Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science
Category: Politics & Society
At present this includes posts on history of Zionism and modern Israel and Palestine as well as current events. Continue this setup? What of other histories? Adjust name of category? Currently includes Islamism (distinct from Islam) as an ideology of terrorism. Also currently includes Islamophobia and hostile denunciations of Islam — but see the question on Islam in Religion and Atheism.
It’s as if the Project for the New American Century never existed. The reason that the U.S. ever “entered” Afghanistan in the first place was that they were stunned at what happened on 9/11 and, quite understandably, like a dazed and confused giant, felt compelled to wage war on Al Qaeda and the tactic of “terrorism” based in Afghanistan. Of course, they did everything by the book and first asked the Afghan government to hand over Bin Laden for trial. The Taliban government, “as we all know”, flatly refused to do so. So the inevitable happened. No choice. And while they were at it, what could be better than restoring democracy and human rights to all the Afghan people!
But I recall so well the prominence at the time given to the manipulations and pressure of key political leaders to take the opportunity to implement the program of the New American Century. And I even recall that brief moment in the news when it was reported that the Afghan government (also doing everything by the book) asked the U.S. for the evidence that Bin Laden was the key suspect behind 9/11 so they could follow the normal practices of extradition. Maybe they were lying. But why would they want to give the U.S. an excuse to “enter” their country? And we’ll never know because we were told that they were “refusing” to hand over Bin Laden and therefore war had to be declared “immediately”.
So many of us shook our heads and thought, Sheesh, that is going to be a disaster! How can the U.S. succeed where no other power has managed to do so! Woe to Afghanistan. Another Vietnam.
And now we’re being told not to believe the online video clips and that Kabul is not at all like Saigon 1975.
The German psychologist Klaus Conradcalled this premonitory state apophenia, defined as perceiving patterns that don’t actually exist and referring them back to an unseen authority who must be pulling the strings. It’s a theory he developed as an army medical officer specializing in head traumas under the Third Reich.
Today, it’s analogized to political conspiracy thinking.
. . . leading us to….
The conspiracy theorist will believe that institutions can be understood completely as the result of conscious design; and as collectives, he usually ascribes to them a kind of group-personality, treating them as conspiring agents, just as if they were individual men. As opposed to this view, the social theorist should recognize that the persistence of institutions and collectives creates a problem to be solved in terms of an analysis of individual social actions and their unintended (and often unwanted) social consequences, as well as their intended ones.
. . . . The social theorist is a public thinker, oriented toward improving society; the conspiracy theorist is a victim of institutions that lie beyond their control.
The concluding words of Peter Sutton in his critical response to Dark Emu could have been addressed directly to me:
People keep telling us, even those who are aware of Dark Emu’s many flaws, that at least it has got people thinking about an important subject. We hope their interest continues, and that the tens of thousands who have read the book go beyond it and keep learning more from other sources. So long as Dark Emu is not the agent of their entrenchment in a dogmatic view, that is good. So long as we remain open to debate and a respectful exchange of views, in a shared space and not from behind walls, it is more than good. It is in that spirit that we offer this book to the reader. — Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? p. 201
I confess I was one of the readers of Dark Emu who felt a bit edgy over some of its emphases and its “slightly misdirected” ideological focus but for all of that still found myself saying “I’m glad I read it” and commending it to others. Two scholars, Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe, have been much more clear-headed and confronted head-on the book’s often misleading emphases and “quite misdirected” ideological focus.
There is no better condition for relationships than truthfulness. We have tried here to set part of the record straighter than it has become through the popularised mythology of history of the kind found in Dark Emu. We have done so in a positive spirit, but also a corrective one. The Old People—the First Australians—and all of us deserve better than a history that does not respect or do justice to the societies whose economic and spiritual adjustment to their environment lasted so well and so vigorously until the advent of the colonies and the subsequent degradation of much of that environment through land clearing, pastoral stocking, and the spread of feral animals and plants.
Pascoe, by consistently gilding a lily that needs no gilding, suggests that he sees a foraging way of life as inferior. . . .
. . . .
In this book we have grappled with Dark Emu’s mixture of positive factual information and its tendency to trim the evidence to fit the author’s model, its lack of true scholarship, its ignoring of Aboriginal elders’ knowledge, its disturbing social evolutionist philosophy, and its overwhelming attention to the material aspects of Aboriginal food production to the exclusion of the rich spiritual propagation philosophy of the Old People’s culture. (p. 200)
Years back I found myself impressed with an exhibition at Melbourne’s Museum of Victoria that showed a diorama of Aborigines apparently living in a settled life in stone houses and engaging in complex aquaculture in a part of western Victoria. I have been out of date for many years, not realizing that the message of that exhibition has long been superseded. A chapter by Keryn Walshe reassured me that I was not mistaken in my initial impressions but also made it clear that my source was wrong:
The vision of ‘hundreds of people living in villages’ had gone unquestioned and become all-pervasive, as witnessed in a former diorama at the Museum of Victoria that depicted a scene at Lake Condah with the caption: ‘The Kerrup-Jmara did not need to move house, and their villages of stone were probably permanent. Several hundred people lived in some villages.’ This exhibit was complemented by educational resources designed by VAS, conveying the same image of permanent stone houses set out in villages. (p. 183)
Further studies have shown that stones were used for a few dwellings but only as supports for wooden posts, and the dwellings were not occupied permanently either. One of the main criticisms of Sutten and Walshe is that Bruce Pascoe, the author of Dark Emu, has singled out the exceptional that has been found in one or two places and presented it in such a way as to hide what was far more typical of Aboriginal ways of living.
