Category Archives: philosophy

Aborigines and Conservationism. Land Rights and Green Activism Not Necessarily Aligned

The following article is written by Tyson Yunkaporta.  (his profile here)

 In it he covers issues that I have raised in previous articles such as “Terra Nullius and Ecology”  and “The Environment movement and Aboriginal Australia”.
 
I have included this article partly because it backs up controversial things that I have said in my own articles, but also because it is an Aboriginal perspective which I hope will be taken more seriously than my own non-indigenous reflections on the relationship between Aboriginal and non Aboriginal notions of the natural environment.

More articles by Tyson Yunkaporta – here 

Aborigines and Conservationism
Land Rights and Green Activism Not Necessarily Aligned
By Tyson Yunkaporta

Aborigines and Greens both have a strong environmental focus in activism. But are conservationists in reality serving a colonial agenda when it comes to land rights?
Often conservationists will integrate Indigenous groups and issues into their causes. However, while well intended, this often carries racist agendas that actually support the colonial paradigm. This undercurrent becomes viciously clear in situations like the Makah whale hunting controversy in Washington, which saw greens chanting anti-Indian slogans alongside neo-Nazis, and sporting bumper stickers like, “Save a whale – kill a Makah!”

The Wilderness Myth
The most damaging aspect of conservationist ideology is the wilderness myth, which is basically a green version of Terra Nullius. The concept of “untouched” or “unspoiled” Edens that need to be protected from people always seems to leave Native Title out of the picture. The romantic natural paradise ideal effectively removes Aboriginal people from the landscape. Our land management techniques are silenced at best, or at worst criticised as being primitive and unscientific. In green circles, you will often hear Aboriginal land management cited as a reason for species extinction. Traditional practices are only valid when they are limited to cultural exotica, and when they serve to categorise us as part of the fauna. Hunting is problematic in green politics.

Conservation As Colonisation
When “wilderness” conservation became law, this resulted in countless Aboriginal people being jailed for hunting in “protected” areas on their traditional lands. Many of these people died (and are still dying) in prison. “No camping” rules have resulted in further dispossession, as traditional owners have found themselves driven off the land by a new form of pastoralism called wilderness preservation. And when Indigenous groups or individuals have scraped together enough money to buy back their own land, the government has been able to block the purchase by declaring the areas National Parks. Thus conservationism has become yet another weapon against Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal Portrayal In Green Texts and Research
Reductionism is also a problem in green circles. Because of the monocultural use of western scientific or psuedo-scientific inquiry in conservation, many well-meaning activists fail to develop the holistic knowledge base necessary for understanding traditional land management. This prevents them from seeing the importance of an Indigenous hand in the maintenance of ecosystems. As a result traditional owners are framed as relics of the past. This can be seen in conservationist texts, which generally use the past tense when describing Indigenous knowledge or practices.

Often Indigenous “wisdom” will be used to give a bit of weight and poignancy to green texts. Other times land knowledge is stripped from Indigenous communities by green messiahs and charming researchers who come to save the land and the people (often with a patent in the back pocket for local plant knowledge). If we’re lucky, we get to be their assistants, or consultants.

Apologies to the many conservationists out there who are the exception to this rule.

This article is copyright. Thanx to Tyson  for permission to publish it.

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Aboriginal, australia, ecology, philosophy, politics, reconciliation

The Progressive Spirituality movement.

This post was inspired by the recent ABC Compass program on the Uniting Church in Australia, “The Uniting Church” highlighting a divergence of opinion within the church between conservative Christian traditionalists and a new movement emerging called “progressive spirituality” (P.S.).  P.S. is challenging traditional Christianity at its core by questioning key doctrinal concepts such as the virgin birth, the physical resurrection of Jesus and the church’s rejection of homosexuality.

I don’t believe the Compass program did justice to the ideas of either faction in this schism and seemed more interested in highlighting the existence of conflict within a church that calls itself “uniting”.

The Compass program did touch on what I consider to be a major issue which did not appear to be aimed at either side of the debate, and then dissapointingly did not return to it.  The Uniting Church’s modus operandi in its mission to the poor, oppressed and marginalised is a bureaucratic/welfare mode by way of welfare institutions. “But this work has become more professionalised, congregations have become less directly involved” according to Compass. I shall return to this issue.

