Seeking traction in the swamp of identity politics

I was listening to a recent episode of Big Ideas featuring Steven Oliver who gave a good account of himself I think. He also recited a poem which has gone viral on YouTube. You may have read it, heard it or heard of it. I liked the poem also. I also agree with the point he’s making that there are all manner of celebratory days in the Australian calendar and yet there’s none that celebrates the indigenous people of this continent.

Yet I was also somehow saddened. If this is the most important thing to Oliver and others prosecuting the cause, well and good. But I have to say it leaves me somehow disoriented. Can you think of any liberation movement worth its salt seeking as their central ask something so easily granted – and therefore so easily ignored in its spirit – as an annual commemorative holiday. I can’t really say I have anything to put in its place. But I can say that things are most assuredly not good in so many areas of aboriginal welfare. And yet the three biggest things I can think of in aboriginal political aspiration in the last decade or two are the Apology, the Recognise campaign to remove some junk DNA from our constitution and now the agitation over Australia/Invasion Day.

John Howard held fast to his immense lack of generosity in refusing to give an apology. But if it’s an apology you’re after it seems very odd to then campaign for one from someone who, if you manage to politically browbeat him into giving you one will make you feel cheated. It certainly won’t be an act of generosity which I thought was kind of the point of an apology. Then there was a fine apology from Kevin Rudd. And what did it count for? Perhaps people who know more about it can fill me in.

There was the ‘Closing the Gap’ process if I’ve got the propaganda name correct which was delivered in the same old way and which has no doubt improved a few things, but not many and not much. (There was also ‘reconciliation’ about which I recall agreeing with Germaine Greer that it was hard to know what it was. Who was being reconciled to whom? How? It was cranked up during the tenure of John Howard who pretty obviously didn’t give too much of a hoot for any of it. But it was easy enough for him to intone the word. The whole thing was like some ad campaign.)

Meanwhile as the Rudd Government announced it was closing the gap by the time it was well and truly out of office, the ‘intervention’ rolled on, if I recall correctly rebadged as something or other – ‘Unchain my Heart’ comes to mind, but that was the theme-song behind the WorkChoices ads, or perhaps it was the GST. Since then the biggest profile thing has been the Recognise campaign which completely mystifies me and seems to be running into the same sands the Republic ran into. The whole process is built on ambiguity. Activists use the ‘hook’ of the remaining sections of the constitution that were enacted with discriminatory intent but are not being, and are highly unlikely to ever be used in such a way. An agenda starts rolling to clean up the drafting, but though the ‘hook’ was minimalist, the activists now target more substantial action. But this doesn’t really make much sense. There’s no particular consensus on what should be done. I expect there would be disagreement between those of goodwill towards aboriginal people as to whether legal changes in the constitution would do much good if enacted and of course there’s a fair bit of non-good will around to help stymie stronger ambitions in any event.

The political motive force behind all this is what I call memefication. You see it’s non-indigenous people who have the power in Australia. It’s non-indigenous people who make the rules, run the businesses, staff the media etc etc. We’ve known about the abuses – the shocking abuses – for a long time. The information is there. It was there about the children long before the report that John Howard tried to turn into Tampa II (I presume that was his central motivation, but perhaps I’m being unfair). And then there was the graphic images of Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. All the problems were well documented – indeed better documented than the 4 Corners program – well before it went to air. But the power structures that be are untroubled by it all (imagine if they were the children of some respectable sub-class in Melbourne – red-heads for instance?). It’s only when that suffering becomes memefiable that anything happens. When you show a kid being tied up and put him in a spit hood that makes for uncomfortable viewing. Just as it does for cattle being shipped live to Indonesia. So we get into Something Must Be Done mode. And in each case, tellingly, it’s a white hero who enters the fray and directs the traffic with edicts being produced and promulgated within a matter of days!

Each of the ‘symbolic’ agendas I’m mentioned above tries to use the ‘hook’ of white guilt, of white wrong doing to memefiy the aboriginal cause. And in doing so subverts it. It is no longer about aboriginal issues – which after all don’t really command that much attention. Its tedious to be told over and over again about the nitty gritty of the disadvantage and dysfunction in aboriginal communities.

