Get Animal Rights off the table!

What is it about Animal Rights activism that seems to send civil society into a hissy fit, and right wing politicians reflexively running to the Aussie bush to link arms with farmers of flesh everywhere in lock step solidarity?

After the recent peaceful protests by Animal Rights activists around the country last week I even had close family telling me how annoyed they were. This was shocking and frustrating as I’ve been a vocal vegetarian and Animal Rights activist myself for the past 27 years and so assumed, wrongly, that they’d get it; that they’d understand the urgent need for civil protest of a kind that might shake society from its apathy and/or denial. 

Yet there is something about Animal Rights activism that seems to warrant a peculiar reaction amongst normally empathetic and otherwise compassionate members of the Australian public.

But first; I do understand why there would be some level of frustration about a protest; any protest. When you’re busy and just trying to focus on making your own life work, feeling like you’re running to stand still and life is getting ever more hectic and filled with pressure, to have someone stop you on the street or halt traffic disrupting the flow you’re desperately trying to manage can be annoying. It’s inconvenient. To poach from the title of a well known documentary, it’s an inconvenient truth. And depending on the kind and style, such protests might disrupt traffic for a few hours and in a complex city that is only barely functional at the best of times, this can lead to gridlock and personal plans disrupted. But that is the same for any protest and that disruption is the point. 

For there’s little point politely amassing on a street corner for an hour or two in the middle of the day, over and over again, to be seen by a handful of passing traffic on each occasion and easily dismissed. It achieves little to nothing. And of course those in power know this and it’s exactly what they want. Animal Activists – and many others – have spent years and countless hours attempting this polite tact first, playing within the rules set by the status quo, but to no end. It’s simply too easy to ignore such polite protests, for we are wired to want to ignore the hard stuff until it lands in our laps and effects us directly. 

It absolutely must be recognised and acknowledged that our society and culture, which we now proudly cherish – mostly – has been built on, continues to be built on and moved forward by civil, disruptive protest.

The democracy we enjoy today was not freely given by the wealthy and powerful. Democracy undermined the status quo, overthrew the power elite and was fostered and established off the back of civil disobedience and protest. In its day it was inconvenient, disruptive, frustrating and bloody annoying to many, yet in time our democracy was won through the blood, sweat and tears of generations of passionate activists that envisioned a better, more just society. 

Women’s Rights’s activists too fought and continue to fight for gender equality in the workplace, at home and to be free from domestic abuse and their ever dawning equality has not been without causing disruption.

LGBTQI activists fought; making arguments, marching and holding Mardi Gras parades that were once an illegal form of protest, forcing National plebiscites that many found annoying, frustrating and disruptive, but that finally led to equal rights for the LGBTQI community recognised and enshrined in law.

Human Rights activists have a long history and continue to protest for changes to improve the base level of how we interact, communicate and resolve conflicts with one another, protesting unjust wars, or unjust incarcerations regularly. In Australia their activism encapsulates such topics as Indigenous rights, asylum seeker rights, the rights of people of minority faiths, race discrimination, hate speech legislation, the Vietnam war and the Iraq war to name a few examples. 

Climate Change and Environmental activists tie and chain themselves to logs and trees, march through our city streets in protest against dams, the ravages of pollution and the destruction of the biosphere, or they hound whaling ships in the middle of the world’s vast oceans to protest species and ecosystem destruction.

Worker and/or Union protests at various times have seen schools closed down as teachers walked out on strike, hospitals run on skeleton staff, trucks blockading our highways and city streets and wharfies refusing to unload container ships, again to name a few examples, all in their protest and fight for better wages and work conditions. 

Protest, the disruption of our town squares, our cities and way of life and the odd trespass or bending of the law in order to bring from the murky shadows and into the light of day the plight, abuse and suffering of those with less power and influence, to bring to light those whose voices are drowned out by the powerful wielding the cultural megaphones and directing the cultural traffic, is how we’ve advanced and continue to advance our society, step by arduous step reorganising the status quo away from an imbalance and towards greater equity.

As Martin Luther King Jr said, and which was famously riffed on more recently by President Obama;

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

So why the outrage? Why does THIS activism, Animal Rights activism appear to inflame the passions of the populace more than other protests and civil disobedience which have caused similar inconveniences and have done no more to bend the law than many others protests before them? Why is the issue of animal rights and welfare so hard to have a civil conversation about? Why is it so difficult to get people to want to look at the reality of animal agriculture and simply have an honest, transparent debate about how we use and potentially abuse other animals we share our planet with and ask whether it is moral to do so, and whether there are any aspects that we should consider changing? What is it about this topic that makes it unbearable and … off the table.

Could it be that most people, regardless of how active or inactive they consider themselves regards various socio-political issues, do silently applaud and feel a natural sympathy with those marching and protesting for the equality of women, children, other religions or races, feel empathy for those marching against environmental degradation, against slavery or for better working conditions. Their natural inclination towards our common humanity and want for greater equity kicks in and mollifies any frustration they might also feel for the disruptive nature of the politics. A kind of, well … it’s-annoying-but-I-can-see-that-it’s-important mentality takes precedence.

Or if that shared sense of humanity doesn’t kick in, it’s relatively easy to put most political topics to one side, play no part, have no opinion, be neutral or apathetic regards the outcome and let others deal with it while continuing on our merry ways. 

Yet when the right to choose our food is questioned the hissy fit begins. And this is regardless of any rational and entirely reasonable arguments that might be posed as to the potential abuse and horrific impacts on the animals we enslave and commodify in order to enjoy their flesh; regardless of the potential devastating impacts on our environment and the long term sustainability of our home planet; regardless of the potential negative impacts on our own health and the long term health of our children’s future. Somehow this choice alone, more than all other choices, this audacity to question what we eat, is off limits and those Animal Rights “activists” who are simply trying to get a conversation stimulated because they’ve seen the horror that is happening and that urgently requires our civic attention, are now branded and become slyly synonymous with a kind of social or cultural terrorism. Yet they, like any of us, have a civic right to protest. So why do they become labelled by those in the highest office of the land as “green collared criminals” and “un-Australian”? Aren’t they politically engaged, passionate citizens? Isn’t that a good thing? And how can they be “un-Australian” for speaking up for justice and wanting to give voice for, in some cases literally those who are the underdog, or the under-sheep or under-cow? Isn’t this quintessentially Australian?

I suggest that, perhaps this topic is a little too close to the bone. That more than other topics it has a way of getting under our skin and feeling deeply personal, while other issues can be kept more safely at arms length. That these questions around our food choices are a little too close to the warm comfort of the Sunday BBQ, too close to our sense of family, that private space. That this topic gets inside the walls of our own personal castle where we want to believe we still reserve the right to decide how we will or won’t act.

And perhaps it’s because this argument and these questions land more heavily on the shoulders of every individual and their everyday choices. Those many individual acts of reaching into the fridge, leaning forward at the table and at the supermarket. This, in contrast to most other civic moral quandaries that tend to land as a choice more squarely at the feet of Government, at the feet of the powerful corporations and organisations, and which allows us to point with moral superiority and say, “This is terrible. Someone should fix this” and if it’s not fixed, or the repair stalls, at least it’s someone else’s fault. 

But the “someone” at the heart of the issue of Animal Rights isn’t some evil corporation polluting Earths oceans for profit – though that happens – nor some corrupt Government in bed with big business – though they often are – nor a deeply conservative Government in bed with the religious right, or the Fortune 500 wanting to keep women from elite positions of power – though they have – or the archaic churches wanting to retain some moral high ground on gender roles. No, this decision lands on us. It’s our choice; each of us. We’re responsible and it is we who need to change our habits, our perceptions and we can’t point some place distant, to some nebulous villain elsewhere and pass the buck. 

