Pornography – 13 Reasons Why Not

Next week we have our preview showing of a play we’ve been working on all year at the school, Sex and Sudoku, looking at the way easy access to pornography is reframing our notions of intimacy, and the widespread damage that is doing. The more I’ve talked to people about this, guidance counsellors, friends, researchers, the more the scale of the problem has become apparent. And yet, somehow, the public discussion remains politely muted and, I suspect, embarrassed.

The following document, 13 Reasons Why Not, was put together in preparation for the writing of a final  duologue in the piece, and represents, as best I  could express it, why our silence is no longer good enough, doing as it does such a grave disservice to our young people, who deserve to be guided with much more love and confidence towards a healthy and joyous expression of their sexuality. Excuse the switching point of views, in this case all part of the creative process.

13 Reasons Why Not:

1 Objectification

I want to say this to you, my friend. I want to say that you and I can not imagine what it is to be a woman. To be looked at before you are listened to, if you are listened to at all. To be judged not by the energy you bring to the world, but by the extent to which you are willing to submit to its will. To be taught from your first breath that your role in life is to make others happy, to resist always the urge to assert your own needs, your own point of view. To be dissected by the glance of a stranger, to be reduced to a mere collection of body parts, to have to choose every day, in every moment, between being seen as a prude or a whore, so that no matter what your response to the sexual, the world’s assessment of you will be made on exclusively sexual terms. And what you do, every time you visit this world of complete strangers reduced to flesh, arranged for your instant and fleeting pleasure, you say, I’m okay with this. I’m okay supporting this last enduring form of slavery, this casual dismissal of all that is good in my fellow human beings. I will not be the man who stands up for what is right, history will not count me amongst those who made a difference. Because right now, I’d rather just draw the blinds and play with myself, like some bad parody of primate at a zoo, dispirited, disconnected, disappearing ever inward. It says I’m okay looking past the human being because, for the shortest of moments it fills me with a sensation that is not unpleasant. And every time you seek to justify this habit of yours, you tell other people it’s okay to do the same. Pornography is wrong because objectification is wrong, because it takes one half of the human race and strips them of their humanity.
2 Abuse

The problem with pornography is that it is leading to abuse. Maybe not for every user in every circumstance, but that’s not an argument worth crediting. Because it increases the odds. Sex, in the end, is a private activity, and when two individuals engage with one another alone and out of the world’s sight, the only thing that keeps them safe is the steadfast and determined goodness of the one they are with. They are kept safe by the respect the other shows them, by the shared understanding that neither is a means to their end but rather, however it is they choose to be with one another, it must raise them up and not diminish. And none of this is easy. People feel vulnerable, and confused and frightened, because our shared discussion of and depiction of sexuality is a complete and embarrassing disaster. And in those moments, they will cling to the thing they know, they will paddle blindly to any hint of a life raft, and I’m saying, in a world where the only open discussion of sexuality is had by pornographers, they’re some pretty fucked life rafts. I’m saying, if you legitimise this shit, even if it has no impact upon your own behaviour, then you increase the danger for others, by increasing the opportunity and predilection for abuse, by increasing the odds that this will be their go-to reaction in moments of fear and awkwardness. By signposting most clearly the path away from restraint and respect, you are inviting us all along the road to abuse. And who gives you the right to do that?
3 The industry as evil

Pornography is not just a random collection of images created by our collective consciousness, it is the considered work of an industry interested only its own continued existence. There are no moral decisions made along the way, no considerations given to the harm of the user, nor the harm of those involved in its production. Indeed, it is the very act of harm that ensures its success, for it is by breaking the user, disconnecting him from the real world of connection and love and intimacy, sucking him into a mire of loneliness, shame and regret, that the industry creates the addict, coming back for more of the same, that they may feel worse about themselves, and more in need of temporary respite from their self loathing. Just as the fast food industry has no interest in providing us with nutrition, for it is precisely the sensation of being both over caloried and simultaneously malnourished that keeps us hungry for more, the pornography industry has no regard for the state of our emotional arteries. Look around you, it is not the healthy and the happy, the emotionally contented and self assured, that are this industry’s target. They look for the weak, the young and the fragile, and they break them into pieces that they may be more easily consumed. And that’s you, or if it isn’t yet, it will be. So man up and walk away, while you still can.

4 Loss of intimacy

This isn’t complicated. You get to choose how to express your sexuality. If you want to, you can aspire to the kind of connection that enriches your life, where your sexuality is an expression of your affection and appreciation and gob smacking gratitude for this bond you have formed with another human being. It can be about being honest and vulnerable and it’s hard work is the truth of it, getting to that place, but the rewards are a celebration of your shared humanity, the rewards are a place to be in a world, a place of comfort, and of pride. The reward allows the body to flourish, and the spirit too. Or you can do the easy thing, and reduce your sexuality to a mere function of the mechanical, a set of urges to be satisfied, responses to be experienced, images to be accessed in the name of arousal. Urges to be satisfied by strangers, or two dimensional abstractions. And it is a choice. One doesn’t get to turn a switch on and off, this moment intimacy, this moment pornography. The responses are not rationally chosen, rather they are conditioned over time. Continued mental physical association between the detached image and the aroused state in time becomes a block to experiencing proper intimacy. It becomes a block to flourishing in the company of others. It dehumanises it. The choice is ours.

5 Isolation, loss of connection

Loneliness isn’t the state of being alone, it is the state of being disconnected. What you want as a human being, what we all want, is to draw close to the other. You want to listen and to be listened to. You want to laugh, to celebrate, to share your dreams and your fears. You want the warmth of another’s embrace, and of their concern. That’s the prize, and it takes an effort. It’s hard work. It’s the hard work of learning to trust, of taking risks and of making sacrifices. In the normal course of the world, some of our urge to move close to people is motivated by the sexual impulse. People feel desire for others, they are attracted to them, they fall in love with them, and in this state they are compelled to take risks, to draw close and to make sacrifices. The sexual is embodied in the intimate, and the reward is closeness. The reward is secrets shared, burdens unloaded, impossible dreams made possible through co-operation and love. The reward too is security, the ability to relax into the self, secure in the knowledge that you are loved, and capable of loving. Sever these ties, turn the sexual urge instead into something the market can attend to, and just as the food industry has subverted our base desire for nourishment in a way that makes us sick and unsatisfied, taste and convenience without nutrition, so the pornography industry subverts the sexual desire, cutting it loose from the desire to know and be known, and attending only to the most urgent but ultimately least nourishing of our needs. Pornogrpahy, and the casualisation of sexuality, harms us, by misdirecting us towards the wrong solution to a problem we no longer understand.

