It would be a mistake to treat these echoes of the past as a sign that the pendulum has swung back. In cyberworld, there is no pendulum. It is supplanted by the spiral, where events never return to the starting point and remain specific to our time. Today we have the indefinite detention of children, the deportation of asylum seekers to places of danger, the instilling of fear in the public service, a ho-hum attitude to global warming, a dim witted approach to new media, and much else besides.
Its toxic culture of leadership. The ethics and values exhibited by those running the country are at odds with the standards expected of business. This dysfunction at the heart of our system, will have dramatic repercussions.
Lies are addictive and corrosive of public trust. John Howard began his term with a specious distinction between core promises and acceptable whoppers, and moved onto the gothic imagery of children hurled into the ocean by parents, not the kind we want in Australia. Later, when our special forces were performing murky tasks in Iraq, the Prime Minister was still assuring the nation he had not yet committed us to war. If a mining magnate fibs to inflate his stock theres gold in them there hills he faces jail. Why should the leader of a country be less accountable?
Murder. During the invasion of Iraq and its subsequent occupation, soldiers openly admitted to shooting anything that moved, including children, ambulances, journalists, each other. Our Government has not condemned the fad of targeted assassinations, which often miss their target. The famous phrase of the US Commander, General Tommy Franks, we dont do body counts is a value statement: what doesnt get counted doesnt matter.
Embracing the Matrix. The junking of the principle, innocent until proved guilty has been stimulated by the pace of innovation. Iraq and Afghanistan are blanketed with cluster bombs, which go on killing children long after the troops have been welcomed home with parades. At the buzz of a suspect cell phone, an robotic plane launches a missile, never mind the babies.
In the corporate world, the merging of flesh and tech is also gathering pace. Its as if Dr Frankenstein is about to marry his own monster only its not a monster after all, apparently, but a kind of saviour, a way for us to enlarge human capacities - repair our organs, extend our age, cure blindness, raise IQs, eliminate disease.
It goes without saying that the war against terror is also a war against the environment. While corporations have finally started paying attention to nature, Canberra is in full retreat, having spurned Kyoto. In June, the White House removed negative references to toxic emissions and climate disruption from its latest assessment of the environment and replaced it with research funded by the American Petroleum Institute, which disputes global warming. When the US entrepreneur and activist, Paul Hawken, was asked by a business group in Melbourne to make the case for sustainable development, he turned the tables. I asked them what the business case is for endemic poverty, for double glazing the planet with greenhouse gases
for creating an economic system that tells us its cheaper to destroy the earth than take care of it. Hawken believes todays economic priorities are hostile to deeply held values and common sense.
As I watch fellow Australians at peak hour, surging towards their CBD towers, I sometimes wonder if theres a cloud of doubt at the edge of their awareness, a sensation that something is amiss? Like the feeling you get at a resort hotel in the third world, where beyond the vista of pina coladas & turquoise swimming pools, beyond the security fences, you catch a glimpse of raggedy kids scavenging the dump. Ive earned this holiday, you say to yourself, turning back to the crab races and karaoke. And yet you hate this holiday. Something is wrong. The staff are competing for acting-happy Oscars.
It is not capitalism which is the problem, so much as what happens to the capital. Is it just me, or do some of you also find something feudal about the elevation of the few on the backs the many, whether inside corporations or in the fuzzy details of trade arrangements? In 1960, according to the UN Development Program, the income gap between the richest 20% of the worlds population and the poorest 20% of the worlds population was 30 to 1. Thirty years later, was 60 to 1. These days, it is about 75 to 1. No amount of triple bottom accountancy profit, people, planet can alter these chilling maths. To hold business and government to account for this state of suffering is not to be anti-corporate, but to realise we need to connect with this dispossessed other in ways beyond charity and sympathy. The horror of 9/11 should have led to illumination in this regard, instead of further swelling the coffers of Western arms manufacturers, whose shareholders have humbered senior members of the US administration, from Donald Rumsfeld down.
A few bracing facts:
- Most third world poverty stems from the unfair rules of trade imposed by institutions and banks controlled by the major powers. In almost every case, the involvement of the World Bank and the IMF make matters worse. The debt payments of Sierra Leone, for instance, consumes almost 90 per cent of government revenues.
- Nations which most rigidly adhere to the strictures of the World Band and the IMF, are the ones which suffer worst.
