Opinion: Australian Politics

My opinion piece on the current political situation in Australia originially published on 24th February, 2012 in the ‘Status’ section of https://www.facebook.com/jennifermaehamilton.

Ok. I think I see through the media storm and have formed some kind of opinion. Here it is. I’d prefer Rudd over Gillard, Gillard over Abbott and Bob Brown over the lot of them. Rudd may be a foul mouthed autocrat, but he is putting a lot on the line for what he believes in and, doomed as it may be given the current situation (just as it was when he refused to capitulate on the mining tax), that is something clear and easy to respect. But Rudd will lose on Monday and probably should. And so will Gillard at the next election. And then we’ll have Abbott. And then … pie in the sky with silver lining … that situation will become so obviously and immediatlely untennable we will band together, demand a referendum for a representational government (à la N.Z.) and, while we are at it, republic (à la almost every other place colonised by the British) and kick his speedo clad arse to kingdom come. Snap election. Greens with 30% form coalition with newly formed Indigenous Party (18%) and some specialist party like No Coal Seam Gas Party (3%) and Bob Brown is president by October 2013. Our current model of government has completely failed. Viva la revolution, amigos.


Baby Love #2

Almost ten months on, the hodge-podge of incomplete thoughts that make up the post “Baby Love #1” seem quite distant to me. I remember writing that post. It was an interesting experience because I remember feeling clear headed and like I was going to solve all the problems of the world and produce an amazingly coherent theory about why mothers become obsessed with babies. But, when it came down to it, I couldn’t finish the post. I couldn’t finish the post, I guess, because I wasn’t convinced of the theory and also my using Rilke’s poem as a way of seeing the world was wrong. There was something missing in the poem and missing in my view of the situation.

The problem, I think, was that I thought Rilke was right. I believed that idea about love and creaturely openness, expressed in the Eighth Elegy, was what formed the basis of my reflection on those mothers’ interaction and obsession with their babies. But Rilke’s poem does not serve as a theory for how the world works, it is just one view. In fact, while I love the poem, I think in some ways Rilke expresses a fundamentally pessamistic idea: love makes you feel like you can do anything. But, he argues in the poem, the feeling of love is an illusion, love cannot truly open you up to the world, it makes you feel open but you are kidding yourself. You’re blinded by your lover and really you are caught in a narcissistic feedback loop with your lover, looking at the reflection of yourself eyes in his. Likewise babies only have this openness when they are tiny, before they have language; they are born open and the process of growing, aquiring language and social skills makes them close off. In other words experience this open wonderousness until their mother or father stops them from doing something in order for them to become social.

Rilke says:”A child, at times, may lose
himself within the stillness
of it, until rudely ripped away.”

I read this as, the child may lose himself in the wonder of the open, a pure imaginative space beyond politics and beyond laws but it is rudely ripped awhen a mother or father stops the child from doing whatever it is he is doing and, worst case scenario, shames him for doing it; “it” being something we may recognise as socially unacceptable like playing with himself, wearing a ballet skirt, wantonly breaking toys or pouring chocolate sauce all over the chesterfield.

But this does not take into account the experience of the mother or father marvelling at the child’s deviance and assumes the mother or father will always shut down the dream life of the child in an attempt to make them properly social. And, what’s more, that the shutting down of the dreamlife will always completely succeed and nothing of that daydream or open deviance will survive the force of the law of the father or mother. But the point is, I guess, that the child might not obey them. They might go and grow in all kinds of crazy directions, and they could remain open. Just as lovers may not necessarily just enjoy how they look in their lovers eyes and use that same gaze upon the wider world. Its all a matter of what we do with it and how much we are willing to risk. Getting completely and entirely lost in the lover’s eyes or clamping down on a child with an authority so airtight they can do nothing but grow up in the exact same way as the parent are only two of a range of possibilities here.

