Gor And The Gorean Subculture

As you know if you’ve been reading my stuff regularly, I recently read Grayson Perry’s autobiography. He’s very frank about the sexual element in his image, and completely owns that. He specifically says that he is sexually aroused by the feeling of being humiliated by, as he sees it, dressing as a woman. Of course, to me that has no meaning as such because I go much more by Eddie Izzard’s idea that they’re not women’s clothes, they’re mine. That means that the person who owns them is gendered correctly for them. However, in spite of recent moves on my part to merge my blogs, I won’t be talking about that today, but something far, far less wholesome.

There are certain people who express their sexuality publicly, and depending on what it is and how they do it, it can be positive or negative. It’s also important not to kink-shame. The idea of kink-criticality is intuitively completely unacceptable to me, which isn’t the same as saying it’s okay to act it out publicly for all to witness. That said, I don’t see that Grayson Perry has any reason not to do so. Although he could be seen as co-opting other people’s disgust or other feelings for his own sexual gratification without consent, the fact is there is a whole load of stuff out there which people have no control over on either side. And I do say people, because I don’t think it’s gendered. That said, there is something very stereotypically masculine about John Norman’s writing, more specifically his ‘Gor’ series, which he began in 1966 CE. The date, I think, is significant, but let’s introduce the guy first, eh?

John Norman is the pen name of the philosopher John Frederick Lange Jr, born 1931 and therefore now around ninety and still writing. His doctoral dissertation was a defence of naturalistic ethics, which he summed up in an interview as:

 “if one cannot make sense of morality within some sort of satisfying, natural context, then one is likely to end up with no morality, which is less than societally reassuring, or is likely to end up with a competitive plethora of moralities in which ninety-nine percent of the world’s population is convinced that the other ninety-nine percent is unclean, stupid, uninformed, vicious, depraved, in need of coercive correction, and such. That too, seems less than reassuring.”

– Interview with Simon Of Tabor, Polygraff Magazine, October 2010.

Norman is far better-known by his pseudonym and fiction writing than his work as a philosopher, but as a philosopher myself I do find it interesting that he is one. My general impression is that he’s influenced by a certain reading of Nietzsche and is also a fan of Ayn Rand, who herself has a fair bit in common with that same reading. I’m not sure if the above quote is enlightening as regards his Gor series or his psychology, but I think it is.

‘Gor’ is Norman’s chief claim to fame. Beginning in 1966 with ‘Tarnsman Of Gor’, he has written a total of around three dozen novels in this series, beginning with ‘Tarnsman Of Gor’. I find it slightly amusing that this is an anagram of ‘Transman Of Gor’, although I very much doubt he would have much sympathy with that idea. As a philosophy of life, the general idea of Gor is that women are naturally slaves and men naturally masters of those slaves, and this might make for a forgivable diverting fantasy for some, but unfortunately, although ideas expressed in fiction shouldn’t be equated with the actual beliefs of the author, in this case they do unfortunately seem to be, which accords fairly well with him being an Objectivist, if that’s what he is.

Norman describes Gor as “a thousand degrees north of monothink, a thousand degrees east of orthodoxy, a thousand degrees west of ideological conformity, a continent far from the placid waters of predictable mediocrity, a different world, one real, one like no other, one beyond the familiar world’s horizon, one emergent from far, tumultuous, untamed seas, a world alert to deep currents, which listens to secret whispers, which wears stars in her hair. The maps of ideologically servile cartographers may choose not to show the Gorean world, but it is there, a wonderful, forbidden continent. Some of you know her, and have been there.”

I feel we are in “sheeple” territory. The Gorean saga reminds me of two more recent happenings: the publication of the ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ series and the emergence of the people referred to as incels. Incels, or the “involuntarily celibate” have unfortunately spiralled down from what began as a female-led support group for lonely people regardless of gender who found it difficult to get into sexual relationships into an extremist terror-oriented ideology concerned with things like enslaving women and the compulsory confiscation of pre-teen girls after death for necrophiles. It all went horribly, horribly wrong. ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ is of course abuse masquerading as BDSM. Although it’s the contemporary version of the same phenomenon, it has its differences. On the whole, so far as I can tell, ‘Fifty Shades’ is about a fairly small group of people misunderstanding the nature of S&M relationships. The Gorean subculture is different. It’s a lot older than ‘Fifty Shades’ and is a little more like incels in that in its most literalist form it translates into an anti-feminist ideology. This is not meant to criticise anyone who truly went into it freely from the start, and this is where it gets difficult to interpret.

I’m interested in studying this phenomenon in the same way as I might be interested in studying neo-Nazis, but this presents me with a quandary: how to find out anything accurate about it without reading some of it. I don’t want to give money to a right-wing extremist, nor do I want to be publicly associated with Goreanism, but I still think it’s an interesting psychological condition. Therefore I ended up buying an ebook of ‘Tarnsman Of Gor’, thereby contributing money to the man, so I’d better make this worthwhile. It’s difficult to comment on something merely by heresay. But then I was confronted with another problem. How could I be said to have given his thought a fair chance if I just read the first novel? Nonetheless I don’t plan to go any further because there are moral limits and diminishing returns to these things. Therefore I’m going to confine myself to the first book and what I hear about and from the subculture.

