“Just finished Don Don… finished it in less than 8 hours… very interesting and enlightening… still thinking of the characters.. the author has used a very explicit language that I find honest and interesting. I also really liked the plethora of spiritual information contained in the book. The whole concept of soul merging with the universe which I had read about several times before – I could follow it better only after reading this book. I loved the non-deceptive tone of the author… it is a spiritual book with a difference. It takes reality into consideration and does not just rant on about spiritual stuff which none usually understands in other books. I especially liked the end quote by Andrew Harvey… it was very beautiful and put a poignant end to the story. Looking forward to Love and Mayhem now… This was my first book by Nick Taussig… best wishes to the author… also must add the book was unputdownable!!” 😀
It was the beginning of 2007 and life ambled along until the darkness struck, creeping up on me like a dense black cloud and then raining down on me, upon which my world was turned upside down for good.
I was thirty-four years old, still single, and wondered whether I was destined to be a lifelong bachelor: I had not been in a committed relationship for a number of years. My writing provided me with the rationale to be alone. Were I in a relationship, I would write less, be less productive. Were I married, I would be a negligent husband, in love with my work instead of my wife. Were I a father, I would be absent, forever tucked away in my ivory tower, consumed by the next book rather than my child’s well-being. It seems we are able to justify anything to ourselves, even if what we justify is self-destructive, is detrimental to our happiness.
I had written two novels and was working on my third, a sombre tale about a boy soldier who is forced to kill. In the midst of research, I was trawling through numerous accounts of child soldiers, which made for shocking reading. Boys no more than nine, ten and eleven years old described how, after an initial period of indoctrination where they were bullied and brutalized – it made clear to them that they would be killed should they not carry out orders – then went on to kill, first with horror and regret, but later without compunction, with relish. The most violent species on the planet, and one which is utterly dominant, we humans descend swiftly into brutality.
Though I anticipated the effect that such accounts might have on my psyche – they would likely darken it, blacken my view of human nature – I did not limit my reading of them, rather read them, the ones I had, then sought out others, scouring libraries and the internet like a fanatic in search of the most grisly, the most horrific. Why did I do this? I might have contempt for the tabloid editor who feeds the base appetites of his readers with countless sensationalist stories of sex and murder, yet here I was, the willing reader, intoxicated by endless accounts of violence and mayhem. My hypocrisy was clear.
However, beyond this need to gratify my abject and morbid desires, I was also driven by a determination – no more than this, a near missionary zeal – to confront, rather than to shy away from, the very worst that humankind has to offer. This pursuit was destructive – it made me increasingly introspective and morose – though was driven also by intellectual and spiritual curiosity, and moral purpose. I was desperate to get to the heart of humanity.
Had I had romantic love in my life – a woman beside me whose warmth and care ensured that I retained a necessary amount of hope and optimism in spite of all I was being confronted with – I would not have descended into darkness. But I did not. I was desperately alone. Hemingway was right about men without women: they are more prone to violence and despair.
My violence did not manifest itself outwardly, thank God. I did not feel compelled to commit some of the awful acts I had read about which now haunted me, be it the Congolese boy soldier who became a serial rapist of young girls or his rebel commander who went even further and butchered the women he came across like livestock, though only after he’d raped and sodomized them first. No, rather my violence expressed itself inwardly, atrocious thoughts and impulses ruling and tormenting my consciousness day and night.
It got to the point where their frequency and intensity made me first wonder, second worry, and third be sure that I would act on them, commit a gross act of violence. Why else why would they consume me as they did? I must possess an elemental cruelty like Hitler, a sadistic nature like Marquis de Sade. I must be predisposed to violence. There is evil lurking within me. I shall finally explode and wreak havoc on the world, in the manner of a serial or mass killer.
This barrage of questions, thoughts and impulses whirled around inside my head like an endless carousel, the search for answers to them, or some comfort from them, also without end. Yet I simply had to know. And why? Well, to be sure that I was not cruel, violent or evil. This need for certainty was as persistent as the doubts which plagued my mind. Was I, Nick Taussig, not a kind and decent person after all? Had I not shown myself to be moral and loving?!
What I was experiencing was ego-dystonic, my questions, thoughts and impulses feeling repugnant, distressing, unacceptable and inconsistent with the rest of my personality. However, perhaps my ego was simply unable to accommodate my darker side, and so had skewed my self-image, forcing me to view myself as kinder and more decent than I actually was.
Ultimately, the doubt slowly crippled me, rendering me increasingly helpless and desperate. Days working from home became long and arduous as I struggled to focus on what I was reading and writing, my concentration span becoming shorter and shorter until it was comparable with that of a gnat’s. Sadly, I was distracted less by the promise of laughter that a radio sitcom would offer or the experience of joy that a collection of jazz music would bring – such playful and nurturing diversions would have done me the world of good – rather more by the opportunity for further dark and aberrant rumination when I happened to read or hear another piece of news about a killer on the loose or a rapist who had struck again. Did I, beneath my veneer of gentility and goodness, want to do the same? Could I become that man, these men? This was my mind’s default position now, brooding endlessly on violence, murder and mayhem.
I was no longer able to appreciate anything joyful. I longed for peace, for my mind not to be consumed by deathly feelings, though the only peace I got was when I closed my eyes and fell asleep. It was a serenity I only experienced unconsciously. And I would never sleep for long, no more than four hours, from eleven at night till three in the morning, and when I woke I would be wide awake – as if I’d just had a massive line of coke – staring wide-eyed and blankly at the ceiling, in silent dread of what was to come: the unrelenting spew and flurry of my thoughts. I never got myself up – this is what I should have done – instead lay there consumed by rumination, until when I eventually did, some four hours later, I was exhausted and felt like I had not slept at all. Every day felt like the last.
It got to the point where I was unable to live on my own anymore: I needed help. I was fortunate enough to be able to call on my mother. Crucially, I was in need of someone whom I could confide in like no other, someone I was able to share my awful thoughts with and yet who’d love me all the same. I could confide in my psychiatrist, I thought – he proved a crucial pillar of support for me in the subsequent weeks and months – yet he did not love me as my mother did, and still does.
When I telephoned her and told her I was falling apart, there was no judgment in her voice, only care and concern. And when I told her that I needed to come and stay, she did not hesitate, despite the clear burden of a thirty-four year old son on the brink of emotional collapse, but instead welcomed me with open arms.
