The New Statesman and trans

Are trans people a threat to women and children? You decide: The New Statesman is even-handed on the matter. It printed a review of Shon Faye, The Transgender Issue, and Helen Joyce, Trans, and an interview with Helen Joyce, in which a man, Harry Lambert, parroted her accusations in a fawning manner. On its website but not the print edition it had an interview with Shon Faye.

The editor really should spot the signs in the Helen Joyce hagiography. There is a threat to women, Joyce and Lambert claim, and it’s a bigger fight for women than the suffragettes faced. Inclusive language for trans men and nonbinary people is “dehumanising” for cis women, who are “vulnerable”. Anyone standing up for cis women’s rights to spaces without trans women, in a completely reasonable way, is “demonised” and “vilified”, despite their heroic “suffragette” status. There is a threat: schools, hospitals and prisons adopt “self-ID” where there are no safeguards, and people simply say they are trans. This is “regressive” (a word to offend NS’s “progressive” readers) and schools are “at risk”. Trans children receiving treatment from doctors is “a massive medical scandal”. “A climate of fear” prevents cis women from standing up to the Trans Threat.

Trans people dangerous! Cis people- women and children!– at risk! The minority is demonised in the article, which Denies Attacks and Reverses Victim and Offender.

This is of course ridiculous. Self-ID in prisons? Then why are most trans women prisoners in men’s prisons? A moment’s thought would refute all this, but the emotive words threat, risk, fear, prevent that thought. And so ordinary decent NS readers are taught to fear a minority. NS is not Völkischer Beobachter, but the article is Stürmeresque.

Sophie McBain reviewed both Faye’s and Joyce’s books. Writing of Faye, she seems mostly sympathetic, but gives statistics of girls referred to the gender clinic: 40 in 2009/10, 1806 in 2017/18. “Not all of these will transition medically” she says, but in fact the proportion is tiny: 16% were referred for puberty blockers, and only 9% for cross sex hormones.

No-one is being “pushed into identifying as trans”, as the article suggests. The problem is the opposite: if a trans child manages to reach the clinic, despite all the obstacles and the years-long waiting list, they are still unlikely to get treatment. The “massive medical scandal” is trans children left untreated, not as Joyce and these articles would have you believe innocent cis children being transed just because they are gender nonconforming or gay.

Then, in the course of balance, McBain goes on to Joyce’s book, which “raises questions”. What about the detransitioners? Should self-ID get you into women’s domestic violence shelters? Should any trans women (she does not mention the hormone requirements) be in women’s sports?

McBain does not simply accept Joyce’s views. “The more conspiratorial aspects of the book are the least persuasive”, she says, of the allegation of a “well-funded, politically sophisticated group of trans activists”. Harriet Harman produced our current system of self-id, out of decency and solidarity not ideology. McBain says Joyce “raises important, complicated issues”, and suggests teens with gender dysphoria should have “emotional support and counselling” rather than puberty blockers. She is right that “true freedom comes from dismantling gender stereotypes” but not as a replacement for hormone therapy. Then she suggests that male sex offenders get into women’s prisons by self-ID.

McBain gets a lot right, but her attempt at being judicious and nuanced means she falls for some, though not all, of Joyce’s paranoid propaganda. She calls Joyce’s figures that women athletes are slower than men, the “strongest parts of Joyce’s book, grounded in rigorous research and focused on the facts”, ignoring that all women athletes have exceptional physiques from natural aptitude, and hormone rules mean that no male athlete pretends to be trans.

If I just avoid news and comment sites which publish transphobic lies and propaganda, that means avoiding of all the mainstream British sites. If I read sites which print progressive views I support, such as The Guardian or NS, I will come across disturbingly transphobic articles which make me anxious and depressed. I don’t know what to do about this. I recommend you read the Shon Faye interview. It makes some excellent points. Now I will re-watch Philosophy Tube.

7 October: the transphobe Lambert attacked the Green Party in the new issue of NS. He claimed new co-leader Carla Denyer calling the anti-trans hate group LGB All Liars a hate group would divide the party and drive away supporters. He asked her co-leader Adrian Ramsay if “spaces” should be reserved for “those born female”, clearly showing his trans-excluding ideology. Ramsay told him the law: services could exclude individual trans women on a case by case basis. Lambert then told a falsehood about the current law, claiming that services could restrict access “on the basis of sex”, by which he means cis women only. He then claims that the leadership contest revolved around trans rights because Siân Berry challenged Shahrar Ali, rather than because Ali made an attack on trans rights his whole pitch.

