THE PASSIONATE SKEPTIC
Australian Democracy Wall? / Marrying
Out - The New World Order? / Island
of Friendly Departures / Learning
Our Lines: A Lesson For The Second Millennium? / Qualifying
for Life ? / A Cross-Eyed Centre
of the Universe / Media
News - Another Invention We Had to Have? / Indochine
- Why We Repainted Our Faces / Realpolitik
: The Tectonic Plates of Geopolitics / Reckless
Instinct / Easy
Beliefs : Is Social Innovation Possible? / Post-Fashionable
Man / Who Works? What Young
Men Must Have / The Criminal State
/ Ideology and the treason of
the soul / The Social Contract and
Urbanization / Cultural Pathologies / Religion / Human Relationships
: A Shifting Equation? A Social Constant? / Multicultural
Apartheid & Intercultural Traffic / Universal
Employer / Leasing Jobs / Role
An Australian Democracy Wall?
9 March 1998
Lacking the same deluge of media available in OECD countries, China has the intermittent tradition of the character poster, pasted up in a public place. The most famous venue for this was the "Democracy Wall" in Beijing, infamously preceded by character billboards in the Cultural Revolution (which cost many a reputation and life), and infamously followed by the Tianmen massacre.
In spite of these unhappy precedents, there could be an interesting place for our own brand of Democracy Wall in Australia. In fact, any number of them in different kinds of places. They would probably have to be located in semi-controlled areas like (large department stores or public library foyers) to overcome that other Western hazard, graffiti. People could write letters on social or political matters, and others could sign to agree, or write their own dissenting pieces.
Marrying Out - The New World Order?
6 June 1997
The scene is a small classroom in a run down city TAFE college, two Greek Cypriot ladies of about forty, a Chinese lady of reserved character and a Malaysian Chinese mechanic's apprentice who has joined the group for English practice. Oh, and a middle-aged Afghani lady with a degree in economics but rather limited English skills.
The teacher opens by chatting to the Afghani lady about the strategic dilemma of the Taliban in Mazar-i-Sharif. She responds in animated detail. He quickly sketches a map, and they try to involve the others with some background information. There is stony indifference. They haven't a clue where Afghanistan is, and don't want to know. The Cypriots will talk about Cyprus as a village experience, the Chinese a little about a city in China. Their worlds are doggedly domestic.
It is time to follow up the analysis of a newspaper article from the last lesson on mixed marriages. In 1988 about 75% of second generation immigrant marriages in Australia were across cultures. The teacher is interested to probe opinion on this matter. Feeling is rock solid that mixed marriages are a "bad thing". The class is genuinely surprised when the teacher demurs. Arguments for gradual cultural integration, the danger of ghettos and pogroms, the possibility of emerging new values as immigrant children live in a new environment, fall on deaf ears. They are vehemently opposed to their children marrying out. "Religion is the important thing", someone sums up. Puzzled, the teacher wonders aloud that six thousand years of this religion or that have not made any group better or worse than their fellows, but that religion has been the sword arm for any amount of persecution. Why should it be a barrier to new families in a new culture? "We don't want to talk about this", comes the firm reply.
Apartheid is alive and well in the suburbs. Multiculturalism for these folk
is not about sharing new experience, and growing. It is about encrusting
the fossilized experience of old peasant cultures with armour plating,
for survival in tiny enclaves in a foreign city. It is about deploying
the old weapons of religious prejudice to fend off anything that might
threaten a small, frightened self-image of what a "traditional" person
should be. Pauline Hanson would understand immediately.
Island of Friendly Departures
27 October 1996
Approach a poor Island State with a proposal to develop one island as a "dying haven", as opposed to a a "financial haven". Depending on customer preference, it might work best in a temperate, rather than tropical zone.
The idea would be to create an environment where euthanasia was available in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, far from the clinical horrors of hospitals. Of course unobtrusive medical assistance and hospice care would be on call. The terminally ill could choose to exit painlessly at a time of their choosing.
"Departure packages" could be sold from major world capitals. They might include an option on return fares for the undecided. Perhaps a special return rate for the coffin, if cremation was not desired.
The islanders could develop special cultural skills to ease the departure of
the dying. This would notably include a knack of keeping the atmosphere
light, whimsical and untainted with religious or other moralizing.
Our Lines: A Lesson For The Second Millennium?
