The ISAA: a home within a home in double jeopardy
Why is there something about ISAA (Independent Scholars Association of Australia) on this site? See Footnote.
The following article submitted to the ISAA was more or less a test. It was preceded by "My Home", a general reference to what should be seen as desirable in a fully functioning society. That piece was rejected because many elements were deemed to be questionable (see its article page for what had been said). I then decided to submit "The ISAA: ..." to see what kind of reaction I would get now.
The criticism leveled against me stems from an inherent perspective which - at least in the here and now - goes under the 'left-wing' label. On that note "The ISAA: ..." focuses directly on a number of contributions to ISAA's Proceedings, the subsequent publication of papers presented at their annual conferences.
Below are the comments by the - anonymous - reviewers, displaying exactly the sort of bias I was critical of. The reviewers' comments are placed within >> .. << brackets, with my own responses directly underneath.
This article seems to be intended as a critique of what is asserted to be the "Left of centre" position taken up by specific contributors to two ISAA Conferences. Such a critique could be of value in opening up discussion. It is not a referee's position to refute particular arguments - individual readers and those criticised would be able to do this themselves. However the article as it stands at present has several weaknesses that need to be addressed before publication.
Yes, it is not "a referee's position to refute arguments", but, on the other hand, there are "several weaknesses" - it's a sign of perfunctorily acknowledging certain rules but really having your gripe anyway. The suspicion gets confirmed as we go along.
It was not easy to get to grips with this paper although I appreciate that it is raising significant issues, not just for ISAA but more generally. Part of my difficulty was that the paper could have been much better (more effectively) structured and that its ideas could have been less circumspectly expressed. A good abstract would have been most helpful.
The reviewers have a point. One of the strength of anything written, whether on my website, the blog, any email, or in any submission for that matter, is that it is consistent with the Otoom mind model, in other words treating phenomena of any kind as part of a complex, dynamic, pattern-seeking system (and if that perspective is not helpful I won't write about it). Yet it is also a weakness, namely the problem a reader would encounter when trying to fully grasp the meaning of the text.
In the absence of subjecting everyone to the full course of how the mind works, I try to get around the problem by, firstly, sequencing my remarks such that one thing follows another and so creating an ongoing context, and secondly, providing examples to show what I mean through content. This unfortunately makes the text longer, but that's inevitable when pre-knowledge is absent. Abstracts won't help in such cases; a summary of something which is elusive won't clarify it either.
There are standards for intellectual discourse which have evolved to ensure that explorations of interesting questions (What's happening here? What to do?) are as useful as possible to those exposed to them. When different groups in the community have markedly different beliefs as to what the answer to the question in question is, these standards become especially important. Briefly, they include honesty, balance, adequate context and documentation of one's sources.
I agree; there must be standards, and so see above, including the sources to provide examples.
While it is perfectly proper for an author to write in order to persuade rather than to maximally inform, their beliefs and intentions should be clearly stated; and then they can make their case in accordance with the above standards for scholarly discourse. They should try hard to avoid indulging in rhetorical devices. If an author is unwilling or unable to write to those standards then their work is not suitable for publication in a journal claiming to be scholarly or intellectually rigorous.
The first few paragraphs of the article have been written for exactly that reason. Anyone should be able to understand my overall intent, unless the reader is subject to bias which filters out information that is there.
A more disinterested author, striving for objectivity, is more likely to explore what various interest groups believe and empathetically explain why (how?) they have come to hold such beliefs. A final subjective conclusion is still acceptable under this model.
Again, my approach is taken under the auspices of the mind model. If there is a content which can be subsumed under, say, 'left-wing', with the reader being on the other side, I may well be labeled 'left-wing'. If the content happens to fall into the 'right-wing' category another, opposing, reader may categorise me accordingly. Nevertheless, my approach is consistent, and the issue of polarisation in the political arena but also more generally has been addressed in the article precisely because it constitutes a very real problem preventing proper communication from taking place. One way to overcome this for the reader is to read the full text first and then start with one's interpretation (if they must).
Notwithstanding, it is never easy to present a convincing and conclusive explanation of your own or another's beliefs. Apart from the ever-present dangers of ignorance, self-deception and muddled thinking, most arguments hinge on identifying what is plausible rather than unlikely. And what is plausible for me may be paranoid for you.
Exactly. Except what I presented were not "beliefs"; they were findings within the context of cognitive dynamics with their sources duly referenced.
In the present paper, the author is asserting that a number of papers in recent ISAA Proceedings do not meet acceptable standards of scholarship, that a third of those surveyed are tendentious or clearly biased, with political bias or pro-feminist bias being most common. And that it is parallel editorial bias which has allowed these papers to slip through. Granted papers presented at the Conferences have been chosen on the basis of abstracts submitted but the editor of the Proceedings has to work with what she is given. It is quite unlike refereeing submissions. Her aim is to lightly edit and perhaps restructure somewhat. The closing throwaway comments about editorial bias and typos being missed in politically correct papers are gratuitous. The author has something important to say and should keep her/his eye on the ball.
More or less correct. However: to say "a number of papers" and then follow it with "a third of those surveyed" suggests a difference between the two, and in the context of the overall criticism a bias on my behalf. All of the papers in the two publications were surveyed, and only those demonstrating a bias were entered into. The rest I did not criticise nor label in any way or form.
As to the editing process, the "lightly" editing may well be true, but the publications are issued roughly a year later, so any errors, especially typos, could reasonably be expected to be taken care of. That they are not, while at the same time highlighting similar errors in papers which are being criticised for their different (ie, non-left-wing in this case) approach, does suggest a certain editorial bias after all.
And by the way, my own submission to the recent conference (October 2012) required not an initial abstract but the full-length paper (and yes, it was accepted).
