Thursday, 31 July 2008

2020 Summit: a case of censorship?

On the 19 and 20 April this year the Rudd Government held an ideas summit at the Old Parliament House in Canberra. Labelled "2020 Summit" it invited 1000 people - "some of the best and brightest brains from across the country" - to, as the website says, "tackle the long term challenges confronting Australia's future".

The stated intent was not only to receive an input there and then, but also to continue the exercise by allowing the general public to post submissions to their website. By the end of the year those submissions would be perused by the government. In all there were 10 broad themes (1. Productivity Agenda - education, skills, training, science and innovation; 2. Australian Economy - the future of the Australian economy; 3. Sustainability and Climate Change - population, sustainability, climate change, water and the future of our cities; 4. Rural Australia - future directions for rural industries and rural communities; 5. Health - a long-term national health strategy - including the challenges of preventative health, workforce planning and the ageing population; 6. Communities and Families - strengthening communities, supporting families and social inclusion; 7. Indigenous Australia - options for the future of Indigenous Australia; 8. Creative Australia - towards a creative Australia: the future of the arts, film and design; 9. Australian Governance - the future of Australian governance: renewed democracy, a more open government (including the role of the media), the structure of the Federation and the rights and responsibilities of citizens; 10. Australia's Future in the World - Australia's future security and prosperity in a rapidly changing region and world).

By the middle of May the website was ready to receive further submissions and on the 16th I posted my thoughts on topic 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, and 10, also sent in via hard copy on the 19th.

By the 11 June all submissions could be found on the website except one, 7. Indigenous Australia. On that day I sent a letter pointing to the omission and included the text once more. A second query was sent on the 26 June. Still no response nor did that submission appear, and so yet another letter was sent on the 17 July.

As of today, the 31 July, my submission on indigenous Australia is still missing, despite the obviously functioning process that allowed many others to have their posts published in the meantime.

I hesitate to be cynical and cry foul. I won't go as far as entertaining the idea that the whole exercise was a publicity stunt for our prime minister to present as being receptive to his populace by surrounding himself with already agreed upon ideas and no others. I won't suggest that not having to argue with pesky opinions may be smoothly efficient but it won't be democratic (Kevin Rudd just loves efficiency). Oh no.

All my submissions were written from the perspective of Otoom; that is to say, considering society as a system and identifying positive and/or negative dynamics under the given perspectives. Under that view the role of indigenous people in today's world, especially in developed nations, is a troubled one. This is not the time to enter into the detailed argument, suffice to say that, generally speaking, endeavours by many governments and organisations here and overseas produced no successful outcome. None of those initiatives were conducted using a technically and societally comprehensive model of the mind - firstly because until now it did not even exist, and secondly because the originating mind sets veered between forms of colonialist authoritarianism and new-age sycophancy.

So here is that submission once more:

The following is based on a model of the mind that sees human activities as systems. What is defined as a particular system depends on the current focus. Therefore the model is scalable, from the thought structures of an individual to groups to society at large. Since an activity is an expression derived from a certain capacity, it can be circumscribed as a property of a certain type. Under this view we can do away with words such as race, culture, religion and/or politics, and substitute them with demographic, functionality, and spiritual and/or secular ideology. The model already predicted the outcomes of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the riots in France and Sydney, the implosion of so many Pacific Island states, and much more besides.

As the debate about indigenous people everywhere shows, a nomenclature that substitutes 'demographic' for 'race' is far more productive. In the world of today and the future what determines a person's situatedness is not skin colour or their cultural background, but how they perform within the context of their society. Using 'race' makes this topic indeed a "delicate" one.

When 'culture' means a specific mind set and no other, problems arise if its surrounds have reached a higher complexity. While a hunter-gatherer culture is preventing its members from creating even a written language, entire empires have come and gone and right now we enter the age of space travel.

The insistence of any mind set to remain true to itself poses a hindrance in a dynamic world. Whatever romanticists might say, China would not be where she is today had she aligned herself with Tibet rather than aligning Tibet with her standard.

