Active Thinking Topic 03 - So What Is Your Culture Anyway?

Monday 12 April 2021, 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

Any replies to the organizer -

Venue: Cafe Brunelli, 187 Rundle St · Adelaide (You must buy a drink or something. We are 'renting' the space for 2 hours)

About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding

Focus Questions

1. Who is an Australian, and who is not - as you see it?

2. Are city people less 'Australian' than country people?

3. Are millennials and after less 'Australian' than older folk?

4. How do you think people who have spent a big chunk of their lives outside Australia might feel differently about about Australia than those who have never left, or only had a holiday or two overseas? [Disclosure - Thor spent 24 years of his adult life out of Australia. On more than casual acquaintance, most of his ethnic group (Anglo-Celtic origin Australians) tend to see him as an outsider]

5. Since 1947 over 300 ethnic groups with 100 religions have come to live shoulder to shoulder in Australia. How well has this worked? What is the future of this plurality? How has the Australian multicultural experiment differed from that in other countries?

6. When people migrate to live in a different culture, especially one where the dominant ethnic group is different, what sort of mental, linguistic and emotional journey do they have to make? Is it possible mid-life to completely abandon one culture and pick up a different one?

7. What are the pluses and minuses when a country changes from multilingual to monolingual? e.g. in 1790 only 10% of people in France spoke standard French. Many countries have experienced or are experiencing this change. For example, 30% of PRC Chinese citizens still cannot use Mandarin, but that is shifting rapidly.

8. Is it true that doctors, or journalists, or engineers etc might have more in common with their international colleagues than they do with, say, local bus drivers? How powerful are professional cultures Vs national cultures? What about other international interest groups - computer game players, pop idol fans, and so on?

9. Nationalism, which is politically evolved tribalism, is often equated with culture (especially for political purposes). How does the idea of culture differ from nationalism, and where does it overlap? Examples?

10. We have the expression, "a citizen of the world". What does "citizen of the world" mean for you? Is it a good or a bad kind of identity? Are you a "citizen of the world"?

Extra Reading

Mostafa Rachwani (6 January 2021) "I didn't want to be a 'Lebo' growing up in Australia, but I came to love who I am - Lebo is a special blend of Lebanese and Australian, rooted in western Sydney and thoroughly unique." The Guardian @  [Thor, comment: A beautifully written piece, guaranteed to make you feel good - recommended reading]

Jayne Tuttle (Mon 23 Dec 2019) "The expat’s dilemma: I want my child to grow up in Australia but I didn't want to come home - When Jayne Tuttle came home for Christmas after a decade and a half abroad, it was never meant to be permanent. Her daughter had other plans" The Guardian @ 

Thaddeus Metz (2019) "Neither parochial nor cosmopolitan: cultural instruction in the light of an African communal ethic". University of Johannesburg, South Africa, in Education as Change @ 

Ryan Weber (26 April 2019) "Percy Grainger’s Cosmopolitan Imagination". Cambridge University Press @ 

Subho Basu (March 22, 2021) "The birth of Bangladesh and nationality question in South Asia". The Daily Star [Bangladesh] @ 

Nishat (26 March 2021) "I was asked the same question in two countries. It showed me what it means to belong". ABC news @ 

Annabel Crabb (20 May 2018) "Back in time for dinner - Guided by Annabel Crabb, an Aussie family goes on a time-travelling adventure to discover how the food we eat has transformed the way we live, the fabric of the nation and defined family roles over the past 60 years". [Reality TV series]. ABC @ 

Thor May (2015) "So You Love Humanity But Can't Stand People?". Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "It is a remarkable fact that history’s most genocidal tyrants, as well as any normal garden variety of politician, will usually have a long list of wonderfully sensible quotations attached to their name. They all love mankind. Very rarely indeed do they sound like quintessential godfathers of evil, especially nowadays while sitting around a discussion table in a television studio .... I fear that much as I love an idealized “mankind” in philosophical moments, like the politicians, dealing with actual human critters on Monday morning might sometimes draw me to thoughts best not discussed in polite company."

Thor May (2014) " Multicultures – communities of familiar strangers". Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "When a stranger asks “what do you do?”, as he fishes for the right stereotype to pin on my chest as a mark of admiration or secret contempt, I am at a loss to answer. That is, I am a man of my age, a chameleon creature accustomed to slipping amongst a kaleidoscope of roles. This plurality of role plays does not mean that I am "values free". I don't care if you wear a hijab or burn incense in a Buddhist temple. I do care for a marker such as "above all, do no harm"..."

