Friday, 30 January 2015

The Revival of Microcosm and Macrocosm

Each person's biochemistry is as unique as their fingerprint. The interaction of the components of a complex system - hypothalamus and pituitary in the brain and adrenal near the kidneys - controls our reactions to stress and regulates many body processes (digestion, immune system, mood and emotions, sexuality and energy storage and expenditure). Much of how we react to the world - inner bodily comfort, sense of wellness, emotional state, lust and desire and our Will insofar as our Will is also the energy we can apply to a purpose - is managed by a system that links our complex mind (brain) with our body, both of which are only intermittently under our conscious control.

Is this a system that we should try to command through our reason - a rather futile intent on our part since our reason can influence but perhaps not command very much - or should we try to understand it, live with it as it is in general terms and manage it in the best interests both of mind and of body regardless of our conscious wilfulness? If mind and body are not in close accord, surely this system will, indeed must, break down through psychosomatic symptoms or even lead to total bodily or mental breakdown.

Although organic collapse of either body or mind is more than possible regardless of the other, most people most of the time are not well in body or mind because of a failure to bring the non-conscious Will of the body into alignment with the desires and instincts of the mind. To place on top of this the reasoning Will (a functional tool for the acquisition of resources and shaping of things) is almost certainly to over-burden it. We have a balance required here between disease (the collapse of the body) and psychosis (the collapse of the mind), both of which will have effects on the other. It is the inward turning of Reason on to the Body-Mind (not the same process by any means as the application of Reason, the tool, to the Body-Mind, of scientific medicine) that is most likely to disrupt that balance.

Standing between the two, Body and Mind, on the one side is psychosomatic illness - all those petty pains and illnesses that come at times of stress - and, on the other side, neurotic illnesses where the mind works but not very effectively. The calibration of our mind and body is thus a life's work and there can only ever be very personal adaptations of our general human condition. There are no external rules only the guidance of science, probability and possibility. Chance and necessity.

For example, a 'normal' circadian cortisol cycle (early morning rise to a peak in under an hour, then a fall, then a rise in late afternoon for a fall that reaches a trough in the middle of the night) might be disrupted and abnormally flattened by the demands of the social - the demand that one work at peak performance, for example, for eight hours at a stretch. The question is whether we are to try to 'normalise' an imposed new abnormal pattern through the exercise of Will – in other words, adapt to chronic fatigue by willing ourselves into not what we want or need but what the social wants or needs as 'rational' (for itself or others). This question of intervention or adaptation is a political question - a microcosmic version of the macroscosmic questions of intervention and adaptation in (say) international relations. And the microcosm and macrocosm find themselves in the same relation, that of the natural body to the unnaturalness of the social to that of the natural organically developed historical community to the demands of the Liberal (or any) Absolute.

This is where 'Will' is at the heart of things. With each apparent malfunction of 'normality', the person or the community can choose to seek help or find the inner resources to restore functionality or it can embrace the malfunction and propose to become adapted to the 'abnormality'. The 'abnormality' may soon become normal to the person or to the society despite the underlying damage to both mind and body, the psychosomatics and neuroses of statecraft as much as of the single human being . A genetic or minority 'abnormality' might be dysfunctional under conditions of 'normality' but be highly functional under abnormal social conditions. Evolution teaches us that the abnormal may, over a considerable period of time, become 'normal', leaving the previously normal as now abnormal.

We should not be dismissive of the potentiality of the abnormal but the evolutionary value of abnormality is incremental and works over great swathes of time - driving the abnormal into normality, as in the drive for the New Scientific Man or in transhumanist fantasies where minds cannot keep up with technologies, is driving humanity not into transcendence but into dysfunctionality. Instead the abnormal should be allowed to flourish in the now because of its incremental potential in the future and that includes abnormal cultures and communities as much as persons/ Homo Sovieticus is matched in its self-induced psychosis by the Rights agenda of Liberal Internationalist loons. This is why we must have both a general theory of social normality (which observes it at a distance and decides whether it suits the person), one that treats the claims of the social critically, but also a private theory of the self, against the insanity of denying the ever-present Self, where the Self is to be measured against its own and not society’s standards of normality and abnormality as it moves from birth to death. All is flow, nothing is fixed and Reason is a tool and nothing more.

