Thursday, 16 April 2009

Witch-hunts for the digital era

One of my pet peeves, of which I have many, are people who use the terms ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ interchangeably.
Homosexuality ‘it’s not natural’ they say ‘it’s not normal’.
No sir.
It’s natural because it occurs in nature. But it is not normal as in, it is not of the norm – as in it is not the statistically prevalent, culturally prescribed, socially expected and publicly encouraged form of conduct.
So let’s get our terms straight here: ‘natural’ has everything to do with Mother Nature. ‘Normal’ has everything to do your own mother, her expectations and a whole number of social prescriptions on how ‘things should be’.

Now if you ask me, societies change, opinions evolve and what is considered normal is far from constant, varying from time to time, from place to place and from one person to the next. So although ‘natural’ is an altogether safer bet long term, ‘normal’ is what gets you invited to parties and leaves your aunties and nosy neighbours feeling safe and all warm inside. You don’t need me to tell you people generally prefer ‘normal’ to ‘natural’. Societies have historically victimised, marginalized, criminalized, ostracised and killed witches, prophets, adulterers, abortionists, unmarried lovers, homosexuals, members of different religions, parties, factions or football clubs.
You catch my drift.
‘Normal’ can be brutal and scary.

And here we are, in the year of our Lord 2009, in an era of openness, acceptance, moderation. In an era where your creed, colour, sexual preference or taste in neckties will not lead to a marginal life of victimisation and uncertainty. Or so they tell us.
Here we are thinking that, in our open-minded Western societies, ‘normal’ is a multi-hued, multi-faceted thing, as close to ‘natural’ as it has ever been in human history.

And here I am reading with incredulity that a number of psychiatrists and therapists are still offering their services to gay customers: 'helping them become heterosexual'.
To be honest, I first read the item a couple of weeks ago and dismissed it as an April fool’s day folly. A bad one but still a folly.
But no. It’s still on the wires. Evidently not a joke. Patently not funny.

Although such treatments are at best irrelevant and at worst harmful, apparently one in six of the mental health professionals surveyed in a recent poll in the UK said that they had ‘helped at least one patient curtail their gay, lesbian or bisexual feelings’ and one in 25 would try to ‘treat’ someone with homosexual ‘emotions’.
That’s a big percentage.
Maybe they are starting a trend. Maybe they will launch a pill.
I can see the adverts: ‘Tired of being different? Now you can fit it with the jocks, the cheerleaders and the conservative Christian right! Yes you can. You can try lobotomy or our new revolutionary Straight Pill – available at pharmacies near you’.

No, I don’t think this is funny either.
If licensed mental health professionals are trying to ‘cure’ sexual preference then it’s a matter of time before an angry mob bearing pitchforks comes to my door and drags me away to be burnt at the stake for witchcraft – what with my opinions and the people I hang out with.

Professor Michael King, from University College London, denounced any such attempts to cure homosexuality as scientifically unfounded and potentially harmful. His statement was countered by someone who refused to be named (the KKK also wore hoods to conceal their faces) who claimed that many a gay person is unhappy with their sexuality and ‘wish they were heterosexual’ and thus deserve help.
Professor King of course puts this proposition on its head, noting that many people face prejudice against their sexuality both from society and from within themselves – because you can’t shake your upbringing as easily as you’d like – and the mental health practitioner’s job is to help the individual deal with and overcome this prejudice, wherever it comes from.
As I was saying, when ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ collide the socially-fabricated and collectively-upheld normality wins over nature every bloody time.

And so ‘normality’ is shoved down our throats, with a lab-coat and stethoscope screaming from afar ‘when society and science converge, there is no use resisting’.
Now you may say, 1 in 25 practitioners being tempted to ‘cure’ homosexuality is not that bad, statistically speaking. But I really hope you won’t say that. Because one is one too many.
Besides, if a few sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy are believed to cure homosexuality, it is a matter of time before we hear of pills for atheism, syrups for liberalism and an enema to cure trade unionism.

This is not the first time doctors help us to be 'normal'.
This is not the first time scientists opt for upholding 'normality' and corresponding relations of power and control.
'Normal' has by definition strenght in numbers. 'Normal' lives, by definition, in the mainstream. What was once done in Churches is now done through chat shows, socio-babble jargon, websites. But a witch-hunt is a witch-hunt even with a .com at the end of it. And this wouldn’t be the first time the bad guys wore lab coats either.

And although the numbers are low (1 in 6 have done it, 1 in 25 would do it), the numbers are too high. And until the profession purges itself, there is a collective reponsibility no-one can deny. And until 'normal' aligns itself with 'natural', I will have cause to rant. This anger may be not be natural but, given the world I live in, let's face it: it's normal.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Economic crisis made in Greece.

