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It has become fashionable recently for political leaders to apologise – on behalf of their nation, or their party – for deeds done in past generations, now considered unjust in our more enlightened times. It is not simply cynicism which leads me to doubt the sincerity of the contrition and remorse of these apologies, but that I consider it is not justifiable to call the descendants of long dead people to account for their misdeeds.

 

It is just and fair, undeniably, to seek restitution if the descendants are still enjoying advantages gained by their ancestors, if they are continuing to disadvantage the living descendants of those originally wronged. For example: It is hard to advance any moral argument against the return of artworks and other property looted throughout Europe during the Second World War to the survivors who would have inherited them. The indigenous people of Australia and New Zealand, and of both North and South America – and of many other countries colonised still by others who took land by force – have the moral high ground in seeking either the return of the land which was theirs, or compensation, based on the principle that the descendant colonists still profit from the benefits of the misdeeds of their ancestors.

 

It is unlikely that the Government of the USA would – or could – return the land to the survivors of the Native Americans who formerly populated it, and, given that the population of Native Americans is now very much smaller than it might have been, had so many not been killed by the colonists whose descendants now own the wealth of the country, any award of compensation is likely to be an inadequate gesture in the light of genocide.

 

In the glitter of publicity accompanying the Oscar success of the movie; “Twelve Years a Slave”, the descendants of slaves are calling for compensation. Slavery continues in countries worldwide, but by the end of the nineteenth century, it had been abolished in most developed western countries.

 

It is possible that our great great grandfathers may have been connected by oppression to the extent that yours owned mine, or vice versa. Personally, I would not visit the sins of the father on the son, nor – if he was neither guilty nor complicit in the sin, the brother, sister, wife or mother. Moral precepts change. Benjamin Franklin, who became an abolitionist, was formerly a slave-owner. I would not doubt the remorse and contrition underlying an apology made by Franklin for having owned slaves. It’s likely that he used his wealth to benefit his former slaves, offering them education, employment, and – so far as he was able – social freedom.

 

If my brother, wife, mother, son or any other relative murders someone, I do not believe that I should suffer retribution for their crime, nor would I owe you an apology or compensation. This does not mean that I would not feel regret or compassion. If a driver killed my wife accidentally with his car, I do not believe that an apology would be of any use whatsoever to me or my family. Nor would any amount of money paid to us by his insurers compensate for our loss. There are circumstances in which compensation is of practical value – where someone is faced with extra costs and reduced potential in life due to such things as medical accidents or even incompetence, and in some cases of incompetence it is just to prevent future incidents by dismissing the person responsible. Apologies have little value. Even when grounded in genuine contrition and remorse.

 

If someone is culpable for a loss, then it is just that they restore that loss to the victim. Stolen property returned – or replaced. There is another fashion for arranging meetings between offenders and their victims. Apparently it reduces the incidence of re-offending, and victims ‘feel better’ through forgiving the offender. It is supposed to engender feelings of contrition and remorse in offenders. I’m not sure there is great benefit for victims who have lost something irreplaceable – the life of a family member; their family albums or items of sentimental value; a laptop, computer or even a smartphone with the only records of their work, or their treasured contacts. In many cases, the loss will lead to further – perhaps even greater – losses, especially where fraud has stolen a pension fund, or documents to enable identity theft.

 

A third fashion is the Compensation Culture, partially driven by the numerous calls and texts offering to win large sums ‘because you had an accident which was not your fault’ from which nobody with a telephone seems immune. The recession has spawned a growing number of people for whom the only hope of a brief escape from poverty is to win a TV ‘reality’ show, the lottery, or a bonanza compensation payout.

 

A friend who specialises in representing people with valid claims for compensation tells me that his waiting room is filled, every Monday morning, with people wishing to make claims against the local authorities for injuries which, they assert, they received due to tripping on uneven flagstones. He says that he turns away many, whose injuries bear strong evidence that they were caused by knuckles, some of them with the clear imprint of a signet-ring.

 

Advocacy on behalf of others is an interesting phenomenon. Lawyers earn by doing so, although they may also have a strong moral commitment to justice. Politicians do so as part of their role in representing particular constituencies. It would be ungenerous to suggest that they sometimes do this without conviction, other than the belief that it will secure their re-election.

 

But there are those great amateurs, who claim to be allies of groups of which they are not members, whose advocacy is done ‘for the public good’. They have a good store of righteous indignation, which exalts their moral superiority over anyone they identify as offenders or merely complacent with respect to their cause. With evangelical zeal they apportion culpability to those who have not seen the light. Sometimes they are a source of great irritation to those they claim to represent.

 

By and large, most people would prefer that misdeeds were prevented or avoided, rather than enjoy the spurious and often vacuous apologies (with or without genuine contrition or remorse) with which genuine attempts at compensation are fended off or mitigated. If something wrong can be ‘put right’, it should be so.

 

I would rather that the leaders would not apologise on my behalf for misdeeds in which I was not culpable, feel no contrition nor remorse, and for which I owe no-one compensation. They do it with the blithe arrogance of the people you can observe any day on our city streets. They hurry along, full of their own importance, bumping into other people ever few yards, and turning their heads to say, “sorry…” – some of them even say “sorry…” before they push others out of their way.

 

And, you and I know: they are not sorry.  

