Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Poland, HIV and the dreaded ‘PC’

Why does everyone want to make HIV into a Sontagian metaphor? Well, I bet nobody else asked you that today…

I turned on the satellite television in Egypt to watch the evening news on TV Polonia (yes, Polish TV is beamed into the hotels) and there was Simon Mol, handcuffed, walking towards a police van. As he passed the camera he shouted, “The media are manipulating this story – I am the victim.’

For sure the media are distorting elements of the story, as they will; and for sure Mol has been the victim of much in life – that’s why he is in Poland in the first place: but to regard himself as a ‘victim’ in this case is weirdly delusional. With many women HIV infected and many more thinking they might be infected, Simon must be in a very strange place psychologically right now to think he is the victim.

Others however are determined to make a wider point about this – just as Simon Mol has done, and will.

Virtuous blog accused me of something quite nasty. When talking about the Simon Mol posts on this blog (see below) he says I went out in an extreme way to:

‘...defend Mol (maybe not defend, but abstract the case into political sphere away from the actual human suffering) regardless of all. Even if I can appreciate taking a stand of a devil’s advocate, again, the message focuses on the culprit and disregard the victims. In the comments someone notices that the author seems to find Mol suspected of a deed equal to spreading flu, which for me, if proven, would rather amount to a mass murder.

I don’t think that is fair comment at all.

The point of the second Mol post was about how some are trying to turn what are basic human tragedies, lives completely changed, suffering, into a political crusade. It is not me that is doing the abstracting, or the crusading.

(As far as my concern for HIV and AIDS sufferers, I trained as an AIDS information officer back in the late 1980s at University, when the AIDS panic was first sweeping through the UK. Ignorance was rife (many thought you could get HIV from a toothbrush, or from kissing. I have also known people die from the virus. Care I do and have done.)

Margaret Thatcher tried to use the AIDS panic in those early days in Britain to promote what she called ‘Victorian values’. For others it was the ‘wroth of God’, against homosexuals.

So HIV has always been wheeled out to support some kind of political point, both reactionary, or in the form of the dreaded Political Correctness.

This time it's not AIDS and gays, however, it’s AIDS and Africans.

Mol’s behaviour has taken on a much wider significance than to the lives that he has affected. People want to make a point, to push an agenda, to show, as one Polish newspaper headlined it last week: ‘The Consequences of bad ideas.

Peter S Reith – from, I think, the Warsaw theatre crowd that Mol used to hang around with - wrote in Rzeczpospolita that ,”… the ideas that allowed Mol to ravage women must also be held to account.’

These ideas he summarizes as ‘Political Correctness.”

Mol apparently thought that anyone who accused him of being HIV positive was ‘being racist.’ Which, of course, (if he knew that he was already infected - which now seems very possible indeed as he first had a test in 1999 in a refugee camp in Poland - is another example of his capacity for victim based delusions. It seems as though he can’t separate himself and his actions from his position as a black refugee in Poland.

Reith implies Mol yelled at women that even the act of wearing a condom was ‘racist.’

He concludes:

If some women had not been corrupted by the academia and the culture of political correctness to believe that they owed sexual gratification to Simon Mol on account of his skin color and status as a member of an "oppressed" group, this tragedy would have been avoided.

This stretches the meaning, and power, of ‘Political Correctness’ to breaking point, I think...

Watching Ps, Cs and Qs

The classic liberal PC does have many negative aspects. Political Correctness is about ‘speech codes’ – restrictive speech codes; a way of closing off debate; of not being offensive; ‘You can’t say that!’

It all started with the naive belief in liberal academic circles, decades ago that if you changed the composition of words – astronaut instead of space man, chairperson in instead of chairman, etc, sexist thought would simply melt into thin air. Language didn’t reflect reality, it constituted it.

All very daft, of course. By the 1980s ‘PC’ had become a form of political abuse. It became a way the right mocked the left.

But it’s a big jump from that to claiming that young girls had sex with Mol because it was ‘PC’ to do so. The context of speech is important.

Reith writes:

’…for many women, having unprotected sex with a black man fulfilled two politically correct obligations: it was trendy to have sex with a black man, and it was also a sign that one was not prejudiced against blacks.‘

I am sure he never meant this, but Mr Reith seems to rule out the possibility that they might have found black men attractive simply because they found black man attractive.

