In search of Australian nationhood

Nations are, by necessity, people united by common mythology. Sometimes that mythology arises from ethnic solidarity. Sometimes it is the product of a shared ideology. Others, as in the case of many post-colonial states, it derives from the mere legal fiction of internationally acknowledged boundaries. But nations do not exist without some kind of common purpose.

This is a problem that has particularly vexed the nations of the new world. Old world states define themselves in ethnic terms, and date the birth of their nation to the creation of their ethnic identity. This is the case with the French, the Russians, and the Japanese, and it is a conception of nationhood untroubled by sects who do not consider themselves bound by it, be they Basque, Chechan, or Ainu. The equivalence between nationhood and ethnicity is the reason why these societies have, in various ways, had such trouble adapting themselves to receiving immigrant inflows: if to be a French citizen is to be of Gallic heritage, what is one to make of French from North Africa or the near East? Should the nation continue to be ethnically defined, or can it find a new (excuse me) raison d’être?

The problem is both alleviated and compounded for states of the new world. The citizens of nations like the United States and Australia cannot with any awareness of history claim their nationhood derives from ethnic commonality. In such countries, settlers displaced, and now exist alongside, indigenous populations. Immigration has created culturally and racially pluralistic societies. There are not ethnic Australians the way there are ethnic Swedes or Thais or Greeks. Our nationhood cannot be defined by the forefathers of our citizens.

Being the first country to sever its ties with the British Empire, and having done so through armed rebellion, the United States was among the first modern societies to consider this conundrum. Its determination, haltingly applied — through the inconstant expansion of citizenship and personhood to blacks, to its indigenous peoples, to immigrants — was that theirs was a nation founded upon an idea. To be American, unlike to be Portuguese or Dutch, is to find nationhood in the state’s civic religion, and especially, in the documents that express it: the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, among others.

Australia, since its inception, has faced a similar problem to the United States, but we have not so readily found a solution to the conundrum of our nationhood. We are clearly not an ethnically united population: our continent’s original inhabitants are Aboriginal; our numbers have included Irish since the 18th century and Chinese since the early 19th century. And yet we feel ourselves to be more than a legally defined entity: we are a people with a common culture, common ideals, and common patriotic symbols.

The United States found its identity in rebellion and, later, in internal conflict. Australia, however, has experienced no great unifying upheaval. Its birth was legalistic, not military. Edmund Barton is no George Washington. Indeed, the story of our nation has been one of the slow process of creating a nation. When we ask who we are, we are answering the question even while we pose it.

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Prime Minister Paul Keating, February 27, 1992:

I was told that I did not learn respect at school. I learned one thing: I learned about self-respect and self-regard for Australia — not about some cultural cringe to a country which decided not to defend the Malayan peninsula, not to worry about Singapore and not to give us our troops back to keep ourselves free from Japanese domination. This was the country that you people wedded yourself to, and even as it walked out on you and joined the Common Market, you were still looking for your MBEs and your knighthoods, and all the rest of the regalia that comes with it. You would take Australia right back down the time tunnel to the cultural cringe where you have always come from.


So I don’t tend to post about Pony all that often because you guys don’t seem to like it much, but this episode revealed that Pinkie Pie’s sister is basically April Ludgate, and it was so excellent. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I don’t show my enthusiasm for things quite in the same way my sister does.”


Going to the MLB game in Sydney tomorrow; this new nail polish makes me think I should support the Dodgers, even if I did meet one of the D-backs on Wednesday night. He and I went to high school in the same town, about a year apart, which was both interesting and awkward. Nice guy though.
Not that it was ever necessary, but how glad am I Snoop and Wiz both got they nails did in about the same twelve month period as I started doing mine.
Anyways, yeah I generally buy cheap shit, but this is great? That’s two coats, and the second was hardly necessary.
I might do blue sparkles over the top for Sunday when I go to Kyary.

