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Category Archives: humanity

The inspirational Muhammad Yunus

Here is a clear case of the importance of rejecting group-think, stereotypes and prejudices about Islam and Muslim people. Andrew Denton interviewed Muhammud Yunus on Monday. See also: Meet the New Heroes and the Yunus Centre:

yunus-centre5

ANDREW DENTON: Your dad, have I got his name right? Doula Mia?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Doula Mia, yes.

ANDREW DENTON: You described him as, you were what you were largely because of him. What was it he taught you?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Well he didn’t have much education, he went to school up to eighth grade, my mother went to school to about fourth grade. But he always wanted his children to go to school. He valued education very much, so every single child he wanted to put in school and kept them in the school. Usually in a business family of that level they always want to get their children to come and work with them, expand the business and so on, but my father never tried to do that. My father always said "No no, don’t waste your time, you stay in school and continue with your education". So that was very important. He was a very religious person.

ANDREW DENTON: He did the Hajj I think three times didn’t he? He went to Mecca three times.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Yeah, that’s right, he performed his Hajj.

ANDREW DENTON: What’s your memory of him going doing that?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Well, at that time going to Hajj was a big thing because there was no plane to take you, so you go by ship. So for them it’s a big journey to go and we, as kids, we waited for all the gifts for us, when he gets back.

ANDREW DENTON: Like kids everywhere.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Like kids everywhere, yeah.

ANDREW DENTON: What sort of gifts would he bring back from the Hajj?

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: From Hajj he’d bring … dates, this is a very favourite one so we would like to wait for them and lots of trinkets for kids… even the coins, we loved the coins he would bring for us, the coins of another country, so that’s another attractive thing for us.

ANDREW DENTON: So exotic.

MUHAMMAD YUNUS: Exotic, yes…

 

Thursday recommended site of the week: 1

indigabc

Yes, a new feature for this blog! (And easy to do too…) But really, do look. The screen shot is linked to this excellent site where you will find much more than just the bad news or the sensation of the day.

 

Not quite the promised climate change post

I need to pause before I attempt the summation I promised yesterday, so below I will list some additional resources.

But first some preliminary observations.

1. While “MAGIC PUDDING POLITICS” (Rudd on Brer Abbott) is not nearly as effective a mantra as “GREAT BIG TAX ON NEARLY EVERYTHING” (Brer Abbott on Rudd) the greater truth is in the Rudd mantra. The idea of a costless response to climate change is a sick joke. I do in fact believe that nuclear power should be in the mix, siding to that extent with Brer Abbott (and James Lovelock), but that has to be seen in a context too.

THE Opposition’s desire to embrace nuclear power in the absence of an emissions trading scheme or carbon tax would result in electricity price rises of between 10 per cent and 33 per cent, according to estimates by the Howard government’s nuclear energy expert, Ziggy Switkowski.

In a report for John Howard in 2006, Dr Switkowski found nuclear power would never be commercially viable unless fossil fuel-generated electricity was made more expensive using an ETS or carbon tax.

This resulted in Mr Howard embracing an emissions trading scheme as a way to reduce greenhouse gases while keeping open the nuclear option for the future.

In a dramatic departure from policy, the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has abandoned support for any market-based mechanism, such as an ETS or a carbon tax, as part of the Coalition’s greenhouse strategy…

2. It is such a shame the whole issue has become politicised, but I suppose that is inevitable in a democracy. Fact is, however, that there are limits to what “debate” can actually achieve in the face of phenomena that really do not depend, in the long run, on our ideological positions or the wheelbarrows we choose to push.  Dithering is one of the less savoury outcomes of a democratic process, not that I prefer the alternative really – but a country like China is actually better placed to act decisively, for good or ill. Such a shame we are mere humans and not gods, isn’t it?

