Category Archives: oecomuse

The dots less joined

As someone who asked the question of whether British-born Tony Abbott is eligible to sit in the Australian Parliament back in 2014, I feel the pain of punters who are tired of the ‘section 44’ story. In those days, we who raised the s.44 question were mocked as “birthers”, a nasty distortion, as I explained here.

The issue is not the foreign-born, but renunciation of foreign allegiance. Abbott never disguised a strong sense of allegiance to England. But those who backed Abbott into office studiously ignored eligibility questions. It is fine for Abbott to tweet a renunciation screenshot three years after those questions were raised, yet now we see the entry papers, not of an MP but his mother, published online [deliberately not linked]. We see the Prime Minister demanding Shorten prove his renunciation, which Shorten did.

While the press scour parentage records across the parliament, Turnbull announces ‘new’ disclosure rules that replicate the disclosure statement all federal parliamentarians have already signed, making his decision as redundant as his leadership. The major parties failed, as the major parties were always going to fail, to resolve the problem of candidates failing to renounce.

This is because both majors want what they always want. It is not rocket surgery. Labor wants to force the Coalition to a general election so it can win government, and the Coalition wants to stay in government. That is the point of the existence of these organisations, and thus that is what each will pursue.

meanwhile, we all have to watch the routine hypocrisy, a function of the inherent conservatism of our political and media institutions. But the direction reporters and politicians have taken this story since July 2017 is increasingly ugly. There is the law, sure, but there is also the messaging.

The legal question, and its answer

Our constitution disqualifies from the federal parliament anyone with ‘acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or [having or entitled to] the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power’. Nothing prevents any Australian born in any country, or whose parents or grandparents were born overseas, from nominating. However, a nominee must take all ‘reasonable steps’ to renounce their foreign connection(s). This test is from Sykes v Cleary [1992] and was upheld by the High Court in the ‘Citizenship Seven’ case.

Attorney General Brandis led the government response by claiming the Citizenship7 case is a ‘strict’ reading. This is the Joyce (and Nash) defence. It downplays the cornerstone of common law systems: doctrine of precedent. In reality, the High Court applied the law – including case law – to the facts before them.

Similarly, Turnbull repeatedly implies that the correct constitutional reading was shrouded in mystery until last month. This is the Parry (and Alexander) defence. But the case law is 25 years old. In reality, the government was hoping the High Court would overturn precedent (which it has full authority to do) to save Barnaby Joyce.

The political messaging, which is dangerous and wrong

That some nominees did not do their homework is a straightforward proposition. But the Coalition response is to make it about being Australian. This is underpinned by white nationalism, and Barnaby Joyce intends to fan these messages into flames, which I will come to in a moment.

But first, the pivot on which public debate turned from a semblance of legal logic (‘strict’ constitutional reading) to politically expedient ‘passion’, was the prime ministerial defence of Josh Frydenberg.

Now I am the last person on earth to defend Frydenberg. I have zero regard for his politics. Energy policy is a mess. I merely note this: there has never been a Jewish Liberal party member of the House before. Turnbull and colleagues joined a party which had never endorsed Jewish candidates in safe seats. This supports the widespread view that the Turnbull display was invoking the Holocaust for politically expedient purposes. It also suggests the party has not thought through the implications of the Israeli law of return whereas Labor probably has.

My own view of Israel is a rogue nuclear state that daily violates Palestinians in myriad ways such as water supply ‘apartheid’; and systematically commits war crimes such as collective punishment. Nevertheless, Israel is a sovereign nation and, to most of world Jewry (and many others), it is the Jewish homeland; and the relevant discussion here is not international law but Australia-Israel relations (my research on Australia-Israel relations here).

Israeli Law of Return confers entitlement, on Jewish people, ‘to the rights or privileges of a citizen’ of Israel, which is a ‘foreign power’ from the Australian perspective. Thus on that ‘strict’ s. 44 reading, our Constitution would demand prospective Jewish candidates renounce allegiance to Israel. I strongly suspect this is part of the current major party discussions.

It is unthinkable that Parliament contemplate putting the High Court in the position of reading down s.44 to accommodate right of return. Nor could any reasonable person contemplate a process that would effectively disenfranchise Jewish candidates.