Going to the MLB game in Sydney tomorrow; this new nail polish makes me think I should support the Dodgers, even if I did meet one of the D-backs on Wednesday night. He and I went to high school in the same town, about a year apart, which was both interesting and awkward. Nice guy though.

Not that it was ever necessary, but how glad am I Snoop and Wiz both got they nails did in about the same twelve month period as I started doing mine.

Anyways, yeah I generally buy cheap shit, but this is great? That’s two coats, and the second was hardly necessary.

I might do blue sparkles over the top for Sunday when I go to Kyary.


Two things from JK Rowling’s History of the Quidditch World Cup essay

In 1971 the ICWQC appointed a new International Director, Australian wizard Royston Idlewind. An ex-player who had been part of his country’s World Cup-winning team of 1966, he was nevertheless a contentious choice for International Director due to his hard-line views on crowd control – a stance undoubtedly influenced by the many jinxes he had endured as Australia’s star Chaser. Idlewind’s statement that he considered the crowd ‘the only thing I don’t like about Quidditch’ did not endear him to fans. Their feelings turned to outright hostility when he proceeded to bring in a number of draconian regulations, the worst being a total ban on all wands from the stadium except those carried by ICWQC officials. Many fans threatened to boycott the 1974 World Cup in protest but as empty stands were Idlewind’s secret ambition, their strategy never stood a chance. The tournament duly commenced and while crowd turnout was reduced, the appearance of ‘Dissimulators’, an innovative new style of musical instrument, enlivened every match. These multi-colored tube-like objects emitted loud cries of support and puffs of smoke in national colors. As the tournament progressed, the Dissimulator craze grew, as did the crowds. By the time the Syria-Madagascar final arrived, the stands were packed with a record crowd of wizards, each carrying his or her own Dissimulator. Upon the appearance of Royston Idlewind in the box for dignitaries and high-ranking officials, a hundred thousand Dissimulators emitted loud raspberries and were transformed instantly into the wands they had been disguising all along. Humiliated by the mass flouting of his pet law, Royston Idlewind resigned instantly. Even the supporters of the losers, Madagascar, had something to celebrate during the rest of the long, raucous night.

  • Guys! Australia won the Qudditch World Cup in 1966! Aussie Aussie Aussie etc.

Possibly the most infamous World Cup Final of the last few centuries was the Ireland-Bulgaria match of 1994, which took place on Dartmoor, England. During the post-match celebrations of Ireland’s triumph there was an outbreak of unprecedented violence as supporters of Lord Voldemort attacked fellow wizards and captured and tortured local Muggles. For the first time in fourteen years, the Dark Mark appeared in the sky, which caused widespread alarm and resulted in many injuries among the crowd. The ICWQC censured the Ministry of Magic heavily after the event, judging that security arrangements had been inadequate given the known existence of a violent Pure-blood tendency in the United Kingdom. Royston Idlewind emerged briefly from retirement to give the following statement to the Daily Prophet: ‘a wand ban doesn’t look so stupid now, does it?’

  • This fits nicely in with my theory that in the Wizarding World, Britain is a rather backwards basket case of a country where open prejudice against muggle-borns is at least tacitly tolerated and the government is a mess of over-regulation and cronyism. Little wonder that it had two civil wars in the space of two decades. It might not quite be the Wizarding answer to North Korea, but something like the Wizarding answer to China. There was probably distinct concern in other countries about giving the 1994 World Cup to such a precariously run government, but Britain-boosters likely responded that this would encourage Britain to take its place amongst the world’s more responsible Wizarding nations. Obviously, the naysayers felt pretty smug when their predictions of disaster were fulfilled.

[Labor] are only half-baked republicans … [I]f we weakly … just sort of take it when no one else wants it, you know — “so, oh, now we’re a republic” — I mean, George Washington didn’t do this with George III. Those Americans knew exactly what they needed.

On traitors.

monsterpussy:

fraser always had v good views towards immigration but that’s not the only thing in the world and booooo to him medibank never forgive but everyone forgot

Yes. Also, he conspired with the representative of a foreign country to overthrow a democratically elected prime minister. I don’t give a shit if Fraser makes things awkward for current-day conservatives, he’s a contemptible man whose legacy should be defined first and foremost by the assault he led on Australian democracy.