Having said that, I do agree that a number of presentations at ISAA conferences do fall into the category of 'pushing an unbalanced barrow'; and that some speakers are unaware or too dismissive of alternative narratives. These problems are often raised in question time following a presentation. To encourage people to be more aware of the standards ISAA holds, there is definitely a place for a paper which explores the art of presenting a case in a scholarly manner. I further think that someone with a background in cognitive dynamics and an awareness of how the meaning of concepts can drift over time, is well placed to write that paper.
I had not been able to attend any of the ISAA conferences so far (I wish I could have) so I can't speak about the question time; it may well be lively. However, it seems the above is linked to my critique about the editorial process. While I do include that in my text, there is a wider reference to the political atmosphere out of which the highlighted articles emerged. So whatever an editor may think or do, the real issue is the manner in which a society becomes informed over time. Hence the placement of the first paragraphs at the beginning - and which were evidently not recognised for their importance.
However, while welcoming this submission, its execution could be much improved. It is far too long for the messages it delivers. Most of the introductory 'background' (700+ words) could be dropped. The summaries of the offending papers and why they are failing could be shorter. Against that, it is a significant difficulty for the paper that readers do not have the offending papers in front of them and have to recall their content from distant memory if they are to appreciate the author's points. Many will have no prior knowledge of them.
No, the introductory background should not be dropped. It is essential for what is to come. But it does provide a context which is anathema to people of a certain political spectrum.
If the summaries of the offending papers and the reasons for their failure had not been included (or had been shortened), how would a reader fully recognise my point? This article was certainly not written for the Twitterati. And in any case, once having identified this or that article my duty is to fully explain the reasons why, not skip some item here or there because that could be seen as applying a bias.
The readers are not forced to "recall their content from distant memory", because the subsequent publications are sent to the members of the ISAA and are available for purchase to anyone. The same goes for any reference made in any paper; the reader is not expected to have a comprehensive library at home, they can go and get the referenced source if they want to.
A significant problem with the paper is that the author is not getting inside the reader's mind, possibly because, as professionals in any area do, s/he is unconsciously assuming that readers know as much as he/she knows about the development, persistence and abandonment of beliefs. The paper should start with a statement of what the writer intends to argue and how it will be argued. Any conclusions and recommendations should be flagged (nothing more) up front. An early brief introduction to cognitive dynamics, including some of its main findings, would be very helpful.
Yes, an introduction to cognitive dynamics would indeed be helpful, but a "brief" one? The introduction would have to entail the dynamics applicable to the workings of the mind, not some hypothesis or even a small aspect of it which has been discovered by someone else. The system of mind is by far the most complex one we know of. The fact that the human brain contains approximately a hundred thousand millions neurons (under the American nomenclature) should in itself hint at what we are talking about.
To show what I mean, here are three aspects which are essential, and I mean essential, to the understanding of the mind. (1) The topic of mind is the only one which is subject and object at one and the same time; (2) to conceptualise the system it is necessary to profoundly understand what functionalities are; (3) the system performs under the auspices of Chaos.
I have deliberately omitted any further explanations and so chances are the above paragraph is virtually meaningless to most. The point is, to explain those aspects alone a considerable time is necessary before we even start getting into the actual dynamics themselves. Both are necessary for a full comprehension, and even a short summary would raise more questions than answers.
All of that is the reason I provide examples from the real, so that the reader can at least realise the issues in terms of their content, rather than their functionalities.
Additional comments: At 6,000 words it is too long. When at the end of paragraph 2 the author writes that s/he will come to the issue "In due course" I believe the article should move directly to the pertinent discussion in the third paragraph on page 2.
I dealt with the issue of length before.
It is sometimes not clear what the line of argument is. I find that despite repeated readings I cannot make sense of the second half of the paragraph discussing the paper by Trevor Cobbold. Also I cannot see where Cobbold "links social background to innate intelligence" - in fact he argues the opposite. Also the reference (footnote 6) should be to the 2010 papers not those of 2011.
A somewhat curious criticism, but one that becomes plausible once a certain political orientation is taken into account; an orientation that dismisses pre-existing factors in favour of environmental influences, the old "nature vs nurture" argument existentialised. Although one's environment matters, genetic influences play also a part, and the overall result reflects the mutual dependencies of both. Generally speaking, the 'left' maintains that anyone can be brought up to a standard provided enough resources are made available. That this is not so I have shown in the examples provided. Given the leftist perception in those matters my word "links" is being misunderstood as meaning "equals"; two things can be linked, that does not mean they are equal, or even compatible. Yet a preconception of that kind can very easily lead to problems in understanding what the second half was about.
As to footnote 6, while the paper dates from 2010, the publication dates from 2011. Referencing the publication (and not the paper) requires '2011'.
The discussion of the Cronulla riots (Page 7) is marred by misplacing the whole issue geographically. The Eastern Suburbs is the area where the prices of homes are measured in millions and there are practically no Lebanese living there. Lebanese settled in south-western Sydney which was a more working class area. The second half of the paragraph, which I take does refer to the Eastern Suburbs, is therefore irrelevant to the argument.
I admit, perhaps I should have written "eastern suburbs" (no capital letters). Today "Eastern Suburbs" does constitute a certain geographical area, but "eastern suburbs" would hold. To a Sydneysider Cronulla is "eastern suburbs", as are areas such as Elizabeth Bay and Double Bay, presumably the suburbs the reviewer meant when s/he was mentioning the million-dollar homes. But they also include places like East Sydney, Darlinghurst, or Kings Cross, and there the demographic is considerably mixed. Many Lebanese may have indeed settled in south-western Sydney, but to state that "practically no" Lebanese live anywhere in the eastern suburbs is rather presumptuous. In fact, the eclectic mix of nationalities is precisely what gives the eastern regions their flavour, and I have referred to that in a most positive light. Above all, I wrote "Lebanese gangs". The reconstruction of "Lebanese gangs" into plain "Lebanese" took place in the reviewer's mind, not mine. Above all, what has the distribution of Lebanese residences got to do with where their gangs went on any given day? We are still dealing with the same metropolitan area.
