討論逐字稿: Do we need a uniform society to have a functional democracy?

From the discussion: Do we need a uniform society to have a functional democracy?

—Okay, before we start the discussion, I have a question. What actually does a ‘uniform society’ mean, does it mean everyone has the same purpose, same values, or the same opinion?
—This is a good question!
—I ask this because I can’t figure out the relation between 'uniform society' and 'functional democracy'.

—Do you remember how we got to this conclusion when we were talking about it?
—We were talking about Denmark, and Denmark is supposed, in our conception, it’s supposed to be a more uniform, homogenous society.
—So what kind of 'homogenous'?
—Okay, I’ll list the concepts. Same race, same socioeconomic class?
—Which means the gap is very small?
—Same historical background
—I think it means a large middle class, but also maybe the economic gap is small
—So few very rich and very poor
—So if there is a large group of poor people, can you say it’s a uniform society?
—This is also my question, it depends on the definition of uniform, you know? I was thinking about this definition, is it a specialized term?
—Hahaha no we just tried for a word to catch our feelings
—Okay but my difficulty is the relationship between the two terms.

—Lets approach it from another angle, which is 'multiculturalism'.
—In the history of the US, we had the idea of the ‘melting pot’ 大熔爐 it was all, give up your culture, become ‘American’ and I’ve been thinking about this, you know, like, why?
Because there are implications now which are bad, which is to say white people feel they don’t have any culture, so they cling to 'whiteness' which increases racism and is part of the 'whitelash' that trump harnessed to get elected
—So the US is no longer trying to be a melting pot
—But why does melting pot equal no culture?
—It’s because we had to become Americans! Which, although is kind of derivative British culture—
—Now I’m not sure, but I think, the uniformity of culture is the rationality behind the melting pot, so that democracy could happen.
—So you’re suggesting that because the US is all sorts of different people, so they needed a uniform society to support democracy
—Yeah, but this is just a theory, trying to understand this melting pot thing

—Okay, but my angle is, that since the US has many different people, there are different cultures, different lifestyles, so we need a system to help society work. And that kind of system may be democracy. So this angle may be that diverse society needs a democracy.
—I definitely agree with you. I don’t think the melting pot was a good idea.
—It seems though, if the society is too heterogeneous, it’s hard to obtain agreement on how to make things happen.
—Indonesia is a good example of this, of a lot of different cultures trying to make a nation together.

—So here's the angle I've been pondering for awhile, especially since our UBI discussion: If people are economically comfortable, will they be more okay with people who were different than them?

Do we need a uniform society to have a functional democracy?

Here are some points we made during our last democracy discussion: (Boaty McBoatface) I want to talk about the things we mentioned and bring them along further, using this as the focus question:

“Do we need a uniform society to have a functional democracy?”

—Basically, we need to have a consensus to erace racism, or a consensus on how to treat social inequality, but there is no consensus now because we cannot guarantee who we are dealing with.

—In capitalist society, since there is no equality of resources a person can obtain, no equality of wealth, no equality of education, people have to strive to climb up to the highest level in society so as to acquire all these things. And also, because of limited resource, people compete to divide their own territory in society. As a result, hierarchy is formed.
—‘Their own territory' refers to a vertical one not a horizontal one, because the place we can live is too small ha

—The fundamental question of society or politics is, are you one of the masses, or are you separate from the masses?

—Crowds presents power that can’t be controlled or predicted. But democracy is predicated on crowds. We fight together for the future. But at the same time I don’t trust the masses, because of the tyranny of the majority, the ignoring of subtle differences.
There’s a famous poem by Ezra Pound: “The apparition of the faces in the crowd, the petals on the wet, black bough.” He’s talking abouthe crowds in the Metro station of paris, it’s the character of modernism.
We know now that Pound became a fascist, but the fascist attitude towards crowds is complicated. They relied on the support of the crowd to get power, but they have to control and manipulate the crowd to stay in power.
—That’s powerful, though, that’s the same power as democracy

—How do we make government responsive to the needs that people actually have in the world right now? Does it do a decent enough job already? What could improve?

