Archive | July, 2011

The healing properties of the Dog, the moon and the stars

29 Jul

Last night I took a late walk with the Dog. Where I live it’s still possible to do that in safety.

Though there’s a world heritage-listed littoral rainforest between me and the ocean, the seas must have been rough because I could hear a roar like an approaching tsunami from an ocean that generally offers a comforting background susurration to lull me to sleep.

The night sky was clear and it was cold. Dog trotted happily but slowly beside me as he’s old, and has a bad back leg.

Earlier in the evening I’d avoided my usual news fix. For the last couple days I’ve felt overdosed, satiated to the point of disgust by the self-regarding so-called cultural warriors who’s reaction to the Norwegian massacre has been to point ideological fingers and crow at one another as the terrorist Breivik’s influences were revealed in his manifesto as including various Australians.

This, combined with the mind-numbing repetitive exchange of insults between politicians that passes for serious debate on vital issues that have been stripped of any pretense to moral or ethical consideration, has left me feeling sickened and in urgent need of the healing properties of dogs, trees, stars, moon, beaches and the sea.

The Dog was taken in hand by one of our household very early in his life, and trained to refrain from chasing all living creatures, with the exception of cats. This household member, whom I will not name for all kinds of reasons, is outraged that cats in our little settlement are allowed by some irresponsible owners to run free at night, un-belled and murderous.

The problem is they kill the birds. We’ve gone to great lengths to plant native trees that feed birds, and mornings and evenings at our place are wonderfully cacophonous. It’s the first thing I miss when I’m away from home, the unrestrained brawls between the raucous parrots who manage to slander one another even as they hang upside down stuffing their beaks. Bit like politicians, really but far more beautiful and entertaining than that unimaginative rabble.

So Dog will merely twitch and stiffen if he encounters native animals, but when he comes across a cat, it’s on. Miraculously, he forgets his arthritic leg and takes off like a teenager after the same felines every night. He never gets anywhere near them of course, and that is not his intention. It’s the chase.

Dog knows he’s no match for a cat. Indeed, when he was young he was severely mauled by a ginger tom called Gilbert, who tore his nose to shreds and would have had his eyes out if the cat’s owner hadn’t scooped him up, yowling and flailing, and locked him in the laundry for the rest of the afternoon. Surprisingly, Dog didn’t suffer any obvious post traumatic stress after this beating, instead it apparently inspired him.

A brief listen to the news this morning is sufficient to tell me that nothing has improved overnight. The braying hysteria of Sarah Palin made my stomach lurch, so I turned it off and ate my toast and drank my tea in silence, except for the battle of the birds. Later I will take the Dog to Terry the Vet as he’s got a bizarre swelling on his ear that might be a tick. The Dog loves Terry and Terry loves him. He consistently refuses to charge me for anything like the services he provides. I asked him why he won’t let me pay him what he deserves?

“Because he’s a ripper dog,” Terry told me. “Ripper.”

I don’t know about anybody else, but for me unrelieved exposure to the political scene brings about kind of spiritual starvation, and I have to stop, withdraw, and reconnect with all my other dimensions. The political discourse is so pitifully reduced – where is the inspirational rhetoric, the moral vision, the desire to bring something good into the world rather than to just win an election?

The political discourse does not nourish us, indeed it frequently shames us, with its one-dimensional narrative that takes no account of complexity, and the human heart. One has to get away from time to time, or else become dulled and shriveled, forgetful of any other story. Like the ideologues who see in the Norwegian massacre primarily how it personally affects them and their ideology. They couldn’t even wait until all the bodies have been found, before making it all about them.

Ah well. There’s a moral in that for all of us. Go look at the stars, even if you’re lying in the gutter.



Anders Behring Breivik: terrorist or madman?

27 Jul

Flowers in Oslo

Since the news of the Norwegian massacre broke, the blogosphere and mainstream media have been engaged in understandably urgent efforts to make some sense of the weekend’s ghastly events. One of the methods employed is a semantic discussion as to whether or not the perpetrator ought to be identified as a terrorist, or a lone madman acting out his insane fantasies.

As some authors have pointed out, the term terrorist is largely used when the violent events are performed by Islamic fundamentalists. When the perpetrator is identified as white and homegrown, they are described as mad, lunatic, a lone wolf, or a crazy isolationist. Terrorism has become synonymous with Muslims, while attacks on civilians such as those carried out by non Muslims like Anders Behring Breivik,  Timothy McVeigh, or Jared Lee Loughner are constructed by the media and often politicians as the insane actions of a crazed loner.

