This is a dialogue with UNE, by which I mean the University of New England (in Armidale, New South Wales), my Alma Mater in Australia.
Now, you have to understand that all of my interactions with UNE have been carried out from Tokyo, Japan.
I have yet to set a foot in Australia.
So, I’m in Japan, sitting in front of my computer (or any computer with Internet access) and
I have an online dialogue for about 3 years with people in Australia.
Who are these people in Armidale, Australia? Well, first of all, I would learn about the weather, which is (obviously) different, the Southern Hemisphere.
When they had the fall (in Australia), we had the spring (in Japan).
How come this sort of dialogue has become possible?
We live in an age when you could virtually attend courses from fairly prestigious universities and access the knowledge which used to be available only to the privileged 1%.
Of course, if you’re not a paying student, you usually don’t get the diploma; you only get the personal satisfaction of knowing and learning more.
You can do this from whatever distance: You could be living in a tent in Siberia and, if you had Internet access, you could learn what some people in North America have been thinking about.
You could be living in the bush in Australia and communicate with some random Romanian who’s in Tokyo,
if you happen to take the same course (Applied Linguistics).
The Linguistics departments of universities in Australia owe much of their success to the geographical location:
Australia is (at this incredible point in history) the country which is doing the most to recover its Aboriginal roots, with the vast majority of the current population being different from the original inhabitants.
This curiosity about one’s past history is not unique. If you’re French, you could go to the public archives and try to trace out your genealogy.
If you’re Japanese, you could go and check the family register (koseki 戸籍) scroll at the city hall.
I guess the same feeling (of having roots in the place one inhabits) exists among Chinese or Vietnamese, even though the relevant documents might not be as readily available.
However, if you’re Australian or American, the search for your family history may (very quickly) take you back to Europe:
Away from the land you currently find yourself inhabiting.
There’s a very troubling aspect in making this kind of discovery because it reminds you that the first ancestors to set foot on this land have done so in a manner that has left a huge foot-print, by which we don’t mean just the flora and the fauna, even if Aboriginal people were classed together with fauna or the fish.
Of course the story is similar in the US: We have a continuous chase to reach the last frontier.
The Wild West is a concept showing you that (some) people kept pushing westwards and that strip of western lands became wild because (some other) people were being pushed away.
Those (others) who stayed got to stay in reservations
Native American joke: “We used to like the white man, but now we have our reservations”
Reservations: We shall keep them: Not in zoos, but pretty close.
How do we use the word “reservation” nowadays? We have “natural reservations” to preserve the environment, to preserve the natural habitat.
Now try to imagine that you’re the (other) people who get pushed away from your lands by these guys who then come up with the Declaration of Rights of Man.
So we all have a very mixed past. And a mixed path. We are the survivors and, when we haven’t been justifying ourselves in Darwinian terms, we have been justifying ourselves
- in religious terms (“the chosen people”) or
- in racist terms (“the Aryan race”)…
Darwinian-ism is still misunderstood to apply to humans by many idiots (from idios “one’s own”).
You should realize that this is idiotic because it doesn’t take into account the cultural factor, the language factor, what Richard Dawkins and others have called memes.
What are memes? Memes are the new things that seem to be fighting for survival.
A current meme is that (in this world) “You can connect with anybody”
and it’s one that I’ve tested out in my dialogue with UNE. I have found a lot of good-will on the other side of the Pacific (in the South), at the University of New England.
I also found a lot of knowledge and many smart people capable of facing our difficult inheritance.
Engaging in a dialogue with the others can offer you an insight into another way of looking at the world. An interesting aspect of the Anglo-Aboriginal connection is that the sense of humor (what is called deadpan humor) seems to have some aspects in common with the Black Fella’s way of talking.
I find it incredible that
humor can help bridge a chasm as huge as that which exists between a majority-minority population
- with a very troubling past,
- with a very mixed record.
UNE is a great place because it has taught me that respect for each other and dialogue with each other can (again) become possible after being absent for periods of time. This kind of recovery of the past can lead to better insights into who we (all) are and what we (all) do.
It has shown me that we should not despair, even though it is difficult to live in this world
- which is not perfect,
- where things do not work out,
- where the bad seem to prosper and the good seem to suffer.
There is too much bad at any given point for us to be phlegmatic about the state of things, but it doesn’t mean we should lose heart.
Australia is a good example for everybody else in the Anglo world (and not only), showing how we can surge forward from a state of bad into a state of better.
Let’s not rest on our laurels lest we slide back to that point of declaring the others unworthy as dialogue partners.