A competent leader would have quietly brokered a compromise that the public could accept, if these genuinely sensitive issues were explained properly. But bringing the public along is a Prime Ministerial skill we have not seen in a long time.

New white nationalism

By mobilising the Holocaust defence, Turnbull has ensured the ‘citizenship debate’ –until now, a paperwork problem – turns entirely on emotional responses. This is the preferred setting of most campaign managers – political, military, advertising – who know we are less individualist than we are taught to believe.

Here is how that is panning out.

In Tamworth, Turnbull declared ‘I don’t know anybody that’s more Australian than Barnaby Joyce, I don’t know any electorate more Australian than New England’.

Not Lingiari, home of the Gurindji walk-off and historic handful of sand. Not Canberra, named for Ngunawal Peoples ‘meeting place’ and seat of national government. A seat that literally has the word England in it being contested by a man who has pocketed millions of public dollars for which he was not eligible, is the most Australian.

Meanwhile, Joyce told Sky News ‘how people see it is if you’re born here you are an Australian’. But we deport refugee babies. What jus soli is this? On Insiders, Mark Kenny sang from the same songsheet, asking ‘what could be more Australian than Barnaby Joyce?’

Oh I don’t know. Fanning white nationalism for political gain?

In the Daily Telegraph anonymous ‘cabinet ministers expressed concerns MPs of Greek and Italian (sic) could be the first under threat…’. But Canavan was cleared of Italian citizenship rights and Xenophon was cleared because he renounced Greek citizenship rights. So why the ‘fears’ about Italians and Greeks?

Then there was Craig Laundy, telling ABC radio he wants a referendum because ‘in my electorate I’ve got 320 nationalities represented. If we trade with those 320 countries, Australia grows.’ He made up 140 countries to defend the legitimacy of MPs of British descent. The AM reporter commented ‘there are concerns the strict ruling would make it harder to attract multicultural candidates in the future’.

Concerns about ‘multicultural’ candidates? Why? Every disqualified MP is a white person who failed to check their connections to Commonwealth countries.

Finally, there is the book Joyce is writing on ‘the social opprobrium attached to poor white people in Australia’s towns and regions’. Peter Hartcher quotes: ‘A lot of it will be politically incorrect – I want to shock… To give greater economic and personal advancement to the people in the weatherboard and iron in the regional towns.’

Politically incorrect? Weatherboard and iron? Poor whites?

Joyce is unashamedly channelling the Trump narrative, even though Trump was bankrolled by rich whites and elected by comfortable whites and the poor white rural rust belt myth has been debunked again and again including by the Washington Post. Hartcher in the era of Trump called Joyce’s project ‘respect for the people who live outside the big cities and feel overlooked.’ The headlined shouted ‘shrewd tactic of Barnaby Joyce’ but this is not shrewdness. It is dangerous.

This is how contemporary Australian white nationalism works: in the name of ‘equality’, we reject the consensus-based proposal for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. In the name of ‘multiculturalism’, we defend white people who fail to do due diligence as true Australians mate. In the name of investigative journalism, we publish refugee documents of a Holocaust survivor. The debate will get anti-Semitic, because it always does. The political classes and political media will not, because they can not, put it back in the bottle.

Just don’t say nobody told ya.

 

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Farewell Comrade

What a day, what a moving and beautiful day, in turns solemn and funny, nay whitty, and sad. A day when we were reminded of politics as the art of possibility, equality, opportunity, inclusiveness, and visionary greatness. A day when Noel Pearson returned to his roots and spoke passionately and convincingly in that fiery Obamaesque preacher style, as an Aboriginal man and as an Australian.

A day when the supremely talented Graham Freudenberg deployed his craft for a most important and perhaps last time, weaving words into pictures and sentences into messages that none of us who were there could possibly ever forget. A day when the crowd joined in the chorus as Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly sang another anthem – as a masterly MC Kerry O’Brien so aptly described their retelling of the Gurindji story – a story that evoked poverty, patience and pride, a tall stranger, and a handful of sand.

