Saturday, October 17



When we talk about culture it is usually in the context of race, ethnicity or nationality. We generally ascribe race to biological distinguishing features and ethnicity as the beliefs and customs that relate to a particular group or nation. The latter will reference a culture, whilst nationality denotes your country of birth or adoption. Hence different peoples in a country can have varying ethnicities. Ultimately most immigration will result in a merger of different cultures into one more predominant representation although traditional pockets persist which can be the source of conflict. 


But in terms of providing any meaningful data on race, anthropologists have abandoned any such idea other than to point to biological differences in colour and so forth. Rather it is acknowledged such is the evolutionary spread across regions that any enduring differences are not possible to distinguish one race from another (except for biological differences in appearance) in any meaningful way. Nevertheless a degree of disriminisation remains.    


In a nutshell where there are differences these relate to our culture that has to be learnt. The customs, art or religion and so forth are introduced via the family and community. But in a worn torn country, punctuated by violence it is hardly surprising that children can grow up to perpetuate that violent culture in their own life.

Similarly, if unreasonable economic hardships are imposed this may provide the catalyst for a growing nationalistic culture to develop even within a democratic society. That was the case when unreasonable demands were made in Germany at the cessation of hostilities at the end of the First World War. 


Defining Culture

I am defining culture for the purposes of discussions as what the majority of people think is right, good or true at a particular time without usually questioning it. There are varying inputs that make up a culture inclusive of politics, religion and various customs. It would be a mistake to say one overshadowed the other but in the West one might reasonably assume the Judeo- Christiana tradition permeates laws and governance systems.   

Christianity for instance formed the values that were fundamental to the legal and governmental institutions and customs of Australia. But there was no obligation to belong to a Christian religion or any religion. 


Cultural hegemony

In philosophy in modern day times we refer to cultural hegemony; to reflect the dominant view supported through ideological or cultural means. In other words it is the values, norms and ideas that permeate a particular worldview, which may be routinely expressed by social institutions.

Such a view is generally held to be true, mostly just on face value, by the majority, so that the remainder also are prone to follow on. 

 Changing a bad culture is difficult – How can you do that?

In Kevin Brinkman’s article that appeared in ‘Philosophy Now’ he contends that these three big ideas – ideology, cultural hegemony, and the sociology of knowledge – when joined together will help us answer two big questions: Why is our culture the way it is? And what can we do about it?

Kevin Brinkman, sets out the steps one can take in modernity to change culture with some help from 3 modern day philosophers; Louis  Althusser (1918-1990), Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) and Karl Manheim (1893-1947).

He contends they could help us to do this.  Althusser is regarded as the most influential by rendering a respectability to Marxist ideas, as opinion is prone to recoil in horror at the mention of his name, associated as it is with the evils of the Slim Stalinist era. 

His work continues to provide food for thought for philosophers and activists examining alternatives to our present economic and social construct.  

In his early formative years he became heavily involved in Catholicism, in conjunction with a membership of the Communist Party in 1948.  

Althusser had previously spent the war years as a prisoner of war at a camp in Northern Germany, where he credits his ideas on communism as arising from that experience.

 Antonia Gramsci

Similarly Antonio Gramsci was an Italian journalist and activist who is best known for his work on Marxism, economics and politics. He was imprisoned by the Mussolini’s fascist Italian government, where he wrote Prison Notebooks.

The upshot of his theory was that the state represented domination on behalf of capitalism and the ruling class. He is attributed to introducing the concept of cultural hegemony, the role of the state and how it accomplishes its ideological framework in hegemonic beliefs, via mass media to avoid thoughtful analysis.

 Karl Manheim

Mannheim talked about social constructs and is known as the founding father of the sociology of knowledge. He was also agreeable to Marxism. Mannheim held each generation to make fresh contact with the older version to slightly alter particular cultural aspects. The upshot is each new generation opens up opportunities for social and cultural continuity and change.

