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Publications:

Victorian Paraphernalia, ed. By Kate Lister and Helen Kingstone (London: Routledge, 2017)The History of Sex Work in Leeds’, in Our Voices: Perspectives to Challenge Stigma and Stereotypes Around Sex Work, ed. By Basis Yorkshire (Leeds: Delta, 2017) (Funded by Rosa Fund)

‘The Pen is Mightier than the Whore: Victorian Newspapers and the Sex-Work Saviour Complex’, in The Routledge Companion to Sex, Sexuality and the Media, ed. By Clarissa Smith, et, al. (London; Routledge, 2017)

Upcoming appearances:

August 25th 2017, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, ‘Edinburgh Skeptics’, Whores of Yore

August 22nd, Scarlet Lounge, London 

Dr Kate Lister is currently a lecturer in Literature and History at Leeds Trinity University in West Yorkshire, northern England. She received her doctorate in medievalism and gender studies from the University of Leeds in 2014.

She is a board member of the International Sex Work Research Hub and advisor on the use of digital media and a member of Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies, the British Association of Victorian Studies.

She curates the online research project, www.thewhoresofyore.com. This is a digital public engagement project that works to make research on sexuality and the history of sex work publicly accessible by working across various medias; social, digital, radio and television. The Twitter feed has 90,000 followers and the website includes over 150 academic articles, as well as archived images, extracts from medical texts, antique erotica, and independent blogs from Basis Yorkshire and resident licensed sexologist. The project was nominated for the Sexual Freedom Award, Ally of the Year in 2016, and has led to numerous radio and television appearances.

Links

School of Arts and Communication

NP:  You have a fascinating and remarkable research background in the study of female sexual identity, Medievalism and historical sexuality. How did you get interested in these fields of interest?

Lister: I would have to describe myself as intellectually slutty. I have never felt restricted by disciplines and have always indulged my curiosity as much as I can. For my post-doctoral research, I started by researching how the medieval period is often highly sexualised in cinematic portrayals, and that led to my researching sexuality during that period. From there, I started researching historical sexuality and was particularly drawn to ‘sinful’ sexuality and how attitudes around sexual morality change. I started the Whores of Yore Twitter feed to share all the historical ‘titbits’ I was uncovering and people seemed to enjoy reading about them as much as I enjoyed researching them.

NP:   An intriguing example of how a woman’s identity was viewed in the Medieval Age might be the myth or actual practice, the  act of placing a live fish in a woman’s vagina until dead, then cooking or roasting it and serving it to men to make them more ardent in their love-making. How does a superstition like that come into being?

Lister: That particular anecdote about the fish is less of a serving suggestion and more of a fear. It’s found in ‘Decretum’ by Bishop Burchard of Worms, (c. 950 –1025) which is a penitential (a Catholic text that indexes sin.) The text lists all manner of conceivable sin and gives the appropriate penance for it. There is no evidence that this really happened, but it is likely to be an old folk superstition that taps into primal fears around women controlling men through their vaginas. Myths about vaginas (and by extension, women) being dangerous to men are found around the world.

Many cultures have myths that focus on vagina with teeth that bite the penis. This is known as the Vagina Dentata myth and variations are found in South America, Shintoism, Hinduism and Māori mythology. Interestingly, pioneering psychologist Erich Neumann (1905-1960) recorded one version of the vagina dentata myth where ‘a fish inhabits the vagina of the Terrible Mother; the hero is the man who overcomes the Terrible Mother, breaks the teeth out of her vagina, and so makes her into a woman’ (The Great Mother, 1955).

  NP: Much as been written about the Victorian Age and female sexuality.  What are some of the myths of the Victorian Age about female sexual identity in contrast to the reality that may have surprised you in your research?

Lister: My doctoral thesis focused on how the Victorians wrote about the Middle Ages and sexuality, so I always have a soft spot for Victorian sexuality. Like every era, they are very complex and not easily categorised. The Victorians have a reputation for being very prudish, and that is certainly true in many ways; they thought masturbation was injurious to health, sex was not talked about in polite society and women were shunned for sexual transgressions. However, they were also absolutely filthy! They invented pornographic photography and films! All their suppression of sex was still talking about sex, and they were utterly obsessed with it.