The first few weeks with her were awful. She was not awful, quite the opposite in fact, full of tenderness and compassion. Rather, what I went through was. I entered my own private hell.
I immediately began to smoke again, despite having given up for several years, and smoked like I’d never stopped, getting through at least forty a day. I puffed like a patient on a psychiatric ward – where I would have been had it not been for my mother’s love – chain-smoking, needing something to do, to focus on, to occupy me, other than my troubled mind. I ceased eating, food becoming anathema to me – rare because I have a hearty appetite – my only sustenance cigarettes. I’d lost some weight already – in the few weeks before I left my flat – but now I began to lose more. Within a fortnight, I’d shed two stone. My mother urged me to eat, even though I didn’t want to.
Depression had set in, this was clear, my anger and violence turning inward. The depressed mind literally attacks its keeper. It will starve it, make it thirst, dirty it, rob it of sleep. It is not dissimilar from the starving body, which, once it has run out of food will ravage, cannibalise itself. When I got up every morning, I saw little reason to wash, to brush my teeth. Standing in the bathroom staring blankly at my reflection in the mirror I did not experience a healthy desire to care for my face and body, to look after them, instead felt the antithesis of this: I wanted to neglect them, even harm them. And so I did not wash, did not brush my teeth. Then downstairs in the kitchen, I would have a morning cup of tea. I did not enjoy this, as I would have done before. It served only one purpose – to lubricate my dry throat and enable me to resume smoking. A few hours later I’d manage a banana, at best a piece of toast, and this I would similarly take no pleasure from. Again, I ate principally to quell the queasiness that was building in my empty stomach after the first six or seven cigarettes of the day.
My mother, though she was busy with work, with other family members and with her daily chores, would sit patiently with me at the breakfast table as I stared into space chain-smoking. My mother, as a student nurse, had trained in a psychiatric hospital – mandatory for all young nurses of her era – and my behaviour surely reminded her of this placement, the troubled patient unable to engage with the world, lost in the frenzy and sadness of his own soul, though in this instance the patient was unfortunately her own son. Her mere presence would open me up, encourage me to speak, to voice what was troubling me. I uttered no more than a few words at first, non-sequiturs, which most likely made little sense even to her, who knows me better than anyone. But as the days and weeks went by, I said more, a lot more.
The specific psychiatric disorder I was suffering from, obsessive bad thoughts, a form of obsessive compulsive disorder, is perhaps best articulated by Herman Melville, who wrote, “One trembles to think of that mysterious thing in the soul, which seems to acknowledge no human jurisdiction, but in spite of the individual’s own innocent self, will still dream horrid dreams, and mutter unmentionable thoughts.” This trembling I experienced every time I had a perverse or repugnant thought of a violent or sexual nature, and what immediately followed was a sense of horror with myself, followed by shame and self-contempt. How can I think this? I am a bad person. I am a danger to others. Perhaps I should kill myself. Fearful of my thoughts and of myself, and eager to protect others from what I feared I might do to them, I had become a prisoner. Imprisoned by the contents of my mind, I had subsequently imprisoned myself.
The worst night came after a change in antidepressant medication, from seroxat to prozac (which my psychiatrist judged might be more effective), and the prescription of sleeping pills, which though getting me off to sleep still left me waking after four hours more exhausted than before as I now had to also contend with the effects of pharmacologically-induced fatigue. I had fallen asleep early, at ten o’ clock, and woke at two o’clock in the morning. In spite of the grog of zoplicone, the non-benzodiazepine hypnotic I was being prescribed, I was feeling restless. Gazing at the bookshelf beside the bed – my parents’ home is full of books and could surely service the whole village they live in – amidst countless histories of Central and East European countries and other books on political and economic theory (all my father’s books here), I spotted a biography of the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, a book which I had read when first published in 1993. In it, the author, Brian Masters, attempts to understand what drove this man to rape, torture, murder, dismember and, in some cases, eat young men and boys between 1978 and 1991. In light of my fragile emotional state and the disorder I was suffering from, perhaps the last thing I should have done is pick up this book, and yet I did. I was seduced by the “imp of the perverse,” this phrase coined by Edgar Allen Poe, which Dr. Lee Baer explores in his important and compassionate work on obsessive bad thoughts, The Imp of the Mind.
In Poe’s words, “We stand upon the brink of a precipice. We peer into the abyss – we grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink from the danger. Unaccountably we remain. By slow degrees our sickness, and dizziness, and horror, become merged in the cloud of unnamable feeling. By gradations, still more imperceptible, this cloud assumes shape, as did the vapor from the bottle out of which arose the genie in the Arabian nights. But out of this our cloud upon the precipice’s edge, there grows into palpability, a shape, far more terrible than any genie, or any demon of a tale, and yet it is but a thought, although a fearful one, and one which chills the very marrow of our bones with the fierceness of the delight of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height. And this fall – this rushing annihilation – for the very reason that involves that one most ghastly and loathsome of images of death and suffering which have ever presented themselves to our imagination – for this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it. And because our reason violently deters us from the brink, therefore, do we the more impetuously approach it…”
It is this very paradoxical impulse that drove me to read the book from cover to cover in three hours. I read it frantically and urgently, barely pausing for breath, smoking incessantly as I did, convinced that it would provide a definitive explanation of a human being’s descent into evil, and that I, once in possession of this knowledge, would never succumb to evil. I was also eager to assure myself that I could never become this man because I was different in kind: I was essentially good, not bad. And yet once I had finished I did not find myself reassured and comforted, as neither did the author offer a conclusive answer as to why Jeffrey Dahmer did what he did nor did he confirm that I was different in kind from his subject, that I could never do what he had done. Rather he offered me the truth.
This truth was difficult to stomach because it did not provide the certainty that I wanted and needed. According to Brian Masters, there were many contributing factors which drove Jeffrey Dahmer to kill again and again, and these included his parents’ divorce, their neglect of him, his alcoholism, his clinical depression, his repressed homosexuality, his frequent loneliness, his lack of success in holding down a job, his inability to moderate his sexual desires and violent fantasies, his failure to seek treatment and take responsibility for his actions, amongst many others. Likewise Masters concluded that the difference between his subject and the average man was one of degree not kind. In his view, any one of us could descend to the depths of Jeffrey Dahmer’s behaviour if circumstance, character and environment misaligned and conspired to bring out the very worst in us, and if we, like him, did not show the necessary willingness, remorse, resolve and moral obligation to confront what we were becoming, and change what we were doing.