28 July 1996
Skylight, a David Hare play,
It was one of those flamboyant throw-away statistics. There are about two million teachers in the USA, the Late Night Live man said (ABC radio), and they are lucky to pick up US$30,000 for a year's work. There are about two million prisoners in the USA. To keep one prisoner in jail for a year in the State of Illinois cost around $US43,000. No doubt about that nation's priorities.
Is David Hare expressing a similar view of post-Thatcherite British values
in his living room drama, Skylight? Here we have a no-regrets businessman
who has clawed his way out of poverty, and a solicitor's daughter
gone teaching, trolling for bright sparks in the sullen, violent homelands
of England's urban peasants, or the working class as Marx once misnamed
them. As with any good play, the choices and the outcomes are apt to
wax ambiguous just when you felt it safe to allow
The Fairfax Studio at Melbourne Arts Centre is a class act in the Australian
style. One looks about at the audience, a mature, obviously well-fed
assembly wearing their brains on their sleeves for the
Bertold Brecht once made a good living out of looking his bourgeoisie
patrons in the eye. David Hare also knows well enough that the
after-dinner the mental state of his audience is important for
A playwright in the Communication Society, circa 1996, has pretty heavy
competition though. He has to deconstruct something more subtle
than tyranny or greed. Consent is manufactured in a daily
Everyone knows that schools are a failure. Well your kid, my kid might
be doing all right. A few of them must be growing up to get jobs and
keep this theatre in business. But you read these terrible
David Hare can exploit the missionary/moron status of teachers, and the
life-giver/life-stealer perception of entrepreneurs in Skylight. He knows
his audience. Their grandmothers went to church for moral catharsis.
The descendants, these team-spirited amoral role players, are
attending a confessional at the theatre, and learning their lines for
tomorrow morning. He is gentle, this playwright. Our nakedness is hidden in a surface drama of relationships. Kyra (Helen Buday) and
Qualifying for Life ?
23 June 1996
I have been directed to look at a thing called the Vehicle Industries Certificate. Even a hint that I might be asked to teach it to the retainers of Tommy Suharto's "national" Timor car in Jakarta (a rebadged Korean Kia Sephia). The Koreans might have their own ideas about that, though JBI TAFE could no doubt live comfortably off the crumbs of the $600 million investment.
So what is the VIC? It probably has to take bearings off some version of existing educational practice.
Two popular paradigms of education are "filling jugs" and "lighting candles". The canonical Asian (?) ideal is to take an empty head and fill it up with (preferably rote) information. This memory bank of accepted wisdom will then allow the individual to be plugged into the ant heap of this culture or that, adding his infinitesimal labour to the maintenance of the glorious machine, Communist, Capitalist or Confucian. It is perhaps the ideal paradigm for a static society, but has run into some bother with the collision of accelerating technologies and volatile mixtures of mobile populations. Nevertheless the filling-jugs game prevails not only on the slateboards of Vietnam, but throughout the classrooms and lecture halls of most Australian institutions (whatever the expressed ideology).
"Lighting candles" is a reference to eureka!! serendipity, stage managed
to cleverly fool folk into believing that they have just found out a wonderful
truth about the world. The philosophy is that with your ego in harness,
you will certainly remember your own discoveries long after the other fellow's
brilliance is forgotten. Further, by learning the skills of knowledge discovery,
you will continue to learn throughout life, and to add creatively to your
culture's store of knowledge. The downside is that you need wizard teachers
to make it all work optimally, not to mention an enlightened social code,
and students with the native wit to seize their new opportunities. My personal
preference is definitely for lighting candles, but it would be dishonest
not to observe that the vast mass of teachers have, well, pedestrian minds,
and that the average TAFE student would probably get more from six months
of army discipline than a decade in an ashram.
The Vehicle Industry Certificate is a vehicle for Ford, GMH, Toyota and suchlike to educate their workers into the culture and procedures of their huge institutions. Well, that is its promoted function. Even on this plane the philosophy is more about filling jugs than lighting candles. On a car production line any nascent Archimedes is more likely to go berserk than hasten a spot weld. But neither is the likes of Ford interested in a wholly rounded confucian man. A man is a unit of labour whose needs to sleep, fuck and eat hamburgers are frankly liabilities, let alone his propensity to vote. The god principle in Ford is making motor cars, and to that end it must get the dropouts and simpletons of the community, and whatever desperate immigrants it can rake in, and turn them into productive little vegemites who will clock in on time five days a week, and never put a spanner in the gearbox of their $30,000 motor cars. Under these conditions the education game, or "training" as they clinically call it, takes on a whole new complexion.
