“Hate is just a failure of imagination.” On racism.

3 Jun


I’m guessing just about everyone is familiar with the recent events surrounding Sydney Swans player Adam Goodes, a young girl who insulted him with a racist slur, the subsequent involvement of Eddie McGuire, and the public debate on racism that has dominated media and social media ever since.

The following are some writings on the topic I found worth reading.

Helen Razer’s piece in Crikey, titled “I am racist and so are you” in which she alleges that anyone white in this country is racist and ought to own it.

Jeff Sparrow’s piece in Overland, an interesting rebuttal to the claim “we’re all racist.”

Blogger Dragonista’s piece “Entitlement should not disqualify me” and the follow-up. It’s important to read the comments as Dragonista engages with Luke Pearson, who explains why Indigenous people can become very weary of explaining their situation to white fellas.

Luke Pearson’s blog in response to Dragonista and others who share her position.

David Horton’s piece “Bone of Contention” in which he recalls some background relevant to the present.

There are of course hundreds of other pieces throughout both social and mainstream media.

A few days ago I wrote aboutprivilege and imagination, in which I argued that the current passion for “checking your privilege” could be more usefully replaced by using one’s imagination, and walking a few steps in the shoes of the other to see how that feels. Checking my privilege rather keeps it all about me, while using my imagination to envisage another’s experience makes it all about them.

I’m of the view that race is a social construct, yet another of the many ways in which some human beings categorize other human beings in order to dehumanise them, to the degree that they don’t have to be considered as equals and worthy of the same considerations as the dominant group. Racism has much in common with sexism. Both allow the dominant group to maintain a sense of superiority by measuring themselves against the perceived failings and allegedly inherent weaknesses of the others. Both allow the dominant group to maintain a sense of entitlement and privilege, because they feel superior to the others.

In both cases, the dominant group  will be extremely reluctant to either examine or relinquish any of its entitlements and privileges.

It struck me as I ploughed through the at times strident, accusatory, smug, ignorant, enlightened, sorrowful, angry, bored, pissed off, exasperated, exhausted and exhausting commentary of the last week, that the discussion of racism itself had quickly evolved into a battlefield on which combatants fought for the high moral ground, casting opponents as “racists,” “privileged,” “entitled,” or in some instances, just plain “white,” the latter used as a racial insult, if we stick to the strict definition of that term.

It’s quite a thing, to besmirch another as a “racist.” It probably isn’t something that ought to be done lightly. I’ve wondered how hurling around that word as a contemptuous insult furthers the debate at all. It’s not likely to make anyone stop and think about their views, quite the opposite, it’s likely to cause anger, resentment and a hardening of the heart.

Again, I believe the answer is imagination:

When you visualised a man or a woman carefully…when you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of  imagination. Grahame Greene

Greene echoes philosopher Emmanuel Levinas’ beliefs about the power of the face, and the ethical responsibility we all have to honour the face of the Other, no matter how different from one’s own.  The responsibility we have to recognise and respect our common vulnerability as human beings, and to refrain from exploiting that vulnerability. To look fully at another’s face, to really see it, immediately places one in a more respectful relation to the other than the cursory, unseeing glance.

I ended the week feeling a great deal of admiration for the man at the centre of the storm, Adam Goodes. I’m not in the least interested in football, but as the rest of my household watched the Swans game I couldn’t help but observe Goodes rise above the slings and arrows of his week and immerse himself, fully focused, in his task.

This debate on the othering of some groups by more powerful groups is perhaps the most important debate there is. Racism, sexism, homophobia, hatred: discrimination of any kind, is a failure of imagination.

How do we teach that?

39 Responses to ““Hate is just a failure of imagination.” On racism.”

  1. Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) June 3, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    For what it may be worth, it was the comments thread to Jennifer Wilson’s OLO article ‘Racist government, racist opposition, racist debate’ ( http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=10669http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=10669 ) published on 13 July 2010, that first brought her to my notice as a writer.