Pascoe’s quotations from explorer diaries were some of the most interesting highlights of Dark Emu. It was disappointing, therefore, to learn from chapter 11 of Farmers of Hunter-Gatherers? that some of those quotations trimmed off sentences gave a somewhat different picture from the one Dark Emu painted. Similarly for some of his quotations from more scholarly articles that pointed to certain objects (a hoe, some dwellings), with good reason, not being of Aboriginal origin at all.
The term “village” is itself problematic. Pascoe quotes from explorer diaries records of coming across large clusters of dwellings. In my own mind, I reconciled these accounts with what I knew of at least some sort of nomadic or wandering existence by noting that the same descriptions appeared to assume that their dwellers had gone elsewhere at the time. Sutten and Walshe make it clear that the word village implies a permanent settlement, and even a permanent settlement plus, with markets, special public purpose spaces, etc. A more correct term would be “encampment”. Ditto for the storages of food that the explorers tended to come across. Such storages were far more likely to be kept for occasions when multiple tribes visited the site for, say, annual ceremonies.
I found myself nodding in full agreement when Sutton and Walshe drew attention to Pascoe’s implications throughout Dark Emu that the image of Aboriginal life as “merely” “hunters and gatherers” suggests to us today that they were inferior to other peoples. Pascoe appears to be trying to rebut a pervasive racist view of Aboriginal inferiority but does so by trying to show how “like white Europeans” or “like Chinese” they were technical nous. As Sutton demonstrates most thoroughly, Pascoe is charging a windmill:
How, then, can Pascoe defend his argument that Aboriginal people in popular imagination subscribe to ‘a belief in the brutish description of Aboriginals that Australian history insists we accept’ (page 100)? Who are these insisting ogres? Isolated pub racists? So-called ‘culture warriors’? Australian history writing, including the TV versions of it, moved way beyond that colonial-era delusion long ago. The multiple volumes of historical correctives to colonial frontier ‘pioneer’ mythology published by Henry Reynolds and other historians since the 1970s are in thousands of households. Their role in correcting the jingoistic settler histories of the past, in which ‘brave pioneers’ battled against ‘a harsh environment’ and ‘troublesome blacks’, was recognised and summarised accurately by Marcia Langton in her prologue to First Australians in 2008:
In the past half century; as a new generation of historians has interpreted the records, a dazzling view of Australian life has emerged. Instead of the drudges who peopled the pages of the old books, convicts, women, children. African-American slaves, adventurous European aristocrats, artists, con-men, bushrangers and thousands of Indigenous people have assumed more detailed, nuanced and intriguing personas, and their endeavours have become better understood. The ridiculous and audacious, as well as the common or garden, activities of ordinary and extraordinary’ people have replaced the monotonous tales of the March of Civilisation.
Langton then added that only ‘a handful of historians, mostly amateurs, persist in vilifying all the original inhabitants of this continent and their descendants’, but she also said their works were very popular with those who ‘prefer to imagine the Australia of the old school books’. (pp. 139f)
Dark Emu sends the message that readers must think in dichotomous terms: either “mere” hunting and gathering or farmers and agriculturalists. The label “hunter-gatherer” in the context of the debates arising from Pascoe’s book (with its “culture war” opponents) is misleading, as Sutton explains:
Dark Emu sets up a simple distinction between agriculturalists living in ‘permanent housing’ and the ‘hapless wandering’ of the ‘mere hunter-gatherer, choosing to conclude that the former is the truth and the latter a widely accepted he about Aboriginal Australia before colonisation. There seems to be an assumption here that subsistence based on hunting and gathering is itself not complex. This is far from the truth.
Setting aside the various proactive ways in which Aboriginal people at conquest modified their environment and its resources, the hunting, fishing and gathering economy was far more complex than might be imagined from the word ‘mere’. As an economic process it was at least as complex as gardening or farming, if not much more so. Agriculture can get by with knowledge of a small range of flora and fauna. Hunting and gathering can’t.
Hunting and gathering in pre-colonial Australia required fine-grained knowledge of hundreds of species and their habitats, annual cycles, names and generic classifications; of methods for processing them and for preparing them as food, as tools, as bodily decoration, and as ritual paraphernalia. It required what repeatedly seemed to colonial newcomers to be almost supernatural eyesight, seeing things in the far distance or among foliage that no colonial could see.