6 Normalisation, legitimising of the extreme

No one’s arguing a slippery slope. It may well be true that all you’re consuming is mild by most standards, perhaps you might say that there has always been within art a tradition of sexualised aesthetic appreciation, that you are doing nothing more than admiring the naked form, and perhaps you can even argue legitimately that in terms of how you see the world, and interact with women, it no more poisons your relationship than the fact of watching grand designs poisons your relationship with your own home. That in some sense you are perfectly capable of distinguishing between the fantasy and the reality, in the same way that a child watching a violent cartoon is quite capable of abstracting the image from the world they inhabit (some interesting research on this, as an aside). And even if all of this is true, the fact is that the pornography industry exists along a continuum, and your patterns of consumption and your apologetics for the industry give it legitimacy. This indeed is the favourite cover of any industry that seeks to exploit, the hunting rifle becomes the cover for the military weaponry, as the middle class wine connoisseur is offered up as cover for the servicing of the needs of the violent alcoholic. Overpowered cars are sold as toys for the responsible user of track days but are marketed to over-testosteroned and inexperienced drivers. Every industry that makes its dollar from the exploitation of unhealthy over-consumption works very hard to ensure the existence of a visible population of moderate consumers, that the blame can be shifted from the product to the way it is consumed. And so the liberal instinct to support the moderate legitimises an industry which has no interest in moderation. That is the way industry works. The very fact that you do not consume extreme material makes you the perfect marketing tool for the extreme. You must take responsibility to the problem to which you are contributing, even if no immediate harm from your actions can be established.

7 Slow creep, death by a thousand cuts

It is an inescapable truth that part of the lure of pornography is the accessing of the forbidden. Part of the thrill of access, evidenced that this is indeed a largely private activity, is the fact that it is a departure from the publicly normal. One study of patterns of internet searches with regard to pornography shows a strong cultural pattern in terms of the types of material being sought, and these patterns reflect established taboos, or rather those things that sit just on the edge of taboos, that exploited within the culture for titillation. And here is the problem, the more a particular product is consumed, the more it becomes normalised, up until the point where it can eventually slip out of the hidden and into the mainstream. Yesterday’s pornography is indeed today’s mainstream television, and as such loses some of its power, having less of the power of the transgressive. In other words, why, having gone to the trouble of secretly accessing this material, often at considerable social risk, would you then seek out that which is already readily available publicly? There is therefore an internal progression to the development of pornographic material, and research suggests we are seeing this now with an increased tendency towards narratives of violence and coercion. The thrill of transgression becomes part of the addictive nature of the product and so in making the decision to consume, one steps not into a forbidden room, but rather onto a conveyor belt, moving always toward the more brutal and dehumanising. There is no such thing as soft pornography, for pornography is a shapeshifter by its nature.
8 Programming unhealthy responses

Perhaps you need to think about what it is you actually do when you look at pornography. This is not an anthropological study, nor is a simple escape into entertainment, in the manner of watching a comedy or listening to a piece of music might be. Men who watch pornography do it largely as a masturbational aid. This is using the images of strangers, engaged in acts presented in such a way as to specifically engage a physiological and sexual response. And it’s worth questioning why this might be necessary at all. What exactly is it about these images that replaces the simple act of touch, for example? And the answer is surely this, one is exploiting a pre-existing tendency for response to the visual, and to the narrative of the forbidden, and exploiting that purely because it suits those who would benefit from your consuming of their service. The visual is the most efficient transmission mechanism of a detached service, provided by people who have absolutely no interest in your well-being. And in using it, you train the visual response. Sexual response is not a pre-wired condition. It is engaged by the mechanism of narrative. A hand brushing casually against your own is not in itself a sexual act, nor does it provoke of itself a sexual response. Jostling into another’s body moving onto a crowded train, or backing accidentally into a stranger at the supermarket, these are not arousing. Yet, the lightest touch of another’s finger against your own, when there exists between you the possibility of a connection, as yet unspoken, the breathlessly held future a tingle between you, is electric. Where does this difference come from then, for two events that are in terms of sensory information identical, yet in terms of sexual response, could not be more removed? The answer is narrative, and trained response. And pornography both provides and trains a narrative, that of arousal as the result of explicitly sexual visuals. Pornography no more presents sex than movie fighting represents violence. In both cases what is presented is an artfully conceived caricature, designed to maximally present the stimuli that will evoke the audience response. Sex moves from an activity of inherent closeness, where the biological details are by nature inaccessible to the camera, to something altogether more abstracted. The obsession with presentation of mechanics and body parts then creates a conditioned response not to sex, but to body parts, disembodied and disconnected, devoid of personality or narrative. And, through repeated exposure coupled with arousal and release, you create in an entire population not just an association with, but a reliance upon, the visual.  In time, sexual stimulation becomes dependent upon this form of removal and disembodiment, and so sexual activity itself becomes insufficient for arousal, and the user visits upon their partner a vision of disconnection. It is to just that the partner goes unloved, and both are deprived of loving connection. It is the partner is subjected to a process by which they are reduced and dehumanised. And this by the person they have chosen to love. It is a devastating thing to visit upon those who in their goodness choose to trust us.

9 Pornography as educator

The problem of pornography is not just that it represents an important voice on the nature of sexuality, but rather that it often represents the only voice. Young people don’t know what to expect of sex. It is a minefield of unwieldy physiological responses, psychological fragilities, social expectations and hidden rules, not to mention the mechanics themselves. All of this takes a lot of negotiating and getting used to, and in its formative stages is frequently awkward and frankly disappointing. It’s hardly the only aspect of our lives that has this quality, but there is one stark difference, the activity being largely private, the information the young person can get hold of in the public realm is minimal. So closely aligned are attitudes to sexuality with other cultural touchstones like morality and religion, that even the best meaning adults find it difficult to freely offer advice and guidance. And there is a natural and universal coyness associated with sexuality which makes young people unreceptive to the intervention of adults in these matters. In this context, a world of freely available and unmitigated pornography is disastrous, because it shows none of the reticience of any other stakeholder. Pornography gives detailed, luridly so, depictions of sexual activity, and in doing so creates a picture of what is normal, and indeed what is expected. So not only does the industry create a set of sexual responses to unhealthy activities (here think coercion, violence, distancing, objectification) but it also creates an expectation that this is simply what sex is, and that expectation creates a burden on those young people attempting to negotiate an already impossibly complex landscape. People who have put themselves in a situation of such intimacy generally wish to please the person they are with. And this becomes a form of coercion even if nothing is directly asked of them. Where once western women were subjected to the brutal expectation that sex for them would be unpleasant, and was simply to be endured, they now face an even more demanding and demeaning narrative. Neither men nor women asked for this redefining of our sexuality, it was visited upon them by an industry devoid of moral purpose. And, for the young and uncertain, those least able to engage in careful and open communication, the possibility of sex as an act of warmth and connection is lost.

