charges against Jerry Sandusky, a Pennsylvania State football coach, and the attempted cover-up of the incidents, has been referred to as a “sex scandal”. The Catholic Church abuse cover-up is similar in many ways. One similarity was in how child rape was often referred to as “homosexual rape”. There are more insidious implications of this, namely in attempts (including by many in the Church) to link male homosexuality with paedophilia. But rape of adult males by fellow males is again seen as a natural extension of sexuality. Many vain heterosexual men fear all gay men want to rape them. Men raping men is presented in sexual terms, as something gay men do. The blame is shifted far more with the rapist than the ‘accuser’ though, certainly in comparison to men raping women. But it is still normalised as an extension of sex, rather than as a weapon. It can be a weapon used by heterosexual men against heterosexual and homosexual men. Female civilians are made more vulnerable to sexual violence by war. But male soldiers captured or beaten by an enemy become threatened with sexual violence. And as witty as gags about dropping soap in the prison shower are, male prisoners are particularly vulnerable to being raped by other men, regardless of the rapist or the raped individual’s sexuality.

The most damaging aspect is how sexualised rape trials become. If a third assumes flirtation leaves women culpable for rape, it is concerning that a third of a jury room might side against the prosecution for that reason. Subjective interpretations of rape are often relied on in the jury room. If someone underestimates the scale of rape and thinks it is limited to random attackers at night, some will lean towards the defendant if there is no evidence of physical force having been applied. When there are no trauma experts to explain that not all people being raped will scream for help or clearly say no, the jury room can easily equate this with consent. Even ‘rape shield’ laws, designed to prevent the prosecution’s sexual history being discussed, are weak and often unenforced as a 2006 Home Office study revealed. This all leads to rape not being taken seriously. Rape crisis centres face a perennial battle to protect their funding and prevent closure, with only 35 in England and Wales. The Crown Prosecution Service often fails to take a case to prosecution, sometimes dismissing cases before toxicology results have been confirmed. Even when a case is prosecuted, the ‘accuser’ often gets far less access to their lawyers than the defendant, with very little time to prepare their case.

 

Reforms could help boost prosecution of rape. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found a third of ‘no crimed’ cases did not comply with Home Office counting rules. Actually getting the crimes taken seriously in the first place is important. Having the prosecution taken seriously in the court room is similarly important, with trauma experts and proper access to prosecution lawyers needed. Just as racist jurors are judged to be partial, people with views that “flirtatious” or “sexual” women are to blame for being raped should not be deliberating. Most important of all is to actually provide raped people with the support to actually go through with a prosecution, namely ensuring greater access to rape crisis centres. But it is not just a shift in political and legal attitudes that is required. It is also a culture that makes more rational discussion about sexuality a taboo while fetishising and reaffirming sexual violence, that needs to change.

 

 

 Josh Kitto is studying history and political science at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, United Kingdom. He has been featured on independant media outlets such as Citizen Radio talking and discussing the student protests on the tuition hikes in 2012. An avid Howard Zinn reader and an admirer of Amy Goodman, his motto is, “Go where the silence is”. You can read his blog at Confessions of an autistic boy.

“I have a place where I can express myself without being controlled.”

We have interviewed comics, writers, political activists, in our quest for creativity, imagination, and pro-active search of the self in a world that overvalues the immediate art of information. Amidst the desperation illustrated by the Occupy movement, and the necessity to make themselves a place in the sun, college graduates are amongst the poorest in all demographics. Rising unemployment rates and abandon of one’s aspiration and motivation is how we picture the youth of today. It only just occurred to us that the most imaginative and resourceful people we knew could be one of us, could be so close to what we want to achieve through this blog and through this organisation. We have therefore chosen to interview, depict and portray those who inspire us and could just as well see you through one of those days. Ziad Abu Zayyad is one of those young yet mature minds who are active proponents of change, pushing through the barriers of their environment to redefine the hand dealt by diplomacy and politics. Prisoner of the “palestinian question” in Israel, Ziad took it upon himself to write, describe, read and educate those who felt they had no voice; speak to those who would not listen; and prepare the not so proverbial battleground for a future, any future, as long as it is peaceful.

Can you introduce yourself and let us know what your academic background is?
My name is Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad. I am a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem. I am twenty six years old. I studied International Relations and English Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I am politically active in the Palestinian community and lead a youth movement that works for serving the Palestinian youth. I am also a blogger since 2007 and represent Palestinian youth in Social Media activities and International Conferences.

“It was hard to decide whether to be an analyst that sticks to objectivity or be an ambassador that writes in order to explain the Palestinian case and serve it.”