I can’t say I have anything particularly salutary to offer. Obviously I think we should be tackling the worst problems which are particularly in remote communities, and what I learned with The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) leads me to believe that it would be technically possible to make some serious inroads into those problems with intervention that really seriously put the people the intervention was trying to help at the centre of the process. But that’s a pipe dream. Firstly I could easily be wrong that it would work. It’s just a hunch of mine. Secondly the human centred design methods used by TACSI are a million miles from the way all the large government bureaucracies in the country work including, most depressingly agencies that have been trying to change for at least half a decade and who are led by what seem to me to be very competent and well motivated senior managers. Of course they all say they do it, but mostly just at the edges. We’re still a long way from scaling them anywhere in the country – and in my experience in the world.

As for the symbolic stuff, well I’m certainly fine with what our friend in the video calls for above. But as someone who would love to see his country rise to the occasion, rise to the potential that seemed to be there as Arthur Phillip refused to take his commission unless slavery was outlawed in Australia, who went to great lengths to try to deal with the locals but who, in the end, failed miserably I can’t say it gives me much enthusiasm.

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21 Responses to Seeking traction in the swamp of identity politics

  1. Know Teeth says:

    Thanks Nic.
    No celebrations for the referendum council either. I fully agree with your comment ” the biggest profile thing has been the Recognise campaign which completely mystifies me and seems to be running into the same sands the Republic ran into.” My position after reading the manipulating submission questions [here] ended up as NO even though i want yes.
    The counncil mostly white ‘elders!’ missed the forest and the gorillas as they were staring at bacteria sized forests and forgot the moon sun stars dreaming and time…
    “If there is not enough support for a guarantee in the Constitution, what other things can we do to stop racial discrimination in national laws?”
    Zero leadership. Bordering on dog whistles and providing get out clauses without the people it’s for being part of the process and included in a vote stacked about 200,000 to 12,000,000. Bad odds. Bad council. Vote no not because it is a bad concept because it is a baaaad process and therefore money down the drain.

    And last option; this is the ‘I’m hiding clause’..
    “Are you making a submission on behalf of a person (such as yourself) or organisation? *
    Person / Organisation”
    If ‘we’ are going to have a referendum ZERO organisations get to fill this out. No hiding in the I P A… who funds them… and any organisation submitting ANYTHING needs EVERY person, dollar and rule pertaining to that organisation to be FULLY DETAILED OR DISQUALIFIED in my toothless opinion.

    What do you think?

  2. John R Walker says:

    Nicholas
    The reason why the conversation is incomprehensible, might be because the subject is, power.

  3. Nicholas I have posted a response / comment on your thought provoking post to my blog.

  4. Moz of Yarramulla says:

    Nick, did you read Ken’s post on treaty progress? I kinda think that answers your request for substantive action.

    I suspect the reason so many people are chasing the easy, cheap options is that the anything else has proved impossible. It would be nice to have a Treaty to found the constitution on, and a court to enforce that treaty, but I struggle to see how we get there from here. The alternative, of treaties signed between state governments and local tribal groups, may be the best Australia can do. Civilisation lite, so to speak.

    • Nicholas Gruen says:

      Thanks Moz,

      Yes I did read it. I don’t know enough to have strong views on a treaty. Given that I think the whole area is dominated by people’s impatience, the desire to come up with the solution, which solution is invariably from the top, delivered as a piece of policy rather than something that builds as some cultural and practical achievement over time, I am just a bit wary that a treaty sounds like a solution when I think there are plenty of ways in which it might fail to be.

      One such problem is that one would run into all the same old problems of how much teeth it had – the extent to which it was tokenistic or not. Another is the power it would give aboriginal leaders. Giving them power would be good if they had legitimacy with aboriginal people and showed leadership. I don’t know enough to know how much of an issue either is, but one aboriginal politician I know describes aboriginal politics as poisonous.

  5. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Hi Michael,

    I was drafting my response to your post in your comments section but then thought that there was more chance of getting discussion going here so have posted it here. We also have at least one person in the Troppo community with deep knowledge and goodwill in the area – indeed he is the only Grand Dragon of the Knights of Troppo – Ken Parish.

    Thanks for your kind words of introduction and for taking my post in the spirit it was intended. I wade into the area with some trepidation for reasons that I expect you find obvious. It would be easy to pick pretty much any paragraph of my post and argue that it was typical white buck-passing, failure to understand, etc.