10 The shallows of instant gratification

If there is one truth we should wish to pass onto our children, it is surely this: every thing worth having takes work. Finding satisfaction in your job takes work. Creating a home where people love one another and feel safe and supported takes work. Establishing positive relationships with your work colleagues takes work. Being healthy takes work. Understanding the world we live in takes work. Relaxing, truly relaxing, satisfied in the knowledge that you are living a worthwhile life takes work. So too lasting friendship, and so too intimacy. It is an important truth to own because with its knowledge comes a new kind of attitude to the world. The world is not benevolent, but nor does it mean you harm. The world just is, and we must move into that world with a willingness to do the work, to roll our sleeves up, uncomplaining, and get on with it. We must embrace the virtues of patience and service, we must resist the urge to feel  put upon of disadvantaged. We must be prepared to play the long game, two steps forward and one step back, accepting the setbacks as an inevitable part of the journey. The alternative is to simply seek instant gratification wherever we can find it, consuming our fried chicken by the bucketful, finding entertainment through digital distraction, valuing our friendships by number nor quality, and seeking sexual release not by way of hard won trust and intimacy, but by pre-packaged pixelation. Pornography is a crucial cog in a bigger machine of destruction. Pornography is embracing of the sort of laziness and lack of aspiration that breeds a lifetime of self-entitled disappointment. It encourages us to paddle forever in the shallow end of the pool, that we may never experience the sensation of floating free. It is the unambitious yielding to the animal instinct of the now, capitulation to the great lie of modernity, that you can have it all, right away. And in this child-like rush to satisfy only the needs of the moment, we lose sight not just of the other, but of the future self. The true act of kindness to the self is the valuing not of the life of the moment, but of the life yet to be. It is a determination to make  tomorrow better through the sacrifices of today. It is the willingness to climb the mountain for the sake of the view, but also the self respect that comes from having taken the harder road. Real sex is fraught with difficulty and responsibility, is a scary, grown up act. Pornography offers reward without effort, and everywhere and always such reward is both fleeting and ultimately illusory.  

11 The imprinting problem

You don’t get to choose what arouses you. Or at least not exactly. Sexuality is largely an imprinted phenomenon. What we come to think of as desirable, what is most able to elicit sexual responses, is a function of the things we see, experience and think about during our adolescence, or so goes imprinting theory. We can see in comparative anthropological studies both universals (modesty, jealousy, long term bonding…) and tremendous variances. Culture has the ability to determine a great deal with respect to sexual mores. Who we find attractive, the social context within which sex occurs, the degree of responsibility towards one’s partner, gender equality, all these things are modifiable via culture, and one of the strongest transmission mechanisms appears to be imprinting through adolescence. So, again, pornography doesn’t depict actual sex, it is contorted for the purposes of the camera, and for the purposes of its consumers (who seek mostly short term arousal assistance). Yet, if this is what adolescents are being exposed to, the problem is not just in terms of warped and harmful expectations (for the activities presented are unlikely to satisfy) but also of programmed sexual responses. It is entirely possible that in time these become necessary components of the sexaul response for the early consumer. Sexuality becomes then increasingly visual, and hence increasingly about objectifying of the partner, reducing them to the physical presentation of their bodies (as if body image isn’t fucked up enough already). And, increasingly, we may also be programming into our youth a need for some form of aggression as a sexual trigger. Could this industry be any more damaging if we designed it to be so?
12 The infantilising of sexuality.

Children love routine. In it they find security. Returning to a familiar holiday spot, rushing into the arms of a loved grandparent, sitting down to their favourite meal. Their  world is awash with the new and the confusing, and every day they are being asked to cope with novel and frightening situations. Their instinct is to shy away from these challenges when they can, to seek out the adult to guide them through the unknown. For a child with a limited skill set it is a sane and cautious approach. Then, as we mature and develop a wider range of skills, we gift ourselves with new levels of independence. We go out into the world, meet new people, take risks, try new things. We enrich our lives by trusting ourselves to adapt to the challenges of a shifting landscape. This openness to the world in so many ways defines adulthood. And yet there is an argument that, given the opportunity to regress to the behaviour of the child, we will turn to a sort of laziness and let these challenges that so reward us pass us by. Think of the cliche of the British tourist on holiday in Spain, eating fish and chips on a beach, bought with a warm beer from their favourite British style pub, holding loud sunburnt conversations with their British friends with whom they holiday every year, complaining about the locals. The franchise model of retail plays to this fear of the unknown, offering shoppers in every corner of the globe the comfort of knowing how to negotiate the menu, where to sit, even where the toilets will be. Capitalism appeals to our laziness, and so makes eternal children of us all. Even the challenge of conversation has been circumvented, witness any gathering of the young, each studiously attached to their phone’s screen. And pornography is simply the apex of this dismal phenomenon. It allows us to experience our sexuality suspended in childhood, freed from the messy obligations of social interaction, of reading motivations, showing vulnerability, of losing control. The viewer of pornography is the epitome of control, or as Seinfeld would have it, master of his domain. He is removed, can start or stop any depiction with a single click, is hidden from view, will neither be seen nor interrogated. Everything is safe and familiar. Repetition becomes a watchword. And so this area of limitless riches, this experiencing of love and hope and letting go, is bypassed by the childish urge to be safe, protected and unchallenged. Like mass produced clothing, fast food and over-produced music, pornography sucks the colour from our lives by offering the excuse we need to never grow up.

