By Julius Apostata
I’m sure that we have all heard stories and fairy tales as young kids: perhaps around a campfire or from whispers told in hushed tones. Imaginations of monsters lurking in the woods, hiding amongst the trees waiting for stray children or teens to depart from their group, never to be seen again. However, if you were a really young child, you probably heard of the monster under the bed: the boogeyman that appears under your bed after dark, who would kidnap or eat you if you dared stay up. Obviously, these tales exist solely to frighten kids into doing whatever their parents want them to do. But what if monsters actually exist? Or, perhaps more succinctly, what happens if there is a monster that rests within ourselves or our own institutions? What if, hypothetically, “the monster under our bed” exists as the worst impulses of abuses of power coming from a government or from within us? Could such a “monster” ever manifest itself in society? Unfortunately, a proper “monster” could be the government overreach and abuse of power that is occuring in Australia, as well as the ongoing paranoia and conspiracism by certain political actors therein.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtually every government has enacted some degree of lockdown restrictions in order to combat the spread of the virus. In Australia, this was no different; while Australia initially saw only a few case numbers, infections would quickly spike by late August, with New South Wales accounting for over 1,000 locally acquired COVID-19 cases. Much of the spread could be attributed to the Delta variant, despite many travel restrictions already being in place in the country. In any case, the spike in infections put the Australian government in a tough spot. How could it respond to such changes? The government answered in a way that may have provided far more harm than good. To begin, Australia had already put in place several restrictions on travel, which even enjoyed broad public support (at first). Of course, given that these strict measures were already put in place before late August, the government saw fit to step up their restrictions. Certain health services, such as those screening for breast cancer, were redirected to have nurses and doctors combat the rise in COVID-19. Compounding this, additional fines were levied out to those that violated stay-at-home orders, with fines reaching as high as A$5,000 (about US$3,700), along with further restrictions on gatherings. At the tip of these restrictions were vaccine mandates. However, unlike vaccine mandates in the United States, which are primarily directed at public employees, the chief minister of Australia’s Northern Territory unveiled a far more draconian version: every employee, public or private, was to be vaccinated. If a worker refused vaccination by November, they were to not only be fined but were not eligible for work, even if the business in question was private. In essence, a “monster” has manifested itself in the form of the Australian government’s overreach of power over its citizens.
Obviously, with such heavy restrictions on people’s movement and livelihoods, a good portion of those in Australia feel alienated towards a system that puts forward such unaccountable measures. Many, perhaps due to this alienation, decided to take to the streets and protest what they saw as government overreach. Yet, when faced with a large degree of uncertainty, authoritarianism, and fear, many of these protests began to take on counterproductive elements. In this case, the “monster” came forth as conspiracy theories about vaccines, paranoia, and violence. For instance, in Melbourne, what started as construction workers protesting and voicing their concerns for the vaccine mandate morphed into protests about how the vaccine is designed to kill people, and how 5G towers were spreading the virus. Some reports even indicate that some far more extreme groups, such as Neo-Nazis, managed to infiltrate these protests. In any case, this all manifested itself in violent confrontations with law enforcement, with clashes continuing for days after the original protest. Further skirmishes between police and protesters became increasingly common in September, painting a grim picture for Australia. As it turns out, many far-right elements have permeated a divided and confused populace, fermenting a “monster” within some of these protests in the forms of violence and misinformation.
Perhaps it’s best to take a lesson from The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and acknowledge that, within us and our government institutions, a monster can manifest. There is no monster under our bed; WE are the monster. One could point to the overreach by the Australian government as being the monster, or perhaps by the violence and conspiracy theories espoused by the more extreme elements of the protesters. As far as we should be concerned, Australia should serve as an example of how monstrosity can manifest through abuses of power and conspiracism.