Monday, 26 January 2015

a 'drop in the ocean'

The surf has been crap for weeks - either a ridiculous holiday crowd on the rare shifty wave inside the point or blowing it's guts out onshore slop further around the bay where I like to get away from everyone. But I've decided to make the most of my daily pilgimage to the beach by doing a 200 metre walk to the inlet and back to get some exercise and pick up rubbish. 

I started out furtively a few months ago - feeling like the local pariah, after all, it's only the dregs of society that handle other people's shit no matter how many brownies (of beer) you give your nice garbo for Christmas. But then I decided to make myself very visible, because I wanted people to see that someone cared enough to do something about the degradation. This issue has reached epidemic proportions - recently images of plankton that have ingested plastic have been posted on Facebook.

I can't be angry at those who walk past me empty-handed and stare blankly - after all, that is what I have been doing for most of my life too. They probably don't even notice the rubbish, or if they do, think there isn't much point in picking it up - the problem is just too big. 

Recently I was on my way back up the beach and stopped to chat with one of the local legend surfers - a very cool young board-shaper with blonde dreadlocks and an equally cool name: Xanda. By way of a slightly embarassed apology I explained why I was carrying a handful of blue and green rope fragments and other bits of detritus.  He laughed out loud and said: 'I do that too!! And I have to pick up every tiny bit - it drives me nuts but I just have to'. Now I don't need this guy's approval, but it felt brilliant to be sharing my obsession with someone from a very different time and demographic to myself. Later the local surf instructor also saw me picking up rubbish and echoed Xanda's comment: 'I pick up rubbish too'. It felt good having a couple of allies.

This is today's stash. I'll admit this is a bit more than usual because the raging onshore wind has thrown up lots of floating plastic on the high tide. Which is good, because I can grab it before the tide takes it out again. When I bend down I say to myself - 'well that is one more bit of plastic that won't end up in some poor fish or bird's stomach'. Sure it's just a drop in the ocean, but at least I feel like I am doing something. The worst thing about watching the destruction of my beloved nature is feeling impotent - although I will probably make little overall impact, I am relying on the flow-on effect. I am modelling the behaviour I want others to follow - kids see me doing it and look quizzically at me, but until today, nobody has commented. Today a woman walking up the beach smiled at me and said: 'Good on you'. And another, a female surfer entering the water, said: 'Bless you'.

Lately I have noticed a trend in social behaviour and attitudes. It is become clearer to many of us that we can't rely on 'the government' to fix things any more. On many issues the people are taking back the power and the responsibility. Again on Facebook, someone recently posted a video of a group of militant muslims promoting Shariah law being shouted down by another group shouting even louder: 'bullshit' and 'where are the women?' It was brilliant to see apathetic Aussies standing up and being counted - we are all going to have to be more personally accountable if we are to maintain some level of equity in this country.

Sure, what I am doing is just a 'drop in the ocean', in retaliation against those who 'drop stuff in the ocean', but I'm going to make a prediction. I reckon, within time, I will see more people picking up rubbish at my local beach. 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

respect and the ‘right’ to speak

Lately events in my small universe and the world at large have prompted me to question the value of our much lauded democratic right to ‘say what we fucking like’. Years ago I would have defended that right to the death. Now I wouldn’t. Simply because, as a child of a democracy, I must defend everyone’s rights equally, and not every opinion is equal in its worth.

Facebook has been the catalyst. In its anonymity and remoteness from real world consequence it is a mecca for the opinionated and disrespectful. As a result I have recently withdrawn from several conversations, pages and a group.

The first incident was brought about by a comment I made regarding the acknowledgement of an artist’s work on a UK digital magazine’s FB page. I guess I could have been a bit less confrontational, but this magazine purported to be a ‘professional’ organisation and, as an artist, intellectual property infringements make my blood boil. The conversation went as follows:

Michelle Frantom: I think your magazine is awesome, but it seems as though this article has work in it that belongs to someone else (see Bert Schipper's comment). If that's the case, you really need to get your act together re referencing and copyright issues. There is way too much of this sort of thing going on on the internet. Please make sure you reference a designer's or artist's work - it's in everyone's interests.

Magazine: Michelle, can you clarify what you are referring to here? And where is Bert Schipper's comment?