The overriding aim of the VIT is create a cage of social and industrial control. Workers are paid on their "qualifications". Steps to qualification are specified in the most minute detail. Even the job description of trainers, which I have seen, specifies an ability to "use a photocopier", and separately, and ability to "photocopy double-sided". This parody of lollipop steps is administered with the mechanical dourness of Henry Ford's original Tayloresque assembly line. You cannot get your gold star or elephant stamp for screwing up a particular bolt inside the specified training period of, say, six weeks for that "skill". Until you have the "skill" you are not eligible for the specified salary increment. Workers who are not rotated lose the capacity to make even these incremental steps.
As an educationalist, my aim and reward in life is to optimize the inner potential of each of my students, to awaken their minds and to help them on a process of self discovery and the empowerment that comes with knowledge. A Ford trainer has the aim of entangling each employee in a thicket of trivial rules, disguised as skills, of neutering his spirit and keeping him on an industrial treadmill. The overthrow of feudalism was as much as anything, about breaking the bonds of usurious debt that kept generations of peasants slaving at the whim of lords in their manors. So what has changed? Is the Ford trainer a reincarnation of the medieval debt collector?
And yet there is an irony, bitter but unavoidable. How happy are the
legions of unemployed, checking in fortnightly to the CES with their iron
rice bowls? Much is wrong with the economic irrationalism that has disinherited
them. Then I see them close up, being "retrained" in the TAFEs. The Italian
clothing ladies who will never work again, who like the social club of
their classes, but will not catch a train three stations to work out of
their urban village. More tragically, a large collection of young men,
uncouth, undisciplined, unthinking, violent and dissolute. At the tail
end of a mass education system they can barely sign their names, and you
know in your heart of hearts that they might always be peasants. Perhaps
better to be a Ford peasant than a street gang layabout.
A Cross-Eyed Centre of the Universe
26 November 1995
Armies are justified by other armies. There are indeed other armies ready to be misdirected by evil or foolish people, and certain of them respect nothing but greater force. The trouble with armies, necessary or unnecessary, is that they see themselves as the core element of society around which all others must revolve. When someone is holding a gun to your head it is hard to persuade him that his proper role is to serve and obey you. The net result of course is that large parts of the earth's surface are and always have been oppressed by military forces gone feral.
Armies have no monopoly on the conviction that they are the centre of the universe. My father, a carpenter, was certain that everyone who worked in an office was a parasite. Supermarket owners are sure that the nation must be governed to optimize their distribution networks. I work in an educational institution whose leaders are convinced, not that education is pre-eminent, but that everything must be subordinated to "the bottom line", which for them is making a profit. Here we come to the ascendant challenger to the dominance of armies. That is, the economists and their officer class, the accountants.
Like generals, economists and their lackeys are convinced of the religious rectitude of their cause. This is partly because they wield lethal weapons of force (which is, in the accountants' case, the medium of exchange). Economists minds are no clearer than anybody else's. In fact they are severely handicapped by the illusion that their profession is based on science rather than superstition and prejudice. As a minor religious sect that wouldn't matter much, but as claimants to the national estate it can be pretty catastrophic. I was fortunate to learn enough economic theory in senior high school to understand the fragility of its models. In my lifetime the vacillation of economic orthodoxies has done nothing to curb the zealotry of politicians and CEOs as each claims that to question their economic priorities of the moment is disloyal, stupid or wantonly destructive. Even a schizophrenic is rational within the context of his own premises. Lacking hostile armies on our borders, and not wanting to rouse the dogs of war, generals have a wimpish time of it in Australia. But the economists are rampant. In the name of quadriplegic economic rationality Australian civil society is having its limbs broken.
Rather than rotating power between murderous generals, disputatious lawyers
and fundamentalist economists, maybe we need to insert a rollicking
cavalcade of other world views into the governance of peoples.
Media News - Another Invention We Had to Have?
14 August 1993
Media news is a constructed social reality. Its selection is arbitrary or accidental, a function not of any priority in terms of, say, national or personal consequences, but rather of the scramble by a group of often rather unimaginative people to collect enough print copy for the next edition. Even enormous events, like the reputed 30 million deaths in China's cultural revolution, may go entirely unreported while trivia is headlined.
