A bird needs both wings to fly

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I only realised that my political views were a bit more left than right when I took part in the ABC’s Vote Compass ¬†in 2013. ¬†I still couldn’t vote at that time as I wasn’t a citizen and as such found the result interesting, amusing even but certainly not life-defining. ¬†Even though I came out as more left that right it was only just. ¬†I polled strongly liberal on all things money and slightly more green on matters of the environment. ¬†Trying to be all things to all people or just pretty remarkably normal? I’d go with the latter.

By the next election in 2016 I could vote and this time my vote compass showed that I’d swung far more to the left – maybe even radically so! ¬†As a scientist I found myself feeling much more skeptical of this result than I had of the 2013 findings – surely this level of swing is minor radicalism? ¬†I didn’t feel radical. I hadn’t even read the list of left-wing propaganda that lefties are so often accused of parroting. ¬† The left-wing agenda was something that I was not in on.

But I left it at that and voted the way that made sense to me.

It’s only a few months since that last election and the world of politics has gotten very nasty and that’s made me think.

I haven’t fundamentally changed much since I was a teenager back in the UK, a teenager living in a conservative household, reading the Daily Mail and the Sunday Telegraph, studying chemistry and dreaming of owning my own home and becoming a company Director…..

The world is what has changed and it has changed in a sick way that is obsessed with pigeon holing the whole of humanity into left-wing or right-wing boxes as if there is no possibility of seeing the good (and bad) in both thus totally ignoring the place where I suspect most of us really sit.

And I’m worried about that.

When things become so black and white the atmosphere changes. ¬†It becomes harder to have a conversation with people from the ‘other side’ to you as it seems so pointless when ‘they’ are less on another page than reading from another book entirely! ¬†We have a situation where common sense has been branded as a conservative construct and where anything to do with gender issues, equality, the environment and benefits is radical left-wing. ¬†But where have those thoughts come from?

I don’t know but I do have my suspicions.

You only have to observe the comments under a slightly controversial Facebook post to see how quickly people stop talking and start trading insults. ¬†I used to watch football (both soccer and Rugby – soccer crowds in England in the 1990’s were more violent and aggressive than the Rugby crowds so I’ll use that analogy). ¬† Soccer crowds were separated by entrances on opposing sides of the stadium – left and right. ¬†Once inside the chanting would start – depending on who was playing this could either be light-hearted banter or downright nasty goading. ¬†Whichever it was there was an undeniable air of ‘why the F would anyone even think of supporting them’ directed at the opposition. ¬†It was just unconscionable.

And that’s what politics is beginning to feel like.

We’ve chosen or been allotted sides.

These sides then define, not only how we vote but everything about us. We become bleeding heart lefty snowflakes or racist right-wing bigots full stop.

So who benefits from this?

Well a few months ago I might have sounded like a complete fruit loop for saying this but these days the proof is in the pudding – the political landscape has shifted and we can all see it with our own eyes.

The media love a good fight, it sells papers, makes great click bait and generally gets people addicted in a ‘what’s going to happen next’ kind of way. ¬†So while the media don’t necessarily have the power to start this once that fire has been lit they will at best hide the hose pipe and at worst fan the flames.

But they are not the only ones.

Politicians also know and take advantage of the fact that when we are passionate and angry we are less likely to think rationally, examine the evidence with a fine tooth comb and ask questions to help us understand.  What we tend to do instead is either accept or reject outright what is put in front of us, blinded by our own passions.  I think this is where we are now and sadly we are falling into its trap.

I would have said a month ago that politicians have more control over the media now than ever (professional lobbyists etc) but after reading some Australian history from the early 1900s that simply isn’t true. ¬†Australia’s second Prime Minister, Deakin was adept at prepping the soil for his future political policies by writing either overtly or under a pseudonym in the national papers. ¬†Just like when you are weaning babies, you have to introduce a new food (or new idea) a few times for the baby to get used to it – the same can be said for policy and if you can get into people’s hearts and minds without them realising you are 3/4’s of the way to a win!

