On Julian Assange’s allegation

As part of my continuing philosophical education I like to read articles from the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, and one recent article that I was reading was on the subject of Rape.

In recent news developments and reactions have come around Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange, who, while being infamous/famous for being the head of an organisation which has leaked many documents and other files about the US Government (inter alia), some of which provoke many serious discussions about US foreign policy; Assange is also infamous for a rape allegation.

Among us in the Noumenal Realm Blog, we’ve decided not to talk much about the controversy about Wikileaks, on the one hand about whether government should keep documents and their decisions public against the need for secrecy about any given current military or operational project (such as say, social research or police operations, which when revealed, would undermine the efficacy of those projects). Then the infamy of the rape allegation took place.

I don’t feel that it’s right to keep silent about this issue anymore, and here’s why:

  1. Rape is a serious and devastating act against the victim. One writer in the F-Word pointed out how even if people convicted of rape endure out a criminal sentence, the victim lives a sentence of a different kind, in terms of long term psychological damage, as well as the relationships around them.
  2. The counter-claim of people like Assange and his supporters that this is a government conspiracy, or George Galloway’s claim that this case was a set-up, is deeply harmful and undermines all victims of Rape and sexual assault and the seriousness of these allegations

It’s a bizarre straw man position to be in defence of the act of Rape, but what I will say is that I was not aware until recently about the degrees of harm against women that sexual assault has. Greenfield (1997) points out that 91% of rape victims are female while almost 99% are male. Some feminist perspectives highlight the deeply ideological nature of rape through history, and the difficulties that women have in reporting, conviction and recovering from the incident reflect these challenges. It is also true to say that many women and men have different kinds of responses to having been raped. The long term and cultural impacts are perhaps the most harmful.One thing I didn’t realise is how broad the notion of sexual assault can be. There are many acts that can make a woman deeply uncomfortable and that violate her sense of autonomy.The distinction between ‘rape’ and ‘not rape’ can be less important when we broaden our conception of sexual violence beyond the act of forced penetration. There are behaviours such as verbal harassment or indecent exposure which are harmful to women and their sense of security in public spaces. I have a distinct feeling that whatever will happen with Assange’s case, it will harm women unless he goes through a criminal court for his allegation. There’s a certain political tribalism that is getting in the way of this issue and it has caused a divide of sorts.

Reading about this issue and following many twitter discussions have forced one to think harder about sexual assault. I cannot emphasise how damaging it can be to diminish the seriousness of sexual violence. The diversity of the phenomena is also something that may not be obvious to everyone. Rapists may know the victim, perhaps as a co-worker, relative or friend. There are ways of violating someone’s autonomy through sex, this can include: not using a condom when someone explicitly says to do so, having sex with someone while they are unconscious or asleep with no indication that this is acceptable and using sexual acts as a form of coercion or bargaining with a person in need (such as the transactional behaviour of many women in East Germany during the end of the Second World War).

Bringing countercultural insights to this issue makes the issue of Assange’s allegation all the more difficult. With countercultural movements such as Occupy and leftist type movements rushing to Assange’s defence. I think that the seriousness of Rape is undermined, as well as the cultural and political space that women hold today. On the other side of the Atlantic, there are lots of stories about Conservatives who are outspoken about their views on birth control and on a related subject, pregnancies through rape. The one thing that really upsets me about all of this, is that women seem to be least visible on this issue in US politics and in the media at large. This shows to me that women are not being taken seriously as political beings and conscientious individuals with their own views, while male pundits talk on their behalf.

I really shouldn’t have to say this. Rape is not okay. It’s not okay to have relations with someone that is not in any way out of the agreed terms.

Destre

On Watching the The Olympics (or Olympians and gender)

As with most other people, I think I am feeling a bit deflated following the close of the Olympic games. For me there were many things that I found exciting about it, the attention paid to a wide variety of sports, which included the ones many people generally are familiar with such as Football, Boxing and Tennis. There were, however, other activities which gained exposure such as Judo, Hockey Weightlifting and the various track events such as Modern Pentathlon, which despite the name is distinctly 19th Century.

I think that one positive that I found about the games is not so much the winners but the taking part. This apparently was the first Olympiad in which all countries had male and female entrants. I find that even though this event was supposedly apolitical, there is a small-p political in the participation of women. It was a real stand of defiance for a country like Saudi Arabia to put female competitors forward.

