What the people don’t want


It’s tempting to suggest the unlikely rise of Jeremy Corbyn is due to the political difference he represents. His gentler political philosophies are certainly widely appealing (unlike some of his more hard-line policies). After years of austere neo-liberalism being rammed down their throats Corbyn’s emphasis on traditional labour values and focus on the small, the under-privileged, the voiceless came as a welcome relief, and that’s very real. People are sick and tired of being overlooked in favour of big business and the top end of town, and to find in Corbyn someone who sincerely and authentically spoke for them was a breath of fresh air – and it’s a truth that would apply equally here in Oz, where much the same complaints – and resentments – exist.

While the folksy Jeremy Corbyn was genuinely appealing, it was more about what he wasn’t than what he was that led him to the verge of an unlikely victory. What he wasn’t – or at least, appeared not to be – was a member of the political machine. Scorned by his own party and rejected by much of the mainstream media he epitomised an authentic political character. In the world of 2017 there’s an instinctive appeal in that.

My view is this recent run of surprising election results is less to do with voting for something than it is about voting against something. What is being rejected are incumbent orthodoxies and stale vested interests. Corbyn’s success was less an endorsement of his politics and much more a rejection of political orthodoxy (and neo-liberalism) as embodied in the fumbling Theresa May.

Likewise when Trump got up what he represented was the anti-system, and by voting for him swathes of the American public were voting against the established political class of which Hilary Clinton was a leading member. For years they’d heard the same old slogans and formulas repeated ad nauseam, and to little effect. They were weary of pollsters and slick political machines and above all class of the perpetual, and bitter about the flawed system that spawned them.

Corbyn and Trump have very little in common. Their politics are polar opposites. Their styles couldn’t be more different. What they share is an outsider’s status. Trump came from business, outspoken, boastful and larger than life. He gave voice to many of the electorate made cynical by party machinations. He was over the top, perhaps unpleasant, but he might actually make a difference because he was different.

Corbyn came from the unfashionable socialist wing of the Labour party. Guys like him are bit like political duffers, they’re idealistic to a fault and speak in unrealistic riddles. They’re cardigan wearers that lend a bit of street cred to the Labour movement, but in an era of slick new-Labour, never meant to rule. Except by an extraordinary series of events he managed to get himself elected to Labour party leadership. Somehow he managed to retain his leadership in the face of challenges and criticism. Altogether he is an unlikely character and, like Trump, represents the anti-political establishment.

I write this from Australia where this phenomenon is yet to bite deeply, but there is a lesson there for anyone who cares to heed it.

There has certainly been a drift towards the minor parties on the edge in Australia, and for the same reasons as above – voters are jaded about mainstream politics. The independent parties have waxed and waned in popularity, but are well established now and seem to be accepted as a necessary evil by both Liberal and Labor.

The Libs are the incumbents, but barely competent. Labor leads in the polls, but only because the Libs are so riven and ineffective. In Bill Shorten Labor have an uninspiring and mediocre leader who is more concerned about plying political tricks than he is in advocating for the genuine benefit of Australians. He would rather exploit a tricky political angle for political advantage than he is in allowing for bipartisan reform. It’s all about the polls, all about winning.

This is what politics has become, but it’s now a stale formula. People see through that now. They’ve heard it all before and though they may have fallen for it the first half dozen times they’re now awake to it. This is the new political reality: the electorate is angry, and they’re through with being treated like fools. The shonky backroom deals and cynical compromises have been exposed.

I seriously doubt that Shorten and polling minions are oblivious to this. They live in a bubble, and there is an inherent arrogance that has them believe they know better – which is one of the central things the people have rejected.

Stop playing games. Speak to truth. Show what you believe in. Expose your values. Be vulnerable. Risk something. This is what people want now.

I don’t know that Shorten has that in him, but it’s what the electorate are clamouring for. Shorten is of the machine. He is created by it and has the mentality of it. It was a mistake when the party powerbrokers rejected the vote of the members and installed Shorten ahead of Albanese. Albo is tough and smart, but he’s earthy too, and real. He’s an old fashioned Labor idealist too – he believes in things (and was mentored by one of my all-time favourite politicians, Tom Uren – a great man).