One of the most pervasive myths is that the Victorians invented vibrators to masturbate female patients to orgasm to cure hysteria. Despite this being a widespread story, there’s no evidence for it at all. Victorian doctors had some very odd ideas about sex and health, but this isn’t one of them.

It might also surprise people to know that the Victorians really valued sexual pleasure in marriage. Many doctors believed women could only conceive if they had an orgasm, and there are numerous texts devoted to encouraging newlyweds to enjoy one another. It’s important to remember that Victorian attitudes around sexuality are rarely consistent. There are texts that argue masturbation will lead to blindness and eternal damnation, and others that strongly dispute this. Until science advanced and clinical trials were introduced, much ‘science’ around sexuality was guess-work and driven by moral agendas.

NP:  An historical assumption might be that wealth and power determine orthodoxy and to resist that orthodoxy is viewed as heresy with accompanying punishments. Wealth and power has been a male prerogative especially in patriarchal cultures. Is female empowerment related to man’s fear of female power?

Lister: No, I don’t think so. Female empowerment is not about what men fear, but with what women need. Some men may fear female empowerment, but that’s a different thing altogether. Historically, men have always held the money and the power. There are only three ways women could get some of that for themselves; they could inherit it, they could marry it, or they could shag it. But, being able to earn their own money is a very recent development for women. Women who insist on a share in the power require a relinquishment of that power. For as long as women have been questioning the ‘natural order’ of things, fears that women will banish men to the kitchen sink and keep their penises in a jam-jar have been rife.

It’s important that we don’t make simplistic distinctions between the sexes as cultural orthodoxy is a social issue, rather than a gender based one. Women have fought against their emancipation as hard as men have, and many men crusaded fearlessly for women’s rights. Queen Victoria famously called women’s rights a “mad, wicked folly” and believed “Feminists ought to get a good whipping”. There were female anti suffragette groups and numerous anti-feminist texts that have been authored by women. The anti-suffragette propaganda was vicious in its depiction of women as man hating, ugly misandrists who wanted to subjugate men; but, none of those fears were realised and now we couldn’t imagine things any other way. Any shift in the status quo is met with a degree of suspicion and fear, but that must not stop us from pushing forward.

NP: Whore has been given a bad wrap it would seem as the word can apply to both men and women. Where are we at today in our literature about whores and sex workers and how does that affect female sexual identity?

 Lister: We can use the word ‘whore’ today to mean a person who sacrifices personal principles or uses someone or something in a base or unworthy manner. So, you can call someone an, ‘attention whore’ and we all know what that means. But, the word still retains is associations of sexual promiscuity and judging female sexuality. I’ve heard the expression ‘man whore’ being used, which means a promiscuous man. But, ‘whore’ is associated with women. The fact that ‘man whore’ uses the prefix ‘man’ to make gendered distinctions is testament to that.

The word is so old that its precise origins are lost in the mists of time, but it can be traced to the Proto-Germanic ‘horon’, or “one who desires”. Interestingly, ‘Whore’ is not a universal word; the indigenous Aborigines, First Nation people and native Hawaiians have no word for ‘whore’, or indeed prostitution, as they do not shame sexuality.

The word ‘whore’ is also in a state of reclamation amongst certain groups of the sex work community (others reject it entirely.) The truth is that I should not have used ‘whore’ in whores of yore; it’s not my word, and if you’re not a sex worker, it’s not yours either. It’s a term of abuse that sex workers hear every day by those seeking to devalue them and shame them. I have had feedback from many sex workers questioning my use of the term, and for a while I gave serious consideration to changing it. But, the history of that word is an important one, and one that I want to retain, and emphasise. Debate around what ‘whore’ actually means is a conversation worth having.

NP: Given your research, are there more women becoming the primary breadwinners in western culture and is there any type of male perceived role reversal and what would be the positive downstream effects?

Lister: I haven’t seen any evidence that women are becoming the primary breadwinners in the west. There is data available to show that the proportion of women in Europe and the US who are working to support a family has significantly increased in past 20 years. In the UK, roughly a third of women are the main breadwinners in their family and a report in 2015 estimated 40% of American women as the primary earner. We need to remember that these figures also cover single mothers and same-sex couples, so all we can really say is that mothers are earning more than ever before. It’s quite reductive to view this as ‘role reversal’ as that suggests that there are ‘correct’ roles and that men have to lose rights in order for women to gain them (and visa versa). None of which is true. If more women are working, that doesn’t mean more men have to take over the domestic role.