Demographics can and do change, take Woolloomooloo for instance. The article referred to the 80's and 90's, and it was only a few years ago that something like the Woolloomooloo Wharf turned from a dilapidated shed into luxury apartments for the rich and famous.
The argument is often unnecessarily tendentious. For example, to follow a quote by John Greenwell with the sentence "Flying aircraft full of passengers into buildings is not exactly a small aside in one's daily life, after which we all return to our tranquil existence" to imply that this is something Greenwell has ignored is to be extremely polemical. The author could have made the same point by saying that in discussing the protest against the location of the mosque traumatised survivors may have been among those protesting - but this would then require evidence.
Whether Greenwell ignores the sentiment regarding flying airplanes into buildings should he be asked directly is not the point. In his article he specifically connects the "rabid and confused hatred" with the protests accompanying the building of a mosque next to Ground Zero. I explain the issue of conceptualisation when it comes to 'Islam' and 'Islamicism', and under that banner in conjunction with the 9/11 attack and its sheer impact the anger by many members of the public can be appreciated. There is no need to provide the numerical evidence of those who were traumatised survivors, the psychological impact of the attack would have been and has been felt by even by those who did not live in New York at all. I did not provide any "evidence" for that either, but does it take an outside reference to understand that such an attack is of an exceptional nature? Have we become that nonchalant?
The second half of the penultimate paragraph is a weak way to end the essay. To say that "The evident editorial process then discriminates against uncomfortable content while waving through material it approves of" is a disparaging remark that needs evidence to back it up. As far as I am aware, no papers were rejected. Also to pick up three minor editorial slips in 360 pages actually proves nothing. The fact that the author of this article made a mistake (see point 2 above) does not by itself mean that the author's article is invalid.
No, "three minor editorial slips in 360 pages" do prove nothing (notwithstanding that the point 2 mistake is not a mistake anyway), were it not for the fact that when it comes to views outside one's political sphere even minor errors are highlighted and included in one's set of reasons for rejecting an article. See "My home" where the editorial process was evident. I was referring to the overall picture, and in addition placed that observation at the end which should have given the reviewer some idea of the priority I gave it.
Perhaps I should have expanded on this, in which case the entire text would have been longer still. You are damned if you do and you are damned if you don't; nothing new here.
On that note, I explicitly stated that I am dealing with the Proceedings, which is not the only type of publication issued by the ISAA. Nevertheless, I dealt with the general culture, and to have included all the publications available to me would have expanded the article two- or three-fold. For the purposes of focus I concentrated on the Proceedings 2010 and Proceedings 2011 (published in 2011 and 2012 respectively).
All in all, the type of criticism offered here is exactly the kind of thinking I pointed out in "The ISAA:..". I expected this to happen, and here it is.
I am amenable to any errors being pointed out, if for no other reason than while having been wrong before I am now correct forever after. Yet any mistake should be explained under a formal framework, just as the Law should be applied under a formal framework so that any verdict is applied consistently. While I acknowledge that some concepts are more difficult to understand than others, it should be possible to at least appreciate the consistency of the approach before any objections are raised (which often stem from a similar subjectivity criticised in the first place).
The applied bias results in remarks being perceived that do not exist, the dismissal of information on the other hand that is there, and the reconstruction of context to suit the reviewer. On that subjective basis their criticism is constructed in order to downgrade the text. It all reminds me of my experience at Griffith University (see "The Social Experiment" for what happened there); in principle it was very much the same.
Finally, moving away from the ISAA itself, there is the wider issue of accountability of commentators, especially coming from the formality of science and scholarship.
A few days ago a court in Italy sentenced a number of geologists because their predictions of the severity of a possible earthquake proved insufficient to warn the population (see The Australian, Voice of America, Spiegel Online). The court decided the scientists should be held accountable, despite the problematic nature of these forecasts.
The negative response to that decision was immediate and that may well have been reasonable as such. At the same time however we witnessed how statements from members of a community that was increasingly perceived as being not only informative but also authoritative have been used under the impression that such statements could be relied upon in a very practical sense; in this case they could not and hence the sentences as a consequence.
It was something new and hence the uproar. But suppose there comes a time when the increasing pressures of government budgets, negative outcomes and last but not least, public sentiment virtually compel a society through its judiciary to haul in those who did not come up with an appropriate warning which could have changed an official policy. Think of the current involvement in Afghanistan with all its deaths, huge expenditure, local upheaval and global ramifications. If political and/or social scientists have provided a background briefing advising the validity of engaging with that demographic, and if the results proved to be as disastrous as indeed they turned out to be, would those advisors willingly go to jail for their efforts?
Yet to analyse a complex system such as a society or demographic under some political or ideological framework is bound to lead to failure. Even if there was no direct advice given to governments before the mission in Iraq or Afghanistan was decided upon, the general sentiments about various demographics around the world and what they mean for the West created, through the continuous input by a particular political framework, the atmosphere that allowed the decisions to be made. Hence the manner in which such systems are analysed matters considerably, for everyone's sake. We cannot afford to indulge in types of arguments simply because they are convenient, or they keep rabid ideologues at bay, or they could be detrimental to one's career.
The sentiments expressed by the current reviewers regarding Islam and Islamicism for example may be seen as "rhetorical devices" (to borrow from the reviewer's expression), but scale them up and we get something like the attempt by the vice-chancellor of Griffith University to get money from Saudi Arabia for the Islamic Research Unit on his campus, accompanied by the offer to that regime of considerable influence there (see "The Social Experiment" again). What was a means to steer through convenient political waters had the potential to turn into a security risk for the entire nation because the underlying mindset is the same.