    I’ll reproduce, in summarised form, your suggestions and offer some commentary on them.

    First, mainstream Australia is too quick to dismiss symbolism; it is not sufficient to resolve deep-seated disadvantage, but as a nation we have comprehensively underestimated the deep, ongoing and inter-generational psychological impact of cultural dispossession. The statistics on Indigenous mental health are testament to this. Symbolic actions by governments, corporations and individuals all have an important role to play in healing this insidious damage. Paradoxically, for many if not most Indigenous citizens, many ‘symbolic’ actions by mainstream Australia are actually demonstrations of good faith with tangible consequences for the way they feel about their status as citizens and the ways they see themselves within the Australian society and polity.

    I think this is a fair point. On the other hand it’s important to be aware of its downsides which are largely in the substitution of substantive engagement with symbolic engagement. About ten years ago my daughter’s up market girls private school in Melbourne took upon itself an aboriginal reconciliation program with the arrival of a new headmistress full of the latest corporate speak. There were KPIs for the teachers, any number of strategies announced, and the highest profile initiative of the reconciliation program was having two aboriginal girls flown in from (I think it was Katherine). Everyone tried to be nice, but the two girls were, as you’d expect, completely freaked out. They didn’t have to go to classes if they didn’t want to – after all we all know that aborigines go on ‘Walkabout’ don’t we? Anyway, one ended up self-harming and returned after a few months. The other lasted a year or so.

    In some ways because symbolic initiatives are aimed very broadly, they disguise continuing lack of engagement as engagement. Everyone acknowledges the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, their elders past and present, and the presence of real aboriginal people and aboriginal experience doesn’t get beyond noble savagedom. I see the confrontation and engagement with the strangeness of aboriginal and European culture to each other as the central issue and central opportunity of our cohabitation together and within it the radical assertion of each others’ humanity and the potential for us both to grow through that process of encountering each other. If that strikes you as high blown and kind of absurdly utopian or ‘literary’ rather than practical, I think it’s at the heart of successful policy making – something which I commented on at the end of my post – the potential for human centred design to actually spearhead the process of engagement and so lead joint projects between aboriginal communities and the dominant European system that have some chance of growing roots and working.

    Second, as a nation, and in our public policies, we display remarkably little commitment to enabling and encouraging informed Indigenous choice in all sorts of contexts. … An example is the limited support the nation provides for the maintenance of Indigenous languages, and our extraordinary incapacity to recognise the potential value for all Australians that might derive or be sourced from the extraordinary cosmologies, natural history and environmental insights and knowledge which go hand in glove with language.

    Hear hear! I would say that aboriginal language is a perfect example of policy that hits all bases magnificently. It’s symbolic. It’s about their languages and because of that, though it’s an invitation to white engagement for any who, like William Dawes, wishes to engage it is almost immune from transformation by white dominance. It’s also practical as it helps the articulation of aboriginal perspectives and it’s hard to believe it doesn’t foster aboriginal agency in myriad ways large and small. (I suspect it’s also important to resource bilingualism to avoid ghettoisation).

    Third, I propose that perhaps the single most transformative change we could adopt as a nation in relation to Indigenous citizens would be to adopt a constitutional prohibition against racial discrimination directed against all races. The nation was established and founded upon notions of racial superiority, and while we have made great strides as a nation in overcoming racial discrimination, we have a long way to go. The Racial Discrimination Act (section 18C aside) attracts broad support, yet it is vulnerable to the whim of the Executive and a potentially populist Senate, not just now, but into the indefinite future.

    I am not playing dumb here. I am simply at a complete loss to understand any of this. Could you outline in a much more concrete way – and with examples

    * what such provisions would look like (ie an example of the kinds of words that might be used)

    * in what circumstances they would have some impact on the way things unfold in the way our lives are played out and

    * why this is “the single most transformative change we could adopt as a nation”.

    Finally a further thought occurred to me when I was reading through some other posts on your excellent blog site where I hope to read some more. Here’s a passage of yours responding to the question of income management which, as I’ve recently come to understand, is an example of meme driven policy as groundhog day if ever there was one:

    I don’t deny that there is a government and policymaker mindset about Indigenous people and communities, and it is not necessarily accurate or well informed. It tends to seek simplistic solutions to what are complex problems, and in this sense I agree with Klein’s conclusion that policy should accept and address social and political complexity much more than it does.
    The critics of income management however have allocated extraordinary efforts to parsing and dissecting the policy of income management from every conceivable angle (I am not referring just to the contributors to this volume when I say this). They allocate very little attention to discussing the existence of community violence and dysfunction, indeed, it is as if it doesn’t exist.

