Archive for September, 2009


Reintroducing Initiation to consolidate a Reconciled Australia

September 14, 2009

The 13 February 2008- National Sorry Day- will become a significant moment in Australian history-of magnitude equal in importance to the 1967 Referendum and the Mabo Judgement by the Hight Court. The Apology asks both indigenous and immigrant Australia to collaborate to  create ‘a future based on mutual respect , mutual resolve and mutual responsibility’ . The next task is to devise original programs which help to enable indigenous Australians to successfully take their place in 21st Century Australian society while simultaneously respecting  and celebrating  their unique cultural heritage.  To emphasise the use of means which promote mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility it would be best if new programs were devised  which could be  implemented in both indigenous and immigrant communities,  but be customised to meet the different needs of each of  these two communities

Therefore these programs should simultaneously both close the gap in terms of life expectancy , and educational and economic opportunity in indigenous communities but also encourage immigrant Australians  to support these programs in indigenous with more open hearts, and deal with similar problems where they exist in immigrant communities. Just As all Australians should recognise the each individual and community of has an obligation to minimize or even abolish its carbon footprint  to create a future which is not threatened by climate change, all of us should  contribute in our own and different  ways to realise a future reconciled Australia  where indigenous and immigrant Australians can live side by side with equal prospects for achieving success in the new conditions of  21st century Australia. If programs are only implanted in indigenous communities these programs will always be regarded as marginal by mainstream Australia.

Top of the list should be a program which prepares youth for successful 21st century adulthood.  This after all is the main purpose of both parenthood and education . However if we look at the state of youth,  failure is everywhere- in indigenous and immigrant communities alike.

Traditional societies everywhere including  use a process  called  initiation to prepare youth on the threshold of adulthood to become successful and responsible adults. Initiation traditionally accomplished two outcomes : it reaffirmed the core culture of each culture – to give people a sense of belonging to a larger group , and it taught the young how to be successful in the world they would be inheriting as adults. Initiation served brilliantly in helping to create successful responsible indigenous adulthood over 40,000 years.  Every traditional society that I know has used initiation  for this purpose , but in the last hundred years it has been jettisoned – and at significant cost to youth welfare. . The advocacy of the renewal of initiation is not new and has been made has been made by several writers, including Joseph Campbell, Robert Bly and Steve Biddulph. With appropriate reinvention to meet the new circumstances of the 21st century initiation can do so again.

Michael Ventura in his essay The Age of Endarkment described traditional initiation thus:

Tribal people everywhere greet the onset of puberty, especially in males, with elaborate and excruciating initiations, a practice, which would not be as necessary unless their young were as extreme as ours were.

They would assault their adolescents with, quite literally, holy terror, rituals that had been kept secret from the young until that moment, rituals that focussed upon the young all the light and darkness of their tribe’s collective psyche, all its sense of mystery, all its questions and all the stories told both to harbour and answer these questions…The crucial word is focus. The adults had something to teach: stories, skills, magic, dances, visions, rituals. In fact, if all these things were not learned well and completely, the tribe could not survive…This practice was so effective that usually by the age of 15 a tribal youth was able to take his or her place as a fully responsible adult.

The time is right to go back to the future to retrieve and then update a process which should never been allowed to disappear.   We should introduce a universal program for both indigenous and immigrant Australians alike, to implement a program in the middle years of secondary school  to reintroduce a 21st century version of traditional initiation , appropriately customised for the different needs of indigenous and immigrant Australia and to promote  mutual respect, resolve and responsibility.

I have talked with indigenous leaders and they tell me that many of the problems of dysfunctional communities and behaviours are present because their young have not been initiated. In similar discussions indigenous youth tell me that initiation belongs to the past and has no relevance to their world as they see it.  Now both these perspectives are correct. Initiation in its old form will not work, but if it were updated and modified for new 21st century circumstances there is a good chance that it could work as brilliantly as it has in the past.

No community,  indigenous or immigrant ,  is as successful as it could be in preparing our youth for successful responsible 21st Century adulthood.  Indigenous youth is clearly endangered from alcoholism, petrol sniffing , they perpetrate violence against  their own and children , and commit suicide in much too high numbers. The problems of immigrant youth can be remarkably similar even though the communities of which they are part are usually much more functional. That said immigrant youth is involved in  excessive and dangerous drug use,   drug engendered robberies ,  intra-youth knife violence, drug spiked rapes,  binge drinking, youth suicide, and violence against women and children: these issues are and testaments that similar problems exist in mainstream Australians occur in indigenous communities.  Therefore immigrant youth would benefit from a reinvention and reintroduction of initiation into youth during the years of puberty as well.