But rather than becoming wedded to such views can we steer a middle course and as suggested by the author change culture with humility and civility, knowing that everyone is upset about something in the culture, and that many people are doing their best to make this a better world.

A Big Picture perspective

According to the author culture is always interacting with various influences that keep it in a state of flux. Once hegemony can be challenged, and eventually replaced, by another, it can happen in a perfectly peaceful way.

This is in contrast to the economic determinism often associated with Karl Marx, or the political determinism often associated with Carl von Clausewitz, or the cultural determinism often associated with Max Weber. In all these cases, the named dimension holds decisive influence over the other two, such that the other two dimensions of human life cannot in the end affect what will happen in the determining dimension. In reality no single dimension of human life is deterministic. This is good news for those without power – those not occupying seats of economic, political, or cultural leadership – because it means the path of development of society is not set in advance. It implies that a small group of concerned and committed individuals can begin the cultural change process, which moves out to the economic dimension by its ability to multiply and sustain itself, exerts influence on the political dimension, before thoroughly influencing the cultural dimension.

He summaries the advice of this article in the words of the anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world” (Earth at Omega: Passage to Planetization by Donald Keys, 1982, p.79).


How Did Our Culture Get This Way?

In this model, a cultural hegemony forms through three stages: its supporters acquire some power; they get institutions on board; and then let the institutions spread the culture.

Power is a natural and inevitable part of human society. Although philosophers such as Marx wanted society to ultimately move beyond power dynamics, someone, or some group, is always more powerful than another.

According to our philosophers, the last stage of establishing a hegemony – spreading a culture – is the easiest to achieve. Winning power requires fighting. Winning institutions requires negotiation. Winning individuals requires only their consent to the values of the institutions. Most of the values of most individuals are unconsciously absorbed. We do not often question the values of our culture (for example, human rights, individualism, and materialism) because, in the words of Gramsci, they have become ‘common sense’ (Selections, p.134). For example, we are pro-choice or pro-life usually because that is the stance of our family or religion.

Althusser describes the process of accepting the culturally hegemonic institutional line as moving from being ‘free subjects’ to willingly accepting subjection ‘all by [one’s] self’ (Lenin, p.182).

How Can Cultural Values Be Reformed

Cultural values are reformed in three stages: get people thinking, get people together, and get institutional change.

Culture is not something static – people are always changing culture. So the real challenge, after all, may not be how to change culture. Our three philosophers have given us a roadmap for how to do that. The real challenge may be changing culture with humility and civility, knowing that everyone is upset about something in the culture, and that many people are doing their best to make this a better world.


Australian Perspective

So one might ask the question in Australia, where we operate as a democracy, are we nevertheless in the grips of what some might say are moves that risk taking away the safeguards that promote an egalitarian society?

A salient point I think is important to note is the current nature of our present position as part of a global village, which means the communicative tools to initiate change are more favourable than in any other time in history. I have long argued for a return to Keynesian style economics in numerous letters to the Editor in the AFR, but that requires a change in thinking from the ‘individualism” style has permeated policy from the nineties onwards.      

A short history of Australian culture.

Australian cultural identity has developed and changed from that of a near British replica that failed to honour or acknowledge indigenous Australians, to a more multicultural urbanized mass reconnecting with more of a sense of place.

In 1897, Australia had just recovered from the effects of the earlier land boom and was enjoying the highest living standards in the world. The country was capitalizing on its many endowments, although these were not shared by the aboriginal community.

At that time a sense of humor and romantic notion of the bush persisted, as epitomized by such remarkable poets as Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson. Lawson was a city bound chap; only venturing out in the bush briefly for a month during his life. This was hardly surprising with such a population concentration in the eastern seaboard was evident from the outset due to a lack of arable land. Today Australia remains one of the most urbanized countries in the world.

But Australia was immune to the hideous face of slavery that continued on in democracies in various guises as a creeping societal cancer fueled by ongoing ambivalence and greed.  

For instance slavery existed between 1842 and 1904 involving the South Pacific islanders in Australia, known as Black birding.  

