I’m just a nomad writer. I don’t pretend to be an expert. I observe events through the social media lens same as everyone else. But I have been around. And I’ve seen stuff that makes me question the world. Here are some of my questions: What do you rate as valuable in our society? Is it human life? Community? Progress? Profit?
Or arms deals?
Anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture.
Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal. A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts. We are at our best when we serve others. Be civilized.
— Ira Byock, The Best Care Possible: A Physician’s Quest to Transform Care Through the End of Life (Avery, 2012)quoted in; https://medium.com/@ismailalimanik/the-first-sign-of-civilization-95bc3f44f956
When I was in Canterbury for Christmas in 2017, I passed people wrapped in rubbish bags as I went to the Cathedral for the carol service. This was the heart of the Church of England in winter and homeless people watched the worshippers off to worship, and on the other side of the town, queues forming for the crazy-fun panto just around the corner. How is this civilised?
When I was in Hamburg in 2018, the tour guide told us this was the richest city in Europe, the place with the most billionaires, a city based on trade and bristling with container cranes. And I saw homeless people, even one poor women in a wheelchair, hunkered down in a doorway against the autumn chill. Why wouldn’t the richest city in Europe be able to house everyone?
When I left Melbourne in 2016, homeless people were in evidence, not just the tent cities in secluded nooks of the River Yarra, but in plain view on the main street, nesting in cardboard, pups for warmth, while smartly dressed business-people stalked past barking into their mobile phones.
When I travelled through China in 2019 I heard that President Xi wanted everyone housed by the end of 2020 and certainly everywhere I went, from Beijing, to Ningbo and down to Pingtan, there was extensive building of high-rise apartment blocks. It may not be idyllic, but it is housing.
When I caught the Trans-Mongolian across into China in 2019 I could see solar panels climbing the hillsides.
I could see trees, hundreds upon hundreds of young trees, including fruit and nuts species, being planted to absorb carbon.
It’s no longer permitted to burn coal in Beijing and new rules designed to minimise traffic pollution are coming into effect. Many old buildings sported solar hot water systems. I did not see anyone begging in the street. Not one person in five days walking around Beijing. Try that in the richest city in Europe. Try that in Melbourne.
The Beijing inner-city metro was fast, clean and, I was surprised to see, covered in new-fangled video advertising. As I walked around Beijing I noted crowds, of course, but also saw fancy shops and noted supermarkets filled with every conceivable thing a person could want.
When I left Beijing I travelled by fast train. It was just like being on an airplane except you could buy a whole Peking duck in a red bag and make a cup of tea if you wished. Then I caught a container ship. Into the shipping lanes …
When I came back to Melbourne to roost throughout the lockdown, I read that Australia’s Prime Minister plans to spend $270 billions of dollars to protect the United Australian States with military might.
This is old-fashioned sabre rattling. There’s no secrecy in the announcement which of course begs the question, what are they doing behind closed doors? Everyone, including China, must understand Australia wants to stand behind the USA, the big power in the Pacific. (I note the cyber-defense program is necessarily newer thinking. It does not necessarily name and blame one particular nation’s spying. Any nation can pay trolls and hackers to create division and disinformation. And several obviously are.)
However, I struggle to understand why Australia needs long-range missiles. What exactly is this backward thinking show of force supposed to achieve? Apparently, Mr Morrison is buying the big shiny toys from the USA. If Australia is worried China is going to become a threat, they just have to call on the US, the nation with the most military bases, some very close to China and, most importantly to Australia, China’s shipping routes. Surely Australia needs those routes open. Or, think about this, is this a double bluff?
In fact, the US has China squashed up against the fence. Check out a few of the 800 US military bases around the world. And, why would Australia want to sail a little close to one contested Chinese base?
The world sees the Chinese system as authoritarian. Watch John Oliver explain the history of Uighur re-eduation camps. It’s well-known China has a severe system of punishment for people stepping out of line but, wait, doesn’t every other country in the world?
From what I saw, people in China are free enough to lay their hands on pretty well whatever they want, Gucci handbags, nespresso machines or iphones, anything the capitalist system can bubble up, without causing trouble. As for surveillance, everyone uses smart phones to make even the smallest purchase; the use of a locker at an art gallery, some toilet paper in a big public toilet so every transaction is easily traced. If China is controlling their citizens by their credit and banking systems, what happens when an Aussie can’t pay their mortgage? Consider how American citizens are controlled by their credit cards? Banking rules every modern citizen no matter where they are.
I’ve spoken in English conversation classes to many Chinese students, and the main difference they notice between the two countries, why they like to be in Australia, is the space.
And, Australia has, obviously, space: seven states and territories worth.
Under those neatly drawn lines there are, in fact, over 300 First Nations, their borders, people, and languages, wiped out mercilessly by white colonial rule. What reparation for those indigenous people? The longest known civilisation in the world? Unbelievably, Rio Tinto can blow up sacred sites with impunity. Can you imagine the horror if a mining company blew up the Maltravieso cave in Cáceres, Spain? Stonehenge in England? The Canterbury Cathedral?