3. Given the abysmal level of much of our dithering both here and overseas, and given the importance of the issue, nothing is to be gained by censorship of the kind that apparently has happened at the CSIRO or by fudging data, as apparently happened at the East Anglia CRU. While we would all do well to forget unlikely scenarios like the movie The Day After Tomorrow and must all concede that Al Gore oversimplified in An Inconvenient Truth, we should also realise that what happened at the CSIRO or East Anglia does not invalidate the overall truth of the IPCC reports. The IPCC does not engage in research; all it does is weigh the research and gather together the implications of that research for our consideration. There was much more input to its reports than East Anglia.

Hence comments like this on the latest offering (for climate change action I hasten to add) of Sojourners, a “left evangelical” site, really are tragic.

I think it is useing a lie to push their ideas. there is no man made global warming. yes take care of the environment, being a christian this should be second nature, shouldnt need to push for eco-prophets. nature changes all the time. thats life. honesty is important and there isnt much of that in this environment "emergency" that is being pushed. The other point is that the UN has no concern for the poor. they people they have chosen to make us believe in global warming are liars. and the proposals they want to accomplish will Not help the poor but make it harder for them. If you cant see that then you have blinders on.

There are so many prejudices running through that comment one hardly knows where to start.

4. Check some recent stories in the Sydney Morning Herald.

5. Realise that there are left as well as right-wing critiques of “market strategies” like cap and trade or carbon tax.

The Same Boat

Imagine 10 rabbits lost at sea, in a boat carved out of a giant carrot.

The carrot is their only source of food, so they all keep nibbling at it. The boat is shrinking rapidly – but none of them wants to be the first to stop, because then they’ll be the first to starve. There’s no point in any of them stopping unless everyone stops – if even one rabbit carries on eating, the boat will sink.

This is the international climate crisis in a (Beatrix Potter-flavoured) nutshell: action by individual nations achieves little unless we all act together. Of course, reality is a little more complex. While it’s easy to imagine the rabbits reaching a simple agreement where they all learn to dredge for seaweed instead, our situation involves massive global inequalities, differing levels of responsibility, and a history of exploitation and broken international promises.

Perhaps, then, we shouldn’t be too surprised that the international climate negotiations – which began in earnest in 1990 with the talks that created the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – have not yet got us a workable global solution. The best we’ve managed so far has been the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, under which industrialized nations (known as ‘Annex 1’ countries) pledged to cut their CO emissions by a completely inadequate 5.2 per cent by 2012. The US famously pulled out of the deal, and most of those who remained in are unlikely to achieve even these small cuts…

Down with Kyoto

We shouldn’t get too hung up on Copenhagen – we’re far more likely to create lasting change by building powerful national and international movements than by pouring all our energy into specific summit meetings. But it’s hard to deny that we need some sort of international framework for tackling this global issue. Despite its flaws, the UNFCCC is the only one we’ve got, and the urgency of the climate issue requires us to work with it.

However, the Kyoto Protocol has been a dismal failure. Should we demand that governments scrap it completely and start again from scratch? It’s tempting, but would be unlikely to gain the crucial support of Southern negotiators, who fear that a brand new deal would see them lose their hard-won ‘differentiated responsibility’.

A better approach might be to create space within the existing talks for alternative, fairer systems and ideas – such as GDRs, Kyoto2, community-led solutions, indigenous rights, strings-free clean development assistance, patent-free technology transfer – to get a hearing. Currently emissions trading, private financing and market-based mechanisms are seen as the only route to greenhouse gas reductions, and are crowding everything else out of the debate.

This suggests a simple, effective starting point for developing a successful – and just – global agreement: we need to get rid of carbon trading…

Confused yet? One tip though: if anyone has all their ideas on the subject from Quadrant or Ms Devine or Mr Bolt they aren’t worth taking too seriously. The entries immediately above, on the other hand, are predicated on an anti “free market” perspective. They are putting their faith in sustainables as the answer. I don’t really see either as being much practical help, though more is to be said for the New Internationalist stance than Quadrant’s.

OK, I’ll try again later on…

See also: entries here tagged “environment".

 

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Zimbabwe

While we all wait here in Oz to see how the Liberal Party’s three ring circus pans out – see entry above – I thought I’d mention a story I caught on BBC World Service last night. I went straight to the relevant site this morning.