Emotional Labor Part 2

What is emotional labor, and why do we have to do it? Previously at the RO Studio we discussed this concept in relation to paid jobs where emotional labor is a component: "Emotional labor is the process of managing feelings and expressions to fulfill the emotional requirements of a job. More specifically, workers are expected to regulate their emotions during interactions with customers, co-workers and superiors."—x

But today I want to talk about it in the context of relationships. Since I can’t find a good definition of it online, let’s look at a list people on the internet compiled to describe it.

# Partnered Life
* Am I checking in with my partner to see if they had a rough day?
* If so, am I stepping up to make their life easier in other ways (cooking, cleaning, etc.)?
* Am I open and clear about my wants, and not forcing my partner to guess/drag it out of me?
* Am I contributing constructively to planning of meals, events, trips, etc?
* Am I actively trying to make my presence feel safe for my partner?
* Do I try to do nice things for my partner without being asked (flowers, treats, etc.)?
* Do I take care of my own administrative life (paperwork, bills) without needing to be repeatedly reminded?


So, coming across this article about hygge (please don't ask me how to pronounce it, I really don't know) in The Guardian suddenly brought up a lot of questions for me. Taiwan is moving from being a deeply homogenous society to dealing with what is now termed "New Taiwanese" (新台灣人). Despite being a society of immigrants, I believe Taiwan's particular experiences with being colonised/governed by outside powers created a strong singular social identity, which is now being challenged as Taiwan has been opening up to the wider world and new kinds of immigrants arrive.

What does this have to do with hygge? Well as I understand it, Denmark is a highly homogenous society with high levels of social welfare (and the taxes to support it!) that is now experiencing a lot of immigration. So there are some parallels with Taiwan that we could explore to illuminate our own situation.

Here are the questions that came to me as I was reading the article:
What’s Taiwan’s version of hygge?
What basic assumptions of how life should be are there in Taiwan? What would you name as the core good-life values in Taiwan?

What values are used as social parameters/control in Taiwan?
Do the core good-life values mentioned about ever also function as a form of social control?

Can society only when homogenous? Can common social values exist in a heterogenous society? Are the only happy societies closed societies?
If all society’s member’s basic needs are covered, would that promote or break down social togetherness?

What is Hygge?
…hands cupping warm mugs; bicycles leaning against walls; sheepskin rugs thrown over chairs; candles and bonfires; summer picnics; trays of fresh-baked buns. To look at them is to long for that life, that warmth, that peace, that stability – for that idealised, Instagrammable Denmark of the imagination.

“For me it’s a lot about family. Being together. Candles. It’s never about being posh, about cakes from the ‘right’ place. It’s cake you baked yourself. It’s a feeling. It’s something that has meaning in itself, it’s not a means to becoming a better person, like doing exercise. I associate it with being a child, the smell of my mother cooking onions in the next room. The smell of the Christmas tree.”

Over lunch the following day, Davidsen-Nielsen and her colleague, media commentator Lasse Jensen, debated the meaning of hygge. “Intellectualism is not hygge,” said Davidsen-Nielsen. “Severe debates on philosophy and ideas – that’s not very hyggelig. Alcohol, sugar and fat are the three key ingredients of hygge.” He added: “It used to be beer and aquavit, now it’s wine.” She said, “There’s something about socks and hygge.” He added, “Handknitted socks.”

Rethinking Infidelity

Esther Perel asks so many good questions in this TED talk. Also, it's a very good example of storytelling! She gets her points across with humour and clarity. Watch!

Why do we cheat?
Why do happy people cheat?
When we say "infidelity," what exactly do we mean?

