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The recent release of the latest Star Wars film invites us to consider more fully the continued success of this long-standing cultural imagination. Why, almost forty years after the release of the original Star Wars film, does this story continue to be so well received by human beings all over the world? And what does this latest release, in particular, reveal to us about ourselves at this stage of human and world development?
The latest film is entitled Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This follows on from A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. What we see now is that the ‘force’ itself has taken centre stage. The main theme of the film is reflected in the title, and this is not explicitly directed at one side of the battle or the other, nor at an event (see also The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith), but rather at the force itself, that it is awakening, and that it is awakening through human beings.
Here we begin to see, therefore, the beginning of a more substantial imaginative exploration of what the force actually is. Throughout the films this so-called force is respectively passed off as religious mumbo jumbo, or else it is feared (as in ‘the Dark Side’) or admired (as in the ‘Jedi Knights’). Generally, we see its central drama play itself out in the fortunes of one familial blood line.
And what of the characters who make up this unfolding mythology, and what do they tell us about ourselves? In the centre of the myth, we find the key characters of Luke, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3PO, Darth Vader, and several more teachers of either side of the force, including Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Emperor, the Supreme Leader, and Yoda. Importantly, some of these characters cross from one side of the divide to the other – from light to dark, and vice versa. Other characters also come and go as required. In the centre, though, we can see the growth and development of both Anakin and Luke Skywalker from youths – through an initiation training – into powerful leaders. Here we see the unfolding, growth and development of our own higher selves, which can be tempted either by the dark side (Anakin becomes Darth Vader) or to the light (Luke inherits no new name but becomes another Jedi Knight). In Han Solo we see the cautious, sceptical, whimsical, cynical, humorous, activities of our everyday selves, complete with relevant vices, such as smuggling, drinking, gambling, and the resulting debts that such activities accumulate (he becomes entangled in the tempting, self-indulgence offered by the Jabba the Hutt figure). In Leia we find something of our most feminine and worldly soul life, full of feeling (here is the romantic love relationship of the later episodes); in Chewbacca, the giantness of our own will power; in C-3PO the doubt and indecision of our thinking, unless it is brought more alive with the assistance of a more intuitive (courage or will-imbued) activity expressed in R2-D2. In the teachers of the film, we find those characters in ourselves that come before us or exist within the environment of our own soul life, for better or worse, leading – through selfishness and fear – to the creation of Darth Vader, or through selfishness and self-indulgence to the gluttony of Jabba the Hutt, or through selflessness and service to the Jedi activity of Obi-Wan or Yoda. These are all imaginative expressions of real forces – real characters – real beings – of our own soul life. As Rilke puts it, what is within surrounds us, and here it surrounds us on screens the world over.
As the Han Solo character puts it in the latest film, looking back, set some 30-odd years after the last instalment, “It’s true. All of it. The Dark Side. The Jedi. They’re real.” Meaning, not just that it was real and that it happened in the imagination of the films, but that it is an expression of real characters – real beings – within each of us. The film is popular because we see, lit up on the cinema screens of the earth, our own selves.
And what do we see in this latest film? – we see something in ourselves awakening. We see the force awakening. There is no real religion or mythos expressed within the films themselves other than that which is expressed in the concept of the force. It is expressed by Obi-Wan as a life force, as “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.” It can also be used, for both good or evil. Other than this, where it comes from, its history, its future, and so on, is not really touched upon. There is talk of prophesies of a Chosen One (whose powers will be discovered slightly later in his development, who will be trained in the ways of the force, who will bring much death and destruction, but) who will ultimately bring balance to the force. This is fulfilled in the tragedy of Darth Vader, and his redemption. In the latest film, a search is underway for Luke Skywalker who, it is believed, has returned to the first Jedi temple after one of his students turned to the Dark Side and destroyed the new class of Jedi he was training. That is, the higher self put itself in service of the force, and yet a student of this path, when confronted with the question of whether to put his skills in service of others or to keep this power for himself, chose the latter. And so exists the choice for all who walk a path of self development – at this juncture, one must choose to become either a black or white magician, or, in the language of Star Wars, a servant of the Dark Side or a Jedi Knight. The character (Kylo Ren) who chooses the former path in this latest instalment says his bedside prayers to the mangled mask of Darth Vader, whom he fears he will never be as powerful as. That is, he draws his strength from the countenance of a now mythical religious expression of that which can also inhabit his own dark nature, and so it may be for us. Some thirty years later, new characters are expressing the birth, for a new generation as well as for those who have seen the previous films, of our own highest selves and the choices that will be encountered – and here we find the central characters of the latest film Kylo Ren and Ray. Here they are not positioned as father and son, but exist more side by side. The battle for the self, and with it the world, is more close at hand. (In the character of Finn we see a soldier who awakens to the immorality of his actions, and rebels against the conformity of his vocation – who cannot identify, to a degree at least, with this?)
And, yet, what is really said or known of the force itself – this mysterious power? When Star Wars creator George Lucas was asked by Bill Moyers where the imaginations for his stories came from he replied, “Now that I don’t know – that’s a mystery.” In creating the films themselves, however, he answers, in part, something of this mystery question. In the myth of the films we see our own soul-life writ large. In the force, we discover all the spiritual strength that can stream through such soul-life and animate the higher selves of the central figures of the story. In a way, therefore, the content of the films themselves is already an expression of the force – in one sense, the force of the imagination. The soul life is already a non-physical reality, and is expressed, as mentioned, in the characters of the film. All that lives in the elemental, vital nature of the human being can be found in the various creatures that inhabit the sands (such as the Sand People), the forests (the Ewoks), the waters (the Gungans of Naboo [such as the Jar Jar Binks character]), and the air (flying creatures such as Watto, Anakin’s slave owner) – here we see expressed in imaginative form the characters – some of the beings, both good and wicked – that inhabit the elemental, vital, etheric substance of our own selves and the world around us.
But in the force itself we find a spiritual reality. While it inhabits the physical, the elemental, and the soul settings of the film and the human being, it can also be investigated and discerned within its own environment. In the film, there is no imagination for this other than the force itself. And in this film, it is an awakening power.
What is it that we then discover in the megaplexes of the world when we view a film such as The Force Awakens? We see the awakening of our own spiritual activity, and, now, our own capacity to investigate this phenomenon. No longer is it utilised as a purely unconscious element – i.e., it is not consciously known from where or what or who it springs – but it is, rather, beginning to awaken, to become part of a conscious process. At the end of Return of the Jedi we found the robed, deceased Jedi Knights of Yoda, Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker. In this scene we see the capacity of Luke to work with and be inspired by the dead as they manifest in the etheric or soul (and possibly spiritual) worlds. They are characters who work from these worlds, and help Luke along his path at various stages, particularly Obi-Wan. Luke is conscious of who they are, and allows himself to be inspired by these characters in higher worlds, in complete freedom. He is, in a way, a servant of them and what they stand for. Vader, on the other hand, serves only himself (or his evil master, the Emperor – whom he eventually turns on), and uses the force to do so. In a way, we could say, Luke puts himself in service of the force and certain characters he is aware of, such as his previous teachers, while Vader, or this new character Kylo Ren, use it to serve their own ends. (Kylo Ren expressly needs to fight against the ‘light’ which he feels emerging from time to time within him.)
