Life Day

Not so long ago, in a galaxy not so very far away, modern mythology was born. Let me explain…

“You must unlearn what you have learned.” – Yoda.

In living memory in Australia, LGBT people were bashed and murdered in streets, homes, public transport or parks – as they are today in nations across Africa or Eastern Europe or the Middle East. Back in the 1990s, possibly fuelled by AIDSphobia, the threats of violence were so pronounced in Melbourne that LGBT people were encouraged to carry a whistle at night.

Around the time I was born, a lawyer in Britain wrote a book about human injustice, and he called for a worldwide amnesty for everyone who was imprisoned for political reasons. This led to the establishment of Amnesty International, a worldwide organisation that has traditionally fought for human rights. My involvement with that organisation probably peaked in 2011 when I was able to secure the publication of an Australian stamp to mark the 50th anniversary of AI.

At the height of the great epidemic of our lifetime – not, not COVID but that other one – millions of people died while millions more continue to live on with the virus. During what should have been my halcyon years, while my friends were dying and the rest of us were fighting for our lives and civil rights, we learnt to pause and rest and light a candle or sew a quilt panel in remembrance.

How does this relate to modern mythology? On this day – ‘Life Day‘ in the mythology of Star Wars – it seems fitting to reflect upon how our culture is predicated so much upon war and violence and death, but like the Jedi, we can turn our thoughts and efforts into positivity.

To quote other characters from another science fiction franchise:

“I think that one day they’re going to take all the money that they spend now on war and death…”
“And make them spend it on life.”

‘City of the Edge of Forever’, Star Trek TOS.

In traditional Christianity, the bell, book and candle were used to excommunicate someone and effectively ‘cancel’ them from their family, their faith network, and their hope in eternity. In less superstitious times as these, I use the same items to reflect on our modern life.

The modern-day counterpart of a bell – the whistle – is today used as a search and rescue instrument to help save lives, and as a symbol of heralding in new ideas and new life. Three decades ago, whistles were blown to protect my friends and me as we walked down streets at night; four years ago we metaphorically blew those same whistles to herald marriage equality. Whistles can even be heard across the African landscape where my LGBT family still face murder and attack. Change is coming.

The book? As we live and breathe the book is being rewritten for human rights in our world. Even those who do not understand human rights: the anti vaxxers and anti maskers who seek to redefine their narcissism as universal human rights; the despots who seek to rewrite human freedoms in their own image; and the religious bigots who seek to perpetuate discrimination under the guise of ‘religious freedoms’ – they all hijack the language and concepts of human rights to conform to their narrow reinterpretations. But they will not win. The arrow of history inexorably points towards progress.

And the candle? It remains the hopeful symbol of light in the darkness, a voice in a wilderness radiating hope and enlightenment.

The power of mythology can even be found in populist modern literary material that is known for its propensity towards space opera and war – and enables us to see and hear the cosmos through new perspectives, offering us a Manichean celebration of life and positivity as demonstrated in Wookieepedia:

Life Day was a Wookiee holiday celebrated by the inhabitants of Kashyyyk. It was a celebration of the planet’s diverse ecosystem and the many forms of life it encompassed. It was also a time to remember family members who had died, and the young ones who continued to bring new life to a family.

Life Day offers us a new perspective on this planet: groaning under the weight of difficulties but also shining as a bright orb of life and hope in a cold and dark cosmos. Enjoy the symbolism, live the potential. Happy Life Day.

©2021 Geoff Allshorn

The World At War

I never met my grandfather (see the picture of him during WW1), because he died years before I was born, but one family story is that he used to have fun at parties telling people that he and my grandmother had met in an insane asylum – because they had. Both of them had been psychiatric nurses dealing with the trauma of shattered bodies and minds among returned soldiers after the so-called Great War.

Two decades later during World War Two, my other grandfather served as a volunteer fireman during the Blitz in England. He was often called to go out and extinguish fires at night after buildings had suffered from bomb damage. One night, according to family lore, he returned home greatly distressed – a bomb had hit an air raid shelter and killed many men, women, children and babies, and he had been forced to help sift through the rubble and carnage.

This is the reality – for all our admiration of Star Wars movies and Rambo flicks, for all our cultural hero worship of ANZACs and the Battle of Britain and the Trojan War, the reality is that war is hell. People and other living creatures suffer and die. Certain nations may boast of their military spending and campaigns, but they are actually making profit from the death of others.

But there is a greater reality – whether climate change (war against the environment) or politics (war against civic society) or world poverty (war on equality) or nature (war for survival).

Richard Dawkins summarises the reality of nature:

“The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease…”

-Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life

The animal world is hell, and humans are part of that natural world – so why should the human world be any different?

The answer is obvious: because we can make it better. We have the capacity and therefore the moral responsibility. Our basic human intellect and ethics should make us not only humanist but also sentientist.

The war continues every day. What did you do during the war?

©2021 Geoff Allshorn