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Forget conspiracies and own your complicity

  • 08 August 2016


I am packing up again. Books that have survived several moves and lendings out will soon line the shelves of nearby op shops and second hand book dealers. Clothes I have worn to present myself in public sit in green bags awaiting new lives. Despite the sentimentalism that supposedly courses my hoarder blood, I let these things pass.

In letting them go. I'm relieving myself of my acts and my choices that that give these things meaning.

I pick up an old book with a black spine (a 'classic') which I read when I was 19 and didn't really know there were good books, important books, with other coloured spines. Instead of triggering an involuntary memory of walking down an ivy-clad pathway feeling smug, holding the book invokes a sense of desperation and inferiority. What it recalls is something close to feeling like an outsider and feeling not good enough, which are feelings that, I later learned, largely go away when you start contributing in some meaningful way to people other than yourself.

At that desperate age, friends and I would sometimes sit around a computer monitor drinking cheap red wine and watching Illuminati/New World Order conspiracy theory documentaries. Triangular prisms and music videos of Madonna scuttling through the desert in a black cape formed the bulk of evidence supporting the existence of truly powerful secret societies, which made us laugh, but also, I'm sure, gave some of us a framework to understand how people were allowed to suffer as much as they do.

It was safer to believe that, for example, terrible wealth inequality was orchestrated by an autonomous motive force: that a secret body was acting deliberately to ensure that wealth and power and freedom and happiness was kept from us.

Harder to believe that our own tacit faith in the cultural values we lived by — that hard work itself would be rewarded, that competition always motivated positive change in the world, that we should bend the system to benefit ourselves rather than collapse its inherent inequities — produced that suffering, for ourselves, and for others.

The normal qualities of our normalised ideology produce inequality, and they are upheld by our normal acts of living.

An object or event accrues meaning through forgetting. When I pick up my kaleidoscopic cotton dress I remember walking along a river in a village in Vietnam at night, holding a plastic bag of sliced green mango. Am I