NP:  Sex work is valuable yet erroneously labeled. What is the future look like for the sex worker? Do you think humanoids or sexual fantasy machines will take their place in this century?

 Lister: Sex Robots have been in the news a lot lately, but I can’t see them ever replacing real sex as they are trying to stimulate real sex. Sex dolls have been around for a long time and have remained a kink, rather than the norm. I expect sex robots will be the same.

There’s so much work to do in charging attitudes to sex work, but I feel like the tide is slowly turning. Amnesty International, the World Health Organisation and the Lancet all support full discrimination of sex work and present considerable evidence as to why this will help keep sex workers safe. Social media platforms have allowed sex workers to come together and have a voice that people now have to listen too.

There are so many myths and false narratives around sex work that cause enormous damage to the sex work community. Conflating consensual sex work with sexual abuse and rape, for example. Despite the excellent work done by feminists around sexual consent and bodily autonomy, many people still can’t accept that some people want to sell sex and can choose to do that. Sex workers are often assumed to be women and the clients, men. This is a very hetero-normative assumption and excludes the experiences of LGBTQ community and ignores the fact that many women pay for sex. Many of the stereotypes around sex work seem to come from outdated beliefs that women aren’t sexual, and therefore must be being abused. We need to listen to sex workers, rather than talking over them.

Arab and Jew, Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land, Revised & Updated by David K. Shipler (2015)

Some works are read over weeks and not days. This is one of those journeys. It’s a substantial, poignant, disturbing, accessible work that reads like a journal. It’s in the category for which Pulitzers are given and been awarded.

Allow me to begin with the “end,” in which the author asks, “Who is the victim?” Voices are offered on all sides of the issues. What is the story that leads up to such a question?

In a heart wrenching and searing narrative that reads like a diary of people’s intimate lives and the uneasy and complex relationship between diverse cultures of Arabs and Jews, there exists the meaning of among other things, property – land that is viewed as personal, cultural, community and core to a national identity and interlaced with the movement toward nationalism and religious fundamentalism and the search for reconciliation in which any number of Arabs and Jews claim they are the victims. And, it’s actually even more complicated than that where so many lives have been maimed, abused, tortured, misplaced and lost and where the divide between the wealthy and impoverished and the superficial and the deep, grows.

Survival is a writhing struggle even on the simplest levels of daily living.

For a number of people who wish merely to survive and have families in relative peace they are wedded to place with religion/culture secondary. The defense of one’s personal property as seen through one’s own eyes is a multilayered history. It’s personal. And the personal becomes political. The author observes that, “Ethnocentrism and religious arrogance feed a political mood today.” Optimism is in short supply.

This work points toward, in my view, the growing conflicts around the world, where the game of religion, nationalism, purposeful chaos, propaganda, fake news and the undermining of the human will and spirit are at play. But it’s not game. Human dignity is at stake. Morality and ethics have become politicized where any number of politicians and corporations are perceived to act and “perform” in whatever “clothes” they deem fit to wear for their personal best interests and with only token acts of good will to assuage the crowds and masses and to help them feel good about their own lives and feed their own coffers of money and power. So what’s new under the sun?

Illiteracy in all its forms and arrogance/ignorance in all its shapes are siblings.  Where is truth to be found? Perhaps the richness of diversity is part of the answer.

This is an excellent read that stimulates the reader to learn more about the world in which we live and to strive for an optimistic outcome.

The Philosophy of the Bed by Mary Eden and Richard Carrington (1961)

I’ve been reading this book while sleeping in different hotel beds. This is one of those books I classify as a gem and I brought along from my personal library for some insights into the sensuality and the realities of the bed throughout history.