Narcissism and the American Election

Let's talk narcissism, or more specifically, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). This is a little-understood pattern of behaviour that can really mess up relationships or groups, and I think it's worth investigating. But, what has this to do with the American Election, you ask? Well, I feel that our Republican Candidate shows strong signs of having NPD.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a serious condition which affects an estimated 1% of the population. Narcissism is characterized by an extreme self-interest and promotion with an accompanying lack of concern for the needs of others.

People with NPD show a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

1. has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
2. is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
3. believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
4. requires excessive admiration
5. has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
6. is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
7. lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
8. is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

Pyramid of Needs

We’ve talked about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs before. It’s a theory that in order to actualise our selves, or become fully-alive human beings, we need to satisfy several levels of needs.

So there’s an online cartoon that I read regularly, and a few months ago they posted this:


And then again recently they posted this:

Universal Basic Income

So Odinsblog on tumblr imagined what it might be like if every person in their country had a guaranteed basic income (UBI). I would like to discuss how this might work in Taiwan, and what some of the numbers might look like, i.e., how much should the UBI actually be, how would that affect taxes and corporations and general economic issues, and also personal life. Haha probably we'll only get to the personal life stuff, but let's talk about UBI!

Update: Below the original story I added some more information points from other news sources.

Odinsblog: Can you imagine the changes to the workforce and how we treated workers if no one HAD to work to survive?
Like often I see these complaints about a universal basic income that are like “well then no one would work!” and I think there are lots of people motivated to have more money even when they have enough to get by, but I also I think, that’s kind of true, if regular employment looked and functioned the way it does now.

But with UBI if both employers and society wanted people in certain jobs those jobs would have to offer more than just “you need us to survive”. They’d have to offer satisfaction and community and purpose.

Male Friendships and the Culture of Toxic Masculinity

Last week we got into a side discussion on the differences between male and female friendship. I looked into English media on the topic and quickly found a lot of complaints on what makes male-male frienship difficult. American culture is particularly hard on men IMO, but how about Taiwanese culture? How does male friendship work in Taiwan culture?

An American cultural contempt for male friendship
The contempt for male friendship is a cultural failure on an epic scale. That contempt is everywhere. The friendships between women in popular culture are the source and choicest fruit of their maturity. At the end of Frances Ha, Frances glimpses her old friend across a crowded room. "Who are you making eyes at?" somebody asks. "That's Sophie. She's my best friend." …
For men, it's just the opposite. Male friendship on any given sitcom, is a retreat into thoughtlessness, crudity. The Big Lebowski hilariously painted male friendship as an extended and colossal fuckup. The Hangover movies turned it into a series of epic degradations. But … the greatest buddy movie of them all is Dumb and Dumber. Men get together onscreen to be idiots with one another.
To mature as a female person is to mature into female friendships. To mature as a male person is to mature out of male friendships.

The Limits of Relationships

Limits are boundaries. A boundary is a marker between two different states of being.
Tonight we're going to explore the boundaries of relationships.

There's one kind of boundary, between the the classifications of the kind of relationship a person has with us, for example, what's the difference between a lover, a girlfriend/boyfriend, or a wife/husband? That one's easier to answer than asking what's the difference between a casual friend, a good friend, and a best friend, right? That one's a lot harder to define, but why?

There's another kind of boundary, which has something to do with how you like to live your life, and the ways in which you feel comfortable doing things and being with people. On a broader level these boundaries could be created by morals or ideals, culture or social convention, but on a personal level they could also be created by beliefs or feelings, or even learned behaviours.

Sometimes a boundary is invisible to our own selves until someone crosses it; suddenly you know it's there, and it's real! Also when someone does push that boundary, your perception of them changes, and maybe your perception of yourself changes, too.

What makes you see a person differently...

...in a good way. Do you have any stories about a person showing something to you about themselves and afterwards you like them a whole lot more?

...in a bad way. Do you have any stories about a person who crossed a line with you and you couldn't think of them the same way after that?