Generally speaking, in Australia opportunities exist for anyone provided their inherent capacity allows them to participate. To what extent shortfalls are addressed by the overall system becomes a matter of balance. The question of whether members of indigenous demographics ramp up to the common standard or whether they choose to exist in virtual anthropological zoos remains first and foremost for them to decide.

In the past under-performing demographics were swallowed up by their betters. In today's world we have the luxury to create political buffer zones, but their existence relies on available resources. Observing the current trend lines around the globe this situation may not hold for much longer.

Although a more complex society needs more resources to maintain itself, it also affords more opportunities to its members. In this context and considering the emerging trend lines an indigenous mind set will not be a constructive partner in preparing ourselves for the challenges ahead.

Due credit to all those whose submissions contained comparable views. The current text is derived from a perspective that is formal and independent of culture and politics.

The question is not so much whether indigenous people decide or are forced to change; it is becoming a matter of what type of conditions will confront all of us with their sheer inevitability.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Griffithgate: One dead, two to go

Quite recently an exchange of emails between Grigoris Antoniou, my supervisor for the honours thesis at Griffith University, and myself took place. During its short course he told me he how unbearable it was for him to see someone like Terry Dartnall being attacked, especially since he had died in the meantime. One does not speak ill of the deceased.

Well, yes and no. In the confluence of life good things happen and bad. A funeral would not be the time to enter into every detail, but does it mean that death dissolves all, and no act may ever be touched again?

The situation with Griffith has dragged on for eight years. Every month is a reminder of its deleterious effects. For eight years the three examiners of the thesis and any other associate could have thrown light upon the affair; this includes the vice-chancellor, Ian O’Connor. Yet none did.

Not only that - a few months ago the ever-protective vice-chancellor had me removed from campus in a police van rather than engage in a conversation. It is the latest reward from my alma mater: for my achievements, for fulfilling the role of student with honour, the police shoves me into their car and takes me away like a criminal.

Forward to July and a request to the university under the Freedom of Information Act reveals Terry Dartnall as one of the examiners but leaves out the other two. Terry Dartnall is dead, but the others are still alive and their records had been destroyed.

Either records are destroyed or they are not. Consider the timelines: Dartnall’s death in September 2007, and the police action occurring in March 2008 with the ultimate outcome unbeknown to the instigators. And the names of those who could be made to speak are being hidden.

Now there are two left. Two lecturers who for the past eight years could have responded in some way, perhaps if only to demonstrate once and for all how deluded I had been. Yet they choose to keep quiet.

Two lecturers who cannot bring themselves to stand by their actions but rather hide behind crass examples of authoritarianism.

One dead, two to go.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Conquering the future

Quite a few of the posts have dealt with the general pitfalls of a society as it moves through its evolutionary phases; all against the background of the Otoom mind model.

How about the positive side - what general dynamics would have to be in place for a society to be successful in the long run?

Perhaps we should start by defining what we mean by 'success'. Systems - complex, dynamic systems - have the propensity to cluster around affinitive elements (at whatever scale) and in doing so increase their complexity further.

Complexity means greater variance, and greater variance entails a higher chance of potentially diverse subsystems. At the same time such an evolution - and it is an evolution in a very real sense - demands an ever increasing size, a wider resource base, and a commensurate infrastructure to accommodate transport and communication. So far so familiar.

The dynamics of our evolving system need to answer the resultant, and sometimes conflicting, demands. For example, a more extensive infrastructure requires improved channels of communication, but that needs resources which are now not available for the rest. Or, a greater diversity heightens the potential for new ideas, but unless organised into a productive whole the plans may never make it past their inception.

Another factor to be considered is the process of evolution itself. When observing past civilisations one is struck by the sheer number of potentially disastrous events. How many times could things have turned out quite differently, and how many times did certain situations result in an advance?

Hence a higher complexity also means a greater range of possibilities and therefore the chance of failure.

A sophisticated society that has the capacity for mastering its environment to allow, say, space travel and the use of the laws of physics to a high degree, and at the same time can take care of its citizens in the face of disease and catastrophes, needs to be able to organise itself to a significant extent.