The basic setting is entertaining and promising. Technologically advanced aliens have been kidnapping humans from Earth throughout history and depositing them on a Counter-Earth on the other side of the Sun. Once there, they control them by ensuring they don’t develop certain advanced forms of technology while furnishing them with others. They’re very much in the background although they do intervene to keep them in their technologically primitive state, about Bronze Age, and appear to be spying on them. Norman is on record as saying he regards Gor as a utopia and how humanity should be for real. I find it interesting that he uses the Counter-Earth scenario rather than putting it on a planet in another solar system, during a vanished age (like Conan The Barbarian) or an alternate history, because there can only be one Counter-Earth, and I think by doing this he’s saying that for us things can only be the way they are here or the way they are there. It also reminds me of Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ politically because it’s an extremely reactionary view of essential human behaviour on a large scale. Both settings, though, have to engineer this in a quite contrived manner although I do have a lot more respect for Herbert’s writing. ‘Dune’ has the Butlerian Jihad to ensure artificial intelligence doesn’t interfere with his depiction, and also focusses on the “Great Man” Paul Atreides, who is like the Anti-Seldon to compare it with the Foundation Trilogy (and it is a trilogy lalalalalaiamnotlistening). Gor is much more contrived than even this, because it requires constant intervention to undercut human ingenuity and inventions but allows technology which supports the society in a way real Bronze Age societies couldn’t, such as eternal youth serums and reliable birth control. All of this is to support Norman’s sexual fantasising, and that in itself would be okay were it not for its content and the fact that he seems to have mistaken his personal tastes for something which can be applied to the whole human race. Either that or he needs to believe that for the sake of his sexual arousal, which in fact is similar to my mind to the idea of transvestic fetishism: men seem to need to believe there are separate categories of masculine and feminine clothing in order for it to turn them on, at least in the heat of the moment.

It’s a difficult read to be honest, but it’s also insidious. I feel like the initial setup is interesting but as a stage to explore something very different, and I don’t have anything in mind, than what he actually chose to do with it. It would’ve been fruitful to imagine a world on the other side of the Sun peopled by humans who had been abducted by aliens and left to their own devices, just to look at how things might have been otherwise, and there’s a polemic element to asserting the fictional existence of a single other world, bringing with it the connotations of it being the sole alternative to this one. Norman’s series is doing this, of course, but there’s more to life than this, and the idea that this is a utopia depends on a psychological theory which would probably make incels and fans of ‘Fifty Shades’ very happy, or at least one that they’d fervently nod along to.

The planet has a peasant economy and is broken up into small city states with disputed or unclaimed land between them. There is a caste system, but it isn’t completely closed, and members of the élite can decline into the lower ranks and the peasants can occasionally enter the higher castes. Although the powerful know the truth, such as the planet being round(ish), the peasants are told that it’s flat and generally have false information instilled in order to encourage them to adopt common sense prejudices and not to explore or enquire too much. Rulers are selected from the higher caste since it’s instilled in the peasants that the state would be ruined if it was ruled by one of their own. Dictators are taken from the military in wartime, and it’s part of their code that they surrender this position when war is at an end. I don’t know whether this is in fact shown to happen in any of the stories but it sounds exceedingly ripe for exploitation, with military dictators engineering constant war to stay in power for example. The warrior code, however, is very important. It occurs to me that what I’m describing is perhaps rather unlike a Randian social order because of the strong dictatorships.

This, though, is only the background to Norman’s more personal theory of gender, or probably sex, relationships. This involves slavery and mastership (is that a word?). Although there are free aristocratic, or rather high caste, women and male slaves, the emphasis is on enslaved women and men with power over them. If this stayed between the covers of a book series, it would’ve been okay, except that the chances are some people would’ve taken it too seriously and tried to apply it to their world. But they didn’t. It’s “out there”, so to speak. The source of unhappiness in the world is seen to be that women have false consciousness that they want to have control over their own lives, a station which is appropriate only to men, and that men have adopted an inappropriate slave mentality. Norman specifically advocates for rape as a good thing.

And yes, there is a Gorean subculture, alive and well in 2021 CE. This is where it gets complicated. It reminds me of “Christian Discipline”, which is found in the marriages of certain conservative Christians where the husband is considered the head of the household, practices financial abuse and domestic violence against the wife for what they see as disobedience. Many people suspect there is a sadistic element to this. The Gorean subculture is based on the books but has branched out, for instance into the virtual online community Second Life, but also as a 24/7 lifestyle for certain people. As an outsider to this particular variety of sexual culture, I find it very difficult to know what to say due to the lack of reliably accurate information. However, just as there is a #fiftyshadesisabuse hashtag, at least some of this seems to be along the same lines. It’s older, but has been encouraged by the growth of online access and interaction. This is not unique of course. There seems to be some kind of sex cult based on the 1994 Worlds Online MMO, i.e. what I think of as a Multi-User Dungeon, which seems to persist in the 2020s for this purpose, and I’m sure it’s not the only example. There is of course a difference between what people do online and what they do face to face or in physical reality, although the two are much closer to blending together than they used to be. How much time do I spend online? I don’t know, because for example I watch TV programmes through BBC iPlayer and streaming services rather than sitting in front of a CRT plugged into an aerial, which would nowadays just give me static anyway, and many people walk around with smartphones wherever they go nowadays, so the kind of activity which goes on in Second Life or other MUDs (or whatever they call them now) is also the kind of activity which goes on in everyday life. Online life just is everyday life today. Consequently some diffusion into meatspace is to be expected, probably depending on the character and psychology of people involved. That said, most people do distinguish between sexual fantasy and reality, although there may be side-effects from how good they are at suspending their disbelief. This is “read too much science fiction” territory too, since the Gor series is in a very loose sense SF.

Gor is sometimes said to have been plagiarised from ‘John Carter Of Mars’. Not having read that, I don’t know, but it is clearly the case that it fits into something like the Sword And Sorcery, or Sword And Planet, genre. These are also known as “Planetary Romance”, and in fact I think I’ll go with that. Some people would describe planetary romance as science fiction, but to me science fiction is fiction whose plot depends non-trivially upon the setting and planetary romance doesn’t do that. The nature of the alien world is not relevant to the plot, so there’s a degree of pointlessness and redundancy there. Anne McCaffrey’s dragon series is probably an example of that, and I consequently found them quite disappointing and only read a few chapters of one of them. Sword And Planet is a little different, and pre-dates the genreification, if that’s a word, of science fiction. One significant element of these is that melée weapons are important to the plot. For a start, the very fact that weapons are central and their use is depicted uncritically is problematic. It’s also one of the major things wrong with the idea of a light sabre and everything that follows from that. But my disdain for this particular genre could be partly snobbishness, and also rather silly considering that for many people who appreciate mainstream literature, science fiction is also in the outer darkness. There could also be an element of acting things out in one’s head because they shouldn’t be done in reality, which could be positive. I don’t know what to make of my fairly obsessive insistence on hardness in science fiction.

