Posted on 25 April 2017 | No responses
“The other day when I was walking through the woods, I saw a rabbit standing in front of a candle making shadows of people on a tree.”
I have an aunt and an uncle who to get by used to raise rabbits for food. It was hard to keep my cousins from becoming fond of these animals, and therefore distraught when their favourite bunny was turned into soup. To resolve this problem they kept their rabbits in two separate enclosures. One enclosure was for eating rabbits. Another enclosure was for breeding/play rabbits.
The play rabbits had names. The play rabbits could be brought into the house and allowed to run around. My cousins could tell me about their personalities and the funny things they did. None of this was true for the eating rabbits.
When slaughter days came, no one was happy but everyone understood what had to be done. The eating rabbits were treated especially well for their last moments. They were often given a nice supper. One by one they were brought into the shed, so they were less likely to be distressed, then quickly killed. All parts of these rabbits were used: the meat, the fur, the offal.
The Nature of Empathy
A major survival trait for human beings is our ability to cooperate. We have evolved not just the ability to readily mimic others, but also to recognise physical and emotional feelings as if they are our own. I say “others” rather than people, because our brain’s neurons do not stop at reflecting only human states, but also reflect animal states. This is extremely handy for forming interspecies relations and broadening the field of cooperation. This is how we successfully live with dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, and more.
But what if we have to do hard things to ensure our survival? Then we find ways to cognitively shut down empathy under certain occasions. The eating bunnies are kept on the far part of the backyard where we don’t have to interact with them and feel remorse upon their deaths.
We have created a highly competitive society. The competition is exacerbated by a lack of safety nets. If you fail at making a living in a society that only agrees to pay for a certain narrow definition of professional work, then you could end up living in extreme poverty. Look around you. If you see people living in the streets wearing rags, then that is how far you or anyone can fall. This means just about anyone can be your enemy to survival.
Our natural inclinations are to make friends and share. We love seeing people’s faces light up when we give them presents. We love even a few pleasant words from sales staff. People often have favourite cafes based solely on a server who smiles or chats with them. However, when our security is threatened by a harsh system, we feel a need to choose a small group of allies, then find ways to shut down our empathy for everyone else. We have to prepare ourselves for turning other people into eating rabbits.
The Problem of Separation
So, we live in a world where we need a lot of answers fast. We live in a world that needs a lot of repair, nurturing, and healing fast. This can be done when we have a diversity of hearts, minds, and hands working together. Cooperation can save us. But we have been relying on separation.
We see those of different ethnicity, culture, religion, political outlook, weight, age, ability, gender, gender affiliation, class, countries, etc as backyard bunnies. Walking down the street with a friend we came across several rough sleepers asking for change. Her comment was, “That’s disturbing”. She then walked quickly past. So many people I have met feel street people need to be swept away and tidied from the city streets. I can sense the pull of empathy, I can sense the act of shutting it down and wanting the poor to be put where people don’t have to think about them or do anything to help.
I see people struggling with the concept of deserving: I deserve my security, they deserve their penury. I’ve been a pacifist since my early teen years. No one pays me to go out and help with the homeless rallies at Melbourne Town Hall or Victorian State Parliament. Yet, the newspapers describe me as a “professional protester” and that our little group of students, housewives, refugees, transsexuals, etc are somehow magically violent. The portrayals are laughable, but no one wants to know that, because if they did they might feel responsible for the wellbeing of poor human beings.
And what if some of the poor are violent? What if their lives are so desperate that they resort to anything to keep themselves breathing? How is this any different from the cute puppy or kitten that has been abandoned and therefore becomes feral? We rehabilitate feral puppies and kittens by feeding them and treating them well. But in their case we feel safe enough to empathise.
More Play Rabbits
We have to stop being so afraid of one another. We have to stop seeing one another and all living beings as so deeply separate. We have to insist that those with ample means contribute to the general well-being of our planet. Creating categories of humans such as nobility, dictators, or CEOs just encourages them to shut down their empathy for the rest of humanity. Creating categories of humans such as bums, tramps, hobos, etc just encourages us to shut down our empathy for those people who are impoverished. We are all human. “There but for the grace of fate go I”, should be the thought going through our heads whenever we see another person or another creature suffer. Listen to your empathy! Expand your definition of who is a play rabbit! You may save yourself and the world this way.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 20 April 2017 | No responses
Light and its characteristics
Light can be demonstrated to behave as both a particle and a wave.
Using the Double Slit Experiment light is found to measurably behave as discrete particles. Light passing through the slits is absorbed on an observing screen at discrete points behind the slits, and when detectors are used, each detected photon of light clearly passes through one slit only.
However, the wave like nature of light passing through the slits creates an interference pattern producing bright and dark bands on the same observing screen, much like that found when two sets of waves on a pond intersect amplifying and deamplifying those waves when they meet. This displays the concept of wave-particle duality.
Okay, that was a bit technical. The point is simply that light simultaneously holds two characteristics which we usually expect to be exclusive of one another: particleness and waveness, singularity and continuity.