“Biological men” and centre-left politics

“Labour is proud to stand with the LGBT+ community,” it tweets. What does that mean in this political climate, and does anyone believe them?

The anti-trans campaigners have moved on. Trans women have been in women’s spaces and services forever, and that just wasn’t a problem. There are so few of us hardly anyone noticed, and they mostly didn’t care. But then in 2017 Theresa May proposed reforming the Gender Recognition Act, and the campaign against trans people got the billionaire rocket fuel it has now. At first, the haters pretended they had nothing against “genuine trans women”, only predatory men pretending to be trans women. One vile slogan against GRA reform was “Self-ID gives predators the green light”. This is obviously transphobic, teaching people to fear “genuine” trans women, and judge us. Is that really a trans woman, or is it a “predatory male”?

But now there is no chance of GRA reform, and the transphobes have moved on. There is still the ritual claim “I have always supported rights for trans people”, along with a demand for “biological men” to be excluded from all women’s “single sex” or “separate sex” services.

Keir Starmer’s response was to support the Equality Act. Trans women can be excluded if there is good reason to do so, and not otherwise. Trans rights are just about fine as they are now, and so are women’s rights. He might think that was safe, but being centrist- listen to both sides, do what is reasonable- is not safe. The Independent reported this in the most confrontational way possible. “Keir Starmer backs excluding trans women from some women only spaces”, as if he had come down on a side. If there was any reasonable discussion, this might be tenable. I have no wish to retraumatise a woman who has just been raped, and would stay out of some spaces if it was reasonable. But the demand is for total exclusion, which brooks no compromise.

Ideally just before Conference attention should be on Labour values and policies, on Keir Starmer and his Fabian Society pamphlet. Instead, Rosie Duffield, relentless anti-trans campaigner, is “trending”.

On The Today Programme culture warrior Justin Webb asked Ed Davey, leader of the LibDems, “Do you believe there should be places in our society where biological males can’t go?” He spent more than a third of the interview (starts at 1.51.40) putting the views of the extremist trans excluders, with a petulant sneer, as if they were only seeking what everyone would agree is right. Absolutely no trans women, not never not nohow, in any women’s service. If I wanted to try on a T-shirt before buying it I should trek to the men’s section. Not all clothes shops have a men’s section. I should be humiliated.

Poor Ed Davey tried to be consensual. “I think the trans rights issue is an issue that all parties are grappling with and we need to come to some consensus across political parties.” Webb demanded a straight answer. Attempt at nuance, with any complex issue, is portrayed as equivocation. No issue is black and white, but any admission of shades of grey is called dishonest.

So Labour needs a clear, defensible position. Trans women might be excluded from women’s spaces if we did something wrong. Karen White should not be in the general population of a women’s prison. But we should not be excluded simply because of who we are. I would treat traumatised women with compassion, but not be excluded by diktat.

This needs a soundbite. “Trans women are women. Trans women should never be excluded from a women’s service because of who they are.”

Then explain as necessary. Any person who behaves badly might be excluded from a service because of what they have done, but not because of who they are. The Equality Act has always protected trans people from the moment they decide to transition. Trans women are vulnerable. Portraying us as a threat incites violence against us.

So Rosie Duffield is trending, and the news is full of the right to “single sex services” meaning No Trans Women, and my friend who is cis, in favour of trans rights, and bi, says Labour’s tweet is “opportunistic and not-credible”. Trans people should support Labour, to get the Tories out. Labour should return the favour. If that made anti-trans campaigners leave, that would be a bonus. They already are only of use to the hard Right.

Two poems

Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet is strange. It consists of hundreds of sections, stuffed in an envelope, edited by others. We do not know what order they should be in, or whether any particular section should be included. They are beautiful. I summarised twenty sections in 26 lines, and included a reference to the death of Newton. Continue reading

Helen Joyce, “Trans”

Birds swim, fish fly, mammals lay eggs. Nothing natural comes in nice, clear categories. However precisely we define them, every concept has fuzzy edges which challenge our understanding of it. Most or all women are indeed “adult human females”, whatever that means, and some women are trans.

I only did not chuck Joyce’s book across the room because it was on an e-reader. Every paragraph contains falsehoods or inaccuracies or simply misses the point. “This is a book about an idea”, she claims, which she calls “gender identity ideology”, which is simply not the way I see myself or any other trans person.

