“Divorce your theory” A conversation with Paul Farmer (part one)

Farmer’s thoughts encapsulate everything I think and feel about the contemporary state of anthropology. To this, I would also add something said to me by friend and colleague, James Rose: “…the solution is for real social anthropologists to stop identifying philosophers as their peers and instead start identifying medical professionals, scientists, teachers, and geographers as their peers.”

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Tales From the Field

In the last few weeks we’ve had more than our entire year’s rainfall. The country is  striking – almost like a slap in the face as you travel through green, green grass, violet blue sky…

…and burnt red earth.

I drove down into the top of South Australia and saw the Hugh River flowing like I’ve rarely seen it flow before. The birds were incredible, budgies and cockatiels, and Songlarks and Crested Bellbirds and of course, Honeyeaters:

…And the road and sacred sites

… the reasons I was let loose on the world.

Ke Bali Lalu Lombok…

Kemarin kami akan ke Bali…

Tomorrow, Mr Anthroyogini and I are going to Bali and then to Lombok (Indonesia) for a few weeks. We go to Bali nearly every year, and always start off in our usual place, Ubud. This year, I’m meeting up with a good friend in Ubud and we’re all going to go up to Pemuteran on the far north-west of Bali (you can see Java very clearly), to go diving for a few days.

After this, we go via bemo and boat to Lombok for more chilling, exploring, and diving.

Both of us need this holiday. In fact, I was in dire need of a holiday about 8 weeks ago, and suffered the consequences.

Amusingly, I went to the hairdresser this morning and she was asking about the holiday… she had  no idea that Bali was in Indonesia. She also had no idea where Malaysia or Singapore were.  Hmmm… Had to bite my tongue. As I was paying the mortgage on my hair on the way out, the owner of the salon said: “…ohh, I’d never go over there with all the civil unrest. The government’s not stable …. blah blah blah…”. She then went on to tell me that she was going on a cruise in March … to Fiji!!

Again, I just had to bite my tongue.

Anyway, Sampai jumpa! Bali, kemarin kami datang kesini!

Advance Australia?

January 26 is Australia Day. For those readers who live elsewhere, Australia Day commemorates the day that Captain Arthur Phillip sailed into Sydney Cove in 1788 and commenced the European settlement of Australia.

Up until 10-12 years ago, Australia Day was a daggy kind of day. Australia Day amounted to the government awarding a few honours to people (usually sports MEN), there was a cricket match, and a few other events around the country involving BBQs. And a pubic holiday. We love public holidays in Australia, but that’s another blog post.

Australians have never been patriotic in the way that Americans are. We are a laid-back, laconic culture, who shy away from the flag waving, chest beating, Hollywood whoo-haa that America promotes in the name of national pride. That kind of display has been treated with suspicion and embarrassment. Most of us can’t sing our national anthem to save our lives (it’s a woeful dirge, anyway). Many Australians think that Australia Day is celebrated on January 26 because that was the day Captain Cook discovered Australia! We just don’t do the whole patriotic thing….

Well. We didn’t. Now, apparently, we do.

You might be wondering where this is post going by now. My morning run has prompted this post.  As it’s a public holiday (Australia Day, in case you haven’t guessed), I went running a little later than usual: 7:30am. There were a lot more people up and about.  Many of these were young people packed into cars and 4WDs, adorned with Australian flags, hooning around the streets on their way to Australia Day BBQ breakfasts. That several of these cars tooted their horns at me and made comments that they thought were hilarious -and I couldn’t hear as I had my iPod on- really annoyed me.

It makes me wonder about the deep and possibly lasting changes that are happening in Australian culture.

The co-opting of the Southern Cross for one.

The Southern Cross signifies home to me. It signifies my identity in opposition to the Northern Hemisphere-dominated rest of the world. It comforts me when I camp out bush by myself in the Australian Outback.  I feel better when I look up and see it there, no matter where I am.

