Hedonism as Australia Theory

EDITORIAL, 12 Jul 2010

#120 | Johan Galtung

Sydney:  Much can be said about Australian politics, on mining taxes and commodity values up up up, with China buying, of Labour changing chairperson and prime minister like in the Soviet Union, the Party decides, of Australia in Afghanistan heading for Gallipoli II.[i] And the new prime minister rejecting the former, mandarin-speaking Kevin Rudd with a project, a vision for Asia, with close ties to China and ASEAN, ASEAN+8.  A world statesman, with a project beyond retired Australia with no project beyond status quo and being a US client.  And neurotically concerned with a thousand asylum seekers.

And yet this is an essay celebrating Australia, in spite of the dark shadows hovering over the land, the killing of aborigines for christianity and darwinism, of their structure and culture, the Stolen Generation of children.  What is celebrated is perhaps Anglo-Celtic Australia, with the rationality of one and the emotionality of the other, an indication of what the British Isles could have been had stiff upper lip English culture not been so dominant.

That celebration focuses on one word, hedonism, joy, communal rather as mutual enjoyment.  There is some individual retirement on top of Australia itself.  With boring media playing their role, sport and cooking, a little religion, some entertaining violence, lies about Afghanistan, public opinion unreflected on ABC and the Australian, Fox, Fox, Fox; with SBS as some light in the desert.

What is the purpose of Australia, its essence?  Answer: hedonism, 230+ years after the start as a penal colony.

It comes in three varieties: outdoor hedonism, in well-prepared public space as public service, free, functional and aesthetic, as picnic in a generous, marvelous nature; indoor hedonism, in nice living rooms; private backyard garden hedonism, as in-between form.

Australian hedonism is natural, non-boisterous, collective, non-wowser (puritan, ascetic), unambiguous, unworried, enjoyment.

A simple interpretation: We have arrived; j’y suis, j’y reste.

Nature hedonism comes with sun or moon, parks, beaches, treks; picnic tables with barbecue gear, converting the ever-present latent individual hedonism into manifest, collective, active hedonism.

Wine hedonists makes softly drunk, sleepy but not unpleasant to self and other, is affordable, functional, aesthetic. Excellent wines and a culture of wine consumption in many settings.  Long on wine, short on worry; a chardonnay socialism built around sharing means of consumption rather than means of production.

Nature and wine hedonism can be combined into picnic hedonism as togetherness in collective, public space hedonism.  This, in turn, can be combined with culture into cultural hedonism, focused on movies, theater, concerts (like Leeuwin, WA, with 5,000 on the lawn, in front of the outdoor stage, under a magnificent moon).

Public space hedonism celebrates Australia as the res comunis they denied the aborigines with Roman law res comunis = res nullius = terra nullia.  Where settlerism privatized hedonism deprivatizes, collectivizes, celebrating the collectivity and the public space.

Australian hedonism is generation-free, open to children and grandparents, converging on the middle-aged.

Australian public hedonism is gender-free, not flaunting gender like in Spain, Italy, converging on some kind of middlesex.

Australian hedonism is remarkably disciplined, leaving public space tidy for the next hedonist event.

If Australians were told that they were to be sent off to Paradise, but permitted to bring only one item, that item would be the esky (aka as icebox, mate).  That Paradise is picnic forever they would take for granted; if not they would go for another place.

Australian history can then be seen in terms of three stages, settlerism–imperialism–hedonism; settlerism still being the dominant mode in the Deep North, imperialism the dominant mode in Canberra foreign policy, still tied to the Anglo-American myth of exceptionalism, and hedonism elsewhere, more local.

On the road to hedonism settlers deprived the first nations of   ownership rights, criminalized them when they defended their rights, treating them like England had treated the convicts, with banishment and capital punishment, punitive expeditions, settlers taking the law in their own hands.   As this relationship became untenable, it was transferred to the asylum seekers.  The relationship was not changed, but underdogs became topdogs and new underdogs were found.  The imperialists followed suit, today doing the same to Afghans.  The structural imprint was as strong as nazism on Jews; they learnt.

And yet, it also spilled into hedonism.  When the settlers, convicts or not, were confronted with the aborigine way of life they found it different and hence inferior.  Aborigines seemed to have no clear sense of private property, owning things together, sharing food and water.  They seemed to have no clear sense of parenthood taking care of children together not according to “whose” child it is.  They also slept in open nature, less concerned with “my house”.

If so, nature hedonism is the aborigination of settlers: if a mate is short one something the missing item comes from some other icebox; children run freely around and get love and care anywhere, and they may all end up sleeping under a generous sky.

Long live hedonism, down with settleriam and imperialism.  Share with asylum seekers, invite them, get out of retirement, join the world, look at the map, know where you are.  Very close to Asia.

For those who’ve come across the seas/we’ve boundless plains to share — in the spirit of these lines from the third verse of the Australian national anthem.


[i]  That defeat is celebrated on ANZAC day 26 April, the Churchill-led catastrophic attack against the military genius of Mustafa Kemal, later Kemal Atatürk, the Father of Turks.  Why celebrate?  Well, a former depository of convicts had been used on an egalitarian basis as canon fodder. In the Viêt Nam war they pulled out early.  How they manage the USA-led coalition in Afghanistan. Gallipoli II? – or early pull-out?


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 12 Jul 2010.

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