And sure, Governments could do more. They could certainly not politicise the issue for their own ends, flexing their farmer friendly rhetoric because an election is looming as a show of strength and solidarity with the perceived moral centre of Australia. And corporations could do more too. But both Government and corporations will ultimately blow and shift with the choices we, the citizens and consumers make on this issue at the supermarket. The power for change is with us. 

Businesses will adapt and make money elsewhere and Governments aren’t necessarily locked into the meat industry as a high moral cause, particularly as we continue receiving ever more compelling evidence of the damage that an over consumption of meat has on human health and the planets health. If we change, so will they. This is a grass roots movement and that makes it very unpalatable to too many people and hence the rage.

And yet, it is changing and will continue to do so. It’s changing because the world really is full of intelligently compassionate, empathetic people who see beyond their own lives and their own lifetimes to a bigger world that is both more complex and more full of wonder. In my lifetime there’s been a significant and ever growing shift that I’m now convinced is inevitable. And the rage we hear, those stomping feet and tantrums, that political rhetoric that tries to reduce the efforts of passionate, courageous activists to simple slurs, taints and slogans … those are merely the sounds of the ever creaking arc of the moral universe slowly, but inevitably bending toward justice.

……………………………

For more quotes, articles and  posts that I’ve found inspiring in recent days read on:

Quote from an article in the Age:

Many of our greatest heroes are lawbreakers: Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi. Illegal activism is in fact a time-honoured tradition. Some philosophers, such as Candice Delmas, have argued that it is not only acceptable but even obligatory in some cases to violate the law in order to resist injustice. If animal agriculture is indeed a massive systemic injustice as many have argued, then I submit vegan activists can reasonably claim to be part of a long tradition of morally justifiable civil disobedience.

 

And for a wonderful article on whether this civil disobedience is a positive or a negative for society please read the following:

https://theconversation.com/animal-rights-activists-in-melbourne-green-collar-criminals-or-civil-disobedients-115119

 

And this Facebook post that resonated:

“I disapprove of what you do, but I will defend to the death your right to do it”. (Apologies to Voltaire’s friend Hall) 

I disagree with their particular cause, and they could be regarded by Melbourne commuters as a total pain in the arse, but civil disobedience is not criminal, and criminalising effective disruption is the mark of totalitarianism. 

If I disrupt something to make an effective moral protest, then I accept that there will be consequences, but I am not acting with criminal intent. I accept that I may be fined or spend a few days in pokey for my troubles, but making only token protests that don’t cause trouble will not  change anything. How many more years until women would have waited to have the vote if the Suffragettes had played by the rules? Would the Franklin Wild River have been saved without the illegal blockaders? Did Rosa Parks obey the rules? How much longer would the Vietnam war have dragged on without illegal sit-ins and disruptive marches?

I totally support their campaign against the cruelty of industrialised meat production. Social media and the efforts of animal activists has made me aware of the cruelty of dairy and I no longer have any dairy. The same with pig production and no longer touch any pig product. 

 

Another powerful quote:

From the moment they are born to the moment their necks are slit, the vast majority of animals raised and killed for food will experience lives of unremitting torment. They will not know contentment, respite, safety, happiness, or kindness. Instead, they will live a short life characterized by inescapable discomfort, social deprivation, the thwarting of every natural instinct and constant stress, all punctuated by moments of agonizing pain, terror, and the deliberate infliction upon them of harm and eventually, a brutal and untimely death.

Nathan Winograd

And this from one of my favouite authors, Yuval Noah Harari;

Go vote – it’s good for the heart.

The biggest crimes in history were caused not by hate, but by apathy. By people who could do something, but they didn’t even bother to lift a finger. Apathy kills. Maybe she won’t kill you, but she definitely might kill someone else.

There are people who don’t bother to go vote in the elections, because they think that one voice won’t change anything. That’s not true. Maybe your vote won’t change the knesset, but it will definitely change you. It is very important to train the muscles of the heart and take a moral position. Otherwise the heart is an appetizer, and the next time you have to fight for something – not actually the ballot – it will be harder

Others justify their indifference claiming that “all sides are just as bad”. so that’s it not. Not in the same way. Many times in history, the struggle is not between evil and good, but between bad and evil. It is possible to write a whole encyclopedia about the crime of the allies in World War II, about the horrors of the Soviet regime, about the murder of the British Empire, and the racism And it was still better to support the allies than to sit back and say “what do I care what happens, they are all the same”. in recent years there were many Turks who didn’t bother to vote ” what is the difference between erdogan and the other corrupt?”, they said to themselves, ” all politicians are the same “. so that’s it not. There are politicians worse than others.

We are now facing the most important moral evils, and those who think that there is no difference between less bad and more bad are people who have lost their moral compass Whoever is waiting for him to appear what a perfect good, and only for him will be worth leaving the house, keep waiting until the end of

So don’t wait. Get out of the house! Vote.

BREAKING NEWS – Break Dancing Proposed for the Olympics!

The news that Break Dancing is proposed for inclusion in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games has been splashed across the internet in the last 48 hours.

https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/www.bbc.co.uk/sport/amp/olympics/47317052

And within hours of this breaking news (pardon the pun) social media lit up with controversy. One side exclaimed that dance is diminished by ever being perceived as a sport, while an opposing side began making the case that if Break Dancing is to be admitted then why are ballet, contemporary or ballroom etc. not also being proposed for admission.

While it’s true that many dance genres now trade within the competitive context of Eisteddfod’s, dance competitions and on TV shows, such arguments miss the finer point that there is a fundamental difference between Break Dancing and almost all other dance genres. 

At this point I should mention that my own dance journey started as a Break Dancer. It was via the early Break Dancing craze of the 1980’s that I first came to define my identity as a dancer. Up until that time I had never done any formal dance classes and Break Dancing was my introduction to a world of dance technique and culture, to the point that at 14 I was actually teaching break Dancing at the very first classes at what was then the Village Gym in a far northern suburb of Sydney. 

It was only after this craze that I began dabbling in a Friday night jazz class and a few years later fell in love with classical ballet which ignited my dance journey in earnest propelling me into a 20+ year professional career which later included contemporary, ballroom and Musical Theatre. And so I feel I can speak with some authority when it comes to this subject having lived through it’s formation in Australia, as it came to us from the US streets of the South Bronx via news broadcasts, MTV videos and films where a mix of movement forms had been wedded into a way for rival gangs to mediate, and reimagine conflicts. 

And it’s this fundamental difference that beats at the heart of the genesis of the Break Dancing “movement”. Because Break Dancing developed within a competitive context. It formed as a way for rival groups to “fight” or “war” without resorting to violent combat – much like the genesis of sports – and therefore the argument is that breakdancing is closer to a sport than to other dance forms whose origins were not based on competition, but were developed based on expression, both self and collective.

And while the Olympic Games were formed predominantly as a religious festival to honour the Greek god Zeus, they were also a way for normally warring entities, the Greek city states, to come together and compete in games within a spirit of ultimate mutual celebration that heralded a pause to the typical state of hostility and violent combat.

And so a strong argument can be made that of all the dance genres Break Dancing is most suited to being included in the Olympic context, whereas ballet for example is not, because at its heart Break Dancing has as much or more in common with sports, than it does with other dance forms. 

It was for this reason that Break Dancing, alone of all the dance genres was able to break into (sorry, just can’t help myself) the highly masculinised and hyper competitive world of all boys public schools across the country 35 years ago and provide at least one young man, and possibly many others, a small, but important window to unimagined possibilities, which led to a new world and journey into the arts. 