There are lots of things that can be said about the inequalities of Team GB and the lack of support of female olympians have had compared to their male counterparts. I would like to think that if there is such a thing as a legacy for the Olympic events in 2012, it would be to raise the profile of female sportspersons and atheletes both nationally and internationally and to raise awareness about the perception of physical fitness and sporting participation for women and young girls.

I kind of like how the cynics about the event had been less visible in the media. This may be a purposeful omission. The most critical and cynical thing I’ve mostly found on Twitter were comments about how the performers in the opening and closing ceremony were not their cup of tea as musical genres. It is yet to be seen what will come of ‘regeneration’ or legacy. But a little patriotism cannot be a bad thing. While it was pointed out that many of the olympians of Team GB had come from a largely private school stratification; there are instances of culturally and ethnically diverse olympians celebrated for their medal winning achievements. The face of Britain may well be a man or woman doing the ‘mobot’.

A couple of final remarks about the past couple of weeks. It has been noted that particularly with the track events (i.e. the ones with Usain Bolt), a great amount of showboating was involved when winning. There is no doubt that these are amazing athletes with entertaining personalities to match, but I suspect that male priviledge would not allow a similar kind of awe or aspect of showboating for female olympians, instead they were often described as ‘emotional’ or humbled by their achievements. There’s a real difference in gender when performing a victory that the accepted behaviour for a man is to work the applause of a crowd while for a woman, the humble and stoic smile is more apt for the presumed role.

In short, I saw a little bit of progress about the genders over the past couple of weeks, but until male athletes are better represented on search engines by objectifying search results, I don’t think there will be an equality of the sexes just yet. So for me, watching the olympics has given me a quite and humbling sense of awe about the progress of female olympians for the female sex. But not a showboating response

Antisophie

Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

This review contains spoilers. You have been warned.

Following the release of the Christopher Nolan Film: The Dark Knight Rises (DKR) I think most people are aware of the tragic events in Colorado in one premiere screening. What happened was hard to comprehend in a moral sense, as it reflects a very disturbing moral sentiment on the part of the perpetrator. Sensitive reviewers have acknowledged that this was a very sad event and threatens the percieved safety of what should be an enjoyable experience in civil life, namely, going to the movies.

It is also within good taste to acknowledge univocally that the Colorado shooting was morally abhorrent. Christopher Nolan commented on the shooting with absolute condemnation, as someone who considers the cinema a safe space and an important cultural venue. There is a lingering sense of discomfort about the event, however, especially because James Holmes declared himself as a Joker-style copycat.

When I saw DKR with Antisophie, she told me how her thoughts led back to The Dark Knight film of 2008, and DKR essentially improved her appreciation of The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight has since become a cultural artefact of our times. Villains and Heroes are completely confused in Nolan’s world. Government departments are corrupt while a criminally violent vigilante holds the protagonist role, but by his own recognition is performing a task that has no moral legitimacy compared to say, the police or the legal system.

I wish to address a few aspects of the film, and avoid repeating good points from other reviews. Firstly I wish to address the soundtrack. Following, wish to address the theme of ‘Truth and Lies’. I shall then consider how the representation of Batman is subverted by the Nolan Brothers and forms a kind of critique about the very idea of such a character. Finally I wish to consider the social dimensions of the film as a closing reflection.

Soundtrack

Perhaps one of the most interesting aesthetic things I enjoyed about the film was its soundtrack. In my view there hasn’t been a film soundtrack this good since Inception, and that was also a collaboration between Hans Zimmer (composer) and Christopher Nolan. If there are two things that I found especially powerful about the soundtrack it would be the use of leitmotif and the nature of the ‘Bane’ theme.

Leitmotif, as Michael is very eager to talk about, is the use of a melodic line to represent a feeling or character that is consistent in (say) an opera. Leitmotif is said by some to be pinnacle of programme music and thematic works, because of the unity that they try to stress. After watching DKR, I was inspired to watch Batman Begins and Dark Knight again, and I realised throughout Batman Begins (particularly in the origin scenes of Batman) there were melodic motifs subtly used that were referenced in DKR, the resonance of this is that there is a sense of birth and rebirth (eternal recurrence?) to Bruce Wayne’s character. In becoming Batman and training under the League of Shadows, Wayne had to face his sense of fear. When Wayne was placed in the prison pit by Bane seriously injured, he also had to face a rebirth, by embracing his fear of death. This was, I believe, the allusion that was trying to be achieved by the use of melodic phrases in DKR that borrowed from Batman Begins.