Labor is ahead in the polls now, but no guarantee he will be when the next election comes. Albo would be ahead of Shorten if leader, and has the credibility and authenticity to carry it to election day. One sure thing, when that day comes there will be more surprises unless someone – Turnbull or Shorten – is prepared to make a difference.

To resist, or not to resist


A couple of nights ago, on his way home from work, one of the guys here was set upon by two muggers. There was no physical violence, it was all threat, but the threat was real and confronting. Both of the muggers wielded axes.

Their victim is a pleasant, gentle soul, much more a lover than a fighter and so he handed over his wallet and hurried home. With a young family he packed up and spent the night at his in-laws. Understandably shaken he didn’t come into work yesterday. I caught up with him this morning to venture my concern. He’s okay, though the encounter is undeniably disturbing, and has the potential to be disturbing for quite some town.

Crimes like this seem to be more common, though it may be we are more aware of them, or they are reported on more often. The general view is that these are the times we live in. Law and order, always a hot potato, is a big ticket item right now. I don’t agree with everything being said, or even much of it, but I understand the rhetoric.

On hearing of this encounter I was initially shocked. You know these things happen, but there is a distant between you and these events. Then it happens to someone you know and it becomes far more real.

After the initial shock I wondered how I would react if faced with the same situation. I know the sensible thing is to do what he did and be compliant and passive, handing over my valuables and walking away. That is, if you like, the rational, sensible approach. I pride myself on being rational at least, and in conversations around law and order would rather take a calm and unemotional approach to it. It’s easy to be outraged, but it only distorts the truth. The solution comes not from emotion, but reason.

I suspect that if I was in a similar situation all of that would be forgotten. I’m well known, even notorious, for being stubborn (surprisingly so). Much of that comes from a rational place. If something is true and worthy then I will stand up for it, but undeniably there is an aspect of ego to it.

I fear if faced by a couple of axe wielding muggers that I would dig my heels in. As soon as someone tries to compel me to anything is the moment I resist. On top of that I can taste the disdain I would feel for these men. They feel the need to threaten me with axes? How weak. I would find it hard to hide my utter contempt for then. I could not stomach the possibility of them prevailing. Quite irrationally I would fancy my chances with them. Even considering the distortions of an inflamed ego I would reckon I could outsmart them. I would like to think of myself as a lover, but I’m very certainly a fighter.

What then? Who knows.

This guy was mugged in Lalor; it’s very unlikely I would ever get approached in the civilised streets of Bayside, let alone threatened. I suspect also that they wouldn’t try it on with me. I have a bit of size and confidence on my side, not to mention attitude. I don’t swagger, but people pick their mark and I reckon they would assess me as too problematic. Even so.

I don’t want to be mugged, and I seriously don’t know how I would react. Part of me is glad of my obstinacy. I believe in it as something just when faced with injustice. You can’t give way to these things. But I’m smarter than that too. Sitting here at my desk while it’s still but a hypothetical I hope I would be humble enough to give way. Quite aside from the danger of resisting there’s the peril – and ultimate weakness – of letting my ego prevail. To be a true man I need to let that go. The ego is not about being rational, and is entirely selfish. I need to be better than what my ego demands, and that’s true in all aspects of life – but much easier saying than doing.

 

Strive mightily


An aphorism popped up on my phone before. Two things prevent us from happiness, it read; living in the past and observing others.

Things like this pop up quite regularly, and for the most part I glance at them and promptly forget. This one held my interest though. Was it true? I wondered. Did I believe it?

It probably is true, objectively speaking. We’re always being urged to live in the moment, and this is but a more specific variation of it. What gain is there to dwell in the past? And isn’t close observation an invitation to unwelcome thoughts?

If life is but to experienced then I would consider it sage advice. That’s not how I see life though, and is antithetical to my home-wrought beliefs.

Firstly, there is some common sense regarding the first part of the comment. You can’t live in the past. It’s done and dusted, and whatever happened then can’t be changed now. You have to live in the here and now, because that’s all you’ve got.