In fact all three of these murderers of non combatants had a political agenda that to them justified their actions, and all three had a political and ideological goal – this is the definition of a terrorist.

The reluctance of the West to identify it’s homegrown aggressors as terrorists is symptomatic of a widespread Islamophobia that defines terrorists as Muslims. Islamophobes perceive Islam as violent, aggressive, and supportive of terrorism. Islam is widely associated with terrorism, by Islamophobes, unlike other major religions, and largely as a consequence of the 9/11 attacks on the US. The term terrorist when  used in much Western media signifies cultural and emotional associations with Islam, indeed it has apparently become a metonym for Islam.

That this is the case was proved beyond doubt when global mainstream media initially declared the Norwegian terrorist to be an agent of Al Qaeda. With no evidence and little information, prominent commentators in the popular press made this assumption based solely on the nature of the attacks. When the gunman turned out to be an “Aryan poster boy” who expressed a loathing of Muslims and identified with right wing Christian fundamentalists (as well as our own homegrown John Howard, Cardinal Pell, Peter Costello and Keith Windschuttle, all of whom are quoted admiringly in Breivik’s manifesto) this came as something of a shock to the complacent, and as it turned out ignorant, purveyors of media misinformation.

In an aside, the Windschuttle link above will take you to Murdoch journalist Andrew Bolt‘s blog. There you’ll find the headline “The new blood libel of the Left,” underneath which Windschuttle presents his response on hearing of Breivik’s admiration of him and the Left’s “gleeful” reaction to this.

In another aside, the contentiously anti semitic term “blood libel” was used by Sarah Palin when she attempted to defend herself against charges that her extremist right wing rhetoric had inspired Jared Lee Loughner to shoot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Giffords is Jewish.

What a tangled web.

Murdoch’s minion Bolt, one of the many public voices who rushed to judgement, declared when he discovered the killer had ties to right wing Christians that Breivik was not really a Christian. Presumably this is because Christians don’t carry out such atrocities, while in Bolt’s book Muslims do.

At this moment it is likely of little interest to the families and friends of the Norwegian dead, and to the injured survivors of Breivik’s monstrous attacks whether he is defined by the rest of the world as a terrorist or a madman. Those of us less directly affected are privileged to be in a state of mind that permits these speculations. While it makes no immediate difference to the agony so many people must be feeling, it is important that those of us who can do have this discussion: we owe it to the dead and injured, and to those who mourn, to ensure that the truth be spoken as best as is possible about the man who brought this misery and loss down upon them, and about the world in which he developed his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim philosophy.

It is too easy to describe Breivik simply as crazed, though mentally unhinged he most certainly is. Breivik is also a terrorist. There is an argument that all terrorists are inevitably crazed, that the act of slaughtering civilians in the pursuit of a political and/or ideological goal is not the act of a sane person. Whether or not Breivik would meet the legal definition of insane is as yet undetermined but certainly colloquially there can be no doubt.

But that’s not the end of it. Breivik is also a product of the zeitgeist. Islamaphobia is everywhere. The beliefs that to him justified his rampage are everywhere. So widespread, so culturally embedded are they in the West, that his murderous actions were immediately attributed to the group he so powerfully loathed. It could only be Al Qaeda or its associates, for who else kills Westerners in a terrorist attack?

The irony is heartbreaking.

What we owe to the Norwegian dead and grieving is to seriously examine ourselves and the societies in which we live. While Breivik is an extremist and his actions are thank God extreme, scapegoating, anti-Muslim  and anti-immigration rhetoric and the beliefs that fueled his insanity are everywhere, and are increasingly normalized as they are sanctioned by the mainstream political system and the media that represents it.

We could start in our own back yards. For example, the Malaysian solution. Is it just a coincidence that the majority of the 800 asylum seekers we will send to Malaysia will be Muslim, while the majority of the 4,000 refugees we receive in return will be non Muslim?

Breivik did not kill Muslims, for all his hatred of them. He killed the young members of the Norwegian political party he believed was responsible for allowing Muslims into his country in greater numbers than was acceptable to him. He killed his own people. He is a domestic terrorist, like McVeigh and Loughner. Like McVeigh and Loughner, he is also crazy.

It can also be argued that any of these terrorists could have hung their craziness on whatever cause took their fancy, and this is also true. The impulse to slaughter and the capacity to act on the impulse is in their personalities. Politics and ideology did not make them into murderers. Politics and ideology offered them an avenue for the expression of their extreme violence and hatred.

