MAUREEN TODHUNTER. Imaginations of the world, unite!

Sep 6, 2017

As news and other media apparently edge us toward a war-ready footing, we need to think critically about what informs our views, to imagine our way into more enlightened, more peaceful co-existence.

 These days in Australia we’re served up a flood of dystopian possibilities, as news and other media apparently edge us toward a war-ready footing. Think North Korea, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran or anywhere else that the US government seeks to prevail. And it’s not just that PM Turnbull self-righteously agrees to back in with Australian troops since in national defence, ‘we’re joined at the hip’ with the US. Beyond the enemies abroad we’re presented with those at home, like refugees, trade unions, the poor, and those who seek to protect the natural environment from constant onslaught in the name of ‘development’.

Perhaps this comes as no surprise, since self-serving corporate media and governments beholden to it construct the dominant narratives that inform and shape popular understanding. To some extent these narratives close down public awareness and questioning, they numb our concern for the common good and blunt our willingness to resist.

So it serves us all to recognise this mind closure for what it is and whose interests it serves. What need to be fuelled are not weapons of destruction but sources of regeneration. We need to cultivate our ability to critique the dominant narrative by reflecting critically on what’s served up as ‘news’. We need to contemplate and wonder, to ignite our capacity to imagine alternative possibilities, bold visions, radical actions. It’s time to unite our imaginations for creative, civic-minded collective action, wherever we are.

So much media is infused with neoliberal mindset, which is rooted in a view that competition is the only legitimate organising principle for human activity – social, economic, political or any other. In global and regional contexts this fuels nationalism rather than universal outlook. In workplace, education and other settings where people engage with each other, it fuels quantified calculations of performance rather than qualitative appreciation of what’s happening around us, why so, what are the consequences, and what are we doing ourselves.

This competitive mindset foregrounds the imaginary ‘market’ for distributing and regulating, and endows it with anthropomorphic qualities. ‘The market’ is said to have an invisible hand that guides supply and demand through competition among self-serving individuals. ‘The market’ effectively has a mind, with capacity to determine and effect value in a way that all of us should be willing to accept and live by.

But while ‘market’ is imagined to have hand and mind, it is not conceptually wired to have a heart – at least the heart’s affective function. In market logic we should all be responsible for ourselves, without responsibility for the wellbeing of others, without empathy for their suffering and will to help them. Little wonder that dominant neoliberal media tend to dehumanise those who seek public support, especially if they are seen to be different from the ‘us’ of white Australia. For example, at the urging of the national government, most media in Australia conceal the voices and images of asylum seekers shut away in detention centres. Lest these distressed people draw empathy and calls for more humane treatment, as if asylum seekers are part of ‘us’ human beings; lest asylum seekers remind us of the horrors of war that most of them are fleeing …

The values and worldviews that undergird neoliberal thinking make the prospect of war, even war mongering, somewhat inevitable. It’s not just the understanding that the human creature is innately competitive and without regard for the wellbeing of others. ‘The market’ too is central to much of contemporary war. The arms industry that manufactures weapons and military technology needs wars to maximise profits. Wars create fertile markets for arms sales. The largest arms export nations include the US, Russia, China, Germany and France.

Yet we can and must have the capacity to recognise how neoliberal thinking shapes the news, the dominant narrative, and thus the dominant culture in which we live. Through critically unpacking the popular media that inform our worldviews, we’re better placed to more fully humanise ourselves. We can better understand what is served up to us, whose interests it seeks to serve, and our shared need to use our minds, voices and actions to eliminate or rewire these divisive anti-human or anti-other undercurrents.

Thinking critically together, we can challenge ourselves and others into new ways of interrogating, making sense of what confronts us, recognising other possibilities – and taking collective action to respond. A vital part of rethinking, together and alone, is to also refract the critical lens upon ourselves – to identify and unpack our own prejudice and privilege. This calls for deep thinking and honesty, for our willingness to acknowledge that our own lives are complicit in where the life of the nation, the planet and its people are at. Sources like creative arts can ignite constructive, creative thinking. Music, performance and literature can spark insights and new appreciation, in ways that regular servings of media in their sanitised, neo-liberalised presentations cannot.

Exposing ourselves to others’ ways of seeing life and its crises, and revealing our own ways to others, may seriously challenge most of us. But I think it’s an important step in developing empathy, capacity and will for collective remedial action. This is action that rejects war and cultivates peace, that nurtures the irritations of resistance and civil disobedience into pearls of civic-minded behaviour caring for all people and planet. Importantly then, a 21st century update on Marx: imaginations of the world, unite!

An exciting place for learning, thinking and imagining collectively is the IPAN (Independent and Peaceful Australia Network) National Conference 2017 in Melbourne on 8, 9 & 10 September 2017. Its theme: War, Peace & Independence: Keep Australia out of US Wars.

To register for the conference

Maureen Todhunter is an academic copy editor and member of Just Peace Qld


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