I worked at a chalk art festival in Parramatta last october. We had a large wooden snake, a bucket of chalk, a bucket of water and a large sponge on the street, specifically for kids to come draw all over. One kid, three or so, kept going to the bucket to get the sponge and his father kept stopping him. The kid kept going to the bucket and the father kept stopping him. Other kids would pick up the sponge and wash down their section and carry on, and this kid would go to the bucket and his father would stop him. On about the fifth attempt the father said to this kid firmly, all of three, ‘Do not touch the sponge. We all need rules and boundaries in this world and this is one of them. This is your boundary and you cannot use this sponge.’ I dreaded to think what would happen to the little boy if he even cast his eyes on a pink tutu. I also thought that in some instances yes, the experience of childhood wonder is broken by the parent but, even if the little kid didn’t get his hands on that sponge, he could in years to come. And, most parents didn’t stop their kids from picking up the sponge, getting completely covered in festy chalky water and making a mess everywhere.

What’s more, the capacity to marvel at how kids both break rules and love each other was what those mothers were captivated by (see previous post); they were captivated by how they had told the kids not to do something and then they had promptly done it anyway and also they marvelled at how they also had not explicitly told the kids to be kind to each other and love each other, and they were kind and loving anyway.

So, what am I saying? Well, rather than the mother’s marvelling striking me as frustrated, stifled and myopic, I now see it more as something quite amazingly open itself: the gazes of the child, mother and lover very similar in this respect. The trick is, I guess, to get it off those discrete objects and to spread it wider and further and to not feel pressured to shutdown by those whose gaze is not as open as your own. The trick is, basically, not to be like the mother in Black Swan and instead to remember the opennness you felt as child, or the joy you feel when a child remembers to break the rules or the pleasure you divine from looking at a lover, and see those feelings as the foundations of how we can look out at the world as a whole. And, what’s more, the very fact that Rilke became a poet is proof that such a gaze is possible.

 

[Correction: Thanks to CMJ for proofing my posts! I wrote baby, lover and mother are verisimilar in this respect. But I meant “very similar”!)


Baby Love #1

This post was drafted on the 5th May, 2011. It is incomplete. I need to revise my thoughts on this a little bit and will write a follow up post soon…

Once upon a time I was sitting in a cafe in Newtown and a group of three women were talking loudly about their toddlers. Their conversation was relentless. They described in extraordinary detail how the toddlers behaved. For me, who knew neither the women nor the kids, the conversation had no intrinsic meaning. I couldn’t understand what held their interest in the conversation because I did not know who they were talking about. I found the conversation tedious and repetitive, but also incredibly distracting; I could not concentrate on what I was reading and I could not help but eavesdrop. For the brief time I was within earshot of their conversation, I became obsessed with their obsessive conversation, and their attention to detail in recounting what the toddlers had done. Their interest in/love for/obsession with their kids had manifested into an extraordinary photographic/filmic memory of their behaviour. The crux of their interest, however, was not in the kids’ actions themselves (she did a poo, he blinked his eyes), but rather in how their kids’ behaviour was becoming socially and culturally meaningful. That is, the kid was told not to do something and she promptly did it, knowing it was going to get in trouble, as if courting the attention. Or, the kid saw another kid in distress and he went over to her and gave her a hug. This interest, the memory, the detail, the knowledge of the becoming-social person at once enlivened me and caused incredible despair.

On the one hand I thought ‘it is amazing that these women can recall all this information and are so specifically interested in its social meaning’, and then on the other hand I thought, ‘why is their interest so myopic, fixated not on this little blob of barely self-conscious flesh in front of them?’ or, to put it another way, ‘why do they have this effortless interest in their toddlers and not in the military-industrial complex, climate change, the obstacles to saving the whales/world peace?’. Now, for all I know this group of women were highly politically engaged individuals. But the focus or passion for the toddlers had a unique quality about it; there was an enviable clarity and enjoyment in these toddlers’ actions.

I had sort of forgotten about this moment and also about my short-lived side project of trying to figure a way to bottle that focus re-sell it to consumers it in a way that would make them attach to different objects, more objects, in the same way (ecstasy? acid? magic mushrooms?) and then I read a poem that stirred my memory.

*********

A few weeks ago I read a poem that had three effects upon me: it diffused a general malaise, it began my research for the final chapter of my thesis and brought this moment with the mothers and toddlers back to the front of my mind. The poem is Rainer Maria Rilke’s Eighth Duino Elegy: click here to open it in a new window.