As for the origins of that violence and hatred, we may never know. Many, many people endure difficulties and hardships in childhood and very few become terrorists. Many many people feel violent and hateful, but they do not act on those emotions. There are human beings whose pathology is inexplicable. But when there is a perfect storm of pathology and zeitgeist, the terrorist is born.

There is little we can do about the pathology.  About the zeitgeist we can do everything if we have the collective will. But we will need leaders who give a damn.

Why the Malaysia Solution could be a lose lose for Gillard

25 Jul

For a government phobic about “queue jumpers”, and a Prime Minister who said only a few weeks ago that the Malaysian solution would send boat arrivals to the “back of the queue,” they’ve certainly done a serious back flip today.

The 800 asylum seekers Australia is sending to Malaysia will be entitled to work, to health care and to education. None of these benefits are available to the almost 100,000 refugees already in that country, many of whom have been there for years.

Far from being sent to the back of a mythical queue, the 800 will be in a highly privileged position in the Malaysian system. Indeed, in theory they will be better off than the refugees held in indefinite mandatory detention in Australia as they will be allowed to live and work in the community while awaiting re-settlement.

There is of course no way of guaranteeing that the 800 will receive the preferential treatment both governments assure us will be afforded them. Once they are in the community they are at the mercy of a vigilante system that has demonstrated its hostility and aggression towards even those who carry the UNHCR cards that identify them as refugees. The 800 will be taking their chances on the streets, just like the other refugees. Singled out for preferential treatment, they may be even more vulnerable, and neither government has yet come up with a concrete plan to protect them.

Desperate people might well consider it’s worth the risk and get on boats anyway, especially if they believe they will be eligible for benefits like work, health care and education in Malaysia.

Even knowing that mandatory detention awaited them has not deterred asylum seekers from making the dangerous voyage to Australia: why then should they be deterred from persisting in their efforts to find a new life by the comparatively benign prospect of spending a few years in Malaysia, where they believe they’ll live a relatively normal existence while awaiting re-settlement?

The government’s efforts to “stop the boats” have today become farcical. Not that we needed one, but here’s another reason to mistrust the Gillard government’s judgement and integrity. If the 800 asylum seekers are treated badly in Malaysia, the deal will be like an albatross around the government’s neck, and place the opposition on fairly unassailable high moral ground. The “at least we know they wouldn’t be caned in Nauru,” sort of moral ground.

And if things go well for the 800 asylum seekers transported to Malaysia, there’s every reason to expect the boats will continue to arrive. After all, living in the community in Malaysia with health care, education and work sounds a whole lot better than war, terror, and persecution, or indefinite detention in an Australian hell hole far away from anywhere. Then the opposition will occupy the political high ground because “she hasn’t stopped the boats, has she and look how much it’s costing the taxpayer.”

Whichever way you look at it, there’s a strong possibility it’s going to be a lose lose situation for the Gillard government.






The political climate that nurtures extremism: be careful what you sow

25 Jul

Today the Minister for Immigration, Chris Bowen will sign the deal with Malaysia that will see 800 boat arrivals exchanged for Australia’s re-settlement of 4000 refugees currently held in that country. As the government has already undertaken not to expel those who’ve arrived by boat prior to today’s deal, they will be no doubt hoping the threat in itself will be enough to “stop the boats.” If this is the case it will allow the government to avoid what will inevitably be the morally messy business of actually carrying out this proposed exchange of human lives, one lot to a very precarious future in a non-signatory country, the other lot to a safe future in Australia.

The fact that we can send 800 boat people to Malaysia immediately signals that we don’t consider them as human as either ourselves, or the 4000 we are re-settling in exchange. You do not send innocent people to extremely dubious futures if you acknowledge them as human beings. The only way to send 800 people to the conditions they will have to face in Malaysia is to first deny their humanity. It is first to deny their worthiness – they are not as worthy as either ourselves, or the refugees we are accepting in their place. We do not have to be as caring about their well being as we do about our own, or the well being of the “worthy” refugees we are re-settling. Why? Because they arrived by boat? Because of where they were born? Both?

These 800 people are not criminals. Our domestic laws allow asylum seekers to arrive here in any manner at all, without papers, and to request refugee status once they get here. The Gillard government could rescind this law. That would  make boat arrivals law breakers. That would stop the boats. Permanently. The Malaysian solution is a one-off. After we reach our quota of 800 the deal is finished.

The Gillard government chooses to maintain the law that allows anyone to seek asylum and permits any manner of arrival. In a Kafakesque manipulation, the Gillard government criminalizes innocent people who are only doing what they are legally entitled to do, instead of changing the law. This is a very slippery slope, and one that should deeply concern all of us: today asylum seekers, tomorrow??

