Sunday, September 27, 2009

Elemental Questions

The second front of the dust storm that enveloped most of the eastern seaboard this week has passed through. 75 000 tonnes of dirt every hour she dropped at her peak. That's impressive, and to use the older meaning of the word - awesome.

Which is to say that today is dusting, mopping, vacuuming, washing, and generally tidying day. It is days like this, when I realise there is far far too much stuff in my house. And each of those little surfaces is now dirty, and each of them needs a particular type of attention, and none of them have a clean place to be set down once they have been done. If I think about it like a great big puzzle, I'll get through it - or at least far enough through today that I can finish off or give up at my leisure another time. If only one could clean in this way with fire. There would be no reticence on my part to engage, however fire doesn't quite work that way, especially not against earth, so I shall have to persevere with water and air.

I went to see a play yesterday - The Trail of the Catonsville Nine - with thanks to The Monthly. Not only is it the best magazine in Australia, but as a subscriber you can sometimes win treats. The play is being presented here as part of the Brisbane Festival and without the email from the Monthly, I wouldn't even have known there was a BF on, let alone got out of Trash City for the day to participate. It is about 9 people who were put on trail for burning American draft office records during the Vietnam War. They felt profoundly moved to this act of civil disobedience and this play is set in the courtroom with just the 10 actors moving around to play all parts. Really marvelous and I encourage you to see it if the opportunity arises where you are.

One of the questions the play raised for me is "Are we complicit each time we do not speak up or step up to act for justice, for life?" There's a lot of argy bargy that could be done about what exactly "justice" might mean, and even for some contexts "life" and my intention now is not to wiffle about semantics - but to look at the bigger essence. Do we as a community - do I - still believe that there is justice? That life is sacred? Elements of this play were confronting as the characters talked of their commitment to equality for all, of their personal works to bridge poverty and education gaps between the haves and the have nots. The setting of this play might be historical but actually these remain urgent, contemporary issues and Australian issues too, not just American, or African, or Whereverian.

There was one line that tied this experience back to the reading I've been doing on Black Barty, and it was where Father Berrigan said in his statement (and I'm paraphrasing slightly) "I have lost faith in the institutions of this country. The law does not look after the people." He was referring to the illegality of the USA entering into the conflict and that somehow the President seemed above the law. Well if the President is above the law - what good is the law? The foundation of the democratic model has been undermined. And more - I remembered the East India Company, I thought of the ramifications of what probably seemed like a good idea at the time - creating a new kind of entity that would have standing and identity in and of itself in front of the law - The Company. Perhaps with hindsight, this is one of the moments where the interests of these new breed of "people" - Companies - overtook the interests of human people. The law certainly looked after their interests in this instance, but not of humans.

We are in the middle of a revolution and it can be hard to see for the haze, and think for the noises and baying. I wonder if the Companies will come through this revolution intact and stronger or if the machines will short-circuit that entire logic and power structure. I'm feeling a little depressed about it, but that's just my natural pessimisim and the fact that I've not yet had breakfast. I'm sure after some eggs and coffee I'll feel more hopeful about our democratic and governmental institutions re-vitalising the sanctity of human life, honouring thoughtful debate, flexibility and the fact that we're all on this ship together. Otherwise, it looks like fire will get a chance to clean after all.

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