Coming on to the Bane theme. I thought that was particularly moving how the chant was used as a rhythmic frame, as opposed to using a melody line as the basis of a theme. Rhythm has a very powerful place in music, and European art music does not use it in as many interesting ways as other musical traditions compared to say, Bhangra. The use of a rhythmic cell rather than a melodic one makes for a very powerful soundtrack, and its one that will stick in my mind for a long time.

Truth and Lies

One moral dimension of the film was the moral role of truth telling. Perhaps this could be construed as a Kantian moral about the absolute good of maintaining the institution of being truthful. Throughout the film there are lies, or withheld truths kept in the 8 years between the Dark Knight and DKR in the series timeline. The climate has changed fundamentally due to two actions, one is that the behaviour of Harvey Dent murdering police officers is explained by Batman allegedly doing the deed, in order to keep the prosecution case against organised criminals (which was the slightly complicated plot of Dark Knight).

The other aspect of this is that Batman/Bruce Wayne had to accept false responsibility for this. As a result of his faith destroyed in Harvey Dent, and perhaps the death of his beloved Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne decides to retire from being Batman. Another crucial truth is withheld. Bruce Wayne believed that if he ever were to relinquish his Batman identity he could have a relationship with Dawes. What was not revealed to him was that Dawes ultimately chose to accept Dent’s marriage proposal, just before she died. Alfred withheld this information as a way to spare him from a painful truth.

Lying has consequences, and it shows the way that morality and ethics pulls apart. For most putative conceptions, morality is about ‘Right’ and ‘Wrong’, or ‘Goodness’ and ‘Bad’ in terms of perhaps decisions or effects. Ethics by contrast, may be said to pertain to character. Michael told me in an editorial email that he believed the meanings were reversed for these terms but I still hold to this distinction. For Jim Gordon, the cost of lying to Gotham about Harvey Dent destroyed his family relationship (Gordon, as you may remember, also faked his death as well). The cost of peace comes at the coin of his character and moral legitimacy.

Alfred’s withholding of the truth has also had an effect on his character. By withholding the truth about Dawes, Alfred thought that he would spare Wayne from unnecessary pain by letting him believe that he could have made a relationship with Dawes, but he realises that the consequences of not telling his employer is that it made a hermit out of him, who believed that there was ‘nothing out there anymore’ in the world, causing an inward retreat. There is something distinctly philosophical about this theme of the film, moral/ethical decisions can have an impact on the character of a person, some decisions which may cause less harm may be destructive on one’s character. Posed in this way, DKR may sound more like an elongated moral parable by Plato’s Socrates on a discourse on truth-telling.

Batman turned on its head

I think that DKR represents a critique of previous Batman representations, and the idea of Bruce Wayne/Batman in general. It has been commented how Bruce Wayne lives in extreme wealth in lieu of a gamut of social woes while he dedicates himself to what may be seen as street level crime. Wayne retreats in his economic luxury while the ills of the world do not lay in organised crime, but unemployment and those other things that the real world contains. Batman Begins acknowledges a period of ‘depression’ which created mass unemployment and suggestibly fertilised a period of corruption and organised crime. One thing that brought Wayne out of retirement is that he chose to ignore the social problems of the world, represented by John Blake pointing out that Wayne’s charitable funds have been allocated away from an orphanage which he used to support.

Batman recognises the limitations of what a vigilante can do throughout the series of films. There are other shortcomings which are acknowledged about the Batman character, one notable thing is that Bruce Wayne tends to have a soft spot for women, at the expense of keeping his secret identity! This is the case certainly for many of the other Batman films where Wayne has a romantic interest. In short, he just can’t help telling the woman he likes that he’s a superhero! I think one flaw of the character is that he’s too trusting of ‘nurturing’ female types. I thought it was absurd how Wayne gave all of his assets to Miranda Tate, a woman that he met only a few times before essentially giving her ultimate control of Wayne Enterprises. This of course was his folly, as Tate ended up being the main villain of the film! Batman is definitely a flawed character, both in terms of what he represents and how futile his ventures are to real social problems, and in terms of how the character is often represented in films. Kevn Conroy’s animated Batman by contrast hardly has such a weakness for women or rather, not so easily he reveals his real identity!

