2023-10-28

Australia’s “Gaza War”

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by Neil Godfrey

. . . . Then came Cullin-la-ringo.

After a long journey from Victoria with his family, servants, stockmen, wagons and over 7000 thousand sheep, Horatio Wills pitched his tents by the Nogoa River in early October 1861. Eight months earlier, “the perfect state of peace” on the Nogoa had been shattered by Lieutenant Patrick. More violence had followed in the months since as Patrick went about his work. . . .

[But let’s not get distracted with details of history lest some of us, God forbid, suspect I write with winking approval of what happened to the Wills family and household.]

The Willses were not to blame for any of this but, as the paper pointed out:

The blacks, like their civilised invaders, confound the individual with the race; that, in common with all people, whether savage or half-civilised, they exact the penalty from the first of the adverse nation who falls into their hands. In war, this course is sometimes followed by belligerent States, professing to rank with civilised nations. Indeed, the principle of reprisals is nothing else than punishing the innocent for the guilty.

The family had been at Cullin-la-ringo for ten days when about a hundred Gayiri men and women descended on their camp and killed them all in broad daylight. Among the nineteen dead were seven children. Though they had many guns to defend themselves, the only shot fired in the attack was from Wills’ revolver. His head was nearly severed. Bodies were left scattered among the tents. . . .  News of the killings at Cullin-la-ringo broke around the world. It remains the bloodiest massacre by blacks in the history of Australia.

“An uncontrollable desire for vengeance took possession of every heart,” [Queensland Governor] Bowen told the Duke of Newcastle, the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Bowen had no quarrel with such “just chastisement”. All over the north, settlers and Native Police rode out to kill. Scrubs and mountains were scoured. Blacks were shot and driven over cliffs. The Rockhampton Bulletin reported the clashes with something like delight.

The Native Police overtook the tribe of natives who committed the late outrage at Nogoa, and succeeded in driving them into a place from whence escape was impossible. They then shot down sixty or seventy, and they only ceased firing upon them when their ammunition was expended.

Those who sought shelter in Rockhampton – “the little town of mud and dust” – were driven back out into the bush to be shot. As it was after Hornet Bank, blacks were executed hundreds of miles from the scene of the crime. Runs on the Comet, the Nogoa, the Dawson and the Mackenzie were stripped of Aborigines. About four hundred are thought to have died in the weeks after Cullin-la-ringo, but that is no more than a cautious guess. The Yiman, Wadjigu, Gayiri and Darumbal peoples were nearly wiped out.

……..

After Cullin-la-ringo there was no hope left of reining in the Native Police. Vengeance was blessed. No limits were set on the awful powers of the force. More than ever, the government placed the highest value on the energy of its officers and their discretion – in both meanings of that slippery word: judgement and secrecy. Nowhere would the occupation of Australia prove bloodier than here, and no instrument of state as culpable as the Native Police. Slaughter was bricked into the foundations of Queensland.

  • Marr, David. Killing for Country: A Family Story. Black Inc, 2023. pp 249-253

The above took place a little more than twenty years after one of the earliest settlements in Queensland, the idealistic mission station named Zion’s Hill.


2023-10-21

Truth in the Court Jester’s Barbs — (plus a positive interview with Noam Chomsky)

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by Neil Godfrey

Probably most readers here long before now have seen the video below (Piers Morgan interviewing Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef on the current Israeli response in Gaza to the Hasbut I love it so much I want to display it here, too.

I confess to being a little taken aback by Ben Shapiro’s justification of the mass bombing of civilians (Dresden, Tokyo, Nagasaki …) by the Allies. I had long thought (after talking with some from that generation, including one who belonged to a bomber crew over Dresden) that “we” looked back on that kind of vengeful barbarism with some guilt and shame. Certainly not some kind of “tragic necessity”. Still naive after all these years.

As for Piers Morgan insisting in the above show that he had never spoken of “decapitated babies”, the following demonstrate that his memory failed him at that moment: Continue reading “Truth in the Court Jester’s Barbs — (plus a positive interview with Noam Chomsky)”


2023-10-11

Palestine, Jerusalem — Beautiful in 1896

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by Neil Godfrey

I posted this clip ten years ago. How things were, how things could be….

Surely it must provoke some serious thought….

From Gilad Atzmon.


2023-10-10

Unspeakable…

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by Neil Godfrey

Is there anything at all that can be said? I can only feel — appropriate words won’t come. I gather news updates from a range of sources and have been distressingly learning for years now about the increasing attacks by Israelis on Palestinians, including the killing of women and children, with the clear winks from far right government members (even calling for a Palestinian town to be “wiped out“) and with the protection and sometimes outright facilitation of Israeli security forces (both the IDF and the police) — all this and not one word of protest from those national leaders who are now roused to speak up and cry out for a total vindication of Israel’s “right to defend itself” against the atrocities of Hamas — with that condemnation morphing all to often into an implicit condemnation of all Palestinians. The world cries out “War Crime” when a Russian missile destroys a power plant in Ukraine. But when Israel blocks all food and power from entering the overcrowded home of 2 to 3 million people….

As the correspondent Jonathan Cooke wrote:

The current outpouring of sympathy for Israel should make anyone with half a heart retch.

Not because it is not awful that Israeli civilians are dying and suffering in such large numbers. But because Palestinian civilians in Gaza have faced repeated rampages from Israel decade after decade, producing far more suffering, but have never elicited a fraction of the concern currently being expressed by western politicians or publics.

The West’s hypocrisy over Palestinian fighters killing and wounding hundreds of Israelis and holding dozens more hostage in communities surrounding and inside besieged Gaza is stark indeed.

This is the first time Palestinians, caged in the coastal enclave, have managed to inflict a significant strike against Israel vaguely comparable to the savagery Palestinians in Gaza have faced repeatedly since they were entombed in a cage in 2007, when Israel began its blockade by land, sea and air.

. . . .

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Hamas, which nominally runs the open-air prison of Gaza, of starting “a cruel and evil war”. But the truth is that the Palestinians have “started” nothing. They have managed, after so much struggle, to find a way to hurt their tormentor.

Inevitably for the Palestinians, as Netanyahu also observed, “the price will be heavy” – especially for civilians. Israel will inflict on the prisoners the severest punishment for their impudence.

Watch how little sympathy and concern there will be from the West for the many Palestinian men, women and children who are killed once again by Israel. Their immense suffering will be obscured, and justified, by the term “Israeli retaliation”.

. . . .

