Last week I did an event at the Emerging Writers Festival, called Letters to the West, where “The panel will reveal their relationship with the West through their missives. Will it be a love letter, a memory or a complaint? What does the West mean to them? Simply a location or an ideology, even a character in their lives?”. You can read more here.
I spent forever writing my letter, and got a heap of help from kind editor Patrick Allington, so it seemed a pity to just chuck the now-read letter in the bin. Instead, here it is. Sorry about the fury.
Dear the West,
How are you doing? Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I can’t get back to sleep and I lie there and think about how strange it is, being so utterly alone. Does that ever happen to you?
Do you miss the East? Remember those guys? Their broad shoulders. Their distant gaze. Their hammers and sickles and over-the-top moustaches. They sure could engineer a famine. Everything feels kind of empty and pointless now they’re gone, don’t you think?
We’re all flailing around a bit without them. Let me give you an example. Just the other week, commentator Annabel Crabb wrote that the Green party’s change of leadership had ‘a whiff of Moscow’ about it. She didn’t go on to explain what she meant, but I’m pretty sure she wasn’t suggesting the Greens were a bunch of bare-chested billionaire oligarchs with a passion for riding bears and shooting whales. I think she was calling them Communists.
Why would a modern woman like Ms Crabb have to hark back to the Soviet putschs of 1937 for a decent simile? It’s because the East was the last worthy enemy we had. Since you ran them out of town, the West, what have you offered us instead? Nothing. Sure, you tried to convince us Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was the new evil empire at least twice. And what is it now? ISIS? Boats? Imported frozen berries? Halal Vegemite? I can hardly keep track. Really, it’s no wonder that when Ms Crabb needed an aspersion, her first thought was the Stalinists.
Look, we want to believe you when you tell us ISIS threatens everything we stand for, we do. But as a friend I feel I should tell you: you’re being a bit pathetic. I know: you’re lonely. I understand. You want there to be someone out there for you. An equal. A worthy combatant. A whole-hearted frenemy, someone as obsessed with you as you are with them. Someone who wonders what you’re wearing tomorrow and whether they can upstage you.
I really don’t think it’s been good for you, or for any of us, this being alone. We’ve forgotten how to imagine other ways of living. We’ve got no one to compare ourselves to any more, no one to push us to be our best selves. We’ve gotten lazy and narrow-minded and complacent. We can only see what’s in front of us and say ‘I want more of that’ – more free downloadable TV, more pulled-pork sliders, more peak-hour services on the Sunbury line – or ‘I want less of that’- less live export of animals, less murdering of women, less existential terror. When did we lose the ability to say, ‘maybe things would be better if we had this other thing entirely’? For example, why can’t we say, ‘maybe capitalism isn’t capable of giving us satisfying, dignified lives and it’s time to try something else.’
Seriously, let’s talk about capitalism, the West. Rolling it out across the world was the point of the whole exercise, wasn’t it? And now you’ve done it I guess you must feel pretty proud of yourself. But I’m not sure it’s turning out that great. Of course, if your intention was to give all the power and all the money to a tiny percentage of the population who would set about ruining the world for every other person and species for the rest of eternity then props to you: nice work. But if you were – like you said – more into freedom and democracy and a decent standard of living for everyone, a life where people could say and be what they wanted without losing their job and getting thrown in the gulag, where everyone could choose between sliced white and artisan spelt rather than moldy bread or no bread, well, I’m not sure we’re quite there yet.
Now that the East is gone, now that you’ve won, shouldn’t our lives be all about freedom and choice? But when we want an alternative way of living, what are our options? I guess we could ditch the iPhone and get a Samsung. Switch to Bonsoy. That might help.
I mean, you’d have never settled for this travesty of freedom back when you had some competition, would you? You wouldn’t have shut off the water to poor neighbourhoods in Detroit or tried to set a six-month waiting period for unemployment benefits in Australia. Not back then; not when people could say ‘sure, they may not have CD walkmen or hypercolor t-shirts, but have you seen their incredible free healthcare? If this is the best you can offer me, maybe I’d rather be a Communist…’
Is this really how you wanted it to be, the West? Is this the future you were dreaming of when 28 years ago you heard Ronald Reagan demanding, ‘Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!’ I bet you were a bit teary-eyed back then, weren’t you. I bet you actually believed, for a minute, that it was going to be a bright and glorious future of freedom and wellbeing for all humans. Did you? Or is this what you wanted all along, the West? A little club of rich mates owning both sides of politics and most of the media in pretty much every country on earth? A fancy new morality where pushing boatloads of people out to sea to drown is a great way to prevent drowning deaths? A society where slave workers are imported from Asia and raped by their bosses so we can have cheaper tomatoes? A populace that sees catastrophic melting of the polar ice sheets and thinks ‘well it’d be lovely to do something about it, but not if it means paying $2.50 extra on my power bill’? Is this really the absolute best you can manage, the West? Or do you reckon that now you’re running the entire fucking world you could maybe, I don’t know, try a tiny little bit harder?
Anyway, sorry, god, bit of a tangent there. I was actually writing because I need to get my Northern Exposure box set back. Would that be cool? Mum and dad are leaving for Alaska in three weeks and they definitely want to watch it before they go. So if you could chuck it in the post that would be great. Or maybe we could have brunch? What are you doing next Saturday? Give me a call,
Lots of love,