This was the Whitlam Memorial at Sydney Town Hall that I attended, with my two younger children. They got the day off from school for the occasion. Afterwards we met up with my adult son, who had rung me – twice, because I was teaching when the first call came – on the day the news of Gough’s death broke. He rang first to make sure I had heard the news, and second to ask if I was alright.

I was not alright, of course. I taught six hours face-to-face that day, on injustice and inequality, at an institution that would not exist without our Gough: the University of Western Sydney.

Gough brought us so many things, and Pearson listed a fraction of them in a stunning soliloquy that went for several long minutes. Three stand out as most relevant and memorable and worth reminding the young people with whom I work.

The first is that Aboriginal people moved in leaps and bounds to articulate their identity, knowledge and law to the rest of us, those of us whose ears had been closed for so long. These great steps could be made because a true leader had listened, a leader who was across the grand principles of universal human rights and the aspirations of self-determination that had been denied by colonial governments for so long. Gough listened to Aboriginal leaders, their elders, their political realities and their ancient living knowledge of the land.

Noel Pearson evoked Gough the Roman, but I wax lyrical on Gough the Greek. The Romans were about power, as are all politicians. The Greeks were about civilisation, as all politicians ought to be. Pearson noted this distinction differently, and he most certainly, pointedly, noted the emptiness and destructiveness of a political class interested in nothing but maintaining power. Pointedness goes to the origins of the polity itself.

The point is – linguistically and actually – the Greek origin of the polis, the high point in the land – in Athens, the Acropolis – where lights burn in the night, and can be seen from far and wide, for the people have gathered to discuss matters of state. This is the Athenian roots of the polity.

We pay our respects to the Greek light thea whenever we evoke theory OR theology. For science and religion seek answers to the same fundamental questions of the human condition: who are we? Why are we here? How should we live? And most of all, what is a life well-lived?

Gough had a vision for answering these questions on behalf of us all. Not some of us. All of us. Whether Greek or Roman, our Gough was a classicist. It was Gough who ensured that Aboriginal people had a point of light, it was Gough who established pillars of civil society that form the foundations for equality of opportunity and a landscape of co-existence. It was Gough who understood the essential nature of Aboriginal Medical Service, Legal Aid, and Housing. These fledgling organisations founded a grand vision: the possibility that universal human rights would not be trampled by the state – when it came to Aboriginal communities.

And it is on this note that I turn to the two remaining legacies that have been drummed into my children and my students for years, and again most emphatically this fortnight.

Gough Whitlam brought tertiary education and the sewerage system to western Sydney. It may not sound too fashionable, but Gough thought poor people should be allowed to get university degrees AND flush toilets. The point of light was this: that university degrees and flush toilets are not merely for the rich.

Every time we call a plumber, we should thank Gough that the system worked every other day to keep us safe from disease and maintain public health due to sanitation across Sydney instigated by Gough. Every time we pass a unit and get that little bit closer to graduation, we should thank Gough. Every time a graduate gets a job, or a payrise, or associated quality of life, it is Gough as well as themselves who has earned gratitude and respect.

Education and health in university degrees and flush toilets: these are not the only answers, but they are two fantastically good ones. This is what a liberal democracy should look like, and what ours did look like, and what Australia can look like again.

A coda: I am reluctant to donate even five minutes of my day to the crushingly stupid beat-up that is the booing of Tony Abbott by the crowd outside Town Hall. But too many of my lefty friends have allowed themselves to be drawn into doing the work of Murdoch hacks. Tony Abbott is of course rubbing his hands with glee that a brief crowd reaction to his reptilian self has become the story, rather than the monumental achievements of a man in whose footsteps he can never hope to walk. So here is the response.

It does not matter that Whitlam’s people at Whitlam’s memorial briefly booed Abbott. It was a crowd moment, ephemeral, transient, amid many boos and cheers and calls and much laughter and many tears, singing and crying and chuckling, talking and sharing on this great day for the great man. If some people react negatively to a boo – BOO! – they are seeking an excuse to not honour Gough Whitlam. If anyone argues that mainstream voters will be alienated, they forget that mainstream voters are hip pocket voters.

If you claim that it was undignified, you were not there. If you judge the crowd from a media report, you are doing the work of the Murdoch press, baiting and switching and dissembling, for the purpose of avoiding any focus on a visionary politician. The news story of the day was that Australia commemorated a giant of a man who stood literally and politically above anything we have today.

