The Fetch Blog

Curated reads and events for professionals

Event Review: The Great Debate — September 16, 2012

Event Review: The Great Debate

What: The Great Debate, as part of Brisbane Writers Festival
Where: QPAC Concert Hall
When: 8 September 2012
Event review by: Amilia Cunningham, Brisbane Ambassador

What happens when you put Germaine Greer and Bob Katter, two very controversial and polarising personalities, in a debate together?  Well… not much it seems.  The topic was ‘Reading the Bible is good for you’. Katter, Greer, and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway, represented the affirmative team. Californian P.I Rachel Sommerville, Magistrate Jacqui Payne, and author Benjamin Law, represented the negative team.

For the affirmative, Katter opened up the debate with references to Vikings and the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Unfortunately I struggled to find the link to the topic, and it seemed like Germaine, up on stage, did too. I expected brashness from Greer, and despite her argument of the Bible being a ‘grand delusion’ (and the reason we should read it is so we can know how silly it is). She surprised me by being eloquent in her argument (perhaps she had used up her quota of controversial statements for the Festival during the opening of it).

Holloway, having the most religious background of the three, argued that the Bible is not a book, it’s a library, and that ‘we should read parts of it that are applicable…. to reclaim it from the bigots and the homophobes’.

Sommerville opened the floor for the negative team, discussing what she called ‘Lock Up Town’ – the second biggest city in the US being those who are under some kind of correctional supervision. Surprisingly, a high percentage of those living in areas that Sommerville calls the epicentre of Christianity (Louisiana), is doing time.

Payne gave the audience a few laughs by suggesting the top two reasons reading the Bible was bad for you was that the print was too small, and it was too long, so it can’t hold your interest.  But her real argument was how the Bible had contributed to the loss of aboriginal history.

Law compared the Bible to Game of Thrones – both have ‘nudity, sex, murder, revenge, bloodshed, torture, natural disaster, and homosexuality’.  He confessed that he actually had read the Bible as a child, but with a young impressionable mind, left to his devices to interpret (or misinterpret) the Bible’s stories led him to argue that indeed, it was not good for you.

There was time for rebuttal, but most of this centred on Holloway’s disappointment that Law would poke such fun at the Bible, feeling that he trashed something that was very sacred to many people.

Ultimately, the negative team won by audience cheer. However, debating lost. While there were some good arguments for both the affirmative and negative on the topic, it was apparent that the teams hadn’t actually had the chance to sit down and plan out their arguments, leading to lack of flow between the discussions.

What did you miss? Some laughs, a few pot-shots at the Bible, everyone’s confusion at Katter, and a rather contained Greer.

Amilia and Beck attended The Great Debate courtesy of Brisbane Writer’s Festival.

Event Review: Social Media Changing Lives —

Event Review: Social Media Changing Lives

What: Social Media: Changing Lives, at Brisbane Writers Festival
Organised by: TAFE Qld English Language and Literacy Services (TELLS
Where: State Library of Queensland
When: 8 September 2012
Review by: Amilia Cunningham, Brisbane Ambassador

There’s been a lot of negative press recently about social media. So, when I read the description for the event ‘Social Media: Changing Lives’ at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival, I was expecting nice stories.  What I didn’t expect was the laughs, or the tears, the highs and lows, that the audience experienced in one simple hour. These stories of connecting with family overseas, conversing with husbands an ocean away, supporting each other in crisis and connecting a culture of people around the world were told by four young women, recent immigrants to Brisbane.  Two of their stories are below.

How does one sustain a relationship and marriage when you live in a different country to your husband?  Skype was a lifeline for Mukarrama from Bangladesh, who met her husband through a client, and after getting married, he moved to Australia for work, but she wasn’t able to follow him for almost 12 months. ‘We shared our stories, emotions, joys and sorrows.  It allowed me to have the emotional touch I needed’, she told the audience.

Another speaker, Margaretha, worked in mining in Indonesia.  Her story was raw, deeply sad and it was difficult for her to contain her grief.  There was only one helicopter that the mining company owned. In August 2011, it went missing and it became apparent in the days after, that it had crashed.  All 10 on board had died.  Through social media, their community was able to pull together and support each other and the families of the men who died.  She still keeps in touch with some of the wives now that she is in Australia.

As I consider moving overseas to work sometime in the near future, something that Mukarrama said touched me personally.  Now that she’s moved to Australia, she uses Skype to talk with her mother in Bangladesh.  She said ‘I never felt, before I moved to Australia, that I bore such a love in my heart for my mother’. And I know this will be me, in months or years to come, relying on social media to stay connected to those closest to me. And how thankful I am, that Skype and Facebook will enable that connection.

What did you miss? Heartfelt stories of connection, love, and supporting others through grief, and the positive power of social media.

Event Review: We Need To Talk About America —

Event Review: We Need To Talk About America

What: We Need To Talk About America, at Brisbane Writers Festival
Where: State Library of Queensland
When: 7 September 2012
Reviewed by: Lee Mathers, Brisbane Ambassador

You would generally expect sessions at the Brisbane Writers Festival to be genteel affairs, talking about books and writing and the glory of the written word. You don’t often expect an audience to be so exceptionally vocal. But this is America we’re talking about, so one should have been prepared.

