I looked at my hand, and my little finger was gone—the bone was sticking out. It’s the weirdest feeling; one second you’re fine and your little finger is there, and the next second it’s gone. It shoves reality up your backside. I was in so much pain and shock that the first thing that hit my head was the beat and the bass. The bass was hard, so I just ripped off my top, wrapped it around my finger and tied it up as tight as I could and skanked it out for half an hour. My mentality was, I’ve only been here for an hour, I’ve paid £10 [$17] for this night, I’ve lost my little finger—am I seriously going to go? Nah, I’m going to skank until I can’t skank anymore. After that, my mate dragged me down to the paramedics.
So of all the responses to this poor raver kid losing a finger I’ve seen, just about all of them highlight the fact that he “kept raving” – as though the remarkable thing is that he didn’t seek immediate treatment. To me that’s not quite the most important element to this story. His reasoning for doing so, however, is incredibly revealing and far more staggering – “I’ve paid £10 for this night” along with his explanation that the music was good and there were girls to dance with.
But the point is the very first thing he says to explain why he doesn’t want to go and get his finger bandaged up is that he doesn’t want to waste the 10 pounds he’s already spent. No one I’ve seen so far has commented on this, and why would they? He’s acting in precisely the way we are increasingly being taught – even forced – to behave: as rational economic calculators. If I leave now to receive necessary medical treatment I will have lost ten pounds and gained nothing for it. That’s the equation that he explains in his head – and it is a perverse kind of reckoning for one to have to do. Further, goes to underscore the issue of wealth inequality as well, and how much ten pounds means to a kid like him today.
I tweeted somewhat facetiously last week about razing the entire suburb of Newtown, after watching this video which hand-picked the worst of the worst when it comes to living in the “newtown bubble” but…
…even so, I think this example-by-hyperbole does highlight some very real contemporary attitudes which express a longing for place. Crucially, these valorized locations area always fucking prestige suburbs and the current obsession with Brooklyn and New York (which I am sure are perfectly lovely) is all about capitalising on a very deliberately and carefully constructed image and sense of ‘place’. At best these are ersatz attempts at conjuring up now-lost affinity for characteristic inner-city suburbs which have steadily been draining of real local “character” for decades, like the pensioners who have lived there for 40 years but can’t afford to live there anymore because the rent’s now too high – propped up, no doubt, by the boom in trust-funded twenty somethings arriving to capitalize on the felt sense of “history” and “connection” created by the crumbling buildings.
Mark Fisher calls this type of impulse a nostalgia for the past periods which is inevitable under capitalist realism and its imagination crushing aspect. Particularly perverse is how it seems to emerge in people who (like those of us under 30) have never even actually lived through these eras. (Lets not even mention how much of the appeal to Newtown is put down to “the diversity of people,” while all those interviewed are young white 20 something’s).
Place is a real thing, not always ‘simulation’, as Adam Brereton was quick to point out to me on twitter, but the obsession with inner city prestige suburbs is not the same thing as felt connection to place. Hell, I live in Penrith and that’s as much of a god damn “place” as anywhere – everywhere is a “place”. I live above a guy who works for the air force apparently and is being redeployed to Afghanistan soon. Another of my neighbours in the apartment complex is a long-time immigrant from Holland, in his 60s, unable to find work doing carpentry, plastering, etc. simply because of his age. His wife works as a nurse, at the local hospital but he can’t get a job or the pension.
Raze the whole suburb of Newtown and Penrith both, put up those glass and steel monstrosities, just spare us young people with no knowledge or experience of history but a felt claim to it… Sarah Kendzior is great on this topic, and she has talked about resisting the east coast/west coast megacity pull, living as she does in the relatively small city of St Louis. It hasn’t impacted her work – and much of the appeal to prestige suburbs seems to be their work-conducive nature, what with the simple fact of access to ‘more’ people and the informal networks that the culture industries thrive upon. In fact, for Kendzior she seems far better for it.
At the Bust the Budget rally yesterday, there were only a few really enjoyable moments – most of it was spent standing in the cold and the wind, listening to boring oldies talk about the facts which everyone by then already knew by heart anyway. If you’re not aware by now of the effect that this budget is going to have on carers and older people, and younger people, the unemployed, the sick, the disabled you simply haven’t been paying attention and shouldn’t even be listened to. For the rest of us, it’s time for a bit more than just competent communication.
Which is why I got really excited when an aboriginal woman was asked to speak before anyone else – and at which point it became transparently clear that the only real struggle happening in Australia is in indigenous rights, the recognition of their sovereignty and improvement of their currently abhorrent and negligent treatment. This is currently the only topic with enough of a human face, enough of a history and a mile-high list of abuses and outrages to significantly motivate and mobilize a mass movement.
Now people might say that white Australia will never really be motivated by the plight of black Australia, but I think that’s actually nonsense and ahistorical. Most white Australians I know have only the barest idea about what its like to be a blackfella in Australia today, even in spite of things like the screenings of Utopia. In contrast to the plight of indigenous Australians, all others pale into insignificance and I really do think that more needs to be done to listen to and learn from indigenous struggle in this country (the way the Subcommandante Marcos did similar with the Zapatistas in Mexico paints a compelling picture of this kind of activism). What I’m not suggesting, mind you, is a return to precisely the kind of paternalism that got us into the current mess that is the NT Intervention and all the horrors and indignities it has brought about. Indigenous struggle has united and invigorated Australian leftist movements in the past and it can do so again – from native title and Mabo, to the Wik ruling, the freedom rides, the BLF standing up for aboriginal rights, etc. (Here’s a timeline and further links)
I’ve started reading Bill Gammage’s The Biggest Estate on Earth, which is just mind-boggling in its ability to hits you over the head with the biggest open secret and one of the greatest tragedies this continent has seen since white arrival. Page after page after page of early white settlers in the early 1800s describe exploring this country and finding it verdant, park-like in the manner of the English landed gentry – totally inexplicable given the way the land looks today. In essence, Gammage’s thesis is that the environment and specifically the plant/tree/animal mix were so highly regulated and obviously cultivated (one diarist notes that he wants to use the phrase “judiciously arranged” regarding the location of trees in a park-like way) that it seems impossible that it wasn’t noticed and comprehended at the time. That it was treated Terra Nullius seems far less to do with the quality of the land than with the racist presumption of the inhumanity and incivility of first Australians. It crushes my heart to imagine the radical break that occurred with white settlement, not to mention the mass campaign of literal massacres, incarcerations, ill-treatment and general cultural destruction that occurred, and that has denied us access to this whole pre-invasion life-world and the possible riches that this (now, anyway) quite harsh and degraded land hold. We still have barely begun to approach the level of sophistication with which aboriginal Australians managed the land, by Gammage’s account.
All of which is to say that this original evil, this Prime Harm has still not been addressed; is not being addressed. Any activist movement needs to somehow mobilise and pass through this question of this first and greatest wrong done in and to this country and its first inhabitants. There’s a vitality and an urgency to this struggle which the concerns of white, urban, leftist Australia and the union movement is lacking. How do we bridge that gap? Who do I know, and who can I learn from?