Allied to this, it required the ability to track game using often infinitesimal traces left on the ground or in foliage. It required tremendous spatial and narrative memory, of the kind many of us now have very much lost through reliance on paper maps, written records and Google Maps. It required high skills in lithics (stone tool manufacture) in order to reveal from within the rough stone the elegant tools now found in museums and in the bush. And it required deft and precise skills in using weapons and wielding digging sticks, nets, lures and traps. Spearing fish required the ability to calculate instantly how refraction through water needed to be corrected for during the throw.
Even ‘mere’ hunter-gatherers would have been resource experts on their own ground, but Aboriginal people were hunter-gatherers-plus.
It might have been better if labels like ‘hunter-gatherer’ and ‘horticulturist’ and ‘agriculturist’ were not so prominent in these debates, as Harry Lourandos has proposed. They can sometimes attract outdated evolutionary schemes that operate on the discredited ‘primitive’ versus ‘advanced’ scale, also known as social evolutionism. (pp. 8ff)
Aborigines did not attempt to “work against” and re-make their environment. Sutton and Walshe drive home the strong reminder that they learned to live with it, to adapt to it. They also remind readers of the importance of the Dreamtime in Aboriginal ways of thinking. The spiritual life of the First Settlers has to be appreciated in order to understand their responses to their environment and their resistance to white invaders who deliberately replaced them. It is wrong-headed to apply our standards of civilization to a world that has moved in a totally different direction. Sutton quotes Tom Griffiths:
I think it’s a mistake to treat the concept of agriculture as a timeless, stable, universal and preordained template, to apply a European hierarchical metaphor, an imperial measure of civilisation, to societies that defy imported classifications. One of the great insights delivered by that half-century of scholarship is that Aboriginal societies produced a civilisation quite unlike any other, one uniquely adapted to Australian elements and ecosystems. (p. 70)
Sutton, Peter, and Keryn Walshe. Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers?: The Dark Emu Debate. Melbourne University Press, 2021.
We have seen early photographs of Australian aborigines completely naked but I did not understand their modesty. Paradoxical, but explained by anthropologist Peter Sutton:
People were not prudish about nudity but valued modesty, expressed in sitting positions and in averting the gaze, for example. An early record of this etiquette is from First Fleet member David Collins at Port Jackson: ‘… and although entire strangers to the comforts and conveniences of clothing, yet they sought with a native modesty to conceal by attitude what the want of covering would otherwise have revealed’.
Sutton, Peter, and Keryn Walshe. Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers?: The Dark Emu Debate. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 2021. p. 97
He goes on to show how items of clothing that were worn by some Aborigines some of the time were for embellishment or served symbolic purposes rather than for comfort or covering.
In another place he quotes James Dawson noting that a local tribe in winter wore large kangaroo skins with — contrary to our fashion-oriented expectations — “the fur side inwards”.
I enjoyed reading Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu — drawing on Australia’s early explorer diaries to portray Australia’s Aborigines as living in “villages” of huts and practising agriculture and aquaculture — but with some caveats. I found myself constantly adjusting what he was depicting with what I already knew to be true so that I came away not with a totally new understanding but a revised one. I could not accept on the basis of the argument he presented that Aborigines practised democracy or that they lived as settled farmers. I have heard and seen too much from “primary sources” to dismiss the notion that they were also hunters and gatherers. Besides, I found myself wondering, why is it so important to stress agriculture as an indicator of civilizational advance? Sure, agriculture was important in our tradition, but is it really a universal marker of progress? Progress towards what? I have been fascinated with the Aboriginal concepts of the Dreaming or the Dreamtime. Even in Dark Emu one reads little reminders that technologies practised by Aborigines were performed with a cultic or Dreamtime mythological association or impulse.
Now a new volume has been released that I think will restore some balance to Dark Emu‘s image of the First Australians. Others have commended Pascoe for popularizing views of Aborigines that have long been known among specialists and experts. It would be a mistake, however, to replace the hunter-gatherer view with a settler-farmer construct. So we now have Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe’s Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate. I have only begun to read it but already a couple of sections can be quoted:
Pascoe contradicts the false belief, perhaps held by some, that all Aboriginal people were naked all of the time. Some Aboriginal people sewed animal skins into cloaks (page 89).
He criticises the uninformed view that classical Aboriginal society consisted of constantly nomadic people who simply lived off nature’s bounty, were not ecological agents, did not stay in one place for more than a few days and did not store resources (for example, page 12).
And he gives considerable attention to the storage of foods (pages 105—14), this being a useful corrective to ignorance of Aboriginal storage methods.
(Sutton, p. 5)
And in particular:
Pascoe’s message is built on a simple distinction between what he calls ‘mere’ hunter-gatherers, on the one hand, and farmers; or between ‘mere’ hunting and gathering on one hand and ‘agriculture’ on the other. We consider that the evidence, in fact, reveals a positioning of the Aboriginal people of 1788 somewhere between these two extremes: they were complex hunter-gatherers, not simple farmers. The Old People in 1788 had developed ways of managing and benefiting from their landscape that went beyond just hunting and just gathering but did not involve gardening or farming. They were ecological agents who worked with the environment, rather than, usually, against it. They frequently used slow-burning fires to make their landscapes more liveable. However, they did not cut down bush to clear the land, plough and hoe the soil in preparation for planting, or then sow stored seed or tubers or rootstock in gardens or in fields.