13 Addiction

Pornography makes addicts of its users, and addiction hollows the life from the inside out, its true damage apparent only when collapse is imminent. Dopamine release is considered a key factor in the creation of addiction. This pleasure hormone, released as a reinforcer of behaviours, nevertheless contains within its receptors a desensitising mechanism. Awfully, with over-exposure, not only does the impact of a hit lessen each time, but the craving for the next hit intensifies. This double whammy underpins the pattern of addiction and explains why in time it will become so destructive. Be in gambling or gaming, pornography or ecstasy, the addict must in time seek more of it and more often, to satisfy the physiological need. So, while the early feeding of the habit may be socially manageable, in time the need for more money, more time, or more extreme stimulation will push the user outside society’s bounds. The addict becomes a pariah, or more often lives in constant fear of being found out and cast as one. Shame is the constant companion, and with it, anger. The human beings surrounding the addict become a means to the greater end, or an obstacle to achieving it, and so in term those we know and love become strangers to us, dehumanised in the shadow of the greater god of satisfaction. The pornography addict (and while not all users are addicts, every user runs the risk, and viewed from the outside, it is a risk without an attendant reward, a dumb bet if ever there was one) finds themselves on a path to ever darker material, and ever darker demands. To hide their habit, they seek to appear sexually functional in the real world, but their view of sex is by now so distorted that any attempts to imitate intimacy run the risk of descending into abuse. It is an ugly place to end up, and because of the secretive nature of pornography consumption, the user can not turn to the normal social controls and constraints to mediate their behaviour. In any behaviour that is secretive the risk of escalation is magnified. And because, unlike many other addictions, there is not even a financial barrier to engagement, (or in the case of gaming, a temporal barrier) usage can spiral very quickly. The true addict is sexually and socially dysfunctional, and capable of bringing tremendous harm to those about him, for their mind ultimately is not their own. Pornography and its modern delivery mechanisms are designed to provide maximal risk of addiction. Why then are we not outraged by its glib acceptance?



Dear Greens

So here’s the thing, I voted for you. A fair number of us did. Perhaps not in relative terms, but enough to get you up over the 5%. Enough to make you relevant. And here’s what I hoped for when I voted for you, that you would use your influence in parliament to fight for the things you believe in. I liked your approach to climate change and implementing a carbon tax. I applaud your desire to make polluters pay. And I have a certain taste for your socially left leanings too (although any party that has signed up for NZ’s version of fiscal responsibility is surely centrist at best). Indeed, your determination to raise benefit levels and implement a no penalty policy for beneficiaries is righteous and humane and I would have supported you on that stance alone.

But here’s another thing. I didn’t vote for you because I hoped you would be zealous in your commitment to the tribalism of party politics. I did not vote for you to refuse to use your leverage on the grounds that it might force you to work with a political party you don’t wholly approve of (they don’t wholly approve of you either, grow up). Nor did I vote for you because I hoped you would bow to the whims of your party membership (yes, I know you have a constitution, but your leadership could at least have the courage to put up a fight).

This is a very very good time to be negotiating with National. They need you right now, for they otherwise have no prospect of a long term coalition partner and in this environment that is fatal. And so they will surely be prepared to contemplate some major concessions. The very concessions the people who voted for you wanted. If you are a Green party, dedicated to the principles of justice and sustainability, then please dear God use this gift that has befallen you to pursue exactly that goal. If however, you are more concerned with your own self-importance, and your thinking is yet to mature past the us and them mentality of the school playground, then your inability to make a positive contribution to New Zealand’s political environment will be clear for all to see. And a great many of us who voted for you because we liked your policies, and rather hoped that given the chance you would be inclined to fight to have them implemented, will not, I imagine, make the same mistake again.


Going Green

I must say I’ve found the run of leaders’ debates on television helpful when it comes to how deciding how to vote. Specifically, after watching the leaders of National and Labour go head to head three times, I’m pretty sure I’ll be voting for the Greens, although the Opportunities Party are not yet entirely off the table, and if I thought Labour were sufficiently politically competent to do a quiet deal to ensure The Maori Party remain strong in Parliament (why aren’t Labour standing aside there?) then The Maori Party wouldn’t be out of the picture either. What I’m fairly confident of is that neither National nor Labour are deserving of my vote this time around. Both, to my mind, present flaws that are ultimately rule them out from receiving my vote.

National’s weakness is clear. They are the incumbent Government and if there are things one genuinely cares about, upon which insufficient action is being taken, then there’s precious little credibility to a Government of nine years telling us they’re on to it now.  For me, that includes the environment in general, and climate change in particular. It also has to involve inaction over housing, they were simply far too slow coming around to the idea it was a problem at all, and it certainly includes poverty (which is now being distastefully marketed by all parties as ‘child poverty’, as if the poverty endured by adults is somehow more acceptable). There are other charges we could lay against National, including an opportunistic and unplanned approach to immigration, being happy to use population inflow as a substitute for sustainable drivers for economic growth. And their approach to education has in general been appalling, with National Standards being the perfect metaphor for all that is wrong with their thinking.

In general, they are now paying the price for John Key’s poll-driven approach to policy making. At first, soaring house prices made house owners, National’s key constituents, feel wealthy, and encouraged debt financed consumption, so the government ignored it (as did the government before them). Climate change, as Bill English says, is not the first thing on most people’s mind when they get out of bed in the morning, so the government ignored it. Parents, if left unguided, will tend to get themselves into a paranoid ferment about their children’s educational progress, and so the government pandered to their psychological weakness by offering up comparative progress measures in primary schools. The poor had been there for a while, ignored for the best part of thirty years now, so it felt safe to keep ignoring them. At some point an articulate opponent would come along and call National on their inaction, and that’s exactly what has happened. Probably National will lose this election, and it will be on the back of a complete lack of desire to do anything other than keep a narrow majority of voters sufficiently docile and content to return them to office.

This is not to say all National has done has been bad. In fact they’ve been a steady government, sensible if not inspiring economic managers who negotiated the Global Financial Crisis well. Ironically enough, Bill English is far more committed to the country’s welfare than his predecessor ever was, and his approach to welfare targeting is, I think, well worth a look, and I hope elements of it will be adopted by the incoming government. But he will be judged on track record, and the deficiencies are plain enough to see.