Riddled with even more doubt, I closed the book and sat on the edge of bed, twitching and longing for sunrise. For I had had enough of the night. The pressure of my thoughts, the intensity of my doubt, I was no longer able to tolerate. The suffering became so great that I suddenly imagined I was in the grip of an abominable nightmare and would wake at any moment to find that the last few weeks and months had been nothing more than the working of my troubled unconscious. And yet I was wide awake, I was conscious, and still my mind played havoc with my soul. I listened to the wind whipping through the trees outside, the rattle of the old sash windows in the bedroom, the patter of branches on their glass, and wished that the night would simply carry me away. But it did not.
I waited there on the edge of the bed for an hour praying for the sun to finally rise, sitting on my hands like an anxious and distraught child in need of its mother, unable to smoke anymore since my mouth and throat were so dry – incapable, it seems, of standing up and walking the few small steps around the bed to the little sink in the corner of the room where I could fill my empty glass with water and drink. And when the sun at last began to rise, I took myself upstairs to my parents’ room, standing there and hoping that they’d wake and offer me some comfort after a hellish night of fear and anguish. As a boy I used to suffer from nightmares, and would escape the dark and quiet of my bedroom and tiptoe downstairs to the lowest landing of the staircase from where I could hear my parents talking in the kitchen, this offering me sufficient relief and consolation, and there I would fall asleep until either my mother or father found me and carried me back upstairs to bed. And though they did not carry me now – I doubt they would have been able to – they provided me with the very same support and reassurance.
From this dreadful night, the light slowly returned. My mother showed her extraordinary quiet strength, possessing the composure, benevolence and resilience of a priest taking confession, as I talked about my troubles and fears: her work as a psychotherapist put her in good stead here, imbued with sufficient patience and wisdom. These confessionals then moved beyond the gruesome and unpleasant material of obsessive bad thoughts to my life in general, which, in spite of my professional success, desperately lacked something – a woman in my life and the prospect of a family, a child or children of my own. I had a string of romantic relationships behind me which had not worked, and I wondered whether, after several years without one, I had simply become too accustomed to living alone.
It seems my mother’s love for her son enabled her to both refrain from judgement where necessary and to absorb much of my distress, permitting my pain to become her own. She also encouraged me to eat once more, to regain my strength after many weeks of malnourishment, and also to wash, to care for my body after much neglect. As my strength grew, so did my conviction that I was a worthy human being, in spite of my occasional grisly thoughts, and that I was worthy of love.
Romantic love did not come right away, but when it showed its face, in the form of Klara, I could see it very clearly. For she possessed some of the same qualities of my mother, a deep and boundless heart, and a willingness to confront the human soul in all its ugliness and beauty, misery and happiness. With her love came a calmer mind, a mind more willing to be still, less reliant on reason and intellect, and more, on feeling and intuition; a wiser mind, more willing to live with doubt, uncertainty, the unknowable; and crucially, a more loving mind.
William Styron, in his wonderful short story, Shadrach, describes how his young ten-year-old protagonist loved the Dabneys because they were happy to bask in “casual squalor”, possessing a total absence “of the bourgeois aspirations and gentility which were my own inheritance.” This inheritance is ours also, every Briton’s, Thatcher’s free market crusade and promotion of rampant individualism creating a foul breed of Daily Mail reader still obsessed with family values and the defense of conservative interests, who pervades our culture like a sick, daft, populist bigot, convinced that happiness lies solely in material gain and social mobility. Behold this rag’s coverage of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The ordinary girl has made it into the aristocracy and been crowned a Duchess – isn’t this wonderful! – just as the grocer’s daughter, Margaret, clambered her way, with relentless guile, to the top of the ruling class and was appointed P.M. Like Styron’s boy hero, I despise such socially mobile aspirations, which are judged solely according to the amount of wealth and power obtained. I’d rather languish in a dead-end job with Styron’s book in one hand and a whisky in the other than marry into the royal family or rule the country. For it is better to be alone, with one’s soul intact, than to spend one’s life in bad company, the company of a Daily Mail reader, hero or heroine.
I’ve had a passion for Russian literature since I was a teenager. Its grand themes of murder and redemption were always going to hold more appeal to a troubled adolescent than the airs and graces of yet another Austen novel – I pray the British people tire of her soon! – and after reading too much Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Solzhenitsyn as a postgraduate, I wanted to write something Russian.
I travelled throughout the country in 2008, making it as far as Magadan, the Russian Far East, the gateway to Gulag hell. It became clear that though the Soviet Union is no more, the place is still very much an “Imperium”, in Ryszard Kapuscinski’s words, the country’s rulers little more than former Communists who’ve turned their jackets inside out, Putin the epitome of such an unconvincing metamorphosis – the proud, surly and deadly KGB man who resigned just at the right time, renounced communism (this creed he would formerly have done anything for) and became a democratic capitalist overnight. Vladimir Vladimirovich will do anything in the pursuit of power.
And yet, beneath the democratic facade of 21st century Russia, there remains a grim authoritarian character obsessed with national greatness, intolerant of any political opposition and suspicious of the majority of foreign influence. It remains nigh impossible to buy an English language newspaper at Moscow’s one and only international airport, Domodedovo. At no other major city’s international airport would one encounter this problem.
If I had any concerns about this autocratic personality – perhaps I was yet another liberal westerner who misjudged Putin and his governance, which, in spite of first impressions, was fair and decent after all – then these grew significantly when I was grabbed by two FSB operatives in Moscow while taking pictures of the Lubyanka. I wanted photographic references for when I returned to London and began writing, but they were sure that I was a British spy. Undercover, dressed in dark suits, the two agents marched me through an underpass and held me outside the main building while a third man, having confiscated my passport, ran checks on me inside. They released me after forty minutes, having deleted every photo I’d taken, their parting words, “Fuck off!”, spoken in perfect English.
This incident set the tone for the novel, The Distinguished Assassin, an exploration of how opposition formed to authoritarian rule in Soviet Russia, and how the thieves-in-law (the elite of organized crime) voiced their dissent not through political activism but criminal activity. The story was born out of this, an unholy alliance between a political dissident and a prominent thief-in-law, both men intent on challenging and subverting the system that rules over them.
