‘Conspiracy?’ – Hijack it back

There is no doubt in my mind that the word ‘conspiracy’ has been hijacked. We can’t even think of it without adding ‘theory’ and pointing derisively at what we believe to be whacky ideas and the whacky folk who ascribe to them. Say ‘conspiracy theory’ and you immediately make an argument illegitimate. The door is sealed. There’s no way we’re going there.

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The word ‘conspire’ means “to collude; to act in unison or agreement and in secret towards a harmful, deceitful or illegal purpose.” WordNet. In essence, conspiring veers in the direction of criminality. It goes hand in glove with corruption. And it is a method or praxis that has been employed by the power elite since the words ‘power’ and ‘elite’ existed. Game of Thrones is premised on it. Monarchies thrive on it. And today, the new corporate elite have established for themselves a raft of institutions premised on it. Conspiring is simply ‘business, as usual.’

There’s nothing fresh in what I’ve just said. But I’ve just finished reading ‘Suiting Themselves: How Corportions Drive the Global Agenda’ by Professor Sharon Beder and I’m reminded yet again of how effectively the power elite are getting away with what they are doing, and how the maligning of ‘conspiracy theory’ has effectively closed off much of the debate that would enable most of us to see and oppose it. Instead, we watch on as the Anonymous crowd with their V masks protest against the ‘new world order’ and we sneer.

Written in 2006, and therefore before the GFC, Beder details meticulously the motives, the aims and the manner whereby a dense web of corporate networks have emerged over the last fifty years. How a small cluster of corporations (including pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, banks) have fashioned for themselves foundations, think tanks, research institutes (within universities), government advisory groups and policy groups, all with the aim of influencing or controlling the national government agenda. America, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, all transformed themselves in the 1980s and laid themselves bare to the wanton corporate possession of the nation state,  otherwise known as ‘free market economics’.

The same sorts of organisational bodies exist at the global level with the aim of setting the global agenda, from the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, along with the Council on Foreign Relations, Bilderberg Group, and so on.

The corporate and government realms are so intertwined that former politicians move quickly to positions of boards of directors, only to re-enter politics at a later date. Sophie Mirabella’s appointment to Gina Reinhardt’s Hancock Prospecting is just one of numerous examples.

Even this brief synopsis of the state of play reveals collusion, and acting in unison or agreement and in secret. We know that these organisations exist. On some level there is transparency. And we know the consequences of much of their agenda as it plays out in our lives. What is a little harder to prove is whether all these various corporate organisations are behaving in ways that are harmful, deceitful or illegal.

Yet time and again corporations act to suit themselves. They make decisions to increase their profits. In so doing, they place limits on the rights of the rest of us, and the planet. Anyone in any doubt can read Sharon Beder, Sheldon S Wolin, Antony Loewenstein, Arundhati Roy, or any number of writers who depict the actions of such corporations.

The way to hijack back the word ‘conspiracy’ is to use it differently. What I am alluding to does not come under the term ‘theory.’ It is not supposition. What I have described here simply is, and it’s a process. A process with key players and various individual motives. There might be plots and plans and all manner of hidden agendas – who knows? But that is not my point. The power elite conspire. So we need to be brave enough to hijack back the word and say they are ‘conspiring.’ Let the word be a verb and point to the activity. It is a powerful word that points to things going on behind our backs, things that are most definitely not in our best interests.