 

 

Josef  is a former professional dancer and is now the Relations & Development Director at MDM Dancewear.

http://www.mdmdance.com

DANCE & THE SOCIAL CONTRACT

Why fringe artists don’t get the funding they want and never will.

 

27 years ago I had arguably the worst fight with my brother. It wasn’t physical – though there had been physical fights over the years – but it was likely heading that way, before it was ended by our mother smashing a glass to the ground as theatrical accent to herald curtain down.

My brother was young and in love and had invited his then girlfriend and her mother over for dinner at our Mum’s apartment on the beautiful Northern Beaches of Sydney. I was temporarily back from Melbourne on a family visit during a scheduled break from The Australian Ballet, which I’d joined only a year or so previously.

The night was progressing well, everyone on their best behaviour until, for reasons I can’t recall, the conversation turned to the then newly released 1991 film, Silence of the Lambs and an analysis of the central character of Hanibal Lector.

Thinking back now it’s almost like a dream. I can’t remember how it started, how I got there, only that I’m now in the middle of this story watching it unfold to it’s emotional conclusion.

The rest of the table was taking the entirely reasonable stance that Hanibal, whose defining characteristic was that he ate human flesh, was evil and despicable. Yet for reasons I hope I’ll be able to make clear, clearer than I could then, I was presenting a different perspective.

At that stage of my life and for many years after I had little restraint in such conversations. Truth, as I naively defined it was far more important to me than the individual sensitivities of the people around. At that time my position was that truth should be sort at all costs, and if those around couldn’t handle that position then perhaps they’d be better not to get into a conversation with me because I was uncompromising in stating my opinion regardless of circumstances. Life was too brief and the search for truth too important. In short, I was a total numbat.

And so on this night I took what may have been perceived as an apologetic position for Hanibal, though that wasn’t my intention. Though I didn’t actually defend him, I tried to point out that he did not see himself as needing to follow humankind’s laws and so was outside such concepts as “good” and “evil”. He lived in a world beyond such definitions, beyond the social contract of humankind, where he could do whatever he liked to whomever he liked and was willing to live and accept the consequences of that life. That is; knowing he’d be perceived by others as “evil”, “insane” and hunted down as a criminal for his choices and finally be thrown into jail for the rest of his life.

I attempted to make the point that, in a way Hanibal was perhaps happier than most of us; that he was more honest and perhaps even more noble, in the sense that he was more truly free. He was more fully conscious that we are born wild, as wild as any other living being on the planet, and that we are not merely on the planet, but of the planet; part of it, and that he had chosen to live wild and honest in the full acknowledgement that he was both predator and prey.

Well … none of this made sense at the time. I would not have been able to articulate it as clearly – if I’m even able to now – and regardless, it was the wrong conversation, at the wrong time and on the wrong occasion. The dark night descended into anarchy. I deeply upset our guests which enraged my brother, which set us at each other verbally with a strong threat of physical contact building until our Mum, mortified by the whole ignoble scene, intervened with a glass smashing hard against kitchen tiles breaking the tension after which I was given $50 and sent to the curb with my suitcase to catch a taxi to my Dad’s place about 30 kms away.

I carry emotional scars from this night because it is one I deeply regret. Though I’m also sad to say it wouldn’t be the last time I’d get on my high horse and ride off into the sunset in search of my great truth at the expense of others feelings.

 

Fish and Gravity

27 years later and with my professional dance career now clearly in the rear view mirror, when I teach contemporary dance I almost always refer to that little regarded force that is working on us at all times; gravity. Becoming mindful of the effects of gravity, it’s play on our body, how it can and should be engaged with and surrendered to is crucial for learning contemporary dance. But gravity is like the story of the two fish.

One fish swimming at the surface looks at another further below and calls out: “How’s the water down there”, to which the other fish, a far less mindful fish, one not aware of the surface, gives a confused frown and replies: “What water?”

For the lower fish, born in water and having no experience of anything else is not aware of the water it exists in, just as we are rarely aware of gravity. If it’s all we’ve ever known it’s easy to take it for granted until we fall or are pushed from a cliff; pushed to become mindful of the forces acting on us beyond our awareness.

And so it is with the social contract.

 

The Social Contract

An implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits, for example by sacrificing some individual freedom for state protection. Theories of a social contract became popular in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries among theorists such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as a means of explaining the origin of government and the obligations of subjects. [Dictionary definition when typing in “definition of the social contract”]

 

Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau – these highly influential philosophers from the 16th century onwards developed and articulated our understanding of the social contract; that largely unspoken intricate web of mutual obligations we’re all born into and which bind and weaves it’s power through our relationships and yet is largely taken for granted. It’s the social contract which keeps our society from tipping into anarchy; a mutual agreement passed on between generations by action and deed, yet mostly unconsciously and never formally signed, ensuring with live in relative harmony, which states, across a myriad of situations and circumstances: if I do this, you’ll do that.

Of course that’s mostly only true of the middle class and is why a large, majority middle class is so crucial in order for a non-totalitarian state to function properly.

The very poor will often come to see or feel – as their reaction is likely mostly sub- conscious – that this social contract is a con keeping them subservient and enslaved. They come to see others with opportunities and rewards never provided them and eventually realise, or feel this con that is designed to keep them quiet, but for which they get very little in return (cheap or free entertainment is a great distraction) until finally many thumb their noses at the social contact, turning to crime and the black market instead. The sound logic being; if you’re not going to take care of me and protect and value me, then why should I value you or your laws of possession and ownership. I’ll take what I can get away with. It’s for this reason that strong welfare provisions and medical care combined with universal access to education and opportunity are so important for the healthy functioning of a democratic state. It is also why trust, developed and built over time, is a necessary fundamental for a functioning state, but … more on that later.

The very wealthy too also likely tend to ignore the social contract at a higher rate, but for wholly different reasons. They do it because they’re more likely to see it for the manipulated construct that it is; a human made design to keep harmony within a complex system, and realise there is much to be gained by talking up its merits – talking the talk – while actually working behind the scenes to game it for all they can to get further ahead. They see behind the thin veneer of civility to a dog eat dog world where you take what you can in order to rise above.

For the vast majority of the middle class however, the social contract is a success story. It keeps checks and balances on the vast majority of the population allowing us to work together, to dream, to hope, to plan and build for brighter tomorrow’s for ourselves and the next generation. Without it, we’d be in a constant struggle for mere day to day survival.

 

The Artists Whinge

I shouldn’t really call it a whinge. Yet I’ve heard it said that a group of artists sitting in a Green Room is known as a “whinge” much like a group of birds is a flock. Yet I’m sure most of us have heard it asked, or heard the familiar complaint; why do sports get all the money? Why is funding sent to sports, sporting events and sports stadiums and not to the arts; not spent on dance? Why can’t governments, and indeed the broader public, see, understand and fully appreciate the arts and dance for all they provide us with as individuals, as a society and as a culture? As Winston Churchill is famously incorrectly credited with replying when asked to cut arts funding to support the war effort;

“Then what are we fighting for?”

I have asked such questions many times myself during the last 30 years, though not so much recently. I did so because for me, the arts and dance more specifically, were an almost religious calling and so I couldn’t comprehend why people devoted so much more time to watching, talking about and arguing about sports. I couldn’t understand why the vast masses were so passionate about sports. Sure, I enjoyed sports sometimes, particularly as a participant, though not so much as a spectator. But why the zeal, the fervour, the adulation and why at the expense of their poor cousin the arts, who is desperately trying to help them better themselves in our shared civic space?

My understanding now is that it’s tied to the social contract.