There was the great hope, after the collapse of communism, that Russia would become fair and free. Ironically, even under a system which heralded equality above all else, Soviet Russia was not fair, the Communists the greatest thieves of all. And yet now it is Putin and his oligarchs – Abramovich, Deripaska, Prokhorov, Kovalchuk and others, these beacons of new Russian capitalism – who are the criminals. These men should be judged less for their business acumen and more their theft of their country’s resources.
But among this band of thieves, there is one man who poses a threat to them all, who might ultimately be their undoing and restore fairness and freedom to Mother Russia. This is Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Now serving six more years in jail after being sentenced at a second trial in December 2010, it seems this former oligarch has realised that greed is not good after all, and that far from encouraging freedom it encourages, rather, its very opposite – enslavement.
Might Khodorkovsky lead a further Russian Revolution, should he one day find his freedom? I hope so.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gave his Thought for the Day yesterday on BBC Radio Four. His principal observation was the crucial sanctuary which places of worship provide from the demands of a success-obsessed modern world. It might matter what car you’re driving or what brand you’re wearing outside a church, mosque or synagogue, but once inside one it does not, all of us equal in the eyes of Jesus, Mohammed or Yahweh.
Sacks is right, and such places are, therefore, of immense value. As I’m neither a practicing Christian, Muslim nor Jew, I wondered where I could go to experience such equality and humanity.
I found it, later that day, in the most unlikely of places, in the communal showers of my local leisure centre. I’d gone for a workout – the need to get rid of a number of days’ accumulation of hard work and restlessness (yes, it is called a “workout” for this very reason) – and afterwards, standing sweaty, worn-out and naked as I hung my towel on a shower hook, I was confronted by an elderly man as hot, exhausted and exposed as me.
We smiled at one another, then turned simultaneously and took the few small steps to the showers, communal showers not divided by partitions, the kind of showers typical of old schools or sports’ pavillions, modesty not permitted. A line of four shower heads with corresponding taps, no more than this.
“Good workout?” he inquired.
“Yes,” I replied. “And you?”
“Well, it’s still working,” he said, putting his hand on his heart, “that’s the main thing,” and I smiled at this existential sentiment.
We walked to either end of the showers and pushed the taps, both of us, it seems, in spite of our amicable exchange, wanting separateness.
The water was cold, however, both from my shower and his. We flinched at the same time.
I took a step to my left and stood under the next shower head. He did the same, though in his case this required a step to his right.
Side by side now, both of us hoped that these two remaining shower heads would offer warm water.
“Here we go,” he said, smiling at me as he pressed the tap, and I did the same.
“It’s warm, thank goodness,” I exclaimed, humming with relief.
“Yes, mine too,” he answered contentedly.
And so there we stood, side by side, two men who knew nothing of one another but for our mutual aversion to cold water and the fact that we had both worked something out of ourselves, in his case old age perhaps.
As I showered, letting the water hit my face and run down my chest and back and legs, I suddenly found myself not separate from but together with this man, who, though a stranger, I felt very close to.
The reason for this was clear. Both naked, no more than flesh and bone, his hunched back as visible to me as my ample stomach was to him, we were unable to hide our imperfections from one another, the truth of ourselves beneath the material trappings of life outside these communal showers, the trappings of cars, clothes and houses which contain a multitude of lies. In this open and candid environment, which had a fondness for truth in all its beauty and ugliness, like a place of worship I had found great equality and humanity.
And I savoured this sense – it felt like a precious gift – and stood there longer than I normally would have. And neither of us spoke. We did not need to.
I’m due to become a father soon, and the following question is becoming increasingly pertinent in my mind: what does it mean to be a man today?
As a young boy, I imagined that I’d make myself into a man by being rational, analytical, controlled, steadfast and independent. I would exercise these uniquely male characteristics in my various roles as a father, husband and breadwinner. But in reality, though at times I might display these qualities to my wife and employer, I also display their opposite: I can be unreasonable, emotional, whimsical and needy.
It would seem that my childhood forecast of masculinity has not been fully realised, that I’m some way off its fulfilment. Can this solely be attributed to my own weaknesses and inadequacies, or is my failure representative of all men? My hunch is that I’m not alone, that there are other men out there feeling the very same, looking over their shoulders and crying out, “Look at these women!”
In intellectual development, social adjustment, professional achievement and personal happiness, women are surpassing men at an alarming rate. How have men responded to this challenge to their dominance, their loss of control? Well, by doing what us men do best … being destructive! In Britain, men perpetrate over 90% of convicted acts of violence. Around 90% of school children with behavioural problems are male. Men carry out most sexual abuse. Jails are crammed full of men. In 2010, three times as many young men killed themselves as young women. We’re not responding well to the challenge of the post-feminist world. Drink and drugs will not save us. We’re sick.
Feminists need not be so vociferous and vengeful anymore. Women are winning, and all the signs are that they are fast becoming the dominant species. Last year, some 25.5% of GCSE exams taken by girls was graded an A* or A compared with just 19.5% of qualifications sat by boys – a gap of 6%. In the European Union, there are now 20% more female graduates than male, and their prospects of employment far exceed men’s. And most significant of all, an increasing number of women are choosing to conceive and rear a child on their own. Man’s role is being reduced to a petri dish, God forbid! Even for the most deluded of men, in a state of perpetual denial, this picture of male decline in the new millenium is strikingly clear.
Radical feminist thinkers insist that women scare the man in me, threaten me, and make me defensive in female company. According to them, I look at women as impersonal objects to be impregnated, and nothing more. I feel that I must control them at all times, since they have a tendency to be hysterical, dependent, irrational, ambiguous and weak – all these uniquely feminine characteristics.
Now, different arguments have been put forward as to why men fear women. Freud thought it was the fear of castration. A man looks at a woman’s genitalia and sees with horror, and disgust, the absence of a penis – a woman is a kind of mutilated man, sick and inadequate. But is there not something exquisitely beautiful about the female genitalia, and is it not male genitalia which inspires horror, in Sylvia Plath’s words “a turkey neck and gizzards.” Then there are the attachment theorists who believe that a boy’s separation from his mother is a terribly painful experience, which he never fully recovers from. With this loss comes the realisation that he can no longer possess his mother orally, and that he will never control her genitally. Thus, he mustn’t allow himself ever again to completely trust a woman, be so dependent on one. He can never again feel so weak and helpless, out of his mother’s arms. And so he grows up into a man who hates all women as whores, and wants to be sadistic and cruel to them. It is no mere coincidence that men, when they are violent towards women, often rape them. For this is where they feel they can exercise most control. And last of all, there is the fact that the fulfilment of a heterosexual man’s desires is utterly dependent on a willing woman. All men have an ever-present itch that they need to scratch, perpetually driven by their incorrigible sex drive. They produce 25 times more testosterone per day than women. They fantasise about having a woman who is always sexually available to them. And when they can’t get what they want, well … then they want to destroy it. Modern man is in love with pornography. It relieves the itch – it’s quick relief, impersonal, controlled and contained in the realms of fantasy. He gets excited, masturbates, and then ejaculates. Steve Biddulph, the author of Manhood, remarked that “the sex-sell in this country is incredible. It’s amazing that young British men can think straight. They’re taught that they want one thing and they believe it.” Today, men define themselves by their genitals – the size of their prick and how hard it can get.
