My brother, S, has recently launched a photography career, so he tends to carry some expensive equipment with him when he travels. He would never leave his camera equipment and laptop at home in Melbourne while he was away, and not simply because he always likes to be prepared to take advantage of any photo opportunities; he is concerned that someone might break into his home and steal the tools of his trade. At face value, I don’t think that’s a completely unreasonable concern: such equipment is expensive and portable, an ideal target for anyone who makes a living by breaking and entering. Still, while it would undoubtedly be distressing and inconvenient to have those things stolen, between insurance and taking the precaution of backing up files, it wouldn’t be an irredeemable loss.
After listening to him a bit more over the course of his recent visit, however, I said to him, amazed, ‘You live your life in constant fear. How can you stand it? It sounds exhausting.’ After a moment of reflection, he replied, ‘You’re right, you know?’ But whether that recognition lead to any epiphany that would lessen his constant vigilance, I don’t know.
I’m not even sure whether ‘vigilance’ is the right word to describe the starting point from which S and I. approach their daily lives. In a way not dissimilar to V’s fears about the potential for significant social strife, it borders on a kind of paranoia about what might happen, based on stereo-typed perceptions about various groups of people and the inhabitants of particular suburbs.
(Here, I have to pause and wonder as I recall Tim Sterne’s frustration with one of his relative's comments over Christmas about the ruin of Box Hill, because you don’t see any ‘Australians’, only Asians, there any more. The irony here, is that my brother is probably one of those apparently few ‘Australians’ Tim’s relative has sighted in that suburb. There he’d be, sitting, having dinner with his Chinese-Malaysian wife, hoeing into some kind of savoury pancake that he’s addicted to, oblivious to the ‘roon’ of Box Hill all around him.)
When S and I. were visiting over Christmas, they stayed with my mother who lives half-way between Brisbane and the Gold Coast. S expressed some concern about catching the train into Brisbane, where he wanted to take some photos of the cityscape. They would have had to travel through a number of suburbs that are always being mentioned in current affairs programmes as hotbeds of crime. Since it’s current affairs, the crimes are usually by groups of racialised youths, and I can only conclude that S imagined them boarding the train and breaking his very tight grip on his camera equipment. He said that Melbourne had ‘gangs’, and I asked, ‘What, like New York gangs?’
I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this train of thought. I suppose I was struck by the extent to which scenarios were always being imagined where some threat to property needed to be guarded against. Another example is when both S and I. expressed horror that my mother hadn’t changed the locks on her house when she’d first bought it, because you never know what previous occupant might have kept a spare set of keys with the expressed intention of returning to steal from subsequent owners.
I’m trying to figure out whether I’m not treating these kind of fears with sufficient gravity. Is there an actual basis for these alarmist imaginings? I know that I am less concerned about threats to property—not really having any—but perhaps there are some parallels to the way I think about my personal safety (a topic on which I also received advice from my brother). I know that partly in response to an earlier series of posts I did, ‘The Public Transport Diaries’, Oanh from Halfway Between Ca Mau and Sai Gon noted the extent to which women, compared to men, took precautions against the possibility of assault. At the moment in Brisbane, this is not entirely in the realm of the imagination, the police are actively investigating a series of assaults against women that have occurred on bikeways and footpaths over the last eighteen months. Aside from the assumption that any attacker would likely be male, I haven’t identified any characteristics of that person/s much beyond that. I wouldn’t not catch a train on the basis that I might be attacked. I would catch the train and find the car with the security guards and sit there. When I alighted the train, or more likely a bus, I would look around me while walking and avoid any darkened areas. I have been known to walk in the middle of the road at night, so I’m not close to any darkened alleyways or alcoves. I’d rather be hit by a car than assaulted, but really, it’s not that difficult to get out of the way of an oncoming car and resuming your course after it’s gone.
I don’t know. It just seems to me to be such an exhausting way of being in the world, constantly attributing the rest of humanity with bad intentions, and letting that circumscribe your life. I wonder what would happen if we thought that people were basically good and that when an individual’s actions belied that it was an exception that proved the rule? That one action by one person did not condemn the whole social/ethnic/gender/age group he or she was from?
I don’t know.