I start with this because I want people to hold in their minds the possibility that we can be like light. When we live within a healthy society we will always be mindful of each others individuality, while also supporting the continuity of human and living being. In our case this is something of a balancing act. Our culture has at intervals tipped too far in emphasising either the individual, or human collectives.
Humanity as wave
When we overemphasise our wave-like nature, we start demanding conformity. Conformity means that everyone’s behaviour is predictable. Sometimes we want that conformity. Every time we go through a traffic light we want people behaving predictably according to strict road rules. That way we can travel through the intersection safely and not worry about having our lives threatened by someone randomly barrelling through a red light.
What happens when a felt need for conformity comes from a need to dominate or paranoia? This regularly occurs when there are wars. Suddenly people want obvious ways to distinguish who is the enemy and who is not. During World War Two Americans of Japanese heritage were rounded up and put into internment camps. This included children with as little as one-sixteenth Japanese heritage. All American Asians were looked upon with distrust. Survival depended upon how much people could conform to not only European American culture, but physiognomy.
After WWII the Cold War began and ideological conformity became a concern. People who were considered a threat to the power of a white wealthy male hegemony could be accused of communism and imprisoned. People were made to feel afraid of speaking freely about social concerns or defending the rights of the poor, since they could then be accused of being traitors. I remember this still being true in the nineteen eighties when I was taking a course in political science and needed to buy a copy of The Communist Manifesto rather than borrow it from the library. Ronald Reagan had brought in new laws whereby librarians were required to report to the FBI those students who had checked out Karl Marx’s work.
A tactic those in power frequently use is demarking who are “us” and who are “them”. So long as people are focused on keeping safe from “them”, the government can make laws that benefit those in power and look like they are protecting the populace from “them”. These laws can attack freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom to protest, etc. This may look like it’s creating a more secure world for “us”, but those laws will equally apply to everyone.
Australia has been creating more and more laws to protect “us” from immigrants. I will regularly point out to friends that these laws they are seeing as applying only to Asian, African, or Middle Eastern immigrants equally apply to myself and their English, Scottish, German, etc family members. As an example we now have a law that says any immigrant found to have a mental disorder can have their citizenship revoked and be deported. I point out that if the government didn’t like me and discovered that perhaps I was seeing a psychiatrist about depression, they could use that as an excuse to revoke my Australian nationality. The response I regularly receive is, “They wouldn’t do that to you.” The fact of the matter is nothing says they couldn’t or wouldn’t. And why is it okay to have such a law, if it is going to be applied in a discriminatory manner?
So long as we conform to the government’s wishes and the general wishes of our social groups, not only do we often feel like we might be safer, we have more power to enforce our control, dominance, and wishes over other social groups. Though, within such a group we still become afraid of being found out for being different. Outside of such a group it becomes imperative to find a way to fit in so as to garner some safety and avoid suffering. This is when you have women taking on the values of toxic masculinity, people of non-European ancestry taking on Western values of success, etc. This is waveness gone too far.
Humanity as particle
When we start overemphasising our particle-like natures we see the collapse of community and eventually civilisation. Our individuality is exceptionally important to a thriving progressing society. Our differences make us stronger in so many ways. With more diversity more ideas, skills, and perspectives are available to us to create a better world. We know more peace when we are capable of accepting diversity as a mutual act.
However, there is a difference between individuality and individualism. Driving people apart makes the wealthy class wealthier. We are faced with an onslaught of manufactured fear through advertising every day. We are made to feel frightened of differing from others in order to sell clothes, deodorant, etc. We are also made to feel frightened of whether or not we are exceeding one another in the status game, and so are encouraged to buy more and more status symbols for which we need more and more money. So long as we are desperate for money, those in power can manipulate us to jump through hoops and lie to one another.
My partner and I a few years back were looking at a piece of property for sale. The real estate agent told us we had better make an offer fast because someone else had already made one, and we would need to be competitive. The land didn’t interest us enough to bother with that game, so we left it. Six months later that same piece of property was still for sale. I inquired again. The receptionist at the real estate office called the person managing that property and was told to tell me: “I had better make an offer fast because someone else had already made one, and I would need to be competitive.” Over two years later I noticed the property was finally sold. I refuse to have anything to do with an agency of liars.
Sadly, I can’t entirely avoid dealing with companies and shops that are going to be lying, manipulating, and pressurising me into handing over my dollars. In order to function in society I have to have sufficient trust in particular companies to just buy things and get on with life. As fewer paid jobs are available, every time I tell a commissioned sales person, “no”, they are terrified of losing their car, their home, their ability to feed themselves. Without the waveness of general safety nets, the individual becomes solely responsible for their survival. If their boss then told them, they had to work an extra twenty to forty hours a week or they would lose their job altogether, the sales person may very well agree to inhumane working conditions.
Under extreme competitive conditions people regularly have to prove why they are distinctly better than everyone else. They have to learn how to please those above them. This often involves a process of kicking those below them. Add to that a fear that the world is falling apart and we see an upswing in the combined attitudes of YOLO (you only live once) and “every man for himself”. So, the world is used up without care for any other human beings. This goes beyond “us” and “them”. This becomes me against the world. It leads to the three letter acronym MAD: mutually assured destruction—and not a single nuclear weapon needs to be brought out—just mistreatment of one another and the planet.