The only people who want to change that story into petty nonsense and judgemental tut-tutting are those who refuse to honour Gough. No-one is going to change their vote. Let us not look to a brief instinctive crowd reaction to the nasty destructive petty hypocritical man who, uninvited, entered our space.

Let us look instead to the waves of emotion and uplifting words crafted in honour of a splendid visionary. A constructive man, a builder and a fighter, a man whose memory and legacy will outlast us all. Every time a highly trained professional serves us well, or brings us pleasure, or enriches our lives with their knowledge and wit (or I flush the toilet) I send a little message skyward: Thank You Gough.

Calling a woman a woman

The apparently vexed question of what men ‘should’ call women keeps resurfacing. It is not in fact a vexed question. It is a simple one.

If a woman states clearly that she would prefer not to be called a girl, then do not call her a girl. If a woman asks that you not refer to her as a lady, then do not call her a lady. If a woman says hey guys I know you are really confused and desperately oppressed so please, fill this conversation thread with your views on what women should or should not say or do, then go ahead. Derail the conversation, ignore women’s voices, and act as though men’s views on women-anger is the relevant issue.

Given the infinite variation of human opinion, it is not in the least surprising that women have different stances on how we refer to each other, or on how we are referred to by men. This is so whether we are talking about online conversations or the comfort of our own homes or those we love or in public by complete strangers. My own stance, and the reasoning behind it, are set out below.

But first, I mention the monotonous similarity of men’s voices on what to call women. I am referring to online comment threads when this simple question arises. Women take a variety of considered positions. By contrast, in most cases, men take reactive yet very similar positions (to each other) on the same question. Or those who stay in the conversation take very similar positions. Staying in the conversation in itself requires a stamina all of its own. A meaningless stamina, compared to (say) efforts for world peace, but there it is.

Remember, the answer is simple. If you actually do respect women and wish to assert that you respect women, here is what to do: listen to what the woman says she is OK with being called, and call her that. It is not difficult. It is easy. It is unlikely she is angry. It is likely she is tired of this shit. But for whatever reason, she has summoned the energy to have this tedious conversation again, and simply and clearly stated her preferred term for her womanhood. She probably paused before telling you, because she knows what will ensue. Either way, she has made an active and conscious decision to state what she thinks, knowing full well what the response is very likely to be.

The online conversation goes something like this:

Me: Mate, as a 44 year old mother-of-three, I am hardly a girl.

Him: Oh I just ran out of space/didn’t think/ got in trouble for saying ladies.

Me: All good, but saying women is fine.

Him: I know lots of women who call themselves girls.

Me: Do you think I don’t? We’re not talking about what women call women.

Him: Jeez I tells ya. Can’t get nothing right. I never say female, it sounds condescending.

Me: Yep. I prefer ‘woman’.

2nd Him: Impossible ain’t they? Can’t please none of ‘em.

Me: Just stating my preference.

1st him: I am done with this conversation. If I’ve offended anyone, I’m sorry.

Me: acknowledges comment, leaves conversation.

3rd Him: They’re all angry all the time.

2nd Him: You try and show respect and where does it get ya?

1st him (re-enters conversation despite previous sign-off): Hey, I respect women. I just ran out of room so I said girl.

2nd him, 3rd him, 4th and 5th hims, 1st him, more hims …. Endless comment thread about the onerous oppressive dilemmas encountered by good guys, men who respect women, who are just trying so hard to do the right thing.

…conversation becomes crude and includes references to masturbation.

This is a representation, but in my experience, it is a very typical one.

There is any number of problems with these threads, not least the dull and predictable repetition of the content; and the reliably reactionary trajectory of the narrative every time a woman states her preferred term of reference. Not once did the Hims in the above representation refer to women as women, or agree to refer to women as women, or complain that they have been corrected when they refer to women as women. This is because none of these things ever happen. Men who refer to women as women do not get asked ‘oh, please. Call me a girl’. Or ‘Hey mate, how many times have I asked you to say female’? Or ‘Dude, dude, dude, it’s not woman, it’s LADY’. These things never happen, because women prefer to be called women.

