Monthly Archives: April 2014

Edward Said on Orienatlism & the Myth of the Clash of Civilisations

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Edward Said (1935 – 2003) was a  professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.  Said, was one of the most important intellectuals of the twentieth century.  A Palestinian American, Said, was a literary theorist, and a public intellectual who was a founding figure of the critical-theory field of Post-colonialism. Said was also active in the Palestinian struggle for political and human rights.

Said’s most famous work was Orientalism (1978), which examined the way the West “othered” non-Western cultures and peoples.  In particular, Said explained that “orientalism” describes the “subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture”.   In the following video presentation made on the 20th anniversary of the publication of Orientalism, Said explains how Orientalism works and how it relates to the modern day representation of the Middle East both politically and culturally.

In the second presentation from 1996, Said critiques in detail Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilisations”

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Edward Said and Orientalism (1998)

 

Edward Said and the Myth of the Clash of Civilisations (1996)

 

Celeste Liddle on Aboriginality and racism: Fairskinned privilege? I’m sorry, but things are much more complicated than that!

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Dear friends,

I should have posted this excellent article by Aboriginal activist and writer, Celeste Liddle, up some weeks ago.  When I first read Celeste’s article on fair skinned privilege, it had me in tears.  As I wrote at the time in another forum, it is a controversial piece but Celeste deals with the issues in a very sympathetic and considered way.

As someone who is lightskinned and identifies as Aboriginal, while the whole article touched me deeply, it was especially the first half of it that brought me to tears. Here Celeste speaks about Australia’s racist policies, assimilation, the historical experiences of light skinned Aboriginals, the loss of culture and much more and the impact that this has had on our sense of identity and belonging today.

Reading Celeste’s article and the beautiful story about her brother reclaiming and speaking Arrente brought forth a whole flood of memories about my own family and the impact of Australia’s racist practices:

It made me recall, in particular, one Invasion Day – perhaps 10 or so years ago now – that year it was very painful to attend Invasion Day, it all felt very raw to me – the loss of culture and the impact of Australia’s racist policies on my family. I was so angry that year, that I wanted to scream and yell and I recall deliberately starting a fight with my partner as a way of venting my frustration.

It made me recall when I worked at Old Parliament House giving political tours and racists would say derogatory things to me during the tours about Aboriginals and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy because they thought I was white and would therefore share their own racist attitudes.

It made me recall the 2000 Olympics when similar things were said to me on a bus when we passed the temporary Aboriginal embassy that had been set up in Sydney. Again the assumption was that I was because my skin colouring is light that I was “white” and therefore would share the same racist attitudes.

It made me recall, one year visiting my family in Queensland and my youngest sister’s little friend (I think they were both maybe 9 or 10 years old) couldn’t get her head around how I could possibly be Aboriginal and that I was my sister’s sister because I was light skinned, while my mother and two sisters had darker colouring.

It made me recall the story my mother would tell that when I was a baby and she would take me to the chemist to be weighed in the small outback Queensland town we lived in and the looks she would get and her defiantly saying: “what don’t you think a black woman can have a white baby”?

It made me recall how the last time I went home to visit my family, an ignorant arse attempted to accuse my mother of “reverse racism” and when I stepped in to defend her was told that it had nothing to do with me (because clearly I was “white”).

I do not share the above experiences in order to gain sympathy but instead to highlight and agree with the argument made by Celeste in her article. I agree with Celeste when she notes that skin colour, under capitalism, does remain a racial marker and that those of us who have lighter skin colour do not experience racism in the same way as those within the Aboriginal community who have darker colouring. However, the racism is still there, it simply manifests itself in a different way.

Please take the time to read Celeste’s excellent article. If you would like to read more of Celeste’s writings, you can check out her blog “Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist” by clicking here.

in solidarity, Kim

ps: Celeste’s article has kicked off some debate, much of which has either misinterpreted her article or ignored what she wrote.  If you would like to follow the debate, you can check out the updates on Celeste’s blog.
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Fair-skin privilege? I’m sorry, but things are much more complicated than that

celeste liddle(Photo: Celeste Liddle)

Following on from my article about why I prefer the term “black”, I encountered what I can only describe as an unexpected and actually quite upsetting response via Twitter. It was unexpected because it came from members of the migrant community; a community which, on the most part, I have experienced as strong allies. It was upsetting because no amount of explanation from an Indigenous perspective seemed to satisfy. There was a barrow to be pushed and it needed to be pushed at all costs. I write this piece not to cause division, but rather to use this opportunity to educate in the hope that the knowledge of people is expanded.

