The absence of good and evil characterizes the mind itself (hsin-t i)
The presence of good and evil characterizes the movement of intention.
The knowledge of good and evil is liang-chih.
The doing of good and ridding of evil is the investigation of things.
Yang-ming – Conversation at T’ien-ch’uan
Those aforementioned principles are today expressed as:
The mind in-itself, without good and evil, is human nature.
From this is aroused the intention, which may be good or evil.
This, in turn, makes possible the differentiation of good and evil.
And with this differentiation, one can do good and avoid evil by the investigation of things.
Each step in the process of good or evil is a movement from the interior to the exterior, the whole process being quite superficial. While the process itself might be superficial, the drivers behind the process are not always apparent. One of the main drivers that can lead us down one path of the other is rhetoric, or the art of persuasion. Indeed, if I were a good enough rhetorician, perhaps in the mould of Adolf Hitler, I might be able to convince my fellow Australians to literally eat shit as opposed to the metaphorical shit we are fed on a daily basis by our so called political, intellectual and business ‘leaders’.
While I have no intention of trying to persuade my brothers and sisters in Oz and elsewhere to eat shit, I am going to consider the shit that the popular media feeds us on a daily basis, arguing that it’s good for the majority. I’m still trying to establish exactly what majority this shit, also known as Popularism, is good for.
TRAVELING in Europe last week, it seemed as if every other conversation ended with some form of this question: Why does it feel like so few leaders are capable of inspiring their people to meet the challenges of our day?
Thomas L Friedman “The Rise of Popularism” in the New York Times, Sunday Review June 23, 2012.
The Australian leadership deficit
Judging from Friedman’s article, it appears that the leadership deficit goes far beyond Australia, becoming a global phenomenon. As an Aboriginal Australian I’m forced to eat rhetorical shit on a daily basis. The rhetorical shit I’m forced to eat, or at least endure, is fed to the Australian public by the popular media, supported and encouraged by Australia’s vacuous leadership who seemingly have a problem differentiating between two very important ‘p’ words – Popularism and policy.
Real policy is formulated and enacted by real leaders; the Popularism of rhetorical shit, is the product of the intellectually and morally bankrupt. Who in their right mind would actually believe all the rhetorical shit we’re fed about refugees on a daily basis? If people took the time to stop and consider what is being peddled by the popular media and our vacuous leadership, I wonder if the refugee problem would cease being a problem at all. In the final analysis every Australian, excluding Indigenous Australians, is a refugee or descended from refugees, whether those refugees arrived as convicts in 1788 or on a boat from Afghanistan via Malaysia and Indonesia in more recent times.
While the Popularism and anti-intellectualism of the refugee debate in Australia concerns me as a person and as a spiritual being, the Popularism and anti-intellectualism surrounding the Indigenous Australian debate carries with it a more personal resonance. The way we as a people, Indigenous Australians that is, are painted in the popular media, we come across as being nothing more than a mob of slovenly layabouts sponging off the generosity of white Australia, a white Australia that ‘discovered’ Terra Australis Incognita, Terra Nullius and proceeded to build a paradise for the select few in the South Pacific. This is nothing more than one of those myths of nationhood, myths that have been used by the likes of Hitler and more recently Radovan Karadzic and their followers to justify atrocities that would make even Caligula blush.
To my mind Popularism is a form of oppression, in that those outside of the popular theme are oppressed. Oppression means “abusing power to gain an advantage” and “crossing the limits of the lawful”. What so often happens in the case of popular oppression is that the oppressor, knowing that he is such, wishes in some way to legitimize his actions and even – as occurs in dictatorial regimes – to obtain the consensus of those he is oppressing or to find someone who will justify it. Where have I seen this formula played out in more recent times? Pardon my ignorance, it was only a few days ago, in fact, it was 29 June 2012, the day the vacuous Australian Government pandered to Popularism and the mining industry and extended the Northern Territory Intervention (under the deceptive misnomer of the Stronger Futures Legislation) by another decade.
Despite the Greens opposition and proposed amendments which were defeated, the Bill to extend the Northern Territory Intervention by another decade passed the Australian Senate in the wee hours of the morning on Friday, 29 June 2012, in the shadow of the media storm over asylum seekers on the final day before parliament’s winter break. It seems to me to be a case of “abusing power to gain an advantage” if not of “crossing the limits of the lawful”.
