An oldie but sadly, still relevant

I wrote this poem in 2005 and it was published in Famous Reporter #31 2005.

Great White Shark

Curious Carcharidon
Swimming through eternity

Did you glide past corroborees
on the shore
lonely for the experience?

Or did you recoil from the land
with an arc of your great tail
when you became aware of
the mortal coil that binds us?

Did a drop of Jesus’ blood
make its way to you
as it trickled for centuries
down the beams of wood?

And what of the Sudanese?
Did you grow tired of the taste
of two million of them?
Or was their flesh
sweet and supple as the Tutsis,
The Kurds, Kosovars and Albanians?

You will never starve
Mesozoic marvel.
Your belly will always
be full
with our spoils.
And from the shore
we dare to call you
Beast.

ON On the Possibilities of a Charming Anthropocene

 

In our composting group, hedgehog, galah and I recently read this paper. We did it with reservations, trepidation and palpitations. It was very far out of our comfort zone that is exactly what we needed.

I commend her for writing this paper because it brings up the things that are uncomfortable. This is a dangerous paper. It is a terrifying paper in that it can allow us off the hook and enable us to feel ok about what we are doing to our world. Regardless of what we do to it, the planet is going to die at some point like every other living thing that has or will ever live. We often forget this fact that our planetary destiny is to collide with the sun, or have a meteor collide with us or to spin off away from the sun…death is due all life but it doesn’t mean we need to encourage or hasten its occurrence. We shouldn’t be shouting at the suicidal jumper to meet us on the pavement 20 floors down.

This paper is a brave new way to look at doom but it may just be what late capitalist forces are waiting for, a free pass to not only continue business as usual but to accelerate it and operate without the need for restraint or forward thought.

 

Homo sapiens sapiens are a geological force enacting change. Buck talks of us as “a collectively bland actant” which perhaps not accidently brings up the ideas of the banality of evil (Arendt, 1963) but Buck is talking about it as a binary opposite to graphic stories of destruction like say, Chernobyl or what is happening to the Great Barrier Reef. The slow, usual destruction we no longer see such as agriculture and electricity and housing, the necessities of our modern lives are still forms of destruction – albeit, not the type that shouts from front pages and sells papers, but destruction. Whether we are destroying in immediate graphic technicolour sound-bytes or slow grinding almost invisible mechanisms, we are still destroying and it is difficult for many of us to find any enchantment in it.

This type of discourse bristles and chafes against our sensibilities – it is uncomfortable, difficult and haunting and the very reason for this is that it may be inevitable. This type of discourse may enable corporations like Shell and BP to sponsor the tracking of the last whales and sharks and quolls and the museum-ification of whatever happens to remain.   It can be clearly seen, “The Last Ones: This zoo enclosure is fuelled by solar energy proudly provided by Shell and BP.”

I want to believe what she is saying, that this re-enchantment is possible, because life would be easier, we could be happier and less worried and we could accept destruction and death as a natural and inevitable part of anthropocenic life.   Hard as I have tried, I can’t buy it. The acceptance of living with anthropocenic loss is not a bridge I am willing or able to cross, not just yet at least. I don’t want to encourage the jumper to jump, I don’t want to be silent about Abbott Point coal mine, I don’t want undersea oil exploration to continue…This feels eerily close to Banksy’s Dismaland theme park, but it feels like a genuine option in this paper instead of a scathing comment on business as usual as it is for Banksy.  When I am willing to accept these things I will buy my ticket to see the Last Ones exhibit and like a princess in a child’s story, I will let myself be enchanted.

 

britain-banksy-themepark

Banksy’s Dismaland (photo courtesy CBC)

 

 

On the Possibilities of a Charming Anthropocene

by Holly Jean Buck (2014)

Cornell University

 

Culture: the stories we tell

As I sit here in the library availing myself of the free wi-fi and the wonderful benefits of tax dollars well-spent, I have been pondering the argument I have been trying (and not very successfully conveying) about my problems with culture.  I am going to use this post to think out loud about the argument I am trying to put in my thesis about the problematic nature of culture and its repeated trumping of nature.