Yet now it seems, it’s become a symbol of fear, hate and exclusion. Every redneck, young lout and racist sports a Southern Cross tattoo on their anatomy, in honour of some new-hate and fear filled nationalistic fervor that’s become acceptable in the last 10 years.  This tattooing and baring of the symbol on the flesh is not about being a proud Australian and celebrating the good things about our country -like our tolerance and easy-going lifestyle- it’s about exclusion. It’s about saying: I’m a monolingual, English-speaking Caucasian. If you’re not like me, you don’t belong here. It’s kind of shameful display that fuelled the Cronulla riots several years ago. As a former Sutherland Shire resident, these riots appalled me.

Then there is the displaying of the flag.

The flag used to be reserved for the tops of official government buildings, office buildings, passports, tourist attractions, sporting events etc. People did not put the flag on their cars (they put streamers in the colours of their football teams during finals time), they did not put up flag poles in their drive ways or yards.

Now they do.

Why?

This is something I am trying to understand.

My understanding about what it means to display the flag on your house goes something like this:

  • being Australian requires you to satisfy a very few, highly, selective categories (whiteness,  be a monolingual, English speaker, have at least your great-grandparents buried in Australian soil, drink only Australian beer, love beaches, BBQs and V8 cars)
  • being Australian involves a fear that anyone who doesn’t fit the categories above is coming to Australia to blow us up, steal our jobs or rip us off
  • being Australian does not include being Aboriginal
  • being Australian gives you a god-given right to tell people who don’t fit the narrow characteristics above that they don’t belong here and should piss off
  • being Australian requires the belief that thousands of boat people are amassing off the coast, just waiting to over run us

If this is what it means to be Australian, I am ashamed.

I deeply suspect that at the bottom of all this, is a fear that people who aren’t Caucasians will come here and somehow steal our ability to build McMansions and buy ever-bigger plasma TVs. That’s right. I blame consumerism for this latest outbreak of fear.

Of course, this fear of invasion and scarcity is nothing new in Australia. After all, we were the country that had a White Australia Policy in the 1890s, banning Asian migration and labour. In the 1950s and 60s, this same fear reared its head again, as large numbers of Greek, Italian and other European migrants came to Australia in the wake of World War II – and our need for labour.

To me, Australia is a multicultural, easy going country. We are a country of immigrants. All of us, apart from those who are Aboriginal, are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants who’ve been here less than 250 years. The various waves of immigrants who’ve come here have added their hopes, dreams, hard work and blood to this nation in subtle, yet deep-running layers that are continually being built upon. This is no vague, left wing, idealistic dream; this is reality. This is the Australia I live in.

To the skin headed, ute-driving, racists, I say: you don’t belong here. Get the hell overseas, learn another language and don’t come back until you’ve got something better to contribute than petrol fumes, lame ink and endless playings of Cold Chisel.

So I will not be flying a flag today. I will not be going to any public BBQs or celebrations. I will be going to work today instead.

Vairagya: Some Lessons

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The point of spiritual development is not to work on YOUR STUFF.  That just happens as a side effect. The real point of spiritual development is to deal things as they arise … Ken McLeod

I wasn’t going to write another post before I left for Canberra (next Monday), but here I am, reflecting on non-attachment…

You see, in the past week two people whom I admired, to whom I had attached the label of bodacious-uber-successful yogi-goddess-Oh-I-wish-I-could-be-half-as-yogic-as-you have detached themselves from my semi-adhesive label.

I will point out that these people are NO ONE who reads or visits my blog (at least that I’m aware of).

I’m big enough to admit that the labelling of these people as bodacious-uber-successful yogi … I can’t be stuffed typing all that again is my fault. My thing.

But it’s just well…

What is the point of doing spiritual work, yoga, meditation, watching your thoughts in the now if you get pissed off majorly everytime your phone rings and react like Charles Manson on testosterone you can’t sweat the small stuff?

