Being liberal is no easy life-choice.

Apparently we are all being watched. Apparently we are all being watched.

The focus of this blog Take-A-Risk-NZ is on crime, sexuality, social change, and in particular, the situation minor-attracted people find themselves dealing with. The views offered here may seem to many to be off to one side and remote – if a reader goes to the pub or some social gathering the ideas I offer are probably not going to pop up in conversation.  Other issues it could be argued are more worthy of public concern.

I don’t see it quite that way, although there are some really big issues out there. The canary in the coal mine comes to mind. As things change and new problems replace old ones the signs a problem is present can be found in what at the time is not focused on and not judged to be important. In earlier days inside a coal mine those who went down into the mine would take with them a small bird in a cage. While down inside the mine the bird, perhaps a canary, might begin to struggle and fall ill, indicating a gas leak or the presence of a threat, a danger the miners may fail to register. To fail to see the bird having problems was to leave open the possibility a person might be the next animal to die. How minority groups experience problems can be for the rest of us a warning regarding our fate as a society.

Yesterday two plain clothes police officers came to my apartment complex. They had taken an interest in an image that was distributed inside Tumblr, a social media network much like Facebook. The picture these officers were interested in was of a boy pointing a handgun at his head. That image was used in a post put up on this blog that discussed the use of the term sexual orientation when referring to a person who is minor attracted. The American Psychological Association had just pulled the use of this term in favour of the phrase sexual interest when referring to the desire felt by a minor attracted person. (For a background to this see this Washington Times piece.)

What this blog piece offers was referenced by Tom O’Carroll in an item titled “Should we publish and be damned?” A commenter on that article, Peter Loudon, shared details about the person who took the image of the boy in the picture. The image eventually found its way to Tumblr. Peter stated as part of his comment, “The photograph was taken by Jan H Andersen using a model. Andersen lives in Denmark. His blog is here and his stock photography collection is here The photograph in question can be found in the collection ‘Death and Suicide’.”

When my blog item, along with image of the boy and the gun, was put up on Take-A-Risk-NZ a link to it appeared on my Facebook page.  It was this link the NZ Police took an interest in. The two women were in front of me to give me a polite message – we are watching you. I don’t have any criminal convictions, but apparently I am a person of interest. The police are, I am sure, convinced such interest is what their job requires – under that banner of “child protection”.

There are times when to understand an event one needs to locate it inside a context. Digital communications like those used by a lot of us – Facebook, Tumblr, emails – are of interest of the State and its agents, Mr. Snowden has helped us see this very clearly. Also 2014 seems to be part of what has been unfolding for some time now – over the last thirty years there has been a turning process unfolding.

The 1960s and 70s are now very much under attack and a part of the liberal commentary that filled those decades is now viewed as suspect, even dangerous. (See Tim Stanley’s views of both Camille Paglia and Allen Ginsberg, and a podcast on The Telegraph titled “Why did the 1970s become a haven for evil?”.) Men and women my age find themselves in the gaze of others as agents of dangerous views, and some bashing is going on, especially for the males in that cohort (see Barbara Hewson’s comments on the persecution of old men).

When responding to the two police officers I mentioned Mr Snowden and the watching process they referred to. I stressed this activity is well known to many of us. I also asked them to tell me if any image, like that of the boy with the gun, is linked to criminal activity, links I may be unaware of, please tell me of such things, I want to know if I have been pulled into something unawares.

If asked, my politics is liberal; perhaps the term “left” might be a fit as well. Whatever the label, the views I hold and the commitment I have to them is no easy road to walk. Over that period of thirty years I refer to above, it could be said the liberal and the left have not had the upper hand politically. It has been the neoliberals and the Christian right who seem to have been the movers and the shakers. One choice I have made is to back the liberal view because I think it deserves my support. Like the opinion voices of Alain Badiou and Michel Foucault I think an event is something that one should link to truth and truth telling. The 1960s and 70s can be seen as an event and a truth, something that broke through into our lives that needs to be allowed to touch us now in 2014.

Further Reading:

8 thoughts on “Being liberal is no easy life-choice.