Washington, DC – President Barack Obama and Ethel Kennedy presented Magodonga Mahlangu and her organization, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), with the 2009 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award this evening at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award annually honors courageous and innovative human rights defenders throughout the world who stand up against injustice, often at great personal risk.

“By her example, Magodonga has shown the women of WOZA and the people of Zimbabwe that they can undermine their oppressors’ power with their own power — that they can sap a dictator’s strength with their own. Her courage has inspired others to summon theirs. And the organization’s name, WOZA — which means “come forward” — has become its impact — its impact has been even more as people know of the violence that they face, and more people have come forward to join them,” said President Obama.

The event, sponsored by the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center), also included remarks by Kerry Kennedy and a tribute to Senator Edward Kennedy, an RFK Center founding board member from 1968-2009. RFK Board Chair and former Chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party Phil Johnston, introduced the President. Over 200 guests including First Lady Michelle Obama, Administration officials, Members of Congress and the Washington diplomatic community attended.

WOZA is a grassroots movement working to empower women from all walks of life to mobilize and take non-violent action against injustice. WOZA helps its members to stand up for human rights and speak up about the worsening economic, social and political conditions in Zimbabwe at great personal risk. Since its founding in December 2002, WOZA has staged hundreds of peaceful marches in support of democratic reform and women’s empowerment. The Government of Zimbabwe has jailed Ms. Mahlangu along with WOZA founder Jenni Williams over 30 times and thousands of WOZA members have spent time in police custody.

“Arrests do not deter us because WOZA has empowered us to believe that we deserve better. We deserve to have a roof over our head, food in our stomachs, our children in schools and the nation working”, said Ms. Mahlangu. “We deserve to live in dignity and free from fear; and it is our right to have our voices heard and respected. That is why I joined WOZA. While Mugabe boasts of having degrees in violence, I and 75,000 WOZA members who stand beside me, have degrees in non-violence.”

“We are not fighting a revolution in Zimbabwe, we are leading an evolution. And civic education is our tool to evolve the hearts and minds of Zimbabweans to build a strong, new, African democracy where respect, tolerance and accountability are key”, said Jenni Williams, who accepted the award on behalf of the organization.

Williams added, “Mr. President you know how invaluable community mobilizing can be. We have learnt that knocking on doors, talking with and listening to people is the way we can rebuild our nation. We call on you, to support community mobilizers who are organized to empower Zimbabweans to deliver change from the ground up.”…

For more inspiration go to BBC and read about the writer Petina Gappah.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2009 in Africa, amazing, human rights, humanity, inspiration

 

Helen Bamber

Last night Andrew Denton interviewed Helen Bamber. The prepublicity had been – basically — Helen who?

I had read Neil Belton’s The Good Listener: A Life against Cruelty [1998] some time back – see Only the demons are dancing… – and looked forward to seeing and hearing her for the first time. I was not disappointed.

bamber01 ANDREW DENTON: What is it about the world today that scares you?

HELEN BAMBER: When people, when victims are thrown up through man’s inhumanity, whatever it is, through war, through ethnic violence, whatever it is, I feel the banality of and the denial that accompanies people’s stories and people’s claim for protection when they’re really in danger. Very, very problematic indeed.

ANDREW DENTON: I’m struck by what you said before though when you became upset, you said that these stories have to be told over and over again. Why do people have to be reminded? Why have they forgotten?

HELEN BAMBER: Yes some people don’t know and don’t want to know and have no historical sense of what’s gone on even for their parents or their grandparents, It is the denial of people in a consumer society that we have in our midst, people who are living in danger, who fear danger if they are returned, who may be deemed and (I don’t know whether this is a word that’s used in other countries), may be deemed to be failed asylum seekers. And therefore they are denied protection, they are denied benefits and they’re denied accommodation and healthcare. And I find this extraordinary in a civilised world, a civilised country, a civilised Europe…

ANDREW DENTON: Are you optimistic for the future of humanity?

