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Can solidarity extend beyond the next natural crisis?

  • 18 October 2022
Welcome to 'Stray Thoughts', where the Eureka Street editorial team muses on ethical and social challenges we've noted throughout the week.  As the rain spits down hard on the tin roof above me, the top stories on all the news sites are about impending flooding across the south-eastern seaboard of Australia. The headlines focus on the human element as much and more than on the weather. ‘Residents brace themselves’, which surely, they do. Though much of the reports and images that accompany these articles suggest a better descriptor, ‘communities brace themselves’. It might be a bit stale and trite to say but Australians do a good job of being at their best in a natural crisis. Solidarity is experienced in a way absent from much of our common conversation.

Why is that? It ought not necessary be assumed. We might also allow a little scepticism and ask: how true is it? We can certainly expect that as the high-water mark recedes there will be public dispute about the contribution of human-induced climate change to these events, and about the adequacy of various state services. Important as these debates are, initially they take second place as people help their neighbours prepare to fend off flood waters.

I wrote last week about the death of the Queen and what the monarchy’s magic might be. My sifting of certain aspects of the topic was part of a wider conversation that picked up the justified hurt and alienation many Australians feel from the inheritors of British power. The fault lines in the republican debate, should it come soon, might in fact be deeper than they were in ’99. The public conversation, and especially much of the media commentary on the recent events at Essendon has left me feeling that on questions of religious freedom and the place of moral positions in the public square, we have never been more divided. As others have observed, so much of our public conversation seems smeared by contempt.

Yet as the weekend begins, as the dread of nature inflicting damage on communities surfaces, it seems to me we feel community in a more acute way. We feel for those who are in harm’s way, we are aware of the immanent possibility of suffering and loss. Would that we could be aware of this for those in conflict zones around the world; or for those who are homeless, torrential rain or not, night after night in