Individualism is used too often to make ourselves feel bigger, more important, and thereby apparently safer, but it’s not true. The more we isolate ourselves, the more vulnerable we are to danger. We also suffer more from loneliness. We have to learn how to be okay with being both different and the same as everyone else, without having to be “the best” at anything.
What I am asking of people here is to find our lightness. We have to find the courage to be both individual and part of the continuity of all living beings. We have to look out for the needs, safety, and well-being of all of it: in part and in whole. Probably the biggest “us” and “them” problem we have is how separate we see ourselves from the rest of life, and therefore feel a need to dominate and ultimately destroy life. We are even brighter lights when we include every creature that walks, flies, or swims the Earth; when we embrace all things that grow and breathe after their own fashion. Cultivate an attitude of universal goodwill. Act out of kindness. Commit to being truthful and serving humanity. Love community. Learn to share. Honour life. These are what will create a world where you will know peace and friendship.
Posted on 10 April 2017 | No responses
Much of storytelling is a thought experiment. We develop a collection of characters, put them into particular circumstances and, if we are honest in our storytelling, we allow events to roll out to the most likely conclusions given all considerations. While we are doing this we are inhabiting other people’s lives and other people’s minds…that is, if we are being honest.
We all rely too much on stereotypes to help tell our stories for us. And yet to do so is highly unjust to those who are being portrayed as mere addendums to the “real” characters. Sometimes this is out of laziness, sometimes ignorance or a lack of imagination, sometimes this is because of anger, bigotry, or any combination of the above. Science fiction and fantasy is often a mass of stereotypes in aid of “cool” ideas which take the fore: what would the future be like if teleportation became a thing, what would the world be like if we had to live with dragons, etc.
Embedded in this problem is a deeper one: what right do we have to represent others stories. If someone living in a city writes a story about someone working as a rancher in the country, they are holding up to the world a manufactured example of what it is like to be a rancher and thereby inform their audience, perhaps erroneously, as to what it is like to be a rancher and what sort of person a rancher might be. This story may romanticise or vilify ranch workers and thereby mould city people’s impressions. This becomes a problem when by sheer numbers city people make electoral decisions that affect those living in the country, who by law are now subject to decisions over which they had little say. In conclusion not only may the city writer have used stereotypes to titillate an audience: they may have misrepresented a group of people and thereby misinformed their audience. From their isolated position the writer may think they have done nothing wrong, because they cannot see the consequences.
Now let’s open these questions up into more dangerous territory. We do not live in a world of pure divisions between peoples, and yet we often try to create such divisions. These divisions often serve as a means to protect ourselves, either by providing a quick way to determine who might be a threat or by informing us who it is acceptable to exploit in order to ensure we have sufficient for our survival. These are the most insidious stereotypes. Living on the blunt end of these divisions makes various people vulnerable to the representations of those who are more privileged. However, the reality that these divisions are arbitrary means many people are both privileged and underprivileged simultaneously.
The Problem of the Historical Fiction Author
Former president Barack Obama is wealthy, male, and once held one of the most privileged positions you can attain within the United States. However, his dark features make him the subject of stereotyping, slurs, and racist behaviour. Writing is not a particularly profitable profession. Let us say that in the future a white, lower middle class woman just barely scraping by writes a piece of historical fiction about the childhood lives of Malia and Sasha Obama. This woman might feel justified because they all know what it is like to be female. She would find challenging not only leaping the ethnic divide to best represent African American culture, but also the divide between lower and upper classes.
If the book about Sasha and Malia were published, it might very well cause an outcry no matter how conscientious the author tried to be. As a child I was crazy about Phillis Wheatley, because she was a poet as a little girl and I was a poet as a little girl. If this author had a genuine affinity for Sasha and Malia, I could understand this author feeling upset that her chosen subject matter was seen as beyond her. However, if Michelle Obama were to write a novel from the viewpoint of a poor white man, I can bet you anything that the outcry would be louder and more vicious.
The answer would seem to be an author should only write about their own people. Who are our own people? Should our historical novelist only write about young, able, white, lower middle class women who live in small towns near Portland Oregon? What about the supporting characters in her novel? Are they also subject to these restrictions? In many ways our problems start increasing.
Write What You Know?
I doubt that our historical novelist lives in a world where she never sees another person who is older or younger than herself, never comes across someone differently abled, of another ethnicity or class, or is of a different gender or gender diverse. Without absolute isolation this is impossible. To not include diversity in her stories is to be dishonest about her experience and the nature of the world. If we all wrote books that narrow in focus, it would become very easy to increase divisions among ourselves. Some people would read books that only reflect their own experience (which already happens but this could exacerbate the issue). Some people would find it harder to make imaginative leaps into recognising shared humanity because of the intense othering. What also concerns me is that we then also have fewer models as to how we can successfully live together.
Okay, let’s soften that barrier. Let’s say she can write about people more distinct from herself, but they can only be the secondary characters. The main character must be someone like herself. Sorry, we still have problems. Reading is an important tool for empathy. People identify with someone unlike themselves in stories and start to care. Some people need our care, but are unable to write for themselves. People with various intellectual disabilities come to mind. People who have been unjustly imprisoned and are being prevented from communicating outside their situation is another example. Intense situations involving children definitely require the writing of an adult to protect the child and inform the public.