And anyway, remember too that Poland – which, let’s be honest - has a level of prejudice that I am sure Peter would agree is on a rather different level from where he comes from.

In a context where there is genuine prejudice – much of the time innocent, though sometimes ugly, naivety – the act of showing that you are not prejudice seems a powerful statement. It gives the more ludicrous claims of Simon Mol, about not wearing condoms, some traction, purchase, …even sense.

If these women did have unprotected sex because it was ‘PC’ – is that a supposition? – then the consequences have been very unfortunate, life changing.

But if the PC factor is that important – if - then maybe it’s the context in which Mol finds himself in that feeds the victim status he clearly thinks is the only thing that defines him as a person. But if this were a society that had grown to cope with the immigration of blacks then Mol would seem transparently ridiculous.

Maybe these poor girls believed him because some of it was true?

28 comments:

Martin said...

Beatroot,

I am also of the late '80's UK university vintage, and remember the massive amount of advertising along the lines that we were all going to die, it was going to be the influenza epidemic of 1918 multiplied by a factor of 10, etc.

Remeber that it was in our faces for years?

Turns out HIV is hard to catch, and the naked reality that the groups most likely to contract it are the sexually promiscuous and intravenous drug abusers.

However, no psychologist seems to have dared conduct a study on what impact that advertising had on teenagers of our vintage. Did it give some of them the mother and father of all Catholic sex hang-ups?

Last time you were back in Blighty, did you notice how many single women in their '30's are floating about? Not all of whom are City superwomen?

Race is not the issue in cases such as this. OK, this guy's black. That's a fact dictated by nothing more important than the volume of melanin in his skin; facts cannot be contentious. What is contentious about this case, and the equivalent British case of Feston Konzani, is African culture.

Black African men don't like wearing condoms and are more sexually promiscuous than white Europeans. That be the nuts and the bolts, the long and the short, the Alpha and Omega of the world AIDS crisis. AIDS will continue to ravage both Africa and Africans until African men learn to keep it zipped.

Racist? No.

Practical? Yes.

Where PC has failed the West is that Simon the Shagger felt free to shout 'Racist' at women HE wanted to shag on HIS terms when he is NOT in Cameroon. Poland is not Cameroon.

John said...

welcome back beat.

Ive not followed this case all that closely. I suggested in another thread that HIV tests were not so reliable....and my activist friends in both LA and NYC agree....but I was given a Wikopedia scolding for this opinion. I raise it here again not to argue the science of the test, or of HIV/AIDS, but to wonder at the certainty on all sides in this story. It feels like a mob lynching a black man....thats the appearance of things. Now, if it turns out that Mol is guilty of something, I suspect he will be punished. But stories about what *he said* or did....from people who overheard him or women who allegedly had sex with him, seem a bit lurid and tabloid like to me. I retain a lingering unease about the racial aspects of this story.....which is not to suggest Mol is an innocent being attacked for his race....only to express my unease....which *is* born of the racism in this country.

Most countries are racist....and we all are guilty to one degree or another....its a complex subject. But the treatment of this story....of what Ive seen (as I say, Im not following it all that closely) suggests a lot of hysteria and sidebar issues. The fact that he is black makes this is a big story....not what he is accused of doing.

steppx said...

beat...the above was me....

Gussie Fink-Nottle said...

Good post, Beatroot.

One thing, though. I do think that you cannot condemn the language changes reflected or caused by what you call "political correctness" (that's a slur, btw, with a questionable meaning) simply by dismissing the following statement:

"Language didn’t reflect reality, it constituted it."

I think most linguists do agree that our world-view is influenced by the kind of language we use. It follows that changing the language will influence our attitudes and eventually behaviour.

Thus, it is well known that the dehumanising language used by the Nazis about Jews DID eventually cause many ordinary Germans to view the Jews as lesser beings. Similarly, the difference in behaviour of the US and the UK armies in Iraq, and high incidence of the war crimes commited by the US marines, can be, at least in part, traced back to the language: the marines' missions are to "search and destroy"...

While I agree that the liberal/feminist/left etc groups go sometimes too far in prescribing language usage, I think there is nothing wrong with hate speech laws and fighting against language terms expressing derogatory stereotypes. It both reflects and helps positive social change

geez said...

Thanks, gussie, for applauding my efforts to curtail references to Poles as scum, other than homo sapien, etc. (Although I don't agree with you about hate speech laws -- I usually just find hate speech rather pathetic and sometimes ridiculously hilarious).

gussie wrote: I think there is nothing wrong with hate speech laws and fighting against language terms expressing derogatory stereotypes. It both reflects and helps positive social change.