However, of course one of the issues with Gor in particular is that people do in fact apply it to their actual day-to-day lives, which to my mind kind of puts it in the same arena as religion or more widely shared cultural practices. It’s very difficult to work out the truth about the Gorean subculture for several reasons. One is that mass media, and here I include the likes of online sources such as Buzzfeed (I don’t actually know if they’ve covered it but they come to mind as an example of online media) will tend to sensationalise it. Another is that people within the culture will also tend to sensationalise it for their own titillation, so either self-reporting or media coverage has that filter to deal with too. Also, women who talk about it publicly may well be both atypical and in a small minority within the subculture, as to do so seems a little aberrant for their usual practices. They may also be saying what men want them to say. I’m acutely aware, as I write this, that nobody is “out” to me about being in the subculture and I am merely reporting from unreliable sources. For all I know, I could know people in this community but I don’t know how widespread it is or how much it’s likely to overlap with the circles I move in, or why it would or wouldn’t.

All that said, I can certainly present how it appears to manifest itself in the real world. The Gorean subculture centres on a superficially BDSM-like master-slave relationship with women in the slave position and men as masters. I say “BDSM-like” because I get the impression that even compared to 24/7 mainstream BDSM lifestyle, so to speak, there’s an issue of lack of informed consent on the women’s part, and also the absence of safe words, so there’s no easy escape from the situation. A slave woman is referred to as a “kajira”, plural “kajiræ” as in Latin grammar. They are supposed to wear simple garments consisting of belted sheets with a neck hole to symbolise their permanent availability for genital intercourse, although I think this probably doesn’t happen most of the time because it isn’t practical. They also wear neck collars or chains marked with the name of their owners, and may be tattooed or even branded with this symbol on the outer left thigh:

This marks her as equivalent to livestock or a pet, the property of her owner. Slaves have no names and don’t use the pronoun “I”, instead referring to themselves as “the slave” and their master as “master”. This actually also happens in the Malay/Indonesian language, where “saya” is the polite first person pronoun and is derived from the word for “slave”, so it has precedent in the real world. Slaves kneel before their masters with their legs spread and palms up on the thighs. Although there is gender rôle reversal with kajiri and mistresses, I get the impression, and that’s the best I can do, that it’s rare.

All this is very difficult to think about. Some regard it more as a sex cult like NXIVM, with which it shares the branding of a woman by a man, and others note that some of its customs have been adopted by the mainstream BDSM community. John Norman also wrote an S&M sex manual, which I would suppose has been used profitably by BDSM people, and I imagine Gorean roleplay takes place among some people. However, for others it goes way beyond that and there is an entire political and anthropological philosophy based on it. In the novels, Norman expressed the expectation, perhaps in a fictional setting, that the nature of terrestrial human society was such that it would collapse within a few centuries because of its democracy, sexual egalitarianism and reliance on technology of a particular kind. He seems to believe that history took a wrong turn after the Bronze Age. That is, his books express that opinion and although that shouldn’t be confused with the intent or beliefs of the author, he does seem to lack a mental boundary between his personal fantasies and reality, to the extent that his personal sexual preferences are imposed as a factual general code of conduct and view of human nature. I think sometimes people need to feel that things are real in order to achieve sexual satisfaction. They need to believe in their own fantasies so vividly that they push away any possibility of an alternate view.

One person who seems to have done this, and I’m aware of the distorting influence of his own behaviour, the media and the internet, is a bloke living in the North of England who had a Channel 4 documentary made about him. I’m not going to be more specific, but I’m sure he’d be easy to Google. He claimed to be a member of a Gorean splinter group, took an Australian slave and planned to “initiate” her through an apparently consensual series of sexual encounters with men neither of them knew, which they would have paid him for. That seems to make him a pimp. Moreover, it really wasn’t clear that this was consensual. On the other hand, the couple, if that’s the right word, got a lot of stick from their town for him leading her around on a leash in public, and that’s a complicated issue because it seems like it wouldn’t be to do with the possibility of exploitation or lack of consent on her part so much as simply picking on people because they’re perceived as different. The Pink Man of Fleet might have similar problems. Anyway, the “High Council” he claimed to exist in London seemed to be imaginary, but at the same time he seemed to believe that it was real. This seems to reflect a similar kind of confusion between fantasy and reality as Norman’s own.

Adherents to the subculture would certainly claim in public, when they’re permitted to, that their own lives are enriched by enslaving or being enslaved, and further perhaps that this taps into an aspect of human nature which has tended to be ignored in recent centuries, perhaps at our own peril. Again, this seems to be the projection of personal preference onto the wider human race. It presents everyone else with a bit of a quandary. Some women presumably do get a lot out of this lifestyle, and it’s not okay to kink-shame. Some of them, I’m guessing, are attracted by the idea but put off by the reality, by which time it may be too late. But it would be presuming too much to see this as something only men ever get anything out of.

