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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Review That Is Two Books Wide

I have just finished reading Eva Ibbotson's "Island of the Aunts" and am continuing to read Bob Brown's "Memo for a Saner World". I wish it were the other way around. It is one of life's cruel ironies that the books we enjoy take so little time to read compared to the books we detest.
Let us consider the books alongside one another for a moment:

Island of the AuntsMemo for a Saner World
- Written for Children

- Fictional

- Clearly links the characters actions with consequences
- Written for Green Party members

- A mixture of political propaganda, socialist rhetoric, and half-remembered fact

- Blames abstract entity called 'the market' for just about everything.


Although on the surface the two books may seem identical, this is not really the case. While one book contains a number of insane characters with dysfunctional personalities, who cannot recognise the obvious difference between myth and reality. Eva Ibbotson's book, on the other hand, remains largely free of politicians. One book inspires you with hope and confidence in the resilience of imagination, ingenuity, and the human spirit. By contrast, Bob Brown's book isn't nearly so enjoyable.

Of course, reading these two books concurrently, or nearly concurrently - as I did - can lead to some confusion between the musings of Bob Ibbotson and the reflections of Eva Brown. Let us, for a few moments, indulge in some close analysis of the texts in order to deepen our confusion. "Island of the Bobs", then, opens with a discussion about the blockade of the Franklin River in the 1980s and ends with the appearance of 'The Kraken', a creature who eats John Howard live before setting the world's ecosystem to rights. By contrast, "Memo for a Saner Aunt" opens with three Aunts lilving together on a desert island who decide to kidnap some children. Later, the kidnapped children are set to work helping animals, planting trees, signing petitions, performing sit-down protests in the Tarkine Forest, and interrupting speeches by foreign dignitaries in the Australian Parliament.

In the end, however, it's silly to talk about these books in the second-hand when the books themselves can do just that: speak about themselves, in the second-hand. Let me read you two quotes from the book. I have made a few minor editorial changes for greater clarity:

From Ibbotson's book: or is it Browns?
But he wouldn't put on any clothes. None of them would put on any clothes.
"I'm afraid you must take us as you find us. This is the nudist colony; we believe most strongly that our Creator wants us to keep our bodies open to the air and light.

Long ago I ceased to believe in religious dogma. What I do see is the continual unfolding of the human spirit, or consciousness, and an awareness greater than that in any other creature on earth. The universe, through us, is evolving towards experiencing, understanding and making choices about its future. We are the universe thinking.
In fact, we would be grateful if you too would take off your clothes. It is a rule of the island that no-one who comes here keeps his skin muffled in unhealthy garments.

From Brown's book (or did I mean Ibbotson)?
"Each generation has moved a little closer to being us. We, in turn, will die in order to allow the species evolve through future generations.
That way, we can choose the ones who are suitable," said Aunt Etta. She was the eldest - a tall, bony woman who did fifty press-ups before breakfast and had a small but not at all unpleasant moustache on her upper lip.
"The alternative to death is for you and I never to have existed. Death is life's bargain."

So, as I was saying, despite the superficial difference, deep down these two books share a huge similarity: Eva Ibbotson's "Island of the Aunts" is far, far superior to Bob Brown's "Memo for a Saner World". If you doubt the political, grammatical, or logical nature of my assessment there, just read the books. And by 'the books', plural, I mean 'Eva Ibbotson's books'; she's good. No need to worry so much about the collected musings of Bob Brown.


This book has been read by almost every Green Party member across the country.


This book should be.

30 comments:

Don Quixote said...

"Blames abstract entity called 'the market' for just about everything."

Substitute the word 'blames' with the word 'thanks' in that sentence and you've neatly summed up the belief structure of the Liberal party. But your disdain for the worship of abstract concepts does not flow both ways it seems.

I do, however, wish that some on the left in general and some in the green movement in particular would drop their socialist infatuations. Open markets -- accompanied by government oversight, good parallel government services, and a moderate redistribution program -- are the ticket. And only a free flow of capital will help us fight global warming, that media conspiracy which all the scientists are getting hoodwinked into believing.

TimT said...

Most right-wingers have a rhetoric problem, it's true, in that they keep on talking about 'the market' in abstract terms. In the 19th and 18th centuries - the formative eras of free trade - the language was much more down to earth and attractive. All the talk then was about 'free commerce between nations', 'the creation of wealth'. And think of all the folk stories that have young men* setting off into the world to 'make their fortune'. Essentially I agree with you, free trade and free movement of capital, coupled with government services, is the way to go for now.

*Unless, presumably, Mary Wollstonecraft was the person telling the folk stories.

tdix said...

I'm no complainer -- but saner??
It's a deadset no-brainer.

