When I sat down to add this topic to the list gathered together under the post “Some thoughts on some issues”, I was intending to create one labelled “Indigenous Issues”. The twitter gang had been tweeting extensively about how to talk about indigenous issues, to the point that the growing list of twitter handles left around 20 characters in which to develop a pithy rejoinder.

But as I thought about what I wanted to write, I realised the fact that “indigenous” issues are nothing more than issues of how we treat different members of our society or, more to the point, members of the society who are “different” from us. So I realised a better title is Equality because ultimately, that what this whole topic is about. In the end, the issues are about equality in opportunity, in the protection, encouragement and control our society places on its members and in the sensitivity and tolerance our society has for people who have different values. So here goes my $0.02 on the subject of Equality.

First of all, let me definitely say, people are NOT equal. The American Constitution aside, this is self-evident. In fact, the inequality of people spreads as far as it can, to every single individual being different from every other (even identical twins start diverging, (somatically if not genetically) the moment they become two separate fertilised eggs). To me, this is a clue as to how we approach the equal treatment of all the members of our society. We constantly compare ourselves to others, often forgetting that they have had a completely different genetic base and environment from us and, indeed, from everyone else on the entire planet. We are all of us unique and so can’t be equal. So social equality just cannot be based on anything genetic – male, female, big, small, black, brown, yellow or pink, clever or not. Instead, it needs to be based on outcomes and be targeted to individuals who exhibit something that requires social intervention. If someone is bitten by a snake, we rush them to a clinic or hospital and we treat them with anti-venom or whatever. We do this no matter if the person is young or old, white or black, male or female, Australian or a foreign tourist. The issue is that someone has been bitten and needs treatment and the issue is completely without any other categorisation.

Now how about someone struggling with alcohol. Perhaps they are getting violent when they are drunk and the society decides it needs to step in to save them from injuring either themselves or others. Again, it really shouldn’t matter into which categories the person falls, but what can best be done to ease the situation. If there are a better clinical way of handling a situation when the person has, say a chronic illness, then that information is a useful director into the most appropriate action.

The overwhelming difference between people is between individuals. So all categorisations are generalisations of the true state and often dangerously so. Time was when it might be put about in Australia that Irishmen were all thieves, that Chinese are all penny-pinching or Greeks are all lazy, or New Zealanders are simply magnificent 🙂 These are sweeping generalisations and dangerously so and are, of course, simply not borne out by any facts. There are thieving, penny-pinching, lazy people in all walks of life, of all ages, sexes, ethnicities, etc as well as simply magnificent people everywhere you look.

So my desire would be to have absolutely no mention in any legislation on race or ethnic background, sex or religion, but to identify issues that individuals may have and how society should respond to the issues. If, for example, some people have a connection with certain locations, then that should be considered when legislating about land, regardless of any other factor about the people having the connection.

Categorisation, the allocation of individuals to pre-defined “boxes” is a basic human predisposition and quick categorisation into danger/opportunity has historically helped us tremendously with our survival. The initial categorisation is done immediately and in seconds, and is almost all based on previous and taught experience. “Is this person a danger to me? No, okay, is there an opportunity to gain from an interaction with this person? Can this person inform me more about how the world is, help me to grow, to understand?” To properly participate in a complex, heterogeneous society, we need to be aware that these categorisations are going on but not to act reflexively to them – and, perhaps to evolve them into more accurate and useful categorisations as in – “This person is lying to me – I wonder what they want.”

Now that I’ve so cleverly persuaded you that it’s the interaction of a society with its individuals that matters, the society still needs to decide what are acceptable and unacceptable actions on the part of its members and then to act accordingly. If we as a society decide, for example, that child or forced marriage is wrong, then it should be wrong for all, even for those members practising a religion that condones it. The “category”, for want of a better word to the members of which specific social measures are applied becomes those enforcing the marriage, the parents or legal guardians of the children in question, etc. regardless of religion, age, sex etc.

57 thoughts on “Equality”

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  19. This response looks like it’s addressing the original article but it isn’t. It’s meant to be a response to Lady Fly’s ‘Long Post, Middle of the Night’ response – but there was no “Reply” link for some reason and so I couldn’t hang this under her comments. I’m investigating

    I hesitated in responding only because I wanted others to contribute with their own points of view.  But nothing so far so I’ll put a few more words down.

