April 2012

April 2012 – To be or not to be Dr Minogue?

It has been suggested that I should not use my academic title of Doctor, and perhaps I should not have a website at the moment. One person said “It is like waving a red rag to a bull” and that it may be part of the personal motivation of the police for their February 2012 character assassination attempt on me. Another person said I should leave my academic research and title “in a dusty corner someplace for a few years” until this current situation blows over. What has happened recently has been a character assassination, it has become this because the crimes I committed 26-29 years ago no longer aroused any passion in the public mind, so it would have been hard to raise a mob mentality against my release; these recent events are a different matter altogether.

I have decided that I am going to continue to use my academic title of Doctor and keep my website. I have a good reason for doing this; the facts of my history and experience are not inert, they need to be interpreted, seen through a rational frame of reference and given meaning. I have interpreted my history and experiences as having undergone a rite of passage.

The way in which we understand ourselves, others, the world in general and our place in it, is through narrative, that is through the stories we tell each other. We also have a dialogue with others and with the world through our experience, but when we want to explain something to others we most often resort to stories. We explain things by analogy and metaphor which draw on our collectively shared experience, understandings and history. That is history in a personal sense, a national and an ethnic sense, and also in the sense of thousands of years of human experience.

Different cultures and traditions have specific grand narratives. Some examples of these narratives are found in creational stories. The scholar Joseph Campbell found that there were common elements in seemingly very different creation stories from people all over the world, from the Aboriginal people of Australia to those of North America, and the tribes of the Middle East which gave us the stories of the Bible. That there are clearly identifiable common elements in these stories, which developed independently of each other, point to the fact that there are universal human truths in the elements of these stories, truths which help us to understand ourselves and other people and to help us find our place in the world.

Creation stories are just one of the common narratives which can be found in use by different cultures around the world and over thousands of years. There is also another type of story associated with rites of passage, these stories are about the way in which people and society in general recognises and legitimises significant personal change. Christenings and other name giving ceremonies, baptisms in later life, the bar mitzvah and other coming of age rituals, marriages and funerals are all rites of passage. Generally speaking there are five elements in a rite of passage, they are:

  1. Separation which involves the temporary removal of an individual from society while preparing for the change, this is why, for example, a bride should not be seen by her future husband before the ceremony;
  2. Marginality which involves a person being between the two states, like when the bride is waiting in the anteroom of the church or at some other place while the groom is at the church waiting for her arrival;
  3. Transition which involves overcoming ones fears and walking a path that no other person will walk, all eyes are on the bride as she walks the aisle; the transition is most often embarked upon after answering a call, to remain with the marriage example, here come the bride is played as the call for the bride;
  4. Incorporation and Initiation which is often expressed as an official acknowledgment that a change has happened, like the husband being given permission to kiss the bride, or the breaking of the glass as in the Jewish tradition; and then;
  5. The Aggregation which involves a public acknowledging and affirming of the new status as the individual is reincorporated into society in a different way, such as the bride taking her husband’s name, and the new couple being toasted as Mr. and Mrs. … at their reception back into the community.

But what has marriage got to do with me and my use of the title Doctor and if I should keep my website or not? We impose a social, legal and psychological meaning on a marriage and the elements of a wedding ceremony. These points of meaning which can be read as the elements which form a rite of passage in the marriage example, can be seen in all other rites of passage and as I have interpreted my experience as a rite of passage it is important to establish the elements or stages.
I will, however, leave the marriage example there and move onto situations different from marriage, like those which arise from conflict situations, that is conflict with others, or one’s society, or inner conflict which is personally felt, but which becomes a rite of passage when acted upon. In these other rites of passage, before the separation there are preliminary, portal or threshold situations which bring the individual up to the point of departure, these situations will most often involve a crisis, disillusionment or doubt and then a call to depart. The call to depart can be literal or it can be read into the circumstances of a situation such as crisis or danger dictating a departure or separation. With the actual separation there is an answering of the call, the circumstances coming to ahead can represent the call to depart. The separation happens when the person departs by crossing the first threshold, this is the departure threshold, like when someone walks through a doorway or a gate to go on a journey, or turns their back and walks away from a situation. Taking off a uniform and walking away from ones post or the battle field, or laying down ones weapon, represents crossing the departure threshold. More feelings of disillusionment or doubt follow such a necessary departure and they represent a state of marginality. The separation in these situations leads to a solitary journey which becomes a passage into darkness where perils and trials are encountered and overcome.

The journey in these situations is part of the transition and to transcend the crisis, danger, disillusionment or doubt, a person needs to find courage they did not know they had so they can overcome the perils and trials. Finding this courage leads to crossing the second threshold, one that comes with the realisation of one’s abilities and responsibilities in times of crisis, danger, disillusionment or doubt.

