Friday, 28 August 2015

The human face of the migrants we choose to dehumanise.

Over the past few months there have been increasing numbers of stories in the news about the migrants at Calais who are attempting to come to Britain through the Channel tunnel.  There has been increasing footage of refugees attempting to gain access to lorries, or storming the fences at the entrance of the tunnel in the hopes of being able to come here  to claim asylum.  

And with the footage there has been increased amounts of criticism, of the government for "making Britain a desirable place to come to," of the French police for not doing more to prevent refugees from coming over the border, and mostly the refugees themselves for daring to try to escape from circumstances which most of us cannot even imagine, and to risk their lives and those of their children, in order to find a safe and better life for themselves in a European country.  


Even the BBC received a number of complaints for filming a make-shift church in the Calais refugee camp for Songs of Praise, because it showed the refugees as being too human for some elements of the media to want to contemplate.  

As a society we have reduced human beings to animals in order to justify the hatred of them.  

But in the past week the news has covered a different angle to the migrant crisis.  Earlier this week around 200 refugees were thought to have drowned when two boats sank off the coast of Libya, and on Thursday there were shocking reports of the discovery of 71 bodies of what are thought to be Syrian refugees in a refrigeration truck in Austria.  And suddenly society is in shock, and asking why we are not doing more to prevent these tragic deaths, and why traffickers are able to exploit the desperation of people who are prepared to climb into a lorry with their children, and allow themselves to be sealed inside, not knowing whether they will actually ever make it to their intended destination.  


But we seem to have a double standard  approach to all this.  We can sympathise with the plight of people drowning off the coast of Libya, and the idea of people suffocating in a truck in Austria is abhorrent.  But those things have happened somewhere else, and as such we find ourselves empathising with what they have gone through.  And yet for every boat which sinks off the coast of Libya there are hundreds more which make it to the other side, and for every death in a lorry there will be hundreds more people who make it through alive, and some of those will inevitably end up in the refugee camps of Calais, where they will hope to make it across the border into Britain.  

The people of Calais who we as a society have dehumanised all started their journeys on boats like the ones in Libya, or lorries such as the one in Austria.  A different boat, a different lorry, and any one of the dehumanised refugees of Calais could be one of the mourned dead of Libya or Austria.  

In order to gain the empathy of our society it seems that people have to die, but daring to live, to make it through the harshest, most unimaginable conditions means that instead of deserving of empathy for where they have come from, these people are now seen as a  scourge on our society, a threat to our jobs, houses and benefits.  

I can't help wondering whether people would still be expressing upset and shock if the Austrian lorry had instead been discovered in Dover, or whether people would actually identify the people they may have seen on a news broadcast running towards the tunnel as the same people who could lose their lives on the back of a lorry they might hope to gain access to.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Why would you want Christian Grey as your valentine?

This weekend is valentines.  And along with all the romance this brings, we will also see the release of the film 50 Shades of Grey.  

100 million women bought and digested the books, and it is anticipated that they will be going to see the film in their droves, to watch as 21 year old Anastasia is swept off her feet by the rich, handsome, and incredibly controlling and manipulative Christian Grey.  Romantic?  apparently some people seem to think so.  But leading women's abuse charities have begun a campaign to encourage women to boycott this film as it is seen by them as normalising domestic abuse.  

So let's give a bit of background for those who have not read the books.  

Ana is a 21 year old student who agrees to interview prominent and influential businessman Christian Grey on behalf of a friend who is ill and needs the interview as part of her university dissertation.  Ana is in awe of the fact she will be interviewing Grey.  He is well known, he is attractive, and he is extremely rich.  

From the outset it seems clear that Christian Grey is a man who is used to getting what he wants, and from the beginning it is evident that he wants Ana.  

So, having interviewed him, Ana goes back to her life as a student, and as an assistant in a hardware shop, and just days later christian Grey appears at her till, where he has bought a variety of products, rope, cable ties, and some kind of tape.  Well it is a hardware store after all.  The fact he actually lives hours away is seemingly inconsequential, and over the coming days and nights he seeks to sweep Ana off her feet, by firstly rescuing her from the advances of a male friend after she had had too much to drink, taking her back to his hotel where he in true gentleman style does not take advantage of her, and then whisking her off to his flat by private plane for a nice dinner.  

So far, so romantic.  After all, Christian Grey is extremely powerful, he could choose any woman, and yet he has chosen Ana.  

This could be the beginning of a beautiful love story.  One where man meets woman, where they discover themselves and each other, and where their relationship grows as they get to know each other.  

Except that the next morning Christian Grey presents Ana with a contract.  A contract in which she must agree to be his submissive and he her dominant, where she will agree to wear the clothes he specifies, eat the food he tells her, and most importantly, submit to him in every other way.  Before she signs the contract he first takes her to see his playroom.  A room in his apartment which is full of the various whips, chains, handcuffs, and other implements used as part of the submissive/dominant relationship.  

I won't go into too much more detail, other than to say that throughout the course of the book it appears that Ana and Grey are actually falling in love.  However the story is littered with instances of where he takes absolute control of her life, and where the term consent appears to have very little meaning.  She can say no to anything, of course, but when she does she's told that actually, she can't.  And throughout the trilogy, Ana decides that actually, this isn't the relationship she wants, so she makes a stand and lets it be known what she wants, and  in the end, love conquers all and Christian Grey changes into the man Ana wanted him to be.  , leaving the message that if a relationship is controlling and abusive in the beginning that can change as long as you stick around.  