Imagine an old wine skin called initiation and then imagine the new wine which should be poured into that wine skin to ensure that through initiation, successful responsible indigenous adults are developed who are aware and proud of their cultural identity while they also possess the key skills needed to be a success 21st century adult.  What would be the ingredient of such a curriculum ?  Indigenous leaders themselves could be asked to answer this question and others concerned in imparting the requisite skill set should add their contributions. And initiation should be introduced across the whole of Australian society. Imagine a process lasting (say) one year in the middle secondary school – probably year 9-  which would be undertaken by all Australian secondary students, indigenous and immigrant alike.  Some of these programs would be appropriately customised to emphasise the importance of identity and culture for indigenous people , and other cultural and religious groups, and also be customised for gender related issues . The remainder would be common to all, and include what it takes to become a successful and responsible  adult in mainstream  21st century Australia in an interdependent global society.
There are already several programs which are promising starts, including an outstanding one in South Australian schools ( and successful components exist in the new leadership programs at Melbourne Grammar and Lauriston, at Caulfield Grammar and Geelong Grammar – and in state schools at The Alpine School –all of which are directed at the middle years of secondary school –the years of puberty.

We should vacate the entire curriculum of year 9 in all our schools and introduce initiation- a year long program for preparing for successful responsible adulthood- as a national priority.  Any secondary school teacher will tell you that year 9, as it is currently constructed, is failing. Young people at puberty are less interested in mathematics and history, but they absolutely want to learn how to become successful in the adult world they are just about to inherit . We should let biology rule and grant the young people of Australia, indigenous and non indigenous alike, their wish.

An excellent Program which is being developed on these lines is The Rite Journey (


A global language?

September 14, 2009

One Integrated and Tribalized World

In my recent book Designing 2050 (launched in February 2009) I described in detail the emergence of a single, integrated, global society in the 21st century. Globalization will make this society increasingly interdependent, whilst tribalization (my expression) generates many new independent countries. Timor Leste , Montenegro and Kosovo have been the most recent nations born and there will be more. These could include Chechnya, Tibet, East Turkisan, Scotland, Catalonia and Aceh. In 25 years there are likely to be another 20-30 members of the UN. All of these will be integrated into a single global trading system under the auspices of the WTO , and committed to collaborating to build a new integrated global society and protect the world from climate change and financial piracy such as by those who catalyzed the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

Treasuring Diversity

It is interesting to note that global public opinion is consistently on the side of those seeking independence rather than on those who are increasingly regarded as their imperial oppressors. We are also treasuring our cultural uniqueness and differences more and more as we integrate into a single integrated global society. We will take an increasingly dim view of those who try to replace the political imperialism, from which many cultures have recently emancipated themselves, with any from of cultural imperialism which undermines often hard won cultural uniqueness and independence. And these changes are generating new industrial concepts such as World music which involves the simultaneous celebration of cultural difference and global unity. The simultaneous celebration of cultural difference and global unity is a major feature of emerging 21st century global society . So the world is simultaneously integrating into a single global society and increasingly celebrating and nurturing its cultural differences. I worked as an adviser to UN in the 1992 Earth Summit. With the Bio-diversity Convention signed at the Earth Summit, and subsequently ratified by national governments, the world took the position that all species have an innate right to continue to exist and there is no need to demonstrate their usefulness to humanity, a utilitarian perspective which dominated in modernist times. In the next ten years a similar cultural diversity convention will most likely follow in which it will be accepted that all languages and cultures have a right to exist and, where necessary, be protected. Post-modernists increasingly appropriate useful concepts from other cultures and integrate them into their own cultures, and they increasingly enjoy and appreciate the richness that the world cultures offer all of us.

Language and Identity

Language is at the base of all cultural difference. Because we are one species with the same human genome, humans are very similar and languages have more aspects in common than they have differences. That said, cultures are different largely because our languages are different. One of the first things which an imperial oppressor which seeks to subjugate a culture will do is to ban the speaking of the language of the conquered. The English did this to the Irish and the Turks did this to the Kurds. Another example is the pressure against the speaking of Tamil in public by the majority Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. There are hundreds of examples drawn from the tragic effects of conquest and colonization on indigenous peoples which demonstrate that suppressing languages leads quickly to the destruction of cultures. During the modernist era we accepted this destruction of both language and culture as an inevitable part of modernist ‘progress’. In the postmodern and the emerging planetist society of the early 21st century, this attitude is mercifully changing and we are witnessing an immense growth of intercultural respect and tolerance. Global public opinion is at last catching up with the principles enunciated in the UN Charter and similar international agreements. This change of global heart needs now be embedded by two measures. The first of these is global dialogue leading to the adoption of a cultural diversity convention. The second is to dramatically improve the way we communicate with each other and this means the universal introduction of a global language with is easy to learn, universally accessible and culturally unthreatening .