Australia was initially led down this very messy moral path by the Howard government’s racist response to asylum seekers who arrived by boat, exemplified in the events of the Tampa.  With total disregard for our domestic law, and the Covenant we signed with the UN, Howard began a slanderous campaign against boat arrivals that reached its climax in the Children Overboard affair. We don’t want people who abuse their children in this country, he declared, conveniently overlooking the fact that we already have tens of thousands of people in Australia who really are abusing children, their own and others. Australians don’t abuse their children, was the racist message based on a lie. Muslim asylum seekers coming in boats do, and we decent Australians don’t want them. Racism. Pure and simple. Replace Muslim with Jew and see where that eventually takes us.

Shaken by the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Howard then followed George Bush into the invasion of Iraq, based on the folded lie that those responsible for the attacks had something to do with Iraq, and besides, Iraq was hoarding weapons of mass destruction.

In reality, the extremists who struck at the heart of America were from Saudi Arabia and there were no WMDs, but the Coalition of the Willing were not about to let the truth stand in the way of a good opportunity to wage war. Bush had scores to settle on behalf of his father and the first Gulf War. And then there’s the oil. Impossible as well to go after Saudi Arabia as breeders of terrorists. The Saudi princes dine at the White House and invest in News Limited. Think Fox News, and Murdoch’s support for the Iraq invasion.

Regardless of these considertions, a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment focused on Iraq swept across the US and its allies, including Australia. You’re either with us or against us on terrorism, Bush declared, and we say who the terrorists are and where they came from. In a brilliantly executed piece of propaganda, Howard conflated boat arrivals and Muslims with terrorism, struck xenophobic fear into the hearts of many Australians, and won an election that had a mere few months earlier seemed un-winnable by promising to protect us.

However Howard, like those who’ve followed him, did not move to change the law that permits asylum seekers entry. One has to wonder why. If anything would “protect” us immediately and permanently, it would be the rescinding of that law.

The Australian public’s fear and hatred of boat arrivals has not subsided. Politicians have not ceased to exploit this fear for their own gain. We are as deeply racist in this country as we have ever been. The Malaysian solution is racist to its core.

And so to Norway. The right-wing Christian fundamentalist terrorist who allegedly carried out the massacre of over 90 Norwegians on Sunday hated immigrants. He expressed rabid anti Muslim sentiments. He thought his government wasn’t doing enough to keep Norway for the Norwegians. He has expressed hope that his actions will bring about a change in Norway. His slaughter of the innocents was, he claims, gruesome but necessary.

The Norwegian slaughter represents the extreme end of a continuum. Somewhere along that continuum is the Malaysian Solution. Somewhere along it are the folded lies about WMDs and alleged Iraqi responsibility for September 11. Somewhere along the continuum is the virulent right-wing xenophobia expressed by Howard, and upheld by the policies of the Gillard Labor government. Somewhere along it are Alan Jones, Chris Smith, Andrew Bolt, and the rest of the shock jocks who conspire to agitate a fear and hatred of Muslims, and boat arrivals in Australian hearts. The extreme outcome of their racist right-wing anti-Muslim anti asylum seeker rhetoric is the slaughter in Norway.

In Australia, the unthinkable has become normalized in the Malaysian solution. The Gillard government has singled out two groups of human beings, one it considers worthy of saving, and one it considers unworthy. There is nothing we can do to ensure the safety and well-being of this latter group. We know the conditions they will encounter. We will expel these people because they accepted an invitation we continue to unconditionally extend.

You can only take such action against people you consider less than human.

Normalizing official selection practices for human survival and well being is the slipperiest slope of all. Once it becomes acceptable to decide that one group is more worthy of survival than another, once that becomes government policy and is then executed by the expulsion of the “undesirable” group, a country is deeply morally fouled.

If there is any doubt about the racist core of the Malaysian solution, ask why asylum seekers arriving by plane are not transported to Malaysia?  They are permitted to stay in this country while their claims are assessed. Generally they are not held in indefinite mandatory detention. The fact that they have papers is irrelevant to the law, which doesn’t require asylum seekers to have papers.

There is the law. And then there is government policy. In a healthy democracy there should not be discrepancy between the two. In a morally fouled country, there is increasing discrepancy between the two, and citizens should take alarmed note of such discrepancies.

