Detention Centre Australia

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[1] (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). [2]

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).[3] 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).[4] 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.[5] Accommodation is largely in tents. Air conditioning is apparently partial or non-existent,[6] with maximum daily temperatures averaging around 30 degrees Celsius (and minimums averaging around 26 degrees), with maximum daily humidity averaging around 93 per cent.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9] 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.[10])

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.[11] 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.

 

John Stubley


[1] Wars in which Australia has frequently participated.

[2] The whole situation is kept considerably and deliberately vague.

[3] 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

[5] 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

[11] Then will the grand Australian ideals of ‘a fair go,’ ‘egalitarianism’ and ‘mateship’ find true fruition in the world.

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The Wind Has Shifted

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.[1]

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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4] 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.

 

John Stubley


[2] 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.

[4] 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.

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Living With Sharks

The issue of sharks and shark attacks has become a much-debated issue in Western Australia in recent years. Whether or not there are more important issues to give our attention to is, perhaps, a valid question. However, the fact that this has become such a large theme here is itself worthy of exploration.

After several fatal shark attacks in recent years,[1] the state government has decided to implement a policy of catching and killing great white, bull and tiger sharks over 3 metres in length. To do so, they have given a contract to a professional fisherman for the setting of ‘drum lines’ in the state’s south west. Drum lines involve the baiting of large hooks attached to buoys which are anchored to the ocean floor. These baits are intended to attract and catch large sharks in order that they may be killed.

There has, of course, been opposition to this policy, with protest rallies taking place in WA and around Australia – as well as in New Zealand and South Africa – while members of WA’s state parliament have been flooded with emails protesting the policy. Some activists have said they would remove baits and sharks from hooks, while others have already released hooked stingrays.

There has also been support for the move, with some people – including professional surfers and a number of board-riding clubs – expressing that they now feel safer in the water. This, it seems, has been the main motivation for the policy, and its main attraction amongst its supporters – safety in the ocean, especially for those who enter it on a daily basis.

Drum lines were initially set along the coastline south of Perth. The first shark was caught on January 26 – Australia Day. The media was on hand to film and photograph the fisherman dragging the shark alongside the boat before firing several shots into its head with a .22 rifle. Its stomach was then cut and its carcass dumped further out to sea.[2]

These images led the evening television news and covered the front page of the next day’s newspaper. The most unsavoury images were left out, and, yet, people still found them confronting. Some called it ‘un-Australian.’ Others said it was proof the policy was working, and they now felt safer. Some have pointed out that drum lines have been used in Queensland (amongst other places) for the past 50 years or so, with only one fatal shark attack occurring during this time; these lines account, however, for the deaths of about 500 sharks per year, as well as other marine life such as sting rays and turtles.

Later that week, drum lines were dropped off the coast of Perth metropolitan beaches. State Fisheries Department officers were drafted to do the work after several commercial companies pulled out over alleged threats. Only hours after the lines were set, a 1 metre tiger shark and a 2.6 metre tiger shark were caught. Both were released for being undersized. In this case, both were still alive.

At least three more sharks have since been caught in the south west – one a 3 metre tiger shark, shot and killed; another a 2 metre tiger shark dead on the line; as well as another 2 metre tiger shark still alive, though barely. Other undersized sharks have reportedly been caught off metropolitan beaches, but it is difficult to know exact numbers because the Fisheries Department and the WA government are refusing to give any information about catches. (However, ‘spottings’ of sharks in the 4m range are being readily reported.)

What can be made of all this?

If we are to truly understand such a situation we must arrive at the thinking that creates it. On the one hand we have a thinking that looks to ensure the safety of one’s own self – and the safety of others – from harm. Ensuring the safety of its citizens is part of the responsibility of government, though the question remains as to what this actually entails. (We shall come to this point in a moment.)

On the other hand, there is a kind of, what could be called, ecological thinking – or a thinking that sees the shark (or any other phenomenon) as part of a larger eco-system; it is a thinking that says ‘one cannot alter one part of the ecosystem without affecting the whole.’ This manner of thinking is akin to the indigenous cultural traditions of this place, and elsewhere, which insists upon a level of respect and caution when entering the natural (and, essentially, spiritual) environment. In being ‘welcomed to country’ – and in introducing oneself to country – one acknowledges and respects the beings of that place, and one enters it with a caution approximating the level of respect one has for it. In such cultural traditions as these, such protocol is itself a kind of ‘safety’ activity, although it is one based primarily on a respect for the ecosystem of beings there present, and not merely out of a fear for one’s own survival. Even when animals are hunted for food, the same level of respect – as well as the eco-system cognition that engenders it – prevails. Here, this indigenous eco-system cognition is expressed and governed by the Dreaming and the interconnecting web of songlines: story and imagination (as cognitive faculty of perception) govern all of life.

