Thursday, March 22, 2012

Love is understanding, don't you know that this is true (The Monkees)

For Pete's sake: during PJ's reply to the previous post he included the following apposite observations:
The sort of culture I am complaining about does not conflict with what you value – notably kiwiana. Nor does it conflict with the higher culture asserted by Frank Lloyd Wright (I even listen to Schubert). It is more to do with modes of behaviour and social expectation...In that sense, cultural expectation does in my estimation do more harm than good. If a group of NZ Peruvians flock together because they like to play their Andean flutes, I have no objection. However, if they denigrate Westerners’ tendency to be punctual, calling it“emotionally cold”, that is different (this is an actual example, from when I was in Peru in1981).
A more relevant quote from Orwell would perhaps be his account of travels in Morocco, in which he wonders about what Western travellers value when they go to a poor country.  Orwell upbraids them for valuing “local colour” (for example, oxcarts instead of cars), while we should want them to develop. He doesn’t mention culture per se, but his observation simply that he would agree with me. He and I are both universalists.  
This is the point: a couple of generations ago, being a universalist meant that you cared; nowadays you show you care by being a relativist. I regard this as an oddshift. For example, many Maori leaders of the past wanted Maori people to be more Western; nowadays that notion would be derided as seeking to become “brown pakehas”.
His statement that he's a 'universalist' got me thinking. I know very little about being a universalist, aside from the religious idea that all people will gain salvation and that Robert Fulghum was (is?) a Unitarian minister.

I asked PJ for clarification and he sent the following:

What I mean is the belief that solutions to problems do not usually vary according to location or social/cultural group. It suggests that, for example, what benefits pakeha benefits Maori, so there is little point seeking a specific Maori solution to their socioeconomic problems. We are all human beings with similar aspirations. 

Broadly speaking, the political left used to be universalist in this way. Michael Joseph Savage would have thought the new left's relativist, culturally sensitive ideas very odd. This shift in what it means to care about the downtrodden has been well explained in Nick Cohen's book What's Left - one of the best books on modern politics you'll ever read. He shines some light on other things, notably the religion of anti-Americanism.

I have no problems with this view and would say that I am also have a 'universalist' outlook. Being in the Arabic school for 16 months has shown me that the 'solutions' to education here are the same as for Maori and Pakeha in Nu Zild and are the same for the students I taught in the UK.

The same approaches based on establishing a positive relationship work in each of those different cultural contexts.

Less than a week now until we fly back to NZ from the sandpit. SWMBO and I are both getting a triffle antsy about things and we're really looking forward to starting the next chapter of our adventure back in the Hawke's Bay.

Love and peace to all - Wozza

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