HELEN BAMBER: I wish we could learn better, both in psychological terms because there’s so much knowledge, and in political terms, and especially in historical terms. I wish we could learn.

ANDREW DENTON: Helen, I’ve asked you to bring in one thing from your life that means something to you. What have you brought?

HELEN BAMBER: Oh yes, yes. I thought about it and course, because I am a collector, there were hundreds of things…but there’s this, this was given to me in Belsen. You know after liberation and when people got better we began to develop a kind of structure within the camp because people were going to be there for so long. I don’t think people realised but people remained there until 1950, many years there was nowhere for them to go. No doors were open for them, and so workshops were set up and a committee was set up, and a theatre was set up and this is one of the things that was made in the workshop, and this was given to me by a young… I don’t know how old he was – probably 16, 17… and he said don’t forget me. When I was holding this and talking my colleagues said you know your holding it a bit like a microphone and it’s interesting you know, telling the story…

A great woman.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2009 in History, Holocaust, human rights, humanity, media watch, memory, TV

 

Apology to forgotten Australians

Yesterday was a great day in Parliament.

THEY were called the ”forgotten Australians”.

But the more than half a million state wards, foster children and former child migrants were renamed the ”remembered Australians” yesterday by Kevin Rudd, as he apologised on behalf of the nation for the abuse and neglect they suffered in church and state care.

Mr Rudd and the Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, fought back tears as they delivered the historic apology in the Great Hall of Parliament House…

You can see a powerful documentary on these matters on ABC at 8.30 tonight.

Meanwhile I have been interviewing an old Darlington resident and activist, Bev Hunter, about the suburb a university swallowed – and I have been going down memory lane rather a bit myself in the process. That’s the current South Sydney Herald project and the deadline is 24 hours off…

See you later.

Update 2.00 pm

Article done. Here is a sneak preview:

Shuffling the years with Bev Hunter

Like old Dan in Judith Wright’s “South of My Days” John and Bev Hunter have seventy years of Darlington memories hived up in them like old honey. “It was a great place. We had the best of it,” Bev recalls. “It was a really safe area. You could leave your key in the door, or leave it open, or the key under the mat. You never got shut out.” …

Wait for the December/January South Sydney Herald for the rest.

 

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… and on

Following on yesterday I commend Jim Belshaw’s post Refugees and a contempt for the ordinary person.

… I do not think that either Mr Rudd or Mr Howard before him know how deeply upset we are.

There are, as Neil noted, some 16 million refugees globally excluding internally displaced persons. There is no way Australia could manage this current number. Hard choices have to be made…

I also congratulate the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Paul Howes.

The Labor Party has found a leader’s voice on boat people and immigration – but it’s not the Prime Minister’s.

The task has fallen to a most unlikely candidate, a 28-year-old right-wing union leader who grew up poor in the Blue Mountains. It’s the voice of the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, the very outfit that led the creation of White Australia a century ago.

While Kevin Rudd continued to duck and weave yesterday to avoid antagonising anti-immigrant sentiment in the outer suburbs, Paul Howes confronted it. Howes is saying plainly what Rudd has not dared. He was in Canberra yesterday speaking in favour of humanity and strongly setting out Labor’s policy in favour of immigration.

”The immaturity in political debate in Australia sometimes makes me sick,” Howes said. ”There are politicians in both the Liberal and Labor parties who are exploiting the issue of race to whip up fear in the community. Question time is dominated by 78 people on a boat. We have around 50,000 visa overstayers every year,” he said of people who arrive by plane rather than boat. ”Is anyone saying this is a national crisis? One reason there is no outrage is that these people are mainly white and speak English. Is anyone demanding we clean out the backpackers’ hostels of Bondi and Surry Hills?”…

On Sri Lanka at the moment see Sri Lanka: it’s only business as usual so why the fuss?

 

The beat goes on

I am still frustrated by the undue attention being given to “boat people” as such and the lack of proportion in the whole debate. A reminder about proportion can be found in the recent UNHCR Report.