For the Andrew Bolts who have savaged Dark Emu as “a hoax” whose purpose is supposedly to accuse white settlers of ignorant and cruel treatment of the first inhabitants here, I further note that Sutton and Walshe share Pascoe’s assessment that white occupation is more accurately described as a “conquest” of the land and not at all “the first settlement”.
Sutton, Peter, and Keryn Walshe. Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers?: The Dark Emu Debate. Melbourne University Press, 2021.
Pascoe, Bruce. Dark Emu. Black Seeds : Agriculture Or Accident? Broome, Western Australia: Magabala Books, 2014.
Hamas control of Gaza is exactly what Netanyahu wants to maintain:
The prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] also said that, “whoever is against a Palestinian state should be for” transferring the funds to Gaza, because maintaining a separation between the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza helps prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.
— Harkov, Lahav. “Netanyahu: Money to Hamas Part of Strategy to Keep Palestinians Divided.” The Jerusalem Post, March 12, 2019. https://www.jpost.com/arab-israeli-conflict/netanyahu-money-to-hamas-part-of-strategy-to-keep-palestinians-divided-583082.
Hamas, Netanyahu’s gift that keeps on giving
After all, it was the toxic cocktail of Jewish terror and Hamas violence that first brought Netanyahu to power more than a quarter of a century ago. The fervently right-wing Israeli who gunned down Yitzhak Rabin, followed by a shocking spate of Hamas suicide bombings of public buses in major Israeli cities, paved Bibi’s come-from-far-behind electoral path to Balfour Street.
That’s how Netanyahu likes his public. Shattered. Furious. Fearful. Paralyzed.
Burston, Bradley. “Netanyahu and Hamas Are Working Together to Destroy My Israel.” Haaretz. May 20, 2021. http://www.proquest.com/docview/2529195266/citation/7524E1F185E04576PQ/16.
This latest outbreak started over Jewish attempts to drive long-time Palestinian residents of Jerusalem from their homes. Ironically, now with the rise of right-wing Jewish extremists replacing secular Zionism,
The sharp irony is that the early Zionists never actually regarded Jerusalem as integral to their national enterprise, but as a spiritual center.
Nowhere was Zionist apathy towards Jerusalem more manifest than in the writings of Theodore Herzl, father of political Zionism. Herzl did not hesitate to express his disregard for Jerusalem, even at a time when the majority of its residents were Jewish.
“When I remember thee in days to come, O Jerusalem, it will not be with pleasure,” he wrote, upon his only visit to Palestine in 1898. It’s no wonder the First Zionist Congress, which met in Basel in 1897 to discuss Herzl’s Jewish state proposal, had passed over Jerusalem in silence.
Disenchanted with Jerusalem, Herzl dreamed of founding the future Jewish capital in northern Palestine. He believed that Jerusalem would be a major obstacle to the creation of his Jewish state, and that a Jewish ownership of Jerusalem’s holy sites could jeopardize his entire plan for Jewish settlement in Palestine. Herzl also feared that the Vatican would oppose any form of Jewish political presence in Jerusalem. He was willing to give up Jerusalem in return for international recognition of Jewish sovereignty over other parts of Palestine.
In fact, Herzl was the first to propose a plan to declare old Jerusalem an international city. In “Altneuland,” he wrote that Jerusalem belonged to all nations as a multicultural and spiritual center. He even proposed to turn the Old City into a multinational museum.
Herzl envisioned Jerusalem as a utopian city where state affairs are “banned from within these walls that are venerated by all creeds,” and where “the old city would be left to the charitable and religious institutions of the all creeds which then could amicably divide up this area among themselves.”
The early Zionist movement, which took its name from one of Jerusalem’s ancient names, was ready to give up Jerusalem as a prelude to building the future Jewish state. By excluding Jerusalem from their original plan, the Zionist founders hoped to avoid international outrage, clashes with Muslim and Christian communities, and divisions between secular Zionists and the Orthodox Jewish community of Jerusalem.
The original Zionist policy was therefore to keep a low profile toward Jerusalem. Unlike the British, who made Jerusalem the country’s capital under the mandate, the early Zionist movement built its headquarters far from Jerusalem, in central and northern Palestine. There was little nationalist shudder in the Jewish Yishuv in 1908, when the Palestine Office, headed by Arthur Ruppin, opened its doors in Jaffa instead of Jerusalem.
. . . .
As for Palestinians, it was also in Jaffa, not Jerusalem, where their national aspirations were set, it being Palestine’s beating urban heart and vibrant economic and cultural center.
Neither party wanted Jerusalem, except maybe the British, who, in the words of Prime Minister David Lloyd George, wished to proclaim the city “a Christmas gift for the British people.”