Men are violent. Yes we are. For men who have lost someone or something, who have failed to express themselves in other ways, and who are preoccupied with control, violence is their final desperate mark on the world. I have been an angry young man who thought the whole world was shit. Restless and aggressive, I had to put my rage and frustration somewhere. Those feelings could only go one of two ways, either inside or outside myself. A violent man is either reduced to a depressive state, curled up like a child in his bed, with no will to eat let alone get up, or he is locked up in a prison cell after harming someone else. But in both instances, the man commits violence, be it against himself or someone else. In his bed or in his cell, he feels the same – hopeless, ashamed, humiliated, angry and alienated. Suicidal and homicidal tendencies go hand in hand. When I was depressed, I fluctuated wildly between self-destruction and the destruction of others. Thankfully, I never hurt anyone. But I could have done. The point I am trying to make is that violence against oneself or someone else comes from the same place. This reality – for it is precisely that – does not justify or pardon the actions of a violent man, but crucially explains them as a complex web of interacting factors. Let’s forget John Major’s call after the murder of James Bulger for “less understanding and more condemnation.” And let’s not label a violent man a “monster” or “devil”. It is no longer appropriate to explain his actions as the product of the innate evil in his character. Such a populist or monistic religious view is untrue. A moral judgment must be made, but not so as we can suspend our horror at the painful truth of our own accountability and blame. For then how would man ever learn to tame his aggression, to learn the language of non-violence? He never would.
I have painted a rather bleak picture of the sate of modern man. What about modern woman? Mustn’t she be held accountable for some of the trouble with us men? Can it really be our entire fault? Have we let ourselves be emasculated? Are there not violent and cruel women as well as men? We only have to look at the organisation of AMEN, an Irish group helping male victims of domestic violence, to testify to this fact. According to one recent study, half of spouse murder victims were found to be alcoholic or psychotic and had played a significant part in their own death. And then there is Erin Prizzey, founder of the first women’s refuge for battered women, who declared that battered women were themselves violent by nature, much to the dismay of certain feminists. However, men’s violence still far exceeds women’s. Far more men hurt women than women hurt men. This fact cannot be ignored.
The psychiatrist Anthony Clare, in his book, On Men: Masculinity in Crisis, states that “phallic man, authoritative, dominant, assertive … is starting to die.” But he believes that a new man can emerge in his place. This man will no longer be reticent about his emotional life and relentless in his desire to control women. Rather, he’ll harness his propensity to dominate and express himself through words and tears rather than threats and punches. It does seem that man must now reinvent himself in a new image. Guns and viagra are firing blanks, the final death throes of a dwindling phallus. Good luck to us all. We need it.
Miami … what a place! And the people that live here … they are so affluent. This is the impression I get as I sit in a cafe on the opulent Ocean Drive sipping on a pina colada no less, and watching an impeccably dressed middle-aged man stroll towards me, the picture of material success in his Armani suit and Prada loafers, a big cigar hanging from his mouth that you can bet is not Cuban! He carries a big smile across his face, the consummate look of self-satisfaction and personal success. And let us not forget the sassy lady on his arm, who, in spite of her relative youth, has still deemed it necessary to cosmetically and surgically enhance herself with peroxide hair, fake tan, silicone tits, liposucked arse, collagen lips – all those uniquely American characteristics of bought beauty. She looks at her man adoringly, as they stop beside me to admire the clothes hanging in the neighbouring shop window.
This man has made it in the land of the free. Through his acquisition of wealth and beauty – albeit artificial beauty – he has achieved status and respect in his country. Chasing the dollar remains, it seems, the most important human endeavour in America, more important than attaining knowledge or helping others. Obama’s socialism – this is how the Republicans perceive his social conscience – has had little impact, both on America’s love affair with money, and her conviction that the dollar, above all else, will bring ultimate happiness.
I look away from the man now, over towards another middle-aged man, this one rather different. He wears ripped blue jeans and a grubby T-shirt, and on his feet an old pair of sneakers, one of the soles hanging loose. It’s true that we tend to look down at people’s feet when trying to make an assessment of them and their life circumstances. It’s a rather crude and imperfect means of judgment, but one that I nevertheless make recourse to. He’s likely homeless, I conclude, and at this moment he paces manically across the street, heading straight for me. He looks at me wild-eyed, his intense demeanour heightened by his hair that stands on end like Einstein’s and his goatee that is coiffed into a Daliesque knife-edge of facial hair, albeit far more imperfectly than Salvador’s. In fact, this part of his appearance is the only bit of him that seems to possess any semblance of order, the rest utterly chaotic. “Hey, lemme show you something,” he demands, these words flying out of his mouth, fast end edgy.
He pulls a deck of cards from his back pocket. “Think of a card, remember it,” he goes on, as he begins to shuffle through the pack.
The Queen of Aces comes to me. This will be my card, I decide.
“You know, if there’s one card I like in this deck, it’s this one,” he says, stopping at a particular card, removing it from the pack and flicking it onto the street. It lands face down. “So tell me, which card d’you choose?” he asks.
He reveals the deck to me, thumbing through different cards. “No, I don’t think it’s that one. Nope, not that one either. You look like an Ace kind of guy,” he continues, clearly realising that flattery will get him everywhere. “You’d normally go for Jack, but this time, you’ve gone Queen. You must be in touch with your feminine side today,” he quips.
“And what’s really strange,” he goes on, “is that the card you’ve picked, the one in your head … well, it ain’t in the deck. It’s the one I got rid of at the start, the one that’s lying there in the middle of the street.”
He points to the stray card, then bounds over and picks it up. “Look, isn’t that the strangest thing?’” he announces, holding the card aloft, and there in his hand I see my card, the Queen of Aces.
