Ants, Asylum Seekers and Bigotry

One of the ants I thought I’d killed earlier this morning at the kitchen sink just flopped from my sleeve onto the key board.

How easy it is to squash ants to extinction without a thought, as if they and their lives don’t matter.

To me not perhaps, but to the ants, their lives or their industry matter and the perpetuation of their species.

Otherwise why do they flourish?

Which leads me to wonder, why are there people like my friend The Writer, a man who is soon to turn eighty and with his whole rich life behind him, who cannot understand there are others less fortunate, others who deserve help in this crazy world?

Why are there so many who say things like ‘go back to where you came from’?  Who feel entitled to the land on which they stand as if they’ve earned it as a right, through the good fortune of family inheritance or through hard work.

Why do they not consider there are others who might also have worked hard in their lifetimes, but who were born in places and into families where life is not quite so peaceful, where war or famine or corruption has led them to such desperate states they cannot stay and must risk their lives in boats, or planes, or on foot to seek a better life somewhere else?

Why is it hard for some people to understand that most of these others do not go willingly?

These people do not go because they simply imagine the grass is greener elsewhere.

They cannot survive where they live. They will be killed or tortured, or their families killed and tortured.

And for this reason, like some Jewish people before and during the second world war who saw the writing on the wall and had the presence of mind as well as the resources, to get the hell out of their homes, fled and went elsewhere.

Otherwise they, like many others and through no fault of their own, would have ended up in the gas chambers of Europe.

We know this. We have this history behind us.

Little more than seventy years ago and still there are those who resist what is politely called migration, the movement of people across the globe.

Governments who seek to close their borders, shut their doors, tell others more needy to go away.

Is it based on the infantile belief that there’s only enough for one, for me and mine?

Otherwise, outsiders, the ‘other’, the person over there who is knocking on my door might come in and try to rob me of all I have.

A type of paranoia that says we must keep our windows shut tight against all undesirables in order to feel safe.

But then we never feel safe because we know there are all those impoverished and desperate ‘others’ out there who clamour for asylum at our door step, desperate to be let in.

How much do those desperate people represent our own internal desperation – our fears of not having enough, of our own human frailty – that we are fearful to acknowledge?

I’m having trouble understanding the Writer’s decision, as he put it in a recent letter: to have voted at the last election ‘in the senate for the Hunters and shooters and Fishers, or whatever they call themselves, and in the House of Reps for the National Party’.  He put Labor and the Greens last and second last, he writes further, and ‘if an anti-immigration party had fielded a candidate, [he] might have put them high on [his] list.’

He tells me this, he writes, ‘not to shock or provoke’ me, but ‘to let a bit of honesty into our correspondence’, so that I no longer assume as I might have in the past that he ‘being a writer makes [him] into a certain sort of person’. 

The Writer lives in the country and maybe in the country more people feel as desperate to survive as the ants and asylum seekers, with drought and alienation from the cities.

Maybe in the country, the sense of us against them breeds a spirit of fear: close the hatches keep the enemy out.

Though the Writer has not always lived in the county.

Only in the last ten or so years. But this reminds me he spent stretches of his childhood in places like Bendigo when his father who was a gambler lost all the family’s money. They needed to do a runner several times throughout the Writer’s childhood and had to start afresh elsewhere to escape their father’s gambling debts.

What does this do to a person? Such an early life must have created an unsafe beginning and a deep fear of not having enough.

Can we see the connection here? It always amazes me that some of the folks most opposed to asylum seekers are those who came from elsewhere, too. As if their arrival here was so hard won, they’re terrified of others taking it away.

Another friend urges me to ask questions of the Writer, to better understand where he’s coming from.

Why do you think like this? I can ask. Or is it akin to asking a Trump supporter why do you support Trump?

And my thoughts about the ants at the sink and my careless disregard for them and their lives might well put me in the same category as my friend the Writer.

Even a worse category because I take the high moral ground that says he is wrong.

I try to get away from such notions.

To me it’s more about compassion. Compassion for those whose circumstances are not only bad within themselves at the hands of the leaders of their countries of origin, or at the hands of the natural world through drought and famine, often times made worse by people’s failure to nurture the land ,which happens when we have wars, and other forms of conflict.

Compassion for those who unlike the ants are sentient beings – and even the ants might be sentient – with hearts, bodies and minds like ours.

How can we not consider their plight, and do our best not to make things worse for them but try to make things better?

2 thoughts on “Ants, Asylum Seekers and Bigotry”

  1. I generally avoid discussing politics of which I’m profoundly ignorant and I’m even less inclined to discuss the politics of others nations of which I know less than you’d find in a travel brochure. I grew up and, to the best of my knowledge, have, at least until recently when the Scottish National party took Scotland by storm, lived in Labour strongholds. I knew Tories existed but in my whole life up until now I’ve only ever known two people (my best friend and his wife) who ever voted Conservative; she was staying with us at the time and, after having voted by post some time earlier, woke my wife and I up (in a state of elation) to inform us Maggie Thatcher was now Prime Minister. That said I never voted that year so had no reason to gripe not that I’m much of a griper, more of a get-on-with-it-er. I tried not to judge my friends for voting the way they did but as the years marched on and Thatcherism became a thing to be despised I couldn’t help but want to blame them for their part not that we ever fell out over it or ever talked about politics again after that.

    My general view of politics these days is simple enough: the wrong people have too much power. Mostly those wrong people are the you and Is of this world who get to vote for pillocks like Trump or inane policies like Brexit without understanding—without remotely understanding—what the consequences of our actions might be. How many people tick the box on the ballot sheet beside the person who looks the most trustworthy or shagable? You have to sit a test (two nowadays here in the UK) to drive on the road but you get to run a country just because all your mates vote for you. That doesn’t sound right to me.

    I just looked up the quote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” to find out who said it and what prompted it. Turns out it was Lord Acton in 1887 and was a response to the Vatican’s decision, in 1870, to adopt the doctrine of papal infallibility. Reading further down the article I found another that was new to me from Pitirim Sorokin’s 1959 book ‘Power and Morality’: “Taken as a whole,” he wrote, “the ruling groups are more talented intellectually and more deranged mentally than the ruled population.” This, of course, brings to mind Trump’s stance on global warming, It seems there’s now a growing consensus that the next 18 months will be critical in dealing with the global heating crisis and yet the man, the man Joe Pubic put in charge of “the greatest nation in the world”, is more interested in ranting on Twitter than saving the planet. We deserve to become extinct.

    Before anything else I define myself as a writer and I’m not fussed if that comes with a capital w or not. I don’t have any control of or at least not much control over what people think of me as a person or as a writer but I’ve as much right to be an arse as the next man; it’s my constitutional right. I can’t be blamed for people expecting me to be something I’m not because most people will let you down eventually. Simply give them enough time.

  2. It’s a tough world, Jim. Always has been I suspect, but certainly seems worse at the moment, hurtling towards extinction as so many of us fear. I’m an optimist most of the time though and I’m hoping some people who have their hearts screwed on will be able to turn things round once more people begin to understand the serious state we’re in. I hope. thanks, Jim.

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