Outrunning the bears

Have you ever had the sensation of
lying in bed at night alert to every sound and thought such that sleep evades
you?  Of course you have.  Sleeplessness hits us all at one time
or another.  
Last night I had
fallen asleep for an hour or so but then I woke around midnight with the
awareness that my daughter was not yet home and, although she is an adult and
midnight is not late for a young woman of her generation to be out and about, I could not
get back to sleep.  
I started that
awful process of listening for the click of the door.  I wanted her home and then I could sleep.  I wanted to hear from her that she was
okay.  I wanted the click of the
door, the front lights to blink on at her arrival, the key in the lock.  I went through her mobile number in my
head again and again as I do on such nights when I keep hoping one or other of my
daughters will arrive home safe. 
My thoughts fluctuated between
telling myself to go to sleep, be patient and the urge to dial those
numbers.  Eventually I text messaged her.  I spent some time rehearsing the
‘I trust all’s
I pressed the send
button and then resumed waiting.  And the waiting got worse as we rolled onto one o’clock in the morning.  You see, I knew my daughter had gone out
on a blind date.  You know, the sort where you do not know the person
you are meeting.  
A dinner in a
restaurant which must have been over by then.  She’s an adult, I told myself.  She’s over twenty one, stop worrying. 
Thoughts of myself at that age ran through, all
the crazy things I have done, endangered my life.   My mind ran amok.  The days events ran through.  
I had been to the Freud conference,
that wondrous annual event where two or three speakers, usually of international
renown, get up and talk about things related to psychoanalysis and how psychoanalytic ideas features on the world stage in practice and applied.  
Yesterday Julian Burnside gave us an inside look at the
lives of certain asylum seekers that makes me further ashamed to live in this
country and turn a blind eye to such profound injustice. Earlier Nancy Hollander had talked about the situation in America where Latino migrants are
treated equally badly in the United States.  She thought
in terms of the systemic nature of these abuses, and how important it is to recognise them and the impact of the social world in analytic work.  Traditionally in psychoanalysis the emphasis has been on the internal world.
Hollander told the joke about a man who
goes shopping in order to prepare for his camping trip.  He goes into a camping store and buys his tent, his sleeping bag, all the stuff a person needs for such an event, but as
he rocks up to the counter, the shop keeper says.  
‘What about your runners?  You’ll need runners.’
 And the man says.  ‘No, I won’t need runners.  I’m going on a camping trip.  You don’t need runners for camping.’
 And the man says, ‘you’ll need
runners to be able to outrun any bears that come along.’
And the man says ‘I could never outrun a
bear, runners or not.’ 
‘But you could outrun your friend.’  
The joke ended there and we all
laughed nervously because the point was made.  This is the essence of neo-liberalism, the idea that the
fittest survive and the rest serve the purpose of the fittest – as food for the
Better the bears get the asylum seekers, the unwanted migrants. Better
the immigrants take all those crumby jobs, while we who are more comfortable maintain the
status quo.
I feel even more ashamed of myself
than ever before.  And then after
the talks in the early evening, we went on a tour of the Cunningham Dax Gallery, an
exhibition of art works mainly completed by inmates of Royal Park, some over
fifty-seventy years ago, paintings that reflect the pain of their mental illness and
their incarceration in a mental hospital, and I felt further ashamed.  
Then one of my companions at the talk
said to me over a glass of wine: These people here, these other folks in the audience –
including, I presume he meant, he and I – will go home feeling unsettled for a while, but
then we’ll go back to our everyday lives cleansed of our distress and ready
to resume our busy full lives, strangely refreshed by the experience, as if we
have done enough in simply hearing the talk.  Nothing more we can do.
Helpless as I felt last night with
my daughter out in the dark with a stranger and me fearing the worst, I feel worse about the asylum seekers, not far from here and scattered throughout Australia and beyond  living desperate lives in
no man’s land waiting for asylum after enduring the most appalling experiences
 I cannot write here all the stories that Julian Burnside told us,
especially of the man who sent Burnside a videotape of another man whose relatives
watched while guards gauged out his eyes and lay the eye balls on a towel
nearby.  This man had been refused asylum and now feared this fate for himself.
And I worry more for my daughters to be growing up in a country whose
behaviour emulates that of the Nazis in Germany some seventy years ago. 
We know and yet we turn a blind
How many of you reading here will abandon reading at this point.  I realised as I listened yesterday to
Julian Burnside that I did not want to hear what he had to say, that he was
planting images in my mind of such horror that I could barely stop myself from
bursting into tears.  How can we
continue to allow such cruelty in our treatment of asylum seekers?
And then there is my daughter out
in night with a stranger and what can I do?  It’s not enough to sign petitions – the easy thing – Julian
Burnside reckons, better to write to our local member and his/her opposition
counterpart.  Write a letter tell
them your vote depends on this.  Ask questions and when you get the
standard pro forma back, write another letter.
Burnside then acknowledged that the two dominant parties care only about the marginal seats,
care only about securing their votes in order to retain or gain power.  They therefore pander to the sentiments
of the ‘unsafe seats’, many of whose constituents are the most disenfranchised
of our society and they perhaps most of all resent the incomers and fear there is not
enough to go around. 
They endorse the cruel treatment of
asylum seekers in the belief that there will be more for them but in terms of
what I have recently discovered as ‘biopower’, they along with the rest of us who remain silent actually support the state
infrastructures, the government ruling class that means we wind up policing our
own, via the introduction of such things as the privatisation of asylum
seekers, whereby those who care for detainees are merely prison guards and
asylum seekers who have broken no laws are treated as criminals.
You must be exhausted reading this,
not nearly as exhausted as me, for even after my daughter texted me finally at
1.35 am to say that all was well and she’d see me in the morning, I still could not
If she has elected to stay out with
the stranger I trust her judgement. 
I must.  She’s a grown up, but the world is so cruel
and terrible things can happen and I have not seen her yet and all those
atrocities happen in this ‘fair’ land day after day in the name of the law and
in the name of good governance and I feel sick to the pit of my stomach.  