Why then not vote for the party now calling him on this lack of vision? That’s where the three leaders’ debates come into it. That’s been a fair few hours of speaking time for Jacinda Adern to convince voters her party have, during their long years in opposition, developed a set of coherent and imaginative policies to deal with the very problems she’s exposed. And I have to say the results have been underwhelming. Labour have had the very great luxury of setting the agenda in these debates. The media, captivated by the image of a young, fresh new leader defying the odds and effecting a meteoric rise in her party’s fortunes, have made Labours’ issues the election issues. So they’ve talked clean rivers, housing crisis and child poverty, endlessly it seems, all areas where Labour have identified a weakness in National’s performance. And yet, what have we seen offered by this government in waiting? Well, an awful lot of something called vision, and a few policy details, many of which appear either ill focused or contradictory. It’s a mess.

Take housing. Do Labour want to see house prices fall? Apparently not, according to their leader. But she’d like to see them stop rising. Excellent. Only, they sort of have. So what is the crisis they’ve identified? Well, it’s unclear, but it’s got something to do with the desire to have a working party on a capital gains tax, although they’ve already extended the bright line test out to five years, so what else are they after, and why? They can’t say, because they don’t have policy on it yet, but they will have a working party. Then, bit by bit, they rule out certain conclusions from the potential working party. No tax on family homes, then later, no tax on property (but this clarification was a long time coming), and no new income taxes. So, there is a crisis, but there isn’t (no desire to see house prices fall, which I find gob smacking) and there will be potentially new taxes, but we can’t say what, or even why, because that’s over to the experts. After nine years to get this ready, that’s a shambles. There is a plan to build an awful lot of new houses, but the strategy for ensuring we have the resources to do that (builders say) is sketchy at best, and the accusation that this is contradicted by their immigration policy seems to have some merit.

How about child poverty, and the desire to redistribute wealth? Jacinda Adern made the point during the debates that the biggest leap in child poverty came in the nineties when benefits were cut. This was being slightly cute, by the way, for the eighties were the time when inequality really began to cut in, but she is right, the single simplest thing that could be done (and international experts agree on this) to reduce poverty would be to increase benefits. Only, that’s not her party’s policy. Only the Greens have committed to a significant rise in benefits. How dare any politician take the moral high ground on poverty and have no intention of returning benefits to their already meagre pre-cut level? Labour had an awfully long time to do this under Helen Clark, and instead turned their attention to working for families, in order to lure middle class votes and ensure a third term. At the bottom end it reduced poverty, but it was poorly targeted, missing beneficiaries while rewarding others who were by no means poor but who had votes to offer. Nothing to be proud of there.

Here The Opportunities Party are worth a shout out. Both their tax plan, which is a radical re-imagining of taxation and wealth redistribution, and their universal youth payment, would do much to alleviate poverty, and it’s been refreshing to have their ideas in the debate (although unfortunately they’ve rather been drowned out by the media’s excitement with the Adern narrative).

Clean rivers is also a weakness for Labour, in so much as their headline policy, taxing water use, is about rationing supply, rather than preventing waterway pollution. The way to prevent pollution is to make the polluter answerable, putting in place financial incentives to get it right, and financial punishments for getting it wrong. Again, this is Green policy. Labour are talking up the idea of swimmable rivers (which is transparent vote trawling, people respond emotionally to rivers, in fact there are many bigger environmental issues to consider) but again, their policies don’t shout out that they’ve thought this one through. National’s response, of course, that encouraging people to do the right thing is better, is ludicrous. We don’t just encourage people to do better then it comes to drink driving, although that’s clearly part of the solution. We also put in place some pretty large and clear disincentives. Of course polluters should pay, how’s that difficult?

Jacinda Adern called climate change the nuclear weapons issue of her generation (how this generational talks bores me, aren’t we all in this one together?) and yet, where is the front and centre climate change policy? What exactly is being done to move towards a carbon neutral economy? Where is the urgency? Where is the leadership? Nope, thought not, rather it’s been sound bite, move on. And people, apparently, are loving it. Sigh. The Greens could do much better on this too, much much better. They have the policy outlines and commitment, to be sure, but their own message has been far too diverse, and this time around undermined by infighting, and for those not curious enough to dig deep into their policy pronouncements, it’s almost possible to believe Climate Change isn’t their number one priority either. How I would love to see them talk environment, environment, environment at every opportunity. There is hubris at the heart of the Greens’ weakness, they are unable to see themselves as a small, single issue suport party (something the Maori Party have been very good at). Rather the Greens wish to see themselves as a viable ruling party, which they will never be, and so have developed far too wide a focus to be an effective promoter of environmental sustainability. We saw this with their refusal to position themselves as a support party for National (what good things have happened in education under National have been at the urging of the Maori Party, who seek only to serve their constituency and reason for being. The Greens could learn a lot from them).

Nevertheless, Labour at this election remain a disappointment, not yet sufficiently organised nor focused to provide genuine leadership. Under Andrew Little, this was the general narrative, and the polls reflected our disillusionment. Under Jacinda Adern, the narrative has changed completely, but not the policy, it seems. And so, the Greens present as the party whose policies are most closely aligned with my values and aspirations for my country. Although, as I say, The Maori Party are making an important contribution, and in many ways are more politically savvy and hence effective. And it is sad that TOP have been effectively excluded from the debate this time around, and sit languishing in polling oblivion, because they’ve consistently brought the most interesting ideas to the table. Much as I resist the idea of not voting for a party because that vote will be wasted (it is this thinking that makes it so hard for fresh voices to emerge) if TOP stay at 2% or below I can’t imagine I’ll consider them. So, it’s down to two choices. The Maori Party look like they’ll win one or two of their seats. If they win a second, a party vote for them (they’re just over 1%) would be similarly ineffectual. If only Howie Tamati makes it, however, a party vote might make all the difference there. So that’s still tempting.


Vote of Confidence

The election is approaching and I don’t know who to vote for. This is not unusual for me, I find voting difficult. Occasionally there is an election where the implications of one outcome over another are so clear that voting becomes a simple matter, but mostly I find the opposite to be true. It’s tremendously difficult, or so it seems to me, to work out exactly what the impact of one vote or another will be.

One way around this difficulty is to indulge in what the psychologist Daniel Kahneman refers to as problem substitution. When faced with a very difficult decision (which party’s stance to the Reserve Bank Act is most likely to help low income workers in the regions?) it is not uncommon for the human being to substitute a much simpler problem (which of these two leaders’ smiles do I find most engaging?) The remarkable thing about problem substitution is not that we do it, but that we do it without realising. Talk to any of the very great number of voters who have apparently returned to Labour in recent weeks and they will concoct any number of respectable reasons why they have shifted even though, despite Labour’s protestations, very little has changed on the policy front. They’re still substantially the same party, offering the same solutions, to be implemented by the same personnel. The thing that has actually changed is the thing those people who designed the new billboards understand very well. A huge shift in the ‘would I like to be friends with that person?’ instinct. And that’s fairly depressing.

