Archive for the 'History' Category


Marechal Rondon

RondonRecently I read The River of Doubt about President Theodore Roosevelt’s journey on an unmapped river in South America, also called the Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition.  A friend lent me the book.  It is a fascinating account and coming from the desert the detailed explanations of the river, the amazon environment and its adaptive nature was intriguing given the stark contrast to my own environment.

My friend who lent it to me said that Marechal Rondon, the Brazilian Military Officer who led the journey with Roosevelt, was a remarkable figure so prominent in the history of South America.  In that region his name is recognised extensively.  The book gives account after account of Rondon’s philosophy and approach towards the indigenous peoples; how he refused to support confrontation despite being in the face of danger and hostility; how his practice was to leave food and goods as gifts; how his discipline and honour and strong sense of nationalism was highly regarded.  My friend asks why we don’t have similiar figures recognised by our own Australian history?  

Judging by our own account of history during the 1800s it seems Rondon’s philosophy and approach would have been quite a departure from accepted opinion.  His was progressive in the sense of accepting pluralism but different from many established opinions (such as responding to hostility with strength and force).  The fact that Rondon received such widespread recognition accounts to the fact that this position and philosophy was recognised as central to the development of general identity and recognition in South America.  My friends question opens up important thoughtlines!


Rawls philosophy and contemporary equal opportunity

Wikipedia outlines philosopher John Rawls (1921-2002) attempts to solve the problems of distributive justice by utilising a variant of the social contract.  He does this by two core principles of justice: liberty principle and difference principle, and calls it ‘Justice as Fairness’.

Writing in A Theory of Justice (1971) Rawls outlines a simple definition of the ‘first principle’:

Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all.

Contemporary equal opportunity policies generally conflict with this principle.  In attempting to solve class injustice contemporary policies recognise exclusiveness based on certain categories: race, gender, disability.  Information and data that pertain to these categories establish a scale where socio-economic outcomes can be readily defined. 

Where this principle finds conflict with components of contemporary policy is with the ‘compatibility’ requirement put by Rawls.  That is, basing policy exclusive to certain groups must find balance with the compatibility of enabling a ‘similiar system of liberty for all’.  I would argue that contemporary policy is inadequate.  

Take, for example, indigenous policy.

If we are to view positive discrimination and affirmative action policies then we can say that contemporary policy is based on opportunities exclusive to race: if you are indigenous you are entitled to certain educational, work and other opportunities.  Contemporary equal opportunity seeks to justify these policies by recognising that indigenous peoples, as a group, are lower across all socio-economic outcomes than the broader population.  The problem is that these policies are subjective – they do not account for individual circumstance.  An urban Aboriginal person who is entitled to such a program can have more opportunities prior to accessing such programs than the non-Aboriginal person living in the same community.  Such a circumstance negates the ‘compatibility’ requirement of Rawls principle.

I support a political direction that accommodates the pluralism of Aboriginality, and seeks a significant re-alignment of priorities in terms of access to opportunities.  Current policy appears to uplift the Aboriginal middle class whilst the lower class continue to face spiralling challenges.  This is a direct result of policies that categorise opportunities exclusive to race, as well as failures in other areas of policy.


Robert Manne, history and modernity

ABC Hindsight provides audio access to a Robert Manne lecture ‘Whatever happened to reconciliation?’, located here

I admire Professor Manne because he left Quadrant magazine in order to pursue a more non-partisan (and more substantial) contribution to Aboriginal history and politics, including (2001) In Denial: The Stolen Generations and the Right.  The circumstances of his leaving Quadrant are well documented.   

Continue reading ‘Robert Manne, history and modernity’

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