The question we are left with, however, is who (in addition to the dead) are the characters of the force itself? If the force itself were to play itself out imaginatively on the big screen, what would we see? And what would it tell us about our own spiritual nature? This is the real question we are left with at the end of the Force Awakens, if we are prepared to acknowledge it. It may be a mystery, as it has been for Lucas, but it can begin to be explored further, now that the force is awakening in us, and as we are beginning to awaken in the force. This is an awakeness, in full day consciousness, and not a dreamy, half sleep. While we have been given the imaginations of the elemental, etheric world, and the soul life, as they have been given to Lucas in imaginative form, together with a bridge that can be built with and through a conscious working with the so-called dead, the question now is, ‘Can we, with full, wide awake consciousness – and with the whole human being – begin to explore the characters – the beings – the spiritual beings – who inhabit the force, who make the force possible, who, essentially, are the force?’
(And a warning here – a minor plot spoiler for the latest film is found in what follows; this is unavoidable if we are to continue the current line of exploration.)
It is no accident that the final scene of the film – where the young Ray – where the young Jedi-in-becoming – where our own emerging higher self must come to, and where Luke Skywalker already is – where he apparently waits patiently, is the same place. The older films and the new come together. The imagination of the higher self of the previous films, and that of this new awakening come together. There is a kind of nostalgia that is possible here in the encountering of an aged Skywalker (and indeed, the aged characters of the rest of the film), because we can see the way in which our own selves have grown older – not just our outer physical forms, but our inner lives. Thirty years since the release of the last film, and almost forty since the first, we measure where we have come to in our own soul development in this reflection of the same development in the characters on the screen in front of us. We remember. And we remember what we are here for. This new, younger character leads us to Skywalker and the others again. The younger generation, who may or may not have seen the previous films – and, if so, only recently – find in the Ray character the expression of their own highest becoming, and in so doing, ultimately, connect with that which is the same in the older generation. In this sense, we find here also an expression of a social deed – that in order to find one another, including across generations, it is the highest selves who must meet. And how do they do so? They make a space for one another. Ray comes bearing, and offering, Skywalker’s old light sabre – his sword of light. It is like a kind of reminder, as if to say, ‘Do you remember? Do you remember what you, the higher self in all of us, are destined to do – what you came here for? I come as a new expression of this, for I am here to do the same. We can help one another. I bring something new, and you have skills I need to learn. Let us meet here and put ourselves in conscious service of the force, not for the sake of the Dark Side, but of the light.’
Where do they meet? Where do they find one another amidst this questioning, this invitation, that ends the latest film? In the imagination of the film it is a cliff top perched above a lonely, isolated, island in the middle of an ocean – an island with stone dwellings – which we can only assume are the remains of the original Jedi temple. And where, of all the places of the earth, was this scene shot? – for everything is an imagination, in this sense – it is none other than Skellig Michael, off the coast of west Ireland.
Skellig Michael is a mystery ‘temple’ dedicated to and inspired by, as the name reveals, the Archangel Michael. Michael is another imagination, though of what exactly? Michael, as imagination, has been expressed throughout the centuries as one who wields a sword – in a way, a sword of light – and does so to keep the Devil or, we could say, the imagination of the Dark Side, in his place, beneath Michael’s feet. Michael’s gaze is often depicted as steady, and directed forwards. He, in a way, waits. He waits for human beings to come to him, in freedom. And so we have here, as the original and, up to now, final place of the Jedi – of the higher self (and of higher selves coming together, in the social sense) – the place where this being – this being of light – waits patiently for the higher self of the human being. In the sense of the film, therefore, this is the place that the force is born and springs from, resides, and can currently be found, waiting. Michael is, in this sense, a character of the force itself, is a being of the path of the force – is a central being of the force.
We could say, in this imaginative sense, that the imaginative earthly setting of the final scene of the film reflects back upon the imaginative cinematic setting to inspire it, however consciously, with a further step in the conscious investigation of what the force is, and who the characters or beings are that inhabit it. In order to be a free servant of something, one must be aware of what or who one serves. Michael waits patiently for the free human being to arrive in a mood of conscious investigation and service. So, though we might be tempted to say, out of such an imaginative exploration, that Michael is the force, we would perhaps be better positioned if we were to say that here we have a character, a guide, for the further inner workings of the force. It is his temple and, in a way, his school – the school of the Jedi Knight – but there are other characters, other beings who make up this school, this temple of the human being and the world.
If we see the mangled mask of Darth Vader as the countenance of the ruler of the Dark Side which, in the imaginations of centuries past, we may call the Devil (though there are other names for this character, and other characters that inhabit such darknesses), here we can also ask, ‘So what is it that Michael is the countenance of?’ Here too many other characters inhabit the light and make up, again, this temple, this school, this path, as the genuine mystery traditions of the world reveal in imaginative form, be they indigenous traditions, the Eastern path, the Christian-Gnostic path, or the Rosicrucian path. Within such traditions (and in different ages) there exist different names, however, for the being who Michael stands as the countenance for. There is, of course, a great deal of historical-cultural baggage that is connected with such names. Suffice it to say, all such names point to the character – to the being – the being that Michael stands with and for – the being who, in world evolution has sacrificed most. It seems that higher stages of ‘training’ (in the Jedi sense) or of initiation (in the mystery sense) are approached through higher levels of sacrifice. The central being of the force, therefore, along with all the other hierarchical beings who make up this same temple, in the schooling path made possible today, in freedom, by Michael, is connected to that being who has and continues to sacrifice and serve most selflessly in world evolution, and in our own selves. There is a part of ourselves – our higher selves – which serves the forces of light and humanity, with no desire for the selfish temptations of the Dark Side – this part of ourselves is the being who is awakening in our time to that most selfless of beings, and who we can awaken to, through the training of our own inner Jedi – our own higher selves – in order that we may serve consciously and selflessly this most selfless of beings that constitutes the force, and in so doing hold open a space for the same possibility to unfold in others.
For, with the final scene of The Force Awakens, we are left also with the question, ‘How do I need to be in order that you may become a Jedi? – How do I need to be in order that your own highest self may be more fully realised? How do I need to be in order that the most selfless of beings in world evolution can live and weave between us in order that we may put ourselves in service of it, through the schooling made possible by the inspirer of the temple-island upon which we now stand, and stand in every social encounter?’
How we answer such questions will determine the direction in which civilisation continues in the time between now and when the next film returns to the very place from which this one left off…and beyond.
John Stubley, PhD
Some 70 years ago, millions of people fled Germany in fear of persecution and death. Now, Germany is opening its arms to some 800,000 refugees this year alone. Seventy years ago, the allies – the UK, France, the US, Australia and others – but particularly the US, were seen as the heroes who ended the second world war, and ousted evil from Europe. In our time, another group of allied countries, but particularly the US, have invaded both Iraq and Afghanistan and created wars and a vacuous space in which the revolutionary tendencies of the world have found new and more extreme expression in the form of ISIS. In the years between, we could say that the US has failed in its global responsibilities of creating a world in which the human being can truly find him or herself. The picture of the human being has been reduced to an electro-chemical, mechanical animal, and mankind has been treated as such. With this view in mind, a social system that exploits the human being for economic advantage has propagated itself around the world. This has led to a well-organised form of evil or violence becoming the global norm; structural violence, we could say.
The power that fuels this is the image of the human being, and a kind of thinking that is itself mechanistic and cold. The hot, inflammatory reaction to this has come in the form of various Islamic extremist groups – Al-Qaeda, Jamaah Islamiyha, ISIS and so on. ISIS represents the latest, and therefore most extreme, inflammatory reaction to the coldness of the structural violence inflicted upon the world and human beings by other human beings. Some 70 years ago we failed to treat properly the flaring up of an acute illness – which itself was a consequence of Germany not taking up its own global responsibilities – and now we see the latest phase of ever-more-serious and chronic social problems. All the while, Australia yaps like a dog at the feet of consequence, unsure of what its global contribution actually is, even as it continues to turn back refugees coming to its shores by boat, again and again. Russia, on the other hand, builds up its forces in Syria, while in the East – where the new world power can now be located – China watches silently, though not without action in such global trends. One can have the feeling that the global social organism has been stirred to activity in recent times – that underlying illnesses have been brought to the fore and are awaiting our conscious understanding so that we may be able to guide the process in more healthy directions.