And yet few Israelis today seem to realize that the image of Jerusalem as the eternal and united capital of the Jewish people was a relatively recent invention.
Indeed, few remember that day in November 1947, when the UN General Assembly passed its historic resolution to partition Mandate Palestine between Arabs and Jews, ultimately leading to the creation of the State of Israel. The plan, which provided for two states — one Jewish, one Arab — excluded Jerusalem from the future Jewish state. Owing to its unique status, Jerusalem was to be governed by a “special international regime” administered by the United Nations.
And yet the Zionist leadership embraced the plan almost without hesitation. Celebrations swept the quarters of the Jewish yishuv in Mandate Palestine. The following year, Israel, emboldened by the partition plan, declared its independence, and not long after, the new state was recognized by a majority of United Nations member states, led by the United States.
. . . .
The irony is that while the early Zionist establishment was ready to relinquish Jerusalem to build the Jewish state, the current Israeli leadership seems to be relinquishing the Jewish state for Greater Jerusalem, where Palestinians constitute nearly 40 percent of the city’s population, with thousands living beyond the separation barrier in East Jerusalem.
By annexing East Jerusalem, Israel is rapidly headed toward a one-state reality which, sooner or later, would culminate in a Jewish minority ruling over a Palestinian majority in an apartheid-style regime.
The history of the early Zionist movement in Palestine is nearly forgotten today, but its lesson is still alive: Jerusalem “belonged to all of its nations and creeds.”
Assi, Seraj. “How Israel Invented Its Exclusive Claim Over Jerusalem.” Israel Palestine News (blog), May 11, 2021. https://israelpalestinenews.org/haaretz-how-israel-invented-its-exclusive-claim-over-jerusalem/.
Apartheid? I hear rumours that it is finally becoming acceptable to use that word as a criticism of Israel. Are times really changing? I read mixed signals in Biden’s response to this latest violence.
We hear of Gaza being an open-air prison. Maybe we should have another look at Israel:
But if there is one central, fundamental takeaway from the latest operation, from the entire situation, from a year in which thousands died from the coronavirus, from four elections in a row and counting, from the Israeli discourse that continually strains toward blindness, it is how captive Israeli society is. Not captive in the physical sense, not aware of the captivity, but conceptually captive to an extreme degree, ostensibly of its own free will.
Just turn on any television channel to see what a large gap there is between reality – in which much of Israel has been shut down for more than a week due to the threat of rockets fired by a terrorist organization – and all the talk about “severe blows,” “setting them back years” and “victories.” The disparity between the Israeli discourse and the Israeli reality is akin to that between a banana and a watermelon. When someone is holding a banana and keeps insisting it’s a watermelon, and everyone submissively nods their heads, we’ve got a problem.
Assulin, Yair. “The Real ‘Captives’ in Israel.” Haaretz. May 20, 2021. http://www.proquest.com/docview/2529405585/citation/7524E1F185E04576PQ/18.
From a discussion about one of the factors in the leading cause of death among men 18 to 44 years old is suicide — the role of loneliness, resentment or disconnectedness in a world more technologically interconnected than ever before: From The Drum, an excerpt from a former white nationalist, someone who grew up in an alcoholic home, was a bully all his teen years, and was attracted to white nationism through skinheads at 16 years of age:
Arno Michaelis, former white supremacist, at about 25 minutes into the video:
. . . When people like a Jewish boss or a lesbian supervisor or black and Latino co-workers defied my worldview by just interacting with me human to human it really drove home how wrong I was. Our society has a habit of rejecting anyone that we find distasteful. It’s very easy to be like, Unfollow, This person is now shut out of my life. They’re off all my social media channels.
There is a difference between listening to someone and giving someone a platform to spread their hate. The difference between those two things is compassion. If you do things in a trauma?-informed way, which means if you see someone behaving poorly you don’t say What’s wrong with them? you say What happened to them? As far as I am concerned the political extremism of one flavour drives political extremism of the other flavour. It’s important that everyone really commits to an active practice of seeing themselves in others and seeing others in themselves. All the more so when it’s someone who doesn’t look like you, or think like you – that’s when that practice becomes most important and most powerful.
Here’s a snippet from a historian’s description of how Australia experienced the 1918-20 Influenza Epidemic. I’ve selected the mask experience for this post. It’s from
McQueen, Humphrey. 1976. “The ‘Spanish’ Influenza Pandemic in Australia, 1918-19.” In Social Policy in Australia: Some Perspectives, 1901-1975, edited by Jill Roe. Stanmore, N.S.W: Cassell Australia. p. 136
I have added the images, most of them taken from the endnotes in Humphrey McQueen’s chapter. Bolded highlighting is my own.
If only on grounds of personal comfort the wearing of masks was a hotly contested issue in New South Wales where it was most strenuously enforced. The demand for masks was so extensive that to prevent profiteering the Commonwealth Government declared butter muslin and gauze to be ‘necessary commodities’ within proclaimed areas. This meant that maximum prices could not exceed those charged generally on 24 January 1919.