As previously articulated, the social contract is what bonds us together as a civic entity. Without it in a democracy, that is without the cliche of a strongman, an enforcer, to bludgeon us into unity and civility, we would risk falling into anarchy and tribalism of the worst kind.

And sports is the embodiment of those many intricate, invisible bonds that weave and hold us together played out every weekend. The field is our society, the players are us, playing the game of competition and cooperation for the mutual satisfaction of us as individuals, yet also as a collective. Playing by set and established rules overseen by an appointed judiciary, the umpire or referee, who must remain impartial and unbiased as to the result. Players will of course attempt to bend and break those rules from time to time and we will endeavour to catch and punish them as is appropriate, after which we’ll all sit in judgement as to whether the punishment befits the crime.

The games employ a simple, formulaic structure that we can all easily understand, that we’ve agreed to and acknowledge. The game can’t be played without it. Trust in the process is essential.

And so the game is played, everyone applauds and the social contract that binds us is retold, reinforced; the invisible made visible, the word is made flesh. And on we go, fish in the fish bowl.

In contrast the arts are less easily formulaic, sometimes vague and sometimes downright confounding. Open to personal interpretation, often a question embodied rather than an answer they can just as easily bring discomfort and dis-ease.

Now obviously there is a spectrum and once this is highlighted it will be obvious why some artistic forms gain more funding and popularity than others.

On one side of the story telling spectrum lies narrative traditional ballet, opera and Hollywood films etc. Those artistic, entertainment forms that have a clearly defined and easily accessible structure that the stories fit neatly within and everyone can follow and understand. Within those well worn narrative structures the stories that unfold are often traditional yarns, folks tales, tales of easily recognisable and easily digestible narrative tropes; hero’s quests, damsels in distress, good versus evil, love conquers all, courage in the face of adversity etc. Like sports, such stories engaged by these structures also help to secure and reinforce the social contract making the invisible visible through story telling mediums.

But as we slide ever further along the spectrum, moving away from easily recognisable structural forms, easily recognisable characters etc. the more disruptive and even revolutionary becomes the art-form. At this end of the spectrum the artistic expressions no longer bond us in the unspoken social contract, but instead lead us to question it, undermine it and possibly rebel against it. This end can be seen as a termite in the woodwork behind the plaster board, eating the bonds from within and that can not be openly condoned by the status quo and thus there is less and less funding the further to that end of the spectrum one moves.

So to plainly answer the question, why aren’t fringe arts, artists and arts organisations better funded? Because their very existence potentially undermines the social contract and raises the risk of anarchy and revolution, which is anathema to the status quo which gains its very power from providing security and stability.

Because true art and true artists are a form of revolutionary action. Artists and their work are an expression of the new, an experiment, a pushing against the norms, an expression of the radical, a playing with and scuttling of the underlying structures, the common character tropes, a toying with the dynamics by which we work to keep anarchy and discord at bay. It’s the opposite of conservatism, which is particularly why the social right of our system of Government will tend to feel even more threatened than Left leaning social progressives.

Perhaps somewhat like Hanibal, art seeks to live truthfully at whatever cost. To bend and break the rules and live come what may. It seeks to be the most honest expression of itself despite the ramifications to the sensitivities of those around. It wants to shake things up, disturb the status quo, ever questioning and posing the potential to create the world anew. For this reason it will and must always be fringe and those embarking on such a life must accept the consequences of that life; that they may never be brought in from the cold, brought in from the wild.

If you want to live a more domesticated life under the care of the status quo, under the auspices of the social contract there is a price to be paid for that; part of your freedom. And as such you can’t expect to get the same funding. Ever. It will never happen and nor should it.

The fact that fringe arts get funded at all is a product of two ways of thinking. The first is that it’s recognised that some level of questioning and experimentation is healthy for society. That it’s good to consider new structures, play with ideas as they might lead somewhere interesting, and yet … the social experiments and those conducting them can’t be taken too seriously lest any particular idea takes hold too quickly and thus undermines the status quo before it’s able to absorb the idea and adapt its structures to the idea. So the message is; by all means play at the fringes, but don’t expect to be taken too seriously.

The second aspect is that the social contract doesn’t want the masses to see too clearly – if at all – the reality of the social contract; it doesn’t want the fish to know the water. And if it is seen, for it not to be too openly questioned. We’re therefore given a little so as to obscure this reality: a little money, a little comfort, a little free entertainment and hopefully it’ll all be enough to ensure not too many people will look too closely at the art on the fringes and begin to question and shake things up at a speed the status quo can’t adapt to and keep control of successfully.

And finally, this social contract all hinges on trust. Trust is vital to society’s proper functioning. We can not open a can of Supermarket baked beans without trust. We need to know that measures have been put in place so that even though we don’t know where they came from or who made them that we can open the tin and dig right in without fear of being poisoned or finding a severed finger at the bottom. Hence the initial near National hysteria over needles found in strawberries. That trust can not be broken.

And so at a time when trust in our institutions; trust in our Government, trust in our Churches, trust in our banks, in our military, in our police forces, in our CEO’s, in our stock markets etc. is being eroded more quickly than at any time in history, we need to take stock of what this might mean for the collective functioning of our society and our democracy.

WOMEN IN DANCE – Our Cultural Blindspot

by Josef Brown – written as the Business Development Manager at MDM Dance Wear

Feminism. It’s a movement for emancipation, equal rights and status that was long past due being birthed into popular thought and conversation even in 1837 when the word was first coined by Utopian Socialist and French philosopher Charles Fourier. In the intervening 180 years the fight for women’s equality in commerce, politics, arts, sports and in the domestic sphere has undergone many obstacles, but has continually gained momentum till we find ourselves in the position today where full equality has never been closer; though there is of course much work still to be done.

I raise this because for decades we’ve been justifiably raging about the lack of women in positions of power, the lack of women as small business entrepreneurs and as overt leaders of our communities. And while I agree we needed to rage about the relative lack of women in such positions, concurrently we should have also been better celebrating the many women who were and continue to lead the charge.

In my role as Business Development Manager for MDM Dance Wear I’ve recently been traveling our beautiful country from Cairns all the way down our eastern coast to Wollongong, out to Toowoomba, Grafton, Dubbo, Orange, Bathurst and west across to Adelaide.

Time and again I’ve come in contact with extraordinary, powerful, intelligent women that are leaders across the dance industry, and indeed are themselves the legacy of the many extraordinary, powerful, intelligent women who led before them and inspired their leadership roles. They’re not only wonderful teachers; they’re studio Principals, small to medium sized business owners and operators, who have built from the ground up educational and commercial enterprises that have thrived for decades and in some cases have endured for generations.

From Dubbo Ballet Studio that has been continuously run since Joyce Schneider started teaching classes in her sunroom in 1934; The Studio Arts Centre in Adelaide which was founded in 1932 by dance pioneer Joanna Priest and Ashgrove Dance Studio in Brisbane founded under the direction of Nellie Lawrence in 1899 and which has been run continuously, handed down through generations of women ever since. Other luminaries include Jan Conroy from Conroy’s Dance Centre, Rosanna Castellana from Promenade Dance Studio, Prudence Bowen from Prudence Bowen’s and Tanya Pearson to name but the tiniest fraction of the over 2000 dance studios in Australia servicing over four hundred thousand young dancers, the vast majority of which are owned and operated by women.

And what of the many hundreds of female dance suppliers, store owners and dance wear makers and designers that service these many studios, again almost exclusively owned and operated by extraordinary women who continue to meet the vagaries and challenges of changing times and markets and yet who have persevered and prospered.

