The Lucky Country – part six: the shame of Australians and its variants

 

‘The Cringe – new variants of the virus’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 28.09.95

This is the edited text of a speech Frank Moorhouse gave at a Herald-Dymocks Literary Lunch, which he abandoned after interjections from the floor.

As most of you know, until recently, I lived in France for four years and my new book, Loose Living, is a humorous expression of that experience. Fun and games with the French and the Australian identity.

Until my period in France, I spent most of my life living in Australia and I live here now.

It was then something of a perplexing shock that my last book, Grand Days, was rejected from the most Australian of prizes, the Miles Franklin Prize last year.

The poor old Miles Franklin Prize has been having a rough time of it, with the Demidenko affair and all.

But I believe that the actions of the judges have exposed a sad turmoil in Australian thinking in the wider population. Because the judges will not enter into public discourse about their decisions, we can only surmise and speculate about the nature of their reasoning.

This is what I surmise from their actions.

In rejecting Grand Days and the other two books last year, the judges were struggling with a mutation of the cultural cringe.

I wish to discuss this mutation later in this talk. But it is a desire to promote a narrow form of Australianness and to spurn anything which has the whiff of cosmopolitanism which is seen as an author turning his or her back on [his or] her native country.

With Grand Days we have a character, Edith Campbell Berry, who goes to Geneva to join the League of Nations in the 1920s and is consciously trying to be an “internationalist” in both the political and cultural sense.

She is self-consciously striving to be cosmopolitan. She is an Australian refashioning herself in many ways.

But Edith also represented Australia and its attempts to come to terms diplomatically with being a nation state.

The deeper irony is that the book is also about borders and the crossing of borders and the meaning of borders, national and other, and identity.

The judges of the Miles Franklin recoiled from this and disqualified the book.

Again I think the authorial context influenced them in my case, as it did with the Demidenko affair.

When the book was published I was still living in France, preparing to return to Australia and I was widely reported as living there at the time of publication of the book.

The most common question I had from people when I did come back was “are you going to live here or go back to France?”

Naturally, the Miles Franklin judges had this picture of me living in a chateau and eating my way through fine dinners, enjoying the finer things of life.

Not only was the book to be damned for its un-Australianness but the author was suspected of cultural treason as well.

The judges, I speculate, decided that this was not only a book about cosmopolitanism and not about Australia, but that the author was committing cultural treason.

The judges this year had learned something of a lesson from this media debate about what it meant, now, to be an Australian writer. Times had changed.

This year they must have decided that they had learned their lesson and that Australia was a multicultural and sophisticated nation and that they would show their own cosmopolitan tastes in selecting Helen Demidenko’s book, The Hand that Signed the Paper, because it was written from the viewpoint of a Ukrainian family living in Australia.

It was about this family’s history before them came to Australia in the Ukraine during World War II.

Only one judge has spoken out and she praised the book for its “authenticity” among other things.

Then of course, it turns out not to be by someone of Ukrainian descent but, in fact, a literary hoax.

The judges of the Miles Franklin were in even deeper trouble. With Grand Days they were tripped up by a variant of the cultural cringe that is the urge to spurn the cosmopolitan.

With the Demidenko affair they went in the opposite direction and were caught by what I would call multicultural cringe – they were transfixed by the exotic and foreign, held like rabbits in the headlights of a car; their aesthetics and their perception were blinded.

Some commentators raise the question of the possibility that multicultural art had become something of a fashion preferred above that of the older mainstream Anglo culture.

Whatever else was illustrated by this double disaster for the judges of Miles Franklin, it certainly showed that their judgement was seriously limited in the first case, then destabilised and erratic in the following year.

But the double controversy might tell us something about ourselves at present.

Since returning to Australia, I have come across an intellectual virus hitherto thought to have been eradicated in all but the most remote parts of Australia.

I have come across an unacknowledged resentment and suspicion of what might be described as cultural “treason” by Australians in the arts who leave Australia for significant periods and who write about matters technically outside the national border or who write about unacceptable themes.

As I have said, what we are witnessing is the reappearance of the dreaded cultural cringe, a virus thought to have been eradicated from the anatomy of the nation, together with the multicultural cringe.

The examples I have found are gruesome mutations of the original virus.

For those too young to have heard the term “cultural cringe”, it is attributed to critic A.A. Phillips, who said in 1950 that, “Above our writers – and other artists – looms the intimidating mass of Anglo-Saxon culture. Such a situation almost inevitably produces the characteristic Australian Cultural Cringe”.

We no longer admit to being awed into silence by the greater cultures and our English language heritage but there are other mutations of the same parent virus.

I have been approached by some writers of the younger generation asking whether the virus still existed, and what should they do with their lives if they think they have it.

A significant group of young Australian writers and thinkers now live in the US. People such as Joanna Murray Smith, writer Catherine Lumby, Fiona Giles, Susan Johnston, Peter Carey, and Lily Brett.

As some of these have expressed it to me, there is still an uneasiness which lies within those Australians who have global aspirations.

