Sunday 8 May 2022

The Makers Of Gilead.

Enforced Fertility: The imminent overturning of Roe versus Wade by the US Supreme Court is certain to raise echoes here that are no less evocative of the dystopia envisioned by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale. Gilead can happen here.

WITH THE UNITED STATES seemingly on the brink of becoming “Gilead”, the obvious question is: Could it happen here? The glib answer is: “Of course not! New Zealand is not America.” But that simply will not do. People said the same when Ronald Reagan’s New Right “revolution” swept across the United States. And yet, within a single decade, virtually all the institutions New Zealanders believed to be deeply entrenched features of their society and politics had been swept away – replaced by ideas stamped “Made in the USA”.

A better question, therefore, might be: “What made it happen there?” How was the nation that finally afforded African-Americans the rights promised to them in the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution recaptured by the unabashed promoters of White Supremacy? How was the Equal Rights Amendment defeated? How could the same country that gave the world Jack Kennedy and Barack Obama, produce Richard Nixon and Donald Trump?

Part of the explanation lies in a single word: “Sputnik”. The Soviet Union’s launching into space of the world’s first satellite profoundly shocked the American Government. The generals realised immediately that the rockets that could boost Sputnik into space could also boost nuclear warheads. The rapid advance of Soviet science had made the USA acutely vulnerable. Not only that, it had made America look intellectually weak: a country prey to the absurd fallacies of fundamentalist Christianity, and deeply suspicious of “cleverness” in all its forms.

Thanks to Sputnik, the national security of the United States now required a profound change in America’s cultural style. Science had to be advanced to the forefront of American life – and quickly. Congress would have to fund it, and the anti-intellectual elements, most especially the fundamentalist Christian churches, would have to keep their mouths firmly shut – on pain of been labelled “Un-American”. Overnight, scientists and engineers became the go-to-guys for all matters relating to America’s future.

The problem for red-in-tooth-and-claw American capitalism was that something happens to societies where Science becomes the final arbiter of national policy. Before the forces of conservatism know it, traditional values and prejudices are being asked to justify themselves with tangible evidence. What cannot be rationally defended begins to fall by the cultural and political waysides. Religious faith begins to look antiquated and, in its worst expressions, socially harmful. The educational curriculum soon comes to reflect the new scientific orthodoxy. Bigotry finds itself, to use today’s terminology, de-platformed.

But bigotry is crucial to the health of capitalism. Bigotry obscures the social and economic truths that would otherwise free people from the beliefs that keep them stupid and angry. Bigotry allows ethnic, sexual, and religious communities to be pitted against one another, making working-class unity and solidarity impossible. Bigotry encourages people to mistrust science and fear intellectuals – on the not altogether incorrect grounds that science and socialism are joined at the hip. As the progressives of our own time say: “Science has a left-wing bias.”

Where science reigns, so, too, does social-democracy. Having seen what bigotry produced, the nations of Western Europe – Scandinavia in particular – opted enthusiastically for social and economic policies that sought to provide the greatest amount of “good” things – universal healthcare, free education, affordable and secure accommodation, a rational electoral system – to the greatest number. President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programmes of the middle-1960s, building upon President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” programmes of the 1930s, strongly suggested that, with science in the saddle, the USA was headed, irreversibly, in the same direction.

America’s most ruthless and aggressive capitalists were having none of it. To head-off the possibility of a science-driven, social-democratic United States (in which the power of capitalism would inevitably begin to wane) they adopted a dual strategy of resistance.

First of all, they made it possible for capitalism to advance its own “science” against the “left-wing” (i.e. genuine) science that was inflicting so much damage upon their cause. By endowing university departments and setting up their own think-tanks and research journals, the capitalist string-pullers were soon equipped to take the fight to the scientific enemy.