At the same time, women who state that we prefer to be called women are trivialised, and spoken over, and ignored, and sidelined, and above all, called ‘angry’. Not called women when we ask to be called women. But inevitably called difficult and angry when we ask to be called women.

It was probably at least twenty years ago that I decided that as a woman I would like to be referred to as a woman. Nothing has changed to change my mind. I am not particularly angry about this. I am angry about many things, but nomenclature is the least of it. And there is certainly nothing difficult about it. When men claim that such a simple stance is difficult and angry, they are usually finding feminism difficult, and are angry about it, and take the time-honoured stance of blaming women for the difficulties that feminism poses to their male lives, and the anger they feel about that.

Which is all a bit of shoulder-shrugging whatevs to those who do not struggle every day as a woman in a man’s world.

As an educated white woman, my struggle is usually invisible. My struggle is nothing like the struggle that Aboriginal people face in this sexist racist ablist sectarian homophobic country with its dark stain of dispossession that continues seemingly forever and has never been adequately examined, let alone remedied. My struggle is nothing like that of many migrant individuals and groups, or of those facing double and triple discrimination, abuse and hate due to their disability, sexuality, religion, or gender identity. My struggle is not the hardest struggle, or the most important struggle – the Aboriginal struggle is by far and away the most important for our national identity.

But in my jobs, empowering girls and using words well matter more than anything else. I have two jobs.

The first is that I am the only functioning parent in my children’s lives. By functioning, I mean I am the only provider and take full responsibility for not just their basic human needs but also their social and ethical relationships, their health and education and safety.

My second job is the paying job. I teach law to hundreds of future lawyers, and part of that role includes explaining, clearly, that our system asserts the use of words (over fists) to resolve disputes. The Rule of Law is the rule of words. Some take it down the back of the carpark to have it out. Some prowl the streets for vigilante justice when a paedophile is reportedly near. It happens, but it is not legal. The legal resolution to conflict is done with words.

So.

Calling me a girl is inaccurate. I am not a girl. If, however, I am among a group of women who refer to us, collectively, as ‘the girls’, I do not protest. Why would I? We are together, having fun, in a space created by and for women. It is distinguishable from the rest of our lives on that exact basis. We spend most of the time in spaces created by and for men. And while we can and sometimes do have fun in these man-spaces, more often we are working and/or on our guard against tempers, criticism, put-downs and exclusion – various forms of sexism, misogyny, and abuse.

The number of women you have overheard referring to ourselves as girls is relevant in one way, and one way only. We are delineating a space for women. Please return to the man spaces you have created all around us.

Here is the tricky bit (except it is not difficult at all).

When we refer to ourselves as girls, it is not an invitation for men to refer to us as girls. In many cases, it is a message for you to leave. Back away slowly, make so-called jokes as so many men do, say Oops better not go in the kitchen, the girls are on fire. Blokes know this scenario. They have been there, done that. But hearing a feminist voice explaining it is somehow confronting. Even though they already know.

Remaining apparently jocular and completely unserious is a typical male approach to feminism. I mean, what can feminism really matter? Surely it is not that important right? There she goes again. Has she got a fucking point? Why check? The dominant man-narrative is so consistent, so ready-to-go, that feminism can be sidelined at the tweet of a wink. And with the side-lining of feminism, of course, comes the sidelining of women. No conspiracy required, just a common man mind-set that is so easy to join that those who out this bullshit are shouted down and often walk away, exhausted by the whole repetitive business.

It is not difficult to shut up and listen. Men do it around bosses and other dominant males all the time. Women are used to being told to shut up and listen (and obey). Most of us are – by our parents, for a start. These days, in the public realm, it even has a name: mansplaining.

And here is a tip to mansplainers and man-apologists everywhere. Whiny, needy, self-pitying and victim-role-hijacking men are not sexy. I mean, just not. Do not ever try to woo a feminist that way. Do not ever try to woo a woman that way and maintain self-respect. Self-pity may succeed with some younger and less experienced women, but this is no achievement. In fact it is a failure. And exploitative. And kind of gross.

