Monthly Archives: March 2014

Funerals of others (aren’t they all!)

Many of us just don’t know what to do when a friend, associate, acquaintance, colleague or neighbour has a death in the close family.

Your first priority is your friend/neighbour/colleague and their loss and grieving process. The fact that you didn’t know the person they are grieving is not the issue.
Funerals are for those who remain – they serve the grieving process and are the final ritual that puts the closing bracket on a life.

Your support at this important ritual for those grieving a  close relative provide important support and acknowledgement of the process they’re going through.

So I urge you to attend funerals in your role as a member of your communities – neighbourhood, work, social, sport, professional and so on. You don’t have to have known the one who has died – you’re there for the one you do know. To take part in an important part of their life.

You may also wish to bring or send flowers (unless instructed otherwise) and/or to give a card to express your sympathy with their sorrow. It means a lot when a person is at their most emotionally vulnerable.

In my own experience, when I’ve missed the funeral of a friend’s parent, I’ve found it difficult to recall that they’ve died. I’ve never actually asked “oh, and how’s your mum?” but I’ve come close.

So don’t be shy – go to funerals (unless for some reason it’s really not appropriate). They’re also great reality checks for the living.


The currency of fear

Is fear the currency of Australian political, economic and social interactions?
In one of the most secure and wealthy nations blessed with great natural assets, fear seems to dominate our decision-making from the personal to the national levels.
How did we get this way?
How does it manifest in our daily actions, even with our loved ones?
What is the long-term effect of living this way?
Those in power fear that power will be taken from them. Those with wealth fear that too will be taken or lost. We fear change – even positive change; we fear the unknown. Conservatism is based on fear.
The current Australian government fears its own people – the people who did (or didn’t) elect it into power. While the US system was built on mistrust of government, our Australian system was not.
We therefore have systems built around us that generate fear;  if we lose our job there may be no “safetynet” to prevent us from destitution. We can be coerced into fear through our desires. The Abbott government is going to extremes of cruelty to engender fear in potential asylum-seekers; many refuse to succumb and take the journey anyway. Ruling through fear and hate – what’s that about? It’s a choice, and a particularly abhorrent one. We have fought wars in the past to prevent this sort of oppression.

Fear of death is the grand old existential fear and religions have best harnessed that fear for their benefit. It [arguably] underlies all our fears. Not the topic for this short post. Today I’m talking about the psychological and emotional fears that are largely constructed rather than physical fears arising from activities such as driving a car, or walking a tightrope over the Grand Canyon etc.

Our immediate emotional response to fear is anger. And we Australians seem to be more angry than ever now.
That said, we have overcome the worst of our fears around, for example, being an unmarried mother, being gay, being confined to a mental asylum by one’s husband and so on.

Travel is a great eye-opener; it changes our perspective from the myopic claustrophobia of habitual living. We can see new ways of living with more courageous, open and generous values informing cultures.

We DO NOT have to submit to fear. To be conscious of your fears – to explore and challenge them – can be a form of civil disobedience and certainly a life-changing liberation. However, revolutions of any sort demand courage!

I have learnt a lot about fear from my scaredy cat. She misses out on some great stuff because of her irrational fears. The same applies to us all 🙂
The tricky bit is working out which fears are irrational and which aren’t. And what the cost is to us. As individuals and as a community. Short term and long term. Sometimes there’s just no value in being fearful.

Conformity is enforced through fears generated purely for that purpose – by churches, governments, families, friends, and many others. Social conformity isn’t necessarily a bad thing – however, it is by far better to encourage desirable behaviour through positive reinforcement.
Recently I heard a neighbour call to her toddler girl child to “get away from that shed! There are horrible spiders in there!” This had nothing to do with spiders (soooo maligned) and everything to do with the mother’s laziness and need to control the child. The easiest course of (in)action was to instill fear that could be used long into the future. A little tug here… a little prod there…

Where does the fear of catastrophic climate change fit in? Deniers offer refuge from fear in their lies. Many take comfort from their distortions in spite of clear and unassailable scientific evidence. Maybe the deniers are right – climate change as an issue is religion. The fear is on the scale of fear of death and the deniers take the role of religion.

Chill folks; just chill!

Not “Not in My Name”

This morning I signed a petition to close Manus Island detention centre.

There was no way I wasn’t going to sign.

But I passionately disagree with the “not in my name” slogan.

My reasons are somewhat inchoate, but I’ll do my best to express my rejection of this approach.