    That comments thread had been the occasion, commencing on Saturday 17 July 2010, of the ‘Great Deletion’ on OLO. ( http://forum.onlineopinion.com.au/thread.asp?article=10669#177071 ) Not that I was following the comments, having not read the article, but the Great Deletion came to my notice when OLO userID ‘Ludwig’ became ‘collateral damage’ as a consequence of the broad moderational brush wielded on that occasion. (See: http://forum.onlineopinion.com.au/thread.asp?discussion=3807#93430 )

    BTW, for anyone cruising those old OLO threads, OLO userID ‘Briar Rose’ is Jennifer Wilson, and ‘Rainier’ is an indigenous Australian. (Jennifer has, I think, also used the ID ‘Sea Spray’ on OLO in the past. What was the story on that? Different computer, or maybe a lost password?)

    At a time before the term ‘collateral damage’ had had its focus sharpened by the world becoming aware of “Collateral Murder” through Wikileaks and Assange, I wasn’t much interested in the sort of things I thought Jennifer wrote about. Then she wrote about Assange, and, so far as it then may have seemed, separately, the attempt to shut down OLO by attacking its advertising revenue.

    That was when I learned there was No Place for Sheep!


  2. Darryl Adams June 3, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    Racism is a context. I remember working with an ethnic Chinese person from Macau who was very vocal about the failings of mainland Chinese.

    It is like Aussies slagging kiwis…..oh wait
    It is like Aussies slagging the bloody poms…..oh wait
    It is like Pommies slagging off the Scotts……oh wait
    It is like Indians slagging off the Pakistanis……oh wait
    I give up


  3. gerard oosterman June 3, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    Didn’t Bush use a racial slur against people from Pakistan by calling them ‘Pakis’? Something many had been trying to abolish for over twenty years.In the fifties and sixties anyone with a foreign accent or carrying a European type briefcase in Australia were often called reffos (refugees)including my dear dad. I was called an ‘Amish’ by someone on a blog not long ago.
    We are known to be ‘easy going’. Perhaps that explains why we also might, at times, be flippant with making remarks that are hurtful if not outright racist as well.
    We are also known to be very quick with ‘name calling’.
    So…what to make of it? Perhaps a case of sensitivity and education. Stop name-calling when they are not endearing for a start. It is not ‘easy going’.
    Look at some of our cartoonists. Gillard with a strap-on was hardly edifying and we wonder about kids chucking a sandwich.


  4. Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) June 3, 2013 at 1:08 pm #


    The text link ‘privilege and imagination’ in the third paragraph of the blog piece seems to require a WordPus password to access it. Is that what was intended?


  5. hudsongodfrey June 3, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    Helen Razer’s piece taught me a new word “ineluctable”, but I didn’t quite believe her. I know there are implicit association tests like the link I’ll provide below to ones you can try from Harvard. What they tend to show are negative associations that we have with darker skin, and they show it even among black people. So yes we have some deeply ingrained implicit attitudes and, yes I believe Razer is trying to make a good point that is more about attitudes to racism than racism itself. However the fact that we have these implicit associations being the leveller that it truly is means that what we would actually call out as racism reduces to caring whether what we say or do hurts another person or group of people. I think that the underlying action of some of the implicit association works to make us more sensitive to the fact that when racism happens most of us processed the pattern recognition aspect of another person’s ethnicity and filtered our responses in a way that is appropriate to caring about merit rather than stereotypes.


    Jeff Sparrow’s piece tells me he reads Daniel Dennett which is always a good start if you want to enthuse me about your ideas but then he goes on to process them in socio-political terms that again have very little to do with how the individual is processing racist memes in day to day interactions…. I hope I don’t lack the “deepity” to see how changing social structures impacts interpersonal exchanges. Of course it can, greater recognition of aboriginals should be empowering in ways that allow them to rise above the past, but when it comes to seeing lambasting Fast Eddie for sticking his boof head up as part of that I have my doubts. I think it’s what he deserves for perpetrating a personal insensitivity towards Goodes and Goodes alone.

