Thursday, February 26, 2015

It's not a bug, it's a feature

In a profession for which dishonesty is common currency, from a government to whom the big lie comes more naturally than the blue tie, there are few falsehoods more pernicious, malicious and grotesque than this: that what occurs to asylum seekers in detention is a cause for sorrow.

Assaults on detainees? Murders? Suicides? Children driven to madness and self-harm? Terribly unfortunate, they will tell you, a saddening byproduct of policies put in place for the greater good. The current government preens and boasts that there are fewer children in detention under them than under the previous regime - we are caring more for these youngsters, they proclaim, we are lessening their suffering through our efficiency, strength and compassion.

The idea is that what happens to these children - and moreover to their parents, their siblings, and anyone else caught up in the gears of the detention machine - is terrible but unavoidable as long as people insist on coming by boat, and the only way to stop it is to stop those boats. We do not abuse these children, the government gasps - heavens NO! In fact we work assiduously to prevent the abuse. By...stopping the boats, of course.

Except, of course, they do not. Oh yes, they try to stop the boats; they will strain every sinew and work from dawn to dusk in the interests of boat-stopping. And yes, if the boats don't come, the detention centres don't fill up, in the same way that a prison will be closed down if you shoot all the criminals.

But don't let yourself believe for one second that when people do come by boat, when they do end up in the centres, that what happens there is by chance and not by design. What you read about what happens in these hideous places is exactly what is supposed to happen: pain, fear and anguish amounting to mass torture. When you hear that people from far-off lands who tried to reach our shores are being beaten or raped, that those paid to protect them are brutalising them, that their sanity is slipping irretrievably away, that small children are giving up on life and wishing for death...

When you are made aware of all this, don't let yourself believe that any of it is, to the slightest degree, in opposition to the government's plans. In fact, nothing could be more convenient for them. If the Immigration Minister did not specifically plan for the facilities under his control to become playgrounds for child abusers, it certainly worked out beautifully for his stated aims.

This is the entire purpose of the detention centres: they are there to cause suffering. They are there to ruin lives. They are there to turn existence into a waking nightmare for all who are imprisoned. They are there, most of all, to inspire terror across the world. They are designed to make even the most desperate and miserable of our planet's inhabitants accept their lot. They are calculated to cause people who see their future as so bleak and hopeless, if they stay where they are, that they will risk their own and their families' lives in dreadful ocean journeys, to believe that bleak and hopeless future is still preferable to what will be done to them in an Australian detention centre.

The system was set up specifically to inform anyone thinking of hopping on a boat in an attempt to make a better life in Australia that what we will do to you and your children is so awful that giving up on a better life altogether is a preferable option.

That is the intention. That is what the government is doing. And assaults, abuse, suicide and murder fit the plan to perfection.

It's not a bug, it's a feature. And it seems to be working quite marvellously well.

Not working to save lives, of course. Not working to help people. Not working to increase the net happiness in the world, or reduce the net unhappiness, by even the most infinitesimal amount.

But working to stop the boats? Yes.

Working to ensure we don't have to worry about unruly foreigners scurrying around in our nice clean country without the proper paperwork? Absolutely.

Working to make sure that any refugees who die do so neatly and well out of sight, fading away in foreign lands without hope or relief or meeting their fate in perilous voyages to countries yet to inspire as much fear as Australia does, beyond the reach of photographers who can remind us of the uncomfortable facts of the world? Without a shadow of a doubt.

It works to keep people in their place. It works to save us the bother of caring for anyone different to ourselves. It works to cement the idea in the local populace that the government in well-fed, luxurious Australia has the right to tell people in less luxurious places - who want to try for a share of the riches that are ours by nothing more than dumb blind luck - that they are unfit to make any decisions about what risks might be worthwhile taking to improve their lot in life or build a future for their families.

Cruelty is government policy. Not secretly, but trumpeted from the rooftops as proof of our rulers' muscular competency. Not cruel to be kind, but cruel to be terrifying: so terrifying that eventually we won't have to actually inflict the cruelty; the knowledge of how cruel we are will be enough to keep everyone well away from us.

And the best part? There's nothing we can do about it. We can complain, we can protest, we can rage and we can harangue - and we should do all these things because they are the only things we can do. But we are outnumbered, and outgunned. Cruelty is popular and terror is beloved. At the next election one side might win, or the other might, but either way the ship of state will continue serenely on its current bearing, steadfast in the now-indisputable view that brutality is the only way to protect this country from whatever it is we were told we needed to be protected from, all those years ago.

Vicious, sadistic, unapologetic abuse of the innocent is now bipartisan, and for the foreseeable future, immovable and untouchable as the foundational principle of strong government. So ingrained is it that we'll be complimentary of the man or woman who wears a sad face while they torture. We'll appreciate the leader who we believe abuses out of a fear of polls rather than a native hatred. We'll be grateful for mercies so small they can't even be seen.

The world will move on, and the atrocities will continue, and the sadness of the world will grow. We must keep speaking and we must keep hoping that the tide will turn some day. We have to believe that a sliver of decency can find its way through.

Or maybe we won't. Maybe we'll grow to accept this all as so many of our countrymen and women have, and one day it'll seem normal, and we'll end up nodding wisely and saying, like good patriots, "Mm, strong borders. Has to be done."

But what we can't do, what we can't forget, ever, is that this is not happening by accident. This is not a side-effect of necessary measures. Always, always remember: what is happening in those godforsaken camps is exactly what our leaders want to happen.

Suffering is the heart of their plan, and they will go to their graves clutching it fondly to themselves, smiling at how well they handed it out.


Anne said...

Oh Ben. This is heartrending because it is so true.

Jojo said...

I can't believe that this government isn't actually swinging from lamp-posts.

Roshy said...

That was hard to read because it was so true.