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Open Vein’s still bleed

Who has read Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano?
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To my mind no book could be more timely or more apt. For what occurs now in Syria, in the Middle East, and the ensuing exodus of a traumatised people, is merely a repetition, possibly the culmination, of what went on in the 70s in South America, not only upon the pretext of, ‘Kissinger would not tolerate another Cuba in America’s own backyard,’ but because back then, behind the scenes, the neoliberal model of governance was poised to be implemented, and who better to do that than Pinochet, who rolled in his tanks on the 11th of September 1973. 
Now neoliberalism has grown into the Beast it was always destined to become, and the ugly mess it creates is evident in ‘its own other,’ Daesh.
(I coin the phrase ‘a thing is its own other,’ to point the finger back to the source, the one doing all the complaining and accusing, being the exemplar of those very qualities. It’s also to be found in the verbal abuser’s handbook, as any victim of domestic violence will attest)
Reading Open Veins on the back of The Men who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson seems fortuitous, as the latter portrays the sorts of crazy sinister goings on behind the scenes of the military and of course of our beloved CIA, which leaves the reader thinking they wouldn’t put anything past that lot.
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Open Veins, depicts the consequences of such shenanigans.
We are currently witnessing a human tragedy on a scale not seen since WWII, as the media perpetually reminds us. And this tragedy invokes in many of us a sort of paralysis. Our response is both humanitarian, whether born out in protest, in donation, in actual physical help, and at the same time, befuddlement that such events could be occurring.
And of course many of us are horrified by Daesh. We sense that Daesh is to blame and must be stopped. We have a sense that we should never have invaded Iraq. We are troubled by all the troubles that won’t go away, in Palestine, in Afghanistan, in Lebanon, in the Kurdish lands.
Life likes irony, I’d say it was born to it, and there is no greater irony than the current influx of refugees into Europe, as many tens of thousands of innocents seek sanctuary in the very nations complicit in the downfall of the Middle East.
Much the same took place in South America, as vast numbers of asylum seekers sought sanctuary in Spain, its old Colonial oppressor.
The difference between then and now is the methods of the ‘conspirators’ have changed. In the 70s in South America, military dictators were installed in nation upon nation, with the covert assistance of the American military and the CIA.
Whereas now, military dictators are being toppled in favour of, ‘the completely failed state.’ A much better situation as it allows for far more $$ to be made and one doesn’t have to deal with a belligerent tinpot junta, a little despot with his own ideas.
Better to have no ideas. Better to have absolute mayhem and quite a lot of carnage. Blow the cities and the towns to smithereens and then we’ll have plenty to rebuild. Yahoo! That’ll keep us busy for decades.
If I were a European citizen, I’d be pissed off with America for cultivating the conditions which have led to the current social cataclysm as Syria implodes. And of course America is not alone on the geopolitical stage. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel, France, Britain, Germany et al, all have a vested interest in the catastrophe that spans from Libya through to Afghanistan.
Really, what we are witnessing isn’t a pot pourri of national interests playing geopolitical chess, but a single, unified interest, and that interest is disaster capital. While nations posture and threaten and invade, vast corporations are adding the dollars to their tills. Which is why, after I have finished reading Open Veins, I shall be turning to, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe, by Antony Loewenstein.

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So now, as I contemplate the current exodus from war-ravaged lands, and as I delve into the recent past of the 70s and trace the roots of that wave of Empiric atrocity, I do so knowing that the War on Terror and the Cold War before it, are veils, excuses. The root causes of both lie in the deep plans of neoliberalism and the ruthless reckless manner in which those plans are imposed on humanity.

Silencing the lambs: Asylum seekers are a metaphor for our times

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On Line Opinion have just published my latest piece on asylum seekers, for which I am very grateful. The photo here sums up my belief in what Australians are capable of. If this many can gather behind a banner in a tiny village in the middle of a wilderness, then we can only imagine the swell of people standing up, standing for, standing behind this one banner, a banner that represents solidarity with those at the pinnacle of all that is wrong with the world today – asylum seekers.

Here’s the article –

Silencing the lambs: Asylum seekers are a metaphor for our times

 

Isobel’s first novel Asylum Asylum Cover 2is available in paperback at Odyssey Books, Angus and RobertsonAmazon and the Book Depository. Ebook available through all major outlets.

Book critic Ann Creber reviews Asylum

I’m delighted to share this priceless feedback on my novel, Asylum, from book critic Ann Creber.

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“What  a survivor [protagonist] Yvette is! 

I thought it was clever and subtle the way the sub-plot (almost) of refugees was woven into Yvette’s story.

Congratulations to Isobel Blackthorn for a moving story of near despair and triumph. There is hope there for so many women in difficult situations.

And of course we are going to expect to hear more of the next  phase of Yvette’s life!  And soon!

Asylum is a rewarding read, rather like a meal when you savour every mouthful instead of gulping it down because there are better things to be done!”  

Here a full interview on Ann Creber’s The Good Life here.

You can read more reviews and an excerpt of Asylum here.

