Guns and “Mental Illness”

With all this talk around gun laws, I think we are missing a discourse around the difference between “mental illness” and the kind of extremist thinking that drives you to commit a mass shooting. There is a difference between harboring extremist beliefs and the resulting use of violence to your own end, and mental illness.

Mental illness can make you feel depressed, anxious and yes, even paranoid. However mental illness or more what has been thrown around as ‘being crazy’ does not instill violent beliefs, and it doesn’t make you decide to shoot up a school. That is extremism. It’s brain-washing. It’s polarisation, cognitive dissonance and many things, none of which are mental illness. Whether or not they may be co-morbid. Mental illness doesn’t just make you harbour violent extremist beliefs, in fact it makes you far more likely to be a victim of violence than to perpetrate it. The solution isn’t “not giving guns to crazies” (though I don’t think we should be giving guns to anyone for that matter.) It’s learning to identify and tackle extremism.

The danger in viewing gun crime as something committed ‘by crazies,’ other than separating ourselves from an issue we can dismiss as ‘not our problem’ is that it fundamentally misses the point. The uncomfortable truth that in the right circumstances, (Think the Milgrim and Standford prison experiments) many people are quite capable of committing and justifying violent behaviour. If we’re busy trying to identify ‘crazies’ we just might miss that.


On daring to exist in public

tw: rape, sexual assault, victim blaming

I’m never surprised yet nearly always disappointed by the comments regarding victims of sexual assault. More so when they’re prominent members of society who’s voices carry weight. In this case the mayor of Albury, Kevin Mack – who more worryingly happens to be a former police officer offers his two cents on how women should prevent sexual assault in response to the rape of a seventeen year old girl. Repeating more of the same verbal vomit that we’ve heard and rolled our eyes at since we had the fine motor control to do so and fundamentally misunderstanding the issue at hand. It is not simply an issue of a “poor choice of words” but a poor understanding of sexual assault and the attitudes that result.

“I always have encouraged women not to walk alone, to have someone with them at all times, because that in itself is an invitation for someone to take advantage of you,” – Kevin Mack

Ignoring the irony that the neanderthals agreeing with this comment are typically the same people who will fervently exclaim that “Islam is sexist because [insert drivel] women can’t walk alone….” it’s just so textbook that it’s amazing he didn’t have some public relations person miming cutting his throat and flailing as he said it. And yet again I find myself explaining the very basics of victims blaming. That there exists a culture (yes, rape culture) of shifting the blame to victims for not doing enough to prevent rape with the same old cries of:
“Cover up; Don’t go out at night; Don’t go out alone; Don’t drink”
As if rape doesn’t pre-date mini skirts. As if 2/3rd’s of rapes aren’t committed by someone known to the victim. As if women aren’t assaulted sober and during the day. As is rape isn’t anything but 100% the fault of the rapist.

Because like patriarchy, rape culture functions as a underlying trickle down phenomenon. With internal prejudices being built upon with every little “Well she should’ve…” coming from men and women, coming from our parents and our peers who may well be unaware of the impact these comments have. Because rapists don’t just happen, and they’re not all psychopaths. It starts in coercion and laughs at “50 no’s and a yes is still a yes”; they’re built and feel a little more secure in their actions with every rape joke, because whether their friends ‘actually mean it’ or not they take it as a confirmation that their behaviour is normal (see also: don’t make rape jokes); perhaps thinking that it’s not rape at all if she’s too drunk to consent after the laughs of friends; and with comments by prominent members of society exclaiming that a woman who dares to exist in public at night is extending an invitation to be taken advantage of. Resulting in victims who internalise these biases to the point that they too blame themselves; that they don’t report for fear of backlash and in some cases literally being driven out of town; for the knowledge that only 28% of reports result in a conviction.

Because these comments aren’t just echoed by well meaning citizens, but by actual rapists who eerily go on record excusing their actions with “A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night”. Comments like these do not exist in a bubble. They contribute to something bigger. To a culture where instead of focusing on how we can educate people on consent and shift societal attitudes, we waste time telling girls what to wear. And so today I dare to go out in public, at night, unaccompanied. Because living in fear is not a legitimate solution, and going out alone is not the problem to start with.

Not ours to ‘Reclaim’

‘Reclaim Australia’, a peak body for non-comital bogans, stars of Tattoo Nightmares and occasionally actual neo-nazi’s decided today would be a nice day to spew some hatred in Solidarity Park. The group ‘Reclaim Australia’ proudly declared that Islam are not in fact a race, with other signs calling to ‘Ban the Burqa’, ‘Ban Halal’ and declaring that ‘Islam is a cult’.
With infighting leading to the cancellation of the Bunbury rally (couldn’t have happened to nicer folk) the Perth rally rather saw the group forced onto the grassed area across from the counter protesters occupying Solidarity Park. It seemed the Dunning-Kruger effect was in full force with none of the Reclaim protesters grasping the irony of holding a racist rally in a location so significant to the union and anti-racist movements historically. Nor the irony in ‘reclaiming’ colonized country whilst having the nerve or sheer lack of self reflection to realize that for the most part, we too are immigrants. If anything, the display serves as a novel demonstration of the importance of education in a time where the future of our public schools and universities is so precarious.