The number of people forcibly uprooted by conflict and persecution worldwide stood at 42 million at the end of last year amid a sharp slowdown in repatriation and more prolonged conflicts resulting in protracted displacement. The total includes 16 million refugees and asylum seekers and 26 million internally displaced people uprooted within their own countries, according to UNHCR’s annual "Global Trends" report released today.

The new report says 80 percent of the world’s refugees are in developing nations, as are the vast majority of internally displaced people – a population with whom the UN refugee agency is increasingly involved. Many have been uprooted for years with no end in sight.

Although the overall total of 42 million uprooted people at year’s end represents a drop of about 700,000 over the previous year, new displacement in 2009 – not reflected in the annual report – has already more than offset the decline.

"In 2009, we have already seen substantial new displacements, namely in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Somalia," UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said. "While some displacements may be short-lived, others can take years and even decades to resolve. We continue to face several longer-term internal displacement situations in places like Colombia, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia. Each of these conflicts has also generated refugees who flee beyond their own borders."

The report counts 29 different groups of 25,000 or more refugees in 22 nations who have been in exile for five years or longer and for whom there are no immediate solutions in sight. This means at least 5.7 million refugees are living in limbo…

And we are stressing about a few thousand. Not to mention the much greater number of over-stayers and so on who come in the “front door” by plane.

It’s all politicking really, as I said in the previous entry and it has to be admitted the Rudd government has not been all that brilliant, as Michelle Grattan says. Even Gerard Henderson has a real point in his column last Monday: Wielding the whip on asylum seekers: both sides have done it.

But I am appalled by comments like this one attached to Michelle Grattan’s article:

there is an easy way to fix this problem… simply refuse to let any illegal entrants to our country from coming ashore.. and wait until the boat sinks. the people smugglers and illegals will soon learn that australia is the hardest target in the world. problem solved! .. they are ILLEGALLY entering the country and deserve no sympathy whatsoever, just like if i illegally enter another country, then i deserve no sympathy either.

Sure…

 

Trivialising an important document

Six days ago in Something else to brag about… I led with a story about Australia being #2 in best quality of life in the world, well ahead of the USA. That is the angle the Sydney Morning Herald took, mentioning only in passing that this was in a UN report on migration and development.

Well, I suppose it is nice that we are up there, but in fact that is the least important thing about the report which is a quite wonderful overview of population shifts in the world today, reasons for them, governments’ policies on them, and how the migrants/refugees are faring. I admit to reading the report, which I downloaded, after writing that post.

It really is a bit shameful that all the Herald could do with it was an innocuous enough bit of jingoism, but it would have been good to have had this important document given the weight it deserves. So often our view of immigration and refugee matters is essentially parochial and often disproportionate, not to mention the prejudice and manipulation of facts so often attaching to the issue. The UN report should be compulsory reading for all with something to say on the topic.

So download it.

The 2010 Report is under way.

Human development is about putting people at the centre of development. It is about people realizing their potential, increasing their choices and enjoying the freedom to lead lives they value. Since 1990, annual Human Development Reports have explored challenges including poverty, gender, democracy, human rights, cultural liberty, globalization, water scarcity, climate change, and mobility.

The year 2010 marks the twentieth anniversary of the human development report and offers an opportunity to reappraise its contribution and to make the case for a new human development vision to meet the challenges and opportunities of the twenty-first century. This concept note, based on a series of valuable discussions with colleagues in different parts of the UNDP, sets out the basic approach to tackle this task, which will focus on the implications of the human development approach for development policies and strategies.

Since 1990, the Human Development Report has been a major force in thinking about development, not only by highlighting the inadequacy of per capita income as the sole measure of a society’s progress, but also by exploring how a people-centred approach affects the way we should think about key challenges. The reports have covered subjects as diverse as participation, cultural liberty and financing, as well as larger global challenges like cooperation and climate change. The human development approach has influenced many strands of development thinking and the ways that most policymakers and researchers think about human progress. The 2010 report aims to take this contribution significantly further by showing how placing human development at the center of our priorities changes the ways in which we think about, formulate, implement and monitor development policies designed to promote empowerment, address inequality and tackle sustainability.