Delineate from the case in Italy with its widened scope of responsibility to a context even more precarious and there is a very real possibility that the reaction will become stronger in tandem. Then for certain vice-chancellors and academics to go to jail may well be the benign option.
I realise there would be many who consider all the above as yet another example of just how lengthy my writings are. So what to do - treat society in all its complexity via small sound bites and short exclamations because this is what one has time and inclination for? We already do that, and the results are there to haunt us.
The ISAA: a home within a home in double jeopardy
One's society is a home, and so are groups within that society. How such a home functions at any scale matters to those who belong as well as to their neighbours.
The Independent Scholars Association is one subgroup which has an important function, not only as far as the sum total of its members' activities is concerned but also because of another kind of presence, the nature of which I will address in due course.
Our home, all of it, is in crisis. It faces challenges on so many fronts. The danger is insidious because it threatens to a significant extent the very dynamic through the often subtle modification of concepts that form the substance of our communications which in turn determine what we see before us. First, the big picture.
When I went to school in the late 1950's we were asked to donate money to buy milk for the poor children in China. This was little Austria soon after the War. Sixty years later the European Union, in all its 27-member magnitude, goes to China for financial assistance . Again in the 1950's, one of only four fully-fledged biggest commercial computers in the entire world was built and operated in Australia . Today, again sixty years later, Australia's IT industry concentrates on software development, sales and general services; no computers are produced locally . According to a report the problem is lack of industry expertise .
Of course times change. Yet the financial framework of the EU is not just some business, it is a representation of an entire economy encompassing know-how, labour, governance, infrastructure, and above all, a mindset. Decisions and directions in industry are primarily a product of the minds behind them. A frame of mind one might call attitude which infuses us, which guides us, which is who we are.
Minds, all our minds, are informed daily by what we do, whom we meet, and what we think. The political process is very much part of that environment. It forms the overall ambience which resonates around us and we resonate within.
Over the last few decades we have been subjected to a process of gradual polarisation between the major political parties, a process which makes it practically impossible to debate anything without immediately being dumped into a broad category of either left- or right-wing politics.
We are not alone. Recently Mickey Edwards introduced his book The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats Into Americans on American PBS Newshour where he compared the previous style of government to the modern fare . 'You know, the one thing that George Washington, John Adams, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson all agreed on was don't create political parties. And the parties they had in that day were things where a few people got together on three issues, four issues, five issues, but not like what we have today, permanent factions, Republicans, Democrats always on opposite sides. And the founders all warned against that', he said in the interview.
Here it is not that serious, but the problem exists. For example, what is wrong with appreciating the value of public utilities while at the same time acknowledging the need for private enterprise? A viable, indeed vibrant society needs such things as health, education, banking, transport, telecommunication to be available at the lowest direct cost to the citizens regardless of their parents or financial status, but that does not mean added value should not be available too. Nobody should be deprived of a hospital bed if the need arises, but if you want fresh flowers every morning then pay for them if you must. Yet as soon as the topic public versus private comes up, one is dubbed either a socialist or a conservative depending on which word one started with, and for the remaining precious time, of which there is never enough anyway, one is forced to clarify at length what one does and does not mean. Any debate that does ensue becomes harnessed to preconceived notions and its scope suffers because the perception insists on its own boundaries. What information can be gleaned feeds back into the wider society, now tainted.
Lack of time, political conglomeration, an ever-present personal bias have led to a distortion of balance. Houses of parliament at least have their contingent of parties, but across the rest of society a similar clustering has taken place as a function of the intellectual free market and here the pendulum can swing as far as it is pushed by commentators who carry the corralled context onwards. And so to the ISAA.
I have used the previous two issues of the Proceedings from 2010 and 2011 for the purpose of analysing their twenty-eight articles in terms of conceptual bias, nine of which appeared tendentious. The bias could be categorised as paying homage to the left, provided, I emphasise, one goes along with the kind of lumping together of perspectives under the left-wing banner.
Trevor Cobbold discusses the need to raise achievements by students in our schools . He is quite correct in identifying the glaring differences in funds available to public and private schools, a somewhat strange situation given the historical antecedents regarding Australian workers in general. In contemporary politics his views would be decidedly left of centre. He also insists that equity in education 'demands' that different social backgrounds should achieve similar results . Since he links social backgrounds to innate intelligence the broad brush of the former gets imbedded in a context that is far from synchronous. The Left would never admit to the implications comparative studies in students results across demographics suggest. Psychological factors such as positive expectancy towards higher-class students and their negative counterparts towards lower socio-economic groups play a role, as has been identified in studies , but even there a residue of continuously under-performing students persists, even allowing for statistical variations in the schools' environment . And in any case, modulating the negative influence coming from within a pre-existing demographic from the outside can still be considered an artificial construct which does not exist in societies that function on their own terms. A comparison of the top twenty over- and under-performing countries indicates marked disparities . Although the focus there was on religion, the overall performance is significant nevertheless. Unfortunately, discussions along those lines quickly find themselves in deep political and ideological waters.
The article about the treatment of women under Shariah law by John Greenwell goes to the by now familiar strenuous lengths of differentiating between Islam and Islamicism . The concept of Islamicism originated in the West; in my travels to thirteen Muslim regions  I never encountered the expression among the people (not including a few intellectuals who would reference themselves to customs from abroad). For the notion to be practical it would have to be entertained virtually a priori by Muslims questioning their own status when expressing any opinion about the West. For all their aversion to stereotyping, many Western commentators see no hesitation in applying those categories to suit their own perception. The regularly occurring riots in Islamic demographics do not suggest such philosophical discourses.