    Agree with all the points in your first comment, about ideologies, live and let live etc. People should have the right to live they way they want as long as it doesn’t negatively impinge on others in the society.

    I never suggested people be forced to receive medical help and any intervention from the community / society is only activated if the proper channels – parents, guardians , etc have in some way failed the person in question.

    The flip with Aboriginals coming to “our” land is exactly the topic of Babakuiarea and it shows the silliness of trying to impose one culture on another. But I also don’t think the society and culture we brought from overseas is all bad. Sure some of the colonists did very bad things – there was systematic slaughter. But this was likely a few individuals on both sides – again, the idea that everything Aboriginals do is good and everything Europeans do is bad is blaming categories of people and not examining them one by one. There were both good, compassionate people and nasty opportunists on both sides – individuals, not races or even cultures.

    I’m a believer in a hierarchy of social structures from local to regional to national (and especially international but that’s another topic) so I concur with your points about societies and communities.

    Re the community being the best judge, as I’ve said above, it should only step in when the recognised mechanisms (parents, guardians) fail. I also agree with the idea that children have a say in things which is why I specifically said “young” children – those with insufficient experience or knowledge to make truly informed choices.

    I don’t think of myself as a socialist because that is a way to totalitarianism as has been proved time and again. I believe in a light touch for social constraints and live and let live. I’ve been running my own small business for 15 years and prefer it that way. I DO, however, have a large problem with Corporations who, I think, have become a destructive component in our societies – enormously powerful and influential and yet allowed to be completely amoral, self-servicing and anti-social. When they get to a level of influence that threatens our very social systems then they need to be broken up and scattered – as happened with Standard Oil in the USA – a monopoly broken up to become Caltex, Exxon, Mobil, Texaco and other oil companies. In 2007 Large private banks in the US were bailed out because they were seen as so big that letting them fail would be too devastating for the economy. Well those same banks are now over twice as large as they were in 2007 and absolutely nothing has been done (or will be done) to rein them in – a big adjustment is coming but no-one can predict when because the same banks completely control the US White House, House of Reps and the Senante (second largest contributor to Obama in both elections was Goldman Sachs)

    Drink driving in a field somewhere is not illegal so go to it – it’s not an issue for me and I’m generally with you in allowing any activities which don’t impact others negatively – Note: both short-term and long-term – I see an enormous disaster looming for CSG wells with problems arising with our water tables long after the foreign companies have taken and sold the gas and then disappeared – no short-term problems – plenty of long-term ones

    Now… rave over. Someone else please come in and give us your thoughts. We won’t bite and you won’t get fly-bitten 🙂

  20. On the topic of not mentioning any race specifically in legislation; where does that sit as regards discrimination? Should there be separate discrimination legislation based on gender/race/culture etc.?

    On the topic of the association between people and the land, regardless of culture etc., obviously this refers to Mabo and indigenous land rights, but would this also apply for instance to the Victorian township of Tecoma not wanting a McDonald’s? What about in terms of gas fracking, would there be some sort of legal restriction on the ability for companies to use land in this way when people are associated with it (however distantly)? Someone might live three miles away, and have no conceivable affect on their property or livelihood directly from the fracking, but they have an association with the land through ground water, the environment etc? And another random issue that comes to mind is for cattle to graze in national parks (reducing leaf-litter and preventing bush fires), should this be allowed based on affinity with the land by local and interested peoples?

    I’d also like to see some sort of conception of the so-called ‘Indigenous gap’ which everyone wants to close but no one wants to define. Do we consider their own culture so subordinate to ‘our own’ that they must be educated into ‘ours’? Is the gap thus defined as ‘education’? Or is it okay for them to have the right to their own culture, language and traditions, and for them to be allowed to live separately from ‘our’ wider culture, without being forced to speak English or study european history or whatever which has no bearing on their lives within those communities? Is the gap in health? Who caused it (is it the introduction of ‘white diseases’ or are they naturally occurring things that simply aren’t medically addressed (short-sightedness/deafness etc.)? Should it be fixed? Can it be fixed? Who should be fixing it? How do you do that in a culturally sensitive way?