The proposed outline has three parts. First, a systematic assessment of progress and setbacks in human development since the 1970s, in which we discuss what has been achieved, what seems to work, and what are the key gaps and constraints. The second part will revisit the concept of human development – and its measurement (including the Human Development Index) – and propose the enhancements needed to help policy-makers ensure that people are at the centre of development. In this light, the third and final part would highlight concrete implications for policy and development strategies, and outline recommendations for a new development agenda…

The measure referred to in the Herald article is the latest Gini coefficient of inequality. Here is 2007-8, the lower the score the better:

800px-Gini_Coefficient_World_Human_Development_Report_2007-2008

 
 

Support appeals for natural disaster relief

The region to our north and north-west continues to be hit by earthquakes and typhoons. Take time out to help. Most readers will know what organisations to contact to make donations. Some are listed in this article. The Uniting Church offers a direct donation facility here.

 
 

What a week!

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2009 in environment, events, humanity

 

Reading several books at once may do your head in…

… or it may set up a rather interesting and unexpected harmonic.

The three books in question are:

All three are well worth reading. 

I give Armstrong five stars more as a history than as a work that is entirely convincing theologically – it is if you agree with her, which I am inclined to do, but even so I still take the Axial Age hypothesis with a grain or two of salt. What is good in this wide-ranging work is the fresh insight it has afforded me into unexpected and often hitherto unexplored parallels in the thinkers and prophets of the ancient world in Greece, India, the Middle East and China. Armstrong is no fundamentalist; her very respectable scepticism on the historicity of much of the Bible as “fact” bears witness to that. On the other hand, her opposition of mythos and logos will not appeal to everyone, even if I think there is much to be said for it so long as one realises it has the weakness of all such dichotomies. Religion to Armstrong is not well served by being treated as logos. Paradoxically that is what fundamentalists tend to do. Mythos reminds me more than anything of John Keats and “negative capability.”

I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.

More on Armstrong: Heavy-hitter stands up for God and religion; Richard Dawkins vs. Karen Armstrong: "Where Does Evolution Leave God?"; Man vs. God – the Armstrong/Dawkins “debate” which was reprinted in The Australian this weekend: it mostly shows two contrasting sensibilities, in my opinion.

I repeat: Armstrong is an excellent historian of ideas.

D Michael Lindsay is an excellent ethnologist of religion. I very much agree with this review.

Summary: This author spoke with more than 300 leaders in politics, business, academia, media and entertainment between 2003 and 2006. All were self-identified evangelicals, a category Lindsay defines as "someone who believes (1) the Bible is the supreme authority for religious belief and practice, (2) that he or she has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and (3) that one should take a transforming activist approach to faith." His intent was to study the historical events and social forces that have facilitated the movement of evangelicals into prominent mainstream positions and roles during the past forty or fifty years. He focuses on four broad sectors reflective of modern life in America – politics, higher education, entertainment and business. How did evangelical influences come to wield any kind of power in this democracy, given the small percentage of adherents relative to that of the greater population of more casual believers?

Lindsay’s essential answer is that evangelicals have chosen to actively apply themselves (through both their labor and their not inconsiderable resources) to the job of ensuring that their understanding of Christian behavior and values seed the future direction of American culture and government. In his view, the various groups have accomplished a tremendous amount in politics and education but have had far less impact on the media and entertainment industries. In the corporate environment, he notes that influential business executives seem to put more emphasis on leveraging their faith at levels that don’t necessarily include local churches or parishes tending instead to focus on the parachurch. [Note: I had to look this word up; it refers to bodies that operate outside of and across denominational churches to accomplish specific goals. I gather the word tends to be used chiefly in evangelical circles.]

