Saturday, February 9, 2008

Saying sorry is bullshit

Here in Oz, we're thick in a discussion about saying sorry to Aborigines. I shall confuse things initially by declaring that white people saying sorry to Aborigines is bullshit. Don't wig out yet, just keep reading.

'Sorry' is what you say when you bump into someone. For obvious, simple and accidental events such as this, one word will suffice. The saying of it implicitly acknowledges three things: the presence of the other; that a transgression has occurred; and the nature of the transgression, which in this case was nothing much.

It's the three acknowledgements which are important. The word 'sorry' is merely a polite shorthand to achieve them. In more complex events, a single word like sorry is insufficient. It might cover the first two aspects of the acknowledgement but the third is woefully unaddressed. And the third is the crucial pivot. Really it's the only bit that counts. If it is done correctly the first two are taken as read.

Just saying sorry is a piece of piss. Anyone can do it, even through gritted teeth. A teenager who has conducted a screaming match ruining a social occasion on account of not being allowed to go and hang out at the mall might, without too much difficulty, be able to say 'Sorry'. He or she might even be able to say, 'Sorry I ruined everyone's dinner'. Each of these steps is do-able without puncturing the teenager's delusional view of themself and the world. But imagine the teenager saying the following - 'Sorry I ruined everyone's dinner. I viewed my own petty needs as being more important than the harmony that existed here. I realise that all my life, things have been done for me and really the least I can do in return is to consider others and attempt to be pleasant.' It's an unlikely prospect isn't it? You can see how the word 'sorry' is almost superfluous now.

The reason one never hears such words is because it requires one to examine the nature of their delusion. Delusion defines the self - for everyone, that is, except Buddha (and Bodhisattvas, sure). But forget them - none of us is Buddha and delusion is who we are. A true discussion about a transgression against another is actually a discussion of who one is.

And that must be fought tooth and nail. Sure enough, here we are in Australia and everyone agrees that we should say 'sorry'. But instantly we're bogged down about what we're apologising for exactly. Should we include the phrase 'stolen generation'? What if we replace the word 'stolen' with 'taken'? How about 'mistaken'? How about 'accidentally misplaced'?

God spare us. Why don't we just tell those unappreciative, grog-soaked, bludging, black bastards to get off their arses and work. We made this country great and those fuckers think we owe them a living. And yeah, SORRY. Happy now?

Nobody says - self-impressed white people can go fuck themselves. People tell me I should be a teacher. Ha ha ha. No really. Okay then, cop this history -

In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety Two when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, the continents of North America, South America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Australia had no concept of private ownership. They didn't travel great distances and steal other people's shit. How would that profit a man, said they. Until we killed them that is. And yes, they were humans and fought their neighbours. But us imagining their savagery was worse than ours is laughable. Never mind Mel Gibson's bullshit Apocalypto slaughter-fest, we made these people look like a bunch of saints. Their philosophies, their social arrangements, their music, art and poetry, and even their science were nothing in the face of our murderous certainty of our own greatness.

So, might a good starting point for us acknowledging our transgression (which, since we're saying sorry, obviously exists) be the fact that Aborigines' lack of a 'deed' showing ownership of this country was not a failure on their part. (Like we'd have paid any attention anyway). And us showing them how it's done was not a testament to our superiority. It was merely one state of mind meeting another. One acquisitive, one not. And acquisitive is not a compliment. In this spirit of acquisitiveness, we would teach the aborigines that: flora is to be cut down; fauna is to be shot; the earth is to be dug up; and the rivers emptied. We would render their way of life impossible. (And ours too soon enough). That they choose not to embrace our societal arrangements does not condemn them.

Me, I view their distaste for impossibly complicated arrangements of ownership, paper money, credit cards, shares, mortgages, bills, ID's and Bundy clocks to be perfectly understandable. What do these things have to do with humans and the astounding world in which they live? I'd happily argue that they're a denial of that. And yes, they have problems with alcohol. 40,000 years without alcohol, forced into a world-view that makes no sense to them and we expect them to just say no, to face this madness sober? Shit. Anglo-Saxons wagging their collective finger at others' misuse of alcohol is the height of hypocrisy. We're the drinking-est people that ever lived.

