The Big Issue : Edition 482
THE BIG ISSUE 17 – 30 APRIL 2015 13 like “Marry Me, Margaret” often emerge from there, too, and on this sunny day, a tiny plane was beginning the difficult work of using the sky as paper. “Chem trails,” she said. I, of course, said “what?” This is a usual response, but not a good one because as soon as you ask somebody who believes in chem trails what they mean, they will certainly tell you. I didn’t listen to the details as I experience temporary deafness when I hear phrases like ‘mind control’. But, here I was. In my garden grappling with the fresh knowledge that my neighbour was an out-and-out conspiracy theorist and that the rows of brown bottles in her kitchen were probably not for curries as much as they were to reject ‘the Western medical complex’. Now. Let it be said. I know that there are bad things in the world and industries that need to be undone. I am aware that, often, government and business do not disclose the ‘truth’ behind their actions and policies. I am absolutely sure that propaganda exists and that half-truths about many things, from war to trade agreements to the release of potentially harmful products, are told. But, I couldn’t say that I know, or that my near neighbour knew, about the full truth of such things. And nor could I say that making up some palaver about chem trails was an adequate or helpful explanation. The world is complex and cruel. But it tends to be cruel not because the powerful in small rooms are saying “let’s poison them with chem trails”. Cruelty is due less to the actions of screwed-up humans than it is to our complex forms of social and economic organisation. The stupidity of the idea that ‘they’ want to ‘hide the truth’ has been bothering me lately, not least because I’ve had to mute certain persons I know on social media who are ranting about the paleo diet and how some chef ‘knows the truth about the agricultural complex’. But also because my neighbour texted to ask if I wanted to attend an anti- vaccination forum. HAHAHA. NO. And I saw her on my smartphone. And I knew she had texted me from her smartphone. And when I thought about all our smartphones, I knew that the terrifying thing about conspiracies and ‘they’ is that these don’t really exist. You are a nice person and the manufacturers of your smartphone are likely nice people but in order to nicely bring your smartphone to your pocket at a reasonable price, cruel things happen. The tin used to solder the phone’s internal parts might have been mined by children. The tantalum used for its capacitor might have been procured by those forced to fight in bloody African wars. These parts might have been assembled at a labour camp in China. Someone suffered for your smartphone. Nobody intended for this cruelty to happen. But the world, and not the people in it, demanded this cruelty. That’s the ‘conspiracy’. The world is beyond the control of kindness. You don’t need to look up to the sky to see evidence of horror. You can just look in your pocket. “The world is complex and cruel. But it tends to be cruel not because the powerful in small rooms are saying ‘let’s poison them with chem trails’.” RAZER Neighbourhood Watch PHOTOGRAPHSBYJAMESBRAUND SOME YEARS AGO, I lived opposite a lady who had a collection of herbal tinctures. She was very friendly, as evangelisers initially tend to be, and ushered me into her home several times, where I did not pay her apothecary much mind and just supposed that it was full of strong flavours for cooking. Then, about a year into our association, I was weeding in my front yard. She trotted over to congratulate me for using my hands instead of herbicide, and the sound of a plane interjected our neighbourly chat. We live quite close to a minor airport, the sort from which flights to improbable Bass Strait islands depart and where weekend pilots berth. Small craft assigned the chore of sky-writing things » Helen Razer (@HelenRazer) is a writer and gardener – a combination of skills that helps her spot tiny buds of wisdom in well-furrowed ground.