Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The personal and political and the personal political

Reading about the live export ban, animal rescue and various other things has made me mull on my conflicting personal moral/ethical views, and more pragmatic understanding about ‘the way things work’. As usually, writing through it has opened a can of worms in my head, and left me reeling (again) about whether to go vegan or eat a chicken sandwich.

Working in government has jolted me into a greater appreciation for how hamstrung the lumbering beast can be, by interests, pressure groups, un-explored but promised policies, and its own modus operandi. Questions and issues for which, on a personal level, I can supply clear and logical answers, become stilted by the complexity and links that I know are the real factors. As a result, I don’t know where I sit, and whether I sit in different places depending on whether I’m navel gazing or reacting to simplistic proposals and ideas by people who tend to be on my side. I’m antagonistic, and in my head, wont to argue more fiercely with people in my camp, who are so narrow in their thinking that they make us look ridiculous to the other side.

For example, the live cattle export ban, and the meat and dairy industries more generally. My own ethics and attitudes have prevented me from eating meat since the age of 14, and on one level, would love to see these industries disappear. Factory faming, animal cruelty, and the way that meat is considered in this country have made me repulsed for years. But at the same time, I know that in holding these views I am in the minority, and that there is more to these industries than cruelty. While they may be based on what I consider to be a wasteful and horrific practice, it is a practice that supports and is supported by the broader community.

It would be ridiculous to ignore the broader economic and social implications of shutting down the industry. While on one hand I don’t consider that the industry, and anything associated with it should be supported, the pragmatic side of me knows that this would be selfish and untenable in itself.

The issue lies in the ‘and then what’. What happens to the industry, its employees, infrastructure, to the supporting and complementary industries. To the cattle, to the
employees in Indonesia, to the trade and other relations between Indonesia and Australia, and Australia and the other countries in the region. The unintended consequences and the immediate consequences, the structures built around them – they don’t also disappear, or not without bringing something crashing down around them.

My instinct is to think so broadly about the effects of any action or conclusion, that any movement at all carries so much consequence that doing anything is wrong. Which is so at odds with my instinct and anger that there are even abattoirs in the first place.

Actually writing through these things makes them seem childish and banal – as if what I am grappling with is the tension between holding on to a childish sentiment and “growing up”, living in the real world. Perhaps that’s partly it, but that also implies that growing up means leaving behind any sense of morality and real desire and incentive to do or change anything. It may even be some variation of Stockholm Syndrome, whereby having worked in government, and knowing the complexity surrounding any Big Issues, to really grapple with them seems futile.

What I don’t understand is how to marry these, holding personal tendencies and beliefs, knowing that they are untenable on a broader scale. Does that mean that they are purely untenable, and what does that mean for my own attitudes and beliefs? What should the interplay be between the real, broad scale implications of a view, and that same view when held on a personal, smaller scale?

Is this balance really what divides people into opposing camps – be they left/right, or something else. Is it on par with something like the philosophy of short term loss for long term gain, and people’s propensity to fall on one side of it. And am I really just a fence sitter in the guise of a bleeding heart, because it makes me feel better? I have never considered that because a decision or action isn’t going to have a flow on or broader effect, it’s not worth taking. I believe in acting on my morals and making decisions accordingly, and that to do otherwise would be hypocritical. But upon interrogating what I believe, perhaps I’m just as hypocritical, only worse, because judgmental as well.

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