Post 100: Thinking about Values

Writing this, my 100th blog post, has set me a-thinkin’ about why. Why I’m writing a blog, yes, but also why I’m doing lots of things. Why I’m frustrated by the work I’m doing. Why I love Sydney (and Melbourne, don’t feel left out, folks). Why I get passionate about certain issues in the media.

Actually, I’ve been thinking about these things for some time, but writing this post focussed my thoughts. And while doing so, the word “values” turned up — twice. Once for the current public debate about “Australian values”. And again when my friend and colleague Zern Liew asked me to list my own “personal values”.

Australian Values

This debate fascinates me. It’s all divide-and-conquer tactics by our Prime Minister, of course. John Howard, I despise the direction you’re taking this fine nation, but I have to admire your ability to play the game.

“Australian values” are tricky. It’s not like the nation came with a value statement — unlike the America’s fine Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Australia’s Constitution is just a British Act of Parliament setting up the mechanics of creating a federation out of disparate colonies.

The term “Australian Values” is usually followed by words like “mateship” and “a fair go” and “tolerance”. All very vague.

Writer John Birmingham says the roots of our core values run deep

… all the way back to ancient Greece in the case of western political values — although not western sexual values because those Greeks, God bless ’em, they mighta defended their precious freedoms with some really kickin’ hoplite infantry, but they were also kinda gay.

There’s a great bit in Mississippi Burning, where Willem Dafoe’s super-nerd FBI guy gets all preachy and superior about some murdered civil rights workers and their commitment to American values, lecturing Gene Hackman that some folks believe there are things worth dying for. And Hackman, playing a fatter, slower, deeply cynical and infinitely more dangerous FBI guy, deadpans him right back that in Ole Miss, that’s fine, because there are plenty of folks believe some things are worth killin’ for.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe, stripped right back to bone and marrow, the core values of any society are those things everyone except Bob Brown is willing to spill blood over. An ocean of blood if needs be. It’s unfashionable, but it concentrates the mind to think in those terms.

While the article outlines some history in an amusing way, it doesn’t help explain what those values actually are.

Maybe we can get a handle on “Australian” by looking at what’s “un-Australian”.

Hmmm… a problem there. “un-Australian” is used indiscriminately for all sorts of things. Bosses who block Internet access to football tipping websites, utes that can’t do burnouts, anyone who doesn’t eat lamb, vegetarians, and paying someone to clean your house are all un-Australian according to a fascinating article in the Sydney Morning Herald.

(Yes, apparently since we hired a cleaner, we became un-Australian. Well ’Pong is un-Australian anyway, he’s Thai — though a permanent resident.)

In fact, calling things “un-Australian” has become so common that the Macquarie Dictionary had to re-define it last year.

un-Australian [pronunciation] adjective 1. not Australian in character: an un-Australian landscape; an un-Australian novel. 2. (of conduct, behaviour, etc) not conforming to ideas of traditional Australian morality and customs, such as fairness, honesty, hard work, etc.: Mr Elliott said the idea should not be seen as un-Australian or against the ethos of the nation’s culture of not ‘dobbing in mates’. — West Australian, 1992. 3. violating a pattern of conduct, behaviour, etc., which, it is implied by the user of the term, is one embraced by Australians: It’s un-Australian to drive past a pub. — John Singleton, 1988. 4. Obsolete disloyal to the Australian nation, especially by virtue of being subject to manipulation by an influence from outside Australia, derived from certain political, religious and ethnic affiliations.

So “un-Australian” is just whatever someone asserts it to be. Not very helpful either. After all that, we’re no closer to understanding what “Australian values” are.

And that’s the beauty of John Howard’s “Australian values”. They’re all in the ear of the listener. To rednecks at Cronulla, Australian values are about keeping the lebs off “our” beach. To the Lebanese at Bankstown, Australian values include the tolerance of multiculturalism that allows them to live here in (mostly) harmony.

I’ll never figure out “Australian values” in this blog!