The Malaysian solution is a marker of how far down the slippery slope we have already  travelled. It is the most immoral action this country has taken thus far against boat arrivals. It reveals our racist heart, and our collective ability to dehumanize. Dehumization of asylum seekers has become increasingly normalized over the last ten years and our journey into these dark waters has brought us to the Malaysian solution.

The events in Norway are shocking. They did not take place in a vacuum, such events never do. A climate exists in which such madness can be rationalized and justified by terrorists and their followers. The rhetoric used in such justifications is no different from what can be heard and read in the media every day. It is the rhetoric of hatred of other, and fear of difference. Politicians and media of all persuasions whip up these fears for their own gain. We need leaders who are capable of calming the irrational, not feeding it to gain office.

Leaders who nurture fear, leaders who capitulate to the most base human emotions are, to use Gillard’s word, evil. They perpetuate evil. They nurture evil. They violate the moral law to further their own objectives. It is indeed appropriate to describe, as did Gillard, the Norwegian terrorist as evil. But evil has many faces, and evil resides quite naturally in the continuum. Our leaders would do well to re-aquaint themselves with its meaning.

Be careful what you sow. You may not be able to control what seeds and flourishes.


23 Jul

Anders Behring Breivik

The alleged terrorist has the fresh-faced look of a young David Duchovney. He’s been described by Norwegian police as an ethnic Norwegian right-wing Christian fundamentalist. He’s posted anti Muslim rhetoric on the Internet, and has links to right wing extremist organisations.

So far police estimate that 91 people died at his hands, the majority on the wooded island of Utøya, and the majority of them young.

Norway is a peaceful humanitarian country that lifts more than its weight in the world when it comes to international aid and support. Probably the best-known Norwegian of recent years, in Australia at least, is the retired captain of the Tampa, Arne Rinnan, who got into a face-off with John Howard’s government over the fate of the refugees his ship rescued at sea. Captain Rinnan’s decency, his determination to honour the mariner’s responsibility to those in trouble on the world’s oceans played out in stark contrast to our then government’s brutality. In his way Rinnan exemplifies the Norwegian national spirit that makes the country one of the most socially responsible in the world, both to its own people and to foreigners.

Now that country is in deep shock. The terror and loss is unimaginable, on a personal level and on a national level. The country of the Nobel Peace Prize is changed forever by the magnitude of the events of the last 24 hours. Events orchestrated and executed, it appears, by one of their own.

No doubt we will hear plenty more about Breivik in the coming days as authorities attempt to unravel the forces that motivated him, and drove him to these atrocities. Is it possible he could have done all this alone? Is it possible he was so isolated that no one had any idea of his plans? Will right-wing Christian fundamentalists think twice about their rhetoric? Is this an outcome they intend?

I’m not a praying woman, but tonight I’ll do it anyway, for the families, and for the people of Norway. I don’t know what they’ll need to get through this, but I pray they can help each other, and cling fast to one another through what lies ahead.

As W.H.Auden puts it:

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are, 
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

We must love one another, or die.

Today it is Norway: tomorrow it could be any of us hurled out of our comfortable and complacent daily existence into the unthinkable. Is it possible to protect ourselves and one another from such things? Increasingly it appears not. The terrorist, home grown or foreign, is the most devout and devious of humans, with a will to power and devotion to cause that transcends ordinary comprehension.

We’re all at the terrorist’s mercy, as we already know in Australia, and we have known them both home grown and foreign. Today, with horror, and outrage and fear, Norway joins the other nations of the world shaken to the core by the actions of  terrorists, a growing community of those who’ve survived the shock, horror, and loss of an entirely unexpected and deadly attack. Lost in a haunted wood.


One word for the Murdochs: hubris, baby, hubris

19 Jul
News of the World

Image via Wikipedia

The journalistic culture at the News of the World had degenerated to the stage where any mention of “ethics” brought howls of derision. There was a competition among News of the World journos as to whose informant was the most sleazy: it was a macho thing.

Newspaper editors, top police and politicians cozied up to one another for their mutual benefit. British governments have been in thrall to Murdoch for twenty years.

The spectacular collapse of the Murdoch press in the UK, and the allegations surrounding the news organization that have yet to be investigated in the US, renew one’s faith in people power and the possibility of justice. It revives the hackneyed concept of “accountability,”  giving it new vigour and meaning. We are seeing accountability on a massive scale, and it is swift and it is spectacular.

What finally brought the Murdochs undone in Britain was the hacking of a murder victim’s phone, so that her distraught and terrified family were given false hope that  their lost beloved was still alive when the News of the World journo erased a few messages from Milly’s Dowler’s voicemail. The British public who’d felt little sympathy for celebrities with hacked phones,  became more exercised when an allegedly rogue journo hacked the phones of some members of the Royal Family. But when they heard about Milly, and the unforgivable intrusion by Murdoch’s minions on the grieving families of dead soldiers and terrorist victims, they’d had enough.