I have identified it as Virus Variant A,  Agitated Expatriate.

The symptoms are as follows: the person who is contemplating living and working elsewhere (especially in the arts) experiences an immobilising dizziness accompanied by the recurring incertitude, What-dreadful-things-will-happen-to-me-if-I-don’t-come-back-to-Australia?

Will my creative well dry up if I stay away? Or will it, conversely, dry up if I don’t stay away? Or will it be contaminated?

This is not the pure cultural cringe but a new variant of it.

Phillips himself pronounced the term cultural cringe dead in 1983. “It is time,” he said, “to accord the phrase decent burial before the smell of the corpse gets too high…”

This new variant does not say we are not good enough. It says Australia may not be right for me (or not good enough for me) and if I say this, or even think it, I will be severely punished.

That Phillips should be alive today, to smell the corpse now as we stand in the graveyard of ideas, in the light rain, while gumbooted cemetery workers dig in the clay to exhume the stinking, twitching body, prematurely buried, still alive and thumping in its coffin, fuelled by rancid nutrients of a unidentifiable foul kind.

It is tissue taken from a recent study of Peter Goldsworthy by Andrew Riemer.

“The sense is inescapable,” says Andrew, “…that they (Australian writers) are dissatisfied by the limited scope the society (Australia) which they must reflect in their writings offers for the contemplation of the larger questions of existence and of the manifestations of good and evil…”

That is, Australian society is deficient in its capacity to supply good and evil in sufficient quality. Existentially lacking.

I am saddened to say that, on the surface, this is an example of the cultural cringe of the older parent strain identified by Phillips in 1950.

But, on further examination, it may be trickier than that and I will come back to it later.

Another recent specimen was from The Sydney Morning Herald where a columnist commented on the absence of David Malouf from a literary award presentation.

She says, “…the author is currently sojourning at his Tuscan home.”

The use of the words “currently” and “sojourning” are wink words used to suggest a leisurely occupation in foreign parts free of any considerations about what might be happening back here in Australia.

The use of the words “Tuscan home” also implicates David. The word Tuscan is redolent with exotic superiority. And isn’t “Australia” the only “home” an Australian can have?

The next specimen was from The Australian in a review of the book of Contemporary South Pacific Stories edited by C.K. Stead.

One Pacific writer, Ihimaera, had evidently withdrawn from the book, complaining about the integrity or whatever of the selection for the book.

In turn, Stead, the editor of the book, attacked Ihimaera for creating the “spectacle of…protecting Pacific values by fax from the south of France”.

Elizabeth Webby, in reviewing this book, comments that the implication is that Ihimaera is “an expatriate enjoying the good life in France”.

However, Elizabeth goes on to “excuse” Ihimaera from this charge with the defence that he is, in fact, in Menton as the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellow, living that is, holed up in a little piece of New Zealand in France, so to speak.

Another specimen from Daniel Dasey in The Sydney Morning Herald. “Artist Arthur Boyd says while he may spend much of his time overseas, there should be no doubting where his heart lies. The Australian of the Year defended (sic) his long stays in Britain… ‘I do live here, I just like to go away from time to time,’ he said.”

The headline of the piece says “Boyd’s art is in the right place”.

This and the Ihimaera and Malouf specimens were identified by our laboratory as Virus Variant B, The Unhappy Ones Who Are Stuck Here.

The symptoms of this virus are as follows. The sufferer experiences a profound sense of disease on reading about expatriate fellow nationals.

Are they having a better life? Are they meeting famous and wonderful people who will advance their career and enrich their life while I am back here working away in the blazing Australian sun?

Further, the sufferer is then gripped by an uncontrollable rage that the absent fellow national, by living in a desirable foreign environment, is committing a cultural treason; the expatriate has escaped from the limitations of Australian life; that the fellow national, that is, is not back here putting up with the hell of it all on the frontier, is not helping to Build the Culture.

This rage I think shows up in my next specimen: an advertisement for the Australia Council’s Creative Arts Fellowships which has been changed to specify that the recipient “must spend most of their time in Australia”.

So now if you’re going to get any funding, there’s no way you’re going to go over and have the good life in France – so forget it.

Audience member: Excuse me Frank. I know this is a bit rude…I shared your disappointment of the Grand Days [being disqualified from the 1994 Miles Franklin Award]. I came to your last luncheon, I bought your book. I suffered as you did when you didn’t win [the Miles Franklin]. But I feel we don’t want to hear what’s going on. If you’re not happy to be in Australia…

(Applause from some members of the audience.)

Moorhouse:

Well, I think I would read this as touching a nerve…first of all, I’d like to say I live here and I’ve lived here 50 years; that I have to say this is just ridiculous.

What I was doing was teasing out and analysing some interesting examples of things that are going on in Australian cultural life which reflect in such things as the Miles Franklin.

But I accept the complaints from this table at least, and some of the others, that I have somehow lost your interest.

It’s certainly not a whinge, its a piece of analysis, which, as I think this rough interruption shows, I think has touched a nerve.