The curious thing is that this montage of kitsch does create the illusion of coherent communities, organized states and rational sequences of events. The trick is in our minds which positively impose an order where none exists, by inventing connections in logic, time and space. It is this media, with its hit and miss stories datelined from Lagos or London that has persuaded us that we belong to one world that we have never seen, rather than merely to one nuclear family whose fractious dislocations we know all too well.
Indochine - Why We Repainted Our Faces
29 May 1993
"Votre Indochine n'exist plus.." The reviewers said the film was wildly improbable, a romantic morsel.
The stories that speak to us are the ones we are waiting for. My god, Vietnam is a beautiful country. Vietnam has been in the territory of my imagination for 14 years. No, longer. By accident of a birthday lottery I wasn't taken there under arms in 1965. By a fate of the age it defined my political birth, the vicarious outrage for a people wronged in my name, by my civilization. Like the overture to a grand operatic tragedy, it marched with me through the moratoriums of 1968, through the charades of truth and deception, and the rise and fall of governments. It was a mirror held up to my society, with a reflection so bleak that we repainted our faces.
Then I met my first Vietnamese. They were fishermen mostly, fled on hijacked boats with little but hope. And yet, profoundly ordinary people, desperately ignorant of Vietnam's history and mine. What they wanted was a steady job and a television set and a flash car. Their stories were both desperate and banal. They hated communists, saw no glory in Vietnam's independence from France and America. I couldn't blame them, nor relate to them in any strong way. They didn't belong to the Vietnam of my imagination.
Indochine, the film, is romantic -- and on a plane that matters supremely
more than the banal -- altogether probable. The characters behaved
in a way that, it seems to me, the way we act in our daydreams. The French
created communism in Indochina, and the Americans assured its nourishment,
before they learned to starve it to death. Every action generates
its reaction. The injustice that inspired the Marxist revolutions of this
century contaminated and finally consumed the revolutionaries as power
fell into their hands. But Indochine is an earlier part of that story.
It is still possible to watch it and feel the fire and ice of hope for
a new world as the decadent French empire stumbles cruelly to the exit.
Realpolitik : The Tectonic Plates of Geopolitics
30 July 1995
In the babble and shriek of managed media presentations, where the crushed skulls from real political murder are easily confused with the tomato paste mock up of another Hollywood massacre, there is a powerful incentive to turn away from it all, grow vegetables or party on into the night.
For some obscure compulsive reason, an addictive proclivity that steals time, I do keep an eye on the shifting currents of global events as seen by Australian print and radio media (television is not in contention). I sensed this week that a new configuration of forces has begun to solidify in a public way, both in East Asia and in the trans-Atlantic alliance.
The admission of Vietnam to ASEAN, and the projected admission of Burma, are a triumph of realpolitik over ideological rhetoric. It represents a de facto alliance against Chinese (PRC) hegemony in the hemisphere, an alliance that China has sought to thwart for half a century or more by funding insurgencies in Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, The Philippines and elsewhere. The irony is that the economies of virtually all South East Asian countries would be moribund without the commercial drive of the Overseas Chinese mercantile class. Nevertheless, China must now see itself arrayed against an encirclement of ASEAN, Taiwan, Korea and an ailing but potent Japan. There are signs of democratic tendency in Taiwan and South Korea, but all governments in the region are fascist in a quite fundamental way. It will be interesting to see if their plutocracies are more cohesive when it comes to the crunch than political hypocrites thrown up by Europe's chattering classes.
America is riven by class, race, religious intolerance, criminality,
violence and greed. Nobody but an American could believe that the USA represents
the epitome of human social & political development. Its economic and
military power is universally resented, and frequently misused for doubtful
ends. Yet nearly all the empires we know from history have been cruel,
arbitrary, destructive of local cultures and exploitative. America has
taken much, but it has also given a good deal in knowledge, infrastructure,
ideas and cash, and even blood. American policy creates (and now sustains)
the monster that is Saddam Hussein, but also acted to contain him. America
has little direct interest in Yugoslavia, but from the sheer force of public
opinion shows signs of decisive action while the bickering Europeans cringe,
appease and compromise with evil. There is a larger message in that which
neither the Russians nor the PRC should misread.
22 June 1995
Much of the research on car accidents seems to show that the safer the car, the more reckless the driving. Every new safety measure seems to be accompanied by a drop in driver attention to road care.
