Graphic and explicit

16 September 2008
Only in en
New Humanist watches the Religious Right get passionate about sex; Sens Public reads up on the US elections; Blätter stares into the abyss of prevention; Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) calls CCTV a fiasco; Dilema veche sees welfare go to the dogs; Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) slates EU immigration policies; Ny Tid reports on a new edition of diplo; Arena describes the dark sides of Scandinavian social engineering; Revolver Revue worries about mass media and memory; and Merkur satisfies our curiosity.

New Humanist 5 (2008)

Having condemned hyper-sexualized culture, the American religious Right is now wildly pro-sex, as long as it is marital sex, writes New York-based professor of history Dagmar Herzog in New Humanist. “Evangelical conservatives in particular have begun not only to rail against the evils of sexual misery within marriage (and the way far too many wives feel like not much more than sperm depots for insensitive, emotionally absent husbands), but also, in the most graphically detailed, explicit terms, to eulogise about the prospect of ecstasy.”

On a wider scale, Christian conservatives are replacing the language of morality with the secular notion of self-esteem, and in this way repression finds its way back onto school curricula – to the detriment of girls and women in particular, warns Herzog. “We are living through an assault on female sexual independence.”

Intelligent Design: Philosopher AC Grayling ruthlessly dissects Steve Fuller’s new defence of Intelligent Design, Dissent over descent, which he calls “300 pages of wasted forest […] whose one saving grace is that, by default, it drives another nail in the ID coffin”. Meanwhile Fuller has answered on the New Humanist website, accusing Grayling of not having read the book. The fact that neo-Darwinism is today presumed to be more plausible than Intelligent Design “reflects little more than a bias in favour of the scientific orthodoxy, whose relationship to the beliefs of rank-and-file trained scientists we simply do not know”, writes Fuller, who finds this situation “both politically and epistemologically abhorrent”. The debate continues.

Also to look out for: In conversation, American philosopher Ron Aronson claims that morality makes no sense without politics; and Caroline Moorehead reviews what she finds an impressive series of books on censorship: “Manifestos for the 21st century”. “That the press, books, films and art must all have the right to impart information and ideas is beyond question. But the public has rights too, and these include those of not being offended, shocked, disturbed or even endangered. It is the balance between the two that is hard to find.”

The full table of contents of New Humanist 5 (2008).

Sens public

As the US presidential campaign enters its final stage, French web journal Sens Public is publishing weekly reviews of books shaping US politics today. Niels Planel reviews two books: one about the right, one about the left. Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam’s Grand New Party argues for a moderate conservatism to appeal to the working classes, while Matt Bai’s The Argument looks at the dispute within the Democratic party between progressive activists and the party machine.

Douthat and Salam dream of creating for the Republicans a grand coalition like that of Democratic president Franklin Roosevelt, the last leader to thoroughly dominate US politics. After Roosevelt, they note, voters have been almost evenly divided between the Republicans and the Democrats. Grand New Party argues that the working class is the key group of floating voters and is up for grabs for whichever party finds the right strategy.

Their plan is fundamentally centrist, writes Planel. Douthat and Salam are part of a new generation of Republican strategists keen to ditch their party’s ideological baggage and focus instead on social services and family morality. The similarity to the European Christian Democratic model is striking – although the authors, sharing the Republican distaste for Europe, would presumably dislike such a comparison.

In Matt Bai’s The Argument, Planel sees first and foremost a story about the internal politics of the Democrats. The old party elites now find themselves besieged by a ragged coalition of progressive online activists – the so-called “Netroots”. Together with a network of leftwing thinktanks funded by wealthy individuals such as George Soros, the Netroots are close to overwhelming the traditional centre of the party. Barack Obama’s victory in the primaries is in part another triumph of the new powers among the Democrats, concludes Planel.

More about Sens Public

Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 9/2008

In Germany CCTV is mostly privately operated, with anything between 400 000 and three million cameras installed in public places. Yet, as with data retained for six months by telecommunications service providers (a legal obligation since the beginning of 2008), police can draw on privately obtained footage. And while in February 2008 the constitutional court overturned a law that would have allowed police to conduct online searches of PCs, it seems that Germany, despite its historically rooted opposition to data collection by the state, is going the way of the UK and the US.