At this point, Moorhouse took questions from the audience. That part of his speech which remained undelivered is as follows:

This is Virus Variant C, You will Remain Seated: Do Not Attempt To Leave.

The sufferer experiences these symptoms: the dread that one by one anyone who is any good is leaving the country and that those who are left will be seen as second-rate, poor cousins in the cultural world.

In their head the sufferers hear someone saying, Will-the-last-to-leave-please-turn-off-the-lights.

In the Australia Council and other arts funding bodies there arises the possibility that policies can be developed to stop anyone leaving. “If we have our way, no-one will get out.”

These variants of the virus have created an atmosphere where those Australians who have chosen to live abroad and make their careers there, are, upon returning to Australia on a visit, made to swear loyalty oaths before they are received, applauded or rewarded.

As with the parent virus, all the mutations are spawned by the simple fact of being born in Australia, a country which, on the maps, is Stuck Down Here.

I want to sum up and return to the Riemer Case – that writers in Australia have to look elsewhere because the quality of good and evil is insufficient in Australia.

It could very well be an example of a benign strain. What could be teased out of what Andrew is saying is that Australian culture is historically deficient by being Stuck Down Here but that we can, without resentment or despair, and with objective cultural sophistication, now acknowledge our deficiencies and still get on with living a good enough cultural life.

That the cultivated life lies in the grace, art and entertainment we deploy so as to incorporate our deficiencies into our national personality.

Whether we would have been better if we had lived elsewhere, can never be tested.

This brings us next to the cases of Boyd, Ihimaera and Malouf. In this I see, obliquely, some faint hope of a cure.

More often these days, in interviews and at dinner parties, I hear people remark that ideally they would like to be able to say, “I share my time between my apartment in Manhattan and a humpy in the Flinders Ranges.”

That seems increasingly to be an acceptable sort of thing to say.

I have a warning. It is still not acceptable to say that as soon as I can arrange it I am getting the hell out of here for good.

While the parent virus may not be endemic, an assortment of strains are (many more than identified in this talk!) and that even being frequently conscious of the existence of these matters is a type of infection.

We must give those entering the arts the chance to develop either here or where they feel they need to go. Australia is enriched by their work wherever it is made.

The aim may be to turn the wound to a thing of beauty. But for as long as it is asked, it remains a serious question.

I can only advise that, as a general rule, all those in the arts practise Unsafe Art until further notice.

And remember that all successful expatriates are, in the end, possessively reclaimed by their mother country.

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The lucky country: part four

 

Donald Horne, The Lucky Country – Australia in the Sixties, Angus and Robertson, 1965 (first published in 1964)

p. 194 ‘It is of interest that intellectuals – who almost universally oppose censorship of the kind of books that they themselves want to read – hardly ever deplore the censorship of ordinary people’s reading matter, and sometimes even support it.’

‘Although Australia is one of the most prosperous countries in the world it runs only fifteenth in percentage of G.N.P. spent on education.’

209 ‘in Australia, as a strong and publicly influential type of person. “intellectuals” do not exist…People who might be described as intellectuals are assuming enormous importance almost everywhere in the world except in Australia. It seems unlikely that such a situation will last in Australia. In fact it is now changing.’

210 Horne wrote of ‘creative intelligences’ with ‘new visions’ who have been frustrated in a society whose structure does not allow for the concept of originality’

Horne wrote that where Australia has been weak in matters of intellect has been in a lack of serious consideration of human destiny and in prolonged consideration of the Australian condition.

213 ‘What is lacking among Australians is a real feel for the history of the human race, and a sense of belonging to a long-lasting intellectual community that reaches its great moments when it seeks out in wonder towards the mysteries of its environment, that has concerned itself with more momentous problems than the nature of Australia but whose present members could well take this question up in the light of the history of human knowledge.’

‘it is Australians’ failure to understand the tragic (or the comic) in life that may place them at a disadvantage in a world in which happiness is largely still hard to achieve. It is as if a ‘cultured’ Australian rejects the Australian concept of happiness because it is not in the culture he has ‘learned’; at the same time he is still sufficiently a ‘happy’ Australian not to absorb the reality of horror and tragedy in the culture he has ‘learned’. He is declasse, unable to talk to other Australians of the culture he has ‘learned’ because he lacks a real feel for both it and his own society.’
Australians know how fragile their concept of ‘happiness’ is, how easily it could be lost, as it has been before (in the Depressions of the 1890s and 1930s and the two world wars). This knowledge gives their ‘innocence’ a mean and determined edge (e.g. in their response to asylum seekers and particularly to the sinking of SIEV X – 353 people drowned on the fluctuating borders of Australia. If you arrive here, quietly and without ‘drama’, as a refugee on a plane – as do the great majority – that won’t be noticed, but if you arrive desperate and dishevelled on an open, sinking boat, that is too clearly a reminder of the suffering in the world and to be opposed, rejected. The outcry in Australia over inhumane behaviour in the immediate region has been greater regarding the manner of slaughtering ‘our’ cattle in Indonesia – a nation both Asian and predominantly Islamic). Horne is correct when he wrote that ‘happiness’ is an addiction – one is addicted to it because one refuses to deal with the relentless challenges of global reality and change and because one lives in an isolated nation with the overall affluence to do so. Intellectual vision is another threat to this affluent, ‘innocent’ happiness – structured on authoritarian, unquestioning conformism. 