The authors have offered up a spicy, thoughtful, documented and accessible look into the philosophical and social history of the bed – from ancient nomadic tribes in caves and forests, to those who made beds from  piles of grass and brushwood in huts and the use of straw that served as pillows to a myriad of other bed types in different cultures. The constructions of beds whether on wheels or mechanical or out of wood or metal this study offers an informative look at beds, bedding and furnishings that could be found in different levels of a society and the philosophy of bed design – from Ancient Greece and Rome to the Medieval ages and the present, the authors offer poetic, social, philosophical  and artistic insights.

Superstitions were attached to the many uses of the bed: such as the young losing their vitality by sharing their bed with the old, or the man who sits on the bed of his mother has committed incest, or importance in certain types of hunting expeditions and associated rituals to have intercourse, particularly with one’s spouse, the night before the hunt to achieve success and the bed being viewed as an omen for good or ill in a variety of relationships depending on one’s partner and circumstances.

Throughout history it was only those who had resources to have a bed for themselves while the masses of impoverished shared beds together especially while traveling. The smell of human odor was prevalent.  Infestations of lice, fleas and cockroaches was not uncommon.

The bed through the ages has been used for  sex in its varied and stimulating erotic forms along with the use of chastity devices, giving birth, reading, eating, writing, drawing, painting, personal and not so personal intimacies & conversations, breast-feeding, dispensing justice,  composing music, dying and sleeping with any number of marriage and death-bed sayings and confessions. With regard to sleep, snoring it was noted in some cases led to divorce and murder. Mistakes also were made at times as in the case of the chambermaid that mistook a guest’s wooden leg for the handle of a warming-pan.

This concise book is very well illustrated with photos, paintings and drawings. And I suspect given the many new designs and philosophies of the bed and its uses make for an opportunity for a 21st century social history update by an enterprising author as more information has been discovered. Until such time this philosophical and social historical insight will do. Enjoy!

Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech by Cass R. Sunstein 1995

Sunstein’s work is a reference tool to be intellectually chewed in morsels and one is provoked to think about applying James Madison’s constitutional thoughts about free speech and democracy.

The words of the First Amendment remain essentially as articulated in the draft of the US Constitution. The Federalist papers show the heated discussion of the constitution’s difficulties with brilliant minds on all sides articulating their positions – one of the chief results was the First Amendment being viewed as a bulwark of American democracy.

Sunstein covers much complex ground (this is several books under one cover) and so I find it useful as a reference. In an early section the author discusses the absolutist position that government is the enemy of free speech and the First Amendment should be understood as embodying a commitment to a strong conception of neutrality, also…government may not draw a line between speech it likes and speech that it hates.” And so forth. How does one distinguish the difference between political and nonpolitical speech is more than a gnawing question.

The author examines various positions concerning what constitutes free speech and democracy and the resulting dilemmas. Whether one agrees with the author or not in all or part of his thinking, the reader is provoked to reexamine free speech and democracy in the age of – the art of the lie, post-truth and the resulting effect of chaotic thinking; and does free speech allow for purposeful lying or lying with intent?

The three branches of government – legislative, judicial and executive allow power to be balanced. When that balance is usurped by one branch over the others one comes perilously close to a dictatorship and the Founding fathers were weary of monarchies to the point of bloodshed.

Tangentially, when government is woven into the military industrial complex and where past privacies have been obliterated through the effect of high technologies the question is what next? The marketplace of thought on one level has affected the language of free speech and the nature of democracy? How does one go about having a reasoned opinion unless one deliberates with other people we feel are reasonable? Belief is a powerful tool of persuasion.

Given the marketplace where people are bombarded beginning in childhood are we able to reason with clarity? What is effect of money and power but to create an orthodoxy? Isn’t to resist a form of heresy.

Sunstein maintains and for good reasons James Madison arguments for free speech have a place in cyberspace and modern telecommunications but the times have changed dramatically in the first six months of 2017. If one wishes to be intellectually stirred then read this as a reference tool in the midst of change.

Michelle is a performing musician, composer, and music-book author based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Press Reviews

Vanessa de Largie, award-winning actress and author

Media about Vanessa has appeared in The Washington Times, Cosmopolitan Magazine (US), The Huffington Post, The Bolt Report, and many more.

Her one-woman-show ‘Every Orgasm I Have Is A Show Of Defiance To My Rapist’  premiered on the West End in April 2017 at the Tristan Bates Theatre.  

