Aussie values?

14 Nov

There is a good post on Deus Lo Vult today — well, yesterday.

You know what I’m sick of? Hearing about ‘Australian’ values. Point blank: they don’t exist. How can there ever be an ‘Australian’ value? It implies that we have values that simply do not exist in the rest of the world, which in itself is an insult to, yes, the rest of the world. And what gets me even more pissed off is how ‘Australian’ values are used by every which politician in every which scenario…

I’m sick of hearing the term used by pollies of all stripes to justify this or that too, but on the other hand there I was just recently talking about “a particularly Australian decency”. That came about because I found myself in the midst of what turned out to be a cross-cultural conversation, as well as a cross-political one, and I have commented several times along the lines that Australians are not Americans, which is not to assert that one is right or one is wrong necessarily, but it just seems inescapable there are attitudes I have which are quite distinct from my American friend’s which are, well, Australian.

Of course at a certain level of generalisation it becomes absurd, but I can’t help feeling the conversation with Kevin showed up more than personal differences. There would also be “values” that Kevin and I have in common. Having had a long relationship with a person from Mainland China has been relevant to my thinking on this as well. His values have changed in an Australian context but there is a deep core of Chinese values down there too, deeper even than the official ones promoted by the Chinese government.

It is all very difficult, as obviously we would like there to be universal values, and perhaps there are, but at the same time cultural relativism can’t be denied, with all that implies. It is a very serious dilemma, not only personally, because ideas like “human rights” are rooted in assumptions about values. It seems too that NSW Labor HQ could do with a seminar or two on the subject, or on ethics at least.

So I am not knocking Deus Lo Vult, as he is thinking seriously about all this.

Valuing Values is worth a look, on the New Zealand site Flat Rock.

I also found a marvellous quote in Christian Century, the famously unfundamentalist US magazine, in a review of Jesus Camp by John Petrakis.

The French writer André Gide once said that we should “believe those who are seeking the truth, but doubt those who find it.” That doubt grows rapidly when the “truth” involves a roomful of crying, screaming children stricken with fear and guilt.

I’ll drink to that.


Visit Encounter on ABC Radio National: Values in Schools: A Way of Being.

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2 responses to “Aussie values?

  1. Bruce

    November 15, 2006 at 1:46 am

    but at the same time cultural relativism can’t be denied

    Where values/morality are concerned, I’d deny it.

    I’d elaborate further, but my brain is switching off at this late hour. To quote Arnold; I’ll be back.

  2. ninglun

    November 15, 2006 at 8:11 am

    Yes, Bruce, I do indeed acknowledge there is a thorny issue there. I have, you may have noted, referred people via my links on the right to Neil Levy’s Moral Relativism: A Short Introduction (Oneworld 2002) where the complexities are canvassed and some very useful further reading suggested. Steering some sort of course between cultural arrogance (ours or theirs) on the one hand and complete anarchy on the other is not easy.

    When it comes down to it, being a supporter of Amnesty International as I am, I find myself tending towards a belief in certain (but that word only in the sense of “some”, not in the sense of “incontrovertible”) universal values, if only for pragmatic or utilitarian reasons. There is a fascinating progessive Muslim version of the Declaration of Human Rights in the back of A G Noorani, Islam and Jihad: Prejudice versus Reality (Zed 2002); it is also available on various internet sites, for example here. This document came into being because of dissatisfaction with the cultural biases of the Universal Declaration, and I can imagine a fascinating series of seminars could ensue from a careful critical study of both documents. This might even be useful — but don’t expect it here, as my declared intention is that this blog is not setting out to save the world. 😉

    I commend the exercise though. Just as I commend people grapple with the remarkable if disturbing, and perhaps in practice at times untenable, writings of Sydney University academic Ghassan Hage: see my Blogspot entry (if you can, that is) for Friday, February 24, 2006. You will see there I have some ambivalence about Hage, but he certainly stimulates thought.

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