214 Horne writes of the Australian intellectual’s ‘addiction to happiness’

The Lucky Country: living on our luck
‘Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise. A nation more concerned with styles of life than with achievement has managed to achieve what may be the most evenly prosperous society in the world. It has done this in a social climate largely inimical to originality and the desire for excellence (except in sport) and in which there is less and less acclamation of hard work. According to the rules Australia has not deserved its good fortune.’

219 The two fields where reliance on luck are not going to work:
– Australia’s strategic environment
– the demands of technology (Australia must profoundly change its life patterns – if this does not happen, ‘the present kind of Australia will go under’)

220 ‘Will (Australia) rid itself of the belief that…nothing happens to it, that it is safe from the unpleasantness of history? Perhaps Australians are…too concerned with happiness to understand the possibilities of tragedy, projecting their illusions onto others. The possibility haunts one like a bad dream that Australians may go on being silly…’

222 ‘In most industrialised countries cleverness and skill are part of the national ethos, even if they share it with contradictory elements. In Australia they play no part in it…When most Australians think of their economic growth they think that people should work harder…a revolutionary change in attitudes towards life is needed’

‘the obsessive desire to define Australian characteristics in terms of the upsurge of the 1890’s instead of as a dynamic process…(To admit that generations can change would be to admit that a static concept of an ‘Australian’, based on the writings of the 1890’s, is false.) And the continuing dominance of old ideas..’
Excellent point – the obsessive desire to define Australia against the (loss, failure and defeats of the) past rather than as a dynamic process continues – not only with regard to Gallipoli but also the military victory of Kokoda. Australians continue to define themselves against the past instead of dynamically, in relation to the future.

224 ‘the pretence of sameness’

228 ‘the shock (when it comes) of declaring Australia a republic’

230 ‘Australia’s population problem will be solved in what may be the only way it can finally be solved – by large-scale Asian migration.’

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Marx and Engels: on the relationship between the ruling class and the ruling ideas

 

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, consequently also controls the means of mental production, so that the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are on the whole subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relations, the dominant material relations grasped as ideas; hence of the relations which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an historical epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch. For instance, in an age and in a country where royal power, aristocracy, and bourgeoisie are contending for domination and where, therefore, domination is shared, the doctrine of the separation of powers proves to be the dominant idea and is expressed as an ‘eternal law’.

The division of labour, which we already saw above as one of the chief forces of history up till now, manifests itself also in the ruling class as the division of mental and material labour, so that inside this class one part appears as the thinkers of the class (its active, conceptive ideologists, who make the formation of the illusion of the class about itself their chief source of livelihood), while the others’ attitude to these ideas and illusions is more passive and receptive, because they are in reality the active members of this class and have less time to make up illusions and ideas about themselves. Within this class this cleavage can even develop into a certain opposition and hostility between the two parts, but whenever a practical collision occurs in which the class itself is endangered they automatically vanish, in which case there also vanishes the appearance of the ruling ideas being not the ideas of the ruling class and having a power distinct from the power of this class. …

If now in considering the course of history we detach the ideas of the ruling class from the ruling class itself and attribute to them an independent existence, if we confine ourselves to saying that these or those ideas were dominant at a given time, without bothering ourselves about the conditions of production and the producers of these ideas, if we thus ignore the individuals and world conditions which are the source of the ideas, then we can say, for instance, that during the time the aristocracy was dominant, the concepts honour, loyalty, etc., were dominant, during the dominance of the bourgeoisie the concepts freedom, equality, etc. The ruling class itself on the whole imagines this to be so. This conception of history, which is common to all historians, particularly since the eighteenth century, will necessarily come up against the phenomenon that ever more abstract ideas hold sway, i.e. ideas which increasingly take on the form of universality. For each new class which puts itself in the place of one ruling before it is compelled, merely in order to carry through its aim, to present its interest as the common interest of all the members of society, that is, expressed in ideal form: it has to give its ideas the form of universality, and present them as the only rational, universally valid ones. The class making a revolution comes forward from the very start, if only because it is opposed to a class, not as a class but as the representative of the whole of society, as the whole mass of society confronting the one ruling class. It can do this because initially its interest really is as yet mostly connected with the common interest of all other non-ruling classes, because under the pressure of hitherto existing conditions its interest has not yet been able to develop as the particular interest of a particular class. Its victory, therefore, benefits also many individuals of the other classes which are not winning a dominant position, but only insofar as it now enables these individuals to raise themselves into the ruling class. When the French bourgeoisie overthrew the rule of the aristocracy, it thereby made it possible for many proletarians to raise themselves above the proletariat, but only insofar as they become bourgeois. Every new class, therefore, achieves domination only on a broader basis than that of the class ruling previously…