- Between 1980 and 1996, the nations of Sub Saharan Africa paid twice the sum of their total debt in the form of interest, but they still owed three times more in 1996 than they did in 1980.
- As demonstrated in the documentary, Life and Debt, which focuses on Jamaica, the conditionalities imposed by the two institutions call for the slashing of spending on public services, the sacking of workers and the sale of public. assets, even the elimination of local crop variety and the destruction of communities. According to George Montbiot, these bodies are indirectly responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths.
- Neither the World Bank nor the IMF can ever be reformed, as all major decisions require an 85 per cent majority. The US possesses around 18 per cent of the votes in each organization, enabling it to veto any proposal, even when supported by all other members. Perhaps the attack on the World Trade Centre needs to be seen in this context.
ESCAPE FROM THE MATRIX
Over the past 10 years, a quarter of Australians aged 30-59 have chucked a non stop job for a small town bungalow a step ahead of a developers and a heart attack. Its a search for a Sea Change, which has more to do with a state of mind than an ocean view, based on the precept of Slow Down or Die. This break-away mentality seems to be insinuating into the Australian heartland: yoga kits on the shelves of K-mart, the feng shui gardens of suburbia, reiki in the stroke ward. Its the biting satire of South Park, the tragi-comedy of Bowling at Columbine. Its why Bob Brown wins standing ovations and Simon Crean doesnt. Its not about being left wing or right wing, so much as putting self fulfilment before self promotion, health before wealth, moonlight swimming before all night shopping
. and about cultivating wellbeing before modelling your life on Rene Rivkin. Its trying to connect the dots, linking the mind, the body, thoughts, emotions, lifestyle, fast food, workaholia, wellbeing, heart attacks, violence, lies, poverty and terrorism.
On the eve of the Iraq war, bigger and bolder assertions of American power were welcomed be defense analyst Hugh White, who argued Australia had much to gain by bombing Baghdad. White revealed his yearnings for a tautological universe in which American values . . . are even more strongly valued . . . than they are today. Thats a flunkeys view of Australias role in shaping the global future.
Back in the fifties when I was a boarder at stuffy prep school, my best friends big brother was the school bully. In some ways he wasnt such a bad bloke funny & smart - aside from his penchant for clipping car battery leads to the extremities of boys younger than him. The bully had a few suck-ups, with whom he shared extorted lollies. After a couple of miserable terms, a few of us ambushed the bully and gave him whats what. He sobbed, abdicated power, shook our hands and the playground became a better place, even for him. America has lots of lovely qualities, and the desire to dominate this century isnt one of them. For its own protection, Australia has aligned itself with the bully, ignoring issues of justice, law and morality. Our protector plays fast and loose with human rights, lies like mad, shuns international agreements and demands the biggest helpings of lollies. To all of this, we turn a blind eye. A country which creates the likes of Camp X-ray can never be trusted.
Americas military machine stretches thousands of miles from the Balkans to the Chinese border, taking in the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East, the Indian sub continent, four planned bases in Iraq and rumours of more in Australia. As the Guardian puts it: America girds the globe with a ring of steel. While this may allow them to sleep easier in Canberra, less comatose souls are beating the drums of dissent.
The disparate groups who have set their sights on building a fairer future have realised that achieving this goal can no longer separated from Americas declared intention to dominate the world. The broad critique formerly directed at the tangle of predatory corporations, bossy governments and secretive global institutions, is transforming into a laser beam focus on American swagger, be it military, cultural or economic. In January, around 100,000 activists from the corners of the earth packed the streets of Porto Alegre, Brazil, for the opening ceremony of the World Social Forum. This regular, fast growing event is dedicated to the proposition that another world is possible and that the current one is impossible. We are not an organization, assures the website, not a united front platform, but an open meeting place for reflective thinking and democratic debate. The next World Social Forum is to be staged in Mumbai, India, to coincide, as usual, with its dark mirror image, the World Economic Forum in Davis, Switzerland. No special interest or single ideology is served by the World Social Forum, nor is it owned an institution, or sponsored by the media. Everyone is invited.
Perhaps it will turn out, as others have suggested, that there is no longer one superpower, but two: the United States and the merging, surging, voice of the worlds people who are deepening their connections of spirit, body and mind. In the long run, a ring of steel will be no match for a shift of consciousness. Ends.