One of the great strengths of Lindsay’s documentation is that he makes it clear that evangelicals are far from being a monolithic group. Whether talking about specific individuals or evangelical organizations, he makes clear that they are diverse and sometimes accomplish their goals by aligning with clearly different belief sectors, such as the Roman Catholic Church, when necessary to achieve an end. Such alliances don’t always last, for obvious reasons, but the evangelicals have built social relationships and networks that foster the desired end result…

It is “thick description” – far more subtle than the standard rant pro or con religion in US politics. I found it fascinating.

SONY DSC                     Timothy Clack is far younger than I thought! He is “[St Peter’s] College [Oxford] Lecturer in Archaeology and Director of Studies in Archaeology and Anthropology. Tim is an anthropological archaeologist with diverse research and teaching interests. Themes with which he is currently engaged include: archaeology of experience, archaeological mediation, syncretism and religious fusion, anthropology of conflict, and memory and cultural landscapes. He has been fortunate in being able to conduct archaeological and anthropological research in the UK, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Borneo. Timothy is an elected fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Anthropological Institute. He is also holds associate membership of the British Institute in Eastern Africa and the African Studies Centre, University of Oxford.”

He has, however, not been well served by proof-readers – there are quite a few clangers in Ancestral Roots. For example, I am sure Dr Clack knows that T H Huxley is not the same as Aldous Huxley, though they are related.

The book is in the evolutionary biology genre, but ranges much more widely than most. According to Alan Bilsborough in The Times Educational Supplement: “Overall, Ancestral Roots is a fluent and wide-ranging account of the human condition viewed from an evolutionary perspective, although the author’s preaching sometimes obtrudes to interrupt the flow. The text suffers from the selectivity of all such eclectic accounts, and there are sufficient errors of detail in the bits I think I know something about to make me wonder as to the accuracy of those I don’t. In other words, read this book as a stimulating and engaging survey, but don’t take it too seriously as a definitive diagnosis of our current predicament.”  I didn’t mind the preaching, personally. Loved what he says about ethnocentrism, religion, and co-operation – just to name a few areas.

 

A five-finger exercise

While my coachee slaved away on a Trial HSC English Advanced paper this morning I undertook to answer the creative writing question from our previous session: “Select one of the following quotations. Use this quotation as a catalyst for your own piece of writing on belonging.” I think I rather overdid the thematic side, but I was hoping to demonstrate how this rather artificial task may be done. It isn’t fiction, but that’s in the parameters given.

c) “My fondest childhood memories”

When you think about it there is a lot of truth in the old Catholic saying “Give me a child to the age of seven and I will show you the man.” By that age our sense of identity, which is so much shaped by our sense of belonging to family, home, town and country, are basically set – if not in stone, at least firmly enough that escape if needed is quite difficult.

In my case my grandfather rather than my father was the key influence. My father, you see, was rarely home, being overseas with the RAAF, so my family were living with my grandparents, and the one who had time for me most was my grandfather.

My grandfather was a retired teacher. I don’t know how he did it, can’t remember, but before I went to school I could already read and tell the time. This led to early alienation in Kindergarten. Invited in week one to “write” on the blackboard I wrote “Sydney Morning Herald” and the date. I gather the teacher was not amused and rang my mother to complain – strange as that may seem.

He was a mine of information, my grandfather, and I was a hyper-inquisitive child. Once he was gardening and I asked him: “What are snails for?” He stood up and took me round the garden, showing me snails, describing their life-cycle, their means of locomotion and their feeding habits and why, if we wanted our lettuces, he had to get rid of them. “Yes,” I replied with precocious analytical skills, “but what are they FOR?” Since the metaphysics of the snail was not something that had occurred to him he became uncharacteristically short with me and called out to my mother, “Get this bloody kid out of here!”

I never have found out what snails are for, but I guess they fit into the web of life. Even snails belong, don’t they?

Another thing about my grandfather was that he talked to just about everybody. He was genuinely interested in their lives and what they did. I would accompany him on his walks and get impatient as he stopped at this fence or that gate to chat to someone for what seemed like hours to me. I was not displeased though when he would climb over the railway fence to chat to the driver of the milk train when it was waiting at the siding for the express train to go through. There were steam engines in those days and I was enthralled standing on the tracks with my grandfather as the fireman and driver leaned down from the cab to share finer points of their trade.