Let’s Talk Colonization

It could be argued that Taiwan's culture today is a product of many years of colonization. This book “How Taiwan Became Chinese” discusses how Taiwan’s initial colonization was by the Dutch, using Chinese settlers. This book’s introduction also argues that while the European powers were colonizers, China was not. However for much of its thousands of years of empire, China used what in English is called a vassal-state system.

So let’s talk colonization. Is there a material difference between colonies and vassal-states? Is cultural expansion and takeover an inevitable part of globalization? Is globalization under capitalism any different than globalization under empire?

The Wikipedia article argues that Chinese expansionism over the centuries, or “The traditional Chinese international structure” was “different from many other systems developed in other parts of the world.” So Chinese expansionism was different than European expansionism because “it was premised on the belief that China was the cultural center of the world and that foreigners were "less civilized" or "barbarians.”” This sentence entirely ignores the fact that Europaen expansionism was predicated on exactly the same belief. I wonder if any expansionism is not based on the belief in the originating culture’s superiority?

These are just some of the questions these articles brought up for me. What questions do they bring up for you? Let’s talk about it on Friday :DD

Which shapes your values more, your nationality or your profession?

Do people from the same country operate the same at work?
Researchers and businesses have often operated under the idea that work-related cultural values are defined by country -- just think of stereotypes about countries that are known to have hard workers or are team-oriented. A new study finds that nationality is actually a bad proxy for work-related cultural values, and points to other groupings -- such as occupation -- as more reliable indicators.

Issues to look at regarding this issue
To examine the issue, the researchers looked at data from 558 studies on work-related values. The studies covered 32 countries from around the world, including the United States, Brazil, France, South Africa and China.

Specifically, the researchers evaluated variation, both within each country and between countries, on four work-related cultural values:

Individualism, which measures the extent to which a society places emphasis on individuals as opposed to groups;
Power distance, which measures the importance of status and hierarchy in work settings;
Uncertainty avoidance, which measures the extent to which cultures are willing to accept ambiguity or the unknown; and
Quantity versus quality of life, which measures emphasis on competition and material wealth versus emphasis on societal welfare and well-being.

The researchers found that approximately 80 percent of variation in these values was within countries. For example, at the low end, only 16.6 percent of the variation on individualism was between countries -- 83.4 percent of the variability was within countries. At the high end, 20.8 percent of variation on power distance was between countries -- which still left 79.2 percent of the variability within countries.

What's the best way to know if you'll enjoy something?

The Premise:
Your parents recommend taking a Caribbean cruise and tell you about a discount deal. You’ve never taken a cruise and aren’t so sure you’d enjoy it, so you dig up some information on the Web and even watch a couple of videos. You recollect the times you’ve been on ships, and your past visits to Caribbean islands—rum drinks, aqua waters.  But will you really enjoy an eight-day cruise? Turns out there is a better way to answer this question: ask anyone who has just gotten off a cruise boat—a total stranger is fine. That way, you’ll be 30 to 60 percent more likely to accurately predict your own experience than by basing your decision on painstaking research and inner speculations.

“Surrogation”: consulting the experience of another person, a surrogate, in deciding whether something will make you happy. They discovered that the direct experience of another person trumps the conjecturing of our own minds.
Try this thought experiment: ask a random person to list all possible human experiences, ranking them from best to worst. Then ask another randomly chosen individual to do the same. Gilbert predicts, “You’d see 99 percent overlap in their arrangements.” That’s why surrogation works. (It isn’t, however, a perfect guide, only better than the alternatives. Surrogation’s a poor strategy in those rare circumstances where human emotional responses vary widely—e.g., to a question like, “What’s your favorite number?”)

How satellites are changing everything

A new kind of accountability
For a world in which people are constantly connected to one another through the Internet and mobile devices, our ability to look at the Earth from space is surprisingly limited. Google Earth allows us to see almost any point on the planet, to be sure. But the image that Google provides is static – usually, between one and three years old. Most people have no way of seeing the Earth in real time.