On July 15th, 16th & 18th Vanessa will be performing her one-woman-show at The Lambco Fringe Festival at The Lost Theatre.

Along with her books she is a regular columnist for Maxim Magazine (print edition) with her most recent writing in the July issue, titled Winter Sex.

Julia Tulupova is an actress, musician, writer and producer.

She is an alumnus of the acclaimed American Academy of Dramatic in Hollywood, California, and an international actress in both the United States and Europe.

 

 

Dr. Gloria Brame

Audio Books

Exercises to Uncage Your Erotic Voice

Grow Up and Get Sexually Intelligent

Male Empowerment

Master Sessions in Erotic Awakening

Myths that Sabotage Your Sex Life

Reinstalling Your Sexy Software

Techniques to Trigger Your Authentic Sexual Potential

Books

A Different Loving Too

A Fetish for Men

Naked Memory 

The Truth about Sex Volume I

The Truth about Sex Volume II

Ebooks

Male Empowerment

Master Sessions in Erotic Awakening – Complete Collection

It’s known for the Blues playing in the background in worried notes

under cobalt skies mixed with white clouds,

a prelude to the discordant sounds of the city’s traffic,

greeted by blood-shot eyes parched from the humid winds

of yesterday’s misplaced hopes and false smiles,

iced coffee with whipped cream and coffee beans sprinkled on top

dripping down the sides of a plastic cup,

the nasal sound of the tiresome Breaking News

that blares on a radio from the open window of a truck,

while a toothy politician wears a badge –  I’m running for office!

He pats an apparent friend on the back touching a scabbed over soft spot,

recognized in the side-glance of the man’s troubled eyes,

only to be interrupted by a large dog that raises his hind leg,

shudders and pisses on the hood of a mixed breed car,

while a boy yells at another across an alley – talk to my lawyer!

 

And a voluptuous woman dressed in a black leather skirt

with details like burgundy nail polish to match her purple blouse,

lightly slaps the ass of a slender woman wearing a collar and walking beside her,

a young couple with enigmatic features hold hands wearing headphone sets,

sitting on a bench at the edge of a cobblestone street next to a wharf,

a striking woman catches one of her four-inch high heels in a crack

and swears in the name of the Son and his relatives,

while a young man with a degree from a local college

holds a sign that reads “will work for food,”

and a short-haired man in a polo shirt and pressed khaki shorts

looks warily at a long-haired guy in blue jeans, t-shirt and a sports coat,

while faces from other parts of the country wait in line for a cold brew

at a century old tavern across from algae smelling water

and a wrinkled old woman wipes her forehead with a faded handkerchief

then touches the soft grin that quietly crosses her thick lips,

amid the aroma of grilled vegetables and fish that comes in waves

mixed with the fragrance of freshly planted flowers

touched by the Spanish moss that hangs from hardwood trees –

a Southern city with modern Gothic charm.

 

Also, posted in Rhythms

Image for Writings

Credit: Jean Philippe-Cypres, photographer

Inerrancy is a complicated subject. It implies that an object whether inanimate or animate possesses the “quality of being without error” or that it is free from error. It’s most commonly used to describe nature, theological literature and or scripture.

Is there anything in existence that is without error or free from error? If one looks closely under a microscope at the symmetry of flowers one can detect errors. Evolution is not perfect. Meeting with the Harvard paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Stephen J Gould in Syracuse, NY, around the turn of the century he and I talked briefly about inerrancy. He noted that within nature itself we find imperfections and diversity if we look close enough, though from a distance one may see symmetry. To gaze upon any flower one can find utter beauty as we hold it in our hands. Under a microscope it is a diverse and complex world. And one discovers the richness and beauty of the imperfect diversity and the diversity of imperfection.

The imperfections we view in life can easily viewed as perfection, especially when viewed from the human eye and the filters of our experience and internal wiring. Is it natural for us to seek inerrancy and perfection in an imperfect natural world? The idea of error free perfection apparently inspires man to reach for an idea beyond our own frailties and faculties. We apply our inspiration to our thoughts, literature and theological writings and whom and what we worship and the choice of words we use in corresponding rituals.