    Dragonista said “entitlement” shouldn’t disqualify one from having an opinion, and she was correct. Even if one is entirely ignorant of and misinformed about their subject I think we’d welcome positives coming out of statements to the effect that a lack of direct experience doesn’t preclude a surfeit of willingness to do well by others regardless. I don’t know that was what she meant. I do know that when most of us think of “entitlement” we probably think of callous disregard, so maybe there’s a pointer to something we could explore in terms of whether kindness or callousness informs our underlying expectations in the conversation about racism.

    Whereas Luke Pearson tries to point out what he finds patronising in all this, and David Horton reinforces that we can’t appreciate very much at all from a position of extreme ignorance I’m moved to the view that Adam Goodes himself had the better go at communicating what this was really about. His full news conference is halfway down the linked page below.


    The perspective that abuse is hurtful and more so where racial overtones are involved fills the horizon of Goodes remarkable efforts to share his personal pain over the initial incident.

    So while I agree with Jennifer that race must be a social construct (because it certainly isn’t distinguishable as a taxonomic category), I don’t on this occasion entirely concur that it is fashioned “in order” to promote dehumanisation. I think there may be some of those well-argued evolutionary considerations for pattern recognition to be ticked off the list of contributory factors as well. Though I ultimately do agree that we have to imagine egalitarianism to value it properly and thus rise above seeing any kind of privilege as an entitlement.

    Beyond that I think that the argument kind of splits off a couple of directions that we probably need to reconcile. One is about the view that an epithet has impact on both the aboriginal man whose excellence in his field is almost too easily undermined by a single insult. Just as the other term “racist” being used in contempt for his detractor would equally reduce the debate itself to a matter of labels and categorical responses. After all who is wrong here and what is the harm all about if it isn’t the emotional impact of an unkindness that we shouldn’t be detaching ourselves from using the same categorical mechanism that might allow us to consign “people of colour” to an inferior status or to shun political incorrectness.

    My perspective on this, if a person of my background has the will to struggle for insight, recalls football matches of my childhood memory where the supporters of one club would jeer and spit upon those who wore an enemy’s colours. And yet in the place of my memory, where Nicky Winmar stood to make his defiant gesture to the crowd, we don’t have the football violence of English Soccer renown. The fisticuffs that are these days absent on the field and used to make their way into the stands are now virtually unknown. And racism, that also is condemned and hopefully on its way out. Hopefully for the right reasons, because as Goodes has shown we condemn it not for being politically incorrect, but for being overtly unkind at the expense of others in the same ways that inter-club parochialism was.


  6. rossbalmer June 3, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    …except where it’s the product of an overactive imagination. I mean, the Global Zionist Conspiracy? Whoever came up with that is pretty imaginative, right? Or Holocaust denialism? You’d have to be pretty imaginative to explain away the vast mountains of evidence. Let’s face it, “Hate is just a failure of the imagination” is very poetical, and it has a sort of Yoda-ish air of wisdom about it, but it isn’t actually true, is it? Especially with that very dismissive “just”in there. Talk about a hasty generalization! If only it were “just” a failure of the imagination, maybe history would be littered with a lot fewer corpses.


  7. Marilyn June 3, 2013 at 2:12 pm #

    Today Julie Bishop is insisting that she can convince Indonesia to put lives in grave danger by forcing refugee vessels back to sea to drown – does anyone seriously think she would even consider such a thing if the passengers where nice, white folks with blond hair and blue eyes?

    The racist demonising of people and the inherent racist belief in this country that we own the oceans and the world’s borders might sit well with the fucking racists but do the lazy, racist media have to report it without ever pointing out that it is a crime?


  8. doug quixote June 4, 2013 at 12:39 am #

    Racism like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I doubt that we in Australia really know what racism is these days. Compare it to the Ku Klux Klan lynching a black man, or the South African regime of the 60s shooting down the non-whites, or the behaviour of the Malays to ethnic Chinese, or the attempted exterminations of World War II and it all becomes rather insipid.