The P.S. Movement is not confined to the Uniting Church. it has members and curious followers from all Christian denominations, it struggles with the word “Christian” as it excludes other faiths. However despite welcoming invitations to members of other faiths the movement is dominated by Christians or ex-Christians. The P.S. Movement is infinitely diverse, it cannot be pigeonholed as a particular tradition, philosophy or theology. It actively challenges preconceptions of religion and spirituality and as such is incapable of articulating a party line. It is indeed a post-modernist movement that sees respect for difference as part of the essence of their movement.

The P.S. Movement seems to have defined itself by way of adherence to the writings of radical theologians such as Bishop John Shelby Spong who recently visited Australia and invigorated this movement.

The movement holds scholarship in very high regard and its main spokespeople have been academic theologians which has its blessings and its curses.

Amongst the blessings of a theologian lead movement is a direct connection to the tradition and knowledge of ancient scriptures such as the bible and gnostic gospels. The cultural illusions that have been the substance of modern Christendom are stripped away with great authority and scholastic accuracy. This deconstruction of traditional Christianity has opened the gates to authentic spiritual experience without the constraints of artificial and outdated modes enshrined as holy and eternal. The scholars have assisted in liberating the captive Christian mind.

However the curse of scholastic spiritual leadership is the same as of academia in general in that the root or base experience of all (or most) knowledge is the written word.

I wonder if literacy itself is an obstacle to spiritual reality?

I am no anti-intellectulaist. However I am concerned that spiritual experience and knowledge is contained when it is a product of a book (or website). This would perhaps be my major criticism of traditional Christianity, in that it has demanded that the book, the bible, be the only source of knowledge of god.

Very few of the main characters of the bible got their wisdom through books, that was predominantly the domain of the often despised religious authorities. The new testament church taught spirituality by way of active engagement and participation in the Jesus community, through the oral tradition of story telling and through engagement in ritual such as baptism – bathing in the waters of a healing sacred site. Spirituality was a historical reality that people – all of them, body and all,  participated in, not an idea or a thought or anything contained in text including holy scripture..

Western industrialised society, not just the church has made literature the basis of our entire educational system from preschool to PhD. However literacy – the monotonous, one dimensional experience of shape recognition on a piece of paper or computer screen that triggers memory of pre-existing concepts in our mind by way of chemical and electrical impulses does not get to the truth of the matter.

Learning through literacy is a secondary, represented reality instead of a direct engagement with the subject being studied.

Spirituality is not an ideology but a lifestyle and the consciousness that grows from that, a holistic connection of physical and mental and of ourselves to everything else. Spiritual wisdom is the experience of living a holistic lifestyle, not a rational justification or idea that has been read in a book.

The greatest spiritual tradition this continent has ever known is Aboriginal culture. This is of course relevant to this P.S. Movement and indeed all Australians. However knowledge of this tradition cannot be gained through reading books but only by direct engagement with Aboriginal people, culture and sociology.

I believe that spirituality is a non-rational, subconscious reality on a dimension different from literacy and the experience of reading. Spirituality is multi dimensional and holistic but literacy is not holistic and just a simple exercise of our visual senses impacting on our intellectual capacity.

We all learn of spirituality and the depth of human experience when we encounter death. Our understandings of life that flow from the grieving process can barely be articulated in text and cannot be taught to another through text, yet the spirituality of life and death is the most profound of all. The funeral of a loved one is an intensely spiritual experience, whatever religion or ideology. It is this reality without language, from grief to joy to dialogue with the devil in the desert, that we find and share and teach spirit. Life, death and spirituality are all “lived” experiences not book-learned ones.

And this is where I return to bureaucratic/welfare modes of mission or engagement in the world. Can the P.S. movement incorporate service to the poor within a spiritual framework? Can this mission itself be a generator of spiritual experience for them?

The poor and marginalised’s direct experience of the church, by way of welfare agencies is of an empty structure while the congregations are having their own spiritual experiences and journeys somewhere else, in church on Sunday, social groups or theological colleges.