What’s love got to do with co-dependency?
‘Co-dependency’ is the all too common outcome of the romantic lie that there is ‘the one’ perfect partner for each of us. It should be possible to love anybody. Mutual desire and compatibility affect our choice of partner, but those who love without fear of loss, or the desire of attachment and need for their love to be returned, shall love many others, and many others shall love them. Which, in our society, creates complications.
The problem with co-dependent relationships is that both partners lean on each other, which means neither can stand up for themselves when the other isn’t there. That’s not how someone who loves their partner would wish them to be. A contract based upon the notion: ‘united we stand; divided we fall’, denies both partners the freedom to grow strong on their own, but an alliance which empowers each partner will, for a time, be synergistic. Greater than the sum of its parts. Both stand perfectly well on their own.
Some relationships continue over a lifetime: the lifetime of whichever partner dies first. Increasingly such relationships are becoming rarer, but this isn’t necessarily destructive; neither for children of the relationships, nor for society as a whole. The life-enhancing qualities of a brief interlude of shared and compatible desires ought not to be devalued by comparison with long-term relationships which descend into dysfunctionality. That is destructive madness.
Many co-dependent relationships create at least (think of the children) two lives of misery and compromise, and, after the death of one, the bereaved partner is more likely to wither than to grow anew. If they do find a new direction of their own, for the first time, many regret that they’d not gone their own way sooner. Those who die ‘of a broken heart’ often die because the co-dependent relationship denied them their own personal sense of worth, meaning and direction. They die because they are not a ‘whole’ person. They cannot go on for themselves. As for the children of such relationships; they do not benefit if their parents were damaged by staying together ‘for the sake of the kids’.
A rare few relationships work because each partner is truly independent, but they choose to be together because they find a synergy; the other acts as a catalyst, inspiring each to ‘go their own way’, and they never fear that parting will mean loss of purpose in life. Sadly, most people think these relationships are ‘wrong’.
Ironically, these rare relationships can last ‘forever’, because neither ever feels trapped by dependence on the other, and both know they’re free to leave without damaging each other. When they stay together it’s because they desire to do so – because each remains the person who most inspires the other to live the best life they can. Not because they need to lean on each other. After their partner’s death, they still have the personal strength to go on, and the anger felt by dependent partners, when the other dies, is usually absent from their mourning process.
Beware of building a relationship on mutual need. Need sucks the energy from both partners. Desire is a much more positive basis for teaming up with someone. So long as mutual desire is fulfilled, it boosts the energy of both partners. It is life-affirming and empowering.
It’s always possible your ways will part. It’s a tall order to expect any person to meet all your desires, all your life. As you grow, you change, and so will your partners. Either or both of you might find your desires are no longer met by being with the other. Perhaps someone else (or merely solitude) offers you more inspiration in your personal growth. A chance to explore another direction in life which, you discover, gives you the opportunity to develop some part of yourself which your erstwhile partner cannot inspire. You may both be better alone. And if there are children, they will benefit by not being brought up in a dysfunctional family.
Yeah – but what about love?
You might ask, with all this selfish desire – getting more for yourself from the other people with whom you choose to relate – where is there any love?
Love, in this sense, is about desiring the other’s self-interests to be served as much as (but not more than) your own. It is creative, rather than destructive, and – strangely, some might think – can be found in relationships which are not conventionally hetero-normative.
It can, for example, be the basis of extraordinary Sado-Masochist, Master/slave and Dominant/submissive relationships.
A loving Dominant provides fulfilment of their submissive’s needs because it gives the Dominant fulfilment to see the submissive’s desires fulfilled. Which is not selfish. It is a love that values the other’s desires as being as important as your own. Paradoxically, these apparently unequal relationships empower both partners. In ‘public’ it is surprisingly common to find that a ‘submissive’ partner has higher social, economic or occupational power and status than the ‘Dominant’. A CEO finds fulfilment in being dominated sexually by her subordinate.
The dynamics of intimate private relationships are often both unexpected and well concealed. We can discover unexpected aspects of our own potential in response to our partner’s desires. There is no dependency in becoming more than we would otherwise have been, had we not been attracted to our partner. Nor should this be any surprise. The paths we take in our lives, loves and careers can lead to many alternative, and equally valid, selves.
Compatibility lies in the capacity for what, in polyamoury, is called ‘compersion’ – the feeling of being happy to see a partner’s desires fulfilled by someone else (the very opposite of jealousy) because it gives them something which you cannot. That can include expression of sexuality as much as it can playing string quartets with someone who isn’t your non-musical ‘significant other’.
I’m not suggesting that breaking free from co-dependency is easy. It requires confidence, courage, strength and the generosity never to burden someone else with the responsibility of fulfilling our desires to the exclusion of their own. And it can be tempting to be comforted by knowing that your partner won’t leave you, because they can’t make it on their own. A prisoner is not a lover. Do not hope that they will develop the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and love their jailer. If you’ve left them any strength, they may realise that they remain free in their minds. First they may begin to hate you, but ultimately their capacity for self-preservation may simply lead them to indifference.
And it’s hard, if your partner’s desires are no longer fulfilled by you, despite your remaining inspired by them, to let go. Nonetheless, that is the loving thing to do: if they can’t fulfil their potential with you it would be cruel to refuse to set them free. And it will poison you both. But you can part and still love one another. You simply should not try to be exclusively one another’s ‘property’. Love does not have to mean that you can live together.
“Breaking up is so very hard to do” – as the corny old song said. But, according to Buddhism, that’s the secret of personal enlightenment. If we can avoid being governed by our desires, and never depend upon attachment, then we can find our own calm freedom. It may not be the lazy contentment of inaction, nor the hedonistic pleasure of ‘happiness’, but once attained, the calm of freedom from attachment to desires is unlikely to be lost.
But what about family love?
What (you might also ask) about love for parents, grandparents, children and other blood relatives? Parents and grandparents will die with ‘unfinished business’, if they believe you’ll be unable to ‘go your own way’ after their death. It’s the business of parents to raise their kids to be independent – not ‘co-dependent’. And what goes for them, goes for you. You shouldn’t allow your own insecurities to encourage you to make your children, brothers or sisters dependent on you, nor you to depend on them. The ties will remain.
There are objections you might raise: what about babies and people with disabilities which make them physically, intellectually or even emotionally dependent? Certainly our relationships with those we love in such circumstances are challenging, however; it’s wrong to be so ‘nurturing’ that we deny them whatever independence and freedom they can attain, and we should guard against defining ourselves as the person upon whom they depend, because it tends to make us dependent upon their dependency, and conflicts with their ability to find personal freedom, however limited that may be.
Anybody who has experienced a period of dependency will know the tendency of carers to deny their protégé the freedom to do things for themselves.
When, for a time, I was unable – as a result of an adverse reaction to cancer chemotherapy – to walk, I got around in a wheelchair. Since I was able to propel it myself, manually, I found some enjoyment in the freedom of going out in town with my dog. On one occasion it began to rain, and going uphill on slippery paving was more of a challenge than usual. A nice, middle-class liberal family, walking by, saw that I was having difficulty (the wheels were slipping) and offered to push me. I was actually going in the opposite direction, and if I’d accepted, they would have turned around, interrupting their journey. I thanked them for their concern, but told them I intended to make it by myself.
They then began to insist. They wanted me to depend upon them to get me where I wanted to go. I began to feel a little patronised, and my initially gracious refusals started – as I was forced to repeat them – to be tinged with annoyance. Eventually they (reluctantly) accepted my refusal, and parted from me, clearly disappointed by being denied the opportunity to do a ‘good deed’. The father pointed at my wet and bedraggled dog, and said, as he turned back downhill;
“At least you have your faithful friend with you.”
I wondered, pushing off uphill, whether my dog would have felt as angry as I did, if he’d understood what had been said. I felt my temporary disability was no excuse for other people to feel good by making me dependent on them. A good deed done with the wrong motives is more culpable than an evil one, done in error, for the right reasons.
Self-sacrifice, paradoxically, can create a burden of guilt for the people for whom we make such sacrifices, and deprive them of the fulfilment of ‘fending for themselves’. Sometimes, when they’re stubborn, wilful, and wrong, it is better to let them fail, trying to achieve something by themselves, than to do it for them – the right way – and succeed. It is, quite simply, disempowering to deny someone their autonomy. It denies the dignity of another person.
The Seventh Age
My ninety-one year old mother is currently cleaning shit off the bum (ass, butt, or fanny – for my American readers) of my 77 year old step-father. He had a stroke six months ago. It’s not his fault.
Together they won a leg of the international 1991 Schneider Trophy air race, across the North Sea from Belgium to central England. At the time, she was seventy. She navigated, whilst he flew so low over the sea that the propellor was an inch and a half shorter by the time they landed. They had a relationship which gave them so much more than they might have had separately.
They are private people, and it would infringe their dignity (and autonomy) if I insisted on helping. I offered. I’m no stranger to life’s realities. And, together, they have made each others’ lives more fulfilling.
Why? Why am I here? Why don’t I impose my impulse to ‘help’? When he is – unexpectedly – no longer he who was my mother’s ‘carer’ and the roles have been reversed?
She loves him. She doesn’t enjoy it. But nothing meets her desires more than to do this for him. She doesn’t feel ‘ennobled’ by her dedication. She isn’t tied by some notion of duty, fidelity, or indebtedness. She isn’t doing it for all the wrong reasons. And I might want to ‘help’ for all the wrong reasons.
Why, after six months of being unable to be with the woman who drives my inspiration, am I still here? Because I am selfish. Because I could not desert my mother, nor the man who made her life so much fun, so meaningful, that my impulses, my desires, tell me I must be here. I have no brothers or sisters. It is nothing more than a burden I desire to carry.
I am grateful that my wife is prepared to understand it. That her desires are – at the moment – to allow me mine. And, if either of us would satisfy our desires with someone else, I believe that we would cope with that. And if that means adding someone else to our ‘coterie’, then that will become part of our lives. Should it mean that parting is the best way for either of us, it will (I hope) not impair us, our children or our grandchild. That we try to live our lives in a spirit of unconditional love is a foregone assumption. I have never stopped loving anyone I loved in the past. I do not expect that to alter.
I will be there for her, if she desires me to be, because she is the very heat and heart of my own desire. If she desires another, because I love her, so it must, and shall be. I do not require her to be ‘there for me’.
If she decides she is longing for death, though I might selfishly try to dissuade her (as she did herself, when I thought death was welcome) then I should let her go. And – equally – I trust her to let me go, if it is my time to leave. She was right that it was not, when she (and my son) refused to allow me a death in my pain.
We don’t have a “suicide pact”. If either of us delivers the other to our death, it will not (notwithstanding the law) be the end of our own life. We owe it to one-another: to keep on growing. It’s what we’ve enjoyed together. Growth.
But it would be remarkable if we died simultaneously. And, perhaps, blessed.
Love and loss
Grief in loss is unavoidable. No matter how successfully we might have avoided becoming dependent or jealously attached to whatever has given us joy and fulfilment in life, it’s undeniable that losing them (even the leg which allowed us to run marathons, however badly) brings pain. I don’t want that grief in my life, nor do I wish it upon my loved ones. It diminishes our continued fulfilment. But true personal independence requires the capacity to continue to grow.
Even when we grow old. The operative word is ‘grow’ – not ‘old’. At the moment of our death, we should still be growing, but we will be alone. Even though our family, lover, carers, or friends may be gathered around us, we all die alone.
If we die dependent on others, and have allowed others to depend on us, we shall die unresolved, and the others will suffer the pain of our failure to live our lives fully.
She must have a life after my death. And vice-versa.
First and foremost in life, we must think and act for ourselves, to the extent of our abilities. We must not demand of others that they think or act for us, nor should we impose our thoughts and actions upon them. nor on their behalf. Co-dependency wastes lives.
“There are three conditions which often look alike

Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:

Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment

From self and from things and from persons;
and, growing between them, indifference

Which resembles the others as death resembles life.”
TS Eliot – Little Gidding

The scent of petrol – gasoline – ought empirically to be the same worldwide. There are slight variations in strength and additives, but, rationally, it should match the same chemical formula. To generalise: my experience of smelling petrol ought to be consistent wherever I am.

So I’m puzzled why it isn’t. When I return to my mother’s lifelong home in Gloucestershire, walk down the drive to the car-port, and she starts her car, the scent is instantly and uniquely evocative of my childhood. And it’s significantly different from the odour emitted by the same car, filled with identical petrol, when she visits our home in the North of England. It’s the remembered scent of my grandmother’s MG TD, kept in the same place, although that had the additional scent of leather upholstery. And leaded petrol.

Maybe it’s a kind of ‘cocktail’ effect? It’s not – I’m sure – some type of psychological overlay of associated memories. It’s as if the carrier is different. The air as distinctly different as Brandy from Whisky.

Certainly air has recognisably evocative qualities. Just as we hardly notice the subtle differences in flavour between glasses of water from different sources, and imagine it to be merely colourless, odourless and flavour-free – unless they’ve been spraying slurry on the fields, or a nearby bonfire is filling the air with smoke; our brains seem to filter out the subtle nuances of the sensory information conveyed by the air we breathe. We probably recognise the scent of cities and rural landscapes after snowfall or summer rain, but dismiss them as givens. That phenomenon was given a name in a journal article in Nature in March 1964, by IJ Bear and RG Thomas.

The noun they coined was ‘petrichor’ – etymologically derived from the root ‘petro’ – which relates to rocks, and is also the derivation of ‘petrol’ – and ‘ichor’ which is the word which describes the fluid said to run in the veins and arteries of the Classical Gods, and – medically – the almost colourless exudate of wounds and sores. Personally I’d have preferred it to have been synthesised from ‘petri-‘ (relating still to stones) and ‘chor’, which is the German word for choir. Which would make petrichor something akin to the song of the earth. Which evokes Gustav Mahler’s setting of Chinese poems, ‘Das Lied von der Erde.’

Even when Cotswold soil is dry, my mother’s home bears the scent of the ochrish, stony clay which entailed hiring a mechanical digger when she wished to bury her red setter’s body in the garden. Wild garlic thrives in the leaf-mould at the bottom of the drive, jostling for space amongst the spring bluebells. In summer the Linden trees at the roadside buzz with bees plundering their sweet scented flowers, and woodsmoke from village hearths perfumes the air as the evenings chill in autumn. In winter the scent of conifers decants a light incense to the dry cold of frosted snow across the lawns. But, always, her petrol smells unique.

So many scents return me to past moments, but they don’t necessarily recall associated memories. No rational process of visualisation, nor of attempts towards verbal definition, is necessary. These olfactory stimuli are sufficient in themselves. Without question, they are consciousness-altering, as nostalgic as yellowing photographs in the black-paged album with its white-chinagraph- pencilled captions. Mood-changing. Exciting beyond reason.

Undeniably: there’s always a temptation to recapture and preserve these seemingly significant sensory experiences, but adding information to provoke other senses or enlighten reason diminishes the power of the scent to move me through these wormholes in time. Trying to give meaning to the effect of an odour is a destructive act of intellectual foolishness. Significance does not always connect with any logical meaning.

Perception is very idiosyncratic. It’s hard to separate associative learning – Pavlov’s classic conditioned response – from instinctive reflexes. To a foot fetishist, an odour which might cause all but the most ardent cheese-gourmet to retch acquires an arousing meaning. Even unperceived odours can affect us chemically, sparking the secretion of hormones which alter our behaviour without our having the slightest awareness. It’s thought to be the mechanism of sexual chemistry: the subtle attraction of compatibility. Colour-blindness is just an extreme example of the phenomenon that it is likely that no two individuals share exactly the same colour perception. The evolutionary biochemistry of mate selection possibly dictates different preferences between individuals for odours most predictive of reproductive success. Different strokes for different folks.

For Proust it was the flavour of a Madeleine dipped in tea. Flavour is distinctly related to odour, although the component of tactile sensitisation adds a further dimension. Food researchers spend a lot of time discussing ‘mouth-feel’. Possibly our experience of scent is wider than that of flavour. Common sense dictates that we would rather reject something on the grounds of its odour than risk poisoning by putting it in our mouths. Not to mention the problems inherent in small fishbones and the unwanted parts of an artichoke.

There’s something volatile about visual and sonic stimuli. Memories are less commonly evoked by sights or sounds, and even more rarely by the tactile sensations of texture, temperature and pressure. Scents and the sense of smell seem to trump the other senses in guiding our behaviour.

