I don't have tiny ones, or if I do they are drowned out by the big ones. So large I can hardly take myself seriously on these issues any more. I worry about the planet as I swim with my son in our heated pool in the middle of winter. I watch the haze of warm air lifting as it hits the cold air and marvel at its beauty even as I think about the waste. After twenty years of veganism and being vegetarian I eat fish or meat four or fives times a week now, and always feel better for it. Doesn't mean that as I cook it I'm not thinking about the animal that died so I could eat this way, or rather, more importantly to me, the way it lived and the way it died. So I shell out the extra money and drive the extra miles and ask the extra questions to eat free range organic meat and line caught fish. I don't think this makes all that much difference, though. If I really stood behind what I 'believed' I'd be devoting myself to this cause and pushing for greater change. Instead I drive past the chicken processing factory every time I drive to the butcher's, knowing full well what is going on in there. And doing too little about it.
Refugees who come to Australia are treated horrendously. Horrendous doesn't even cover it. They are lied to and put out into the desert to live under tents, women and children, for up to a year at a time, in forty degree heat. They are shipped to different countries and made to wait for years sometime, lost in limbo, to find out if they can stay. How can I stand it? And yet I do. I have my excuses. I truly am fully occupied. I truly don't have room for more. And yet I believe we should treat refugees and asylum seekers with welcoming compassion and kindness. I believe animals should live and die bearably, without the extraordinary suffering humans inflict on them out of callousness and a profit motive. But so what?
It's a modern affliction, I think, to imagine that our stances, our gestures, make much difference. Or perhaps it's just another form of religiosity. Like a vegetarian wearing leather . This over-concern with consistency. Who do you think is watching? With the size of the leather industry, do you really think it matters? That sort of interest in an attitude to hypocrisy makes the person the subject of enquiry, rather than their effects on the world. As George Orwell labelled it, it's the politics of gesture. instead of substance. A substantive act would be to lobby and crusade, to attempt to take hold of the levers of the media and political power and create change. But that also seems like a modern affliction, to imagine that one really can. A belief in the power of the individual, despite all evidence to the contrary. This died for me at the last march I ever participated in, when I joined half a million other people in Sydney, and millions worldwide protesting against the invasion of Iraq. It was so patently a bad idea, it was so obvious there were no weapons of mass destruction, and yet the media machine rolled in on in its support of the war machine. Just the other day I read in frank disbelief an article in which Christopher Hitchens, the No.1 star of the politics of gesture, expressed his disappointment at the way the invasion worked out. Seriously? When just in my home city I joined half a million others who knew exactly what was going to happen before it had even begun?
It's a strange kind of narcissism, to imagine that one is really so powerful. That whether or not one wears leather or wrings their hands as they listen to what is happening to refugees on the radio (as I do, routinely) makes any kind of difference at all. And this is why I no longer bother too much about my consistency, and my hypocrisy about such things. It's all an invention, an illusion of political discourse, to make us believe that we have a say in such matters, and that our opinions about such things count.
And yet I know we do count. We count enorrmously. I know I am just as powerful as anyone else alive. But in another sphere entirely. I count, and have power, in my own life. For me that means acting with kindness. Being gentle and generous as often as possible. Treating everyone I come across with respect and dignity. Being thoughtful, and careful. These seem to be the only things that really make a difference, in my life and in the lives of those I see around me, and it's plenty challenging enough. Including others, and being grateful when they include me. This is what I wish for refugees - and what I have tried to be to the refugees who have come to live in our small town. This is what I wish for myself and my son - and what I have experienced in the generosity and love expressed to us by so many of the people we meet.
I think it's really only the qualities I express, the relationships I have, the way I behave each and every moment that has the power to make things better than they are. I'd like to become more courageous, more empowered, more entitled. I'd like to worry less about what other people think. What I buy or wear or say I believe in? Not so much.