No one really cared while Gaza’s Palestinans were subjected to a blockade imposed by Israel that denied them the essentials of life. The few dozen Israelis being held hostage by Hamas fighters pale in comparison with the two million Palestinians held hostage by Israel in an open-air prison for nearly two decades.

No one really cared when it emerged that Gaza’s Palestinians had been put on a “starvation diet” by Israel – only limited food was allowed in, calculated to keep the population barely fed.

No one really cared when Israel bombed the coastal enclave every few years, killing many hundreds of Palestinian civilians each time. Israel simply called it “mowing the lawn”. The destruction of vast areas of Gaza, what Israeli generals boasted of as returning the enclave to the Stone Age, was formalised as a military strategy known as the “Dahiya doctrine“.

No one really cared when Israeli snipers targeted nurses, youngsters and people in wheelchairs who came out to protest against their imprisonment by Israel. Many thousands were left as amputees after those snipers received orders to shoot the protesters indiscriminately in the legs or ankles.

Western concern at the deaths of Israeli civilians at the hands of Palestinian fighters is hard to stomach. Have not many hundreds of Palestinian children died over the past 15 years in Israel’s repeated bombing campaigns on Gaza? Did their lives not count as much as Israeli lives – and if not, why not?

After so much indifference for so long, it is difficult to hear the sudden horror from Western governments and media because Palestinians have finally found a way – mirroring Israel’s inhumane, decades-long policy – to fight back effectively.

This moment rips off the mask and lays bare the undisguised racism that masquerades as moral concern in western capitals.

. . . .

I listened to an American diplomat try to explain that the reason there is no peace between Israel and the Palestinians is because Hamas refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist. No-one said that the United States’ refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the mainland Chinese government from 1949 to 1972 made it impossible for the two countries to live in the same world together. Hamas has called for a two-state solution recognizing the 1967 borders — an implicit acknowledgement that a regime they consider illegitimate and illegal and immoral will exist alongside a Palestinian state. Israel has persistently thumbed its nose at international law by expanding its own settlements in the only place a Palestinian state could exist, — and effectively winking at their settler pogroms against Palestinian villages.

An Israeli military spokesperson said the “breakout” by Hamas from Gaza proved that Hamas were animals who could never be satisfied. After all, he “explained”, Israel “unilaterally” withdrew its forces totally from Gaza leaving Gaza entirely to the Palestinians; “What more could Israel do in giving the Palestinians all they asked for!” — Like leaving caged prisoners to their own devices within their barbed wire and spike defended walls on their subsistence diet and patchy power supply.

It’s all too sickening. But it seemed so wrong to post about intellectual fancies like biblical studies without acknowledging something infinitely more important right now.

I have not heard first hand or face to face from Palestinians themselves or from anyone who has visited the West Bank and Gaza recently so I rely on media reports (only partly on the mainstream media, though that has a place, too) and published research and testimonies to keep abreast of what is happening. A while back, during the time of the wave of suicide bombings, I learned that many ordinary Palestinians despised Hamas for their cold use of youngsters to blow themselves up. Since then, there have been changes within Hamas and they were democratically elected in Gaza (to much of the world’s horror) — they were the only party that most Palestinians trusted to actually deliver needed humanitarian services. I don’t know what most Palestinians think of the recent Hamas attacks but I would not be surprised if a good many feel despair and dismay. But it doesn’t matter now. The fire has started. If only individuals like us could do a little more to try to raise awareness of the hypocrisy and racism among our national leaders that is giving comfort to the governing powers of Israel as they ignore the rules of humanity and justice. Except when their own prisoners violate them to their own hurt.

 

 

 


2023-09-09

Conspiracy Theories — The Who and The Why

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by Neil Godfrey

30 minute interview with the author: From Salem to the Satanic Panic – Why Americans are Obsessed with Conspiracy Theories — About the author.

. . . he told me that while she wasn’t a stupid person, he described her as “someone who’s always had trouble finding a place in life, in terms of career and goals, and what her wants are and what her drives are. And as a result, she’s always been—as smart as she is—easily pulled into various groups and things. . . . The Deep State narrative, Eric felt, was attractive to her because it explained things to her “on some sort of abstract level as somebody who’s just sort of struggled to find their place in the world.

Colin Dickey, Under the Eye of Power — all excerpts from Apple Books

That passage reminded me of what I had read about the appeal of Donald Trump back in 2016: Understanding Trump’s Rise, Presidency — and a Positive Resolution to the Crisis — It painfully reminded me, too, of so much I have come to learn (and share in many posts here) about the appeal of cults, terrorist groups and suicide bombers. The same process of radicalization appears to me to be common to all.

We are family

As Miranda lost some of her friends, they were replaced by another community, one online that not only provided support and reassurance, but welcomed her as a soldier in a tremendous battle. “Take up this cause, because it’s the right cause—here’s all these people who know this is the right cause and will back you up and believe the same things that you do. And it’s got the extra bonus of ‘You’re special,’ on top of it, because “most of the world doesn’t even know that this is happening.”

The problem with dismissing “these people”

This attitude—that on some level we are being manipulated by deceitful journalists, and our emotions are being tweaked by social media algorithms, creating a landscape where conspiracy theories are allowed to flourish as they never have before—is a common one. But it creates a picture where conspiracy believers are themselves oddly passive: they are blank slates, onto which Fox and Facebook project harmful content, and, like children, they are powerless to resist. In the same way that Christian moralists argued that listening to heavy metal would lead impressionable teenagers to become Satanists, we have come to believe that social media companies like Facebook are so powerful that merely logging on can transform someone from a rational, thinking human being into a conspiracy obsessed paranoiac.

This argument has the benefit of offering a reassuring narrative to those of us not in journalism or on the board of Facebook: it’s not my fault I was exposed to this disinformation, I’m a passive consumer. Focusing on algorithms, on social media giants, and on journalists all has the soothing effect of encouraging us to see ourselves as powerless, passive receivers of information, rather than people who actively are shaping our reality.

As Twitter’s cofounder Evan Williams put it in 2017, there is a problem with the Internet, in that it rewards extremes. “Say you’re driving down the road and see a car crash. Of course you look. Everyone looks. The Internet interprets behavior like this to mean everyone is asking for car crashes, so it tries to supply them.” Which is to say, of course the Internet enables our worst behavior. But the behavior is ours to begin with. We believe things not just because Facebook feeds them to us; we believe them because we want to.

