Introduction to interrogation of Western ideals

A piece that I wrote in response to an article on The Guardian. It was too long for the comments section to be published in full.

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I have come to the same conclusion of looking to indigenous peoples.

But I quietly disagree that changing the collective mindset of a civilisation is as simple as changing our values. I fear that the multitude of systemic issues is something far more inherent about non-indigenous ways of living.

Somehow, these are all so systemic that they have been siphoned off as specific never-ending problems — hunger, poverty, environmentalism, racial equity, homelessness.

So seemingly never-ending, since, for example, a civilisation has kept so many people poor, for so long, that there is just a single word to describe the problem — "poverty". So systemic that a society regards itself so separate to the world in which it exists, that the word "environment" is regarded separate to the society in which the citizens are living.

For example, in Australia, when people were panic-buying in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, the prime minister was telling people to "stop it", and there were authorities reassuring us that we have enough food to feed three times our population:

"In Australia, we are lucky because most of the food we consume is produced here," Australian Food and Grocery Council's acting chief executive Geoffrey Annison said. "Annually, Australia produces enough food to feed 75 million people — three times the population. This has kept any shortages to a minimum during this period." [Source: ABC]

Yet people on welfare in Australia are skipping meals — even after the first cut to the COVID supplement in September, a survey found that 80% of people on the unemployment payment reported that they would be skipping meals again. [Source: The Guardian]

Compare this to "making sure that everyone else has enough to eat before they feed themselves, which is our way, the way of the Kayapó, the way of indigenous people." [Source: The Guardian]

And as PolitiFact concluded, while fact-checking US Congresswoman AOC's claims  — in NYC, there are about 2.4 to 6 vacancies for every homeless person (depending on how number of vacancies and homeless are included/counted).

As an Inuk observed of non-indigenous society, in a documentary — "an unexpected place in which oppression, history, and comedy collide" —  "Qallunaat! Why White People Are Funny" ("the term refers less to skin colour than to a certain state of mind"):

Property has a lot to do with, I think, "keeping up with the Joneses", which is a facet of Qallunaat life. You're trying to get ahead. You're not merely trying to keep up with the Joneses, if you can surpass the Joneses, that's what you're trying to do. If other people around you are in need, are hungry or homeless, that's their problem, not yours. [From the 21:18 mark]

Returning to your statement:

We must face up to the harsh reality that for all its achievements, our civilisation is deeply flawed.

Perhaps, indeed — what are people doing that a country can produce enough food to feed three times its human population, and yet still have a situation where people are not having enough to eat? What are people doing that a city has at least two vacancies for every homeless person?

But the idea of "working for a living" is taken for granted, and is likely to be very hard to shake off, for many people. That, in this case, people do certain tasks, earn money, and spend that on food and shelter, etc. Is it even efficient? As those numbers demonstrate, vast numbers of people can fall through holes, even when examining just a few of those holes.

It continues to exist and be sustained because of the vast numbers of people who are subscribed to this idea, and continue to pass this conditioning on to others, easily uttered in no more than a simple breath, across hundreds of years. (This includes academics — e.g. scientists, journalists — who, unfortunately, I have rarely seen go outside their own circles and echo chambers, who subconsciously can sometimes see the rest of their society as perplexingly, curiously uneducated.)

"The issue is, we’ve got to get the overwhelming majority of the population vaccinated,” Fauci said. “We have people who don’t want to get vaccinated for reasons that don’t seem to have anything to do with public health. It’s unjustified scepticism, it’s a political ideology. I mean, how could it be that a certain proportion of people of a particular persuasion don’t want to get vaccinated? That just doesn’t make any sense.” […] "It really is a complication of an anti-science atmosphere that has evolved with a certain type of political persuasion … when you have a terrible pandemic looking you straight in the eye, you know, in some respects it is almost inexplicable, but unfortunately it’s happening." [Source: The Guardian ]
I mean one of the things that is not a joke exactly, in the US, is that — the simple way of characterising, these days — is the Democrats want to govern, and Republicans want power. And the major complaints by the Republicans of the Democrats are essentially, "Hey, they want to govern. They want to govern the country, and we want to harvest the country." And all these laws are so inconvenient, so they've been doing away with them right and left. "They're just getting in the way of this harvesting that we feel it is our right to do." [— computerist Alan Kay, source: YouTube]

I used to hear Western popular music on the radio, in the car, on the way to and from school. I have heard many songs about romantic love, a very exclusive kind of love. And in a way, it captures this society's glorification of hedonism, overvaluing personal happiness, because of this system of necessitated delayed gratification.

I can't help but think of this apt phrase. (Though ABC international affairs analyst, Stan Grant, was describing a different situation that is also a lived reality for me, in Australia's reckoning with gendered violence and gender inequality coming only after it happened to middle-class white Australia, after allegations of rape in Parliament House and in private schools, this also describes my sentiment with a plethora of other aspects of broader Western and non-indigenous society.) —

What a shame it is that a nation reveals what it is by what it cares about. [Source: Stan Grant, ABC]

Meanwhile, when I read a letter written by Indigenous people from the Amazon, they speak of love of the forest — "love in the deepest sense, as reverence". I see First Nations Australians speak of themselves as custodians of the land:

“We see and feel the spirit of our animals and our land, they are our ancestor spirits,” Cruse says. “We don’t own country, country owns us; we come from her to protect her. When country hurts, we hurt. When our animals, our spirit cousins, cry, we cry.” [Source: Vox]

As Grant noted:

Western society has been built on ideas of progress and to a large degree leaving history behind. [Source: ABC]

This is not easy to address — I think it would be a grave miscalculation to underestimate this task.