    I’d propose a serious attack on this problem – which is about as bad as things can get short of (and arguably including) civil war. It would embody some of the principles that I think are generally accepted within the field (while throwing in a few refinements of my own) including being:

    * community based and embracing principles of human centred design with

    * evidence based (and in a thoughtful not tokenistic or sloganistic way – I’ve suggested what I have in mind here. That evidence needs to:

    * serve the needs of those delivering the program on the ground to optimise their effectiveness

    * be publicly accessible (subject to appropriate privacy protections) to generate both a knowledge commons and public accountability and support for those elements of initiatives that clearly succeed

    * focused on individual communities but with some executive authority and resources to integrate the array of government services into the wider unitary endeavour to reduce violence. There are some very promising models of this kind of action being taken in urban contexts.

    * networked from the start as some kind of learning endeavour with the program being grown from one or a handful of communities, which progressively learn from experience.

    From there the program could be grown to go wherever it could be of benefit but I’d also want to build from the program rather than from existing government programs.

    • Thanks for the response Nicholas

      I agree with your point about the potential downsides of symbolism; I suspect we are close to being in agreement. Perhaps we can conceive of action and symbolism as two sides of a coin; emphasis on one to the exclusion of the other will always lead to sub-optimal results.

      Your inability to understand my point on embedding a prohibition against racial discrimination in the constitution is likely down to my inarticulateness. I can make the points more concrete by referring to a couple of instances in Indigenous policy contexts when governments have explicitly legislated to set aside the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act (often as a ‘belt and braces’ measure to ensure validity and not as a means of allowing overtly discriminatory actions – though this is a contentious statement for many), but nevertheless sending a highly negative signal to Indigenous citizens that they are second class citizens; namely:
      – in the legislation establishing the Northern Territory Emergency Response;
      – in the original legislation setting up income management.

      Thus a constitutional prohibition would ensure that governments do not resort to these types of legislative actions, which can easily slide into more substantive discrimination. In turn, such a prohibition would send a clear signal to Indigenous citizens (as well as many other citizens) that they are not potential subjects of discriminatory legislation. My associated point was that mainstream Anglo-Celtic citizens such as me may not feel that this is a priority or even desirable, but many if not most Indigenous citizens see the continuing potential for institutional discrimination by government (which thus implicitly justifies discrimination by individuals and corporations) as both real and as evidence that the process of dispossession is in effect continuing.
      Thus if the nation were to find the political will to set this option aside, it would potentially undercut one of the most corrosive elements in Australian society; this is the sense in which it is potentially transformative in my view.

      Turning to your arguments for ‘enlightened action’ (my terminology, not yours) to address, or assist Indigenous communities to address, dysfunction and violence, I find it difficult to disagree that what you are proposing is worth attempting. It would require a high level of cultural empathy in its implementation, would be very expensive (especially as the quality of the people involved would be crucial), and would require a high degree of depoliticisation (or what is often referred to as bipartisanship). There are probably other pre-requisites which escape me just now. All of these elements are in short supply in public policy generally, and Indigenous affairs in particular. My only caveat is that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that much of anomie in remote communities in particular can be traced to powerlessness. In these circumstances, solutions must be found in greater empowerment, along with the injection of ‘enlightened action’.

      Whether our political system can find a way to establish such a framework is an extremely moot point.

      • Nicholas Gruen says:

        Thanks Michael,

        Agreed on symbolism and substance – they should complement each other.

        I accept that aboriginal people feel screwed over and so are sensitive to legal discrimination even where it may be formal rather than substantive. So I don’t have a problem agreeing that what you propose would be a good thing to do. Further you know the area much better than me, but I’d be highly sceptical about the extent to which desisting from such action – including legislating such constraints – would be ‘transformative’.

        I can imagine aboriginal politicians saying that because their schtick is (necessarily) so closely co-evolved with the white powers that be which privilege these kinds of things. I can’t imagine people in the settlements thinking much like that. (But having asked the question, I’d obviously defer to the knowledge of you and others on this.)

