Tag Archives: culture

Kind deeds make good people

My parents just rang from Ti Tree in the Northern Territory. Either today or yesterday they rescued a carload of strangers stuck on the Sturt Highway by buying petrol at the next town and taking it back to refuel their empty tank.

I feel really proud when they do things like this. I expect a lot of people wouldn’t have done it, and I’m not sure what I would have done. When you’re driving along a highway it seems hard to stop for anything. There’s just something about zooming along a road that makes you want to keep zooming.

And the area they’re in is very remote – roughly speaking, in the middle of Australia. This is Barrow Creek in a photo from Wikipedia by Adrian Kitchingman:
panorama of the area around Barrow Creek, Northern Territory

It’s known for being the place where Peter Falconio is presumed to have been murdered – after being waved down by a stranger on the side of the road. That was big news back in 2001, and I still remember it.

Barrow Creek is the home community of the people my parents helped, and they’re Aboriginal people. In Australia it means something to say that a carload of strangers is Aboriginal, and that’s because we’re racist. Put it this way: I’m a white Australian and I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that a carload of Aborigines had run out of petrol. But if it had been a carload of Indian or Chinese people, or Caucasians like me, that would have surprised me a lot – both that they’d run out of petrol on a highway and that there’d been a carload of them.

Is it reasonable to stereotype people in such a way? Of course not. I do it because of prejudice or bias or discrimination, due in part to overly-biased media reports or something. And taking a wild guess here, I bet my parents think the same way. They’re not so enlightened that they see everybody fairly; I bet nobody is. So, when my parents came across a carload of Aborigines on the side of the road in a remote part of the country, I think they would have had to counteract 200+ years of racist social conditioning in order to make themselves slow down and stop to offer assistance. And that’s what they did.

They’re good people, my parents, and the people they were helping are quite likely good people too. If the positions had been reversed, the Aboriginal people would quite likely have stopped to help my parents. That’s what you do when you live in the country: help each other. And that might be what you do in the city, too; who knows.

And years ago I was helped by two Aboriginal men when the car I was driving lost a tyre. This was on the outskirts of a local town. I’d been driving home when the car started making a weird thumping noise, so I pulled off the road to replace the obviously hopeless tyre. But then couldn’t even remove the tyre, let alone replace it. I can’t remember why; I think either the nuts were screwed on too tightly to loosen, or I didn’t have the right tools for the job. While I was fumbling and worrying, a car pulled up behind me and parked, quite a long way away. The two occupants, two Aboriginal men, sat there and … just sat there, for ages. I didn’t know what they were doing, and started to worry, plus I was already worrying about not being able to replace the tyre, and this was back in the days before mobile phones, so I was actually literally stuck.

After what seemed like forever the two Aboriginal men got out of their car and walked over and asked if I needed a hand. And I said yes, and thank you, and thank you, and they removed the tyre and replaced it for me. I hope I shook their hands, but now I bet I was too shy to do that. They were kind. They were good people. And on the drive home on the newly-replaced tyre I wondered if they’d waited in their car for so long because they’d thought I might be scared of them.

That idea makes me want to cry, now. They were good people, being kind, but maybe they thought prejudice would make me think otherwise.

Then again, maybe they just stayed in their car to wait for me to ask for their help. And thanks to my own traditions, I probably would have waited until the point of starvation before asking – not because of racism, just because of self-sufficient stupidity.

It’s a funny old world we live in, and there’s so much that’s terrible, but when someone like my parents or the tyre-changing heroes do something kind, they make me think that a better world is possible, or may even be here already if we just try harder notice it. Yay for them.

Stop being so damn frantic

Am I imagining this? It seems like the internet brought with it a new pressure: to be productive and to always work on “improving” ourselves. I suspect it’s a peculiarly American urge, and it was carried along in advertising before the internet ever materialised, but now it’s every-damn-where.

For example: I’ve just read one more in a long line of articles over the years saying that watching TV is just empty consumption requiring nothing of our minds except to sit in front of the screen and absorb.

Well, so? What’s wrong with mindless consumption? Is the problem supposed to be with the “mindless” or the “consumption”? What’s behind the idea that we’ve always got to be doing something productive?

Life with or without the internet

A technology journalist in New York has just set sail on a year of living without the internet:
Paul Miller, Offline: day one of life without internet, The Verge, 02 May 2012

I think it’ll be interesting to see how he goes. I can’t find a feed, but his posts will be listed on his author page.

So far he hasn’t suggested that the internet is bad for all of us, only that it’s not working well for him, so he’s pretty refreshing from that point of view. (I’m so sick of the authors who assume that if something is bad for them, it’s bad for everybody.)

And as I said, he lives in New York, so with or without the internet he has a particular sort of life, lived in close proximity to other people and human activity and public resources (like libraries, museums, public events). And he’ll be continuing his work in an office, I think, so that gives him an extra layer of connection to the wider world as well.

In other words, disconnecting from the internet won’t be disconnecting him from the wider world, which I think would be the case if a country person like me did it (and the reason I wouldn’t want to do it). It will be disconnecting him from the wider world’s constant calls for his attention, though, apparently. It sounds like he has lots of friends or colleagues online who want to talk to him all the time, so that’s another difference between us.

In short, his life is so different to mine there’s really no comparison between them, but still, I’ll be interested to see what he thinks about his new sort of life.

For people like me from the pre-internet age, he’ll be kind-of visiting the world we used to live in… except that now everything has changed, and the internet has become infrastructure. It might be like the switchover from horses to cars: people who didn’t like the new world of cars might have wanted to return to riding horses, but found the trails and roads they used to ride had been lost, and the feeding areas and the watering troughs and the road rules too. I mean, maybe it’s like that, or maybe it’s still perfectly possible to live happily and easily in the former pre-car pre-internet way.

Being simplistic

Usually on Anzac Day I try to put some effort into thinking about what it means, but this year all I can think of is that war, all war, and most violence of every kind, is the fault of one specific group of people: men.

That’s an over-simplification and generalisation and blah blah et cetera. I’m reducing a complex situation to a simple explanation, so the explanation is almost certainly wrong and I probably don’t know the first thing about the complex situation either.

The “blame men for everything bad” idea is something that’s been rummaging around in my head for a few weeks now, due to a whole run of articles I’ve seen about individual men going berserk in some way and punching, stabbing, shooting at, or murdering people. It seems like the unifying theme of these incidents was that the man involved had a sense of entitlement about something that was then thwarted, and in response he got angry and then violent. Then last night I read an article about police trying to catch the members of child porn networks – presumably people who wish they could rape and torture children themselves but instead choose to pay other people to do it for them and then they watch.

There’s violence at the heart of all those stories, and all of the people involved in those stories, and all of those people were men.

Yes, I’m being simplistic, but right now that’s all I’ve got to say.

National character

The idea that any country has a national character – a style to which most people aspire – is probably rubbish overall, but there’s something true in the notion too, even if it’s just a media story that gets repeated a lot.

Or something. I can’t be bothered trying to think about this or explain what I mean. But I just read this interview with an Etsy seller who lives in Australia and was born to Croatian parents, and this part of what she said felt true about life in Australia:

I feel much more comfortable with the term ‘maker’ than the term ‘artist,’ which I suspect has to do with both of the B.S.-intolerant cultures that I am from.

– Sandra Eterovic in Featured Seller: Sandra Eterovic, The Etsy Blog, 09 April 2012

“Bullshit-intolerant.” That’s a good way to describe something that I think is part of the Australian character. Whether we actually are that is questionable, but I think a pride in thinking that we are is definitely part of our national culture.