human rights

Religious Colander-isation

Imagine in 20 years time looking back over your class photos, picking out mates, people you didn’t know and then the guy with the colander on his head. I’d love to have a time machine to see where this story from todays NZ Herald goes.

Briefly, a student has claimed his school breached his human rights by not allowing him to wear his religious headwear (a colander) for school photos, he is a Pastafarian – I’ll let you chew on that for a minute. Pastafarianism is a thing – a legitimate religion; therefore, he is entitled to follow his chosen faith. Now to be fair, the school probably didn’t know what to make of it when he showed up with his shiny colander and possibly needed to slow things down and ask more questions. Because on the surface, a kid turning up to school with a kitchen utensil on his head, does not fit the common understanding of religious headwear. I think the school could be forgiven for thinking he was taking the piss.

This brings me to another point. I am curious about Pastafarianism and it’s ‘mocking approach’ of religion. While I have never personally subscribed to any form of religion, I am wondering about the intention of ‘ridicule by infiltration’ or as I like to put it ‘colander-isation’ (like colonisation but punnier). This has the effect of drawing attention to the claims of religious beliefs as laughable and so are not to be taken seriously or be respected. I don’t know if that is their intention but it seems like it is a probable effect of their approach. For example the name of their church, Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, was unlikely chosen in order to invoke a sense of reverence.

On a more practical note I’m thinking if Pastafarians want to play sport they might need to consider a softer version of their headwear. May I suggest they check out silicone colanders. It might also be important for retailers to ensure they mark items Pastafarian approved. If enough Pastafarians emerge then they could apply to create a special character school? It might be first with its own school lunches, and rituals to honour the Flying Spaghetti Monster, good luck hiring cleaners.

Regarding this young man’s future, some have suggested he will possibly regret this stand and it will harm his reputation. I’m not so sure as there have been plenty of instances of ‘rule challengers’ who have gone on to very successful careers. It reminds me of this clip from Zeitgeist Moving Forward. Jacque Fresco has never been scared to challenge the system and has started a global movement (The Venus Project) because of his ability to challenge ideas.

While I respect his right to practice his chosen religion I’m unclear as to whether the violation of his rights is worthy of a complaint to The Human Rights Commission. I’d like to see him approach the Board Of Trustees and request a uniform review and perhaps consult with other religious groups who have worked through these tricky issues. If he as committed as he says he is he needs to submit a proposal like everyone else.

Finally Religious persecution is a thing he might need to get used to. If he is a devout Pastafarian his faith should get him through the tough times. He simply needs to return to the sauce of his beliefs and feast on the goodness it brings.


Hit with the truth

A long term study determines that ‘smacking’/hitting children isn’t such a good idea for their long term well-being and functioning. Wow – really? I’m shocked. So let’s put the research aside for a second, because there will be plenty of people not willing to accept the evidence.

Regardless of your beliefs, whatever values have been instilled in you from whatever sources perhaps an approach to this delicate topic of parental ‘rights’ and who gets to police that always evokes a challenge to the moral order.

But how about trying to look at this purely from a neurobiological perspective, particularly the fundamentals of the limbic system, namely the amygdala and the associated structures that mediate and process environmental info and emotional responses then how this is mediated by the frontal cortex or the ‘reasoning’ part of the brain. Abuse and trauma in early life (infancy-childhood) directly effects the amygdala producing structural and functional changes. Emotional responses and anxiety are heightened in response to stressful situations or stimuli. This early life trauma has been shown in studies to stay relatively permanent. The amygdala does not work alone, it is part of a network and this is also effected, including the relationship to the frontal cortex.

The brain has some level of neuroplasticity which is great and why children and young people need access to good support and resources to mediate the affective development and not be exposed to more abuse. There are some important places other than homes where children and young people can be exposed to stress and abuse, sometimes in the name of love and support. Schools in particular can be such sites.

While corporal punishment has been outlawed in New Zealand since 1990 the use of shame, humiliation and other threatening tactics are still employed and punishment is still seen as the preferred option. In light of this research I hope that approaches come under the microscope and we can look beyond blaming parents and take a collective responsibility for abuse – all forms including institutional. The growing movement of restorative approaches gives me some hope, neuroscientists such as Daniel Reisel back this process for healing and developing empathy.