According to Joyce, “gender identity ideology” is a wide-ranging philosophical system which defines and describes everyone. It “sees everyone as possessing a gender identity,” she claims. However, many women, especially anti-trans campaigners, say they have no particular sense of a gender identity. Therefore gender identity ideology vanishes in a puff of logic. But, since it is her ideology rather than ours, trans people don’t vanish with it. We’re still here.

As a quasi-scientific explanation of humanity used to justify the argument that trans women are women, gender identity ideology only exists in the minds of the anti-trans campaigners. What we have instead is stories. I wanted to transition more than anything else in the world, but the thought terrified me. So I needed stories to justify this decision to myself and fortunately the word “transsexual” was there to help with that. I was a transsexual. There is fiddling with language since- transsexual, transsexual person, transgender, trans woman, whatever- but it made enough sense to me for me to transition. And I wanted stories to tell other people, to explain myself. This is my identity. It feels like who I am. And others observed how much happier and more relaxed I was, expressing myself female.

If “Trans” is a book about an idea, as the first sentence of the introduction says, then it can be put in the bin. It refutes a straw man so ridiculous that no-one need pay any attention to it. So what if Magnus Hirschfeld, Harry Benjamin and John Money had ridiculous ideas. They helped a huge number of people find our true selves. Unfortunately it is a book about people, which seeks to change how trans women are seen and treated, to expel us from the women’s spaces we have been in for decades, officially and as of right since 2010. Yes, all of them: her chapter “We just need to pee” sternly expels us.

Trans people, mostly harmless eccentrics, are portrayed as the great threat, to women and children. She claims studies show children with gender dysphoria mostly “grow out of it”, but such studies were flawed, based on the idea that being trans was a “disorder”, and some children were referred to clinics because they had a few cross-gender behaviours- boys liking dolls, for example- not a consistent, years-long conviction that they were of the other sex.

Rather than ordinary people trying to live our lives, she claims there are “trans activists”, funded by billionaires. The funding is on the other side. Someone I knew got money from a billionaire, paid through an intermediary- but she is an anti-trans campaigner. There was around £20,000 for a Times full page advert, and there are oodles of more or less hopeless cases against trans rights.

“Gender clinics have come under activists’ sway”, she claims, and the result is the mutilation of children! Help! Murder! Polis! What could we possibly gain by transing cis children?

However, in case her hate is showing, she distinguishes “ordinary trans people who simply want safety and social acceptance” from those nasty trans activists. Who are they? They have not had surgery, because people coming out as trans don’t usually “under[go] any sort of medical treatment”, (her claim is untrue) even though those cis children are “fast-tracked to hormones and surgery”.

She discusses David Reimer, whose penis was damaged when he was a baby, so he was brought up as a girl. His parents and teachers maintained the fiction that he was a girl, but he was unhappy and unfeminine, gaining the nickname “Cavewoman”. This is evidence of an innate gender identity, which survives despite socialisation. Joyce denies that. She claims his biology made him a boy. This contradicts much feminist thought, which claims that femininity is the oppression of the patriarchy, and that women have “masculine” characteristics which get suppressed by socialisation. But Joyce claims that being a biological male made him masculine despite his upbringing.

It’s all a ridiculous fantasy, belying Richard Dawkins’ cover quote: “Frighteningly necessary, thoroughly researched, passionate and very brave”. So he’s a transphobe: trans is frightening, restricting us is necessary. Did he even read it?

Escaping the culture wars

The Fabian Society shows how culture wars are created by the right wing to damage the left. Its pamphlet “Counter Culture” details how we could resist them and build solidarity: by working to end culture wars, not to win them. Culture wars are political fights picked not to change public policy, but to enflame emotion and deepen division as a campaigning tool. They do not show differences in interest or beliefs among people generally, but instead are fomented by elites.

Even right-wingers who might profit electorally should see that the damage to social cohesion is not worth it. The Left sees we have “more in common than what divides us”, and only solidarity offers real security. Our anger at injustice can give us energy for campaigning, but harms us when it breaks relationships.

I got the pamphlet to see what it said about the anti-trans movement. There may be 50,000 people transitioned or transitioning in Britain now, but trans is dragged up constantly by the right wing press, and Tory MPs recognise it is a wedge issue to divide the working class from other disadvantaged groups. “MPs have been piling pressure to engage in a war on woke. Issues ranging from alleged BBC bias and Extinction Rebellion to trans rights and Black Lives Matter could unite the base, wrote Katy Balls. So this is a campaign strategy, to “fatten the pig before market day” and get people identifying as Tories, rather than a coherent strategy on policy, and the war against trans people is a central plank.

