Thursday, February 12, 2009


If I was Prime Minister last week, I would have lost my job. When asking myself the question 'What is the best thing I can do in this situation?' I honestly wouldn't have come up with 'go and hug grieving people.'
I understand the value of making people's grief feel real, acknowledging that their very personal tragedies are felt on a National (and indeed global level).

But I have always thought that government was there to sepperate power from the emotional personal realities, as a buffer against knee jerk reactions.

The victorian bushfires are one of those events that shifts and changes colour each minute shift of perspective you take.

I know of no victims that I know directly. As close as I get is 1 degree of seperation, and of those very few. My father's family is from Gippsland, it is our country, but then our family is in the rainsafe basin that has only moderately been effected by droughts.

So whilst conceptually I can concieve of the horror of being cooked in your car with your family, spending your last sentient moments in excruciating pain, whilst you enhale acrid smoke or sufficate as the fire sucks all oxygen out of your lungs, or worse surviving with severe burns and months of excruciating rehab, denying you the physical freedom to express the grief of your lost family as sole survivor. I can concieve that these things are terrible, but I can't empathise, it has never happened to me and hopefully never will.

But I am not even going to pretend I 'feel their pain' or am 'thinking of them' I am thinking of a generic mass of people, people who are more or less much like any other people in the world. I don't know specifically who I am thinking of.

But if I try to shift my perspective to one of the 'lucky ones' whose home has been destroyed, and I hear that some of the fires are deliberately lit I can imagine the anger and furious rage as I contemplate personal circumstances. The fire would seem like a personal attack because it's ramifications are so personal, and if I really could shift perspective as easily as that no doubt I would be writing something far more personal and passionate about it. Describing people as 'sick' and 'murderers' and so fourth. I would talk about dreams being destroyed and life work gone and so fourth. And people would completely understand, I understand.

What I don't understand is that if I shifted my perspective to a week before the fires happened and was brutaly honest, I would never have spared a moments thought for that particular 'dream' or 'lifes work'. Which isn't to say I would go out of my way to crush it, I simply would not think about it nor care about it as roughly anybody anywhere would not care about it. It is only through its tragic destruction that it was brought to the worlds attention. On PBS Newshour the US news program and one of the better News presentations in the world they referred to Victoria not as 'the state of Victoria' but 'Victoria Province' a place the average American has never even heard of.

And now shifting perspective again to that of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, being called away from the tragedy that is the Economic Stimulus Package, the biggest most spectacular summation of petty concerns and spending days and days facing problems that are all too real.
Being face to face with inconcievable horror, experiences that you have never experienced and hope to never face. I can understand him getting emotional and saying things like 'Mass Murder'.
'Sick' may well be a suitable description for arsonists, but the legal system exists precisely to intervene between victims meeting out their own justice.

George Orwell put it best, and I hope and believe that there is nothing served by revenge, and that the only justice is rehabilitation. Shifting perspective out, to a long term view where one must way up the pro's and con's of societies ongoing and continuous existence, bringing out the trudgeon of punishment in the heat of the moment is a poor choice.

Those that have suffered this incalcuble loss and survived need to experience and come to terms with their grief, to feel the sadness and accept the loss over time, to begin focusing on what they have, and the joys they have had and to do that joy justice by living on as best they can.
They do not need revenge. Any individual responsible, whether forced to haul dead bodies out of vehicles, or burned alive at a stake, or tortured on public display may bring a momentary satisfaction to the aggrieved but no matter what is inflicted, they will not feel your pain, they will not understand what was done to you and they will not take away anything you can't let go of yourself.

The only way they will come close to feeling the feelings they have caused you is if they are innocent. Someone caught up as a scapegoat and sacrificed to the mob. Except unlike you they wouldn't survive to claim revenge, and you in condoning such revenge and inflicting such trauma on an individual would only have brought yourself closer to the sickness of the arsonist.

Which is why there is a seperation between the justice system and the legislative. It was not ill concieved and it is a perspective that must be maintained. The perspective of the long term, of the greater community would lose far more by relaxing the 'beyond resonable doubt' standard for criminal charges to the 'people need closure convict a likely suspect' of mob justice.

From this perspective a guilty party could walk free and we would all be better off for it, for we don't wish to be a society complicit in wrongful improsonment. It is the very nature of bending over backwards to protect the innocent rather than blurring the lines to punish the guilty.