Social themes

I have remarked that poverty was one aspect of the Nolan world in the Batman films. Other socially poignant issues are also alluded to but not well developed throughout the films. A brief suggestion towards the importance of renewable energy mainly is a foil for a plot device, which is almost so brief it makes me think it is a unnecessary aspect of the film with so much else going on. There is a general sense of malaise created by the dark camera filters and the way that a sense of paranoia or moral panic is created in the films, from Batman as a vigilante, to the way in which copycat Bat-men appear as a form of dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Selina Kyle’s character points to the injustice of mass wealth distribution with the very poor said to be working in the sewers (as it turns out to be for Bane), and that this inequality cannot last forever without a violent form of revolution. There is an ambiguity to the film in that the issues addressed do not go one way or another to these perennial thoughts. I think every society has had an issue with wealth inequalities or the scarcity gap between what we need and what we have (and subsequently, what we need but cannot have).

I would like to reference a contrasting example of the superhero narrative in relation to social themes. At the moment, Marvel Comics have an ‘Avengers Vs. X Men’ serial, which involves 5 of the X-Men receiving a powerful cosmic power called the Phoenix, which gives them near absolute power. The fear of the Avengers is that this power will be corrupting and destructive. The X-Men who received this power have decided to try and solve world problems by sealing the San Andreas Fault, attempting to create a good harvest yield around the world to sustain a growing population Cyclops, Namor, Colossus, Emma Frost and Magik attempt to ‘save’ the world through dealing with fundamental human problems of survival and attempt to create a form of Pax Romana, or as they call it Pax Utopia. I think something like the X-Men represent a useful commentary on the utility of superheroes against the issues that form the backdrop of their world. Exactly what is the Batman character changing, or what exactly can one individual do to make a difference? The conclusion of DKR involves a play between not just Batman, but collaborators such as the Police, Jim Gordon and Lucius Fox all having a small part to save the city. Although Batman ultimately saves the day through a single action, Nolan shows that a single actor cannot do all the change, but it comes from collaboration. Perhaps this is a salient moral to add to the superhero mythos.

Sinistre

The past few weeks, and the next few posts

I’ve been convinced by Antisophie, ever the social media guru, to get a bit more involved with Twitter, and also (ever the Guru) to get a bit more involved in life. As such I may be a bit delayed with regular blogging. I know how much I hate repeating that I’m busy, or repeating how I hate that I repeat about being busy. So I’ll just give you a little bit of an update and show a bit of context as to the next few posts.

I’ve been busy with family weddings in the month of July, as well as other family things (not least including my birthday which reminds me of how old I am). I also performed as a piano soloist for the first time in 8 years, to what I may consider a successful wedding reception. The next few blogs will take this provisional form:

5th/6th August post: A review of Dark Knight Rises by Sinistre

Next Week: A post on returning to music

Goffman reflections will continue. I’ve been in some heated discussions about Goffmanesque issues lately, not least because of the Olympics going on.

I will also relatively soonish, begin a series of posts on Chris Bateman’s upcoming book, ‘The Mythology of Evolution’.which will constitute a review of his work. Bateman is also putting up a few posts relating to the themes of his book presently at Only a Game.

In other news about me, I’ve begun a project completely unrelated to anything I talk about in Noumenal Realm, which consists in a blog about a Community Garden based in South London. I’m using my abilities as a moderator with a different team of people and I’m going to hopefully help develop some online content about the issues associated with running a community garden project in an urban space such as London. In essence I’m taking on more blogging tasks, and this has led me to think a little bit more about making more of a portfolio style presence if people are trying to find out about me.

So this is my little bloglet of a post. There’s a bit of an irony in life: when you find a more efficient way of performing tasks, you suddenly become more busy again instead of less. I would have thought I found more time for myself, but I’ve ended up burying myself in more activities like learning HTML, or sightreading Bach! I’ve become a little bit more efficient about executing my duties but its possibly going to lead to a backlog with this blog. As always, thank you for following this blog.

Michael