Occupy movement? What Occupy movement? It’s old hat, 2011, no one cares about that anymore.
Well, no. Like a lot of things, people who didn’t really care about it in the first place got bored of the idea and moved onto the next shiny thing. The people who are genuine about it are still going strong, and this means doing things differently, even if it hasn’t got your attention.
As for current shiny things, on the 27th January 2012, the Australian Aboriginal Tent Embassy celebrated it’s 40th Anniversary by protesting the fact that it’s still needed.
I am pleased to report that from my limited armchair gaze at the various reports, approximately 2000 people wound up outside parliament house in Canberra for this occasion. What also appears to be the case is that things got interesting for a change instead of the usual Aussie protest rituals of a smoking ceremony, a speech by someone from a university or political party, and two or three hours of people milling around feeling smug that they showed up and posturing over why everyone else didn’t bother (including the media, who obviously doesn’t care).
Indeed, it seems that the people who weren’t there and probably should have been (the leaders of the ALP and LNP, for example) were in the Lobby having some snacks and pretending to care about emergency services personnel. After Pinocchio had grown a larger nose the crowd was pointed to his body and that of the Red Baronness in said lobby were said crowd converged and; somewhere within the tale (no one has made this clear) the Baronness lost her ruby slipper and had to be escorted away from Oz by the flying monkies. Meanwhile one of the protestors (apparently being facetious but still making a point) held the “ruby slipper” loftily above his head and exclaimed that it would be returned to the baronness when the land is returned to the rightful owners.
Now, anyone in Australia knows who and what I’m talking about, and would probably argue that the ruby slipper is better described as the Golden Slipper because our economy is a big gamble and only the robber barons have a chance of winning. Or maybe they’d say that this is a two horse race and Pinnochio might win by a nose because the other one is a nag that is aerodynamically deficient. But this isn’t really about which horse is uglier, slimier, or sleeping with the most corporate and religious pigs. No, not at all, this is about the nature of protest and why getting to the point matters, even though it will usually be misinterpreted. So now that I’ve got your attention, and expressed that I guess I hate all politicians equally and am a sentimental fool for practical jokes at their expense, I will get to the bloody point. Maybe.
No matter who you talk to about what happened on 27th January, 2012- you’re going to hear a lie. The protestors will tell you that it was peaceful. The police will say that it was violent. The mainstream media will say that it was a riot and the black fellas don’t want reconciliation and they’re all terrible because one of the guys organising it was disbarred from the legal fraternity and that obviously means the intervention is good and there is no legal basis for land rights but we won’t say that part because it takes about 2 minutes to google Mabo to know that’s not true but shhh black fellas are criminals. The pro Indigenous rights media will copy a press release from the first person from the protest group to give them one because being pro Indigenous is the right thing to do and when you’re too caught up in the politics of the situation you can’t have your own opinion because it might be offensive or worse still make you look like a capitalist. The anti Indigenous rights media will make petitions about how the Tent Embassy should finally be dismantled because it’s an eyesore and they’re whingers and things are better now and how are we supposed to make money on our uranium futures if we don’t support the mining industry. The commentators will say “as usual, the media is racist” and “no they’re not because they took down the occupy tents a lot more quickly” and then people will say “aborigines get special treatment” or “but nothing has really changed in 40 years” or “things are so much better now” and basically round and round and round the sink hole until the waters of debate empty into the political gutter and people move onto the next shiny thing. Maybe once in a while someone will point out the (in hindsight) obvious facts of the situation but these will be discounted if not outright ignored because we can’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.
I’ve done more than allude to the hypocrisies, lies and motivations here and maybe I should go a step further by pretending to know what ‘the Indigenous perspective is’. Well, I don’t know, so I’ll admit it’s a pretense, and that it’s my perspective of what I think someone else’s perspective is in a form of gross generalisation. But I think the protest and the nature of the Tent Embassy itself expresses a grass roots but not necessarily universal perspective about the social status of Indigenous Australian peoples and cultures in the last 240 years or so. Myth versus reality.