We are forced to ask, then, Where does health lie?
The evil of structural violence lies at the other end of the spectrum from radical extremism, but both evils work together hand in hand. Neither is an expression of health, but rather an expression of illness, from which we can form pictures of health. And health, in this respect, lies in a conscious holding of both extremes in their rightful place. Yet these are not just external realities. We can find such illness within our own selves, from which such social realities actually stem. We all have, on the one hand, a tendency towards the mechanical, cold, abstract intellectualism and materialistic electro-chemical thinking of our time, but also towards the opposite pole of escapist, revolutionary, hot, spiritual, idealistic tendencies of the other extreme. We generally tend more towards one than the other, but both exist as possibilities for us, and work together as much as they do in outer situations. The only possible remedy is to see the human being not as a merely materialistic machine, nor solely as an immaterial spiritualistic ideal but, rather, to stand as a human being in the midst of both extremes, holding them in place in complete freedom, driven neither by cold abstraction, nor fiery idealism, but by a free human expression of practical idealism. The spirit in man must become grounded in the soil of our time – be it in the hearts of human beings, or in the heart of the social world. We long to find and create social structures that support this activity, and to find in the human being a world which is health creating. We are the creators now, but can work with all that flows through the realities of what we find within ourselves and within the world. The human being is threefold in nature – is a thinking being, a feeling being, and a doing being. To stand truly as a human being and work in a free way in each of these activities is to avoid the dual evils of reality. Social systems that support the cultivation of free cultural spaces for the development of free thinking; equal democratic spaces that cultivate equality within and for mankind; and collaborative economic spaces that cultivate a brotherly co-working for all humanity – with all three working together in a healthy way, as much as thinking, feeling and doing work together in man – this is what we seek in social life because we find it as a reality in ourselves; while in ourselves we seek freedom of thought, equality of feeling, and a spirit of co-working which puts itself in service of the other human being. Love is now to be found in our deeds. We seek, in the depths of the heart of our will, to work for our fellow mankind, out of love.
And this is, in reality, what we see. Despite overly-powerful, one-sided governments procrastinating and deliberating, and their enforcement personnel physically pushing back the true tide of humanity, still the love of the genuine human being can prevail. And we see it throughout Germany, throughout Europe and around the world – we see it wherever the small and not-so-small acts of human love prevail, out of perceiving the spiritual being of other human beings in wilful, love-filled actions. In such mighty actions as these we can see the growing of a social life that springs from real foundations, together with the growing of the true human being from the same source. To be human with other human beings – this is in truth one of the deepest yearnings of our time. To expand such yearnings into a conscious transformation of our entire social world and our entire selves remains the challenge that confronts us out of what we have been witnessing in recent days.
John Stubley, PhD
In an age when we are able to find the answers to seemingly endless questions with a simple click of a button, it seems almost impossible that we cannot find a missing aeroplane.
It has now been almost three weeks and we still do not know exactly where flight MH370 is, nor what happened to it, nor why it happened. We simply do not know. It remains – at least at present – a mystery.
And it is the existence of such a mystery in our time which is as much a mystery for us as anything else. How could we not know? With all of the technology at our disposal – with all the surveillance, satellite and other search technology in the world today – how could we not know where to find something that itself relies on such technologies in order to operate?
The central, though relatively unconscious, feeling that is expressed here is, simply, ‘We have the technology but we still do not know.’ Even if we do locate the plane, and unravel something of the story as to how and why this event happened, the fact that it has happened at all, and that the search for it has gone on as long as it has, means that this central question, now ‘out of the box,’ will remain: ‘We have the technology but how is it we still do not know?’
Of course, there are those who will argue that those with knowledge of the technology simply disabled it, or that if other, better, technology existed then we would avoid such occurrences in the future. Such comments rest upon the idea that if we had the technology – or better/more technology – then we would be fine – then we would know. Below this idea exists the assumption that ‘Technology will provide all the answers we are looking for.’ This assumption underpins not just the mystery around MH370, but many remaining unknowns in the world today.
And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, despite all the global technologies we have created up until this point in our evolution – despite all our surveillance and tracking systems – despite all the different internet search engines and all the information they uncover and make available through the sharing of data and research from all over the world – despite all of this and all our other technologies, still the fundamental questions of life are not sufficiently or adequately answered. Some of the most basic questions remain, despite this technology. Such questions include, but are not limited to: What is life? What is the human being? What is the meaning of life and of evolution? Where did we come from, really? Where are we going? What exists after death, and before birth? What did I/we come here to do? Where do thoughts come from? What is health? What is love? And so on.
We may be tempted to point to the patchwork of attempts to answer such questions, or ones like them, and say we have sufficiently dealt with them. Such answers, however, generally point only to material, physical activity and then extrapolate this activity over the whole of evolution, both into the past and the future. This is one-sided guesswork at best. At worst, it shapes all that we are now and into the future in a one-sided, incomplete, and therefore harmful way.
To look at life, nature, the human being, evolution, thinking, social creations, and anything else simply as physical phenomena, and to say we have thereby explained it, would be the same as eventually locating the physical wreckage of flight MH370, extrapolating its flight path and then saying ‘It flew from this point to this point and then crashed’; and that because we have this information we now know all there is to know about it. This would be an account of the physical journey it travelled. It would not be incorrect. And so why would we be dissatisfied with only this knowledge, with only this information?
We would be dissatisfied because there remains a part of us that seeks to know not simply ‘what,’ nor also ‘how,’ but, importantly, ‘why?’ Why? Why did this event happen? We seek to know not just the material facts, but also the why – we seek to know the story – the fact of the story. (Interestingly, the French for ‘what’ is ‘pourquoi,’ meaning literally ‘for what?’ That is, for what is the ‘what’ for? What is the physical fact for? What is the reason for, or story of, the material fact?)
And it is this same why-ness that is missing from our explanations of the fundamental questions of life. We do not know the why. We do not know the story. So why do we sometimes appear to feel satisfied with the one-sided, material answers to the above questions (and others like them) when we would not be satisfied with the same when it came to flight MH370?
In part, we seem to have inherited a feeling that it is possible to know the why – the story – of some things, and not of others – that for some things we cannot know why. But why is this? Where does this feeling come from?
It is a result of none other than the same material thinking that feels it has provided the answers to these questions, or is busy working on the answers at present. It is a thinking that has focussed down so much into the parts that it has lost sight of the whole. It may know the what – or part of it anyway – but it has lost the what for, the why, or even the how. It is this same thinking activity that says ‘Because this thinking activity does not provide the answer of how or why – does not provide the story of this or that phenomena – that no such why or story exists.’ This type of thinking is limited by its own activity. It is an intellectualism interested only in the parts, because its thinking activity is only partial.
In looking at thinking and the human being, therefore, because it employs only a partial thinking, it sees only the partial human being, and only partial thinking activity. We thereby build a wall for ourselves, and say ‘We cannot know why – we cannot know the story – we do not have the facts.’