TimT said...

You couldn't be plainer, in the main-er.

alexis said...

This talk of freely flowing capital seems as much a rhetorical sleight of hand as talk of a morally culpable market. Capital doesn't flow freely, even in the most deregulated economy; it's manoeuvered by generally self-interested individuals, with the assistance of an ever-dupable hoard of workers, talked into spending their wages on things they don't need to replace the things they don't need that became obsolete three days after purchase.

As for "the media" conspiring on global warming, which media? Who owns it? And why is it in the interests of media owners for us to consume less of the stuff they say causes the earth to heat? And how would unregulated media ownership (which I presume is what you mean by the free flow of capital) make for the kind of media that wouldn't want to lie to us about this? (From what I can tell, deregulation of media ownership *reduces* media diversity.)

TimT said...

DQ is being sarcastic, he accepts global warming theory.

alexis said...

Oh. Ahem. Sarcasm, you say. Cough. Quite. Um. Right. Thanks. Too many soybeans. They shrink the brain. It's tough being an earnest bolshevik; you start hallucinating global-warming conspiracy theorists at every turn.

*walks out backwards, blushing*

TimT said...

Think nothing of it. I made some stewed apple the other night and poured in too many cloves, which I think may have had a similar hallucinogenic effect on me. If you'd like some of that (it's still in the fridge) help yourself.

Then I'll tell you about my own personal conspiracy theories...

alexis said...

Quite a tempting proposition, actually, the stewed apple, the hallucinogenic effect, and the conspiracy theories.

Anyway, better too many cloves than unlicensed nudity.

alexis said...

In defence of my misinterpretation, the preceding sentence, which you, Tim, seem to go on to agree with, appears to be sincere. Or is Donkey Oaty being ironic there too? Come to think of it, is this whole post a parody? Are you actually an anarcho-Marxist, posing as a conservative libertarian Bob-Brown critic?

Pass me some stewed apple.

TimT said...

Cloved, I presume?

Yeah, I like the free market, simply because I support political and personal liberty. I think it would be inconsistent to *not* support economic liberties. Especially since those economic liberties include things as simple as going to the shop and buying a bunch of grapes. I think liberty is an either/or thing: you can't be half-free, which is why it seems to me that regulation, economic or otherwise, has to be pretty much kept to a minimum. It's perhaps a little idealistic of me, but hey, that's my privilege - like most of the economic experts around these days, I have not done economics even to a high-school level.

As to global warming, I must admit that I do harbour doubts about the veracity of certain newspapers, wherein the editors cheerfully prognosticate doom for us all that more sceptical scientists usually fail to mention in their predictions.

alexis said...

Y'see, I don't support the free market, because I support political and personal liberty. A free market means government by the people who sell stuff and by those who can afford to buy it. The third-world teenager, meanwhile, has the dizzying personal liberty of working at starvation wages sewing another shirt that noone really needs. Of course, we cashed-up consumers could decide to dictate policy to her employers by boycotting their shirts, but we're too busy enjoying the fact that they cost $30 less than their counterparts made by non-sweatshop-workers in Australia. Here, if we had the government I want, it would flounce in and announce a moratorium on imports made by workers who aren't paid above a subsistence wage. The government has to do that, because we, the market, won't; it needs to do it to protect the personal liberty of the third-world teenager to eat - enough, if not grapes.

Then there's the personal liberty of chooks, not to have to spend their lives with their feet growing into the wire at the bottom of their cages, unable to stretch their wings, and pecking out each others' feathers. Sure, in a free market, there'll be some demand for free range eggs by conscientious egg-eaters with a bit more money to spend; that'll put a tiny dent in a massive industry; but to achieve liberty for these hens, we can't rely on the free market; there needs to be legislative change, regulating how farmers treat their hens.

I don't think it's especially idealistic to want your liberty to buy cheap eggs and shirts obtaining over the liberty of the third-world teenager to get enough to eat or over the liberty of the hen to be anything more than an egg-laying machine. The kind of liberty you're talking about gives liberty to the powerful and the monied to exploit the powerless and the monied. It justifies this with stories of upward mobility and the myth that if the third-world teenager had enough of the enterprising spirit, he'd be able to walk out one day and set up his own factory.

Yes, cloved, thanks.

alexis said...

p.s.: "the powerless and the unmonied"

p.p.s.: I, also, haven't touched so much as a highschool economics textbook with a barge pole; it probably shows

p.p.s.: I suggest you instate a word limit on comments

TimT said...