Culture is the story we tell ourselves.  They are the stories of bringing an evergreen bough into the house in winter to symbolise that despite the death outside in the depths of winter, life persists and spring will come again.  It is a moon with a rabbit and a beautiful woman on it.  It is three young sisters turned into stone for their own protection.  Yes, they are comforting to those who know them and interesting to those who do not and they were at one time necessary but these are not truths, they are stories told to teach us lessons, give us hope, provide meaning…they are myriad in their uses but basically, they were ways of making sense of huge abstract ideas which were then unknowable and unknown by science.  They were also used to form belief systems and systems of control which are often one and the same.   Culture has become shorthand for othering because in a globalised world, culture is now providing division not unity.

All of these stories and basically all culture came from  distinct regions and these stories united people and kept people together.  They come from a time where the earth was flat and monsters existed and retribution from spirit(s) holy or otherwise was possible and inevitable.

All of these stories from all the cultures all around the world have the same three things in common:

They all come from a patriarchal perspective

They all come from the time period 40,000 years ago – 1900

They all come from a relatively stable world population of approximately 2 billion people

 

All world culture stems from known human time.  The human population of the world was  for a very long time, geographically isolated and thus culturally isolated.  Land bridges and seafaring helped to shift populations out of Africa to spread around the world.  Human cultural stories range from 40,000  years ago to about the 1930s all during a human population timeline of about 2 billion people.  To put this in perspective, while the human population of the planet has remained relatively stable for about 40,0000 years, it has now more than tripled in my mother’s lifetime.  She is 74 years old.   It has grown from 2 billion to almost 8 in 74 years.  Unprecedented in the history of humans on Earth.

Yes, culture was an essential tool for human survival in the pre-globalised world.  The stories kept children safe, gave meaning and purpose and controlled masses with fear and rules.  It kept us from sailing off the edge of the map and it averted any existential crisis.  It kept communities together in a geographically isolated world.

Now, in a globalised world of both multiculturalism and cultural imperialism, instantaneous and non-stop information, these cultural stories no longer unify, they separate and divide and add to the hyperseparation Val Plumwood so beautifully warned us of.  This continual separation of culture between groups of humans is also fuelling the separation of human animals from the natural world we evolved from and are a part of.  Culture is continuously held up as a sacrosanct norm which must never, ever be criticised or diminished.  And it is done so as felled rainforests logs pile up for palm oil, beef and sugar cane and coconuts, and as oceans are emptied of sharks for soup and savannahs are cleared of elephants and rhinos for boner pills.  Why on Earth do we think this is acceptable?  Why do we continue to hold up our rights to do things over the planet’s right to continue its evolutionary work of keeping itself and all living things alive?

As long as we hold human mastery over nature and certain forms of culture over others we will keep killing, destroying and denuding the very systems we depend on.  Until the power of the sun as an energy source becomes a universal cultural norm, coal oil and gas will continue to kill us.  Until the evolutionary integrity of our biospheric others and their ecological services are acknowledged and honoured and their lives are respected as equal to ours, we will continue to extinguish them and relegate them to the confines of extinction.

Culture must be seen for what it is – stories.  Yes, stories are important.  As a story-teller, I hold them dear.  But I don’t want to hear stories that contribute to the continued mastery of this planet by us.  I want to hear stories that unify us through the only things that truly DO unify us; the systems of this planet.  We all rely on the sun’s rays to keep us alive, to melt the glaciers that provide our fresh water, to feed the plants we human animals and our biospheric others rely on to live.

This story belongs to ALL of us and in this age of the anthropocene, it seems to be the only story worth telling because it is the only story which is universally true and that is something we can ALL believe.

 

 

Science not Spite

 

This latest bite incident in WA should not enable the hysteria we have seen in the past from the WA government and their fisheries. Sharks deserve our science, not our spite. It is winter, and so it seems the encounters between sharks and ocean users in this part of the world increase. Let’s have science enlighten us as to why. Are these sharks following food sources? Is this a mating site? Are they seeking refuge inshore from migrating Orcas, their main predators besides us? Let’s find out. We can’t do that if we kill them. Science not spite please.  Heads need to be cooled and perspectives need to be engaged.  For example, there have been 14 deaths from shark bite in WA since 2000.  That is less than one per year.  Let me repeat that, that is less than an average of one per year.  I do not need to repeat the endless statistics of the death toll on humans of what cars, alcohol, cigarettes, homicide…cause do I? Chairs, yes, even chairs kill more of us.