The idea of facts, too, rests upon this notion of materiality, and is linked also to a thinking tied to the purely material. (In a way, we can become mesmerised by ‘facts.’) And yet, the world conception or philosophy of materialism is not itself a material fact – it is nowhere to be found in the material, physical world. It is a concept. It is an idea (as is the notion of a ‘fact’), which, according to its own premises, is a result of electro-chemical reactions in the brain – a product of matter (though, for that matter, have we ever seen ‘matter?’). Why would something purely material, however, decide to create, out of its own physicality, a world conception? – why would it seek to contemplate its own consciousness? It would not. (Therefore, such a world conception does not stand up to its own premises.) Rather, an immaterial activity – thinking – has become so closely tied to the physical world – including the brain – that it has sought out and created a world conception to justify and explain its own experience and activity. It has created, on the level of the concept, an attempt at a kind of story, though it remains stuck in the what, and sometimes in the how, but does not reach the level of the why – of the what for? It is only a partial story, therefore, at best; at worst, it is a jumbled collection of unrecognisable symbols.
In any case, despite everything, there still remains in us, however conscious, a desire to know the full story. The walls we place around our knowing of such a story are only self-made – a product of our time and place – and can be self-removed. On a more fundamental level we seek to know what the story of everything is, in the same way we seek to know the story – the why – of flight MH370. We hope that in finding the ‘black box’ flight recorder before the 30-day battery runs out that we will come to know this story and then be able, to some extent, to move on.
And yet, we do not recognise that there is a kind of ‘black box’ buried within everything – that it is possible to know the story of everything – if only we had the courage to look long and hard (or softly) enough, with the right, let us say, inner technology – with our whole thinking activity – with the whole story of the human being. The only difference between the black box of the flight recorder and all other phenomena is that for everything else the battery will never run out, because the source of its power can be found not merely in a product of the intellect alone, but in the power that exists within the phenomenon as it reveals itself within our holistic thinking activity. That is, we ourselves must be creative in our thinking in order to come to know the why – the story – of anything. The story of the world, of life, of the human being, of anything, is therefore up to us.
And so what else can the story of MH370 reveal? It has also revealed to us the way in which we can, despite hiccups, co-ordinate our activities across national and sectoral boundaries. Governments of different countries have been able to work with one another, as well as with civil society groups and with businesses. There is a common goal, and they have been able to gradually dismantle existing societal walls (another product of walled-in thinking) in order to attempt to achieve something together. One could argue that this has been more successful than attempts so far made to deal with other common problems or issues including climate change, which has so far created solutions which have stalled at the national or regional level. The goal has yet to be reached in either case, but greater global co-operation is taking place in the search for this missing plane. This itself is encouraging.
In one sense, therefore, we could say that, though we have thus far been unable to locate flight MH370 and all those on board, we have been able to begin to find one another. We have reached across national and other boundaries to find one another in order to achieve a goal beyond ourselves – beyond our own self-interests. We have found one another and in so doing found something of our own humanity – something of our own selves – by putting ourselves in service of such immaterial ideals connected to helping those in distress, helping our neighbours, helping our fellow human beings. We have crossed walls in our own thinking and found one another and ourselves under the guiding stars of immaterial values and ideals (ones that purely material thinking activity would not lead not). In so doing we have connected to something of the deeper story of the human being and the earth.
In this sense, therefore, we can experience the presumed loss of life of those on board flight MH370 as a kind of tragic ‘reminder,’ or even ‘sacrifice,’ for the rest of us; the term is not so important, but an understanding of the why – the meaning – the story – of this event is. And part of its meaning appears to be that the apparent deaths of these individuals – all those souls who have apparently died on board this flight – have thus far served to remind the rest of us both of our inner necessity to know the greater meaning – the greater story, the why – in this case or in relation to any phenomenon, as well as provide the impetus for us to reach across social divides to find one another and something of ourselves as human beings through all the noble guiding values of humanity, out of love – out of selfless service and activity. And so we could say, therefore, that these two aspects – knowing the whole story, and selfless service out of love – are united on a deeper level of the mystery – of the story – of the evolution of the world and of the human being.
 Whoever has heard the purely materialistic explanation of love, for example, knows how removed such an explanation is from the actual experience of – or creation of – love, and therefore it cannot be considered as a complete explanation. (See, for example, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biological_basis_of_love.) No doubt such chemical activity takes place in the experience of love, thinking, creativity and so on, but such physical activity is the result of immaterial activity, not its cause. We have it backwards – have confused the effect with the cause – have, in the case of many phenomena, promoted the effect to the level of the cause, and therefore are left with only partial, incomplete stories – artifacts rather than art.
To continue in this purely material direction would be to continue to guide the world and the human being towards a meaningless future destination as lonely and as desolate as the southern Indian Ocean.
The battery is an extension of the intellect, as is the majority of all existing technology.
 Not in a merely subjective way, but in an objective-subjective way – in a lawful storytelling that crosses the walls we have thus far constructed around ourselves and the world.
 At present planes and ships from Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Japan, China, and South Korea are being used in the search.
 Or worse, we also begin to fall victim to intellectual, material solutions to climate change such as geo-engineering.
It is possible to experience some of Australia’s greatest potential contributions to the world as also being some of its greatest hindrances to further development. How is this possible?
Since colonisation Australia has prided itself on upholding certain basic ideals in a more or less conscious way. Three of these ideals have taken a hold upon the psyche of this country with particular force.
The first is the notion of a ‘fair go’. This has its roots in the second ideal we will touch upon but grows out beyond it. It is the notion that everybody has a fair opportunity to make something of themselves and all that their life touches. It is rooted in fairness but emphasises the ‘go’ aspect – the making of something out of one’s own capacities out of a certain amount of freedom. A fair go means to have the necessary conditions by which one can create out of freedom; it is a space in which all things can grow; it is a space of new impulses, new ideas, new possibilities; it is, essentially, a cultural space.
One can picture British and other ‘settlers’ of this country seeking out such a cultural space in which they might be able to build their lives and their communities – indeed, the country as a whole – in freedom. The physical and cultural ‘crowding’ of Europe was replaced by the perceived spaciousness of Australia (though the country has, in fact, been culturally ‘full’ for more than 40,000 years).
This ‘fair go-ness’ is essentially a cultural space whose guiding light – whose guiding star – is freedom. We can picture it as one strand of a three-strand rope that represents the fundamental social striving and contributions of this country.
The second ideal – the second strand – to this rope is all that makes possible the first ideal. It is the fairness aspect of the fair go brought to full fruition – it is what we can here call ‘egalitarianism’; it is, essentially, equality across the board. Everyone is equal – there are none higher nor lower. This is an ideal, of course, but one that plays itself out in the life of this country in interesting ways, as we shall see.
Egalitarianism is a fundamentally valid ideal that Australia has attempted to embrace from its earliest colonial days, and has since exported around the world in various forms. One can picture ‘settlers’ – convicts even – wishing to leave behind them all the old, ‘stuffy’ class structures of Europe – leave behind all the royalty and nobility and all the designated names given to the many layers of privilege and favouritism that existed in ‘the old country’. A fresh start was sought on equal footing with fellow human beings. This would create the soil necessary for the cultural striving and opportunities mentioned already, but it would also take on its own life as an ideal.
Egalitarianism means, in a way, no bending of the knee to those who should, essentially, have just the same rights as oneself. Class privilege, particularly in the eyes of the law, becomes class equality: one class, especially when it comes to laws and rights. This is the real wellspring that the ideal of egalitarianism springs from – an equality of rights for all human beings; a life of rights that places no-one higher than any other.
This is, again, a conscious-or-otherwise ideal, taken up in all sorts of surprising ways, some of which we shall touch upon in a moment.
Egalitarianism, together with a fair go, make up two of the three-strand rope of the social idealism Australia has adopted over the last couple of centuries.
