Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Election time: Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose, In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes …

by Gail Hastings

While recently stricken with tonsillitis, fevered by memories of its torturous infliction suffered in early childhood, I immersed myself in the music that surrounded me back then — such as my father’s collection of Johnny Cash. 

As I lay in the miasma of consciousness’ twilight zone that flickered between pain, sleep and the dread of flickering between them all over again — a ‘Man in Black’ suddenly stepped from the dark shadows of Vietnam relevancy into the uncanny currency of the Iraq war. A coincidence prompted by Johnny Cash ’s melodious rumble as he sings, “I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been — Each week we lose a hundred fine young men”. 

And while I read in the daily news of ‘a march by thousands of protesters demanding an end to the Iraq war [that] turned chaotic near the US Capitol, where … police arrested almost 200 people, including [Iraq] war veterans’, the cavernous voice of Johnny Cash strode gloriously higher to declare, “And, I wear it for the thousands who have died, Believen' that the Lord was on their side”; before gravelly letting fall that he wears black “for another hundred thousand who have died, Believen' that we all were on their side…”.

Similarities abound. Yet the potency of this song’s relevancy is not only due to the Iraq war. Very soon  a federal election will be announced; when we may very well ask where is the person in black. 

For although our nation will perhaps suffer a deathly dose of tonsillitis if forced to swallow the Howard governments so-called ‘clean’ nuclear option, it is not this that will hijack the last days of commentary before our vote is cast. No it will be, of course, the economy; just in case we didn’t already know that we are supposedly “doin' mighty fine … In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes —  But …”. 

And there is a ‘but’ at this point in the song, one best heard from the man in black, himself, as he tells us why he wears the things he’s got on … 

Albeit moving — a part of me, I have to admit, is a little incredulous that I find a ‘Man in Black’ so relevant today – tonsillitis or no tonsillitis. For who, in a supposedly booming economy where very few — if one believes the government’s unemployment figures — are left behind, are the forgotten that need remembering by a person in black? 

When we look for the forgotten we find a successful economy. An economy that would be a misnomer to label insignificant in the real tally of things, when for many it is in fact the economy that allows a necessary tally of things. 

Could the issue, then, be that of drawing a distinction between a false and a true economy rather than one of whether the economy is the most important election issue or not? For both a false and a true economy may appear to facilitate the growth of money on the surface at first, even though one creates a deficit while the other creates a fertile abundance. 

A false economy, for instance, could be thought of as divisive for generating unbridgeable oppositions between, say, employers and employees based on a master and slave type of relationship (see article Work more, Earn less). When instead a true economy paves a reconciliatory common ground for a wide open road; where exchange between opposites, based on mutual recognition and mutual benefit, can be thought of as cohesive for generating a burgeoning knowledge that fuels progressive (and potentially planet saving) developments in technology, research and society. 

How, then, might we tell the difference between a false and a true economy when both appear the same on the surface at first? 

Perhaps the telltale is whether opposites are manipulated to extract benefit for one side at the expense of the other side. When preferably a reconciliation between opposites would allow for the productive distinction of both sides while, at the same time, allowing for a prosperous unity, too.

For as soon as opposites are manipulated and split asunder so no rhyme nor reason can determine a reasonable relation between them, then cause and effect can be twisted beyond the call of justice. In which case the unreasonable rules. 

In this way we might see how the plight of indigenous Australians has somehow been twisted to become not the effect of a wrong but the cause of another far weightier injustice — our guilt, according to our Prime Minister; which should be abolished at all cost, it seems. Even at the expense of not properly recognising indigenous Australians.

Or the plight of a foolishly errant David Hicks. Having fallen victim to the denial of his rights as an Australian citizen when our government refused to appeal the lack of proper legal procedures by the US, David Hicks' plight was somehow twisted to become not the effect but the cause of a loss of rights — our rights, not his — as though he were secretly the masterful right-hand-man of Osama bin Laden.

And again quite infamously in October 2001, when asylum seekers in waters off Christmas Island were the victims of a sinking boat, they too where somehow twisted into becoming perpetrators, instead, who — it was erroneously claimed by our Prime Minister at the time — threw children overboard to save themselves. 

Incidences such as these over the course of the Howard government tend to suggest that opposites are being twisted into a false economy here in Australia — not a true one. 

Or in the words of a more contemporary tune by The White Stripes — 'Effect and Cause' (2007): 
“Well, in every complicated situation of a human relation — Makin' sense of it all takes a whole lot of concentration, mmm — Well, you can't blame a baby for her pregnant ma — And if there's one of these unavoidable laws — It's that you just can't take the effect and make it the cause — No”.

… I ain't the reason that you gave me no reason to return your call — You built a house of cards and got shocked when you saw them fall, heh — Yeah, well, I ain't sayin' I'm innocent, in fact, the reverse — But if you're headed to the grave, you don't blame the hearse — You're like a little girl yellin' at her brother 'cause you lost his ball

Well, you keep blamin' me for what you did, but that ain't all — The way you clean up a wreck is enough to give one pause, yeah! — Well, you seem to forget just how this all started — I'm reactin' to you because you left me broken-hearted — See, you just can't take the effect and make it the cause …”

And so when election time draws near and the arteries of political commentary become clogged, as they did last time, by one issue and one issue only — the economy — maybe we, the electorate, can instigate movement by asking whether the economy on offer is a false or true one. 

At which point, whether fevered by tonsillitis or not, you might also wish to draw comfort from hearing someone sing: 
“Well, there's things that never will be right I know — And things need changin' everywhere you go — But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right — You'll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day — And tell the world that everything's OK — But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back — 'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black.”