Saturday, November 19, 2011

Binary personality quiz

i have a love hate relationship with pop quizzes. Teen magazines used to have lots of them and still do. They are about topics such as what sort of a best friend are you, and how much do you love Justin Bieber. There are some great internet quizzes. My favourite works out how many baboons i can kill with a giant dildo.

This is a binary either/or quiz designed to reveal aspects of our personalities that may have some roots. For example, Catholic or Protestant? If you say Catholic, maybe you are mystical, enjoy pageantry, appreciate tradition, and have a feel for Latin. If you say Protestant, maybe you like a more austere style, want to question authority, and prefer a communal and level-headed way of being together with others. My idea is to do it quickly, without thinking. There are no right answers. There are just answers. Hint: the last one is probably the most important.

Here goes:

Demi or Selina?

Dior or Miyake?

Alcohol or Cannabis?

Vodka or rum?

Catholic or Protestant?

Sibelius or Tchaikovsky?

Key or Goff?

Beef or chicken?

Hanoi or Saigon?

Plato or Socrates?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

On tea and the decline of Mithraism

It is not widely known, but my father was a Freemason. He left eventually due in part to creeping atheism, but during my childhood he was pretty into it and belonged to two lodges, the Royal Arch (to which his father had also belonged) and the Cake Lodge.

i particularly liked the Cake Lodge. It was as member of the Cake Lodge that my father had attained the exalted position of Steward. For this position he underwent arcane trials of which i will forever be ignorant. For the Steward performed the precise and courteous art of making the tea and serving the cakes. And the Steward was also empowered to take home the leftovers. The morning after Cake Lodge, i would awake to find a cake on my bedside cabinet - a traditional Kiwi treat, such as a Lamington or a Neenish Tart.

Even as a child i wondered about the gender aspects of this. For my mother made the tea and even baked the damn cakes and her social position never advanced one whit. It was just part of her job as wife and mother. She required no arcane training unless you count what she learned at her step mother's knee, and she received no extraordinarly thanks. It seemed that men required to be given status for what was for women quotidian, even menial.

i guess this leads to the now common and someowhat charicatured meme of men being inordinately praised for doing anything domestic. Honey, i baked a pie! Wow, well done, except that of course you used every dish in the place and spent half our week's budget - but, what the hell, it's a great pie, let's encourage him.

And this leads me quite sensibly to the decline of Mithraism. i read a book about Mithraism, which was a popular religion throughout the Roman Empire and was the main contender apart from Christianity to win citizens away from the old pagan gods. It was a men only, highly dualistic, monotheistic affair that practised social equality and was very popular among the Roman army, through which it spread. Lots of good academic words are used to ponder its decline, and the reasons Christianity replaced it. Perhaps it was too martial and strident in its strict views of good and evil. Perhaps as the Empire struggled, the army influence declined. At the margines of the Empire, other options presented themselves and Mithraism lost its impetus. Perhaps the citizenry were not ready for a classless religion where senators sat with janitors.

Well i could have told them. Mithraism died out because there was no one to make the damn tea. It was a men only religion and as i have explained above men won't make the tea unless they are given high status disproportionate to the actual task. Not only was there no one to make the tea, there was no one to organise the cleaning the blood from the temple where bulls had been sacrificed, and no one to run the children's classes and arrange the flowers and all that other stuff that women tradionally do that makes life easy and gives it a bit of class. Without those things, all there is is quaffing and lolling about.

Perhaps Freemasonry lasted so long because it recognised two things - the need for ritual and, well, bombast, and the need to get shit done. Traditionally the men did the bombast and the women did the shit. With a really hierarchical arrangement you can have both, and thus rid yourselves of the need for women. The higher up you go, the more bombast you absorb, the more you get to do shit. Like run the economy and land on the Moon. And make the tea. And then one day you get to be like some kind of 33 degree Grand Master dude, and you get to clean the dunny.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Incriminating Evidence in the boot

i will sleep when i'm dead, i guess.

Night before last my daughter's partner and friend went out and committed acts of what they called 'civil disobedience'. i cannot say more except to scatter random words around this post in a cryptic fashion. They arrived at my place late, and the friend was bleeding. i treated the wound with Betadine, old skool and brutal, but effective. Betadine is Mother's Revenge For Being a Silly Boy. It did me good in Vietnam. Then i drove them home with their incriminating evidence in the boot of my car. My daughter was amused that today's anarchists get driven around by moms, who then get up early in the morning and work.