Once the ruling ideas have been separated from the ruling individuals and, above all, from the relations which result from a given stage of the mode of production, and in this way the conclusion has been reached that history is always under the sway of ideas, it is very easy to abstract from these various ideas ‘the Idea’, the thought, etc. as the dominant force in history, and thus to consider all these separate ideas and concepts as ‘forms of self-determination’ of the Concept developing in history. It follows then naturally, too, that all the relations of men can be derived from the concept of man, man as conceived, the essence of man, Man. This has been done by the speculative philosophy. Hegel himself confesses at the end of the Geschichtsphilosophie that he ‘has considered the progress of the concept only’ and has represented in history the ‘true theodicy’ (p. 446). Now one can go back again to the producers of the ‘concept’, to the theorists, ideologists and philosophers, and one comes then to the conclusion that the philosophers, the thinkers as such, have at all times been dominant in history: a conclusion, as we see, already expressed by Hegel.

The whole trick of proving the hegemony of the spirit in history (hierarchy Stirner calls it) is thus confined to the following three attempts.

No. 1. One must separate the ideas of those ruling for empirical reasons, under empirical conditions and as corporeal individuals, from these rulers, and thus recognise the rule of ideas or illusions in history.

No. 2. One must bring an order into this rule of ideas, prove a mystical connection among the successive ruling ideas, which is managed by regarding them as ‘forms of self-determination of the concept’ (this is possible because by virtue of their empirical basis these ideas are really connected with one another and because, conceived as mere ideas, they become self-distinctions, distinctions made by thought).

No. 3. To remove the mystical appearance of this ‘self-determining concept’ it is changed into a person – ‘self-consciousness’ – or, to appear thoroughly materialistic, into a series of persons who represent the ‘concept’ in history, into the ‘thinkers’, the ‘philosophers’, the ideologists, who again are understood as the manufacturers of history, as the ‘council of guardians’, as the rulers. Thus the whole body of materialistic elements has been eliminated from history and now full rein can be given to the speculative steed.

This historical method which reigned in Germany, and especially the reason why, must be explained from its connection with the illusion of ideologists in general, e.g., the illusions of the jurists, politicians (including the practical statesmen), from the dogmatic dreamings and distortions of these fellows; this is explained perfectly easily from their practical position in life, their job, and the division of labour.

Whilst in ordinary life every shopkeeper is very well able to distinguish between what somebody professes to be and what he really is, our historiography has not yet won this trivial insight. It takes every epoch at its word and believes that everything it says and imagines about itself is true.

Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976, 67-71

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On the importance of the most difficult activity: thinking objectively

 

To the degree to which a person is unconscious of their place in the world, so they are the tool, either directly or indirectly, of another.

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The lucky country: part three

Donald Horne, The Lucky Country – Australia in the Sixties, Angus and Robertson, 1965 (first published in 1964)

pp. 32-33 ‘What often perishes altogether – in the bureaucracies of business or of government or in the universities and in such intellectual communities as exist – are originality, insight and sensitivity, the creative sources of human activity. In an imitative country no one has to be creative; the creative person is likely to be confronted with distrust – not perhaps in science or the arts, but almost everywhere else…With their distrust for Australian originality and their ignorance of the world the men who run Australia often have a peculiarly narrow view of ranges of the possible…It is not the people who are stupid but their masters, who cling to power but fail to lead.’

46 ‘The official beliefs of Australians are essentially humanist’

47 ‘Anzac Day (the Australian folk festival)…The beliefs associated with Anzac are more Stoic than Christian.’

56 Horne paraphrased the diary entry of Mrs. Marcel Dekyvere, chairman of the Black and White Ball Committee (in 1964) in response to a sermon titled ‘I Have a Dream’ – ‘We must all keep our dreams, even if sometimes they don’t come true. Don’t you agree?’

Martin Luther King gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech on 28.08.1963

61 ‘discussion on Australian literature is sometimes better informed in the American universities that have taken it up than in some of the Australian universities.’

76 ‘On 27 December 1941, John Curtin made the single most significant statement ever made by an Australian Prime Minister: “Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America”.’

81 ‘Menzies was more British than the British, always running several years behind London, expressing dreams of Commonwealth that had something of the flavour of progressive discussion in 1908.’

On Australia’s relations with the U.S. Horne wrote ‘Australians are used to being insignificant and relying on the power of others.’

83 ‘it seems likely that Australia could enter into a quite massive relationship with America without generating any politically effective anti-Americanism among ordinary Australians’

Australians are suspicious of all idealism: ‘What’s in it for him?’

I would add that Australians pride themselves on their cynicism, failing to distinguish between what it is – a corrosive poison – and a healthy skepticism.

88 ‘In the past Australia has also displayed the other side of provincialism: the boastfulness and arrogance of the liberated province, parading its very provincialism as if it were homegrown.’

101 ‘Despite its internal democracy, Australia plays an aristocratic role in the society of Asia – rich, self-centred, frivolous, blind…Given the huge area it has to defend, Australia is defenceless against a major power.’

