Being an Australian

This is not anything like the definitive article on being an Australian.

Today, 26th January 2023 is the official day chosen as Australia Day, the day when Australian’s celebrate our national identity.

I begin by acknowledging that for the First Nations’ peoples of Australia, this day does not reflect for them the possibility of being part of that national identity but rather reminds them of the confusion, conflicts, deaths, wars, cultural and family disruptions, loss of home and betrayals. I take a moment here to acknowledge that the First Nation’s peoples do not have a treaty with their English conquerors or the current other Australian peoples, nor have they ceded the lands known as Australia.

Take a moment, reader, to imagine the pangs you may have felt when first leaving the home and community you grew up, or a home you raised family for 20 years and then left. These pangs of grief are created by the embodied relationship we have to a place that has become an extension of our selves. We might say, the place is Us-I . Indeed if we take but another moment to quietly reflect who ‘I” am, it might dawn on us that who “I” am is all of the consistencies of our world, from the pathway to the door of our house, the way our family moves around in it, the rituals we have during the week and year from doing breakfast to organising special events. All these consistencies in life flow through, wrap around, bear down, and lift up, our own physical structure. They are who we become. And when another such as a grown child, leaves that place, a tendril of our own structure is pulled away. We might think it is like real physical pain. It is exactly real physical pain. The embodied life “Me”, “I”, “Us” is not a separation at the skin. The skin, and every other sensory organ, is a million dynamical attachments, keys, joints, between our perception of a discrete, contained and constrained, and controllable part of ourselves with what we perceive as the external, fluid, unstable, uncontrollable life. While we often think of ‘life’ as the thing we live in, this is just a perceptual comfort. WE ARE the life we life and everything that shows and has attachments with our attachments, that we draw ourselves against or that draws against ours. When a thousand of those attachments no longer exist to tag to, we notice it just as we notice with pain, the loss of a finger to a sharp knife.

Now imagine that the consistencies of Us is many thousands of years in the setting. Now in a very real sense, every rock, every blade of grass, every movement of air, every call of a bird, rustle of a lizard, enjoins Me-Us to rejoinder. In that place-time, where does my consciousness lie, where does my perception end? Perhaps Me-Us is the vast landscape the my hundreds of thousands of ancestors and me have roamed. Now imagine that every rock I can no longer evoke in my daily or weekly or annual ritual because some new intruder has pushed me back from rejoinder. And pushed me back. And broke the rock. And took me right away from all the landscape. Might not, at some time, the loss of so much of Me feel like I am dying, hanging on by the merest thread, perhaps not even a core, perhaps just a dissipated structure without connections, joints, attachments, really only 10% of who I WAS, perhaps less.

What would it take, then to restore Me to Who I AM?

With what capability is remaining of Me and what capability is available in the new space-time and the Others now here, I and Everyone and Everything is moving, feeling about for connection, and anticipating rejoinder.

Much of our landscape is now the landscape of our national population and the structure we have built, physically, politically and socially. Some of us, like many First nations people, have not been party to the new structures and find there are few places for attachment and connection, and the social landscape yet has offered few structures for attachment and less for wholehearted rejoinder. As a white fella I can only imagine from the resonances I feel in my own bones of ancestoral loss and tearing down and building up and other crimes against Me.

We are not yet, Australian, we who live here and only have a home, here. We are short by millions, billions, of attachments to the vital elements, the life within the geographical lines, each other, the First nations’ peoples.

We will vote for the Voice this year at referendum because we will want to have the whole of everything and everyone with the lines, in rejoinder. That is what it means to be an Australian.

We will move Australia Day to a moment when we saw that, indeed we were all in this national project together, as equals and in the possibility of ritual and rejoinder.

I will finish this reaching out and seeking new attachments by this more lighthearted but so very true reflection on who We are, Australian, Not yet Australian, even Un-Australian. Enjoy.

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The Bottom Line

When you look at your brain. Your brain is looking at your brain. And it’s making it up.

Well, it’s not entirely making it up. But let’s look at what’s really going on here.

What’s really going on here is that we can’t get a handle on what’s really going on here.