The other way around the difficulty of judging political competence is simply to think tribally, aligning oneself with that group who most feel like your kind of people. This is the ‘shares my values’ test also much exploited by political operatives. It works best if one is prepared to stick doggedly to cheap stereotypes (The Greens hate progress, Act hate the poor, National don’t care for the workers, etc). We then find some easy term of dismissal for the groups we don’t like (neo-liberals, socialists, fascists  eco-freaks etc) and rest secure in the knowlesdge that ours is a vote for  righteousness. The problem is readily apparent to anyone with even a passing interest in New Zealand politics. So-called conservative governments have supported progressive social agenda (yet are never accused of nanny-stateism), so called workers’ parties have been responsible for the greatest rise in inequality and so forth. As a school teacher and union member, it has always been easy to believe that teachers are better supported  by Labour than National governments. However, plot real teaching incomes over the last five decades against flavour of government and the results are challenging to say the least. Tribalism, along with personality politics, are clearly useless guides to pragmatic outcomes, and one can argue that a disaster like Trump is possible only because of the popularity of these two approaches to vote choosing, and yet how else is one to decide?

It is easy to pontificate on the importance of policy, and how we should be having informed policy discussions in the lead up to an election, but as one who has spent the last little while attempting to locate and analyse various political parties’ policies, I must report this is much harder than it looks. In the case of the incumbent government, I have a fair idea what their policies look like, because they’re doing them. I know roughly speaking where their spending priorities lies, what their approach to education and health provision is, the way they want to target welfare spending and so forth. Some of it I like, much of it I don’t, but I know what I’m getting at least.

But wander into the oppositions territory and it’s not hard to discover what their leaders look like (on a good day, in favourable light, with their chin up) or which tribe they seek to engage. Had enough? asks Winston from his billboard. Enough of what, exactly? Let’s do this, urges Jacinda. Okay, do what? The Greens were great together, but now they’re not, and so forth. Finding out what they’d actually do is less simple. I fully understand that not every small party has the resource to flesh out policy on all fronts but if you think of something as basic as fiscal policy, those mechanisms for raising and distributing funds  from which all government policy ultimately flows, then I do actually expect at least a sense of where they stand, and what they’d do. The Greens are clear on some things they’d like to spend more on (the bulk of which is social rather than environmental spending, fair enough, I support that, but it does suggest why they find it hard to solidify their support base.) What I can’t find, beyond a pledge to fiscal responsibility, is exactly where the money  for the initiatives come from. I’m prepared to accept theymay  have worked out the nuts and bolts of a wealth tax, or capital gains tax, or transaction tax, or they’re interested in relaxing monetary policy or whatever. They may have a plan. But I don’t know what it is, and if it’s on their website, they’ve made the detail hard to find. So is it okay to vote for them because I agree with their priorities, when I don’t know how they’d achieve them? I’m not sure it is.

Labour have had nine well-funded years in opposition to come up with an approach to fiscal management. So, where do they stand on capital gains tax? We don’t know, because they say they don’t know. Seriously, their idea is to have a working party on it after the election. They can’t say what its recommendations will be, nor whether they’d follow them anyway. Is it okay to vote for that plan? I’m not sure it is. It seems to me, if you can’t get policy together during a nine year stint, it’s reasonable to worry about your ability to  function on a day to day basis. This isn’t a one-off. Their policy on National Standards in primary schools is similarly vague. Yes, standards will go (or least won’t be compulsory) but may be replaced by something, not sure what.

Gareth Morgan got in trouble for making this policy point about Labour (and indeed he was being typically and unhelpfully belligerent in his choice of metaphor) yet his point is a good one. Voters do want a sense of what might happen under a particular party. And, for all the things there are to grumble about with TOP, I must say their website was the most informative. There’s plenty to criticise there, for sure, but that’s because there’s plenty there. The broader point is this. It’s all very well to lambaste the media for not focusing on policy, but in many cases it’s because the policy simply isn’t there.

Just as frustrating as the difficulty with discovering policy, is the fact that even with the best of intentions, parties still need to choose their headline policy acts. That means that the things an individual voter might care most about might simply never appear on any policy statements. As a teacher I have grave misgivings about a number of social directions we’re taking. Our cultural endorsement of alcohol addiction is a blight, the rise in anxiety illnesses in adolescence speaks to an complete inversion of values within our education system, the casual and widespread acceptance of the pornification of society to my mind threatens our capacity for intimacy (and so social stability), the enthusiastic embrace of all things digital in education strikes me as dangerously misguided, and so it goes on. But, because none of the political parties have a policy on education or youth that even vaguely reflects my values or aspirations, no matter how interested in policy I am, it won’t help me in the election in this regard.

The other element to consider is that policy isn’t the only game in town. If government is likened to a sport, then policy is essentially the team tactics. And one can have the best tactics in the world, but without the skills to implement it, it’s worth nothing. Politics occurs against an ever-moving backdrop of social and economic circumstance, and a great deal of what politicians actually do in power will be about reacting, and inventing solutions on the hoof. A government with excellent policies but bumbling practitioners is a disaster. So, while it is true that personality is overrated in politics, it is not necessarily fair to say the same of character. Calm, smart, hard working, fair minded folk with control of their egos are exactly the people we want in government, and it’s entirely irrational to care about that just as much as policy detail. Again, as is the case in almost all arguments in 2017, Trump stands as the perfect warning against paying too little attention to character.

So, who to vote for? I really have no idea.


Just to note a new script is up on the page of plays. It’s for a play called Home, which I wrote earlier this year, and is a strong candidate for the piece I’m most  pleased with. It was first performed last term by one of the finest classes I’ve had the pleasure of teaching. Is there anything in the arts to match the raw immediacy of small-space theatre? By far my favourite form of writing, and performance.

Also a couple of older plays just added, Rush from three years ago, a romantic comedy of sorts, and Lockdown  from last year, a senior play based around a school, well, lockdown.

For God’s Sake

One of the ways we are taught to develop ideas in the modern world is through a process that is at heart combative. The concept is that of putting up an argument and inviting others to critique it, by way of peer review, criticism or counter-case. There is much to commend this approach: poor ideas are identified and weeded out, and strong ideas are made stronger through the identification of their flaws. At its best the process is fair-minded and dispassionate.