Saturday, 24 January 2015


Jealousy is like rage ... a fact of experience. But, like rage, it might also be taken as a signal of an underlying issue relevant to one's dealings with a person who is being emotional. Yet it is not a justification for accepting their emotional world view as yours simply out of fear of their emotion's effects on you. Respect does not mean acceptance of their world view, just acceptance that they have this world view. It is just a fact that must be taken into consideration.

For a strong emotion not to be respected, recognised and even (without compromising oneself) accommodated to the extent that one can is a sign of callousness and even of stupidity but to allow another's strong emotion to dictate terms to you on fundamentals is a sign of weakness on the one side and of bullying on the other. At its worst, low level permanent jealousy, anger or misery become a form of psychic vampirism by which one person becomes increasingly defined by the mental chemistry of another person. Thus can we define the worst of relationships.

All emotions have this quality either of potentially enhancing dialogue and personal growth or of being agents of control and attempted ownership but jealousy is the most interesting of all. It is the most explicit in its central claim - that X, in some way, has (actually almost certainly unjustifiable) ownership rights over Y. In fact, X can never own Y unless Y permits ownership (at its worst a form of masochism and at its best love). If the ownership is not freely given and that gift sustained on free terms over time but only depends on the fear of the effects on X's biochemistry of the intensity of Y's biochemistry, then the ownership implicit in X's jealousy is simple bullying. Acquiescence is then little better than slavery and may be cowardice or stupidity.

This is why an intense emotion is a major testing ground for a relationship and should strengthen it whereas chronic emotional pressure will either weaken that relationship or turn it into something neurotic and perverted - into the 'autism for two' referred to in 'The Coming Insurrection'. The two sins of emotion in a relationship lie at the two extremes of emotional perversion - not to express emotion strongly on the one hand and to use emotion as a controlling tool of ownership on the other. We all know from observation that struggles for power and dominance in personal relationships are as intense as that of States for energy resources. The fear of the righteous use of emotion - the explosion designed to communicate the otherwise incommunicable - is looked at with fear and loathing in our culture and for good reason.

First, an emotional explosion has to be seen in a context of distrust that the other party will respect the outburst, listen, learn but stand their ground on essentials while conceding ground on inessentials - and be acute enough to understand that the essential is not in the detail and that compromises are possible in many directions and most of the time. Second, our culture is made up of people who fundamentally lack self-esteem, of any pride in themselves, and who live in a world of zero sum games where a relationship is always won or lost like a game of poker rather than developed, expanded or shared like a game of chess.

The typical type in our modern culture has invested so much of themselves in the mirror of the other that they dare not show an emotion that might break that mirror (even if it is just as likely that it would strengthen the relationship), while 'chronic emotion' can be used as a weapon to constrain, hem in and define the other as fenced property. Instead of seeing another relationship (perhaps of simple friendship) added to the whole as an opportunity to redefine and strengthen the primary relationship for the long term, to improve its quality, the 'jealous' reaction would rather pull down the whole pack of cards and walk away. Is this not the case in so many destructive divorces, destroying the lives of children, where one party is simply too proud not to demand all-or-nothing?

The acute emotion of jealousy (or rage) is vital in pre-empting the death grip of convention on a relationship and, if not causing unhappiness, then promoting its decline into formality, role-playing and even the status, sexually and socially, of being a zombie, the sort that can have no conversation beyond house prices, pensions and what each does for a living. Western humanity lives in a permanent state of feeling threatened. The saddest aspect of it all is that we feel most threatened of all by the loss of an 'other half', another malign intervention of Platonic mythology. That fear ends up at the very root of a deathly conformity that leaves us functioning robotically or depending for salvation on secret vices.

The paradox is that our cultural obsession with 'cheating' (not so much in Europe where the matter tends to be dealt with as a form of cultural blindness but certainly in the US) creates the very crisis that it fears. By setting down absurdly 'perfect' relationship standards in the first place, we are driven as a culture into secrecy and fetishism and towards a lack of accountability - indeed anything and everything is done that is possible to avoid a confrontation over meaning in a relationship, one that might involve the expression of positive or negative emotion.

The misery lies not only in any actual loss (though people may have been living a limerent lie for a long time, one that needed to be faced) but in the constant nagging fear of loss and of loneliness. 'Autism for two' raises the stakes by making couple-dom central to the culture in a way that ensures that there can be no intimacy elsewhere. Above all, personal potential may be constantly defined in the terms of another emotional centre, one who casts themselves as successively victim or inadequate when they are neither of these, just different and to be respected as different. New distrust emerges as a result of misplaced past trust, based on an illusion of perfection, whereas a truly sound relationship would have involved a proper dialogue over emotion, under conditions where both parties would trust each other enough to allow truth-telling.