“How many trees were cut down yesterday around the planet? How much coal was mined yesterday or last week or last month? The basic infrastructure doesn’t exist to answer those questions at all,” says Andrews of BlackSky Global.

[However,] cheaper, more readily available satellite imagery promises to change the way that many organizations operate. [When the planned networks of small satellites come online, we will be able to monitor the global economy in real time.] Companies will be able to closely monitor their competitors, and investors will have a better idea of how their investment targets operate.

Andrews points out that satellite imagery will help many companies streamline their processes – for example, oil and gas companies that have to monitor their pipelines for leaks. Instead of sending workers out in trucks to check out pipelines, in the future these companies can sit back and watch from space.
Faster satellite imagery will also have big consequences for people working in security and defense, for example helping monitor troop movements and drug trafficking. It will be helpful to international groups that monitor climate change, illegal logging and certain human rights abuses.

The broader availability of satellite imagery could also raise privacy concerns. The United States and other countries are now competing to let their domestic companies offer the highest-resolution images. Images that are sharp enough to identify people -- technology that was previously only available to governments -- is increasingly available to anyone willing to pay for it.

But this democratization of data about the planet could also change the way that society functions for the better. “People do illegal logging, fishing and dumping because no one is looking," says Andrews of BlackSky Global. "If you can look from space, suddenly it forces accountability, on people, corporations and governments.”

Designing for Social Norms?

Okay, so the reason this article is interesting to me is because even though it’s describing how people behave in social media…arenas? corrals? fishtanks? (what actually is the group word for this? ‘Platforms’ doesn’t really describe how people are all thrown in together) …the article is actually describing how any community comes together, and I think it’s particularly interesting to get into this after our democracy discussion of two weeks ago.

How do social norms develop?
Good UX (=user interface) designers know that they have the power to shape certain kinds of social practices by how they design systems. And engineers often fail to give UX folks credit for the important work that they do. But designing the system itself is only a fraction of the design challenge when thinking about what unfolds. Social norms aren’t designed into the system. They don’t emerge by telling people how they should behave. And they don’t necessarily follow market logic. Social norms emerge as people – dare we say “users” – work out how a technology makes sense and fits into their lives. Social norms take hold as people bring their own personal values and beliefs to a system and help frame how future users can understand the system. And just as “first impressions matter” for social interactions, I cannot underestimate the importance of early adopters. Early adopters configure the technology in critical ways and they play a central role in shaping the social norms that surround a particular system.

Boaty McBoatface

Boaty McBoatface? What????
British democracy has survived all sorts of things: the unraveling of the British Empire, independence movements in Ireland and Scotland, Prime Minister’s Questions. But never before has it confronted Boaty McBoatface.

The boat, which is really a ship, acquired new significance this week, when a British official suggested he wouldn’t respect the results of an online government poll in which more than 124,000 people voted to christen the country’s new $300-million research vessel “Boaty McBoatface.” The name received three times more votes than the runner-up entry. The people of the Internet had spoken emphatically, and they’d spoken like a five-year-old.

Do we change behavior when we change language?

We touched on this in our last discussion, I thought it would be interesting to give it a closer look. Below are a bunch of excerpts from different internet articles that discuss aspects of this issue. As usual, we'll hash it out in the discussion :)

Does language shape how we think?
"Does your language shape how you think?" Linguists have gone back and forth on this question, explains Guy Deutscher in The New York Times. Back in 1940, an article by anthropologist Benjamin Lee Whorf floated the notion that "our mother tongue restricts what we are able to think." [This may not be true, but it still may be true that our mother tongue does affect us in what it makes us think about, for example:] English does not "habitually [oblige]" its speakers to consider gender. Its speakers "do not have to consider the sexes of neighbors, friends, teachers and a host of other persons each time they come up in a conversation, whereas speakers of some languages are obliged to do so." Likewise, English speakers do not think of chairs as masculine or feminine, although a Spanish or French speaker might. It turns out that this does have an effect:
"In recent years, various experiments have shown that grammatical genders can shape the feelings and associations of speakers toward objects around them. ... When speakers were asked to grade various objects on a range of characteristics, Spanish speakers deemed bridges, clocks and violins to have more "manly properties" like strength, but Germans tended to think of them as more slender or elegant."