Which is frustrating from the perspective of the Victorian Police, now charged with investigating the possible arson, because the law bends over backwards to protect the innocent, and knowing nothing of the forensic evidence I assume it is very hard to catch an arsonist in the country unless they are caught redhanded or confess.

The country where alibi's mean nothing, because people constantly dissapear for hours unseen and unknown as a matter of course. Where everyone has good reasons for having a jerry can of petrol or carrying a cigarette lighter around. How do you pin someone down beyond reasonable doubt? In one of the few countries where it is possible to be a mass murderer with nothing more than a box of matches and a hot day.

You could have a suspect in the right vicinity at the right time and still find reasonable doubt that they started a fire. No doubt they will pull out all the stops on forensics to pinpoint the exact moment and exact spark that set off each respective blaze.

Where you can shift perspective to the guilty party. Are they sick? God appeared as a burning bush to Moses (if you believe that shit) can we shift perspective to a broken and distorted one, one that obsesses with a primal lust for fire. Can we possibly see the obsession, the temptation to burn down the world? The mind that hears the news report 'worst fire conditions since Ash Wednesday' on the news and cannot stop themselves? Was the arson pre-meditated or the murder? Did they just want to see the fire and didn't give a damn about the people in the way? Were they themselves found in the way? Playing with fire they got themselves burned?

Or was their sickness a different kind. One that didn't give a damn about fire, but nihilistically a misanthrope living out in the country to get away from all the people they hate saw an opportunity to punish people for their mere existence? It didn't matter who they where, just that they were people?

Here in the perspective of the Police force, many of whom in the country are no doubt personally effected is someone that society needs protection from. This 'mass murderer' that having done the crime must be found and restricted from such future opportunities.

And from the perspective of the survivors and general public, we might adopt the catch cry 'Never Again' and from this perspective what extraodinary measures must be taken? For me it would mean actively combatting the policies of environmental degredation that provided the means, not restricting the freedoms and liberties of people to grow up into the various individuals that provided the motive.

If these people were obvious, it would not have happened. If they were the person that played with a lighter constantly and all their clothing was singed and their eyes were red and their lips salivated when they sighted an open fire the police (hopefully) would have been watching them like a hawk.

If from the average perspective though they look like an average person leading an average life all the time, then we do not want the extremely intrusive policies that would lead to weading these people out. Inserting RDF chips into the necks of all country people to track their position and thermal signatures on satellite GPS?

Subjecting every resident to mandatory psychological evaluations where the slightest indication of any psycho-sexual fantasies puts you under house arrest? From the perspective of a movie goer I will admite that even I find it exciting when Bruce Willis causes something big to explode.

Now we shift back to Kevin Rudd's perspective, he represents the people, the people are shocked, alarmed that the security they had taken away could be undermined so rapidly over one weekend. As has been established, if the fires had behaved predictably, if the event could have been predicted it would not have happened. (borrying Taleb's Black Swan analogy). Many of the victims had seen bushfires before, their decision to stay and fight, and subsequent decision to flee too late were all based on the assumptions made that the fire would be normal. That it wouldn't be travelling at 130kph.

Presumably the mass murderer whilst unquestionably irresponsible and criminally negligent could not have been counting on their contribution to the fires (they weren't all deliberately lit) could have been counted on to be Australia's worst semi-natural disaster. Up to 300 people have died though, and whole towns have been declared crime scenes.

Which from the prime ministers perspective makes his perspective one of the most difficultly twisted of all. Because his perspective looks inwards at Australia and outwards at the world, and it is a very different perspective looking outwards.

From the perspective of a certain person from a certain quasi-state/occupied territory, some cunt from some gang that you don't elect 'makes a choice' to fire a rocket into a house of another country's settlement on a day. From the perspective of the person who lived in that house it was an all too personal attack, none of us know whether it was or not, but assuming their was no personal relationship between the cunt that fired the rocket and the civilian that lived in the house one can only assume it was a criminal act of attempted murder and destruction of public property.