Think on this. How is it even possible that one party 'cheats', that is, is unable, because of our culture, to share with their primary partner the needs and desires that led them elsewhere?  Why are so many women and men frightened of telling the truth to what are, in effect, their best friends if they are, indeed, 'perfect soul-mates' which, of course, they are not. No such thing can exist without compromises that may prove too hard to maintain over long periods of time. The answer is obvious, people 'cheat' not because their primary partners are not soul-mates but because soul-mates are never simply simulacra of the partner and things do change - and should change if we are not to be zombies. No one can take the burden of being a perfect soul mate without subsuming themselves under another and denying all individuality. People 'cheat' because they cannot have a 'perfect soul mate' conversation about not being 'perfect'.

The cultural assessment of all this soon descends into a dim-witted bar room gut sense that a 'cheater' is a slut (if a woman) or weak and inadequate (if a man) but it might equally be said that the 'cheater' is simply a terrified coward in not standing before their primary partner and expressing desires and needs about which there may indeed be an accommodation. Jealousy is not envy but these alleged vices are close and if we look at envy (by, say, one woman of another's looks and attractiveness) we see similar central problems of self esteem and resentment and similar ambiguities over the expression of feeling.

Like jealousy and anger, envy is a fact. To condemn it morally is absurd. A wise person avoids jealous, angry and envious persons if they can but that may not be possible in an existing relationship so it is the contrast between the acute and the chronic that we have to look at. An acute burst of envy sends a signal that seeks reassurance just as an acute burst of anger is the first statement in a negotiation and jealousy is a call for dialogue. Chronic envy or 'ressentiment' is a soul-destroying absurdity, like chronic anger or jealousy. It calls for either an acute moment of catharsis or a fundamental breach.

How many people go through lives of resentment, depression (which is just rage turned inward) or unhappiness and self-doubt because they were unable to ball up their feelings and throw them at their partners as a demand for dialogue? Yes, economic and social entrapment (the fine business of holding things together with a mortgage or having a bunch of relatives who have pre-defined you) may make this difficult but not to do so is to allow oneself to be trapped and defined not only by the other but by all the others behind them. In effect, you will be socialised into chronic misery.

Negative emotion is thus essentially conservative. A person has land-grabbed a bit of social existence and now wants to keep what it has (jealousy) or resents someone else's lucky or more skilled land-grab (envy). Such conservatism is at the root of all that is nasty in politics, society and culture. It is corrosive. But all these emotions have their purpose. We are told that they arose out of evolutionary conditions to ensure that a man did not waste resources in raising others' offspring and a woman had the resources to raise her own but evolutionary biology as justification for jealousy is a cop-out. These are unscientific assumptions but they are widely believed and so become true.

The issue is not jealousy at all but being deceived or lied to, yet our culture has created the conditions for continuous deception because of the zero sum game most of its frightened, isolated players are engaged in. The discovered can lose everything and be subject to barracking and intolerable shaming and socially enforced guilt so it is no wonder that he or she lurks in the dark instead of expressing themselves responsibly in the light. The social has constructed its own dark and dreary underworld.

What is more interesting is the psychological truth that, whilst resentment, depression and misery result in the almost complete de-sexualisation of couples as they spend more time together, high emotion will trigger passion and sexual intensity. It might even be argued that a determined compliance with each other (generally, sado-masochistic in that one party is dominant) is tantamount to the slow murder of a relationship by strangulation, whereas a sense of danger and risk, but above all, dialogue, paradoxically maintains the bonds that brought two people together in the first place.

To do all this effectively, however, requires an acceptance that no person can ever be owned, that they are dangerously unknowable free agents and that risk and loss are challenges that enhance life - and, then, since all is paradox, the dead 'autism for two' might well be replaced by an unbreakable bond between persons and misery might be replaced with 'joie'.

Friday, 16 January 2015

The Only Right Left Standing - The Autonomous Individual Potentiating

Last week, we wrote on 'rights' which we think of as little more than demands and claims which cannot speak their name but must be cloaked in evasive language because the prevailing hegemonic system - whatever it may be - has pre-appropriated moral language for its own historically defined ends. Our view remains that demands and claims should be made in the name of autonomous individuals and of groups that would do no harm to others and that these demands and claims can be made without requiring any of the customary fluff and bluff of unjustifiable moral assertions from half-crazed activists.