The conversation got waylaid after that – the page regulator clearly missed the point I was trying to make and I just got frustrated.

I got no further response on FB but I did get, almost immediately, a dodgy e-mail with no text and a link via my website contact page. Call me paranoid, but I didn’t click on it because I was in no doubt who it was from and that its intention was malicious and viral. I Googled the magazine and discovered they were quite dodgy – they had appropriated their name from a reputable design organisation in the US to begin with.

Since then I have been more careful about making comments on FB, yet I was still attacked as a right winger for commenting on the issue of population growth and parental responsibility. I withdrew my comment and myself from that conversation too.

Today I got embroiled in an art page conversation after I made a comment supporting a post by someone who was making a point about professional integrity. When things got personal again, I messaged the page manager to thank her and opted out of the group.

Free speech is one thing, but real dialogue and the constructive exchange of ideas is being shouted down by: 

1. political correctness and 

2. self-obsessed and opinionated egoists.

In the democratic West we feel we have a God-given right to speak, even an obligation, to share our superior knowledge. Except that we are very often ill-informed and dissent is not even a possibility. I do not condone the shootings at Charlie Hebdo headquarters, but I can understand why it happened. How has satirising the iconic figures of some very dysfunctional politico-religious groups so soon after the shootings assisted in getting those disengaged people to the discussion table? It hasn’t – it has alienated them even more. Of course they are radicals, but the West needs to take responsibility for the fact that it has inflamed the situation by being so damned sure it was right in the first place.

I can’t remember if it was Plato or Socrates who wrote about the ‘rule of the shouting masses’, but it seems to me that this is what we have descended into. I have joined a political group called the Australian Progressives. I will probably vote Green as I usually do, but I support passionate dialogue so I signed up as a founding member so they could get started. So far this group has been having some really civilised, sensible and socially responsible discussions about what sort of country we want to live in as they develop their policies. But even here, individuals get shouted down if what they say does not fit the politically correct cultural canon which implies:

You can’t suggest people have less children, you must support all asylum seekers and refugees and you aren’t allowed to raise concerns about cultural incompatibilites. You have to support the current health system, even if you think the country can’t afford it and many people are clogging up doctor’s surgeries when they don’t really need to be there (cue personal health responsibility lecture). As an Aussie, you must love the flag and not criticise the rednecks who have several streaming from their car windows on Australia Day (my least favourite public holiday) I could go on – but these are the sorts of issues that get hijacked and shut down when someone tries to have a sensible conversation.

Currently in the West there is a ridiculous dichotomy – you are entitled to say what you think, give your often uneducated opinion on every bloody issue even if you are a moron BUT, God help you if you cross the line. You will be called a racist, a xenophobe, a feminist, a misogynist, a communist, a barren bitch or a homophobic.

On radio national the other day someone said something about the right to free speech, about how maybe we should question whether what we are about to say is going to actually contribute anything to the conversation. Of course disagreement can be useful, because conflict and debate are important and should eventually lead to compromise. Instead, there are so many shouting voices, so many ill-informed, ego-driven individuals with their own agenda that dissenting yet wise voices are not being heard.

At the basis of it all is a fundamental lack of respect for others. The West’s disrespect for anything that isn’t democracy is naturally opposed by those who’s alternatives are not even considered worthy enough to talk about. I don’t support oppression or dictators, but when my friends tell me that capitalism is the best of a bad bunch - I can’t agree with them. Capitalism encourages and justifies exploitation. And that’s the other significant point I want to make here – Capitalism and Democracy have become so inextricably entwined it is difficult to evaluate them independently. Capitalism is not Democracy and vice versa. Democracy serves capitalism but it is not a reciprocal relationship.

Do we have a right to speak out? Even if it hurts someone’s feelings, or contributes to terrorism and war? Ideologically yes, everyone has a right to speak, but mindless, uninformed babble without some kind of constructive social or philosophical agenda does not serve the world. When in doubt, I try to think like a Buddhist: what is the intention?