This realisation (twice in one week, like I was being slapped around the head with a wet fish to make sure I GOT the message) really made me sit up and think:  OK… So neither of you are enlightened beings. And one of you is a plain old SNOB. But it’s my problem that I’ve put you up on this pedestal, simply because you’re umm… self-labelled teachers. And well-known.

So I’ve dropped it.

And that was the message. My maha-sankalpa like a large wet salmon on my head from on high.

Non-attachment. वैराग्य. My next and last tattoo.

Grab Some Inspiration

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This post is inspired by the one over at Zen Habits last week – mainly because I disagree with the  #2 item: the Bible is  inspirational. A (debatable) history lesson, yes. Inspirational, no. There might be inspiration in the Bible, but it’s not for me.

So without further ado, here’s my list of places I go for inspiration:

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Wednesday Whiteboard #3

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Dotpoint 1: I have discovered that Twitter can be useful, professionally. Reading Havi Brooks’s post over at The Fluent Self I changed my mind about Twitter. Havi has debunked a few Twitter myths in this post, but for me the best one related to that little Twittering question: What are you doing right now?

Havi points out (like a true anthropologist) that this question needs to be interpreted, its meanings divested and rendered plain for all to see. What this question is asking us is not to give a literal answer –as in we’re eating pizza or drinking coffee on the bus – rather it’s asking us to reply to: What are you thinking? as in what are you really thinking or feeling inside your brainbox right now? Thus, it becomes: my pizza is a work of art. (Ok, tonight we had pizza and it did look like a work of art). Or: why do we really need to have three hour Executive Management meetings?

Searching around, there are numerous posts (this one is very good) from numerous people explaining how to Twitter for business. Clearly, marketing your services or products is one way to use Twitter for business. For, me as a professional working for a small government statutory authority, though, Twitter is possibly less useful in this manner.

That said, Twitter is ever so useful for making professional connections and for asking for help for problems. Like the one in Dotpoint 3 below. Which leads me to Dotpoint 2…

Dotpoint 2: There are Twibes on Twitter! Yes, that’s right: Twibes. I dare any self-respecting social anthropologist to resist the urge to join a Twibe and undertake participant observation. Twibes are like instantaneous Facebook groups (or friends) and connect you with hundreds of others instantly. The benefits for professional networking and problem solving are endless.

Dotpoint 3: Three-hour Meetings. Help!!

The setting: every Tuesday, half of my day (and that of other managers in my organisation) disappears into a 3 hour-long phone hook-up meeting. We sit in two offices separated by 1500 km, and talk our way through a 12+ page spreadsheet of major organisational projects and issues. I should add, that in a week, I also have several other phone hook-up meetings of this type, though none are as long.

The method: The 12+ page spreadsheet is read thru in a linear fashion, with those whose initials are against a particular item updating the rest of the group on progress.

The problem: Three hours is a huge chunk out of my working week. It’s largely non-productive: i.e. just updating an ever-expanding list when I could spend three hours doing work, including items on the list. It’s also extremely boring, especially when you’re sitting at a table by yourself just listening for all that time.

Because of the physical separation of the offices (Darwin & Alice Springs), and the need to steer the organisation, we need to meet regularly. When you’re separated by distance, there just isn’t the chance for those hallway and informal office conversations that contain so much of an organisation’s life. But there MUST MUST MUST be a better way to run management group meetings – and to tame the ever expanding list of items!! It needs to be strategic, but also responsive to new issues that inevitably arise. If anyone has any ideas about ho to tame this monster that I can take to my CEO (who is also frustrated by this problem), they would be greatly appreciated.

Dotpoint 4: My own yoga practice. Is simple, not a marathon, and adapts to my present self, every day. I’ve taken on board the suggestions with the shoulderstand – yes, it’s going to remain the piked Saytananda-style shoulder stand for the time being and I am going to refuse to use the straps that freak me out in Iyengar. So far, so good.