There are also of course the many successful female dancers, respected and indeed hailed within our industry for their accomplishments and who have never been considered inferior to the men they dance alongside. There are the choreographers, the great creative artists pushing the boundaries of the craft and the Artistic Directors and company founders such as Elizabeth Cameron Dalman who founded Adelaide Dance Theatre in 1965, Dame Peggy van Praagh who founded The Australian Ballet in 1962, Madame Kira Bousloff who founded The West Australian Ballet in 1952, Suzanne Musitz who founded The Dance Company (NSW) – later known as Sydney Dance Company – Expressions Dance Theatre founded by Maggie Sietsma in 1984, Cheryl Stone and Carole Johnson who founded Bangarra Dance Theatre in 1989 and Kate Champion founder of Force Majeur to again name but a few. And then there are the administrators, the dance magazine founders, editors and owners and dance critics, most of whom have been and are female.

If over the preceding decades and indeed century our culture wanted inspiring stories and examples of women leading, excelling, achieving, building and sustaining a Nation wide – and likely global – industry and being treated as equals alongside the men they worked with and employed, they only ever needed to look to our dance industry and culture as an example of what was possible and yet they didn’t. They haven’t. They don’t. Which begs the question, why not?

Sadly I feel the answer is all too clear. Because dance, like the powerful women who have manifested and sustained it, has been and continues to be fundamentally under-valued by our society and Western culture more broadly. And I suspect this link is not entirely coincidental. Perhaps because women led the way, and were and continue to underpin much of the industry, our culture continues to have a blind spot both to the profound achievements of these women and, as a consequence to the value of dance itself.

Yet while I decry our culture, our news organisations, our journalists, our novelists, our historians for leaving this rich female legacy largely untold, we too as an industry must take some of the blame. Because we have been too silent and have not recognised these achievements enough and shouted them from the roof tops till we were hoarse and exhausted forcing others to listen. We are partly to blame because we do not do enough, as a collective body, to have a truly interesting conversation about dance, it’s power, it’s history, it’s value, questioning where it is going, why more men are not dancing, what its status is and should be, and all that women have been able to achieve despite the dominant paradigm of male privilege.

And it is only when we begin to have a more interesting conversation together that others, currently perceived as on the outside of dance will look in, start to listen and eventually want to join in. And then and only then will we be able to grow the pie, expanding our presence and create greater value for dance.

As the Business Development Manager for MDM we’re striving to be part of that conversation and I wanted to start by talking about some of the extraordinary women that have built our industry. Because I do not believe it is a coincidence or accident of history that both women and dance have been under-valued in our culture. And it is my hope, that with the long overdue rise of women to positions of power, overt influence and authority that dance too will be able to rise to its rightful place in our culture; valued, prized and celebrated as the profound craft, liberating experience and art-form that it is.

 

COMPASSIONATE LISTENING

I was going to stay silent, but hey … life’s too short.

 

Yesterday comments by Sonia Kruger went viral on social media and then I tuned into Q&A for a squirm-fest, media salivating hour of Pauline bashing.

 

I know … it sounds like I might be taking Pauline’s side, but I’m not.

 

However I do believe we need to stop the automatic pile-on-Pauline et.al to vent our frustrations and instead listen more compassionately to what she and people like Sonia have to say.

 

We need to listen compassionately not because their words possess some insight into how to fix any problem or issue – they don’t – but because the fear and concern they feel which led them to their faulty conclusions is genuine, and they are human beings trying to tell us that they’re scared and worried about the future and unless we really listen compassionately we won’t be able to give them the help which they’re genuinely crying out for.

 

We see the same phenomena in the U.S with Trump.

 

People watch a blood thirsty media (let’s not pretend it’s not*) report another heinous atrocity and their hearts weep; their hearts break for humanity and their despair combined with a feeling of powerlessness to do anything about it leads to sadness, fear, frustration and anger.

 

At such times it is easy for people like Trump, Bolt, Hanson and others to try to protect these broken hearts by saying such simple things like we’ll;

 

STOP THE BOATS
BUILD A WALL
BAN MUSLIM MIGRANTS
BOMB THEM ALL

 

Yes, at such times when feelings are raw, when our very humanity feels wounded to the core, when we are desperate to feel a little safer, to have an arm wrapped around us assuring that all will be well, saying ‘I can help. I will protect you. I will make things better’; at such times simple solutions are a quick salve in the darkest moments.

 

In the wake of atrocities they are given rational credibility using the following standard argument which runs something like this:

 

Person 1 – We need to ban all Muslim immigration.
Person 2 – No, that is not the answer.
Person 1 – OK smarty pants, what is the answer?
Person 2 – Well … it’s complicated. It’s difficult to put into …
Person 1 – Ahh! See! You have no answer.

 

And by such arguments fear and ignorance win by a kind of default.

 

Because the answers to such questions are complicated. They do take time to unpack properly and can not be done in a media moment, in a hip-shot answer, in a three word slogan and so by default, due to the lack of an easily comprehensible alternative people are made to feel more secure with the simple wrong answer, than with a complicated, difficult to explain on-the-right-path one.

 

What I believe is most important for those of us wanting to move more people to take the time to listen to the long, complicated, indeed sometimes unbearably complicated ‘answer’ – that is not so much an answer as a process – is that we need to listen compassionately and not dismiss people’s fears and concerns simply because we don’t like the often overly simplistic conclusions those emotions have led them to.

 

The fear is real. It may be unfounded and misplaced, but it is real. They are scared and worried for the future; for those they love and care for and we need to listen compassionately to understand in order to move the conversation in a positive direction.

Addendum

*On the topic of the ‘blood thirsty media’: I don’t mean to be derogatory to all media or to suggest there is massive, collusive corruption. I honestly don’t buy into such conspiracy theories.

 

But I do think there is a little corruption in a lot of people which is very wide spread, leading to a systematic break down in the role of the media.

 

But more on this some other time…

WHY RACISM MAKES SENSE

Many children if bitten by a big dog don’t merely come to fear that dog, they come to fear all big dogs and perhaps all dogs.

This actually makes some evolutionary sense.

If I were to see a tribe member mauled and eaten by a lion I would now likely err on the side of caution concluding that all lions are threats, which while it might be wrong at any given time – the lion might be full and/or not perceive me as a threat – it is wise.

 
We do this all the time. Take most people’s reaction to spiders or snakes. Given a lack of more specific knowledge about a particular spider, we ascribe a general fear to all spiders or at least to all spiders of a particular variety (we might allow the Daddy Long Legs exceptional status to hang harmlessly in the cornices, or that might just be laziness).

 
Yes, to some extent ascribing such generalisations in the absence of more specific knowledge makes rational evolutionary sense.

 
So too if a child was to be abused by a man with a clerical collar we would be understanding why that child might now be fearful of all men with clerical collars.

 
Likewise it is just as possible that if a child was abused by a woman with flaming red hair that the child might come to fear or be wary of all women with flaming red hair.

 
Such generalisations, and that’s essentially the base camp of some forms of racism, makes some sense … at the level of the child.

 
The difference in becoming a mature, intelligent adult is that we learn that it is incorrect to ascribe general fear where there have been specific causes.

 
Last year I was at an animal sanctuary with my family and Billy (our dog) was also with us. A cat stalked and attacked Billy, severely injuring my daughter with long bloody scratches as she instinctively picked him up to protect him. It was a wonderful act of heroism on her part, but it left her scarred in more ways than one.

 
For some time afterwards she developed a fear of cats, particularly ones walking alone outside.

 
We had to talk to her about it a lot. At first we provided general information about the evolution of ‘cats’ as territorial hunters, but increasingly in more specific terms about the very particular life of that cat, where it had come from (a rescue cat, which had been abused) and explain that these actions are not the case for all cats. We had to slowly introduce her to more cats and give her a wider experience and appreciation of their many and varied expressions.