For non-indigenous culture, this experience of the interconnecting nature of the natural, social and, indeed, spiritual world is either dimly felt or brought to a level of consciousness that is able to perceive such an ecosystem through thinking activity. The stories that express such an ecosystem are not as rich or all-encompassing as those of the indigenous culture of this place, but the scientifically active thought content resulting from thorough observation of phenomena leads to the same realities. And this reality is that we are all swimming in a great ocean of interdependent life and being, and that we have choices to make as to how we interact with this – choices as to how we move in and navigate these waters.

To look to secure one’s own safety or, even, the safety of others, at the great harm of and disrespect for other beings, is to fall out of this vast sea of interconnectedness – to act against the reality of the context as a whole. This is a kind of thinking that can only be described as predatory – imaginatively speaking, we could say that this kind of thinking feeds on other beings to survive – it is, we could say, shark thinking. It is the conclusion of the one-sided, solely materialistic ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality that falls out of the ocean of wholeness or ‘Dreaming’ – the ocean of the world’s eco-system. It is the thinking, imaginatively expressed, of the shark.

It is possible to have the experience of looking into the natural world – in particular the animal world – and of finding in each animal one exaggerated quality or another that can be found within the human being. In the rodent, the canine, the ungulate; in the bird, the fish and so on – in the whole animal world – we can find some aspect of the human being – physical and otherwise – brought to exaggeration. To put it the other way, it is possible to experience the human being as a balanced, integrated expression of the exaggerated qualities of the animal world spread out around us. In having this experience we can ask, What is the significance of the over-abundance, extinction or illness of different species?

The meaning of each particular situation is directly connected to the animal under observation, and to all other parts of the ecosystem. The increased number of shark attacks has something to teach us about the ecosystem as a whole, including our relationship to it, as well as something to teach us about our own nature as human beings. What do horse flu, swine flu, mad-cow disease, the cane toad pestilence, shark attacks or anything else have to teach us about the ecosystem as whole; but what do they also have to teach us about ourselves? When something becomes over-abundant in the outer world, how does it relate to the unhealthy over-abundance or otherwise of the same quality in us? Likewise, when something becomes endangered or extinct, what does it say about the corresponding part of ourselves? The same question can be asked of illnesses amongst various animal species.

In the case of sharks, it is possible to observe that an increase in attacks and numbers relates not only to the way in which we as human beings connect to the ecosystem as a whole (including how we impact the food supply chain of sharks), but also to that part of us which is exaggerated in the being of the shark. The proliferation of shark attacks is an externalised picture of some kind of imbalance in the corresponding activity within the human being. Generally, we could say, something of our consciousness has become, imaginatively speaking, too predatory – too shark-like in quality. We have become, in a way, ‘all teeth.’

We have, however, choices to make. We have the possibility to change our thinking activity to one that is in accordance with the lawfulness of the great ocean around and within us. To choose to do so is to overcome our own imbalances and exaggerations, and to realise a certain level of freedom. Such freedom can only be truly achieved by an individual him or her self.

To protect the individual citizen, the government would argue, is part of the task it is charged with, and the raison d’être of such a policy as we have been exploring here. This is, essentially, correct. However, the deeper task – in our time – of government is not merely to protect or ensure the safety of the individual, but to ensure and protect the freedom of the individual. Freedom of the individual is possible in our time, and it is achieved through choosing to put oneself in service of the lawfulness of the great oceanic ecosystem of beingness in the world. To protect this individual freedom is the deeper and true task of government today. And, yet, to do this, it cannot, in any way, act pre-emptively, because in doing so there exists the possibility of individual freedom being infringed upon, and this is too great a risk – too great a ‘security scare’ – in our age. The government acts only to provide an avenue for the remedy and redress of the wrongs done by individuals against the freedom of others.

When it comes to sharks, and shark attacks, this is, therefore, not the  concern of government at all but, rather, of experts in the cultural field – marine biologists, conservation groups, fisheries experts, other scientists, indigenous elders and so on – they themselves know who the best qualified are to deal with the issue, and deal with it in an ecologically contextual way. Government can help ensure such cultural work is resourced to meet the needs at hand.