So. How about that for a foundation on which to build a discussion of our transgression? Let's now progress to how harmony might be achieved between people who must necessarily live with each other. Between a truthful discussion of who we are and an angry 'sorry' hissed through gritted teeth, there's a lot of middle ground. It's not an either/or choice. It's a continuum. How honest we want to be with ourselves is up to us.


Anonymous said...

he who talks loud, saying nothing!!?

Anonymous said...

I loved your essay nobody, I normally reserve my reaction to it for Les' specials; well said.
I really think our aboriginals are going to be up in arms about this
I went looking for the wording of the apology - only found this (no help from Kev)
Went looking...
Found jack shit!
There are big do's on all over Australia on Wednesday, I'll take big bets here (a six pack) this is going to be another government failure (Kevin 'Bloody' Rudd this time).

annemarie said...

Great post mite :) Superb actually.

But I was startled to read what you said about Apocalypto. I love Apocalypto. Jaguar Paw is my hero, as is his woman/wife. There was so much richness in that movie, so much truth.
Remember the scene where the old man/chief talks about people wanting and wanting and wanting and getting and getting so much (e.g. from the other animals) and how the owl finally says that man can't be satisfied, even when he has it all, he still wants more because he's got a HOLE inside of him, and that one day mother earth will simply have no more to give, and will no longer be able to support him/us. That was friggin' amazing mate. And that scene where (when they're out hunting) Jaguar Paw's father tells his son to not be afraid, that fear is a sickness, and to not bring fear into the village with him.That was really powerful.

The way I saw Apocalypto (twice so far)was that the forest people of whom Jaguar Paw was one were the real, good, natural and decent ones. The city dwellers, well they were all just sick fuckers. Unnatural, enslaved, corrupted, and twisted. Same as today? Natural people living in harmony with nature and cooperatively with each other versus the gluttonous, perverted, blood-thirsty fuckers. Same as today? Same as it's been for a millenium or two?

Sorry, this is just a quick comment, but I wanted to mention this. See, I just said 'sorry'. It's a matter of politeness, manners. And you're absolutely right, sorry doesn't even begin to cover what some people have done to others. What white people have done to Aborigines is but one example among how many. How many? I'm exhausted just thinking about how many.

later mite ;)

nobody said...

Thanks all, too kind by half,

Les is absolutely knocking my socks off at the moment. He is Hunter S. reborn.

And you've caught me out annemarie. I haven't seen Apocalypto. Ha! I have it on DVD but it has Russian subtitles. Let's not go into that.

I didn't see Passion of the Christ either. I view Gibson as a very strange man with an obsession for torture, cruelty and gore. I flicked over to the Christ thing once and caught a single shot of the hooks of the scourge ripping chunks of flesh. What I saw in that shot was a dedicated rig built solely for the purpose of that close-up. There was no way that rig was there by accident. FX guys build what's in the storyboard. If it's in the storyboard it's because Gibson wanted a close-up of tearing flesh. What the hell is that? It says far more about Gibson than Jesus. And Apocalypto as best as I could make out seems equally as hell-bent with gratuitous gore as star. I have a BIG problem with this.

But I'll check it out. I've long wanted to, merely for the sake of the art direction which is extraordinary.

My reference to it was in its role as confirmation of the stereotype of the natives of the New World as blood-drenched savages. Take it within those limits.


Anonymous said...

I like Mel's cop movies but he is just another Rupert - giving the people what they crave.

kikz said...

ever seen eddie izzard's dressed to kill? it's legend.

he does a riff about the brits and every civilization of indigenous peoples they encountered building the empire....was met w/the question...
but, do you have a flag?

eddie izzard you ask?
get it... dressed to kill..
he's an executive transvestite, don'cha know:)

yea, it's apology time here in the states also. feb is black history month.. so is jan, come to think of it...

pbs covering the requisite stories of black slavery, of course invented exclusively by southern whites. black slavery never ever existed in the north, and of course even archeological evidence of slavery and plantations in the north is ignored....... because... we all know.. black slavery was invented and practiced by southern whites ONLY. eyeroll. so much for truth..............