  1. The Amazon link to Michel Foucault’s “Fearless Speech” offers, in its book description, the following (which to me seems crucially apposite): “The history of thought is the analysis of the way an unproblematic field of experience becomes a problem, raises discussions and debate, incites new reactions, and induces crisis in the previously silent behaviors, practices, and institutions. It is the history of the way people become anxious, for example, about madness, about crime, about themselves, or about truth.”


    • It was this perspective and methodology that Foucault had offered across a variety of texts that has shaped both how I see things and how I strive to work and write. I had been introduced to Foucault by my academic supervisor in the early 1990s while opening a PhD project with the Religioius Studies Faculty at Victoria University.


  2. I’m very sorry, Peter, that the NZ police apparently have nothing better to occupy their time than harassing law-abiding citizens. What a bore.

    If I may, though, I’m curious about just what you mean when you say you’re a ‘liberal.’ I used to apply this word to myself but I no longer do, mostly because I’m no longer confident of what the word means. In the English-speaking world, ‘liberalism’ appears to have been co-opted by libertarians who want to drive a wedge between the notions of individual and collective freedoms, or else (as in the American context) by those who want to make bold claims on the basis of supposed natural rights. In Europe, on the other hand, liberals criminalise prostitution and ban Muslim women from wearing face coverings for the sake of liberating Muslim women. (One wonders what Foucault – admirer of the Islamic Revolution that he was – would make of such a conundrum.) Like any political movement that claims only to defend liberty and rights, ‘liberalism’ seems to run aground on its own contradictions.

    Many people on all sides of the political spectrum would share your rejection of state-surveillance, but inasmuch as utilitarianism is a tenet of liberalism (as traditionally understood) it is liberals and not conservatives who have given us this postmodern panopticon. And is it ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ – I wonder – to be nostalgic for the 1970s? These are protean terms, I’ll grant you, and maybe such labels are unhelpful. But I’m curious to know what ‘liberalism’ means to you – especially as I have so reluctantly had to shrug off the term myself.


    • You made some very sound and thought provoking comments. Comments on a post I put up I see as a chance for the reader to talk back, so I think in the comments section I should say little, and make my reply short. Yes, the term liberal and what it points to is very much a discussion that needs to be had. I should think of what you write and draft a new post. One quick note, I think the Muslim women are smart to use clothing as a way to speak of their effort to let the rest of us know what matters to them. We, the West, did it with jeans and the casual look, then they sure can with their choice regarding how they dress. Clearly I do not agree with those who want to ban the Muslim dress codes. I said I would be short, so I end here. I do want to keep such good exchanges as yours going, thanks.


  3. Just stumpled upon this story which attracted my attention since I’m the photographer in question. Would sure like to know the criminal charges coming from taking photos of a kid playing with a toy gun. I must admit though, that I have wondered now and then when I would get a visit by danish police due to a contact from foreign police departments with a somewhat more narrowminded view on photography than we have here in Scandinavia.
    Did any further happen in this case?
    For the record, the kid, who is now 18, is still unharmed, non-suicidal and mentally sane.
    Kindest regards from Denmark.


    • Dear Jan, I never anticipated the author of the image would be as sensitive as you seem to be about what unfolded for me. I did not believe the two woman police officers were merely expressing an opinion about the image as offensive – there was an intention to increase my level of fear. I did speak to a lawyer who is part of a group focused on civil rights in New Zealand. He expressed the view our police can, at times, resent a person expressing a view such as the one I had in that blog post.


      • The reason I ended here was my periodical search for unlicensed commercial use of my images, which is, by the way, not the case here. My images are being used to promote any kind of views imaginable due to the often controversial subjects depicted. As a liberal I will never question anyone’s right to their views expressed alongside my images whether I agree or not. Without knowing anything about you or the subject in question, I’m simply happy to hear that you have not been sanctioned in any way or scared off due to this.


      • I see your approach is to allow your work to be ‘re-authored’, allowing for an endless recirculating of items. I appreciate your creative view of how images are connected to other images. I hope what I do is as open in it’s intent, and I fully appreciate your views are not defined by mine. At the same time I hope what I offer is seen positively by some readers.

        In a way even the act of reading is a form of authorship.


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