Paraphilias don’t seem to be simply due to conditioning, which in this case would translate to the internalisation of women’s oppression. Sometimes they seem to be the manifestation of archetypes, and this is where the problem arises, because saying it’s an archetype is perilously close to saying it’s part of the natural order of things. However, there’s a parallel here with monkey hate. It does seem quite likely to me that the reason monkey hate exists is evolutionary, that there was a time when our simian ancestors had to compete with other species of monkey and that resurfaces today in the form of cruelty to macaques and the like in occasional people. However, that’s still undesirable and anti-vegan. It’s also possible that some kajiræ are not just internalising patriarchy but manifesting something primal, but that as such is not desirable for wider society. Then again, it doesn’t seem acceptable to deny a woman the pleasure she might get from being a kajira, and the projection they need to make to make it more alluring would also seem justifiable. However, that doesn’t mean that this is in fact the way the world is for humanity, and there needs to be a way out for the unwilling. I haven’t got any answers here I’m afraid.


Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

During yesterday’s post on monkey hate, I mentioned that many of the videos involved are made and uploaded to YouTube in Cambodia. However, merely accusing some people in that country of cruelty to monkeys without looking at it in a bit more detail is unfair. After all, England and Scotland are responsible for much of the state of the world today, invented the concentration camp and did all sorts of outrageous stuff, and still are, but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is to these countries or the people in them. It’s also simplistic and racist to think in terms of “those monkey-torturing Khmer bastards”. What actually led to this situation arising? What’s its history?

Nonetheless I am going to start from monkey hate and look at links to the state of affairs in the country, although I also want to talk about Pol Pot’s régime and the Khmer language and script. Apparently many people associate Cambodia with the Angkor Wat temple complex, but for whatever reason that isn’t what comes to mind first for me. As such, it’s easy for this to become quite negative, so I’m going to tak pains to avoid that.

Two aspects of the monkey hate situation seem to interact to make Cambodia the centre of this activity. One is the ecology of the country. Cambodia is particularly biodiverse, although it isn’t one of the seventeen megadiverse countries declared in 1988. Then again, neither is Italy and that’s a biodiversity hot spot. Tonlé Sap is a large freshwater lake which floods the surrounding area every wet season and has an associated river, a tributary of the Mekong. It has a maximum area of about 16 000 km2 and a minimum of 2 500. The name simply means “large freshwater river”.

© WWF / Zeb HOGAN, will be removed on request

It’s the home of the largest species of freshwater bony fish in the world, and in fact the Mekong has four out of ten of the largest such species, including the giant freshwater stingray, a cartilaginous fish, unusual for fresh water environments although there are a freshwater sharks in Australia.

By User:Lerdsuwa – Own photo (400D + 50/1.4), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1412948

The Giant Barb, up to three metres long and almost a third of a tonne in weight, is exceeded in size by the seven metre long Chinese paddlefish, a swordfish-like animal who may be extinct (and didn’t live in the Mekong):

The dog-eating catfish, however, does. Then again, these are also kept in a Staffordshire lake where they’ve eaten all the mink. The critically-endangered Irrawaddy dolphin also lives in the Mekong:

By Foto: Stefan Brending, Lizenz: Creative Commons by-sa-3.0 de, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29532409

As well as humans, Cambodian primates include the prosimian slow loris (three species), seven species of Old World monkey and two species of lesser ape (gibbons). Colugos and three species of tupaia are also found, all of whom are euarchonta and the colugo, or flying “lemur”, is even more closely related to primates:

By Lip Kee Yap. – Flickr: Colugo., CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7627076

There are also pitcher plants, insectivorous plants which are also detritovores and used by tupaias as toilets. Gymnures, furry hedgehogs, are found there too:

Not to mention dugongs, Asian elephants, pangolins, rhinos and a total of 162 species of mammal, along with even more reptiles. Many species are also found in Laos, Vietnam and Thailand, and there are also likely to be many species of plant and animal still unknown to science.

Gambodge, which is also the French word for “Cambodia”, is a yellow pigment used to dye robes saffron taken from latex found in trees in the same order, but not family, as St John’s Wort and Rose of Sharon. It has been used medically but is a stimulating laxative, so it belongs in the heroic rather than the physiomedical tradition. It occurs in Cambodia but not uniquely so, and also produces a fruit which is used as a dangerous weight loss supplement. In that context the word “dangerous” is redundant. Show me even a relatively safe weight loss supplement and I will be very surprised!

The country is undergoing a period of very rapid economic growth, which has led to threats to these organisms’ habitats such as deforestation, overfishing and threats to mangrove swamps. As is usual in rainforest areas, the soil is of poor quality for growing crops and unsustainable agriculture leads to soil erosion. In spite of the availability of copious fresh water, there is actually a water shortage there, and it shares with Laos the presence of a very large number of land mines. There are more amputees per capita in Cambodia than anywhere else in the world and the number is rapidly growing due to the land mines.

Getting back to the ecology, the opportunity exists for exploitation of wildlife by individuals, and there’s also a motive in the form of the economic situation. There is very little regulation of industry in Cambodia. I know I own many garments which were made there, as clothing is one of the major business sectors along with footwear, and nowadays there’s also tourism. It’s common to see people set up petrol stations on street corners consisting of little more than a pump and a barrel of petrol, and there’s a culture of entepreneurship and innovation there of necessity. Unfortunately the lack of regulation also makes the country rife with child trafficking for illegal adoption. Poor parents often sell their children for a few hundred US dollars to gangs who then forge orphan certificates, and I imagine there are also a lot of orphans in Cambodia owing to all the land mines, and the children are often adopted by wealthy Westerners, and possibly become sex slaves. In view of this practice, it’s unsurprising that monkey hate has found Cambodia a fertile source of videos.

The impression I’m left with here is of a fairly desperate and poor population which is looking for opportunities to make enough money to live on, and presumably has a low degree of empathy for monkeys, and this is the result. I don’t think they are themselves sadistic. They simply know what appeals and gets views on YouTube, so this is what they do.

There are about five dozen macaques living in Angkor Wat who are famous for taking food from human tourists. They also bite and are a rabies risk, and they’re aggressive. Therefore it is possible that human attitudes towards monkeys among the Khmer themselves are quite negative.