The State Government attempted to control it but lacked constitutional power to enforce the law.  It only died out 1904 as a consequence of the Australian commonwealth, calling for the deportation of all such people.  


Aboriginal people were also treated as slaves and keenly sought after by the pastoralist industry. This was evident in the pearling industry and in their use as household servants.

Today the legacy of slavery still exists throughout the world with large groups of people effectively enslaved under the guise of different descriptions.  

Our first Nations Australian aborigines who remarkably were not considered citizens able to vote in federal elections until the 1962 referendum was passed.


Mother Country culture was firmly entrenched at the time of Federation at the turn of the century. After the Federation that commitment continued with huge sacrifices in both World War 1 and 2 with combined fatalities of around 120,000 and three times that number wounded. That loyalty was perpetuated by Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies who served as 

Prime Minister between 939-1941 and then uninterrupted from 1949-1966; retiring at aged 70.

Menzies was more English than the English themselves. Famous author and archaeologist, Jared Diamond (Author of ‘Collapse; why civilizations collapse’ and ‘Guns Germs and Steel’) remarked when he last visited Australia that during his earlier visit in the early sixties the country was a carbon copy in thought and culture of England. Menzies presided over a period of rapid post war growth, fuelled by migration under the White Australia Policy and exceptionally high birth rates. There were 4 million births between 1946 and 1961, and that group known as the Baby boomers still have political clout.

Australia remained somewhat of a cultural desert for artists until the late fifties and early sixties when a number of important cultural centers were finally established that supplemented the earlier establishment of the Australian Broadcasting commission in 1932 ( The ABC ). In 1956; the Australian Opera, 1959; the National Institute of Dramatic Art and in 1961 the Australian Ballet. Despite these additions Australia continued to import most of its culture from abroad particularly from the “Dream machines” from what was being manufactured in America. Roy Rogers and tales from the ‘Great Dividing Range’ featuring cowboys and Indians dominated my childhood memories, as did spitfires, fighters and tales about adventures set in England.

When I read Bill Bryson’s book entitled “Thunderbolt Kid” about his boyhood experiences growing up in the USA, I was reminded of my own childhood experiences. Assuming a certain indulgence I will recount a few boyhood experiences which paint a country picture of the culture that existed then.  

Culture in the NSW country from the post war period.  

I grew up in the picturesque small dairy farming town of Kyogle, situated on the NSW side of the border with Queensland.
The back fence was all that separated our house from fields of grazing cattle and the river; an endless source of entertainment and excitement for me. I was scarcely ever indoors, coming in only to listen with bated breath to the daily radio broadcast of “The Search for the Golden Boomerang” and other popular radio serials broadcast then. Radio, books, comics, making slingshots, bows and arrows, climbing trees or exploring the river banks kept us actively interested. I can never recall feeling bored. In later life when I watched the same radio script on TV, I was sorely disappointed, actors and sets seemed surprisingly insipid and imprisoned on the tiny screen.
I loved the weekly visit to the movies. Afterwards we feasted on chips, smothered in salt and dripping with fat, wrapped up unceremoniously in old newspapers; pure manna from heaven.  When I returned home it was time to re-enact the scenes, embellishing the storyline to make it more exciting as I was playing in the bush outside.
Supermarket shopping didn’t exist, so there was a constant stream of merchants and visitors to our house, the milkman at first light, filling your jug with fresh milk and cream, a baker carrying his basket under his arm of freshly baked bread exuding its enticing aroma, the postman’s shrill whistle, ice from an ice cart for your ice chest, an insurance man collecting the premiums and a salesperson selling encyclopaedias.
Each week the faithful ‘Dunny man” had to carefully exchange your full dunny for an empty one which was an operation that required a combination of brute strength (as they were rather heavy when full) and skill to ensure you didn’t spill any of the contents out while lifting on to the truck. The contents were respectively referred to as “Night Soil”. The sign ‘Night Soil’ was emblazoned on the side of the old truck that excluded copious amounts of blue smoke as its engine groaned under the strain of its heavy load. The immediate post-war period was not only known as the baby boom times but also as a time where the Nation (particularly country regions) invested heavily in social capital. The culture was such that local service clubs were eagerly joined by a population intent on leaving behind the dread of war in pursuit of community support.         
I think we lived in a more egalitarian society then as it never occurred to me that we might be regarded as battlers so to speak. Christmas time was always an exciting time. Receiving a bike for a Christmas present eclipsed all known joyous experiences in my life. My parents, sensing my excitement, had laid a string throughout all of the rooms of the house and back down the stairs to be attached to the bike situated on the front lawn. Christmas morning at first light they invited me to follow the string and see what was on the end of it. Needing no encouragement I tore through the house and in a state of heightened excitement finally surveyed the wondrous sight, I immediately hopped on and cycled away. It didn’t matter to me that it was a very old bike, where rust had been carelessly painted over with bubbly paint and made to look new with a false “Malvern Star” sticker on it. To me it was simply the best thing that could have ever happened and I was far too excited and happy to pay any close attention to such things.  It was only in later life when I recalled those images more carefully that I realized those bubbly painted surfaces were the result of paint failing to bond on rusted old surfaces. A few splashes of paint and a brand new shining bell was all that was needed to transform that rusty old bike into the gleaming new machine I had long dreamed about. Freedom is an elusive state but I never felt as carefree as riding that bicycle around in the country. Taking my lunch with me and cycling off to a destination of my choice, stopping for a drink at a little shop I was totally ensconced in my own world of adventure.  