More than other animals, humans delight in manipulating natural things for carefully calculated purposes. We make ‘art’ (a word which is cognate with ‘artificial’) to appeal to visual and tactile senses, through painting, drawing, photography, cinematography and sculpture. We create music, affecting one another through the sense of hearing, and the food and drink of fine dining have become a complex and ritualised part of human social interaction. These activities are all pretty much ‘above the line’ – where we recognise how deliberately others appear above the parapet separating our private selves from our presented self-expression.
The art of the perfumier is more subtle. Perhaps you are already aware that retail environments manipulate consumers by injecting artificial odours of fresh roasted coffee and newly baked bread into air conditioning systems. We are exhorted to ‘fragrance’ our homes, to deodorise our bodies and mask our animal scents with sophisticated synthetic chemical mixtures and compounds.

I feel sorry for pet dogs. The reek of personal care products must create the olfactory equivalent of the hearing affliction of tinnitus. That dogs find the odour of cancer both detectable and offensive is unsurprising. Experienced nurses can often smell the specific keynote of particular infections. Odours are important in keeping our species healthy. We are naturally revolted by the odours of death, corruption and decay. Halitosis constitutes a great social disadvantage, so we devise mouthwashes to conceal the underlying problem as much as to cure it.

Research has established that the scent of our bodies, and how it affects others is cyclically linked to fertility. The propensity towards the provocation of sexual desire in women through exposure to both perceptible and imperceptible male odours increases as their cycles reach the peak fertile period. This is despite the fact that many primates, and especially humans, engage in sexual activity when reproduction is less likely, whereas other animals tend to restrict it to times of assured reproductive success.

Some ethologists have suggested that it is the absence of predators and the relative availability of resources which enables humans to engage in sexual activities for social and recreational strategies. Regardless of the validity of this theory, it seems to be a recipe for trouble.

Not only do we manipulate the way we look with cosmetic surgery and paint, potions and lotions, but we obliterate all the natural scent signals our bodies ought to be generating. As a result we probably miss being repelled by people with whom we are incompatible, and never notice those with whom an intimate relationship would be most fulfilling.

Maybe we don’t think about how we smell because words are inadequate to explain the almost primal effects scents have on our behaviour. Even the unspeakable odours that defy all rational explanation!

Today, fully aware of the hell of Syria, the pain of the Washington Navy Yard, and of my ignorance of the agony of millions of my fellow creatures, I had the temerity to celebrate my good fortune in going to an auction and buying four lots of art and antiques which I know will double my investment, if I take the trouble to put them ‘on the market’. One was a present for an elderly relative who is 99. I hope she will like it.

I bought a couple of books, both of which will undoubtedly appeal to enthusiasts of their subject matter, although neither relate to my particular obsessions. And the other two lots were paintings. I liked both, and recognised their skill and value as soon as my eye fell upon them at the viewing. Neither is a Picasso or a Van Gogh, but both artists have ‘a following’. I would happily keep the paintings: one is the fifth or sixth I have acquired by the artist who lived locally but died sixteen years before I was born, and the other is by a Czech woman who lived at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century. Her work never fails to make twice what I paid.

Because I’m in the fortunate position of being able to spare a reasonably large amount of money – about twice the monthly income of the average British worker – I was able to make myself two months more in the course of a single day. If you have, you get more. If you have not, then you lose even the little you have.

Then I drove a hire car to visit the auto-engineers who are rebuilding my own car engine. They’ve had it now for almost six weeks, and they are skilled at what they do. I went to complain that they’re taking too long, and costing me twice their their labour because I need to rent a car to keep my life on track. They’d love to be able to spare the time and the capital to enjoy a day like I had. But they admit that they wouldn’t know how.

It’s that “there but for fortune” thing. It’s not their fault that they didn’t have the expensive education I had, and their lives gave them neither the space nor time for the luxury of developing their potential for what Abram Maslow called ‘self actualisation’. My lot say that their lot inhabit the ‘lowbrow culture’ and that they simply don’t appreciate the ‘higher’ values of life. The voices in my head tell me that someone once suggested that the breadless should eat cake. The voices in their heads tell them to mistrust ‘clever’ people.

In some places the carless walk for hours merely to obtain enough water to survive, often at risk of being killed, maimed or raped by people who think of them as inferior, because they aren’t members of their own group. And my priorities are to make sure I justify my existence in a place where water is piped straight to my home. If I helped those people, by sending money to build wells and infrastructure, eventually I’d be unable to find the money people want from me to keep me in luxury. Cross the line and become homeless. But our homeless are better off than those with homes in many other countries.

Life seems to create a dichotomy between the person I wish I could be, and the things I’m told I must have in order to be able to co-exist with the civilisation in which I live. How dare I appreciate and buy art – intrinsically useless stuff of no practical use whatsoever – when it’s meaningless to the child who walks for hours for water? How dare I pollute the planet by driving a car?

I’d like to imagine myself capable of compassion, since lack of compassion is the epitome of ignorance. In some ways privilege is accompanied by a paradoxical envy of poverty. Even to have the potential for developing aesthetic values is depriving others of the same opportunity. In the worst of situations a Van Gogh might be more use to patch a leaking roof than to provide spurious intellectual and aesthetic gratification for a member of a group of our species who consider themselves ‘superior’ to others. Is achievement in making profit more admirable than walking for six hours a day to fetch water to keep a family alive?

We can condemn the brutality of internecine tribal violence in countries we describe as primitive or underdeveloped, but how do we justify using unmanned drones to kill the people we judge as ‘bad’? Is it really any better than taking a machete to members of a tribe we do not like?

I wonder if every gain I think I make is merely another loss for someone else. If I too survive to be 99, which other lives will I have damaged? One man’s more is another’s less.

I personally have ‘issues’ (a US neologism in Britain) with writing for the land of the free and the home of the brave, since my US editor insists that not only do I correct my orthography to comply with Merriam Webster instead of the Oxford English Dictionary, but also that I avoid describing certain plot events because ‘they are likely to cause legal problems for the publisher’. I am allowed to have a woman’s genitalia whipped until she bleeds, but under no circumstances may she lose urinary continence through fear. Violence is, apparently, legally more acceptable than natural ‘bathroom’ matters.

Where the US has ‘the color gray’, Erica Leonard (EL James) and the rest of us Brits have ‘the colour grey’. Our cars travel on motorways and have bonnets and boots, and are fuelled by petrol. The US have automobiles on freeways with hoods and trunks, and are gassed to make them go. Even worse, Brits have a bum where a US fanny is located, and a British fanny is where babies come from.

I get quite a lot of innocent amusement reading user-manuals translated from Japanese, Chinese and Korean, and I am prepared to forgive the fractured English in which Arobas Music communicate with me about my Guitar Pro software, but there is something sinister about the tacit arrogance of cultural imperialism underlying the use of US English as the default version of ‘World English’, demanding that Australian, New Zealand and British English submit to the greatest power in the world when it comes to international diplomatic use of the language. We aren’t arguing. US citizens carry guns.

There is, of course, no point in being chauvinist about it; British, Aussie and Kiwi youngsters all watch US movies (their grandparents called them ‘films’) and more readily adopt US usages (‘cos they’re cool) than they cling to the absurd idiosyncrasies of spelling ‘thru’ as the old-fangled ‘through’ of their forefathers.

Maybe the Federal government won’t issue a fatwa against me if I write a scene about bathroom matters, but there’s still that insidious sense of cultural tyranny.

Where Japan lost global influence after Pearl Harbour (Harbor) they took it back with Honda, Toyota, Sony and Panasonic. The US quietly does likewise with Coca Cola, MacDonalds, Krispy Kreme and US English. No need for a footfall. The invasion will be accomplished by silent drones.