It started as an initial long Tweet that I was sent, but from there it developed into a long twitter exchange. At no point throughout this exchange did I get the sense that any of the points I had raised from an Indigenous perspective were taken on board. This long tweet, minus identification and lead-in paragraph is below:

You’ve made some comments that indicate that you regard it as ‘old fashioned’ or ‘wrong’ to use skin colour as a marker of race. However, if you deny skin colour as a marker of race, then you deny an important aspect of Blackness.

Being darker doesn’t make you more Black, but it does make you, all other things being equal, more discriminated against. To deny that is to deny your privilege: not privilege of class, education or profession, but privilege of skin colour.

There are countless different ways to be Black and not all of them are visible. But denying visibility in Blackness reminds me of whites who claim to be colour-blind. In doing so, they deny other people’s experience.

I think the reason why this means so much to me is that I have no shared culture, no shared history, no shared community or any of what you consider to be contemporary or valid Blackness. Just skin colour.

Now before I go further, it should be highlighted that my article, which was completely about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity, and which used many of our descriptive terms, our language and our experience to highlight this fact was interpreted, as was made clear in the residual tweets, to have impact for non-Indigenous communities of colour. I never set out to represent these viewpoints in my piece. I do not have the required background to represent these views from a first-hand experience. Considering that our media is dominated by white males writing about everyone else, I would much rather read those perspectives first-hand rather than silence the voices by hazarding guesses at what their views might be. Likewise, I expect that people would recognise that I am coming from the perspective of an educated Arrernte woman of the hard-left persuasion who lives in the city, recognise how rare those voices are in the media, and not contribute to the silencing. It was unfortunate that this didn’t happen.

To start with the point regarding how skin colour is a racial marker and there is a privilege associated with lighter skin, I didn’t deny this in my responses although I tried to highlight from an Indigenous perspective why the situation was more complicated. I just got walls. This was why I ended up putting a stop to the conversation. To put it simply, I don’t disagree with Dallas Scott when he highlights how skin colour seems to be associated with greater financial disadvantage, lower educational attainment and social ostracism, although I would argue that factors such as remoteness and mainstream ignorance also come into play. I’m 100% certain that skin colour was the reason why Jack Charles and Gurrumul Yunupingu were denied taxis. Their visibility is undeniable.

However, fair skin privilege from an Indigenous perspective is incredibly limited. The view expressed by the long tweet completely ignores the many assimilation practices that fairer skinned Aboriginal people have been exposed to in this country, such as the “Stolen Generations”. Children of fairer skin being ripped away from their darker parents in order to be trained up in domestic chores and farmhand duties so they could then be given to settler communities as free labour.

stolen genFair skinned children being blackened up with charcoal by the parents in the hope that the government officers would not notice their colouring. Children being belted for speaking their language and forced to abandon language, culture and family in order to avoid punishment. Living conditions so abhorrent that a dog would turn it’s nose up at them. Don’t believe me? Here is my grandmother, who was a member of the Stolen Generations, talking about the experience in her own words.  It didn’t end with my grandmother either. My father was a welfare kid who ended up with some siblings in The Convent School in Alice Springs where they were also punished severely for expressing language and culture. Recently my brother, at my father’s birthday, delivered a speech where he gave the first paragraph in Arrernte. I cannot not tell you how that felt. For two generations children in my family were denied the right to speak language because they were wards of the state and here’s my brother, at nearly 30 years old, reclaiming this language so that his siblings and his son are not also denied it. It’s for these reasons that you see so many fairer skinned Aboriginal people fighting so damn hard to reclaim language, family and culture. By virtue of skin colour many were denied these things. This is not an experience within the borders of this country that translates readily to a migrant experience.