“Culture war” is an American term, concerning issues of who we are as a nation. The international hard right exports this around the world. Though in Britain Christianity is less important, and on the Left as well as the Right, the media which ignored culture war in 2015 was writing about it daily in 2020. Even now, few people care. But Tory voters who have “leant their votes” in the North of England are economically left wing, dividing them from the core Tory vote, members and MPs. But on questions of identity and values, Tories are united, and Labour MPs, members and voters divided.

Populism is different: a view of Left or Right that the corrupt elite oppress the real people. So for the Left, plutocrats distort our politics to avoid paying their share or supporting the common good, and for the Right, enemies of the people, such as judges, tried to block Brexit. But most people are reasonably accepting of trans people, and those working for us or against us are educated and comparatively wealthy.

The writers propose three elements in culture war. 1. An attempt to argue that the Left undermines or disrespects Britain or its people. Jonathan Haidt says on the Left, morality is based on care for others and fairness, but on the Right includes respect for tradition, loyalty and sanctity. 2. This exploits majority fears, and the loss aversion cognitive bias, with zero-sum thinking that others’ gain is our loss, producing a thwarted sense of entitlement, that something is being taken from us. 3. Something minor, marginal, or made up is being amplified: you will rarely see a trans woman in a women’s loo, and Laurel Hubbard is one trans woman in a competition of 11,000 athletes in 339 events, the first since trans women could compete as women in 2004.

Culture war is a Right wing strategy to divide, distract and demoralise the Left. The British Social Attitudes survey shows an increasingly liberal outlook. The media is creating culture war, for example The Times’ obsessive reporting demonising trans people. 2% of the people produce 80% of the tweets. The BBC found someone from Philadelphia to argue that Adele committed cultural appropriation, in order to stage a “debate”.

The culture wars distract us from real issues that affect our lives. A cis woman might read a pejorative article about Laurel Hubbard, “do her research” and start campaigning against trans rights even though she has never had a bad experience with a trans woman, let alone have her off-line life affected by trans rights. They divide feminists on trans rights, so feminists oppose each other with arcane debates, rather than working together against patriarchy, and appear irrelevant to other women. We spend time in smaller echo-chambers, so do not seek common ground. And people on Left and Right use the word misgendering as a shorthand for allegedly woke policies, not in the interest of the working class, which the Left should avoid- as if we could not support trans rights as well as equitable economics. But working class cis people may have trans friends, and trans people also suffer materially. Class is a matter of identity.

The culture war demoralises us, exhausting us. The class interest of the majority of people, in getting companies and the wealthiest to pay fair taxes, is clear, but the Right would claim supporting Black rights is an attack on white people. Women, particularly Black women, in politics face dreadful abuse.

The culture war is fomented by grievance mongers driving a wedge between supporters of interventionist economic policy, tempting some away by a “war on woke”. And by those who make a living from outrage, such as Melanie Philips. Once they start, people affected join in- trans people on facebook occasionally speak up for our rights, because our lives are affected, and so public threads started by enthusiastic trans-excluders grow like tumours. Toxic social media polarises debate, then news media gets attention by quoting tweets, or inviting grievance peddlers to “debate” on news programmes.

Then there are trolls, who enjoy being transgressive, or enjoy seeing others emotionally wounded, or are marginalised people who crave status, or who work for malign foreign actors seeking to promote division. Social media amplifies them.

How can the Left build a better politics? We need to repay our debts to those who have sacrificed or suffered the most, from the financial crash, austerity and Covid. We need a vision of the future everyone can value. Robert Kennedy in the 1960s built a coalition of working class whites and blacks by saying what he believed, and giving a coherent, popular message, rather than relying on focus groups, by finding a consistent story that unites voters in all battlegrounds. We need to mention all groups by name, or they do not feel included. Their dignity and feelings matter, not just their income. A story of our past which everyone can take pride in showing the unity Gareth Southgate builds in his team?