The shark issue is, perhaps, an overstated or over-emphasised one (more than likely because of its somewhat spectacular and fear-engendering nature). Yet, it brings to the surface the greater, more menacing currents at work in social life. There are deeper and more powerful forces at play in the social waters of the world, and this issue is just another hook that catches them at work. It is possible to see – especially in this country, but all around the world – the way in which government oversteps its primary role of ensuring individual freedoms on a basis of absolute equality of rights for all citizens – our rights must be equal to those of all our brothers and sisters. Of primary importance is our right to be free individuals able to experience and collaborate with the great interdependent workings of the world. To ensure these rights, and to provide a framework for remedying these rights when we infringe upon the freedoms of others is the primary purpose of government; its guiding star is equality of rights.

Wherever it oversteps this function it begins to feed on the freedom of individual human beings, and on cultural life as a whole. Whether it be education, media, medicine, agriculture, academia, science, art, land – or anything else rightly belonging to cultural life – we see here a predatory and overweight/oversized quality we could also imaginatively attribute to the shark. In not allowing potentially free individuals to make decisions for themselves (based on relevant information) – by interfering in the free unfolding of the cultural life of its citizens – any government takes on the role of the shark – and no undersized one, either.[3]

So what is the task here? Is it to bait and catch such a mammoth shark – arguably the largest in the social oceans of the world – before attempting to destroy it? In doing so, we would go against our own observations and experiences of the ecosystem as a whole. No, more creative ways must be found. To act ecologically lawfully would be to ensure such a shark exist in its right habitat as part of an entire social ecosystem. The government must be returned to its rightful part of the ocean – and this can only be achieved through a free cultural life taking up its own place as a creative force in the whole ecosystem of society. Cultural life can no longer swim as isolated whitebait for the idle pickings of government or business, but must stand as a creative force of individual freedom able to put its capacities towards a re-imagining of the waters of society – not only when it comes to political issues, but also to the other great force of the social ocean – the economy.

All free-thinking individuals have a role to play in the re-imagining and re-making of the social ocean of our time. Nothing is evil in and of itself – not the shark, nor government, nor business, nor anything else. Evil is only something fallen out of its place in the whole, or out of its place in time. All aspects of the natural and social world have their part to play. It is just a question of whether or not they inhabit their rightful or ecologically ‘lawful’ place in such a way that serves the eco-system as a whole, including the free individual human being who finds him or herself reflected therein.

In striving towards such an ecosystem as this, we begin to respect and live in accordance with the objective realities and beings of the world, choosing to do so based upon true freedom, and thereby serving the greater, longer story of world and human evolution.

 

John Stubley


[1] There have been seven fatal shark attacks in Western Australia in the last three years; 20 fatal attacks in the last 100 years.

[2] The fisherman said it was a bull shark, but marine experts insist it was a tiger shark. This discrepancy of opinion led to criticism of the fisherman’s capacity to identify the sharks he is contracted to kill. The fisherman is paid $5705AUD per day, or $610,500 for the 107-day contract. The total amount for implementing the policy looks set to top $1 million.

[3] One could also say, thereby, that social life as a whole has become something of a shark, feeding, as it were, on the human being.

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Walking into the World

On New Year’s Eve, 31-year-old Australian soldier Paul McKay walked into the wilderness of upstate New York and disappeared.

He had never been to the US before, and had no known contacts there. He flew to Newark from Australia, took a bus to the town of Saranac Lake near the Canadian border, and checked into a hotel. He left clothing and a camera there before walking – with a large backpack and winter clothing – along train tracks into the Adirondack Mountains.

The temperature during this time was reaching minus 30 degrees Celsius, but authorities remained hopeful that his military training would help keep him alive.

Captain McKay was on leave from the Australian army, and was believed to be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a tour of Afghanistan. (Some media reported that he was serving at Sorkh Bed Forward Operating Base in 2011 when an Afghan soldier shot and killed three Australian soldiers and an interpreter, and seriously injured seven other Australian troops.[1])

A large search by volunteers, rangers, dogs and helicopters began after his family reported that he wrote his father an email on December 30 in which he left his father all his possessions. His family did not even know he was in the US.

The search continued for two weeks, during which time authorities remained hopeful he would board his January 15 flights from either Newark or Los Angeles. He did not board either of them.

