So I started thinking about my next blog.
I started with Maz’s distressing and honest blog about the woman hating public acid attacks that have been occurring in her city.
I was thinking about Maz’s post and the situation she described and what it might feel like to be a woman in that city right now.
Then I felt my powerlessness to help Maz, or her Iranian sisters in any direct way.
Then I reviewed what I had offered Maz in words already and decided there was little value in offering the same words online a few days later, which only underscored my sense of powerlessness to help.
Then I thought maybe I could write a blog about how Australia engages the issue of powerlessness as a culture.
I could not identify any consistent dialogue in my country around the issue of powerlessness in any general sense, but there are pockets of conversation around specific instances of powerlessness such as in Feminism and the impact of male entitlement on women or discourse among people open to the Aboriginal experience since white invasion and settlement.
These various thought steps drew my attention to something that might be interesting to compare between our countries – the role of intellectual/abstract dialogue and conversation in the public/common culture of our countries.
Despite Australia producing a huge number of world class scientists and scholars and having very high quality tertiary education sector (So good that foreign students paying for education at our universities is our third largest source of export income!) our public life does not value intellectuals or scholars and does not seek their input or value their hard earned capacity to think and analyse and clarify issues or offer solutions or focus questions effectively.
I wouldn’t say Australia had an “anti-intellectual” stance, just a total disinterest in what intellectuals and those trained or inclined to reflection and analysis might offer the common public dialogue.
There is a strong undercurrent of intelligent commentary present in our roots music culture and that has some credibility in the public arena but beyond that, intellectuals, artists, poets, writers, scholars, just not considered worthwhile in our public discourse.
I know many other countries have strong traditions of valuing scholars and poets, philosophers and artists as significant voices in the public discourse.
Perhaps there would have been more voices speaking about “powerlessness” for me to engage as part of contributing an “Australian” voice to this blog if my country did value intellectuals, philosophers and artists more than we do.
So Maz and her Iranian sisters must wrestle with their physical powerlessness in the face of a violent threat against them in public spaces and they must wrestle with that threat being treated ambiguously by authorities who should be working to keep them safe and standing with them at such a time of danger, another form of powerlessness for them to suffer under.
I only need to wrestle with my powerlessness to offer help to Maz, a real, but much less significant experience of powerlessness, the powerlessness of the distant witness.
My country lacks even the public discourse capable of recognising that powerlessness exists as a shared human experience. We seem happy sometimes to recognise that there are people at the margins of society who are significantly and obviously powerless but the powerlessness of the middle class majority – nope, never want to see that, never want to talk about it and especially don’t want to talk about the powerlessness of the gender majority – females.
I can offer one possible illustration of an “Australian” attitude towards power and powerlessness – how we acknowledge our role in various wars over the last century.
Australian symbols drawn from our war experience are not symbols or icons related to “great victories” or “combat heroics” which I see as celebrating the successful use of violent power. Australia has mostly made symbols and icons of comradeship in war, compassion towards the suffering in war, celebrating the way soldiers supported each other in their mutual powerlessness, making a value out of endurance and resilience in the face of loss and powerlessness. I could make a good argument for this analysis if forced to.
All the same, that only illustrates what I said earlier – the public discourse here, what little there is, is concrete and specific rather than abstract and analytical. People telling their, concrete and specific, stories is common here and my country does provide venues for a diversity of stories to be told in the public sphere.
However there is little informed reflection, analysis or generalization of what those stories mean to us as a nation or what they tell us about ourselves as a nation. Until we start valuing those people who have the skills and experience to DO that reflecting and analysing I can’t see how this deficit will change any time soon.
If you are particularly well informed you might comment that Australia is a very active participant in the United Nations and in various Commonwealth Human Rights organisations. That would be correct, but most Australians would have no idea what is said on their behalf in those places – what is said there does not draw on the public discourse within Australia’s common culture because there is not such abstract/values discourse in our common culture, only in certain sub sections of our society.
So not only is my voice in support of Iranian women mostly an expression of powerlessness, my nation seems to have even LESS of a voice to offer…..