Angkor Wat itself used to be the centre of the largest Asian city of pre-industrial times, the capital of the Khmer Empire, also known as  យសោធរបុរៈ or Yasodharapura, which may have had a population of a million, which is the same as Imperial Rome. Almost the whole population of the country is Theravada Buddhist, at least nominally. This is also referred to as Hinayana – the lesser vehicle. I presume you’re familiar enough with Buddhism not to need further exposition, although the practice and lifestyle of people following a particular faith may not adhere particularly close to the principles involved. Not a criticism of the Khmer, just an observation about the human condition.

Anyone who has memories of the 1970s will be aware of the reputation of Pol Pot. As I’ve said before, it is important not just to be negative about a far-away country, but his era can’t really be passed over without comment. Pol Pot was the nickname of the dictator whose birth name was Saloth Sar. Born in 1925 into wealthy conditions, Saloth Sar gained a scholarship to study engineering in Paris as a student, where he met up with other Khmer radicals and attempted to read Marx but couldn’t understand him, so he read Stalin instead and found him considerably more inspiring. He failed his exams and returned to Cambodia. I think it’s fair to claim that he was not truly communist because he didn’t understand Marx. However, he was an ally of nominally Marxist régimes, mainly because Mao Zedong regarded him as a useful tool against Soviet dominance in Southeast Asia. The French Indochinese era ended under the Vichy régime during World War II, when they allowed Japan to take control in order that Japan have easier access to China. In 1945, Japan ratified the King Norom Sihanouk’s (នរោត្តម សីហនុ – the order of the words is inverted like many other personal names which don’t use the “standard” Western order) independent kingdom. He abdicated after ten years and formed a political party, Sangkum Reastr Niyum (សង្គមរាស្ត្រនិយម), whose ideology was conservative Theravada Buddhism, monarchism, nationalism and conservatism. It claimed to be socialist but this was completely groundless by any estimation. The party won the election, all opposition party having been imprisoned. I mention this to put it in context. Pol Pot’s régime didn’t just appear on its own out of a liberal democratic social order. A policy of neutrality was adopted but during the Vietnam War, North Vietnamese troops moved supplies and weapons through the north, resulting in Richard Nixon secretly bombing Cambodia, as Laos had been a few years earlier. When this became publicly known in the States, it turned opinion decisively against the war and Pol Pot’s guerilla movement referred to as the Khmer Rouge took advantage of the anti-American outrage this generated to recruit the Khmer to their cause. This is roughly the point at which he started to refer to himself as Pol Pot, which seems to be short for “Political Potential”. Sihanouk was overthrown by Lon Nol while abroad and Pol Pot entered into an alliance with the king, with the result that many of the Khmer Rouge recruits saw themselves as fighting for the King rather than for the apparent communism of the movement.

Over the next few years, the Khmer Rouge managed to take control of large areas of territory, where the farms were collectivised, very much against the will of the peasants, many of whom slaughtered the animals rather than allowing them to be shared. The movement attempted to cast the whole population in the image of the peasantry, having them wear shoes made from car tyres and dress in black with a red krama, which is a multipurpose scarf eventually used by many Khmer to hang themselves when they found the social order unbearable. Rather than seeking to equalise by levelling up, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge chose to equalise down, executing many of the more educated and the clergy and emptying the cities to have the populace work on the collective farms. Many artifacts of modern technology and Western life were destroyed or abandoned as capitalist, and there were piles of banknotes blowing around on the streets of the deserted Phnom Penh because money had been abolished. Two and a half million people are said to have been killed by the new government in the second half of the 1970s, although to Cambodia the calendar was reset to Year Zero in 1975 as part of the rejection of all culture and traditions so that a new revolutionary culture be formed. The famous Killing Fields (វាលពិឃាត – veal pikheat) were mass graves of more than a million people, and about a third of the country’s population were killed by the government. The country was also de-industrialised. Pol Pot had studied the Reign of Terror and the French Revolution thoroughly and seems to have attempted to emulate it. Life expectancy in Cambodia in 1977 was just eighteen years. Many of them were also killed through forced labour. Even the hospitals were emptied of their patients, and they were forced to march out of Phnom Penh in the sweltering conditions, and of course many of them died too. There was no intermediate stage where former bosses played a part in constructing the society, even though the Chinese had warned them not to attempt this. Thousands of teachers were executed, as were medical staff, and anyone wearing glasses or a wristwatch.

Unemployment fell to zero although with the abolition of money, and incidentally therefore banks, this doesn’t mean paid work. A democratic assembly was elected, which would’ve been for a five-year term, representing only peasants, workers and members of the armed forces. Those deemed to be “New People” did not participate. Workers’ Coöperatives had administrative control in some locations. They maintained a close relationship with China and North Korea.

I don’t want to dwell too much on this time, although it was clearly notorious and can’t be ignored. I first learned of the situation in Cambodia through the ‘Readers’ Digest’ in 1977 and of course there was a famous ‘Blue Peter’ appeal in 1979 which achieved its target in less than a week. The appeal was possible because at the beginning of 1979, Vietnamese troops had taken control of Phnom Penh and imposed a more moderate government. The Khmer Rouge retreated into the forests and holed up in Thailand. After that, something complicated happened that I didn’t understand, involving a coalition government and government in exile, linked to Chinese disquiet at Vietnamese influence over the country, until 1993 when it became a kingdom again and appeared to have a democratic government with wider suffrage than previously. There was then a coup in 1997 and an election the following year which was probably marred by violence and intimidation. Today’s situation is described as “a competitive authoritarian régime”. This kind of governmental situation arose after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and consists of apparently democratic structures agreed to be the means of gaining power but the party in power abuses that power to undermine democracy. However, opposition groups are not subject to imprisonment or the need to operate in exile. They lack at least one of the three characteristics of a level playing field, free elections or civil liberties. Clearly Trump was trying to push the US further in this direction and the situation in this country also has elements of this, although it’s hard to assess to what extent.