I don’t believe there is any way we can tell a story where we aren’t vulnerable to judgement. I would say if we are creating stories, we have to not concern ourselves with the judgement but rather focus on being genuinely truthful, sensitive, and showing due care to the best of our ability. We will still be caught out, but we will need to have the humility to allow our vulnerability and to learn. Some things can be done to make it easier to tell stories that are broad in scope and diversity, which integrate the peoples of this Earth.
More Than One Voice Creating Stories, More Than One Voice In Stories
If only one voice is heard telling their stories we have a problem. If only the stories of wealthy white men and the world of wealthy white men are told, then it’s easy to feel that theirs are the only stories that matter. Worse, many people end up feeling the stories of wealthy white men are the only stories worth emulating, not only in the creation of new stories, but in how our lives are lived. This is happening now and creating a whole world of problems when it comes to rich/poor divide, discrimination, and the damaging of our ecosystem.
If only one voice is being heard telling everyone else’s stories, we have a problem. If only wealthy white males are telling the stories of women, children, people of colour, etc then we have at best limited insight into other people’s lives because we have no way of knowing how fair the portrayal is. How do a people portray themselves? What details do they focus on? What is important to them? For those who cannot speak for themselves, if at least a diversity of voices are telling their stories then we might get a closer approximation of truth. A mother’s story about her child with Down Syndrome may be very different from the father’s story.
We must demand that a fair distribution of voices is heard through a diversity of media, and in our schools from pre-school to graduate school. This is not optional. A world of peace demands such fairness.
Writers must develop their stories with all due diligence. We must research our subjects with the same care and objectivity as academics. We must do so with an eye to detail and a sensitive concern for the values of those being portrayed. That doesn’t mean backing off from the truth when it’s complex and dirty. In fact that complexity is what the world most needs to acknowledge and accept as part of a genuine compassion for whole human beings. Just make sure the complexity extends to all characters not just one segment.
We must engage and consult with our subjects. This is where we part ways with the academics, because we are about portraying emotional truth as well. To the best of our ability we should spend time with people like those we are creating, or at least watching their vlogs. I don’t ask people to dip into “method” storytelling, that can be immensely damaging to a person’s mental well-being. If people at least seek the help of those they are representing and listen to their opinions before releasing their stories to the world, this would help create greater truthfulness.
The Conversation Begins
I do not believe I have addressed all the problems nor have I presented all the answers here. What I am mostly seeking is to open up a conversation about how we can enter each others worlds sufficiently to create a community of goodwill. I want us engaging in each others stories and imagining ourselves in the positions of their characters. Women frequently experience stories by imagining what it’s like to be the male lead. The same is true of many people who are not of the mainstream storied class. When we have sufficient diversity in the story market that white men enjoy imagining themselves as being one of the rest of us, then we will be within embracing distance of a truly peaceful world.
I want an integrated world of goodwill, so I do my best to write an integrated world of goodwill. If you have any ideas on how we can all do this better, please let me know.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 7 April 2017 | No responses
“On Tuesday 7 February 2017, Council endorsed proposed amendments to our Activities Local Law 2009, including a broader definition of ‘camping’.”
Activities Local Law 2009
(This amendment would give the police greater powers to remove the homeless from Melbourne CBD. It is a fineable offense that can result in jail time)
“Unless in accordance with a permit, a person must not leave any item unattended in a public place. If any item is left unattended in contravention of this Local Law, an authorised officer may confiscate and impound the item in accordance with this clause. Any item confiscated and impounded under clause 2.12.2 will be returned to its owner on payment of any fee or charge prescribed by the Council for its release. If the owner of the item has not paid any fee or charge required for its release, the Council may sell, destroy or give away the item. Before exercising the power conferred by clause 2.12.4, the Council must take reasonable steps to notify the owner of the item that the item has been impounded and may be sold, destroyed or given away unless the specified fee or charge is paid within 14 days.”
Activities (Public Amenity and Security) Local Law 2017
The world does not have enough paid jobs to go around.
Manufacturing is largely being done by robots: check any remaining car factories. We no longer have as many bank and supermarket clerks with ATMs and self-checkouts. Malls are suffering from online sales. As media becomes more concentrated because people are visiting only a few online news sites, we have fewer journalists being paid for their skills. When self-driving cars come in we will see people losing taxi and truck driving positions. Governments are shedding many of our assets and services by either selling them off to corporations or relinquishing them to volunteer nonprofits.
The ranks of the underemployed are swelling, as are the ranks of those who are living in poverty. The middle class is collapsing. Are you really surprised in the last two years that Melbourne CBD has experienced a 74% increase in people sleeping rough on its streets?
So you the Melbourne Town Council plan to fine people for cluttering your streets, people who don’t have enough to pay for accommodation and have had to choose food over shelter. They can’t pay and so will be liable for three days of jail time: three days of lodging and food at taxpayer’s expense. At least it’s a roof overhead, but who wants to sleep in a jail simply for being poor?