Still, you would hope to learn from history. What happened before informs who you are now and to disregard that is to be no different from an instinctual beast. In an ideal world there is wisdom to be found in experience and new learnings. It may be ‘done’, but it remains true.

The past for me has always been significant. The very fact I keep a journal like this attests to a need to record and preserve. My life may not amount to much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s all I have. One day I’ll be dust too, and whether there remains a record of me or not I do not know – but at least I am putting down a trail.

You live a rich life that is full of things, romance and drama, controversy and contemplation, adventure and struggle. That’s if you’re lucky. Once it has happened it’s gone, it’s true, but that’s no reason to disown it. For me to describe and consider the events of my life is an attempt in two – to make some broader sense of it, and to keep it close to me. If I don’t I fear it will be drift off and be lost.

That’s why every so often I’ll put down some long forgotten memory that has come back to me. It’s a missing piece of the puzzle I put into its rightful place by recording it. There is great wonder in that also. How am I that person? How am I this one? This past is my identity, even if I can’t make sense of it.

There are other things I record too, a contextual history if you like. In more recent times there are recurring themes such as my mother. Once more wonder plays a part. She was there so long, and now she is gone: how can that be so? There is sentimentality, but also inquiry. I play with the edges of these things, like scars that have not quite healed. I look at myself, what I feel and think, how I react, in all of it seeking an oblique view of the familiar.

I don’t want to lose that either. It’s mine.

And what about observing? Well, I can understand how life might be simpler with your eyes and ears shut, but what’s the point? That would be hell for me. There was a book, I can’t remember which, where the protagonist declared he was an eye. I can understand that. To see, to hear, to query and wonder at are to me the elements of an intelligent life. Life enters through dumb receptacles, but if we’re lucky we can filter and analyse and truly feel what those dumb receptacles experience. For me that is life.

Finally, there is the false premise at the heart of the aphorism. Am I wrong in thinking that most people believe the ultimate aim of life is happiness? I’m not one of those people. I’m not against happiness. If it’s going around I’ll greedily accept it. It’s a secondary consideration though. It’s not the aim in itself, but hopefully the outcome of more important things.

What are those things? There are words that describe the sense of what I’m talking about – curiosity, knowledge, romance, wonder, and so on – but they are not the thing. What is it then? It’s to strive mightily, I think. For what? Knowledge, feeling, understanding…

My aphorism then is almost the opposite of that which led to this entry. Live beyond this moment. Life may be linear, but our experience is not limited to that plane. My advice is to never cease to wonder. Ask why and how, and don’t be afraid of asking for more. And if you can, choose to feel deeply, the sorrow as well as the joy.

Power and beauty


I had an invitation to visit a racing stables yesterday in Glenhuntly. I have a friend who has had an interest in racehorses for 10-12 years (including Caulfield Cup winner Elvstrom), and he’s been trying to drag me in for most of that time too. I’m not in a position to do anything like that, but I took up the invitation to attend yesterday to catch up with him and his family, and out of curiosity. It was an unexpectedly satisfying experience.

It was a lovely day and a brunch of sorts was put on, before the trainer stood to talk up the racehorses in his stable as they were paraded by for us. Later we had a full tour of the stables, which was interesting enough in itself, but the bonus was that we could get up close and personal with the horses. They seemed just as curious to see us as we were to see them. They watched on with interest as we gathered, offering there head for a nuzzle or gently nibbling at my jacket sleeve.

They are magnificent beasts, but up close you really appreciate the grace and beauty of these animals. I doubt there’s any such thing as an ugly horse, but these are the true thoroughbreds. There was a dignity to their bearing, as if they understood their privileged status. Their coats were shiny, like satin, and every one of them powerfully muscled. To be in their presence was to understand their coiled potential. At rest they were like athletes between events, with an edgy languor. Trackside you get but a general impression of their athleticism, but to be there stroking their flanks, to observe their powerful hindquarters and the definition of their muscles is to understand that they are made to gallop, built for speed. To run fast is their raison d’etre, and to anything else would be a betrayal of their purpose.