Once man observes that his inspiration is from a higher authority his language changes and writings are viewed as sacred. Man decides what is sacred. The decision-making that is arrived at for something to be decided as sacred can be convoluted with various language based theological, religious, spiritual, psychological, political and cultural roots.

Subsequent human action whether in the rituals of a cathedral, synagogue or temple or on the battlefield or in a corporate office are developed as a controlling mechanism. Language and thought feed off each other while our rituals serve as underpinnings to the beliefs that are incorporated into our daily life. Rituals have their place as they offer the illusion of constancy and consistency, obedience and discipline to a cause other than our own.

We might ask, as the John Wesley professor emeritus Burton L Mack at the Clairemont School of Theology, did in his work, Who Wrote the New Testament, The Making of a Christian Myth, “who made the bible the final authority” and who made it inerrant or free of error? The answer is, man did. Historically, the level of inspiration became substantially varied at times, especially when there was a transfer of power among rulers or want to be rulers.

The Bible, Torah, Koran and other sacred scriptures were written by men inspired by their own visions of a higher authority and putting those inspirations into a language written down and applied to an imperfect natural world. Man decides what is canon and what is non-canonical. The sacred is imperfect. During the “Middle Ages” gardens were designed in an ordered ritualistic fashion, as a way of dealing with the disorder found in the natural world, is just one small example.

Whether a higher authority, such as the human invented words “God, Yahweh or Allah” etc., suggest, actually exist or not, human language and the desire for inerrancy gets in the way of a deeper understanding of the existential and spiritual predicament/condition of humankind. Language is imperfect even when the writer and speaker are sufficiently efficacious with a given language. It’s the actions taken in the name of a word or words that acts as a stimulus with a consequential effect.

Human language can fail us as does the acts or actions that follow when not used with discretion.  The cliché of  ‘actions may speak louder than words’ is comfortable to say, however, prior to the act, our language in the form of thoughts may loudly reverberate in the malleable and imperfect human brain. Does there exist within each human brain the wish for perfection and is it an obsession about self and other control?

 Nothing is inerrant. Regardless, one might ask, has the language of civility and the civility of language reached a crossroads in our technological age? Are we on the cusp of human like machines replacing the “God” or “gods” that we created and subsequently been inspired by? What will happen to that which has served as our inspiration? Will a technological “god” become an inspired obsession for perfection and inerrancy or will we revert to the imperfect natural gods that primitive men and women encountered in their myths over the centuries?

Still, as Joseph Campbell, a leading mythologist and Mircea Eliade, historian, philosopher and interpreter of the religious experience would on some level agree that myths have kernels of imperfect truths within them.

Intriguingly the language of inerrancy quietly and paradoxically communicates the fear of “aloneness” in an infinite universe(s)” and the subsequent quest for meaning and for a truth, regardless of how imperfect.

Citizens, A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama (1989)

“In some depressing sense, violence was the revolution itself,” Schama states in the opening pages.

Simon Schama’s work comes across as that of an expert devoted to his subject and guided by the opinions and ideas of the day in streets of Paris, France with more than enough details, so much so, that I have returned to this magisterial work to read certain aspects of this “full- blooded” narrative with a different view.

Reading this book can be dizzying and enlightening. Peering into the late 18th century France through Schama’s eyes feels as if one is looking at the people and events as if they were alive. As one reads one cannot help but compare the “revenge of time” with the events of today’s unstable minds and events around the world and within the White House, the Congress and the Supreme Court and agendas at variance with the concept of a democratic republic.

Schama, know his subject well and gets inside the fabric of its characters and events of the Revolution and their individual roles and the anger and distrust played out in the theater, the revolutionary exhortations among various groups, the fervor expressed in works of art, the deals made behind closed doors in the halls of justice and the boudoirs of madams, the mocking of the King who saw himself and family as privileged, and the blood that spilled into the streets as chaos arrived without structure. The old regime of benevolent capitalism was dying and about to be pronounced dead. The grievances grew bold and death in the form of suicide and homicide grew as the number of victims mounted in number and terror spread through the streets.

Faith was eventually poured into the concept of liberty and the American Revolution was an inspiration. The threads between the French and Americans were an interweave of passion between leaders of both countries.

