the dead heart

Mark Pesce is annoyed with me, again, this time for extrapolating from Double Bay’s empty storefronts to a malaise in the Australian economy. And in fact he got three things exactly right, much righter than my muddled attempts to express them:

1. Australia had no industrial revolution, and its frontier economy is still based around mining, pastoralism and agriculture, with a huge service sector.

2. Those storefronts are empty because the gigantic new mall up in Bondi Junction has sucked all the oxygen out of Double Bay.

3. I can’t stop being Australian any more than I can stop being Anglican; therefore, I am judgmental, and I whinge a lot.

The point I was trying to make, impeded by rugrats and jetlag, revolves around the first: a frontier-and-service economy doesn’t suit my temperament. I wanted to write and to do a startup. Australia has many more writers than it can possibly employ – too much education, not enough population – and many more entrepreneurs than opportunities for startups – no angel investors, no critical mass in the potential customer base.

The fundamental difference between America and Australia? In America, the mountains are on the left. The Sierras and Rockies kick up the jet stream off the ocean, and the air drops its water as snow and rain. The deep black prarie earth is the grainbasket of the world – well, actually it’s the government-subsidized corn and soy monoculture of the world, but that’s matter for another blogpost.

America started with minerals and farming too, but America has had time to build a secondary economy around them: a giant financial center in New York to rival London and Tokyo; enormous defense and aerospace industries to employ the graduates of technical universities filled with the Jewish physicists Germany didn’t want. The Silicon Valley software industry is the lovechild of the Wall Street banks and the death labs (Argonne, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Sandia and so on.)

In Australia the mountains are on the right. The jet stream carries the clouds over the desert, and dumps its rain on the green and fertile Eastern seaboard. My Dad dreamed of towing icebergs from the Antarctic to farm the Nullarbor, but Tim Flannery makes the excellent point that there’s not enough topsoil. Desert breeds desert. Australia has no prairies, and no New York, and no Lockheed Martin. The CSIRO has done some extraordinary things – my beloved Uncle Ron did several of them – but it hasn’t had a child like Sili Valley. And if you want to be an enterprise software analyst, which it turns out I really, really do, a Sili Valley is what you need.

Conversely, if you want to be a futurist, as Mark does, Australia is a near-optimal place to ply your trade.

The above is all objective and fine, and it’s not what Mark was reacting to in my post. What hurts him – and not only him – is the particular fury with which I shake that red dust off my feet, as if because Australia isn’t the right place for me right now, it’s not the right place for anyone, ever. I do this a lot, and I owe an explanation which assigns blame to the guilty and exonerates the people who have done nothing wrong.

I am still angry – incandescently, heart-racingly angry, even as I write this. I am more disgusted than I can say with Victor Roland Cole, the former minister of St Davids Anglican Church in Forestville. I am still more outraged by the Sydney Anglican Church that lied and lied and lied to protect Vic from the woman he raped. I know intellectually that this kind of pathetic, wilfully cruel incompetence and abuse of power can happen anywhere, has happened everywhere, is happening as we speak; but my heart is not rational, and all it knows is that in Sydney, it happened to me.

Jeremy says – and Jeremy is annoyingly wise about this kind of thing – that places themselves aren’t good or bad: “Australia is what it is.” He’s right. What I need to work on for the next little while is separating my righteous anger from the circumstances that surround it. It’s not the country that is innately wicked, or the city, or even the church or the man himself. Evil is an action, or a decision not to act. He chose violence.

Now I choose peace.

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