Journal of a Futurist - 28 December 2001
Hi - Christmas and New Year Message
The smoke from the Sydney bushfires swirls around our house, even though its still far from the front line. The downpipes have been blocked in readiness for the gutters to be water-filled at the first sign of floating ash. The chainsaw is sharp, the hoses extended, the undergrowth cleared. Torches, gloves and goggles are ranged on the mantelpiece. The shape of the future hinges on shifts of the wind.
What an elemental year its been earth, air, fire, water and
oil. Fires far away, ignited by terrorists. Fires at our doorstep, lit by arsonists. Now the flames are out of control who knows what will be consumed by its fury?
Meanwhile, the media grinds on. Can you relate Sept 11 to the meaning of Christmas, asked the Melbourne newspaper, The Age, to my surprise. Sure. The result was printed on Christmas Day:
Who's missing from the manger? The Age, December 25, 2001
This year, in a long suburban street thats part of my regular motoring route, the front yard nativity scenes are striving to match the grandeur of an Olympics opening. Framed in mangers that dwarf car ports, Mary cradles the baby Jesus, watched over by Joseph, their halos burning brighter than street lamps. An angel hovers, a donkey munches. Flickering fairy lights are strung across houses and towering pines. Passing cars slow to a crawl, and snake down side-streets to view ever more elaborate displays; a depiction of the North Pole, with a herd of reindeers hauling Santa and his helpers through piles of fake snow. What lies behind these displays? Escalating neighbourhood rivalry, perhaps, and a deep affirmation of Christian values, with every dollop of angel dust marking an act of defiance against the attacks of September 11.
Immediate reactions to these terrible events were widely noted. New Yorkers smiled at strangers, gossip columnists were given a week off and I agreed to a picnic with inlaws. Recalling a line from a Stevie Smith, our lives suddenly seemed tenuous and precarious. The geo-political map of the world was re-drawn, and our values re-assessed: its people who matter, not things.
And yet, as many of us tried to come to terms with this new emotional landscape, the paradoxes were overwhelming. People matter, sure, but things are important too and we need to buy more of them in order to keep the economy booming. The word according to our treasurer. People matter, sure, but only within limits, the limits of our national borders the rest get turned away, or put in gaol. Politicians who once seemed decent chaps, despite their Tory garb, committed furtive cruelties daily on our behalf, brandishing Amnesty badges and dull piety, their hearts as hard as their ambition was boundless.
The strangest paradox of all is the massive military reaction to the acts of terror.
We are good people proclaimed US President, George W Bush, and they are evil. As George Orwell pointed out in his clumsy, masterpiece, 1984, in a climate of state jingoism, the instrument of peace is invariably war, and the enemy is always an embodiment of evil.
The biblical tableaux spreading through suburbia highlight our inner contradictions. The story of Jesus, mythic or not, remains potent because of its insistence on forgiveness. Love and compassion unbounded. Thats the point. The rest is detail guys dressed in drag, a soppy view of heaven, the annual buying spree. And yet the leader of the most powerful Christian nation in the history of the world, himself a devout quasi fundamentalist, is proudly bent on vengeance. Instead of turning the other cheek, he has the cheek to turn on the innocent. The only difference between the pilot of a B 52 and an Al Quedda terrorist is that one of them is sanctioned by the state. Can you imagine Jesus mixing the loaves and fishes with cluster bombs?
This is not to say the September strikes should have been ignored far from it only that the response could have been more considered, less vicious and oriented towards a achieving a long term solution, rather than an incitement. This was a chance to extend the moral reach of globalism, not to hold an arms bazaar or build a missile shield.
What is missing from our neighbourhood nativity scenes? The three wise men from the east. Funny that. It must be hard to dress the Magi without evoking memories of Osama bin Laden. A man whom few would classify as wise. But what if he was an instrument of wisdom? A case of the worst enemy being the greatest teacher. What if, by these terrible deeds, which killed about the same number of innocents as the US attacks on Panama City in December 20, 1989, launched by George Bush senior and strongly condemned by the UN General Assembly, what if, for the very first time, we began asking ourselves deeper questions about global social justice, third world enslavement, news management and our endless trips to the malls?
What is the meaning of the symbolic gifts from the east? Why have the three wise elders been appropriated by a fat jovial alcoholic dressed in the colours of Coca Cola? Is corporate capitalism the one an only way to run a planet?
Whatever the turn of events in the years ahead, there can be no doubt that the collapse of the World Trade Centre has shaken much more than the ground around Manhattan. It has crumbled deep-set certainties more so among everyday Australians than the strutting advocates of business-as-usual, hey, its a jungle out there. Both the flattened towers and the turning back of the good ship Tampa are dark moments in the dawning of the 21st century. No amount of bombing, gaoling, deportations, military tribunals, torture, bribery and singing God Bless America can put an end to the rising awareness of the privileged of the world, a sense that we need to share. While the Second Coming is a long shot, a fairness revolution is only a matter of time.