Having a great time launching Asylum

Huge thanks to old school blues maestro Dave Diprose, and visual artist Georgia Matthey for helping me launch Asylum in Melbourne. And to all who came to help me celebrate! I had a fabulous time at Kallista Tea Rooms.

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Read more reviews and an extract of Asylum here

Asylum seekers: confronting the double face

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There are two faces to Australia’s asylum seeker policy. There is the outward face, all smiles and hooded eyes, that espouses ‘stop the boats’ mantras to indoctrinate the masses. We are to be persuaded of the necessity for harsh, inhumane treatment of asylum seekers journeying by boat. We are to disregard these peoples’ basic human rights and apportion blame for all their suffering on the shoulders of the smugglers. We are thus exonerated from guilt. We need look no further, for our government is right, opportunism is to be condemned. It is only us who gets a fair go.

The outward face is a veil, a mask. It has been constructed to hide what lies within.

The inward face wears a bland expression. Eyes stare in blank denial, mouth set firm. This is the face of systematic brutality, a daily occurrence in detention centres both on and off shore. Not a day goes by without advocates passing on testimony of the violations of normal respect and decency, and of the systematic cruelty, degradation and psychological torture. Not a day goes by bereft of the despair of those incarcerated and their supporters. It makes for harrowing reading. Through these reports, and through such books as Antony Loewenstein’s Profits of Doom I have come to understand the cool, calculated methods used by corporations (Serco, G4S, Transfield) running these ‘facilities,’ the clinical way they go about their business, all manner of unspeakable decisions justified by the profit bottom line. Bloodsucking corporations filled with a cohort of Adolf Eichmanns.

For there is but a whisker of difference between the orders that are issued, and the manner in which they are carried out, in detention centres and in the Holocaust camps.

“I go down to the jetty, where several dozen DIAC, Serco, police and Customs officials, as well as interpreters and ambulance staff, await the arrival of the refugees. A number of CI residents and tourists are there too, and are mostly middle-aged or older. The ones I talk to all express opposition to refugees. They are “illegals” who might come and “take over”, like “what’s happening in parts of Europe”. One person says, “They should be pushed back to Indonesia, where they will be safe. Why are they coming to Australia? What if terrorists are on the boats? We have poverty here and people living in bad conditions on CI, but they come and are treated better than Australians”. I mention Serco and ask whether anyone cares that a private company is making money from greater numbers of refugee arrivals. One older man says he feels uncomfortable about it, while a tourist isn’t aware of the fact.”- Profits of Doom
“Curtin is surrounded by scrubby desert as far as the eye can see. I can’t imagine a more isolated place to be detained. Demountables are scattered beside the road near the car park and high barbed-wire fences surround the detention compound. We can see new houses being constructed nearby, and a freshly laid concrete pathway leads to the main entrance. The last years have seen the construction at the centre of gymnasiums, religious rooms and classrooms…Serco posters and signs advertising the company are ubiquitous in the reception area. They display the smiling faces of happy staff and multicultural imagery that includes a Muslim imam. A colour brochure emblazoned with four grinning faces from various racial backgrounds sits on a small table near some lockers.‘Bringing service to life’ is the company’s motto. The pamphlet says that Serco ‘promotes the inherent dignity of people in detention in line with the Australian government’s new immigration detention values’. A number of other pieces of Serco literature are scattered around reception. ‘Visitor Conditions of Entry’ states that there are three visiting periods every day, including between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., but also says that arrival after 5 p.m. will not be permitted. There are dozens of rules and regulations on the sheet, including: ‘Respect the privacy and dignity of all people in the centre’. It’s a noble goal, but one that staff routinely breach, detainees later tell me.” Profits of Doom
“….We unloaded the motor. It was a heavy Russian benzine engine, at least 200 horsepower. we installed the engine on a concrete foundation and set up the connection between the exhaust and the tube. I then tested the motor. It did not work. I was able to repair the ignition and the valves, and the motor finally started running. The chemist, who I knew from Belzec, entered the gas chamber with measuring instruments to test the concentration of the gas. Following this, a gassing experiment was carried out. If my memory serves me right, about thirty to forty women were gassed in one gas chamber. The Jewish women were forced to undress in an open place close to the gas chamber, and were driven into the gas chamber by the above mentioned SS members and the Ukrainian auxiliaries. when the women were shut up in the gas chamber I and Bolender set the motor in motion. The motor functioned first in neutral. Both of us stood by the motor and switched from “Neutral” (Freiauspuff) to “Cell” (Zelle), so that the gas was conveyed to the chamber. At the suggestion of the chemist, I fixed the motor on a definite speed so that it was unnecessary henceforth to press on the gas. About ten minutes later the thirty to forty women were dead.” – Testimony of SS Scharfuhrer Erich Fuchs, in the Sobibor-Bolender trial, Dusseldorf
“Before the Jews undressed, Oberscharfuehrer Michel made a speech to them. On these occasions, he used to wear a white coat to give the impression that he was a physician. Michel announced to the Jews that they would be sent to work, but before this they would have to take baths and undergo disinfection so as to prevent the spread of diseases… After undressing, the Jews were taken through the so-called Schlauch. They were led to the gas chambers not by the Germans but by the Ukrainians…After the Jews entered the gas chambers, the Ukrainians closed the doors. The motor which supplied the gas was switched on by a Ukrainian named Emil and by a German driver called Erich Bauer from Berlin. After the gassing, the door were opened and the corpses removed….” Testimony of SS-Oberscharfuehrer Kurt Bolender, In the Belzec-Oberhauser trial