another series... goes thru the forensic's of finding famous black's family lineages.... oprah, morgan freeman, tina turner, don chealde, yadaX3. it's an interesting show, in that.. through their adversity and diaspora, naturally their lineages were interrupted.. but after... generations after slavery.... they still remain ignorant of their lineage from that point on ..
i don't get it..yes, bad things happen, but you don't forget your people, especially.. if that's all you had, or had left in the world.

lots of the families that were showcased did amazing things... had, for that time, acquired vast lands.. donated acreage to schools, began and ran schools.....educated their children... owned multiple businesses, been successful..... prospered.

but, for some reason were ultimately forgotten by successive generations.

i don't understand this forgetting thing, at all.

i realize young people usually don't have an interest in geneaology, but i can't understand the forgetting, the negation of such achievement........

it's bizarre.

annemarie said...

Caughta! haha nobody ;)

I'll not ever watch Mel's "passion". All the trailers/previews I saw on tv looked like a torture/gore fest, made me cringe. And I was quite disgusted with Gibson after that episode.

Then I saw some trailers for Apocalypto and wondered if it was along the same lines. Read a review or two of it, but the reviews were so mixed and contradictory that it got me wondering more. And then some people whom I like or whose opinions I respect said I should look at it, after I'd told them my concerns about it. So finally I rented it and was Blown Away. I see it as a love story.

Yes there's gore in it. There are some scenes that are really difficult to watch. No understatement there. But as awful as it was, it still didn't and does not seem gratuitous to me.

And wanna' hear the oddest thing about it (for me)? Just after I'd watched it, a friend of my son was talking about renting it for himself and his younger siblings. First I cautioned him that it might be too violent/gory for the younger ones (young adolescents). I feel that it is too much for younger and still impressionable/vulnerable people. He said he'd take that into consideration, but here's the clincher... he said that the reason he didn't rent it that night was because of the subtitles. And I went "Subtitles, what subtitles? Huhnn?!"

See, I'd just watched it only a few weeks before. But I absolutely did not recall any subtitles. Told him that he was mistaken, that I'd watched it in English. And I'd a bet my life that it was in English without subtitles. I was convinced that he was wrong about this and vice-versa. We were both utterly puzzled.

A little while later, I watched it for the second time and was amazed that he was correct, it was subtitled, and that it was not in English. I had been so engrossed in the film that I'd forgotten all about the subtitles! And I can tell you that this is not usually "me". I have a near-photographic memory. But I was wayyy off on this. Weird.

Anyhow, there's more I want to say about "saying sorry is bullshit". But I want to spend proper time writing it. So I'll return to do that. Am busier just now.

Later mite :)

annemarie said...

Ok, I'm baaaack. Confession hahaaha...I've been cheating on you over at Les'. hahaah

Ok, here's what I've been wanting to say in response to your beautiful, loving and thoughtful essay "saying sorry is bullshit".

Straight up! Your essay, that is. Saying sorry is bullshit in this instance. Sorry doesn't even cut it.

love is never having to say you're sorry.

(and I apologize for the reference to the sappy, sentimental book/film from which I learned that phrase. It's still a great/true line nevertheless, and btw after reading your essay was the first time that I actually understood that line. It always nagged at me for some reason. Maybe cause the story surrounding the line was such saccharine bullshit? Methinks so. But in any case, that line (now) is the baby in the bathwater ;)

If we love, then we don't have to say sorry.

It's that true and clear and straightforward and simple. Not complicated in the least. If we behave with love, lovingly, care-ingly towards each other, towards all others, then there'll be nothing to be/say sorry for, for we will have done our best, and we won't have destroyed anyone.

We cannot undo the past. We cannot feel guilty for what our ancestors have done. But we can be responsible. Here and now. And we need major doses of love, respect, and caring (all the same imo) in order to heal here and now, in the here and now.

All else is wasteful.

Then you won't be sorry. ;)

With love from me to you, annemarie

nobody said...

What fine people visit this blog. Hats off to all.