Rupert Murdoch runs his corporate empire as if he is above the law. He presides over a journalistic culture that encourages utter disdain for any codes of ethics. With the collusion of fawning politicians and police, Murdoch truly was a most arrogant master of the universe. Yet in a matter of days he’s so enraged the gods, a role in this instance played by the public, that his power appears to be dissipating like air out of a punctured balloon, and we see instead a shrivelled man in his late years, a de-fanged and pathetically apologetic shadow of his former self.

There’s an almost delicious justice in the way events have turned out: Murdoch’s sleazy News of the World rag, infamous for its pursuit of human immorality in every conceivable form, real and imagined, is brought down by its own despicably immoral acts. What goes around really does come around.

Whether Rupert knew about specifics or not, and it’s difficult to believe he didn’t know at least some of what was going on, the actions of his employees could only have flourished in a culture that encouraged and rewarded those behaviours.

With everyone who mattered apparently in Murdoch’s pocket, no doubt he felt himself to be above any consideration of consequences that dogs the actions of lesser mortals. But the public that he’s treated with such contempt for so long finally turned on him.

So can we expect any changes in the Australian as a consequence of Mr Murdoch’s fall? John Hartigan was at pains to reassure viewers on the ABC 7.30 Report a few nights ago that what’s happened in the UK could never happen here. He’s probably right, given the difference in our cultures, and our lack of scandal-worthy notables in public life. After all, chair sniffing probably doesn’t count for much in the scheme of things: it’s more sad than anything and there’s no injured party.

The Australian has been running a concentrated campaign against the Labor government for some time now, a campaign Hartigan justified by claiming his newspaper is the only one that criticizes the government, and is therefore doing a public service. Quite how he arrives at that conclusion I don’t know: it seems everywhere you look the press is busily engaged in critiquing the government, though few have the Australian’s single minded dedication to their task.

If Murdoch’s people are hacking phones in Australia they apparently aren’t sharing their ill gotten gains with their readership. Unlike the UK we are a small pond with few big fish. The opportunities for scandal-mongering do not present themselves to the same extent, and neither does it seem to be in our national character to encourage our media to pry into private lives to quite the same degree as do the British and the Americans. I don’t know if this makes us more principled or less curious.

I have to say that outside of Shakespeare, the Murdoch downfall is the most outstanding example of hubris we’ve seen in a very long time. Time to face your nemesis, Rupert.

The climate change stand-off

19 Jul


Thanks to Peter Broelman

The Yes No Carbon Debate

Climate change: the infantile demand for certainty

18 Jul

One of the most hackneyed arguments used by climate change deniers is that we can’t have any certainty about the existence and/or effects of AGW, or the more commonly used term, climate change. Because of this lack of certainty, the argument goes, we should do nothing.

If you’ve ever been diagnosed with a serious illness, or been close to someone who has, you’ll know that it is rare for your doctor to give you a 100% certainty on your prognosis. You’ll get the statistics one way or the other. If you are able to, you’ll inform yourself as fully as is possible about your chances in as many circumstances as you can imagine, and then you’ll make an informed decision.

You might be someone who has enough faith in your medical practitioner to accept his or her recommendations without exploring further, and if that’s the case, you’ll act on their advice.

You will never, ever be 100% certain about whichever path you choose. It is an impossibility.

The planet is in a similar situation. We as its custodians must make decisions based on as much information as is available to us. We must weigh up the possibilities and probabilities and we must make an informed decision.

Certainty can be defined as either:

  1. perfect knowledge that has total security from error, or
  2. the mental state of being without doubt

Objectively defined, certainty is total continuity and validity of all foundational inquiry, to the highest degree of precision. Something is certain only if no skepticism can occur.

Climate change deniers such as broadcaster Alan Jones, patron saint of the bizarre Galileo Movement that is dedicated to opposing climate change,  and the upper class British hysteric, the wild-eyed Christopher (call me Lord) Monckton, demand certainty before we take any action to address global warming. They want “proof positive” and they don’t consider the science we already have offers sufficient proof, apparently on the grounds that there isn’t 100% agreement by its practitioners. Therefore, their justification goes, we should do nothing.

Galileo must be turning in his grave since Alan Jones took him up on the grounds that he, to quote from their website: stood up to the entrenched, dogmatic religious and state beliefs suppressing the truth, and so is the perfect symbol for climate change deniers such as Jones and his supporters, who see themselves as following in his footsteps.