“A fundamental alteration” is taking place in Germany in the relation between state and citizen, writes Heribert Prantl, lawyer and editor of the Süddeutsche Zeitung. “Every citizen that employs the usual means of communication in order to access and exchange information, and thus to participate in social life, is now an object of state access.” On the basis of the principle “whoever has nothing to fear has nothing to hide”, the law is shifting from the paradigm of punishment to one of prevention. This apparently faultless policy conceals an “abyss” of indeterminacy, writes Prantl:

“Preventative logic is expansive: whoever wants to prevent never knows enough. Hence the state, in the name of security, will want to know about more and more – and, in order to be at the scene of the crime before the offender, will make ever greater inroads into the private sphere; in order to intervene before the thought has become a deed, even before the thought has become manifest; […] in order to make the offender atone not for the crime that has been committed, but for that which has been prevented.”

Forty years of feminism: It was in 1968 that the feminist group “Aktionsrat zur Befreiung der Frau” (Action group for woman’s liberation) broke onto the male-dominated scene of the German extra-parliamentary opposition with a well-aimed tomato and demands for anti-authoritarian child day-care centres. Forty years on, Stefanie Ehmsen reviews German feminism’s march through the institutions and concludes: women are still only halfway to a half of heaven.

The full table of contents of Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 9/2008

Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 9/2008

The controversy over the Edvige database has revealed the extent of opposition to data collection and surveillance in France. A major worry is that data systems may not be secure against attacks by hackers. Yet hackers can be instrumental in forcing innovations in the way data is processed and drawing attention to weaknesses in the system, writes Jean-Marc Manach in Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin). “While control and surveillance technologies are becoming ever more sophisticated, hackers show the world how vulnerable these technologies are and how much they endanger freedom.”

In the UK there is one surveillance camera to every fourteen residents – yet the effectiveness of CCTV is more than dubious, writes Noé Leblanc. Studies have been unable to ascertain a relation between the success rate of criminal investigations and the number of cameras installed in public spaces. Reasons for this could include the fact that there are significantly more cameras than there are monitors in the control rooms and that surveillance personnel are unable to concentrate on all images simultaneously. Far from being the new “Big Brother”, concludes Leblanc, public CCTV is a fiasco.

Migration: In Romania, a generation of orphans is growing up while their parents work in Italy and Spain. Keno Verseck describes how common this situation is – and how hopeless for the children. Most labour migrants are poorly educated and belonged to the unskilled labouring class during the Ceauscescu era. Now able to earn up to six times what they would at home, parents want to give their children the chance of a better life. However their absence is having a negative psychological effect on those in whose interests they are acting.

“The black hole of Europe”: Jean-Arnault Dérens on Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country in which politicians are no longer concerned with ideology and nationalism but with money, a country that is increasingly being seen as impossible to reform.

The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique (Berlin) 9/2008

Dilema veche 237 (2008)

New Eurozine partner journal Dilema veche is concerned with the shifting states of human and animal welfare. Back in 1876, dogs in Romania were seen as little more than a menace, writes Andrei Plesu. With Romania’s entry into EU, dogs too have become “Europeans” and their wellbeing an issue of state concern.

Anything to do with dogs is now discussed in terms of animal welfare and legal rights. Soon, says Plesu, an expression like “bad dog” may be forbidden and seen as discriminatory, possibly to the detriment of the state’s concern for the country’s human inhabitants.

Welfare: While the rights of dogs are raised to EU-standard, the Romanian social welfare system is in tatters. It is managed by a variety of self serving agents and control divisions that pay little heed to the needs of the people they are supposed to look after. Stela Giurgeanu outlines the state of affairs for those who rely on the system for their survival.

Wheels of desire: As in most countries, in Romania the car has become more than a vehicle for transporting people from A to B. Especially in the major cities, the desire to show off is causing problems and leading to traffic jams, illegal car races, and accidents. Mircea Vasilescu writes about the negative aspects of the culture of big boys with big toys.