We are, all of us, the Australian community. Together. Even if we don’t agree with each other. It’s clear there are members of the community who believe it’s absolutely fine to lock up the most vulnerable in inhumane conditions. Accepting or changing that view is the responsibility of all of us. We cannot walk away from that or pretend these people are not part of the body politic in this country.

We are ALL responsible for the government we elect. Democracy is not a spectator sport (although it is currently being played out that way). Voting is the most passive aspect of democracy and being compulsory doesn’t just attract those who are passionate or even interested. Some are positively disgruntled at being forced to vote. And punish the rest of us. Democracy is an ongoing involvement in the debate and its progress. It is about engagement in your community, how it develops, the decisions it makes, the ideas that are being considered and debated.

The “not in my name” slogan is an attempt to disown the decisions made by government. This is pure hubris, and demonstrates a lack of understanding of the functions of government and the role of democracy. It seems, in fact, rather childish. Petulant even. Elitist – “that’s a Western Sydney policy, not for my educated, middle-class sensibilities”.

If we really don’t like the way government spends our taxes (in a kazillion different ways), then conduct a civil disobedience exercise by going on a tax strike. Certainly peace protestors have attempted this in order to not fund the defence forces.


Government or community? The dilemma

I’ve been exercised by this issue since many thousands of us leapt in to fund the Climate Council after it was almost instantly de-funded when the Abbott government took office.

The response from the government was something like” well there you go. It didn’t need government funding because the community was able to do it after all”. This of course was duplicitous and showed an apparent lack of understanding of the role of government.

What is that role?

First, and most prominent at this time of deregulation, is to mitigate or moderate the exercise of power by the powerful to prevent “unacceptable” disadvantage to those without power. What constitutes “unacceptable” is a decision made by the community in a democracy. Such decisions are made through elections, but also through ongoing community debate. And made ultimately by governments for the long-term good of the community as a whole.


The role of bodies such as the Climate Council (and many of the others that have been de-funded, including the advisory council on the ageing population) is to interpret science for government and the community, and to provide expert policy advice so that effective evidence-based decisions can be made.

The community already pays for these essential functions of good government through their taxes.

This morning Jon Faine on Melbourne’s ABC 774 local radio was proposing that the community help the LaTrobe Valley community clean up after the dreadful fire that’s been plaguing the region for months.

One listener objected, saying the government should conduct or fund it. While a blame analysis might justify such an approach, there are great advantages to the Victorian (and broader) community coming in the help clean up. It brings people together in a time of difficulty, and underlines and reinforces our humanity.

If we become passive and expect the government to rescue us we become helpless in our lives. We are much better off if we join as communities to solve our problems than stand as separate individuals waiting for external help that will almost certainly be inadequate.

That said, there is a role for government to facilitate and support such community actions in a variety of ways. It may be to provide or subsidise accommodation, set up or fund coordination groups so those who need help the most receive it first and so on. Where government has been part of the problem (for example, where essential regulatory functions have been absent or inadequate) then certainly compensation is a longer-term solution to the disadvantages inflicted on the community.

March in March – the end of mainstream media for a generation

The mainstream media did not “approve” of March in March – the big rallies across regional Australia and capital cities held on 15-17 March 2014. They were scathing of the diversity of issues covered and the lack of seriousness of the signs. I saw a tweet reporting the online Sydney Morning Herald describing the march as “a joke”.
Poor John Birmingham was most upset
Welcome to the future!
I’m a veteran demonstration/march/rally activist, particularly in my younger days. The Vietnam Moratorium marches are my benchmark.
The Melbourne March in March was massive, estimated at between 30-50k marchers. This is without a doubt newsworthy by modern standards when involvement in organised movements is declining.
Most marchers were young people (under 30?), and nearly everyone was there through social media. Almost no presence of political parties or trade unions – often forming the bulk of other rallies. This was my Twitter timeline on the streets! … As in Egypt, as in Libya, as across all those Middle-Eastern and European “revolutions” we’ve seen these past few years. It’s no wonder the establishment is hiding this!
The mainstream media were irrelevant in the march’s formation, and made themselves further irrelevant in its reporting.
Do you think anyone there will now look to the mainstream media as a source of reliable credible information? No way!

Let’s instead look to the students of Newtown High School who stood up to the mealy-mouthed simplistic obfuscations of Prime Minister Abbott better than any journalist or the Opposition.