    What you said about genetics and twins – I was watching an episode of Insight last night (currently available on SBS OnDemand, here: http://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/213612099887/Insight-Two-of-a-Kind) and they had scientists (apparently a consensus among twin studies) who found that virtually everything (except the ‘average cancer’) that they’ve studied is qutie highly correlated with nature, rather than nurture. Identical twins, even if raised apart in completely different cultures, have very similar medical histories, the same tendency for believing in God, have similar personalities and intelligence, and are inclined towards the same hobbies and careers, for example. Though I suspect that undermines your entire argument for ignoring genetic attributes (oops!)

    Some of that is opinion, some of it is ideas, and I don’t know where it’ll go, but there.

          1. That’s funny. You should be able to edit your own comments – I can see an edit symbol next to each and every comment (as Administrator) but I would have thought you would see one against your own comments. I’ll investigate

    1. I would have thought the issue is not prejudice against any race but, prejudice against any member of the society for whatever reason. So the same legislation might say it is just as illegal to refuse an old person entry somewhere as it is to refuse a person with white skin. I don’t think we have to write in any particular member types to legislate what things can and cannot be done to another member of the society.

      1. At the moment there’s the Racial Discrimination Act, and loads of stuff about discrimination based on age or gender though. I’m just saying maybe it all ought to be replaced with something more generic, so people can’t slander others based on any biological attribute (under which I would also place sexual orientation – which is definitely not a ‘choice’).

        So we might write a policy to repeal all of the above and replace it with a simple policy to introduce an act which prevents discrimination, humiliating, offending, insulting etc. people based on age/gender/ethnicity/religion/culture/disability, etc. such as the racial discrimination act is now but more broadly of all types of discrimination against all types of difference.

        Though I might say equal pay for equal work in terms of difference based on ‘ability’ is fair. But I mean you can’t deny someone a job because they’re in a wheelchair unless there is some specific reason why that specific disability is entirely incompatible with the work (as in there is no possible way that it can be worked around). I don’t know why people in wheelchairs can’t work at the cash register for example. Okay they might not be able to reach things if the benches are too high/ so either make a usable platform or lower the benches? It might be entirely different in the case of stacking shelves however, where the associated cost of creating a device which would allow someone who is wheelchair bound to reach the top shelves. I’m not sure it’s fair either to hire such a person only to fill lower shelves, and have to hire someone else to do stuff that’s higher up. Idk. There’s loads of things I could say about this issue. 😛

    2. Yes, absolutely, I’m familiar with that – my first degree was in Biochemistry so I still follow the subject enthusiastically.  What they are also finding is that the somatic expression of the genetic “recipe book” is informed by the environment.  For example, they showed two identical twin doctors, one of whom put on a lot more weight than the other as he was working much longer hours and not eating properly.

      Genetics are like your unique recipe book, with recipes from both your parents, plus your own changes. So your mothers Lemon Meringue Pie might use a sweet crust pastry while your father’s uses more zest. Your recipe has both the sweet crust and the zest but also adds a pinch of nutmeg making it uniquely your own.

      Environment is what tells you, one day, to open your recipe book and make a Lemon Meringue Pie.

    3. The other important take away from the twin studies documentary is that we all, realistically, don’t have a great deal of room to move. We have our genes which are essentially fixed (Google “methylation”) and our environment which shapes us, especially when we are young, and about which we can do very little. So we should just accept that we are the way we are and make the best of it. The very fact our genetics, environment and experience are unique to each of us means we should compare ourselves with anyone else.

      1. It’s that fixed-ness, which is unchangeable, that suggests that perhaps there are differences which cannot adapt to legislation or education, but which legislation and education ought to adapt to. While it determines that we are all different, it also determines the ways in which we cannot be different, no matter the environment.

        1. Some members of the society have an historical connection that goes back many years. Our society recognises those links with the past and the need to cherish and preserve them. Again, it is the fact of the historic occupation of their ancestors that qualifies some members of society for special consideration. If another, different group of people was also found to have some sort of historical connection, the same principles should apply.

          I do agree that there needs to be a process of reconciliation for past injustices – again for the descendants of those that suffered the injustices, regardless of ethnicity etc. This has been a long and fraught process in NZ but I think the country will be better for having undertaken the necessary re-examination and rebalancing of history.