Few can remember a time when music wasn’t a tool of self-definition, but until the second half of the twentieth century this was only a small part of a song’s appeal. For most people living in the world, circa 1920, music was embedded into their life, not chosen as a lifestyle accessory. But gradually, over the next several decades, music’s value as a pathway of personal definition came to the forefront of our culture. Sometimes the shift was barely perceptible, but in retrospect we can gauge its profound impact. For example, people in rural America didn’t choose country music during the early decades of the 20th century, but were literally born into its ethos; yet by the ’70s, country music had evolved into a lifestyle choice, a posture adopted by millions who never roped a steer or herded cattle, but still wanted to affiliate themselves with the values espoused by the songs. By the time we arrive at the age of disco and punk rock, the music consciously builds its appeal on lifestyle considerations.

Ted Gioia, “Music Criticism Has Degenerated Into Lifestyle Reporting,” The Daily Beast, March 18, 2014

And yet…

Bill Malone, Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’: Country Music and the Southern Working Class (2002):

While country music has always borne the marks of its southern and working-class origins, it could not have survived or prospered had it remained exclusively linked to those constituencies. Even during its early hillbilly days it attracted fans in the North and around the world because of its presumed southern traits — whether romantically or negatively expressed — or because it seemed to fill a vacuum left by the decline of the older style of Tin Pan Alley music. One suspects that country music still captures listeners everywhere with themes that would have been familiar to fans in the 1920s — nostalgia, escape, fantasy, human-interest drama, gritty realism, and evocations of values that seem imperiled by modernity. Observing the national popularity of country music in our own time — a facet of the phenomenon described by John Egerton as the “southernization of America” — Peter Applebome declared that “country formed a visceral bond with lower- and lower-middle class whites like no other music of our time.”

And I know I’m always pushing back against this dim “by the ’70s country music had [been] adopted by millions who never roped a steer or herded cattle” line, but I’ll say it again: As a result of half a century of urbanization, industrialization, and government investment, the 1970s white South was very different to the 1920s white South. Why on earth, then, would you expect its music not to have changed?

[See also Mike Barthel on the Gioia piece]


Note, however, that “difficult” is not the same thing as “valuable.” Solving a Rubik’s Cube is difficult, but not particularly valuable to the world.

Nate Silver, “What the Fox Knows,” FiveThirtyEight, March 17, 2014

Oh, man, totally appropriating this completely obvious metaphor for future use. I’ve struggled to find the perfect way to describe how inessential difficult things can be, (usually settling on calling it a “party trick”) and this is ideal. Your guitar solo? Rubik’s cube. Hitting the right note in the studio every single time without Auto-Tune? Rubik’s cube. Speed rapping and beat boxing? Motherfucking Rubik’s cube.


I reviewed John Sides and Lynn Vavreck’s The Gamble for the magazine!

In many ways, The Gamble acts as a counter to the addictive and gossipy Game Change series Washington journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin have penned during the past two campaigns (see Nicole Hemmer’s review). The contrast might even be deliberate; The Gamble reveals in its opening line that 68 individual moments during the 2012 campaign were described as “game-changers” somewhere in the American media, and Sides and Vavreck have a decidedly more sober view of electoral politics. “The continual search for game-changers treats a campaign like a boxing match, where the momentum may be shifting back and forth with every punch and the knockout blow could come at any moment,” they write. “In reality, there are few knockout punches, and most game-changers do not really change the game that much.”
This means — as the authors demonstrate with exhaustive reference to polling, modelling, and charts aplenty — that such widely touted news events as Barack Obama’s “You didn’t build that” comment or the “47% video” leaked to liberal website Mother Jones, which showed Mitt Romney dismissing close to half the American public as “dependent on the government,” had almost no impact on voters whatsoever. 
Also meaningless in terms of shifting voter opinion: any of Romney’s widely reported “gaffes,” the Obama campaign’s summer advertising blitz hammering Romney for his connection to private equity firm Bain Capital, and the disruptive effects of Hurricane Sandy, which struck the east coast in the last week of October. 

