Flag capers

By skepticlawyer

In one of those eccentricities of time and date, Burns Night in Scotland (January 25) shades into Australia Day (January 26), especially for anyone using social media. This made for a very odd Friday evening this last week while I was working late. I saw Scots cheerfully celebrating their country’s greatest poet and the bonhomie that much of his writing engenders, while my Australian friends (ranging, as do all my friends, across and along and inside and outside the political spectrum) presented a far more equivocal picture.

There were people saying ‘sorry’, often by altering their Facebook profile picture. There were people dressed in Australian flag capes. There were people who do not like Australian flag capes calling the cape-wearers ‘bogans’ (that’s Australian for ‘ned’ or ‘chav’, for our Scots and English readers). There were people saying that calling people ‘bogan’ was classist. At one point a spirited to-do on a left-leaning friend’s page ensued over that term: the leftie wanted to show his pro-indigenous street-cred, only to be called on his dislike for the ‘lower orders’ by other lefties. There is also, apparently, a move afoot to rename Australia Day ‘citizens’ day’, which was being pooh-poohed by all comers, at least on my Facebook feed.

It was all a bit sad, really.

The Scots, meanwhile, were reciting poems about haggis (as well as eating it), doing highland dancing in the streets, playing bagpipes and downing whisky. Lots of whisky. No-one was saying ‘ned’ about anyone else. Everyone, so far as I could see, was having a good time. And drinking whisky. The response on St Andrew’s Day is similar: attempts by the nationalists to make it too sombre cut no ice. In a country that has–at least historically–had riots and murders over football, national festivities unite, rather than divide. That is a credit to the Scots. Because Scots have this in their history. And this. Oh, and this as well. Of course, I’m being remiss if I leave out this. Or this. By any standard, Scotland has an unusually bloody history. Yes, you may counter, so do many other European countries. But the Scots climbed out of the mud and blood and produced the Scottish Enlightenment. To a large degree, the rest of the developed world has had an easy life because the Scots figured out how to do modernity (so we didn’t have to).

The relatively trivial nastiness of Australia’s history needs to be assimilated, not used to found a set of competing narratives that attempt to exclude all other narratives. And that doesn’t mean forgotten, either. It means remembered and worked through intelligently, without imposing a given version on other people who are living in the country at the same time. The people who say ‘sorry’ every Australia Day need to understand that when they do that, they are engaging in moral grandstanding and making themselves and their story even less likely to be heard. People who wear the flag as a cape need to know that they are poking every returned serviceman in the eye, not to mention many older Australians (all of whom will have been taught that the flag must not be allowed to touch the ground). There are many other instances of the same thing. And all of us, I think, need to dial back on the ‘bogan’ rhetoric. I disagree intensely with its author’s politics, but my own fondness for using the English and Scots equivalents of ‘bogan’ was called into question by reading this book. In it, Owen Jones points out that it’s easy to slip into a sort of righteous rhetoric about an entire class of people without actually realising that each of them–just like their educated social ‘betters’–is an individual.

I’m not pretending this will be easy. But it can be done. And that it can be done in a country with as much blood-drenched, sectarian history as Scotland suggests that, if Australians engage their brains, it will be a walk in the park.

Maybe, just maybe, the young women in the photograph illustrating this post are starting on the path to useful historical assimilation.

23 Comments

  1. Yobbo
    Posted February 4, 2013 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    I would also like to point out to kvd is that all of the people in Kochie’s list are people who came here from overseas and immediately assimilated into Australian life, some of them even to the point of changing their names to sound more Western.

    We don’t regard them as great Australians because of any new cultural ideas they brought us, but because of what they have managed to achieve within our already existing culture.

    But since you apparently fail to understand the Romans joke, here’s why it’s funny:

    The Roman Empire was one of the most advanced civilisations in history, and easily the most advanced of its time.

    The reason it’s funny to ask “what did the Romans do for us” is precisely because arguably no civilisation before or since did more for us.

    The same is not true, for example, of Sudan. Or even 1970’s Italy. Lots of very nice people came from Italy and Greece to Australia. But their only real cultural contribution was to our cuisine, and thank god for that. Because the reason they came here was to escape their culture.

  2. Yobbo
    Posted February 4, 2013 at 1:03 am | Permalink

    So I guess the challenge is still out there.

    Any recent cultural additions to Australia that you consider an improvement?