So far as we think (something that is happening in the brain) our brain receives a great deal of data in the form of various electro-chemical signals from our peripheries – eyes, ears, skin, joints, muscles, nose, mouth, tongue.

Our brain then takes those signals and organises them into a pattern that forms a consistent quality that shows up as perception.

Perception is a way the brain presents qualia (quality) to our consciousness.

We don’t know what consciousness is. Presumably it is some side effect of how the brain works.

80% of our perception is from our memory of something like that we are experiencing. So from a 20% input our brain guesses the rest and overlays our memory of how that guess was previously and provides our reality experience.

So when our brain is looking at our brain (and input nerves) we can presume there is something like nerves and something like a brain.

We can’t presume that we have all the data. Our nerves from our periphery and our brain are only capable of a finite selection of information.

We do know about some of the information we don’t have direct access to because we made tools to pick up that data.

We made tools from a guess about how the universe works from what data we could pick up.

Our guess was good.

Our guess came from our brain.

And our brain is making up the qualia (objects), and only that qualia it CAN make up.

We have no idea how much of reality our brain can get data about, nor guess or imagine about.

The bottom line is

We KNOW 2 tiddly-squats about reality.

We know there’s probably more to the question.

We don’t know whether there’s not much more or a lot more.

Given what we’ve already guessed and guessed good,

I’m guessing there’s a lot more.

ANN J is PASSING AWAY

The whiteboard schedule,
tuesday,
Ann J is passing away.
Written as a friend rang me with the news.

Anne J
I saw her a couple of months ago
walking hunched and stiffly
along the footpath in the nursing home.

I walked hurriedly to intersect her path
avoiding surprising her by appearing too quickly
out of the silent world
deafness had given her.
A deafness that frustrated her agile mind
and, at 92 years of age, 
had her look at me piercingly
and wryly offer, 
"I’d like to die,
 I’m useless.
even to myself, and no one here to talk to."
And, I thought, no one that she could hear.

Then, she had pointed to the black and white photo
on the wall, 
a cargo ship, 
an ugly bucket.
Those were the best years of my life,"
she said,
"working as a 20 year old on that boat.
Trading between Africa and Sweden.
Once nearly breaking apart in a Mediterranean storm."

Now, at 94, she has told her son,
I don’t want visitors
and stopped eating.

Immigration and the Cohesive Society

The problem: That many western countries exist – individualistic, pluralistic and conversationally incompetent. Many eastern countries are less individualistic but not any less intolerant of behaviours contrary to their own. Nonetheless, the problem of the economic and social impact of immigration is not solved by a moratorium on immigration as if, when we return to immigration there won’t  be a problem. The problem of social cohesion and workforce development is only addressed from within the environment of robust immigration. In otherwords, unless we are out there playing football, we are not going to solve the problem of why we didn’t win the competition last year.

The key to the ‘resolution’ of cultural diversity comes from holding to a number of principles:

1. We are not dealing with an Australian problem, we are dealing with a global problem in which Australia has a particular role, especially as a model for others.

2. Australia, or any country, cannot deal with it’s challenges in isolation from the global challenges.

3. The global challenge and it’s Australian component is based in inequity. The primary solution is in creating a policy environment that reduces the range of inequity especially through taxation laws ( a big conversation in itself).

4. The institutional development that can be afforded by equitable tax reforms can thereby: foster a vital Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector, as well as all areas of learning, research, services, and innovations; and ensure the national and state coordinated ‘highways and byways’ in transport and communication are world best: and further encourage regional and even remote productivity development;

5. The challenge of diversity, however, relies of the widespread acknowledgement that robustness, resilience, adaptability and innovation is a function of diversity and the harmonization of diverse aspects. What we are seeing in much of the research is the failure to take advantage of the second often because there is a message out there among many cultures, that, all the evidence of the last 100 years in Australia to the contrary, groups of people still think they can’t mix. And by evidence I mean that in every corner of Australia, more and more people are mixing quite well, cross-culturally. Does this mean it’s easy. No. And any relationship inside a monoculture is also not easy. Take anyone’s marriage as an example. Intercultural communities bring a valuable ‘mirror being held up’ to the damaging unspoken cultural messages in any culture. The harmonization of diversity has a simple backbone – conversation. It can be called intercultural conversation or it can be called what it should be in a democracy – community conversation.