26th January 1788 was a day when some good-natured tighty whitey from England plonked his scurvy riddled arse on Botany Bay after making an epic journey to discover a land that the people living there didn’t know existed. He made friends with these noble savages so that England could get rid of unenterprising serfs to build what would become an egalitarian society based on the benevolent mercantilism of Judeo-Christian larrikins extending a warm hand of friendship to the peoples of other countries who wish to baske in the glorious warmth of our bright sunlight and amazing culture. Unlike the arrogant yanks and elitist poms, who we revere but do not emulate, as marked by our tendency to affectionately call them bastards, we’re kind to our poor and injured, do not comment on the deviations of the unemployed, disabled or sexually variant, and are quite open to the ideas and questions raised by protest movements which are welcomed and encouraged by authorities, and reported fairly and honestly by a free press that is not monopolised by any party, be it private or public. Subsequently, although it took some time to have the legal facility to include Indigenous Australians on the census, we’ve gotten past all that and it’s about time we thanked Captain Cook, Governor Macquarie and King George for the great service done to the world by making this land the home of the many, not just because convicts are far better off now, but because those noble savages can use all kinds of technology that they wouldn’t have invented if they were left to their own devices for a little while longer, and even if they did already, it matters not because White makes Might which makes Right.
Captain Cook was the Englishman in charge of the military mission to explore (and in 1770, find) the southern oceans for what Europeans (or citizens of Christendom) called Terra Australis Incognita, which had been visited briefly by the Dutch years earlier, and inhabited by people speaking variants of 150 language groups for 50,000 years. The Western Europeans at this time were involved in an expansionist military phase of post-feudal, late-mercantilist proto-capitalism, developing what would later become economic globalisation, beauracracy and the corporate state. Other lands held by other peoples were seen in light of the natural resources these could provide to assist in the economic requirements of the social order in Europe, in particular, the acquisition of precious metals and free labor in the form of slavery (‘justified’ through beliefs associated with the appearance of the slave compared to that of the slave owner and various archaic phrases from The Bible). At the time of first visiting Australia in 1770, the British crown and parliament could not see metals or labor as the valued acquisition. Rather, the pressing need of dumping their poor, hungry and rebellious on other far away ground (instead of revising the social order so that poverty, hunger and rebellion would not occur) was seen as the utility of Terra Australis. No consideration for the locals who lived there was required because they looked different enough to be treated with scorn (being considered animals rather than people) and acted differently enough to be in their view ‘lawless’ and so the misinterpretation of Locke’s treatise on Civil Government was used to justify the concept Terra Nullius, which, to their view, meant that no one owned or occupied the land. Thus on 26th January 1788 ‘the first fleet’ of convicts transported by the English military (redcoats) landed at Botany Bay and put down their first colony and prisons. For the most part of the next century, the convicts were slaves that were brutalised by the military (and later, economic) elite which prevented them from holding weapons or land, and also killed many Indigenous folk (often for sport) whilst engaging in further expansionist activities into the interior. As time passed, Indigenous folk captured by the elites for greed, and sometimes by ‘free settlers’ of non-elite backgrounds who felt some kind of ‘moral’ imperative, were sent to gulags called Missions where they were stolen from their parents, indoctrinated with the Christian religion, often prevented from speaking the language of their homeland, had the black beaten and bred out of them, and then sent to stations and administrative buildings as slaves to serve their white masters. This was apparently in their best interests because this particular variety of ‘fauna’ could learn ‘human’ ways of doing things, even if they were a bit ‘slow’ about it. Thankfully, even though it wasn’t exactly for the most egalitarian of reasons, a referendum in 1967 was held which not only removed these people from the legal status of ‘fauna’ to the legal status of ‘human’ but gave them the right to vote. Nonetheless, children were officially stolen in a policy that lasted for another 11 years, the constitution allows racist laws, and even though the Tent Embassy was born on 27th January 1972, and Terra Nullius was legally revoked with the Mabo ruling in 1993, the apology didn’t happen until 2008 and even then we still have the mining/military loving Northern Territory ‘Intervention’ which is set to go full throttle into mach two as these words leak into digital print. Meanwhile, people still don’t get why Indigenous Australians are often fucking pissed off and burn the flag outside parliament house, and why people from the Reconcilliation council are saying that this part of our history needs to be taught in schools. You do the maths. It’s pretty obvious.