        Regarding your comment on my additional proposal for a community based program targeting violence, it seems to me from your response and your expectation that it would be very expensive that we are talking about different things. When you say that “the quality of the people involved would be crucial” you seem to be envisaging shipping in quite a few outsiders. The main people I’m thinking would be those already in the communities. In my experience of white communities that are often regarded as disadvantaged – like Mt Druitt for instance – there’s a lot of talent there. My expectation – an assumption which might be quite wrong of course – is that in many communities there would be resources – elders and other leaders and potential leaders who have somehow been marginalised or demoralised. Of course one would need to introduce high quality people to initiate the process of co-design and run the program for some time.

        The trick would be to use the principles of human centred design and co-design to engage the community, together with service providers from government and NGOs in rebuilding the constraints that aboriginal culture used to impose on violence. Of course this would require positive imagination focused on the future not some nostalgia for the past.

        • Nicholas

          It is interesting how dialogue can work to both persuade, but perhaps more powerfully to identify and clarify the misunderstandings, slight differences in assumptions, difficulties in expressing complex thoughts and so on. And also to open up the fact that different people think in slightly divergent ways, using distinct mindsets and conceptual frameworks to explore what we assume to be a shared and objective reality….

          My point about the expense of your proposal was directed more to the need for it to be rolled out on a fairly broad scale, and I see now that I had overlooked your suggestion that it start reasonably small and gradually expand. I certainly agree that a massive injection of external expertise is likely to be counter-productive.

          There has been a history in Indigenous affairs of attempts to utilise so called ‘community development’ approaches which I have supported and still support; and though I am not familiar with your notion of human centered design, I suspect that the two concepts are not dissimilar, or at least not inconsistent. However, community development approaches have arguably never been fully supported by governments (and even been undermined), are inherently difficult in that they require sustained and conscious focus and attention, and where successful, have tended to fail at the point of turnover of key individuals. Nevertheless, I do not raise these as insurmountable obstacles, just issues to be addressed on the way through.

          I do however disagree with your penultimate sentence, in particular the assumption that traditional societies had acceptable mechanisms to control violence which can be revivified. There certainly were mechanisms, one of which was the adoption of quite small family based bands as the basic unit of society. The post-contact incentives on Indigenous groups to come together in larger community groups arguably weakened these controls. This is one of the arguments in favor of supporting small homeland centers. However it is arguable that the levels of violence within pre-contact Indigenous society was high, and there is a need to move beyond those cultural norms which implicitly accept violence, particularly against women. Writers such as Marcia Langton and Peter Sutton have emphasized these arguments. But with that caveat, I strongly support your last sentence, and its focus on the need for ‘positive imagination focused on the future’.

  6. Nicholas Gruen says:

    With apologies for the failure of dot points to come out properly – good old WordPress!

  7. WR1202 says:

    Nick, what a huge amount of unadulterated crap ! Your argument is so convoluted it has disappeared up its own arse.

  8. Moz of Yarramulla says:

    why this is “the single most transformative …

    Native title. It’s a land title that comes without right of access, right to transfer ownership, or any control over what happens to the land. It is, in short, bullshit.

    The ability to challenge that “title” would transform Australia. It would mean all the triple-titled land would become at the very least subject to legal challenge, and quite likely would result in decades of litigation as government tried to avoid the obvious: once you recognise that “native title” means the “natives” own the land, it’s their bloody land. You can’t finesse that by talking about “indigenous connection to the songlines” or other chants of white denial, the step from “we legally recognise that this is aboriginal land”, through “you can’t have a special, inferior class of land title just for aboriginal australians” to “they own it” is very hard to fight. I mean, Australia spends a fucton of money and energy fighting it, but we don’t *have* to fight it.

    I know a tiny bit about tribal land administration in Canada, have talked to some Hawai’ian activists about land ownership and other issues there, and have spent a little time in the madness that in Aotearoa’s “native title” negotiations. And I’ve yet to talk about it with an aboriginal australian who doesn’t want to take the “native” out of “native title”. Lots of despair, lots of “they won’t ever give us control, they just come in like a drunk angry parent and yell at us or set us up to fail”. But a lot of desire for substantive action, formalised by a treaty. Actual tino rangatiratanga will take time to get to, because to have self-determination you need a self capable of that. Mana motuhake and kotahitanga(and music video!) … the mere fact that NZ has so many different ways to express this reflects a huge difference in worldview between the two countries. I’m giving links so strayns can read a little about the different approaches within Maoridom to the issues.

