Dr Peter White's Blog

Thoughts and comments from Dr Peter White -- political, philosophical, spiritual, musical and more

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Location: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

I am retired from the Uni. of Queensland, and have numerous interests inside and outside of the uni. I play classical, bluegrass, country and folk guitar (hows that for a mix?) I am a member of the Australian Labor Party and am currently branch secretary of the Mt Coot-tha branch. I'm also involved in developing virtual reality builds and websites. Never bored!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

On Bigots

In 2014, the the Attorney General, Sen. George Brandis, gave his memorable quote: "People do have a right to be bigots". This was in context of the proposed amendments to the Racial  Discrimination Act.  The comment got as much  heat as the bill itself, and Sen. Brandis' "street cred" was severely diminished.

A good friend of mine, an American, said very firmly that there is no such thing as "race" per se; we are all members of the human race, and we come in a variety of ethnicities.  But in the current iteration of English and culture, we have tended to think of race as skin color, epicanthal folds on the eye, etc. In other words, we use these physical  attributes to generalise about other peoples.  I will use the term "ethnic" rather than "race" throughout this essay.  

I don't want to go to the USA for examples.  I'm from  there, and I believe that the US has never come to terms with its ethnic divides.  In this current Age of Ugliness (aka Trumpism) bigotry has been given an imprimatur across the planet.  Certainly every ethnic group looks at humans other than themselves as the Other, and hence give themselves permission to put themselves above and justify their actions accordingly. 

I've thought a lot about this, and here's my take on the issue. 

We are all human, Homo Sapiens.  We all have the same blood types. We all have the same internal organs.  We all have identical facial expressions when faced with something funny, sad, or disgusting.  We can breed with each other.  But what makes us different in the main is the culture from which we spring.  There are hundreds of ethnic groups across the globe, some of whom get along just fine, and others who are constantly at each other's throats.  And it's all a movable feast, as we can see from recent tragic events in the Middle East, in Myanmar, and further back, in the Balkans.  Who's next? 

Back to bigotry.  The Merriam Webster dictionary defines bigotry, or a bigot, as: "...a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices;especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (such as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance".  (note the racial vs. ethnic, a point on which I  will  quibble).  

Where do we get bigotry from?  There are many academics and pundits who  discuss this.  Little kids don't have any such feelings  for others; they're pretty tolerant, and only get conditioned by  their parents, schools, etc.  to start the acculturation process of becoming a bigot, or not.  

So, where to we begin to soften and become more tolerant of differences?  Where do we learn to cooperate with others who are very different from us?  Some will say through education, others through churches or through family, and others through all of these.  We have to try to do this, because the end result of blind bigotry could well bring about the demise of Homo Sapiens

The late Stephen Hawking said that the end of humanity will be through  greed and stupidity.  I would  add that  closed, bigoted minds will be the spark that ignites the final  conflagration.  And we are very, very close to the end game. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

On Migrants

Ausralia is a land of migrants.  Unlike other countries, where people fled to escape persecution, or to gain great wealth, Australia started out as a penal colony.  It was this  original endeavour that more or less set the tone of the place over the 200 years or so since its inception.

Since than, people have come from all over the world to  Australia: Ireland, Scotland, England, the USA, China and others as well.  Different Australian  colonies were settled by slightly different groups of people, mostly from the British Isles.

It wasn't an easy run by any stretch.  The Irish were loathed by the English.  The Asians were loathed by the whites.  Everyone  loathed the Aboriginal people.

Through all of this, though, the country grew and prospered -- due mostly to  immigration.

The last wave was after WWII, when we took migrnts from all over Europe, much to the dismay of the Anglo-Saxon purists who  had foisted the White Australia policy  on the nation.  But nontheless, Greeks, Italians, more English, and more recently from the Balkan states, Turkey and VietNam.

They all made Australia a multi-cultural nation, rich in its diversity and its overall  ethos.

Most recently with  the traumas in the  Middle East, we have had a large number of immigrants from there: Jordan, Yemen, Egypt, the Gulf States, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.  These settlers are primarily Muslim.

And now we have - as in the past - a pushback against immigrants, particularly  by the people who feel most threatened by this latest  wave, who are also aided and abetted by political bigots and rabble rousers.

The prejudice and dislike of new Australians (aka immigrants) has grown apace, and one major  cause of this has been the entry of the "boat people" into Australia.  This began after the Vietnam war, when thousands of fleeing Vietnamese were welcomed into Australia by the Fraser Liberal government.

The next wave was Middle Eastern refugees from the carnage what we helped cause there.  Many of these refugees were stateless, arrived by boat without passports, visas or any paperwork at all. And Australia's response?  John Howard's "We will decide who comes into this country..."  This supposedly shut down the "boat people".

However, people smugglers were swift to move when the policies were relaxed.  This brought about the Abbot government's "Stop the Boats" campaign which was a big hit with voters who were poisoned against "illegal" immigration.  Amazing what a three word slogan can do if repeated often enough. 

This also gave rise to the formation of the Border Force, and a Department of Homeland  Security, and the development of overseas detention centres to house those unfortunate few who were caught  by the border people and sent offshore to Manus Island and Nauru. 

So now we have the scapegoats of boat people held for over 5 years in captivity while "legitimate" migrants are coming in by the hundreds of thousands.  Ah, but wait!  Our vaunted border force and their minions, such as the private mercenary army  Serco, have pounced on hapless refugees who have been battling to get their permanent visas approved.  One day over their visa, and they're gone. 

Somehow we've got this all ass-about.  We are in violation of the human rights conventions.  We are very choosy on which refugees we do take legitimately.  And of course, if you've got the money and connections, you get a nice first class welcome to Australia and no doubt a membership in the Liberal party. 

We have been a nation of migrants and we continue to be so.  The argument now becomes how many can we take and remain environmentally and economically sustainable?  In the meantime our boat people still languish.  It's a national disgrace. 

I don't know where all this will go; will our leaders do something sensible?  Will our refugees and those in our detention centres be released to re-start their lives here or elsewhere?  Will our environment allow for more people?  Will our infrastructure allow for more people? 

Wait and see... 

BTW, I am a migrant from the USA, coming here in 1973.