On the flip side, WA fisheries killed 186 Tiger Sharks and now one protected Great White Shark in the span of 2 years in retaliation of these 14 deaths.  These shark deaths have been caused by spite and have not enlightened science.  The proof is out there that there is no such thing as a ‘rogue’ shark immortalised in the film “Jaws” which hangs around coastal areas waiting to feast on humans.  And yet, WA fisheries are basing their program on this fictional film from 1976 instead of the cutting edge science of 2016.  

As long as humans desire the use the ocean, they require the awareness that this is the home of others and we must learn to share.  The public overwhelmingly accept this.  Polls regularly show that Western Australians and Australians in general are vociferously opposed to killing sharks in response to bite incidents yet the WA government refuses to listen.  They instead choose to listen to a very small, loud and hysterical group of fishers and lobbyists who just want the excuse to go out and flex their fish killing muscles to catch and kill an endangered and protected species. It is past time that the WA government do listen to us.  Spite and fiction cannot continue to trump science.  The oceans simply cannot afford more loss.

So, here we are again…

4.2 gw shark

(Perth Now Website photo)

This is beyond distressing.

It’s not 2014, it’s 2016 and yet nothing has changed. Winter has just started and WA fisheries have already killed a 4.2 metre Great White Shark. The Great White Shark is a protected species, so how is this even legal? The public has voted 2 to 1 to NOT kill the shark on the Perth Now website and yet fisheries disregard the science, the proof and the public!

Here is the PERTH NOW website poll:

Thanks for your vote!

No 64.39%  (4,726 votes)

Yes 32.6%  (2,393 votes)

Don’t care 3.01%  (221 votes)

Total Votes: 7,340

Return To Poll

 

How is this happening? How are we here, again, two years later?

Surfers undoubtedly know the risks of entering the ocean – as should all ocean users – those who are not prepared to take responsibility for themselves in the ocean should find a nice pool somewhere instead.

Humans are NOT more important than other creatures we share the planet with. In fact, humans serve no ecosystem service whatsoever; sharks do. This planet, the only blue one, is habitable because of the oceans – they are what sustain this planet and all life on it. We are only here thanks to the 450-million-year evolutionary service of sharks who have kept the oceans healthy and functioning with the very air we breathe and the ability to swallow that we inherited from them. And this is the way we repay them, with spiteful and random revenge killing. Humans are NOT an endangered species and we do NOT have the right to be exempt from the food chain we are and should be a part of not apart from.

 

Until people can accept responsibility for themselves and governments stop trying to nanny us into a complete and utter stupor and make us incapable of making decisions and taking the consequences for ourselves, I think people need to stay out of the water – or grow up. It’s a simple choice.

(Un)Contested Spaces

As we emerged from the slime all those many moons ago, we inhabited a much more than human world. However, during these past 200 years as we have entered the anthropocene, we have come to inhabit an increasingly human world as we cause the much more than human world to become much less than it was.

As The Guardian Australia announced this week that Australia has quietly put 49 species on the endangered list, the business as usual way of human life hardly seems like an appropriate response.

As the biological others we share this planet with continue to cede space for us, these spaces become uncontested, colonised, human-centred and controlled spaces and places.

Beach-shark

 

This shark has unfortunately found itself in a contested space.

 

shark cull

This is often the result for sharks who find themselves in the contested zone.

 

 

Paul-Spielvogel-Eli-Martinez-Tiger-Tonic-Immobility-1-SharkAidInternational
tonic immobility

This is an uncontested space. It is human-controlled and centred.

 

Sharks seemingly cannot win as we continue to cede nothing. Their options are lethal nets, hooks, guns or tonic immobility. The absence of any form of human kindness in these contested and uncontested spaces is troubling. Only by actively engaging in kindness and entangled empathy can we hope to save sharks from extinction.

 

 

 

 

Awe

Affective Habitus, Oceans: Elspeth Probyn and Linda Williams from the  History of Emotions

 

https://vimeo.com/112139900

 

I just watched this lecture and I was deeply moved by a question at the end by an Italian marine biologist named Monika (sp?) on how the fish she had been studying for 3 months knew when she was coming to kill them; they did not appear as they usually did and instead hid away. This affected her so deeply with a sense of awe that she changed her study to plant life because she could no longer kill the fish.