On January 17 his body was found near the top of Scarface Mountain. He was without tent or shelter. An autopsy found he died of an irregular heartbeat due to hypothermia. The coroner ruled the manner of death to be suicide.

Such an event as this gives rise to many questions, as well as – with good reason – much sadness.

One thing is relatively clear, however – that this young man, having experienced the horrors of war (and, one could say, life in general) chose not to live as a human being in the world he encountered but, rather, to walk into the wilderness, alone. The world, as his destiny had revealed it to him in experience, was such that he would rather turn away from it.

Part of the tragedy of this story is that it does not take much effort on our part to empathise with Captain McKay. Still, most of us can only imagine the horrors that war brings. For others, it is more real.

More US soldiers now take their own lives than die in combat. It is the same in Britain. That is, suicide is now the biggest killer of US and British troops.[2] The war without continues and escalates into the war within. This is the great unseen world war of our time.

And yet, it is not only military personnel who suffer such a fate – who are engaged in such a war. The reason, in part, why the story of Captain McKay is so tragic is that we can identify something of ourselves in it, even if the outer circumstances completely differ.

Globally, each year, around one million people take their own lives.[3] Add to this all those deaths which are not actually reported as suicides. And considering that only around one in 20 suicides are ‘completed,’ we can say that each year around 20 million people – or, roughly, the population of Australia – attempt to take their own lives.[4]

Many more, of course, suffer, but do not go to such extremes. There are gradations of mental health problems that lead, ultimately, to suicide.

Such problems – problems, for the most part, of the inner life – problems of whether or not we actually want to be here on earth – are not escaped by anybody. For, it seems, almost everywhere we turn in our time – not just on the battlefield of war – we find a social situation which is fundamentally antipathetic to the human being – to that part of us which decides, every day, at whatever level of consciousness, that we actually want to be here.

Almost wherever we turn, the world presents itself today as something fundamentally at odds with the human being. Just as there are gradations of challenges – or battles – faced in the inner life of man, so too do we encounter the world around us as a kind of battle – a kind of war. This, at least, to some degree or other, depending on our individual circumstance, is the reality – that the outer – and with it, inner – world presents itself to us as a  kind of battlefield – as war. This is the given situation – the default setting – of our time. No matter what field – from economic activity, to political and rights issues, to education, food and popular culture (with all the advertising and marketing that go along with it – including the lucrative educational and economic opportunities offered by military service, not to mention the general glorification of war) we are continually under attack – and we face it at the level of relationships, family, race, religion, nationality, gender, class – all the way to the global level. The global paradigm of our time is the self-fulfilment of our abstract theory of Social Darwinism – of survival of the fittest. And yet, we are all losers in such a battle as this.

This global paradigm is not the right fulfilment of the French Revolutionary ideals of freedom, equality and brotherhood. It is, rather, one of cultural subjugation/slavery, political and rights inequality, and economic war of all against all. (All of these issues are present, in one form or another, in the many military conflicts and other violence we see in our time – indeed, each of them is itself a form of social violence.) And every day we suffer – to varying levels – the inner consequences of these outer realities.

That is, unless, we actively cultivate going another way.

What is this other way?

Currently, many of us walk into the battlefield of the world with little conscious awareness (or recognition) of the inner realities of the experiences we face. Those who do feel, all too fully, this inner reality, however, are continually tempted to walk away from this battlefield into the ‘wilderness.’ And with the world as it currently is, this is all too understandable.

These are the two extreme paths of our time – into the war of the world, numb to the reality of its connection to inner life; or, alternatively, at the other extreme, into the wild. By human beings choosing – consciously or otherwise – one of these two paths, the global paradigm of our time – the global war, or retreat from it – is not only upheld, but actually gets worse. If these continue to be the only chosen paths, things will continue to deteriorate, and will do so in such a way that war, including the terrible experiences Captain McKay underwent in Afghanistan (and afterwards), will become even more common.

