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Saturday 22nd August 2020

Yesterday I met Andrew Wood at Unanderra where he showed me some street art. It is always good to see some color displayed in our southern New South Wales suburbs. Andrew suggested going across the road for better shots of the art. Due to traffic, however, the better photos were taken close by. It is always good to be able to add to my collection of street art. It has been growing since my days with the railways.

From Unanderra, Andrew and I headed further south to the Croom Sporting Complex near Albion Park, not far from the small airport. In fact, a few short-distance aircraft thundered overhead on their way to who knows where while we trudged along trails through the tall trees in search of wildlife. This was a morning walk since we knew, from weather reports, the winds would kick up fierce in the afternoon which they did.

There were plenty of noisy miners, wattlebirds and silver eyes. There was also a pair of Eastern Rosellas and at least one Crimson Rosella. The prize catches for the day for me were the Golden Whistler in brilliant yellow and the Rufus Whistler in his orange coat. This was the first time I had ever seen a Rufus Whistler.

I am currently reading my way through Human Kind – A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman (2020). Is there really much hope? Rutger Bregman seems to think so.

I admit I flinched at first when Bregman put into his argument the continued good health of the German war economy up until the end in 1945. He didn’t seem to take into account that, near the end, this economy was strongly based on the work of Albert Speer who used slave labor to keep war production going. If you don’t pay your workers at all, feed them little and house them in appalling conditions then, yes, you can keep the economy on track and there is nothing remotely heroic about that. To be fair, the enormity of Speer’s crimes against humanity was not well outlined at the Nuremberg trials and he got away with the lighter sentence of twenty years in prison rather than what he no doubt deserved. In retrospect, he had to know about workers being worked to death. This came out much later and Bregman may not have been aware of this. Also there is some evidence that, where the workers being cruelly worked could engage in sabotage, they did so.

I am skeptical of Bregman’s views on the novel Lord of the Flies (1954) by William Golding. I remember reading it in Primary and could see how divisions, two tribes, could exist on an island where boarding school boys were struggling to survive after a plane crash had left them stranded.

My take on the book back then was that those boarding school kids, who didn’t have much of a family life, would naturally gravitate at school to one group or another and the ties to whatever group they were in would only strengthen when adults were not around. Hence the notion of the children being friendly and co-operative at first to all and then having their island society split in two made perfect sense to me.

When you don’t really have closeness to parents then your immediate peers must in some ways pick up that slack. In my mind back then that is one way in which the ’them or us’ comes about. Was I wrong? I don’t think so. Bregman gives an example of children who were stranded in real life and didn’t break up into groups and turn savage. I honestly believe that was possible and that it did happen. I also believe the trigger for a split was not there and so co-operation continued until they were rescued.

Our parents are there to be our primary teachers. They’re human and so not perfect but what you do get from them can last a life time.

I remember my dad telling me about growing up in a Methodist family during the Great Depression. As a boy he was not allowed to have anything to do with the Catholic kids in the neighborhood or the Jews. He wasn’t expected to get into fights with them, just have nothing to do with them. He didn’t like that and so, when I was growing up in the 1960s, he did one better than his own non-violent parents. He urged me and my siblings to mix with whoever we wanted to mix with. We got to know kids that went to Catholic schools and we compared notes with them. There was a bit of one-upmanship when it came to getting the cane and a few lies told on both sides I’m sure but all in good fun.

This, I have always felt, was the better way to grow up and it was the one my dad wanted for me, my brother and my sisters. Am I naïve about what the 1960s were really like? I probably am.

In 1965 Australian troops went to Vietnam to fight, not lecture on fighting as had happened previously. I know my cousin was wounded over there. I am glad I was too young to be called up. Why our soldiers went to Vietnam and whether conscription was valid for that war remain, to this day, controversial.

Anyway, the 1960s was good for me. If you can remember a great childhood or something great about your childhood then you’re not doing too badly as an adult. So the ’them or us’ can sometimes become the ’them and us’. Bregman makes this clear in his analyses of humanity. I suppose if the ’them or us’ can’t become the ’them and us’ then men and women couldn’t possibly get together and have children and humanity would have to come to a grinding HOLT. Besides, as a man I love and respect women and can count a number as my best friends. And so life goes on…

There will be more on Human Kind – A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman in future blogs. Cheers!

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