‘There is not very much real feel for Asia (in Australia).’

107 The words ‘White Australia Policy’ were removed from the Labor Party platform in 1965.

112 ‘if Australia is to play a more forceful role in Asia the change must be dramatic enough to impress Asians that it is a change. It would seem a comparatively simple method to enter into migration agreements with Asian countries that might meet any of their own fears and that would set up clear public standards of assimilability – of language, education and working capacity…My own view is that the future holds dramatic possibilities for Australia which may necessarily include racial change, that this is Australia’s ‘destiny’. It is going to happen one way or the other. It is a task that will be undertaken either by Australians, or by someone else.’

120 ‘Of the top hundred Australian firms at least two thirds are overseas controlled.’

121 ‘Not that Australia has ever spent much on research and development anyway…This indifference to research and development goes beyond the question of foreign ownership.’

122 ‘The very idea of clever, expert men thinking up new things to do is one that is repulsive to many Australian businessmen…in such matters Australian businessmen often treat their own countrymen with the scorn that the colonialists used to treat those they exploited: you can’t expect the natives to have ideas.’

125 Horne on the suspicion of Australians to original Australian ideas

130 ‘Several generations of Australians were taught to venerate not lions or eagles or other aggressive symbols of nationalism; they were taught to venerate sheep.’

136 ‘the things modern Australians are really interested in – getting homes, raising their children, going on holidays.’

Horne went on to add: ‘What one does witness in Australia is…”the institutionalisation of mediocrity”…established rhetoricians and ideology makers’

145 Australia took its federal structure from the U.S. – with a House of Representatives, a Senate and a federal court that interpreted a written constitution.

146 In certain senses, Australia is a province of two external powers (the UK and the US).

Still clutching at the skirts of Mother Britannia, Australians, in an Asian sphere, cling to the coat-tails of Uncle Sam – the latter two nations generated from the first. The pervasive shame associated with this Australian servility is the source of the projection known as ‘tall poppy syndrome’ – ‘Because I am on my knees, I will ensure that you are on yours!’

177 ‘if intellectuals wish to walk down the corridors of power in Australia they must leave their intellectuality at home. As in business, to pretend to some stupidity is safest.’

190 Exposing the often repeated excuse – that ‘we are only a small nation’:

Horne, quoting Irving Kristol’s review of the first edition of The Lucky Country, emphasised the importance of leadership that could enable a people to create ‘better than they know’ and of appreciating their creation, without which that people would not only be far poorer in their self-definition but would be blissfully unaware of their poverty. Leadership enables the discernment of a promise and a potentiality that becomes integral to their way of life.

Part three/to be continued…

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Will capitalist nations go to war with China?

SHANE MCLEOD: China’s role in Australia’s economy continues to grow – it’s now our biggest trading partner and vies with Japan as our biggest export destination.

But there are some who believe that China’s growing economic power will bring with it rising military power and conflict with the West.

That’s the theory of Professor John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago.



He says China will want to become the region’s dominant power and it won’t want to have the United States continuing to play a role in military defence in the region in countries like Japan and South Korea.

Professor Mearsheimer is in Australia this week as a guest of the University of Sydney, and in coming days he’ll be giving a lecture about China’s rise.

I caught up with him earlier today and asked him why he thinks that rise won’t be peaceful.



JOHN MEARSHEIMER: Well, I think that as China gets economically more powerful than it is today, it will translate that economic might into military might and it will try to dominate the Asia Pacific region just the way the United States dominates the western hemisphere.



Great powers like to be all powerful in their own neighbourhood. They don’t like neighbours that can threaten them and they don’t like distant great powers coming into their backyard just the way the United States has this Monroe-doctrine which effectively tells the European and Asian great powers to stay out of the western hemisphere.



I believe that as China gets more powerful it will do everything it can to push the United States away from its borders and ultimately out of the Asia Pacific region.

SHANE MCLEOD: Is there not a benefit for China though in the status quo as it currently stands? That the US is a major balancing power, it is a defence ally of countries like Japan, South Korea that could be potential threats to Chinese power in the region. Isn’t there a benefit for China in keeping the US involved?



JOHN MEARSHEIMER: Well, I don’t think that the Chinese is to get more powerful and even now view the United States as quite the benevolent force that you describe them to be. (sic) We have just had a controversy where the United States and the South Koreans decided that they were going to run naval exercises in the Yellow Sea to protest North Korean sinking of a South Korean ship.



This made the Chinese very upset because they view the American navy as threatening just as the United States would view a Chinese navy or a German navy or a Soviet navy on its doorstep as threatening.

So from a Chinese point of view, the best of all possible worlds would to have the Americans far away and for China, not the United States to provide the stabilising factor in the region.

SHANE MCLEOD: But if you take say the United States out of Japan then you have a country that has a constitution imposed by the US after World War II limiting its defence build up, its defence capability. Wouldn’t a country like Japan for example, in a region without the United States there ramp up its own capabilities?

