Wages of Fear

Disruptions under the ongoing imprimatur of COVID regulations are a way of life for many heavy vehicle operators and transport companies.

In a world no longer arranged for human convenience, interstate drivers have been subject time and again to intolerable enforcement policies that are, even in the scheme of things, hard to fathom.

It was unprecedented border closures last year that served as pretext for present unworkable medical mandates required of one for their right to work — often at interminable peak capacity — from which these extraordinary but not unforeseen events have since escalated.

Drivers have found themselves on the frontlines not of a war, as politicians have erroneously called it, but of the type of crisis bureaucrats are infamously loathe to let go to waste.

Welcome to the abnormal new normal.

Insurmountable odds and high stakes logistical challenges got me to thinking about William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977), in which a group of mercenaries exiled to a crumbling Latin American jungle outpost are given the opportunity to get out when a remote oil well erupts.

To curtail the blazing inferno an explosion is needed. For this to happen volatile nitroglycerin must be transported on trucks over 200 miles of rutted jungle tracks across an inhospitable mountain.

Those who have yet to see Sorcerer are in for quite the ride.

The movie is propelled by a kind of spellbinding fatalism that makes the atmospherics of the tense journey, including an unforgettable sequence involving a suspension bridge crossing, otherworldly.

The third world economy of the village is almost entirely reliant on the usurious practices of the disrupted oil company pipeline.

Tensions are already heightened. Civil unrest, in the face of collapsing infrastructure, all but assured. Head office for the oil company questions how they are going to meet immediate supply obligations of 160,000 barrels by the end of the month.

The foreman provides the assurance, “it’s not your problem, we’ll get it up there.” The kind of “routine acceptance of professionals as a class apart” in the words of historian Christopher Lasch, of which an elitist managerial class is totally alienated from the physical side of life is no more normalised in the movie, as it is in our current COVID response.

Under such assumed terms all roads eventually lead to an abnormal new normal. To supposedly fortify supply chains and critical infrastructure, the Department of Home Affairs’ Crisis Coordination Centre has been given the role to consistently manage borders and travel bestowed upon it by the National Cabinet.

Many of us would like to know exactly what that is.

Established by the Prime Minister, premiers and territory leaders to have “the status of a cabinet meeting” that would exist at a federal level in “wartime”, the National Cabinet, under these parameters, has maintained the same confidentiality and Freedom of Information protections and protocols as the federal cabinet.

Here is another harsh lesson of democratic liberalism.

Managerial detachment resists through its secrecy the accountability that allows us to have a say in a system designed to destroy the very conditions that made the democracy, from which it was established, possible.

New federal operating models, so understood, are being created to the exclusion of the essential workers — the same people, not coincidentally, most adversely affected by them.

When a social contract is exploited it’s the messy series of premeditated violations that ultimately reveal how things have been directed to a clear end.

In Sorcerer this devastating realisation comes, for the mercenaries, on the eve of embarking on their journey, when they discover the two trucks are going to carry more than twice the volume of explosives required to achieve the goal of extinguishing the blaze. The oil company is doubtful both will make it.

A New Hollywood remake of The Wages of Fear, Sorcerer takes its quixotic title from one of the battered General Motors M211s featured at the behest of producers who were hoping it might play to the same crowd as The Exorcist.

In the New Testament, sorcery is translated from the original Greek as pharmakeia, more commonly associated today with the use and administration of drugs. But that’s another contract we’re not supposed to talk about.

Francisco Rabal in William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977).