The last time I wrote about current events on this blog, the news was regarding Brian Taylor, former head of public relations of British Naturism and then chairman of the Spectrum Swimming Club for naturists (whose licence to use the public swimming pool has since been suspended).
This time, the news is again bad for people who enjoy nudity.
I mentioned Stephen Gough, also known as the Naked Rambler, in one of my earlier posts. I also wrote about the morality of nudism, concluding that nudism per se is amoral and that it’s the actions one takes while nude that one ought to judge. I have been reading various articles about Stephen Gough and about the number of times he’s been arrested for laws which are increasingly better tailored to “clothe” our society’s fears of nudity. His nudity has always been a victimless crime – victimless, unless you count him as being the victim of these laws.
Let me make this much straight: I think Stephen Gough is irresponsible, he acts like a pig and is not very smart. I’m guessing you can easily get the same impression if you watch a documentary about him, which is available on YouTube in 7 parts (not a very good quality and part 5 seems to be missing). But that doesn’t matter in his case, because he’s continually being arrested for nudity – not for being irresponsible, or a pig, or stupid.
That being said, let’s not have his failings overshadow the fact that he is trying to make a point – and a good one at that. In his own words:
We consider ourselves a democratic and free society but how far does that go? There’s a bigger thing at stake.
Indeed there is, but he is unable to specify, according to an article in Daily Mail. Let me articulate what he cannot: the thing at stake is our freedom – to make our own choices free from interference from society; freedom from having to succumb to the societal norms which are consistently being turned into laws and used as ways to prohibit dissent – the very thing human rights are designed to protect in all forms – in speech, art, or as in this case, public nudity.
Yesterday, on 28 October 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that laws which protect privacy and freedom of expression do not apply to Gough’s nudity, because of his “deliberately repetitive antisocial conduct” and because “He had plenty of other ways of expressing his opinions”.
I must say that I’m shocked by such a statement. Does that mean that slaves, in their fight for freedom, should have “expressed their opinions” in ways other than running away from their masters? Is the fight for the freedom of speech done in a “legal” manner only if its proponents never speak out? On the contrary, that’s exactly what they ought to do – practice controversy until it becomes the norm! The idea that one should fight for their principles, but not practice them, is as horrendous as it is debilitating.
Clearly, we consider ourselves a democratic and free society. However, as Stephen has noticed but cannot articulate why, this doesn’t go very far. This high opinion of ourselves is baseless because some of us – our Human Rights Court judges (no less) included – are not ready to accept this in all possible instances of our exercise of that democracy and that freedom. This fear of accepting behavior which is outside the social norms then results in laws being passed which limit our freedoms, making it ever more difficult to fight them. The tragic fact about nudity in particular is that it is not essential to one’s survival (unlike being free, as in not having a master) and it’s a stretch to prove that it would increase the quality of life for anyone, so anyone fighting for their right to be naked in public is perceived as weird or disturbed and it’s unclear why they do it in the first place (as is the case with Stephen Gough).
Even I myself am unwilling to do anything more than to write this blog and for my practice of nudity visit only those places where nudity is allowed (like a black guy sitting obediently at his designated spot at the back of the segregated bus and move away when a white person shows up) – or practice it out of sight of others. Should I do anything more than that, my other life’s goals which I deem more important, would be compromised. Yes, I love being naked, but unlike Stephen Gough, I don’t think it’s worth sacrificing my family and career and other things I value but wouldn’t be able to do if I dedicated my life to fighting the society’s anti-nudity sentiment. Nudity isn’t essential to my happiness, but having a family and a job I love doing is.
So I support Stephen Gough like a rather timid black person would support Rosa Parks during boycott: walking or carpooling instead of taking the bus. One might say that what he is doing is counterproductive if our goal is the acceptance of public nudity, but I don’t think so. People need to see what things look like in practice. They need to laugh their own ignorance, their own shame and fears, out of their system. Things don’t become the norm by not happening.
The fight for public nudity is far from over, as this ruling clearly shows. But to reach a different ruling, there are layers of fear and shame and sheer hatred of humans and human form which need to be removed first, and that is not likely to happen very soon. There are positive movements in that direction which involve a large number of people meeting in public places for things like the World Naked Bike Ride and similar events. What is really required is to erase the stigma of equating nudity with sexuality and to reassure people that nudist communities – and anybody having a healthy attitude towards nakedness – will not judge their appearance as they are all quite familiar with the various shapes and sizes of the human form and theirs is likely not at all outside the norms. What the mass media made them feel they should look like is very dissimilar to what people (should) actually look like.