    I do not seek to defend the hateful words directed against the Adam Goodes of this world, nor do I hold any sympathy for Eddie McGuire or other foot-in-mouth experts.
    In fact the example of the 13 year old might help a further re-think amongst her generation in particular.

    I’m not sure the Eddie McGuires are capable of much re-thinking, though who knows?

    But I think we should consider the context, the perspective and the proportion before getting too excited, hot and bothered over such incidents.


  9. paul walter June 4, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    Sore throat, haven’t read all links but find the title intriguing enough to find it has me pointing in the right direction. Jennifer has used the right approach to open people up to a conversation rather than forcing people back into their defensive positions..no one likes being a “racist” on the one hand or a goody two shoes on the other.
    Because racism is a defect to be avoided, no one will want to admit they are racist, and because what others see as racist is explained away as something different, such as a rightful and proportionate response to issues of local security and not likely to see entitlement as entitlement, just common sense.
    Racism being a floating signifier, perhaps we ought also consider whether border protection is racist, or whether racism drives all moves at border security. Can you be for border security and not be racist?
    It seems that clash between the normative or desirable, and realist again. Few people will derive any joy in suggesting border security at the expense of the world’s billions of poor and starving, but will suggest this is the only way we can prevent instituting changes that will not improve the lot of unlimited numbers of people fleeing here, only drag us down to the same living standards level as the global poor. This proposition is not likely, but has a real enough scenario in place for privileged people to say, “why take the risk”.
    Is caution necessarily racism? Not necessarily, but it is not world’s best attitude or practice, if you adopt the attitude of imagination and propose that things could be better for many, including ourselves with better consciences, for little real effort or risk.
    Racism is enculturated and is largely rusted on, but not always is racist behaviour and hate overtly synonomous.
    One person can crack a racist joke and there will be no evidence of personal animosity, all though it is true that the joke has some thing to do with group bonding. But it need not be personal or be the hallmark of irrational feelings of race hatred, just something to do with establishing a pecking order. An all white group would instead turn to some differentiation using say red hair or freckles.
    Now, little doubt Goodes is a champion. The feature with the Goodes thing is, that football is considered significant enough to demolish the race bar. Goodes is just too fine an exception to allow racial stereotyping to overrule the need for a site for a working out whereby exemplary human values like courage come to the fore for others to witness, for the improvement of their own minds. in Goode’s case, he is too important and too obvious an example of positive things and the egalitarian nature of sport as a stage for demonstrating excellence, for racist takes to hold traction beyond immediate ridicule and the role of imagination is part of the process for separating nonsense from fact, as to crucial meaning and value.


    • doug quixote June 4, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

      Have you been reading too many of HG’s posts? 🙂


    • hudsongodfrey June 4, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

      Border security could mean stopping the drug trade (if you’re into worrying about failed prohibition), but it’s seldom used that way in modern parlance. We all know that it is in fact political code for the belief that an accident of birth is some kind of determinant of privilege in the world today. I think that’s basically the issue here. By racist we probably mean xenophobic or isolationist, but we use the pejorative term because we invariably do mean to convey that level of disdain for those attitudes.

      As for racist jokes; Tim Minchin noted by cleverly using an anagram that “only a ginger can call another ginger ginger!”. We can in the right setting laugh with one another about stereotypes for all the right reasons, whereas it’s a darned sight harder to find good reasons to laugh at somebody else who doesn’t deserve to be made the butt of derision.

      I think that what Goodes has done is simply to understand that he has an almost unique stature, being such a highly accomplished sportsman and an aboriginal man, that enables him to speak honestly and openly about his feelings and emotions in the face of a taunt from a 13 year old girl, and to be taken quite seriously in so doing. There was a moment that presented itself to say precisely the right thing about this, and to his credit he did so.


      • Marilyn June 5, 2013 at 12:12 am #

        I wonder when our lazy fucking media are going to stop whinging about border protection? WE don’t have any fucking borders to be protected, we are surrounded by millions of acres of fucking water.

        Not one place in the refugee convention states that it is to be used for border protection, only in the minds of moron media and moron pollies.