My personal grounds for not wishing to be called a girl are that I am a 44 year old mother of three with a wealth of knowledge and experience. There is also a girl in the household, and we are not indistinguishable. She is beautiful and young and has her whole life ahead of her. I am none of these things. She is under 18, and as such especially vulnerable in our hyper-masculine world. I have long and practical experience in dealing with the patriarchy, and even spend some time as the leader in public spaces (the lecture hall) as well as private environments (head of household).

At the moment, it is school holidays. I have a friend sent straight by the goddess, another working mother and head of household. She came and collected my children so I could go about two days of lectures without worrying about the kids’ whereabouts or having to take them into work (they are at the age where this is no longer coercible). When we spoke on the phone the next night, my daughter said a group of mates – all teens – went to play Ultimate Frisbee (whatever that is) and she ended up on a team of all boys.

Did you show ‘em? I asked.

Yes, she said.

Did you win? I asked.

Yes, she said. At the end they made me Man of the Match.

Me: Haha, what did you say?
Daughter: I said “Ahem”.

Oh go you. That’s my girl.

I was raised by a feminist mother and traditional (but reasonably willing-to-learn) father, and can therfore safely say I have been a feminist all my life. As my mother before me, I do not especially discuss feminism. Sometimes I join an interesting seminar or online comment thread and express much of what I want to say about feminism. But for the most part I simply go about my days being a feminist, resisting sexism where possible. I also often ignore sexism where nothing I say or do will diminish its foreboding presence. But if an abusive, bordering on dangerous, response is likely, I put safety first, as every feminist knows to do. In those instances I remove myself, and my family if they are with me, as quickly and inconspicuously as possible.

My teenage daughter, what is more, has an experience that is completely foreign to me. My daughter is a talented and committed athlete. This requires a particular type of stamina and persistence and capacity to cope with disappointment, not least because the boys tend to get most of the glory. I have tried to develop some jokey, not-too-protective vocabulary to communicate around this phenomenon. But because I can barely catch a ball and am interested only in sport where one of my children is competing, it falls a bit flat. My daughter gets that I know nothing in this area. It is not an unusual parenting experience. Yet while we do not directly discuss feminism, my philosophy of life has, I hope, served her at some critical times, particularly when she is doing what she loves. She is smart enough to see that her mum knows next to nothing about sport, but quite a lot about surviving and thriving in the very many environments where the masculine paradigm dominates.

Raising a daughter who is remarkably good at sport focuses the mind in many ways. But moving on.

To all those white men who think I can be stopped, or shouted down, or ignored, erased, rubbed out, sidelined and otherwise silenced by their loud voices and supposedly superior expertise: here is breaking news. I have two sons. One is an adult white male. He pays his rent and he pays his taxes. Fancy that.

I raised this young man single-handedly. By single-handedly, I mean I had no financial – and very little in-kind – assistance, as well as massive hindrances, in multiple forms. I am responsible for the presence of a decent white man in the world. I watched him become a man. It was one of the hardest struggles I have ever seen. There was little I could do with and for him, because he was a boy learning to be a man in a man’s world. Seeing my boy negotiating the world we live in, the Australia that white men have created, and find his place in it was … a living nightmare.

Do not tell me I have no idea what it is to be a white man. I know worse: to be a mother watching my own flesh and blood learning to navigate a society dominated by white male behaviours – despicable abuses – that I do not condone, do not practice, and failed to prepare him for in many ways. He had to learn the hard way what a seriously terrible job white men do in the running of this country, and what compromises he will have to make in order to make his way in it. The sheer violence – verbal, emotional, physical and worse – is absolutely gut wrenching.

So I drop out of onanistic comment threads. I call some blokes out, and block others. I leave some arguments quietly, hoping no man ever follows it up. And I write, and raise children, and watch and learn and teach. And say: words matter. Being asked by a woman to call her a woman should be the least of any man’s problems, if the experience of becoming a man in a man’s world is anything to go by. It’s not a problem at all, in fact. It is just a simple request, easily met, with the simplest of tools: words. Words are the only way. The other way makes life worse.

On learning music and teaching law

I come from a maternal line of teachers. My mother teaches music, and her sister teaches drama. Their mother ran her own little school back in the day, with their aunty. Another sister ran yoga and dog-training classes. If there was one thing I swore never to do, not even a little bit, not even piano lessons on the side for pocket money, it was teaching. Even now, five years after I took my first class, it’s an open secret. How’s the teaching going? Mum will ask. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone. I LOVE it.