 
By this continual process of talk and increased understanding of specific circumstances our daughter slowly came to first understand, then later no longer feel, threatened by all cats. She now has an increased understanding and respect for all cats and their potential for both cuteness and adorability, but also for their power and skill. She now no longer lives in the fantasy of ‘all cats are cute’ but this is a good thing.

 
It makes some sense, given a lack of knowledge about an area or individuals to err on the side of caution when initially getting to know more. But this does not excuse blind hate which, having been scratched by the cat, shows no interest in understanding the particular circumstances of that cat in order to not hate all cats (or spiders or snakes etc.).

 
Caution when given a lack of specific knowledge and understanding makes sense. But that caution should also be married with a desire, willingness and energy to want to gain greater specific knowledge, wedded with another caution learnt from experience: and that is not to tar all individuals with the same brush simply because we’ve been hurt or scared by those that might have some superficially similar traits. That is a child’s attitude i.e I fear all creatures with 8 legs because one spider scared me or because one type of spider is poisonous.

 
Given our media coverage which craves the dramatic and sensational it is only natural that we might be inclined to feel cautious at times. But as mature adults our response should be to learn more, to be inspired and energised to gain greater insight into the specifics and not to retreat further into fear and an intolerance of the other. That is the initial direction children often take when wounded or scared and they must be educated that such generalisations don’t serve them and coached to exercise the muscle that is courage to look deeper.

 
So while the truth is that generalisations that breed racism might have some intuitive, primal appeal, it is not the stance mature, intelligent adults should adopt and that is why, when we encounter it we must treat it with some compassion, but ultimately teach why it is a childish reaction to the worlds complexities.

Addendum

Of course the kind of racism I’m discussing here does not account for the racism that is simply a sense of entitlement, a belief in race superiority and a blind contempt based on ignorance and arrogance that we see in Australia’s colonial past – and elsewhere around the planet – that was the basis of slavery and dispossession of land.

But I don’t think – for the most part that – that is the root of most of the racism in experienced in Australia today. Fear and ignorance is.

my PRINCE

I can’t remember where I was when I heard the news that Robin Williams died, or David Bowie, Alan Rickman or Ronnie Corbet or the many other wonderful artists whose lives and art have touched my life and deeply moved me over the years.

I do remember where I was when I heard Michael Jackson died. I was sitting poolside in a swanky, West Hollywood villa surrounded by others hoping to make their mark in L.A when a young African American boy came up to me to out of blue and delivered the news without introduction.

He was only about 10 and I’ve no idea why he did that. Perhaps it was a powerful moment to him and he was looking around this pool at all these strange people casually going about their lives untouched and he couldn’t reconcile the blasé normality of the picture before him with the intense emotions he was feeling. Perhaps it just made him feel bigger and more important to be the first to pass on the news; or perhaps it made him feel more connected to a man whose work had moved him. I don’t know, but because of the boy that moment has stuck with me more strongly than others.

Yet as strongly as I remember that moment I also know that I didn’t cry that day and I’m fairly certain, regardless of how powerfully some have moved me, I’ve never shed tears upon hearing of the death of a celebrity. Though I may have been deeply moved by their work and their death might illicit powerful memories I have never felt personal sadness or loss. In fact the only other time I can remember feeling the loss of an artist I didn’t know was perhaps Elvis back in 1977 and that because of the confusion I experienced seeing my mother crying for someone we didn’t know directly.

Not so with Prince. Upon reading the news this morning I wept. Not uncontrollably, but there were tears that I could not, did not want to hold back.

I do have a slightly stronger personal connection to Prince and perhaps that is the reason. His music recalls a time in my life shared with one of my dearest friends who tragically passed away many years ago after a motor cycle accident. We shared and loved the music, the style and the in-your-face audacity of Prince. At that time, as it seemed many felt the need to fall into either the Prince or Jackson camp as though they were Coke and Pepsi, tribes one must belong to; for us they were both loved and adored, though I was perhaps more strongly drawn to and influenced by the Purple One.

It was also a formative time in my life in terms of sexual relationships, sexual awakening and coming to understand and question issues related to gender and what masculinity is. Through all of those questions the dynamic presence of Prince loomed large as a touchstone for many years.

I also had the experience of both seeing Prince in concert and the far rarer privilege of performing for him while I with The Australian Ballet.

The Australian Ballet were performing a triple bill at The Sydney Opera House while Prince was on tour with his ‘Diamonds and Pearls’ concert. I was performing a minor role in the already dated piece Checkmate and a soloist role in a contemporary piece, Of Blessed Memory. I wasn’t in the third work – and so can’t remember the name of it – but rumours had swarmed backstage throughout the evening that Prince might be in the audience and so after finishing my performance duties, during the second interval I quickly changed and rushed out front to sit upstairs in the balcony of the auditorium hoping to catch a glimpse.

Sure enough the lights went down, the music started and to my surprise a side door  opened not 5 metres from where I was seated and in walked the shadowy, yet unmistakable presence that is Prince, flanked by two gorgeous leggy women and a single burly man in a suit.

In the half dark I stared – willing him to look over; wondering what was he thinking? – at Prince as he quietly watched the performance fantasising that just 20 minutes ago it had been me he was watching.

When the show finished he was up and out quickly before the curtain calls – to beat the public rush – and I quickly made the decision to follow in hot yet, respectfully distant pursuit.

I’ve no idea what I was going to do or say, but I hastened my pace down the steps of the inner Opera House holding my line just 10 metres away from my idol. He was still rimmed by Diamonds and Pearls and his body guard behind as they ambled towards the doors and an awaiting black, stretched limo. But for a short moment it was just them and me sharing the space and a path down the stairs.

I don’t know if I called  out, perhaps his name or just some guttural sound, or whether the body guard simply turned upon hearing my hard booted heels pounding the cement stairs behind, but the body guard stopped and stretched out his thick, powerful arm toward my lithe dancerly frame letting me know that I wasn’t going to get any closer.

On irrational impulse I quickly pulled my Australian Ballet ID from my wallet which simply gave my name and rank (then Coryphee) and asked the burly gent to pass it along to Prince. He took it, nodded without emotion before walking off. I stood watching till they passed through the doors, without ever looking back at me, before I ran down the stairs in time to see them get into their stretch limo and close the doors. And there I stood, staring on the curb as they drove off … in wonder and wondering.

What was I hoping? That he would read my name, feel some esoteric connection and try to get in contact? That he would get back to his hotel, look at the card then at the program and realise who I was from that oh-so-special performance and undergo some kind of epiphany that would lead him to contact me? I suppose at the time I did.

For weeks after I waited for a call, willing it, at times almost expecting it, yet never really knowing what I’d do if it came. Did I want to become one of his dancers? Did I just want to say ‘Hi’? Did I think we had some sort of creative connection? Was I feeling lost and believed that only he, Prince could really understand what I was going through? I don’t know. I really don’t. Perhaps all of the above at different times. Regardless the call never came. Life went on. I grew up and though my devotion may have diminished somewhat over the years an adoration has gone on undiminished by any disappointment I may have momentarily felt.

I was at home when I read the news that Prince had died. I’m now a middle aged man with a house and mortgage in the burbs; a family, a dog. Just lying in bed. There was no strange boy coming up out of the blue to alert me and of course I first read about it via a friends Facebook post – ironically the one friend I still keep in contact with from that 80’s time; read into that what you will – after which I followed the story across multiple news platforms as it spawned across the internet. Just lying in bed. Like any other day. But today I did cry and have continued to off and on all day.