The full table of contents of Dilema veche 234-237 (2008)

Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) 9/2008

Europe represents the promised land to many Africans. From countries such as Morocco, Western Sahara, Mali, and as far south as Senegal, people head for the Spanish Canary Islands in fishing boats barely suited to the journey. They dream of a better life, education for their children, an end to suffering, writes Zoé Lamazou for Le Monde diplomatique.

But the EU is intensifying its efforts to discourage Africans from making the precarious journey to Europe. In order to prevent potential immigrants from coming too close, detention centres have been set up in transit countries, from where illegal immigrants are returned to their countries of origin. In Nouadhibou in Mauritania, the locals call their centre Guantánamo.

But the draconian measures and casualties of the policies carried out by the European watchdog Frontex are not enough to deter the dreamers. Those determined to go focus on the stories told by ones who made it, and not on the dead bodies washed up on the beaches of Africa. When asked, Aïssata from Guinea replied pragmatically: “You know, you have the choice between suffering or dying.”

Invisible refugees: Since the outbreak of war in Iraq in 2003, there are now more than two million internal refugees, writes Theodor Gustavsberg. The UN estimates that an equal number has had to sell all and leave the country, and a large number of those have ended up in Syria. But in Syria, the Iraqis are not considered refugees and there is no onward journey available, since western countries are less than eager to receive Iraqi refugees. One refugee illustrated his fear: “Now that we have lost everything in Iraq and the western countries won’t receive us, what is to become of us?”

Also: Niels Kadritzke on the efforts to unify Greek and Turkish Cyprus; Pierre Nora in conversation with Jonathan Littell about his book Les Bienveillants in connection with the publication of the Norwegian translation (De velvillige); and Truls Lie interviews Jørgen Leth on his career as one of the greatest filmmakers in the Nordic countries and why he left Denmark for Haiti.

The full table of contents of Le Monde diplomatique (Oslo) 9/2008

Ny Tid 37-38/2008

Finland-Swedish Ny Tid reports that Le Monde diplomatique will get a Swedish edition. About a decade ago, attempts were made to establish the prestigious journal in Sweden, but the project was cancelled after only a few years and the journal, that contained articles written in Norwegian, Danish and Swedish, moved to Norway.

“The Swedes are too lazy”, says Otto Bruun and Arvi Särkele, the new editors, commenting on the fate of the Nordic edition. “They can’t cope with texts in Norwegian or Danish. The Nordic idea simply does not work in Sweden.” Even though the competition from similar magazines is much tougher in Sweden than in the other Nordic countries, Bruun and Särkelä are confident that the Swedish edition has come to stay this time.

The journal will be published in book format by the Ordfront publishing house. “A little bit like those Donald Duck paperbacks, but for socially engaged adults.”

Also: A series of articles on Finland aims to explain to the ignorant and lazy Swedes what their neighbours are like. Finland-Swedish writer Lars Sund claims that the similarities between Sweden and Finland are bigger than most people (“especially in Finland”) would like to acknowledge. But after 600 years of common history, the two countries have grown apart since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the EU membership: “Fins have learned that they no longer has to copy everything Swedish. On the contrary, today Swedes often point to Finland as a model when it comes to the school system or energy policy.”

More about Ny Tid

Arena 4/2008

In the 1990s, Norway and Sweden were heavily criticized after it was revealed that sterilizations had been routinely performed by the state as an instrument of social policy up until the 1970s (see for example Siri Haavie‘s 2003 article from Samtiden). Now it turns out that the policy of forced sterilization was not confined to these countries. The ideas were exported to India, where hundreds of thousands of women were sterilized within the framework of projects funded by Sweden and Norway aiming to defuse the “population bomb”.

In Swedish Arena, Norwegian journalist Grete Gaulin describes this dark chapter of Scandinavian social engineering and international engagement. “The Indian Ministry of Health and Family applied a financial model according to which subsidies paid to hospitals stood in direct relation to the number of sterilizations per bed and year. In one single month in 1970, 60 000 people were sterilized in Kerala […]. This was soon to be topped by Gujarat, where 223 000 sterilizations were carried out in two months.”