So it came to pass at one of the early sessions of BWF 2012 with authors David Vann, John de Graaf and Eowyn Ivey, all Americans but all from very diverse backgrounds, sitting on a panel, talking about….well…America.

The topics of discussion varied from the melting pot that was the early 1900s United States, where there was an underlying sense of people coming together (“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” etc) and how great that used to be compared to the current US decline. And all three authors were convinced that the US was on a downward slope.

De Graaf, (of Affluenza fame and previously interviewed by The Fetch), was the only non-fiction writer on the panel and was able to reel off incredible facts about the poor state of the US generally. But both Vann (bestselling author, most recently of Last Day On Earth: A Portrait of the NIU School Shooter) and Ivey (The Snow Child) were adamant that the US had had an impact on the world and most of it was bad.

Vann spoke in rather chilling detail about the proliferation of guns in the US. Thirty-three thousand suicides each year caused by firearms; ten thousand other deaths attributable to guns and neither political party is willing to deal or able to deal with the issue.

Politics and the upcoming Presidential Election received a good deal of attention, as well as where each author would live if they could live anywhere (only De Graaf nominated that he’d stay in the US). But it was when the floor was opened to questions that things really became fiery. Who would have thought that the audience would turn?

By the end of the session, it seemed that there were more “pro Americans” in the crowd than on the panel. One thing is for sure: opinion on America runs deep. And there are plenty of people that are quite happy to keep talking about it!

Event Review: Beyond Greed —

Event Review: Beyond Greed

What: Beyond Greed, at Brisbane Writers Festival
Where: State Library of Queensland
When:  8 September 2012
Reviewed by: Lee Mathers, Brisbane Ambassador

It seems that, on the surface, everyone agrees that the “greed is good” days of Gordon Gekko are dead and buried. But “greed” remains a fascinating topic and is often the starting point for an investigation into the human condition.

After all, what is “greed”? Is it really just a desire for more? And more of what? Are we greedy in different ways, with different things? Is being greedy with your time really such a bad thing?

These were just some of the topics canvassed and discussed by an expert panel at the Brisbane Writers Festival. John De Graaf (Affullenza and What’s the Economy For, Anyway?), Peter Barry (I Hate Martin Amis et al.) and John Lanchester (Capital) covered everything from the rise of Indian and Chinese middle classes, over consumption, over work and the global economy through to the psychological effects of purchasing and money and why we’re all so miserable when we’ve never had it better.

Both Barry and Lanchester are fiction authors and read excerpts from their novels, detailing the effects of greed on each of their protagonists. De Graaf quoted at length from his most recent investigation into the American economy and came to the conclusion that we’re looking at it the wrong way.

He suggested that using our most common measure, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the measure for the growth and strength of an economy was doing more harm than good. For example, an oil tanker crashing and spilling its oil generated more economic value and therefore an increase in GDP – through the associated cleanup costs, litigation and all other manner of expenses – than a tanker arriving safely. But no one would ever suggest that that was a good outcome!

Instead, we need to reassess what the economy is actually attempting to do and attempt to refine those measurements.

De Graaf also quoted from one of his heroes, David Brower, the founder of Friends of the Earth and it neatly sums up the entire discussion on greed and the impact it has:

Consider the six days of Genesis as a figure of speech for what has in fact been 4 billion years. On this scale, one day equals something like six hundred and sixty-six million years, and thus, all day Monday and until Tuesday noon, creation was busy getting the world going. Life began Tuesday noon, and the beautiful organic wholeness of it developed over the next four days. At 4 pm Saturday, the big reptiles came on. Five hours later, when the redwoods appeared, there were no more big reptiles. At three minutes before midnight on the last day, man appeared. At one-fourth of a second before midnight, Christ arrived. At one-fortieth of a second before midnight, the Industrial Revolution began. We are surrounded with people who think that what we have been doing for that one-fortieth of a second can go on indefinitely. They are considered normal, but they are stark raving mad.

The conclusion of the panel? We may not actually be “beyond greed”. Everyone agrees that it’s not good, but we have a long way to go before we can hope to effect change.

Interview: John de Graaf — September 2, 2012

Interview: John de Graaf

Name: John de Graaf
Author: Affluenza
Interviewed by: Brisbane Ambassador, Lee Mathers

Affluenza (noun)(ˌæflʊˈɛnzə) “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more”.

It’s an invented word obviously, first appearing in 1954, but it was popularised by John de Graaf in his documentary in 1997 and then 2001 in a co-written book of the same name. Today the term has evolved into an entire body of academic research, asking the question why are we continually working ourselves harder and harder to make more and more money to buy and consume more “stuff”?

With more than 25 years of experience on this topic, John de Graaf has finally been scheduled for his first visit to Australia to take part in the Brisbane Writers Festival and I got to have a chat with him about the global economy, the upcoming presidential elections and the economics of happiness.