The inward face is ugly. It portrays the clinical indifference of the psychopath. There is no empathy and no conscience in the eyes. It is as if we are witnessing the emergence of a plethora of death camps, a many headed Hydra, one that has learned from past mistakes and chosen psychological over physical death of inmates as the path of preference. There is profit, as long as they stay alive.

And a sort of psychological death is the reality especially for children and long-term detainees who must suffer the ordinary mundane tortures of life on Nauru, Manus or Christmas Island, or Curtin, Villawood or any other gulag. Such tortures do not extract blood, do not cause extreme physical pain. Instead, the methods are not dissimilar to those enacted by a perpetrator of domestic violence. They are designed to drive a person mad.

Asylum – the story behind the story

Asylum is my first novel. It began life as a story with a number of enticing elements bound together in truth. Like protagonist Yvette Grimm, I was an English-born visa overstayer and I really did invest my hopes in a palm reader’s prophecy that I would meet the father of my children before I was thirty!

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In about six months I produced a first draft. I was pleased with the achievement, producing 80,000 words of fiction is no easy thing, yet the story seemed to meander on, reaching a conclusion that felt flat. So I set aside the draft, reasonably happy never to look at it again.

Yet the title nagged me. ‘Asylum,’ with its double meaning, seemed well worth exploring, but how?

Months later a friend and blogger, Colin Penter,  posted on facebook a link to a book. It was Profits of Doom by Antony Loewenstein. I borrowed a copy from the library and read it from cover to cover in two days. Profits of Doom led me to explore the plight of asylum seekers and I soon found a plethora of online commentary, and much activism around the country. I began to wonder how I could contribute.

It was a gnawing sense of injustice that caused me to return to that draft of Asylum. I axed over half the text, ripping into the narrative scene upon scene until the barest bones were left. I set about making visa overstayer Yvette Grimm an artist because I wanted her to be as different from me as possible and I can only paint walls. I managed to work Profits of Doom into a scene. Things were progressing well but towards the end the narrative still lacked intensity.

That was when a friend, Georgia Matthey, came round for dinner and after I had outlined how things were in the fictional land of Asylum, she began to describe a recent event in her life. Seeing the potential straight away, I grabbed paper and pen and wrote down her vignette and with her permission used it to shape the climax of Asylum.

I could now call Asylum a manuscript and I needed a reader. I was thrilled when writer, feminist and activist Jasmina Brankovich put up her hand. I had to wait weeks for her feedback and when she told me she loved it I knew I could publish with some confidence.

At first I serialised the story in weekly parts on my blog but demand grew for a whole book, so I took the indie path and with the help of Cohesion Press converted Asylum into epub and Kindle editions.

Asylum explores the theme of seeking asylum, Yvette juxtaposing her experiences with those of asylum seekers being held in detention. It is my sincerest wish that Asylum both entertains and contributes to the larger dialogue on the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia.

You can read my non-fiction writing on asylum seekers in On Line Opinion or here on my blog.