I’ve played some of his albums – all of Purple Rain – sang the four songs of his I know on guitar (The Cross, Sometimes it Snows in April, When Doves Cry and Kiss) and shared with others who feel similarly via social media.

Though the deaths of other celebrities will no doubt generate powerful memories and feelings, I rather suspect I’ll never cry again for such an indirect loss. Prince was a special presence that will be forever cherished in my life. Truly, nothing compares 2 U …

SKIN IN THE GAME

After posting on Facebook recently that I didn’t like Sportsbet, or general gambling advertising during the cricket, a back and forth ensued that prompted a longer consideration of my position.

I’m not anti-gambling. As destructive to individuals and families as gambling can potentially be, if adults choose to gamble as a form of stimulation and entertainment then while I might hope they’ll do so within their financial means, ‘responsibly’ as the ads tell us, that is up to them. I feel the same way about most high risk physical activities and illicit drugs. I fall in the camp that holds that consenting adults should be allowed to more freely choose the calculated risks they’re personally prepared to accept where their choices do not impact on the choices and quality of life of others. There is typically a cost for such choices of course that is often borne by the tax-payer, but that is a nuanced topic for another time.

There are three aspects of gambling advertising I have issue with.

The first is the parading of gambling advertisements and gambling stats, reports and updates as though ‘news’ alongside mainstream events during prime ‘family’ viewing time. This normalises gambling as though it goes hand in hand with the sport, virtually embedded within the fabric of the activity. Children – and even some adults – see it and will likely come to assume that gambling is or should be normal during such games and times. This is of course exactly what the advertises and the businesses behind them want: to have the connection made between the event, the joy and pleasure we get from watching and gambling so that more people will want to participate as though it enhances the viewing experience. Much as ‘Coke adds life’ and ‘everything goes better with Coke’ and the many fast food, alcohol and cigarette companies that wed their products to much loved popular events and life experiences in order to promote on similar specious claims.

Yet we all know that statistically, much like illicit drugs, no ‘punter’ wins from gambling in the medium to long run; the only winners are those running the businesses. While there is a benefit for some in gambling – entertainment and increased stimulation during the game – there is also a cost. While hopefully that cost is only a transitory financial one, for too many it becomes a heavy financial one which develops into painful emotional and psychological ramifications that reek havoc on personal and family life.

And so while gambling might exist and be normal for some, as a citizen in a democracy I don’t want my children, or any children, growing up believing gambling is inextricably linked with sports viewing and so I and others that feel this way have every right to make the argument on behalf of the culture we want.

Which brings me to my second point: the increasing monetisation of our culture. Sometimes it seems as though more and more of our culture has turned into gambling of one kind or another.

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.
Albert Eistein

Time and again we’ve seen that an overemphasis on money is a major cause of corruption across many sports, leading to a corrosion of trust and interest for many viewers and participants. While International tennis is currently under the microscope due to allegations of match fixing, in recent years International cricket has also been rocked by multiple instances of match fixing, all of which are motivated by the increased money involved in the sport and more specifically by gambling.*

For some, a minority, merely picking a side based on a kind of sentimental tribalism has never been enough to hold their attention and achieve adequate levels of enjoyment and entertainment. They have needed more skin in the game in order to raise the stakes and hence the pleasure/stimulation levels.

In a way the team or individual and any loyalty to such ceases to be relevant as the subtext is not about devotion to any particular entity, but about the persons ability to analyse and successfully predict the outcome. It becomes a pitched battle of instinct and intelligence pitted against others also playing. It’s not actually viewing as true love or appreciation of the game – though they may also love the game: though there’s an argument to be made that the distraction of the monetary bias negates the purity of that love – but is instead a game within the game.

Such a game might just as easily be played betting on the weather or the migration of bird species. However, coupled with humanities natural love of sports and sporting prowess, the struggle to achieve and be ever better, sport becomes an obvious hook for the opportunistic in business to seize upon, coupling betting and sports together in order to attract the hobby business of more mainstream viewers who are more likely to bet based on loyalty and passion – and thus probably lose – while slowly drawing some of those away from the hobby field to the more hard edged end of town.

It is a further encroachment and weighting toward the business aspect of sport away from the craft and professional hobbyist devotion of sport. As a tangent, I’ve often found it interesting – and uncomfortable – that it is the ‘Bunnings replay’ rather than a replay brought to you by Bunnings, or ‘Emirates Stadium’, rather than a stadium that is proudly supported by Emirates. The distinction might seem semantic, but I think it’s significant. Surely if such companies truly valued and loved the sport then they’d baulk at the audacity of headlining themselves first and above the sport? Surely a modicum of humility would ensure they wouldn’t dare dream of creating the perception that they have ‘ownership’? Obviously not. How long I wonder before we’ll see the Sportsbet Australian Olympic team?

I’m willing to bet (pun intended) that most people don’t watch or participate in sport for the business of it. For most, the business of it is most often a turn off or at least a necessary nuisance that must be put up with in order for athletes and organisations to garner the required funds so that the game can continue to improve and exceed expectations. For like any good drama a sport must stay ahead of its audiences and endeavour to keep surprising.

But the relatively sudden preponderance of gambling advertising means we’re made to feel as though this is now a normal part of both the viewing and conversation of sports and it’s enjoyment.

If I’m to be completely accurate it’s not even general gambling advertising that riles me. For while the ubiquitous background drone of gambling advertising during sports viewing is an issue, even more so is the particular type of advertising that poses as news, reports and updates followed by live commentary during matches as though we need to know: as though it were part of the experience rather than a choice some viewers (maybe they’re not even viewing the sport) want to make. And so I can’t help but wonder how any child growing up today could not think gambling completely normal and acceptable and worse, integral to the enjoyment of sport itself given the level of advertising and embedded spruiking we’re now experiencing?

Time will tell. Perhaps I’m wrong and children will see through it all and rates of gambling addiction won’t worsen: more families won’t be ripped apart because of gambling. I do hope I’m wrong. But it seems to me, that to not at least take the issue seriously and consider its impact deeply is a pretty big gamble to take with other people’s lives who are not yet old enough to understand the young skin they have in the game.
*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cricketers_banned_for_match_fixing

To turn or not to turn; that is the question

To turn or not to turn back seekers of asylum, that is the question. And, as it has been for many years it seems it is the wedge issue at the 2015 Labor Conference.

Many years ago I met a Catholic Priest who was helping stray orphans roaming the countryside of the war torn former Yugoslavia. His weary eyes expressed his compassion, energy spent and his pain at not being able to do more. When I asked how he reconciled the suffering and barbarity he witnessed with his faith in a benevolent God, he explained to my faithless young soul that: it wasn’t his world. It wasn’t for him to understand, but merely to do all he could, to shoulder what he could bare. While I’m not a person of faith there was something in his words that have continued to resonate and I think are relevant to the current debate over asylum seeker turn backs.

We can not ‘solve’ the problem of asylum seekers, at least not in any satisfactory near term timeframe. Many, indeed most of the push factors lie far outside our powers of direct influence, though of course we have a part to play as participants of global institutions like the United Nations and via our support of NGO’s. And the pull factors i.e being a country considered open, safe, prosperous and a place of opportunity aren’t things we’d want to change.

What we must do then is what we can: to shoulder what we can bare.

It is true that turning back asylum seekers will stop people potentially drowning at sea. But what are we turning them back to; what kind of life? An enduring existence of uncertainty, continued instability, poverty, exploitation, possibly even slavery, economic or sexual and perhaps torture? It is certainly possible indeed probable. Can we really make the moral argument then that by turning back asylum seekers, that by avoiding some possible deaths at sea that we have saved them? Can we really ascribe any nobility to this act, as some seem to do?