The salient word here is 'itself'. Nature, that nature which makes for forests, oceans, and even basically agrarian societies, that 'natural' system will have been left behind long ago. The interdependent system of a forest or an ocean does not possess the set of checks and balances which takes care of its elements. Power stations and cities have no functional equivalent in a traditional setting to provide the self-adjusting influences that underpinned the survival of the old earth for millennia.

In other words, an advanced civilisation has to take control of its own destiny - for better or worse. And 'better' must be an option once the potential for disaster or success has fallen into our hands and our hands only.

Let's start with the big picture. Our society of the future will have to administer and control its environment. Not the environment obsessed by contemporary green groups but a space that offers the options to sustain its human activity systems in terms of those systems' needs and potentials - nothing more, and certainly nothing less. To carry out this task its information-gathering processes need to be comprehensive, transparent, and objective. As a consequence the administration, in fact the governance, requires a degree of intelligence that is at once curious as well as discriminatory. Since the implementation of governance spans activities across the entire spectrum of human abilities, that range in itself has to be synchronised with the range inherent in society. Just as there are skilled and not so skilled professions, there is an equally diverse range of citizens, and both sides should complement each other.

Since the higher on the ladder of decision-making we go the greater the demands on skill levels, the all-important feedback loop should take account of these differences. Under the conventional perspective this would be seen as discriminatory and undemocratic. In an advanced sustainable system however it becomes a prerequisite for stability. While the optionality of the system needs to be tested constantly - essential for survival - it must be done so with the ultimate outcome in mind; an outcome that aligns with the overall optionality of its host.

Currently the notion of equality is a well-worn leitmotiv. Yet in practice it never works and considering the historical timelines our current ideals are merely a blip on the evolutionary landscape. It starts with the young when some respond to speech and others require a belting. It continues in later life when some can handle an opportunity while others cause grief. Whether our lip service to equality proves to be as lasting as past systems without it, some of which survived for centuries and even millennia, remains to be seen. That alone should give pause for reflection. What would be the determinant is a selection process favouring ability, regardless of other, more superficial factors. At the same time, resulting averages linkable to some kind of categorisation are inevitable; let them be what they may.

In tandem with a comprehensive assessment of one's environment - not excluding anything possibly deemed inconvenient - comes a similar analysis of its customs and morals. Both of them have already undergone considerable changes throughout history, and mostly for the better. Regardless of what religion, cultural tradition, or pressure groups try to tell us, what is eventually allowed or disallowed is a function of ascertainable reality - and not a conjured spectre of some phantasts. It also becomes a function of maturity, an often ill-used expression but meant here in its most profound sense. Such a degree of maturity means knowing and understanding what is necessary and what is not, what is possible and what is not, and above all, who is able to decide and who is not.

Overall, so far we haven't achieved it yet. Who knows which part of the human race will manage that goal, if any at all.

As far as the complexity and pervasive impact on our planet is concerned, the time for readjustment along the above lines is now. Not every portion of humanity will have the wherewithal for such an exercise, and whoever proves adequate will truly inherit the earth.

Friday, 11 July 2008

The Child - our Guide and Saviour??

Child sex, child pornography, child photos, child models, child fashion... Can you add to the list?

If you came up with yet another titillating, newspaper selling ratings winner you didn't think hard enough.

Observe the body language of a mother as she unabashedly casts adoring looks towards her child at a restaurant table while the little brat produces another one of its inanities.

Observe the proliferation of fashion shows where children parade the latest must-have before a rapt audience.

Observe the rage of a parent in response to the often feeble attempts by a teacher to instill a modicum of discipline in the classroom.

Can't, or won't, connect the dots?

There was a time not so long ago, and in demographics outside the West there still is, when an attitude of benign interest focused on the young as they struggled to gradually imitate the behaviour of the adult. When playing with cars, acting out through some game, handling a doll, was seen as hints of the maturity yet to come. And sex, that nasty, sweaty, ecstatic trait of our species, must be included.

Yet instead of seeing all of the above as fun, or a laugh, or a peccadillo, they have come to represent a profound message coming from the new gods. Depending on the cultural situatedness of the context they are either received with utter seriousness or vengeful condemnation.