I was profoundly moved. I felt a kind of Nietzschean sense of order and reason. But then as they were paraded around I was moved by their pure grace. I’ve always loved animals, but as I get older that feeling becomes deeper, and feels more meaningful. I know that animals are not as innocent as we make them out to be. I spoke to the trainer earlier and he had mentioned how someone had said if only horses could talk, but, shaking his head, he said they were enough trouble with talking too. They were like people, he said, they had their own characters and personalities.

Still, I am drawn to something unspoilt in them. Uncorrupted. We use and exploit them; we use and exploit each other. Animals are true to their souls. That is different things for different beasts. I am regularly moved by the unashamed devotion of Rigby, and it is true of most dogs. They give without expectation of receiving. They give because it is their nature, because they take pleasure from it.

For these horses it seemed to me they well understood the whimsical possibilities of the power and grace god has granted them with. They remained individual, and equally capable of returning devotion. Like all of us perhaps, they yearn for affection. Unlike many of us, they yearn for it without shame. More and more I think, animals are the best of us.

Which is not to say there is not much good in us too, and more admirable in its way because so often it comes in spite of resistance. I met with my friend and his wife, met his kids, all of them good people. Then towards the end one of the stable staff came up to me, “remember me,” she said.

I had watched her without recognition as she had paraded one of the horses. Now as she spoke to me I knew her. There was a café on the corner from my massage shop where I would get a coffee every morning, and often every afternoon. They got to know me and I grew friendly with a couple particularly. One was this woman – barely a girl then, bright, attractive, and generous natured. We shared a joke most days and a bit of gossip. She followed me on Instagram. I sensed she came from a privileged background, but was very down to earth. Now she was working at a stables.

We spoke for about 10 minutes. I was glad to see her again. She told me how this was her dream, about how she was out of bed by 3.15am 6, and sometimes 7 days a week. For me it capped off a fascinating morning, and it felt as if I had closed a loop. It’s good to meet with good people again, especially as I’d never the chance to say goodbye before.

The things I can’t walk past


I don’t know if it’s normal, but the older I get the more purist I become. When I say purist I mean I’m less inclined to tolerate lies, incompetence and poor attitude – in others, but also myself. I’ve always had high standards. In many aspects, I might have been called a man of principle. It was expectation then though, not necessity. I’d be disappointed when those standards were not met, whereas often these days I become angry. It’s harder to let go now. Why?

I think there are two reasons. The first is not easy to parse. I think having experienced so much hardship in recent years, and having survived it, I am left with a more primal concept of behaviour. Having experienced these things through that period, and being at fault myself on occasion, I have come to understand that such standards are more than just words. Promises made, commitments given, even things left from one day to the next can have huge consequences. There is no excuse for it when it can be so vital to wellbeing.

The other reason is probably shared by many. I’m thoroughly jaded by the politics of our times. I’m sick of boasting politicians, politicians bought by big business or opinion poll, politicians who say one thing today and the opposite tomorrow. I’m sick to the stomach with the utter lack of integrity, kneejerk cynicism and serial dishonesty. I yearn for a leader who will be strong enough to speak the truth without thinking about their reputation or the opinion polls. I want someone to believe in, someone who embodies those principles – but there is none. Well, I’ll have none of that. The more dishonest they become the more honesty I demand. I won’t be a party to the cynical mores of our times. I must be better than that, and in this way I have made a sub-conscious stand.

It’s hard work. Dispiriting often. I’m like the boy and the dyke, except I’ve long run out of fingers. I could give it away, except I can’t really. It’s not in me anymore. Pure has become a state of mind.

In the last few days there have been a couple of things that define that state of mind.

I get occasional food deliveries to my door. I was due one over the weekend, but it never showed up though delivery was claimed. I rang up about it, received an apology and a credit to my account. Later I managed to track the box down to a neighbour and reclaimed it. I could have left it at that, enjoyed the box and kept the credit. It would have been easy, and as my finances remain in a state of disrepair, a handy bonus. I couldn’t though. I knew that right from the first moment. That would be wrong. It would be dishonest. I couldn’t walk around like that, and so I told them, I got the box, thanks anyway. I’ve done myself out of $70, but it’s the right thing.