I hand him a couple of dollars. “You’re a gentleman, a true gentleman. The last guy I had called me a fuckin’ bum and told me to leave him alone. How else am I gonna be able to maintain my luxurious wardrobe?” he gestures down his body with a wry, sarcastic smile.
As he makes to leave, he bumps into the other middle-aged man – let us call him ‘the cigar millionaire’ – and his big-bosomed companion. They continue to window shop.
“Why don’t you watch where you’re fucking going?” he barks at the homeless magician, raising his fat cigar in the air as if it were some kind of lethal weapon.
“You again…” the homeless magician stutters, it immediately clear that this is ‘the last guy’ he just referred to, the one who called him ‘a fuckin’ bum.’ “Look, it was an accident. I’m sorry, okay,” and he scurries nervously away, off down the sidewalk.
The cigar millionaire turns to me and says, “He been bugging you as well? Damn welfare case. All he should do is stop drinking, lazy bastard.”
I don’t bother to suggest that it’s care, rather than judgment, that he most needs.
The cigar millionaire swaggers off, his blonde in tow.
The disparity between rich and poor in America remains shocking, even under Obama’s watch. His health care reforms were seen by many as one step too far, a clear attempt to redistribute wealth. The poor are seen by the wealthy as the tough medicine that goes with democracy and individualism. For are there not always going to be some people who fail to meet the mark, who aren’t tough enough to meet the rigours of a capitalist system? We cannot help everyone, the Republicans maintain. There have to be some losers. And so there are two distinct groups: those who have made it – fulfilled the American dream of self-promotion and personal success, that is – and those who have not. The latter continue to wander the streets aimlessly, like lost souls. They are not in pursuit of the dollar but rather seem to be searching for something that their country does not offer them. Perhaps this something is another way of life? America might be the land of the free according to the ruling class and those that have made it, but it is a prison to others, and this reality must be acknowledged rather than glossed over with euphemism and rhetoric.
It is one of the great ironies that a country founded on immigrants, a melting pot – to use Walt Whitman’s famous analogy – of different peoples, creeds and cultures can at one and the same time be so insular, simplistic and conformist in its thinking. The Oath of Allegiance demands absolute loyalty and devotion to the American way. Every citizen is encouraged to strive for the fulfilment of the American dream. However, success is limited to a few in the American capitalist system. Many must be exploited so just a few can prosper. The innumerable valets in Miami are testament to this fact.
Here in Miami, I’m not far from Castro’s Cuba (it remains his, just about), which in ideological and theoretical terms at least is the antithesis of the American way. There, everyone is supposed to be equal. No one is greedy, proud and self-important like the cigar millionaire I just encountered. No one is weak, belittled and helpless like the homeless magician. The state is there to serve the nation, to look after the welfare of its citizens. And all its inhabitants are meant to happily work for one another, for the sake of the common good, the socialist goal.
And yet it is not like this in reality. Like people in the rest of the world, Cubans have different ideas, wishes, beliefs and personalities. They do not all share the same ones. Many of them disagree with one another, and object to the state telling them what they should want and expect from life. It is indeed very difficult to impose a new value system on a certain person, group, country or race that already has its own set of beliefs. Castro and Bin Laden would find the cigar millionaire’s opulence, materialism and greed unacceptable, and would seek to change him, by force if necessary. Though I also found the cigar millionaire to be rather smug, unpleasant and ostentatious, my opinion of him was a product of my own subjective value system. Ultimately, I had no right to tell him how objectionable I found him, and no right to force him to relinquish his current lifestyle, adopt my beliefs and immediately commence living like me.
America, on the other hand, no longer even attempts to provide for the welfare of all its citizens. The state’s public services do make some provision, but it is desperately lacking. America remains driven by market forces, this its government’s guiding principle. The power of the state is used to secure “the scope for as many individuals as possible (though inevitably not all) to make use of the opportunities the market has to offer.” This policy is unwilling to accommodate human frailty and weakness. It leaves little room for doubt and indecision. If you don’t possess the skills to use the opportunities available, then you become one of the have-nots. And this rather ruthless governing system is all-too-ready to dismiss any kind of criticism levelled at it as socialist froth or poor man’s envy. The poor man might believe in a different way of life, money might not be as important to him and he might want to promote a viable alternative, but he’ll be written off as a dissenter and a failure. If a particular citizen cannot maximise the opportunities given to him by the state, well… then fuck him.
The cigar millionaire has been strong, effective and decisive, hence has been rewarded. The homeless magician, it would seem, has been weak and indecisive, so has been punished. Perhaps he had his own ideas about life and these were not compatible with the state’s. It is possible – though unlikely – that the homeless magician has consciously chosen to live his life on the fringes of society. Maybe he refuses to buy into a society in which “self-interest [is] hailed as the highest value, reinforced by vast industries that are devoted to implanting and reinforcing [this ethos].” I can only speculate. The only thing that is clear is that one man has significantly more wealth and happiness than the other.
To those people in power and those who are prosperous, the suggestion of a different economic system, an alternative form of government or another cultural value system is considered preposterous, even dangerous. God forbid they lose some of their power and some of that enormous fortune they’ve amassed. And so the system as it is must be maintained at all costs. Change is bad. New ideas are dangerous. In America, there are huge systems of private power – the big multinational companies – and they remain unaccountable. For them, “Capital has priority – people are incidental.” Sadly, they only become partly accountable when they collapse, as some did a few years ago. And so the democratic motto goes, ‘Let the people speak feely, but if they don’t agree with you, then don’t give any consideration to what they are saying.’
As I continue to sit in Miami’s South Beach, my pina colada finished now, I can understand why much of the world remains angry with America, why some people find it hard to accept her way of life, why some even wish her harm. And these people are not solely confined to Islamic fundamentalist groups. They can also be found among liberal-minded European politicians in Brussels, student bodies in China, women’s groups in Pakistan, the American intellectual elite, the poor sections of American society and anti-globalisation protesters not only in the poor southern hemisphere but also in the major sectors of rich industrial countries in the north.