This issue of awe was mentioned in this lecture in terms of the Oceanic Feeling referring to the term coined by Romain Rolland which relates to the psychological feeling of religion, the “oceanic” feeling of limitlessness”.

This idea of immensity, unknowingness and limitlessness has often been used to describe the ocean but Monika’s comment shows that it is immensely knowable on a smaller and individual scale. Yes, there are many creatures we have not met yet and many more we still know so very little about – but its inhabitants are ‘knowable’. They are subjects of a life, they make choices (as Monika’s did by staying away when she came to say goodbye to them) and decisions, they have opinions and they can be known.

Many people around the world interact with individual wild-living marine creatures on a daily basis. I had regular interactions with a hump-headed wrasse at the cod hole on the Great Barrier Reef in 1993. For the weeks I worked there, the same fish would wait under the boat for me each time we arrived at the dive site until I came under to swim and interact with it. At the end I started bringing him prawns to eat. This is what the true oceanic feeling is, it is one of awe, not an awe of the limitlessness but an awe of the knowledge of these sentient creatures being aware of us and showing us their awareness while the finite limitations of their future existence hangs unknown due to the anthropogenic effects on marine life. The awe comes from the fact that these fish may cease to exist within our lifetime – that they are being fished out now – not in some limitless stretch of infinity.

This awe does not separate us in the Judeo/Christian view of a human/nature division but rather unites us in the sense of Clare Palmer’s Entangled Empathy and Haraway’s become together – it is a reunion.

This is the oceanic feeling we can all benefit from. The entangled, more than human world of fish and people is the space where positive, constructive and future moving discourse can take place. Much as I agree with Elspeth Probyn in much of this lecture, I do believe that for affluent people like us around the world ‘thinking with our forks’ and saying no to fish is at the moment the most responsible thing to do, especially in light of the crisis in our oceans – it is the only way to buy time now in this realm of hyper-sped up time as Tsing points out.

Also, it is very easy to say no to eating fish once you have experienced the awe of the oceanic feeling as Monika and I and countless others have. Encouraging people to know fish and the marine worlds we sometimes share with them is an important part of this discourse – when people swim with tuna the animal instead of just opening a tin of tuna the food, things shift.

Awe, Guilt and Shame are all powerful emotions; they can all be backward looking and forward shaping. They are emotions that are key motivators to action and inaction and this is a space that requires us to sit and dwell on our actions and inactions within the more than human ocean worlds.

 

Children, the Ocean and Sharks

I have been fortunate enough to spend time with kids. I have taught my friend’s kids how to snorkel and they have enjoyed the ocean and its wonderful inhabitants fearlessly with me. I have also had the pleasure to teach grade 3s and kindergarten kids about sharks. Children are endlessly fascinated by sharks and seem to have an understanding and a natural compassion for them that unfortunately seems to fade for many when they age. This is why I love spending time with children – we are all on the same page when it comes to the ocean and sharks.

I recently taught a group of kindergarten students and when a clever young man asked me if sharks ate starfish and I couldn’t give him the definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer he wanted, he muttered to himself but loud enough for us all to hear “How can you be a shark expert if you can’t answer that question?” I love this kid. He is the embodiment of that passion for knowledge and that sense of justice and fairness that children use on a daily basis.

What we are doing to children through our treatment of this planet is criminal. Not only are we leaving a legacy of destruction for them, we are destroying their sense of hope and justice as they see the endless injustices we heap on our ecosystems as they are helpless to do anything but watch with incredulity as we bumble all over the planet wreaking havoc.

Recently, a four-year-old girl named Alarni Howard wrote a beautiful and intelligent letter to the ocean. It made me cry. I printed it out, coloured it in and framed it so I can be reminded daily of what the ocean and sharks mean to children. This intelligent girl knows more about sharks than the politicians and policy makers who are endlessly trying to destroy them – yes, I am talking to your Colin Barnett, Mike Baird, Campbell Newman, Greg Hunt, Malcolm Turnbull and all the incompetents who work for the GBRMPA who let the largest living thing on earth disintegrate and languish due to their allowances of fishing, dredging, agricultural runoff and a myriad of other affects. This girl knows more than all of you.

