Honouring the dead

How fast the seasons are turning now; how fast the corporate wheels are spinning, winding us more tightly into their web, as store-bought drifts of fake spider silk and other kitsch trappings swamp ever more suburban front yards across Sydney, appearing (like Christmas and Easter merchandise) earlier each year. No doubt those parents shepherding flocks of young trick-or-treaters through local streets intend only innocent fun. Yet isn’t Halloween as hollow and mindless as Australia Day (if less offensive), in its ignorance of, for starters, geography, history and other cultures?

An ancient northern-hemisphere pagan harvest festival (before its Christian appropriation as All Hallows’ Eve), the late-autumn celebration of Samhain honoured the souls of the dead. But dressing up in a mass-produced costume, posing for and then posting photos, and cadging candy off neighbours (or strangers) with tacky themed displays, reflects only the deadness of Oz culture in its shallow grave. Because even if this consumerist frolic wasn’t six months out of sync, what does it have to do with the traditions of the land we inhabit?

‘Globalisation’, suggestive of a level (if not a flat) playing field, sounds as value-neutral as ‘climate change’. So ‘global capitalism’, like ‘global warming’, makes for a more precise definition of human failure to set constructive limits – because corporations exist solely to seize more money and control. As technology gets updated, with convenience for bait, so does corporate surveillance. We trade our rapidly dwindling privacy and anonymity for fantasies of greater opportunity and efficiency, trusting more and more of our resources to the cloud, corporate control of which frees us from the burden of ownership (so we can, say, repeatedly pay licensing fees rather than buy our own programs).

Is this freedom? Well, our companion animals don’t own their toys and accessories either; we do. OK, ideally, we also protect them. But as our culture has progressively indulged a sentimental attachment to pets, we’ve grown to more closely resemble them: confined, obedient, dumbly domesticated – not seeing that the shadow of our pampering is indifference to the torments suffered by the creatures we eat. Meanwhile, as we consume far more than we need, as if there were no tomorrow and no context (e.g., vast waste and abject degradation), the corporations are eating us: picking our brains, spitting out our souls, and alienating us from our bodies.

The other day a friend sent me a link to a video that epitomises how our online network accords all information the same status, enabling bizarre category mistakes. Well-known Indigenous activist David Cole talks about protecting tribal people from genocide – and no wonder, given our history or just the stats on Indigenous deaths in custody. And Cole’s call for black and white to unite and get rid of multinationals shouldn’t estrange a left-leaning audience. But less than four minutes in, he mentions the New World Order’s intent ‘to depopulate the planet and take over all the lands, steal the resources, reduce the numbers down to a manageable amount so that they can have their employment slaves while they go forward with their sick agendas…’ With visuals that include Masonic symbolism, a smiling Bill Gates and his wife, the usual suspects, you can guess where he’s going… Mark McMurtrie of the Original Sovereign Tribal Federation compares Covid to the common cold, then dismisses its existence as just a new name for flu. The truth in this sensationalistic video – misconceived, naïve and contradictory as its details may be – is that corporations are devastating our planet. But that message is lost on ABC News, so Cole stands accused of spreading dangerous vaccine misinformation. If an extraterrestrial anthropologist were to undertake a study of Western culture in 2021, they might well note its worship of medical science, and take vaccination for an emergent religion, with heretics seemingly willing to die or at least face exile for their unbelief.

So, what sort of god are we following by rolling up our sleeves? At first, this deity – via its high priests, hosted by the mass media – promised to keep the faithful safe. But now, with ‘breakthrough infections’ (e.g., a fully vaxxed neighbour of mine), that assurance has been scaled down to survival, as workers loath to bare their arms at the altar of Big Pharma are threatened with loss of livelihood. Vaccination is a jealous god. And so is Pfizer, which demands to be shielded from civil liability in return for blessing us sooner with cheaper vaccines. Pfizer gets to call the shots (no pun intended) because of its size. Governments have about as much say in such deals as an author signing a contract with one of the ‘Big 5’ (or 4?) publishers. Small presses, which might aim for higher quality with less artistic compromise, are constrained by smaller budgets. In contrast, public health is big business.

The last time I visited my mother’s nursing home, I was left alone with her for as long as it took the RN to pack up her personal effects. Except for her clothes. The RN asked me what I wanted done with them. Or so I guessed. Her broken English was muffled by her thick mask and face shield. I suggested the clothes might be of use to other residents. The RN protested. I pointed out that most of them weren’t my mother’s anyway, those had disappeared over the course of three+ years, but the RN looked uncomprehending, and no doubt my own mask and face shield didn’t help. And as for why I’d needed to don the latter along with an outsized gown, yet hadn’t been issued with gloves, or why I’d been rushed to my mother’s shared room without even a temperature check, yet forbidden to see her except via Zoom for the last three months…? If the nursing home’s protocols don’t make sense (as I may have intimated to another RN when informed of my mother’s death), it’s because they’re subject to public health orders. Nor could I understand why my mother’s supposedly sudden demise apparently took nursing home staff by surprise, having observed her decline for several weeks on my laptop screen, yet at least I know staff genuinely cared about her and strove to keep her contented. That’s the beauty of a not-for-profit organisation with an ethos of supporting community; staff might be overworked and underpaid but they’re kind and compassionate – unlike the figureheads responsible for public health. Capitalist values infect all aspects of our society. Big publishers and Big Pharma alike prioritise profit. Corporations care about their shareholders, not customers, even if the latter happen to be governments. How many books or products live up to their promise? Whether the hype is designed to sell escapist entertainment or personal safety and protection, the fantasy on offer soon fades. And a sequel or booster will be produced to renew it.

Death – like our aged-care ghettos where too many go to await it – is typically veiled (or obscured, as with Holloween) in the West despite, or because, its cold reality (vs. the abstract statistical threat of it) has the power to restore perspective. Outside of commercial fiction, happy endings are few and far between. Did my mother’s corpse look peaceful? No. Still, she didn’t suffer, staff told me, eager to offer comfort – something I wasn’t allowed to offer my mother.

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1 Response to Honouring the dead

  1. Thank you, I felt relieve at the suggestion that vaccination seems like an “emergent religion“ as that’s how I’m experiencing the scene.
    Your experience of your mother’s death carries so many realities of living and dying in 2021, so deeply removed from the essence of being human …connection and presence.

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