To reiterate, one must remember growing up in the fifties was a time when the country was fiercely loyal to the Queen under the guiding hand of Prime Minister Robert Menzies. During Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation we all made up scrap books as school projects. When she visited Australia no one really knew why we should all be excited, it was as if we were all swept along with this national bout of infectious enthusiasm and delight for the Queen. The cheers of the schoolchildren echoed everywhere as she was greeted with unanimous delight.
But tragedy was to strike us and the close knit Kyogle community in 1954. Our family house had been purchased on the basis it was flood free. As an added precaution it was built on high stilts. Even so, despite the cyclonic rain on that fateful day, it was thought our house would not be flooded. As the floodwaters entered our backyard I imagined myself as a fisherman and unconcerned dangled my fishing line in the brown waters. However soon the rising waters were inching their way up our back steps so we evacuated to a neighbor’s on much higher ground. My father told us he was staying on to protect our furniture and effects.

That night I peered out over the murky waters to see my Father swimming around in the flooded house, placing objects onto higher advantage points in a futile attempt to avoid the ever rising floodwaters. The waters were rising at an alarming rate and it was with some relief, we watched in silence as my father finally wearily swam out through the bedroom window and with measured strokes struck out for the bank and safety at last. Fully clothed, cold, exhausted but determined he slowly hauled himself up onto the bank to join us on the veranda, in time to see our house disappear under the cruel raging waters of the Richmond River.

There were pieces of corrugated iron from roofs around and it was soon turned to good use in makeshift canoes, folded over and sealed both ends with tar, to deliver milk and supplies. I remember search parties each morning looking for bodies and everyone helping one another. There was the drone of the old DC3 aircraft parachuting supplies to a stricken community cut off by floodwaters the likes of which had never been seen since.     

We moved to Coffs Harbour in the fifties where there was a culture of trust to the extent you could leave the door of your home unlocked as there was virtually no crime helped no doubt by an alert police force that knew everyone’s business. There was also an air of freedom, even to the extent I have fond memories of our pet dog called Rex, who became an honorary citizen. He was a very intelligent foxy who was given the keys to the town. His daily routine, after breakfast, was to visit the Red Cross Snack Bar and then morning tea at my father’s work followed by lunch at home and then a final goodbye to the Red Cross workers in the afternoon. If there was any event in town he was always around to check things out as an accepted observer. He was always very careful crossing the street and would wait patiently for a lull in the traffic, or wait for the traffic lights once they were installed in the town. He even visited the golfers during the North Coast Open observing the professionals and crowds of people. I recall walking along the fairway when I overheard a conversation: ‘what’s that dog doing on the course’ only to hear the usual chorus of answers, ‘that’s Rex, he turns up everywhere, always welcome and always well behaved!! 