My experience of Invasion Day in 2012
Because I’m an Okka homebody that is on the poor end of the economic spectrum, my Invasion Day consisted of beer and chips. I am pleased to note that the only ‘Australian’ flag I saw was on the way to the bottle-o, and it was in the gutter and looked like it had just escaped being under a parked car. My companion pointed it out and with a grin exclaimed ‘I love Australian nationalism’. In short, that at least in my part of town, we don’t give a flying fuck about nationalism or ‘Australia Day’. From where I’m sitting, most of my ancestors came here because they were being screwed over by rich people in England, Wales and Ireland after moving there because some of them were screwed over in France (Hugenots), and the new Aussies were screwed over some more by more rich people after they got here, and I’ve been likewise screwed over, so as far as I’m concerned, the corporate state Australia is a privately owned prison and my tiny little flattette is my cell. If there is any identity I’d have it’s associated with the fact that this country (and by that I mean land) is my home and it’s what I know, and the only mob that lived here when it wasn’t a penal colony were ‘the black fellas’ so I’d rather associate with the idea that this is Aboriginal country than ‘Australia; an asset of one share held by the Queen of England’ and keep the public holiday because it’s usually a day off work and if it’s not, well, if your boss feels like obeying the law you might get penalty rates. Thus, my assessment of the reality of the situation is positively skewed towards Indigenous land rights. After all, their ancestors didn’t give it away, so it’s effectively stolen property, and it’s not like I even own a piece of it now, thus it might as well be held by the people who would have inherited it otherwise. At least those people (usually) know what it’s like to be screwed over and oppressed, so it’s my hope that they won’t screw me over or oppress me too. It remains just a hope but it’s better than nothing and quite frankly at this point, anything would be better than banks.
Speaking of Banks, and other forms of Occupation…
We do a little loop back to the Occupy Movement and the general internationally shared sentiment that Banks are Bad and Changing the Status Quo is Good. I can’t emphasise enough how biased I am against banks. I have personally suffered at their disproportionate rights being enforced by government departments and the legal fraternity at the expense of tenants to the benefit of fraudulent real estate agents. I could go on a huge rant about the specifics of my case, but let’s just say that any doubts I had about our society being unequal, authoritarian and corrupt were thrown out the window after experiencing what I have experienced. And that is a very important point to make.
The moment I realised that Occupy has a lot to do with Banks are Bad was the moment it won my support and admiration. It’s about time, frankly. About fucking time. Banks were part of the reasons behind the military expansion for precious metals in the era I wrote about earlier paragraphs; and still are. Banks are behind lots of things. They’re not simply vaults with money that administer the flow of said money to facilitate our economy. Even this role, ostensibly necessary and benevolent, can and does have malevolent impacts. For example, the simple act of determining what money may be lent and to whom. The bank wants their money returned so they will only lend when money can be returned at the rate they deem appropriate; and because they’re responsible for all the lending (including to governments) this sets the tone in the economy about what is profitable and therefore what is worth lending money for. The result of this is that non profitable but socially and environmentally beneficial activities are less likely to be funded than profitable, less beneficial activities. Governments likewise don’t fund social programs that are not going to improve future ROIs - that is, how much tax they can get. We don’t like ‘money going down the gurgler’ so the objective of social programs is less about the welfare and long term capacity of the individual citizen to live well and therefore contribute meaningfully to society, and more about moving ‘difficult’ citizens as quickly and arbitararily from one column to the next so things look good on paper.
Short prison terms for criminals and long ones for refugees (rather than preventing crime and not bombing other countries), redefining employment so that it includes Work for the Dole, part time, casual and temporary work, privatising health care and education, shrouding social and environmental concepts into the jargonese of ‘consumer’ and ‘economy’ and stating that some northern territory communities are ‘not viable’ so they ‘can’t build houses there unless they lease the land to mining companies’ is the language of monetary imperialism. Our empire is fiscal and the robber barons are banks. If you’re a socialist, you’re going to say that this is true but if we make the economy non-profit centred the negative impact of banking will be neutralised; however, you’ll be dead wrong. Monopolisation by any person, corporation/organisation or industry over any resource or utility that is central to the functioning of a culture is ultimately going to have negative consequences for the people in that culture. Now, that’s not an argument for communism either, because to arrange the ostensibly shared ownership of those resources and utilities in large populations we think in terms of organisational capacity to control and that is just another monopoly of the resource.