Additionally, whilst I never denied skin colour as a marker, and whilst I also don’t deny the existence of some fair skin privilege in the some ways, what about visiting the concept of “migrant privilege”? The White Australia Policy existed until the early 1980s yet from the 1940s onwards, following the impacts of wars, it was chipped away at bit by bit. Non-white immigrants were eventually accepted into the country in various “waves” to the point of Malcolm Fraser openly supporting multiculturalism and opening up the refugee programmes to many Asian nations. This country has gone so far backward since this time with elections being won on the basis of “stopping the boats” that I am disgusted to live in it. Yet, here’s the thing: my father, despite being born in this country and having ancestors that had been born in this country for roughly 4000 generations, was not counted in the census as a citizen of this country until he was 17 years old. This is why I have problems with the term “First Australians”. Each successive wave of immigrants became Australians before the First Peoples, regardless of skin colour, were recognised as human beings. Therefore, migrant communities, whilst actively discriminated against by other Australians and enduring vast poverty, racism, ostracism and countless other things, also had more rights in this country than the First Peoples.

I state this not to be inflammatory. Rather it is a simple historical fact and one I believe that the majority of people living in this country are unaware of. They are not aware that one of the wealthiest countries in this world has third world conditions tucked away far from the visible eye. They are not aware that trachoma and other third world diseases are still an issue here. They are not aware and I am not surprised. Why? Because this country continually fails to acknowledge its own history and even goes to the extent of suppressing it by referring to the negatives as “black armband history”; therefore there is no value for national pride to revisit this stuff. Everyone who lives here benefits from stolen lands for which treaties are yet to be negotiated, massacres, frontier wars, assimilation policies and the displacement of original peoples. Including Indigenous peoples that live on lands other than homelands (yep, this would be me). Yet the broader knowledge of this is so severely lacking. Sometimes a simple acknowledgement is all that it takes to make the day of an Indigenous person struggling for recognition.

One final point, throughout the course of the tweeting, the dissenting voices referred to themselves as “Black Australians” and I feel the need to claim sovereignty here. To me this was no different than seeing Andrew Bolt referring to himself as an “indigenous Australian”. It diminishes our importance as First Peoples of this country. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are the “Black Australians”. Migrants of colour are black people who have made Australia their home and have become “Australians” therefore accepting this country as it stands: a place which was wrongfully declared Terra Nullius and was taken without the consent of the First Peoples. There is a difference. We use “black” as a way of highlighting our experiences as a result of, or in contrast to “White Australia”. The lack of general population knowledge due to national denial when it comes to our unique struggles is why I feel that this distinction is sometimes unknown and needs to be explained.

I wish to apologise to the many comrades and allies I have within the migrant communities for the existence of this blogpost. Know how much I value you, your support and your commitment to fighting side-by-side for recognition in this country. This is not a blogpost that is written for you. Rather it is written for others who, sometimes through no fault of their own, do not possess this knowledge. Who would make comments such as encountered above without realising just how limited and uneducated on the plight of First Peoples these comments are. Who accept this country as their home with a dominant power to struggle against for recognition yet fail to delve into intricacies of the experiences of First Peoples. I hope this post assists in their acquisition of knowledge.

Finally, I look very much forward to reading more about the experiences of migrant communities in this country. I want to read a hell of a lot more about the unique experiences of racism, the ostracism and the intricacies from these voices. I WANT to read about skin colour and how this manifests as a site of repression from a migrant perspective. If I had my way, the dominant white, middle-class, right-wing male voices would be sidelined in the media in favour for diversity and the sharing of true knowledges. I will never, however, be representing these voices myself in my writings. As First Peoples whose experience is almost always denied, we’ve got our own stories to tell and I am not the right person to be telling the stories of others. With respect.

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Boots Riley and the Music of Dissent and Rebellion

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Over Easter weekend, more than 1100 people attended the Marxism2014 in Melbourne.  One of the highlights of the conference was the Saturday evening performance by activist and radical musician, Boots Riley, who also spoke on race and racism in the USA earlier in the day.  Riley hopes to be touring Australia later in the year with his band, The Coup and you can check out some of their tracks below, as well as an interview with Boots on building the radical movements for change in the USA.

As the Marxism 2014 website notes, Boots Riley is one of the most influential radical American musicians of the past two decades. The critical acclaim that has greeted his musical endeavours, in particular his role as front-man of legendary US hip-hop outfit The Coup, has only been matched by the vitriol with which his work has been greeted by conservatives.

