Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Dawn of a Global Neo-Fascist Polity

It is tempting to see amongst all this doom and gloom in the world today, that the: demonising of civil rights, the extraordinary intimidation of the global fourth estate, the unmasking of an age-old white-supremacist and religiously chauvinist immigration policy around the first world, and the rise of extreme right-wing political parties across great, and not-so-great, democracies, as some last gasp hurrah of a failing metaphorical sceptre of racist paranoia from erstwhile colonising countries that will momentarily overcome their predatory pasts, and are about to step out into a beaming, post-homogeneous sun when all this is over. That assumption is the intellectual equivalent of burying your head in the sand with only your ears sticking out, and mistaking those burrowing noises getting closer to you for dolphin calls from the deep ocean.
Unless you have lived in a rich, consumerist, and apparently meritorious economy for the entire duration of your adult life so far, with breaks in-between to marvel at those amazing distant cultures where women are perpetually graceful and men are forever righteous, it is obvious that people around the world are born unequal. What your name is, where you come from, how you look, and how much wealth you have backing you, determines your experience of life, and always has. In a world that has always been this way, it is easy to ridicule the idealism of those privileged protesters who don't have to worry about putting food on the table, dressing up their school-going children appropriately, and getting to a job under the watchful eye of that supervisor who needs the flimsiest possible excuse to dismiss them. But, it is also easy to assume that life goes forwards not backwards, that head-down sweat and toil hard-nosed hard work will get you and yours ahead, that your children will fulfill their potential with more opportunity than you ever had and be happy in the revealed knowledge that life is more than just surviving. Neither of these manifestations of living is the whole picture. Democracies around the world are facing a backlash from fearful, hateful, misguided, and misdirected local communities, sometimes sacrilegiously supported by recent immigrants, that are constitutionally bound to adhere to the choices of their electorates. Whatever we may think of the choices being presented to us, our levels of awareness and education, and whatever eugenic sympathies we harbour, people have every right to want to be governed by popular mandate. It is, after all, something the world fought bloodily for, over generations, at great cost to homogeneous and ethnic communities, in a world where it was thought that the divine right of kings and queens, and brute force, trumped all. To get riled up over the short memories of ignoramuses, history-deniers, and walled-off racists, who do not see the light when confronted by the horrors of the second world war, or the brutality of colonialism, or the historical crimes of slavery and genocide, is reactionary and denies the responsibility of national political systems that  have neither encouraged a holistic view of the world from a global perspective nor given credence to apparently self-evident interpretations of world history. How could they? Politics is the pursuit of power, and objective facts and subjective empathy and situational context is so far removed from that pursuit as is the idea of 'representation' about getting the plight of the broken-down, homeless, hungry, and agency-less human being on the street into the national discussion.
Blinkers are good for horses being maneuvered through the streets, and for human beings when the task at hand is direct, complex, and clear-cut in its projected outcome. We cannot continue to pretend that democracy in its current avatar is sacrosanct - it cannot be when all that is needed to subvert its beauty, poetry, and goal of freedom, is a law enforcer in uniform taking the law into his/her own hands based on their proclivities.
It is time to change our focus from the institutions that we thought were duty-bound to enforce our hard-won emancipation, to the structures of those very institutions. The need for governments to better reflect what we expect for ourselves and our fellow human beings across the world, through inequality, war, and daily struggle, is paramount, if we are to safeguard the global community from the predation of a few of us who think of winning as an end in itself.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A lighter shade of black

I looked up the opposite for the word evolution today and the best the web could come up with was: decrease, reduction, stagnation, shrinkage, blockage, halt and various other iterations to stop or go back. None of them come close to what I want to describe; the sense of the rolling back of time and experience; that everything we have come to have faith in is somehow being lost to us; the inexorable march of progress, so to speak, coming undone right before our eyes; the negation of the idea that time itself is a progression towards something; that the concept of a cyclical perception of time is just something philosophers earn a living by unconnected to the reality that we all just know or have known since we were born.

It really doesn't seem delusional, does it?

After all, we are getting older from the time we are born, the interior and exterior manifestations of life do change constantly in the human experience, technology becomes upended, people die and other people give birth to more people. Can we really blame ourselves for believing that something similar is happening to the world we inhabit? Not so much in the physical sense of it as in the psychic idea of a society we leave better off as a consequence of us being around for a certain period.

What then is this world we have now come to inhabit? A reactionary, untethered beast; an anthem of war and disenchantment and vitriol and hate; a vile, exclusionary, particulate thing unfettered by civility and discourse and deliberation. What faith will we have left when this fire has burned itself out (as it will, as it must, as is inevitable) that we can once again pick up from where we left off? - In giving meaning to disconsolate lives separated as much by geography as by difference from today's frothing, teeming hordes of rabidity. In rehabilitating our effects on this planet we inhabit so as to safeguard it for generations to come. In constantly discovering the beauty, the serenity, the possibilities, the love in this world. In sharing our uniqueness, our sense of purpose, our ideals and dreams so as to contribute to a shared sense of humanity with those whom we would otherwise have nothing to do with in our day to day lives.