    In New Zealand they have quite a lot of experience with building tribal groups into organisations capable of managing millions of dollars of assets, because they have actually done that. Repeatedly. Australia is not some special cousin, we could do the same thing here if we wanted to. There are Maori activist- bureaucrats who would love to come over here and put on their shit-kicking boots on behalf of the whanau. I mean “help”. White Australia would not necessarily enjoy that, but I reckon that if you can survive Joh you can survive Hone Harawira.

  9. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Thanks Michael,

    On dialogue we are agreed.

    On violence, I agree that my words were rather summary and, as written naïve. I’m aware that the aboriginal society encountered at first contact by Europeans was far more violent that we’d feel comfortable about with the Eora tribe taking their women into camp hospitals with head-wounds shortly after the tribe had received hatchets from the Europeans. To dial back my description, we both agree that the society has some endogenous resources to curtail violence and one is seeking to identify, access and cultivate those resources in whatever ways one can.

    On community development, it’s true that what I’m talking about looks like a community development approach and it is. But it’s with a big difference. The best way I can explain that is to say that Jean Jacques Rousseau casts a long shadow. For him civilisation was the problem with the opposite pole being the noble savage. (He didn’t use the term but his line of thinking kind of implied it.) I apply the idea of noble savage not specifically to indigenous issues, but to all outgroups like the poor. Rousseau’s approach is to say that all these artefacts that we’ve cooked up for ourselves in civilisation are really taking us further from some benign state of nature so they’re making us unhappy and alienated from our true natures. It’s the unaffected outgroups that have the key to the good life.

    It’s not hard to see something similar in social policy. You have the professionals with their (alienating) systems and then you have the life world – represented by the outgroup (poor people, troubled families, kids who play truant from school, those who are mentally ill, convicted criminals, indigenes) and professional systems and systems of political domination are somehow interdicting the natural resources of the life world to handle these things.

    My own take on things is that the professions that are the custodians and deliverers of systematic knowledge do indeed tyrannise those on whose behalf they claim to be acting and that the means by which they do this is reinforced by any number of institutional arrangements. But here’s the thing. Existing intellectual frameworks which articulate this bifurcation between systematic knowledge and the life world, having done so then walk away and point out that we need to inject the life world without taking further measures to try to strengthen the presence of the life world in the domain of systematic knowledge.

    Thus there are quite a few evaluations of mental health programs that point out that peer mentoring is often as efficacious or more efficacious than professional counseling but the programs they’re comparing are chalk and cheese. The professional services are heavily resourced whereas peer mentoring is often voluntary and relatively haphazard. As I wrote in this post

    Technologies of empathy

    What we need now are technologies of empathy. There’s little empathy in the existing system which is unpromising foundation on which to open it up or otherwise marketise it. It [opening things up] might make things better. It might make them worse.

    What we do know is that we’re not focusing on what matters. And what matters is whether we can become properly intentional … towards the caring role when it is not being provided organically within the society.

    In this regard there’s a deep lacuna in our ideologies. If you’ll permit these ideal types, to liberalism (and its mathematisation – neoclassical economics) the problem is largely invisible. To socialism or social democracy it’s a task for government to be overseen by a bureaucracy (rather than a task looking for an institution that might learn to perform it). Only in conservatism does what is provided by families and civil society come into full focus as a foundational quality of a functioning society. But, having made the giving of care in families and the maintenance of traditions of social coordination and cooperation central to a functioning society, it has nothing to say about how to build such things where they’re damaged or where they need to develop further in some way.

    Intriguingly Hayek’s ‘meta narrative’ on his economic philosophy was that central planning represented the domination of the systematic knowledge of the engineers and the central planners over the life world. In the economic sphere he had a quick fix which was that the market embodied the life world – the unsystematic, context specific knowledge of the trader. But the market is the one miraculous solution we have (though of course the fact that the market works miraculously where it works well has seduced a whole generation into thinking we can get ourselves some of that magic with improvised makeshifts even where markets don’t work well.