Since the gang also has a political branch of the same name their is a possibility that that person was acting on the orders of an elected official as an act of war. This angle is assumed, there was no investigation no orders that I am aware of were presented by elected officials.
It could be a result however of the breaking of several ceasefire agreements and also the failure of some other states to recognise the political branch of the gang as elected government and thus refuse them any diplomatic recourse.
So really from a legal perspective here one cannot both not recognise a government as legitimate and thus worthy of diplomatic negotiations whilst recognising them as legitimate and thus capable of declaring official acts of war.

At any rate, from the average perspective that cunt didn't consult you and did you no favors by firing a rocket into a settlement. There is no question that at the very least it was a criminal act.

Which from an Australian perspective is where the state is meant to get between personal vendetta's and angry mobs full of blood lust to ensure that justice is served and the guilty parties recieve fair trial and their guilt proved beyond reasonable doubt.

The state is not then supposed to adopt the perspective of the aggrieved party that understandably takes it personally and therefore seeks to fulfill the lust for vengance. Frustrating for the victim, but that is what a state is for.

There are even rules for a state that are recognised by the community of states that thus represents (not perfectly) all the communities of all the individuals in the world. It is called the UN. They lay down rules for which countries are supposed to be beholden to and occasionally (as in the case of Iraq in the 90's, and Bosnia in the early 2000's) are held to account.

Permit me to paraphrase the perspective of a journalist from said state that appeared on Dateline on SBS:

'War crimes are not a matter of opinion they are a matter of facts. Under UN charter you cannot use tanks for shelling among civilian populations, that's a fact. Under UN charter you cannot bomb a people under siege, that's a fact. Under UN charter you must either provide medical care for the wounded or you must allow the international red cross to treat them, that's a fact. ...'

From the UN perspective the 'aggrieved states' reaction was criminal, using (I don't know how to spell it) phospherous shells to burn down buildings, shelling buildings containing civilian populations, denying any medical aid for 4 days to the under sieged population, destroying civilian structures, destroying UN buildings (that had made their coordinates known to the state in question's defence force) and so on and so on are all criminal acts. UN war crimes in other words. In colloqiual language from the perspective of the organisation that represents every last individual in the world 'mass murder'.

Shifting perspective again to that of John Brumby in the helicopter looking down on the charred remains of Kingslake and those people around the world watching the newsfeed the inevitable comparison of that perspective to other perspectives was 'it looks like it has been bombed'. To shift the perspective to that of Journalists on the occupied quasi-state after the seven day 'mass murder' the comparison could hold up because one could verify that it did look a lot like a place that actually had been bombed.

Yet from the perspective of a Prime Minister looking inwards it is easy to call one an act of 'Mass Murder' when in the perspective of the law and highest bodies that represent it from my limited understanding it is probably mass manslaughter accompanying an arson charge. But from the perspective of the Prime Minister looking outside at as clear cut an act of 'Mass Murder' as the UN Charter can provide it is very hard for a Prime Minister to come out and say such superlatives.

From the perspective of the aggrived in one case the cry of 'Never Again' is difficult but achievable to make progress on by combating the climate change that provides the means, to start reversing the policy of clearfelling all the best growing land for making grass and hay (or bushfire fuel) such that over time such dry conditions are statistical non-events. In the other perspective the cry of 'Never again' involves theoretically a military offensive designed to bring security to the people of your state by bombing any structure (and indeed container) that could possibly contain an RPG. I hope that from an objective perspective such a policy is unworkable and impossible, and that the human cost to such an offensive would be disproportionate to any short term sense of security it might achieve.

From the aggrieved perspective I'm sure it makes perfect sense, which is what the state is supposed to intervene in.

From the perspective of a 'No God, No Country' believer like myself, they are all human tragedies, all regrettable. But I honestly can't feel more for people I don't know because they are the same nationality as me than I can feel for people I don't know who aren't. I have been biting my tongue a lot because people hate a buzzkill (which isn't the right term at all in this sense, maybe a grief kill) by shifting the perspective when they are trying to feel bad for people they are supposed to feel bad for and making them feel bad for people they are not supposed to feel bad for.

The morale of the story is that no matter what perspective you adopt, life will present certain individuals with the right circumstances to make terrible and ill concieved decisions, but society as a sum of individuals we hope is capable under the right circumstances of making good sound and well concieved decisions. An individual mass murderer is scary, a mass murdering society is terrifying.

Which isn't the morale of this story, that's my own personal bias. The moral is that the ability to shift perspectives results in better understanding if not any real answers.

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