To maintain the non-existence of women's subjugation in Islam because in 1899 Qasim Amin called for the harem and the veil to be abandoned  seems rather odd. Since such a call had been made then evidently harem and veil must have existed. Furthermore, as even a cursory glance across the world shows, Amin's attempt did not go all that far.
If the construct regarding Islamicism is followed through, the cause-and-effect relationship between perception and resultant hate can easily turn upside down. Hence Greenwell can assert that the identification of Islam with Islamicism led to 'rabid and confused hatred' becoming manifest when the construction of a mosque next to Ground Zero in New York was planned . Flying aircraft full of passengers into buildings is not exactly a small aside in one's daily life, after which we all return to our tranquil existence. Let us not forget the publicised experiences of Asaan Hirsi Ali with Muslim practices regarding honour killings and female genital mutilation, preceding apologetic modifiers by several years .
Australia has certainly achieved a number of advances in human rights and general standards in society as John Hosie writes, but to applaud her record because a Trotsky and a Lenin did so makes the advances somewhat questionable . Did not Wendy Michaels, ironically in the same issue of the Proceedings, go to considerable lengths explaining the restrictions and presumptions women faced in Australia around the very time ? On a not that dissimilar note, former High Court judge Michael Kirby described how as late as the 1960's men were subjected to 'mild electroshock treatment' while viewing slides of homosexual scenes . Indeed, Lenin would have approved.
Jill Bough's exploration of the role of donkeys in Australia  is another example of pre-emptive junking of concepts. It is true that there existed attitudes towards the animals in Europe, but donkeys were also in use around the whole of the Mediterranean and so naturally invited views from the relationship in place at whatever time in history in whatever place people made use of them. Animals used in agriculture or industry attracted relevant views, all of which can be subsumed under the general label of 'utility', and often applied under harsh conditions for Man and beast alike. How they were treated specifically is a matter of the empathy their owners were and are capable of. Go to Greece and observe their version of 'lowly' (one of Bough's epithets), then move on to a place like Egypt and see the difference. There seems no point in Bough's semantic travels were it not for the conceptualisation which follows next.
Animism, the notion of a spirit pervading all of existence including plants, animals and humans, is common around the world wherever people are in close contact with nature . What is significant is the declared uniqueness of each species on one hand and the underlying spiritual nature of all. The uniqueness does lead to a certain classification, to hierarchies even, as stated in a quote Bough herself provided: 'They [ie, the animals] are seen as mental and spiritual equals or even superiors ...' but then concludes the relationship is not built on hierarchies. A perception that is formed through the religious lens and which incorporates entities defined in terms of that religion's tenets is unlikely to agree with the naturally emerged clusters of species as a function of ecosystems putting their stamp on survival and adaptation. Therefore Aborigines would indeed see nothing wrong with wild donkeys roaming the Australian bush, but unfortunately the indigenous species being forced to share their space do not consult the spirit world as they are threatened by the newcomers. In summary, while anthropological studies of indigenous people yield interesting results, the conceptualisations of the latter ought to be seen as part and parcel of their situatedness and hence they belong there. To mix 21st century land use with Dreamtime ideas begs the question which paradigm of the two is wished to be the dominant one. What began in philosophy moves into politics and from there to civilisational polemic.
Bryan Furnass tackles the debate on climate change . As mentioned at the beginning of this article, my intent is not to delve into any specifics along technical lines but to observe and analyse the cognitive dynamics underpinning an argument. The sheer scope of this particular issue, coupled with the undeniable stakes on a global scale, are bound to generate heat on all sides. Hence the need for congruent statements is as great as ever. What can be made then of the remark, 'Climate change denialists (many of whom have large investments in fossil fuels) who claim that these dramatic changes are not anthropogenic should be reminded that the last time that CO2 rose so significantly was three million years ago' . So, either three million years ago our ancestors already affected the world's climate, or the climate changed due to some other factors then and does so now. On the other hand, if the climate changed then without any human contribution but does so once again but this time due to our activities, what is the ratio between the other factors and humans? Note that a change in climate is not being denied; rather, the effort required to mitigate our interference posited against the resources needed for a defence against the inevitable is the question to be addressed. The arguments and accusations being thrown around hardly allow for a productive answer.
How complex the issue gets can be seen in the recent report by Christopher Booker in The Telegraph in which he describes the dilemma faced by the Germans with their 23,000 wind turbines . That massive investment in renewable energy has resulted in a reliance on a supply which is fickle at best and which requires commensurate backup by conventional power generation putting an enormous strain on efficiency and reliability. The end result is more CO2 than before. In Britain, he writes, the average output of wind generators is about 25 % of their total capacity, in Germany the figure is around 17 %. To drive a wind turbine one needs wind, you see.
To be sure, the German experience can be witnessed now, two years after Furnass wrote his article. Yet incongruent thought structures are bound to lead to a dilemma eventually, unless of course the intent was to project some political pressure all along. How else can one interpret the author's assertion that women's influence on this planet is 'generally more creative, socially responsible, more sensible, less destructive and less egocentric than men's' . Since we are into generalisations, multi-billion dollar global industries devoted to cosmetics, fashion and gossip say otherwise. His political message comes through loud and clear.
Continuing with the topic is Tony Kevin . The on-off actions by governments over the years are tragic. Regardless of where one stands, ambiguity is never a valid option. However, to say on one hand that 'sound climate change science is the enemy of the deniers' , while a few pages later bemoaning the lack of a 'unifying ideology' which weakens the climate movement  makes the reader wonder whether the writer prefers fact or fiction.