Teaching is one of the few professions that has been relatively open to women who want to establish and maintain an independent working life. Staff rooms are not free of office politics – no work environment is free of office politics – work environments have humans within. But it is nowhere near as threatening to enter a school and earn a living as it is to confront the rampantly sexist horrors that await women in construction, mining, engineering, and (still) medicine, science and law. Not to mention the corporate cowboys in finance, insurance and IT.

That social structures and the men who perpetuate their flawed values have actively limited our life choices is still apparent today. Minimalisation of the worth and value of working with children (and the elderly, the sick, people with disabilities and other women) is one of those breathtakingly ignorant features of the western tradition. It is much over-looked that while we hold forth as the pinnacle of human achievement, we have in fact only succeeded at producing a generation of the fattest, saddest, most sugar-addicted beings in the history of humankind. If that sounds far-fetched, consider the fastest-rising diagnoses in the wealthiest countries: obesity, depression and diabetes. It is our strange privilege – to deploy the trappings of “civilisation” to disconnect from life’s fundamentals. This disconnection shields and buffers and cotton-wools the middle classes from the howling suffering of humanity. It is so all-pervasive that many of us only notice it when we breed a new human of our own. Suddenly the utter disregard for women and children is front and centre, every waking hour (which is most hours, for some new parents). How to push a pram AND a supermarket trolley? Why do tradies only turn up when you have to be somewhere else? What do you THINK I did all day? HAS A BABY DIED OF HUNGER OR DISEASE HERE? DO YOU KNOW WHY NOT?

Anyway. The latest pedagogy repositions teaching. It is now located and defined as teaching, learning and engagement (not necessarily in that order). Makes sense: students must be engaged to learn, and teachers must engage students before teaching and learning can take place. Turns out that teaching is a lot like parenting, and simultaneously teaching and parenting – among a group larger than an adult or two, to make the obvious point – is a tried and true pedagogy. Been around a while. For the sum of human existence and beyond. Back up in the trees, down in the swamp, parents showing children, elders leading. Not new, nothing innovative, just a return to the deepest of deep-rooted practices: listening, learning, laughing, living.

No, I am not advocating a trip down Aquarius lane. In a roundabout and easily distracted by the realities of most of the world’s pain while sitting in the comfort of my suburban home way, I am trying to get to this. My mother teaches music. I am belatedly, eternally grateful that this is her chosen profession. I teach law. We are both mother-teachers. This delivers dividends, in commonalities that far outweigh the surface differences in our chosen fields.

It dawned on me slowly, as I took on two and then three and four classes. Then unit co-ordinator of this course, or running summer school for that. Each additional responsibility brought that which most teachers loathe – the designing of assessments, the accountability measures to the institution, the endless administration. I developed pedagogy around remembering names; and more on compulsory attendance. I developed a pathological hatred of medical certificates; and a gentle, almost fond, tone for explaining to eighteen year old law students that they are adults, and smart ones, who have worked hard to get where they are … and are therefore expected to work on successful life/study strategies. I am not your mother, the sub text screams, as I smile and nod reassurely (subtext: Ingrid is right. You are smart. It is up to you).

What was slowly dawning was an understanding that I had spent a lifetime in the company of a woman who holds a sophisticated universal theory on the place of music in human history. And that I was spending much of my intellectual energy working on exactly that, in the field of law. Neither of these are new enterprises, but as with much teaching and learning agenda, we humans are doomed to re-learn or repeat, like history itself says it will doom us to do. Music resonates through the body and the heart, and through the ages. Law resonates through the head and the heart, and the body politic. If the heart thing strikes you as incongruent, spend a day in a court room. If any social structure showcases everything that is wrong with our civilisation so-called, it is the cold pomposity of this environment. The power of men to judge others while holding back any emotion as the most despicable, most heart breaking and traumatising events are recounted and relived in the public domain – it is a terrible thing. It is barely an improvement on public hangings – the single redeeming feature is that Australian courts at least do not, directly, have the power to take a human life.