American capitalism’s second line of attack was to do everything possible to encourage irrationality and anti-scientific prejudice – most particularly among working-class Americans. By funding and encouraging the revival of fundamentalist Christianity it was able to unleash the so-called “culture wars”. Religious faith was pitted against scientific knowledge. Creationism confronted Darwin’s Theory of Evolution in school boards across the United States. Before long scientists began to be regarded as the evil agents of Satan.

Kicking-off in the 1970s, American capitalism’s fightback against science had, by the second decade of the Twenty-First Century, forced uncorrupted scientists onto the defensive. From the deadly effects of tobacco and sugar, to the looming catastrophe of Global Warming, the capitalists’ “scientists” had denied and delayed effective remedial action to devastating effect. On the irrational front, things were going equally well. By the year 2020 more than half of all Americans preferred the Bible’s creation story to Darwin’s.

Indeed, so successful was American capitalism’s crusade against science that when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, roughly half of the American population declined to follow the scientific advice of the Centre for Disease Control. The Coronavirus has now killed more Americans than all the wars they have fought in their far-from-peaceful history.

What does this depressing historical narrative have to tell New Zealanders. The most obvious lesson is, surely, that we are no less the victims of the bogus “science” of American capitalism’s propaganda machine than the people of the USA themselves. In the decade between the fall of the Third Labour Government and the election of the Fourth, the neoliberal ideology was injected slowly – and largely invisibly – into the bloodstream of the New Zealand establishment.

What proved more difficult to replicate here was the resurrection of irrationalism, bigotry and religious extremism that had proved so crucial to the rescue of American capitalism. New Zealand Christianity, at least as a mass phenomenon, crashed in the early 1970s (thanks largely to our free, secular, and science-driven public education system) and in spite of the best efforts of the evangelical churches, it has failed to rise again.

But, where the miracle-workers of right-wing Kiwi Christianity have failed, the miracle-workers of Silicon Valley have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. In this country, the rise and rise of social-media has opened the door to all kinds of irrational beliefs and conspiracy theories – greatly facilitating the undermining of scientific authority – especially medical science. This attack on science has been greatly assisted by the Covid-19 Pandemic which has acted as the vector for the rapid spread of American-sourced social pathologies across the New Zealand population.

The consequences of this other pandemic are likely to be severe. We have already witnessed the response of New Zealand capitalism to a government willing to be guided by “the science”. We have also noted the capitalists’ near complete success in reasserting the priorities of commerce over public welfare.

In the cultural context, however, the single-minded campaigning of the business community is largely absent. What New Zealand faces instead is a potentially devastating collision of irrationalities. The quasi-religious certainties of the so-called “woke” – especially those relating to race and gender – are already crashing head-on into right-wing groups angered and frightened by the radical transformation of New Zealand which the Woke propose. What threatens is a perfect storm of competing bigotries: ideological antagonists united only in their determination to shout down and shut out the voices of reason.

The imminent overturning of Roe versus Wade by the US Supreme Court is certain to raise echoes here that are no less evocative of the dystopia envisioned by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Gilead can happen here.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 6 May 2022.


Archduke Piccolo said...

I have heard it said that, having possession of majority in both Houses of Congress as well as the presidency, the Democrats have it in their power RIGHT NOW to cement 'Roe v Wade' in place for good and all, whatever the SCOTUS might wish to enact. That strongly suggests two things;
1. that the Democrats are using Roe v Wade' to blackmail the US voter, and
2. that the Democrats themselves are by and large equivocal about Roe v Wade.

It seems that both major parties have bought into a programme of shackling science to superstition.

Having said that, perhaps we ought not to rush to headlong into blaming(?) social media for the development of 'new superstitions' - quack science, 'conspiracy theories', and other types of mis- dis- and mal-information. After all, governments are not above exploiting that very feature of social media. What are the 'new superstitions' after all but a narrative competing with the official narrative?

In my view, the competing narratives ought to be welcomed as at least putting their topics under public notice. Let the population at large educate themselves about this medium of discourse. They'll learn. Eventually. As this article indicated, the rise of 'new superstitions' and 'new bigotries' have been due more to the baneful work of the powerful, rather than to the puny efforts of fringe nut jobs.