I’m suffering at the moment. First an identity crisis, and secondy a cold. So I grew a beard. I went to do a gig in Edinburgh in July, and the guy at the stage door told me to report to the Stage Manager. I was the only poet doing stuff as part of a burlesque variety show.

So I got to the SM, and she said; “You must be the comedian…” so I replied – in as poetly a fashion as I could muster – “How so?” and she; “Because you look funny.”

It’s not looking funny that it’s about though, is it? Unless you’re Lee Evans or Jim Carrey. It’s about words. Getting people’s bodies to respond without even touching them – the involuntary breathing spasms and convulsions of laughter – nice trick, if you can do it.

The gasps, the groans, the moans, the writhing and wriggling.

Like Meg Ryan in ‘When Harry met Sally’. Or Gurdjieff, who, allegedly, could make women orgasm merely by looking at them.

So, to get recognised as a ‘poet’, I grew a beard. But my wife insists I shave it off. She says it tickles her inner thighs.

I’ve got this thing about fur anyway. Wherever it grows naturally, I reckon we should leave it there. Anything else is both unhealthy and dishonest. So it’s probably a good hedge against getting a cold. And a good bush could protect you from a whole bunch of other transmissible infections.

But to get back to the words. They can get you into a lot of trouble. Especially if you’re called Pussy Riot. I know it’s possible to make loadsamoney out of words. I heard EL James became a multi-millionaire almost overnight through BDSM.

I thought BDSM stood for ‘Bloody Digital Social Media’, so, of course, I signed up for Twitter straight away, and I’m now on my way to becoming a fully qualified twat.

It’s how I’m going to reach the Global Village and make the sort of cash I can spend in the Universal City. But there’s a problem right away. Like our lovely Mr Cameron; thinking LOL stands for Lots of Love. You’ve got to learn the argot. The jargon.

Everywhere you go there are language barriers. Don’t get me wrong: there are no more fascinating people than nerds and geeks. I used to spend my life travelling from country to country four weeks out of five, going to exotic foreign places and staying in mostly identical hotel rooms, eating mostly identical food and getting monotonous constipation and dehydration from all the airmiles I was collecting. Business class is full of people with piles. Of Haemorrhoids. Policy wonks.

And nobody can fill the time better than an obsessive enthusiast, who knows far more than you’d ever want to know about something you could never be interested in, even if you had all your limbs amputated after a plane crash.

There you can get real word problems. Between Italy and Spain, I travelled Iberia instead of Alitalia, and was asked about my breakfast preferences. Still thinking Italian, I asked for ‘pane e burro’, which is fine in Italy, if you’re into bread and butter, but a burro in Spanish is entirely different from mantequilla, which so far as I remember, is the Spanish word for butter. Unless it’s one of those combs you put in your hair. The stewardess was apologetic;

“I’m thorry, thir, but we don’t carry donkeys on short-haul flights.”

Nerds and geeks have their own specialised language relating to their specialty (we used to say ‘speciality’ but Yankee is taking over the global lingo, Gringo!) which is partly why, if you are a global jet-setter, travelling the world alone, you end up listening to them in bars talking about the terminology of planespotting or whatever floats their boat. If that’s not a mixed metaphor. Flies their plane? Whatever! And, up to a point, it can be quite educational. (Note to self: write piece about planing flies.)

Then, when you get bored, talking to ex-pats, you decide to stop shouting in English and try to learn a little of the local language.

They often protest that English is hard to learn, with the way we can pronounce the letters ‘ough’ as in cough; through; slough; slough; ought and so on. OK, so, I admit English is a bit of a mouthful, which brings me to the French for vagina, which is ‘le vagin’.

The French have something of a reputation for being good at sex, unlike the Brits, who are supposed to enjoy spanking – a reputation not enhanced by 50 Shades of Grey being by a British woman – but ‘le vagin’ is a masculine word. What’s all this with words having a gender? Don’t the French care whose vagin it is?

And the French even express national prejudices through their words, never mind gender confusion. What we call a ‘French letter’, they call a ‘Capot Anglais’ which translates as an English hood. They get everything backwards. What we call the EC, they call the CE. And just be very careful if somebody in Normandy offers you CIDA. They haven’t forgotten Waterloo. And it’s not made from apples.

Acronyms are such a problem. Remember the Bloody Digital Social Media? Well I decided to join our local BDSM group, and went along to a ‘Munch’, which is a sort of social gathering in which they talk about BDSM, but don’t actually do any. A bit like going to writing workshops. I was talking to this woman about the whole thing, (you know), and she told me that what I needed was CBT. Being well-educated, as – doubtless – you can tell, I asked; “Why do you think I need Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?” and it turned out that she was propositioning me for a session of Cock and Ball Torture.

When I’d managed to extinguish the soles of my shoes, I had the opportunity for what Wordsworth so aptly dubbed; ‘emotion recollected in tranquility’ and reflected on what I’d learned at the Munch. Apart from whom to avoid on future occasions. In written communications, subs (no, not an advance on salary, nor an underwater boat) are required to address their Doms as Sir, with a capital ‘S’ or ‘Master’, also with the upper case letter, which should be applied to all personal pronouns, appurtenances and characteristics – like in the King James version of the Bible, and they should always use lower case in alluding to their ‘subby’ selves, which, previously I’d thought was a device used only by ee cummings, whose excuse was a stuck shift key on his typewriter. That was a machine used for imitating the printed word before the PC and Laptop and… well you know the rest.

Funnily enough, the conventions of BDSM require that dominant people of the male gender use the title Dom, spelled; ‘D-O-M’ in common with Dominican Monks. Possibly the only thing they do have in common with Dominican Monks. And female dominant persons use the orthography; ‘D-O-M-M-E’ after the French.

Which is ironic, since the image of the French is that – along with the Belgians – they are the traditional victims of cruelty in Europe, and the Germans are their foil as the wicked oppressors. Which can’t be right, since the Marquis de Sade was French, whereas Leopold Von Sacher Masoch was Kraut… sorry – Boche… erm… German.

I just hope there are no Nazis reading this.

Back to the French. And the Capot. And my cold.

Having a cold screws up your singing voice. Even the Bee-gees would have to cancel out. Which is what a guitar capo is for.

It’s not a hood, nor a contraceptive device. You put it on to make it possible to reach higher notes. On the guitar. It comes from the Italian. It means ‘Top’. Not in the BDSM sense. Remember the ‘Godfather’? Yeah… top!

The full name is ‘Capo d’Astra’ which means ‘Top to the Stars’ which would be a rather extreme instruction in BDSM, and certainly wouldn’t include a ‘safe-word’.

Any non-guitarists who’ve ever picked up a bit of sheet music (Debussy and Bizet used to sheet music) will have seen the instruction; ‘Da Capo’ occasionally. It doesn’t mean reach for the capo, but simply ‘back to da top’, or, in Hollywood terms, ‘Play it again Sam’.

Being a dilettante, which means I can’t stick to one thing and be good at it, I do ‘mediocre’ in writing, sculpture and music. So whilst (infra-did word, I’m told) I’ve got a cold, I’ll stick to doing Tom Waits covers.

And writing mediocre blog entries.

Lust, according to Saint Augustine, is an overindulgence, but to love and be loved is what he has sought for his entire life. Saint Augustine says the only one who can love you truly and fully is God, because love with a human only allows for flaws such as “jealousy, suspicion, fear, anger, and contention.” According to Saint Augustine, to love God is “to attain the peace which is yours.” (Saint Augustine’s Confessions)

 

Quoted from an article on ‘Love’ on Princeton University Website.