If I hear one more Greek in Greece bemoan the credit crunch I may have to fly over to hit them on the head with something heavy. A volume of ‘Economics for Dummies’ may be a good idea.
Why the urge for violence? You ask.
Am I doubting Greece is facing an intense economic crisis? No. Of course I’m not. Greece is in the midst of an intense economic crisis with a financial and fiscal crisis to boot. By there is no credit crunch. Not yet and not for a good reason: Greece is not a global financial hub. The credit crunch has not affected Greece. Not yet, not as such. The Greek crisis is at the heart of government, in the local market and in every household.
Leave American bankers and British traders out of it, guys, this is one of ours.

Yes, there is less money sloshing about the Greek market and there is less money going into the state coffers in the form of taxation. But you can’t blame it on the credit crunch.
Of course the flow of international capital into Greece is affected by the global crisis. And the knock-on trade melt-down has affected us all – although the real effect has been on the shipping sector and not on agricultural producers. Besides, as the agricultural crisis can be blamed on government mismanagement of European directives; and as the shipping sector is tax-exempt, all this can’t be blamed for the crisis either.
Neither can we blame the December riots for the crisis. Undoubtedly businesses were lost or damaged but statistically the destruction was not widespread enough to create a financial downturn. And, no, the strikes can’t be blamed either. They don’t help output and they don’t help consumer confidence. But strikes are usually the results of a crisis, not its harbingers.

The global crisis started in the private sector, it started in the moneymaking backyards of big corporates. Not so in Greece.

The government are still trying to put a positive spin on things – despite the prime minister being so very tired, poor thing. They try to argue Greece is faring well, comparatively, but the fact is Greece is weathering a different storm to the rest of the world and the government, rather than being our valiant captains, are part of the problem.

Der Spiegel ran a most depressing article listing small and medium-sized Greek businesses that are packing up and closing down, not because of the credit crunch, not because of the global fiscal crisis, but because the government owes them too much money for them to stay afloat. Yes you read it right, unpaid bills in the millions of euros to suppliers of medical equipment – a total debt across the business of 800 million euros and bills remaining unpaid for over four years.
Businesses that should be recession-proof are closing down, courtesy of the government. Of course there are reasons for this delay in payments and these reasons are built into the system, but even with those taken into account, the delays suffered and amounts outstanding are outrageous even for Greece. Plus banks are not playing ball any more and the business that had traditionally financed the wait with loans can no longer do so.

Can’t the government help?
As I said, they are part of the problem as the banks are not afraid the medical suppliers can’t pay up. They are afraid the government can’t pay the medical suppliers.

So the government is taxing like mad and not paying up.
In many ways, what’s new?
Well, the extent of the badness is new. The numbers are new. Even higher unemployment. Even higher costs of living. Even higher taxes.
And in the midst of it all government secretary general of information Panos Livadas announces Greece’s triumph where the global economies have failed, describing the Greek economy as ‘indestructible’ on the strength of the fact that the cafés are full of customers.
Because sales figures for espresso are how you assess the robustness of an economy.

Meanwhile people are sinking into debt; qualified and unqualified, skilled and unskilled workers alike fail to find work, spending savings, cutting spending, living in poverty. But Mr Livadas is right. This is not the credit crunch. This is a crisis of biblical proportions made in Greece.

Now Mr Livadas keeps quoting growth figures. While people can’t make ends meet.
The banking sector is sound, he says.
So what? No credit crunch does not mean no crisis and what good is escaping the global tidal wave if everyone is being crunched regardless, courtesy of home-grown deficits and deficiencies?

Greece’s national deficit has exceeded the euro zone limit of 3% three years in a row and counting. Meanwhile, and for comedy’s sake, the government is steeped in financial scandals of all hues and varieties including, my favourites, the ones including the Lords’ Lambs, the Orthodox Church – from the Vatopedi land sales to the bishops of Thermopylae and Velestino’s appropriation of 13 million Euros worth of charity money. And the state’s response to all this: the silence of the lambs with dirty hands.

Greece owes 94% of its GDP according to Der Spiegel. Europe practically owns us. Not a very sound investment on their part but I guess they see us as a fixer-upper. Provided the current tenants move out. Because until they do, Greece will retain the lowest credit rating in Europe.

So: corruption in the public sector, bankrupt pension funds, underemployment, unemployment and rising taxes. No wonder the Prime Minister is tired. Inheriting chaos and making it worse must be hard work indeed. Wait till the global recession hits Greece, we won’t be able to get him out of bed he’ll be so exhausted.

So the world is floundering and so is Greece.
But don’t let them fool you. The world’s problems are not at our doorstep yet. As the summer nears, dipping tourism figures will bring the global crisis home to roost. Greek investment in Eastern Europe will also soon be in danger.
But things are bad already. Without the credit crunch.
And although the credit crunch will come to our corner of the world sooner or later, merging with our own troubles and magnifying our woes, don’t let them fool you: this one is a crisis made in Greece.