Virtual democracy: Online games are developing into complex social spaces engaging millions of people. Anders Rydell notes that calls for social rights and freedom of expression applying to these spaces are getting louder by the minute. Users are now also starting to protest against the presence of multinational companies in the virtual world. Recently, “two bombs exploded outside American Apparel’s and Reebok’s stores in Second Life. Responsible for the attacks was a group called SLLA (Second Life Liberation Army). Their message was simple: ‘Establish basic political rights for avatars within Second Life’.”

Also to look out for: Mattias Gardell describes how the Bush administration has turned torture from a secret operation into open policy; Mattias Hagberg collects all garbage he and his family produce, weighs it and follows it around the world to Ghana; and a themed section on the future of labour unions.

The full table of contents of Arena 4/2008

Revolver Revue 71 (2008)

In Czech Revolver Revue, Zdenek Vasicek speculates on how the media’s exponential growth has affected memory. With an ever greater volume of increasingly uninteresting information, “it is no wonder that mass media look to the past. […] The production of and trade in memory is thriving. Historians are obliging; the bookshops are overflowing with adventurous, melodramatic, and exotic works of history. Where normal history is not enough, counterfactual history enters.”

“A very profitable approach is one where memory is manipulated by those who have no personal memories of their own, members of the second and third generations who are settling accounts with the first generation. That has been the case with the French and the occupation, the Spanish and the civil war, the Germans and Nazism. In central Europe this shift is just about to come. We are likely to witness not only the crime of denying the Gulag, but also a law declaring that Communism, like French colonialism, had its good sides.”

Cultural history: Dmitri Zakharine analyzes perceptions of cleanliness and “taboos on touching” among Czechs, Germans, Ukrainians, and Russians: “The number of young Czech women who wore a nightshirt, panties or pyjamas belonging to their mothers or sisters is almost double the number of German women. Data shows that Czech female students used to sleep in the same bed with their mothers or brothers and sisters far more often than Russian, Ukrainian, and German girls. But sharing a bed with a girlfriend is most common among German girls.”

Also: Roman Laube’s series on nonconformist youth movements in the former socialist countries continues with a focus on Soviet Russia and Ukraine.

The full table of contents of Revolver Revue 71 (2008)

Merkur 9-10/2008

Merkur dedicates its annual special issue to the concept of curiosity in European thought. “Just as curiosity (Neugier) is an anthropological universal, so desire for the new (Gier nach dem Neuen) can be banished only at the price of intellectual modesty,” write editors Karl-Heinz Bohrer and Kurt Scheel. “Progress might be always smaller than it looks, as Nestroy said – yet the principle of the new has not lost its currency, especially given contemporary religious and ecological piousness.”

The end of risk society? “In the immediate post-war years, the modern was seen as an aesthetic, social, and technological-industrial project. Sometime in the mid-1970s, that faith was lost”, writes Jörg Lau, editor for Die Zeit. The view of risk as the defining moment of modern society, which arose from the environmental debate of the 1970s and 80s, meant that “whoever distrusted science could, in the risk society, feel justified a priori – Ulrich Beck gave the political culture of fear its sociological sanctification.”

“Today, however, risk society itself is seen as suspicious. The catalysts for this process are the economic crisis, climate change, and energy scarcity. Some treat this as an opportunity to dispose of old enemies: We can no longer afford this hesitance! Enough of this tiresome eco-hysteria! The fact that we have ecologists’ persistence to thank for the high safety standards of nuclear reactors or dioxine-free waste incineration no longer fits the picture.”

Also: Media theorist Norbert Bolz on technology as the “prosthetic God” and the “legitimacy of innovation”: “A culture of fear is meant to humanize the scientific and technological knowledge of the present day. Fear becomes a civic duty – no longer the fear of God, but humankind’s fear of itself. […] Such thinking is an intellectual sickness that, due its ubiquity, is seen as the new form of intelligence.”

The full table of contents of Merkur 9-10/2008

Published 16 September 2008

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


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