The third aspect – the third strand – is also one that the rest of the world may recognise in particular ways. It is all that which we can term ‘mateship’ – all that which can be experienced in consciously observing and meeting the needs of our fellow human beings. And what social activity, more than any other, essentially expresses this fundamental meeting of one another’s needs? It is none other than economic activity. It may be surprising to consider mateship in terms of economic life but, none-the-less, this is the social sphere in which mateship (or its shadow) can be truly experienced. This is perhaps the most unconscious relationship of the three strands of Australia’s rope of idealism – the relationship between economic life and mateship – for we tend to uphold mateship in other fields which we shall explore in a moment. Nevertheless, mateship, as it fundamentally relates to social life, can be best seen if we turn our gaze to the essentials of economic activity, even if Australians have yet to take it up in such a way.
Egalitarianism’s relationship to the life of rights is slightly more conscious than that of the relationship of mateship to economy; a fair go’s relationship to freedom even more so. These are the three, let us say, pure strands of Australia’s idealism which, if given true expression, could bring Australia – and the world with it – to a whole new level of social striving. What we see in reality, however, is a kind of tangling of these threads – these strands – resulting in a somewhat knotted condition.
What we observe taking place in reality is nothing other than a mixing up of these three ideals and the social realm which they – in actual fact – essentially relate to; or otherwise we see their shadow aspect play itself out, albeit within the appropriate domain.
In looking at the ideal of egalitarianism, for example, we can observe that, in Australia, rather than restricting itself to its pure social domain – to the realm of rights and polity – we see it manifest in strange ways in both cultural and economic life. In cultural life, egalitarianism expresses itself in a most bizarre and, ultimately, detrimental form; it manifests in all that we designate, in this country, as the ‘tall poppy syndrome’. In this picture all ‘poppies’ that grow higher than the rest must be cut down – there is no room for individuals to grow above the crowd. If they do so they are cut down either through scorn, ridicule or a kind of disowning. A number of Australian artists and intellectuals, for example, have experienced such a cutting down as this in various ways and at various times (especially through the media). Many such individuals have had to call themselves home in other countries where such a cultural levelling is not as present, though many have also endured such a situation here in Australia. Essentially and most tragically, however, this situation is something all Australians have to endure (and ultimately transform) in their own social striving, as well as in their own inner life. Those who currently sidestep the issue seem to be those able to keep their ‘heads down’ – to remain humble, somewhat mediocre and ‘equal’ with the rest, even in the midst of their often-global cultural contributions.
Strangely, Australians don’t seem to employ the tall poppy rule to such an extent, if at all, when it comes to economic life. The wealthy of this country apparently need to be somewhat eccentric and above the fray – far enough away from us to not be truly ‘real’, yet at the same time serve as a kind of guiding example when it comes to economic matters. We can think of Alan Bond, signwriter turned billionaire who brought the America’s Cup to Australia, as well as defrauded investors in his company out of billions of dollars; Rupert Murdoch, global media magnate; the late Kerry Packer, Australia’s domestic version of Murdoch; Gina Rinehart, the family-feuding heiress of Lang Hancock’s Iron Ore fortune, now the world’s richest woman; Clive Palmer, now Clive Palmer MP (Member of Parliament), coal magnate and builder of a replica of the ill-fated Titanic; and so on.
In reality, therefore, egalitarianism actually expresses itself in an out-of-place way in cultural life – we can go so far, but only if we stay as low – as equal as – the rest of the poppies; while in economic life egalitarianism gives way to a misplaced fair go – the taller and more outlandish the poppy the better – ‘maybe we’d all get there if we just worked a little harder’. (A remedying of the consequences of such economic competition are then attempted through government-run ‘social’ programs such as welfare, Medicare etc.) While in the life of rights, where egalitarianism seeks its true home, economic (and to a less extent, cultural) privilege and class seems to play just as big a role as ever; we need only witness the great many laws and regulations bent (and broken) towards business in this country.
A fair go, as we have already observed, manifests mostly, therefore, in economic rather than cultural life. Business has relative freedom in this country to do as it sees fit. Businessmen and women are encouraged to grow out beyond the poppy patch. Economic life is a place of relative freedom and absolute competition (rather than mateship or co-operation). We are continually fighting one another to get ahead – we crush other poppies underfoot left and right, as well as the natural environment that supports us. In the life of rights there exists more freedom for those with privilege than for others. While in cultural life, the true home of the fair go, freedom is everywhere curtailed – there is little to no cultural fair go in Australia. Not only does the tall poppy syndrome self-restrict cultural life in the ways mentioned above, cultural subjugation expresses itself also in over-regulation by government when it comes to all aspects rightly belonging to cultural activity – including education, academia, agriculture, food, the sciences, arts and so on (in ways often linked to funding). No aspect is more alarming, however, than education, where teachers – the people who actually experience what is necessary for each class and its individual students – are unable to decide upon their own curriculum and teaching methodology. They are unfree to do so – they do not have a fair go. Rather, the state enforces egalitarianism – equality – beyond its rightful sphere through the setting of curriculum, testing activity, and the tying of unfree funding to certain outcomes and regulations. The tragic result is loss of cultural freedom and space, leading to a lack of new thoughts and ideas which could, in turn, benefit not only cultural life but also economic life and the life of rights.
Finally, mateship, rather than being observed in economic affairs, is primarily upheld in cultural life. It connects also with the tall poppy syndrome here. We are friends with those on the same level, but only those. In political/rights life, however, mateship appears as its own shadow where, rather than including everyone, includes only those who can benefit one’s own position – and perhaps one or two others on the same ‘level’. Mateship, as it currently exists in economic affairs, is generally a disguised selfishness that uses others to achieve one’s own goals – it is everywhere competitive rather than co-operative. Consumers, producers and distributors do not in general consider one another ‘mates’, and have not as yet created sufficiently large-scale forms to co-ordinate such relationships. Rather, a feeling of distrust prevails through the competitive market form, employing a kind of mateship that, again, is only practiced in as much as it advances one’s own position.
This anti-mateship situation flows over from economic life to political life also – political favours are done for business mates – as well as into cultural life, where ideas and thoughts, rather than unfolding in freedom, and therefore originality, are tied to the purse strings of funding ‘mates’.
The combined total of all this confusion about the right relationship of culture, freedom and a fair go; as well as rights/polity, equality and egalitarianism; together with economics, mateship and co-operation results in the tangled mess we currently see unfolding on the macro level of this country today.
We have arbitrarily set up our own social dynamics above a social reality that exists just below the surface, waiting for us to make it; there is an Australia just below the surface waiting for us to bring it into being, to call it up, to – in the world conception of the indigenous people of this country – ‘sing’ it up.
Rather than a tangled knot of misplaced social idealism which we have managed to tie around our own necks (through tangled, tied-up thinking activity), there exists also an Australia that brings to a kind of fruition the drawing out of the three ideal strands of social life, so that they may begin to weave around one another in healthy ways, forming, as they do so, a rope woven from the fabric of ideal lawfulness rather than arbitrariness – a rope which has the ideal or spiritual strength to lift up not only Australia and all who call this place home but, in providing such an example of truly practical idealism, the rest of the world with it. The whole of Australia, in truth, waits for such a rope, for such a lifting up – as does the rest of the world.
Australia’s global contribution lies not in a public, knotted self-hanging but, rather, in a selfless lifting up of all the ideal possibilities of the world as they reveal themselves to the eyes in us open enough to see them.
Australia’s immigration policy has been in the spotlight in recent times, especially since a violent riot in a detention centre on Manus Island where one detainee was killed and 77 were injured.