This emphasis on social media and the Internet also opens up space for the belief that a movement like QAnon is somehow new, something that has appeared from nowhere, a spontaneous upswelling of paranoia and ignorance. As should also be evident by now, conspiracy theories have been a hallmark of American democracy from its inception. Conspiracy theories—particularly those surrounding politics, which inevitably includes fears of secret groups—have been used time and time again to ameliorate unreconcilable contradictions that spur cognitive dissonance. A vital fact about QAnon necessary to understanding its allure is that it is neither sui generis—it is not some unique and abnormal thing unlike anything in America’s history—nor is it ex nihilo—it didn’t spring from nothing. Conspiracy belief has repeatedly caused riots and murders, ruined lives and careers, and reshaped America time and time again since its inception—as horrible as the past few years have been, they are part of a repeating pattern.

Something new this time

Why was the need to believe this narrative so strong among QAnon adherents that they were willing to buy a story with such a laughably improbable origin?

QAnon did offer one seemingly new aspect: an interactive component. As Mike Rothschild explains in his book The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything, “Q talks directly to the people, and the people talk back to Q. It’s not monologing, it’s dialogue. Q encourages collaboration, and rewards anons who go above and beyond in their theorizing and interpretation.” QAnon mirrored the structure of true crime Reddit forums and other online communities, where amateur sleuths could build their own epistemic capital by connecting the dots and sharing their findings with others.

Waiting … doing nothing …

. . . echoes of another long-standing American tradition: prophecy behavior. “Watching, waiting, and working for the millennium,” . . . 

Facts alone rarely persuade

But for those who are in a position to combat these delusions and conspiracy beliefs, it’s important to note that it involves more than simply fact-checking. While factual debunking is vital, it remains less important than first understanding the psychological need that drives the conspiracist to seek out alternative stories.

Often, as Miranda’s story suggests, believers are looking for purpose, and conspiracy theorists—like cult leaders—don’t look for unintelligent people so much as they look for directionless people, people lacking meaning and purpose, who’ve lost family ties (at one point, Eric said of Miranda that she disliked the fact that she lived so far from her family in Florida, even though she came to California in part because she never quite fit in with them in the first place). As tempting as socially isolating these people may be, it’s the kind of behavior that becomes a vicious circle, driving them further into the arms of a community that welcomes them and nurtures feelings of victimhood and persecution. Whatever ability we have to try to reintegrate these people into other arenas of social life helps break that cycle.

In addition to community, conspiracy groups offer adherents a simplified narrative to dispel chaos in one’s life. They may also provide a cover story to justify racist, homophobic, and transphobic beliefs, ideas that a person may believe but feel they can’t publicly display. Such theories liberate believers and encourage a kind of free play for forbidden thoughts.

The eternal return

But a good part of the reason why such problems never get solved is due to the way they’re allowed to fade into obscurity almost as soon as the heat of the moment has passed. The prevalence of such moments depends on the destruction of a communal memory of these past outrages, a constant culture of forgetting, an almost state-sponsored amnesia designed to treat each emerging moral panic as entirely new.

 


Dickey, Colin. Under the Eye of Power: How Fear of Secret Societies Shapes American Democracy. New York, NY: Viking, 2023.



2023-09-03

On “White” indigenous Australians …..

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by Neil Godfrey

The many fair-haired blue-eyed Indigenous Australians (who often trigger scepticism and resentment in non-Indigenous Australians) were usually raised by Aboriginal mothers or removed from their Aboriginal mothers and placed in brutal institutions. They identify as Aboriginal because their white fathers, and often grandfathers too, never lifted a finger to help, or were only fleetingly in their lives. Their formative loving relationships were with their Aboriginal family.

It is one more reason why I am voting Yes – because our parliamentary representatives do not read Aboriginal memoirs and show no compassion for the decades of personal abuse inflicted on generations of Aboriginal families.

If you don’t know, please pick up any of the brilliant Aboriginal autobiographies that have been published over the past 50 years. They are all great reads and insights into this country and its history.

—– Libby Connors, Facebook post, 2nd September 2023

(I’ve referenced Libby Connors before …. see my post, Where None Shall Hunger. I quoted from her historical research published as Warrior — a book that opened my eyes to many aspects of the lives of the Aboriginal people who were once at home in the region where I now live.)

I can’t go beyond the following case for voting Yes in the coming referendum:

Massacred. Raped. Poisoned. Enslaved. Their children stolen. Their lands taken. Their religions, their culture and their languages destroyed.. yet there’s a No campaign?

—– Philip Adams, X, 24th February 2023

I dearly hope that the positive emphasis of the Yes campaign will turn back the shame that looms from the efforts of its opponents: A No vote will be Australia’s Trump moment.


2023-07-20

The Re-Writing of History Never Ends

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by Neil Godfrey

Two examples have been publicized in recent days:

Hindus, the “new Jews” —

https://www.opindia.com/2020/03/keshav-baliram-hedgewar-rss-founder-birth-anniversary-2020/

The article is

Aparna Gopalan describes how Hindu nationalists have been defending the surge in the Hindu human-rights violations (including a reinforcement of the caste system) in India by openly comparing their historical experiences and modern criticisms with the experiences of the Jews. Just as criticism of the policies of the state of Israel is often met with charges of antisemitism, so criticism of Prime Minister Modi and extremist treatment of India’s Muslims is being denounced as Hinduphobia — thus attempting to silence the opposition.

Faced with rising scrutiny over India’s worsening human rights record, Hindu groups have used “the same playbook and even sometimes the same terms” as Israel advocacy groups, “copy-pasted from the Zionist context,” said Nikhil Mandalaparthy of the anti-Hindutva group Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR). Hindu groups have especially taken note of their Jewish counterparts’ recent efforts to codify a definition of antisemitism—the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition—that places much criticism of Israel out-of-bounds asserting that claims like “the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” constitute examples of anti-Jewish bigotry.

The comparison has been conscious and deliberate and extends into political action within the U.S.

Since the early 2000s, Indian Americans have modeled their congressional activism on that of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and AIPAC; Indian lobbyists have partnered with these groups to achieve shared defense goals, including arms deals between India and Israel and a landmark nuclear agreement between India and the US.

As for the historical comparison, it becomes a little strained:

ON DECEMBER 8TH , the HAF hosted a webinar with the Israel-advocacy organization StandWithUs, the first event in a three-part series titled “Shine a Light on Antisemitism & Hinduphobia: What Hindus and Jews Can Learn from Each Other.” StandWithUs national director of special programs Peggy Shapiro greeted the audience with a “Namaste.” Shukla followed with a “Shalom.” The exchange kicked off a call-and-response structure that carried through the next 75 minutes, with Shapiro presenting a piece of information about antisemitism, and Shukla following with a sound bite about Hinduphobia. The speakers presented even their personal histories in parallel: After Shapiro introduced herself by saying, “I was born in a refugee camp in Germany. My parents were Holocaust survivors,” Shukla followed with, “I was born in California to parents who had left dire situations in India.” (The HAF did not provide answers to a follow-up question about the conditions under which Shukla’s family emigrated.)

