Politics

In the crystallin vastness of a starry night, if you or I look up into the billions of pin-pricks of light and try to comprehend the enormity of space and time and our place in it……

We can feel totally insignificant.

But…. We have a choice.

We can let our undeniable “smallness” crush our spirit and live out our lives feeling powerless, doing nothing but sleep walking through the days knowing it “will all end anyhow, so why bother”.

Or…. We can connect with this vastness and rejoice that we are graced by the magic of being alive at this very moment of time with a body made up of the very stardust that inhabits all. Wow. How lucky are we? We are literally linked to everything in the universe.

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So I sit beneath Gandalf’s Staff in the Styx Valley of the Giants waiting to meet up with the UNESCO World Heritage advisors — flown in via helicopter — to explain to them why these ancient forests should never be logged; even for the speciality timbers I might want to use. Simply put: There is no piece of art that is as beautiful as the standing old growth tree.

But why me? Why am I one of only three people chosen to talk on this issue.

Basically, who gives a shit as to why? The thing is, is that I was asked to do this. So I put down my tools in my studio and drove the eight hour round trip for a 30 minute session beneath this forest elder.

From each according to their ability. To each according to their need.

Yes, in many ways I am but a bit player in the role out of the magic carpet of life, but in this moment of time, our ancient forests need our collective help.

I’ll do whatever I can, no matter how seemingly small.

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I totally admire and hold up as heroes and heroines those people that constantly leave their comfort zones and bravely head out into the public arena as social or environmental activists.

Why? Because activism carries a price tag that can be costly on one’s mental and physical health. Along with the good one does (or, seems to do), there are others who will view your actions with distain and seek to punish.

It is definitely easier to remain hidden from public scrutiny and carry on with one’s own private work. Therefore, I can understand why people might choose the safer option.

Basically, we’re a world of cowards, full of fatigue of one sort or another. Myself included. For the past few years I can describe myself as a “lapsed activist” as I found it easier to stay in the more comforting confines of my own backyard rather than poking my opinion publically into the underbelly stench of our political system.

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Two weeks ago today I was up in Sydney attending the funeral service and celebratory (Irish inspired) wake of Neil Lawrence. On the morning following, I flew back to Tasmania with one objective: to find a way to keep Neil’s legacy of social activism alive by contributing — even if only in a tiny way — what I could as a re-invigorated social and/or environmental activist.

What had happened was this. By rubbing shoulders with the open, grieving, articulate stories of the “alive ones” and their connection, through eulogy, to the dead one Neil Lawrence and what he stood for, my activist door, though shut, reopened.

A good eulogy not only honours the dead, but can bring hope and inspiration and motivated action to the living.

It did for me. And upon my return I “stuck my foot in my mouth” yet again, and wrote an opinion piece for the state’s main newspaper The Mercury on logging within World Heritage Areas.

The article got published on Saturday (see below)

As a form of ritual, I burned a copy of the article yesterday beneath the tree I planted in honour of Neil when hearing of his death. I hope the smokey words waft through his nostrils and sends a clear signal that we’re all in this together, doing all or what little we can, to make the world a better place.

The pacifist William Stafford wrote a poetic dedication to a book of his. I include it here to help explain why it was important for me to build a little fire under Neil’s tree.

Smoke Signals
-a dedication-

There are people on a parallel way. We do not
see them often, or even think of them often,
but it is precious to us that they are sharing
the world. Something about how they have accepted
their lives, or how the sunlight happens to them,
helps us to hold the strange, enigmatic days
in line for our own living. It is important
that these people know this recognition, but
it is also important that no purpose or obligation
related to this be intruded into their lives.

This book intends to be for anyone, but especially
for those on that parallel way: here is a smoke
signal, unmistakable but unobtrusive — we are
following what comes, going through the world,
knowing each other, building our little fires.

William Stafford

Click here for the online copy of the letter to the newspaper

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I am heartened by Malala Yousafzai winning the Nobel Peace Prize because of her determination to allow girls/women access to education. Despite huge cultural pressure, she won’t be covering her face up anytime soon when she goes out into the public arena.

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When a small group of students from the University of Tasmania — School of Art came by for a visit last week, what sort of deep conversation could we have had if the females were wearing bags over their heads and not allowed to speak?

Would we, should we consider this as a sort of a clitorectomy of the mind?

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Love flowers best in openness and freedom.

Edward Abbey, ‘Desert Solitaire’

Whether a Christian, Jewish, Islamist, Buddhist or Hindu teaching, any “fundamentalist” religious dogma that pushes the feminine down has to be challenged if peace is to ever come to this troubled world.