Strikes me that what goes for driver behaviour goes for human behaviour across the board. For a start there is the age/mortality equation. Everyone under 25 thinks they are immortal, which translates into about ten years of death defying risks, or at least death defying poses; (they call it romance). Then there is the gun, that ultimate guarantor of power without responsibility, the coward's revenge. Putting a gun in every handbag is surely the fastest known way to demolish mutual respect and tolerance in a community. After all, you are going to shoot first, aren't you.
Easy Beliefs : Is Social Innovation Possible?
22 July 1995
Seven hundred years ago, when a third of Europe's population was being wiped out by bubonic plague, and the shroud of ignorance was at its most opaque, it must have seemed like a necessary conspiracy for the wise to advertize that at least God knew what it all meant. It must have seemed that there was no other way to keep hordes of illiterate, simple people from destructive panic.
So where are we seven hundred years later? More of us live longer, in less pain, though the net gain in happiness remains unclear. The shadowy demons and monsters whom our forefathers spoke of in whispers are now translated into runaway best-selling films, are good for a bit of a giggle. Their market niche in psychic terror is displaced by weak men emboldened with new technologies of death: guns, landmines, poison gases and suchlike instruments of cowardice.
Ominously, there are countless millions more of us on the planet than even a century ago. The rational faculty that has hastened our journey here points grimly to a future of mass extermination from overpopulation and a host of derivative causes. The logic is inexorable, needs telling from no divine voice to a prophet in the wilderness. Yet literacy has not delivered logic to the greater part of humankind. 80% of supposedly educated people can't reset a digital watch. They monkey with the buttons of knowledge, but have neither understanding nor insight. It is basically all as magical to them as the world was to twelfth century peasant.
When apocalypse makes it to the Sunday papers and the evening news we
get that ancient lemming rush to fundamentalist religion. The universities
are full of clever twits manufacturing scholastic trivia for this or that
clique's bias, but whom, under the layers of data, are as naive as shop
assistants about real cause and effect. The media rat pack, starved of
imagination, reruns a sort of pornographic movie of manufactured heroes,
villains and pompous politicians. The technology that carries it, beyond
the ken of chattering journo's and their main readership, is reduced to
a "human interest" angle. We have replaced superstitious theology with
a superstitious data overload of white noise. Clear thinking is as feared
as it ever was.
20 June 1995
Most people, being programmed and naturally inclined to a high degree of conformism, are locked into the behavioural bandwidth of a particular sub-culture, and must follow its collective fashions. In earlier times when populations had little mobility, were relatively homogeneous and sustained a fairly stable agricultural or craft lifestyle, it was natural to develop a strong sense of self and other. Self, that is, which embodied civilized values, had God's blessing, and could arbitrate rightness or wrongness with some confidence.
In the late 20th Century many of us are aware of enormous cultural instability. There is an exponential compression of innovation cycles, production cycles, consumer cycles, economic cycles and historical cycles. We observe the fragmentation of geographic cultures, the internationalization of business cultures, political cultures, age or income based cultures, and cult sub-cultures. This turbulence shapes my own psyche. As a 49 year old, supposedly white anglo-celtic male, I feel no special need to conform to narrow stereotypes of dress, behaviour or attitudes.
I am in daily near-collision with psyches from another, more superstitious age. We coexist in parallel universes. Consider the monotheist souls who flit past the windows of my mind. Judeo-Christian-Islamic versions of traditional cultural orthodoxy have the worship of death at their centre. The Christian baseline of moral values is supposed to be the vicarious pain of one poor idealist who got himself nailed to a piece of wood. This barbarism is glorified in the name of its antithesis - charity, mercy, compassion - but human inference is a cussed device. It is hardly surprising that practitioners of the religion have found legitimacy for their own behaviour more often by a stake through the heart than in charity to their rivals. And they remain inordinately afraid of death themselves.
I live in a world where people still practice the collective murder of outsiders, and the persecution of heretics who violate insider beliefs. The psychological engine underlying this is what it has always been, but the techno-social context renders it absurd. The members of each religion and schismatic sect live in intensive daily interdependence with a world community of thousands of sects. For any of them to have a mortgage on "the truth" in this world or the supernatural defies logic or common-sense. What we have is really just one football team barracking against another. The wonder is that they keep it up. The answer to that wonder probably rests in a primodorial search for easy answers (by the individual), and ruthless exploitation by those who seek power or advantage.
Nowadays it is the Californian practice of opposing ideological groups
to have their dogma and propaganda generated by the same advertising agency.