History is being recast for Hindus as a history of victimization. The purpose is to justify the actions of the dominant political party of extremist nationalist Hindus in India.

In facing off against anti-caste activists, such Hindu groups generally position themselves as the victimized party, arguing that the critiques in question “scapegoat” Hindus and Hinduism. In 2006, Sangh-affiliated organizations began a months-long campaign to cut mentions of caste discrimination from sixth grade history textbooks in California; that same year, the HAF sued the state in an attempt to get the textbooks thrown out altogether (allied organizations pursued a similar suit in 2017).

Universal History Archive/UIG/Shutterstock

The same article notes that Prime Minister Modi is a longtime member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist paramilitary force that originated in the 1920s being inspired by Mussolini’s Black Shirts and Nazi “race pride.”

Still on the side of the Nazis, I recall one high school history teacher expressing outrage over the propaganda infusing a movie his class had had to watch about the Second World War: one scene that stood out was of Ukrainian civilians lining the streets cheering the German army marching through as liberators from Russian rule. I was present at the time and that scene came to mind when I read about a New York Times article rewriting history to blame Russia for the start of that war . . . .

Not Hitler, but … Russia started World War 2 —

In its latest foray into the realm of historical falsification, the New York Times on Tuesday published a news analysis pinning the blame for World War II on the Soviet Union. The lengthy article authored by Andrew E. Kramer, entitled “A Current War Collides with the Past: Remnants of World War II in Ukraine,” makes no mention of either the Holocaust or the Nazi war of annihilation against the Soviet people.

The author, Andrew Kramer, initially wrote that the war began with Soviet invasion of a Polish controlled area of Ukraine:

World War II began in what is now Ukraine in 1939 with a Soviet invasion into territory then controlled by Poland in western Ukraine, at a time when the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were in a military alliance. When that pact broke down in 1941, Germany attacked and fought from west to east across Ukraine.

But this time the rewrite was not permitted to last so clearly. According to Tom Mackaman in an essay for the World Socialist Web Site,

The Times, confronted with a flood of hostile letters, cynically altered the sentence, without explanation, and in a manner that perpetuates the aim of the original falsification. The sentence was changed to read, “World War II reached what is now Ukraine in 1939 with a Soviet invasion into territory then controlled by Poland in western Ukraine…” The surreptitious verb swap does nothing to alter Kramer’s intention. The reader is meant to believe that the Soviet Union “started” WWII.

Shadowy hints of a similar blaming of the Soviet Union for WW2 are not hard to find: e.g. The Past is Never in the Past and A Warning as History Grimly Echoes in Ukraine.

1984 is long past….

‘There is a Party slogan dealing with the control of the past,’ he said. ‘Repeat it, if you please.’

“Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past,” repeated Winston obediently.

“Who controls the present controls the past,” said O’Brien, nodding his head with slow approval. ‘Is it your opinion, Winston, that the past has real existence?’

Again the feeling of helplessness descended upon Winston. His eyes flitted towards the dial. He not only did not know whether ‘yes’ or ‘no’ was the answer that would save him from pain; he did not even know which answer he believed to be the true one.

O’Brien smiled faintly. ‘You are no metaphysician, Winston,’ he said. ‘Until this moment you had never considered what is meant by existence. I will put it more precisely. Does the past exist concretely, in space? Is there somewhere or other a place, a world of solid objects, where the past is still happening?’

‘No.’

‘Then where does the past exist, if at all?’

‘In records. It is written down.’

‘In records. And- ?’

‘In the mind. In human memories.

‘In memory. Very well, then. We, the Party, control all records, and we control all memories. Then we control the past, do we not?’

George Orwell, 1984.


2023-05-15

The Memory Mavens, Part 12: The Collective Memory of a Halbwachs Quotation

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by Tim Widowfield

La topographie légendaire des Évangiles en Terre Sainte: étude de mémoire collective

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been working on an English translation of Halbwachs’s La topographie légendaire des Évangiles en Terre Sainte (The Legendary Topography of the Gospels in the Holy Land). A paperback version with its vivid red cover, sitting at the foot of my bed, has been catching my eye for many months. Recently, I finally picked it up and started reading it again, happy to find that he wrote in not some impenetrable scholastic French, but in a rather conversational (yet still quite proper) register.

I had three years of French in an American high school, so my competence is suspect. However, starting several years ago I’ve been working at getting better with the help of Duolingo and Pimsleur. That said, I often find myself entering sentences into various online services to compare my translations to theirs.

The Original Source

One of the sentences that popped out at me was this one from the last paragraph of the introduction:

Si, comme nous le croyons, la mémoire collective est essentiellement une reconstruction du passé, si elle adapte l’image des faits anciens aux croyances et aux besoins spirituels du présent, la connaissance de ce qui était à l’origine est secondaire, sinon tout à fait inutile, puisque la réalité du passé n’est plus là, comme un modèle immuable auquel il faudrait se conformer.

(Halbwachs 1941, p. 9)

I have translated this passage as:

If, as we believe, collective memory is essentially a reconstruction of the past, if it adapts the image of ancient events to the beliefs and spiritual needs of the present, knowledge of what was originally there is secondary, if not outright useless, since the reality of the past is no longer there as an immutable model to which one has to conform.

(Halbwachs/Widowfield 2023, bold emphasis mine)

It sounded awfully familiar. And then I remembered a Halbwachs quotation in Memory and Identity in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity that I hadn’t been able to find in the original text. Schwartz wrote:

In The Legendary Topography of the Gospels, he declares, “If, as we believe, social memory is essentially a reconstruction of the past, if it adapts the image of ancient facts to the beliefs and spiritual needs of the present, then a knowledge of the origin of these facts must be secondary, if not altogether useless, for the reality of the past is no longer in the past.” (Halbwachs 1992b, 7).

(Schwartz 2014, p. 19, bold emphasis mine)

Back in the day, I had been confused, because Schwartz’s bibliographical citation for “Halbwachs 1992b” contained this note:

Translated into English as pages 193–235 in On Collective Memory. Edited and translated by Lewis A. Coser. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [orig. 1941]

The unsuspecting reader (in this case, me) might think La Topographie had been translated in its entirety and placed at the end of the English translation of On Collective Memory. However, if you’ve read my series on the Memory Mavens, you will recall that it was only the final chapter — the conclusion — that Coser translated.