And what’s the next tactic? You have chosen to confiscate these people’s belongings the instant they have to leave for the toilet—belongings such as blankets, water, legitimate medications. This was done recently to people sleeping rough at Flinders Street Station. You now propose they can then only retrieve these necessities for survival if they pay a several hundred dollar fine they can’t afford.
Now they have less than nothing and can’t possibly beg for enough to get by. That’s a recipe for crime if I’ve ever heard it. But the question is: whose crime is it? Who takes blankets from the homeless? Who takes medication from those who are sick or in pain? Who lacks so much humanity that they believe these are reasonable things to do?
Yet again Melbourne Council is proposing to contravene its country’s human rights agreements. Article seventeen of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: (1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.
This sounds like the Melbourne City Council has taken a leaf from the Federal Government’s refugee policies: make the situation in Melbourne CBD so hostile to the poor that they are forced into surrounding suburbs. What does the state government think of such contentious law-making?
You the privileged are losing the buffer between yourselves and the poor. The top ten percent have been protected by a majority middle class, but so long as we are all slipping into hardship, you are becoming more and more seriously outnumbered. How long can you create and mistreat more poor before the world starts crumbling around you and you have no supporters?
Choose compassion now.
Posted on 5 April 2017 | No responses
“Don’t you think she looks tired?”
David Tennant as Dr Who, “The Christmas Invasion” 2005
These questions are for the people running around in suits today.
- Do you find yourself feeling overwhelmingly stressed?
- Do you feel tired, as if life is moving on and on and you can’t make it stop?
- Are you feeling exhausted as if some sort of threat is constantly looming over your life?
A 2001 Danish study reported in the British Medical Journal found that not only do poor people with mental illness suffer from a higher suicide rate than the general public, but so do the wealthy.
The wealthy know their position in society is precarious. They know they live in a dog eat dog world of their own making, and sometimes even boast about being the top dog—but that still means they are living a life of constant battle.
Someone just below them often wants to knock the crown off their heads for their own aggrandisement. But more than that there are the many many people who may hold bitter grudges against their rich overlords due to mistreatment. The one percent are perfectly aware of their home grown dog pit. They are afraid of being treated as they have treated others.
In 2014 venture capitalist Tom Perkins wrote to the Wall Street Journal. In his letter he said that he believed a “progressive war” was being waged against wealthy Americans comparing it to the Nazi persecution of Jews and suggested a Kristallnacht might be coming for the rich. Later he said on television that the poor and middle class have “threatened” the rich with their calls for a more equal society. Such a bizarre and distorted vision of the world is pure paranoia.
We are living in a deeply dysfunctional society. If you know anything about dysfunctional families. It’s easy to see what’s going on. Imagine a family where one or both parents are violent or emotionally abusive. These people still have to function in society to ensure their survival, so all people will ever see are happy smiling faces.
The adults of the family will express their pathologies upon those whom they are most likely to get away with their abuse. This may include low status co-workers, but it will definitely include their children. These children will be instructed to smile and smile, accepting their abuse as normal.
If one of those children starts to sense that something is wrong, they may exhibit emotional problems. The parents “can’t imagine why” their child would have such difficulty, but it must be because of school, TV, or some other external factor. They may try to drug their kid into a semblance of social normality.
If this child starts rebelling, they are seen as “the problem” and are forced to carry the entire family’s guilt. The other children out of fear will then try to be everything their parents want in order to avoid the torture their sibling is going through. Some will even take on their parents’s pathologies to show what good children they are. Does this sound like Trump’s America to you?
So here we are in Australia telling ourselves that we are the lucky country. Our wealthy are taking over the government and convincing people to look the other way as they abuse the poor. And as we all see how far we can fall, rather than fixing the situation we become scared and join in the abuse. We are taking on our parents’s pathologies.
The effort it takes to not care, to turn away from abuse, is brutal. Our fears are not being resolved through “fitting in”, instead we are becoming more and more frightened sometimes to the point of Tom Perkins paranoia.
Making the vulnerable the enemy means we have someone we can more safely kick, but it will never relieve us of fear and rage, and it most certainly will not rescue us from the dangers of accepting dysfunctional social structures.
We must turn squarely toward our systems of hierarchy and wash them away like the flimsy sand castles they are. If you want any sort of security in this world you are only going to find it when you find the strength to stand up for what is kind, what is caring, what will benefit all humanity and all life. We cannot stand by as people are left without food, without homes, without hope.
Dig deep and find a powerful compassion that will remake the world in total.
Peace and kindness,
Speech given 05 April 2017 at the steps of the Victorian Parliament.
Posted on 4 April 2017 | No responses
People think I’m crazy. For decades now I have been saying that if we change our culture’s stories we will start seeing important social changes.
I have worked to found various community groups, I wrote policy for an Australian political party, I have helped charities. The most effective thing I have ever done is write musicals.
With theatre people directly see and hear human beings. All the mirror neurons are firing at full force creaing empathy with my characters. Songs and music allow people to engage emotionally with events. If the story is well constructed people will remember the show as part of their own experience and use it to inform how they see the world and how they interact with it.
