Me and my memories
As a subscriber to LM and someone whose wife is severely disabled with CFS (ME), I feel duty bound to respond to Mike Fitzpatrick's book review ('The spirit of Salem goes global', September). His position on this illness is ill-considered, and simply mimics that of the psychiatric profession who have caused so much harm to sufferers.
It is shocking to find a Marxist claiming that it is useful to accept that CFS is 'hysteria', rather than striving to find a medical explanation for the symptoms. There is now hard evidence that CFS is an acquired immune system dysfunction. Take a look at the new medical data, or Suhadolnik's work showing the wide-ranging and devastating effects of the disruption to the RNasel anti-viral pathway in CFS sufferers.
Showalter's 'hysterical' explanation is no more than crude mysticism cloaked in psychiatric terminology. Psychiatry has a long and discreditable history of claiming unexplained illnesses as its own. Only a few decades ago, patients with multiple sclerosis or infantile paralysis (polio) were sent away to mental hospitals, diagnosed with 'hysterical paralysis'. TB was once considered a condition 'suffered by morose people of a poetic bent'. These outdated voices are lent support by Showalter. Her thesis fits in perfectly with the current anti-scientific ideological climate.
Mike Fitzpatrick is quite wrong to dismiss the memories of adults who were abused as children as merely a symptom of an anxious age. He quotes Mark Pendergrast's example of the Holocaust survivors who have never repressed memories of their experiences, as evidence against the possibility of such repression. Yet why should Marxists have such a problem with this phenomenon, when its key aspect revolves around the social acknowledgement of the experience? Whilst Holocaust survivors had their experiences confirmed by each other and by the vast majority of the rest of the world, abused children have only recently been able to rely on such acknowledgement.
Libby, the woman who was raped aged 16 and interviewed in the same issue of LM ('Aren't I allowed to be all right?', September), says: 'at the time all I wanted to do was pretend it hadn't happened.' Now imagine a younger child, whose attacker is her father, in a situation where the other members of the family refuse to acknowledge what has happened. What would she do other than deny the reality of the experience?
LM has correctly noted that it is not the scale of child sexual abuse which has increased in recent years, but the awareness of it. Where does Fitzpatrick think the people who were abused before the current awareness have gone to? Is he intelligent enough to see that they have grown into independent adults who for the first time have the opportunity to speak the truth? That the current awareness of child sexual abuse feeds into today's 'culture of fear' is a regrettable consequence of contemporary political circumstances. It does not alter the reality of that abuse.
Diana and the paparazzi
As in most European countries, Italy responded to the death of Princess Diana by rescheduling TV programmes and saturating the media. But the role of the photographers was of particular interest in the home of the paparazzi. The term paparazzi originates from Federico Fellini's film La Dolce Vita (1960) about a photographer, Signore Paparazzo; it has been widely used in Italy for decades to describe over-zealous photographers.
The liberal-left responded by blaming the paparazzi. However, they simultaneously acknowledged the responsibilities of their own media and readers. L' Unita, the socialist newspaper of the co-governing PDS, headed its front page of 1 September with 'Scusaci, principessa' (saying sorry using a form of address usually reserved for close friends). Those on the right have tended to be less critical of the media. Vittorio Feltri, editor of the centre-right newspaper Il Giornale called the 'Scusaci, principessa' article 'a nonsense because the facts prove the hypothesis of the drunk driver'.
Giuliano Ferrara, a member of Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing Forza Italia, wants to buy the pictures of Diana and Dodi dying and publish them in the magazine he edits, Panorama. He believes 'these pictures are too important to take them away from the readers'. But the publishing company which owns Panorama has refused to try to buy the pictures.
More widely there is a sentiment that the paparazzi and the media should reconsider their roles and exercise good taste. But there is a misconception that this kind of decency already prevails in Britain's broadsheets. Enrico Deaglio claims 'in Britain as in Italy there is an abundance of gossip tabloids, but then there is another category of journalism. This deals with serious matters and does not stab people in the back'. Perhaps Deaglio should have followed the Guardian campaign against Neil Hamilton, or the various broadsheet stories about the sex lives of bishops and invasions of killer insects.
Dominic and Laura Standish
At my workplace most of the deep shock and grief was saved for the untimely death of the Liverpool v Newcastle match. This game could have lived on and blossomed into something truly beautiful. As it is, I am left holding a wreath at the Shankly Gates. Surely the FA realises that football is not a matter of life and death; it is more important than that.
Abortion history repeats itself
Reading Beth Adams' article ('What's the problem with lunch break abortions?', September) I wondered what all the fuss is about. Back in 1978 the trades council, of which I was secretary, was approached by a gynaecologist from Tameside General Hospital, a Mr Goldthorpe, who complained that Manchester's chief constable James Anderton was preventing him from offering 'menstrual aspiration' - a simple form of early abortion 'carried out in the patient's dinner time'. Do we constantly have to re-fight earlier battles, just to keep in the same place?