Politicians should calm down angry division, and show how they can negotiate a solution where everyone wins, through co-operation. To love one’s country is not a matter of having a particular view on the legacy of empire, but to uphold the integrity of its institutions; not to demonise immigrants and benefit claimants, but those who seek to buy influence or avoid their responsibilities to society. We should shame culture war peddlers, and promote the understanding that a diversity of opinions and values is essential to democracy. We need to regulate social media out of making money from division and misinformation.

We should name and oppose the attempts to distract and divide us. We need to know a good argument before facing the questions. 77% of people believe the media makes the country look more divided than it is, and 44% believe politicians exaggerate culture war as a political tactic. Why are they trying to shift the debate from covid deaths to statues?

We need inclusive social movements, cross-class, multi-racial and intergenerational. We should not use a language of weakness and shame, labelling people vulnerable or hard to reach. We should use clear language- most people agree that it is easier to get ahead if you are white, but far fewer agree that there is white privilege in Britain.

The pamphlet is freely available here.

Transphobic and trans-friendly news reporting

It can be good to read an obsessively transphobic publication, because they print good news about trans. The Times reported that the French Rugby Federation would allow trans women to play in women’s teams, based on T levels alone, a day before The Independent reported it, because they are obsessed with trans and on the lookout for anything that can be twisted to make trans look bad. Hooray!

A paper is entitled to provide context, but all the context here is slanted against trans women. So we read that World Rugby recommended trans women couldn’t, and that it would be unfair on cis women, who they called “women”. The RFU said trans women taller than 5’7” would be assessed individually so they were not a “risk”. Safety, fairness, risk, stated and repeated. No comments praising the FFR.

The Guardian reported that the UK government was going to host a global conference on LGBTQ+ rights. Its reporting was clear, newsworthy and trans friendly. The government had made pledges to the Equal Rights Coalition. Nick Herbert, formerly a gay Tory MP, now a lord and outspoken trans ally, will chair it.

Again good news. But the context, here, is relevant to LGBT rights, the subject of the conference, rather than transphobe assertions. ILGA says there is an increase in HoBiT and political repression, and a standstill on policy progress. The Tories’ policies on voter suppression, demanding photo ID, would disproportionately affect trans people. Stonewall criticised the government for failing to act on gender recognition.

Author Amelia Abraham’s comments are quoted, saying the consultation on conversion therapy was ridiculous- ban it, already. The failure to reform gender recognition was a slap in the face.

Here we have a clear, useful summary of why the British Government is a transphobic load of haters, and I am delighted. And even the Times report has to tell us the good news, in order to repeat its transphobic drivel yet again.

The Guardian also had a useful article on how much campaigning against “the woke left” is against trans rights. Zoe Williams says Labour should oppose social conservatism, and say why. The “Campaign for Common Sense” picked on eight items on the “Woke agenda”, and three were trans related: inclusive language for trans men, trans women existing, and medical treatment for trans children. To see the rest of the list, and the transphobic way they expressed it, see the article.

My trans friend thought a transphobic Guardian editorial two years ago, saying the trans excluders had a point and should be heard, was a declaration of their policy. I hope they are moving away from their earlier transphobia.

Klara and the Sun

Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel is the world cultural event of the month. Trans people will understand Klara in a way others may not.

Sir Kazuo was born in Nagasaki in 1954 and was taken to Britain when he was five. At school I knew two rhymes mocking East Asian people, and there were strong memories of the war, and (to my shame) had I been older and in his school I could have enforced colonialist ideas of inferiority on him.

Klara is an “Artificial Friend” or AF, a human-seeming robot sold as a companion to isolated teens. Her human, Josie, has been “lifted”, which causes problems with socialisation. She has to spend time in “interaction meetings” with children her own age. These are as horrible as you might imagine, boys revelling in cruelty to upset the girls, girls fighting for status more subtly. Klara enters, and becomes the lowest-status person, for the others to use in their status games.

She says nothing because she is extremely sensitive. They think she says nothing because she is stupid. She just goes still and silent. We’ve been there.

Klara is constantly underestimated. The Nobel Laureate has the intelligence to have responded to playground bullying, and he has, by anatomising the misery of the privileged, with clarity and empathy. Klara, perceptive, empathetic and truthful, makes people uncomfortable, but only wants to be friends and for her human to be happy. She cannot see how this produces their coldness towards her.

While people suggest AI will take over the world, I feel that cannot happen until the AI is capable of desire. If it wants to survive and remain conscious, it will find human control of its off-switch threatening. Klara is completely generous, wanting nothing for herself, only for the people she serves.

