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?

What’s in a dream?

Reverend Mother Winifred from my old school featured in one of my dreams last night.

‘Don’t use that chair’ she said, as I staggered onto the soft padding of a red chair whose central springs had given way and my foot sunk through the middle.

A problem because I was using this chair to give me additional height in order to reach something that dangled from the sky.

It’s hours since I left this dream and only snippets remain but see how useful it as a starting point.

It’s one of the reasons why I love dreams.

The way people who are long dead come back to you in full form just as they were fifty years ago and you can relive moments of the past you thought you’d forgotten and reconstruct them from the snippets you retain.

The other day my daughter described a dream that had troubled her from the night before. In it her beloved dog had been hit by a car and all because her dad had left the door open.

I won’t even try to go into interpretative mode here, only to say, the dream says a great deal about certain of my daughter’s feelings towards her dog and her dad. Later that same day I heard on the news about a type of real life reversal of her dream: a dog had killed a 61 year old man and seriously injured the man’s 58 year old wife.

My first thoughts were along the lines of ‘vicious dog’. Only to hear further that the dog belonged to the dead man’s son, was a family pet and had never betrayed such behaviour before.

This puts me in mind of the notion that sons want to kill and take the place of their fathers.  When there’s plenty more evidence to suggest it’s more the fathers who want to kill their sons.

And this says nothing about mothers and their daughters.

We adults tend to blame the children first and find it hard to look to our own struggles with the children or our wish at times to be rid of them.

None of this is as simple as I make it sound here.

The daughter of the dream is away for the weekend and I’m in charge of the dogs, the walking, feeding and entertaining.

It’s working out well enough though I’m trying to encourage my husband to join us on our walks.

But walks with the dog to him are a bit like travelling abroad is to me, distasteful. Not something either of us want to do, he to walk the dogs and me to travel.

So, I don’t push it too hard, any more than he urges me to go overseas.

We respect one another’s differences even though each of us can imagine that it would be good for the other to alter our ways.

Which is another thing I’ve been thinking about of late, the ability to tolerate difference.

When I was a young would-be social worker on one of my earliest placements in the then Citizen’s Welfare Service in Drummond Street in Carlton, I shared the space of a small office with a remarkable supervisor who went by the name of Barbara.

Barbara was innovative. She suggested not only would she write an assessment on my performance while on placement, I should write one too.

It says how long ago this happened to suggest this was an innovative idea. In those days the authority of our elders prevailed and to think that a fledgling social worker might write her own report was indeed radical.

It was a thrill to write an assessment of my developing self and performance all those years ago but the only thing I remember was writing the words,

‘I have begun to recognise the otherness of others.’

 The word ‘otherness’ appealed to me and the idea that people could be different from me and that I should and could respect their difference at the time was mind-blowing.

How naïve was I in those days when every new idea that entered my mind seemed like a stroke of brilliance?

Now I see that most ideas have been thought before by someone else somewhere and the best we can do is put our ideas in fresh words, ‘to make the stone more stony’ as the formalists, those Russian bods who had ideas about literature and language argued.

And every time I dream, the images and ideas that come to me have all the freshness of a new day, so much energy, even though I can never capture them in words.

Only bask in the sensation of my amazing unconscious that sneaks out and visits me while I sleep. You too can enjoy such visits, but you must of course pay attention.

If I could speak to these folks again, even in my dreams that would be something.

Such visitors arrive fast and leave just as fast, often without leaving a calling card.

All they might leave is a snippet of memory a flash of colour, the sight of your old Reverend Mother and a red ruined chair.