For example, to divert for a moment from such theatrical entertainment, I would offer a simple question which would be of practical interest in the context of sustainability: in terms of energy output, how many wind turbines does it take to make a wind turbine? Or, how many solar cells does it take to make a solar cell?
Another topic that has largely been pushed aside is thorium as a source of energy. As Tony Eames writes, thorium is easily processed, is safe, produces a fraction of the radioactive waste resulting from uranium, is 300 times as energy efficient as uranium, and turning it into nuclear weapons is almost impossible . Already Canada, Germany, India, Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States have experimented with using thorium .
The idea does suggest itself that the entire debate is willfully made endless in order to wage war against one's political pet enemies, rather than constructively work towards a solution.
Not surprisingly, the Islam issue continues a year later in Bill Rowlings' Fearmongering and Civil Liberties  in the Proceedings 2011. Declaring himself 'to the middling left of politics'  at the outset, readers are led to expect an assortment of appropriate opinions. What they get however is a cross-over of concepts designed for painting a capricious canvas of incongruent perceptions which are however in line with a self-flagellating Western milieu that pervades contemporary public discourse.
To confirm his argument that the public is artificially rendered hysterical over exaggerated fears he posits the Millennium Bug next to the 9/11 attack in New York . It is true that the general media, including IT magazines, spent considerable column space on the Bug issue as the 2000 date approached. Yet it was in fact an issue which in certain circumstances had the potential to severely disrupt software that relied on date-time data to function properly. At the same time however it was easily fixed if it needed fixing at all. For instance, all a home user had to do was change the computer's date/time to a minute before midnight before and watch what happened - I did and there was no problem. If there had been, a simple patch could resolve the matter. Therefore the issue was a mixture of real danger but danger easily averted, and certainly not a subject of ridicule.
Comparing the software fix with the response to 9/11 is uncalled for. The planning and preparation for the latter had been on a different scale entirely, and security agencies were faced with a task of unprecedented proportions. It needs to be born in mind that the volatile mix of previously largely homogenous societies now turned into an amalgam of competing cultures with effective links to the vast collective of global Islam represented a scenario which Western countries never had to deal with before. 'Better safe than sorry' became a notion far removed from the usual daily trivia in which it had lived up to now, and the new security laws reflected that situation.
Rowlings makes light of a statement by former Attorney-General Robert McClelland that those attacks changed the global security environment forever by asking whether things had changed much in Botswana . Perhaps not, but the fluid nature of Islam as a world-wide religion with its range of intensity from the non-chalant to the murderous does not allow for presumptuous limitations when it comes to specific regions. As the extreme end of that religion has shown, manifestations of anti-Western aggression have spread across much of the world. How wide-spread the Islamic presence is can be gleaned from a study by Houssain Kettani . Perhaps Rowlings chose Botswana on purpose, given that its population in 2007 was 71.6 % Christian, Badimo 6.0 %, other 1.4 %, unspecified 0.4 % and none 20.6 % . Then again, in the United States the Muslim population was at 1 % in 2007 , and around 1998, about three years before the September 11 attack, it comprised less than one percent . It also features a much more sophisticated defence system than Botswana yet the attacks took place.
Rowlings' belief that Australia's security measures had 'never been needed' is not born out by the facts. According to a police source a terrorist plot was foiled in 2011 in Melbourne alone. An assessment of the fluid nature of terrorism in terms of cognitive dynamics has been confirmed  by a report by the New York Police Department, Radicalisation in the West: The Homegrown Threat. Groups such as al-Qa'ida do not have discrete offices down the street but are constantly changing demographics morphing into cells for a momentary purpose. Even their leadership is not a static management team.
To criticise the prosecution of thirty-eight individuals of whom twenty-two had been convicted  while on the same page firing a shot at ASIO for its increase in staff numbers  is simply illogical. If a prosecution to conviction ratio of 38:22 is deemed inadequate then only more resources would improve it, not less. Describing that record as 'woeful' would have been more to the point if one of the released sixteen had staged a terrorist attack after all.
In any case, the general globalisation together with the available technological infrastructure will continue the push for ever greater surveillance. Since it does represent a major problem as far as personal privacy is concerned, how about divesting our laws from the influence of religion, where the fulminations of hallucinating moralists from the Middle East thousands of years ago still have their echoes in contemporary legislature? We are sending people to jail because we listen to madmen.
On what basis does the author compare Martin Bryant and the Port Arthur massacre with Anders Breivik's murderous spree in Norway? If the context is the increasing unease in Western countries regarding the spread of extremism derived from a very particular global contingent then the difference in dimension between the two must play at least some role. Compacting a society-wide phenomenon into the localised frame of a small town and the accidental presence of a group of by-standers only makes sense if the intent is to force the former into the narrow context of the latter. With the two now merged the issue of Islam in the West has become boxed into a conceptualisation in which any further detail runs the risk of being aligned with the anti-social pathology of a Breivik.
The Hindu, an Indian paper, reports that the concern by the 'conservative element' of Norwegian society about the 'very rapid influx of foreigners and foreign cultures' has been further raised by the appointment of Hadia Tajik, a 29-year-old Muslim woman of Pakistani origin, as Norway's new Culture Minister . Ms Tajik has been described as a local because she was born there. As a young woman of Moroccan descent said in the article, 'I am really happy and I think this is an excellent appointment. She is Norwegian and at the same time she is a Muslim and a woman'.
Note the re-interpretative connotation linking 'Muslim' and 'Norwegian', made by someone who is equally re-interpreting her own status in relation to the concept of 'Norway'. In this case her perspective justified the cultural angle, but cultural angles are not the prerogative of immigrants, they can also be applied by those who have been there all along.