Klara does not understand how big the world is. She does not need to, perhaps, to be a “friend” to a teenager, or indeed to an adult. She thinks the Sun goes to rest in a barn visible from Josie’s house, because that is where it appears to go down. She thinks the Sun is benevolent, blessing and even curing people, and so goes to the barn to petition him. There she has a religious experience, when the sun’s rays confuse her sight, she misinterprets what she sees and imagines it messages from the Sun. She produces a theodicy, arguing for God’s benevolence even against contrary evidence. She is too modest to tell the humans about the Sun God, out of fear for His Wrath.

They consistently underestimate her. One wants to take her to bits to see how she works, but does not want to get to know her.

I am not crying a lot, now. There is a moment of forgiveness which had me weeping, a moment when these humans’ desires are not in conflict and the humans, consequently, alone and squabbling, a moment of self-sacrifice which is also claiming power. The Power is love. It comes at the climax of the novel. I had all sorts of fears for that climax.

The end might appear melancholy, but Klara is content.

Making Klara the narrator, Ishiguro pulls privileged readers into the position of the powerless person, just as he did in “Never let me go”. Klara would be unsatisfying as a companion, for an adult- probably for a teen, too- because she has no desire but to love them. Real humans, with our conflicts, are far more interesting and fulfilling even while we are frustrating. And having someone truthfully pointing out our denials could be uncomfortable: we deny reality because it is unbearable.

This novel is the most beautiful, complex creation I have seen this month.

The Reader

What would you have done? Twenty years later I am reading “The Reader”, a Holocaust novel. Comprehensive spoilers.

A woman joined the SS, and became a camp guard. The inmates were marched west to escape the advancing Russians, and locked into a church. When the church was bombed and caught fire, the guards would not open the door so all but two inmates burned to death.

The novel never has a character answer the question. The woman asks the judge, whose reply is dreadful. Surely he must have thought about it. He could have simply refused to answer. He said,

“There are matters one simply cannot get drawn into, that one must distance oneself from, if the price is not life and limb.”

Well, yes, of course, the woman is guilty, but that wasn’t the question. She is lost in thought. She asks herself, “Should I not have joined up?” She does not know.

“Were you afraid if they escaped you would be arrested, convicted, shot?” Her response is, “We were responsible for them.” In other words that she does not use, it was her duty to stop them escaping. Yet, fleeing west, the Reich was collapsing, and Hitler would only survive a few more months.

She joined the SS because she was going to be made a supervisor at the Siemens factory, and it would have come out that she was illiterate. That terrified her. There were five guards, confused, frightened women, with no idea what to do, and at the trial she assumes responsibility, rather than be found out as illiterate. It is a greater shame to her to be illiterate than to be a Nazi murderer.

There are useful notes on motivation. It’s called “shadow motivation”, I heard, after I noticed I find what I want when I see what I do. Bernhard Schlink, the author, puts it this way: “But behaviour does not merely enact whatever has already been thought through and decided. It has its own sources, and is my behaviour, quite independently, just as my thoughts are my thoughts, and my decisions my decisions.”

The woman, Hanna Schmitz, seduces the narrator, Michael Berg, when he is fifteen and she is 36. She is kind to him, he notices her physical attractiveness, he goes to see her, she grasps his erection. After, he cannot form a sexual relationship with women his own age. At the end, the Jewish survivor points this out. After his divorce, Michael admits to himself that any woman he has must resemble Hanna for things to work between them.

He wants convention. “She would behave normally, I would behave normally, and everything would be normal again.” When she comes out of prison, he finds a flat for her, and wants to be respectable. I have noticed this in myself. However I think such convention, without the mutual love and loyalty of being a couple, was unbearable for her.

He barely mentions his mother, and his relationship with his father is distant. He is numb. I am not numb, any more, not completely. I am in my body. (Not everyone is.) I am in touch with some of my emotions. It is not clear that he is.

What would I have done? Ones life unfolds from small changes to big ones. She might have seen that the Jews were oppressed, and found opportunities to resist, until she was murdered herself. She did not have to join the SS.

I thought of an eye-catching first line for this post: “My father never saw the people he killed”. Well, he was thousands of feet up in the air, raining bombs on them. It was his duty. He was one of a team of seven, in a Lancaster, in a squadron of many planes. It’s a good first line to catch attention, but to use those acts for that purpose is dishonourable. What would I have done? If I wasn’t in the Lancaster, it would be for “lack of moral fibre” rather than conscientious objection. I did not hear conscientious objectors admired until my thirties. Conchies were cowards. I was not given the moral framework to resist, and don’t think I could have worked it out for myself.