In his introduction, Coser condensed Halbwachs’s perspective: Continue reading “The Memory Mavens, Part 12: The Collective Memory of a Halbwachs Quotation”


2022-12-29

Nice Racism

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by Neil Godfrey

I do not fully understand “racism”.

I grew up in a time when aboriginal children were sometimes being taken from their families “for their own good”. Everything “we”, the white rulers of the land, were doing in relation to aborigines was “for their good”. Today, on the contrary, one is often confronted with an aboriginal’s story of the trauma that was one of the thousands of what is now termed “the stolen generation“. Many white Australians only became aware of the impact of that practice on the indigenous people in 2002 with the release of the film Rabbit-Proof Fence.

My first experience as a target of racism was when I was touring central China. It was innocuous enough and I laughed along with it. But at the same time I could not deny that there was a little gurgle deep down in my gut that felt a little unpleasant. I asked my Chinese companion why some people seemed to be so curious and smiling among themselves as they looked across at me in a community meal hall. I was wearing shorts, and it was explained to me that someone had said I looked like a monkey because of my hairy legs and arms.

My second experience was soon after I was employed at the Singapore National Library. I don’t believe any of the local citizens and employees there would think they had a racist bone in their bodies. But on an institutional level, when statements were made at a “high level” of conceptualization — NOT at a personal one-on-one level — I was made to feel that my place as a white westerner was somehow tolerated only on sufferance. I was needed for my specialist skills and experience and the sooner my tenure was over the happier they would all be. Australians, I very quickly earned, were reflexively viewed through negative stereotypes, and my own personality and habits that defied those stereotypes made no difference to those perceptions. (I had been asked what things I found problematic with my work environment and I said that Singaporeans “work too hard” — they would almost as a rule work way past the official “knock off” time and seem to give their lives for the corporation and only go home to their families when absolutely necessary, usually quite late at night. The response indicated that I was a “typical” lazy Australian who loved to go on strike at the drop of a hat, gamble, drink and be generally work-shy. My immediate impulse was to argue the point but the environment at the time made that inappropriate. Everyone laughed at “the Australian” and “the virtue” that he saw as “a problem”.)

So as a white Westerner — and as nothing more than a tourist or temporary worker — I have experienced very mild forms of what have felt to me to be some kind of racial prejudice.

My point is that in neither of the above experiences would I have suspected any of the commenters as having the slightest awareness of any racist undertone in their remarks. Had I challenged them on their views I am convinced that they would have denied outright having any racist attitude at all. They were only joking, after all. They liked me personally. So why did I have that little unpleasant gut feeling each time? I smiled and responded as a friend and suppressed my gut gurgling so they would have no reason to notice it.

Robin DiAngelo (Wikipedia)

Today I listened to an Australian national radio podcast talk by Robin DiAngelo. I do not know if I can agree with every statement she made about “nice racism” — The ‘nice racism’ of progressive white people — but I don’t know yet if that’s because I haven’t thought through my own ideas thoroughly enough or if some of her views really are missing the mark by just a fraction of an inch or millimetre. She has her critics and these are candidly addressed in the podcast. But I am still left thinking.

But there is one comment of hers that I certainly could relate to:

“You’re going to have to educate yourself. 

If the thought leaders in this field, for example, are using the term “white supremacy”, and you think that’s a really harsh term, and a terrible term, and you don’t understand why they’re using it, then rather than ask us not to use it, see it as, “Well, I need to get up to speed because I must be missing something. They’re using this with comfort, and they’re talking about something that’s different from what I think this is about”, and so, we’re back to the humility that I necessarily am missing something, because this is arguably the most complex, nuanced, sociopolitical dynamic of the last several hundred years. 

Around 23 mins of https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/the-nice-racism-of-progressive-white-people/14087776

In her most recent book she writes:

Our racism avoids the blatant and obvious, such as saying the N-word or telling people to go back to where they came from. We employ more subtle methods: racial insensitivity, ignorance, and arrogance. These have a racist impact and contribute to an overall racist experience for BIPOC people, an experience that may be all the more maddening precisely because it is easy to deny and hard to prove. I am constantly asked for examples, so here are a few: . . . . 

• Not understanding why something on this list is problematic, and rather than seeking to educate yourself further, dismiss it as invalid.

Excerpt From: Dr. Robin DiAngelo. “Nice Racism.” Apple Books.

In case you are wondering what the other examples are, I copy and paste them here from DiAngelo’s book, Nice Racism:

• Confusing one person for another of the same racial group
• Not taking the effort to learn someone’s name; always mispronouncing it, calling them something that’s easier to pronounce; making a show of saying it, or avoiding the person altogether
• Repeating/rewording/explaining what a BIPOC person just said
• Touching, commenting on, marveling at, and asking questions about a Black person’s hair
• Expecting BIPOC people to be interested in and skilled at doing any work related to race
• Using one BIPOC person who didn’t mind what you did to invalidate another who did
• Calling a Black person articulate; expressing surprise at their intelligence, credentials, or class status
• Speaking over/interrupting a BIPOC person
• Lecturing BIPOC people on the answer to racism (“People just need to . . .”)
• Bringing up an unrelated racial topic while talking to a BIPOC person (and only when talking to a BIPOC person)”
• Blackface/cultural appropriation in costumes or roles
• Denying/being defensive/explaining away/seeking absolution when confronted with having enacted racism
• Only naming the race of people who are not white when telling a story
• Slipping into a southern accent or other caricature when talking to or about Black people
• Asking for more evidence or offering an alternate explanation when a BIPOC person shares their lived experience of racism
• Making a point of letting people know that you are married to a BIPOC person or have BIPOC people in your family
• Not being aware that the evidence you use to establish that you are “not racist” is not convincing
• Equating an oppression that you experience with racism
• Changing the channel to another form of oppression whenever race comes up
• Insisting that your equity team address every other possible form of oppression, resulting in racism not getting addressed in depth or at all (“It’s really about class”)
• Including “intellectual diversity,” “learning styles,” “neurodiversity,” and personality traits such as introversion/extroversion in your diversity work so that everyone in your majority-white organization feels included
• Gossiping about the racism of other white people to BIPOC people to distinguish yourself as the good white person
• Using an experience as the only white person in a group or community to say that you’ve experienced racism (which you call reverse racism)
• Telling a BIPOC person that you witnessed the racism perpetrated toward them but doing nothing further
• Equating your experience as a white immigrant or the child of white immigrants to the experiences of African Americans (“The Irish were discriminated against just as bad”)
• Using your experience with service learning or missionary work in BIPOC communities to present yourself as an expert on how to address the issues experienced by those communities
• Loving and recommending films about racism that feature white saviors
• Deciding for yourself how to support a BIPOC person without asking them what they want or need
• Claiming to have a friendship with a Black colleague who has never been to your home
• Being involved in your workplace equity team without continually working on your own racism
• Attending your first talk or workshop on racism and complaining that the speaker did not provide you with the “answer”
• Asking how to start a diversity consulting business because you attended a talk and found it interesting
• Focusing your diversity work on “increasing your numbers” with no structural changes and equating increased numbers with racial justice
• Blocking racial justice efforts by continually raising a concern that your organization is “not ready” and needs to “go slow” to protect white people’s delicate racial sensibilities
Not understanding why something on this list is problematic, and rather than seeking to educate yourself further, dismiss it as invalid