When my show Heard of Elephants, a musical about elephant conservation, was performed last year I made sure people had some way to take action immediately after each performance. I selected a relevant charity, acquired a couple of their donation tins, and had my actors hold the tins at the theatre exits for people’s coins. Only when we opened the tins we didn’t find just coins. We had fifty and twenty dollar bills. The charity had never seen that sort of generosity before.
So yes, I am now trying to save the world one musical at a time. I’m happy. My audiences are happy. And we seem to be making some headway in creating a better world. Stories create change.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 24 March 2017 | No responses
I would like to challenge people. I want you to take a pocket full of coins, go out into the streets, give that change to various beggars, then wait for them to look up at you.
Don’t expect them to thank you, but accept their thanks if they give it. Look into their faces and give them the dignity of recognising their humanity.
Do that a few times and see what you can read for a moment in their faces.
These people aren’t pretty. They will be dirty and some will look pretty hardened. Some will look utterly despaired. Others may smile at you. With some you may feel the drag of their wishing you could give them more.
Don’t try to rationalise who you give money to. You will still probably find yourself preferring some beggars to others. It will feel safer to give money to women and children. It might feel easier to give to those who don’t look as needy, because you won’t feel as much drag.
Some beggar’s neediness may look like an act. The problem is that some people don’t feel the need to give unless the person is so destitute they could be at death’s door. In fact for the homeless because they don’t have an address, they cannot receive government benefits. So, they are forced to become professional beggars and must use all the same tactics as advertisers. This is not their fault, this is what they are forced to do just to survive.
Recognise how little these street people have. All the items you see surrounding them are the entirety of their worldly goods. If they leave those items for even a few moments to use the toilets, the city government confiscates all their things. Those items include water bottles, blankets, and genuine medicines. They then have to beg to recover those things and in the meantime do without water, blankets, or medicines.
The homeless have chosen food over shelter, which is why they are living in the city. In the city they have CCTVs to help keep them safe. In the suburbs certain homeless people have been anonymously kicked to death by drunken youths. You will notice homeless people don’t often sleep in alleys these days.
Because I write for musicals and work with singers, I know what breathing looks like. I know when someone is breathing deeply. I know when someone is using their diaphragm correctly. I know when someone is having trouble breathing because they are nervous. A month or so back I saw a man lying on the street clearly not breathing. A couple police were standing on either side of him, smiling and directing people around. They were waiting for the paramedics. Most people passed that afternoon without noticing this man was dead. He had to die alone in the street.
Only a couple weeks ago a thirty year old woman, her boyfriend and her fourteen year old daughter were sleeping in an abandoned rope factory in Footscray where they had been squatting. On that day the owner of the factory was told by the city council the property could be redeveloped for housing. That night he set the factory on fire and burnt those people to death.
You might feel terrified that you can’t give enough, that these people will want to take everything you have until you are one of them. Perhaps you will feel angry that you have been made to feel guilty and/or responsible. Perhaps you will feel anxious that you will never be able to do enough. Perhaps you will become afraid that being near these people may rub off. You might even be afraid that they will rise up and become violent.
All you have been asked to do at this time is to give a little change directly to these people: not through some charity that takes their cut and sanitises the experience. Give a little change and encourage a lot more change in the society around you. You have looked into the faces of these people and, if you are any kind of human being, you have seen yourself but for the grace of fate. You alone cannot fix all the problems of the poor, but you can help. Let this be a start. Start with some understanding.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 13 March 2017 | No responses
“The WPA (Works Progress Administration/Work Projects Administration) provided jobs and income to the unemployed during the Great Depression in the United States. At its peak in 1938, it provided paid jobs for three million unemployed men and women, as well as youth in a separate division, the National Youth Administration. Between 1935 and 1943, when the agency was disbanded, the WPA employed 8.5 million people. Most people who needed a job were eligible for employment in some capacity. Hourly wages were typically set to the prevailing wages in each area. Full employment, which was reached in 1942 and emerged as a long-term national goal around 1944…It was liquidated on June 30, 1943, as a result of low unemployment due to the worker shortage of World War II. The WPA had provided millions of Americans with jobs for eight years.”
Currently we are experiencing employment crises all over the world. With increasing robotisation (and I’m not talking Robbie Robot but ATMs, self checkout, self-driving cars, etc) this crisis will worsen. People are wailing that not enough jobs are available. In point of fact many jobs need doing.
We have been bamboozled into thinking that only those jobs that are paid by large companies are “real” jobs. Volunteering is not considered real work, arts aren’t considered a “real job”, people staying home to care for children, elderly parents or disabled family members are not seen as contributing to our society. Yet, this invisible work holds our society together, makes our lives liveable, and protects the weak and the endangered.
Work is not simply those things that have a dollar sign next to them. Right now we need more people working than ever—people doing the jobs that are not under the thumb of large non-democratic businesses.
We need people planting trees. We need people building the infrastructure for more sustainable energy. We need cities to be made more liveable and with less impact on the environment. We need homes for everyone: efficient homes. We need people protecting our wilderness. We need people coming up with solutions to Global Climate Change. We need people who will change farming practises, so that we have less polluting run-off. We need people producing creative works that help us bond with one another, feel concern for one another, and thereby learn how to cooperate. The list goes on and on.