    Simply chiming in on behalf of the life world doesn’t achieve much, other than a little greater humility or perhaps suspicion towards professional knowledge and professional delivery. We need to intentionally build the life world into the application of systematic knowledge. In my view that’s the project of human centred design. An early articulation of that idea is presented in this essay which you may find of some interest – it elaborates the Hayek connection a little more than I have above.

  10. John R Walker says:

    Hope this is not too off topic.
    Identity can be a bit tricky.

    In the mid seventies a number of indigenous people were encouraged to use acrylic paint and canvas to make ‘artwork’s’ that had a relationship ( of kinds) to the sacred designs that were previously done in sand or as body painting for important ceremonies. As best as I know all of the symbols actually used in these pictures were symbols for ,secret stuff that was only for the initiated.
    Before long a market for these paintings took off , people in Sydney etc started collecting these paintings.

    And it wasn’t long before debates started to develop in the Australian art world as to ‘ authenticity : for example some of those indigenous painters started to use colors made by synthetic industrial processes (such as phthalo blue ) as not authentically indigenous.
    And that did influence what was purchased and what was painted.

  11. paul frijters says:

    a swamp indeed. No boats in sight that I can see.

    • John R Walker says:

      Hi Paul
      Faith teaches that identity is ” at best a temporary vehicle for the working of the great spirit and at worse a ,mere projection of ego” -identity is no basis for anything that’s worth the candle.

  12. WR1202 says:

    I have an objection to Aboriginals “owning” Uluru. I have no objection to them having a spiritual connection to Uluru, and it may well be sacred to them. But there are many sacred places. A church/ synagogue/ chapel in a town or city may well be a sacred place, as the adherents of the church built it !! (many with their own blood, sweat and tears).

    But the aborigines did not build Uluru – Nature did !!

    Most sacred places are also public places, and a person can enter a place of worship, can sit there or walk around admiring (or not) the place, but on condition of good behaviour and conduct. Fundamentally, don’t touch anything and be quiet. The Rector of a church will pop his head out of his office just to ensure your conduct. He is, after all, the manager, and may take you for a guided tour of the place.

    I would like to climb Uluru, but cannot doff my cap in “recognition” of the “owners”. I am happy for Aboriginals to be managers of the rock and surrounds, and would expect that walkers be restricted to the walking track on the rock. But that is the limit. Managers do not own things, they manage !

    I, like the other 7.5 billion people on the planet, own 1/7.5 billionth of the rock.

    But if rock walkers find some spiritual connection to the rock, that is their business, and not everyone else’s business.

    Paul F is right. The IDENTITY BUSINESS is a indeed a swamp, with some people deliberately allowing a large hose into the swamp to keep it very boggy. There should be a good trade in Wellington Boots come out of this.

    • Moz of Yarramulla says:

      the aborigines did not build Uluru

      You didn’t build the land your home occupies, and it’s very likely that you didn’t build the home either. Should people be allowed to own their homes? “you didn’t build that” would be a radical reshaping of the entire notion of property law, even if you limit it to Australian Aborigines.

      You need to explain *why* aboriginal landowners should not have the same rights as non-aboriginal ones, not just feel it. Even if you feel very entitled to traipse through other people’s property, that’s not enough. Should I have the right to tour your home over your objections, just because you didn’t build the land it sits on? What about the grounds of Parliament House? Should I have the right to tour those at a time of my own choosing, over the objections of the managers? If not, why?

      Note that in many cases the various grievances being complained about are only historical in the Howard sense – they happened earlier today, or last week. They’re still happening right now, but necessarily for us to talk about them we’re discussing the past. Aboriginal deaths in custody, for example, are hard to discuss in any detail before they happen, but afterwards “that’s in the past and it happened to someone who’s dead now”. Why should it be quite legitimate for Lindy Chaimberlain to fight for 30 years to have her innocence recognised but aborigines should just give up as soon as a white man tells them to?

    • John Walker says:

      Visitors to our local church are very welcome, but that dosnt mean they are welcome to climb up onto the altar and have a picnic.

      And sacred places don’t really have ‘owners’ they have people who ‘curate’ – care for the place and the people who go there.

  13. Pingback: Crimes against empathy: Where are the stories? | Club Troppo

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