But the more regulation you give to the market, the more power and liberty falls into the hands of one institution, and one institution only - government. It makes no sense protecting people against the monopolising power of big businesses by giving so much power to a government that it, in effect, becomes - an economic monopoly. And even if the regulations of the economy don't go this far, they will still tend to have a far worse effect on small business and ordinary working people than the rich.

A moratorium on trade with countries that pay under a certain wage would probably have the opposite effects to those desired: those in the third world would lose their jobs (which are often preferred to other jobs, because the wages paid by multinationals are usually higher than local wages). And - because we spend more money on products that we could have got cheaper - our economy suffers, and people here lose jobs. Nope, I think the kind of regulation that you propose is bad in theory and bad in practice.

Upward mobility isn't just a myth - compare the lift in incomes in western Europe post WWII to the lift in incomes in Eastern Europe: I know, I know, it's the classic 'socialism vs. capitalism' comparison, but it's an important one.

TimT said...

(That comment may have made no sense. I had to save it on the net until I got home from work. )

Anonymous said...

read nickel and dimed in america if you want to see a free market in action hey?
http://www.pbs.org/now/commentary/ehrenreich.html
some get very rich and many are very poor. capital is doing quite nicely thanks
fran (really nor trying to start a political argument here:)

alexis said...

“A moratorium on trade with countries that pay under a certain wage would probably have the opposite effects to those desired: those in the third world would lose their jobs (which are often preferred to other jobs, because the wages paid by multinationals are usually higher than local wages). And - because we spend more money on products that we could have got cheaper - our economy suffers, and people here lose jobs. Nope, I think the kind of regulation that you propose is bad in theory and bad in practice.”

The prices of imports wouldn’t have to go up; there is the (yes, I admit, unpalatable) alternative of the corporation's profit margin going down. Tough cheese, Mr Corporation. If the prices of particular imported commodities did go up enough, though, then we would simply stop importing ‘em. We would either give up consuming unnecessary cheap tat or we’d manufacture it ourselves (the way we used to, when we had secondary industry). Our balance of trade would benefit, and this would be good for our economy (if I must), and people wouldn’t lose their jobs. Which brings me to my next point, and the least arguable of everything I say here, viz., Australians are already losing their jobs because their employers can get cheaper labour overseas. And now for my obligatory William Blake quotation, "The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of construction".

Yours, aspiring to wrathful tigerdom,
A. Harlot.

alexis said...

The horses of INSTRUCTION, dammit. I've been spending too much time worrying about the carpenters' union.

TimT said...

Okay, so if corporations aren't able to outsource manufacturing jobs to other countries, and they aren't able to choose products from other countries according to price, then that will directly impact their profit margin. And because it directly impacts their profit margin, they will have less to spend in the Australian economy! Who is to tell if the benefits you outline outweigh the deficits I've just described?

This is the difficulty planned socialist economies run into time and time again: the complexities in plannning multiply exponentially, and the planners, unsurprisingly, find themselves incapable of dealing with them.

The economy suffers, people lose their jobs, prices rise, etc, etc, etc.

And I haven't even gone into what might happen to those in the third-world who had previously profited from this trade between countries!

I'm impressed you ended your post with a Blake quote, in line with my suggested Comment Policy above. I'll end mine with a Mae West quote:

"I've been rich, and I've been poor, and honey, let me tell you something: rich is better."

alexis said...

You're right, Sir T, the complexities are ... complex. I am in no position to foresee the implications of the implications of the implications of tinkering here and there. But I do want an acknowledgement that leaving things untinkered with is not the same thing as ensuring "personal and political freedom". Where, for instance, is the personal and political freedom in endentured child labour (which has only ended - insofar as it has ended - because governments have made it illegal)?

My signature Blake quotation: "Every harlot was a virgin once."

TimT said...

And that is why there should be some regulation.

alexis said...

Oh, all right then; if you're going to be all moderate and sensible and I can't totally demonize your position, then I'm giving up. Which is not the same as saying that I am abandoning my vague intuition that there is someone out there who could put forward a convincing case for socialising most industry and totally rejigging the way the world works. And as you seem to have stopped quoting Mae West, I'll give Blake a rest.

TimT said...

I was going to make a Mae West pun relating to the floppy hat jokes above - 'Is that a floppy hat in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?' But that would just seem silly.

If some of the chaps from Catallaxy were over here, doubtless they would be able to furnish me with several examples of the collapse of the floppy-hat market in the USSR due to the growing Soviet bureaucracy, thus furnishing me with a context for the joke. Alas, no.

alexis said...

Right. 'Fraid I keep neither my pleasure nor my hat in my pocket. It's the old anatomy that's the trouble (that, and the size of my pocket vis à vis the size of my hat).

Sounds like the Catallaxy chaps and I would get on like a whole row of houses on fire.

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