There’s no certainty in science. Science makes no claims for producing perfect knowledge that has total security from error. Scientists are by their very nature skeptics, I would have thought. They look for evidence, they balance probabilities and they reach informed conclusions.

There is no certainty in life outside of death. The right to desire certainty is the privilege of childhood. The desire for that degree of security may continue well beyond childhood, and in the case of the deniers most certainly does. However, when carried into adulthood it is an indicator of emotional and psychological dysfunction. It indicates a failure to adequately mature. The adult knows there’s no certainty, and learns to live life with that knowledge, taking risks, weighing up possibilities.

Waiting for certainty in this debate is like waiting to find out if there’s life after death: the only time we’ll be certain of that is when it’s too late tell anyone about it. We have an immense body of knowledge that overwhelmingly indicates the need for us to take action on global warming. Can we afford to risk ignoring this evidence, is the question we need to ask. What are the repercussions if we do nothing and dare we risk them? Do I want to leave a ruined planet for my grandchildren just because I’m waiting like an infant for an impossible certainty? No, I don’t.

Like many other people I’m no expert on climate change and AGW. I have to weigh up the possibilities from the enormous amount of information available, and I’m never going to get my head around all of that. I have to listen to people I trust who are better informed than I will ever be. Just as I did when I was first diagnosed with cancer. Nobody could offer me certainty that the proffered treatments were going to work. Nobody could offer me certainty that the treatments wouldn’t kill me. I had to listen, and I had to make an informed choice.

This isn’t just about the people alive today. It’s about the people to come. It’s about my grandchildren’s children children children. It’s huge. It is the greatest moral challenge of our time, and we must respond to it as adults, not infants demanding the impossible.

The Malaysian solution, or why Gillard will never have my respect and trust

17 Jul

‘To shelter the other in one’s own land or home, to tolerate the presence of the land-less and homeless on the “ancestral soil” so jealously guarded, so meanly loved – is that a criteria of humanness? Unquestionably so.” Emmanuel Levinas.

In the Sydney Morning Herald today there’s an article revealing that in the last three months taxpayers have funded flights from the Christmas Island detention centre to the mainland totalling over $3 million. These chartered flights have transported asylum seekers from the over-crowded Christmas Island centre to other detention centres on the mainland.

Figures from Senate Estimates also reveal that for the 11 months to the end of May, health costs in detention centres exceed $95 million.

2010 Australian of the Year, psychiatrist Patrick McGorry, described Australia’s detention centres as “factories for producing mental illness and mental disorders.” In response, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said: “We believe mandatory detention is necessary for security reasons.”

And those security reasons are?

Asylum seekers who arrive by boat are security threats how?

Australia is the only country signatory to the UN Refugee Convention that detains asylum seekers until a decision is made on their application to be accepted as refugees. All other signatory countries allow community placement while the assessments are made. The only signatory country in the world that subjects asylum seekers to indefinite imprisonment in “factories producing mental illness and mental disorder” is Australia.

In Australia as in no other signatory country the asylum seeker, the ultimate foreign other, is co-opted as an imprisoned and criminalized scapegoat. This is intended to strengthen the boundaries of our nation state by uniting Australians not in recognition of our shared humanity with the stranger, but rather in a common rejection of the foreigners’ human rights and needs in the interests of maintaining a politically expedient ideology of sovereignty.

Julia Gillard has gone further than even John Howard in her proposed treatment of asylum seekers. She wants to send them “to the back of the queue” in Malaysia. No other Australian politician has proposed the trade in vulnerable human beings that Gillard is engaged in organizing.

The refugees from Malaysia we will resettle in exchange for the 800 boat arrivals Gillard plans to transport to that country have not “queued” in order to be granted visas to live here. They have applied for re settlement along with thousand of others, and they have been selected not based on a position they hold in a non existent queue, but on their suitability as citizens.

Does Australia select refugees on the basis of how long they have been in camps? No, it doesn’t.

Yet Gillard continues to misinform and mislead the Australian people on the matter of a mythical “queue” because it is politically expedient for her to do so. The fact that it is a lie is as irrelevant to her as it is to Alan Jones, and it serves both their purposes to continue to feed this lie to the public. To the PM and shock jocks alike, the stranger seeking asylum via the boat is assumed to be morally corrupt, a criminal and possibly a terrorist, by virtue only of the dire circumstances in which he or she finds themselves in their homeland. This is utter nonsense.