Of course these days we have social media to counter and temper the influence of the professional media – we can all ‘create’ news be it by blogging, tweeting, Facebook status updating or sharing or snap chatting. ¬†However, we are shouting into a crowded market that has already been primed for left or right so it is more likely that you get lost in your own echo chamber than find your way into the hearts and minds of the opposition – to do that requires the development of a platform and in this political climate you won’t stand on a neutral one for long before someone shoves you either to the left or to the right!

So what can we do?

I don’t think there are any quick fixes that we can employ to help prevent us from falling into a left or right identity pot (unless we want to) but there are some slow ones and I guess it all starts with becoming aware of how the world is being divided.

I truly believe that we still have more in common than what divides us and as such will continue to try to seek out both sides of the story even when it doesn’t suit me and my personal tastes and views to do so. ¬†This divide and conquer mentality is not going to end well as it is simply not natural. ¬†As I said in my title, a bird needs both wings to fly but not only that, a bird also needs its core, ¬†its centre and I’m happy to stay centred for now.

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Groomed For Apathy and/or Anger.

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apathy
Lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.
anger
a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.

groomed

prepare or train (someone) for a particular purpose or activity.

What have we become?

Why?

When?

How?

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.

Look:

Letter 1

‘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….

Letter 2

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’.

Right-oh.

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 Рapathy 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 Рincluding alternative transport methods, job investment, accounting methods, business values etc Рbut 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.

six-capitals-full

 

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.

 

 

Over-emotional

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There have been a couple of occasions this week that I’ve taken a step back from what I’ve been reading and thought ‘wow, talk about emotional check-mate’. ¬† Once was when I read the comments section (always a bad idea) of a widely shared Facebook post about the correct way to position your child’s car seat (rear facing until age 4 is best apparently. Never mind the fact that by then most children will have a substantial length of leg to tuck up, cross or stick-in-the-air) and the other was a conversation about diets. ¬†My tip is to never talk diets with a vegan unless you are one and even then it may leave you feeling like you are all that is wrong with the world…..

The common thread in both conversations was the emotional death-blow that came out early in the piece:

“Oh go on then, you ignore the science and have your child forward facing. ¬†You should be ashamed of yourself, I feel sorry for your children. It’s child abuse’.

and

‘It’s disgusting what they do to chickens, turns my stomach. ¬†I really don’t know how you can do it and feel OK. Their blood is on your hands’.

and maybe they are right.

I’ll never know because what I tend to do in situations like the above is mentally check out while vowing to continue my life as before while trying to block out all memory of the discussion ever happening.

My rationale for taking such a drastic course of action – i.e: no further research to find out if I am indeed supporting chicken cruelty or abusing my children?

It is simple, people who conduct such emotionally projective arguments are not usually thinking fully and deeply enough about the issue.  Their information is tainted by their bias.

N.B: ¬†That is what goes through my head in that situation, it may not be the ‘truth’ but that doesn’t matter.

The fact that I discount emotionally charged or emotive arguments so readily has had me pondering though.  Is this a personality trait peculiar to me?  Am I really that cold-hearted and calculated? Is it my scientific thinking or is it just an ineffective way to make friends and influence people?

Anyway, to cut a long story short today I was listening to veteran singer-songwriter Jackson Browne on the radio talking about his political activism.  He writes protest songs and has been involved in campaigns against nuclear power and US backed wars,  has campaigned for Artists for the arts (to keep music in schools) and to reduce plastic water bottle waste amongst others.  Browne said something that resonated deeply with me and I paraphrase:

‘When people really need information they¬†need to emote themselves, you don’t need to do it for them. ¬†On occasion when I’ve written songs that are very pointed they have to be written with a great deal of restraint. What happens in a song is that the listener has got to feel, the listener has got to hear it, it has to resonate inside the listener. You want to engage the listeners emotions and not provide them, wrapped up and complete. When it comes to music, the real feeling is going to take place in the heart and mind of the listener’.

And I couldn’t agree more.