Firstly, a confession. I don’t know Rilke’s work very well. But anyway, I encountered this elegy in the first chapter of On Creaturely Life, a book that was recommended to me recently. I am interested in the idea of human exceptionalism, or ‘what separates us from the animals’. Generally the idea of human exceptionalism is framed in the positive: humans are different from animals and better, smarter, more productive. Why? Well, we have reason, language, technology and, an example after my own heart, cooking. But the flipside of human exceptionalism is that we are different from animals and worse, lesser, lacking. We are different because we are not fully formed, all those elements that separate us from the animals–reason, technology, language, cooking–are compensation for that lack. We can understand this as a kind of negative exceptionalism. I am interested both manifestations of this distinction but especially in the latter: what we lack and how we compensate for it or, to put it another way, why cats, dogs and birds are better than us and the weird ways we over compensate for our crapness.

For me, Rilke’s poem came some way to articulating an aspect of the human condition that is closed, myopic, fixated, that orders the universe and in doing so misses out on so much of the potential joy and wonder of that universe. And certainly this is how that was framed in On Creaturely Life:

“Man is forever caught up in the labor of the negative–the (essentially defensive) mapping and codification of object domains that allow for certain sorts of desire and possession but never what Rilke posits as the unimaginable enjoyment of self-being in otherness manifest by the creature.”

The example that struck me most powerfully was how love comes close to this experience of a self open to the world, yet falls short:

Lovers are close to it, in wonder, if /  the other were not always there closing off the view….. / As if through an oversight it opens out / behind the other……But there is no / way past it, and it turns to world again.

When in love with another, one experiences ‘self-being in otherness’, the loved object dissolves ones sense of self and opens their world up. Beautiful, right?  But this is a very specific version of love and certainly depending on your point of view, could be read as narcissism and projection. But, to take Rilke seriously is to believe that the self can be open and that the experience of love gives us a glimpse of the open. But, tragically, our fixation on the object of love means this openness is not generally applicable. We open up to our object and that is all. While I feel like there’s a kernel of truth in it for romantic lovers, I feel as though the same can be said for parents and children. The parent sees a world of open possibility in the baby or toddler, finds incredible joy and interest in this world, but in the world beyond the child that the child has to learn to live in, thwarts the possibility of that child remaining open forever. Why I think the poem stirred my memory is that I think the interest that those mothers took in their kids’ becoming-social behaviour was right at the edge of the open and the closed: a world of possibility in the child and a world destined to tragically repeat itself in the child learning how to be social in the same way everyone has learned to be social before her.

… and there I left it. Open ended. Life’s different now. There is more to say on this topic. BRB.


Two Years

It feels like just yesterday that I said my last goodbye to Dad, but when I think seriously about it, a lot has happened since the 16th September, 2009. I learned how to organise a funeral, I thought a lot about death and mortality and politics and society, I started writing my thesis again, I produced a play and took it on tour, I started to learn how to play a ukulele, I started to learn how to keep a garden alive, I started to learn how to collaborate properly, I became a vegetarian, I travelled abroad with my mother, I travelled abroad alone, I became an artist, curator and writer, I learned to take risks, I reopened myself to the world, I fell out of love, and I fell in love again.

When I think about it now, I think these activities of the last two years of my life are motivated by grief. I had to find ways to stay alive and present in the world in the face of such loss. I had to figure out what to do in order not to fall over in a heap.


Dad died two years ago today. I remember when he died cards came from everywhere expressing sympathy, but sometimes we received empathy cards. Often the empathy cards would say quite clearly that while they are sorry for the loss, they wanted us to know that ‘it doesn’t get any easier’. I felt as though such cards were welcoming mum and I into an exclusive club; a club for those struck by insurmountable grief, giving us the opportunity to suffer terribly forevermore along with them. This filled me with fear and dread: ‘It never gets any easier?’ I thought, ‘How will I survive?’ Two years on I guess I can say that they are right, it doesn’t get easier having lost the person. That person has gone and, as we know, no amount of wishing or hoping brings them back. But what those cards didn’t say was that if you can find a way to keep that person alive through yourself, that difficulty becomes manageable; they remain alive in the way they guide your actions, in the way you trust what they taught you and act accordingly. If this is true then I have my father to thank for the last two years of my life even though he wasn’t to help me through them. These were two of the most difficult and incredible years of my life so far. I wish he was here to share them with me, but that is impossible because since he died I have lived for him, rather than with him.
My dearest Dad. I love you. I miss you. And thank you, for everything.