Now it would be a bit simplistic to suggest that a film alone mmight be able to influence people into entering into, or staying in abusive relationships believing that it's normal to be treated like that.  However it is also true to say that we are influenced by what we see in the media on an every day basis.  

Many, many women stay in abusive relationships believing that their abuser could change, because even abusers have  a nice side to their personalities, something which attracts their victims to them, so if Christian Grey is portrayed as a generally nice guy who has a bit of a past which explains his attitude towards women, but who dictates to his girlfriend where she can go, who she can see, what she can eat and how the rest of their relationship should be conducted and he can change, then surely it stands to reason that any man can change?

But this is a fantasy.  Most abusers do not change.  I won't go so far as to say they can't because with the right kind of therapy anyone should be able to change.  But I think it's fair to say that most abusers do not change, and for most victims of abuse the only way they can gain control is by leaving the abuser.  

50 shades is of course not marketed as a film depicting an abusive relationship.  It has been marketed as a romantic film which leads someone into the world of BDSM.  But we have heard from critics that it is not an accurate portrayal of BDSM, and as such, the behaviors exhibited in the book are those of a controlling and abusive man rather than one who has absolute respect for his partner.  

But perhaps the question would simply be why?  Why would you want to watch a film where a woman is dominated and controlled in this way and dress it up as romance?  Why would anyone want to fantasise about having a Christian Grey type in their life?  A lot of films are pure escapism from life, and of course most don't depict reality.  But surely escapism should be something positive and uplifting, or even if it's negative such as a drama or thriller, something with a  positive ending where the killer gets what they deserve.  But why would anyone want to escape into the realms of fantasy where someone is essentially taken from her world of innocence and thrown into one of sadistic control?  

It's not a thriller or a drama, neither is it particularly romantic, so what is it then?  

And if none of those are good enough reasons not to watch, then surely the fact that the books were so spectacularly badly written are good enough reason not to want to watch them played out on screen?  

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

three person babies - do we have the right to play God?


Today MP’s voted in favour of allowing the UK to become the first country to create babies using two women and one man.  The procedure is aimed towards being able to create babies who are free from mitochondrial disease, a devastating genetic condition which results in death. 

 

In this procedure, the mitochondria will be removed from the egg of the woman who carries the condition, and replaced with the mitochondria from the egg of a donor woman, thus resulting in a baby which will be genetically related to three people.

 

For me this brings up several issues.  The first is the deeply emotive possibility of being able to ensure that a baby does not carry a genetic condition from which he or she will almost certainly die, or being born a carrier of a condition which might be passed to future generations. 

 

Eradicating disability is controversial, because those who have a disability often see this as society’s desire too eliminate people like them from existence.  However choosing to have a baby knowing that it might carry a genetic condition and thus could be born with a disability is one which most people do not take lightly.  When the condition in question is one which will ultimately result in early death many parents opt to not have a baby at all rather than go through the process of falling pregnant and the subsequent heartbreak of losing their child. 

 

It is therefore understandable that parents would want to have a baby that did not carry such a devastating condition, not only for themselves, but because no parent willingly wants to put their child through any kind of pain and much less an agonising early death. 

 

However the other issue that this procedure raises is one of moral and ethical concern.  In order to create an embrio free from mitochondrial disorder that baby will in effect be related to three people, rather than two.  And while it has been confirmed that no character traits of the third person will be transferred to the baby, there is no escaping the fact that we are tampering with the laws of nature in order to create a baby free from a disease.

 

I’ve heard arguments that every time we treat an illness, create a vaccine, invent a new medical treatment we are tampering with nature.  But this is different.  This is creating life at the very beginning, interfering with the common building blocks of life by creating a baby from not two parents as nature intended, but three.  Regardless of the fact that there are currently no physical or personality traits involved in this process, we are none the less re-defining the process of procreation.

 

And once you start down this route, where does it end?  People talk of designer babies, a term which I personally do not like, however it is surely only a matter of time before a process designed to eradicate certain conditions will be open to misuse.   

 

We already have procedures to eliminate certain disabilities through a process called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (pgd), whereby embrio’s carrying certain conditions are discarded during an IVF cycle, and only those embrio’s which do not carry the condition are implanted back into the uterus.  This process is already being used in other countries such as Spain and Cyprus to allow parents to select the gender of their baby, so the “designer” possibility has already begun to be a reality.

 

And what of the future?  This treatment is still in its inphancy, and so it is therefore not possible to know what will happen in the future with regards to an adult who has three genetic links having children of their own.  By the time the ramifications of this treatment become truly known, those who pioneered it may no longer be around, and we will face the possibility of genetically modified adults having to face a whole new problem with conditions related to genetic modification which cannot become known until they emerge, by which time genetic modification will not be able to be undone. 

 

Most of us wouldn’t want to buy genetically modified products in the supermarket, so why are we so on board with creating genetically modified human beings? 

 

The reasons for doing so are of course emotional, and I can of course only sympathise with anyone who has been through the loss of a child due to a genetic condition which could in future be iradicated.

 

But while I think it is possible to marvel at what can be achieved through science, I also think that sometimes, just because something can be done, doesn’t mean that it should.