The Australian government currently ‘processes’ all asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat in Australian-funded ‘offshore processing centres’ on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) and Nauru.
Even if asylum seekers are deemed to be ‘genuine’ refugees (by either the governments of PNG or Nauru), however, they will still not be granted asylum in Australia. The only options ‘genuine’ refugees have are, currently, that they return to their often-war-torn country of origin (and its persecutions) – from which they have already fled, bringing not much more than their own lives, and usually spending all their money to do so – or that they re-settle in PNG or, possibly, Nauru. If they are not found to be genuine refugees, they will be returned to their country of origin (or, possibly, some third country other than Australia). 
Conditions on both these island nations are relatively harsh, however, and are unlike – both naturally and culturally – what they are used to or what they were hoping to reach (i.e. Australia). In addition, it seems no concrete deals have actually been made between PNG (or, it seems, Nauru) and the Australian government. (This was apparently made clear by PNG officials to asylum seekers shortly before the recent violence took place on Manus Island). To date, none of the 1332 asylum seekers on Manus Island have had their applications processed since the centre opened in November, 2012. Not wishing to return to their country of origin, therefore, they are effectively cast into a black hole of indefinite detention.
Conditions at the detention centres are extreme, and have been condemned in recent UNHCR reports. Accommodation is largely in tents. Air conditioning is apparently partial or non-existent, with maximum daily temperatures averaging around 30 degrees Celsius (and minimums averaging around 26 degrees), with maximum daily humidity averaging around 93 per cent. Other facilities are also basic, meaning there is little for refugees to actually do, other than wait – though for what is unclear.
Add to this charged situation already-existing cultural and ethnic tensions between various groups – as well as between refugees and some locals – and an explosive situation rapidly ensues.
Whistleblowers have now come forward to state that on the night Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati was killed, locals entered the compound to directly confront refugees.
Additional information on the event, as well as on the centres themselves, is limited at best. This is primarily due to the Australian government’s lack of transparency about what is actually taking place. The previous Australian government at least alerted the media every time a boat arrived in Australian waters or on Australian soil. The current government limited this information to a once-a-week press briefing, before scrapping even this. In addition, journalist’s visas to Nauru have risen from $200AUD to $8000 – an increase of 3900%.
The Australian government’s rationale for their policy is clearly to deter refugees from attempting to come to Australia by boat, come what may for those who have already done so, or will do so in the future. It is a policy aimed at deterring. It says, simply, ‘you are not welcome in Australia, even if you are fortunate enough to make it this far; you should not attempt to come here, or if you do, try some other way.’ (Australia accepts around 0.6 per cent of the world’s asylum seekers, or around 13,000 per year, compared to the USA [around 55,000], France [around 43,000] and Germany [around 41,000]. Around 85 to 90 percent of asylum seekers who have previously arrived in Australia by boat have been deemed genuine refugees, compared with around 40% of those who arrive by plane. The vast majority of the world’s refugees, however, are forced to remain in the region neighbouring their country of origin, where years can go by in camps waiting for applications for asylum to be processed. It is, therefore, developing countries who carry the burden of the vast majority of the world’s refugees.)
In this sense, the policy itself is a kind of publicity stunt – a kind of detention fence – in order to keep people away, as are, tragically, the events and activities on Manus Island. Just as worrying, however, is the publicity message it sends to (and feeds off of) Australians themselves. It represents a pandering to a particular way of thinking that can exist among Australians, as well as a growing of this same paradigm. It is a planting, tending and harvesting of a particular mental ‘crop’ that appears from time to time in the cultural landscape of this country in often strange ways.
It is interesting, in this regard, to see how Australia (as a ‘nation’) came about. For more than 40,000 years the indigenous peoples of this continent have lived in harmony with and in service of the combined natural and spiritual environment – or ‘country.’ With the arrival of Europeans, however, this selfless service to country was largely replaced with selfishness and greed. Welcoming and introductions to country based on formal protocols were largely replaced by a taking of country. Who did the taking? It was taken by a whole wave of activity centred around those who did not want to be here at all, but who were no longer welcome in their own country – all those rotting in overcrowded prisons in Britain due to harsh laws for petty crimes. Convicts did not wish to come to Australia – did not wish to be sent from their families and homes, often for menial crimes – but they had no choice. They were sent to the other side of the world – to Australia – whether they liked it or not. Only some survived the voyage, however, and fewer survived conditions once they arrived.
Following this wave more individuals did actually choose to come here, choosing their land as they came. The claiming of Australia by Britain for its unwanted under-classes became a claiming of Australia by Britain on behalf of those who increasingly wished to come here, even up to this day. It was a mentality that said, ‘let us keep others out (also for economic reasons), so that we can send there those we do not want,’ towards an ever-increasing mentality of ‘let us keep others out so that we can be there and use it if we so wish, and perhaps gain economically in the meantime.’ (This remains today as a, conscious or otherwise, feeling among many Australians when it comes to the ownership of land).
In time this mentality grew, and grew into policies based simply on race. The White Australia Policy meant immigrants from certain European countries were intentionally favoured, especially Brits. This followed racial tensions that arose though various gold rushes in which, for example, Chinese nationals were effectively excluded from arrival into the state of Victoria (through an ‘arrival’ and ‘protection’ tax), only to land further afield and walk to the goldfields, if they were able to survive the long journey. Pauline Hanson’s ‘One Nation Party’ brought a flaring up of similar racist sentiment in the 1990s. Today, both sides of government seem to have picked up the same thread.
And what is this thread? What is it, essentially, an expression of? None other than a detained thinking activity. Whether it is planted and grown among Australian citizens, or whether it is already present and merely pandered to, or both, the kind of thinking that leads to the situation as it currently is, is none other than a thinking that is detained, and detained, potentially, indefinitely.
And so we must ask, Who has done the detaining? Such detained thinking activity comes from without and connects with its likeness in us – with thinking we have yet to liberate – and vice versa. Who is it that can liberate this thinking, then? Who can escape from the detention centre we have erected in our own minds? It is none other than ourselves. Only we ourselves are able to free our thinking and thereby ourselves from the kind of thought structures which lead to ‘this is mine, and you are not welcome, whatever your plight.’ Only a detention-free thinking can move from ‘me and mine’ – from the kind of selfishness that saw Australia ‘settled’ in the first place, and all the ‘settling’ that has gone on since, which is none other than a kind of ‘unsettling’ of all that is possible for this place and the human being today – only a self-liberated thinking can get beyond the selfish ‘out of sight out of mind’, ‘I am too busy with my own life to care for others’ thinking – and begin to move towards a form of selflessness and service-inspired thinking that recognises, paradoxically, something of one’s own self in those human beings our government currently locks away indefinitely in our name.
The real detention taking place here is the tragic detention unfolding within the hearts and minds of Australians and their so called ‘representatives’ in government. And because of this the real detention centre is everywhere this kind of thinking prevails – in every human being who keeps themselves detained with the sort of selfishness which rises to the surface here and elsewhere around the world. And because such thinking activity now forms policy on the national level we could say that the real, physical detention centre is not on Manus Island or Nauru, but is the nation of Australia itself. Australia has returned to something of its convict stage, albeit in a roundabout way. Now, however, we need no guards, for we keep ourselves detained. The guards are there to keep others out, for no-one else is welcome…unless, of course, one is white or has the time to go through the proper channels – in short, those, generally, not as desperate as those currently arriving here by boat.
Following the violent death of Reza Berati (the cause is still unclear), many Australians participated in candle-lit vigils, as did others around the world. Around 20,000 people took part in over 750 events of this kind. Members of the civil society group GetUp continue to fund visas for journalists to travel to Nauru. Minor parties continue to fight for more rights and better policies for refugees. Other civil society groups continue to be active. Amid the shadows and darkness there still burns bright a light.
