Saturday, August 11, 2007

on hares and tortoises and globalisation

The term globalization has so many different resonances for different people, conjuring fear, excitement, anger, even a sense of comfort and well-being. For some, it means connecting with others on the other side of the globe via a computer keyboard and screen. For some it means learning of – and not just learning of but being taken face to face with, being imbued with the adventure of - a cure being developed for cancer in Australia, elections in Sierra Leone, child soldiering in another part of Africa, some strange evangelical display in the US, all in the space of half an hour, all with incalculable, if apparently minuscule, psychological impact. For others, it means nothing.

One hundred years ago, Australia was very much in the grip of the White Australia Policy [an over-arching title referring to a series of Acts and policies designed to maintain our country as a white European, and predominantly British, outpost to the south of Asia]. It was a policy that began to creak and crack at the seams after the second world war – which saw Australia shift in its foreign policy from its traditional ties with Britain to reliance on that Mecca of opportunity-seeking immigrants, the USA.

The Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 rendered it illegal to select migrants on the basis of race or culture, but the White Australia policy was dead well before this. Interestingly, it officially began with the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, the year of federation. They must have considered it a high priority. A few decades before, during the Gold Rush, an influx of Chinese miners had led to riots and to widespread fears of the yellow peril. Australia’s first PM, Edmund Barton, supported the Bill in a speech, saying ‘The doctrine of the equality of man was never intended to apply to the equality of the Englishman and the Chinaman.’ The fact that we can shake our heads sagely at such statements is I hope an indication of human progress, and an indication that human progress can occur quickly – one hundred years being a mere blink in evolutionary time. In fact, really, the turnaround was completed within a couple of generations in the middle of this century.

What was it that brought this turnaround, in Australia and other Western counties, paving the way for a more global perspective, particularly among the educated elites?

It’s quite likely that the second world war itself imparted plenty of lessons. Centuries of insularity led the Japanese, it seems, to over-estimate its abilities and to under-estimate and dehumanize its opponents. Ironically, the Japanese had vigorously supported a racial equality clause in the League of Nations charter, which was discussed at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, after the first world war. They were fuelled by resentment over the restrictions against Japanese immigration in the USA and elsewhere. The proposal was vehemently opposed by Australia’s representative at the conference, Billy Hughes, an indefatigable supporter of the White Australia Policy. The eugenicist policies and race hatred of the Nazis, and the inferno they created in Europe, brought about an inevitable reaction. Sympathy for the oppressed from that war, and a realization that a more productive way forward had to be found, led to a desire and a need to rebuild bridges and develop a more co-operative approach.

Liberal education, improved travel opportunities, trade and new forms of communication have facilitated greater understanding and alleviated suspicions among the open-minded and open-hearted.

But for some, as I’ve said, globalization means nothing. We need to remember them. For one thing, we ignore them at our peril, but more importantly, we need to remember that they have all the capabilities we have, and that they should be nurtured and encouraged in their best endeavours as part of the human family.


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