I like your sideways thought annemarie. But I'll add a ps. True love must necessarily be entirely honest. It ain't true otherwise, natch. A relationship based on complete honesty (or attempting to approach it on the continuum) really ought not to need the word sorry. A true spirit of honesty would mean that the transgression, or lack of consideration, or whatever would be honestly addressed and acknowledge. And sure, say sorry (why not?) but only as a cherry on the cake, if you know what I mean.

And kikz, you remind me of an ex-Mormon I know who explained Mormonism in an interesting light. They dwell heavily on precisely what you're talking about. I'm not going into bat for Mormons, but this aspect of their religion has served a tremendously useful purpose. In Hawaii, it's arguable that the Mormons rescued Hawaiian culture. Prior to them arriving the Proddos had been attempting to crush dance, dress, language, culture, you name it. It was sinful, doncha know.

I'm not going soft on you all - I remain a variation of nihilist - but some religions do occasionally have some functions that are laudable. And some more than others.

Anonymous said...

The Australian ‘sorry’ thing is being done from a guilty conscience; the government does not know what to do with our aboriginal people. They have tried lots of ‘white’ things but they don’t work and the Australian people know this and don’t feel good about it; in fact they get angry at the aborigines because these things don’t work. ?? Now after this sorry business they can get even angrier when our methods continue to be ineffective. “We’ve said we’re sorry, what bloody more do you want?” And ignore their plight further.
The problem in Australia; the whities have no idea and no real interest in understanding what/how our indigenous people think.
I get lots of negative when I put my theory that when we (whities) have ruined the world it will be the remaining indigenous peoples who get it up and going again. I think they (black fellas) understand this also but the waiting for us to get to that point is what is wrecking the indigenous cultures of the world. The longer they stand around waiting the more of their culture flies out the door.
I know one very famous Australian aboriginal said that if he was going to live in this society he could only do it drunk. And he did.

nobody said...

You nailed it Tony. There's a general vague desire to do the right thing here. But it's useless. It's filtered through a white lens. The white dye here is our opinion of ourselves. It needs to be subtracted so that the lens might become clear, that we might see clearly. A task that's beyond us, I reckon.

And we use alcohol like they use alcohol. Disfunctional societies cannot be faced without it. I've lived in places where there was very little drinking or drunkenness. It's arguable that those societies are better suited to the human condition. Like I said before, the hateful pointlessness of our society makes oblivion an obvious response.

Oh! Just remembered. I meant to post this here immediately but forgot. It's Ramsay's piece from last Saturday's SMH. Anyone interested in how history gets white-washed, Australian style, should check it out.

Anonymous said...

Very excellent, multidimensional book: "The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy." I won't do a book report. I'll just say that it is STILL very worth reading even after nobody's essay just said, in 2 paragraphs, everything that's in the book!

And the point that aboriginal people(s) have been unable to face, sober, a permanent future filled with western "culture" . . . exactly this is one of the recurring themes of another VERY VERY amazing book called Blood Orchid: An Unnatural History of America, by Charles Bowden. (Watch out, there's another "Blood Orchid" written by someone else.) This is a book I really hope nobody will go and find a copy of, and after reading it, you just might need to start ANOTHER blog for book reviews. Not just "another good book."

Apocalypto shows how the indians had this cultural problem of ceremonially mass murdering their war captives. Two brief points. (1) They're worse than us? who use depleted uranium, etc., etc., etc. ??? And, (2) -- this was the main thing I disliked -- their embarrassing cultural problem gets solved in the end by the first small group in a to-be-numberless wave of *Jesuits* arriving in a boat, to start telling them what to do (or else they'll all go to hell). Was that an improvement??? But one subtle thing I did like was how Jaguar Paw impliedly exempted himself from the coming indoctrination, just by heading back into the jungle after seeing the boat . . . and that movie-ending correlates with the real-world fact that such people ("Jaguar Paw's descendents") are still there, and still have some cultural independence, I believe. (For example, aren't there Maya people who still speak Maya?)

ellis t

nobody said...

Wow! I had no idea. It ends with Jesuits? Look 'jesuitical' up in a dictionary, ha ha. Anyway it figures Gibson would run with that.