Ion A. Dowman

Scott said...

Well I'm a right wing evangelical kiwi Christian so obviously I'm one of the irrational people you are railing against. But I'll try and say something sensible.
Repealing Roe vs Wade is nothing like the handmaid's tale. All it will mean is that abortion law will go back to the states and decided by its elected representatives.
So more liberal states will have liberal laws and conservative states will have more restrictions around abortion. So is that truly the end of the world?

sumsuch said...

Scott, so so so so so glad you lot are not here, like even Oz, let alone the foulity which is your Amerika, on the turn to authoritarianage thanks in large part to your people. Christian and right wing just don't go together. Being on the side of the powerful! Wrinkles my brow.

Voltaire: 'Faith is a belief reason can't support'.

Bugger off, go to Mississippi, where your nonsense has complete play, and it's always 49 or 50 on the list of the states.

sumsuch said...

Rather agree with you Scott on govts deciding these things, but why not the national one? Otherwise all the intelligent and needy people will leave your fundamentalist run states. On the other hand, seeing it from your point of view, that will secure your people continuing to run those states. Hope you're fucken well.

Anonymous said...

It could well be the end of the world if you’re a woman in one of the states where abortion is illegal. But you’ll be alright Scott, and that’s all that matters.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"I have heard it said that, having possession of majority in both Houses of Congress as well as the presidency, the Democrats have it in their power RIGHT NOW to cement 'Roe v Wade' in place for good and all, whatever the SCOTUS might wish to enact"

Then you'd be wrong. – Or whoever said that be wrong, it ain't that simple. For one thing there are two maverick Democrats who seem to be bought and paid for by various big businesses, and who seem to oppose just about everything Biden wants to do. And then there is the filibuster. That would prevent any "cementing" of reproductive rights into law. Of course you could get rid of the filibuster, but – there are two maverick Democrats who have voted against getting rid of it or at least said they will vote against getting rid of it.

"Repealing Roe vs Wade is nothing like the handmaid's tale. All it will mean is that abortion law will go back to the states and decided by its elected representatives."

You know it is reasonably easy in these days of the Internet to actually go to US websites and find out about the US system of government in all its complexities. Again – it ain't that simple. Because some red states will prosecute people who have had abortions in blue states, and unless special provision is made, states are obliged to uphold each other's laws.
Not to mention it leaves those people in red states who are actually not right wing evangelical Christians in the situation of having them morality dictated by those who are.
If you don't like gay marriage, don't get married to a gay person. If you don't like abortions, don't have one. Keep your religious beliefs out of my laws, and your proselytises off my front doorstep – that's all I ask.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I'm not sure I agree with some of your interpretation Chris. Indeed, some capitalists in the US such as the Koch brothers (thankfully now just the one Koch brother), and the DeVoss woman, and of course the Waltons of Walmart fame promote fundagelical Christianity. Others take a more liberal stance although I suspect it's probably because they see it as better for their bottom line.
And fundagelicals themselves had absolutely no problem with abortion until extreme Republicans needed another wedge issue, sometime in the late 70s I think. There were several statements made by leading lights of the religious right soon after Roe, who said that abortion was fine because the foetus was not a person – in line with the biblical statement that the soul enters the body with the first breath. And of course the Bible endorses abortion in some cases.
They all knew this, but the extreme right began pushing the idea that "ensoulment" takes place at conception. It wasn't so much a scientific argument as a religious/philosophical one.
More Republicans in fact voted for Roe than Democrats, reflecting the Democrats association with Catholicism.

Interesting fun fact, those hack scientists who were hired by the cigarette companies to do spurious research on cigarettes and cancer, or often the same ones who a generation before – in their youth anyway – were promoting eugenics.

AB said...

