Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tail lights Fade

It has been quite some time since I graced the world of blog with my pickled observations, and for that I apologise dear reader. To be honest, events of both a private and public nature have overwhelmed me somewhat, but after a difficult twelve months I feel the old fire returning.

I probably don't need to point out that the world, like my garden, has got a lot less tidy in that time. Australia has morphed from something of a geo-political backwater to the sun-parched Belgium of a new Asian paradigm. The word "Caliphate" is back after lying dormant for almost 100 years, ensuring a widening rift between Sunni and Shia the world over. Israel Israel Israel, the background static of my life, like my crazy neighbour's un-tuned radio.

Need I go on?

But the great buzzword in this country at present would seem to be "fairness", an almost quaintly archaic concern with the widening gap between rich and poor in both income and opportunity. What has prompted this sudden shift from "me" to "us"? Well,  Bluepepper is yet to be convinced there has even been a shift.

The ideological position of the current Federal government should not be a surprise to anyone who has taken even a passing interest in politics over the past 20 or 30 years. They are merely the pointy end of the Thatcher/Reagan "revolution" of the 1980's, an untiring and ultimately successful effort to reverse the trend toward a more re-distributive society in favour of unfettered opportunity for the individual. That this happened to coincide with the rise of the so-called "Me" generation of cashed up boomers is no accident of history. As Thomas Piketty recently highlighted in his book, "Capital in the 21st Century", much of the "equalising" of the 20th century was the result of the dissipation of capital by two world wars and the recognition of a "shared ordeal" that propelled governments to take measures to distribute wealth and opportunity more evenly. It was, after all, that great Prussian militarist, Otto von Bismarck, who led the way by founding the first welfare state back in the 1870's, realising that by so doing he was stealing a march on the socialists. But memories fade. The "us" appears to have become a "them" versus "me".

In this "society" atomised by competition between autonomous entities, any sense of a shared identity is difficult to find. What has come to be known as "Identity Politics" has run parallel with a widening gap between the haves and the have nots, as those unable or unwilling to organise to promote their interests fall further and further behind. That racism still thrives in such a context should really be no surprise to anyone who has even the most rudimentary understanding of human nature. Either we yearn to be considered exceptional, singular, or to belong to a group that considers itself as such. Rather than accept, and revel in, our universal heritage and destiny, we seek to rise above, either individually or collectively. Empathy in such circumstances, like truth in war, would appear to be the first casualty.

I am not so blinkered as to advocate a return to the old politics and old economics of the last century, paired as they were with rampant nationalism, racism, imperialism, etc. But I am just old enough to remember a time when matters of justice and equity were at the forefront of political debate, when the economy was there to serve the people rather than the other way around. Although limited in scope by many of the "isms" alluded to previously, there was a sense of the collective good and a detestation for elites that many in this country now find risible. In its relentless pursuit of surplus value, capitalism continues to present a challenge to democracy which is, after all, nothing more and nothing less than the tyranny of the majority. Neo-liberals chafe at this definition, and in their effort to circumvent it have allowed oligarchy (the expression of minority will) in through the back door, and we have become entranced by this minority of glamour and wealth even as it robs us of our birthright.

This is where the role of the artist, and especially of the poet, is crucial. For poetry is above all the art, perhaps even the science, of empathy. The poetry of identity is not what I am talking about here. Such poetry is merely advocating tribalism by another name. It may capture the imagination of journalists for whom empathy is rarely a governing instinct, but it is not poetry as I understand it. Great poetry speaks to a universal sense of inheritance and destiny, and as such should serve as a counter-weight to the increasing influence of a wealthy and powerful minority.

In the words of the Persian poet, Rumi:

This being human is a guest house. Every morning is a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor...Welcome and entertain them all. Treat each guest honorably. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

In other words, raise your head from the trough, dear reader, and look around.


Juan Pablo Duboue said...

Beautiful post, felt very much identified with this part: "This is where the role of the artist, and especially of the poet, is crucial. For poetry is above all the art, perhaps even the science, of empathy."

Justin Lowe said...

Hi Justin
I agree with so much of what you said, but google kept rejecting my attempts to comment on the post!
I too, have reached the point of being so cheesed off I'm ready to mount the old charger again.
The difficulty is balancing the Rumi empathy with action that does no harm, but so much of the old social accord in our country has been demolished or ransacked as the Right and free market dominance has held sway.
I'm sharpening the pitchfork of empathy, and you're right, art has to say, to see, to articulate in a way that sharpens without harming.
(Much as I'd like some good old fashioned revenge)!
Ah the sweet satisfaction of the guillotine of words, while the creative swirl knits at the side of tolerance.
All the best mate - Jim Walton