It appears that in Australia you really can use rhetorical arguments to justify an abuse of power. A classic example of the pseudo-rhetoric of oppression comes from Phaedrus’s fable Lupus et Agnus aka the wolf and the lamb:
Lupus et Agnus [from Fables: Babrius and Phaedrus (Loeb Classical Library No. 436)]
Ad rivum eundem lupus et agnus venerant,
siti compulsi. Superior stabat lupus,
longeque inferior agnus. Tunc fauce improba
latro incitatus iurgii causam intulit;
‘Cur’ inquit ‘turbulentam fecisti mihi
aquam bibenti?’ Laniger contra timens
‘Qui possum, quaeso, facere quod quereris, lupe?
A te decurrit ad meos haustus liquor’.
Repulsus ille veritatis viribus
‘Ante hos sex menses male’ ait ‘dixisti mihi’.
Respondit agnus ‘Equidem natus non eram’.
‘Pater hercle tuus’ ille inquit ‘male dixit mihi’;
atque ita correptum lacerat iniusta nece.
Haec propter illos scripta est homines fabula
qui fictis causis innocentes opprimunt.
The Wolf and the Lamb [from The Fables of Phaedrus Translated into English Verse. Phaedrus. Christopher Smart, A. M. London. G. Bell and Sons, Ltd. 1913]
BY thirst incited; to the brook
The Wolf and Lamb themselves betook.
The Wolf high up the current drank,
The Lamb far lower down the bank.
Then, bent his ravenous maw to cram,
The Wolf took umbrage at the Lamb.
“How dare you trouble all the flood,
And mingle my good drink with mud?”
“Sir,” says the Lambkin, sore afraid,
“How should I act, as you upbraid?
The thing you mention cannot be,
The stream descends from you to me.”
Abash’d by facts, says he, ” I know
‘Tis now exact six months ago
You strove my honest fame to blot”-
“Six months ago, sir, I was not.”
“Then ’twas th’ old ram thy sire,” he cried,
And so he tore him, till he died.
To those this fable I address
Who are determined to oppress,
And trump up any false pretence,
But they will injure innocence.
The fable tells us two things. The oppressor tries first to justify himself. If justification is refuted, he opposes rhetoric with the non-argument of force. The fable recounts nothing untrue, what the fable recounts is a recurrent theme throughout history.
Phaedrus’s fable offers us a caricature of the oppressor as rhetorician, because the wolf uses only weak arguments, but at the same time it gives a good picture of the oppressor. The falsity of the wolf’s argument is evident, but arguments can be subtler when they seem to be based on opinions shared by the majority – our millions of flies, in Ancient Greek rhetoric, this device is known as endoxa. The oppressor may also use the technique of petitio principii, or begging the question, where the thesis yet to be proved is used instead as the argument or where one disproves an argument on the grounds that the argument has been disproved. Anyone who has watched the Australian Parliament ‘debate’ the refugee or Aboriginal ‘issues’ will be familiar with this technique.
Let’s pause for a moment and consider this argument:
From time to time our illustrated papers publish, for the edification of the German philistine, the news that in some quarter or other of the globe, and for the first time in that locality, a Negro has become a lawyer, a teacher, a pastor, even a grand opera tenor or something else of that kind. While the bourgeois blockhead stares with amazed admiration at the notice that tells him how marvellous are the achievements of our modern educational technique, the more cunning Jew sees in this fact a new proof to be utilized for the theory with which he wants to infect the public, namely that all men are equal. It does not dawn on the murky bourgeois mind that the fact which is published for him is a sin against reason itself, that it is an act of criminal insanity to train a being who is only an anthropoid by birth until the pretence can be made that he has been turned into a lawyer; while, on the other hand, millions who belong to the most civilized races have to remain in positions which are unworthy of their cultural level. The bourgeois mind does not realize that it is a sin against the will of the eternal Creator to allow hundreds of thousands of highly gifted people to remain floundering in the swamp of proletarian misery while Hottentots and Zulus are drilled to fill positions in the intellectual professions. For here we have the product only of a drilling technique, just as in the case of the performing dog. If the same amount of care and effort were applied among intelligent races each individual would become a thousand times more capable in such matters.
… This state of affairs would become intolerable if a day should arrive when it no longer refers to exceptional cases. But the situation is already intolerable where talent and natural gifts are not taken as decisive factors in qualifying for the right to a higher education. It is indeed intolerable to think that year after year hundreds of thousands of young people without a single vestige of talent are deemed worthy of a higher education, while other hundreds of thousands who possess high natural gifts have to go without any sort of higher schooling at all. The practical loss thus caused to the nation is incalculable.
