I’m currently completing a book manuscript called ‘The Biopolitics of Lifestyle’. So when Tony Abbott made his comments that Aboriginal’s living in remote communities are making a ‘lifestyle choice’, I thought “great, I may need to write another chapter”.
This is not simply a poor choice of words, but reflects a governmental rationality that seeks to place responsibility on to individuals. Education, health, welfare, employment all become ‘lifestyle choices’ for which the individual is responsible.
The affluent, gainfully employed, highly educated sections of society make good ‘lifestyle choices’, while the poor, sick, Indigenous and asylum seekers are characterised as making bad ‘lifestyle choices’.
Abbott is not the first to use this phrase to justify . In 2002, Philip Ruddock described asylum-seekers as making ‘lifestyle choices’.
“In the main, people who have sought to come to Australia and make asylum claims do not come from a situation of persecution; they come from a situation of safety and security,” he said.
“They may not be able to go back to their country of origin but they are making a lifestyle choice.” The Australian, ‘Ruddock blames “lifestyle” refugees’ by Alison Crosweller and Megan Saunders
This governmental rationality shifts responsibility away from governments and communities, and on to individuals. It also serves to trivialize some claims (living in a remote community or seeking asylum) by comparing them to frivolous consumer lifestyle choices (Pepsi or Coke, holden or ford, apple or pc).
Of course, when we talk about the Australian Lifestyle of ANZACs, footy, beach, sun, boats, and weekends, things get very serious. Governments use this notion of lifestyle to build monuments, go to war, and demonize minorities. But that is another matter all together.
In the current context the rationality of ‘lifestyle choice’ shifts responsibility onto individuals in remote communities and justifies the Western Australian government’s decision to cut services and remove people.
Today I came across the diagnostic category, drapetomania. Drapetomania was defined by Samuel Cartwright as a “mental illness” in 1851. According to Cartwright it was ‘a disease peculiar to Negroes, manifested in a behavior evident in blacks but absent in whites: the tendency to run away from slave plantations.’ (Rose, 2007: 156)
According to Wikipedia, Cartwright suggested the preventive practice of “whipping the devil out of them” if the slave showed the early symptoms of drapetomania, an unhappy disposition.
The whole thing sounds like a Monty Python skit, unfortunately it isn’t.
This quote isn’t irrelevant to the contemporary political landscape.
Medicine followed trade and the flag. A direct response to colonialism, it did not merely expedite such expansion but provided a justification for it: was it not part of white man’s mission to bring medicine to the deadly tropics? All too often it was conveniently overlooked that the white man was in large measure responsible for making them so unhealthy in the first place.(Porter, 2002: 90)
If Howard is sincere about resolving the problems in remote Aboriginal communities then shouldn’t there be an acknowledgment of white man’s role in creating such situations in the first place?