7 thoughts on “Outrunning the bears”

  1. While I do not suggest that we in Australia treat those who want refugee status well, how is the line drawn? Those that have the wherewithal to get here, compared to those who don't and may be more deserving.

    How do I compare a young starving African woman who has empty breasts and tries to feed her malnutritioned baby against those who have rebelled against society?

    Maybe there is someone in her country that will fight to improve her lot in life and become an undesirable person in their own country and eligible for refugee status in Australia, if they can get here.

    There are so many prospective economic refugees and overstayers in Australia. How do we sort the chaff from the weeds? It is difficult and I am glad it is not my job.

    If it was my job, I would be thinking along the lines that those who can't get to Australia might be more deserving, and so, perhaps the UN refugee system is the best way to deal with the matter.

    Difficult, is it not?

    I don't have kids but I can well imagine your fears. I expect the stats might be worse if you have sons, just not the fear factor.

    Sorry for being a bit ranty.

  2. I worry sometimes about the asylum seekers, there are so many differing points of view in the media from so many different people, it's hard to sort out what is true and what is false. All I know is that people must live somewhere, must live in hope and safety and if they choose Australia, that's fine with me. But we need more infrastructure in place to be able to accommodate them. I worry too about people in mental health institutions, I read in our newspaper just last week about female inmates being raped or otherwise abused over and over by those supposed to care for them. It's horrific. Then there are those who are mentally ill but living on the streets at the mercy of anyone who wishes to do harm.
    I no longer worry about my daughters, knowing they are safe, but I have grand daughters, one is 19 and beginning to make her own way in the world, I worry, but try not to show it.

