Democracy defined on Wikipedia:
prepare or train (someone) for a particular purpose or activity.
What have we become?
These questions fill my head this week after reading the letters in my local newspaper, letters that make my conclusion easy to justify.
Yes, this is correspondence about the airport again.
Yes I know that some of you want it.
Yes I appreciate that your reasons ‘for’ might be as justified as mine ‘against’.
But that’s not what I’m talking about here.
What I’m talking about is apathy.
Apathy either for or against.
‘I worked outdoors in the mountains over all four wards and was never conscious of any impact from these 230 per day aircraft (the number of over-flights currently passing the mountains – over the highway usually and usually at between 13,000-30,000 ft). So what’s all the fuss about?”
What indeed? I feel absolutely put in my place now thanks to that sort-of-angry outburst.
The writer finishes with a neat seasoning of apathy (in my opinion).
“Council, the No Western Sydney Airport action group and the majority of local residents are fighting a losing batter against inevitable growth and progress. It’s time; time to move on”
Awesome. I’m as good as told, what a wally I was for thinking that the majority of local residents, our representative council and a community action group could actually be listened to or at least heard in a democratic society. I really do need my head looked at and by the looks of it I’m not the only one….
This part of the letter comes after the writer apologies for the offence caused when said writer told us all to ‘shut up’ in the last correspondence. Bless….
“All the bickering has got to me because I and many others know that the development is a given and that many thousands of people will be relying on it for employment and travel well into the next 50 years or longer”.
Well that’s Ok assuming the next 50 years will be like the last 50 years and that the accounting world fight off the global push for not only triple-bottom-line-accounting but full ‘six capital’ accounting that takes things like emissions, environmental degradation and social costs into account.
I’m certainly not as confident as the writer on that score. 50 years ago we didn’t have the internet, could only account for value in terms of solid items traded and iconic books like the Club of Rome’s ‘Limits to Growth’ and Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ was so new and so niche that business didn’t rate it a mention.
The use of the word bickering did resonate with me though. As much as I don’t mind sticking my neck out and standing up for what I believe in (even if it seems pointless to everyone else- I’ll be the judge of that thank you) I HATE arguing. I mostly hate it because it usually happens when people are angry, wound up, hurt and feeling vulnerable so what we end up doing is arguing not about the issue but about how we feel or, more accurately, how the other people have made us feel. As such I feel the use of the word ‘bickering’ (and its stronger cousin ‘arguing’) give us (the ‘no airport’ side) a powerful insight into how we are coming across.
I’ll park that thought for a moment as there is another thing said here.
That the development is a given.
We use the words ‘development’, ‘progress’ and ‘growth’ freely without really questioning the value system that they are framed within and I feel that is dangerous.
Our economy is stridently neoliberal in its values – the word liberal in this sense doesn’t mean the liberal party, both liberal and labor politicians follow the neoliberal school of economic management which, in a nutshell is basically ‘money trumps everything’. I am not a fan. It’s not the only way that capitalism can play out. I am a fan of capitalism by the way – well, for now I am – I think we could move beyond that but probably not for a couple more hundred years so for now it works.
So when we say that the development is a given we are really saying that given the fact that we live in a neoliberal society where money trumps everything the airport was always going to go ahead no matter what as nothing is more valuable than money and money is more valuable than trees, 24 hour over-flights, a bit of air pollution that, let’s face it can land anywhere on the planet, a few birds and some noise.
I reserve my right to question the neoliberal agenda that underpins the way we currently justify developments such as this in areas such as Western Sydney.
I also reserve my right to disagree with the notion that this IS progress. As a business owner myself and consultant in the global beauty industry I witness every day what people power is doing to the beauty industry supply chain. More inclusive company accounting is coming and if I was about to invest millions in an airport that has to operate 24/7 to make its returns I’d be worried about getting my investment dollars back. Accountants might just kill this off and what then?
Anyway, I go on too much.
There was more from this writer but I’ll leave it at that other than to say that the writer finishes off by questioning the mental health of all residents up here by referring to the way our council areas are called ‘wards’ and not districts or zones. It is par for the course to attack the character of ones opponent in order to gain more support for your own cause. This parting line really does sadden me. It’s so Daily Telegraph.
On to the last letter, letter 3.
Now I must say I like a bit of humour but this last letter wasn’t my kind of funny.
“My partner lives right under the flight path at Lilyfield in Sydney. The aircraft roar over at 1500 feet. Her tomato plant has been producing for some nine months and only now is showing signs of having had a good innings. So perhaps some of the Blue Mountains Nimbys could advise if this is a direct consequence of the aircraft flying overhead’.
When the Chernobyl-fall-off disaster happened in 1986 it didn’t happen in England, where I lived but the wind carried the pollution to the Welsh and Scottish countryside as well as over Scandinavia. 369 farms including 190,000 sheep were affected and as this article shows, by 2009 some farms were still feeling the effects.
Now before I get lambasted (excuse the pun) for that and told ‘The chernobyl disaster is nothing like an airport, stupid’ I know that. My point is that air pollution travels. My other point is that it takes a lot for plants and life to stop completely, usually things will continue to grow and look normal, whether they are normal can often only be known by testing. I am a chemist and as luck would have it I tested roadside vegetation for lead and heavy metals as my honours project for my Uni Degree. I found that lead levels in roadside vegetation were significant up to a couple of metres from the road, this is in spite of the fact that petrol had been practically lead free for at least ten years prior to me carrying out the test. So I’d say to this tomato loving writer, I’d be sending those samples off for analysis before dismissing us as Nimby’s and minimising our legitimate concerns.
So to conclude I strongly feel that we, as a nation of citizens are being and have been groomed for one of two things – apathy and anger. These are traits we see in families affected by domestic violence, not in free, intelligent communities. Is that really what we want?
For my activist friends my concern is that the public can easily turn against us because of this and because of the lack of framework and support that exists for challenging the status-quo in this neoliberal world. I know there is another way and I know the fastest way to get there is to fight this with facts and alternatives – including alternative transport methods, job investment, accounting methods, business values etc – but it looks like many others have lost hope and have taken to attacking us because it is just easier.
I thank the letter writers for continuing to make me think deeply about what I’m doing. I am more convinced than ever that it is the right thing to do.
No airport for Western Sydney.
I am not angry or apathetic because I am not under their control.
PS: This is a good book. If I had money to invest I’d be having a read of this. The world is watching and it has an opinion.