Language and Global Communication, Need

Humanity is growing at a startling pace. As Al Gore pointed out in “An Inconvenient Truth”, all time up to his birth had produced a world population of 2 billion people. We now are 9 billion, by the end of his expected span, we will be 15 billion people on this same small world. Clearly, we have things to discuss. We all share our air, our water, our fisheries, our ozone and our climate. We share biodiversity and science and creativity. We share obstacles like pride and prejudice and ignorance too. The single most useful tool that we can choose to equip ourselves with, to succeed in this challenge, is a common language. In the next twenty-five years the proportion of products and services traded across international boundaries will probably double. With more and more communication occurring between different cultural groups and the formation of regional groups such as an expanded EU, we face a rapidly growing global language problem So far the magnitude of the problem we face is not fully recognized, possibly because there is such a low expectation that there could ever be really effective communication between peoples and cultures, perhaps because the immense costs are growing gradually (and being borne by others), and perhaps because it just looks too hard. But here is the problem as outlined by David Richardson: With language, intellect joins intellect, and there are few limits to what we can ultimately accomplish. But it is a great irony that even in our advanced century, languages effectively divide, as well as unite the human race. If your language is English there are some 423 million other people with whom you can communicate freely (or could if everybody talked English the same way), but there are four billion people on the globe with whom you cannot communicate at all. Of the two hundred mutually unintelligible ‘major’ languages spoken by a million persons or more, Mandarin Chinese heads the list with just about twice as many speakers as English. At least the names of a few dozen other tongues are familiar to us: French (115 million speakers), German (118 million), Russian (286 million), Arabic (180 million), and so on. Few of us could identify, much less understand a single word of, such other languages as Gujarati, Hakka, Kannada, Malayalam, Min, Oriya and so on, each with anywhere from 20 million to 40 million of native speakers or more. And nobody knows for sure how many are mother tongue—and therefore precious—to many more millions of our fellow inhabitants of Planet Earth.

Language and Global Communication, Risks

Language is a huge cause of misunderstanding. In 1955 the English-speaking world was shocked when Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) apparently declared ‘We will bury you’ in a speech to the United Nations in New York. It was a translator’s mistake. Khrushchev actually said, ‘We will outlive you’. At present, governments spend large sums of money to enable the world to communicate effectively. In 1996 the cost for the European Parliament of every published word was 36 cents (US), and is presumably more today because the European parliament allows the use of many more languages. The expense is due to the cost of translation and transcription services. As more nations join the EU the situation will become worse if each nation insists, as is likely, on speaking its own language in the European Parliament. If it is difficult with the present number of EU members what will it be like with twice this number? Ten new member nations joined the EU in 2004, with others to follow. Despite this high cost, the quality of communication is very poor. In international organizations such as the United Nations many delegates are disadvantaged in critical negotiations because they must express themselves in one of the six official languages of the United Nations. The pressure to add more languages will grow, particularly if Japan and Germany are elected to permanent membership of the Security Council as part of the reorganization of the United Nations system. Even in the late 1980s translation and transcription used 7% of the UN budget. Even in the late 1980s translation and transcription used 7% of the UN budget. It requires 400 hours of expensive translators’ labor to translate a one-hour speech in English into the other five official languages of Russian , French, Arabic, Spanish and Chinese. The translations have to be very carefully done, because a single mistake like the one made in Khrushchev’s speech could cause an international incident. The difficulties of training and finding translators are going to increase exponentially. Imagine the European Parliament with a Hungarian or Slovenian speaking and expecting this speech to be simultaneously translated into Italian, Swedish, Lithuanian, Polish and so on: a linguistic organizational nightmare! How many people would be fluent enough in both (say) Hungarian and Portuguese to translate simultaneously both ways? Imagine what fees they could demand for their services! Translations of documents require frustratingly long waiting periods, and those who suffer these frustrations are, in reality, privileged people in terms of their communication skills. Their proficiency in languages is very high by most standards, and they usually have the support of language specialists. But the support of language specialists is not available to most people. Ordinary people who travel face the language problem every day. Consider, for example, communication between doctors and patients in a country where the language is not known by the visiting patient, or by newly arrived migrants who do not yet know the language of their new home. As global interdependence, trade and travel increase, these problems get worse every year. They are regarded as a normal and unavoidable consequence of trade and travel, but are they unavoidable? Any rational person would come to the conclusion that the birth of a planetary culture requires the adoption of a planetary language.