And not just religious dogma. “Any” misogynistic behaviour has to be confronted and dealt with without fear or favour of being political correct.

Yes, we might suffer the opprobrium of public distaste for rocking the comfort zone of others — even put our lives at risk as Malala has done — but what price peace in a multi-cultural world.

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Shouldn’t we all have the right to blossom in openness and freedom and achieve our fullest potential as human beings?

Just perhaps, love between all peoples of the world might flower.

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The artist’s chief role is to shift people to a deeper understanding and appreciation of their place in this world. And, if needed, work to change their perceptions of it if those perceptions become abusive to the greater good. In other words, the artist’s main role is political, not decorative.

I defend this role with the ferocity of a mother wolf protecting her cubs.

Nearly half a century ago, as a young man recently graduated from Harvard, I worked for two years in Korea as a Peace Corps volunteer. The wrinkled, nearly toothless grandmother of the house where I lived questioned me once about a photo she saw in a magazine that depicted the many people attending Woodstock.

“Why are they barefoot?” she questioned. “Are they poor?”.

Thus started my life long quest to look at the individual and societal “unexamined assumptions” about place, culture, religion and — in the mix of all this — language.

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For the grandmother back then, just recently coming out of peasant poverty, anyone without shoes was certainly poor.

For me today, seeing a woman wearing a burka or other total facial covering connotes “oppression of the female in a patriarchal world”.

Who’s right? Whose wrong? What’s in a word? What’s in an image?

We should all be ardent believers in understanding our evolution. Not only in the physical evolution of this world and how/why our “humanness” evolved from the first cellular constructs of the ocean over 1,000,000,000 years ago, but, as importantly, we should seek to understand the evolution of our cultural norms, religions and the etymology of language.

Why? Because it is important to consider the deep origins of why we say what we say, do what we do, and, believe in what we believe.

It is not good enough to say: “I believe this because it says so in the Bible” (Koran or any other religious texts). Why? Because all present religious texts evolved out of earlier religious texts and it behoves everyone to go back to the earliest sources to glean why things might be as they are today. Are they better or worse and for whom?

Who is in control. Follow the power.

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To get to the point of this blog, does Gustave Courbet’s painting ‘Origin of the World’ — with it’s in-your-face depiction of the vulva — seem shocking, confrontational, vulgar? Or, perhaps, a brilliant representation of the reality of exactly where all humans come from?

On FaceBook this past week, I shared a quote on the origin of the word “cunt”.

It stated: ‘Cunt’ derives from ‘Kunda’ or ‘Cunti, the Oriental Great Goddess’. She was the Great Yoni (vagina) of the Universe, where all life came from and to where all life returned for renewal.

From this same name are derived the words “country”, “kin” and “kind”. So why, in the English language today is the word “Cunt” seen as a vile, obscene and vulgar swear word?

After posting the above quote on FaceBook, the public comments were positive. I did, though, receive a private email reply from overseas that read in part:

Dear P

You know I’ll query why you persist in posting on Facebook a word that is now impolite. Hundreds of words have changed their meaning in English. It’s no revelation. Awful used to mean in awe now is negative. Hundreds of words have evolved and altered.

I know you may be intentionally provocative and it’s all part of your philosophy but it saddens me as I think it could be why some of your older friends turn away.

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My intention — always — is not to be provocative just for the sake of shocking someone; rather, I want to open up doors of understanding into rooms of evolutionary usage.

My preference is for people to not just stand at the door and say: “This is the way it is today, so accept it as given.” Or, “I vote this way because I’ve always voted Labor/Liberal/Republican/Green/Tory.”

These sort of responses are, to me, a tad lazy and lack intellectual rigour; a too easy acceptance of the status quo.

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I want people — especially those of us brought up in the Judaeo/Christian/Islamist view of the world — who do view a woman’s cunt as vulgar to ask: Why?

In India the yoni is seen as sacred. In Chinese, the vernacular term is translated as “jade gate”.

However, in our western medical schools, the vagina is listed as pudendum: latin for “place of shame”.

Why the difference?

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I try to create art that is both beautiful and pregnant with questions.

I’m an optimist. I believe in a future that is socially just, spiritually fulfilling and environmentally thriving. I equally believe, though, that to get to the future we have to go way back into our past to understand our present circumstances in order to change what needs to be changed.

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I stand barefoot
in “cunt-try”
not poor but rich
planting trees of hope
proud and knowing
fully the deep
origins of my birth.

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“Why is it that adult men keep young girls from going to school”.
Michelle Obama

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Who are these grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of girls?

Like Martin Luther in 1517 nailing his “protest” onto the door of the Catholic church, this morning I nailed my own protest onto my own sculpture: the “phallic” Peace Pole that rises out of the earth’s womb/vulva/yoni.

