Saturday, December 31, 2016

Martin Nakata's Disciplining the Savages Savaging the Disciplines

My dissatisfaction with the discourse of culturalism stemmed largely from being certain about who I was (an Islander) and uncertain about why we were treated the way we were. Something about the re-writing of earlier racial discourses into a cultural discourse grated deep within my mind and soul. Why would I accept such a shift that said in effect 'Oops, sorry, we were wrong but we've rethought this and, here, we think this is a better explanation of you and your predicament' ...

In my undergraduate years, there was the possibility that my oppositional stance could have developed into a radically 'dumb' one and at many times sheer anger at our historical circumstances threatened my sanity and my study ...” (pp. 222-3)
What is required to make indigenous education better than it is now?

Martin Nakata describes and traces his alienation within the system. As a helper within schools the whites were only interested in his opinions if they were congruent with their own. Earlier, on as a secondary student, it all felt meaningless, he dropped out and took drugs, for a while. Later, at University, he was very successful, but could not articulate how he felt to others. At one point in this process other Islanders questioned whether he was still an Islander.

How should one respond to being marginalised and alienated by the dominant system?

MN's response was to study and more study to understand the knowledge base of the oppressor. What knowledge base could possess such arrogance as to intrude in every possible way into Islander lives with the casual assumption of superiority. Although overt racism has now been more or less replaced by culturalism (the glib shallowness of they are equal but different, let us respect that difference) but still the dominant culture can't see the world as an Islander sees the world. Ideas about Islanders are expressed by well meaning "experts" with little or no reference to the actual life experiences of Islanders. MNs goal is to comprehend this lack, to come to grips with it.

Moreover, he develops the theory of the Cultural Interface (which it needs to be explained is not a capitulation to culture) as a vantage point for all of us to understand these issues.

So, when I say the book is magnificent I mean that it has personal, political and educational significance which is complex but needs to be thought deeply about. It persuades me that a complex problem, which no one has solved so far, requires a complex solution. So this book has changed me.

The educational implications are that the complexity and curriculum reform (savaging the disciplines) both have to be embraced. Unfortunately, this goes against what normally works in schools, the KISS principle, Keep It Simple Stupid.

Fortunately, some have taken up the challenge: for example, see 8 ways, the YuMi Deadly Centre and ATSIMA. I'm not certain how much of this was started independently of MN but I suspect that he started something important, that his role in all of this has been significant.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Inside the mind of David Oldfield and friends

I thought Anthony Dillon went too easy on David Oldfield in his Quadrant article (First Contact's First Sin) by focusing on the clean up the rubbish issue (where he did have a point) and not mentioning a couple of other things that Oldfield said in the First Contact series.

In the last episode, at a Noel Pearson school in Coen, Oldfield said that aboriginal people were better off learning Japanese than their own language since an aboriginal language would never help them get a job.

At another point he described aboriginal culture as a Stone Age Culture. This latter statement has been approvingly aired in a comment from Bill Martin at the end of Anthony's article:
“As David Oldfield said during the “First Contact” program, it is a Stone Age culture that should be allowed to die out. Shock horror! – it was not edited out, presumably to illustrate Oldfield’s despicable racism.

Let those objecting to Oldfield’s sentiment answer this simple question: Emotional sentimentality notwithstanding, what practical use is Aboriginal culture in contemporary Australia or any other civilised society?

All it achieved over 45-50000 years is the mere survival of the species, as did all other living organisms. It is not necessary to list the primitive, often childish details of Aboriginal culture, nor the range of its detestable aspects to conclude that the endeavour to live by it in the 21st century is a diabolical folly. Consider further that the overwhelming majority of Australians identifying as Aborigines live their lives according to the norms of contemporary Australian culture, with only a modicum of acquaintance of indigenous culture. Why, then, condemn the tiny minority living in remote communities to their appalling misery? This last question is addressed to the Dodsons, Burneys, Mansells, at al, who live according to contemporary Australian standards while enjoying the rich benefits accruing to “champions” of a culture which they have abandoned a long time ago”
If you read the comment thread (only open to Quadrant subscribers) you will find plenty more of the same sentiments.

This reminds me that Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party is resurgent according to a Newspoll in October 2016, which recorded the following support figures: Queensland 10%; NSW 6%; Western Australia 6%; South Australia 4%; Victoria 3% (One Nation soars post-election, Newspoll shows)

For reasons such as these I had a think about my own attitude to aboriginal (and western) culture.

First up, with the help of Martin Nakata and Marcia Langton I compiled a list of adjectives / descriptors used to describe aboriginal and TSI culture over the past 230 years. I then grouped those descriptors into categories of my own making:

Dangerous: Savages, Barbarians, Cannibals
Backward: Primitive; Lost souls; Stone Age; Infantile; a People from the Past; Uncivilised; Childlike; Overgrown Children; Undeveloped; Low Intelligence; Inferior; Heathen
Admirable, sort of: Noble Savage; Exotic
Regrettable: Drunks; Dirty; Irresponsible; Dying race; Victims

Of course all these labels were dreamed by our “advanced” white, Colonial civilisation and often justified according to the “advanced” science of the times:
... the inferiority of the black races is due to the cessation of the growth of the brain at an earlier age than in the white races ...
- McDougall, 1903, quoted in Nakata, p. 76
But then the science has developed, changed and apart from Quadrant comment writers, One Nation supporters (a growing tribe) and genetic determinists most people now have a more humane perception: equal but different. Now we are enlightened, well some of us, since our culture is dynamic and changes as we learn more.