Will the damage not be done by then? Will the strength remain? Will the disillusion and despair give way to a recaptured sense of resolve?

Can we hold on?

Monday, November 14, 2016

I have to write I'm afraid

I have to write, I'm afraid,
Of the despair, and disillusionment, and delinquency I'm feeling,
Of my loneliness, and longing, and lassitude.

I have to write, I'm afraid,
Of the pain, and anger, and rage I'm feeling,
Of the constriction of breath and the tightness in my thighs and feet.

I have to write, I'm afraid,
Of how I'm going to explain this,
To my daughter, to make her understand how we shot our own faces off, and why.

I have to write, I'm afraid,
Of how we have now thrown off these 'yokes' of aspiration, deliverance, and freedom,
In the wake of electing a racist, sexist, lying pig to be leader of what will never again be the free world.

I have to write, I'm afraid,
Of how America deserves this, parading their wretched verisimilitude of greed,
As if it was a virtue worth basing a nationhood on, instead of a multitudinous human failing to be diligently overcome.

I have to write, I'm afraid,
Of how we now mourn the beautiful artists, the magnificent performers, the seductive purveyors of a thousand grand fictions,
And their glimpses of a heaven that can now never be here on earth.

I have to write, I'm afraid,
Of an America that coveted our dreams, that reflected our hopes, that strove for our emancipation,
And just threw them (and us) all under the bus.

I have to write, I'm afraid,
That I am now afraid,
For millions of fates yet to be determined,
For people as yet in chains,
For millions more in limbo,
For millions still in pain.

I have to write, I'm afraid, that I am afraid now,
For us... and of us.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Crisis of Masculinity

As the sordid details of what Donald Trump has done to women over the years emerges in the public domain, as we are enmeshed in the zenith of the controversy that is his Presidential campaign, and as we reflect on what kind of people his supporters must be - to watch and hear detail after detail of his vile misogyny, his deep hatred of women's agency, his naked distrust of gender equality and all the implications that flow from it, and ponder our place in the universe at just this time, I do need desperately to step back and examine with a critical conscience this crisis encapsulating us, this crisis that we seemed to have taken steps to move on from in the west, only to realize that we are as ensconced in it as our caveman ancestors were; which would have been an exaggeration if not for a guest on a television show yesterday explicitly supporting Trump's misdeeds by saying that the history of civilization could be renamed, "Who Gets The Girl".

I grew up in a conservative society surrounded by strong women who seemed to exude a strength that I admired, but knew I would never possess to a similar degree. Everything in my experience pointed to the validity of a woman's agency, that girls could be as ambitious as boys, that sports were as accessible to both genders, that you would challenge a woman on her assumptions with nothing else to go on but your belief that she was less worthy as a woman, only at your existential peril.
When that changed, I really don't know, but I do remember my mother telling me a number of times while growing up that there was a difference between men and women, that certain assumptions could be made regarding propensity and character according to gender, and that we would be naive to assume otherwise.
These were certainly shocking to hear at the time - coming from a woman who determined who she would love and marry, what she would study, how many children she would have, what businesses she would open and when they would close, and how exactly she would deal with the death of a husband who left her with three little children and very little else when he died of cancer when she was thirty-three.
Even later, in team sport locker rooms, and male-only meetings, I did hear overt misogyny that I assumed reflected a dark shame at something the proponent of such talk needed to be relieved of, and never imagined that it was more pervasive than a marginal male persuasion that was restricted to the inadequate, in ways I wasn't really going to be bothered imagining. Every time I heard an overt appeal for what I supposed was juvenile camaraderie, to join in banter ascribing all sorts of fantastical notions related to the 'purity' (or the lack thereof) of women in our society, that 'they' must know their place, that social breakdown was imminent if traditional gender roles were overturned, I always brushed them aside thinking that this braggadocio would last only so long as it was disabused of in an inevitable enlightening encounter with a woman that I didn't envy the proponent of. I remember that I did also imagine that the things I was hearing, and the attitudes that were being disseminated, were a reflection of a society in the death throes of a tiring social conservatism. As a migrant, I have now left that society behind and live, work and breathe in a world where women are ubiquitous; in every career, in every facet of human experience, in every social encounter... and when they are not, the absence is anomalous; to be fought against, to be campaigned for, to be rejected together. I do have a daughter now, and am married, thankfully, to a woman who will rage against the dying of the light, certainly, but also at any subjective disappointment in her life that may not be a reflection of her professional abilities or her personal agency. I am grateful for that because it reminds me of the women I have always known and grown up with and therefore feels familiar, but also because I know that there will never be a time when I will be allowed a laxity in the opinions I hold, or a compromise I make, when it comes to defending and actively supporting the rights of women everywhere.