The ad' men do the same of course for rival washing powders, fund-raising
agencies, politicians, and children's television series. Increasingly the
ad' men decide the marketable life-cycle of each. We used to think that
ideologies didn't have a use-by date, but with the death of communism,
the daily fissures in religion and the chameleon belief systems of democratic
Enter the post-fashionable man. You want me to wear your insignia, imitate your image spin, buy your version of career rationalism and life in the suburbs? You and a dozen other ad' agencies/ consultants/ gurus / multinational companies/ churches/ political parties ... all in the name of a dollar in your pocket? Sorry comrades. You've gotten yourself an urban guerilla. I'll build my own comfort zone, thanks very much.
You Masters of the Universe make your bucks by creating and taxing a leading edge of fashion in each fragmentary sub-culture. I make my civilization by picking the eyes out of the last decade's discarded baubles. I watch with interest the upcoming selection of eight year-old cars, calculate the profit and fascination to be had from a newly discarded generation of computers, select a practical wardrobe from the endless clothing racks in charity stores. While the chic and the sexy trawl news stand magazines for the latest hints on hair styles, market futures or mag wheels, I trawl more widely for fragments and streams of information that I can fashion to my own eccentric fancy.
As for the big obsessions? Can't be bothered with television, loath church music and have only been to one football match in my life (boring). I am absorbed by complexity at the edge of chaos, too easily enticed down bye ways of ingenious ideas, occasionally alarmed by more visceral appetites, but generally get by on a modicum of challenge. Death? Well that's the end of the party. Life is not over yet, and like many another man, I struggle to find a balance between humour and dedication, self-defined achievement and a certain pleasure in pockets of anarchy.
I fear pain more than death, and debility more than pain. There will
come a time in the balance of survival, in the late hours of physical decline,
when I will simply call it quits. That is, I will probably suicide in a
fairly cheerful state of mind. At that moment, the greatest gift would
be a freedom to choose the manner of dying, instantly, without fuss. Until
the crunch comes, there is no point in wasting precious life spirit on
morbid worry. Every day is a turning point to new possibilities. Let the
good times roll!
Who Works? What Young Men Must Have
12 March 1995
Jobs have to be found for young men; the rest of us will get by. The
first priority of every human society must be to engage the full time energies
of its young males between the ages of fifteen and thirty, and in ways
that will give them competitive sexual status, ways that don't turn pathological
(as rites of passage are apt to do). This requirement for planned activity
is not essentially economic, and is not ideological. It is an irreducible
social fact driven by biological imperatives. A society which ignores the
needs of men in the fifteen to thirty age group will be physically destroyed
by these same men, and no sanction on earth will be able to contain them.
Large fractions of American, trans-Caucasian, African and other culture-paradigms
have already been eroded by just such a condition. The potential for creative
power to turn destructive is not even fractionally as potent in any other
social group, including young women of the same age. We ignore it at our
peril. The getting of manhood is not a sufficient condition for a stable
human society, but it is a biologically necessary condition.
The Criminal State
17 February 1995
Definition: A criminal state is one in which the resources of the state are used to attack the interests, rights or welfare of private individuals in order to advance the personal interests of agents acting for that state. The criminality of personal advancement by an agent is sustained wherever it can be shown that benefit accruing to the agent exceeded benefit accruing to the community from his actions. "Benefit" is a matter for judgement by all affected parties, and might include, for example, the indulgence of personal revenge or sadism, as well as more conventional material advantage.
Proposition: By the defined criterion, all nation states are in some degree criminal organizations.
a) It is a natural right of any individual to oppose and evade the criminal elements of a nation state, however they are manifested.
b) It is a natural tendency of human populations to seek domicile in those states which offer the least degree of criminal interference in their lives.
c) As a geopolitical consequence of a) and b), is in the strong national interest of relatively honest states to seek the reform of relatively criminalized states.
|Ideology and the treason
of the soul
18 September 1994
The young believe in ideologies. Ideologies have the cachet of moral purity and sexual power. Yet every ideology without fail is seized and betrayed by the articulate, ambitious leaders of the age. And as these moguls of opportunism rape the values which nurtured their power, they are followed by an army of pious imitators who, quoting chapter and verse, commit every atrocity to cover their small daily acts of cowardice.
Perversely, the success of an ideology can be measured by the durability of its betrayals. The careless slouch of Australian socialism was destroyed in a political term by a chocolate-cream caudillo like RJ Hawke; the cafe au lait socialism of France sustained an intellectual fraud like Francois Mitterand for a generation; and the intoxicating fumes of vodka communism covered eighty years of murder and misery. For true success however, we have to turn to the established religions.