 

Lust is simply a natural drive, like the need for warmth, shelter, food and water.   Psychologically, the sex drive – libido – can be stronger than the hunger for food.  But it is not intrinsically an overindulgence

 

The problem with the suppression of sex by the major religions; Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Sikhism, is that the rules were set by men who sought socially to engineer conditions in which women become the ‘property’ of men, and men are supposed to be assured of the paternity of all their children, so that they see it as worthwhile to invest their effort to provide for their upbringing. 

 

The natural impulses of both men and women are to enjoy sexual relationships with as many people as possible, in order to ensure the survival of their genes to the next generation.  As women are always assured that the children they bear will carry their own genes, the selection and retention of the father is not as important as it is for men, who tend to seek to invest only in the children they are convinced are their own.

 

This has resulted in social models of ‘love’ which are based upon men having exclusive sexual access to their woman or – in the case of polygamous religions – women.  The virtuous idea of ‘courtly chivalrous love’, featuring exclusive pair bonding, mutual sexual fidelity, and lifelong companionship, is a taught behaviour which forms part of the social conventions of civilisations led by men.

 

Matriarchies and polyandrous societies are rare.  The type of ‘love’ to which St Augustine was alluding is certainly not the same as any type of love as understood between human beings.  It is certainly not sexual erotic love (although cases of religious extremists having erotic fixations on the deity are not unknown) nor is it the kind of Platonic relationship that might exist between human mutual admirers, sometimes distinguished by the Greek description of Philos as opposed to Eros.  Nor is St Augustine’s love of God akin to Storge which is the type of love the Greeks believed typified parental love for children, which is characterised by unconditional tolerance of however the beloved might behave. Storge is a bit like the other Greek concept of love; Agape, which describes, amongst other ideas, the kind of non-sexual bonds which can exist between married couples.

 

The notion of the love of God is an interesting phenomenon.  If your belief is based upon a concept of a deity or deities which is or are in some way similar to human personalities, then it is reasonable to project a theory that to love the deity results in a reciprocal love of the deity for those who love the deity. 

 

Clearly these kinds of religion act as a sort of comforter for believers, who can imagine that – even if the world appears to be entirely hostile towards them, they are not ‘alone’ and that at least the deity loves them.  These religions often act as  kind of spiritual insurance policy, in which the reward for a life well lived will be paid-out after the believer dies, and attains some form of post-mortem consciousness.  In it’s simplest form it is the promise that the ‘virtuous’ will go to heaven, and the sinful will go to hell.  Often the representations of each are based on physical pleasure or pain, so that a religious martyr might be promised the sexual love of multiple virgins when  they arrive in heaven, whereas a sinner might be threatened with everlasting genital torture.  It seems that visions of heaven often incorporate freedoms to behave in ways that would be considered sinful if they were enjoyed before death.

 

St Augustine was said to have asked God to make him virtuous, but added – being keen on enjoying a wide variety of ‘sins’ -‘not yet’.

 

Spirituality is not limited to paths which require belief in a deity which in any way resembles humanity, and some belief systems can be said to be ‘mystical’ in that they merely acknowledge the existence of some unified force within all universes which is unknowable, and beyond full human ability totally to understand.  Unlike most deities, this ‘force’ incorporates all that is both positive and negative in existence, and includes as a part of itself, every natural phenomenon of the universes, and human individuals themselves.

 

Given that spiritual pathways are used by people to come to terms with both the joys and pains of existence, and to try to identify a way of living that is best for themselves as individuals, there are often distinctions made between the ‘left hand’ (or sinister) pathways and the ‘right’ (both as a descriptor of relative direction and of that which is correct or true).

 

Broadly, to chose to explore potentially destructive phenomena is to choose the ‘dark’ or ‘left’ approach, and the ‘light’ or ‘right’ path is often approached by employing a kind of ‘enlightened self-interest’ and seeking to live in accordance with those things one can observe as being ‘creative’ or positive.

 

The kind of extreme sexual behaviour often considered to be ‘debauched’ which can lead to damaging other people, or causing other people to be provoked to damage the protagonists, can be seen as belonging to the ‘dark side’, and is usually proscribed by people who seek to be ‘righteous’, however it is possible to see lust as a positive force, and to include it validly as an act of worship for the unified force which drives the universe.

 

Most of the ‘good’ reasons why sex is commonly kept under strict control by organised religions are simply practical ‘bathroom’ issues of health and safety.  Obviously the sexual transmission of diseases is a problem in any society concerned with the health of all its members, and the possessiveness of men often leads to violence, injury and murder when women are permitted total sexual freedom.  Interestingly, in the few matriarchies that exist around the world, sexual promiscuity of women is not considered to be sinful, and probably causes less problems than the consumption of pork and shellfish would cause if regularly eaten in hot countries without refrigeration technologies – the practical reasons for the dietary laws of Judaism and Islam.

 

It is entirely sensible to see sex as a positive and natural part of the creative forces in the universes, and hence a perfectly valid aspect of life to celebrate as part of a life of ‘worship’, just as one might celebrate food – enjoying it, but not to the excess which leads to obesity, morbidity and mortality.

 

In my own opinion, the most sublime religious experience is shared orgasm between male and female, as a transcendence of self – humanity being far more than either gender alone, and as an expression of the origin of human life, as our only relationship with everything that comprises the universes of which we are a part, and the only way to ‘experience the love of God’.

 

To believe that we are loved by a benevolent and caring personality is, in my opinion, merely a comforting act of self-delusion, and leaves us liable to many other sophistries which result in us behaving in ways which are destructive to each other and those aspects of the universe which lie within our sphere of influence.  Sex can be highly moral, including unbridled promiscuity.  Our immoralities concern destruction of our planet and its environs through warfare, greedy exploitation of natural resources and other species through technology and lack of a balanced approach which not only threatens other parts of creation, but humanity ourselves.  That’s where we have over-indulged, and accelerated climate change and potential pandemics are only symptoms of how unbalanced we are.  God will not save any of us; if the balance overtips, we’ll be as beloved by God as were the dinosaurs.

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I’m taking part in the Edinburgh Festival of the Erotic Arts from June 22nd to 24th 2012, (http://www.erotic-arts.co.uk) and reading some of my unpublished work. There are exhibitions featuring visual, plastic and other arts under virtually every medium available.  And there’s a lot of Burlesque.  Which is interesting.

‘Erotic’ Burlesque flourished in America during the ‘Great Depression’. Think of Josephine Baker – but there were many others. It’s a retro thing. It’s a kind of magic.  The same sort of magic that propels so many unsolicited e-mails, texts and phone calls that fall under the generic parenthesis of ‘scam’.  Whichever of the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ are invoked to conjure our response, whether greed or lust, be sure, we are being conned. It probably can’t be entirely blamed on the current economic situation.

Strangely, (or perhaps not so strangely), criminal psychologists (the ones who study the psychology of criminals; not those psychologists who are criminals) tell us confidence tricksters are particularly susceptible to being conned themselves.  It has something to do with belief in credulity.

Maybe it’s why, in my formative years, I quite fancied becoming a Snake Oil Salesman; the opportunities:- the sheer charisma of becoming the Professor, the charlatan, the mountebank (and briefly an actor), that would win me adulation, cash and an ‘access all areas’ pass to sexual freedom. Easy.