It wouldn’t take much for Japan to become a nuclear power for example.

JOHN MEARSHEIMER: I think that is true but if you look at the balance of power over time between China and Japan, the gap which is now quite large is going to increase significantly, in large part for demographic reasons.



Japan has the most rapidly aging population in the world. It is going to get smaller and weaker over time.



China is going to get more powerful over time. In an ideal situation from China’s point of view is one where the power gap between it and Japan is large and China has the ability to dominate Japan because that is the best way to ensure your security in a dangerous world.

SHANE MCLEOD: Does this happen by force or could China become the regional power through soft power, through coercion by showing itself to be the leader in the region? Would it be such a problem for countries like Japan, Korea, Vietnam, to look to China as the natural power in the region?



JOHN MEARSHEIMER: I think one can make an argument that China, if it continues to grow at the spectacular pace that it has been growing at over the past 30 years for the next 30 years then it will become so big and so powerful that it won’t have to even countenance using force to dominate the region.

It will just be so powerful that countries like South Korea and Japan will have no choice but to in effect dance to China’s tune. But there is a serious possibility along the way of conflict.



If you read the Australian White Paper from last year, it is quite clear from that White Paper that the Australian Government is nervous about the possibility and I want to underline the word possibility of conflict between China and other powers in the region as China continues to rise.

SHANE MCLEOD: How do you see Australia’s role evolving in the region alongside a powerful China and what about the relationship with Australia’s traditional allies, the United States?

JOHN MEARSHEIMER: Well, I think that as China continues to rise that a balancing coalition will form in this region. It will be aimed at containing China much the way we had balancing coalitions in Europe and Asia during the Cold War.

SHANE MCLEOD: They could never say that though could they?

JOHN MEARSHEIMER: No, no it is very hard to say that but I think behind closed doors that is how people are talking and I think that you see all sorts of evidence that the balancing coalition is beginning to form.



If you look at the close relations that now exist between India and the United States, if you look at relations between Vietnam and the United States, Singapore’s approach to dealing with the United States these days.



It is just all sorts of evidence that countries in the region are worried about China as is the United States and this will cause them to eventually come together and form a balancing coalition and I would be shocked if Australia is not part of that balancing coalition as it was part of the balancing coalition against Japan in the 1940s.

SHANE MCLEOD: You made reference to it but the economic ties, will they have a calming effect do you think? If countries in this region like Australia are so strongly tied to China economically, will that offset the potential tensions in the strategic relationship?



JOHN MEARSHEIMER: Well, first of all it is possible that those economic ties could cause trouble. If you had a serious recession or a depression, it could be the case that those ties didn’t work to cause peace – they in fact work to cause conflict between the relevant powers. So economic ties don’t always produce peaceful outcomes.

But let’s assume that they do. The historical record shows very clearly that before World War I, you had economic ties in Europe that should have produced peace yet you had World War I so I don’t think it is impossible that in a world where you have a great deal of economic interdependence and where all the players are doing quite well economically, to still have a conflict between the opposing powers and that is a large part because when push comes to shove, politics dominates economics.



SHANE MCLEOD: That is Professor John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago and there will be a longer version of that interview available on our website later today.

ABC Radio National/The World Today/02.08.10

http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2010/s2970768.htm

Reply to Jason 2

Bust of Socrates. 2nd century Roman copy from a 4th century BCE Greek original. Museo archeologico regionale di Palermo, Italy

Bust of Socrates. 2nd century Roman copy from a 4th century BCE Greek original. Museo archeologico regionale di Palermo, Italy

Hi Jason,

You have set yourself a difficult and most important challenge.

I watched your video a few more times.

The daimonion tells Socrates that his role is to help others (those you place in Tartarus) understand that they are dead and that they are chained to the world through ignorance.

Socrates then asks how he can wake them up.

His daimonion replies that he cannot, they must wake themselves up on their own and Socrates can only help them in the right direction.

The daimonion, after being questioned by Socrates, then asks him if he is not tired yet of having others tell him what he is.

It seems to me that the daimonion is pointing out that Socrates too does not know who he is, yet his purpose is to help others understand themselves.

I think you have to be clear on your perception of who (your) Socrates is, because that will be essential to the structure and direction of your play.

Do you think Socrates was motivated by the wish to help others/to teach others/to question and to share his love for questioning (the examined life)/to seek the truth and to share his love for it (again, the examined life)?

You have a most excellent motive in this – that others need to philosophise about their lives and their place in the world.

I share that belief.

When I was at college I did a performance piece in which I handed out sheets of A4 paper with a question mark in the middle with arrows either side of it pointing left and right, then sat on a chair in front of the ‘audience,’ and said nothing.

People waited for me to do or say something, neither of which I did.

I simply looked back at them.

Total silence…

Your challenge is to make your point(s) as strongly as possible to your audience.

To begin by having your Socrates and his daimonion walk conversing from the back to the stage is one way.

To begin by having them walk from the stage into the audience and perhaps among them might be another.