        Let’s get real. People legally sail to Christmas Island, they legally land and they are flown to the mainland on jumbo jets paid for by taxpayers.

        At which fucking point are our borders unprotected then?


        • doug quixote June 5, 2013 at 8:06 am #

          Exactly Marilyn. We have no border protection issues.


        • hudsongodfrey June 5, 2013 at 10:46 am #

          As I said the term is being misused as code for something that it shouldn’t be used to imply.

          On the other hand I do wish you’d also be balanced and realistic about the fact that we do have defined sea borders, and that practically nowhere on earth can you travel between countries without notice or paperwork. So while you’re completely right to say that on reasonable apprehension of their claiming asylum we shouldn’t be presenting deterrents to people, it is also reasonably inevitable that at some point they encounter some level of officialdom standing between them and immediate unvetted entry.

          By the time these people reach our shores they can be regarded as more at risk because they’re displaced than from the immediate cause of a well founded fear of persecution. But it is after some fashion the fact that they cross a border or borders that affords them protection from that persecution. So the ideal that borders are this negative territorial restriction may in fact have at least for the moment to be tempered by the realisation that they also serve to protect us. In which case the term “border protection” could be repurposed to mean that protection which refugees enjoy within our borders rather than something we’d cunningly seek to defraud them of.

          All of which is just to say that given a better understanding we don’t need to attack the words themselves, we can even be fine with “border protection” is its correct context. What I think we’re at odds with is the distortion of the term as selectively applied against people whose background Australians are looking to find a politically correct way to excuse prejudice and bigotry towards.


          • Garpal Gumnut June 5, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

            hg, where ignorance is bliss tis folly to be wise. They say here that the Stasi kept control until about 2 days before the wall came down. Intolerance and abuse begins at the personal level, and works up. And I’d sure sweat if some on this forum had political power. Hatred is a poor starting place for good governance.


            • hudsongodfrey June 5, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

              Hatred is something that has nothing whatsoever to recommend it in any context, but since not everyone can govern it seems obvious to me that the opinions of some who would make better spectators than competitors in the grand game of politics should be judged in light of the fact that they don’t have designs on running the country themselves, just their mouths mostly!


          • Marilyn June 5, 2013 at 6:40 pm #

            That is simply not true though. We might have a contiguous zone of 12 nm from our coast but we have zero right to stop anyone from sailing in that zone.

            It is not a fucking border that needs to be protected

            Radio PM 4 May 2013.
            DONALD ROTHWELL: All vessels of any country have a right of what’s called ‘innocent passage’ to be able to sail through the Australian territorial sea. If those vessels then seek to stop at an Australian port, then depending on the type of vessel, they may need to receive clearance from the port authority, and even Commonwealth authorities, but in other instances such as small yachts, they would not necessarily need to receive clearance. But of course they would still need to go through customs and immigration procedures”

            Now just because they have to go through customs doesn’t take away the rights.

            Jesus wept, will you blokes give me a bloody break and stop whining..


            • hudsongodfrey June 5, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

              I think your quote from Donald Rothwell gives a fair account of the realities of this situation, but it also leaves aside some notable opportunities for adverse interpretation.

              Unfortunately we can exercise the right to stop a great many vessels from entering our territorial waters because the interpretation of “innocent passage makes it so easy to deny whenever permission is not requested. We need only quote reasonable safety and quarantine grounds to deny passage or port access to any and all vessels of dubious origins or seaworthiness.

              None of which should be confused with the exception we’re supposed to make in cases where asylum is sought. Nor as the text you’ve quoted correctly points out would customs and immigration procedures be waived in cases where any vessel receives permission make port.

              In fact what the quote points out that there are border oversight functions on a range of what might loosely be called security grounds within our territorial waters, at our ports and as part of our immigration protocols. So while nothing takes away their rights something about crossing a border into safety may actually occur in recognition of refugees’ rights to asylum. It should therefore be noted that crossing a border is material to that claim, and that arguing as you seem to have that borders don’t exist is actually likely to run counter to our humanitarian aims.