And it is this light in each one of us that can provide the spark necessary to burn down the fences and guard towers that exist around our own minds and hearts, as well as around our will to act. We can become self-reliant individuals capable of seeing the reality of the matter at hand, which is that each and every individual detained in a foreign land by a government acting – supposedly – on our behalf – in each of these individuals there burns a candle, burns a flame for freedom, equality and humanity just as strong as our own, and that in joining together such candles – be it with other Australians or with other nationalities – we burn down not only those detention centres that keep us enslaved as individuals, but all those that keep us from our fellow human beings. In doing so we will be able to see and feel their suffering and their striving, and see it for what it truly is – our own as well.
In this way the fences and guard towers of Australia can finally begin to crumble, and the borders of this country can grow to include the whole of the rest of the world. We as individuals can hold the whole of the world within our borders; we as a country can do the same.
Then will Australia have something not to deny the rest of the world from having, in an isolationist way, but something it is prepared to give away freely. This is a grand movement from selfishness to selflessness, of finding ‘the other’ and the world in myself, and vice versa – and of freely choosing to put myself in service of this – of the true sprit of the earth today, and the true spirit of our time. It is an echoing of the original Australian relationship between human beings and country that still continues to this day, though one which has passed through the needle-eye – the detention centre – of selfish individualism to an individualism that encompasses the whole world – the whole, global country – and all human beings.
Only out of the reality of such an experience as this will right policies be made now and into the future.
 Wars in which Australia has frequently participated.
 The whole situation is kept considerably and deliberately vague.
 The Australian government itself urges the exercising of “a high degree of caution” when visiting PNG, saying there exists “high levels of serious crime” such as car jacking, sexual assault and large crowds which may turn violent. See http://smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/papua_new_guinea
 Of Manus Island the UNHCR report finds that it does not comply with international standards and in particular that “current policies, operational approaches and harsh physical conditions:
a) constitute arbitrary and mandatory detention under international law;
b) do not provide a fair, efficient and expeditious system for assessing refugee claims;
c) do not provide safe and humane conditions of treatment in detention; and
d) do not provide for adequate and timely solutions for refugees.
Further, the ‘return-orientated environment’ observed by UNHCR at the RPC is at variance with the primary purpose of the transfer arrangements, which is to identify and protect refugees and other persons in need of international protection.” Similar things are said of Nauru. See http://unhcr.org.au/unhcr/images/2013-11-26%20Report%20of%20UNHCR%20Visit%20to%20Manus%20Island%20PNG%2023-25%20October%202013.pdf and http://unhcr.org.au/unhcr/images/2013-11-26%20Report%20of%20UNHCR%20Visit%20to%20Nauru%20of%207-9%20October%202013.pdf
 Figures from 2011. See http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-05-18/understanding-the-asylum-seeker-debate/2718820
 Then will the grand Australian ideals of ‘a fair go,’ ‘egalitarianism’ and ‘mateship’ find true fruition in the world.
Two court proceedings of global significance are currently underway. The first is in Perth, Western Australia; the second in Ontario, Canada. Both cases have relevance not just for the future of food, but of social life as a whole.
Steve Marsh is an organic farmer from Kojonup, Western Australia. He grew up using ‘conventional’ farming methods, and continued to do so when he took over the farm from his father. After experiencing a number of health issues, however, as well as observing reduced powers in some sheep dips and commercial fertilisers, he decided to trial, in 2004, organic farming, particularly grains. The yields were slightly lower, he said, but the quality was better. He also met a real consumer need for organic produce, and so was able to remain financially viable. Ultimately, he said he was happy to be providing a good quality, natural product to consumers.
In 2010 the WA government lifted a moratorium on genetically modified (GM) canola. Monsanto (and others) began offering to farmers a form of canola engineered to be resistant to herbicides such as its own trademark herbicide ‘Roundup.’ Farmers, keen to increase yields, were advised by agronomists to use the GM canola, together with herbicides such as Roundup in order to kill ‘weeds,’ including rye grass. Many farmers took up the advice, including many of Marsh’s neighbours.
One of Marsh’s neighbours, Michael Baxter, grew up with Marsh. They went to the same primary school and, as it is in small rural communities, know each other relatively well. Marsh knew that Baxter had planted Monsanto’s GM canola. He also knew that it could blow across onto his organic land. If this happened, Marsh knew he would probably lose his organic certification and, with it, his livelihood. Under existing government regulations, or lack thereof, Marsh knew that if such contamination occurred he would be left with no other option than to sue for damages.
This is exactly what, Marsh alleges, happened. He alleges that in November 2010 southerly winds carried GM canola across a road separating the two farms and onto Marsh’s land. Marsh alleges that while repairing a fence he noticed parts of canola plants strewn across the road as well as lodged in his fence. He claims he then tested the seeds and found they were genetically modified. Marsh alleges that the seeds eventually spread across 325 hectares of his land, leading to the loss of 70% of his organic certification.
He has taken Baxter to WA’s Supreme Court in a civil case, suing him for damages as well as asking the court to issue a permanent injunction on his neighbour to prevent him from planting more GM crops. Law firm Slater and Gordon are working on the case for Marsh pro bono, while additional support for court costs is coming via the Safe Food Foundation. Baxter is supported by the Pastoralists and Graziers Association; Monsanto will not comment on whether or not it is helping to fund Baxter’s case.
On the other side of the world, Michael Schmidt – a biodynamic-organic dairy farmer from Ontario – has been fighting for around 20 years to supply raw milk to those who want it. In Canada – as in many places in the ‘developed’ world – it is illegal to supply or distribute raw milk, with the Ontario government arguing that it represents a “significant public health risk.” Schmidt argues that by making the sale and distribution of unpasteurised milk illegal, the government is infringing upon the basic freedoms of both himself and those who want the milk. His lawyer has argued that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes “the right of individuals to make decisions pertaining to their own bodies and their own health.”
Over the years, Schmidt has been in and out of court – sometimes winning, sometimes losing, but always arguing for the right of individuals to choose what they consume. Schmidt even attempted to work within the confines of the law by offering ‘cow shares’ to consumers. Under this scheme, consumers own the cow while Schmidt acts as an ‘agister’ for others – that is, as a carer for the livestock owned by others. In this sense, Schmidt says he was not selling or distributing milk – the owners themselves were choosing to consume the product from their own cows. The courts have so far rejected this argument.
In 2006 his farm was raided by armed officers, his equipment seized and all dairy products destroyed. In 2011 a provincial court convicted Schmidt of 13 charges under the Health Protection and Promotion Act and the Raw Milk Act, fining him $9150 CAD. This decision overturned an earlier acquittal in which the judge sided with Schmidt. He is currently awaiting the result of his February 5 appeal to the highest court in Ontario.
In a way, both these cases represent a kind of ‘last straw’ for both Schmidt and Marsh, both of whom have attempted to resolve their particular issues in other ways with government before finding themselves in court. In a sense, they have been forced into these situations.
The issue, in either case, is only partly to do with GM vs. organic, or raw vs. pasteurised milk. This is only the ‘cream’ that settles on the surface of each case; but it does tell us something, however, about what is taking place below the surface, and it is an exploration of these deeper realities which can help us in moving forward.