Why should the dress worn by a child be taken as a fashion statement standing for the leitmotiv of a society - what does a child know about style anyway, and what does a little kid have that allows it to carry a symbol of cultural abstraction on its unfinished body?

How can it be that a melee on the sports ground is deemed so important that parents turn it into a rallying cry for their own wars?

How come the child has gained such stature?

As a matter of fact, it always possessed it. To a mother her child is the most precious, beautiful, intelligent being that ever was. And, in tandem with that kind of sentiment, it will be shielded against the outside regardless of its actual potential. Yet the adoration remained in the home, and without it children would not get the love and care so essential for their development. Critical analysis comes later, and in stages.

Over the last few decades feminism infused our society with the inherent mindset of the Female. Her mother instinct transposed itself into the wider world and moulded it in its image. A game of dressing-up in the bedroom turned into a public occasion, a wrangle in the backyard has become an event worthy of official assessment, and a tickle is subsumed under the mantle of paedophilia. The real paedophile, that body-mind combination which centres on the child as representative of an exclusive demand of their personal satisfaction, that phenomenon is thrown into a swirl of uninformed arguments made doubly opaque by tossing together emotional triggers serving an ill-understood catharsis.

Who, in this carnival of madness, is the real paedophile? The person who playfully engages a cute body, or someone who uses the child as a serious substitute for their own agenda?

Ultimately the problem is not so much the child. Even sending youngsters down a coal mine, for all its horrors, did not wipe out a civilisation. But today's adulation is far more insidious.

If a projection serves any purpose at all, at the very least it should be something productive. But the feedback from a fashion parade of children, or the instilled ego in a pupil, does not produce anything but an immature reflection of what should, or could, have been.

To turn such outcomes into a cultural standard spells disaster.

Monday, 7 July 2008

New World + Old Ways = Danger

As we stumble towards the gradual realisation what climate change has in store for us, as energy resources become more and more expensive, as political violence on any scale has us in thrall, the calls emerge for radical solutions. In tandem commentators judge the state of the world according to their predilections, pressure groups add their shouts, and the media grab the chance to sell their wares through juicy headlines.

So how about an objective assessment based on how the mind works. Let’s skip the technical details for once and list the features how they present themselves. Feel free to interpret the order any way you like.

During the past few decades the West underwent a considerable shift. From a state of assertion and confidence the emphasis is on a navel-gazing self-recrimination regardless of the actual content. In a reverse of the original phrase, the splinter in one’s own eye is wailed about as the beam in someone other’s is disregarded.

Our so-called materialism is seen as one cause of the world’s ills. We, materialists? If you want to see real materialism in action go to Mumbai, to Shanghai, to Dubai. Which other demographic has as many libraries per head of population, as many museums, as many opera houses, as many art galleries? Who has the most philanthropists?

Slavery is used as an example of our belligerent arrogance. True, in geographical terms Europe brought slavery to the Americas. But from the very beginning the Portuguese availed themselves of the services offered at the time by Arab traders as they visited the western coasts of Africa. And who abolished it in the end? It started as early as the 12th century in London and by the 19th century it was in full swing throughout Europe and its dominions. Can anyone else claim the same?

The inward-looking contraction results in artistic expertise chased down as graffiti in our cities while standing in awe before primitive flecks of mud on some bark.

It results in youngsters lauded for their ability to swear (no doubt derived from their adults’ genuflection before violent music made untouchable due to their ethnic origin) while society bemoans their increasing inability to string together a few words in a comprehensible manner.

The ideological side of feminism forced our entire society to embrace the fundamental attitude of the female in changing one’s environment in favour of the vulnerable infant. Can’t negotiate a curve in the road? Blame the council. Can’t handle your alcohol? Impose a blanket restriction on the industry.

Oh yes, those drugs. So what if a few individuals end up burying themselves in their own haze; does this mean we spend hundreds of millions on police, the courts, feed black markets world-wide and fight the latest weapons of militias which they bought with the proceeds of our matron-state idealism?