Perhaps one 'right' (that is, demand) seems to be completely forgotten amongst the comical plethora of rights to cover every attribute that a person may have or not have. This is the 'right' simply to be a person - or rather to exist as who you are and not as you should be in the eyes of others. A person, above all, should have the right to live in accordance with their own biochemistry and to make private choices about attempts to change that biochemistry by any means at their disposal - carefully cultivated 'poisons', sexually, risk-taking, playfulness, transformation or whatever. The 'right' is associated with a very simple responsibility - the only responsibility - which is to take personal responsibility for harms to oneself and others. Even their death is the business of persons alone although my own prejudice is entirely towards the impulse to a life well lived.

The only reasonable exceptions are when the rights of others are diminished on the same terms as they are claimed - violence against the person springs to mind. The only sanctionable obligation should be to nurture one's offspring and, secondarily, all the young of the species, because these are persons in the making who need help to become persons. A nation of greedy self-regarding narcissistic pensioners piling debt on the young is an obscenity and the political liars who created this state of affairs beneath contempt. This commitment to the future and disregard for the dead weight of the past and 'tradition' makes me unusual amongst those who have come from a Left tradition in feeling deeply uncomfortable about abortion (as denied potentiality) while accepting, pragmatically, that the balance of interest directs us to a woman's claim to choose.

But, once born, there is nothing lower 'morally' than the person who abandons or mistreats a child. So perhaps one right - the right to autonomous development - can be salvaged from the absurd moralistic mess of contemporary liberal nonsense. I have to face the fact that this ends up with a core moral position not entirely alien to the Catholic Church albeit without the necessity of God or the flummery of the Church. This is the full acceptance of the 'right' or claim (or demand from the life force) of each person to be an autonomous individual to meet their full potential and not to be killed, injured or have the resources required to make choices removed from them - if the Left had consistently held to this principle some of the nastier brutalities of history might have been avoided.

Each person also as a subsidiary 'right', or claim or evident demand, arising out of this autonomy to be met, that is, to engage in precisely the levels of intimacy and commitment that suit them and no one else.  Of course, this is where our world view really does part company with the Iron Age restrictions of Catholicism. But, however we try to salvage them, all rights are a fiction other than this right of autonomy because only the autonomous right arises from the simple fact of a consciousness aware of itself in the world, an emergent right to be treated as the essence of a whole person's relation to Being, one who is always more than their attributes (thereby damning all forms of identity and essentialist politics) and who has an integrity of body and mind for which they can take responsibility themselves if permitted by social conditions. The Leftist aspect, of course, is thus not the evasions of rights ideology - that repulsive faux-left thinking of the petit-bourgeois graduate - but the commitment to create social conditions that give equal chances to all persons to be highly self-potentiating autonomous individuals in their own 'right'.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

On Rights Activism & Its Reactionary Nature

'Rights' are a fiction in a state of nature. If a 'right' appears on the scene, it should really be interpreted as a demand for something that someone has not got. It is a creation of the social. An appeal to some moral high ground on the basis of 'rights' is generally a rallying call for those who have not got something that others have (freedom, decent healthcare or whatever) to get together and force those with more power to concede to their demands. So far, so good.

But, at a certain point in history, people who see that others have not got something that they have and, for whatever psychological reason, think that these others should have what they have, will become 'rights activists'. They will try to grab yet higher moral ground for 'rights' as an abstract concept not apparently directly related to their own interest. This, of course, masks the interest they come to have in activism as an identity and as a racket for getting funds, ultimately from the wider population as taxpayers and consumers, redirected into their own pockets. This secondary development of rights ideology is dubious intellectually. A struggle for power cloaked in the language of rights (a healthy business psychologically and politically) becomes displaced by a more disturbing infantilisation of others using that same language. This secondary form of activism denies the opportunity for those without rights, through struggle in their own interest, to learn self-reliance and pride in their own liberatory achievements.