The reality, however, is that another – a third – path exists for the human being today. It is neither a blind walking into the world-war, nor a resigned walking into the wild (in truth, there is no longer anywhere we can go to escape the situation – there is no longer any ‘wild’). This third path is, rather, a walking into the battle of the world with eyes of the inner life fully open. Meaning, we can attempt to strive today, as human beings, to see through, with an awake inner life, to the inner, essential, workings of the world as it presents itself to us. No doubt, we will at first see social life for the reality that it currently is – a war waged upon the human being. But if, without turning away from this, we continue to walk – nay, stride – through this battlefield, we can also come to such experiences whereby we encounter something of how social life – in essence – seeks to be; we can experience something of the reality of social life which overcomes the current global war we encounter; we can, with eyes of the inner life open, experience something of the health-bestowing qualities of the social organism as they reveal themselves in us; and then, armed with this experience and knowledge, we can begin to rebuild the world in accordance with its inner lawfulness. More – we can see where others are also engaged in this building even as war wages all around them, because they have some sense – or sense-organ – for a better, more ‘lawful’ – and thereby, human – way of shaping the social realities of our time. In joining with others in common perceptions of healthy, lawful, social realities we can – in and through the spaces between us – begin to build a new world, and do so in such a way that disproves the one-sidedness of Social Darwinism and, instead, encompasses the whole social picture. We can find one another as human beings in conscious service of a commonly perceived ideal, and in so doing continue building a world in accordance with the realities of our age – with the true spirit of our time.

In such a striving as this can we begin to turn to a more positive end stories such as Paul McKay’s – stories which, in reality, concern us all.

 

John Stubley

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The Fire of Life: Stay and Defend

The element of fire is nothing new to Australia. Yet, for the modern lifestyle, it can engender no small amount of fear. And understandably so. Recently, more than 50 houses and properties were destroyed by a fire near Perth, Western Australia.[1]

Indeed, every summer brings with it the possibility of more destruction. And, for residents, this can mean more confusion, and more fear.

The question must be, then, What can be done?

In a recent radio interview,[2] a volunteer firefighter described his decision to ‘stay and defend’ his home. After a certain period of time, one must either leave one’s dwelling or ‘stay and actively defend’. If the decision to leave is made too late, however, one also faces great risk in departing. Indeed, there is risk at every turn, whatever the decision – it cannot be avoided.

Not only was the interviewee a volunteer firefighter of many years experience, he also ran a business specialising in fire prevention and management. The first thing he said he needed to accomplish was to stay calm – and that his training and experience had made this possible.

In addition to these inner resources, this individual also had a very large water tank with the relevant and necessary firefighting hose, and around 100 surplus fire extinguishers (from his business). No doubt he would also have considered the necessary fire breaks around the property and house, as well as sprinkler systems, filling the gutters with water, and so on.

When, then, did he make his decision to stay and actively defend? It had, he said, been made years ago, as had all other preparations, including that the rest of his family (except his son – also a volunteer firefighter) would leave the moment they were aware fire was coming. How did he know the fire was coming? By being aware of the wind direction, local topography and other conditions; and by having access to a firefighter’s radio communication.

So, with a fire threat imminent, the long-held plan fell into action – his family left, and he and his son stayed to defend their home.

At this point, he said, a neighbour asked what he should do. Our interviewee asked if he had a defence plan in place – the neighbour replied in the negative. It was advised, then, that he should leave. The neighbour did so and returned some days later to find his home had been burned to the ground, no doubt wondering if he would have suffered the same fate had he stayed.

Another neighbour decided to take a garden hose and attempt to defend his home. For our interviewee, however, this meant another individual he now had to worry about – one who had not adequately prepared for this situation.

And so our interviewee stayed with his son and defended not only his own house, but managed to save the houses of four of his neighbours as well. His own preparation also led to a positive outcome for others.

As the days went by, he stayed inside the ‘red zone’ and continued to put out spot fires as they arose. If he had left the area, authorities would not have allowed him back in. While there he said he noticed several looters – including ‘suspicious’ kids on bikes, as well as an individual with a laundry basket full of items – scouring the area.

It was not until some three days after the fire started that he finally got some sleep, just before the interview. By this time his family had also returned – on a permit – to see what had happened.

What can be made of all this?

It seems as though this individual was born for a moment such as this. He had been observing and contemplating the element of fire for years, and had been actively cultivating the inner and outer resources necessary for this very moment. He had, in a way, been defending his home not just for these three days but for years, if not decades. All of his experience and preparation – over the course of his whole life, we could say – was an activity of staying and defending. We could say that this fire ‘moment’ belonged to his whole life.

Now, not all of us are volunteer firefighters, nor is fire a threat that all of us face. Perhaps, though, we face other natural elements – snowstorms, hurricanes, cyclones, floods, earthquakes, and so on. Perhaps we face threatening social conditions such as homelessness, poverty, inequality, subjugation, racism, sexism, etc., or any number of other, substantial trials. Indeed, there seems no shortage of ‘disasters’ knocking regularly on our and our neighbours’ doors.

