[Marxism] Ten Days in Brisbane

Gary MacLennan gary.maclennan1 at gmail.com
Fri Feb 26 22:41:02 MST 2016

Ten Days in Brisbane

The saga of Baby Asha is over for the moment.  She was a two year old
Nepalese girl, born in Darwin to parents who sought refugee status.  The
parents were transferred to the refugee detention centre on Nauru Island in
accordance with the policy which sees the Australian government process
applicants for refugee status off-shore at Nauru and Manus Islands. Asha
suffered burns on Manus Islands and was transferred to the Lady Cilento
Hospital in Brisbane.  The doctors treated her and then refused to release
her because her safety could not be guaranteed at the refugee centre. This
stance sparked a spontaneous swell of support from hundreds of Brisbane
residents.  Brisbane is a conservative city in a conservative state in a
conservative country.  The sight of so many people making signs and rushing
to the hospital to defend the child was a deeply moving experience for
myself who has been a life-long card carrying member of the “Judea National
Liberation Front”, and who has attended more demonstrations (tiny) than I
care to recall.

In face of the demonstrations the Government backed down and allowed Asha
and her parents to be placed in community detention here in Brisbane.  It
is election year after all.

The Asha Affair has to be placed in the context of the attempt by all
Australian governments to discourage refugees from coming here in boats.  Our
former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, even went to the UK and advocated his
policy of ‘stopping the boats’ as a solution to the refugee crisis in
Europe. Lest one questions the relevance of turning back boats in the
landlocked countries of Europe, one needs to understand that what Abbott
was advocating was a policy of extreme cruelty backed up by a determination
to preserve the “cultural basis” of Europe.  Australia history is one of
being a white colonial settler nation, where the local Indigenous
population have often  been treated with extreme brutality. The
constitution drawn up in 1901 also declared that Australia was White
country and accordingly non-whites were excluded.  This status was only
changed in 1972.

Consequently, there is a populist basis for racist rhetoric around “rag
heads” and “boat-people”. Both major political parties Liberal and Labor
have vied with each other to capture this inherently racist sentiment.
Xenophobia and paranoia have been milked ruthlessly for votes by Prime
Minister Howard, and Abbott on the Conservative side and by Prime Ministers
Rudd and Gillard on the Labor side.  For most Australians the refugees are
the Feared Despised Other and seemingly there was no policy too cruel that
was not electorally popular.

That seems to have changed with the Asha affair. I believe that calls for
some reflection and what follows is an attempt to begin the conversation. I
would like to initiate what hopefully will become an exchange by
contrasting two positons on what it is to be human. Firstly we have that
articulated most forcibly by Alain Badiou[1] <#_ftn1>, who incidentally is
a fearless campaigner for the rights of migrants in France. Badiou wrote

This systematic killer [‘the human animal’] pursues in the giant ant hills
he constructs, interests of survival and satisfaction neither more nor less
estimable than those of moles or tiger beetles. He has shown himself to be
the most wily of animals, the most patient, the most obstinately dedicated
to the cruel desires of his own power.[2] <#_ftn2>

 The above quote reads as a blunt neo-Nietzschean inspired attack on
humanist ethics.  But, Badiou is above all a subtle thinker and he does
leave the door ajar with his affirmation that humanity has an impulse that
seeks to take it beyond ‘being-for-death’ and towards immortality[3]
<#_ftn3>. We note, with considerable gratitude, the rejection of the
Heideggerian dogma of ‘being-for-death’ as the defining characteristic of *homo
sapiens*. Nevertheless, Badiou’s argument that it is the attitude towards
truth which will facilitate the opening towards immortality and
transcendence is at best obscure. It does though have tantalising echoes of
Bhaskar’s characterization of meta-Reality as a philosophy not of being but
as a ‘philosophy of truth’[4] <#_ftn4>

What is missing is a theory of human nature which allows for a tendency
towards decency to assert itself and also a theory which sees the moral
evolution of humanity as open[5] <#_ftn5>.  But Badiou’s radical
anti-ethical position prevents him from making such a move.  By contrast,
Bhaskar, especially in his meta-reality moment, has no such difficulty.
When  on Sunday, the 21st February, the authorities informed Asha’s mother
that she was going to be taken out of the hospital and the police and Serco
Security officers visibly mobilized, a call went out along the social media
and within minutes a crowd of over 1000 emerged to prevent the child being
seized. This was the ‘spontaneous right action’ which Bhaskar dreamed of
and wrote about.  To listen over the phone to the crowd singing *Amazing
Grace* was deeply moving.  One did not have to be a believer to understand
that the crowd were seeking to access their ground states of love and

In the face of goodness, the state retreated and Asha and her parents are
not being returned to Nauru. But of course the world of duality is not so
easily defeated.  The Murdoch press and the right wing commentariat
circulated a story that the mother had deliberately burned her child so
they could get out of Nauru. There is no substance in these slanders but
their very existence is testimony to the need for continuing struggle to
confront and defeat the lies and deceit that make up the world of dual
being.  But for now a child is safer and we have seen the pulse of freedom
in action.

Gary MacLennan



Levinas Spiritual base

Thoughts on goodness versus evil

Badiou versus Bhaskar

Badiou, A. (2001). *Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil*. London:

Bhaskar, R. (2002). *meta-Reality: The Philosophy of meta-reality*.
Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Bhaskar, R. (2008). *Dialectic: The Pulse of Freedom*. London: Routledge.


[1] <#_ftnref1> Badiou (2001) gives us a sustained anti-Kantian polemic
against the notion of universal human rights and the placement of ethics at
the forefront.  For Badiou, as an (ex) Maoist, politics must always be in

[2] <#_ftnref2> Badiou, A. (2001). *Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding
of Evil p.59*

[3] <#_ftnref3> Badiou (2001) pp.11-12.

[4] <#_ftnref4> Bhaskar (2002, p.xxiv)

[5] <#_ftnref5> In DPF Bhaskar writes ‘Any dialectic of liberation from
ills (qua absence) is committed to the possibility of changing four-planar
human nature, so that we must regard the *moral evolution of the species as
open’ * (2008, p.266; original emphasis).

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