Last night i stayed overnight at Occupy Corner in Christchurch. My husband the Archduke Piccolo asked what sort of accommodation i would have. i told him i would be sharing a tent with a young man with dreadlocks and a philosophy degree. He got sniffy about the dreadlocks. He himself has very long brown hair that tends to ringlets. i think he would be suspicious of any man who had a better head of hair.

Actually i wasn't sleeping. i was on the overnight security detail. My job was to collect water and patrol the perimeter, and hopefully talk a load of old toot at four in the morning.

When i arrived they were cleaning up the hospital grounds. They have a sharps container and gloves to pick up condoms and needles.

Water collection was a slightly frantic and clandestine affair where we carried a hundred bottles across the road and behind a building and then behind another building to find a working tap. Karin from Germany and i filled the bottles in turn, while others gave us new bottles, put tops on and put them in boxes to carry back.

i talked to some of the homeless people and street dwellers who camp with the activists. It is becoming known that you can go stay at The Occupy. i intend to try to work a way of helping with these guys and some of the others who have major social needs, who come for food and shelter and are not necessarily down with the Occupy movement. That was a big reason for staying overnight.

People came to visit and enquire, even in the middle of the night. And at about 5.30 the hospital workers started to walk past us to get to work. They and Occupy Christchurch are getting to know each other.

There had been a cold snap with rain and a chilly wind, and when i wasn't walking the perimeter i kept somewhat warm in a sleeping bag. It was my first night under the stars in many years. The sombre dark began to give way to dawn. Oyster catchers called. i watched the last star, a freckle on the cheek of the sky, behind a lattice of leaves and twigs above me. i dozed a little, and when i awoke there was colour and dimension of desperate intensity, and i felt briefly overwhelmed by it.

Today i am still tired, but not too much for thinking.

Moivng on from my previous musings on what a middle aged woman can offer the Revolution i have been thinking about the longitudinal process occasionally described as a dialectic by some commentators. It goes like this:

The thesis: early twentieth century radicalism on the left was informed by Enlightenment ideas of a common humanity and universal rights. It was positivist,rationalist (usually), progressive and often optimistic. People learned techniques of organisation and protest ranging from community building to hard out terrorism, and some strands of thought were more pragmatic than others. But there was an overarching philosophy and individuals probably found their places within it.

The antithesis: from the late 1970's onwards, this secular universalism seemed naive, eurocentric and even oppressive to many radicals, especially women and people of colour. Schisms happened. i remember some of these within the populist feminist thinking of the time. Feminist thinking struggled rather brokenly out of its socialist, rights-based past and took on the 'Third Wave', where female difference was celebrated and affirmed. The mens' movement developed. Racial and cultural differences were openly discussed and in New Zealand we moved from concerns about biculturalism towards multiculturalism. Identity politics became mainstream, a hallmark of a liberal society. Activism as a whole retrenched.

The synthesis: The politics of difference suited stable societies and gave a voice to people who had no previously been heard. But meanwhile, a set of enormous problems developed under the noses of radicals. These problems crossed all lines and involved the whole world. Globalisation, environmental collapse, the obscene excesses of capitalism, the bleak hell of consumerism, all crept up on leftist thinkers, and they were unprepared. It seems over the last ten years commentators have been saying 'Good heavens, it was Capitalism all along!' Some useful thinkers about this are Naomi Klein (especially No Logo) and Kenan Malik (From fatwa to jihad: the Rushdie Aaffair and its legacy). Beginning with the globalisation protests in the 1990's, new activism sloshed around, rediscovered anarchism and socialism, and coalesced into the gorgeous mess that is Occupy.

Yes! The Force is strong in this one! However, as an older woman (identity politics again!) i have some questions. What happened thirty years ago? Why did people lose faith in mass movements, secular universalism and Enlightenment ideas?

i can speak for some of us, i think. We women got sick of making the damn tea. Nowadays, i have little enough interest in my own opinions and i am happy making the tea. Back then i remember women who wouldn't be seen dead in the kitchen. It was serious. We needed to be heard, to work ouselves out. i notice that Occupy is somehwat male dominated in numbers, and i hope the young women of Occupy have strong voices. If they don't the movement will schism, and the political will become personal all over again. It may be similar with indigenous and minority people in Occupy. There needs to be more than tokenism, a true step away from easy western hegemony. This could be easy. There are so many ways of living and organising ourselves. Any culture could guide us. The lack of hierarchy in Occupy makes it easier for us all to think and speak for ourselves, but we need to be vigilant.