Monday Morning: A Closet Drama

Dramatis Personae:

  • Middle aged man, driving a bronze SUV, in sunglasses, windows up.
  • Cyclist

Cyclist wends her way down Wilson Street, Darlington. She’s thinking about the craziness of her life at the moment. Past. Present. Future. Thoughts can be represented with interpretive dance. Although it is 8am the traffic is light and she’s making good time. The sun in shining. The birds are singing. Life’s good. She’s wearing a bright red coat and a bright green helmet. She has second thoughts about her outfit: she thinks she probably looks like a Christmas tree. She comes to a roundabout and sees an SUV coming up the street to her left. She thinks unconsciously ‘no worries’; she’s got right of way two times over because he’s on her left and he’s not even at the roundabout yet. She enters the roundabout. She realises that the SUV is not stopping.

Cyclist: (loudly) Whoa, Whoa, Whoa.

She slows down so the impact is not dramatic. He hits her. Luckily he’d slowed to turn the corner too. Her bike scratches the front of his car, but she comes off the bike but does not fall over. There’s a short standoff. Cyclist looks directly at the driver desiring acknowledgement of his wrong and an apology. The driver gestures impatiently for the cyclist to move on.  

Cyclist: (Loudly, gesticulating wildly) Aren’t you even going to apologise for almost running me over?

The driver, unresponsive, reverses a little in order to get around the cyclist and speeds off down the street. Cyclist looks around for recognition of this injustice, and the impertinence and gall of the man in the unnecessarily large car. Nobody is around. Cyclist rides off thinking how glad she was to not be hurt, how much she wanted to kick the car, but also glad that she is that she had restraint, because by not kicking the car she retains the moral high ground. The second wave of thoughts can also be represented with interpretive dance, but ideally dancers would have a costume change to signal that the mood of the thoughts had darkened somewhat since the incident.

THE END.

——-

Playwright’s statement: This is a follow up to Wednesday Morning, a representation of the possible harmony between Cyclists and Pedestrians in future. This drama perhaps represents the particularly toxic dimension of the current relationship between Cyclists and Drivers in Sydney from the Cyclist’s perspective.


Living

‘You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.’

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, ‘Letter #4′.

(a companion to my earlier post: ‘writing‘)


Day Dreams

This blog is rarely personal because usually I have more to say about the world than myself. I have blogged about leaf-blowers and death, politics and history, and science, meteorology and deep fried bacon. So please excuse me while I get a bit personal for a moment…

Last night I dreamt that I was a gladiator on the TV show Gladiators. I was striving to get to be selected as the one to chase the contestant up the rock-climbing wall, and violently rip them off in a dazzling display of physical strength and agility. I wasn’t selected but I had great abs and an awesome costume.

I also dreamt that I was spending a lot of time on the train, and the final destination was Bellambi Train station; I dreamt that Bellambi Train station was less like a bleak concrete platform in the middle of a suburban waste land, and more like an exotic Moroccan bathhouse on the side of a cliff on above a large sandy beach. I spent a long time reading photocopied material, naked in a bath, waiting for the train.

I also dreamt I was walking and talking with someone along a pretty path, when we were interrupted by the sudden appearances of spectres from the past and portents of the future: this simple stroll became complicated. It was not awful or frustrating, but the walk was totally interrupted, all spectres and all people dispersed, and I’m not sure what happened next.

Incoherent as all the parts of the dream are, they hold together as a whole unit: a coherent emotional story. The dream has stayed with me all day. While sitting at my desk reading about Renaissance meteorology and perfectly able to concentrate on the dense text, I felt the emotions stirred by the dream still firing throughout my body: they were circling around in my stomach, tickling the creases of my inner arms and, believe it or not, warming me just behind my eyes. Cynics will no doubt joke that I am experiencing the early symptoms of stroke. But perverse as it may seem, these dreamy vibrations feel really good. This dream mapped a large area of my emotional landscape: it wasn’t about work, love and life, it was how they  feel. My invisible interior life, that is really only visible if I blush or tremble, was translated into an entire dreamscape. I woke this morning with the implicit understanding that this dream was an inchoate representation of how I feel about several key aspects of my life as it is today (yes, including the Gladiators and the bath-house-train-station). It has left me with something to think about and work with. It was emotional epiphany of sorts even though I don’t know what I came to realise as such. So for now, I will just keep thinking, imagining and hoping. And spending my nights dreaming and my days reading and writing about meteorology.