I only visited the American United States once, way back in 1992, but I was completely astounded by the obvious homeless on the streets. It’s common knowledge the USA has more prisons per captia than any other nation on the earth (that includes China!) Watch ’13th’ for free on You Tube.
The infamous US Guantanamo Bay prison, and Australia’s own expensive detention centres, like the now-closed Manus Island, or more bizarrely, Christmas Island where one family is trapped, exist in the so called ‘free’ world, the world of capitalism, of so-called democracy. People in prison have no idea how long they will be incarcerated or when they will see their families again. Where is hope?
The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody made 300 recommendations, few of which have been accepted. Aboriginal people are the most incarcerated people on earth. Since that Royal Commission in 1991 there have been 437 Aboriginal deaths in custody.
The USA is now boiling up with fresh understanding of the unimaginable damage that hundreds of years of slavery has done to a great number of people. Donald Trump began his Law and Order campaign by beating back peaceful protests with unmarked mercenaries in Portland, Oregon and Chicago and plans to further extend his personal army.
How can anything China has done be held to be any worse than the dreadful colonial system from 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue in search of silks, spices and gunpowder from China? And brought back slaves.
Wherever they’re from, humans have been responsible for murder, blood and gold, and slavery, for as long as there’s been humans. I’m not saying these wrongs shouldn’t be addressed. I am saying they’re probably not going to be fixed with long range missiles aimed by Australian politicians.
The meaning of ‘capital’ in China, in the cities of Shanghai, Chongqing and Tianjin, is just the same as that of any city in ‘free’ Australia, the UK or the USA. Australia has a tight trade relationship with China. Australia want to be free to make their own decisions, don’t they?
What, then, makes Australian politicians rattle sabres? Or are they just supporting arms manufacturers? Watch ‘The Coming War with China‘ for more details. If China wants to invade Australia they could just buy it. Buy it or bomb it, they still can’t take it home, can they?
Generally, when people land bombs and missiles, the ones on the smashed grounds have to move on. I don’t think we need to see more refugees in the world. Where would they go? Where would we go?
Is there an alternative for that 270 billion dollars?
Why, I’m glad you asked!
One of the most amazing experiences, as I travelled from the UK to the Antipodes overland and sea, was the pitiful train and bus trip from Sydney to Melbourne. It was broken.
If there was one single thing the current government could do, to stimulate the Australian economy right now in the face of an uncertain pandemic, to improve the Aussie way of life, to lower carbon emissions into the future, it would be to take that same iron ore, that same $270 billion dollars, currently ear-marked to cause harm and death, and update the pathetic rail system, both passenger and freight, around Australia.
That might begin to raise Australia to the level of China, Japan and India in terms of growth. Here’s an article listing the top ten fastest trains in the world. Australia isn’t on it. I have no doubt, Australia is among the weakest developing nation in terms of transport. This project would stimulate the economy in a way that arms dealing will most certainly not.
Another interesting thing I learned on my ocean voyage on the container ships was that those containers going back to Asia are mainly empty. Australia and NZ pop in a bit of dead lamb, some butter and wine to offer the supermarkets in Beijing. NZ has some trees stacked up on the wharves. Australia litters the sea with coal and bits of raw metal and sells some grains for Chinese breakfasts. The containers returning in the never ending game of shipping ping pong from China and Taiwan are stuffed with everything you can imagine ordering: phones, computers and washing machines, yachts, plastic buckets and PPE. And we do order them, don’t we? Can you imagine what Australia and NZ would do if the shipping routes to Asia were stopped by the USA?
What does Australia and NZ manufacture? What are they trading? Can anyone in Australasia even make surgical grade face masks? WHY NOT?
Surely both countries have a duty to develop manufacturing! Which are the developed countries?
Instead of trying to beat China at some military game they can never hope to win, and turning the country into a target in the process, Australia needs to get on with looking after their own citizens. It’s time for a treaty. It’s time to look after human beings in need. It’s time to stop sending high-carbon-emitting ships back to Asia near EMPTY. Indeed, it’s possible those shipping lanes will soon be defunct anyway as Australian ports aren’t big enough to handle new, cleaner container ships.
Dear Mr Morrison. Forget arms dealing. Concentrate on your own backyard. After a pandemic we need an Englightenment. We need new ideas. We need innovation.
“You always get innovation out of crisis and I hope that’s the spirit that will imbue New Zealanders. It’s not going to be the way it was – let’s stop even thinking it could be, it can’t so what’s the next set of ideas to take us forward?”Helen Clarke, former NZ Prime Minister
Where are the renewable energy designers? Where are the plans for fast trains to interlock the major cities? Embrace new ideas!
Look after all your citizens as well as the Chinese are looking after theirs. When you have no homelessness, no poverty and a strongly beating dignified Aboriginal heart, perhaps then you can play with your rattly, rusty, old-fashioned sabres. Or perhaps you might choose to value peace?
Be civilised, Australia.
In the human race, it was never the survival of the fittest. It’s survival of the nurtured.
“Those who are nurtured best, survive best.”