Regardless of the outcome of either case – whatever legal decision is made – what we fundamentally see is that these cases are symptomatic of larger trends taking place around the world, in particular the curtailing of the right to individual freedom. Whoever or whatever is ultimately at legal fault, neither farmer is free to choose what he grows or distributes; nor are consumers free to consume either organic produce from Marsh’s farm, nor raw milk products from their own cows in Ontario. That is, a farmer who chooses to grow organically cannot do so because his land has lost its certification because of contamination by GM crops. Similarly, a dairy farmer cannot supply raw milk to the very owners of the cows that produce it.
What is taking place here?
In one instance the government stands back, resulting in the contamination of organic produce. In the other case the government intervenes pre-emptively to stop the consumption of organic produce, arguing alleged public health risks. (In either case, interestingly, the government shares the same stance or opinions as those of big business – be it the dairy industry or the agribusiness industry.)
It can be an interesting exercise to picture the alternative response in these two cases. That is, we can picture armed government officers arriving not at the house of Michael Schmidt, but at the house of Marsh’s neighbour. Likewise, we can try to picture the Canadian government relaxing laws, as well as agronomists there promoting the widespread adoption of traditional, unpasteurised dairy-farming practices, come what may for any small-scale ‘conventional’ dairy farmers who float on pasteurised islands in an otherwise ocean of raw milk.
As logical as these pictures may seem, however, this is clearly not the reality. So what does reality tell us?
The reality is: there is nowhere to go. There is no longer anywhere we can go and simply put our heads down and ‘mind our own business.’ Both of these cases show that we can pick a small corner of the world and attempt to do what we feel to be right, serving a community who seeks what we are offering, and yet, at any moment, the wind can change. At any moment the wind can shift and blow in that which threatens the very existence of our enterprise and, with it, community. (Another organic farmer in Kojonup commented that she wished the community could all get back to normal, with those who wanted to farm conventionally doing so, and those who wanted to farm organically also doing so. Such a simple return to business as usual is, however, no longer possible.) At any moment armed officers, as representatives of government, can arrive at our door, or GM canola seeds, as representatives of big business and biotechnology, spread themselves across and change forever the ground beneath our feet. It may happen in a completely different way than this, but both these cases are symptomatic of a global reality of our time – that is, there is no longer anywhere in the world we can go and do our work quietly on our own, removed from the whole. The wind has changed – has already changed. Armed officers are already inside our homes.
So what can be done?
It is interesting to observe, in these cases, the activity of both the agribusiness industry and the dairy industry. In both cases they are thinking in terms of the big-picture. They have a goal or vision – for better or worse – that their products should reach a kind of macro level – the level of the whole. This vision is supported by a scientific methodology, however, that views phenomena in isolation, divorced from the whole. It is a methodology, essentially, that is materialistic and positivistic. And yet, this kind of thinking and the fruits thereof, rather than existing in isolation in some small corner of the world, have actually been scattered on the wind, and have found fertile ground in the thinking activity of human beings. The kind of thinking activity – the kind of isolated, genetically modified thinking – even pasteurised thinking, over-cooked to remove all life – is that which currently prevails in the world on the level of the whole – on the global ‘farm.’ Our thinking is, in this sense, modified, engineered, ‘safe,’ pasteurised. It has fallen out of a relationship to the whole context – it has lost its freshness, its originality and rawness; it has lost its life-giving elements.
At least this would appear to be the case after exploring phenomena such as we are looking at here. There exists the possibility, however, that at any moment this tendency of thought life can be overcome. At any moment our thinking can grow into an organic wholeness, and therein find originality, freshness and life. This is possible.
The question remains, however, as to what can be done with the fruits of such consciousness – of such raw, organic, biodynamic thinking activity. At present, the level of the whole – the macro or even ‘mundo’ level – the global farm – is occupied by an inorganic, sterile, lifeless thinking activity and its fruit, be it in science (or culture more broadly), government or business. At present, the fruits – the produce – of living, organic, authentic thinking are still relegated to a small corner of the earth, where they have, for a time, been able to grow slowly. The winds have so far been relatively favourable; officers have been mostly busy with other things. But no longer. The winds and officers come together now, the one bringing the other – and with them come the seeds and fruit of the current global paradigm. Even if they are not yet there, they are already there.
The only possible remedy for this situation – the only possible way to grow further – is that all those who strive to not only think but also act organically and in accordance with the realities of life, do so no longer in small-corner-of-the-earth isolation, but with an inner experience of the reality that their thoughts and deeds correspond to global issues and trends – to the level of the whole – including all others who think and act in similar ways. (Both Marsh and Schmidt show that this is possible and, indeed, necessary, while reminding us of our own responsibilities.) We must develop a feeling for what our individual work and initiatives contribute to global health. In everything we do we can ask, How does my work contribute to the global community? – how do the seeds I plant grow into a new world? The ideas and inspiration for our work fall like drops out of the vast ocean of wholeness; it is only right that, in putting this drop into the world through our deeds, we also develop a feeling for the way in which all our work is contributing something back to the whole. The drop of inspiration that has fallen from the whole seeks to find its way back to its source, metamorphosed through our deeds, changing us as human beings – as well as the earth – as it goes. This is a life-giving ocean – a global, refreshing raincloud – making all soils fertile, be it the inner life of man or, through the free deeds of human beings, the social life of earth, including how we work with land itself. It enlivens our relations with the earth, with plants, with animals, with other human beings, and with all the life of the living ocean of inspiration itself. Other winds blow here. Other forces are present, and available.
No matter what our initiative or work, it seeks to find its natural, lawful, organic relevance to the whole, and, indeed, to grow into the whole. Without this connection, in our time, our work will eventually dry up, like so much lifeless grain. But in the same way culture can be found again in raw milk and in agri-‘culture’ more broadly, so can we bring it to life within ourselves and in all fields of social activity around the world, including government and business. For this is the deeper wind that blows, the stronger ‘armed’ force at work – a new global culture is already upon us, within us, between us…though it waits for us to make it. A new paradigm, a new world, awaits. The question is whether we are going to succumb to its shadow side – the existing global paradigm – or, instead, freely put ourselves in service of a completely new culture and all that streams through it, including the spirit of the earth itself, together with the true spirit of our time.
 The Australian Pastoralists and Grazers Association believes organic certifiers should reduce the thresholds required for organic certification in order that some contamination by GM crops be permissible. The Canadian government argues raw milk puts the health of others at risk, and acts pre-emptively to ensure safety. It is yet another case of perceived safety taking precedence over individual freedoms. And yet the safety of any state can only be secured through the freedom of its citizens; otherwise, there will always be unrest. To act pre-emptively in this case is to take away the individual’s right to decide whether they consume raw or pasteurised milk, a feat which the individual would appear to be capable of achieving by him or herself. Here, to act pre-emptively to ensure ‘safety’ equals loss of individual freedom. Thus, government oversteps its realm of responsibilities, and ultimately acts in an ‘unsafe’ way. Its role is to provide means for redress if individual freedoms are curtailed by others. Baxter’s freedom to grow GM is not curtailed by Marsh’s organic farming techniques; however, Marsh no longer has the freedom to grow organic food because of GM contamination (be it from Baxter’s farm, as alleged, or elsewhere). Baxter is arguing he followed all existing laws and regulations in the farming of his GM crop and has therefore done nothing wrong (though this has not been enough, Marsh alleges, to protect the freedoms of others). The lawyers arguing their case against Schmidt claim that raw milk has the potential to transmit disease, yet they have apparently had no qualms in shaking Schmidt’s hand in the courtroom.
 Both of which are world conceptions which cannot adequately account for themselves through their own premises. That is, why should purely material processes contemplate their own consciousness? And how does one account for the world conception of positivism in the realm of sensory experience? As such – by not standing up to their own premises – both philosophies collapse upon themselves.