6. Equity from a political point of view (democracy in action) calls for community frameworks and processes that give access to all Australians – old hands and new – to the community conversation. By conversation I mean a dynamical engagement around the challenges, needs, and futures of every community, towards policy decisions that work for everyone. And that conversation must be reflected at regional, state, national levels. A nation alike Australia can be at the forefront of the world in this, and showing other countries the way forward. Australia has lost admiration around the world by not being a stand for a cohesive diverse society. And the more we step back from that, the more social cohesive and mental health problems we will have. Rather many people of the world are looking to some other country for the championing of their best life. 

7. Communities will continue to grow with the global population that is expected to get to 9 billion people by 2060. That is 20% growth over 40 years. Simultaneously the migration of people due to the effects of climate change is already quite massive in some countries and the pressure on Australia to accept many more migrants and refugees will only increase yearly. We could ignore that pressure. In that case, we will have escalations of boat people far above any possibility to stop them by our navy or afford detention for them. Far better that we have a robust immigration policy and spend the money now on means that increase productivity and create a sophisticated inclusive democratic process, and ensure that we are grown 20% or more over the next 40 years. In reality this might best be done by first developing institutional foundations with small increases in immigration, allowing learning for best practices to guide increasing numbers of immigrants so that the last decade of the forty years would see the majority of migrants to Australia.  

8. In Australia, as a complete political entity we have barely done anything in the field of harmonizing cultural diversity yet where those small groups of people have taken up the challenge (the models) we know that a flourishing future built in diversity is the future. Ecological sustainability, water resources, etc, and other problems like crime, are dealt with and improved through this same process.    

9. Human beings everywhere and from everywhere are totally able to solve the problems of their and their community’s life. It requires access to collaborations in the community and accountability of both old hands and new hands.

What Are You Going To Give Up?

An idea doing the rounds in religious circles over the past few millennia is that the things of the world are bad, God doesn’t really like them, they’re just there to test our allegiance to God, or, as as a challenge through which become spiritual developed, awake or enlightened. This often takes on the obvious logical follow-up of ‘and we should do everything we can to be without them’.

The teachings of the various hindu traditions go back over 4,000 years. These various traditions have an idea of spirituality versus the world, at their core. Ascetism is common through the Indian regions as an extension of the “world is bad’ idea in a view that sheer poverty even being without clothes and food is the pathway to spirituality. Based on the idea of karma and reincarnation, asceticism is the way to minimise one’s karmic impact. Ultimately, the person without karmic responsibilities has become one with the divine and is not reincarnated.

Some of the old biblical prophets took themselves off to live as ascetics from which discipline they received visions or messages from God. Through those messages they were able to warn the people, and chastise the leaders, about the correct way to approach life and politics. Mostly they were impotent to change the larger historical course of the people. Likewise, Jesus tried to get the point across by offering that, “it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.’ Some prophets and Jesus had potent visions of the future, periods of great redemption for the people and today we can read in the very time we live as proof of the prophetic vision. It is also possible they have created an effect of what we now call, moral hazard. Moral hazard is the other side of the coin of fatalism. Fatalism rides on an idea that what will happened has already happened so I can be resigned to whatever I am resigned to – it makes no differences. Moral hazard rides off any message that ‘we are going to be alright, in the end, anyhow’ as a reason not to limit one’s desires for power and amassing wealth, after all. I want to draw attention to this tendency of us to become resigned to life as we perceive it. Rather than take that the world is bad, perhaps what the spiritual teachers are really telling us is that ‘what is bad is our perception of the world that shows up as our resignation to that perception’. How would it be if we gave up our resignation, rather than anything specific of the world.

The Buddha, living in a Hindu society bogged down in extremes of sovereign wealth, castes, and ascetic views of poverty tried to get the point across by showing people that they should have at least the basic nourishment to learn the spiritual pathway. Buddha, like Jesus, led an austere life of a wandering teacher. Nonetheless, Buddha didn’t deny wealth, proposing a set of teachings based on the idea of a middle path. Buddhists retained the concept of reincarnation with some divergence from Hinduism in a recognition that the weaving of our thoughts of the world maintains our being in the world in suffering, and that, once we are fully divested of our thoughts we will reach a state of nirvana, or the ‘blowing off’ of desires, leading, finally to non-existence.