And what of our homes – and houses – that we are called to either stay and defend, or to flee from? What is our home, in essence? Our house, as physical building, is a home for our physical bodies, and is more or less suited to our physical needs and countenance. With our thoughts, however, we can dwell outside these four walls and feel a certain amount of ‘at-home-ness’ in an area much greater than our houses. It may be that we also feel that home – our home – is as large as – encompasses also – our neighbours and their houses. Perhaps we are at home in our whole street,[3] our whole neighbourhood, state, region – even the whole earth, and beyond. With our thoughts – with our thinking activity – it is fair to say that we can feel at home in as large or small an area as our thinking can encompass – can become part of. This individual stayed and defended not only his house, but his home – which, in this case, encompassed the houses of his fellow human beings.

In this light, to stay and defend our homes can take on new meaning. With the right cultivation of inner resources and the necessary skills and experience, I can choose to stay and defend whatever I choose to unite with in my own thinking activity – my own consciousness. And this activity of staying and defending can last a lifetime – longer. I am convinced that every human being has been actively preparing – to some degree of consciousness – for their own, unique activity of staying and defending. It may look completely different to the incident we have been describing above – but, none-the-less, it belongs to the path of each one of us that we have a particular, unique, world-necessary stay-and-defend contribution we are here to make. It just depends on how awake we are to it – how much and how consciously we develop the inner and outer resources necessary for its execution when called by the ‘imminent fires’ of life, and whether we have said ‘yes’ to it in such a way that when the moment arrives this ‘yes’ lives not only in our minds and on our lips, but also in our will – in our deeds. Do we stay and defend our ‘homes’, or do we leave? – each one of us lives out the answer to this question, for it is the course of our own lives that brings such a question into existence. And with the world as it is at present – in regards both natural and social questions – we can only say that the ‘fire’ is now upon us – is upon all of us. The wind direction, topography and surrounding conditions mean the threat is imminent. We must choose – and we must grow conscious, again and again, of this decision.

Finally, to help us in this activity, it can be useful to know what ‘defending’ actually entails. To look again at our interviewee, we can see the way in which he observed, contemplated and experienced fire in such a way that he was able to remain calm – was able to hold fear in its place. It was not that he was without fear, it was that he knew what to do with it. It may well have been that at some point – earlier in his life – he actually chose his path of training and development because he observed fire to be not only a threat, but something that gave rise to fear. In experiencing fire again and again, however – in his observation and thinking activity – he was able to hold fear at bay and do that which was necessary.

We could say that to observe and think fire in such a complete way is, in a sense, to become it. In becoming it – in becoming fire – fear no longer prevails as a driving force but is, rather, externalised from us; it is there but we are left free to do what needs to be done.

We could also say that each of us contains fear such as this. That which gives rise to it, however, will be different for everybody. If one is attentive, however, it is possible to work with that which brings about fear in us – whether it be fire, sharks, money, social situations or anything else – in such a way that we can know it from the inside – that we, in a way, can become it. And in becoming that which causes fear in us, we can begin to keep fear itself in its place, and take up our rightful position as free individuals.

The only thing not consumed by fire is fire. In becoming it, we have nothing to fear.

The indigenous people of this country have been working creatively with fire for more than 40,000 years.[4]

The time has now come for all of us to choose – wherever we are, wherever ‘home’ is for us, whatever our fears, whatever our tasks. We are each asked to be responsible. The fire is upon us. Nay – we are already ablaze. Will we choose to flee? Will we choose to stay, unprepared, a burden to others? Or will we stay and actively defend, becoming fire, and putting ourselves in service of that which needs to be done in world evolution?

 

John Stubley


[1] Perth hills area, including Parkerville, Stoneville and Mount Helena. (The family property I grew up on was immediately impacted upon by this fire.)

[2] ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio 720 “Mornings with Geoff Hutchison” program, Wednesday January 15, 2014.

[3] The interviewee tried to save another house but had to abandon it when flames got into the roof.

[4] Indigenous Australians have used and continue to use fire as a form of land stewardship. Land is cleared and cleansed, making it more accessible and easier to hunt animals, while allowing certain plants to germinate and grow as others are removed. Such fire stewarding systems are intricate, and it is the task of certain individuals to be responsible for – to carry the wisdom of – fire – it is their dreaming; their totem. Like all dreamings they become it, in order to serve country as a whole.

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