  3. In the recent local elections here the United Kingdom Independence Party did rather well, better than expected. Since then I’ve noticed a swift change in the priorities of the other parties: if the public thinks we should back out of the European Union then perhaps that’s what they should give them. I’ve no idea if being in the EU is a good thing—I’m no economist—but I do question any government who kowtows to the common man. We voted these people into power to do what’s best for the country, not to cave when we start to panic. Everyone’s looking for someone to blame for the current crisis and one of the groups who’re getting blamed are the Europeans who’re coming over here taking our jobs. I seem to recall the same happening not so long ago when some coloured members of the Commonwealth—and therefore as British as someone born in Liverpool or Leeds—came over here looking for jobs and houses.

    Drawing of lines is hard. Someone has to make the hard calls. That’s why we have governments and, for the most part, we’re happy to get on with our lives so that we can sleep at night—those nights were not lying awake waiting on our daughters returning home—and leave others to wrestle with their consciences. I have some opinions on the subject of refugees. I think if you’re going to ask a country to act in a humanitarian way towards you then you should do as much as you can to make your stay as painless as possible. The most obvious way to do that is to learn the language. I can understand why people resist assimilation but all you have to do is look at a city like New York to realise that it’s possible to be American and Italian or Irish or Jewish or whatever. The Indians who came over here are a shining example of how people can fit in and not lose their identity. Chicken tikka masala was Britain’s favourite dish for a long time. Asian food has become increasingly popular in the UK and is now a part of the nation’s staple diet. When Carrie went to the States this time she left me ten curries that I could microwave at my leisure. Is the Britain I find myself in today the same as the one I was born into? Absolutely not. It’s a multicultural society but all you have to do is think about all the blogs you read every day to realise that on one level at least there are no national boundaries anymore; the real world just has a little catching up to do.

    No one wants to be a refugee. I’m sure the majority of those who are, in your country and in mine, would be perfectly happy to get on a plane and fly home if the government in their homelands was outed which brings us back to where I started. Who votes these governments in? Why aren’t more Sensible Parties standing up for election? If the Nazis can come to power in only a few short years then why are more people not forming political parties that offer the people what the people want? I’ve no idea. I don’t understand Politics any more than I do Economics.

    I do understand what it’s like to have a daughter. Mine’s been out of the house for 15 years and yet I still find her independence hard to cope with. She never seeks my advice any more. She’s happy to hear my opinion but it’s usually after the fact and I have to be careful what I say because she’s obviously made her mind up. I’ve learned to trust her though. She’s turned out to be a quite sensible woman, the one her friends turn to in times of trouble. I don’t understand all the choices she’s made but she’s obviously content with them. I noticed this the last time I was over how self-assured she was.

    The world’s a different place for all our kids. As I read your article I imagined your daughter having sex with a total stranger—not in a graphic way—and it made me shudder. I’ve never had sex with a total stranger. I’m not that kind of person. I need a relationship. As enjoyable as it might be sex has never been about fun. You go to a concert to have fun or have a drink or a meal. I struggle with the way sex has become the night’s digestif. But then I belong to another generation, another country, another world.

  4. I found this very painful reading Elizabeth – sadly because it is all so true. Those of us who turn a blind eye are in many ways just as guilty – yet it is always the easiest option. Thank you for pointing it out.

  5. I am feeling for you, dealing with such realities and writing them down, more than as the reader, and voluntarily continuing to let your thought filter in to remind me of the same and similar issues. Thanks for sharing.

  6. ah well, you know Elisabeth, human beings are capable of such extremes of behavior. all we can do is try to help and be compassionate in the small sphere that we can personally influence. humans heap horrors on humans. I cannot help those beyond my sphere of influence. I try to be thankful for my personal circumstances but I don't feel ashamed about what I can't do.

  7. First of all, you never run from a Bear. NEVER! If you're running away from us, we think you are prey, and, yes, we can outrun you — as huge as we are.

    A sensible person would depart discretely. Speaking gently. A neo-liberal would do things differently. Which is why Bears eat neo-liberals alive! They simply react; that is their downfall.

    Of course, if you get one of us on a really good day, we might come to you, lie down, roll over, and expect you to rub out tummy. Even a neo-liberal. But don't count on that happening.

    Blessings and Bear hugs!
    Bears Noting
    Life in the Urban Forest (poetry)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *