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Tag Archives: Australian values

Does Australia need a culture?

“To begin uncontroversial: some philosophers live in Australia. The question is whether that fact makes any difference to the way in which they philosophise. It is sometimes said that it cannot, since philosophy is a cosmopolitan subject. But we talk without hesitation about ‘British philosophy’, ‘French philosophy’. Is this just shorthand for ‘philosophy in Great Britain’, ‘philosophy in France’? Let us suppose that it is not. There might still be special difficulties in talking about ‘Australian philosophy’. Should we take special steps to cultivate an indigenous philosophy, or, at least, to link philosophy in Australia more closely to other forms of culture in Australia.”

John Passmore, “Australian Philosophy or Philosophy in Australia” abstract of paper, Australasian Association of Philosophy Conference, Uni. of WA, 1988. The paper has since been published in Essays on Philosophy in Australia ed. Jan T.J. Srzednicki & David Wood.

Some artists, fashion designers, writers, etc. live in Australia but this does not necessarily mean that there is Australian art, fashion, literature, music, etc. An arbitrary political boundary does not imply that a different culture exists within that boundary.  I have serious doubts that there really is an Australian culture, many more doubts than I have about the existence of Anglophone or Francophone culture or, even, hippy culture. And the more that the politicians try to manufacture one, with Australian citizenship tests, “Australian values”, etc. the more dubious I become because cultures grow organically and cannot be manufactured.

When ever the need for a national style is mentioned I always think of art nouveau, which was intended by the architect Victor Horta to become the national style of Belgium. As a successful style of architecture it inspired many other architects and designers and became a successful international style. Local styles and traditions are only the marginally successful styles, surviving due to local traditions and tastes, but unable to successfully spread any further.

A culture is more than just an identity, as you can have identity without an accompanying culture. A culture is “not a heap of unrelated phenomena but an organic whole” that “is extended in time”, conscious of its past and present and projecting itself into the future. (R.A.D. Grant, A Companion to Aesthetics ed. David Cooper, Blackwell, 1992, p.100) A lifestyle is a temporal heap of unrelated phenomena that may be more or less manufactured. Traditions are not a culture, as traditions do not project themselves into the future but remain fixed in the past. There may be Australian lifestyles, Australian traditions and Australia slang but those things alone do not imply an Australian culture.

What does Australia need a culture to do? And, can a culture do this? Irish, Scottish and Greek culture was needed to prevent complete assimilation into larger alien empires. Hippies saw their proto-culture as a viable, competitive, environmentally sustainable, alternative to the conformist consumer lifestyle. Culture could be described is a kind of mass reaction to a perceived threat that attempts to equip its members to combat the perceived threat. In doing this it is clear some cultures support some horrible and stupid ideals, including racism, sexism, homophobia and violence; it is less clear, what good, if any, any culture does.

Although shallow nationalism might be very popular in Australia there is no taste for deeper cultural analysis. So I am asking readers to comments if they think that Australia needs a culture and, if so, what it needs this culture to do. I would suggest that instead of debating whether Australia has a culture it would be better for the people in Australia to be concerned about the extent that Australia is civilized. Civilized by having a constitutional protection of human rights, civilized in its treatment of refugees, civilized in keeping its word when signing international laws and treaties, the kind of civilization is more important than any culture.

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Censorship in Australia

From the long history of censorship in Australia, it is possible to achieve an accurate understanding of Australian culture as dominated by prudish, thin-skinned, sycophantic, philistines.

Not a single Australian politician has come out to defend Bill Henson, not even those who own art by Henson (they are hoping that they can profit from the increased sales price and the witch hunt). The Federal Arts Minister, Peter Garrett has remained silent on the controversy of arts censorship – censoring himself. (Garrett is not really the Minister for the Arts, rather he is just another one of Rudd’s toadies.) International readers of this blog may not be aware that in Australia there is compulsory voting that censors anyone who does not encourage voters to show a preference for both political parties. (I wonder how Bill Henson will be voting but according to Australian law he will have to support a party that condemns his art.)

A major contributing factor to censorship in Australia is prudish, Christian morality. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd introduced his religious bias quickly into the debate of Bill Henson’s art with his “God forbid” remark. Rudd believes, without evidence, in the idea of the “innocence of children”, introducing Christian dogma to the debate. Christians are not in a good position to throw stones as they frequently expose children to an image of sadomasochistic pornography with a nearly naked man hanging on a cross. [Andy Soutter “The Greatest Porn Star Ever Sold”, Rapid Eye 3 (Creation Books, 1995)]

In 2004, the ACMI was responsible for the censorship an artist’s work that they had commissioned. ACMI then exhibited an altered version of the work against the artist’s consent. The censored work exposed the pornographic sadism in the central Christian icon. And in 1997 there was the vandalism of Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ by a thug with the blessing of then-Archbishop, now Cardinal Pell Pot.

Censorship is also an issue at the 2008 Sydney Writers Festival. Journalism students of University of Technology, produce ‘Festival News” for the Festival. The first edition of the Festival News was censored by the Writers Festival because of references imply that the Minister of the Arts was not popular. The festival claimed that the publication was ‘offensive’ when it was merely critical of the government. This action is similar to the demotion of academic Dr. Paul Mees by the University of Melbourne for criticism of the Victorian Government. This sycophantic aspect of Australian culture is disgusting; it makes it very difficult for critics or intelligent debate and retards civic progress.

The chill effect of the recent censorship of artists self-censoring out of fear will damage the careers of artists in Australia and further retard Australian culture (if there is such a thing). Read about the experience of recently censored Melbourne artist Cecilia Fogelberg in her blog.


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