One doctor supported masks because they would help keep germs in and thus lessen contagion. Opposition came from those who saw them as breeding grounds for infection or as sapping the community’s ‘vital force’. A ‘Bovril’ advertisement alleged that anti-influenza masks were ‘like using barbed wire fences to shut out flies’.
With genuine if unconscious insight into the behaviour patterns of its readers, the Sydney Morning Herald suggested that resistance to masks stemmed from a distaste for making oneself conspicuous and that this would fade away ‘[o]nce the pioneers have introduced the fashion’ whereupon wearing a mask would become as natural as wearing a hat’.
But if masks were supposed to keep germs out, declared the Rhinologist at St Vincents, a simple cloth cover over mouth and/or nose was inadequate and he called for a full face mask with mica eye pieces. Others proposed variants included masks with handles for outdoor work and the ‘Lightning Germ Arrestor for Telephones’. The Director of Quarantine defended masks because they reassured ‘nervous persons’ and provided a ‘tangible.. .indication that precautions are being taken’.
Leaving the article behind, I can’t resist adding some other items I came across while searching for the above.
I came across a family namesake of mine — possibly a distantly related ancestor of some sort — facing court for refusing to wear a mask in a train carriage:
Some masks from 1919, the normal and the creative:
Recall my post from a week ago, MH370 – still waiting. There I quoted the President of Emirates Airline (the company with the world’s largest fleet of Boeing 777s), Sir Tim Clark, expressing his frustration over the lack of transparency in the supposed references to the data related to the missing aircraft and unanswered questions put to the official “explanation”. Florence de Changy, author of The Disappearing Act: The Impossible Case of MH370, attempted to interview Tim Clark for that book. Here is her account of those attempts:
Another important voice that had gone oddly quiet was that of the highly respected Sir Tim Clark, the President of Emirates Airline. Emirates runs the largest fleet of Boeing 777s in the world, and its chief was clearly not impressed with the ‘disappearance’ narrative. He had initially declared that ‘he would not be silenced’ on the matter. ‘We seem to have allowed MH370 to go into this black hole of “it could be one of aviation’s great mysteries”. It can’t be left like that, never. I’m totally dissatisfied with what has been coming out of all of this. I will continue to ask the questions and will make a nuisance of myself, when others would like to bury it. We have an obligation not to brush this under the carpet,’ he added.
I submitted three requests to meet Clark to follow up on his vigorous initial statements. I even offered to travel to Dubai, or to meet him wherever he might be in order to overcome any logistical issues. But in December 2015, a major codeshare deal was agreed between Emirates and MAS, and his communications adviser let it be known that Clark ‘had nothing to add to what he previously said on that matter’. Yet, Clark has never said that he was now satisfied with this or that explanation, and he seemed so sincere right at the start of the whole affair. For a long time I pondered whether he had been somehow convinced that it was in the best general interest that the truth not be revealed, or whether he had even been forcefully silenced. According to an Australian diplomatic source in the Middle East, it was actually the ATSB, using – or rather, abusing – its leverage as regulator for one of Emirates’ major destinations, who asked him to stop commenting about MH370. Apparently, Clark had no choice other than to comply, but he was so put out that he insisted on registering his annoyance with the Australian ambassador in Abu Dhabi.
They’re recruiting. Superficially relatively innocuous-looking groups like the Lads Society are their first ports of call. But their conversations have been infiltrated so we can be alerted to the threat:
When you press questions on this, I sense a degree of belligerence; the more belligerent people become, the more worried I become.
I know the feeling all too well though in the contexts of other discussions. That quote comes from Sir Tim Clark, President of Emirates Airline (the company with the world’s largest fleet of Boeing 777s), responding to the official narrative of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. The interview with German journalist Andreas Spaeth was originally published in Der Spiegel but the full transcript is also on The Sydney Morning Herald page.
I have just completed reading The Disappearing Act: The Impossible Case of MH370 by the French journalist Florence De Changy. The research into every facet of the narratives that have arisen to explain the disappearance of MH370 is refreshingly easy to read but above all thorough. The work is an exemplar of how to do serious research into current and historical events.
The inconsistencies and impossibilities that are bundled into the official narrative that the airliner crashed somewhere in the Indian Ocean are made mercilessly transparent. As Clark himself has said:
What do you think happened?
CLARK: My own view is that probably control was taken of that aeroplane, the events that happened during the course of its tracked flight will be anybody’s guess of who did what and when. I think we need to know who was on this aeroplane in the detail that obviously some people do know, we need to know what was in the hold of the aeroplane, in the detail we need to know, in a transparent manner.And we need to continue to press all those stake holders, that were and are involved in the analysis, in the assessment of what happened, for more information. Because heading an airline that operates the largest number of 777s in the world, I have a responsibility of knowing exactly what went on. I do not subscribe to the view that the aircraft, which is one of the most advanced in the world, has the most advanced avionic and communication platforms, needs to be improved so that we can introduce some kind of additional tracking system for an aeroplane that should never have been allowed to enter into a non-trackable situation.
What do you mean by that?