She not only asks ‘fisherman to go away and let sharks get a share of the food’ but she also understands that the recent shark attack ‘was an accident’ and ‘please forgive them you look like a seal with that wetsuit and surf board’.

It is not hyperbole to say this:

A four year old can understand this, why can’t grown men?

Well done Alarni, I’d vote for you any day.

http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/young-conservationist-alarni-howard-writes-touching-letter-to-the-ocean-in-wake-of-shark-attack/news-story/a99984c20317f39e2327fce817550308

 

 

Byron Bay

Byron Bay

Hospitality and a Media Beat Up

 

As I sit here looking at the glorious sea in front of me and the promise of Julian Rocks in the distance I feel like a poor dog being tormented by and out of reach bone – so close and yet so far. The cyclone in Fiji has caused massive swell and dangerous conditions here and so all snorkelling and diving is off the menu. Knowing the leopard sharks and manta rays and other marine life are there just out of view is heartbreaking but it is heartening to know they are there.

 

Amidst the brown bodies and patchouli, a wonderful thing exists here in Byron – hospitality. While being prevented from interacting with ocean others, I have engaged more with fellow land others and have been pleasantly surprised to discover that the people of Byron Bay (who do not seem to know what to call themselves, after the local waiter was flummoxed by the question went around the pub and came up with “maybe Byronians, sounds a bit snobbish but hey”) …as I was trying to say, Byronians are kind to those both in and out of the sea. I have interviewed: a bus driver, a surf lifesaver, a dive shop operator, waitresses in a café, WA tourists and various surf shop clerks and they all seem to have a hospitable view of sharks –‘hey, it’s their home.” How heartening indeed.

 

Being close to Ballina, which saw a fatal bite on a surfer last year and many other bite incidents, one would expect the negative media coverage and scare mongering to have spread anti shark vibes up here but that is not the case.

 

The Bus Driver

When asked about the effect on tourism, he was quite emphatic at first-Oh yes, it has affected tourism, but then after a pause in a softer voice he said-a bit.

 

Surf Lifesaver

It just is what it is, that’s the ocean.

 

Dive Shop Operator

It has polarised the community, there is every opinion under the spectrum. He explained that there are 3 yellow buoys along this coast which activate when a tagged shark swims past and if the signal lingers and they deem the shark to be hanging around, they will call people out of the water and/or send out the boats to chase the sharks off.

 

“the pink nightie theory”

He claimed that people are marketing all sorts of dubious products to protect people from sharks. For example, no one ever got bitten by shark while wearing a pink nightie so all of a sudden pink nighties are the new saviour. The media is feeding the hype – there were no helicopters or anything in the past and these people would have not known there were sharks in the water with them and they would have gotten on with it. We had a lot of fish around here this year and that could be part of it.

 

He didn’t believe in the magnetic shark shield products being marketed to surfers as he said it would work on Port Jackson sharks and the like but once a great white had zeroed in on a surfer thinking it’s a seal that shark will not be deterred – it’s already committed at that point. He believed it was marketing false promises and false hope.

 

Waitresses at a café

They said there was hardly any drop in tourism at all and that it hadn’t affected their use of the ocean at all; the sharks have always been there. They thought of it more as a media beat up than anything else. “We don’t sit around talking about it, people are more concerned about catching waves than catching sharks.” One of the waitresses had a cracked rib from trying to surf and it was quite painful – “the surfboard and other surfers are definitely more dangerous than the sharks.”

They said that they haven’t used the ocean any less and that even when there is a shark in the bay, most people will just wait an hour or so and then go in for surf. “It’s not really making a difference to us.”

 

WA Tourists

This young couple with their baby said that they continued to swim during the WA shark fear beat up and that they were swimming here too. “It’s a media beat up.” They believed it wasn’t a waste of money to spend on research and technology to deter sharks from beaches but definitely not on culling. “I don’t know that it makes any difference.”