If you made it this far, thank-you for indulging my emotional-innards blog post. I promise to return to blogging about death and carbon taxes ASAP.


Queues

During the Howard Years the label ‘queue jumper’ was applied to anyone who tried to enter Australia via ‘unofficial’ means or ‘illegal’ passage. For the most part these people are refugees. So, anyone who fled their home and country for fear of prosecution, but who also failed to fill out the correct paperwork before arriving in Australia was labelled a ‘queue jumper’. Rather than just being an offensive gaffe by some loose lipped Barnaby Joyce-type politician,forgotten well before the next election, this phrase has entered common usage in the Australian vernacular; indeed it was a phrase key in winning Howard the next election. It is a tragic misnomer for a range of reasons but most tragically in relation to refugees: one cannot queue to flee. However the phrase stuck because it made sense to a shameless majority; it played into the imaginations of many Australians who, it turns out, are afraid that the wide brown land is too small to accommodate people in need.

********

I was in a queue the other day, but it was a queue of a very different order. I was queuing for coffee at a cafe in Chippendale. But at first I didn’t see the queue. A girl walked in, looked at me, and walked straight past me to a line that was trained along the counter. This line was obviously a queue. I noticed this almost immediately and joined the queue behind the girl who had walked in after me. ‘Is this the queue?’ I asked. ‘Yes it is’, she replied quite definitely. I wasn’t too disgruntled that she was in front of me in the queue, even though I’d been at the cafe for a few minutes longer than her (and she knew that!). But it did make me think a little bit about the mundane, interpersonal politics of queues and how this might relate to the concept of the ‘queue jumper’.

My basic point is, even if you can join a queue (i.e. because you aren’t ‘fleeing’ or because it’s a sunny and peaceful Friday morning and you can wait ten more seconds for a decaf flat white), you can’t join the queue until you know where it is. Then, when you do find the queue, no one actually cares how long you’ve been looking for the queue. When you do join it you have to get on the back of the line. That’s the rule. There can be no way to register when you decide to start looking for the queue, because if you knew how to register, you’d know how to find the queue. What struck me was that the girl could have offered to let me in the line, but she didn’t. She knew where the queue was, I didn’t. She’s gotta wait too. Why would she want to wait any longer?

It is here, in this mundane, more or less every day unspoken rule, we find the base and wretched political power of the phrase ‘queue jumper’. It doesn’t matter that many of the people labelled ‘queue jumpers’ don’t even know there is a queue (if we can even speak of the wait to immigrate to Australia as a ‘queue’, as such). Furthermore, anyone seeking refugee status would not be able to queue anyway: queuing to ‘flee’ imminent danger is impossible by definition. It doesn’t matter because while you’re average joe is waiting for his morning coffee, and reading the daily tele’s latest wretched story about ‘queue jumpers’, he’s linking the idea of the refugee to his coffee queue; he’s thinking about what he’d like to do to anyone who dared extend his wait time for his mug-o-cino and using that ‘basic instinct’ to interpret the plight of those displaced by political turmoil. It may too banal and too base but I feel like there’s something in it.

I’m looking forward to watching ‘Go Back to Where You Came From‘ on SBS tonight.


Galileo versus The Galileo Movement

I call on the resting soul of Galileo: king of night vision, king of insight‘ – The Indigo Girls

It is with great reluctance that I write about The Galileo Movement: a conservative protest group targeting Australia’s carbon tax because anthropogenic climate change is a fallacy. The founders were inspired by Lord Monckton (the entirely discredited climate skeptic whose other claim to fame is the ‘Eternity Puzzle‘). I do not like to give oxygen to such groups, but I need to make comment. The group have chosen Galileo as their namesake because he is one of the ‘fathers of modern science’, but their reasoning is so completely bogus I cannot let it lie. They explain in more detail on their website why they selected Galileo as the figurehead:

