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Modern-day Australia is a continent wracked by fear and apathy. However, things are only as dark as you make them.
Can I ask you a question? Why? Why do you like thrillers? Why do you enjoy the bleak Scandi crime series, where people are tortured, raped and buried alive? What is it with the Handmaid’s Tale and its dystopian horrors? Why is it that wherever I look I see tales of violence and catastrophe, fear, terror, dread and panic? What is going on? Seriously, I want to know. Personally, at the end of a long day the last thing I want to see or read is a story about people being crushed by totalitarian forces. I am not interested in hatred and control, in humanity forced into conformity and repression. I don’t want to watch governments killing their citizens, children being systematically raped and abused, worlds without trust and communication. But you do. You must do, because these kinds of narratives sell like hotcakes, and the networks offer them up in spades. In fact, there is almost nothing but this kind of tripe. Why? Seriously: why?
Of course, I can speculate. You don’t feel you are in charge of your own life and that is why you want to see others who aren’t either. You want to scare yourself witless while you are awake, so your dreams will look less frightening in comparison. You are looking at Trump, Putin, Duterte and Peter Dutton and want to prepare yourself for the moment when these creeps get real power. You believe all you read and hear and think the world is a nasty place filled with people who are out to get you. You figure that if you fill your head with horror, reality will always look lovely in comparison. You are a philosopher, contemplating what makes us human, and you’ve taken a wrong turn in your head. You are so far away from achieving the holy trinity of belonging, mastery and control that the world really does look like a slippery dip where everybody is out to push you off balance.
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I can, of course, give you some facts. Tell you that crime is actually down, democracy still functioning and the sun still shining. But for some reason I think mere truths won’t do the trick here. So let me give you some counter-emotions. I was in the Royal National Park the other day. We’ve got a little shack there, and because it is winter, a snake has moved in. It is a diamond python, so it isn’t dangerous, but it is big and a bit of a pain, and we are slightly on tenterhooks. As a consequence, we had lunch outside, and a game of cards. Double patience, which I am trying to introduce into Australia. But that is a different story. We put the table on the grass, had a cup of tea and were then joined by a kookaburra. The longer the meal went on, the closer it came. It had its head cocked, to miss nothing of the conversation, and once in a while it contributed some of its ideas. It must have stayed for at least an hour, becoming part of the family, allowing us to become part of its flock, if that is the word for a bird that doesn’t live in one. At the end of the day, when we walked back up the hill, we felt larger, somehow. Like we had more oxygen in our lungs and were standing taller. It was the collectiveness of experience, I think, the moment where there was very little difference between bird and human. The beauty, too, of the blue shine on its wings and the care with which it accepted a piece of mandarin, making sure not to hurt the giver.
Then there are the daily moments of kindness. We’ve got a troubled teenager in our family, who is prickly and angry and uncommunicative. But a few days ago she suddenly offered to help my husband in his quest to learn Dutch. At a distance, without payment or assistance. There was also the woman who offered to give my mother her phone when my mum’s had crashed, and lied that she was going to buy a new one anyway. The man in the shop who distracted the crying toddler by juggling three oranges, giving its exhausted father an opportunity to deal with his young daughter who had just crashed into the supermarket shelves. And my cat, who sits with me when I feel sad, and waits until it has passed. Those examples are probably a bit soft to you. A bit boring too, undoubtedly, and not as exciting as somebody being tortured and buried alive. Let me try it one last time with something different then: fear makes you easy to control. When you are scared, you won’t step up and protest. Believing that the world consists of terror makes you obedient to the powers-that-be. Wallowing in anxiety and violence turns you inside yourself and makes you unable to see what is out there. That is how they happen, dictatorships. Not on film, but for real. Get out and smell the roses. I dare you.