Saturday, 3 January 2015


'Me and the Shark', watercolour and pencil on paper

As I counted heads at my overcrowded local surf break - bemoaning the holiday season - I said to myself: 'all it would take is one shark'. Of course I only meant a sighting at my own beach, not the fatal attack 100+ kms east. Nevertheless it seems to have done the trick - the day after there were many less holiday-makers in the water. Only the statisticians, deluded or fatalistic persisted (including myself). Even the day after numbers were well down and I enjoyed the best offshore surf for weeks. However, my joy was a little dampened by my own mean-spiritedness and I felt a bit guilty - but I am not God and I didn't create that tragic event.

The drop in numbers again yesterday might have had something to do with a reported sighting of a big Great White 80 kms west (at another coastal holiday spot). Apparently there were 3 sighted - but I suspect a bit of narrative hyperbole is creeping in here. When I was living on a yacht in Cockburn Sound on the west coast, sightings of tiger sharks were regular - so regular that I became suspicious and went back to diving for crabs on the weed beds. I'm pretty sure someone was putting out false reports to maximise their crab catch.

So what is it with sharks and their relationship with humans? What is really going on? In the 'real world' theories abound: we have overfished the oceans and they are just plain hungry; there are many more people in the water; as top predators in the food chain sharks have a gutful of plastic, are weak and hungry so target humans more; sharks are not being fished as much any more - the Great White is even protected......and on it goes. If you talk to the fishermen they have their own theories, for example, it's the 3 metre sharks that are the most dangerous because they are going from being 'juvenile' to adult, from fish eaters to blubber eaters. Kind of makes sense - they are inexperienced and probably target humans by mistake. The amount who get attacked and summarily spat out seems to support this theory - the shark has simply made a mistake, 'I wasn't really trying to eat you, but I seemed to have ripped your leg off. Sorry'. 

The rule is, you don't talk about sharks when you are out the back (surfing), unless you see one of course, and then it is your duty to let everyone know as calmly and quickly as possible. You aren't really supposed to talk about them at the beach at all, but we are breaking the rules and talking about them more. The talk is mixed, some want them culled, some accept they might end up as big fish fodder, some just take up golf.

As I watched the popularity of surfing rise exponentially during the past 15 years - when epidemic numbers of people flocked to the ocean to take up the new trendy past-time and boards appeared on every roofrack - I made a prediction. Of course it was informed by my understanding of psychology and archetypes. In a historical context I figured it was absolutely right for humanity to return to the sea - at the end of a cycle in earth's history we are just following an archetypal instinct because it was here that human life originated. 

In psychological terms though, humanity, and Western culture in particular, has not dealt with its collective unconscious. I have blogged about this before - our tendency to bury or deny the distasteful, to project evil onto others, is catching up with us. We try and distance ourselves from our shit - we chuck it 'away'. Just lately a slogan has been doing the rounds: there is no 'away'. Running out of clean resources and land, we are being called to account for centuries of destructive behaviour. There is no 'other' - only a projection of ourselves. But what has this got to do with the sea? Because it is a symbol for the unconscious - not just for Westerners, but for all humans. Many cultures fear the sea - until relatively recently the Balinese did not swim in the ocean because evil spirits reside there. The collective returning and immersing one's-self in the ocean is a compulsory symbolic act - right and proper at this time in human evolution. 

It is my belief that the return to the sea has reached fever pitch and this is where my prediction comes in: as I struggled to deal with the increasing hordes now occupying the surf, I anticipated there would be a turning point - the rush would ease and result in people hesitating and some even withdrawing. What would bring about this change? 

The humble, yet much feared shark. 

The shark symbolises a fundamental primal hidden fear - not just death, but a particular kind of death: being devoured. We enjoy the concept when we are in love, obessesed - and it gets expressed perfectly during sex in both physical and psychological ways. But the shark that dominates the realm of the unconscious sea is the negative expression of this 'devouring' because we lose identity, consciousness and/or life.

I know this because I have had a long relationship with the shark. As a kid, and even in my adult years, I used to dream about them all the time. The dreams stopped many years ago when I let one eat me - when I met my fear head on and surrendered to it. My relationship with the shark is expressed in the drawing above.

It is no accident the shark has made its way into the media and regularly occupies our thoughts. Things must be dealt with, not buried or thrown into the sea where we can't see them and pretend they don't exist. It is time for a reckoning, time to dive into the unconscious and face the negative aspects of human consciousness. If we don't take on this task willingly, it will be thrust upon us. Nobody gets away with anything. There is no 'away'.