One answer is to give people an Unconditional Basic Income. People are then freer to volunteer as a profession. They are freer to innovate and set up businesses that address what needs doing in the world. People are also freer to leave jobs that are abusive and oppressive. I personally believe all businesses should be at least half worker owned to ensure a healthy and democratic workplace. A basic income would at the bare minimum give people the right to vote with their feet.
Another answer, which I believe should be in combination with a basic income, is for our nations to set up modern Work Projects Administrations. The government has the means to initiate large projects for the greater well-being of the populace who they serve. This cannot possibly be work for the dole; it must be full paid jobs with all the same workplace rights as any other job that people freely choose. It must in essence be an extension of the public service and public works.
In the eight short years that the WPA was in place it had a tremendous impact on US citizens lives. In that time the country saw the rise of many new and important buildings including housing, the construction of utility plants, the recovery of the dustbowl, etc. US culture flourished in long-ranging ways that under current governments we aren’t seeing any more. It ended the depression.
The answers to our current woes are right in front of our faces. We just have to find the will to make them happen.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 10 March 2017 | No responses
What if we have enough…provided we share.
What if we decided we would all be better off if, rather than playing a competitive game of hoarding, we did what we could to distribute what we collectively have such that everyone has enough to thrive?
The world is having problems because of over population. However, it has been found that whenever women are educated and treated equitably, their fertility rate goes down, and the survival rate of those children born rises due to improved health.
Whenever a population is stressed, a certain amount of isolationism occurs. A certain “everyone for themselves” mentality kicks in.
If we start questioning who we can trust, suddenly immediate family becomes important. Surely we can trust our families? The same is true if out of fear we want supporters to protect us: immediate family become our team, our cushion, and our army. Family codependency seems like a solution. We evolved as social creatures who require one another for survival. If we no longer see our community as a source of support, then we are going to want all the directly related babies to raise that we can produce.
If we share, the stress becomes alleviated. Populations have the opportunity to stabilise and shrink to manageable levels. We reconnect with our communities. We find that we have even more to share. Our collective wealth increases as does our collective well being.
To gain these benefits we have to be willing to let go of wanting all the power and all the stuff. When you are stuck in a fearful rut it seems counter-intuitive that sharing those things will save you. However, if on a sinking cruise liner you threw everyone but yourself overboard, you would not have the human capacity to stop the boat from going under. You need all those crew members who might be able to stop the sinking, or at least get people to lifeboats and direct those lifeboats to safety.
When we improve everyone’s lives we suddenly have more human resources. We have more people who can conceive of solutions, build solutions, and make the solutions work. To think only a few have the answers to save us is a deeply broken way of seeing the world that comes from racism, classism, sexism, and any number of other “isms”. Whether we like it or not, we need each other.
As I keep saying about the current state of our world: the answers are easy. The problem is getting people to look up and cooperate.
Peace and kindness,
Posted on 9 March 2017 | No responses
(This speech was given on the steps of the Victorian State Parliament 08 March 2017 as part of International Women’s Day and the Defend and Extend Public Housing Rally. Melina Wylie and Benjamin Newall kindly played the parts of “Woman” and “Man” in the short play. This work can be performed by others CC BY 4.0.)
“The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right.”
UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Ratified by Australian Federal Parliament 10 December 1975
We have rights!
Without question, we have rights!
Australia co-wrote and signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that says we have a right to housing. Australia also signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a binding treaty that makes our country responsible by law to uphold rights such as our right to housing. Victoria then enshrined in its own laws a Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act in 2006 directly making use of the language found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
What sort of people are governing us if they will not abide by their own treaties, they will not abide by their own laws and principles, and do not keep their promises to their people and to the whole world? The United Nations did not impose these ideas upon us. We helped create them and we agreed to them. Where is the integrity? We need to let these people we put into office know that building developers and other corporates didn’t put them into office. Our votes put them into office and we will vote elsewhere if they are unwilling to represent their people’s best interests.
A society is only as secure as its worst treated members because anyone, absolutely anyone, can fall between the cracks.
As we all get poorer, we all become too distracted trying to get by. We lose a grip on dealing with core issues and our lives get worse.
We all need more freedom—two freedoms in particular:
- Freedom from want
- And freedom to choose.
Anything less and we are not citizens of our country but its subjects, forced to live as others choose: dehumanised and without respect.
We must have the freedom that comes from having our basic needs met such as food, clothing, medicine, education, and housing, so that we can more securely stand tall whenever oppression raises its nasty head. This then gives us the freedom to choose where we work, where we live, who we spend our time with, and more.
Only oppressors seek to keep a people desperate and in want. It is your right to live free of poverty. Endangering people’s lives simply because they don’t have an address, can’t always jump through difficult hoops, and most especially because they are already poor is tyranny. Their incessant questioning of whether or not you deserve help is a way to get you and all of Australia to question your rights. It’s manipulative and its abusive.
No question corporates are oppressors.
No question our governments from city to state to federal are failing us and adding to the oppression.
We must stop the oppression.
We must withdraw power from corporations and those politicians who are not doing their duty.