“Taking his name, we honour his integrity and courage in championing freedom and protecting science. He replaced religious doctrine with solid observable data. His outspoken defence of truth is a rallying cry to all people valuing freedom and objective understanding of the world. His spirit guides us to ensure that we and future generations continue making the world a better place to live — by protecting the environment and making honest decisions based on factual scientific evidence.” [1]

Yesterday, in an article on The Galileo Movement and Australia’s ongoing carbon tax debate, New Matilda point out that the analogy between Galileo and Climate Skepticism is ‘clumsy, unwieldy … and the claims that (the founders) make for it seem, well, more suited to their opponents’ [2]. Clumsy and unwieldy is to say the least. It is clumsy because it doesn’t really make sense historically and I agree with this, but I think there is a much more salient reason why the analogy between Galileo and this Climate-Skeptic movement is entirely wrong-headed, historically inaccurate and tragically perverse. Galileo was a paradigm buster and The Galileo Movement are the opposite (and not in that annoying paradoxical way where ‘opposite’ actually means ‘the same’. I mean they are not even really related they are so totally opposed).

Galileo was one of several key sixteenth and seventeenth century scientists–along with Nicolaus Copernicus, Giordano Bruno, Francis Bacon and Isaac Newtown–whose discoveries were fundamental in instituting the great ‘The Paradigm Shift'[3] and creating the modern world. The development of scientific method was an important aspect of the paradigm shift in which Western humanity was (or still is) transported from a predominantly Religious worldview to a Secular-Scientific worldview. The cosmological and ideological implications of Copernican Heliocentrism are key to understanding Galileo’s particularly important contribution to modern science: Copernicus’s maths and Galileo’s telescopes, among other things, shifted our cosmological worldview from a closed geocentric classical world to what would eventually become the open infinite modern universe. Copernicus deduced that, due to irregularities in the position of stars in the sky, it is was more likely that the earth revolved around the sun, and not the other way around. Galileo’s telescope, among other things, helped make Copernican theory an observable reality.

It is difficult to overestimate the scale of the shift instituted by discoveries like these. They changed the entire Western world. The explicit reason why Copernican mathematics and Galilean astronomy was so totally radical and dangerous is because it quite literally destabilised the institutional authority of the Church and State. And even if it was not his explicit intent, Galileo was arrested because his discoveries fundamentally undermined all institutional authority. Classical Ptolemaic geocentric cosmology undergirded the Church and State in Italy in the seventeenth century; these institutions were literally thought to be a reflection of a divine God-given natural order. The basic tenets of Helocentrism undermined this entire political worldview.

Galileo and and men like him are often championed as great heros who believed in Scientific Truth rather than God. But, in fact, these men were all quite religious and pursued their lines of enquiry despite the clear ‘conflict of interest’ between what they believed about the world a religious sense and what their discoveries revealed about the world in a scientific sense. Both Copernicus and Newton, for example, went to great lengths to translate their discoveries into a scriptural paradigm [4]. There is great debate about whether they did it subversively to allow the ‘truth’ to triumph and avoid arrest, or whether they believed so totally in both paradigms they could not understand how the two could be distinct. Either way, these thinkers were deeply troubled by the discoveries and they contended personally and politically with the incommensurability between what they believed and what they discovered.

Here we find the radical difference between Galileo and The Galileo Movement. The Galileo Movement is a conservative movement and it is aimed at preservation and protection of the current worldview. There is no great space between what these people believe about the world and what they know about the world. In fact they have built their movement on keeping the two as close together as possible. They say they are operating in the name of truth, fact and science but fundamentally the protection of their worldview is what is at stake here. They do not want their vision of the world to change, they aim to protect it at all costs. Their mandate quite clear on this issue. To quote from their website:

The Galileo Movement seeks to protect Australians and our future in five areas:
– 
Protect freedom – personal choice and national sovereignty;
– 
Protect the environment;
– 
Protect science and restore scientific integrity;
– 
Protect our economic security;
– 
Protect people’s emotional health by ending Government and activists’ constant destructive bombardment of fear and guilt on our kids and communities.“[5]

They seek to protect not only science but the nation, our emotions, our economy and our environment. There is no protective impulse in the mathematical equations of Copernicus, and there is no protective impulse Galileo’s telescopes. While The Galileo Movement invokes science in the name of a protecting an established worldview. Galileo’s discoveries instituted a radical destabilisation of worldview. The Galileo Movement is in this sense summoning a mutant version of the Galilean spirit in name only. It is in this sense that the analogy between the Galileo Movement and Galileo is clumsy and unwieldy. And it is in this sense that the name Galileo may be better suited as the ‘Spirit Guide’ for the progressive side of the debate.