It is also true that for every asylum seeker we accept via boat that is one less person we’ll be able to rescue from a distant refugee camp, quite possibly a person with even greater, more urgent need who was unable to scrape together the necessary funds to get to Indonesia and hence board a dilapidated vessel with the hope of reaching our shores.

This is a true dilemma and will not comfortably be reconciled no matter how we choose to act. So what should we do?

I believe our only course to steer is to do what we can, for those that present to us in need. We didn’t create the conditions that led asylum seekers to flee their countries, nor ask them to travel over dangerous waters to reach our shore. Nor did we create the inequity that means some can afford to reach us while others are trapped in those many refugee camps scattered around the world. These are situations not of our making. That some may perish on such journeys to reach us, or inevitably die in camps waiting for assistance, as genuinely tragic as that is, is ultimately not of our doing and not our direct responsibility.

It is our direct responsibility however to do all we can to save as many of those that do present to us after embarking on such perilous journeys and to give care and refuge to any fairly assessed to be genuine asylum seekers.

It is our responsibility to treat them with dignity, give them the opportunity and benefit of the doubt to make their case for asylum and assess such claims earnestly, with compassion and in as timely a manner as is possible.

That is the fair Australia I was brought up to feel a pride in belonging to. That is the fair Australia I want my children to feel pride in. Anything less and I start to doubt my connection to the greater idea of ‘Australia’ and any sense of patriotism to that idea and allegiance to its identity and people. And that can’t be good.

BLIND SPOT

I’d like to tell you that this is the heart warming story of a blind dog named Spot, but it’s not. It does however start with a story about dogs.

The 4Corners expose (aired ABC TV, Monday, February 16th) revealed the disgusting practise and extent of live baiting in Australia’s greyhound racing industry. While profoundly immoral, it is also illegal and the report demonstrated that the practise of live baiting is clearly wide spread and employed by some of the highest, most respected trainers and owners in the industry.

Yet beyond the glaringly obvious disgust any decent person watching would feel at the abuse of small, helpless animals being tied down, used as bait and mauled by dogs without hope of escape, the program raised other significant issues.

Why does it continually take the dedicated efforts of small NGO’s, often functioning on shoe-string budgets such as Animals Australia and Animal Liberation Queensland to reveal these barbaric practises? Where are the various state based RSPCA investigators or greyhound racing industry professionals whose mandate it is to crack down on exactly this sort of wide spread and potentially institutionalised abuse?

In media terms, this is a big, juicy story taking aim at many high-ranking and respected persons within the racing industry and effecting many tens of thousands of ordinary Australian’s who have been consistently lied to and ripped off. A story the media dogs would typically salivate over. Yet somehow until now, this story has gone completely unreported, slipping under the radar. How is that possible? While we continually hear of the demise of newspapers and journalists being out of work and doing it tough, here was a massive story with wide spreading implications that was completely over-looked. How many more such stories are going unreported or under-reported that must await the tireless dedication of an organisation like Animals Australia because of our media’s cultural blind-spot towards animal suffering?

These are just some of my early responses while watching the program and some of the critical questions that need to be asked in the aftermath.

Yet sitting with my wife I also began to feel sickened and embarrassed to be a man. Something at my very core wanted to weep. Because while there were women involved and some deeply so, the majority exposed were once again men. Once again I found myself confused as to how men could be so callous and cruel toward those so undeserving of their barbarity: how could they have such little regard to the suffering of a helpless other?

But it slowly dawned on me that their horrific actions are both relatively easy for them to rationalise and for me to understand.

Those responsible have behaved in a way that is contrary to the rules of the sport they profess to love. But we know all too well the rationale for that: competition, ego and greed. They wanted the best racing dogs they could ‘manufacture’ no matter what the cost in terms of cruelty and to make the most money possible, even if that meant cheating all the poor suckers out there who believed they were taking their chances on a fair playing field. No, this is not a stretch to understand. We’ve seen this same pattern play out time and again.

And though our guts may churn and twist and tears may flow, the level of their barbarity towards these creatures is also, sadly, not so difficult to fathom.

For I’m certain that these men and women, and perhaps many around the country watching, saw nothing unique in the way those animals were mis-treated. They would cite hunting with dogs, rabbit or kangaroo culls, duck shooting, or people who fish and exclaim that there is little difference in the actual suffering of the animal. They would likely draw our attention to the inherent cruelty in the live export industry or the inevitable torment as part of the factory farming process and ask: how is the suffering any less abhorrent and any more justifiable in those actions and industries? Why condemn one and not the other?

And this is the problem. For such questions and arguments have a strong foundation in fact and highlight the double standard, the cultural blind spot in our society regards non-human animal suffering. We allow people to rip from the water a fish with a hook through its gills, gums or snared deep inside its stomach and even present such activities as sport and parade them on TV as though noble and acts of leisure, yet how different is the suffering experienced by the actual animal?

We allow animals to be products, consumables, from the moment of their birth to the moment of their deaths, after dramatically shortened lives with little quality in factory farms, yet we’re outraged by the barbarity of these individuals who allow their dogs to chase small animals down as live bait. But such people would likely further rationalise their actions by saying that this kind of chase and kill – albeit modified – happens in the wild everyday and so ‘it’s natural’. Like eating meat is ‘natural’. Like using animals for entertainment or sport is ‘natural’. How I’ve come to loath that all-justifying phrase.

And this raises the fundamental difference between what is done in the wild, naturally, and humans. Animals in the wild do what they do because it is necessary. It is for their survival and they don’t have a choice. But humans now do. We inflict pain and commit acts of cruelty for pleasure: for our entertainment, ego and greed.

Some might further argue that humans have always ‘used’ animals. And while it’s likely true we have always eaten animals and been entertained by them, generally we did not do so without regard to their needs, appetites and lives. For the hunter gatherer it was a symbiotic, mutual relationship not one of slave and master. To listen to Indigenous Australian’s discussing their traditional way of life (to take but one example) is to understand the deeply connected relationship they have with the animals they take as food. The act of taking and ingesting a life was/is one of profound significance, not taken lightly, but done with a reverence such that it permeates their religious/spiritual beliefs and kin relationships. How far our progress has taken us that today we pick up our sanitised ‘meat’ at the supermarket, having never seen the animal and eat it without guilt, having had no direct part in its death and suffering.

The truth is, those people committing such acts of live baiting are lost. But they’re lost because we all are. For all our interconnectedness on the web and as part of a globalised economy, we’ve lost our connection with many of the things that matter most. Those people revealed in this expose are not monsters lurking outside on the fringes of our culture, but are the obvious extension of our lack of connectedness to many non-human animals and our own humanity that allows a double standard, which condemns some acts of animal suffering while condoning and even rewarding others.

It is the hypocrisy, the double standard, the blind spot in our culture that allows these people to easily rationalise their abhorrent practises and not squirm with guilt while looking directly into the camera and saying ‘animal welfare is our number one priority’, knowing it is the expected politically correct speak of the day that they must endure: the media game that must be played.

Yet they know, and feel a kind of raw-edged superiority in knowing, that most Australians don’t have a moral leg to stand on in condemning them while every single day our society continues to allow equally brutal and grotesque acts to be culturally sanctioned and sanctified.

Therefore such atrocities will not end until as a society we achieve some cohesive vision and enforcement on how we treat the animals we share our lives with. This is the only answer, and nothing will ever significantly change until we take the necessary steps to achieve such consistency. Nothing will change until we remove the cultural blind spot that muddies our vision and allows men and women to become monsters and wander amongst us with impunity.