Then at work, I’ve been working on a small project and right at the death knell an unscrupulous outside party threw a cat amongst the pigeons. What had been agreed to was cancelled. I had been dealing with one person; this other person came in over the top to kybosh it. Furthermore, she then made same disingenuous and factually incorrect claims to justify it. Her agenda was clear – if she could stop what we proposed then her company would benefit by stepping into the breach she created. Her claims got airtime and caused a stir and made us diplomatically retreat into our shell. The project was put off pending further discussions, from which I’ve been sidelined. What’s happening now is that this other person is making claims directly contradicting what her colleague had committed to previously. Some of the claims are ridiculous, but go unchallenged. The outcome, I’m sure, is that they’ll get their way.

Now I’m seething at this. There is no stage of my life when I would have meekly accepted it, but the reason is different now. Previously my ultra-competitive instinct would have been roused. I’d have taken it as a direct challenge and felt compelled to defy it. I hate to lose, and that would have dominated.

The prevailing emotion right now is outrage. I can’t stomach how unscrupulous this is, and the thought that they’ll likely get away with it gives me hives. This is blatant dishonesty and I can’t comprehend how someone can be like that – and it’s unacceptable to me. I’ve been played, and the company has been wedged. Because of ignorance, naivety and a good dose of misplaced diplomacy this situation will be played out until they get what they want.

I get told sometimes that I shouldn’t care so much. Well, I do, and I cherish that. More people should care. I’m very strongly of the belief that the standard you walk past is the standard you accept. This is no small thing, and it applies personally as it does at the corporate level. If we want to be better we need to demand better, and not accept anything less than that. Excellence does not happen by accident. For me, I can’t walk past. I won’t accept what I don’t believe in.

Unsafe


Wary of the rut. When the days turn cold and the nights dark the world seems to close in upon you and the simple routines cut deeper. You catch the same train every morning and sit amongst the same people, their silent faces become familiar with repetition. You turn up to work and make the same greetings, get the same coffee, start in on the same kind of work. Often it appears urgent, activities vary, as do the conversations, but step away and the difference is little. One day you have steak for dinner, the next day it’s a stir-fry, but it’s still dinner.

On the way home, you catch the same train, or near enough, and settle into the same routines as outside the darkness deepens – dinner, the regular TV programs (which lead to the same conversations), bed at the same time, ready to repeat it all.

It sounds awfully depressing when put like that, and of course, there are moments interspersed of surprise and delight. When you’re set-up as I am though that’s what it boils down to.

This explains a lot about me – my restlessness, my need for challenge and new experiences, my love of travel, the inability to ever really settle down, or even settle. There’s always something nagging at me – there’s more than this. You get one go, get off the beaten path. Go for it. It accounts for much of my foolishness and some impetuosity, but also for some great moments and notable achievements.

There is no easy way to manage this. By and large, life is set-up for the quotidian. The safe way is the regular way. The gears of society mesh because of such predictable and ordered behaviour. It’s been ever so. What happens now has happened forever before, and chances are will continue forever into the future.

In order to survive that it’s always important to me to feel different, to think myself an individual. It’s a conceit I recognise, but choose to overlook, though I strive always to be authentic. For me, it means saying what I think rather than what convention suggests. It predicates a certain bluntness, and perhaps some subtle eccentricity. And it manifests itself in a persistent yearning for something more, something different.

I used to alleviate a good part of that when I went travelling. Taking off for foreign cultures and different environments was great fun and absolutely essential to me. Typically it meant when I got there that I would try and immerse myself in the place, the culture, the people. It took me out of what I knew and put me in a place where I knew little. Travel made me feel a fuller, wiser person, but I don’t do it anymore.

At work I would and still do put myself into demanding situations. I always put my hand up. I want to do more. There’s life sometimes in taking on something so big that it is daunting and breaking it down into bite-sized pieces. There’s a sense sometimes of the wind in the hair. You are doing something. You’re overcoming a challenge. Often it feels very personal. This is the thing you measure yourself against. And of course, it creates a disruptive variety to otherwise predictable days. This is why I strive so hard, search so much. I’m happy to reap the rewards that come with it, but ultimately it’s about the challenge. It’s lucky then that I’m capable of doing it, lucky that I can be so fascinated by figuring out the detail and untying the tightest of knots and finding a way when everyone else is stumped. That’s my thing – and it’s my thing because it’s so extreme. I will overcome, and in overcoming I find purpose.

