The edge of chaos

Always, there was some spectre, some looming threat – a capricious American president, the North Korean nuclear arsenal, Russia’s cyber sabotage, the possibility of Brexit’s economic devastation, the inevitability of climate disaster. We lived, in 2018, at the edge of chaos.

Faced with chaos, it is human to attempt to find order. The impulse is one that tends from sense towards containment, control. It is no coincidence this year of ataxia spurred authoritarianism. Not only in the United States, but in Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia – the list could go on.

In Australia, the threat of chaos has long been wielded as a tool to justify control. Conjured images of a horizon dense with rusted boats, heaving with “boat people”, were used by our politicians to maintain a complex offshore system of deprivation and torture, one in which abuses of children are routine, which has been exported across the globe.

What Australian could look at the images of refugee children held in cages by US Border Patrol under Trump’s “zero tolerance policy” and not see Nauru? Or Manus in Denmark, where “unwanted” migrants will be detained on a remote island that once held diseased research animals? In the Mediterranean, deaths at sea rationalise a migrant pact between Italy and Libya, wherein refugees are towed back from sanctuary in Europe by the Libyan coastguard.

In Home Affairs, power continues to concentrate, despite the months of lacerations its figurehead, Peter Dutton, has endured. The terror peril, or at least the political danger posed by holiday attack, justified the rushed passage of a sweeping encryption bill after the curtain had dropped on parliament for the year. That favoured equation – liberties lost, security assured – slips a little further out of balance.

Eyeing distant fears, we turned this year squarely away from the danger most pressing. Little more than a decade remains to act on climate change. The numbers couldn’t be more stark. And yet, in this, we seem content to step off the edge, to see what chaos holds. Sense would be to act, to attempt to contain the damage. The alternative is lunacy.

And so, we turn to 2019. Perhaps in the hope of something better. Certain of the fact we face a brutal election, fought between two men who inspire little in the populace, between two parties that hold little in the way of a vision for an Australia that takes itself more seriously. On these pages, though, we will continue to document the story of Australia, to press on the entitlement of its most powerful and to attempt to make sense of what comes next.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 22, 2018 as "The edge of chaos".

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