So back to the truth – all forms of abuse have an effect, regardless of the intent. The courage our society faces is to start putting the effects ahead of peoples intentions and support the taking up of responsibility for harm.

Close shave

It’s something of a gender marker body hair and I’ve written about it a number of times. Facial hair and grooming is part of that with some services exclusively catering for men. I say men rather than male as in order to pass as a man publicly requires a whole body performance not just what combination of nuts and bolts make up your ‘hardware’. In such places masculinity finds a haven in being shaven. I imagine they enable a sense of relaxation and comfort and comradery. The branding and marketing and product sold is based around a gendered performance of masculinity. Being female and feminine does not fit.

So I suppose what I am wondering is why any woman would claim discrimination for being told she is not able to be employed due to her disrupting the space that is on offer. What if that female employee was previously male as in the case of Dakota Hemmingson? I’m thinking this is not so cut and dry. Transitioning from male to female comes with more than just material changes in morphology or embodied expression of gender, becoming female means to enter a new position in the social order (not withstanding other layers such as race, class, functioning). My reading of this scenario leaves me with a sense of disquiet about the polarising nature of rights and discrimination accusations and the defensive position it invites for employers. Rather than opening discussion on the complexities the standard ‘no comment’ lines or bland dismissive rhetoric passes over what could be a valuable dialogue around diversity.

But being reasonably cis gendered myself I don’t feel well qualified to speak about experiences of ‘being-becoming’ trans. There are plenty of trans men and women writers talking about the changes in social status and ways others relate to them that reveal much more of the ways society affords privilege or denies and excludes people on the basis of gender. In many ways I wish New Zealand had a version of Huffington Post rather than the cut and paste journalism of The New Zealand Herald as some of these stories might gain a bit more traction to tease out the nuances of gender and sexuality, rights and entitlements.

Of course LGBTQI people experience prejudice, harassment, bullying, and feeling accepted, respected and valued are absolutely vital for all young people on any journey on the rainbow spectrum. But while binary gendered roles exist these protected, gender defined, spaces will as well and not meeting the criteria is sometimes simply that. I hope Dakota finds her way into new employment as she clearly has valuable skills that people need not split hairs over.

Diversity is not in the equation

I’m not sure why I feel shaken. While the media will likely focus on the quake in Christchurch today, with good reason, my morning started with a different kind of movement. The jolt came from reading about another residency being declined on the basis of disability or more accurately the ‘costs’ attached to the care that might be needed for a family member. This time it is a maths professor being turned down because his step son has autism.

Not feeling the love today, maybe our government is taking this 100% pure campaign to the next level. But with my general distain for Valentines day mixing with a pervasive sense of deja vu, I had to stop myself being torn apart with a visceral sense we have reached the point of dispassionate valuing of people based on the capitalist model of production.

What is really clever about neo liberal, advanced capitalism is just how absolutely mesmerising and hypnotic the ideology that manipulates deep fears to promote individual responsibility, freedom of choice, competition and productivity in the name of ‘best interests of everyone’. People hate the idea they aren’t thinking for themselves. It pushes values that appear on the surface to be good such as competition while quietly ensuring people remain just a bit on edge with a sense of vulnerability. It invites people to reduce life and worth into modes of being that play along with normative structures. When you are born into this global community you are plugged into this value system based on production and consumption. Forget all that stuff about diversity – unless it suits your advertising campaign. Perhaps as Bronwyn Davies suggests, the ultimate power of neo liberalism is it is founded on the assumption that there is no alternative – therefore making it impervious to critique.

It is the ultimate version of The Matrix people are so attached to the system that they will fight to protect it. The logic is sound – if someone is a drain on the health system (that is ‘your hard earned tax dollars are going to be poured down the drain) people will back the system that looks after them every time and agree ‘that’s fair’. New Zealand your ‘pure’ brand is starting to feel like a past regime without the overt propaganda just a quiet take-over of our fear of difference. I’m no maths professor but this really doesn’t add up to any form of humane and just society.

In the words of Elizabeth Grosz, ‘we need to disturb difference rather than be disturbed by difference’. Wake up New Zealand – the neo liberal matrix has you and it makes us look ugly and really shaky on human rights. Watch out for silver spoons.