******

What is complex here is that the ‘discovery’ of anthropogenic Climate Change institutes a similar kind of paradigm shift in our world today. Climate Change creates a radical fissure between how we generally conceive of the world and how it is. The current political paradigm is radically undermined by the discoveries of anthropogenic climate change. And it is very disturbing and challenging to try and contend with what this means for humans and our existence in the world. The Galileo Movement do not contend with our current difficulty like Galileo and Copernicus and Newton contended with theirs. They avoid it, they recoil in fear. Naomi Klein explored this precise issue back in March on Democracy Now. I quote her at length because she is so clear as to how and why this is the case:

“Why is climate change seen as such a threat (by right-wing ideologues)? I don’t believe it’s an unreasonable fear. I think it is … unreasonable to believe that scientists are making up the science. They’re not. It’s not a hoax. But actually, climate change really is a profound threat to a great many things that right-wing ideologues believe in. So, in fact, if you really wrestle with the implications of the science and what real climate action would mean, here’s just a few examples what it would mean.

Well, it would mean upending the whole free trade agenda, because it would mean that we would have to localize our economies, because we have the most energy-inefficient trade system that you could imagine. And this is the legacy of the free trade era. So, this has been a signature policy of the right, pushing globalization and free trade. That would have to be reversed. You would have to deal with inequality. You would have to redistribute wealth, because this is a crisis that was created in the North, and the effects are being felt in the South. So, on the most basic, basic, “you broke it, you bought it,” polluter pays, you would have to redistribute wealth, which is also against their ideology. You would have to regulate corporations. You simply would have to. I mean, any serious climate action has to intervene in the economy. You would have to subsidize renewable energy, which also breaks their worldview. You would have to have a really strong United Nations, because individual countries can’t do this alone. You absolutely have to have a strong international architecture.

So when you go through this, you see, it challenges everything that they believe in. So they’re choosing to disbelieve it, because it’s easier to deny the science than to say, “OK, I accept that my whole worldview is going to fall apart,” … Imagine actually contending with that. It’s a lot easier to deny it.” [6]

The Galileo Movement are not choosing to accept that their worldview is falling apart, on the contrary Galileo rigorously pursued the tensions between the the competing world views [7]. The Galileo Movement are choosing to ignore the widespread scientific consensus or the ‘proof’, Galileo invented the telescope in order to prove Copernicus’ heliocentric theory [8] The Galileo Movement is stubbornly attatched to an old worldview, Galileo was a pioneer of a new one.

What I want to say to conclude this long post is that I think that the important thing to remember is that Climate Change is a political issue. While often you hear that Climate Change is beyond politics, what Galileo can show us is that modern science has been, from the beginning, a politically charged issue. No scientific fact is impervious to politics. And the only way to talk about Climate Change today is to talk about it in tandem with the enormous and radical political paradigm shift required in order for us to do anything real about it.

[1] galileomovement.com.au/

[2] http://newmatilda.com/2011/05/18/roll-over-galileo

[3] The term coined by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of the Scientific Revolution

[4] (Isaac Newton was also a total babe with amazing hair).

[5] galileomovement.com.au/

[6] http://www.democracynow.org/2011/3/9/my_fear_is_that_climate_change

[7] Galileo published Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in 1632

[8] It’s worth noting here that Galileo wasn’t exactly right either. He did not get as far as infinity. His universe was still closed, it is just that the earth was not at the centre. This, of course, has interesting implications for how we understand ‘truth’ in a scientific context.


Cars

I have spent the day trying to construct a talk about my WALK project for The Right to the City Symposium this weekend. My project is entitled “walking in the rain” and is, as it says it is, a walk in the rain. The walk will happen rain, hail or shine along the Cooks River in Canterbury. I chose the site because of a range of reasons, but largely because the river is one enormous drain. Also I thought it would be interesting to think about rain in the city in relation to the infrastructure designed to drain it all away. I’ve been trying to think about my work in terms of the politics of storm water management, private property and urban planning. But it is really hard to construct a talk about a work that is not yet finished. So today I’ve been easily distracted from this task by Google Images, Flickr and YouTube. I was looking for engineered urban river systems, to help me think differently the particularities of the Cooks River system.