Augustus Fink-Nottle said...

Geezer,

I usually just find hate speech rather pathetic and sometimes ridiculously hilarious

YOU DO, but it is taken seriously by many.

BTW, you haven't answered my earlier question: is your education technical?
You often think like an engineer...

Cheers,
Gussie
______
The Homo Sapiens is an endangered species in Poland. It is being pushed out by the cross of Homo Sovieticus and Homo Bigotus.

opamp said...

Welcome back beatroot, and thanks for a good piece of journalism.

Reith implies Mol yelled at women that even the act of wearing a condom was ‘racist.’

There are numerous such quotes from him in this article: http://www.gazetawyborcza.pl/1,75480,3846291.html

If these women did have unprotected sex because it was ‘PC’ – is that a supposition? – then the consequences have been very unfortunate, life changing.

From the article referenced above: "You will not believe what I was thinking back then: that I did not want to be a victim of a cultural stereotype and assume that every black man is HIV positive".

@john:

I suggested in another thread that HIV tests were not so reliable....

This is largely irrelevant to the case, as (some of) Mol's victims have developed clinical symptoms (reference: same article).

Simon Mol's achievement was that he has so successfully played the (anti)racist sentiment card, that for a long time nobody believed the accusations and he could continue his activity. For a proof of how successful he was, one needs to look no further than to the first beatroot's post on the subject.

Political Correctness is about ‘speech codes’ – restrictive speech codes;

PC is essentially the same type of mental conditioning that has been in the past employed by certain totalitarian regimes; it classifies certain ideas as unthinkable, that is, ones that cannot be, even hypothetically, entertained. The problem arises when the unthinkable turns out to be real.

steppx said...

opamp;
I dont think its irrelevant, actually. But I wont get into a long debate about it. Im only questioning the reporting....and the tone of the debate. He may be exactly what some claim he is....and he may well have been playing the anti-racist card....BUT my sense is that much more will come out about this story.....though likely not for a while.

The topic is racially mediated....thats simply a fact....and the eagerness to use terms like anti-racist card speaks volumes. There is a quality to this story....in the media....I find a bit scary.

beatroot said...

There is a quality to this story....in the media....I find a bit scary.

I certainly agree with that. But it’s a pretty nasty story on every level. The allegations are horrid, the reaction has been horrid (but hardly unexpected). It’s just a classic horror story…

In general – and I am glad we have raised the level of debate a bit here since the last Mol posts (some of it was just unbelievable, and part of Steps ‘scary’ quality! Although in reality it was just a bit juvenile) – I will just repeat: if this was not a country with such high levels of simple prejudice then the alleged ramblings and threats would have little power to affect someone’s behavior. Being ‘anti-racist’ might not seem such a noble thing to be.

Mr Fink Nottle
I think most linguists do agree that our world-view is influenced by the kind of language we use. It follows that changing the language will influence our attitudes and eventually behaviour.

Was it the ‘warf hypothesis’ or something? Eskimos have 50 different words for snow which enables them to see 50 different types of snow . Because I have only got one or two words I only see one or two different types of snow.

I think what you are saying is pretty close to that. Things don’t change because we think up new combinations of words…’shock and awe’ would be a good one. ‘Shock and awe’ was how the Pentagon previewed the ‘spectacular’ bombing on Ba’athist headquatres in Baghdad. But it wasn’t shockingly awful because they had shockingly awful words for it. It simply was awe-inspiringly awful…

jannovak57 said...

Not so complicated.

The speculation about this case makes your head spin, who knows what was in anyone’s mind or their actual motives?

Why should we feel sorry for all of these poor victims, they were reckless and negligent? They did what every sex education class informs people not to do, unprotected sex with high-risk partners. The Aids crisis in Africa isn’t exactly a secret. These women had a choice.

Why should we feel sorry for Simon Mol, he looks to be an articulate and intelligent person, therefore the author of his own predicament? As with the women he also had choices.

All the parties here were victims of their own stupidity.

“basic human tragedy” best defines this.

Gussie Fink-Nottle said...

Can we raise the level here, as well?