But there is this question of the Trump supporters, and all those men (and women) all over the world who dismiss the severity of his actions and view them as reflective of a rightful alignment of the place we should allow women in society. And joke about assault. And condone the sexualization of young girls. Where does that end? Where does it begin? What is its use-by date? Is it really related to the perception of the relative uselessness of men in a world where women can do as well, if not better, than men in traditional occupations?
In my opinion, all of that is superfluous. If we cannot regard the people we live alongside, and love, and share meaningful moments with, on par with those we don't; who have nothing more in common with us than a historical notion of superiority based on muscle power or anatomy or sexual submission, then there is certainly nothing wrong with the world at large.
There is something deeply wrong with us.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

White Blinding

In the normal course of events, any nationally embarrassing occurrence that has been given rise to by a confluence of factors determined directly by the institutions that people rely on for their understanding of standards in public safety or public decency or a societal sense of fairness is, before being investigated thoroughly and been seen by the public to be investigated thoroughly, condemned publicly and unequivocally by the powers that be so that, if for nothing else, the occurrence can be seen as an aberration - not reflective of community standards and beliefs, and in need of review, not least in the mores of the very institutions that allowed such events to transpire.

For various reasons, the moral high ground has been given a pass, much less captured, by everyone in the public eye following the revelation of events that occurred in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre amidst the public outcry that has followed in its wake. And instead of a clear delineation between what is the personally and institutionally understood acceptable treatment of detained children in the state's custody and the distancing of such from the brutality witnessed in the Four Corners episode, we have launched into a bizarre national discussion about familial standards in Australian indigenous societies.
As a first generation immigrant to Australia, with only a rudimentary understanding of the history of this nation in its documented treatment of, and its communal and social relations with, the indigenous communities of this land, and not possessed of a first-hand experience of the justice system in the Northern Territory, I understand that I am not equipped to question the institutional and structural inadequacies of the penal/corrections system anywhere in this country. What I can do, though, is address attitudes that I have been exposed to in my interactions with white Australians in their natural habitat, namely the pubs or cafes where a certain lowering of the guard and exchanges of confidences have been known to occur, unrestricted therein by notions of propriety that govern our interactions in the workplace and within most family homes where children are present.
The only paraphrased interaction (with parentheses for details that were not cleared up at the time) I need cite here, among many many others expressing a wish that, "...they just die off...", or that indigenous people lack dignity and self-respect because, "...they piss right there in their pants while waiting in the queue for the dole..." is this illustration that was put to me during a discussion about racism towards Aboriginals in modern Australia :-

You are looking at a road with two pavements running along on either side. On one side of the road you see an elderly white Australian woman walking slowly and coming into contact with a group of Aboriginal children (age undeclared) who are heading in the opposite direction. They impede her path, tease her, render her shaken and scared, and then move on. Would you call that woman racist if, on a future occasion, when walking down the same pavement, she were to cross the road to the other side if she noticed a group of Aboriginal children (unclear if they were the same children) walking again towards her?

It is important to state at the outset that there are a number of assumptions attached to the question at hand that the anonymous poser has made, related to my understanding of this case, all having to do with perspective. Would I, for example, have viewed what happened differently if I was geographically looking on from the other direction i.e. the place from which the children were travelling? What if I had known the identity of the elderly woman including possible unsavoury parts of her history as related to her known attitudes towards indigenous people? Is there ever an excuse for bad behaviour by youth brought on by triggers ranging from developmental issues to social/economic disparities and health inequities, and do they deserve wider scrutiny when considering the policing of, and wider attitudes towards the jurisprudence of, disadvantaged minors?

This is, in essence, a simple and illustrative test case that we can all immediately get on the right side of, isn't it? After all, everyone wants to feel secure when walking down a street. Everyone is outraged that an elderly person, who has probably made untold sacrifices in her life for her family, community, and country, can be treated in this way without consequences for her unprovoked aggressors. Where is the law, where are the children's families, where are the community standards etc., etc., etc.?
But the larger question is; whose standards are we imposing, whose laws are we enforcing, whose families are we casting aspersions on? By restricting yourself to the perspective of the elderly woman, who has every right to move on to the other side of the street without being labelled an incorrigible racist, aren't we identifying with her a little too much?
If one has not been born into a well of privilege, lacking opportunities for well-rounded education through childhood and early youth, encountering violence and alcoholism within the family home, and is exposed to a litany of communal victimisation and shame and villainy throughout his/her life, can we judge him/her by the same standards that we impose on a group of opportunistic and misguided children cruelly preying upon a hapless victim for a momentary experience of predatory bravado?
No, we cannot. Perspective is everything. If we are not able to structurally address the causes of Aboriginal victimhood by a system specifically set up to address the concerns of the Aboriginal community throughout Australia, we do not have the right to judge the predatory behaviour of an outlying few of their members. If we do not set up a system by, of, and for all indigenous peoples that repairs and rehabilitates the historical deficits of trust between immigrants and the original custodians of this land, then we are never going to give rise to a common hope for the future of all communities that make up modern Australia.

The time to cross the road is long past.