Preservation or Plunder?

This week we're discussing the Indigenous Australian Artifact collection held by the British Museum, and the questions of ownership, colonization and cultural appropriation that it brings up.

Yumari by Uta Uta Tjangala, 1981, Acrylic on canvas.
Photograph: National Museum of Australia

Westerners fail to recognize civilizations beyond their own.
What is civilisation? Westerners tend to think it has something to do with Greek statues and classical music. No wonder they failed to recognise it when they saw it in the great southern continent that James Cook claimed as a British possession in 1770. The expressions of civilisation that could be clearly seen all over Australia were so different and so unfamiliar that Aboriginal culture was denied to even exist.

No people has been quite so consistently disparaged by Europeans as Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders, whose tragic story is movingly told in this thought-provoking exhibition.
Cook and his crew admired the ways of Tahiti and the art of Easter Island, but saw Australia as peopled by mere savages – a prejudice that continued until very recent times. Sigmund Freud expresses deeply negative opinions about Aboriginal culture in his book Totem and Taboo, for instance. Europeans found it hard to see any culture here at all, let alone a civilisation.

And yet what Cook encountered in 1770 was indeed a civilisation: a settled, sophisticated way of life with a deep sense of history and place. It was in fact the world’s very oldest civilisation. Westerners pride themselves on traditions that go back a few hundred years: Indigenous Australian art was being made in 1770 in an unbroken tradition with a pedigree of somewhere in the region of 40,000 years. There is a bark shield here probably made in the 1850s, with a handprint strikingly stencilled on its reverse. Anyone who has ever seen any Ice Age art will recognise it as the exact kind of hand image made on cave walls by the first artists. That is no surprise, for the first Australians crossed the sea to settle this difficult environment during the Ice Age, and brought its art with them. The oldest rock art in Australia dates from around 40,000 years ago. What is unique is that it carried on being made and remade down the millennia, generation on generation.

It is deeply unsettling to see how a culture of such age and beauty could be utterly dismissed by white settlers. ... Big fascinating abstract paintings dot this show – “abstract” that is, to untutored eyes. Uta Uta Tjangala’s great 1981 painting Yumari, lent by the National Museum of Australia, pulses with shimmering circles, riverine flowing lines and the outline of some fabulous beast.

It is a captivating work of art even if you know nothing of its meaning. Modern art, especially Jackson Pollock and abstract expressionism, created new visual assumptions that have enabled outsiders to at last see the power of Australia’s ancient art forms. But this picture is not really abstract. It tells a story: it describes a “dreaming”, the mythic history of a particular landscape. The creatures and ancestors in it, who include Digging Stick Women and King Brown Snake, tell the story of the artist’s own biological conception.

Art is made in this 40,000-year-old tradition to tell important stories of the land and its people. From rock art to paintings that are sold today on the global market, these mysterious images are made by the custodians of dreamings to preserve them for a new generation.

It is savagely ironic that every bit of the continent Cook took for an un-owned wilderness was mapped by dreamings. Australia’s indigenous art has a sacred bond with the places whose collective memories it preserves. That makes the ownership of this art inherently problematic. This exhibition includes some of the oldest portable Aboriginal artefacts, owned by the British Museum since the 18th century. Many people demand their return. This radical, provocative encounter makes those controversies explicit.

