Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
"In the Penal Colony" (2020-07-27)
Australia has not been having a very nice winter, to put it mildly. Too mildly, I know, but there are truly no words that properly express what is happening there. It makes it all the worse that extreme wildfires, grave problems with maintaining services and fresh water, plus soaring temperatures were all predicted. Indeed, these were already part of the mix for the english and dutch when they first began pestering Indigenous peoples there who knew how to live with their lands and waters and found themselves stuck dealing with outsiders who seemed determined to kill themselves and any Indigenous people they met besides. The english in particular looked at australia, and apparently deemed the combination of heat, lack of water, exploitable coal, and what they deluded themselves into thinking was infinitely exploitable farmland easily kept isolated, and concluded they had hit a perfect recipe for highly profitable convict labour use. They could get the troublemakers out of town and force them to work for their captors' benefit just to survive at all. The meanness of the people building and supporting these systems is breathtaking. All of which is simply to acknowledge that australia is not an easy place to live with if for whatever reason a person is unable or unwilling to enter a relationship with it rather than attempt to twist its figurative arm. Places with more extreme climates and overall conditions react powerfully to larger scale changes because they are already carefully poised.
The injustice of the settler population of australia insisting on the practically unswerving support of global warming denying coal industry shills is bad enough. Any of us living in settler colonial states are all too aware of how small a portion of the population is needed to support such fools to end up with them holding a lock on the government, heedless of votes, protests, spending money on other things and the various other perhaps visible but definitely ineffective for real change actions we are pressed to take. Or at least, those actions are ineffective if we simply view them as ends in themselves. As key radical Feminist activist Matilda Joslyn Gauge noted over a century ago, the prime value of striving for women's suffrage was and is the way it drove women to learn how to organize and act together to make change, and then realize that mere suffrage alone could not make the most needed change. But they needed the experience of working on suffrage to take its measure and learn the skills and build the connections they needed to be able to identify and perform the most effective actions. The challenge then being not to despair that what they had reached was a local maximum and a place to rest briefly and check their bearings. The despair is hard to fend off at times, to be sure.
So here we are, with thousands and thousands of settler australians now facing the fact that they have one of the most vicious and irresponsible but officially democratically elected governments on the planet. A government more concerned about mining and shipping coal than facing up to the fact that wildfires have been so large that people were sheltering on the beach and on the brink of having to flee into the water. People who are furious that "austerity" was used as a pretext to undermine their local capacity to manage and prevent fires in the first place, because centralization was supposed to be cheaper. They are outraged by the pisspoor treatment of volunteer firefighters, and the australian government's attempt to push the firefighters into collecting information on the people they meet at fire scenes in a sort of de facto police operation. They are fed up with ludicrous attempts to send in the army to handle fires and other emergencies, for which armies are not trained to manage. Armies are trained to manage conditions in which they are facing enemy combattants. This is completely the wrong training to help people, and it doesn't take much research to learn about raping and pillaging of "liberated" areas by the "liberators" in any war after the "occupiers" have been sent packing after doing the same thing.
The uncanny slippage towards authoritarian pseudo-government and a return to australia as effectively a penal colony is a miserable counterpoint to the ongoing debacles of the double down on extremism encouraged and funded by rich cliques in most capitalist countries currently at work. And yet...
I can't help but feel that it is a good sign to see something like genuine good sense reasserting itself among the australians and many others in many of those countries. No one is interested in living in a penal colony. We are not so narrow or simple minded as to be incapable of realizing first that we've ben had, and second that there are far more of us than there are of them, and that what we want in the majority is genuinely a better world in which we learn how to live in relationship with other beings on Earth in a good way. It may sound strange, but Kafka's uncanny story of the penal colony is in fact an optimistic one – not in the easy optimism sense of course, but that is all the better. We need stolid realism more than fairy tales.