There are however, obvious weaknesses with the approach. By pushing people in opposing camps, each intent on belittling the other, differences are amplified whilst similarities are often overlooked. The opportunity for a community of minds to collectively construct the best case they can is missed. Speed of reaction is also favoured over depth of reflection. By the time a deeper, slower answer is developed, the faster dismissal has already taken hold and the damage has been done. What’s more, the testing ground for an idea ultimately becomes its wider reception, and in a competitive model the quality of rhetoric becomes favoured over the quality of ideas. Perhaps most important of all, in the name of speed the task of carefully establishing and agreeing upon definitions is frequently overlooked. So we end up with two sides passionately engaged and implacably opposed, nevertheless making what is essentially the same case. Pseudo-disagreements abound.

This might be nowhere more apparent than in the field of religion, and its relationship to science. I write this in part prompted by the recent release of Richard Dawkins’ latest collection of essays, Science of the Soul. Dawkins has become something of the poster boy for the modern atheist movement, and at the risk of trivialising his case, it amounts to something close to the idea that the success of the sciences in explaining the physical world, or at least providing a model by which such explanations can be advanced, has done away with the need for religion, whose descriptions of the world are now out of date and/or demonstrably wrong.

In his latest work, he describes those who argue that we construct our own truth as being guilty of ‘fashionable prattlings’ and continues to depict religion in general as the preserve of those who haven’t got their thoughts straight. Not being a part of any religion myself, my disquiet is not so much a personal response to the unnecessarily combative tone, as it is a sense of disappointment that someone of such intellectual standing now persists with what is in many ways a form of anti-intellectualism. Because it seems to me the only way you can properly sustain a Dawkins style attack is by dismissing the great bulk of current academic philosophy, and I wonder what is wrong with instead engaging with it? My guess is that a serious attempt to engage would find far less disagreement than the headlines suggest.

Here are just two examples of the sorts of thinkers we need to at the very least consider, before getting too self-satisfied in our own fashionable prattlings. Roger Scruton, the English philosopher, says this about the danger of overenthusiastically applying science’s capacity for explanation:

The scientific attempt to explore the “depth” of human things is accompanied by a singular danger. For it threatens to destroy our response to the surface. Yet it is on the surface that we live and act: it is there that we are created, as complex appearances sustained by the social interaction which we, as appearances, also create. It is in this thin top-soil that the seeds of human happiness are sown, and the reckless desire to scrape it away – a desire which has inspired all those “sciences of man,” from Marx and Freud to sociobiology – deprives us of our consolation. Philosophy is important, therefore, as an exercise in conceptual ecology. It is a last ditch attempt to ‘save the appearances’.

The last memorable phrase here is Plato’s, for philosophers have long understood that we are forced to deal not just with reality, but with the way reality appears to us, and that we live not just in a world of physical reality, but also one of constructed reality. Reduce our view of the world merely to that aspect best described by science and we yield far too much, and unnecessarily so.

Take, for example, the picture of children in summer, playing in a river, splashing and laughing and squealing with delight. What are to make of the scene? There are a great many illuminating and useful scientific models which can partially describe and explain what we see. Why is the water cooler than the air, and why is being cooled by water so particularly refreshing? Science can help with this. So too it can help with the fluid dynamics in play as the churning water compresses into a narrow channel beneath the swimming hole. We can discover how the light and heat from the sun has travelled here, to an extent, and even how far it has travelled to warm us, or for how long the sun has shone. At a stretch evolutionary theory might even have a little to say about the nature of the children’s play, although here we are in more dubious territory. But none of this touches the heart of the scene for you, the onlooker. The sheer delight of the children, the vibrancy of the colours, the melting away of worries under the simplicity of play, even for the adults looking on, the social significance of the moment in which the shy child asserts herself, the proud joy of the child whose joke got them all laughing, the feel of that laughter in the stomach, the reason one child has moved to the side, to silently throw stones at his own reflection. And the deep resonance of the wholesome and the proper in this moment of an impromptu summer time community. All of this can be understood only within the context of the narratives we spin about our lives, within the context of agency, consciousness and purpose. There is nothing about being human that makes proper sense without this framework, and it would seem, there is nothing science can tell us about it. This is Scruton’s thin topsoil – call is spirit, call it soul, scrape together a secular equivalent if you must, but there is no escaping the fact that for those not suffering from severe social deficits, this is the stuff of living, of being human.

A second thinker worth dwelling upon is the philosopher Wilfrid Sellars, who in the 1950s coined the term ‘manifest image’ to make the same sort of point. Sellars was a naturalist, who was not attempting to defend any sort of religious world view. He was simply, like Scruton, trying to warn us of the dangers of ignoring that which can not be quantified, or dismissing it as an illusion. Sellars used the term manifest image to describe the world seen through the eyes of the conscious agent, the constructer of meaning, the maker of decisions, the arbiter of values. That is to say, we the human beings, who through living strive to make not just logical, but also emotional sense of our worlds. To do this we see ourselves and others as masters of our own fate, and as possessors of the potential to live not just long but well. In the world of the manifest, the term to live well is a meaningful one. Indeed, it is only in the world of the manifest that the concept of meaningful resides.

The manifest image is contrasted with the scientific image, and this is the world viewed through the lens of the physical model. Here people are described in terms of their physicality, their medical realities, their genetic make-up, their interactions with the physical world, their evolutionary pasts, the constraints of physics and so forth. There is no sense in which Sellars is criticizing this image, and nor should we. Such explanations give us modern medicine and much of the technology upon which we rely, and are also wonderful purely as satisfiers of our collective curiosity. Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene remains a masterwork, so too The Ancestor’s Tale. Neuroscience has fascinating and important things to tell us about our nature, so too evolutionary science, medical science and so forth. Sellars’ point was just to make clear (and in understanding this was necessary he showed some prescience) that when we see the world only through the scientific filter, we lose the ability to speak of things which exist at the manifest level. For these two frameworks are speaking of quite different things, and there is no sense in which they can be translated. The danger of the scientific excess is that it at times gets far too enthusiastic for this type of reduction. Yes, you can attempt to describe love in terms of hormones, of evolutionary urges, or neural pathways, but at this point it is no longer love you are describing. It is a set of observable physical behaviours untethered from their greater narrative and so cast adrift, a different thing altogether.