Thor May (2010) "Cultural Operating Systems". Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "To those who wish to keep their "cultural operating systems", like the Korean or Russian or Thai or French, "pure", closed, proprietary, without outside influence, I say you are in great danger. Maybe your closed cultural system was elegant and refined. Maybe it has a glorious past history. But it ultimately comes from an earlier human civilization of small, savage tribal groups. Now we humans are many, crowded on a small planet, and communicating with everyone instantly. We need a different design, and that has to be an Open System".] [Quote: "To those who wish to keep their "cultural operating systems", like the Korean or Russian or Thai or French, "pure", closed, proprietary, without outside influence, I say you are in great danger. Maybe your closed cultural system was elegant and refined. Maybe it has a glorious past history. But it ultimately comes from an earlier human civilization of small, savage tribal groups. Now we humans are many, crowded on a small planet, and communicating with everyone instantly. We need a different design, and that has to be an Open System".]

Thor May (2013) "Monolingualism and How to Fix It (if it needs fixing)". The Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "The argument I will develop in this essay is that the foreign students are a latent human resource who can assist with overcoming English monolingualism in the Australian population. Foreign students, properly rewarded, can be a major source of skills transfer. Every one of those students is a walking compendium of language and cultural skills that Australians need to know"]

Pat Stringa, Letters editor (March 26, 2021) "PM, are you listening? Here are our stories. Hear us roar - Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was listening, so we asked women to tell us their stories. And they have - in the hundreds". Brisbane Times @  [Thor, comment: There is more than an hour's reading in this link - all letters from Australian women describing rape or sexual aggression. The present context is political, yet there is no obvious, easy political fix. The issue is cultural, but in a universal way for gender relations, not so much in a local national way. And humans are so individually various. There is a dilemma both for men (not dealt with here) and for women. Although the setting is modern Australia, the female experience of being sexual victims has pretty obviously been part of human experience since before we came down from the trees. All religions without exception and regardless of their founding canon, seem to rapidly evolve to centre around issues of gender relationships, and typically prescribe rules of male dominance and female submission. Modern Australian cultures in most cases have escaped those religious arguments, so the flux of male-female relationships is fluid, though bent towards the original primate patterns. Certainly the women who wrote in, some over 80, feel the game is entirely stacked against them, that they are weary and fearful of being constantly harassed, and that males feel overwhelmingly entitled. I get that. It's hard. Yet this particular man never felt entitled. Clearly I wasn't a so-called alpha male. In fact, the subliminal message I've received again and again from many, many women, not men, since I was aware of such things, is that I should act in a more entitled way if I wanted to be admired as a 'man'. Maybe we all need a magical phone app to give a digital readout on what the other girl/guy is really thinking]

Annabel Crabb (28 March 2021) "A new power has risen in Australian politics — and it's not coming quietly". ABC news @ 

By Stan Grant (28 March 2021) "In America, a cancer is eating democracy from the inside, and China has clocked the weakness". ABC news @  [Thor, comment : This is interpretative journalism, and I'm not sure that I entirely agree with the writer's conclusions. There is a kind of meta-culture of relationships between countries which doesn't interest most people much, though in the long run it has large consequences, including war and peace. Stan Grant accurately puts his finger on current weaknesses and political attitudes in USA and the PRC. What is much less certain are outcomes. Nation states are incredibly complex things where hidden forces can overturn expectations overnight]

Chris Uhlmann, Nine News Political Editor (March 31, 2021) "An Australia at war with itself is ill prepared for these dangerous times". Brisbane Times @  [Thor, comment: Uhlmann's pitch is that Australians no longer have any values because they are no longer Christians, that they are a fragmented rabble which anyone, or particularly the Chinese state, can/will turn into porridge before breakfast because the Chinese state knows exactly what it wants. Seems to me that Uhlmann is a very confused man, and it's a bit of a worry that he's the Nine News Political Editor. However, he does have lots of company. Read the comments for some more balanced views. On the China thing, Xi Jinping might know what he wants (and we have to prepare for that) but the current incestuous Beijing political bubble is no more 'China' than the circus animals inside Canberra's parliament are 'Australia'.)]

Free zip file of PDF cards on critical thinking, bias etc at . They are excellent. (Thanks to George Kruszewski for the link).

This zip file contains:

Logical Fallacies wall posters (24x36" & A3 size)
Cognitive Biases wall posters (24x36" & A3 size)
Critical Thinking Cards (US letter & A4 size)
Creative Thinking Tools wall posters (24x36" & A3 series)
Creative Thinking Tools Cards (US Letter & A4 size)
Free Learning List Wall Poster (17x11" Size)

Australia Calling Home   Thor May  

I remember burning beaches and the rush of salty waves,

I remember long cool drinks in the shade of old tin shacks.

There were dusty tracks through bushland to hidden mountain pools,

And brainless boys who lived to tell of leaps from walls of rock.

We grew to slicked down teens on the hunt for bimbo blondes,

And our rusty hurtling cars were the terror of the streets.

We were careless of the hard bright sun, of booze and friendly smiles,

Then fell for love, the fix was in, Australia was our home.

Thor, China
spring 2008

[Thor, comment: all poets are liars]


So What Is Your Culture Anyway? (c) Thor May 2021 

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