That well-worn phrase “If only one child ... then ... has been worthwhile” has led to a downward-spiral towards ineptitude. A child falls of a swing and that swing is made safer. After a while another falls off and it’s made safer still. The ongoing education - if that’s the right word - into more and more cosseted scenarios produces a population of dysfunctional simpletons.

The same goes for the human eros. Out goes the cry “sexualisation of children!” and up rise the psychotics who superimpose their own fear and loathing upon the rest of us. Naturally the media follow suit because they know what sells. Human beings are sexualised in the uterus as soon as genitals form and the rest of the body is built around them. Later on the psychosis manifests when bloated bodies, shot-up people, and torture pose no problem on the evening news but a naked body brings on the hysteria.

Any state of affairs poses its own problems. Today’s high-level complexity disenfranchises many because they can’t keep up. Yet it is those left behind who are often allowed to call the tune. Rather than gathering our will and confront the challenge with our face to the wind the answer is sought in defeatist retreat.

Sure there are issues, dangers even. Want to know about a real problem? Revisit, if you can, the time of the Hundred Years War in Europe, the sweeps of the plague, the potato famine. Those generations may have had no more than a hammer and a hoe, but they made it.

Humans can be dirty and wild, sometimes downright stupid. But they also have a will.

In these times of pressures yet again, let’s not forget that.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Once again: everything has a cost


When an activity that has settled into a custom needs to be changed the inevitable costs already incurred are posited against what it takes to build the new. Not all of those are visible.

Just as a current scenario can suggest the expenditure to those directly involved but will only become noteworthy to the rest once the link between the activity and its effects throughout the system has been made, so does the change hide its wider influence in the initial stages. It is difficult enough to stretch one's awareness towards the unfamiliar, much harder still to define something that has not yet substantiated itself.

A process has settled in when its host system acquired a general balance as a consequence. A modification upsets that balance. At that point the question becomes: in whose favour will decisions be made?

In favour of the status quo and its adherents, or in favour of those who would benefit from the new?

Resetting the equation costs. Take childcare.

Traditionally the costs were born by the mother, the wife, added to the efforts required of the father, the husband, to maintain his family. Under feminism women moved into the workforce and despite the added income the sumtotal of resources (which includes time) proved insufficient to fulfill the equation.

Outsiders emerged and now childcare centres dot the urban landscape. They cost, and since most people are not happy with a perfect balance of their ledgers they want to see some profit. If in the home the credit and debit sides are neutralised because husband and wife do not profit against each other, the same cannot be said for outsourced activities. Each activity unit - in this case each child - represents another profit margin for the childcare centre. Hence the more children per mother, the greater the imbalance per household.

The indirect effects on a society's balance sheet have not yet been expressed in actual numbers, although their sheer existence is recognised readily enough.

Increasingly disparate family ledgers demand actions from the government and when given result in common debit. When the money has to be recouped somehow up go the taxes. A bigger tax burden triggers more demands for relief, and when governments respond in comes the new debit. And so on.

Sooner or later a solution must be found and again, in the end in whose favour will the decision be made? Whatever the perception may be, whatever ideology drives this or that side, there will be costs.

If we make home-centred child rearing our initial reference, and if the costs of reverting to the traditional standard are considered too high, the spiraling aspects of outsourcing need addressing.

Within our reference the ledgers were balanced inside the family, but the additional burden on the father was shared by all the fathers. Indirectly the costs were thus spread across the whole of society. Such a system worked for millennia.

The salient point here is not the home - after all, 'home' means a lot of different things across the variety of cultures - but the aspect of commonality.

State-run, in other words, public child care absorbs these costs in effectively the same way the obligations of traditional fathers were diffused across society.

Free-marketeers may not like this, but in the absence of any plausible solution from their side they should reconsider.

Sooner or later the decision will have to be made. Childcare is one example, but any activity that is as essential as it is potentially inflationary falls under the same heading.

The communal aspect of communism took second place to its dictatorial ideology. But replace the party hacks with math-literate technocrats and who knows, we just might have equality for once.