Just as the separation between rich and poor increases in America, so it does in the rest of the world as well. The poor and desperate now fight to get into the rich enclaves of North America and Western Europe, who respond by fortifying their barriers and toughening their laws to keep them out. An elite group of less than one billion, 15% of the world’s population, currently takes more than 80% of the world’s wealth. When will we accept that western capitalism – the free market and free trade – does have negative consequences. It is an aggressive economic system. Its practitioners must compete against one another for dominance. They push to acquire more capital by any means necessary and use it for more production, which in turn produces more capital. America has been extraordinarily effective in her practice of it. She has exploited resources, created markets, increased production and gained capital all over the world. But she has done so at the expense of other peoples and nations, at the expense of the poor.
And so it is now that under Obama growing sections of American society are starting to wake up, to confront this truth. These people are starting to look deep into their own hearts, and the heart of their nation, in an attempt to understand why such violence was committed against them ten years ago. These people are starting to feel guilty for all the wealth their country has, and have begun to wonder whether there could be a viable alternative to the American way, which still only serves the interests of a powerful minority. They are in search of a new system of sustainable development that cares for the welfare not only of poor Americans, but poor people throughout the world.
 Runciman, David. The Garden, the Park and the Meadow, in London Review of Books, vol. 24, no.11, (2002), p.7.
 Chomsky, Noam. September 11th and Its Aftermath: Where is the World Heading?”, an excerpt from a public lecture he gave in Chennai, India on 10 November 2001, presented by Frontline magazine and the Media Development Foundation.
 Moore, Michael. White Frights (ed. Extracts from Stupid White Men) in The Guardian Weekend on 30 March 2002, p.22
There was something deeply troubling in the recent tabloid coverage around the murder of Joanna Yeates when police called in her landlord. One red top argued that because he, Chris Jefferies, had a penchant for the avant garde – for literature and cinema which was deliberately obscure, challenging and unorthodox – this pointed to his guilt. Tabloids typically have contempt for that which is unconventional, a little different, none more so than the Daily Mail, which professes journalistic objectivity and credibility, partly on the grounds that it does not have a red top, but in truth does little more than appease and enforce the prejudices of its Middle England readers, this majority of decent, proper, upright folk who believe in self- and home- improvement, low taxation, and of course ordinariness. The argument made, that Chris Jefferies was guilty because he is rather eccentric and has unusual cultural tastes, was absurd. It pandered to the narrow-minded and ignorant. The Daily Mail might bemoan the presence of unusual, difficult and provocative ideas, thoughts and tastes – which are contrary to its own ‘ordinariness’ that it is so proud of and will defend so resolutely – yet without them our culture would be stale and barren. I’d rather be consigned to hell than live in the Daily Mail’s ordinary world!
My wife, an artist, took me to a performance of The Readers in Hackney the other night, an avant-garde performance art group led by two contemporary artists Ramon Salgado-Touzon and Jones Tensini. “What do they do?” I asked her dismissively, on the way to the venue. “Well, it’s hard to explain,” she replied. “They’re specialists in keynote, foreground and electro-acoustic sounds, which in English means they play and perform music quite like you’ve never heard and seen before.” I judged this to be a euphemism for “obscure, abstract, nonsensical arty bullshit!” But hell, I was wrong. What I heard and saw that night was wonderful, extraordinary. Think the minimalism of Phillip Glass but rife with even more sounds – a cornet, a harp, a bell, a glockenspiel, a vocoder, a human scream, a musical saw, the list of instruments does not end here. Think the melancholic, haunting voice of Billie Holiday but from a contra tenor dressed in a striking dress and corset, and wearing high heels. I lost myself in the performance and music, the group’s mantra ringing in my ears: “The Readers want to free you from your need to consume.” Why was I so moved, entranced? Well, my work as a film producer and novelist is predominantly hard-nosed and commercial: I want people to consume what I create. The end product might inspire artistic feeling in the viewing and reading public, yet the making and selling of it rarely does. Today, a producer, even a novelist if truth be told (writers have to get out there now like everyone else does and flog their work), hustles and pushes all the way, money driving the process, creativity typically way down the list of priorities. And here, in The Readers, was art for art’s sake, crucial and precious in a world which commodifies everything. Go see them, lose yourself in them, and learn to value real art once more.
Go to The Readers
Fan the Flames, No. 6, Dec 2001
Wednesday 12th September 2001
I’m in my car on my way to work. I won’t forget this day. Why? Because the day before was one of the worst days in American history. I switch on the radio and listen to the Today programme on BBC Radio Four. John Humphrys says, “President George W. Bush vows retribution against the terrorists responsible for thousands of deaths after hijacked airliners were used to destroy New York’s World Trade Center and seriously damage the Pentagon. The finger of suspicion is being pointed at the Islamic fundamentalist, Osama Bin Laden.”
It’s painful to listen to any more news after a day and night of constant, relentless media coverage. As I turn off the radio I spot a Muslim woman walking down the road with her two children. She wears a kaftan and headscarf. She looks pensive and anxious, while her toddler boy and girl smile and giggle. A burly middle-aged white man in a suit scowls at her as he barges past her and the children. He seems angry with the Arab woman and suspicious of her.
I get to the office. I’m compelled to turn on the television. The media frenzy feeds my morbid fascination. I switch to CNN and listen to Tony Blair’s speech. Like his American counterpart, he refers to the “enemy in our midst” and a “battle that we (the civilized, democratic and free world) will win.” It is us against them. Good versus evil. Now I’m listening to the black and white rhetoric of war. Ambiguity is unacceptable. I’m part of Bush’s and Blair’s privileged and civilized ranks. They demand my allegiance. All of a sudden I feel confused. I don’t know which world is the bad one, the terrorists’ or my own.
Thursday 13th September
A man writes in to the BBC and rails against its left wing bias. He states, “I’ve had enough of your liberal, indecent crap. You’re not showing these dead Americans the respect they deserve.” Before him, the BBC had given voice to a woman who considered the assault on America to have been a tragic but “majestic” metaphor in its brutally effective strategic assault on the heart of Western capitalism and its chief exponents. Her chosen adjective is harsh, and perhaps inappropriate, so soon after the event. However it does point to a truth: the misdeeds of America’s foreign and economic policy had finally come home to haunt her citizens. The woman hoped that “our political masters in the West will now be more tolerant of different ideological, political, economic and religious systems.” America loves those nations and people who strive for her freedoms and her conception and practice of democracy, but hates those that don’t. Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Chile, the list of countries is long.