The final decadent phase of rights activism is when the activists have completely displaced the 'have-nots', denying them the right to engage in struggle at all, claiming that the 'have-nots' are not educated or resourced enough to represent themselves and so must be represented absolutely by NGOs or international organisations. 'Have-nots' become no more than passive subjects of well-meaning charity. The agenda is conservative. Much of human history has involved dynamic acts of resistance by the 'have-nots', often violent and self-interested - the myth of Spartacus tends to hide the fact that his probable intention was not to liberate all slaves but to liberate his community of slaves and enslave the enslavers. This politics of struggle became troublesome when a later theoretical equality based on the next world was organised by socialists and anarchists into an ideology of struggle and equality in this world. This had two major elements.

The first and most important element was the pragmatic emergence of effective resistance organisations amongst the politically and economically weak on their own account just before and in the wake of trade and industrialisation - in dissident churches, in pirates and autonomists as described by Hakim Bey, in trades unions and co-operatives and in political parties embedded in a community of relative have-nots and designed not to help people into the fairy-land of heaven but to build Jerusalem on earth.

The second element was a troubled and sympathetic bourgeoisie, increasingly added to by the sons and daughters of 'have-nots' who could hybridise the culture of the middle classes and the struggle for power within the community into political leaderships of transformative power. By the early twentieth century we had roughly five major types of well-organised liberatory struggle competing to transform the condition of the masses alongside the actual winner of that struggle, the free consumer market - i) the organised labour movement with its political party links, ii) the hybridised worker-intellectual party of European social democracy, iii) communism where a cadre of intellectuals act as bridge to our post-modern Leftism, iv) anarcho-syndicalism which subordinated the intellectual to the worker (at least in principle) and v) anti-imperialist liberatory movements which further hybridised what was going on in Europe.

The first type is now decadent - a hollowed out shell with only attenuated tribal community links run by cadres of professional politicians who have shifted from the politics of community to that of identity, from economic redistribution to cultural politics. The second type is taking much the same trajectory but placing its trust in bureaucratic and corporate top-down relations with the masses that mimic that of communism. Communism is almost defunct. Anarchism is now merely a ludic form of performance art for deracinated urban types. And the anti-imperialist movements have nearly all degenerated into statist rule from above, little empires in themselves, or murky and increasingly nasty traditionalisms. In short, the liberatory Left has virtually collapsed to the point where the best it can do now is emote in useless demonstrations, vigils and petitions or raise money and undertake volunteer work to save increasingly non-human idealistic visions such as that of the environment or those of grand abstract projects for poverty alleviation that do far less in a year than a wealthy capitalist can do in a day through a philanthropic foundation. Indeed, if anything, it is the super-rich that seem to be saving the world and not Leftists or the Progressive State.

The organised mass of the population is no longer organised because it no longer needs to be organised in the so-called free world and is not permitted to be organised outside it. Most people are broadly free in the free world with the only daily threat to them (as opposed to the manufactured ones that are convenient for the 'deep state') being the incompetence or malice of the very State that their ancestors had sought to capture in order to create Jerusalem. This leaves the other second element without a purpose - a huge minority of educated (to graduate level) middle class people who are virtually unemployable in the productive sector (or only in its more 'creative' services side) and who are desperate for meaning in their lives. It is this class that has decided for the last thirty years or so to take up the 'white man's burden' and fight for the rights of others - and all very conveniently for the conservative forces that still have all the rights that matter such as access to power and resources. So long as liberal bourgeois intellectuals are running around speaking for the 'voiceless', and so long as any meaningful struggle by the 'voiceless' can immediately be labelled as terrorism once it crosses all those boundaries that were crossed in the past to build the modern world, then the 'voiceless' can be neutered and contained as threats. By speaking for such people, the post-modern intellectual has given those masses no opportunity to speak for themselves or to learn by doing - through struggle.

But what if we stopped demanding specific 'rights' and simply asked to be respected as equal persons who are subject to no one. If we did this, the struggle for 'rights' ends when we have organised ourselves. We do not need activists and we do not need experts. We can return cynically and appropriately to rights as cover for our interests as persons and learn to understand that other persons have equal rights insofar as they are persons and not identity fictions. We do not then need liberators because we liberate ourselves. Those who appear beyond the hope of liberty grow, as we did two hundred or so years ago, into their own liberators from within in a struggle that gives a community dignity and respect. Better this than being infantilised by a bunch of outside neurotics wanting to express themselves narcissistically through their ownership of others' claims and aspirations.