If I’d decided to direct theatre (which I might still do) I’d’ve been very likely to cast Burlesque performers to play the Faeries in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.  Their very unreality suits them perfectly for the part. This isn’t to suggest they’re ‘painted harlots’, but merely presenting themselves as clichéd throwbacks to an imagined and irretrievable mode of life.  Peter Pan is no longer played in Pantomime because cynical  children would rather see Tinkerbelle die than counterfeit a belief in Faeries.  And good for them.

Women are about to turn the tables on men.  The paternalistic and Chauvinistic assumptions that have driven much of the World are being invalidated by women taking the substantial ‘power’ in the direction many developed (decadent?) civilisations are going.

Women don’t need to be ‘validated’ by men. Nor do they need to fight not to be ‘objectified’ by the lustful gaze of their worshippers.  But some theorists suggest – including many ‘second wave feminists’ –there are some women who don’t want to take responsibility for being the leaders.  They want to be the objects of uncontrollable male lust; to justify their existence by being desired and therefore fed, clothed (Louboutin included) and housed in the manner to which they’d like to become accustomed by men. That’s reactionary, and a ‘cop-out’. Sex and shopping are getting their notice to quit.

This is the ‘Stalingrad 1942 to Stalingrad 1943’ turn in the battle of the genders. But that means the uncomfortable burden of victory in the ‘sex’ war needs to be borne by women.  Now women will – if they are men’s women (like some men used to be ‘ladies’ men) – need to be able to win the man who stays at home to look after the children (not, thanks to lab-science, temporary tenants of women’s bodies) by appealing to his dumb-blonde inferiority.

But, as the forthcoming book by Hanna Rosin; ‘The End of Men’ is expected to assert, it’s all about to turn tits up.  So is this why a return to the cockteasing power of the Burlesque (originally a satirical attack on what men believed to be seriously worth considering) is becoming  – perhaps intuitively – a fashionable obsession amongst women?

Neo-Burlesque is an ‘in yer face’ confrontation with women expressing themselves as sexual beings without kow-towing to male-defined criteria of what is desirable.  Fat, wobbly and intensely unpretty women are showing they can arouse men indiscriminately by not exposing themselves as the object of penile penetration, but by performing long lost arts of Vaudevillian skills like fire-eating, Fakir tricks, and a whole host of ‘showbizzy’, dancy stuff.

As Shakespeare’s Faery said; “What fools these mortals be!”

The women who choose to perform as Burlesques, despite their very creditable theatre-skills, might just be as foolish as the men they seek to seduce then deny. (Because denial is the greatest frisson of Burlesque.)  It’s unoriginal, retrograde and regressive. They’re falling, perhaps, for the con they think they’re perpetrating.

Possibly the fad for Burlesque will fizzle out.  But I do hope the perennial fascination for erotic art won’t.  As I also hope men won’t be ended totally as Hanna Rosin might suggest.

Speaking for myself, it really doesn’t matter.  I can probably keep getting my rocks off as long as I want to do so.  But I have a sneaking feeling that it will be a pity if the male-female thing disappears altogether. But I’m not in control of human evolution, and I’m not especially proud about what the male ones have done.

The female of the species (according to Kipling) is more deadly than the male.

But the Burlesques with their counterfeit desire do not attract me, and won’t kill me.

Let me confess; I’ve not read ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ by British author EL James, and I don’t intend to.

Nevertheless, I’m extremely pleased she’s risen to the top of US Bestseller lists with her trilogy, originally released by a small Australian e-publisher. I suspect she might be a lot more literary than her success displays, but has evidently pitched her ‘Fan-Fic’ novels to provide a lot of pleasure to a lot of people. As a TV executive she must have an intelligent grasp of how money is made in mass-markets.

I’m really not a ‘Fan’. Fan-Fic is openly derivative, and demands that authors adopt the writing style of another writer’s original, without falling straight into the black-hole of parody or pastiche. There’s nothing wrong with pastiche; Sebastian Faulks’ ‘Pistache’ is a fine example of the art. There are many more, including accomplished exercises in completing authors’ unfinished work, or continuing a series after the progenitor has died.

I also dislike pulp genre fiction with its stylistic clichés, plotline memes and targeted unoriginality. This isn’t to say that many ‘great’ literary novels haven’t been dubbed genre fiction, whilst not actually suffering from the flaws of the category. There are, for instance, many Sci-Fi titles, since it’s a perfect structure by which to explore utopian or dystopian scenarios, set either on a future Earth or some imaginary planet of another star. Most of the mechanical bits are merely incorporated to lend some credibility to a tale which demands the readers’ suspension of disbelief. Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ for example.

If you consult a list of the world’s highest grossing authors, up there with Shakespeare and Tolstoy are Enid Blyton and Barbara Cartland. I’ve read Blyton, but not Cartland. It’s not that I’m a snob, but I prefer stories about sexual love not to cop-out with ellipses when I get to the sticky bits. I prefer erotica to say something about people and their unexpurgated inner motives and behaviour. I don’t simply want to hear that X inserted Tab A into Y’s Slot B and instant satisfaction was delivered. I want to know the whys, hows and the effect on their lives as a result of all the beastliness.

Speaking of beastliness, I understand that Fifty Shades of Grey features themes of ‘BDSM’ as an undercurrent of the leitmotiv of Vampirism. Although the views of actual Vampires have not, so far as I’m aware, been expressed, I also hear that ‘serious lifestyle BDSM practitioners’ consider the BDSM aspects of the trilogy to be disappointingly flawed. Maybe it’s the author’s British reserve? Has she written scenes that would best be filmed as ‘Carry On Spanking’? Or is it the same type of disappointment that trainspotters feel, reading the Thirty Nine Steps, when they find there’s not enough detail about the locomotive that hauled Hannay halfway across the Forth Bridge?

There is a pruriently coy tone to polite mainstream conversations when it’s suggested that women fantasise about dominant males, being tied up and spanked, and even raped. Psychologists rush to the media to assure us fantasies of these types are entirely ‘normal’, and no woman desires actual rape. Sexual games of dominance (of both genders) bondage, and consensual ‘Sado-Masochism’ are far more widespread in respectable bedrooms all over the developed world than we like to pretend.

It’s been suggested the growing prevalence of e-readers has fostered a huge growth in the market for womens’ pornography. No longer must copies of ‘The Story of O’ or Anais Nin’s short stories be hidden behind the detergent box or in her bedside cupboard drawer. She can read them on the train on the way to work, and no-one will guess the reason for her Mona Lisa smile.

Perhaps this is not quite a symptom of the moral collapse of the West, but a positive step towards defusing the bomb of sexuality. There is, however, a long journey ahead before men and women are going to be honest with each other; before we reach an open understanding that women who fantasise aren’t ‘gagging for it’, and that sometimes perfectly virile men long for appreciation, gentleness and affection rather than a demand for athletic performance ‘in the sack’.

The cosy myths of virility and femininity are well past their deflower-by date. Without sexualising children, we need to stop building their expectations of sexuality into forbidden, must-have prizes of adult freedom and admit that the whole experience has many more than fifty shades of grey in the ‘how was it for you’ spectrum.

