Saturday, December 27, 2014

Deadly Nexus: Australia in the mix. Add ISIS for dissonance

The Sydney chocolate shop siege of December 15, 2014, garnered non-stop media coverage in many parts of the world. Indeed, the media (Internet) gave a hyper-local event global intensity, connecting local action to dispersed audiences who watched events unfold wherever they were.

The live action could be watched on television, confirming what Australians have long desired - to be part of the first world. In this case, the media provided real time updates on all media sources (I cannot comment on European or South American or African Middle East or Asian ones), heralding that first world aspiration that Australians most desire.

In that context, it shares and bares its soul in synchronicity with the imperial powers. This is the cost of partnering with global power. It could be said. "It was ever thus."

One conclusion that follows from this kind of critical analysis, is the perverse fact that once a nation partners with great powers, its people suffer accordingly. The cost of freedom in a liberal democracy is a seamless association with the aggrandizement of the great powers and their self-inflicted woes. Sadly, when a nation lacks independence, marrying itself to the biggest-greatest power of the moment - the US and before 1945 the UK - the relations falls into place, as do the miseries.

There's hardly a skerrick of independent action to be seen in this sorry history of compliance.

Two exceptions stand out in recent memory:  Kevin Rudd was outspoken as opposition Foreign Affairs minister against the US invasion of Iraq, suggesting that it was "illegal and unlawful," thereby siding with the United Nations position. UN position  (Disclosure - Rudd is an old friend of mine). In recent history, after he became Prime Minister in 2007, (in and out, he completed the role in 2013) he almost looked like a giant when viewed against the tawdry history of Australian compliance with the great powers. It will be fascinating to see how he balances his affection for the US in his new role as President of the Asia Council.announcement

The other exception to this minimalist Australian independence, appears with another Australian Labor Party Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, who won an election in 1972, promising to bring the troops home from Vietnam. He also was prepared to reveal what was happening at Pine Gap, the CIA listening post in Central Australia. His dismissal in 1975, is considered to have been orchestrated by "the agency."

Against these brief exceptions in recent Australian history, the compliance, the cupidity and the willful absence of independent orientation by Australia can be seen as a lazy mirror of great power interests. Conservative governments in Australia, like the current one led by Tony Abbott, are deeply committed to the US "Pivot to Asia," even while the real story - China - is in their regional backyard. Apparently it is better to side with a diminishing great power like the USA than an emerging peaceful power like China. It is better to be associated with the trouble maker than the rising star...

The absence of independence in the Australian polity is palpable. It should be resisted. The loss of a national culture to a dominant and dominating set of values is a loss for civilization. As the options for independent thought and practice are narrowed to align with the great powers, the possibility for ideas that sustain human diversity and national and regional problem solving are reduced. We argue about losing ancient tribes in the Amazon or outback Australia, because we value diversity. Surely we should say the same thing about national cultures generally?

Culture is a major part of this synchronous similarity. From 2007-2011, I managed groups of American undergraduates for month long study tours to Australia. Astute students would comment on the surfeit of American television and media. Why so much American TV? And, "Australians know a lot about American politics." So far from home, yet so familiar.

There were some students who loved not missing an episode of their favorite television show, just like back home.

My strategy was to take the students on a five day desert safari to Central Australia, where the media system was minimal, and phones did not work. In Alice Springs we visited Imparja and the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) and learned about slow media - Aboriginal communication that connects to a 40,000+ years old culture. We watched Australian Rules football on local television together, enjoying indigeneity in the national sport and often in the faces of many Aboriginal players.

Against the local is the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement that gave the US power to send volumes of media down the digital pipeline with the Intellectual Property guarantees in place. digital determinism  Australia accepted most of the conditions and the creative industries in the US loved them for it.

Poor fellow my former country!

Readers may well ask how these comments relate to ISIS fundamentalism in this Uprising blog. Rightly so.

The chocolate shop siege is the manifestation of the Australian fixation on cultural synchronicity. By that I mean, the persistent Australian commitment to imperial power generates a direct connection to the world through two means: the media and material events. Geographically so far removed, yet feeling and experiencing the action.

There is new form of dissonance: cognitive dissonance combined with emotional dissonance. Australians know less but experience more.

Where the US commitment to the pursuit of happiness is played out in the media Australians enjoy that pleasure too. After all, consumer capitalism is an easy sell. The pleasure is there to be had by turning on the television / Internet. No one needs to know anything except the convenience of the advertising-media-consumption nexus. The US media's packaged emotion avoids critical and rational evaluations of pleasure. It is pleasure for its own sake. Both knowledge and pleasure are out of alignment with the national project of life made in an independent state. Thus the dissonance.

Meanwhile, knowledge is generated far away from Australia and delivered pre-packaged through the media network. The cultural nuances of American life are becoming unknown, while the consciousness of national uniqueness is fading. Emotion in lived experience (culture) is imagined on the streets of Los Angeles or New York, not the streets of Melbourne or Sydney, or an outback Australian town. Anything of value is increasingly evaluated through the lens of how American would appreciate it.

Unfortunately, Australians lack the knowingness that results from living in the US. When the musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson referred to the US as the "land of the brave," Australians, for the most part, had no idea what she was singing about. (Frankly back in the 1980s when the song was released, neither did I).

Australians try desperately to "get" the world. Their diminished independent national political life means that increasingly they live in a liminal state - in between. They imagine themselves and their daydreams in the USA. The chocolate shop event confirms this positioning. They are in Sydney, yet connected to ISIS, to terror, to the provocations of the imperial power.