Let us give a very contemporary example of the villainous call and response effects of liberal rights activism in the world. The aggressive drive for liberal rights has made the rights activists and their young middle class heroes and heroines in the field feel good but what has it actually achieved. It has put obscurantist, authoritarian and traditionalist regimes on their guard and allowed them to present universal values as imperialist and colonialist. The drive to impose such values by force fifteen years ago self-evidently strengthened traditionalism and resulted in its winning over of indigenous masses or a good proportion of them to conservative values. In many parts of the Middle East, dynastic rulers are now actually more progressive than the general population. Compare thissituation with the liberatory Marxist discourse in the Middle East of the 1970s or even the secularist discourse of Arab nationalism with the dominant discourse nearly fifty years later. These are the same people in the same culture but they have gone backwards in time as a defensive move against incursions that undermined local core values and identity. Self respect came to demand obscurantism over decency. Now the anti-imperialist struggle is directed as bloody terrorism against those same liberal intellectuals who most promoted those apparently universal values. In short, it is the blundering of liberals that has created the current terrorist threat.

Another example comes from Russia and is not so different from the provocations of Charlie Hebdo. Femen did not act to persuade through rational argument but purported to represent freedom without the consent or understanding of those desperate to be sexually free. They performed filthy mannered 'artistic' events that gave good local cultural cause for repression to the Right. By all means say that you think religion is oppressive or nonsene (I do all the time) but do not be so narcissistic as to go into a church, a sacred place to others, and behave in an offensive manner - it is like a drunk insulting a man's portly partner in a pub and calling her obese. It would just be bad manners and the drunk is lucky if the man whose partner they insult is the sort of man who will quietly get up and leave - the likelihood of the drunk being punched on the nose is equally high and the drunk should take responsibility for his behaviour. In Russia itself, the lives of gay people are now infintely more unpleasant and potential liberatory progress has been reversed because of the narcissism of a bunch of 'artists' and 'intellectuals'. Im this case, I stand with the ordinary gay guy in Novosibirsk and the ordinary Muslim in Homs against the egoism of the abstract thinker. So, "non, je ne suis Charlie parceque Charlie est un utter prat."

What we have in these cases is an anomic bourgeois liberal intellectual class that has no functional role in our society other than one based on 'performing' in order to be noticed like a court jester or ducking and diving to find ways to pay for their lifestyle by becoming a circus seal before the media and the sources of funds. It may be a narcissistic artistic performance with allegedly political ends or it may be the performance of the institutional network that gets funds because it really does no more than entertain or meet the agenda of our own type of fanatic or it may be the NGO that has turned itself into a mini-enterprise seeking funds from states and philanthropists to ensure its activists can live the lifestyle it craves. Whatever it is all must 'feel' that they are 'doing the right thing' (even though their blunderings are often doing the wrong thing and worsening the total situation). Occupy is the sad epitome of this mentality. I find it heartening that, though naive in this matter, Russell Brand is at least trying to think through what is going on on his own account - if only more did.

These people are, quite literally, decadent - neither courageous enough to enjoy the fruits of their class status nor honourable enough to donate their skills effectively to help the masses self-organise and transform society on their own terms in a political act of will. They are deracinated third rate minds who mistake their own abstract concepts and theory for considered evidence-based thought and who evade the reality of their situation - as parasites on a surprisingly effective and well run free consumer society that could be better. If we could break free of these bourgeois liberals, all of us, we certainly would not then need them to rule in our interest. We would become persons.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Abraham, Hagar and Sarah - Death in the Desert

According to the Bible, Abraham took a slave girl (Hagar) as his concubine and then married her to provide an heir, in agreement with his existing wife Sarah. Hagar produced Ishmael but then Sarah conceived and produced Isaac. Sarah then demanded that Abraham drive out both Hagar and Ishmael into the desert (and so to probable death). Abraham found this difficult and he only did it when he found out that God 'wanted him to do it'. We are creeped out now by people who say that 'God wanted them to do it' but this is the Iron Age Levant.

Many relativistic excuses (mostly post-facto based on the fact that 'it all turned out right in the end') can be made for the behaviour of these persons but this story is at the very root of the mythos of three world religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). It has been accepted without thought as representing God's word and so as a fundamentally ethical story. Perhaps it is time to start thinking about this and not say simply that this is just a story that history has made irrelevant. It is a story of great cruelty and we must ask what it came to imply for later humanity.