Since forming in 1990, The Coup have released a total of 6 albums, with their unique combination of funky rhythms and lyrics that move from cheeky wit to the hardest of hard-hitting political critique providing inspiration (and enjoyment) for a generation of radicals around the world. Their music has been widely acclaimed, with their 1998 release ‘Steal this Album’ labeled a masterpiece by Rolling Stone magazine, and other albums regularly appearing in ‘top 10 albums of the year’ lists in Rolling Stone and other major music publications.

Boots Riley has rapped with Tupac, produced a score for an episode of The Simpsons, had a novel written based on the lyrics of one of his songs, and, perhaps most impressively of all, had his work dismissed by Fox News as “a stomach-turning example of anti-Americanism disguised as highbrow intellectual expression.”

Riley has never been shy of controversy. Following the 9-11 attacks in New York, The Coup famously put out a press release stating that “last week’s events were symptomatic of a larger backlash against U.S. corporate imperialism.” Statements such as this, as well as the lyrics of songs such as ‘5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO’, have made him a favourite target of the conservatives. His influence on radical culture and politics in the US cannot be denied. In 2003 he was even named, by Vibe Magazine, as one of the 10 most influential people of the year. Nevertheless, the fame he has achieved through his music hasn’t led him away from direct involvement with political struggles and movements on the ground.

Riley was born into a family of radicals and has never wavered from his commitment to revolutionary politics and practice. He has been involved in many campaigns for social justice in his local community in Oakland, California, recently playing a leading role in the Occupy movement in the city.

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Abby Martin interviews ‘Boots’ Riley, about his musical roots, the state of dissent in the US and the corporatisation of America.

 

Boots Riley and The Coup:

The Guillotine

My Favourite Mutiny

The Magic Clap

 

 

Kdrama Review: Emergency Couple

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emerg couple poster

  • Englisht title: Emergency Couple
  • Revised romanization: Eunggeubnamnyeo
  • Hangul: 응급남녀
  • Director: Kim Cheol-Kyu
  • Writer: Choi Yoon-Jung
  • Network: tvN
  • Episodes: 21
Emergency Man and Woman-Song Ji-Hyo.jpg Emergency Man and Woman-Choi Jin-Hyuk.jpg Emergency Man and Woman-Lee Pil-Mo.jpg Emergency Man and Woman-Choi Yeo-Jin.jpg Clara
Song Ji-Hyo Choi Jin-Hyuk Lee Pil-Mo Choi Yeo-Jin Clara
Oh Jin-Hee Oh Chang-Min Kook Cheon-Soo Sim Ji-Hye Han A-Reum

Emergency Couple tells the story of Oh Chang-min (played by Choi Jin-hyuk) and Oh Jin-hee (played by Song Ji-hyo), who meet in their early twenties, fall in love and get married against the wishes of his wealthy doctor family, who cut him off without a cent. As a result Chang-min is forced to quit his studies as a doctor and begin work as a pharmaceutical salesman. Miserable in his job, soon his relationship with Jin-hee begins to break down. The martial breakdown is also fuelled by Jin-hee’s inferiority complex, who finds it difficult to handle the way her husband’s family treats her. Within a year, their marriage is over and they are divorced, filled with animosity towards each other. Six years later they unexpectedly meet once again as they both begin medical intern-ships at the same hospital, with Chang-min having return to medical school and Jin-hee deciding to also pursue medicine. As new interns, they are forced to work together for three months in the Emergency ward of the hospital.

I primary watched the series because, as a Running Man fan, I am a big fan of Song Ji-hyo. While I had seen Song Ji-hyo in a number of movies, I had not seen any of her television dramas, so was keen to see her performing in a lead role. I also loved Choi Jin-hyuk’s performance in Gu Family Book, so was excited to see him take on a lead role in a drama. Both actors did a terrific job in making their characters believable, fun and entertaining, however,  it was Song Ji-hyo’s exploration of her characters emotional journey which gave gravitas to the series.

Emergency Couple does a good job, especially in the first few episodes, of setting up the comedic base for the series. I laugh out loud quite a few times in the first few episodes (as well as later ones). However, while Emergency Couple is in many ways your stereotypical Korean Rom Com, under its light-hearted humour and comedy, it also has a very strong social commentary running through it.