On the other hand, so I am told, when my father at last returned from overseas my first words to him were “Get that man out of here!” (Perhaps I learned the expression from my grandfather.) To me my father was the picture on the dressing table, not this large imposter who had suddenly disrupted my life, just when I had my mother pretty much in control. What this may have done to our relationship, indeed to my father’s recovery of his belonging, I can now only guess – but it did rather colour our later lives.

You can see what a network one close relative can set up for you in those formative years. With my grandfather I explored so many aspects of my environment and he was, you could say, my map-maker. Through him were developing all those templates of background, culture and place which shape so much where “I” fits in – belongs, indeed.

There are many other stories I could tell of my grandfather. Did I mention he only had one eye? No? But that is another story.

I was 21 when my grandfather died. He had mentored me in so many ways, easing the pain of high school maths, answering my incessant questions about other countries as we browsed the atlas together, showing by example tolerance of people from other cultures, leading me (without pressure) to emulate him in my choice of career. If he were removed from my life story I wonder if I would today have the network of belongings that I now possess, modified as they may have been by other experiences and circumstances. Nonetheless, if I look for the rock on which it all has been built I need look no further than those childhood experiences with Roy C. – my grandfather.

 

Respect, yes; fetishism, no.

One of the great weaknesses of otherwise laudable desires to avoid racism or promote inclusivism – both desires are mine too – is that in action it tends to become a kind of puritanism, a set of shibboleths which do nothing to promote the true spirit of consideration and compassion that ought to be at the heart of what its detractors label “political correctness”. For example, the pursuit of non-sexist inclusive language by those who are, in my view, tone deaf or linguistically challenged leads to absurdities like rejecting “kingdom” in the traditional version of the Lord’s Prayer but not objecting to “realm” or “reign”, apparently not realising the ultimate root of those words is the Latin “rex/regis” which of course means “king”. Similarly, such folk object to “mastery” but not “domain”, which comes from Latin “dominus” meaning “master”. The most curious one to me is “women” which, believe it or not, has nothing to do with “men”.

Now we have Michael Mansell and others sounding off on the apparent racism of these two busts.

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They depict Tasmanian Woureddy and his wife Truganini. I have seen them and to me they are both haunting and beautiful and a reminder of a great Australian tragedy. They are far more impressive than any other depictions I have seen. While it is true that Woureddy and Truganini  used to be referred to as the “last Tasmanian Aborigines” and while it is also true this is not strictly so, as descendants of the Tasmanian Aborigines are alive and well today, they do represent an irrevocable loss, both for Tasmanian Aborigines and for all Australians.

But here ideology takes over – scoring, in my view, an own goal.

Two women from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre allege they were verbally abused and threatened at the museum yesterday when they demanded the removal of the copies from public display.

The centre’s legal director Michael Mansell says such images convey the extermination of Aboriginal people.

"These images are held up to perpetuate the racist myth that unless you were so called full-blood, untainted by marrying with white people, you weren’t a real aborigine," he said. "The fact that the museum has been displaying a bust of Truganini, along with the busts of other people, is perpetuating the myth. Everybody knows that the image of Truganini conveys to the racist people of the world that she was the last something or other…either the last full blood or last aboriginal. That is a racist perpetuation of a myth and her image is being used to try to exterminate the aboriginal people in Tasmania. For that reason her bust should not be sold just so people can make money out of it. These busts shoud be returned to the aboriginal community in Tasmania without any conditions so that aborigianl people are no longer hurt by the use of the images of a dead woman who can’t protect herself and who, if is she had known about this, would have objected very strongly," Mr Mansell said.

OK, I may share the argument about making money out of them, but the fact is they are also art works and as such may change hands.  But instead of worrying about what the busts convey to the “racist people of the world” we should reflect on what they convey to anyone with an ounce of brains – but I have already noted what they convey to me. What do you think?