The first implication of the tale is that sexuality is a practical matter. Production of children, not pleasure, are at the root of the story. This is perhaps the most forgivable aspect of the tale ethically because times were hard and there was a logic to the attitude. A pragmatic ethical polyamory or polygamy may be one logical lesson of this history, yet this is the one rejected by at least two of the Great Religions that derived from it. The story of Hagar understandably permits a more open attitude to concubinage in Islam but both Judaism and Christianity were to adopt a position where Sarah's matriarchal rights were to be privileged over both those of the patriarch himself and the concubine/first wife.  For three thousand years, this has been presented as moral - but is it?

Far from being patrarchalist, Judaeo-Christianity starts its story, the story that then leads to Abraham and Isaac, with a tale of matriarchal struggle and power, of female competition. It tells us straight way that the subsequent three thousand years are the story of the triumph of one woman over another rather than that of a man over women. It undermines from the beginning the claim that Judaeo-Christianity is patriarchal and only patriarchal.

The second implication is the positive denial of emotion, of love, implicit in the story and the cruelty and resentment of the dominant matriarch. Abraham is twice denied his feelings by God - both here in regard to his feelings for Hagar and later in his feelings for Isaac on the sacrificial altar. God rewards the catty older woman over the younger. The 'patriarch' himself seems to have no power himself to bring the two women into line - it is his weakness before female rivalry that is the most noticeable feature of this part of the story.

What is going on here? Levantine man clearly had feelings. He was a human being. It seems that God does not approve of feelings, of emotion coming from within. Such emotion must be subordinated to the abstract - the theory of what is destined, written long after the event - and therein lies the tale. God's law, in the end, appears to suit Sarah as dominant wife and God himself as Authority. Patriarchal authority does not belong to the human patriarch at all - his wishes are ignored and he takes the easy way out. The authority belongs to an abstract and invented entity intended to buttress the power of the matriarch. It is as if the Great Goddess (if she ever existed) has proved a lot less useful than a Great Father because only through the latter can male physical power be re-appropriated for the real head of the household, she who is to be obeyed, though perhaps I take things too far and should not over-interpret the text.

But God does help Sarah to become dominant over Abraham in this matter and then takes Abraham away later to enforce his own direct dominance over him in the matter of Isaac. This is not a tale of patriarchal power at all but a tale of the assertion of priestly power (represented by this invented abstract thing called God) over the male by means of a Godly favoured female, a female given implicit domestic power in order to define the terms of the Law. The feminist analysis of Judaeo-Christianity is thus deeply flawed. It refers to patriarchalism when the Judaeo-Christian tradition is, much as Nietzsche described it, an alliance of weakness, of priests or intellectuals and middle class, property-owning women, designed to tame the free choices (which include sexual and emotional choices) of males and exclude other women.

This may not be a bad thing in itself because it depends where you stand in the game and there is only good or bad in relation to one's stance in that game. A certain form of order triumphed and made its rules stick. It is a contingent set of rules but, whether good or bad, it should still be seen for what it is and not for what it would be convenient for us to think it is in our later age. The Catholic Church, of course, took the Judaic system and went one better by (at least in theory) sexually neutering its priests so that all sexualities in the domestic setting were concentrated on the dominance of a mother advised by eunuchs. Marriage was to transfer the male from libertine to dog and excluded females to be sentenced to be sluts or nuns. Male sexuality and any female (or homosexual) sexual competitors were shunted to one side. God stood for an exclusivity that was prepared to eliminate (metaphorically and socially) its rivals through force of customary law, an elimination performed on Hagar.

And what of Hagar? She did all right in the end, being at the core of a polygamous Islam, but we can relax only if we take at face value that her destiny was one of providence and not, in fact, chance. She and her son could have died out their in the desert and only an 'act of faith' (ho, hum!) says that that was never going to happen.

So, what was the cost of this system of social control designed to bring order to society (for that is what this story is about)? Abraham is weak - he allows his natural feeling for a woman and their child to be thrust aside by the strictures of priestly (God's) and matriarchal law. Natural feeling will be torn from him later (saved only at the last minute) but this first case is not just abandonment, it is also also attempted murder. Let us remember - both Hagar and Ishmael are sent into the desert, in effect, to die. So a weak man and a proud and manipulative woman (with a little help from an ideological construct called God) sentence a weaker woman and a child to death without once questioning the morality of their action. Yet this morality (or lack of morality) is at the very centre of Western culture. Is a murderous callousness at its very heart?