Throughout the series, a number of significant social issues and taboos are discussed. The most prominent being, of course, is the issue of divorce and how it is seen within Korean society. Also explored were the issues of: single motherhood, sex outside of marriage, sexist double standards when it comes to sex outside of marriage, the right of women to chose a career over pregnancy and motherhood and teenage/youth pregnancy. What was fantastic about the series was it dealt with all of these issues without necessarily pushing them down your throat. Instead, they were cleverly woven into both the drama and comedy of the series, while challenging the dominant existing narratives about these issues. I especially loved Song Ji-hyo’s scene when Jin-hee and the other interns discuss sex outside of marriage.  In this scene, the writers do a wonderful job of having Jin-hee turning on its head the conservative analogy of a lock and key to describe the sexual activity of women and men.

The series also did a great job in giving us secondary characters which were not your stereotypical nasty, devious or jealous characters, which are present in far to many kdramas. In particular, it was really wonderful to have to secondary female characters who were not shackled with the stereotypical sexism that many kdramas give them. In the world of kdrama, there are far to many secondary female characters who are shackled with nastiness and jealousy, who are manipulative, crazy or just plain evil.  However, Emergency Couple showed us that it is possible to have interesting secondary female characters without them being bound down with psychotic jealousy, manipulative cruelness or portraying them as just plain nasty, delusional or evil. Instead, Shim Ji-hye, played by Choi Yeo-jin and Han Ah-reum played by Clara were presented as strong independent women, both who knew what they wanted and who were willing to pursue what what they wanted without being manipulative or deluded. They are presented as real human beings with both strengths and weakness, who had compassion and could be vulnerable and likeable.

Similarly the secondary male lead of Gook Cheon-soo, played by Lee Pil-mo, was not your stereotypical second male lead. While at times I found him frustrating (which was more to do with some big holes in the plot, often added to by some confusing script writing, than his acting) it was good to see a secondary male lead who had more depth to his character than just being a shoulder for the female lead to cry on. Cheon-soo was clearly a character suffering his own demons and had his own issues to deal with, which was great to see.

Emergency Couple was definitely enjoyable. However, it also had its flaws, quite a few of them. The most notable was that many of the lesser secondary characters (for example Chang-min and Jin-hee’s fellow interns) were cardboard cut outs and had very little depth. At times, it seemed the show writers didn’t quite know what to do with the characters, so they floundered and flip flopped around. At times the writing for the series also seem confused and not sure where it wanted to go. And towards the end of the series, some characters story lines either abruptly disappeared or change, making the execution of their story line somewhat unbelievable or confusing.

While not wanting to give away the finale, I felt they could have done much more with it than they did. While it was enjoyable, there was no ommpf to it (and I found the constant soft music in the back ground extremely annoying and overly saccharine). The best way, perhaps, to describe the finale is “pleasant”. And again, a number of the secondary characters suffered the fate of the writers not knowing quite what to do with them and their storyline disappointingly became a caricature of what it could have been.

baby gookie Special final mention has to go out to Baby Gukie. I am usually not one to coo over babies (at all!),  but I fell totally and utterly in love with Baby Guk (or as he is known in real life: Kwon Joon young). I loved every single one of his screen appearances and wished there had been more. The show did a great job of using his natural reactions to the adult actors, often using them comically to highlight the emotional interactions between the adults. As a result, I was sorely disappointed that he did not make an appearance in the finale.

Despite there being a number of flaws which one can criticise about Emergency Couple, I still enjoyed the series. I particularly like that the story explored issues not explored very often in other kdramas. I also liked that it was a story of an older couple struggling to figure out what they wanted to do with their lives. It was also great that amongst the comedy and fun candy coating, there was in fact some serious social issues discussed and highlighted without people being beaten over the head. So while not being perfect, it was still a fun and enjoyable drama, one worth watching.

 

The politics of #100HappyDays and “positive thinking”

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100HappyDays

 

In general, I am a pretty happy person. I have a quirky sense of humour – although many of my friends would probably describe it more as absurdist and “weird” but I am okay with that.  I lead a busy life, but have fortunately been able to make life decisions (not without some sacrifice. of course) that allow me to do what makes me happy most of the time – on a personal level, an academic level, work level and on a political level.

