The amoeba theory of politics in Australia

Politicians and technocrats in Australia have become adept at one thing – endless self-perpetuation, writes Stephen Orr.

Sep 28, 2018, updated Sep 28, 2018
A glass model of amoebae, created by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka in the late nineteenth century and held at the Natural History Museum in London. Photo: Mary Evans Picture Library

A glass model of amoebae, created by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka in the late nineteenth century and held at the Natural History Museum in London. Photo: Mary Evans Picture Library

My understanding of governments comes from my understanding of amoebae. It started like this. I was reading Micrographia (1665), with its detailed descriptions and illustrations of micro-organisms first observed and recorded by English scientist Robert Hooke. The first scientific best-seller; the first detailed use of micrographic images in a book.

Anyway, this led to a reference about August Johann Rӧsel von Rosenhoff (1705-1759), a lesser German portraitist who drifted into scientific writing, best known for his work with frogs and lizards, but coincidentally, the first person to describe an amoeba. I was intrigued. What if this habit of careful observation, of scientific description, was applied to politics? Not some loud-mouthed column, hastily thought-out opinions, 10-second sound bite, but facts.

Which led to a minor obsession with amoebae, the versatile protist that’s been floating the world’s oceans, lakes and rivers for hundreds of millions of years. A simple, fluid-filled body, its pseudo-pod ‘legs’ engulfing and consuming food. Concerned with one thing: self-preservation. No time wasted with sexual reproduction. Just splitting, make more of the same, filling primeval voids with undifferentiated offspring.

And I thought – hold on, this sounds familiar. Colonising everything in its reach – fungi, algae, animals. From brain-eating amoebae to giant amoebae, intestinal (and other) parasites filling the world with amoebic dysentery. Yes, of course. Governments. Federal amoebae, state amoebae, and the most dangerous of all, local government amoebae.

Stay with me.

The other thing I was thinking was how, over time, governments have forgotten their original purpose and morphed (amoebae are mainly just a pile of slime) into any shape, form or volume it takes to keep themselves alive. See, themselves.

It makes sense. Politicians change shape to adapt to the times, believing whatever it takes to get elected, suck up their 33 cents in the dollar and stash it away for more long-amoeboid-lunches. They consume, increase their pay, fly around the globe, eat in parliamentary dining rooms, fight other amoebae that might consume them, morph from dual-amoebae-citizens into amoebae-advisors, save energy by getting around in chauffeured vehicles, give their amoebae relatives, mates, donors and other selected hacks jobs, shut down any form of free speech that might create a toxic amoeboid environment, visit casinos (who mentioned gambling taxes?) and, finally, form amoebae-alliances that increase the chance of survival of their sub-species (eg ALP, Liberal).

Power structures are maintained. This is how evolution works. It goes on trillions of times a day.

It’s becoming apparent to most people that politicians are mainly focussed on keeping their own jobs. The amount of effort and money expended around election time makes this clear. How many of us can do the same to get or keep a job? The prime minister awarded a base salary of $527,582 while someone under 21 on a disability pension is on about 1/54th of this ($9646). All working on a sliding scale of inequity.

Labor’s Julie Collins asking Malcolm Turnbull why he and Pauline Hanson had ‘teamed up to give aged care workers a tax cut of $10 per week’ while giving themselves a cut of $7000 a year. The prime minister saying it’s all our fault. We need to be more ‘aspirational’ (read, selfish). Like micro-organisms fighting each other for the best deal, the most food, the biggest house, the most expensive schools for our kids. And that’s before the millions in party political donations from unions, gold companies and the like (check the AEC website).

Back to amoebae. Each needing a host organism or environment. That’s us. You and me, folks, having the life sucked out of us by amoebic technocrats. Highly-evolved, and –educated, although rarely free-thinkers, original or visionary, they infect each of us in search of nourishment. Dangerous, too. I was once eaten and spat out by an amoeba in a blue dress.

I discovered it was all about stasis – keeping the system the same, no change or innovation, no questioning. There never has or will be any improvement in your average government department because the big amoebas eat the little ones. Power structures are maintained. This is how evolution works. It goes on trillions of times a day. The killer amoebas wear suits and nice ties and follow every rule, no matter how expensive, long-winded or pointless. They seem to lack a conscience or ‘big picture’ about the world they inhabit.

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Technocrat-amoebae (TA) can do things like convince governments to spend $50 billion building submarines, fly to the moon, bomb fairly innocuous countries, while starving amoebae wither and die. Sometimes they lock foreign amoebae (and their offspring) in cages. Until one amoeba says, ‘That seems unfair,’ or ‘Why do we need submarines? They didn’t work for Hitler,’ or, ‘Why make so many roads when we could have public transport?’ Like there’s an amoeboid order we’re disturbing.

Of course, TA don’t see themselves as the problem. Their intelligence is limited to discussion papers, commissions, committees, all of which they get paid to sit on, chair, oversee, write more reports about. Of course, this could stop if other amoebae did something about it, but we’re given stadia, and sporting role models, so (as far as they can tell) we’re content.

Here’s an example of government-as-amoeba. Recently, I rode my bike along Ramsay Avenue, Hillcrest, and saw a very small sign (I don’t think it was meant to be seen) explaining that Hillcrest Stadium was to be knocked down. But it was okay, people’s kids could walk the 10-kilometre round trip to Hampstead Road to play basketball in another stadium. Now, apparently, there was a ‘consultation period’ but, of course, it was already over.

So I called a man at the Port Adelaide/Enfield Council, protested, but he didn’t seem too concerned. I said it was a long way for kids to walk. I asked what would replace the stadium and he said houses. I said there are already plenty of houses, why not keep the basketball stadium? He spoke like I was an idiot. Of course, houses were better. I suggested that might create more income (rates) for the council which, like all good amoebae, could consume more, breed more, create more amoeboid jobs. He said that was silly. If anything, having more homes would bring the rates down. Yes, I agreed, as long as the protist in question stopped growing, needing more money (food), employing more people in fairly unnecessary roles, paying the CEO shitloads of money, raising rates well over CPI levels and … you get the picture. But that’s where it ended. His job was to listen, then ignore me. Quite the trend in this era of government for government’s sake.

Which leads me to another point. You can’t expect this or that political party to make any difference. By their very nature, their morphology, their psychology, they’re the same.

Nothing changes. One amoeba resembles and acts like another. One might cut tax here, but another will take it there. Overall, you’ll just pay more. You have to. These little suckers are hungry. In 2017, South Australia had 106,118 of them (1801 more than the previous year). Look at them under Hooke’s microscope, breeding. Some useful, fixing roads and arresting criminal amoebae, but others … well, you’ve met them, you live with them, you know them.

So it’s back to my Micrografia, sitting here, all day, looking for clues, like Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory.

But despite all this searching, I can’t find any other species so obsessed with self-preservation. Maybe it just happens when resources are scarce. Maybe all the big chimps get together to beat the little ones senseless. Maybe they hog the bananas, and sleep in the most comfortable trees, and use the threat of bad, bad things to make everyone compliant.

Maybe they call it government, too.

Stephen Orr is an Adelaide-based writer of both fiction and non-fiction. His most recent book is Datsunland.

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