I rather like the way this shot reveals the submerged, underlying the modern – it almost feels like there’s an old shipwreck down there, doesn’t it?
Just finished a fascinating book tonight, about the long-hidden origins of Australia – it’s early (essentially slave-labour powered) days as a penal colony for the United Kingdom. I was struck by a number of relevancies.
First – at the time (in England in particular) they were taken with a theory that crime was born of a ‘class’ of criminals that was in some way an organic force unto itself (though this was way before any broad working-class organizing).
When we look now at the list of crimes that they thought it appropriate to hang someone for – we can’t help but be aghast – way worse than crazy. The fact that they then considered themselves merciful for deporting the (desperate industrially-dispossessed) person who had stolen, for example, a bit of food, or a wallet, all the way to the other side of the world, makes it weirder still.
The thing is, the emotional tenor of their (late 1700s) theorizing about crime sounds very much like modern American white-racist paranoia about crime being an outsider-import. The old ‘them’ theory. Long proven more than just wrong, but also dangerously misleading (we miss the crime closer to home).
So – crazy theory of ‘essential proven badness’ (often on what we’d consider a fairly trivial offence) lead to an extraordinary experiment, in which the labour of those condemned, was harnessed by the state to transform a continent.
The pace of development which resulted was far greater than anything which could have been achieved by simple immigration, because until the bush had been cleared and some infrastructure built, there was very little to draw anyone away, to what was sure to be a very difficult life.
Oddly, once it started to really get going, it’s value as crime deterrent in the UK virtually disappeared, because a lower-class prisoner who had worked off their sentence could generally do much better there, than back home (labour being, for many years, always inadequate, and so rather well-rewarded).
There were of course true horrors perpetrated, and also some surprisingly modern approaches, which wouldn’t be tried again for a couple of centuries – but by the time the idea of using the place as a prison for England petered out (as Benthamites finally got their turn, with panopticons etc) there was a fully functioning country with a serious economy and tons of future potential for continued growth.
The other thing that reading “The Fatal Shore” by Robert Hughes (which is excellent, and surprisingly rich with research, narrative and context, BTW) made me think about, might seem a tiny bit strange – but bear with me.
A couple of weeks ago, Robert and I went to the Bloor to see the Werner Herzog piece “Lo and behold – reveries of the connected world” his recent documentary about the internet – very much recommended also. He is in top form, giving us several new perspectives from which to think about this too-familiar presence.
One of the more enjoyable bits for me, was his interview with Elon Musk – who made his case for Mars more clearly than I’ve ever heard anyone allow him to before – and despite my serious anti-poverty passion (and I mean globally, not just backyard stuff), I was won ’round on the question.
It is a matter of the possibility existing now, and recognition that the assumption that the future only goes in the direction of progress denies all of the lessons of history. We may indeed seem to rise over time, but we’re also quite demonstrably going ’round in circles – perhaps this nauseating epiphany is part of the reason we’re all feeling so thoroughly screwed (helixed?) just now.
Anyhow – we do have a weird window of industry and economy and celebrity and even social media enthusiasm which may well be able to propel a small seed-pod of humans Mars-ward. Fifty years from now? – very probably not.
On the other hand, there is every chance that fifty years from now would be a very good time to have some up and coming neighbours who, thanks to our technological economic and cultural endowments, have managed to get a critical resource economy developed and thriving.
Diversity is not crazy, even if the first to go will have to be (a little).
And the cost – though incredible, is still minuscule compared to the military waste which we democratic citizens of all countries lucky enough to have democracies have still, as yet, miserably failed to compel our leaders to spend elsewhere – like say, on the kids.