CLARK: The transponders are under the control of the flight deck. These are tracking devices, aircraft identifiers, that work in the secondary radar regime. If you turn off that transponder in a secondary radar regime, it causes a disappearance of that particular aeroplane from the radar screen. That should never be allowed to happen. All secondary and primary radar should be the same. Irrespective of when the pilot decides to disable the transponder, the aircraft should be able to be tracked. So the notion by the Malaysians that the disappearance from the secondary radar and then the ability of the military to use primary radar to track the aeroplane and identify it as ‘friendly’ – I don’t know how they did that – is something we need to look at very carefully.
. . . .
. . . . I’m still struggling to find why a pilot should be able to put the transponder into standby or off. In my view, that should not be an option. Thirdly, the air traffic control systems should not have a situation where a non-transponder aircraft without its squawk identifier should not be allowed to turn off and still not be able to track it. This is absolute stuff of nonsense. Radar is radar, it will pick up metal objects flying at the speed of the size of a 777 without any difficulty. Who took the decision to say: ‘If a transponder is off, we can’t track it in a secondary radar regime’? Which apparently most air traffic control systems are in. We must look at that as well. This aircraft in my opinion was under control, probably until the very end.
But why would they fly down five hours straight towards Antarctica?
If they did! I am saying that every single element of the ‘facts’ of this particular incident must be challenged and examined in full transparency, exhausted to the point that there is no other way that we can think of this other than a complete mystery. We are nowhere near that, there is plenty of information out there, which we need to be far more forthright, transparent and candid about.
There is indeed “far more information out there” and Florence de Changy spills it all out along with clarity about the sources and their reliability or otherwise.
And no, no credence is given to conspiracy theories that have placed the plane in Pakistan, in Somalia, in Kazakhstan, on its way to crash into Diego Garcia. But the origins of those fanciful ideas are included. And if you were assured by the debris washed up on Reunion Island and Madagascar and surrounds you will be surprised to learn how many problems arise with that supposed evidence, how it was found, what it actually is and its condition, and the way the results of studies on it were officially announced. And no, there is no evidence that the captain was suicidal: all the evidence points to anything but.
Just to give you some idea of the scope of the research that has gone into Florence de Changy’s book here is an extract from her acknowledgements:
. . . Piecing this jigsaw together would not have been possible without the hundreds of people – pilots, scientists, academics, diplomats, engineers, politicians, whistle-blowers, fellow journalists, hackers, mercenaries and military personnel – scattered around the globe, all of whom I have either met in person or online in Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, India, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, USA, Canada, England, Scotland, France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Maldives, Mozambique, Mauritius, Madagascar, Reunion . . . (p. )
If a proposition is going to be taken to be unquestionably true, it is important that no one understand it.
— Roy Rappaport, Ritual, Sanctity, and Cybernetics
The context of that assertion is a discussion about how religious beliefs function to keep a community of diverse populations together. The fundamental belief that binds must at its root be cryptic, at least unfalsifiable, and hence susceptible to different interpretations so that all groups can find it satisfying and changing circumstances will be less likely to shatter the community. Here is the context of the quote:
In some cases the ultimate sacred statements are themselves cryptic; in others they may seem clear, but they are abstracted from cryptic contexts such as myths or the reports of revelations, and an apocryphal quality is often characteristic of the discourse which sanctifies sentences concerning particular social forms or containing specific directives by connecting them to ultimate sacred propositions. The importance of reducing ambiguity and vagueness in messages of social import was earlier noted. In contrast, it is perhaps necessary that considerable ambiguity and vagueness cloak the discourse from which sanctification flows. If a proposition is going to be taken to be unquestionably true, it is important that no one understand it. Lack of understanding insures frequent reinterpretation. (p. 71)
Anthropologist Roy Rappaport found that technologically simple communities like the Maring in New Guinea have “no chiefs or other political authorities capable of commanding the support of a body of followers”. It is up to each individual male, for example, to decide whether he will assist those of another group in warfare. What typically brings the members of a community together, as well as members of other communities to join and share company with them, are religious ceremonies and their related rituals held to honour their deceased ancestors.
These sacred occasions where diverse persons got together to celebrate would not be mere fun times. These occasions signalled among the attendees who were likely friends and allies in future endeavours. Family ties might be extended through betrothals. Excess livestock that had been disrupting space for crops and leading to local quarrels would be sacrificed and feasted upon so that the economic and social balance thus restored. So the religious occasions are regulators of society and its ecosystem. The beliefs provide the rationale for the believers to become actively involved in changing and improving their conditions of well-being.
Technology and power
It is different in technologically more advanced societies. In its simplest terms, Rappaport’s argument is that where chiefs do exist in similarly low-technology societies they are bestowed with great religious awe but in fact have little real political power; but where chiefs or other authorities do acquire access to more technology they thereby acquire the means to coerce submission to their authority. They no longer have the same need for being deemed “sanctified” by the community to maintain their status. They don’t need to submit to the controls that come with the religious belief systems and its personal representatives.