              That’s all I was arguing here. I see nothing controversial, whiny or in the least bit exasperating.


              • Garpal Gumnut June 5, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

                So would I be correct in assuming that the majority on this blog feel that Australia should have no defined border and welcome any number of unannounced arrivals whether it be 25000 people or 2.5 million people per annum?


                • paul walter June 5, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

                  Marilyn claims it is the law and it has precedence over other laws.
                  Its aim has been clearly to establish the rights of asylum seekers.
                  However the various governments who oppose open borders can claim, rightly or wrongly, that issues of national security impact on how the laws are interpreted and administered.
                  This is the issue before the courts, the issue of precedence. The courts have begun reluctantly to accept the humanitarian part, but governments claim conforming to this set of laws represents a threat to national security that cant be closed, so the arguments continue.


                  • Garpal Gumnut June 5, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

                    So may I have a reply my question above.


                  • hudsongodfrey June 6, 2013 at 12:03 am #

                    Let’s be frank though Paul. All governments oppose open borders, it’s just that few of them do so in quite the contradictory fashion that we do. Having signed on to the relevant UN conventions and established that we have a humanitarian program we nevertheless maintain this schizophrenic stance of beating up on boat arrivals.

                    We know all the facts, or should by now, so all that remains to be said is the tired old lament that playing on Yellow Peril shaped fears is a cheap political tactic that comes at the cost of unconscionable treatment of the small number of refugees we single out for special treatment, sending them to places like Manus.


                • doug quixote June 5, 2013 at 10:16 pm #

                  No, you are rarely correct.

                  What we do not have is a border control issue.

                  Anyone who arrives in their half-sinking boats want to be found, they want to claim asylum.

                  And they are entitled to claim it; but they are not necessarily going to get it.


                  • hudsongodfrey June 6, 2013 at 12:13 am #

                    actually I don’t think that’s quite the answer that we need to give here. Surely whether they get it depends on whether they can meet the criteria for refugee status. I don’t think we have control over that criteria much as might occasionally seem we’d like to.

                    What I suspect we’re not entirely across here is what a guarantee of protection is meant to entail at the point where resettling extremely large numbers of people overburdens some countries.

                    However let’s be clear at least on saying that Australia has by no means even nearly reached that point.

                    The only point we’ve reached is the one where the dog whistle politics has become thoroughly unbearable!


                • hudsongodfrey June 5, 2013 at 10:54 pm #

                  You’re replying to me. I’m not the majority of people on this blog. I can only speak for myself in saying that the number cannot be infinity, but if we’re to have a humanitarian program that functions in a truly humanitarian way then we need to take a vastly different approach to the whole question than we have been.


                  • Garpal Gumnut June 6, 2013 at 7:33 am #

                    Thanks hg, and doug. What I see is hate being encouraged by a lack of certainty from folk on blogs such as this. You know what you are agin, but not what you are for. doug, I’m never PC, shoot me if I ever become “correct “. I’ve lived in totalitarian countries and believe me Australia ain’t totalitarian. The soft throwing of hard barbs at legislators encouraging a sense of safety amongst citizens is unproductive. What do people on this blog feel is a reasonable number of unannounced arrivals on our “borders”. Is it a number between 25000 and 2.5m per annum, is it infinity? A lack of certainty distresses citizens without the ability or means to argue productively on blogs such as Jennifers’.


                    • doug quixote June 6, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

                      You ask for certainty?

                      You’ve come to the wrong place – try the nearest priest who is not a Jesuit and has not lost his religion; an Imam or a fundamentalist Rabbi might have “certainty’ for you. 🙂


                    • hudsongodfrey June 6, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

                      What you’re saying would be a fair cop if I hadn’t been frank about this elsewhere. You may not have read that yet….

                      What I’m for is the humanitarian program that we have. And yes I’m against some things because it is really important to me that whatever we do we don’t take the coward’s way out by using cruel deterrents. Without doing that I don’t think we can begin to expunge the hate that is being encouraged as you say.