The Eskimo example is a crude case of lingustic determinism and even Worf never went that far: he claimed that grammatical, not lexical , categories shape the thought and action.
I never said anything, which can be interpreted as either lexical or grammatical determinism, so please do not attribute to me your ideas.
On the other hand, you will find nowadays the consensus among linguists that language does affect thought, and the disagreement is only to the degree.
You will find it rather hard to argue against this (I mean, denying it is like arguing for flat earth). I notice that you did not give any arguments against my two examples (I won't comment on yours, rather silly one ).

You say: "In a context where there is genuine prejudice – much of the time innocent, though sometimes ugly..."
Yes, and promoting sensitive language has the effect of changing lack of awareness of those innocently prejudiced. This, of course, is particularly effective among children. The commonly misinterpreted quote "Poles drink antisemitism with mother's milk" simply refers to the fact that in a majority of Polish homes antisemitic comments and sentiments are common. Much of it is innocent prejudice, but this language does have the effect of perpetuating antisemitism in each new generation.

Anonymous said...

From ANTIFASCIST OF THE YEAR this piece of communist filth should be awarded with the title of CRIMINAL OF THE YEAR!

Agnes

Michael Farris said...

Beat, take it from a linguist, the whole thing about Eskimos having lots of words for snow is a myth, you can search language.log for more details should you desire them.

As for the Simon M. story. The vibe I'm getting is that he's a sociopath (I may be oversensitive and skittish since I've had some run ins with skillful sociopaths but my spidey sense has been tingling off the charts).

Refusing to get tested because you think testing is 'racist' is either stupid or evil.
Not believing the test results is stupid or evil.
Long term promiscuity is stupid (and potentially evil, but his sexual choices in Poland have been indefensible on any grounds you care to name).

Yes, racism exists and poisons the atmosphere. One result of this is that people who are the 'wrong' race in a given place and time (and black is absolutely the wrong race to be in Poland) can never be sure if negative attitudes directed toward them are justifiably motivated or not. Did you really screw up or is the person accusing you just a racist scumbag, it can be very hard to tell (and there are enough racist scumbags in all societies to make accepting that as the default choice very tempting). I completely understand that, I really do.

But, Simon M seems to have bought into some very dangerous nonsense about HIV and put himself and others are intolerable risk and refuses to live up to that and/or accept responsibility for his own choices.

I write 'seems' because there might be facts I don't know that would change my perceptions, but at present with what I've gotten from the media, I really don't see any other alternative, stupid or evil and he does not strike me as stupid.

I understand you've met him and he seems like a nice guy, but real sociopaths can be very convincing and charming.

I still don't believe for a second that he was trying to infect women (not easy or sure thing by any means). I think he basically didn't give a shit about the welfare of his shortterm sexual conquests and quite possibly thought of sleeping with as many Polish women as possible as a kind of revenge against racist attitudes in Poland (he wouldn't be the first African in Poland to try to justify irresponsible sexual behavior that way).

beatroot said...

Fink nottle
I am very happy to be informed that the Eskimos thing was a myth…but it doesn’t change my view that what you are saying is a new ‘Eskimo theory’ as you wrote:

the difference in behaviour of the US and the UK armies in Iraq, and high incidence of the war crimes commited by the US marines, can be, at least in part, traced back to the language: the marines' missions are to "search and destroy"...

That is about as daft as the Eskimos and snow.

Gussie Fink-Nottle said...

beatroot wrote:
>>the difference in behaviour of the US and the UK armies in Iraq, and high incidence of the war crimes commited by the US marines, can be, at least in part, traced back to the language: the marines' missions are to "search and destroy"...<<

That is about as daft as the Eskimos and snow.


Why? Is it your "gut feeling"?
It never ceases to amaze me that someone, who admits to be ignorant about relevant subject, still feels entitled to be dismissive, simply because an information or an opinion does not fit with his "common sense" ideas.

About language and soldiers see, e.g.:
Grossman "On Killing" (Little, Brown and Co. 1995)
Hogan & Williams "Defining "the Enemy" in Revolutionary America: From the Rhetoric of Protest to the Rhetoric of War" (Southern Communication Journal 61 (1996))
and many others.

beatroot said...

Could you show me some evidence where different phrases used by armed forces has changed their behaviour? To do that you would have to factor out all the other, more concrete variables that cause behaviour during armed conflict.

I get the feeling that you would like words to have such a power as this is your ‘gut feeling’…

Augustus Fink-Nottle said...

Could you show me some evidence where different phrases used by armed forces has changed their behaviour?