And that is the crux of the matter.
We must understand our role in our dysfunctional society, so that we can well and truly end our suffering. Because once we understand and cooperate, we have the power to change everything.
To help illustrate the primary issues I have brought along a couple acting friends.
The core fear that sits inside all of our bellies is that perhaps there isn’t enough for everyone in the world. In fact it grinds at our guts as a firm belief: “The world is harsh and there isn’t enough.”
Here is a bag of biccies.
Katherine holds up a golden bag with wrapped biscuits inside and places it on a top step of Parliament.
We don’t know how many biccies are in it. There could be just a few, or the bag could be brimming with biccies.
These two are going to assume that there aren’t enough for them.
Much body language here.
If those biccies are a matter of life or death: comfort or starvation, the stakes are going to be high as to who gets access to them.
Woman: I should have the biccies, I have children in need of feeding. (Goes up one step closer to the golden bag.)
Man: I should have the biccies, I have important work to do. (Goes up two steps closer to the golden bag.)
Katherine: Let’s say that even though they are aiming for the big biccies, they have some biccies of their own. Because the man is closer to the prize, he has more than the woman. (Give actors bags.)
Man: If you give me a biccie, I will make you beautiful.
Woman: Why would I want that?
Man: You will look like a rich person.
Man: You will be desirable to rich people.
Woman: I suppose.
Man: You will become a rich person.
Woman: If I give you a biccie?
Man: Oh yes!
Actors go through the exchange as Katherine talks.
Katherine: So she gives him the biccie. But does she become rich?
Woman: I still don’t have enough to feed my children and have shelter.
Man: It’s because you’re ugly.
Woman: I am?
Man: You didn’t give me enough biccies. You have to give me more biccies to make my beautifying work.
Woman: But when will it work? Mouths need to be fed now!
Man: Soon enough. And when it does you will have to keep giving me biccies to keep it working.
Woman: Really? What happens if it stops working?
Man: You will lose everything: your home, the people you love, your self-respect.
Katherine: As you can see, she’s terrified now.
Woman gives Man more biccies.
Man: Oh and you have to pay a tax on this purchase.
Woman: What for?
Man: To help those poor souls who are too ugly to receive any biccies.
Woman: I suppose we don’t want anyone starving.
Man: No, you don’t.
Woman: This is all I have. (empties bag and turns it upside down to demonstrate)
Man: Is it now. Dear me, that isn’t enough.
Woman: Are you sure?
Man: I made the rules, so I know for a fact it isn’t enough.
Woman: Are you paying these taxes?
Man: Me? Oh no, no, no! Of course not!
Woman: But I thought everyone was paying. Isn’t that fair?
Man: (laughs) That’s funny. I don’t pay because I do important work.
Woman: I have children.
Man: And whose choice was that? You can’t afford children.
Woman: But I didn’t know.
Man: In fact what kind of person are you to bring children into the world if you can’t afford them? You don’t deserve your children. You know I’m going to have to fine you and take away your children.
Woman: What? But I don’t have anything! You’ve taken it all!
Man: You are such ugly scum.
Woman: But what about the taxes?
Man: What taxes?
Woman: The ones to help the poor ugly souls? You said there would be help. You said there would be help. Where is my help?
Man: Are you getting aggressive?
Woman: No, I just want help.
Man: I’m going to have to pay for police. We’ll have to take it out of social services.
Woman: That doesn’t help me.
Man: We have to protect the public.
Woman: From who?
Man: (Looks at her.)
Woman: No! How can you do this? I demand my rights!
Man: What rights?
Woman: The right I have to my existence!
Man: But you’re poor.
Woman: I still have a right to my existence.
Man: You’re barely even human.
Man: I can even cite scientific sources to prove it.
Woman: I’m getting my friends.
Man: How many friends?
Woman: I don’t know.
Man: All right.
Man takes out a biccie packet, drops it to the ground, pointedly crushes it beneath his foot, then picks up the package. He grabs her hand and pulls it in front of him. He opens the packet and pours crumbs into her hand.
Man: You…can have…that.
Katherine: What has happened here? Can you see the dynamic?
Man puts hands on Woman’s shoulders.
He is basically saying, “My needs—my wants first.” He then finds ways to enforce this.
However as soon as he tries to enforce his will, he can’t let go. To stay in control he has become a prisoner. And the more strongly he tries to hold her down—the more in danger he is from her and her friends.
And what if there are plenty of biccies in the bag?. Maybe nobody is getting fat, but they will both have all the biccies they need. All they ever needed to do was share. This (point to tableau) has become an act of self-destruction.
Actors start giving away biccies.
Sharing and kindness are much better solutions to our problems. Everyone should have access to a secure and healthy home. We should be giving people homes because it works. It works in Medicine Hat Canada where the government has experienced significant savings in their social services budget. It is working in the US state of Utah, and it is being done in Seattle and San Francisco. Funding slum lords who squeeze the poor dry doesn’t work. Acts of genuine compassion and generosity do. Who are we to lag behind the rest of the world in doing what is right? We have all the resources to ensure everyone’s needs are met.
Defend and extend public housing!
Peace and kindness,