I walk into a newsagent and have difficulty deciding which newspaper to buy. The Times headline reads, “Good will prevail over evil.” I read the statement of US Senator Gary Hart: “Let’s give these terrorists a fair trial… and then hang them!” I pick up The Guardian. It carries an article on the training methods employed by Bin Laden. The report’s contents shock me. Volunteers to his extremist group, al-Qaeda, are shown hundreds of hours of video footage showing the persecution of Muslims in Bosnia, Chechnya amongst other countries. It’s indoctrination – a calculated exercise in breeding hatred. They’re told that their commitment to jihad is an imperative religious duty, and that their violence is justifiable in light of American violence in Iraq, Israel, Nicaragua and elsewhere. Having received this piece of information perhaps now I can make a choice and commit to my country, my people, the whole civilized and democratic world? The actions of Bin Laden now seem to me more reproachable.
Monday 17th September
President Bush states, “We will find these evil doers, these barbaric people… They slit the throats of women on airplanes in order to achieve an objective that is beyond comprehension… This is a fight to say that [we] the freedom-loving people of the world will not allow ourselves to be terrorised by someone who thinks they can hit and hide in some cave somewhere. I want justice. There used to be an old poster out west that I recall and it said, ‘Wanted – dead or alive’.” I despair at this aggressive and simplistic rhetoric. President Bush, leader of the ‘free world”, sounds fundamentalist, his language not far removed from the fanatic, whether he be a Muslim extremist or a Christian fundamentalist. Listening to these words has left me feeling confused. I don’t know whom to believe any more after one week of obsessive and manipulative rhetoric on both sides, by leaders and broadcasters alike. Must I choose sides? Can’t I be a conscientious objector? I keep on recalling Lord Longford’s conviction, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” I hate what happened in America last week, when over 5,000 innocent people were killed, and yet I must try and understand what drove these suicide bombers to do what they did. How could they have hated America so much?
An estimated 200,000 Iraqis, according to the Health Education Trust in London, died during and in the immediate aftermath of the slaughter known as the Gulf War. Since the USA and Britain imposed the trade embargo over 1 million civilians have died, half of them children. The CIA trained the Mujahedin in their fight against Soviet rule in Afghanistan, and provided them with $2.17 billion of missiles, guns and ammunitions. Between 1965 and 1966, 1 million Indonesians were killed with the complicity of the US and British governments. During Vietnam, the CIA under Operation Phoenix arranged the murder of approximately 50,000 people. The state of Israel would not have survived were it not for American support. The United States now insists that it abhors all terrorism, yet it has permitted Ariel Sharon’s policy of assassinations in Palestinian territory. It paid, trained and armed a terrorist group in Nicaragua in the 1980s that killed over 30,000 civilians, and it has supported the IRA. President Bush declared on Thursday 13th September, “Americans do not yet have the distance of history but our responsibility to history is already clear – to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.” In light of the above, perhaps Bush is proposing self-destruction as well as the destruction of the evil others.
The Arab world finds it very difficult to accept the destructive, inconsistent and culturally imperialistic nature of American foreign policy. On Wednesday 12th September, the Jordan Times commented, “US decision makers should evaluate whether they have steered the world’s only super power to dominate under the insignia of justice and international legitimacy, or succumbed to short-term interests, short-sighted considerations and the power of arrogance.” The majority of Arabs did not condone the mass murder in New York and Washington. The American and British media need not further repeat footage captured in Palestine and the Lebanon of small numbers of men, women and children celebrating the murder of American civilians. However, even these few revelers cannot be dismissed as mad or evil, the bad products of rogue nations. On Thursday 13th September, The Guardian quoted one Cairo resident as saying, “Now it is time for Americans to understand how other nations felt when they were bombed and shelled by the most advanced US weapons.” This is the common voice in the Middle East, and the sentiment it expresses is extremely important. America now shares in other nations’ suffering. Before the terrorist attack, a culture of complacency and a politics of isolationism were dominant. Americans were safe, prosperous and free in their own country (less than 10% of the population have travelled outside the United States). The rest of the world did not matter. It is this brutal exposure to the rest of the world that has so shocked American citizens. Now they cannot ignore the desperate cries of the impoverished anymore. A fanatical and hate-fuelled minority might have carried out the attack. These extremists might seek absolute power for themselves. Yet their actions have spoken, whether intended or not, for the poor. An elite group of less than one billion people now takes more than 80% of the world’s wealth. The bomb is a call for us in the west, this elite group, to consider redistribution. We must accept that Western capitalism – the free market and free trade – does have necessary consequences. The American oasis of civilization has been torn open. And never did any of us dream that such a thing could happen on this formerly impenetrable soil.
Richard Falk, Professor of International Relations at Princeton, believes that “Western foreign policy is presented almost exclusively through a self-righteous, one-way legal/moral screen (with) positive images of Western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestrained political violence.” The majority of the American public wants bloody revenge. President Bush knows this. Like his enemy, Bin Laden, he girds his people’s democratic, nationalistic and primordial instincts. I can imagine every American at this time recalling the Oath of Allegiance to their county: “I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty… that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws against all enemies, foreign and domestic… that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law… so help me God.” The Oath demands absolute loyalty and devotion to the American way. This inflexibility and cohesion of mind troubles me. For alongside these qualities must be an earnest attempt to voice caution, to question, to analyse and to reflect. These voices – perhaps full of doubt, ambiguity, confusion even despair – must be heard. Otherwise, a hateful situation of us and them is created. America must find the courage for self-reflection.
Last week, a dear friend of mine compared the attack on America with the murder of a man by his wife in a public place. It was a very powerful analogy and helped me better understand the events of Tuesday 11th September. He said, “Passers-by watch with horror as a woman shoots a man. The man falls to the ground. The woman runs off. People gather round as the man on the floor draws out his final breath. They are horrified by the woman’s actions. The woman is arrested later that day. On the evening news, local people gather round their television sets and watch video footage captured by an amateur of the murder. It appears to be unprovoked, and the woman appears unemotional even callous. They are thankful that this evil woman has been arrested and will be brought to justice for her heinous crime. These people wait with eager anticipation for the commencement of the trial. When it begins, new evidence emerges, though. It is revealed that the woman suffered systematic emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her husband for many years. He was terribly cruel to her. Yes … she intended to murder him in cold blood, but this was an action born out of desperation, nothing less: she could think of no other way to end her suffering, to express her right to be loved and not hated, her right to be defended and not neglected. By the end of the trial, the local people’s position has changed. They still hate what she did, and yet now they are able to understand her actions. Some of them are even able to feel love towards her.”