When Mohammed rode out of the desert with answers fit for the civilizing of some desert Bedouins, he set the scene twelve hundred years of stagnation, hypocrisy and cruelty in the urban societies of the Middle East. With all the cleverness of self-interest, potentates and imams have plastered layers of prejudice on the Prophet's plans for the sensible management of a pre-literate society. The Christian process has been messier, more convoluted, but victim to exactly the same process. The perversion of Christ's message, whatever it was, certainly began with the gospel writers, and became a major industry with its institutionalization in Roman authority.
What is so depressing is that betrayal is a process without end. No
denouement, no two thousand year failure to save humanity from itself,
no scandal or atrocity will prevent a hot gospeller in Idaho or a mass-murdering
dictator in central Africa or central Europe from declaring that they have
finally got religion right. He or she will flourish a personal telegram
from God. Then a million ardent protoplasms with credulous brains will
rush into the abyss. Ideology is truly a treason of the soul.
|The Social Contract and Urbanization
18 September 1994
Two hundred years ago something about the organisation of some human populations began to change in a fundamental way. This was the beginnings of a shift from extended family and village units to the amorphous anonymity of urban conglomerations.
There had been precursors to this urbanization in a handful of ancient cities which nowadays would qualify only as large towns. Perhaps because they were a minority phenomena in a sea of rural communities, their social psychologies remained rooted in rural values. This was especially true of religions, which even today in mass urban societies are sustained by pastoral fantasies.
What changed two centuries ago was the emergence of mechanized production. It was a mechanization that required concentrated labour on the one hand, and a cash economy to absorb the output of mass production on the other. An immediate consequence was a kind of social contract between entrepreneurs who needed labour, and labourers who needed cash. The social contract was quickly recognized by European intellectuals, and institutionalized in the welfare state within less than a century. In spite of efforts by Karl Marx, Engels and subsequent radical socialists, the contract between Labour and Capital largely held.
Now there has been another, fundamental change. Mass production still requires a population with high disposable income to absorb its output. However, much of the production can be achieved by a relatively small, specialized workforce. Such a workforce is an elite group of the general population, highly educated, co-operative, generally with initiative and intelligence well above the norm. The general population has become redundant as a source of labour, but remains needed as a destination for consumption.
No satisfactory solution has been found to the violation of the social contract between Labour and Capital. Politics in the late twentieth century is really a history of attempts to temporarize from a hopelessly compromised paradigm. The burden of excess labour is being shifted wherever possible by encouraging the growth of service industries. Since the whole economic cycle is a man-made phenomena, the argument goes that there is nothing inherently contradictory in generating economic surplus from newly invented needs (psychologists, child care workers, poodle hairdressers) rather than older categories of labour (farmers, carpenters, foundry workers). There is some truth in this, although tertiary industries tend to be inherently more fragile than, say, primary production. When things spin out of control, we can dispense with the poodle hairdressers but not the farmers. Another, far more intractable problem is that automated processes, in their nature, have greater and greater potential to substitute for the less skilled categories of human labour, whether these be in primary, secondary or tertiary spheres. It is precisely these less skilled areas which absorb the largest number of people, people who by talent or temperament will always be incapable of joining the skilled elite.
Societies are splitting between small technological elites with a surface crust of managerial parasites, an underclass of disposable servants, now known as service workers, and a subclass of largely unemployable proletariat who were previously the labourers and semi-skilled factory fodder of the first industrial age. In polities with a tradition of civic conscience the whole gimcrack machine is held together for the time being by the redistribution of income through high taxation, and a welfare safety net. It is difficult to see that such a solution can be sustained over the longer term as the new social classes become institutionalized and moralities are reshaped (as they always have been) to justify existing social "realities".
If we were dealing with a single political entity, the management of social contracts would be difficult enough. A characteristic of the present age is that societies in every stage of social and economic development have been thrown into violent competition by the internationalization of markets. Entrepreneurs exploit the mobility of their capital to hire factory labourers for a dollar a day in China and computer analysts for a dollar a minute in Australia. The moral framework of, say, Chinese society is under pressure to "modernize" like English society did two centuries ago, while the moral framework of Australians in the same enterprise is derided as self-indulgent and undisciplined alongside the sturdy Confucian values of post-Maoist competitors. These are transitional contrasts, and should not be confused with the greater historical trend, although on a shorter time scale they might well generate tensions as dramatic as war or revolution.