One of the consequences of this seems to have been the current degree of corruption and laissez-faire, hands-off approach which has allowed the child trafficking to thrive, along with the monkey hate. Hence I think there’s now a fairly clear picture of how this has happened.

The Khmer Rouge have influenced the demographics of the country considerably. Half the population is now under twenty, mainly because of the murder of a third of the country. Technically, however, this mass murder was not genocide because it wasn’t based on ethnicity or religion. Although religion was persecuted, and the Christian and Muslim minorities in the country were killed on the basis of being a Western influence (which seems strange for someone living in Western Europe as Islam seems eastern for many non-Islamic White people here and is similarly the basis for persecution), the majority of the people killed were simply Khmer and nominally Theravada Buddhists like their killers and most of the rest of the country. The killing is therefore atypical in some ways. There is a potential legal problem here because it means that definitions of the crime of genocide miss out such events and provide a defence, so it may be quite important to recognise this crime for what it is or extend the scope in order to deter the chances of this happening again. It was, in a way, a different kind of phenomenon with different causes.

I want to turn now to the Khmer language. This is in the Mon-Khmer or Austroasiatic language family, a group of languages found in Eastern India and Indochina. Although it’s in the same family as Vietnamese, the two are far from mutually comprehensible but there is some mutual intelligibility with Thai and Lao due, I imagine, to shared vocabulary, suggesting that there’s a Southeast Asian Sprachbund, where languages in close proximity acquire each others’ characteristics. Khmer is unusual in the area for not being tonal. During the French occupation, there was an attempt to romanise the language, which was, however, abandoned and therefore the script now used is the traditional Khmer script, which is a Brahmi-based abugida related to the Devanagari script used for Sanskrit and Hindi. An abugida is an alphabet-like script but with an assumed inherent vowel following each consonant which is only omitted by using a cancellation symbol or a vowel diacritic or other addition to the consonant. It looks a bit like Thai and Lao but is more “crenellated”, like it has turrets at the top. The Khmer script came to my attention in 1977 when it was mentioned in the Guinness Book Of Records as being the “longest alphabet”, with six dozen letters, although more recent claims say that it has two more and others that it has fewer. This seems to be due to the probability that some of the letters are only used to write foreign loanwords but are pronounced identically to other sounds in Khmer. In its case, the inherent vowel is the long /ɑ/ found in all spoken languages (or something very close to it is), meaning that the script may be adaptable to other tongues but it is in fact only used for Khmer itself and Pali, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism. Some consonants have an inherent “o” instead. Every consonant but one has a subscript form used in consonant clusters. In addition, there are ten consonants used in loanwords from French and Thai.

Cambodia is unsurprisingly the only country in which Khmer is the majority language. The other languages spoken there are also Mon-Khmer, but French and English are used in education. Transliteration of Khmer into Latin script is very inaccurate, so for example “Khmer” is pronounced something like “kumai”. Unlike some other related languages, Khmer has borrowed extensively from Sanskrit and Pali and is therefore not as unfamiliar to an Indo-European language speaker than might be expected from its Austroasiatic origin. Despite considerable attempts to do so, I’ve been unable to penetrate Mon-Khmer languages and get any kind of feel for them, which is unusual for a language family originating in the Old World or Oceania, but this may be due to the absence of Mon-Khmer languages from a global stage since none of them are internationally prominent beyond the immediate region around Indochina and east India. Like many Far Eastern languages, it has levels of respect, using kinship terms to refer to non-relatives. During Pol Pot’s time, this respect language was abandoned but has now returned. It’s an analytical language, that is, there are no inflections, so in that respect it’s very easy.

Cambodian food is quite well-known and eating insects deliberately is the norm in the country. Freshwater fish is commonly eaten, and is along with insects the main source of protein in the diet. The nutritional quality of the fruit and vegetables is particularly high compared to some other parts of the world. The fruits are conceptually organised into a royal court, with queen, king, princess and so forth, which are mangosteen, durian and milkfruit respectively. There’s also a lot of rice and noodles.

That, then, goes some way towards painting a rather more complete picture of the Kingdom of Cambodia than yesterday’s post managed to do. I just didn’t want to leave it looking like I had an irredeemably stereotypical and negative view of the country. Obviously the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot had a devastatingly negative impact on it, and this is probably what most of us know about the nation, so although this can’t be ignored, it isn’t all there is to it.

Monkey Hate

Major trigger warning for cruelty to members of other closely-related species and possible connections to human child sexual abuse.

I wanted to get that in first, before even the picture credit, but to give her her due, the above image is credited thus: Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

This is about something which currently manifests as an internet phenomenon but may have existed in human nature for longer than we’ve even been human. Before I get going, I’m going to become a bit “sciency”, but the bulk of this post isn’t about that. There is a point to this outline, relevant to the subject of this post.

Cladism is the classification of organisms into groups of genetically related populations with common ancestry. This has led to some confusing descriptions of animals in particular. For instance, there’s a sense in which all mammals, reptiles and amphibia are fish, because our common ancestor is a Eusthenopteron-like species of fish, so we form a clade with bony fish, and in which birds are reptiles because they’re dinosaurs and dinosaurs are descended from reptiles. Likewise, there is a sense in which all humans and other apes are monkeys, in particular Old World monkeys. It’s like matroshka dolls. There’s a large doll called “simians” containing two smaller dolls called platyrrhines and Catarrhines. The platyrrhines are native to South and Central American only. The catarrhines originated in Afro-Eurasia and include hominoids and cercopithecids. Hominids include gibbons and their relatives, and great apes including humans. Everything is inside the big doll called simians. In other words, we’re all monkeys. This doesn’t sound right because there’s a lot of insistence on distinguishing apes from other monkeys, for instance emphasising our larger bodies, less arboreal nature, lack of long external tails and dorsoventrally compressed trunks, but we are still monkeys, and there was a time when we were all competing on a level playing field, as it were. It’s enlightening to bear this in mind in what follows.