2015-04-04 12.03.10


Of victories and elephants in the room

#demandabetterfuture #nus #nodebtsentence @sibbyy_

A photo posted by Jake Wittey (@jake.wittey) on Mar 24, 2015 at 7:54pm PDT

So first and foremost, it may be a little late but DEREGULATION WAS DEFEATED IN THE SENATE!

This is a huge win for students across the country, but not something we should rest on our laurels about. At a 30 to 34 margin, this was the second time the “Higher Education Reform Bill” (in extra quotation marks) was defeated and I don’t doubt Christopher Pyne is already planning to make us defeat it a third time. After a short period of celebration among student unions it was back to business as usual with students around the country assembling for the National Day of Action.

Last minute scheduling difficulties with the City of Perth lead to a change of location and a disappointingly small turn out at Parliament House (with original plans specifying Murray Street Mall) in an area with little public visibility other than a rather bemused group of school children on an excursion and their teachers as they shuffled them inside amidst the occasional swearing of speakers. But that wasn’t what annoyed me. What annoyed me was the elephant in the room, that topic completely ignored and looking to be ignored at least until the next election of NUS Office Bearers. Women. While other Equity Office bearers rightly lamented the negative impact deregulation would have on them, it seems the word ‘Women’ wasn’t used once by the National Women’s Officer herself. Something I found particularly disappointing as a campus Women’s Officer. So I’ll say it here. Deregulation would further limit already narrow windows of opportunity for Women students. It would mean many women never get the opportunity to be students in the first place. Mothers, and plenty of single mothers at that would find education simply out of reach for them. It would mean many women never gain the skills to escape poverty, to encourage their own children to pursue education, to make a new start. I’ve seen many strong women endure and escape extreme circumstances; hunger, homelessness, disadvantage. To them university is a chance at a new life that many never thought possible. I certainly would never have had the opportunity to even dream of going to university in a deregulated system. And as the child of a single mother with a disability, I wouldn’t have stood a chance. As a woman with a disability myself, I wouldn’t have stood a chance. Women are our most under utilised resource, and the most under utilised asset in our economies. It’s 2015 and there are more men named ‘Peter’ running ASX200 companies than there are women. Deregulation would set us back immeasurably, with devastating consequences. But for now, this is a victory. This is another little girl having the chance to escape the poverty cycle, and that’s worth the fight.

The argument against deregulation (aka why the higher ed reform bill is wack)

The Higher Education Reforms put forth by Education Minister Christopher Pyne look set to disproportionately impact women, particularly those with children and people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The core tenant of the policy of course is allowing universities to set their own fees, as opposed to the current system which sets fees on the basis of three fee bands which dictate the percentage of fees a student will contribute to by course. Deregulated fees, as well as having to make up for the 20% cut in government funding to simply break even will allow universities to raise fees to what they like. The University of WA was one of the first to go on record stating a four year degree would be charged at $48,000 ,with degrees such as Law and Medicine costing in excess of $100 thousand. Based on UWA’s proposed fee structure a woman’s repayment period would therefore go from 9.2 to 26.5 years compared to a rise of 8.8 to 17.7 years for men. Factor in post graduate studies and it is likely many degrees will never be paid off as has been seen in England, with the new system near costing the government more than it has saved. With estimates showing almost half of the £200bn in student loans will remain unpaid in 2042, it seems any savings the UK gained with the fee increases have been nullified (not even factoring in the social cost). These fee increases, which saw the cost of higher education rise to £9,000 a year were directly attributed to the 17% decline in undergraduate enrollments, and the first drop in international student enrollment in 30 years. All this whilst Scotland which offers free education saw a 2% increase in enrollments in the same year. At current it seems most in England will be paying off their student debts well into their 40’s and 50’s.

With deregulation previously failing to gain senate approval at a narrow margin, the government has rather laughably spent nearly $15 million on an ‘education campaign’ to sway public opinion on the flatteringly titled “Higher education reforms”. The campaign against these changes has already seen the government back down on raising interest on HECS loans to 10 year government bond rates (capped at 6%). Christopher Pyne has his work cut out for him with the public backlash aimed the campaign being instantaneous. Organizations like Getup! and Student Guilds have been actively voicing their opposition through various campaigns, grassroots activism and good old fashioned lobbying in response to the dubiously honest government campaign. It comes as no surprise that 65% of the Australian population now opposes fee deregulation when arguments in favour rely heavily on the supposed “unsustainability” of our current education system whilst countries such as Germany reintroduce free tertiary education, and on beating the dead horse that is the “budget emergency” which Joe Hockey himself denied existed whilst in New Zealand. We know the economic benefits of higher education are higher to the state than the individual, and with education being Australia’s 4th largest export, contributing nearly 15 billion to the economy in 2012-2013 attempting to find ‘budget savings’ in something that both makes and saves us money in other areas makes no sense. With any claims competition will keep the price of education moderated easily disputed with a look at the failing US education system, a deregulated system will make education a luxury for the next generation. Christopher Pyne himself got a start as the result of a free education made possible by the Whitlam government after all.