                      However I also think we need to engage in a process of deciding on a democratic basis what number of people we can reasonably be expected to permanently resettle.

                      Marilyn would doubtless want me to point out that controlling the number of arrivals by falsely denying or frustrating their legitimate claims isn’t something we’re entitled to do if we want to meet out international obligations. Yet despite wasting a lot of money conning the populace that deterrents work I see little evidence that of the number who arrive any more than normal are eventually able to be denied entry. Nor under Labor have the deterrents succeeded since according to some pundits Abbott’s even more draconian pronouncements have created a kind of urgency that’s contributed to accelerating numbers of boat arrivals to the point where we’ve now got even more people living in limbo within the community. In the past years we’ve managed to fit a budgeted number of people within our humanitarian program simply by limiting the number we took through overseas resettlement to whatever was left after we accepted those arriving here by boat or by plane as visa over-stayers. The numbers do now seem set to frustrate that practice within the current notional “quota”.

                      Formerly we were in a situation whereby we were talking about 14,000 per annum as a budgetary framework made up of both direct arrivals and resettlements from other places such as Burma or Africa. I think the number not only needed to be higher but because we have no land borders with anyone that we really need to rethink the practice of splitting our humanitarian program into domestic and overseas categories.

                      So we need to say something I guess about why it is if we consider all refugees more or less equally worthy of our help that we’re motivated to help any one group more than another. Here I think that the need to address the danger of boat journeys is a compelling one, and one that argues for taking people directly from Indonesia. We’ve long argued that calling boat arrivals “queue jumpers” is ridiculous if there isn’t a queue, yet when the Houston report encouraged the creation of one in Indonesia we raised the notional quota to 20,000 but failed to implement a resettlement program to give desperate and frustrated refugees the alternative they need to coming by boat. The Gillard government has instead got the entire thing completely wrong.

                      Nor do I believe Abbott will be able to implement “turn back the boats”. Even if the Indonesians would stand for it (which I very much doubt), then it appears likely that the Navy and the law won’t. So things don’t look as if they’re about to get any better.

                      If we want to give people something of the illusion of security in a “quota” we can talk about whether if in the 40’s and 50’s we took post war refugees at the rate of 20,000 per year into a population of 5-6 Million, whereas today we ought to be able to cope with some larger number given a fourfold increase in our population. But if we do start to look at the entire compliment of our humanitarian intake as a kind of extended resettlement program I think the imperative isn’t to deal with boat people as a deterrent but rather to emphasise an orderly humanitarian response that ought to meet if not slightly exceed the needs of our region and do some good beyond it. The notion that things like the dreaded “pull factors” exist in a vacuum of very real push factors is a fallacy in itself, so I simply take the view that we ought to be able to find ourselves taking moderately larger numbers at times of refugee crises without really needing to worry about them becoming truly excessive.

                      But I will add that even the notion of excessive numbers is a subjective concept relative to an atmosphere of dog whistle politics and pandering to something between racism and isolationism that we really do need to turn around our attitudes towards. The sickness within ourselves tends to worry me in a way that I’m reminded can only be made worse by allowing it to permit cruelty to people who’re ostensibly part of our “humanitarian” program. So we’re stuck in a bind where we don’t even begin to have any decently framed argument about numbers until we’re able to reconcile humanitarianism with our actions in response to an irrational fear of boat arrivals, and yet we’re compelled in the meantime to acknowledge the reality that any increase in numbers would be welcome.

                      So if my response to this has any hope of appealing to some moral standard while simultaneously remaining rooted in practical humanitarianism then I think what I have to say is close the offshore (non) “proceessing” centres, and then we might be able to agree something sensible about numbers on an ongoing basis.