Well, is indigenous culture any different? Culture, including aboriginal and TSI culture continues to evolve. Once you attempt to set any culture in Stone as David Oldfield and his friends want to do (“Stone Age Culture”) then by freezing the culture of the Other you freeze your own mind, in a superior prejudicial state, in the process. All culture evolves, is dynamic, white, black and of course multicultural.

Historically Colonial whites did use their superior technology combined with their inferior morality to intrude in every way into black lives. So, in response, in order to survive, blacks have had to learn those aspects of white culture that enabled those whites to win the war. The obvious motivation to do this was to learn from the bastards who defeated them, as well as uniting with those whites who weren't or aren't bastards. Fight back. Learn English so as to defend the good aspects of ones own culture against those who have tried and are still trying to destroy it.
We had no education to check the scales, we knew no arithmetic, subtraction, addition. If we brought up 5 or 7 tons (of pearl shells) and the price was say 155 pounds per ton, we might get, ah 5 pound or 6 pound ... just pocket money
- Ganter 1994, quoted in Nakata, p. 161
There is also an internal problem in indigenous culture. Josephine Cashman, Jacinta Price and Marcia Langton amongst others have pointed out that there are elements within aboriginal culture that legitimise violence against women. In particular, this is a problem in remote communities. They are waging a campaign against this and meeting fierce resistance from the indigenous men (as well as elements of our "advanced" culture - legal system, police) who benefit from it.
Langton spoke of "a new version of Aboriginal culture that keeps a few elements of the older culture and adds a new set of dangerous elements", elements that expose women and children to assault yet forbid them from speaking out about it.

She believes legislators have "drunk the Kool Aid" and are too afraid to interfere with the "culture" of communities, a culture that now involves high levels of violence and abuse.

From this comes a "culture of silence" as explained by Cashman, which "allows criminals to gain power over communities and to establish unfettered access to children through fear, which perpetrates a misguided tolerance of criminal behaviour."

In situations where domestic incidents are reported, victims are called "dog and snitch" for collaborating with white authorities and those who report violence and rape often find that the police responses range from slow to non-existent, she said
- Being offended by Bill Leak's cartoon misses the point, says Marcia Langton
Note that Marcia Langton condemns this "new version of Aboriginal culture". This is what I mean by all culture evolves. Josephine Cashman, Jacinta Price and Marcia Langton don't renounce their aboriginal culture, they take great pride in it, rather they renounce those aspects that are not compatible with modernity. That is aboriginal and TSI culture, an evolving work in progress, full of significant internal contradictions, just like our western culture.

Breaking Down the Barriers to Sexual Violence Care, speech by Josephine Cashman
Langton, Marcia. Well, I Heard It on the Radio and I Saw It on the Television… pdf, 46pp (1993)
Nakata, Martin. Disciplining the Savages, Savaging the Disciplines (2007)

Monday, December 19, 2016

the desire to be normal

Some people, the outsiders, speak to us as though we are normal. More sadly, some amongst us think they are normal, or at least, act as though they are. Poor blighters.

This year, many times, I've felt the need to recount this story:
"But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 6)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Samantha Power righteously condemns the Russians et al

When I googled "Syria genocide" the main article I found which made sense to me is written by a right wing think tank: Nothing can be done in Syria? Not true

Every night we watch the newsreader read the news, augmented by social media horrific footage, about the latest Aleppo massacres. It is just the news, which report facts, and doesn't reflect on the policies which created those facts.

Somewhere in memory I recall that the west had apparently learnt a lesson from the Rwandan genocide and at a later date intervened in Kosovo:
The most important precedent supporting the legitimacy of unilateral humanitarian intervention was established by the events that transpired in Kosovo between March and June of 1999.1 NATO’s intervention in Kosovo has confirmed the doctrine of humanitarian intervention as legal custom. The Kosovo incident also gave expression to the moral consensus in the international community that severe tyranny should not be tolerated.
I remember that the first George Bush created a no fly zone in Iraq which saved the Kurds from massacre by Saddam Hussein

President Obama could have created a no fly zone many years ago in Syria but instead he created a power vacuum. Putin saw this as weakness and moved in.

Samantha Power, the American UN Ambassador who has published a few books about genocide has righteously pilloried Russia, Iran and Assad for their Aleppo massacres:
Ms Power began her speech by saying how those left are now saying their final goodbyes as a city was “being erased from history”.

“This is what is being done by Member States of the United Nations who are sitting around this horseshoe table today,” she said.

“This is what is being done to the people of eastern Aleppo, to fathers, and mothers, and sons, and daughters, brothers, and sisters like each of us here.”

She went on to say how Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is being backed by Russia and Iran who are using militia on the ground to cut off the city and then hiding this shame from the world.

“To the Assad regime, Russia, and Iran, your forces and proxies are carrying out these crimes,” the speech continued.

“Your barrel bombs and mortars and air strikes have allowed the militia in Aleppo to encircle tens of thousands of civilians in your ever-tightening noose. It is your noose.

“It should shame you. Instead, by all appearances, it is emboldening you. You are plotting your next assault. Are you truly incapable of shame?

“Is there literally nothing that can shame you? Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin, that just creeps you out a little bit? Is there nothing you will not lie about or justify?”
What she forgot to add is what she wrote in her book, "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide:
Power observes that American policymakers have been consistently reluctant to condemn mass atrocities as genocide or take responsibility for leading an international military intervention. She argues that without significant pressure from the American public, policymakers avoid the term "genocide" altogether. Instead, they appeal to the priority of national interests or argue (without merit, she contends) that a U.S. response would be futile and accelerate violence as a justification for inaction