When thinking of urban waterways The Seine and the Thames of course came to mind, as did New York’s Hudson River. But as soon as I saw the picture I realised that the Los Angeles River is really the most extraordinarily stark example of a river that has been engineered in order to suit the water management needs of a modern industrialised city.

Los Angeles River

It is the epitome of ugliness and hasty, unsustainable urban planning. But it is also spectacular in its own way; for me the scale of the concrete system is almost sublime. It is a drain that is so big that it is iconic. But this is not what this post is actually about. This post is about cars. The Cars that Flooded Toowoomba.

In the process of looking for my urban riverscapes, I came across a video of the Toowoomba flash flood from earlier in the year. This footage was replayed over and over on TV at the time, probably under the headline ‘Inland Tsunami’, but I had never heard the original audio until today. The audio is a discussion between a group of colleagues, one holding the camera and the rest looking on in awe, while the flood waters rush into their work’s car park.

If you watched the video, did you notice that the discussion only refers to the flood waters a couple of times? Did you notice that for the majority of the clip entirely about the cars parked in the car park? This struck me as a telescoping of all media representation of disasters; ‘Nature’s’ fury doesn’t make sense to us unless pictured in relation with what ‘she’s’ furious with, in this case it’s the cars. Watching the footage of the Tsunami in Japan recently was the same for me; bridges crushing boats, suburbs of houses swirling around together like crumbs in a sink hole were the things that enabled me, with my limited human capacity, to begin to understand the scale of the non human wave.

While I think it is a banal, base and impulsive response, and (in the Toowoomba clip at least) it is also a funny response, it is nonetheless meaningful. If there was nothing meaningful in that relation between the natural event (wave, flood, storm) and the damage (houses, bridges, cars) what’s the difference between the footage of the Tsunami and images or footage of Niagara Falls? The ‘disaster’ is the relationship between the two. In fact, one scale for measuring the force of a tornado turns the basic human perspective into a kind of scientific method: the Fujita Scale measures the intensity of the cyclone by the amount of human infrastructure and vegetation it destroyed.  For me the video of the flood in Toowoomba is a wonderful example of this curious human reflex.

As someone trying to write a thesis about a storm, I actually long for the opposite to be true. My entire thesis tries to circumvent this basic impulse to account for the human and not the storm. I am in engaged in a struggle to account for the storm itself; but then most of my observations have to begin with the drama of human perspectives that plays out within it/beside it/below it. I wonder what would need to be different for the basic reflex to be the opposite? I wonder what it would take for most of us non-experts to be able to imagine the storm instead of the broken power lines, the bush fire instead of the roadblock, the wave instead of the devastated town and the flood waters instead of the cars (the rising sea-levels instead of the politics?).

*******

But how to link this impulse to focus on the cars in Toowoomba anyway to my day of thinking about urban storm water management? Here’s an idea. Our cities are built on the promise that we can manage the rain water. But, as French theorist Paul Virilio once stated that the invention of the train was also, in the same instance, the invention of the train wreck; by extension, the invention of the drain in some sense is also the invention of the flood.[1] When the drains fail, be it the drain in the bathroom or the network of drains in the state of Queensland, it is logical that we take note of the damage to the things that the drain was supposed to keep dry. And perhaps recognise the drain itself as a mediator of the relationship between the flood waters and the damaged property; the drain/riverdrain is the conduit of meaning. The drain in this sense is meaningful.[2] But meaningful how? I hope the meaning of the drain and its relevance to my my WALK project, to The Right to the City and to my talk on Saturday will emerge in a dream tonight. Sorry to leave this one hanging.

[1] all machines can be viewed in this way: plane/plane crash, ship/shipwreck, car/car crash. In fact perhaps it is just the industrialised version of Life/Death. Hmmm. That’s food for thought.

[2] It reminds me of this quote from the first episode of Treme “Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster, but what happened in New Orleans was a man made catastrophe of epic fucking proportions”.