As the journey comes to an end, the incorporation and initiation becomes possible with the realization that one has the skills and the courage of living life without succumbing to the crisis, danger, disillusionment or doubt which necessitated the departure and separation. This realisation that one is no longer marginalised represents a crossing of the third and last threshold, that of return and this happens when one realises that one is not alone and the promise or the attainment of something better in relation to meaning and purpose in life and the fortitude to live well. There may be some unwillingness to return because of the good feeling which is experienced when overcoming perils and trials through ones courage in the realm of the journey. But the incorporation and initiation addresses those feelings of unwillingness and represents a sign that the person is a master in both worlds, and this mastery comes with the knowledge of what has happened, knowledge which is not understood by others. This knowledge provides a freedom to live in the face of crisis, danger disillusionment or doubt. The sign of incorporation and initiation is often a visible mark, the wearing of different clothing, or it is most often represented by a person being called a different name. These public signs then come to represent the aggregation stage in the rite of passage.

One of the most important examples of a transformative rite of passage in the Western tradition is the story of the journey to Damascus undertaken by Saul. in the moment that Jesus spoke to Saul on the road to Damascus he fell to the ground trembling and astonished, Saul succumbed to  sense of crisis and danger, feelings disillusionment and doubt would have gripped him (Acts 9:109). Being struck blind by the light of Jesus, Saul’s journey becomes a passage into darkness where perils and trials are encountered and overcome. Saul’s sight was restored and with it knowledge of God acting through Jesus, but still people wanted to kill him for his former persecution of Christians. Saul, however, persevered and reached the aggregation stage to become known as the Apostle Paul and a founder of the Church (Acts 13:9). The story about the conversion of Saul to become Paul on the road to Damascus is a deeply influential feature in the Western Psychological, cultural and political understanding of Self.

What a rite of passage is, and what the elements or steps in that process are, have been explained. So, how does all this apply to my situation and if I should keep my website and use my academic title or not? That is a good question, and I believe there is a good answer.

A few months before I was arrested in May 1986, which can be called my separation, I experienced some preliminary, portal or threshold moments which brought me up to the point of departure. These situations involved a personal crisis associated with disillusionment and doubt about the life I was living. I have thought about these matters for many years and first wrote about these moments in a 1993 essay titled “The Life” and an incident which happened in December 1985.

In the few weeks before my arrest I left 3 homes an was eventually found and arrested in a motel. I had initiated my own departure, but of course the events, which I had also initiated, took over and had me trapped. Before my separation there were feelings of marginality in my flight, and when I was remanded in custody and I was awaiting trial, those feelings only increased. The symbolism of the separation in my case is the obvious one of being taken from society and put in prison, this is a very obvious crossing of a threshold.

There are a lot of people in prison, but in reality it is a solitary journey when one is locked in a cell for most of the day. And it is also obvious to say that such a situation becomes a passage into darkness where perils and trials are encountered and overcome.

The journey I have undertaken, however, is part of a process of transition from my old life to my new life. My journey has been much longer than in most rites of passage. But I have transcended the crisis, danger, disillusionment or doubt and I have found the courage to overcome the physical and psychological perils and trials with which I was confronted; and this was a courage that I did not know I had. Finding this courage lead me to crossing the second threshold that of realisation of my abilities and my responsibilities.

For me, the incorporation and initiation stage visibly started with agreeing to launch this website. I had thought about it for many years but I decided to go ahead with it in 2009 and to cross that threshold after I was truly comfortable with the realisation that I do have the skills and the courage to live a normal life without succumbing to, and then acting out against, the negativity of crisis, danger, disillusionment or doubt.

This realisation represents a crossing of a the third and last threshold, that of return, and this happened when I realised that I was not alone and I had support from people, and the promise of something better in relation to meaning and purpose in my life. In my case, crossing the return threshold is a process which is happening over time.

Part of my return and part of the incorporation and initiation is a visible sign which represents that I have knowledge and understanding about what has happened and it is this knowledge which gives me the freedom to live a decent life. The sign is of course that I am now Doctor Craig Minogue. I did not have the opportunity to dress-up in academic regalia and attend a public conferral ceremony as a sign of the aggregation stage. But, my eventual release and my finding acceptance in the community completes the rite of passage with an aggregation as I will engage in life as an academic and in other positive roles.

Perhaps it is a red rag to a short sighted bull that I have interpreted my story in this way. Perhaps there are people who will reject the meaning I have given to my history so as to turn a bad situation into a better one. Perhaps the enraged bull thinks I should not be able to redeem myself through academic achievement and the promise of a better future. My website and my academic title are the visible signs of my journey and what I have learnt and what I have become along the way, to hide these things would be a denial of who I am a denial of the rite of passage by which I have earned the prospects of a better life.

Anything short of my dying a slow, painful death is enough of an incitement for a revenge attack the likes of which I have recently suffered. The website and my academic title are the vehicles to demonstrate my prospects for, and my desire for, a new and better life. I have survived in prison for 26 years dealing with bullies in blue shirts, so I am well able to endure corrupt coppers abusing the proper processes of the law to launch a personal attack against me. Whatever happens in the coming months or years, as far as I am concerned, it is always going to be “Doctor Minogue” to them.

Dr Craig W.J Minogue BA(Hons) PhD. April 2012