    4. The “indigenous gap” is, more than anything, a “poverty” gap and a “tyranny of distance” gap. Jobs are the accepted route to income which alleviates poverty but jobs are located near populations, transport, ports etc. My point is in legislating or acting to try and close any such gap, we need to be tackling poverty and the tyranny of distance for all the people affected by these issues, of any colour, ethnicity, age sex etc.

      1. Are you then suggesting we should be forcing Indigenous people (and everyone else) to learn English, learn algebra and get a job in some white people office, outside of their own culture?

        Within their own culture they used to hunt and fish and gather, they cook, they have rights of passage and cultural traditions and values and approaches to things. Why do they have to have a job in order to live? They shouldn’t need to lose their culture and industrialise their lifestyle (outsource everything and perfect their ability to perform within a particular aspect of society) because some white person in Canberra told them it was the only way to survive. The problem with the gap is that we are measuring their health and wellbeing against our own yardstick. We consider what they do to be wrong and unhealthy because it is not *the same*. What if we legislate that everyone must not have a job, but must hunt and fish and gather their own food to survive? That doesn’t seem right either. That’s why I was suggesting letting elders make those decisions, so traditional indigenous communities can function in a culturally sensitive way that does not impose urbanisation and ‘white lifestyle’ upon them. That’s not to say that Indigenous people living on the streets in the middle of Melbourne or Sydney are the problem of some elder somewhere else, if they live within our society they should adapt to the social securities that are provided here without regard to race. But I would suggest that where elders govern their own communities, we should be providing some sort of assistance towards improving health outcomes in particular, for example where we have introduced a disease to their population and are able to address it in some way (whether that is to control symptoms, to vaccinate, whatever) then we should be doing that with agreement from the elders. With regards to banning alcohol, of course we aren’t going to ban it based on someone’s ethnicity or cultural identity. But I think if the elders deem it best for their community, then alcohol should be banned in those communities based on that. Same as if a state government put in an alcohol prohibition in their particular state with the best interests of their people in mind. So self-governance.

        1. I understand you’re looking after their best interests but do you really want them to go back to living solely off the land, hunting and fishing in traditional ways? Do you mean if someone is injured during a hunt they should only use their own traditional medicines to provide help? – that we shouldn’t fly them to a hospital for life-saving surgery? And are the elders any better than our own elders? Won’t there be good ones and bad ones just as in any other group of individuals? You say “if they live in our society, they should adapt to the social securities that are provided there” – Well when are they not living in our society? Rather our society should adapt to reasonably support its whole population, in whatever circumstances it finds its members. Again we, as a society, should decide what rights and responsibilities our members should be provided and then provide or enforce them consistently and without favour to all of the societies members. If those whose parents came from China want to celebrate Chinese New Year and it’s not going to harm other members of the society then go to it. But is a group with ancestors from Africa want to practise genital mutilation on young girls then we, as a society, should protect those children and say no. The devil is always in the detail but the point I’m trying to get across is that it is the actions that should be monitored, not various categories of members. No one, black, white, male, female, young or old, should be allowed to drink and drive. Everyone should have a right to an education and where necessary, the society might have to make decisions on behalf of those members (such as young children, the mentally disadvantaged) who can’t make their own informed decisions. But it’s about individuals and it’s about actions, not about the categories these members find themselves in

          1. Long post, middle of the night, tired. Forgive me the tone of it, its disjointedness and any grammar/spelling/typos? :\ I’d be nicer in broad daylight 😛

            First of I’d say, don’t let ideology get in the way of logic. Don’t approach complex issues with ideals set in stone about the outcomes. I agree people should be treated the same under the law. Certainly in a democracy we want all people to have an equal say in the future of the country, and we want all people to exercise their cultures as they see fit (as long as its not like, negligence, mutilation, rape, murder, stoning, etc.). There is actually no rule about assimilating for any culture, any of them could easily form themselves into small communities where they run their own shops, speak their own languages, and educate their own children within the cultural identity they are comfortable with. Some already have, its not hard to pick if you get off at certain stops on the train line, you get out and there is a high Sudanese population here, Vietnamese there, Italian somewhere else. Who needs Little Italy and China Town??

            I’m not saying *I* want them to do anything. I’m saying they should have the right to make those choices for themselves, or at least on the behalf of their community by the elders. No-one else should be able to tell them what for. However, their rights only extend so far as until they butt up against the rights of others.