What's the matter with you?! I just gave you references.

beatroot said...

Maybe I could put it another way(as I am not going to rush out to buy any of these books) would you likew to try and form a logical argument to show how use of language created torture in Iraq?

A. G. Fink-Nottle said...

Look, I'm not going to spend any more time on this (it was only meant to be an example!).
The basic idea is: dehumanising language ovecomes soldiers' moral obstacles and eventually erodes moral norms. > Here is an (admittedly non-scientific) article which also makes this point. In particular the following sentence presents "a logical argument to show how use of language created torture in Iraq":

Dehumanizing language has deliberately been employed to describe all those who oppose the United States. The cumulative effect of this has conveyed to American troops that international and national norms of lawful conduct have been suspended or crucially limited in the war against terror.

Finally here is a more abstract argument (not even "shock and awe" is as innocent as you think):

The trouble with metaphors is that they have a strong pull on our fancy. They tend to run away with us. Then we find that our thinking is directed, not by the force of the argument at hand, but by the interest in the image in our mind.
Monroe Beardsley

beatroot said...

dehumanising language ovecomes soldiers' moral obstacles and eventually erodes moral norms.

So you are asking me to believe that bad language overcomes morals and erodes social norms?

That’s rather a reactionary idea. Language on its own can do absolutely nothing – in between it and an action is a conscious, autonomous individual (albeit in a social and historical context). It’s a very similar argument to those that say porn leads to rape, video games lead to violent behaviours.

I suppose it is out of the question that the decision and implementation of an invasion and occupation (by US troops) in a place where the locals resist or just merely passionately resented that invasion was the key factor in the overcoming of moral obstacles and subsequent lack of social norms by Americans (war is not a place where social norms sit conformably?

The reason why American and British troops have acted differently in Iraq is due to the all too messy realities on the ground. The US has been in mass in Baghdad etc. The Brits have been in smaller numbers in the relative calm of Basra etc, in among a Shia population which had perceived an themselves to be in an advantageous position now that the Sunni Ba’athosts were out of the way. Blaming ‘language’ misses the vital points about the brutalization of war.

The language being used in those types of situations – for instance, the use of ‘wog’ or ‘shooting into the brown’ by British soldiers during the colonialist and imperialistic occupation of India - was simply a reflection of the brutalist colonialist/colonizer relationship – the language simply expresses what is: it’s not causing anything.

But of course, your type of argument is ultimately neither verifiable nor falsifiable because we can’t isolate the relevant variables which act on behaviour in certain cirmucstancess.

Interestingly, the post-structural obsession with language and other ‘signs’ mirrors that of their anti-PC critics. Both promote language to a level that can determine behaviour (in Mol’s case this appears to have been criminal).

And that’s a ‘sign’ of the times, if ever there was one.

geez said...

I think fink is responsible for the torture in Iraq and the election of the K-twins.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

It really is disappointing to find that in the year 2007, despite a mountain of overwhelming scientific and medical evidence, compiled by the World’s finest scientists, that there are still people who will deny until they are blue in the face that HIV actually exists and is destroying millions of people every year.
Perhaps they know deep in their hearts that they are lying through their teeth - if so for a person to cling to a falsehood so obstinately is terrible indictment of their character.Perhaps they are merely ignorant.

Actually, the opulation growth rate of South Africa has in recent years been severly impacted by AIDS, even the invincible, heroic population growth rate of sub-Saharan Africa has been affected.

geez said...

Ooops. I meant to write that fink's language is responsible...

Anonymous said...

It's a bit disturbing really, but I just found out that the African person deliberately spreading HIV was somebody I knew by sight. After all, there are so few black people in Poland, that somebody black tends to be memorable.

Even more alarming (and I heard this from somebody who know him and several of his 'victims' very well) is that some of the women who had unprotected sex with him knew beforehand that he had AIDS. It wasn't a secret.

The Polish Green Party and the millieu around it contains, frankly, a few very unstable individuals who are dangerous to themselves and others, but this stretches credibility.

The source I heard it from is impeccable, and I dimly remember being in a bar and seeing him 'on the pull'.

Very, very disturbing.

Konrad

Anonymous said...

The slags that sleep with this neanderthal deserve every disease they get.

Marta

Anonymous said...

What a horrible thing to say Marta.

Anonymous said...

send his diseased ass back to wherever he came from

they should screen these fuckers at the airport