Personal Values

My personal values… that’s tricky too.

Zern asked me to list my personal values as part of the “reinventing Stilgherrian” project — because I’m not happy with where I am professionally right now.

If you’ve known me a while, or if you read About Stilgherrian, you’ll know that the media has been a big chunk of my working life. I was good at doing media stuff, and it was fun. I enjoy writing, and that’s why I blog. Yet somehow I’ve ended up running an IT business — and I simply don’t care about IT.

Sure, I did a major in computing science. But a computer is a tool — the means to an end, not an end in itself. I’m not interested in making tools — let alone fixing other people’s tools when they break. That’s what tradespeople are for.

And yet Prussia.Net is a successful business. I don’t want to kill it.

So there’s a transition process of some kind here. Zern has quite rightly asked about my own “core values”. But I’m not yet sure what they are, and whenever I start listing them I end up with “assertions” and “beliefs” as well as “values”.

  • Truth and Integrity. I hate liars, and I believe in dealing truthfully in business.
  • Hypocrisy is a sin. Actually it’s one of the Three Senseless Sins of the Church of Virus, along with Dogmatism and Apathy. The Three Virian Virtues are Reason, Empathy and Vision.
  • Humans are Mammals. We are apes, and there’s no way you’ll properly understand humans unless you take that into account.
  • Everything is Deeply Intertwingled. That’s an observation by Ted Nelson, the man who invented the word “hypertext” and who’s a brilliant genius or an ADD-riddled scatter-brain, or both.

Looking for list of personal values on the Internet gives me a lot of motherhood words.

Obviously this needs more thought. Much more thought. And the long weekend just finished was about decadence such as the AFL Grand Final and the attendant ales rather than Deep Thinking. So this long and rambling post has questions, but no answers. Do you feel cheated?

Maybe if you know me well you can suggest some of my personal values — comments please!

6 Replies to “Post 100: Thinking about Values”

  1. Actually, now that I can finally catch up on reading the whole issue, Crikey also has an article on values by Max Wallace (subscription required).

    He reckons Australia’s core values are secular: (1) scepticism towards all authority (2) mateship and (3) a fair go — the same as the values of the French Revolution: liberté, fraternité, égalité.

  2. Why, why and why? Big questions! Haven’t we been told that we asked too many questions? After all we are only human, cannot make sense of everything. But we can’t help it, can we? That’s how it works. Ask kids.

    To ask about values is always a tricky thing. Australian values? I think many Australians are happy to leave it as an open question. Food for example, I did ask what was an authentic Australian cuisine, like you say to French, Chinese, Thai or American. Can you say loudly it’s Vegemite or beef pie? Every now and then, Australian cultural identity is a political game played to sound a popularity index. Remember years back when Latham was ALP’s leader, he proposed to rethink Australia’s multiculturalism? How far did the policy go? How far did he go!

    I doubt that I will have to take that Howard’s test if I want to consider being an Australian. It is interesting to see what would be in the test, tho.

    Personal Values: I think what you believe you are is not far from what you are perceived. Truth and honesty have come to my mind about you.

    Regarding those first questions I think you just simply care about what is going in the world and want to share your view about it. Hey, isn’t that blogging thing about— screaming, ranting or just expressing?

    Darn! I am spending more time commenting your blog than posting my own. *slap*

  3. Could it be that an essential Australian pastime is discussing these things? To put it another way: we seem to have a burning desire to debate our ‘values’ in a (relatively) frank and free manner, rather than having them handed down to us in a little book. Self-obsession isn’t always unhealthy.

    Right or Left, I believe that nobody in Australia could keep a straight face under a dictatorship. I’m glad we’re predisposed to mockery rather than torchlight rallies.

    On the subject of food, as a ’70s immigrant from Britain I would define modern Australian cuisine as a happy marriage of South-East Asian and Mediterranean influences. (The people that actually own this country might beg to differ.) Whatever it is, I’m happier with chilli prawns than steak & kidney pie!

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