August 03, 2006 | Ronda Jambe

We are all Road Warriors

As it happens, we had just seen Mad Max 1 when the brou ha ha broke out over Mel Gibson’s various forms of intemperance. The wonderful ANU Film Group had scheduled MM2, and it was a good chance to revisit the MM troika. How very Australian it is, the fields outside Melbourne equally parched back in 1979, the rural outlaw culture scary but recognisable. (Gee he was cute)
Mad Max 2, on the other hand, moved beyond that to a world of scarcity, barrenness, and suicidal violence. Seeing it the other night, knowing the oil really is running out, that scenario no longer seemed imaginary or impossible.
And in the context of the evening news, comparisons with the Middle East were unavoidable. Suicidal violence has become the norm across a great stretch of Asia, from the Levant to Afghanistan. In between there is not much joy, from India and Pakistan, not to mention the desperation of Iraq.
It does not require an anti-Semitic mindset to think that those who died in Auschwitz would recoil in horror at the current excesses of the state of Israel. And many moderate Muslims are clearly sick, sometimes literally to death, of the crimes being committed to supposedly counter Western injustices.
A friend discussed her feelings of helplessness in the face of these calamities. Like me, she feels saddened in the face of so much sorrow and destruction, which we watch in detatched numbness from the comfort of our affluent lives. She is completing a psychology degree, and wonders if it is relevant to the madness we see around us. We listed some insights this discipline can offer to our crazy, confusing world.
Firstly, our species is particularly good at self deception. We shut out unwanted perceptions, limiting our sensory recognition to inputs that reinforce our existing beliefs. Then, too, we are equally good at deceiving others. Anything it takes to get what we want, be it stock options or water rights, the authorisation to continue dumping chemicals or just a better job. And in our cosmic insecurity we turn to whoever, be they politicians, priests or a shaman, to bolster up our sense of importance and belonging. That is all just human behaviour, dysfunctional though it often is.
Remember Marie Antoinette, on the eve of the French Revolution? She was dismissive of the masses, and her offhand comment (while she still had a head) was ‘Let them eat cake’. Today we are hearing a variation on that from the likes of Malcolm Turnbull, whose suggestions amount to ‘Let them drink sewerage’. Or perhaps in our drying continent we should look no further than Charles De Gaulle, who tossed off the line ‘Apres moi, le Pompidouche’, in condescending reference to his less illustrious successor. Indeed, we might be grateful for a shower, as increasing numbers and decreasing water make even that a luxury.
But our psyches shield us from recognition of reality. Very nice of Beattie to consider SE Queensland a state of emergency. Why doesn’t he also clamp down on the rampant building there that will unravel the best of plans for water management? I know a builder there, whacking up big houses on tiny lots. It makes me reconsider the indulgence of my big yard where I can grow a few humble herbs and veggies. Maybe that’s not so unreasonable.
While I have the utmost respect for Professor Flannery, I do fear his campaign for nuclear energy is a great act of self-delusion. His article in last weekend’s Australian glossed over terrorison as a key issue for nuclear power. Nor did he mention the vast amounts of water needed for these monumental steam factories. In fact, he seems to have missed the point about the whole structure of nuclear business: it is a fundamentally fascist technology. It is highly centralised and requires intense military security. This flies in the face of our need for democratising energy solutions. No one can own the sunshine (although I am sure there are those who scheme to do so, if you look back on the failed attempt to privitise water in Bolivia). Nuclear power also cannot be economic without massive government subsidies, here or elsewhere. Let us hope we never hear that Flannery’s work at Macquarie Uni has dubious sources of funding.
Since this rave is about the Arts, let us consider another flick well worth visiting: Lord of War, produced and starring Nicholas Cage. It is much better than the confusing pastiche of Syriana, and the extras (oh wonderful DVDs) show just how close to reality the narrative was. The story is based on real people, and tells us at the end that the world’s five biggest arms traders are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. The opening scenes alone are worth the rental fee. Deception on many levels is the theme.
Lord of War kind of complements Mad Max, sort of the behind the scenes of how the world might degenerate into anarchy. Once before in these blogs I referred to an old article by Robert Kaplan in the Atlantic Monthly: The coming Anarchy. It still echoes, whenever I read about Somalia (bad stuff going on) the Democratic Republic of Congo (4 m dead in the past maybe 10 years, but who cares?) or Liberia (let’s not talk about who’s killing who there) For those who might like to read it:
Back to humanity’s nearly unlimited capacity for deception of ourselves and others. Of course there are many complex and serious political issues in the Middle East, and these need solving. However, as in Queensland, all the chattering is on a plane removed from the deeper reality. In my 50+ years of life the world’s population has doubled. I reminded my mother of that when she expressed yearning for the simpler life that existed when she was young (glossing over the fact that she migrated from Europe just before the proverbial hit the fan).
How many of the world’s problems would soften or melt (like the icecaps) if half of us weren’t here? Yes, I know that is not possible, but there is a difference between acknowledging a problem and sticking one’s head in the sand while advocating policies that will exacerbate every problem we have. (Are you listening, Mr Costello?)
In Canberra, the government seems to be going broke while still proceeding with manical developments. Cut down those trees, widen that road, eliminate services. Let them drive to distant schools. We haven’t had a decent rain all winter, maybe all year, yet the gov thinks we need more people and is spending heaps on marketing to entice them.
Silly me sees a connection between information (just considering the past week, mind you) about the increase in the number of wildfires in the western US that are greater than 250,000 ha. These fires are also hotter, coming on sooner, and lasting longer. They are, inevitably, shaping the wider landscape. And the seas are also becoming more acidic, a simple chemical reaction with the CO2. There will be ramifications.
Maybe I’m a Cassandra, (after all, I was kidnapped around the same time Pattie Hearst went off with whatever army it was that sought to indoctrinate her, only my abductors were Pixies.) But these bits of news aren’t from left wing hippie alternative tree hugging New Internationalist type media (much as I love their sweet socks). I’m reading this stuff in The Economist.
The narratives we tell ourselves and each other don’t take the longer term into account. We hope (some pray) that a Leader will appear and save us. George Bush thinks he’ll be swept away in glory, maybe a different tribe of Pixies got to him. I am aware of living on two planes: the wonderful Today and the distant Tomorrow. Like a cheerful Grasshopper, I want Today to go on forever, but the Ant in me says plan for surprises.
We all get to choose which stories we tell each other. Some of Hollywood’s finest are telling us things we might not want to hear. Professor Flannery is telling us his version of a solution, our political leaders don’t seem to be saying much at all. While we fiddle, more than Rome is heating up. For now, traffic is more of a problem than filling up the tank, (although petrol theft has much increased in Canberra). In the not too distant future, we might find the mad Mad trilogy a bit quaint.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 12:40 pm | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Arts

1 Comment

  1. “Firstly, our species is particularly good at self deception. We shut out unwanted perceptions, limiting our sensory recognition to inputs that reinforce our existing beliefs.”
    How true, given that you also say:
    “the fields outside Melbourne equally parched back in 1979”
    Well I can’t speak for ’79 but today they are very green thanks to a much higher rainfall than in Sydney and Brisbane.
    (Don’t take me seriously tag)
    And yes that is my only quibble with your post, bring back Graham!(/Don’t take me seriously tag)

    Comment by Benno — August 14, 2006 @ 9:32 pm

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