  3. Yobbo
    Posted February 4, 2013 at 1:42 am | Permalink

    I actually thought of on: Karaoke

    Which was apparently first introduced separately to Australia by Filipino migrants and popularised by Japanese tourists, rather than being something which we acquired via osmosis.

    I guess whether or not you consider that a positive cultural development is subjective, but it’s certainly better than, say, Female Genital Mutilation.

  4. kvd
    Posted February 4, 2013 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    [email protected] firstly thanks for the explanation of ‘the Roman joke’. I have written it down for later study.

    As usual we are talking past each other, so to some extent (in your latest depiction of what you mean by ‘culture’ – namely Karaoke) I agree with your comments. I had thought you were railing against ‘multiculuralism’ – as in the ability for people of differing ethnic backgrounds to peacefully coexist. But I think what you are demanding is a step further than that: you wish those differing cultures to be a net positive; i.e. features of those cultures to be taken up within ‘our’ culture?

    I’m not sure there’s any general expectation of that, or that it provides a useful measure of success or failure.

    But it’s interesting that you note Chinese unwillingness to queue. I thought the ability to queue was a much derided feature of the English – see this guy (and commenters) for several funny diatribes – so maybe the Chinese are contributing to a cultural shift by just that one small thing alone?

  5. Posted February 4, 2013 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    Yobbo, a few off the top of my head:
    Acupuncture and other alternative treatments, meditation techniques, martial arts disciplines, siestas/long lunch break, a more pragmatic approach to marriage, e-sports, a range of music and art…

  6. Yobbo
    Posted February 4, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    If you think the Siesta/Long Lunch break is a desirable cultural import, I direct you to observe the financial situations of the countries in Europe that still practice it.

    That was one of the things I was thinking about when I said we don’t really want to import every aspect of Mediterranean culture. Spaghetti is fine though.

    Same goes for alternative medicine too, quite frankly. There’s a word for medical treatments that work and have been proven to work in controlled scientific trials: Medicine.

    “Alternative medicine” is just eastern mysticism and superstition. Exactly the kind of thing that we don’t really want or need. In practical terms, it probably killed Steve Jobs.

    But I think what you are demanding is a step further than that: you wish those differing cultures to be a net positive; i.e. features of those cultures to be taken up within ‘our’ culture?

    No, I’m saying that western culture is our main selling point, and that people who come here should adopt it. It’s not like we just discovered other countries. We incorporated most of the good parts of their cultures into our own centuries ago. It’s the shit stuff we didn’t want that is defended in the name of “multiculturalism”.

  7. Posted February 4, 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Because sitting around with your racist mates, watching a bunch of thugs bash into each other, scoffing a meat pie (that contains anything but), drinking mass produced piss till you don’t know your head from your ass, and deluding yourself into believing that your team winning somehow entitles you to glory makes for such the pinnacle of human culture.

  8. Posted February 4, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Is this Desipis a one of the counter-cultural left?

    Certainly narrow-minded enough to be one of them.

  9. Adrien
    Posted February 4, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Any recent cultural additions to Australia that you consider an improvement?

    Shisha pipes on the sidewalk in summertime, less litter and more pleasant than cigarettes; the music and dance of Latin America; the practice of meditation and yoga. Three off the top of my head that’ve been become popular in the last decade or so here.

    I don’t think you know what culture is. Try and name one cultural contribution of the Romans, most likely they got it from somewhere else. I tend to agree that I don’t want good habits like standing in line and not killing little girls to dissipate and I tend to stand up to, for example, haughty India snobbery in favour Australian egalitarianism.

    But it’s a little absolutist to discount the culture of others simply because you don’t appreciate it.

    This discourse viz ‘multiculturalism’ is mostly a lot of hot air inflating a big bugaboo-shaped balloon and its value is best assessed by the sound it makes when you stop blowing and let it go.

  10. Adrien
    Posted February 4, 2013 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Any recent cultural additions to Australia that you consider an improvement?

    And Iranian graphic novels.

  11. Mel
    Posted February 4, 2013 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Yobbo @50:

    “I don’t however, want them to bring the Chinese cultural practices of pushing and shoving, spitting in the street, bride price, or female infancticide with them.”

    Are you saying colourful Ozblogistan personality and Chinaman, Jason Soon, should be evicted from Australia?

  12. Yobbo
    Posted February 5, 2013 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    Are you saying colourful Ozblogistan personality and Chinaman, Jason Soon, should be evicted from Australia?