In the moral world of Gillard and the shock jocks, having the gumption to get yourself out of a high risk situation by entering into another high risk situation, all in the pursuit of life, liberty and safety, makes you a criminal and possibly a terrorist. The fact that you manage to get enough money together to pay for your dangerous boat journey is only further evidence that you should be hanged by the neck when you get here, metaphorically speaking.

Imprisoning boat arrivals is a dishonest, cruel, wicked and discriminatory practice. It does nothing to improve our society, and does everything to morally and ethically damage us. It does nothing to assist the thousands of refugees in camps around the world.

“He said to me: ‘You are an animal. We will deal with you like an animal.” Guard to asylum seeker detained in Villawood Detention Centre.

Julia Gillard is engaged in a process of dehumanizing both the boat arrivals and the Australian electorate. Our attitude to those seeking asylum is a measure of our humanness, just as Levinas claims. Our political leaders should care about our collective and individual capacity for humanness because no society can thrive and survive without this quality.

“We are not animals! We have eyes like you, we have hands like you! We are not criminals!” Thirteen-year-old male detainee.

The very thing the Gillard government does not want acknowledged is that the people in detention are in any way like us. If the humanity we have in common with asylum seekers is recognized, indefinite mandatory detention would become intolerable. The demonization of boat arrivals is a morally repugnant practice, and one which Gillard fully endorses. Politicians have always sought to demonize and scapegoat human groups in the pursuit of their own political interests, and she is no exception.

We drive these people mad through the use of  indefinite mandatory detention. Then, when they act out their mad despair, we punish them for it. Now Julia Gillard like Pontius Pilate, has decided to wash her hands of the fate of the boat people and send them to Malaysia, a non-signatory country where we will have no control over what happens to them. Indeed, singling out a particular group for some kind of “special” UN protection is likely to make them even more vulnerable to attack and discrimination in a country where there are tens of thousands of displaced people, all of whom are struggling for survival in an environment that is hostile to them.

What Gillard is doing makes the Howard government’s off-shore policies look reasonable. Many refugee advocates now prefer the Pacific solution to Gillard’s Malaysian plans. That Julia Gillard should have brought us to such a choice!

I should respect this woman? I should support her? I should trust her?

I should be a proud feminist because Gillard is our first female PM?

The Malaysian solution is a bloody disgrace to this country. Nothing Gillard achieves in other areas will do anything to mitigate the immorality and inhuman cruelty of her plan. Neither will anything mitigate her continued support of indefinite mandatory detention while refugee claims are being processed. Gillard continues this, despite everything we know after ten years of the practice about how it damages and destroys the human beings we incarcerate.

The Greens’ great moral challenge

15 Jul

I keep coming across comments such as this one from Zareh Ghazarian, Monash School of Political and Social Inquiry, in a piece in The Conversation today on the carbon tax legislation:

Indeed, even if Mr Abbott was to win the next election his government would presumably have to negotiate with the Greens in the Senate to dismantle the policy. At the moment, this would appear to be an almost impossible outcome.

The situation is that should Abbott attempt to dismantle the carbon tax policy and the Senate twice resist these attempts, Abbott has threatened a double dissolution. Bob Brown has already given a “rolled gold guarantee” that  the Greens will oppose any attempts by the Coalition to rescind the legislation, so a double dissolution looks likely.

In the event of such an outcome, all Senate seats are up for grabs. What are the chances of the Greens re-gaining the balance of power in a double dissolution election? I’m no expert but gut feelings say I doubt it.

What a moral challenge for the Greens! To capitulate to Abbott’s demands to rescind the carbon tax, avoid an election and thus maintain their balance of power, or to thwart Abbott’s will and risk losing Senate seats.

And then there’s this statement in the same post:

While the government has been down in the opinion polls, there are two years until the next election is due. Time is on the government’s side.

Well, yes, as long as there aren’t any by-elections. The government can’t afford to rest in the belief that time is in on its side. It may very well not be. The government can’t afford to plan as if it has two full years in which to persuade the public to accept the carbon tax. It may very well not have, in the event of adverse circumstances.

Beware the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune!

While Kevin Rudd apparently lacked the bottle to call a double dissolution in 2010, it’s a safe bet that Abbott won’t be as timid. We can only keep our fingers crossed that the angels are watching over the government, that all misfortune is held at bay, and that nobody does anything stupid and has to resign.

Brown’s “rolled gold guarantee” has pretty much committed his party to a course of action that could well see them undone. Unless they do a backflip like everyone else does, and then they really will have come of age in Australian politics.

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