Usually, I am not for following silly fads but recently a friend of mine, who is also a political activist, started doing #100HappyDays. It was great to see her photos which celebrated her life and experiences. As a result, I decided to give it a go myself. In doing so, I was aware that many people taking up the 100 Day challenge may have been coming at it from a different perspective from my friend and myself.

Within a day or so of starting it, another friend and political activist asked me what the deal was and had I “gone all hippy”? My response – of course – was no, mainly because I am the least “hippy” like person I know. The primary reason that my friend asked me this was because #100HappyDays very much falls within the cultural idealist phenomenon of “positive thinking”.

According to Dmitry Golubnichy, who started the #100HappyDays challenge: “being happy is a choice and everyone can be happy just by appreciating little things in life one has”. Writing in the Huffington Post about the challenge, Bev James, who is a Business mentor and CEO of The Coaching Academy, argued that by really committing to the challenge you can “train yourself to find happiness, develop resilience and overcome any obstacle to live the life you want”.

As a Marxist, I disagree with both Dmitry Golubnichy and Bev James. To say that happiness is choice is an abstraction which ignores the material conditions (ie the economic, social and political) under which most people on the planet live. In addition, thinking positively and training yourself to find happiness will not necessarily help you or others to overcome structural obstacles which exist under capitalism, such as poverty, racism, sexism or homophobia and other oppressions.

As a Marxist and a political activist, I am not an idealist – by this I mean, I do not believe that reality or reality as we know it, is determined or fundamentally mentally constructed. For a philosophical idealist, the process of thinking (ie. ideas) is viewed as being independent of the material world. For philosophical idealists, ideas work to construct and fashion reality and social consciousness.

However, as Karl Marx noted, when critiquing the Hegelian idealism, philosophical idealism results in people forming “wrong ideas about themselves, about what they are and what they ought to be. They have arranged their relations according to their ideas of God, of normal man, etc. The products of their brains have got out of their hands. They, the creators, have bowed down before their creations.”

Like Marx, I have a materialist conception of the world and believe that objective reality exists outside of our individual experiences. In other words, I believe objective reality exist independently outside of ones own personal, individual consciousness and personal sensations. As such objective reality is not constructed mentally but instead it is reflection of the material conditions (the economic, social and political conditions) under which we live.

Within capitalist society, the dominate ideas which exist and are shared in our society are a reflection of these material conditions, social relations and class relationships which exist under capitalism. As Marx noted: “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.”

So what has this got to do with the cultural idealism and ideology of “positive thinking”?

The answer is that the cultural ideology of “positive thinking” is an expression of ruling class ideas in 21st century capitalist society. It can be described as being a 21st century version of “snake oil”, sold to us to sooth all our ailments and woes. But like the snake oil of the old West, it does no such thing and it prevents us from taking real action to address the ills we might be suffering.

The dominant cultural ideology of “positive thinking” is a simply a modern day manifestation and expression of philosophical idealism. It tells us that if we just think this way or that way, then we can change the material conditions we live under. That we can shape the reality as we know it, independent of any material conditions that might exist.

Positive thinking exhorts us to have a positive outlook on life, irrespective of the material conditions we face. It tells us we can achieve happiness, not by challenging the system that is oppressing us, but by burying ourselves in it and learning to accept the status quo. We are told if we just think positively we can improve our financial status, our emotional status and much much more, if we just think happy thoughts.

Positive thinking is often billed as an empowering activity. However, far from empowering people, it works to disempower them from taking real action to change the world and the capitalist system, which is the source of our alienation – whether it be economic, social or political alienation. Capitalism is a system which creates the social inequality and oppression, whether it be racism, sexism, homophobia or other types of oppression, none of which can be overcome simply through the delusion of “positive thinking”.

Positive thinking is used to mask social, economic and political inequality and is used to down play and/or negate the necessity to engage in the struggle to change the material conditions under which we live. As writer and political activist, Barbara Ehrenreich has noted in the past, the ideology of positive thinking tells you “don’t worry about social inequality if you’re a positive thinker, because you, too, can become rich just by modifying your thoughts. So why be concerned that some people are off in the stratosphere in their personal jets while you’re waiting for the bus?” The ideology of positive thinking therefore trains us to accept the status quo and to not challenge the inherent inequalities that exist under capitalism.

