Julie Peters

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Utopia misplaced

Julie Peters

Transsexual sleeps for twenty years and is then politicised

Julie Peters confesses
Utopia is a mythical place, where everyone lives in perfect environmental, social and political harmony. But we are not very imaginative and the Utopias we dream of are always just around the corner. The Bible describes the promised land as a `land of milk and honey' -- we just wander down to the supermarket to get milk and honey. Fundamentalist Christian brochures show heaven to be a verdant rural landscape, with all the human races and animals living in perfect harmony. Maybe people have missed the point; heaven is a metaphor for what we can achieve on earth. On Utopia Oscar Wilde wrote:

A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.
(as quoted in `A truly civil society; 1995 Boyer lectures' Eva Cox (1995), an ABC BOOK)

In the early 1970s I was sure we would be living in Utopia by the 1990's. Everything seemed to be getting better; no more conscription, troops out of Vietnam, no more university fees, full employment, a well funded expanding ABC and free medical treatment. By the 1990s, we thought, we would have all of the above and a better distribution of wealth, a 20-hour working week, our environmental problems solved and plenty of time for recreation, life education and the arts. They were such heady days; Utopia really did seem like it was just around the corner. And it didn't need me to get there; I had personal problems I needed to work on. From the age of four I was desperate to be a girl -- who knows why? This focus became introversion and self obsession; the rest of the world seemed unimportant -- a hazy memory.

Waking up

Now, in my late forties, I feel more positive about my life than ever before. I feel free to explore the depths and widths of my personality. I broke out of my habitual pattern of self obsession by changing my name to Julie and being seen as a woman. It was like waking up! It was the early 1990s. Twenty years had passed -- but what had gone wrong? -- this is not my Utopia; there are syringes in the gutters and homeless children sleeping in the bushes near Flinders St Station.

Certainly many things are better; we now have equal opportunity legislation, colour television and warm trams. But we have two million people out of work, thirty percent of Australians are living below the poverty line and so many of the social advances we made in the 1970s have been overturned. Many of the baby-boomers try to bury their insecurities in accumulating wealth and consumables. Younger people have grown up seeing things get worse year by year; they feel powerless to change anything. Even though I am very stressed about these issues I am still the happiest I've ever been and I stick out like a sore thumb.

We grow enough food to feed everyone, but millions die of starvation every year. We know how to live with nature, but the earth daily gets sicker. We know how to distribute wealth, -- Keynes -- but the poor get poorer. We know but we don't have the will.

My Utopia includes living in a just society and the 1990s aren't like that; I was tempted to become introverted again; to meditate for about tewnty years or so on the meaning of suffering. Reading history tells me that social change is led by activists and not by the introverts or by the angry extroverts who rant and get nowhere. So I'm trying the middle path between introversion and rant -- a path inspired by chaos theory, which tells us that very small forces can have huge effects if they are applied at the right place at the right time.

Action or opting out

Many people choose to live outside the mainstream culture for many different reasons including religious, cultural or environmental. Permaculture is one such philosophy; it sees environmental sustainability as of prime importance and the current economic society as hostile.

Permaculture encourages a low energy, high knowledge, high technology culture. It is self-sufficient in food, energy and all the basics of living. It needs all individuals to accept responsibility for making it work. Around the world there are attempts in creating societies based on permaculture principles. Currently this requires a huge commitment because one needs to live outside the current culture to succeed. Consequently it becomes a limited Utopia; only available to an educated, financed minority. And still we live in a fractured society.

Social capital

Eva Cox in the ABC's 1995 Boyer Lectures, `A Truly Civil Society', talks of `social capital', the social fabric or glue that holds a society together. Everyone can raise social capital; helping an old lady across the street, painting the chairs at the kids' school or supporting the homeless.

These are straight forward examples of raising social capital; but they are band-aids. The political system seems so impenetrable that many concentrate on the issues that are the most important to them. I started to lobby for reforms for the transgendered. But I soon realised that the very high unemployment amongst the transgendered was mostly due to the Liberal--Labor Parties' fauning obsession with economic irrationalism: the worship of the `economic fundamentals' and the consequent diminution of social capital.

I realised that so many issues were important to me: education, pollution, environmental degradation, poverty, racial scapegoating -- how many lobby groups do I have to belong to?

As a society, we ignore a very potent way of raising social capital -- politics. We do not accept our civic responsibility for the actions of our elected politicians. Most of us are very willing to blame politicians for all our woes. In Australia's democracy, politicians are answerable to us. But they are paternalistic and condescending and advise us to keep out of things that we don't understand -- and most of us run to our bedrooms and say nothing. We abdicate our democratic power to a small elite and we get the decisions we don't want -- quel surprise!

I looked at the political parties again. And even though they were not in power, or possibly because they were not in power, the Democrats hadn't sold out. They are still dreaming of Utopias and they have well integrated policy and process to back up the dream.

I joined the Democrats and I stood for the federal seat of Batman in 1996. This opened my eyes further. I was shocked to see shopping centres in Reservoir with graffitied roller-doors protecting the shop windows at night. I was shocked at the poverty I saw, schools being closed and gambling in every shopping centre. I was shocked people were scapegoating migrants and Aborigines. This wasn't the Utopia we were promised.

Making a difference

History and chaos theory both tell us small numbers of people in the right place at the right time have made and will continue to make a huge difference. And those who are involved are the ones who will make the difference.

Education -- and I mean life education and not training -- Education is the key. It is no coincidence that both Labor and Liberal Governments have cut funding to education and changed the emphasis from life education to training to do specific tasks.

Gore Vidal in `Screening History' (1992) argues the best way to disempower people is to make their education so irrelevant that they opt out. He argues for history to be the only compulsory subject; history to be taught via cinema, so people will know what they are capable of.

Life education is also a valuable tool in finding our next Utopia. Life education includes interpersonal and intrapersonal, kinesthetic, spatial and musical skills as well as the logical, mathematical and linguistic skills that are usually taught. Life education teaches us that wisdom, compassion and mindfulness are more valuable than the economic fundamentals.

My utopia

Where's my Utopia?? A land of milk and honey?? I think not -- I have a dairy allergy. My Utopia seems simple and not far away; a land where the air and water are clean, everyone has food, clothing, shelter, support, education, where diversity is embraced and harmony is virtue.

I want to live in a society which is committed to increasing social capital and is vigilant in providing the checks and balances needed to prevent the corruption of the powerful. And I want to live in a society that expends a lot of energy enjoying life.

We barrack for political parties. We don't notice they have become greedy and economic irrationalist; they have their own agenda. The middle classes don't notice the ever-growing urban and rural poor. We abdicate our power to politicians whose Utopias don't extend past the people they invite to dinner. We blame Governments -- and yet we empower those Governments. It is very chic in the 1990s to not vote and be `beyond politics' -- they are collaborators!

I know I can't fix it by myself. But it's simple; we -- all of us -- need to get off our arses and act within our psychological and physical capabilities.




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© Copyright Julie Peters 2000
Contact julie@natasha.ironbark.id.au