Thursday, January 10, 2013

Dialectic of "the bush"

The last post was an introduction of sorts. I finished it with an uncharacteristic thesis, one that showed some promise of being substantiated, verified, even empirically proven:
 Our ideas of "the bush" are not independent of these economic interests and this class struggle, as we who romanticise it would like to think, but are deeply fixed in the social structure.
What should logically follow is an incredibly detailed historical and sociological analysis which lays this struggle and these interests bare in order to deconstruct and demystify the ideology of "the bush". I will not offer that here - it deserves so much more time, research and effort than I can currently give it. I'll shove this project into the back corner of my mind, adding bits and pieces and layers to it as I read and study more.

Instead, I'll just make a rather obvious philosophical argument.

What is the "Dialectic"? I barely understand this philosophical concept, even on a reasonably basic level. In fact, I'm incredibly hesitant in appropriating the term for fear of misappropriating it. But if I outline what I do understand by the "Dialectic" first of all (in one of its many uses), there is no chance that I will misunderstand my own personal understanding of the term:
Thesis MEDIATED BY antithesis EQUALS synthesis.
You have a point, an argument (thesis). Someone comes along and points out its flaws (antithesis). As a result of this, you change the argument, and it becomes the synthesis. But that is just an example. Many philosophers (Marx, Hegel, even Monstesquieu [see Politics and History by Louis Althusser] etc...) conceive of the development of history as a kind of dialectic (in a slightly different manner), and the concept has been used to analyse many phenomena.

So how does my simple understanding of dialectics help us to understand how our idealistic idea of the bush is an ideological one, that is, how it "allows...society to persist, even though the essence of that society may contain contradictions (Aviles)"?

Let me start with a little story (that I wrote for the purpose of illustrating my answer to this question):

A prisoner in solitary confinement says to a guard on the other side of a small slot in the door: "Please, I can't bear this cell anymore, let me escape."
The guard glances around momentarily and then leans in to the iron stucture..."Well, ok, but only for a short while."
The guard hesitantly creaks open the door, and the prisoner makes his way forward. He peers around the corner, into the narrow passage-way, and sees a pile of bricks and a cement mixer.
The prisoner steps through the verge but immediately, the guard shoves a trowel into his hand:
"You have twenty minutes, get to work."

The prisoner grins, and starts to frantically lay down bricks. The air in the corridor is so much purer, and the lighting so much softer. Hell, he can even see the clouds pass by through a small window at its end! And the brick-laying...It's so absorbing, so satisfying, so fun! What an amazing escape.
Before he knows it, his little wall is two-bricks high and spans the width of the doorway. As the guard approaches him again from the other end of the corridor, he wipes the sweat off of his forehead with the back of his hand. He takes a deep breath and sighs contentedly as he is hustled over the small rampart and back into his dark corner of the prison. As the door slams shut, he begins to look forward to tomorrow, when he will get the chance to
escape again, to build his little wall a couple of bricks higher.

Many of us treat the bush as an "escape". An escape from the dense, smokey city to the clean air of the gum-riddled forest. An escape from our jobs and the anxiety that comes with them to a simpler, more immediately gratifying activity - running, hiking, climbing, swimming, sitting. An escape from any aspect of our lives with which we aren't entirely content to a beautiful, serene and natural paradise. But the word "escape" is misused. "Escape" implies some sort of permanent fleeing [the Spanish word "Huir" felt more appropriate here, but I couldn't find an adequate translation], it is an action made with no intention of returning. A prisoner escapes from the prison. They may turn themselves in eventually, but at the time of the escape, they have no intention of going back - hence the fact that they are chased by the police.

We, on the other hand, escape from our prison knowing that we will return of our own will and that when we do return, the prison will be more bearable. We escape from our everyday existence, from the social structures of advanced capitalism, into the bush - to run, to walk, to climb, to look at birds, or just to sit - with the knowledge that when we return, we will be slightly more satisfied, calm, serene. That is:
The unsatisfied human experience of capitalism, our lives (thesis) MEDIATED BY our satisfying activities, [in] the beautiful bush (antithesis) EQUALS a more bearable, less unsatisfied, human experience of capitalism (synthesis).
 This is the Dialectic of "the bush". And it is plainly simple that a less unsatisfied human is less likely to be a dissident, an insurgent, a revolutionary. A less unsatisfied human is less likely to overturn the system which produces the dissatisfaction and more likely to adhere to its rules and demands. In this way, the dialectic of "the bush" functions to the advantage of advanced capitalism.

Our "escape" to the bush simply lays the bricks on front of our cell door.

I might just finish with a tangible example to help prove the existence of this dialectic. Dropping rubbish in National Parks is strictly forbidden and has an incredibly negative social value. For example, if you are found to have dropped rubbish while running any of the Glasshouse series trail races, you will be banned from the races for life - well, according to the race website at least. But the forests of the Glasshouse region are littered with disused couches, fridges, even cars. The majority of the forests themselves are populated by pines, organised in endless uniform rows for the purposes of logging. As I walk along the wide, vehicle-hewn fire-trails between the trees standing in a formation only occasionally broken by disused furniture, I barely feel like I've "escaped" the city. It is, to some extent, unpleasant, not serene, not satisfying. This can be contrasted to, say, Mount Barney National Park. This is a "wilderness" area and there are strict rules in place to keep it that way (no fires, no pets, no short-cutting, etc...). Because of this, it can remain incredibly beautiful, and because it remains beautiful, being in this park makes me a lot feel a lot more satisfied, serene, etc... than being in the Glasshouse area. By preserving the beauty of the bush, the rules against littering in it, and those against "uglifying" it in general, preserve the antithesis (satisfying activities, [in] the beautiful bush) of our dialectic.

It's clear that a robust antithesis (i.e. beautiful bushland) is essential to the functioning of the dialectic: without it, the synthesis - a more bearable, less unsatisfied, human experience of capitalism, against which we are less likely to revolt - cannot be reached. This antithesis is supported by and supports our idealistic ideas of "the bush". They are constructed for the purpose of supporting this dialectic while being concurrently a product of it and are, as such, not absolute:
What do we think of "the bush" when we are bitten by a snake in it? We wish to escape it to get help. To escape our escape. And so the ideology breaks down.

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