On one level, I think this is a really important book, and it would be great if loads of people read it — especially people interested in American politics, and especially people professionally interested in American politics. (Though I’d much rather such people first read Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State; Talking Right; or Nixonland.) But on the other hand, for me it unexpectedly exposed the limits of political science — something I hinted at previously. Reading The Gamble, I started to think about the strengths of the Game Change books: how they portray the human side of politics, how even if elections aren’t driven by personalities, politicians can be, how our first draft of history will inevitably be messy and impressionistic and foolish. Don’t get me wrong, Halperin and Heilemann are exactly the kinds of reporters who would benefit having their exuberances tempered by Sides and Vavreck. But journalists exist for a reason, and though the authors of The Gamble are quite capable communicators (you don’t write for WaPo if you’re not), they’re researchers first and writers second, and you can tell. And I firmly believe that good writing isn’t window-dressing; how you say something is as meaningful as what you’re saying.
The other thing is that if you paid attention to the right blogs throughout the campaign, a lot of this stuff isn’t new. Which doesn’t mean The Gamble isn’t worthwhile — a book is more permanent than a blog post, and has a wider reach — but it does mean that for certain folks, its revelations are less stunning than might be supposed.
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I reviewed John Sides and Lynn Vavreck’s The Gamble for the magazine!

In many ways, The Gamble acts as a counter to the addictive and gossipy Game Change series Washington journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin have penned during the past two campaigns (see Nicole Hemmer’s review). The contrast might even be deliberate; The Gamble reveals in its opening line that 68 individual moments during the 2012 campaign were described as “game-changers” somewhere in the American media, and Sides and Vavreck have a decidedly more sober view of electoral politics. “The continual search for game-changers treats a campaign like a boxing match, where the momentum may be shifting back and forth with every punch and the knockout blow could come at any moment,” they write. “In reality, there are few knockout punches, and most game-changers do not really change the game that much.”

This means — as the authors demonstrate with exhaustive reference to polling, modelling, and charts aplenty — that such widely touted news events as Barack Obama’s “You didn’t build that” comment or the “47% video” leaked to liberal website Mother Jones, which showed Mitt Romney dismissing close to half the American public as “dependent on the government,” had almost no impact on voters whatsoever. 

Also meaningless in terms of shifting voter opinion: any of Romney’s widely reported “gaffes,” the Obama campaign’s summer advertising blitz hammering Romney for his connection to private equity firm Bain Capital, and the disruptive effects of Hurricane Sandy, which struck the east coast in the last week of October. 

On one level, I think this is a really important book, and it would be great if loads of people read it — especially people interested in American politics, and especially people professionally interested in American politics. (Though I’d much rather such people first read Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State; Talking Right; or Nixonland.) But on the other hand, for me it unexpectedly exposed the limits of political science — something I hinted at previously. Reading The Gamble, I started to think about the strengths of the Game Change books: how they portray the human side of politics, how even if elections aren’t driven by personalities, politicians can be, how our first draft of history will inevitably be messy and impressionistic and foolish. Don’t get me wrong, Halperin and Heilemann are exactly the kinds of reporters who would benefit having their exuberances tempered by Sides and Vavreck. But journalists exist for a reason, and though the authors of The Gamble are quite capable communicators (you don’t write for WaPo if you’re not), they’re researchers first and writers second, and you can tell. And I firmly believe that good writing isn’t window-dressing; how you say something is as meaningful as what you’re saying.

The other thing is that if you paid attention to the right blogs throughout the campaign, a lot of this stuff isn’t new. Which doesn’t mean The Gamble isn’t worthwhile — a book is more permanent than a blog post, and has a wider reach — but it does mean that for certain folks, its revelations are less stunning than might be supposed.

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