In a particular way, Buddhism doesn’t teach that there is a goal to life, but that reality is a state of mind built on nothing, and that to divest of the way the mind constructs the world is to not exist, in any way, and that is reality. This view is close to the western philosophical view of existentialism which logical path leads to a nihilistic view. Indeed, the Buddhist practice towards nirvana appears to be a practice towards resignation to the existentialist state that our human situation is contingent and ephemeral, as an simple acceptance that such a state has no meaning so we should not give it one, certainly not that is is something to be sad about, putting aside that depression and suicide that can be evoked by unresolved nihilism.

However, what if most of us have really just gotten the great teachers wrong, or rather, what if the great teachers were simply doing their best to get an idea across to our muddled minds, a completely simple but more inaccessible idea. In otherwords, what if their somewhat different teachings, are all correct, and in some way, also wrong or less full in their teaching than is the truth of us.

What if the great teachers were trying to find a way to teach people who were already mind-set on that everything about them – the way their society worked, the way they worked, and what everything was all about – is like an object. What if the great teachers were actually trying to get us to a point in human development whereby we could just see that, at any moment, our human world is largely a sliver of perception, even a distortion, of the whole human world.

We are also attached to a way our mind renders the world. And so whether we are of the people of the book or of the eastern traditions, we will be attached by our mind to those things of that religious tradition. We will be attached to things of the social traditions, political traditions, cultural traditions. Some of these will create the way we see the physical things of the world such as wealth. We will carry both our attachments to our religious or philosophical views and our cultural and political views, together, even where they do not align.

This is not to say that we can be without our attachments.

What then, for human development? If the human mind attaches to non-existent reality, then the affairs of the world have no meaning and can evoke no response. Religious thought of this kind, correlate / allow / even fosters an opening for socio-political mind-sets to power, domination and hoarding. Even the attachment to a religious idea of nirvana or philosophical idea of existentialism and nihilism, requires that the mind is equally attached to an idea of existence. It is this attachment to existence in the face of non-existence that creates the nihilistic dissonance that, for some, result in depression and suicide. As it is of an individual, so it is of the social organism.

Given that we are fated to be attached to the dualisms of our ideas, then to be detached, rather than being attached to the idea of detachment, might best be approached in the acceptance of the dualism, that we are equal parts detached and attached. Maybe there is a state in which the attachment-detachment duality of some particular aspect is so very small it might even be thought to be gone, disappeared. However, even then, providing much attention to this state as a goal, is more likely to amplify both dualities than to dissipate them. And, indeed, dissipate to what ends anyhow? To be proud of the spiritual station achieved?

I suggest that, rather than being overall attracted to becoming a more detached person, accept that the ultimate spiritual achievement, let’s call it achieving our optimal human, is rather gained by being in a dance with our dualities and an additional completely novel idea, an essential unity, a non-dual idea. Here I need to change tack in language. As you can see, the language directing this commentary, while it is trying to raise a novel idea, simply slips into dualism, forbidding the mind any truly novel idea.

All things spoken are set apart from each other in distinction. Current practices in meditation seem aimed at disappearing the following of (attention to) language (thought). This reduces the strength of thought habits and leaves an availability of mental resource, what ontological philosophers in the aftermath of Heidegger, have come to call ‘a clearing’. On it’s own, meditation doesn’t create anything novel for that clearing, and for many modern practitioners, life continues the same while meditation becomes a tool for coping with life’s lack of validity.

We might consider, then, that the task might be to allow that there is a higher mental state that rises above language. This suggests some novel mental ‘tooling-up’ that is novel to language. In the dance with our dominant world creating tool – linguistic distinctions and dualities – and the possibility of an emergent viewing above word, we might just find the diminution of dualities and a state of being (relatively) detached becomes evident.

The question remains, in entering a possibility of an access to reality above or outside of linguistic distinctions, what would you or I give up that already exists as an attached ideation such that the diminution of the dualities creates the clearing for access to a level of reality that is, til now, non-existent to us.