Language and Global Communication, Choices

The choice the world needs to make is whether this should be an existing national language which is given a new job to do or a new language designed specifically for the purpose. For a question of such immense proportion, it is worth investing in a bit of thinking about the thinking called for. As Edward de Bono observed: Most bad thinking is not failure of logic, but of breadth. So, pause to consider “who has a choice?” and “how does, and should, the world make choices?” There are many who believe that the world has already ‘decided’ that the international lingua franca should be (or will be) English. English is favored as the priority language for people to learn if they want to be effective on the international stage. There is no doubt that this situation is a consequence of US political and cultural power in the 20th century, and before this the imperial power of the UK in the 19th century. But is that the model of decision-making our spaceship Earth should use? Most citizens of wealthy English-speaking countries pay taxes for the common good, support worthy causes, at least occasionally, and, at least nominally, subscribe to the belief that it is right to aid the disadvantaged. Perhaps they can, and will, see that this global decision should not be claimed by commercial interests, or by the exercise of inherited privilege but by a more equitable consideration of the consequences to all stake-holders. If they do they may recognize that this question impacts on every single person in the world, and even future persons not yet born. Taking this into account, the proportion of the current and future Earthlings who already speak English goes from being a minority, to being a tiny fraction of the total stakeholders. The significant statistic becomes the difference in learning time, for English and the alternative, for the vast majority who have neither. English is a notoriously difficult language to learn and most people who try to learn it fail. English is relatively so difficult that it will only ever be an elite language , just as it remains an elite language in India after more than 100 years of language instruction in Indian Schools. The recent market penetration of English has been huge. However will this (and should this) continue as India and China emerge as powerful nations in the 21st century, and an integrated Europe and resurgent Russia regain some of their former influence? It is not sensible to make choices about global language policy to reflect temporary political power realities. Instead it should be based on more rational criteria such as ease and cost of learning, and whether any cultural imperialism would accompany its widespread use. Esperanto has been a living language for about a hundred years since it was designed as an international language that would promote the development of internationalist values. Ludovic Zamenhof spoke twelve languages and combined the most useful elements of each to design a politically neutral language of remarkable economy and flexibility. The American linguist Mario Pei says, of Esperanto, ‘it is an artificial language just as a motor vehicle is an artificial horse’. Esperanto has a mixture of linguistic roots derived from Romantic, Germanic and Slavic languages so it will be widely accepted as a trans-European language. Some of its strongest adherents are Esperanto clubs in Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria, so the accession of eastern European countries into the EC will improve its visibility across Europe. Interestingly, China and the Republic of Korea have strong Esperanto movements and these cultures find Esperanto very easy to learn. Most people can use it effectively after studying it for six months to a year. Many people involved in languages perceive Esperanto either as a threat to national linguistic cultures or as a language of no culture. In fact it is a language for a now emerging planetary culture; Zamenhof was a visionary a hundred years ahead of his time. Esperanto has survived through the intolerant and culturally imperialistic modernist era intact and can be now looked at afresh as a possible lingua franca for the emerging 21st century global society. Esperanto does not threaten any tribal culture as would English or another national language as an international lingua franca. Esperanto solves in a practical, low cost and culturally non-threatening way the problem of international or universal communication. In late 2003 a meeting in the EU considered the possible role which Esperanto might play in the future of Europe. It is possible that in the not too distant future Esperanto will be added to the official languages of the European Parliament. Imagine the UN General Assembly on the 1st September 2014 making a collective decision to adopt a global lingua franca and to commence its world wide use 10 years later after that date and after the implementation of a 10 program After 1st September 2024 all international conferences would be held in this language, as is the case with the World Esperanto Congress today- with thousands of participants from all continents and with no expensive translators in sight! Each cultural group would discuss things in its own language, but when they come together with other cultural groups they would use a language which is both everybody’s and nobody’s language. It would be a little like monetary union in the EU but on a much grander scale.

Future Taking/ Future Making

When the state of Israel was established, Hebrew was chosen as the language of the new state, and it is now at the centre of Jewish culture there. At that time Hebrew was a language spoken fluently by very few Jews even though almost all of them knew some Hebrew. All immigrants arriving in Israel were required to become fully fluent in Hebrew so that they could participate effectively in Israeli society, and through this all were put on an equal footing. Had one of the other national languages spoken by these immigrants been chosen instead, some migrants would have been advantaged against all the rest. The choice to use Hebrew and to require all would-be Israeli citizens to learn it was an act which consolidated their nation building and created an astonishingly cohesive society in Israel within a generation, because it de-emphasized difference and emphasized unity and cohesiveness. The world now faces a choice similar to that made by the founders of the state of Israel. If Esperanto was everyone’s second language we would be better off because we would be placing everybody on an equal footing, avoiding any cultural imperialism, and so enhancing global cohesiveness. It would not have been hard to find opponents to the introduction of Hebrew in Israel, to find those who said it was too hard, not their problem, something that would solve itself. Nevertheless, some people found the resolve to make a future. We could do that too.