You are the custodian, not the owner
It’s been less than a century since the world’s leading collectors began acknowledging Indigenous Australian art as more than mere ethnographic artefact. Since then, the most enlightened, from Hong Kong to London, New York to Paris, have understood that when you purchase a piece of Indigenous art you become its custodian – not its owner. That image depicting a moment on one of the myriad songlines that have criss-crossed the continent during 60,000 years of Indigenous civilisation can adorn your wall. But you will never have copyright. Sometimes, not even the creator owns the painterly iconography and motif attached to particular stories that are family, clan or tribe – but not individual – possessions.

Such understanding is now implicit in the compact between collectors and creators, as remote Indigenous Australian arts centres match a rapacious international market with the rights of some of the world’s most accomplished, and impoverished, modern artists to support themselves and their families. But for museums, especially those of the great empires, ownership of Indigenous cultural property remains an existential bedrock. Which brings me to the British Museum and its forthcoming exhibition, Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation. To call this exhibition – and a related one, Encounters, planned for Canberra’s National Museum of Australia – controversial dramatically understates the bitter politics, anger and behind-the-scenes enmity provoked by the British Museum’s continued ownership of some 6,000 Indigenous Australian items variously acquired after British contact, invasion and occupation of the continent beginning in 1770.

Reverse the situation
Shane Mortimer, an elder of the Ngambri people on whose land the Australian capital, Canberra, is built, said, “If the Ngambri people went to England, killed 90% of the population and everything else that is indigenous to England and sent the crown jewels back to Ngambri Country as a prize exhibit … what would the remaining 10% of English people have to say about that? The exhibition should not proceed without the permission of the owners of all of the items.” And that will never be granted.

After the British Museum launched its exhibition in January, veteran Indigenous Australian activist Gary Foley wrote on the museum’s Facebook page: “Bet they won’t be prepared to seriously discuss issues of repatriation of cultural materials obtained through nefarious means ... because of their retention of the so-called ‘Elgin marbles’.” Last month, historian and university lecturer Foley again attacked the museum in a seminar convened by the Greek Orthodox community of Melbourne, which sees parallels between the museum’s stance on the requested return of Indigenous Australian objects and the Parthenon marbles. He said: “The British Museum grew out of the era of colonialism. The rest of the world grew out of those ideas 100 years ago. Their position has no credibility in the modern world. It’s really that simple.”

Repealing the Australian legislation that will protect Indigenous objects on loan to Australia from the British Museum collection would “highlight the outrageous position of those at the British Museum who refuse to return anything to anybody, because they’re scared of the precedent that might be, in terms of the Parthenon Marbles,” Foley said.

Stolen Property vs. Preservation
Some Indigenous Australians want what they rightly regard as their property (some of it stolen in circumstances of extreme violence on the Australian colonial frontier) returned. Others have been more conciliatory, saying that the British Museum (which insists it has been on a long journey of consultation with Indigenous communities ahead of its exhibition) has preserved items that would otherwise have been lost.

The older objects have profound spiritual significance for the communities where they belong, linking the living with ancestors and elements of the past. They also testify to the existential threat that was implied in first contact.
An elegant exhibition catalogue does not attempt to sugar-coat the violence against and dispossession of the locals, who died in vast numbers (estimates vary from a conservative 20,000 to at least 60,000) in clashes with explorers, settlers, British soldiers and police until the last accepted massacre at Coniston, Northern Territory, in 1928. “The essential truth is that Aboriginal people were dispossessed from their land by force, their populations reduced by disease and violence, and their cultural beliefs and practices disrespected and sometimes destroyed.” Indeed, the catalogue – which includes essays by Gaye Sculthorpe, the Indigenous Tasmanian curating the exhibition who has, since 2013, been curator of the museum’s Oceania and Australia section – is perhaps indispensible when it comes to understanding the back story of this contentious collection.