So what do we do? Capitalism has failed us. Socialism is window dressing. Communism is window dressing on a larger scale. Banking exists in all those forms and is the normative part of the fiscal monopoly so we need to start asking questions about banks. Why have any one control the money at all? Why bank? Why do I need to walk into a bank and ask for money to buy a house? Why can’t I just walk into a unoccupied building, fix the hole in the roof, and make it my home? Why can’t I just pitch a tent where ever the mood takes me, when it’s not hurting anyone at all? Why can’t I come to an agreement with my landlord which says ‘fuck this, the real estate agent takes most of the rent in commissions and the bank takes the rest, how about I just pay you in kind, maybe I can make you a painting for this months rent, and then the month after that, I’ll fix the roof myself’? Why can’t I be considered employed because I am using my knowledge to express ideas freely to my fellow persons through technology and art? Why is it not considered a social service to be a protestor who makes a valid point that effects the society as whole? Why is not considered a form of science when a person asks ‘I wonder what will happen when I smoke this variety of weed. Will my emotional and imaginative experience of it be similar to that of others’ and then smokes that weed, makes notes, and shares these on the internet? Is that not a research question, hypothesis, testable method, with results?
Money. Money. Money. Money.
The bank and tax department doesn’t benefit when we use barter. The bank and tax department doesn’t benefit when we have conversations unfettered by the exchange of payment. The bank and tax department doesn’t benefit when we go out in the streets and challenge their very existence. No, and they don’t benefit when a person smokes a drug currently listed on the black market to do an experiment that does not result in an invention or technology that can be patented and therefore economically exploited. Indeed, scientists are also up in arms about the current state of affairs because the publishing industry double dips and in doing so limits public access to research which is bad for science and the community at large. But even though the debate of science is much more likely to be fruitful if accessible to all persons knowledgeable in the topic of interest (and not just those with enough money to pay for subscription fees) it’s not the profitable component unless the middle man gets his cut deposited into the corporate bank account with some of the proceeds making their way to the tax department (although often loopholes may be found) and only the academies patenting things that can be bought and sold are able to afford that. It’s all about MONEY.
Which is of course what the Indigenous land rights issue is about too. Racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination have been used as excuses for what essentially amounts to the profit motive and concerns about the security of property and wealth (and therefore power). I know, I never thought I’d put the marxist critique above the feminist one, either. Racism and sexism obviously have other components but it’s difficult to deny that the mythology that these are based on have their roots in the economic realities of the day. For example, the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. If it contains any historical fact (and this is dubious but it is still worth a look for clues) it’s that there was a time when a group of people who lived in a harsh climate surrounded by economic and political elites that suppressed their cultures with military forces responded by turning to traditions that whilst being oppressive to women and gays set clear boundaries for social roles and enabled the empowerment of the collective via increasing populations. ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ is the basis of ‘women being in the home’; ‘gays being bad’ and ‘baptise your kids so they don’t go to hell’. More members means more support which means more power. In time, the money follows too, and….history writes itself.
The power of the individual is thus historically limited to rare acts of broad social change by an often ‘crazy’ mind supported by a junta of followers that usually came later and if not, were as ‘crazy’ as the founder and/or did all their dirty work while the individual took the credit. No Marx without Hegel and Engels, no Stalin without Lenin and no Hitler without Hess. Likewise, if Jesus was real, there was no Jesus without the Apostles and in our current times, there is no contemporary Indigenous rights movement without Mabo or should I say, vice versa. The Occupy Movement similiary was ‘inspired’ by the Arab Spring which was inspired by that young Tunisian man that self immolated. But he too, was nothing without the people of Tunisia.
Even our ‘enemies’ and the ‘enemies’ of ‘progress’ fall into this pattern. Banks wouldn’t operate without money and people exchanging it. Governments would be powerless if we ignored them - ceased voting, ceased funding them and empowered ourselves on the local level. We are collaborators to these entities and we continue to collaborate when we belittle the people who question the motives and deeds of those entities with more than just a harsh comment over a beer.
Yet if people marched to the banks and summed up this very long point that ‘Capitalism is bad, Banks are running the show, and we’re all fucked because of it’ people call them rent-a-crowds, Stalinists, and troublemakers who need to get a job. If the police decided to say, strip a female protestor of her tent and leave her slumped naked in the park, the discussion would degenerate into about how she ought to have obeyed the request of police rather than asking why the hell she can’t wear a tent, let alone why it’s ‘okay’ for any person to be publicly stripped and humiliated in the first place. Similarly with the protest on 27th January commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Tent Embassy, the mainstream media would rather talk about the curriculum vitae of a shoe barer rather than the broader issue of why the Tent Embassy is there.