This is where it starts to get exceedingly distasteful.

There are a very large number of channels on YouTube dedicated to torture, accidental death and serious injury to various species of simian other than ourselves, and apparently also excluding other apes and New World monkeys. I’m having to do this by hearsay because if I seek out these channels or videos myself I will be rewarding them with views and advertising revenue and thereby boosting their profile. This, in fact, is in itself a major issue because it means that if one wishes to hear from a contrary viewpoint to one’s own, one risks boosting that for the general public without foreknowledge as to the nature of the content, which encourages one to stay in one’s own reality tunnel. Nonetheless I do have secondary sources for this and so far as I can tell it is uncontroversially extremely cruel.

It’s in the YouTube creator content guidelines that causing suffering or death to animals deliberately for purposes other than food preparation or hunting (because our society perversely considers that acceptable) is not admissible content and will lead to the channel uploading it to be closed and demonetised. Closure and demonetisation of channels by regular users happens very often for apparently minor infractions, in the latter case often without informing the user. These monkey hate channels are often old and still monetised. YouTube is also aware of them, since they receive numerous complaints about them, but they simply persist, in a similar manner to how they do with Elsagate videos. This is rather baffling, since the videos don’t seem to be submitted by any of the big players, so one would expect them to be held to the same standards. This, though, is not the focus of this post.

As far as online manifestations of monkey hate are concerned, this might be traceable to a site set up in 1996 CE called http://www.ifihаdаmоnkеу.соm (obviously not that but again, I’m trying to avoid page impressions – that’s kind of a phishing link). This was just a bad-taste humour website set up in response to PETA, and although I’m vegan I’m no fan of PETA because they are no friends of animals other than humans, have an anthropocentric view of animal liberation and aren’t above rather appallingly sexist campaigns, not to mention their startlingly crass approach to publicity. For whatever motives, the person who started the site was at first rewarded by various bad-taste jokes, which however rapidly got out of hand and were hard not to believe were actually serious. The search engine result brings up the description “the Best Source for Metaphorical Violence Against The Monkey You Don’t Even Have in the Whole Wide World!”, and I’m not sure whether that description has been there since the start or not, but it was there in 2001, which is as far back as the Wayback Machine goes with it. Even back then it was hard to tell whether or not to take the submissions as jokes or not, which is of course a common online problem. It’s also hard to discern the motivation for annoying PETA, since it could be similar to mine or it could just be carnism.

You needn’t be vegan not to be disturbed by these videos though. There’s a focus on adult monkey sadness and baby monkey suffering and death, all the victims seem to be Old World monkeys, and there’s a wider context of cruelty, as with fake animal rescue channels, where YouTubers endanger or injure dogs and cats in order to film themselves “rescuing” them.

I think at this point I owe it to Cambodia to post something more general, and I hope more positive, about the country because of what I’m about to say: a large number of monkey hate videos originate from that country. Some of the channels posting them from Cambodia also post dramatised videos about underage girls being raped, which suggests a possible link between child sexual abuse and monkey hate. However, the commenters on these videos are usually either bots or apparently White Anglophone males, whose profile pictures are unique to the channels. Hence there is a hypothesis that monkey hate is a proxy for child abuse and sadistic pædophilia. There’s a further hypothesis which I don’t accept that the videos use steganography, which I shall now explain.

Steganography is a method of hiding something in plain sight. One of the rookie mistakes in using ciphers is that they are not concealed and stand out as obvious codes. Guvf, sbe rknzcyr, vf na boivbhf pvcure. It makes a lot more sense to hide the message imperceptibly in something which looks routine and ordinary, such as a jpeg or online video. This is done by altering a small portion of the data slightly, resulting in a video which is indistinguishable from the original but contains encoded data. However, I don’t think this can be done on YouTube because I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work. This was a few years ago now and things may have changed, but the videos are considerably altered by the time they’ve been uploaded, or at least they used to be, and I don’t think they could be relied upon to preserve the data. In fact I doubt they ever would. Therefore I’d reject this out of hand, and in any case it doesn’t make sense to submit videos which violate the terms of service to do this. It’d make more sense to submit innocuous videos with steganographic content, and for all I know it can be done now due to improvements in video quality. I might try it again soon on YT.

There could have been incidents of monkey hate before the internet became popular, but most people wouldn’t know about them and there wouldn’t usually have been much of an audience. As such, the phenomenon may have things in common with the Targeted Individual community, where people with a sensitive cognitive style and feelings of persecution find each other online and reinforce each other’s beliefs.

A number of hypotheses have been suggested regarding this. They include:

  • People who live in areas where monkeys are common regard them as pests and celebrate their suffering.
  • Germphobia.
  • Addiction.
  • Sadism.
  • Sublimated or encoded child sexual abuse.
  • Phobia.
  • Disgust.

The first hypothesis might explain how the videos appeared in the first place but doesn’t explain the fact that their audience largely consists of English-speaking White males. They also tend to use the kind of language employed by the American Right, such as calling people “snowflakes”. This suggests a further thought, which is that it’s sublimated or encoded racism.

Germphobia is similar to the first, and in this case one must be careful not to accuse people who are germphobic of being into this too. However, the species involved are not particularly unhygienic compared to others, such as bats for example, and although there is phobia of bats it doesn’t lend itself to sadistic videos of bats being tortured, although that might be difficult to achieve.

Regarding addiction, clearly the videos are likely to be addictive whatever the appeal is, because that’s a common happening on the internet, as with pornography for example.