    Does he push into lines and spit in the street? Jason’s family is not even from China. They are from Malaysia. Do you know the difference?

    Did you even read any of my posts Mel? There’s a very big difference between race and culture. Multicultural is not the same thing as Multiracial.

    All of your posts addressed to me have been variations of the same theme: “OMG if you don’t like multiculturalism it means you hate other races”. Do you even listen to yourself?

  13. Yobbo
    Posted February 5, 2013 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    Try and name one cultural contribution of the Romans

    The Roman Alphabet. The Roman Legal system. The Julian Calender. Latin. Is that enough for now?

  14. Yobbo
    Posted February 5, 2013 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    Because sitting around with your racist mates, watching a bunch of thugs bash into each other, scoffing a meat pie (that contains anything but), drinking mass produced piss till you don’t know your head from your ass, and deluding yourself into believing that your team winning somehow entitles you to glory makes for such the pinnacle of human culture.

    The fact that’s what you think western culture is says a lot more about you than it says about me.

  15. conrad
    Posted February 5, 2013 at 4:56 am | Permalink

    “Any recent cultural additions to Australia that you consider an improvement?”

    Some groups have a far harder working ethic. And their children turn out better because they have more HFTU also — e.g., not telling their children they are smart after they get 52% in a maths test and then wondering why their kids get nowhere in life when they turn 21 (or 32 as the case is now when they leave home).

  16. conrad
    Posted February 5, 2013 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    Low crime rates would be another — the average immigrant does less crime than the average Australian. Some groups vastly less (the stats are on the ABS site).

  17. conrad
    Posted February 5, 2013 at 5:21 am | Permalink

    Less expectation that the government should do things for them when they have lots of money. Most Chinese people, for example, can’t quite understand middle-class welfare.

    I could go on and on, but I won’t.

  18. Posted February 5, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    The fact that’s what you think western culture is says a lot more about you than it says about me.

    I thought we were defining culture based on all the negative stereotypes we know about. I guess I forgot about the exception where western culture is only defined by the positive things. My bad.

  19. Mel
    Posted February 5, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Yobbo:

    “Jason’s family is not even from China. ”

    True, but I think Soon would be the first to admit they are still culturally Chinese. My point, anyway, blockhead, is that many folk today belong to a cosmopolitan culture irrespective of origin. I’m not aware of Chinese folk in Australia having a reputation for pushing and shoving, spitting all over the place and killing girls.

    Also I’ve always supported a discriminatory immigration regime. As I’ve said many times on this blog, I think it would be wise to halt migration from those ethnic/religious categories that produce significant numbers of terrorists or whose members commit crimes associated with backward cultural norms.

    As I understand it, parts of Paris are now practically no go zones for white people. I don’t want this to happen here.

  20. Adrien
    Posted February 5, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    The Roman Alphabet. The Roman Legal system. The Julian Calender. Latin. Is that enough for now?

    The alphabet came from Greece by way of the Etruscans. These things you list are cultural in an anthropological sense but not in the sense of customs or products of culture as understood in a literary manner.

    Romans were very good at organization. Their culture was mostly imported.

  21. Yobbo
    Posted February 5, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    The Etruscan Alphabet was not identical to the Roman Alphabet, even though the Roman alphabet was based on it.

    Regardless of that, surely the point is where we got it from, and the answer to that is surely the Romans, since as far as I know the Ancient Greeks never invaded the British Isles.

    Pasta was invented by the Chinese, but it came into western culture by way of the Italians.

  22. kvd
    Posted February 5, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    The last two comments are what I meant by “talking past each other”.

    So, what is it? A discussion of imported ‘cultural artefacts’ such as painting, literature, song, dance – art generally, including stuff like ‘gangnam’ and Bieber and American TV; or culture as in identifiable ‘cultural ticks’ such as respect for elders, food, dis/respect for law/women, queuing, and – yes – even fgm, and so on?

    I had thought the second was Yobbo’s approach, but anyway – I’d be interested to understand.

  23. Adrien
    Posted February 5, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    I took exception to the assertion that nothing of value has come to us recently from ‘non-Western’ societies. Culture is a term that can be applied generally to describe all human activity and disposition or specifically to things produced in the market of symbolic goods.

    The toleration of and interest in other cultures, far from being some lefty assault on Western Civilization is a central part of it:

    We throw open our city to the world

    – Pericles, 404 BCE

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