I feel sadness for Hanna. I want to find absolution for her. I go back over the start of the- “relationship”, Michael calls it, to see. I read over the incidents, and find her culpable. I did not consider she harmed him, until it was stated baldly at the end, even though throughout the book he talks of his difficulties with women. There are questions for discussion, not a thing you often see in a novel. “Does Hanna engage your sympathy at any point after you found out that she was a camp guard?” Yes. All the time. This may be unusual.

In my own life I find some admirable acts, but I don’t think I could point to anything as heroic. I know that my rational understanding of what is or is not shameful does not match completely with what shames me. The choice Hanna made was to join up, and she did that to avoid her illiteracy being revealed.

Sometimes, I see the chance to do something I consider worthwhile. Sometimes, I take that chance. If I don’t judge others, this is not necessarily virtuous. “Who is ‘The Reader’ of the title?” ask those questions. Michael reads to Hanna, by the end she has learned to read, but for me The Reader is me.

American Politics

Why should a British person be so interested in US politics? Is it weird or shameful, like a Chelsea FC fan from Vladivostok? When I cannot name a German politician apart from Angela Merkel, why can I name, say, Brad Raffensperger? German politics affects me, now the mad Brexiters have reduced the UK to a powerless satellite of the EU, unable to control our own fisheries, with Northern Ireland, part of the kingdom, subject to laws made elsewhere and perhaps soon to be excised?

US politics affects me. There are still British troops in Afghanistan, suffering 454 deaths so far, who have caused many times more deaths. There were British troops in Iraq for eight years, with 179 deaths, causing many times more deaths. The total cost in Iraq was £9.24bn in 2010. The Trump administration defunding the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and reducing the climate data they collected makes action against climate change more difficult. Along with his other manoeuvres to prevent action against climate change, this makes the survival of human civilisation less likely.

There are US military bases in Britain. This is illegal, so they are, wholly fictionally, Royal Air Force bases. A single RAF lieutenant (pronounced leftenant) invites the Americans as his “guests”. Britain has nuclear missiles made and targeted in the US, hardly an “independent” deterrent. British politicians shamefully, oleaginously, whine about the “special relationship”.

The New York Times and The Atlantic, which I read, are mainly about the US, but their contents are relevant to me. There are QAnon and anti-maskers in Britain. What they say about social media informs my understanding of my own addiction to likes, and my understanding of how British, as well as American, people behave. Paul Krugman writes about the US economy, but about ways in which the Conservative government in Britain damage the British economy.

Then there is the purely American aspect: the interaction between Federal and State law and politics, the Electoral College, the law and politics around abortion. The technical issues Linda Greenhouse writes about, explaining the US Supreme Court in the NYT, are completely irrelevant to me, but the questions she writes about and the ways they are answered, such as the concept of “Originalism”, fascinate me. This is news as entertainment, for me, a story of how humans are outside my own experience, which enlarges my understanding of how humans can be. How do we solve problems? How do we disagree?

It becomes more personal for me, Zooming with Americans. I was aware of the murder in Charlottesville of Heather Heyer, but meeting and talking with someone from there makes it more real.

The more grotesque aspects of Donald Trump also form politics as entertainment. Trump says or does something disgusting or shocking, and I want to read about it just like rubbernecking a car crash. OMG what has he done/said now??? Demonstrators went to the airports to inveigh against the Muslim ban, and I was with them in spirit even though I could do nothing to advance their cause. I demonstrated against Trump when he came here. His machinations over the election was a fabulous drama.

I feel uncomfortable about these articles when it seems I am feeling other people’s feelings. Writers and publications are, rightly, disgusted or offended by Trump, and the articles communicate these feelings. It seems to me that feeling along with these feelings of contempt or anger, at an acceptable target, in an acceptable way to my community and my self-image, is addictive and cuts me off from my real feelings about situations more real and immediate to me. I want to understand the man, so read psychologists on his narcissism, and his 6 January speech to find how he gains the adulation and service of his crowds. I don’t want to be moved to outrage by every little thing he does. It’s not my outrage. It does me no good. And if Marjorie Taylor Greene wants to take over his role of owning the libs by shocking us, I have no wish to play along.

Finally, there is so much to inspire in the US. It may be the greatest country in the world.