Genes and intelligence
It would be interesting to hear Dr Stuart Derbyshire ('The sense we were born with?', July/August and LM-mail, September) explain what form of cognitive process is contained by a genetic factor and how this biological event is related to mental content. Does it occur maybe in the pineal gland? Or would it be more reasonable to suggest that cognitive processes are not divisible from their very social content. Derbyshire seems to acknowledge this difficulty but unfortunately resolves it by speculating that there is a genetic component to knowledge.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that, in his correlation of genetically influenced 'cognitive ability' with 'more traditional measures of excellence including academic and job performance', he is suggesting that there is some natural basis for these phenomena. Would he like to go further and suggest that the vast majority in dead-end jobs are there because they are not genetically up to scratch?
Perhaps he would like to consider that career and academic position tends to be the preserve of the privileged middle class, and that any relation to high IQ might suggest that this is also a result of the increased mobility and access that privilege brings. It is hardly surprising that this area is so heavily researched; what better defence of privilege can there be than that it is natural?
Stuart Derbyshire misses the point of James Heartfield's article ('A fool's errand', July/August). Not only is intelligence not a fixed or natural property, it is also qualitatively different from all physical characteristics. As a result, Heartfield argued, it is a 'category error' to look for the relationship of genes to intelligence. The two cannot have a relationship because human consciousness develops in opposition to the realm of instinct and predetermined behaviour. Babies lose even the most basic instincts that they are born with before they re-learn those skills and reactions. The development of physical skills (eg, balance, manual dexterity, eye focusing) may have an impact on the development of the personality, thereby indirectly affecting skills that are measured in IQ tests (which should not be equated with intelligence). But consciousness is a problem-solver which, like a universal Turing machine, starts as a blank sheet and only develops on-the-job.
Who cares about devolution?
If anyone was looking for a high-level public debate about Scottish devolution, the Edinburgh Book Festival would surely be the place to find it. In the event, Scotland - A New Dawn, was an engaging hour and a half with four relevant authors, but somehow a sense of frustration is never far from the surface in any discussion of devolution, and this was no exception.
While most Scots reportedly support a Scottish parliament, the real dynamic for devolution is coming from the political establishment. Westminster's lack of credibility, coupled with the new government's desire to reorganise welfare and other institutions, would seem to be more substantial factors than the Braveheart sentiment, in the creation of the Scottish parliament. If we begin by recognising this, we can drop the phantom liberation debate and get to grips with what is really happening in Scottish politics.
Paul Briggs (LM-mail, September) is right to say that the faults I found with the 'gay community' in my Pride piece ('Almost ashamed of Pride', July/August) are also shared by wider society. But my point was that in a sense the gay community had them first. Many of the ideas and prejudices most paralysing to the project of change can be traced back to the radical and liberationist circles of the 1970s and 1980s such as the women's and lesbian and gay movements.
Homosexuals tend to experience their difference from the mainstream in the highly privatised and individualised sphere of sexuality. It should not be surprising, then, that gay political expression has traditionally been individualistic, with the emphasis on coming out, reinventing your life, self-image and so on. And again, for both women and gay men the threat of violence from people likely to be more powerful than you is very much part of the experience of oppression. So it is not surprising that concerns about danger and safety became prominent in the organised liberation movements.
In the past few years similar conditions to those in which such concerns took root have come to prevail across wider society. Social life as a whole has become more individualised and privatised, and wider shifts in ideology have moved the threat of violence and other forms of physical danger into the spotlight of mainstream concern. At the same time many of those reared in the radical environment of the 1980s have become influential establishment figures. So ideas that first grew among certain sections of society have achieved a much wider currency.
None of this was inevitable: reactionary ideas that appear to correspond with people's experience can always be challenged with convincing alternative explanations. Individualist politics flourished in the liberation movements of the past, partly because the old Left failed abysmally in finding an adequate response to racism, sexism and homophobia. Today the whole of society is at an ideological impasse, with traditional alternatives to capitalist democracy discredited and with many erstwhile radicals and progressives now the strongest advocates of the new authoritarianism.
As to Andew Cox's questioning (LM-mail, September) why I bother turning up for Pride at all, well, as I said in my piece, it is a bit like Christmas. As an atheist and opponent of family values, I loathe the whole idea of Christmas, but like many who share my view, I often end up participating because those close to me do and it seems churlish, not to mention lonely, to leave oneself out. As it happens, this year I rather I enjoyed myself at Pride.
Des de Moor
NZ to LM
This is to inform readers of LM, especially in the Asia-Pacific area, of a new Marxist magazine produced in New Zealand. Revolution began publication in April and comes out every two months. It aims to examine contemporary trends from a Marxist perspective relevant to our times, rather than simply repeating the slogans of the 1930s.
The fourth issue (Oct/Nov 1997) is a special feature on the death of NZ politics which will look at the shift of all the political parties to the centre-ground, the rise of Maori nationalism, the remaking of NZ national identity, political correctness and social control, the demise of feminism as any sort of coherent social movement, and other trends here. Subscriptions to the US are $NZ39 (airmail), $33 (surface); to Europe $NZ42 (airmail), $36 (surface). Rates for Australia, Asia and the Pacific are available on request from Radical Media Collective, PO Box 513, Christchurch, New Zealand, or by e-mail: email@example.com
The what's NOT on guide
The what's NOT on guide is itself not on this month. This is because it would take an entire issue of LM to list what was taken off 'as a mark of respect' to Princess Diana.
Reproduced from LM issue 104, October 1997