Wait! Is this the cinema blog? What's going on?

As for books, I used to be a voracious reader. A book a day. Two days for a fat one. But no longer. Between writing for these blogs, reading wrh, counterpunch and the rest, looking after the old man, doing the times crossword, and hitting the beach there's not enough hours in the day. And, perhaps more crucially, I have no money now and the library is distant. But I do like a few pages before I go to bed. And that consists of perpetually re-reading Patrick O'Brian. I know that makes no sense but I just find his English understated prose so perfectly delicious. I'm on the fifth go-round now. Weird eh?


Anonymous said...

Well it's here, the stolen generation apology
I wonder that if our indigenous people had the marketing skills and the inclination of the Israelis we would hear of this forever, yes, until kingdom come. I think not!
They have far too much class for that and I feel that they are happy enough to see at least something forthcoming from the government if only for the older generation of whom, by this time, there are all too few.

nobody said...

Hey Tony,

Yeah, I watched it all and thought Rudd did as well as could be expected. Never mind me wanting to go back to the dawn of time, or my singular ability to get people riled (I am now verboten in several households) Rudd needed a more moderate tack and I think he said the right things.

And the crowd went nuts. Instant primal approval. I was also pleased Rudd pre-empted the counter arguments and shot them down. And he explicitly acknowledged the official genocidal nature of the caper which accords answered my thing about a discussion of the nature of the crime. He's gone up in my estimation.

And Brendon Nelson showed what small-minded piece of shit he is. His self-serving apologia and blaming of the victims in a solemn tone were appalling and transparently so. The people present in the chamber were far more polite than he deserved. I expect if I'd been there I'd have been ejected for screaming abuse at him. Apparently the crowd outside let rip. Good on 'em.

Anonymous said...

Some thoughts I thought I would, then didn’t now did…

Yes, I think Kevie did OK. Hopefully things will improve.

I asked at the local community centre today (12-02-2008) if our town was going to have a do for the PM's sorry message.
”Eh! Ooow! I don’t think so", says the lady who later told me her church was going to mention it at its next… you know.
"We should", say I, "We killed all of them from this area didn't we? We should do something."
"Oh, no", she says, “There are still a few families left around here."
The town I live in has about 1,000 people. A council of a dozen councillors or so. There are about 30,000 people in the surrounding area. At the Australia Day celebrations there were about 300 people in attendance.

A bit of spleen just broke away...
Tony Abbott
Brendan Nelson
Would you piss on these pair if they were on fire??
No way.

the picture/1000 words thing.

Of all the disgusting things that our forebear’s inflicted upon our early Australians (up to the 1960’s); rape, murder, hunted for ‘sport’ and tribal genocide, it is such a small thing to apologise to the stolen generations and pleases so many people. Let’s hope there are more apologies forthcoming.

nobody said...

Yeah, there were a few pictures like that. Maybe it's wishful thinking but I wonder if the sheer number of people dabbing tears on the telly didn't soften a few hard hearts. Maybe.

As for pissing - only if petrol came out, ha ha.

And for some reason, I hate Downer the most.

And who's that mad, wild-eyed woman on the front bench? She's on her way to getting a guernsey too.

Anonymous said...

alone, on the web,
drops of sensitivity
embrace an eyelash

nobody said...

a blink of an eye
the mote, an illusion, gone
might we see clearly?

Anonymous said...

How about people just stop doing nasty things to each other so apologies and repatriations aren't necessary. You think the US will ever apologize to Iraq? A large scale, public, political apology is only an intro to evading responsibility by foisting it on to others who were not involved. I don't see where it has ever worked to improve the quality of life for the victims. But then, I am no fan of the genocide system and its illigitimate results.
However, in our personal interactions, it is exactly the opposite. A genuine face-to-face apology is the opener for improving a relationship. Because its a one-on-one deal. We must correct, as best we can, even when we are not actually to blame, all deeds and words where misunderstanding caused personal damage in order to be at peace with ourselves and in our relationships. Showing respect in this manner gives us self-respect and engenders mutual respect.