In addition to masking inequality, “positive thinking” also tells us that if you can not over come emotional problems or social inequality – its because it is our own fault. You just did not think positively enough or did not work hard enough etc to overcome whatever problem or inequality you face.

So why then do the #100HappyDay challenge? Am I not engaging in philosophical idealism and promoting the delusional and de-empowering ideology of positive thinking? My answer to this would be that like with most things we encounter under capitalism, we need to recognise that there is a dialectical dynamic.

Being critical of the ideological role of “positive thinking” does not mean that you have to be against being happy, having a nice day, smiling at strangers, finding joy in our everyday lives and relationships or having a good time. Being opposed to the ideology of positive thinking simply means we refuse to train ourselves to accept the status quo and recognise that demanding people be cheerful, upbeat and optimistic at all times will not change the material conditions of the world or eliminate the alienation, oppression and inequality they may experience under capitalism.

Instead, by recognising that objective reality exists independently of our own personal consciousness and independently of our sensations, we can acknowledge and even celebrate aspects of our everyday lives and experiences through such things as #100HappyDays, while at the same time recognising that the only way we can bring about a better world is by engaging in active political struggle to change the material conditions under which we live.

Join the Rebellion this Easter: Marxism 2014 – Ideas to Challenge the System! 17-20 April 2014

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If you are in Melbourne over Easter, don’t miss out on this fabulous conference!  4 Days of political debate, discussion and activism! Marxism 2014 is Australia’s biggest left wing conference. This year’s conference features speakers from the USA, Lebanon, Greece, Mauritius, West Papua, the Philippines and Australia.  I will be speaking at the conference as part of the “Against Empire” stream – my presentation is on the 1936 Palestinian General Strike and Revolt.  There will also be sessions on Aboriginal and Indigenous struggle in Australia; Gender and Sexuality; Labour History and Worker’s Rights; Philosophy; Forgotten Revolutionaries and the Environment.

The Marxism conference is Socialist Alternative’s annual conference dedicated to left wing debate and discussion. Marxism 2014 will take place over the Easter Weekend of 2014, from Thursday 17th April to Sunday 20th April at Melbourne University. The 2013 conference gathered over a thousand activists, writers, unionists, artists and socialists from across Australia and the world to discuss and debate ideas to change the world. With over 70 sessions on topics as diverse as the theory of imperialism to Australian labour history the 2014 conference is bound to be an unmissable event.

Check out the Marxism 2014 website here, along with the full program and list of speakers.

This year’s conferences features:

US hip-hop artist and activist Boots Riley, one of the most influential radical American musicians of the past two decades. He has been involved in many campaigns for social justice in his local community in Oakland, California, recently playing a leading role in the Occupy movement in the city.

Gary Foley, a legendary Aboriginal activist, writer, actor, teacher, story teller and historian. He is a prominent figure in the history of Aboriginal resistance in Australia.

Gilbert Achcar, Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London. A committed socialist, antiwar activist and author, He authored many books among which The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder (2002, 2nd ed. 2006), translated into thirteen languages; Perilous Power: The Middle East and US Foreign Policy, coauthored with Noam Chomsky (2007, 2nd ed. 2008); the critically acclaimed The Arabs and the Holocaust:The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives (2010); and most recently The People Want: A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprisingand Marxism, Orientalism, Cosmopolitanism, both published in 2013.

 

Also happening at the conference is Radical Reels and the School of Rebellion:

Radical Reels: a film festival taking place during the conference, featuring inspiring documentaries of struggle and resistance around the world. All screenings will include a Q&A session with people involved in the film.  Check out the full film program here

School of Rebellion: The second School of Rebellion will take place over the weekend of Marxism 2014. School of Rebellion ’13 saw over 30 children and young people participate in a variety of classes designed to challenge the dominant mode of education. The School of Rebellion isn’t framed by competition but by solidarity – its aim is to encourage constructive, collective and organised rebellion. The School of Rebellion isn’t about testing and ‘achievement’ but about learning and agency. It’s not a school, like every other, where education is bound to commerce and productivity but rather one where knowledge and learning are connected to justice and authentic democracy.

marxism conf