We see often this in the use of the word ‘really’. It feels like you’re making decisions, but ‘really’ you are just experiencing the inevitable physical processing of your biological history up until this point in time. It looks like he is composing a song, but ‘really’ he is driven by his biological urge to establish his reproductive fitness. That looks like an act of pure generosity, but ‘really’ this is a conditioned response designed to ensure social cohesion. You think there is a detective show on your computer screen, but ‘really’ it’s just pixels. The implication that either one of these things is true, or the other, when Sellars reminded us it can be both. Neither the manifest or the scientific has any sort of ontological priority. They both describe their aspect of reality, whatever the hell you take that to mean (I tend towards pragmatism in my philosophical interpretation) as best they can, and as such do not contradict one another. To see only one is to miss the bigger picture completely. It is an act of willful ignorance.

Which brings me back to the so-often tortuous religion debate. Some, although not all, of the gleeful atheists appear to be putting an awful lot of store in the scientific, and assuming that this does away with the need for the manifest. And yet none of them, none of us, live as if this is true. We all live in the world of the manifest, making decisions, cleaving to value systems, acting with purpose and decoding the world according to our constructed network of meaning. We treat others as having inherent value, and we take seriously our subjective, conscious experience of the world. Which makes me think the arguments between the nominally spiritual and non-spiritual is a pseudo-argument, for we all act as if our meta-beliefs are largely consistent. So rather than a genuine schism of belief, there seems to be rather a difference in the way we use language to describe our beliefs. We’re talking about the same thing, but in rather different ways. If only our culture had allowed us the time, grace and attentiveness to come to our definitions peacefully before rushing off to take up arms. Then, instead of wasting so much time on the trivial exercise of ego driven competition, we could join together to spend far more of our precious resources on consolidating and enacting our shared values and visions.




Rape culture

In a week where boys from a local college made online comments that publicly endorsed rape culture and where opportunities to offer moral leadership were largely missed by those in the best position to respond, I find my thoughts turning to my own boys, still only children, but who in time will grow into the hyper-sexualised world of adolescence. Perhaps they will be heterosexual, and as such their movement through the world of uncertain young men and women will become part of the solution, or part of the problem. My job as a father will surely be to offer advice and guidance, and so below a letter for the future, a letter to my sons.

Dear boys

Sex is wonderful. Ahead of you lie some of the most tender, beautiful, exciting and intimate moments of your life. To arrive at this point of your life healthy and happy, confident and safe from clear and present dangers makes you deliciously lucky. I am delighted for you. There are just a few things I would like you to keep in mind, things that will make your life ahead even better.

  1. Remember that women are human beings. I know that seems so obvious that it doesn’t need saying, but trust me it will be easy to forget this. Remember that they are frightened, like you are frightened. Remember they are not always certain of the deep beauty that lies within them. Remember that they live in a world that would judge them for the way they look, and that this corrodes them. Remember that they have been raised to please people, and bring peace at all costs, and that those who lose sight of their humanity will find it easy to exploit this. Remember that they, like all of us, crave a person who will pay them attention. Never pretend to pay them attention. Treat them as you yourself wish to be treated. They are human beings, just like you are.
  2. Never have sex with a women who doesn’t want to have sex with you. There is a word for this. It is rape. There are two very useful methods for discovering whether a women wants to have sex with you. First, wait for her to tell you she wants to have sex with you. Mostly this will mean that she does. Or second, ask her if she wants to have sex with you, and pay close attention to the answer. If she says she doesn’t, do not treat this as the opening stance in a negotiation. Stop asking. Having sex with somebody who wants to have sex with you is awesome, no matter how frightening it might seem at first. Other kinds of sex are illegal.
  3. Sometimes it will seem clear to you that a women wants to have sex with you, even though she doesn’t say it. Check. You may well think, ‘but talking about that right now will ruin the mood.’ Here’s the thing. If that’s all it takes to ruin the mood, she doesn’t really want to have sex with you.
  4. Women who are drunk or under the influence of drugs are unable to tell you what they want. So you can’t know they want to have sex with you. Refer to rule number 2.
  5. Never manipulate a woman into saying she wants to have sex with you. (See rule number 2.) Don’t lead her to believe that this is the only way she can win your approval. Don’t allow her to believe that her reluctance or uncertainty speaks to some flaw in her. Don’t lead her to believe that  her having sex with you is a condition of continuing the relationship.
  6. Remember that rules 2 through 5 don’t just apply to women you have not yet had sex with. They apply throughout your relationships. Being an arsehole is being an arsehole, no matter what the context.
  7. Speaking of being an arsehole, don’t brag about having had sex. Don’t use your own sexual experiences as a way of raising your status amongst your peers. If this is what impresses your friends, get yourself some new friends. Maybe make friends with some women. Women are awesome.
  8. Try having sex with people you really really like. It’s much scarier, but also much much better.
  9. Don’t judge women by the way they look. Don’t do it publicly, and don’t do it privately either. It seems like a little thing, I know, and it seems like everybody is doing it, not least of all the women themselves. But you can not even begin to imagine the damage this is doing, to all women, everywhere. It will be a long long time before you properly understand the misery you are inflicting upon the world with this casually dismissive reduction of their humanity, and it is tremendously easy to avoid.
  10. Never think of sex as a goal. Sometimes it will feel like it is, sometimes your body will allow you to believe that right now, in this instance, the only thing that matters is whether or not you have sex. We have masturbation for moments like these. You’ll be surprised how quickly your head will clear. Women are not masturbationary aids. They are human beings. Seriously, get a grip.
  11. And finally, on the topic, pornography seems to be everywhere now. But then so are smog, angry drivers and polluted water ways. Never mistake ubiquity for acceptability. Lay off the pornography. It will do nothing to enhance your sex life. In fact the opposite is true. Slavering over a small screen, equating stimulation with an abstracted, dehumanised form, is a dismal habit. Raise your sights. Aspire to actual intimacy with actual human beings. This distant viewing of strangers strips women not only of their clothing but also of their humanity. What you are doing is getting off on the image of a body without a life force. Basically, you have a thing for corpses. Maybe think about that.

All of this seems very negative, but in fact you will find these rules easy enough to follow, for I can already see in you the kindness and attentiveness to others that gives me hope for the future. So get out there. Meet women, attend to their humanity, draw close and breathe in time. Celebrate all that is good in them, and in you. The very best of life awaits you. Go well my boys. Give men something to be proud of.