It was but a small, symbolic act as a partial answer to Michelle Obama’s Mothers Day question.

My act of protest states:
1. That the masculine, if left unchecked, will eventually deny the feminine.
2. That it will take a “masculine sense of power” — from men, especially — to hammer away at our present denial of the feminine.
3. That individual acts of protest, no matter how small, are vital to effect change.
4. That I am in allegiance with indigenous people world-wide who inherently/spiritually understand the need to balance the masculine with the feminine.

girls

Outside of Indigenous cultures, most readers of this blog (myself included) — and whether or not we’re Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, communist, socialist, capitalist or atheist — the dominant paradigm we live in is one that fosters misogynist beliefs.

These beliefs stem from a global cultural meme where women are simply seen as “inferior” to men rather than “equal” to men.

Until we start looking into the mythic and cultural foundations of this meme, then any progressive liberal attempts to change fundamentalist attitudes will be met with failure.

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When I began writing about the First Nations protest movement Idle No More, which has swept across Canada since December 2012, I wanted to communicate why Idle No More is a movement to which the rest of the world needs to listen. This came down to a founding premise that characterises the movement: it states that the treatment of women and the treatment of land are inextricably connected.

As I dug into all of this it brought up rage, injustice, loss — and most of all, incredulity and despondency. It took me deeper into my own cultural history, back to religion and mythology, history and historicity. In order for one country to colonise another, it must already have colonised itself, and most notably colonised those elements of its own culture that it goes on to extinguish elsewhere: the sacred feminine, intuitive knowledge and communication with the non-human wold, the land and removal of people from that land.

Laura Burns, “Decolonizing the feminine: Idle No More”, from EarthLines magazine

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Help needed

September 18, 2013

For close to 40 years the poem “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” by William Stafford has been a constant companion for guidance and purpose in my life. These are the lines that speak most fervently:

“… I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider –”

“it [is] important that awake people be awake,”

“the signals we give — yes or no or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.”

The “darkness” I see around me is climate denial, fundamentalist religions, entrenched misogyny, economic rationalism, conservative political dogma and the public’s overwhelming willingness to remain uninformed of anything beyond sports, movies, music and gun laws.

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The light that breaks through this suppressing, depressing darkness is the ongoing work of the global network of social and environmental activists. Even though working against the odds and against time, they are awake people desperately trying to wake up the masses.

They consistently stand outside their comfort zones and use their artistic, political, social and/or environmental credentials to help shift the world’s “business as usual” model away from its destructive actions to a more socially just, environmentally thriving and spiritually fulfilling world.

Yet even these strong people falter at times. Last week I received an email from a globally recognized author who wrote that recent despair had led him to a suicide attempt.

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Another friend from Zimbabwe wrote this poem:

Balancing
16/9/2013

 
The truth is……………
I feel the spirit of nature thinning
deep in my soul
 
the slender mongoose who used to run the paths on Monavale
no more
our bi-annual sighting of cobras hasn’t happened for a year and a half
our family of bush babies is reduced to two lonely males
 
the properties around us – that had been left to the wilderness
have been sold
the habitat that has been home to the wild things – who gifted us with their presence
is being halved
 
I write to the sound of chopping trees
piles of brick and sand appear along our road
 
this is the present we are being called to live alongside
this place just a fractal
reflecting our current relationship with our mother home
 
the truth carries with it a deep pain
aching cracks
like the fissured earth being fracked for the future
 
this hill, this magical place
the wildness that grew our children
already diminished
a different home for our grandchildren
who will know nothing other than this present
and old stories of ‘what used to be’
 
the truth is …………………
my spirit sometimes falters at the challenge before us
to keep the balance of the beauty of this present
this magic we are being called to bring forth
 
knowing of what is being lost
 
looking at the world through clear eyes
 
Bev Reeler

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I despair at their despair.

Both these friends are committed activists and certainly “awake” and fully cognizant of the fact that the darkness around them is deep. Bless them for putting their lives on the edge for the rest of us; for a willingness to walk past their comforting grassed back yard, out through the protective gate and into a chillier world.

A justifiable anger rises and steams through me when good people needlessly suffer — not at the hands of those that cause darkness — but because of the lack of a sufficient number of other helping hands.

There are many well-off, highly educated and skilled people who are “awake” to the situation of the world, yet daily refuse to use their talents to bring about a changing of the guard. And this bothers me greatly.

Let me appeal, therefore, to these people who hide away, refusing entry of any discomfort into their lives. Get busy. Move out of your comfortable homes, families and life styles because the world needs a critical mass of support. Now. Quickly.

New growth is urgently needed.

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