While I am nothing if not a complete ignoramus on all things Foucaultian, I think the resonance from head to heart to social body is the music that pumps in our blood, and law that regulates its beat. The great reunification of parenting and teaching, of music and law, of a life’s calling that is a living wage, may never have fallen into place if my mother had not been that special kind of teacher who not only loves what she does but is gripped by a passion to share it with all. Her teaching style is inclusive and generous but not altruistically – for it is her greatest life satisfaction too, this privilege to enhance a fellow human’s love and knowledge of music. Same thing, I hear her in my mind’s ear, as I type that AND between love and knowledge. Same thing, for more knowledge of music is more love of music, and it is here that the law and music education paths diverge.

My own love of studying law has as mixed a provenance as anyone’s interest in anything. My dad is an Anglophile, I am an Anglophobe. His old-school liberalism prompts me to shriek in frustration. They’re letting you down, dad! How can you stay loyal to an idea (here, liberalism) when its adherents are people who bastardise and corrupt everything you actually do and they say they do while doing the opposite? Push back! Tell em to get back to first principles, or go back to school! He won’t, of course.

My Anglophobia is, as far as I will argue, grounded in fact. The English are dangerous. Like the church they took with them across the globe, everything the English touch turns to gold for the English and death by English hands for all but the most dedicated of collaborators. Why anyone would join collaborator ranks for the dubious outcome of never being more than a curiosity, and never attaining full membership no matter what, has always left me cold and unconvinced. I always thought Al-Fayed senior, the Arab who bought Harrods, was the ultimate exemplar of how that particular dynamic plays out. He’s so rich he takes over the iconic jewel in the English retail crown, just purchases this piece of prestige. His son squires the fallen princess about town. Al-Fayed paid the same price as families across empire have always paid. It is an old, old story; the first born son, the sacrificial lamb. Everything old is new again, nothing is new under the sun (hello vanity, hello Ecclesiastes, and hello to my maternal grandma, who loved that chapter and verse).

But back to my dad: Our shared yearning is for a social order which actually reflects the noble pursuits and principles that “the” law (our legal tradiiton) claims to uphold. There is nothing wrong with subscribing to the principle that all are equal before the law and no-one is above it. There is everything wrong with complacent declarations that this is indeed the case, that it is a factual claim that can be validly made about England and the common law countries the English so violently corralled under their jurisdiction.

I have written elsewhere of my immeasuarable discomfort with the notion of a common law – or, as the English and their accolytes call it, the common law. It has an inherent problem that is overlooked in the same way the great claims for “civilisation” made by the west overlook its barbaric disconnection from life, mother earth, humanity, and all that sustains us. Similarly, the “common” law is elitist. It is inaccessible to most. It is overlaid with multiple interpretations and rules, manifest across continents in different permutations, continents which to this day suffer the searing, tearing chasms wrought by the English and their maps and pencils, Englishmen drawing lines with their unspeakable disregard for others’ traditions around land, law and property. And all the while here is the common law proclaiming its central consistency and practical evolutionary capacity, while both being and appearing to be inconstant and inconsistent, rigid and inflexible, and perpetuating injustice, to all but the privileged few. The common law, on even cursory inspection, is not common to all.

Nothing and no-one and can be all things to all people. Simultaneously, all humanity are one, a common species is what unites us. It does not matter whether a fellow human has so profound a disability that they can not speak our language, or skin so black they disappear, to white eyes, up to the whites of black eyes at night. We recognise people, as individual humans, even as we dismiss or overlook or talk down to or ignore them. It is in those acts of dismissal and ignorance that we confirm our recognition.

All humans gather into groups and say to one another ‘what are the rules?’ Across all of time and space, from one end of history to the other and across the planet, every human society, every culture, or clan or tribe or language group, has nominated law makers and law enforcers, identified law breakers, and thus law itself. It is this that law shares (has in common!) with music. Law brings order, and it does, in the formal sense. But so does music, for what is a birth, death or marriage, any ritual designed to give thanks for our continuing survival, without music? Is there a society or culture or clan or tribe or language group known to human kind that has not organised itself around rules and rituals, leaders who lead, in law and in song? I can not imagine such a peoples, or if I could, I can not imagine them surviving for long.