 

2 surf shop workers and surfer customer

These two workers believed that tourism had been affected and that less people were learning to surf – surfboard sales had dropped and they hadn’t sold a board for 2 months. They both say they only surf with crowds now and never alone because it makes it safer especially if there is ‘a big monster in the water’. This particular guy was European and had been in Byron for 2 years. He doesn’t use shark magnets because he’s heard they might actually attract them instead of deter them. He surfs less in the afternoons after work now because he is more wary. The surfer in the shop said he gave up surfing 20 odd years ago when the honeymooning man diver was bitten in half by a great white while on his decompression stop. He only started surfing again at the urging of his grommet son and he can’t believe it took him so long.

 

Other 2 surf shop workers

Said that it had definitely affected Ballina and Evans Head. Surfers were going out there with knives strapped to their legs, “it was full on there for awhile.”

“It was definitely a media beat up and poor Ballina has copped it really bad.” Apparently a famous board maker named Wayne Webster is on the verge of shutting up shop due to poor sales attributed to the out of proportion coverage of sharks in the area.

 

Female surf shop worker

Hasn’t really affected us, there are more inquisitive questions about sharks and safety from kids in surf schools but not enough to deter surfers. She thinks the helicopters are great because they now know where the sharks are and it has worked. She no longer surfs at sunset, when the water is murky or alone – these are now deterrents. She is a bit more cautious but “no way in hell” does she think nets or culls are useful. “We make that conscious decision when we enter the water (to be responsible for ourselves without government help). She would certainly consider painting the underside of her board in black and white stripes (a long held but as yet unproven shark deterrent). The shark magnet wrist / ankle band is still seen as a bit wimpy or daggy and many are not wearing it. In the often hyper masculine / male dominated world of surfing (even though the women’s titles far outnumber the men’s, go figure eh?) until someone cool / who matters starts wearing one, they won’t become a trend. She has sold one $150 model in the 2- 3 months since they came out.20160226_151131_resized

Surf shop worker

This enlightened fellow made the most interesting revelations. He said that Ballina Council brought in helicopters because the junior surfing tournament was scheduled for 3-4 days and there was so much money involved that they felt that they needed to be seen as doing something for fear that parents would pull their kids from the comp if they didn’t have protection procedures in place. “The helicopters are a pain in the ass – I’d rather just get on with it and keep surfing instead of having helicopters hovering over me and pointing to where the shark is and telling me to get out. Those sharks were always there and I could enjoy my surf without having it pointed out to me. What’s the worst? It gets a feed and I die doing what I love.”

 

This was the most revealing hospitality yet – Val Plumwood would have loved this man. He was willing to consider himself as food, as meat for a fellow predator and that his life was not superior to the sharks – his love of surfing was paramount.

 

There seems to be an attitude of sharing here that is understood. How long will it continue? Can the sharing attitude bear up against the media onslaught that is constant, biased and ill informed?

Hopefully yes.

Probably yes.

Yes.

 

 

Shark Summit

Today was a beautiful day of blue skies and tranquil temperatures – a beautiful day to decide the fate of fellow living creatures on our planet. The shark summit is happening today at Taronga Zoo and scientists from around the world are meeting to make it safer for us humans to be in the oceans of the world. As many of us know, whenever something is made safer for us it usually ends badly for them.

I am hoping cool heads and calm hearts will win the day but in reality as long as our safety is the issue, the summit will not achieve its aims. If safety were truly the issue then cars would be on motorised tracks like at an amusement park, cigarettes and alcohol would have never been legal and if we are honest about safety, human males would have been interred on island prison camps a long time ago because they have been the biggest threat to the world’s safety. This summit is not about safety – it is about humans being reduced to food by other animals. The idea of this even being possible is so anathema to our sense of superiority that it seems to induce a type of insanity in us. Treating this shark summit as a safety issue is putting a Band-Aid on a global psychic wound. It just won’t stick.

We need to stop distancing ourselves from the food chain and start acknowledging that we are part of it and as such can be vulnerable to being preyed upon. We can no more keep sharks from potentially eating us (though they more often bite us that actually consume us) than we can cordon off the maggot from our coffins. We are meat, like it or not.

On a more enthusiastic note, NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Land and Water, Niall Blair did state on ABC this morning that culling was not an option (only in terms of the protected great white shark) and that the beach is the domain of the shark. However, the increasing animosity of the surf community needs to be tempered and addressed.