The system at large does not enjoy getting to the point. It does not like it when people speak plainly and directly about the issues of the day. It does not like it when the story is clear and the line is marked in the sand. It does not like it when we understand our place in the social world, and are publicly agitated enough to act on this understanding. It does not like it because when we know that going through the usual routes are long winded, inaccessible and ultimately, ineffective, that the logical outcome is to take a direct but not always pretty approach. That approach boils down to pointing the fingers at the powerful who control the so called ‘other options’ rather than at other people who are similarly oppressed. When we destroy the symbols of oppression, or build edifices and art that directly challenges the mythology that serves to encourage our collaboration with that oppression, we are challenging the very nature of power itself. That nature is subjective; it’s about you, it’s about me, being blinded by the very idea that power is external and that it’s externalisation is needed. And we are blinded subjectively also; by our own circumstances, by our personal stories of oppression and even the experience that our relative deprivation is less than others somehow makes oppression imaginary. It is only when we take a step back and hear the stories of others, as well as when we run headlong into the life altering nature of the power struggle itself that we can develop the personal level of the experience that makes the struggle real; and in doing so, the limits of theory are tested by that reality, and a greater understanding is possible.
So getting to the point, you need to walk in another person’s shoes to understand their motives on a deeper level; but you can learn by walking in shoes more generally; and it is insufficient to learn about shoes and walking from a book. Yet if someone says to you ‘I walk in shoes’ and you don’t understand that those shoes are full of holes, that they’re the only pair of shoes they’ve ever owned, that inheriting a pair of shoes with holes means that they can’t simply walk into a job and buy another pair of shoes, and that this means they’re on a spiral of sores and bruises that over time makes the act of walking increasingly difficult and later disabling; as pointed as it is you’re probably not going to understand their sentiment at all.
You can ask them for more information, but don’t be surprised if it turns into a rambling rant that is full of emotion that you interpret as biased and delusional. You can then say to the person ‘too much information’ or ‘get to the point’ but you’ll have stepped in another hole because they might think that you’re being rude or on the other hand actually understand their perspective when clearly, you don’t. If they’re offended they may rely on some crutch about being discriminated against and no one understanding why their shoes are full of holes. If they think you understand they may try and recruit you to their cause, and of course, they will be desperate for the help, so don’t be surprised if you feel them pushing you into buying into whatever scheme it is they’ve got going. So what do you do? Ignore it? Is it not the case that your previous concept of walking in shoes may not be universal and in need of revision? There may be a deeper truth that both of you can get closer to by sharing your stories without judgement. Perhaps it is the case that you know a shoe repairer and they have a skill the shoe repairer is seeking, meaning you could facilitate an exchange that resolves the issue as well.
But how is getting to the point, or for that matter, expressing the life story of the shoes and the walker, going to achieve that? Is it not the case that you could simply ask the shoe wearer about if they would like to repair the shoes and what skills they can share in exchange? What about lending your shoes to them for a day, and wearing their shoes for that day? Does anything need to be discussed at all?
Or maybe getting to the point isn’t even the point. Maybe it’s about the journey and not the destination. Maybe, like science and philosophy and religion, it’s really about the act of attempting to understand reality, rather than generating facts and ideas about reality. We don’t have to make technology or new belief systems or even save peoples souls from perdition (or whatever else). We simply need to think about it, explore it, see what’s out there. I sense that this is what is lacking; and that this what is behind many social trends. We are unfulfilled by living in our little boxes and having the same friends and same jobs and seeing the same things all the time. So we plan big holidays to far away places and talk on the internet to people overseas. We take drugs and watch movies so we can pretend we’re someone else living somewhere else. We are guided by adventure even as we sit in tiny little flattettes ranting on a blog.
Maybe Star Trek was correct. Maybe the human race are explorers. That describes most of our pursuits. Maybe we will get past the Ferengi era and ditch the money in favour of sharing each others shoes and spending our time on self enhancement instead. Maybe if we all find ease in good health and peace, we’d spend less energy on bandaids to problems that don’t need to be there in the first place. Maybe this is all a bit like Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs where survival is the prime objective and when this is attained only then more creative pursuits can follow. Maybe our creative pursuits are slowed down by our struggles with the prime objective rather than necessity being the mother of all invention.
Maybe the point is simple.
Money is the root of all evil.
Would you have misinterpreted this point if I did not rant?