 I do not believed detached welfarism is the model of engagement with the community that occurred in the historical church of the bible.

I have seen nothing (yet) in my searchings to suggest that the P.S. Movement has a vision for any other modes of engagement with the poor other than managing, or in other ways engaging bureaucratically with, welfare or social justice agencies – the traditional church model.

This I believe is the challenge of the P.S. Movement, to explore a spirituality, lived experience and social engagement that is not so much outside the theology of the traditional church but  actively and intentionally outside of the culture of the traditional church.

I believe that the P.S. Movement could develop, on the one hand as a distillation of mainstream, secular consciousness and morality and engage with society on that level. On the other hand it could embrace a spirituality similar to the radical Christian community movement of the 1970’s which emphasised an alternative communal lifestyle (of different sorts) and real and active connection to the poor. This movement existed within traditional theology but lived a holistic spirit that had little to do with the institutional church and its Sunday services.

Can a new, liberated spirituality of the Progressive Spirituality movement get beyond a theological/academic tradition and evolve into a lived, daily experience and social reality that is accessible and relevant to those in need as well as church members?

 The emerging awareness that we have to relate to the Earth differently, for theological or ecological reasons, provides another reason to re-engineer the culture and lifestyle of the church, for its own sake and to have some positive relevance to the wider society.

 More info –

http://www.progressivereligion.org.au/ Centre for Progressive Religious Thought

 http://commondreams.org.au/ “Common Dreams”

http://www.progressivespirituality.net/index.htm Progressive Spirituality Network – Brisbane

12 Comments

Filed under australia, justice, philosophy, psychology, society, spirituality, Uncategorized

Political addiction and the 2007 election ( Revenge of the Pseph)

“Well may you say God Save the Queen, but nothing will save the governor General”

gough-on-steps.jpg

I just had to say that on remembrance day. Every time I visit Canberra I have to stand at the front of the old parliament house and recite this mantra. Today is a holy day for political junkies.

I find election night television coverage to be a highlight of my viewing year. Every now and then I like to sit in the TAB and make a few bets, there is something mesmerizing about studying the numbers on the screen and trying to make sense of them followed by an exhilarating or disappointing climax as the race is called. I get the same petty buzz on election nights.

My name is John and I am a political junkie.

My craving for more and more is profoundly dissatisfied by this Federal election. I feel I am being subjected to involuntary cold turkey and being denied access to any solid political hits.

I am bored silly with the present election campaign. I agree with Mark Latham’s analysis that this election is a Seinfeld election – all about nothing. Senator Andrew Bartlett makes similar observations on his blog “Empty vessels and hollow men”.  

Kevin Rudd and the ALP have been running fast in all directions to avoid any argument with John Howard and the incumbent government and the substance of all media coverage has been meaningless visits to shopping centres, workplaces, schools and old peoples homes. The media hunts for bloopers and mishaps. When they get such a spontaneous distraction they feature that as the lead story.

When John Howard and Kevin Rudd met for a televised debate the headlines were not interested in any political issues but focused on the sensation of “The Worm”, the perception of the audience. The only exciting news presented about the election to date has been the almost daily release of opinion polls and the endless speculation about the size of the swing to the ALP.

Unfortunately much of the election commentary on the blogosphere has been similarly shallow, often just commenting on the media pulp but more and more  engaging in the esoteric art of psephology (the statistical study of elections).  

Independent psephylitics have been raised to a higher pedestal than political commentators.   The ABC’s Antony Green, the unchallenged Lord of the Psephs, has emerged as the most authoritative election analyst on the web and on the T.V. Journalists of the ilk of Laurie Oakes or Paul Bongiorno who have dominated past election coverage with their inside leaks, policy juxtapositions and eagerness to find or create political conflicts have been sidelined by Lord Antony’s speculative number crunching.

Politics has been reduced to the level of a cricket match. We, the people, sit in the grandstands cheering for one side or the other and watching the scoreboard.  However we will be quickly evicted if we wander on to the pitch. The thing that makes the 2007 election different to other cricket matches is that the ALP is content to bowl under-arm for the whole test. The government is swinging wildly trying to make contact with the ball but it rolls so slow and so low they cant do anything with it.

