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Lions Roar : September 2006
To consider politics is to open yourself—your mind and body, your naked and apparently unof- fending skin, your naive hopefulness, and your joy in human company—to a tsunami of lies, hum- bug, drivel, false promises, masquerade, hypocritical piety, prejudice, greed, murder, and fattening food. To consider politics is to dive into this Hokusai wave of inauthenticity and to say, “Hmmm, this seems like a situation I can work with.” My own direct experience of politics began long ago in Australia, in the era of megaphones, mi- crophones, and harangues in an atmosphere of incipient mayhem. I found it as tedious as a long afternoon in high school. The bloke at the mike, maybe me, would say, “Err, let’s get out of Vietnam,” and a lady in a tweed skirt and cardigan would scream back, “What are you going to do when the communists rape your sister on the front lawn?” We seemed incapable of thinking up good lines. Esoteric flags, for example the red and black of the Spanish anarchists, hung listlessly in the park, perhaps indicating that this was as much theater as politics. I never developed a taste for riot, and disliked seeing people banged about. A more particular memory of the frustrating labor of politics comes from a period some years later in the mid 1970s. I’m sitting in a bar in Canberra, the capital of Australia, slightly drunk. The bar isn’t a comfy English-style pub, an “Eagle and Child”; it’s recent and tatty—veneer and carpet and cigarette machines. Outside, the streets are swept; there are trees, a lake, and a war memorial that a Mayan prince, fond of public expressions of state power, would have thought put the idea of empire in a good light. I had recently arrived from the slums of inner Sydney and found the city’s cleanliness, leafiness, and lack of exhilaration rather pleasant. Hitler, on the other hand, had taken a more severe view and asked Albert Speer not to build him a capital like Canberra. I was technically a student at the National University but my presence was intermittent; I was actually working on land rights. I had grown up with some Aborigines and had noticed that they were not well treated. Perhaps that had something to do with my choice. In those days you could always get Australians to protest “the evils of apartheid,” and everyone knew about Oliver Tambo and Steve Biko and other South African heroes. But the issue of Aboriginal rights, being local, was almost invisible. In the bar, a meeting around Aboriginal land rights is more or less occurring. We have a loaner body- guard for the night, a big boxer from Queensland, one of those sweet, large-hearted men who move loosely and are good to know in most circumstances. In general I appreciate the Queenslanders; they know the world is terribly unfair and they want to have a good time while they address the problem. The boxer is good to have around for other reasons too—people come to political action out of desperation and after many injustices, and sometimes taking yourself seriously means fights with those around you, usually people on your own side. People get stabbed, and feuds are initiated or continued. Occasionally in life you forget for a while who’s black and who’s white in a room. Mostly you don’t. In the bar are a few white apparatchiks, including at the most junior level, me. Some have the lean and hungry look of the political insider; others are more romantic, devil-may-care types who enjoy Aboriginal culture and look forward to undermining civilization-as -we-know-it. There are people from the slums who want liberation, justice, an outlet for their rage, and a good time—goals that are not always compatible with each other—and there are grave, scarred old men in from the bush who probably are here because they want to be left alone. The old men don’t want mining and this is the source of their alliance with the cities, where they have found people who don’t want mining either, particularly when it is uranium mining. The old people tell stories of walkabout, of riding for months at a time over the vast inland, and recount ancient myths about rainbow serpents as if they were news of the family you haven’t seen for a while. They have initiation scars SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2006 58