Sadism is very likely to be involved in one way or another. It may also reflect a lack of legislation against cruelty of this kind in Cambodia and other countries from which these videos originate, or difficulty in enforcement if they do exist. Cultural relativism may also make the subject matter seem worse to Westerners than it does to people in Southeast Asia. Also, the chances are that the financial “reward” for getting views on such videos is a motivation for the people posting them, so they may themselves not be specifically sadist although they are likely to be sociopathic or psychopathic, and the former condition may have arisen due to their upbringing. The videos appear to divide into three categories: voyeuristic, home made and what I think of as “found footage”. Voyeuristic videos involve chance recordings of monkeys suffering from events not instigated deliberately by humans, such as predation or accidents. Home made is deliberate cruelty to captive animals, actually acquired for that purpose. This can involve attempts to instigate hostility between monkeys. Finally, found footage involves recordings made surreptitiously of humans being cruel to monkeys of other species, something which is obviously a lot easier nowadays than it used to be.

The question of encoded child sexual abuse is another matter, blending into sadism. It could be that the unacceptability of child abuse videos on the internet, not to mention the personal risk in viewing them, leads people to watch or make videos which don’t attract that kind of unwanted attention from the authorities. This is of course speciesist, and there could be popular support for clamping down on them to the same extent, but the situation may not be as black and white as it appears.

I’m going to deal with the last two together, as I think they may be the most significant. Monkey haters have been interviewed and for the ones who have come forward, these two seem to be the explanation. For some people, individuals of closely related species may occupy an uncanny valley between the utterly non-human such as cats on the one hand and humans on the other. This similarity seems to be interpreted by most people as cuteness, but for some it seems to evoke disgust and horror like the undead might do for many.

This is what was revealed, or at least reported, by monkey haters who have been interviewed. One of them recounts a visit to a zoo when he was eight. Up until that point, he’d considered monkeys to be cute and cuddly, but he found the actual experience of seeing them – he mentions mating in public as an example of what triggered him – disgusting and shocking, and this stayed with him into adulthood, eventually manifesting as monkey hate. Significantly, he not only has no urges to be cruel or watch cruelty to other animals, just monkeys. He admits he became obsessed and that it was an addiction, and he feels very guilty and disgusted with himself about it. He also specifically hates baby monkeys, the reason given being that they have tantrums, although this sounds like a rationalisation. His own theory is that it’s instinctive, and surfaces sporadically in some people, but used to be widespread, and also that it’s more common than it seems. It might, in his opinion, also be an outlet for people who have underlying violent tendencies towards humans.

I have to admit this makes a lot of sense. Back in the Miocene, our ancestors were one species of many apes, to the extent that palæontologists can’t identify who they were, but sometime between 24 million years ago in the Oligocene when the first monkeys came into existence from the tarsier-like omomyids and the emergence of Proconsul, the first known ape, 21 million years ago, we would have been monkeys surrounded by possibly competing other monkeys. Since Proconsul is close to the ancestor of all apes, not just us, this raises the question of whether other great apes, and also the various gibbons, also engage in cruelty to tailed monkeys in particular. The Gombe chimpanzee community in particular is known for its violence and this is sometimes manifested in the killing of tailed monkeys such as the red-tailed monkey, although they do eat them. Bonobos and orangutan would, at least prima facie, be considered less likely candidates but this is not scientific of course.

To most people living in European societies, the tailed monkeys are unfamiliar, unlike in the places where they’re likely to live. This unfamiliarity means there is no obvious “bridge” between them and the rest of nature, and this may lead to a sense of the uncanny to a greater extent than it would for humans who live alongside them. As such, the introduction of monkeys as a novelty may come across as an affront to their distinctive identity and might also constitute a threat if they are used to the idea of human dominion over the rest of the animal kingdom. I don’t think it can be mere coincidence that the main audience for these videos is White and English-speaking, and I wonder also if it’s a manifestation of xenophobia which extends to overt and active racism, hence the use of alt-right language. The people who live with wild monkeys from day to day might see them as an economic resource such as for food, tourists or these videos, but they don’t seem to bear them animosity. They’re just doing White people’s dirty work for them. On the other hand, I’m guessing here, but I would expect some of them to regard them as “tree rats”, as the term has it, similarly to how many people in cities see rock doves.

The interviewee thinks there are probably a few dozen hard core monkey haters, which makes it sound like a trivial matter, but there are also thousands upon thousands of casual monkey haters, who watch the videos for entertainment regularly without commenting or engaging. Some of them clearly do get sexual gratification from it, and interestingly despite their apparently homophobic attitudes are very zealous in their defence of their right to do so. There are also two kinds of target. Babies are one, and tend to mention the kind of characteristics often attributed to human babies, such as clinginess, dependence and spoiltness. The other target is the grief of the mothers who witness the death and injury of their children. The former is particularly reminiscent of child abuse and the latter, I think, gives a clue as to the possibility of it being to do with opposition to feelings of tenderness and love. Some fans go so far as to say they’d like to kill all humans who feel positively towards monkeys in any way, and a link is also made between monkey behaviour and neurodiversity as a “justification”.

I want to close by making two observations. Most of the videos are made in Cambodia in spite of the fact that non-human primates are found all across Asia and Afrika, and also in South America. Old World monkeys are more closely related to us than New World monkeys are. In fact, cladistically we are Old World monkeys. These would’ve been the monkeys, or similar ones, with whom we would’ve been in conflict in the Oligocene and Miocene, but this fails to explain why Cambodia specifically would be the source. Could it be that in that country in particular, the terrible trauma seen as inflicted by Pol Pot has brutalised the populace and led to this tendency? Or is it more a question of economic necessity: people in particularly severe hardship will seek any source at all to support their dependents and themselves? One thing this has brought home to me is how little I know of Cambodia, and I would like to explore this on here in the near future.