It is easy to be cynical about politicians detachment from the real world, about their minimal contact with their constituents who have no real power or voice in parliamentary business. Consent is given to these removed politicians once every three (or six) years by way of a cross in a box next to their name on a ballot paper which is the only political engagement required of a “responsible citizen”. It is similarly easy to be cynical about the expansive gulf between policy principles discussed in parliament and the real working (or not working) of government policies and public service delivery in the real lives of real people on the ground.

The only knowledge we have of the exercise of political power comes from a severely refracted, minimalised and biased mass media, not necessarily biased within the parliamentary spectrum but intensely biased in the construction of notions of society, citizenship and politics. The mass media, as our only common cultural experience as a nation defines our notions of “normal”, “reasonable” and “desirable”. The media is biased in favour of a growth/consumerist economy and sociology. Alternative perspectives of the world and the perspectives from on the ground in real peoples lives are simply not represented in the cultural parameters of mass media product.

So, through a combination of detached and alienating parliamentary political process and a one dimensional mass media, mainstream political discussion and activity is simply engagement in this clumsy illusion.

This mass adherence to illusion is a matter of consciousness. It is what we flawed humans do, we adopt or create illusions and then cling to them as if it was absolute reality.

The shallow, mechanical nature of the 2007 election is actively dumbing down the Australian population – and our consciousness, our understandings of what politics is and what is our role in it. We are more and more accepting our position as a passive market rather than an active body-politic.

Public opinion, as expressed through surveys, petitions, political campaigns and focus group research is not used as a basis for democratic policy development but as data that influences the advertising campaigns for undemocratic, unrepresentative policies devised by small elites detached from any public control or even input.

Politics and ideas have been reduced to conversation and “public opinion” (whatever that is). The concept of an idea metamorphosing into action and history is a notion that is not even considered by us ordinary people except within our privatised existence at work or within the fence lines of our home.

It does not matter if our politics is Green, revolutionary socialist, christian, feminist, libertarian or anything else if we engage in politics as simply conversation, ideas detached from existential reality and material history, then our politics is an illusion with no connection to the exercise of power. The adoption of alternative political illusions is not alternative to political illusion itself which, as I mentioned, is a matter of consciousness not ideology.

On matters of consciousness, Jiddu Krishnamerti had something to say on the matter…. “The core of the teachings”

2 Comments

Filed under australia, blogs, history, philosophy, politics, psychology, society, spirituality

Hearts and minds

As readers may know I am an occaisional writer for the greenish leaning “Dead Roo” blog. I have also begun writing for  “Leftrights”, a leftish leaning blog.

My first post on Leftwrites is entitled “The Eurocentrism of Australian Socialism”

Here is my most recent comment on that discussion……

The point of real connection with Aboriginal Australia is spirituality, not ideology. It is about the heart not the head.

Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Aboriginal, australia, economy, history, justice, philosophy, politics, reconciliation, society, spirituality, Uncategorized, war

Post Modernism, Structuralism and the universal truth of Dialecticism

A perspective on social change

As far as I can work out, post-modernism acknowledges the different “truths” of differing perspectives and maintains a certain detachment to be able to observe these different “truths” as equally valid in their context. There is much examination of the “discourse” within and between these independent truths.

Conversely, Structuralism appeals to universal notions of truth such as social equality, human rights or a range of other values and principles that transcend any cultural relativism or pluralism. Structuralism and its related philosophy humanism propose notions of universal humanity that, while manifesting differently in different cultural circumstances, contains an essential moral and value framework related in one way or another to life and liberty.

The post modernists correctly critique the structuralists by saying that their notions of universal humanity are simply constructions of a cultural, sexual, class and ethnic framework specific to the structuralists social history and environment.

The structuralist correctly critique the post modernists as essentially believing in nothing, having no moral or value framework that can distinguish between “right” and “wrong”. Post modernism is the academic parallel of Buddhism – nothing is real. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Aboriginal, australia, philosophy, protest, psychology