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?

A Good Work Ethic

There are ants in the toilet bowl. In search of water, perhaps. I wonder that they go there. They come by night and by the morning’s first flush they are drowned. They float like so many specks of black fluff on the surface of the water until the day’s toilet use gets rid of them altogether. The following morning the process starts again, and a new batch arrives.

Ants often appear at the turn of seasons, when the rain begins. I imagine their nests have been flooded and they come inside for drier quarters. Why then make their home in the base of a toilet bowl?

I do not understand ant behaviour. I do not understand my own behaviour either.

So often I find myself wishing that something good would happen, as if I need an external jolt to shock me out of my current state. A sort of non-electric ECT.

The other day I tried to talk to my youngest daughter about her state of mind, which she reassured me was fine. She was just having trouble adjusting to the demands of her final years at school. She would learn to adjust, she told me, and then asked why I had been so gloomy of late.

Gloomy was her word and I pondered on this. I have not felt myself to be particularly gloomy. Despite the generally pessimistic tenor of my blog posts, I am a cheerful person; at least this is how I see myself. Optimistic, one who looks on the bright side, nicknamed Pollyanna by my analyst years ago for my tendency to see things in a positive light. How then could I be gloomy?

Maybe, I thought, I have not been making such an effort these days to hide my dissatisfactions. No longer do I pretend not to mind such inevitable frustrations as housework. No longer am I so bright and cheerful about all the things that need fixing, the things my family look for from me. I grumble more. I am less forthcoming. I groan. I grizzle.

A friend had asked my daughter, if she could have her wish come true, what would she want most of all.
‘A good work ethic,’ she said.
Her friend was surprised. ‘Most people want money.’

A good work ethic, my daughter’s wish. I ponder on this. Perhaps that is what I am missing of late. I have not lost it in relation to my professional work, that remains, but I have lost momentum as regards my thesis and my enthusiasm wanes.

My daughter is confident she will develop a good work ethic. I have only to find mine again and all will be well.

‘Autobiographers lead perilous lives’, writes Paul John Eakin. They smash up against the rocks of non-compromise, their own and other people’s interpretations of what they have written. Shipwrecked on the judgments of others, all the autobiographer can salvage from what can sometimes feel like a volley of criticism, is the knowledge that she tried her best to communicate an experience – her experience – and that although others might see things differently, she is not her writing, nor is hers the only perspective. Her writing is but one aspect of her and it changes.

My husband has just walked in with a new wind and waterproof jacket to wear while riding his bike. It is bright canary yellow.
‘Excellent, ‘I say, ‘people will see you coming.’
This slick will keep him safe. It will keep out the wind, keep off the rain and make him such a target that it might keep others on the road out of his way.

If only the autobiographer could clothe herself in such a jacket. If only I could find better protection from the elements. Instead I am like those ants it seems. I keep reaching towards the perilous toilet waters for a drink only to be flushed away next time someone else needs to use the toilet.