For someone like Rowlings to adopt the same process on behalf of newcomers to another nation represents a selective subjectivity stemming from a desire to re-brand his own culture, in the service of which he provides a list of events which - rather ironically - are seen as 'dumbing down' the political debate . The list starts with the Millennium Bug but really begins with 2001. Not appearing there is the year 1989. Then protests erupted across the West and Islam calling for the killing of Salman Rushdie ; they also occurred in Sydney where one angry father stood with his young sons who brandished wooden replicas of rifles vowing to carry out the fatwa issued by the late Ayatollah Khomeini.
Another date omitted in the list is the 12 December 2005. That's when the Cronulla riots erupted in Sydney. The next day Brisbane's Courier Mail splashed the headline 'Nation's day of shame' across its front page  and for the next five days the general public was treated to one apparent example after another of racism, violence and drunkenness on one side and undeserved victimhood on the other . The overall column space along these lines ran to 3796.78 cm2. During this period only four articles briefly mentioned the possibility that there could have been a history behind the disturbances without however daring to go any further . The total column space devoted to those hints was a mere 83.1 cm2. Therefore the ratio between presumptuous sensationalism and some sort of clarity was 46:1.
As to the history: beginning during the early 1990's Lebanese gangs moved into Sydney's Eastern Suburbs establishing a drug trade in cafes, bars and night clubs. Patrons were harassed as they entered the premises and if staff objected they were sometimes beaten up there and then. On the beaches women were accosted and threatened for wearing bikinis or going topless. The police hardly responded nor did the politicians. Emboldened by the official apathy the problem got steadily worse. That it took over ten years for the tempers to finally explode speaks for the inherent tolerance of the Eastern Suburbs' demographic, an area where long before general society saw fit to be more open gays could lead reasonable lives (even during the time when homosexuality was still officially illegal), individuals of any disposition or taste or demeanour coexisted peacefully, and where even a nudist beach was highly popular and diligently maintained despite the odd visit by the police (nude bathing was another sticking point for the righteous).
So much for the 'rabid and confused hatred' generated by evil Westerners imposing their Islamicism upon Muslims.
Fearmongering begins and ends with a quote from Hermann Göring . A sentiment by someone having practised oppression to build an argument against those who oppose it.
Gaynor Macdonald's Why a White Horse Is Not a Horse And an Aboriginal Australian Is Not Australian represents an interesting exercise in abstraction per se . Disassociating the semantic symbol 'white horse' from the wider set 'horse' may have only few practical uses but it does demonstrate the sometimes whimsical boundaries applied to concepts. To remain coherent in this case the conceptual history should be taken into account, that is to say the final composition of the symbol 'horse' juxtaposed against its counterpart 'white horse' must show a sufficient mutual disengagement for the result to be meaningful. If both exist parallel to each other, generalising from 'white horse' towards 'horse' would establish a set to which both of them belong. While the above may seem rather esoteric, in practice the choice of one or the other approach points to the circumstances in which either one has come about.
For example, the symbols 'Sydneysider' and 'Australian' align seamlessly because both share the same historical background and hence the former is readily accepted as being a subset of the latter. Now consider 'Greek' and 'Australian'. Essentially both form separate sets. It is only when someone from Greece has settled in Australia that the two sets start to merge and 'Greek' changes to 'Greek-Australian' (note the sequence) and eventually to 'Australian' with the possible addendum 'originally from Greece'. Yet 'Australian' makes also sense when substituted for 'Greek-Australian' straight away.
Since the symbols stand for actual situations in the real their nature reflects what they represent; it is the purpose of a language. Since Macdonald sees a problem with the symbolic sets 'Aboriginal' and 'Australian' she effectively denies the circumstantial history behind their formation. While she acknowledges the problem-inducing characteristics of both (once they are being used together) the result is not a matter of making a distinction in order to create a problem, rather, a problem existed and therefore the distinction eventuated.
Language, especially the live variety (in contrast to Latin for instance), serves the purpose of conveniently communicating some content. In the end its efficacy relies upon its capacity to transmit a context as efficiently as possible. Whatever one's personal opinion or one's moral preference, an expression exists because circumstances made it so. That alone should hint at the difficulties a non-indigenous society experiences when interacting with indigenous people. Treating Australians as something special in this regard, particularly when using the word 'Australians' as a substitute for white Australians, disregards the cultural, indeed the conceptual environment in which the interaction takes place.
If the sequence of conceptual events is neglected in favour of one's desire to construct an intentional interpretation of Aboriginals and Australians, even observations in the real can be adjusted in terms of their meaning. Hence Macdonald is able to take the observation regarding the good health of traditional Aboriginals and link it to the absence of outside interference ; when settlers started to deprive indigenous people of their lifestyle the latter's health and longevity worsened which in turn seems to confirm the argument.
ABC TV Fora broadcast a talk given by Aboriginal writer Melissa Lucashenko  in which she discussed survival as a concept by Aboriginals and by others. A hint as to what could have been the reason for the confirmed health and strength of Aboriginals before European settlement came through her reference to traditional initiation rites for males and females which ensured only adequate members of society made it to marriage and so passed on their genes. Those who failed could not. Genetic selection (for this is what the practice amounts to) is a touchy subject in any society that can link to eugenics and its various implementations, but is less so when its cultural space is not as crowded. For hunter-gatherers the buffer zones available to health systems which can ameliorate the results of birth defects do not exist but survival demands that measures be taken nevertheless.
The speech also presented the kind of thinking writers like Macdonald make use of when projecting her antipathy towards the West. Lucashenko's audience was told about the importance of knowledge in indigenous society, life was never meant to be about survival there (in spite of her earlier comments), Europeans can learn from Aboriginals especially since they had their own Aristotle, Socrates and Plato, the core emphasis in indigenous culture is empathy and dignity towards others, and the concept of hard work is met with incredulity, opposition even, because everything is there for the taking. Lucashenko also asserted that most Australians don't know where they came from yet Aboriginals celebrate being strong in their culture. Oh, and many classrooms have an Aboriginal Elder who presumably instructs the pupils in all those values.
It is one thing to surround oneself with post-modernist  narratives about life but it is also possible to actually visit places such as Bourke, Longreach, Townsville, Mt. Isa, Alice Springs, Halls Creek and Roeburn and observe indigenous lifestyles there with all the violence, family battles and mental barrenness on display. Contextualising the found reality into the framework of European settlement and the resultant displacement of traditional culture is a familiar exercise in Australian circles (and not altogether invalid), but the same approach can be applied to so many other societies under the auspices of colonialism. Should the focus be on south-east Asia the 'Asian tigers' tell a vastly different story, described as an 'economic miracle' . Attributed not only to capital and labour (hard work) but also to improvements in technology those countries' rise is indeed remarkable.
Including Germany with its resurgence after the devastation from Word War II and now being labeled Europe's paymaster  would really stretch a post-modernist's imagination.
Hans Goodman connects science and faith via prejudice . Lest one looks for any obscure denominator that could bridge these two vastly different worlds somehow, he uses the loaf-and-fish story from the Bible and combines it with a rough summary of nuclear particle dynamics to illustrate the apparent need for faith to swallow either .
Leaving the technical details of quantum physics aside (for which I lack the qualifications anyway), an analysis of cognitive dynamics (which happens to be my field) in the context of conceptualising religion versus science by many people demonstrates the crossover of the meaning of the former into the realm of the latter. In the case of religious laypersons their acceptance of the need for faith to internalise their version of a god (what else can they do if they want to believe) gets pressed into service for being able to live with scientific explanations which have come their way. In both cases ignorance - inescapable when it comes to religion but more or less accidental in the case of science - leads them to treat information in general in an absolutist manner.
Goodman may not be a layperson in scientific matters, but positing faith as a base for exploring reality comes dangerously close to turning any perception into a narrative for which the ultimate adjudicator is one's personal opinion about its content. Post-modernism has asserted itself once again.
The careless mixing of mental processes as they are applied to objective analysis and story telling respectively can only occur if either camp is unfamiliar with the other. Ann Moyal comments on the split between sciences and the humanities and quotes the chemist and novelist CP Snow as he described Western society as 'being increasingly split into two polar groups'  - a trend aided and abetted by politics. Not only has mutual understanding between both pairs suffered, the very thinking behind what is left of that communication has wilted.
The result is a quite bizarre combination of incoherent verbosity applied to topics from science on one hand and pseudo-scientific nonsense introduced to what goes for philosophical discourse on the other. What happens when the two meet was shown in the famous experiment by Sokal and Bricmont who submitted a parody of contemporary intellectualism to a cultural-studies journal , except that the editors took it seriously (the source was French post-modernists). When the truth was revealed there was an outcry. 'C'est la guerre!' Le Figaro shouted.
The dumbing down happens by stealth because the very means of discovering flawed thinking is being destroyed by the paucity of understanding, itself a result of mental starvation. Karen Brooks from the University of Queensland Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies tells about a student from a literary course who dropped out when confronted with a syllabus that required the reading of three compulsory novels . Addressing the quality of teachers she wrote, 'In a recent trial of numeracy and literacy, almost half of the aspiring primary school teachers in Queensland found questions that Year 7 students were expected to answer challenging'. She puts the problem down to several factors such as 'disruptive classroom behaviour', 'the curriculum, attempts to satisfy every loud interest group, the feminisation of the occupation', among others. Was it the student teachers' level of political correctness that got them through despite their lack of numeracy and literacy?
The Independent Scholars Association is, by its very definition, uniquely placed to gather material from a wide range of contributors including those who would not be constrained by the possibility of employer directives. However, the right to publish any kind of perspective derives from the duty to maintain the standards by which an authority empowers that right. Should the authority become compromised through tendentious modifications to its own standards its decisions run the risk of bias. The evident editorial process then discriminates against uncomfortable content while waving through material it approves of. Perhaps inconsistencies and spelling mistakes do not matter in the case of the politically correct. The alternating use of 'burka' and 'burqa' in Greenwell's article for example , or the expression 'ppbv' being turned into 'ppvb' by Furnass , or writing 'since Pandora was a women' in the same article . Political orientation and feminism shining too bright for them to see?
In many non-Western countries the race is on for intellectual supremacy. Our own narcissistic Dreamtime romantics won't cut it.
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Between August 2011 and January 2014 I used to be a member of ISAA. After my resignation I removed the reference on the CV page and so the casual visitor could be left wondering why this article and why regarding ISAA.
Generally speaking, language is important for the purposes of communication as well as the contextualisation of the latter's content. This is achieved through grammar and semiotics, both being an aid to transmitting a meaning.
How therefore a sentence is understood is as much a matter of its creation as it is one of processing the information within the mind of the receiver. Everything from a particular culture downwards in scale to an individual's personal experience is a factor influencing such processes.
A positive affinity between the audience and a presentation creates an ambience of goodwill within the former, leading to a positive interpretation. Its negative counterpart is likely to do the opposite.
Unfortunately the leadership of the ISAA during the period of my membership represented a culture largely infused with a left-wing feminist ideology which preempts the reading of material presented to them. Certain notions are rejected out of hand, others are felt to be in need of modification, others still are accepted without question; all depending on the assumed meaning of the material in relation to that a-priori mindset. The above are some examples.
Personally, I love a debate. What I find less welcome are closed minds who cannot allow themselves to think outside their little squares and demand that everything fits in precisely with their own mental artifacts.
Language is a powerful medium. It transforms us. Good language needs to be free and makes for liberty. Language in chains also imprisons their users.