This remains an extraordinary narrative of the French Revolution and one wonders if between the American and French Revolutions whether another revolution is on the horizon as the end of democracy is now imaginable and the move toward authoritarian regimes is occurring as division and mistrust grows.

The Manipulated Mind by Denise Winn (2000)

This in an interesting book if one is seeking to know more about elementary aspects of mind control and social conditioning. There are any number of ideas built into the framework of the author’ discussion the least of which is, what do we mean by free will? That said the author offers insightful information as to the nature of how our minds are conditioned and how we are influenced to accept things that are not necessarily an actuality.

In the past decade or so there have been a number of books about brainwashing and conditioning that offer a variety of in-depth excursions into mind control. There are scholars that reject the popular understanding of mind control while others have exposed how people are easily influenced by religion and a belief in something bigger than themselves. William Sargent’s Battle for the Mind Physiology of Conversion and Brainwashing – How Evangelists, Psychiatrists, Politicians, and Medicine Men Can Change Your Beliefs and Behavior (2015) is a study in point.

The use of mind control experiments by various “intelligence agencies and psychologists around the globe is a book yet to be comprehensively written. The effects on individuals within religious traditions and ethnic groups is an example. People can be indoctrinated and manipulated to believe in almost anything where the facts would suggest otherwise as Wynn suggests.

The author perceptively notes that” People do not make their own decisions based on their own, and collective, standards of behavior always, because few have the resources to resist authority. Circumstances can affect our actions more dramatically than we could ever allow ourselves to believe.” Our minds can be more easily manipulated than we can possibly imagine.

The author in her overview does add some fascinating examples such as prisoners of war in Korea and how the Turkish prisoners used humor to deflect or channel mind control. This is not a comprehensive study but a tantalizing taste of the nature of brainwashing, social conditioning, conversion and the need for approval. It’s a fascinating look into how easily our minds can be manipulated and how we need to test our assumptions especially our language.

Our technologies and malleable brains only add to the textured layers of manipulative conditioning.

NPJ Book Review: Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, translated by David R. Slavitt (2008)

This is one of several, and my preferred translation, of this brief but substantial work between a man, awaiting execution in the year 524, and his intimate yet dispassionate conversation with an imaginary woman, Lady Philosophy.

Boethius was a Roman patrician, senator, educated in Greek and philosophy, which placed him in good stead towards the end of his brief life. His suffering was not unique (for the untold masses of people in the lower classes), but his educated voice was able to articulate the struggle between the spheres of both the meaning of life and of death.

It is a thought-provoking work that transcends any particular religious belief though its does offer a theological taste in his references to an eternal God and I am reminded at different points made by Qoheleth (see Ecclesiastes). For example, In Book II Lady Philosophy observes that the “desire for happiness is inborn, instinctive in the minds of men. But they are led astray by false ideas of good.” What does a man gain through work, whether honest or not and accumulates wealth and power and pleasure? “These are the things all men want-wealth, high office, power, fame and pleasure…” as his imaginary lady friend observes. She speaks from a position herself of once having power (through the mind of Boethius). The impoverished suffer daily, and so perhaps think differently and only wish to have one good meal each day and a roof over their head. Regardless,  the only gain a man achieves  through work or play or the pursuit of pleasure, wealth and power is but death. None of it heals the man from within.

Lady philosopher does question whether he is any better than the weak regardless of whether he thinks so? For life ends on the same note for everyone with little hope for recovery so one is wise to seek the spiritual if they wish to be truly happy…further, ”things are known,” Lady philosophy suggests in Book VI, “not according to their natures but according to the nature of the one who is comprehending them.” Self-awareness has a Buddhist feel.

This brief, provocative work might be considered an essential read for today’s politicians and corporate and religious leaders. From a literary and philosophical perspective Slavitt’s translation is excellent.

Carmen Browne’s Music

https://carmenbrowne.bandcamp.com/track/insomnia

https://carmenbrowne.bandcamp.com/track/you-will-know

Everett Bradley (touring member with Bon Jovi and former member of Bruce Springsteen’s Band),  who produced her debut EP Cloud Ballet, and she is currently working with Everett and producer/musician Joe Chester (Coronas, Waterboys) on her album Sublime Light due to be released in 2017.

Browne Towne

For access to her blog

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