                    • Garpal Gumnut June 6, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

                      doug, As an atheist I don’t retreat to your perceived knowledge of me. You are a low bow warrior but nonetheless need to be indulged. Post arguments mate rather than insults and folk may take you more seriously.
                      hg, I hear all your points and argue them in forums, and get kicks which I can redirect to you.
                      The average Australian voter is not a common doug or joe., of the left or right, just a citizen wishing to make a better life for his or her progeny.
                      What again , I ask is the limit, at which those who believe we have no borders, are comfortable with unannounced arrivals.
                      Is it 25000 or 2.5m per annum.


                    • doug quixote June 6, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

                      I may have misunderstood your post.

                      “None at all” would be ideal. I know we do have borders, but that is irrelevant to genuine refugees.

                      What is reasonable depends upon the circumstances :

                      If a huge crisis made New Zealand unliveable, we would take in all four and a half million of them.

                      Do you doubt it?


                    • hudsongodfrey June 6, 2013 at 2:48 pm #


                      We’ve once again run out of replies so we may have to take it down to the bottom.


  10. hudsongodfrey June 6, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    @ Garpal Gumnut
    June 6, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    If you’ve already read the rather fulsome reply I offered and still insist on pressing for numbers then I consider it likely you’ve made a pretty poor fist of trying to understand something I’ve already gone to considerable trouble to explain.

    Where’s your quid pro-quo?

    As far as I can see you’re still framing this in terms of some average voter whose concerns are limited to selfishness rather than selflessness. I don’t think interrogating the question of what humanitarianism implies is written in those terms at all. I think it may be answered in terms of reciprocation by those who we’re able to help wanting to give back to the community in turn, but it certainly isn’t sound thinking to take the isolationist route that simply pushes support for an accident of birth being the difference between a life of privilege and one of deprivation. There are limits beyond which the rest of the world whether in geopolitical terms or because of the power balance within our global economy are going to accept our accrual of these privileges unto ourselves to the exclusion of others on their merits. Maybe you should understand and think about those things before you reply again.

    In the meantime where I think the conversation goes is towards a couple of changes that need to take place not so suddenly as to simply double and redouble our humanitarian programs in consecutive years or perhaps even decades, but to reach the view that Australia has a very limited future if we want to cling to a view of ourselves as a White enclave in the Asian quarter of the globe.


  11. paul walter June 6, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

    Hudsongodfrey, it is indeed difficult to tell people something they don’t want know or understand.
    For my part I agree with about all you have said, but do have one cavil and that would concern the carrying capacity of this country and the world in general when it comes to expanded numbers of people.
    I think the real issues of ecology and participatory democracy were the ones that needed to be sorted since the seventies and eighties, but the massive diversion of attention away from issues of use-value economics and planning by the asylum seeker and other people movement issues has prevented this country from getting to actual functional capacity to provide its full contribution to its own or the worlds problems.
    The enemy for all of us will be people who create refugee flows through the setting up of civil wars to get at a poorer nations resources; the same people who have wrecked ecology and destroyed democracy in the West.


    • hudsongodfrey June 12, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

      I didn’t see this earlier, but if you want to use it as a way to argue that we can save dough on failed deterrence if we’re prepared to dovetail ideas about humanitarianism with sustainability and an overall immigration rationale then I can scarcely see any reason to object. What flips me the other way though is when people simply want to use a false notion of carrying capacity to say effectively “Eff off we’re full”. Whenever that comes up I have to ask, full compared to what?


  12. Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) June 11, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    Is there a literary term for written deadpan humour?

    Jennifer’s first link in the blog piece is the first of Helen Razer I have read. Not being familiar with Helen, I made no comment. (But ROFLMAOd at some of it.) Here, in the link, is some more of her:

    I just thought this thread would be an appropriate place for it. Helen could be my friend any day she likes.


  13. Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) June 12, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    From my Twitter feed:

    Just indulging my penchant for the absurd, now that the thread is quiet.


  14. Forrest Gumpp (@ForrestGumpp) June 14, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    This tweet and its link belongs here, I think:

    For any imagination deficit.



  1. “Hate is just a failure of imagination.” On racism. | No Place For Sheep | Colin's mind - June 4, 2013

    […] “Hate is just a failure of imagination.” On racism. | No Place For Sheep. […]


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