Who wrote this shit for flies? John Howard, Tony Abbott, or some other white male xenophobe? A missive from the ACT Government? They all seem possible, but the excerpt is taken from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. In preparation for his racist campaign, Hitler found himself obliged to refute a strong argument against the inferiority of certain races: that if an African is given an opportunity to learn, he will show himself to be as receptive and capable as a European, thereby proving that his race is not inferior. How does Hitler deal with this argument? By saying that since it isn’t possible for an inferior being to learn, he has only been trained like a circus animal. Hence the argument that aims to demonstrate that blacks are not animals is refuted by resorting to opinion, which his readers shared in full, that blacks are animals.
This is exactly the same argument the Inquisitor, supported by his posse of red necks from the Australian Federal Police (“AFP”) and the ACT Department of Treasury used to rid themselves of Pat, the ACT’s Wiradjuri Commissioner for Revenue. Because the Inquisitor was unable to pass first year accounting at the Canberra Institute of Technology (“CIT”) he was forced to rely on the prejudice that all rednecks share in full, that any Aborigine who succeeds academically has either lied or been trained like a circus animal.
But let’s return to the wolf. In order to devour the lamb it seeks a casus belli – that is, it tries to convince the lamb, or the onlookers and maybe even itself, that it may eat the lamb because the lamb has wronged him. This is the second form of rhetoric of oppression.
In general, in order to maintain popular support for their decisions, dictatorships point the finger at a country, group, race or secret society that is plotting against the people under the dictator. All forms of populism, even contemporary ones, try to obtain consensus by talking of a threat from abroad or from internal groups. Hitler wasn’t the only one who used conspiracy theory to justify his own casus belli – we must remember that the alleged Jewish conspiracy formed the basis not only for his massacre of the Jews but also for his entire politics of conquest against what the Italian press called the “Demo-Judaic Plutocracies”; Mussolini was another skilled practitioner when it came to blending casus belli and conspiracy theory.
While the Italian press of the 1930s and 40s had the “Demo-Judaic Plutocracies” to build conspiracy theories around to justify injustice, the Australian press of the twenty-first century has Australia’s Aboriginal population to build conspiracy theories around to justify injustice. According to Intercontinental Cry, the mainstream Australian media has gone to considerable lengths to justify the racist program, also known as the Northern Territory Intervention, by promoting irrational scientific myths, outright lies and pejorative notions about mental health and sexual abuse, as well as race, culture and what it means to be “Indigenous.” Sounds like a chapter from Mein Kampf, doesn’t it?
Intercontinental Cry has gone on to argue that the entire premise of the intervention was an outright lie. According to their website, in 2010, Chris Graham, former editor of the National Indigenous Times, peeled back the layers of an ABC Lateline program that aired almost exactly one year before the NTER (Northern Territory Emergency Response) was enacted. The program, which paved the way for the intervention, was propaganda. For instance, an “anonymous former youth worker” that appeared in the program to testify about the horrors he had witnessed, turned out to be a high-ranking government official who worked under the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, one of the main figures behind the intervention.
The government has also fought to extend the Intervention, that is, to gain absolute control over the lands and peoples in the Northern Territory and elsewhere in Australia.
Australia claims to be a democracy. I am at a loss to understand how this claim can be maintained in light of the injustice that is the Northern Territory Intervention. Almost two and a half millennia ago an Athenian, Pericles gave a speech, a speech that was recorded and preserved by Thucydides. Pericles speech is and has been understood over the centuries as an eulogy for democracy. It is a superb description of how a nation may live by guaranteeing the happiness of its citizens, the exchange of ideas, the free deliberation of laws, respect for the arts and education, and a tendency towards equality:
Our form of government does not enter into rivalry with the institutions of others. We do not copy our neighbours, but are an example to them. It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few. But while the law secures equal justice to all alike in their private disputes, the claim of excellence is also recognised; and when a citizen is in any way distinguished, he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as the reward of merit. Neither is poverty a bar, but a man may benefit his country whatever be the obscurity of his condition. There is no exclusiveness in our public life, and in our private intercourse we are not suspicious of one another, nor angry with our neighbour if he does what he likes; we do not put on sour looks at him which, though harmless, are not pleasant. While we are thus unconstrained in our private intercourse, a spirit of reverence pervades our public acts; we are prevented from doing wrong by respect for the authorities and for the laws, having an especial regard to those which are ordained for the protection of the injured as well as to those unwritten laws which bring upon the transgressor of them the reprobation of the general sentiment.
Are we going to continue to feast on the shit that we are fed by the mainstream media and our so called leaders, or are we going to strive for the true prize, the prize eulogised by Pericles more than two and a half millennia ago, the prize of a true democracy where all are equal in the eyes of the law and each other?