            You can’t actually force anyone to receive medical help, even if they are dying. Only time you can force anything is if they are unconscious, in which case they are unable to express their will and the default is to protect life at all cost (right or wrong, euthanasia, assisted suicide etc. is a topic for another thread).

            Flip this entire thing on its head. You and your ancestors have lived here for 40,000 years, with all the things you are now accustomed to forming part of your cultural identity. Now the aborigines come to our land, and they are going to take away your medicine, your job, your livelihood, your christmas and easter, your children if you have any, because that is not how they do it now they’re here. They want the whole community to raise your kids, they want you to use traditional medicine because penicillin etc. are no good by their standards. They want you to find your own food, real, fresh, unprocessed food. Because that shit that comes in packets in violent colours with bizarre flavours cannot possibly be good for you. They’ll tear down your permanent dwelling, because where they come from that is dangerous to the local eco-system and it is much better for everyone if you move around and source your food from different places in different season (added bonus of being somewhere warmer in winter).

            Do you see how absurd it is to push our culture on other people? If they choose our culture thats cool, they have to live by our rules. But I do NOT think we should be imposing our standards upon them. The only exception would be to have an open and honest discussion with said elders about things like medical aid (where available and requested) and education (in terms of if they’d like someone to help them teach their children English or whatever).

            I take the term ‘society’ rather broadly. Have you seen much of Australia? It’s not exactly densely populated. And many things are governed variously at local, state and federal levels. Each of these instances are of ‘societies’ or social groupings of people. If a rural township can be considered to have its own local government and local laws, I don’t see why the state and federal governments can’t work with them on that basis. I would also say that there are indigenous reserves which are governed as places for Indigenous people to live according to their own culture, for the most part without interference. These would also serve as communities, which have their own rules.

            I don’t think there are any state or federal laws which say that everyone must live in a house, have a job, go to the doctor, to school and love thy neighbour anyway. They simply say that if you don’t have a job and you need help to survive while you’re looking, then you can apply for job-seekers allowance. As I’ve said, you have the right to refuse medical assistance. Education is mandatory for all persons between 5 and 16 in Victoria, however if you choose to homeschool your child by whatever means you consider appropriate, and as long as you can show you’re not utterly negligent, that is allowed. You can also choose public, private, religious, secular, and any number of alternative schools for children, so you can pretty much do whatever you want on that score anyway, barring putting a child in a locked room and cutting them off from everything else except food – they probably wouldn’t learn much there. You can live in a car, or a tree or whatever if you so choose, though there are issues with being a public nuisance or loitering if you annoy other people with your presence.

            Oh and for the record, maybe I’m nitpicking, but I don’t consider the ‘community’ to be the best judge of a persons ability to make their own decisions. Persons with disabilities usually have family who have power of attorney where necessary, usually granted by the courts. Children on the other hand the responsibility for them lies with the parents, though the child’s own opinions are taken into account by the courts and at the age of I think 12 they are able to make their own decisions for the most part on things like where they should live. This right is rarely removed from a parent, except in severe cases. Even children have the right to be heard and their opinions considered as is practical for their age and maturity.

            I think you take a very socialist view of things 😛 I’m happy for people to make their own decisions about anything and everything, as long as that doesn’t impede on the rights of others. Drink driving is fine, if you’re in a lonely paddock in the middle of nowhere. But if you’re causing a danger to others, then no you may not. Ditto smoking, you can do it anywhere and everywhere, but don’t subject me to your second hand smoke and endanger my life with your choices. Same with any manner of other things. I am personally in favour of drag strips and open competitions. With the right legal boundaries such as indemnity forms and localised medical personnel, people should be allowed to drive without restriction to see how fast their street car will go. That doesn’t mean endangering other people’s lives, and if you choose to participate you forfeit the right to blame others for any danger that comes to you or your vehicle. I don’t believe there is any need to drive like a lunatic on a public road where you are endangering other people’s lives.

            And the same goes for all the rest. Corporations may function as they see fit, but they may not impede the right of people to be treated fairly, and they may not take advantage of their customers through bad advice or false advertising or whatever else.

            And I will again ask you to read the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that I linked to somewhere on here (or you can google it 🙂 ).

            I think we should be upholding all UN Conventions/Declarations etc.

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