As a result, the political power of the authorities, strengthened by technology, replaces religious beliefs and customs as the controlling and unifying force.
Community beliefs in the sacred do not disappear, of course. But they are relegated to “a subsystem”, e.g. “the church”. The beliefs will continue to ratify the authorities as “chosen by God” but they no longer govern all aspects of society and the ecosystem in the way they used to. Instead, the benefits they offer are rewards in the future life after death. Control is maintained by a stress on ethical teaching as the price to be paid for heavenly gifts. They help reduce personal anxieties when the faithful are faced with conditions and experiences over which they have little or no control.
To the extent that the discourse of religion, religious ritual and religious experience contribute to the maintenance of orderliness and the reduction of anxiety without contributing to the correction of the factors producing the anxiety and disorder they are not adaptive but pathological. Indeed, their operation seems to resemble that of neuroses (see, for example, Freud 1907). (p. 73 Link is to PDF of Freud’s article)
Not that religious groups in technologically advanced society are always content to remain a form of pathological adjuncts to society.
But although sanctity may become degraded in the churches of technologically developed societies, “true sanctity,” that uniting the organism through its affective life to processes which may correct social and ecological malfunctions [as we saw above is the function of “sanctity” in societies such as those of the Maring], remains a continuing possibility. Throughout history revitalistic movements have emerged in streets, in universities, in fields among men sensing, and perhaps suffering from, the malfunction of control hierarchies that cannot reform themselves. In the early stages of such movements, at least, the unquestionable status of ultimate propositions rests upon affirmation through the religious experiences of the participants who believe that they are participating in corrective action. Sometimes they are mistaken. Although such movements have not infrequently been more disruptive than that to which they are a response, they may nevertheless be regarded as one of the processes through which cybernetic systems including men, and sometimes other living things as well, rid themselves of the pathology of unresponsiveness. (p. 73)
I wish I had begun my student life in anthropology.
How is your boycott of Amazon going? I didn’t realize I viewed Amazon so much until I made a conscious effort to avoid it and always use the alternatives I listed in Boycott Amazon Week. If you are looking for a tad more incentive to keep this side of the picket line read this:
It’s by Paris Marx and published on the Jacobinmag site. What a combo of names. The names alone inspire action — or inaction to avoid Amazon in solidarity with Amazon’s workers.
In May, Jeff Bezos unveiled his long-term vision for humanity’s future. During an hour-long presentation in Washington, DC, the Amazon billionaire described how humans will need to leave Earth if we’re to maintain “growth and dynamism” in the future.
For Bezos, our future is a series of free-floating space colonies called O’Neill cylinders in close proximity to Earth. This proximity, he argues, will help the planet to avoid exceeding its capacity as the population swells into the trillions. Such a development, argues Bezos, will allow us to produce thousands of “Mozarts and Einsteins.” But what about everyone else?
The richest man in the world with an intent to “save the Earth,” Bezos has claimed that space travel is “the only way” he can see to effectively deploy his enormous wealth — a statement he saw fit to make while simultaneously working to defeat a small tax increase in Seattle that would have bolstered programs to help the city’s soaring homeless population.
The quest for space habitats is essential, Bezos argues, because we’re destroying the planet. He says this as he nonetheless courts the oil and gas industry. Amazon workers have demanded their boss take stronger measures to address the company’s environmental footprint, but even his renewed pledge doesn’t go far enough. Its inaction is of course motivated by the logic of profit maximization — at the expense of planetary destruction. This is the same imperative that has driven Bezos to look to the stars.
Bezos is convinced that humanity will fall prey to “stasis and rationing” if we remain on Earth. The Jeff Bezos brand of never-ending growth will require constant population gains, increased energy use, and more resources than our planet can provide — so, into the stars we must go.
As is so often the case with the analyses of billionaires, a lot gets left out of the picture. The utopian future put forward by Bezos has blind spots so big you could pilot a starship through them. When they’re filled in, Bezos looks a lot more like Niander Wallace, the replicant manufacturer in Blade Runner 2049, than the savior he thinks himself to be. . . .
The article is studded with sub-headings like Hero Complex, Sci-Fi Glimpses of an Unequal Future, Disposable Humans in a Billionaire’s World.
Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a billionaire who’s read science fiction your whole life. Your mind, deluded by your immense wealth, thinks that the only way to “deploy this much financial resource” is to invest in space instead of paying taxes so we can collectively solve the problems on Earth. When a fictional television show about space colonization is canceled in its third season, you swoop in to save the day because not only do you fund a space company, but you also own a massive streaming platform — and it needs content. After chatting with some of the cast, you email your team asking to announce the show’s renewal, and — ten minutes after they reply — you take the stage and are lauded by sci-fi fans across the internet for saving the day.
This is exactly what happened when The Expanse was canceled by Syfy and quickly scooped up by Amazon Prime Video for a fourth season after a personal intervention by CEO Jeff Bezos. It’s hard to imagine having so much money that you could both fund a space race and the media that could inspire it all at the same time, but that’s exactly what he’s doing.