The first thing to note is that topics John speaks on are all inter-related.

“I got interested in issues of affluenza, that is, overconsumption issues, and that took me in to looking at what we sacrifice in our lives to pay for that overconsumption.

“In the first instance this sacrifice is time because particularly in the States, we’ve become very overworked.

“From that I got interested in the whole worldwide attempt to measure wellbeing or happiness, rather than simply GDP. But with all of these things I was always running up against that question: ‘What’s that going to do to the economy?’

“This lead me to say that we have to ask a different question: ‘what’s the purpose of the economy, anyway?”

These issues have garnered increasing attention over the last few years, with the massive consumption of the late 1990s through to the early 2000s when the good times appeared as if they would never end. But with the start of the Global Financial Crisis, de Graaf hopes that there has been a fundamental shift in the way people think and act.

“Right now the big issue in the States is how we get people to actually buy things. People are saving for the first time in ages, which is not unhealthy, but the problem is that the economy is structured in such a way that if they don’t shop and spend then there is the creation of vast unemployment and lack of investment.

“So we’re in a real bind. Now the issue is the structure of the economy and the need to redirect it to a new paradigm based on well-being and sustainability rather than growth.”

The economic-growth-mantra is one that we hear constantly from the lips of politicians, regardless of on which side of the political fence they may sit. This focus is even sharper in the United States, where the current Presidential campaigns – another topic on which de Graaf will be speaking at BWF – seem to speak of nothing else.

“Given the circumstances today, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be talking about the economy, but the problem is that there are no new ideas. We’re talking about the economy in the same way.”

It’s no secret that de Graaf is an Obama supporter, but he says the Romney campaign is proposing to fix the economy with “the sort thing that to some degree we’ve been doing since 1980. This has really caused many of the big problems that we have in the economy today.”

“What these folks are doing is saying that the way to solve these economic problems is to do more of the same, only faster, which is the working definition of insanity.”

Discussions about the economy and the upcoming US elections lead de Graaf back to a topic about which he is clearly passionate: how to improve the well-being and happiness of his fellow citizens. He believes that outside of the States, many countries are on the right track.

“There is a nuttiness in the United States. We don’t even really know what’s going on in Canada, much less the rest of the world.

“We tend to think of most other countries as poor and third world. We don’t understand that in most wealthy countries in the world, people are doing better in virtually every quality of life category.

“Here in Australia there is no question that you have your problems, but you’re not looking at armies of homeless people on the streets like we are in the US or that millions of people have no health coverage”.

While the health care debate rages in the US, it’s the slavish dedication or need to work that de Graaf would like to change. He cites a remarkable statistic that would cause riots in Australia.

“Thirty-nine per cent of the American workforce does not get paid vacation. Most people can’t believe it. They say that they know that American’s don’t get that much vacation, but they think that we get two weeks by law. But that’s not correct.”

De Graaf has helped to create an organisation in the US called “Take Back Your Time”, which attempts to challenge time poverty and overwork in the US and Canada.

“What we don’t understand is that while money has its purposes and you need a certain amount of it for economic security and to be able to do other kinds of things, money just isn’t the be all and end all.

“We seem to have forgotten that a worthwhile life contains all of these important non-material elements, which GDP does not effectively measure because you don’t spend money on them. GDP has its uses, but it needs to be combined with a much more complex sense of what’s valuable in life”.

What de Graaf is attempting to do with his discussions on over consumption, a relentless focus on the economy and what purpose it is really trying to service, and time poverty and overwork, is to shift the focus to a debate about the lives that we really want to be living, instead of those lives in which we sometimes seem to find ourselves trapped.

“Think about the fact that we really do need time. If we’re working ourselves to death, then we don’t have the time for family and friends and connections and our health and community building.

“As those things deteriorate, our quality of life goes down with it. Ironically, as those things deteriorate, as we have less real friendships and connections and so on, the marketers try to sell those things back to us in the form of products.

“As we lose our environment and the quality of the environment declines, we instead fly off to a pristine beach and spend money, but it doesn’t solve the real neglect for those aspects of life that require time in order to get benefit from them.”

The topics John De Graaf talks about are big topics; important topics. They are issues that go beyond simple thirty second sound bites we get every evening on the news. They require time and effort and a level of discourse that doesn’t descend into the vitriol to which we have become so accustomed.

De Graaf shows that we can have those conversations and we can challenge entrenched processes in order to help reshape and refocus our economy and way of life away from one of over consumption and a relentless focus on the collection of more “stuff”. Instead we should be focusing on the quality of the lives that we are living and the pursuit of happiness rather than the almighty dollar.

John de Graaf is appearing at several sessions throughout the Brisbane Writers Festival, including:

  • What’s the Economy for Anyway?
  • We Need to Talk About America
  • Beyond Greed
  • Our Future World

Visit the Brisbane Writers Festival website for further details and ticket information. The Fetch is attending sessions at BWF courtesy of the Festival organisers.

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