Umm I thought – yes that’s exactly right!!

We were spoilt for choice at Coffs with beaches to the north and south of the town. I recall eating oysters on the rocks and on the odd occasions catching good sized bream with my mother cheering me on. You couldn’t eat oysters off the rocks today. Today I still think we suffer from a lack of homespun culture. Not many people realize that more attend culture and art in Australia than Sport, but the institutions that serve us, including all popular mediums continue to be under funded and forced to import and rely on an ever increasing slice of programmers from overseas.

But the post war period also continued on at times in blissful ignorance, with racial prejudice and abuses never far away, hidden away by a majority who enjoyed a seemingly carefree existence. That seemed to me to be very much like what is described by author Bill Bryson’s account of the life and times of Thunderbolt Kid in America. It was in the sixties that most of the earlier post war respect for authority was challenged with the arrival of the flower power generation who protested against the establishment and authority. More liberal ideas flourished which brought improvements for a more open society but I think it was also a time of self-indulgence exclusive to those who fully endorsed its self-serving ideology.

Culture has changed and particularly as a consequence of immigration and Multiculturalism. That has brought many more rich experiences to our culture with varying degrees of success. As a country we have the highest rate of intermarriage between first and second generation migrants.



For those who like statistics here are a few of the changes over the past 100 years taken from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.  

1.    The average age has increased from 24 to 37.

2.    Population has increased fivefold.  

3.    Today 2.6 people compared to 4.5 per household.

4.    Divorce numbers are up 95.7 times.  

5.    60% growth in natural increase 40% immigration

6.    Today the position is reversed.   

7.    96% then listed as Christian religion

8.    61% today.   


Today we can think of any number of issues in Australia indicative of measures that can be reasonably demonstrated to risk us moving the nation away from a desirable egalitarian system of governance.


Sunday, October 4


Mystical type experiences or a sense of wonderment have always held a sense of fascination. As a child what comes to mind are memories of a kind of a dreamy state of wonder which came over me at bedtime. My room with its long row of glass louvres over one side, adjacent to the giant hypnotic eucalypts behind our family home, was the perfect setting for imagined other worlds.

The rattle of glass window louvers shimmered in the pale light to the sounds of wind or rain and the incessant buzz of cicadas or the more strident cry of - “mowpoke!, mowpoke!" of the mowpoke owl before drifting off into sleep where strange creatures good and bad inhabited my dream world.  

But such memories are from a western language perspective.

For the Amondawa tribe they don’t incorporate the abstract idea of time-

The circular cycle of existence for the Australian Aboriginal peoples also doesn’t equate between past present and future. Rather their experiences are integral to the Dream-time.

Dream-time however is not about dreaming. I will attempt to explain what is meant in the following brief narrative.   

The creative spirits are believed enter the womb of the mother from the creative landscape spirits of that place where conception arose. The creation spirits, bestow specific preordained totems, representing animals and landmarks of that country’s region which in turn determine the responsibility of the child as the clans are co-dependence in one inseparable Land. That in turn depends on what side of the Moiety that are born as either a child of preservation or hunter or gatherer as per the totems that determine those responsibilities. Those animals outside of the totems must not be hunted. There is a further allocated totem according to the discernment of the elders on reaching maturity of a person exhibiting a particular charisma. No known form of discipline was ever exercised by the clans towards their children who were regarded as free spirits until such time they entered adulthood. Then began intense training to understand the law, their responsibility and initiation ceremonies were performed. The idea of time as a historical reference was not present. Nor was there a distinction between secular and spiritual which would have been nonsensical to them.