A greater tragedy, a greater irony, is the headlong rush to urbanization
in all the major population regions of the world, again in imitation of
the European industrial revolution. European societies have enjoyed fifty
years of post-industrialization peace, more or less, after almost destroying
themselves in the shift from feudal morality. The pan-Asian experience
could easily be as traumatic, but the fruits are likely to be more bitter.
Those peasants, drifting in their millions to the perimeters of newly industrialized
cities, know nothing of the historical experience which has preceded them
in other continents. They cannot know, though they will surely learn, that
the nexus between Labour and Capital has been broken. Their masters have
no incentive, short of revolutionary fear, to lay down the great social
contract of liberty, equality and fraternity which (despite many betrayals)
has sustained the liberal-industrial democracies of the West.
1 May 1994
Poverty, war, suffering, hubris, self-destruction ... human misery and failure is overwhelmingly a product of human cultural practices and beliefs. No amount of foreign aid or well-intentioned foreign advice will make a useful impact on such practices. Almost nowhere is it understood that the competence of individuals, not the power of institutional manipulators, is the bedrock of human happiness. Wherever hierarchies of bodies stand between a man and his exercise of of practical daily living, there lies the germ of conflict.
It is the computer program in people's heads which has to change before civilizations becomes more substantive and enduring than a digital watch or a posh dinner. Why is this so little recognized? We pretend that cultural tolerance is a matter of not only of being colour blind, but also of being culture blind. The most utterly vicious examples of intolerance however are practised by brother on brother: in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Ireland, Cambodia, Japan/Korea, China, Kashmir, Iran, Palestine, Nazi Germany, Indonesia ... These barbarisms are not about genetic differences, but are failures of cultural design. Every culture carries the seeds of self-destruction, which under particular circumstances bloom and contaminate all else. There is a whole discipline of study here which needs to be developed.
20 December 1991
Religion is a kind of psychic bank, created by fear and hope, wherein are stored all those things which an individual finds most vulnerable: the authority to judge right from wrong, the traffic rules for getting along with other beings, the guarantee of self-worth, a rationale for the miracle of creation and the barren waste of death. Above all, an assurance of sanity when other certainties fall away. God is the gatekeeper who holds dreams within bounds, chastises the spirit for its hubris, and keeps its seed alive in the furnace of self-doubt.
Since this construct of a psychic bank is declared inviolate from personal frailty, the investor is desperate to attract like-minded believers. A religion of one has walls so permeable that its creator and client must live in constant terror of self-betrayal. With a religion of two it can safely be said that all the world art mad but thou and I. A religion of millions, with a millennium of history, so sustains the majority of its clients that they may background it in the routines of survival, save for icons to mark life changes. Yet for these icons they will fight to the death. Curious that the keeper of dreams should extract more loyalty in the end than conciousness itself.
Human Relationships : A Shifting Equation? A Social Constant?
7 July 1989
Human relationships are based on some kind of advantage. Whatever our social innovations, this human baseline seems to be a constant. Personal advantage may be mutual, or it may be one sided. Perceived advantage is not always the same as actual advantage, but the possibilities are the same. The word "advantage" itself here has a shifting value: for some it is money, for others emotion, or respect ... and so on. More often the benefit is a vague amalgam of many elements, but there is no doubt about its power.
Some people seem to add, by their presence, to our own persona, to our spirit and stature. Others diminish it. This is a difficult thing to quantify, but easy enough to recognize if we are aware of it.
When two people enter into an enduring bond of friendship, affection or marriage, their influence on each other's potential may be mutually positive, mutually negative or unbalanced in either direction. This balance may alter over time, but if somebody is comptemplating a commitment it is obviously worth while to take a cool look at how the pattern of enhancement works out. Let us express four common possibilities as follows : M+F+, M-F-, M+F-, M-F+
Below is an unordered list of items which might enter into a judgement of interpersonal relationships. The list is suggestive rather than exhaustive. Items may be weighted for importance or new ones introduced. A rough judgement of outcomes may be made by multiplying significant items by their weightings, then totalling the score for each partner. Of course, there are not many of us (are there?) who are so cold-blooded or efficient in this kind of calculation, but we do make it after a fashion. On of the great difficulties of alliances across cultures, or even sub-cultures, is that the participants are working with different equations in this human algebra. Often enough, they are not aware of the differences until it is too late ..
.... keep adding ...->