When did you start the Middle East Post and what prompted you to do so?
I started the Middle East Post in 2007. One of the main reasons that pushed me to establish the website was my interest in finding a place to express myself away from the main media outlets in the Palestinian territories that are usually controlled by main political parties. I also wanted to reach a wider international audience and send a message about my life, the effect of the occupation on it and express my interest in finding a solution that brings civil rights to my people. Later, many others joined me and today write at the Middle East Post, hereby becoming one of the main English writing websites that publishes about the Arab World and the Israeli Arab conflict.

What were the biggest obstacles you had to face when starting the publication?
One of the biggest obstacles was learning how to publish, knowing how to write and setting a goal that I want to reach through my writing. It was hard to decide whether to be an analyst that sticks to objectivity or be an ambassador that writes in order to explain the Palestinian case and serve it.

Do you have any staffers on board and if yes, how did you recruit them?
My staff approached me to become part of the Middle East Post. They showed interest in publishing on the website. Others wanted to help by editing and giving advice about what would be good to develop the website and make it reach a wider audience.

“As Palestinians in Jerusalem, we have to go through checkpoints on a daily basis and we have to fight in order to survive”

How important is the Middle East Post to you and what are your goals for the publication?
Today the Middle East Post is a part of me. It represents me and became a tool that I use to build new relations locally and internationally. It makes me feel that I have a place where I can express myself without being controlled. Not only that but the website has invested in making me reach places that I always wanted to reach and know people who are similar to me and work in the same field: Social Media. One of the recent outcomes was my participating in an International Conference that brought eighteen bloggers from eighteen different countries. Following the relation we built with each other, we decided to establish a network called Global Bloggers for Change. Our local media gave great importance for such an achievement and now we are working through this network to serve bloggers who are working for a positive change within their societies.

Tell us about your life living in East Jerusalem and the issues you face on a daily basis.
Living in East Jerusalem is neither simple nor easy. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem do not have a nationality and are given a permanent resident identity card only to identify them. While travelling we use a travelling document. We have no representation neither in the municipality nor in any other Israeli authority. We refuse to be a part of Israel yet we are not allowed to express ourselves nor have freedom of speech whenever it is about politics or even forming a community leadership. The economic situation of the Palestinians is bad in the city. Building the separation wall disconnected East Jerusalem from the surrounding Palestinian villages that used to cause a movement related to the economic situation in the city. Settlements are built all the time in order to make the city Israeli in every possible way. We have to go through checkpoints on a daily basis and we have to fight in order to survive when talking about monthly income and facing serious social problems. The services that are given to the residents are much less than what is needed and most of the time the city resembles a ghost city because of separation wall. If any of the residents leave the borders of the separation wall to live, for example,  in the West Bank or abroad, he or she immediately lose their identity card and are not allowed to enter the city again. Such circumstances cause serious social problems including substance abuse, family problems and other.  The Palestinian Authority is not allowed to give us any kind of service and if any of the residents of the city cooperate with them , they are charged of cooperation with the enemy.

“I also see myself as a man who continues to lead for the sake of bringing liberty and justice for my Palestinian people”

What do you think of the petition submitted to the UN in September to recognize Palestine as an independent state? What were your reaction to Obama’s response?
I believe that the petition was legitimate and the minimum that the Palestinians would do especially that the majority expressed their commitment to diplomatic efforts and peaceful resistance in order to succeed in earning our rights back. Most of the international community supported the Palestinian bid because it is clear that it works with international law and its norms. Unfortunately the U.S leadership did not support the move that qualifies with president Obama’s vision of a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel. However, I was thrilled to see thousands of Palestinians going into the street calling for a Palestinian state by the 1967 borders. Such an achievement came after a lot of efforts. I also believe that it is important to continue the efforts on the international level in order to bring real results for the bid and move forward towards a Palestinian state. Here is a link to an article that I wrote about the petition.

In the two to five years to come, where do you see yourself and the Middle East Post?
I hope to succeed in taking the Middle East Post to become a Media outlet that brings objective news and reports about the conflict. I also see myself as a man who continues to lead for the sake of bringing liberty and justice for my Palestinian people while assuring that democracy and freedom of expression is protected.

A Palestinian-Arab living in East Jerusalem, Ziad graduated from College Des Freres in Jerusalem in 2003. Ziad finished his major in International Relations and English Literature from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Ziad is a former President of the Watan student movement at the university. He is interested in Middle Eastern political issues and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Founder of the Middle East Post and Co-Founder of “Global Bloggers for Change” Foundation, he represents Palestinian youth at several international conferences.