Indeed, the questions that burn uncomfortably at the core of this exhibition and the linked one in Canberra are about imperial acquisition and continued ownership. The counter-argument, of course, has always been that had the British Museum not acquired items such as the Dja Dja Wurrung barks and the Gweagel shield, they may otherwise have turned to dust. Is salvation – or imperial arrogance – most identifiable in the British Museum’s Indigenous collection? Many of the items in this collection were, after all, designed for utilitarian, ceremonial or decorative function – not posterity.
Which leads to bigger questions: should Indigenous Australian culture be preserved primarily in institutions, as too many paternal white politicians insist? Or is it best lived and nurtured in traditional lifestyles in home countries across the continent?

What's Your Cultural Framework?

Let's talk about cultural frameworks. Which one do you operate more out of, an Asian or a Western cultural framework? Considering that most people in Taiwan are strongly influenced by Western culture in schooling (Taiwan's school system is modeled on the West, and uses a lot of Western-style pedagogy), as well as through the internet and in Western-imported work-management styles.

First, go and take this test: 你的思維模式是東方式還是西方式? (it'll take like 30 seconds)


Let’s talk about robot intelligence and this slightly emotionally manipulative video!

Where are you local to?

In our interconnected, polycultural world, the question "Where are you from?" doesn't really cover the bases anymore. Taiye Selesi has a TED talk with a new perspective.

If the embed doesn't work go to the TED site to view it directly:
Taiye Selesi

Grow Food Organically or Not?

Here are some excerpts from two articles, "Amish Farmers Reinventing Organic Agriculture" and "War Between Organic and Conventional Farming Misses the Point".
Let's talk about some of the issues involved in growing our food!
As always, the titles of the sections are links to the original article.

War or Peace?
“In the Second World War,” Samuel Zook began, “my ancestors were conscientious objectors because we don’t believe in combat.” The Amish farmer paused a moment to inspect a mottled leaf on one of his tomato plants before continuing. “If you really stop and think about it, though, when we go out spraying our crops with pesticides, that’s really what we’re doing. It’s chemical warfare, bottom line.”

Immune System

A series of crop failures on his own farm drove the 8th grade-educated Kempf to school himself in the sciences. For two years, he pored over research in biology, chemistry, and agronomy in pursuit of a way to save his fields. The breakthrough came from the study of plant immune systems which, in healthy plants, produce an array of compounds that are toxic to intruders. “The immune response in plants is dependent on well-balanced nutrition,” Kempf concluded, “in much the same way as our own immune system.” Modern agriculture uses fertilizer specifically to increase yields, he added, with little awareness of the nutritional needs of other organic functions. Through plant sap analysis, Kempf has been able to discover deficiencies in important trace minerals which he can then introduce into the soil. With plants able to defend themselves, pesticides can be avoided, allowing the natural predators of pests to flourish.

What do people ‘deserve'?

In Taiwan recently we had the news about three siblings who sold puddings on the internet as a way of receiving donations to help support themselves. They were found to have ‘luxuries’ like mobile phones and expensive t-shirts, and there was a social media backlash.

Some questions:
Should poor people who receive donations from others have ‘luxurious’ things?
What constitutes ‘luxury’?
To what extent should the poor be able to enjoy valuable things?

Let’s talk about this statement:
From viewpoint of donators (the rich), receivers (the poor) are seemingly not allowed to have something donators (the rich) have.

What's Leisure For?

We’ve all heard some version of this:
-from a high-schooler’s translation homework this month
We’ve also all heard some version of this:
“We’ve been so perfectly acclimated to the sick society we’ve created, we actually believe we’re NOT DOiNG ENOUGH. More, more, more, we’re driven to do more, more extremely, faster, harder, louder, bigger, swaggier. There is no connection of the infinite growth model & ever more consumption to the exhaustion of all vital resources and by extension life on earth a.k.a mass extinction. How much is enough ‘stuff’? Ask yourself, why are we being told that idleness is to be avoided at all costs; that if you’re not “productive” you’re not therefore valuable.  We must let go of our emotion-backed obsessions to be productive ALL THE TiME.  We must realize that we are not our “productivity”, or the “value” of it. We must stop trying to profit from our leisure.