What happens then as I get these things done is that I’m recognised and lauded and marked for higher things. I’m happy for higher things. The higher you get generally the more interesting it is, and rewards are so much better. What I don’t like is the sense of transitioning from an outsider doing things for his own reasons to that of an insider working towards a common goal. I hate the smug cosiness of familiar behaviours. I don’t want to be so well known that I’m predictable. I always want to be myself, and not subsumed within a category or type. Strange as it may seem, I don’t want to be a member of the select – I want to go my own way. I recognise that’s uncommon, that in all probability it is the direct opposite of most. It reveals a lot about my essential self, and explains much.

These are recurring themes with me, and where they come from or how they started I can’t say. It’s interesting. Would I change it if I could? I don’t think so, though doubtless it would be easier if I did. What it means now though as the days grow cold and the nights dark is that I wonder why I do any of this, and am yearning, more than usual, for some meaning to make sense of it and look forward to. There has to be more.

If there was an afterlife…


If someone you could prove to you there was an afterlife what would you think? What would you do?

I watched a movie last week with that very premise. A scientist had proved that a form of existence goes on after the body is dead. It was a provocative, earth-shaking discovery which in the movie led to millions of people taking their own life, in a hurry, I guess, to check out the afterlife – presumably in the belief that it must be better than this life.

It was an interesting idea, but I wasn’t entirely convinced. I’m happy to believe there might be an afterlife – it makes for a richer, more mysterious world. Even so, I found it hard to believe that a revelation like that would lead directly to a huge spate of suicide – many millions in this case.

The rational side of me would accept the science, but in the absence of further information certainly would not presume that the afterlife was something better. That’s no more than wishful thinking. The afterlife doesn’t necessarily equate with heaven, and almost certainly not a slew of waiting virgins. If there is an afterlife then it’s life on another plane, and no guarantee it’s any better than this. Why risk what you know in favour of what you don’t know but simply hope for?

In any case, I’d like to see out this life. Why waste it? There’s a lot to do, much to achieve, fun to be had. Different story I guess if you’re mired in misery, but still – for me – much of life’s grandeur is a product of the struggle, the striving to get by and get ahead, and sometimes, to overcome. Life can be pretty superficial, and having an easy out makes it more so in my book. It’s the challenge that gives life its weight and purpose, but that’s just my view.

Anyway, in the movie, there was another revelation near the end of it. Life went on after this, but it wasn’t an afterlife as we think of it. Rather upon death people went back to the key moment of their life when they went A instead of B, when faced with a fork in the road took the high path instead of the low, and so on. They died and returned to those moments to re-live their life from that moment forward, with the opportunity to take the other path and correct the mistakes of yesteryear. Basically, people returned to redeem their choices and live the life they are meant to.

Now if that became widely known I would expect many then to take their own life to get another shot at it. Regret is commonplace, remorse widespread, and there are few of us who haven’t made choices we now wish had been otherwise.

It’s a common daydream of mine to look back at particular moments and wonder what would have happened had I gone the other way. How would life be different? It’s a pointless conjecture, but hard to resist. If I knew then what I know now life would be very different – except I didn’t know and couldn’t know.

For me, it would change little. I would still go on. If one day I died naturally and went back again then I would be happy for it, but I wouldn’t force it. The uniqueness of life as I see it is that you get one shot at it in the here and now. Dies are cast, bridges are burned, and it’s what life is about. You learn, you feel, sometimes you suffer, and hopefully, you feel the full gravity of the gift bestowed upon you. To get another go at it by putting a gun to your head cheapens it. To stop, reset, and go again, feels like cheating. Like gambling without the risk (or thrill) of losing.

In this, as in many other things, I’ve an old school attitude. You make your decisions, good and bad, and stand by them. Life’s too short for regret, and a shallow thing without responsibility.