At its best, it can be sublime; an almost sacred, divine union of two (or more) people sharing the experience on a total physical, emotional, and spiritual level, but at its worst, it can be soul destroying, painful, heartbreaking and destructive. Like any spectrum of human activities, it seems to follow a bell-curve, with the majority of examples falling around the middle; that’s where adjectives such as; nice, OK, alright, pleasant and satisfactory pivot around ‘neutral’ towards acceptable, uncomfortable, unimpressive, a nuisance and disappointing.

I want people to enjoy good sex, much as I’d like them to eat good food. So long as they think, in the words of Anthony Worrall Thompson; “It’s all good!” they’re going to feel they aren’t doing it right. Like food, I tend to believe it’s better natural: nothing added and ‘nowt taken out’. I don’t object to adding a little spice, now and then, but I can’t live on nothing but hot curry, and variety itself is said to be the spice of life. I’m also prepared to accept that for those with self-raising problems a little blue chemical additive might be justified, but I’d prefer not to have added flavourings, and I’d rather the wholemeal approach would come back into fashion, so that hair would be left where it grows naturally. It might be a little bit of hypocritical sophistry, but I’m in favour of the additive of a little contraception, adjusted to taste.

When it comes to being ‘natural’ we might learn from the Bonobos, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. They are relaxed about sex and it seems to make them happy, but men might not like to know that they are a female dominated species.

The distinction between pornography and erotica ought to be that pornography encourages people selfishly to gratify their own desires, whilst erotica persuades people to share: giving pleasure to others, which is socially constructive; if you sweep away moral judgements based on paternity, property, materialism, ownership and jealousy. If men did what women wanted, they might just find that, as the ‘inferior’ gender, they’d be a lot happier. Just like male Bonobos.

I suspect that EL James does not write, by this distinction, pornography. I’d like to imagine she might the Jane the Baptist of progress in the evolution of human civilisation. We need high quality erotica, in all fields of the arts, although I’m not sure what erotic music would sound like. So it’s good that we can’t pretend that women are exactly how men would like to imagine them, and it’s time that publishers began to take erotic writing seriously as a valid literary form.

Just recently I have come across several cases in which people have tried to sell creative work they produced, both visual art, and pieces of ‘erotic’ writing, and have been refused hosting by the sites on which they were trying to sell. Paypal policies were quoted as one of the reasons for this, although the people concerned claimed they did not believe they had infringed Terms and Conditions.

Banks worldwide are now working towards direct payment using cellphones, principally because they want the business they see being taken from them by Paypal and other ‘secure’ payment systems. Maybe that will allow you to take payment with less high-minded interference.

Some national and state governments are actively legislating against particular products and services, as well as media, on a wide range of grounds, and are effectively banning and censoring all sorts of material and media. If someone prints tee-shirts with a slogan which incites hatred on racial or religious grounds, for example, in some territories everybody involved in the chain from originator, through manufacturer, distributor, payment facilitator to the end-customer can find themselves being prosecuted, convicted and fined or imprisoned.

So it may be that banks won’t cooperate either.

It is reasonable to expect anybody who finds themselves at risk, through ‘regulatory’ issues like these, to impose Terms and Conditions as a defence against prosecution, and to demonstrate that they exercise ‘due diligence’ in enforcing them. When they refuse to provide their service to a vendor, it is not they who are banning or censoring the item being sold; it is the regulatory system within which they operate.

If I wrote a book on slaughtering animals and cooking their meat, I would consider it reasonable that no organisation owned by Jains (vegetarians) would wish to have anything to do with my ‘product’. That is a principled choice.

Corporate entities tend to have one principle:- make as much money as possible, don’t get prosecuted, fined or jailed, don’t offend any significant percentage of your market. They really don’t mind about moral or ethical issues unless they affect the ‘bottom line’.

The justification for refusing to handle anything is based on trying to ‘please’ the greatest possible number of people. Even governments argue that they legislate in order to protect the people, and if the majority of the electorate raise no objection to ‘tightening’ of laws that are supposed to reflect the ‘moral’ attitudes of their electorate/subjects, then it is assumed that they give their assent to abide by those laws.

The problem arises when the behaviour of significant numbers of the population defies the laws they have ‘approved’. Psychologists have frequently observed that the majority of women enjoy fantasising about rape; many are aroused by spanking and that incest fantasies are by no means uncommon. Whilst noting that actual rape and incest are likely to be socially destructive, the experience of reading, seeing representations in art and movies and other means of running imaginary scenarios can be cathartic and has positive effect on people who find these fantasies attractive.. There are counter arguments, naturally, and some people argue that playing ‘Grand Theft Auto’ encourages some players to act out in reality the excesses that most people ‘get out of their system’ merely by playing the game. They might also argue that some people, reading about a serial killer, will then go out and do likewise. Which is true.

When it comes to sex, there is a huge amount of hypocrisy. Even the leaders of ‘puritanical’ repressive organisations have been exposed as enthusiasts for the types of sexual activities against which they preach most vehemently. Ordinary folks would like to do many things that they are often seen to say ought not to be permitted.

Sexual liberty is a major problem. Many people are frightened of being judged ‘immoral’ if they aren’t seen to support censure of things they’d privately like to do. This does not mean that their desires are ‘right’ – it just means that society fails to be honest about those desires, and to deal with them.

Paedophiles, for example are hardly likely to campaign for sexual relationships between adults and children to become socially permissible. Just where does Nabokov fit in here? Does Lolita ‘corrupt and deprave’, or does it enable people to think more deeply about Humbert Humbert’s actions and psychological state? It is hardly likely to turn people into paedophiles.

When it comes to painting, drawing, sculpture, literature and movies ‘challenging’ sexual material is often defended on the basis that it is art, but this defence is unlikely to succeed in the case of genre pulp fiction. Many representations of sexuality across the whole spectrum have no more claim to artistic substance and merit than pulp westerns, low grade science fiction, cheap crime thrillers or Barbara Cartland’s romances.

I am opposed to censorship on principle. It is not the books which commit crimes (although some current self-published e-books do not stand as shining examples of grammar, spelling and the writers’ craft) but people. Perhaps some people will read ‘The Story of O’ and never be able to rid their psyche of desire they were previously unaware they possessed.

It takes effort to publish anything. If you actually break the law by producing material banned by law in the country in which you publish, then you must face the consequences,regardless of whether or not the state were wrong to create such a law.

If you publish trash, then it is unlikely to have a tremendous impact. If you publish something of literary merit, that explores things about life that will enrich readers’ understanding of themselves and other people, then in any reasonable country you ought to be immune from prosecution.

But we do not live in a reasonable world. Social attitudes need to change; we need people to be more honest about the bits of themselves which aren’t as ‘nice’ as we want to be thought to be. Populations need to object if they find themselves being confined by laws they secretly break daily.

In a book about the life of Emmanuelle Arsan there is little parable about her return to Paris after her husband left a diplomatic mission. On previous visits to Paris she had often joined a stream of traffic driving the wrong way along a one-way street (big enough to allow two way traffic) to shorten her route. The street passed a Gendarmerie (Police station), but the police always ignored the lawbreakers; there were too many to challenge. She was surprised to find on this occasion that the signs had been removed and the one-way restriction abandoned. Surprised, she parked at the Gendarmerie and asked the policeman at the front desk why they had finally allowed two way traffic. The Gendarme replied; “every day we had to sit here and watch so many people disobeying the law. The law was stupid, and it made us look even more stupid, so we had it taken away.”

Society will remain fundamentally sick unless we get repressive legislation taken away, but that means getting public opinion on ‘our’ side first.

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