Excerpt From: Dr. Robin DiAngelo. “Nice Racism.” Apple Books.

It’s that last one that got to me and made me pause and wonder. We all know others who fall into that category and have probably been there ourselves at some time. So I am forced to rethink the other points I find myself disagreeing with. That doesn’t mean Robin DiAngelo is right all the time, but the questions she raises are of concern to some people so maybe I need to think them through more fully.

One comparison that came up in that radio interview was the response of a husband who says he cannot be racist because he married a black woman, and the converse for the wife. DiAngelo pointed out that a man marrying a woman does not prove that he is free from sexist or patriarchal (and anti-feminist) biases.

It’s a topic I keep returning to and wondering if I have really understood all its complexity. Individually we may not be racist but we are part of a community and perhaps that’s where we have to wonder about our unconscious biases and how they influence systemic words and actions.


Other reading that surfaced from listening to the above:

  • Anderson, Carol. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. Bloomsbury, 2016.
  • DiAngelo, Robin. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. Penguin, 2019.
  • Eddo-Lodge, Reni. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. Bloomsbury, 2017.
  • Hamad, Ruby. White Tears/Brown Scars. Melbourne University Press, 2019.


2022-12-16

Sovereign Citizens, ISIS and Moonies — the common thread that binds them all

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by Neil Godfrey

This week, about two hours drive due west of where I live, two police officers and a helping neighbour were murdered by a trio of “sovereign citizens” — for the “crime” of entering their property. The father of two of the trio, two brothers, had not heard from either of his sons in twenty years. I read that he broke down on tv when asked about them.

. . . decades after the attacks of September 11, 2001, we stand in line for a dose of radiation while being barked at and occasionally fondled by federal employees.

It’s remarkable how much power the government grabbed, and how many freedoms they took away… instantly. Years later, it’s clear that those freedoms are never coming back.” . . . 

They have us all cowering in our homes, like house cats, stripped of our most basic freedoms. It’s a power grab we haven’t seen since 9/11 (and that may indeed dwarf it).


The circumstances are certainly similar: people are terrified, so the governments are doing whatever they please. . . . 


Contrary to popular belief, many people don’t prefer freedom… not if it means having little or no safety net. . . . They like rules and regulations and feel “safe” within those boundaries.


They see Big Government as a giant safety net. And so they trade liberty for it, believing that authority figures are truthful, benevolent, and trustworthy. They appreciate a government that seizes power.


Those who prefer freedom doubt such benevolence and trustworthiness. 

Excerpt From: “The Sovereign Manifesto: How To Be Free in an Unfree World.”

My youth and early adulthood were mis-spent with a religious cult. When I woke up to what I had been immersed in I visited libraries and bookstores to try to learn as much as I could about “how it had happened”. I was seen as an intelligent person. My upbringing had been in a lower middle-class “liberal Methodist” family. My parents sacrificed so much to see that I had a good education. How could I have ever let myself get mixed up in the Armstrong cult, the “Worldwide Church of God” earlier known as the “Radio Church of God”? I learned much and when I discovered how common my experience was and felt compelled to reach out to others who had had the same experiences. I started a local “support group” of sorts for ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses, ex-Mormons, and ex-etceteras. It was part of the healing process for all of us to share our experiences and come to understand how alike they all were — despite the fact that each of us had been indoctrinated with the idea that our respective churches were “utterly unique”. No, we learned that there were techniques and experiences common to all of us. That we each felt “unique” and a part of a group unlike any other on earth was one of the experiences we had in common.

Then came 9/11 and the waves of Islamist terrorist attacks. And the public mood of “Islamophobia” mushroomed. I knew that these kinds of terrorist attacks from Muslims were a historically new development so it could not be the Muslim religion itself that was responsible. What was the catalyst? Again, I did some research. I read the online magazines and other literature of various individuals and groups that had in some way been associated with terrorism. And I read the scholarly studies from anthropologists, psychologists, historians, political scientists, sociologists who had studied these individuals and groups. How could it be possible? Everything I was reading gelled so neatly with all I had ever learned about the process that led persons to religious cults. The process was called “radicalization”. But it was the same process that had led others in other environments to “cults” like the Moonies, the Armstrongites, Heaven’s Gate, Dave Koresh of Waco fame, Jonestown, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons…. I began to write about the common thread on this blog. Hating Islam and Muslims was counter-productive and played right into the hands of the terrorists — that was a big part of my message.

Then this week six people lay dead two hours from where I am writing because of conspiracy theories. Yes, most surely, conspiracy theories were not of themselves to blame. Many people who will never even come close to thinking of killing anyone else believe in conspiracy theories. But conspiracy theories can open doors to all sorts of dark rationalizations when under the right sorts of pressures. I sometimes wonder if the most significant difference between the now defunct Armstrong cult and Dave Koresh cult was the age of the leaders: Armstrong was an old man who loved his comforts and would always find a way out of any threat to those comforts; Dave Koresh was young and idealism can be the ruin of the young. Conspiracy theories in the minds of people with other mental or social issues (such as someone on the Asperger’s syndrome spectrum as appears to have been the case with the dominant person in the local trio) can be fatal.

What is a solution? Is there one? I must be hopeful. Here is something positive, something we can all be mindful of from day to day, from a report by Lise Waldeck, Julian Droogan and Brian Ballsun-Stanton:

Public communications that conflate far right extremism with broader community dissent may reinforce far right extremist conspiratorial narratives and harden existing societal polarisation. This in turn would reduce opportunities for positive discussion that acknowledges the anxieties and fears of non-far right extremist communities.