To have actors or not even actors but, even better, willing audience members positioned throughout the audience and call out questions to Socrates and have him respond, perhaps spot-lighting the questioners as they speak might be another.

Then turn the spot off, leaving the audience ‘in the dark’ again.

After a few times, no-one knows whether the person next to them might be the next to speak up…

I think every means to indicate to your audience their centrality to your play and to involve them in it should be explored.

It’s an excellent challenge you have set yourself.

All the best,

Phil

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Models of heroism: the beachgoer and the Pioneer

Charles Meere, ‘Australian beach pattern’, oil on canvas, 1940, Art Gallery of NSW; ‘a tableau of beach goers whose athletic perfection takes on monumental, heroic proportions…the myth of the healthy young nation symbolised by the tanned, god-like bodies of the sunbathers.’

Charles Meere, ‘Australian beach pattern’, oil on canvas, 1940, Art Gallery of NSW; ‘a tableau of beach goers whose athletic perfection takes on monumental, heroic proportions…the myth of the healthy young nation symbolised by the tanned, god-like bodies of the sunbathers.’

Nikolai Yakovlevich Belyaev, ‘They are Happy’, oil on canvas, 1949. ‘A scene of joyous, patriotic children, the work is full of life and colour.’

Nikolai Yakovlevich Belyaev, ‘They are Happy’, oil on canvas, 1949. ‘A scene of joyous, patriotic children, the work is full of life and colour.’

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Images: top/bottom

On reason 1

Jane Goodall with chimpanzee Jou Jou, Brazzaville Zoo, Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, 1990

Jane Goodall with chimpanzee Jou Jou, Brazzaville Zoo, Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, 1990

The very focus in Western culture not on a reason that is wholistic but on one that is only linguistic and conceptual, on ‘elegance’ and wit in language, the scholastic licking and sucking of every ‘ism’ (yet one more shade of philosophical idealism) or piece of jargon, a current which has sought to block out the spiritual, the emotional, the passionate, above all, the animal and material, has presented in its analysis only a twisted half of who we are.

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Tim Wise on “Nice”

An excellent article. And I am glad to have read it on the same day the Australian media is choked with hypocrisy and ‘niceness’ after the Lindt cafe hostage-taking in central Sydney.

‘Niceness’ and the narrowest understanding of ‘decency’ are basic ideological tools.

This hostage-taking has lifted the lid on an immensely powerful lie of the dominant class in Australia – that ‘we’ in Australia are one nice, decent, happy, inclusive community (the Melbourne Cup, ‘the race that stops a nationTM’, proves this!) with the great good fortune of being distinct, because of Australia’s geography, and, dare I say it – affluence for the great majority, from a deeply troubled world.

The ideologues of capital have gone into overdrive with voices at times soothing, at others emotional or resonant and knowing, to silence comments such as I heard on the radio this morning from a ‘decent’ Aussie gentleman – ‘I thought Australia was far away from all this. It’s a wake-up call.’

No, No, No – back to sleep all you nice and decent people. Who could forget The Chaser skit (which they repeated) in which nice and decent Australians descend on an escalator and are directed by a person in the modicum of a uniform at the bottom to go back on the ‘up’ escalator. Each time I saw that skit the people all behaved the same, nicely and decently, without question, doing as they were told.

The ideologues of capital are using the hostage-taking, initiated by one who was ‘mad’ and ‘bad’ (so often the ‘analysis’), from a nation and region exploited, brutalised, betrayed and ripped apart, particularly over the last century, by activity engaged in, supported and condoned by Australia, to reinforce the self-centredness of ‘niceness’ (the capitalist ideology of ‘nice’ consumerism) and the most myopic, nationalist ‘decency’.

Dorothy, over the rainbow, would be pleased with the purity and simplicity of the message.

Not only the complicit and servile Australian media, but the world’s media will be all over this. I look forward to what will inevitably come out.

*   *   *

From the Twittersphere

Murderous, uncivilised Islamic State terrorist:

* ‘The world must stand for the news of 13 Australian hostages but it would sleep for the news of over 130000 Muslims killed in Syria’

* ‘Gaza is under siege, Homs and Damascus are under siege the café in Sydney is Not.’

Tender-hearted, civilised Rupert Murdoch:

* ‘AUST gets wake-call with Sydney terror. Only Daily Telegraph caught the bloody outcome at 2.00 am. Congrats’

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Voices from Russia

01 Hypocrisy Meter

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Nice people change nothing. They never have and they never will. Those who are nice are so invested in their niceness, in their sense of propriety and civility, that they rarely raise their voices above a whisper, even in the face of sweltering oppression. Nice white people were the ones who didn’t own black folks during the period of enslavement, but also didn’t raise their voices against the ones who did. Nice white people are the ones who didn’t spit on sit-in demonstrators, but also had no problem spending money with businesses that had remained segregated all those years.

To be nice is to have an emotional stake in the prevention of one’s own pain. Nice people don’t like to look at the ugly. It’s upsetting, most of all because it puts us on the hook and calls forth our humanity to actually put an end to that pain…

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