@Scott (21:11, May 8). "All it will mean is that abortion law will go back to the states and decided by its elected representatives"

Well - that same Supreme Court will also (or does already) permit individual Republican-run States to purge their electoral rolls of African Americans, jerrymander their electorate boundaries to ensure permanent Republican democracies and criminalise women (and anyone who helps them) who move outside their own state to obtain abortions elsewhere. If you think these states are functioning democracies rather than business-theocratic dictatorships, you are mistaken.

Anonymous said...

As an evangeical Christian who is a fervently left antiwar Green Party member, I believe that the dehumanisation of the unborn through making the termination of pregnancy a banal medical procedure as un rremarkable as the removal of corns from a toe has led our world to the indifference to the atrocities of endlesd imperial war. To reduce the unborn human to "products of conception", "blastema" or "foetus" is as repulsive as calling the slughter of civilians "collateral damage" or "bugsplat".

The Barron said...

I don't think you actually get it Scott. Whether it is Federal or State, legislation enforces a women to use her body as an incubator without choice. Of course there has always been the unlawful choice of an unsafe abortion which places the women's health in further harm. For many women it will be the end of their world.

Many states do not even wish for rape (Inc. incestuous rape) as accepted reason for abortion. This simply is a state enforced extension of serial violence.

Tim said...

Oh Chris, do you now get your insights from a TV show? After I read your article (on The Daily Blog) I wondered what those repressive American Christians are saying about the possible reconsideration of Roe v Wade. So I went to Christianity Today, a fairly evangelical publication that's largely pro-life. Indeed there was a headline article about the possible court decision there:

That is a lot more nuanced than your science v superstition argument. Maybe it's time for you to engage with different views and not just see American Christians as the enemy that needs to be fought. Your article seems quite similar to me in your antipathy to the "religious' to the prejudices displayed in the McCarthy era towards anything that smelled of socialism.

greywarbler said...

This can't be discussed logically. One person attempting scientific and the other religious, and neither caring about the woman. Women in a puffed-up male or female society away from natural behaviours, continually interfering with personal choice to satisfy culture, miss the point, or are determined to. The woman is the queen of society by her powers of human fruition, but is easily controlled and shackled because of her fertility role, and who cares about her.

A young woman from Glorioushomes was swept away by a raging river when a bank gave way. She might have found it a satisfactory outcome after bearing 11 children and still being of child bearing age in a place where the queens are kept producing and working as well; women are so handy and biddable despite all their carry-ons. Their dual productivity must boost the country's and make up for the many drunks and louts who bring negative statistics.

The glee with which the 'godly' and elevated society approach this female concern about fertility and controlling it in the USA drawn by Sharon Murdoch - such a good cartoon.

DS said...

I have heard it said that, having possession of majority in both Houses of Congress as well as the presidency, the Democrats have it in their power RIGHT NOW to cement 'Roe v Wade' in place for good and all, whatever the SCOTUS might wish to enact.

Would require getting the bill past the inevitable Republican filibuster in the Senate, which is not happening.

Barry said...

Chris – you really mean “Enforced Reproduction”.
Almost all females are fertile ……….

The original Roe v Wade court case was not about abortion. The Supreme Court judge Ginsberg (RBG as she was often referred to) said that it was about Privacy (between the Doctor and the patient). Of all Supreme court judges she would have been expected to support the right to abortions but she felt the decision was wrong.

A few years ago I ran into a US lawyer and I expressed my wonder about the practice of local judges being selected by vote. He defended the system on the basis that local interest and local values were much better represented by the system they use. On that basis the probable likelihood that matters of abortion will go back to the States is of no surprise. It should not be a legal battle because it can always be attacked – as it has in the Roe v Wade case.

The bigger issue though is that matters such as abortion should be handled by the Government. The federal Government has not handled it, then the next best step is State Government – and that’s what looks like happening.

My problem with state financed abortion – along with anything that is a personal choice (such as gender reassignment, some type 2 diabetes, etc) is that taxpayer dollars are used to supply person choice costs. There are endless cost free methods of contraception and I don’t see any sensible reason for the taxpayer to stump up the finance to fix a personal choice outcome.

And with the way lunacy seems to have taken over many of the opinions in society no one can safely predict what might happen with almost any matter. All it would take is for some group on social media to take a dislike to abortions. Yes – even some whacko religious group could be the spark. Some religions and religious groups have at their centre a requirement to produce as many offspring as possible. On such group – one that Government has taken a shine to – has such a belief. Part of being a good Muslim mother is to produce as many children as possible

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Who has advocated for state financed contraception? Maybe someone on the fringe that I haven't really heard much of but on the whole contraception is part of someone's health care package in the US which is usually provided by one's employer. Unless of course one's employer as a pack of religious nutcases who have managed to suborn the Supreme Court into allowing them an exemption on "conscience" grounds.
Although to be honest, state financed contraception will probably be cheaper in the long run than forcing people to have children. It's commonly said – or it was said by George Carlin at least some years ago

“Boy, these conservatives are really something, aren't they? They're all in favor of the unborn. They will do anything for the unborn. But once you're born, you're on your own. Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don't want to know about you. They don't want to hear from you. No nothing. No neonatal care, no day care, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you're preborn, you're fine; if you're preschool, you're fucked.”

I once asked one of these nut jobs "what policies would you advocate to cope with the huge numbers of unwanted children caused by your outlawing abortion and contraception (because many of them want to make contraception illegal as well). His answer was "Not my problem." And he's not the only one amongst those who comment on American political blogs who feel this way.

"Part of being a good Muslim mother is to produce as many children as possible"

Bugger me not this again! Racism rears its ugly head yet again. That's the exact sort of Bullshit myth that's promoted massacres of Muslims in India and Myanmar. It's wrong, it's egregiously wrong and you shouldn't be spreading it around. Muslims are no more likely than Catholics to "have as many children as possible". And Catholics use birth control at roughly the same rate as everyone else. But for 2000 years, the ideal was to have as many children as possible. The ideal of the church hierarchy rather than the actual people.
The fertility of Muslim countries is falling rapidly, much more rapidly than it did in western countries where it took 100 years to go from six children to 3. Muslims have done it in about 30.
Many Muslim countries have state-supported family planning. Most Muslim schools of thought/law are quite happy with contraception. Iranian women in fact have fewer children than Americans.
So I'm calling you on your bullshit. Provide evidence that Muslim women are dangerously fertile or STF you.

Archduke Piccolo said...

"I have heard it said that, having possession of majority in both Houses of Congress as well as the presidency, the Democrats have it in their power RIGHT NOW to cement 'Roe v Wade' in place for good and all, whatever the SCOTUS might wish to enact." Who said this is himself American, who seemed to know a bit about US Civics.

To those who object that the difficulty lies in the GOP filibuster, I have to point out that the Democrats have had 2 years and more to put the matter to bed. And, recall, the matter under discussion was one of the planks upon which the Democrats based their campaign in 2020.

Why did the Democrats wait so late in the day to bring the issue back into prominence?

If the filibuster is so effective at preventing the passage of bills indefinitely, what on earth difference, then, will voting Democrat make? Of course the filibuster can not be prolonged indefinitely ... can it? There is something screwy going on here, complicated by the disunited front the Democrats are presenting.

One suspects, without knowing for sure, of course, that the issue represented by 'Roe v Wade' was held over by the Democrats until shortly before the mid-term Congressional elections, that it might used to 'influence' voting behaviour (i.e. to blackmail voters). Well, even in this country, we find that politicians of every stamp, tincture and professed ideology, are not above gaming the system to their own benefit, at the expense of the electorate at large.

Ion A. Dowman

sumsuch said...

American politics is so different from democracy.

As I understand it most abortions by a long way are before heart-pounds. An ideal 'wedge issue 'for the divide and rule rich. Which is ok when the people's parties don't shout for the people. I think that was at least 50 years ago.