The pandemic has created opportunities for far right extremists to broadcast their narratives to broader subculture identities built around anti-government and antiestablishment narratives as well as opposition to public health measures such as vaccination. People engage with these narratives because they provide simple answers and clearly identify an ’other’ who can become the focus of blame. Conspiratorial narratives are quick to position government and authority figures within this out-group. Communications that describe those who disobey public health orders in order to engage in civil protest as far right extremists may reinforce the very alignment sought by actual far right extremist groups.

Consistent public acknowledgement of different groups holding alternative perspectives can provide the necessary framework for proactive public engagement with marginalised subcultures. Politicising and demonising public non-compliance with health orders may lead to the further alienation of dissenting groups, pushing them towards the political fringes inhabited by actual anti-state extremists. One way to prevent this is to move away from polarising communications that subsume public discontent and fears around COVID-19 under a violent extremist lens.

Engagement strategies that provide opportunities for these communities to express their fears and anxieties may help in the increasing understanding. State government programs that proactively engage with active and outspoken dissenting/angry citizenship are well placed to provide preventative support for those impacted by conspiratorial and anti-establishment movements due to the current global health crisis, or who become engaged with far right extremist movements. (pp. 39f : Online Far Right Extremist and Conspiratorial Narratives During the COVID-19 Pandemic)

What is the common thread binding Sovereign Citizens, Moonies and ISIS? One strong tie is distrust of society. Society is under the powers of evil, they believe, whether those powers are earthly or heavenly. The controlling powers are believed to work in secret behind the scenes but are duping the majority of us. The majority, those who more or less cooperate with social governance of some kind, are seen as hapless dupes, either wilfully ignorant and blind or simply “dumb sheep”.

It is all too easy to laugh mockingly at “Trumpists” or despairingly at “anti-vaxxers” — but the report above suggests that such a response is inimical to what we all want.

I have images of local fairs where all kinds of groups, government, statutory, professional and private, place their “information session” stalls and tents for all to visit. The hard-core conspiracy theorists will mock such occasions as being part of the plan to indoctrinate us all, but the “in-between bystanders” will be the primary target. Maybe also a few hard-core persons who have tiny nigglings of some doubt. But an understanding of how “the system” really works is surely essential. How Parliament works, how medical research centres work, how teachers work, how journalists and news broadcasters work … how everything works. — Would it not be good to have programs of some kind that increased awareness of how everything really works?

The common thread is distrust of society. What can be done to corrode that thread and demonstrate how as social beings we can all work together in accordance with our basic nature and find niches that allow each of us to improve our collective lot?

One small step would be to listen with respect to issues raised by “the outsider” and think of the most informative way to respond. Mocking the conspiracy theorist is not the answer and only adds fuel to the fire. Maybe we all need to work at better informing ourselves to know how to respond in the most helpful way we can.


2022-09-05

Degenerations of Democracy

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by Neil Godfrey

If you are like me and a little mystified about how we got to where we are today with increasing numbers actually deploring our traditional democratic systems, with more or our fellow citizens seemingly ignorant of how our system of government works, even of how society functions, and are just a wee bit concerned about where we are headed, you might find some clarifying explanation in Degenerations of Democracy by Craig Calhoun, Dilip Parameshwar Gaokar and Charles Taylor.

How did we get from the great hopes of the 1960s to here? Australian history, pre-World War I especially, was a dramatic social pioneering scene partly by the way obstacles were overcome. But I think future hopes held on and were reinvigorated with a new boost in the 60s and early 70s. But today I read the views of the elderly and of historians who say that today we face a social cynicism that was not even paralleled in the 1930s. I would like to think the new Australian government is doing something to restore a little hope with its consensus approach, but if so, it’s not going to change social attitudes overnight nor by itself. And we are just one corner of the world anyway.

I’ve begun reading Degenerations of Democracy (Introduction, Chapter 1 and part of the final “What is to be done” chapter) and it makes a lot of sense.

In chapter one Charles Taylor traces how and why there has been a decline in our (“us citizens'”) sense of power to change things by working or acting together to influence governments. The rot set in from the mid 1970s.

But that is only the first part of what has gone wrong. What stems from that sense of powerlessness, at least among large sectors of the population, is the age-old tendency to seek scape-goats, to identify those who need to be excluded because they are “not really part of us”. The immigrants, the indigenous populations, the elites. (Certain elites do share a good part of the blame, of course, especially those who own the media and those who run the global enterprises. But what is needed here is not the sending of those elites to the guillotine but a restructuring of “the system” and redistributing the wealth.) The point is, the sense of community is breaking down, or at least being redefined to exclude certain groups. That’s breaking up the very foundation on which a democracy survives. I liked Taylor’s explanation of the difference between Bernie Sanders’ populism and Donald Trump populism:

Now, a word about the term “populism.” There is more than one kind, with different political implications. Even in the 2016 election in the United States, the word was used to apply to two movements, represented by Bernie Sanders and by Donald Trump, respectively. One obvious meaning of the term applies when the “people,” in the sense of the demos or nonelites, are mobilized to erupt into a system that has been run without considering them; they are breaking down the walls, breaking down the doors, disturbing business as usual, demanding redress of grievance. But there is a very big difference between the Bernie and the Donald version: the Bernie version is truly inclusive; it’s not excluding anyone. One may not agree with the particular policies put forward; one may or may not be happy about this populist eruption. But Bernie Sanders’s program does not embrace the notion that precedence gives some citizens greater rights than others. This exclusionary feature is basic and, I think, absolutely fatal to the populist appeals of Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, and Geert Wilders. It is both deeply divisive and in programmatic terms a dead-end.

Excerpt From: Craig Calhoun. “Degenerations of Democracy.” Apple Books.

And from the “decline of citizen efficacy” through “waves of exclusion” we arrive at the final killer: polarization. When we insist on democracy meaning “the rule of a majority” without any care for the community as a whole we run into a serious and dire situation. When “majorities” take on definitions that exclude any interest in the welfare of others; when members of self-defined “majorities” say “you” would join them too when you “wake up” and “see” what they see; and when “majorities” insist that they have a need to rule in perpetuity in order to safeguard “civilization”, “white culture”, . . .  being blind to the fact that in a large society the needs of different groups change and realignments and new priorities are always going to be part of a democracy’s life.

It’s a long read. I’ll be dabbling in it on and off over some time. But I’ve already been thinking a lot about what I have read so far and trying to see if I can make better sense of what has happened “to us” and why the world has not turned out the way we had expected some decades ago. I’ve already jumped to the “What Is To Be Done” chapter at the end.

 


2022-08-17

Next up…

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by Neil Godfrey

My reviews of Russell Gmirkin’s Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts and Mike Duncan’s Rhetoric and the Synoptic Problem have to wait till I return home where I can work with something larger than a laptop screen. Till then, however, I must take the opportunity to catch up with where I left off with Thomas Witulski’s view that Revelation was written in the time of Hadrian and the Bar Kochba War. (I had expected to post more on current events while traveling overseas but in truth, I have found delving into the background of significant happenings today is too depressing. Biblical studies have become something of an emotional escape.)

Interlude: I had had an exhausting day trudging through streets and building complexes of Bangkok, with all the noise, the constant traffic on multi-lane highways, the crowds, the broken footpaths, moving and static lights on oversized public video screens, on poles, flashing on vehicles and shop fronts, the constant noise of traffic, of music blaring, of amplified sellers shouting (including a girl dressed to the nines shouting rapid fire into a microphone while balancing an oversized mock croissant on her head! — capitalism gone totally mad), . . .  and all in the heat and humidity. . . . — and finally, at day’s end, returning to where I’m staying on the “outskirts” of the city (“outskirts” that still demand a 14 lane highway, seven each way, with constant traffic in all lanes, and train-line edifices and stations raised overhead) — returning home through in the softness of the night-time and down a side-lane passing scattered little food “shops” on one side and a frog-chirping swamp on the other, sitting on the back of a motorbike, no helmet, the cool air rushing over my face and through my hair, nothing but the soft purring of the motorbike and bell-like singing of frogs and gekhoes — it was a wonderful moment of relaxed freedom, leaving behind if only for a night the dirty concrete mass of the loud and busy city of rich (many in their long black cars and tinted windows) and poor (too often sleeping on the footpath). 10 baht; I gave the rider 20 and told him to keep the change. Bangkok might be a great tourist attraction but I would really hate to live and work here.

 

 

 


2022-08-09

Imagining an Alternative to Human Rights

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by Neil Godfrey

Human rights — they are so Western! But how can anyone, any culture, frown upon them and want them excluded from their frame of reference? Think China.

Around twenty years ago I visited Tiananmen Square. Soldiers, every few metres it seemed, still guarded the space. One could not just freely wander anywhere there as if it were what we imagine a public space to be. My sobered looks were noticed by my Chinese companions and they clearly looked worried at my change of mood. They (my companions) were good people, they said. After those “very bad” people did something in the square years before, soldiers or police visited their houses and left when they were assured that they were only good people and not the bad ones causing the trouble. Those were their words: good and bad people. They were horrified that I should seem to display any regrets about that time and they tried to extricate me from that area as quickly as possible. No doubt there are Chinese who feel my horror more than I can but they must remain hidden, even now.

Not long afterwards I took in a Chinese student boarder. She expressed shock when she saw on the TV news film of opposition party figures in Parliament verbally attacking those on the government side. To her she was witnessing anarchy, treason even. At one point she tried to educate me by having me analyze the word “government”: it had “govern” in it, and did not that mean that those in government must “govern”? What right, how on earth …. what a display of utter rabble and rebellion to have people attack the government!

I am currently reading three books. One of them is Kevin Rudd‘s The Avoidable War. He knows a thing or two about China. Here are some passages I have found interesting so far. Confucianism is no longer dead in Communist China:

But Xi Jinping made cultivating nationalism an even stronger priority, leveraging an increasingly sophisticated propaganda apparatus that has seamlessly fused the imagery of the modern CCP with the national mythology of a proud and ancient Chinese civilization.

This has included the rehabilitation of Confucianism, once dismissed by the CCP as reactionary and anticommunist, as part of the restoration of the party’s emphasis on the uniqueness of China’s national political philosophy. According to the official line, a long-standing continuity of benign hierarchical governance (as represented by Confucianism) is what differentiates China from the rest of the world. The shorthand form of Xi’s political narrative is simple: China’s historical greatness, across its dynastic histories, always lay in strong, authoritarian, hierarchical Confucian governments. By corollary, China’s historical greatness was never the product of Western liberal democracy or any Chinese variation of it. By extension, China’s future national greatness can lie only in the continued adaptation of its indigenous political legacy, derived from the hierarchical tradition of the Confucian/communist state. (87f)

It’s about Party legitimacy in the eyes of the people. As long as the Party can oversee rising living standards, a cleaner environment, and a consolidation (even restoration!) of China’s national borders, then the Party is safe. Confucianism: “benign hierarchical governance.”

Human rights?

Like most of his colleagues across the CCP leadership, Xi has long seen US support for universal human rights, democracy, and the rule of law as a fundamental challenge to the party’s interests. Lest there be any doubt on this score, China’s indigenous democracy movement has long been condemned by the party as one of the “five poisons” that threaten the Chinese system, together with Uyghur activists, adherents of Falun Gong, Tibetan activists, and the Taiwanese independence movement—all of which the party contends are backed by the United States.

The party’s historical antagonism toward human rights, electoral democracy, and an independent legal system will, therefore, continue because these concepts strike at the very heart of the perceived legitimacy of the Chinese party-state, both at home and abroad. This explains China’s continuing hostility toward any foreign government that dares challenge the moral fundamentals of the Chinese political system. . . . 

That Xi implemented a wide-ranging crackdown against “bourgeois liberalization” in China’s education system during the first six months of his term in 2013 is, therefore, unsurprising. He identified seven sensitive topics that could no longer be the subject of any form of academic discussion or debate. These were “universal values, freedom of speech, civil rights, civil society, the historical errors of the Communist Party, crony capitalism, and judicial independence.” This was followed in 2017 by China’s new foreign NGO law, which placed new security restrictions on the operations of any NGO attracting philanthropic funding from abroad. With the strike of a pen, this law crushed an active civil society that developed over decades, with organizations promoting everything from occupational health and safety to the schooling of migrant workers’ children. Then, more recently, Xi has also moved to ban private schooling and the hiring of foreign teachers as well as the use of international textbooks and curricula. (91f)

One of the other books I am reading now has many references to Plato. I can’t help thinking Plato would have some admiration for Xi Jinping’s policies – except for his nationalist ones that risk war.


Rudd, Kevin. The Avoidable War: The Dangers of a Catastrophic Conflict between the US and Xi Jinping’s China. New York: PublicAffairs, 2022.



2022-07-30

Sidetracked though misadventure: Time to reflect

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by Neil Godfrey

The past week I have been met with a series of costly misadventures (I blame it all on Australian dentists charging outrageous prices) that have led me to Indonesia and last night was the first night in a week I have had to truly relax. The restaurant where I ate displayed this thought-provoking picture: