Draft manifesto: The No Drama Lit. Group

800px-Stipula_fountain_penPreamble

Two annoyances we may share: Grandiosity in writing groups, and grandiose manifestos. If you’re like me, then you find these things devastatingly de-motivational. You can’t write well with this confected flamboyance echoing around in your braincase.

Histrionic name-dropping, narcissistic limelight stealing, affected wokeness, he-manly pigeon-chesting and over-confident didacticism: who needs that kind of stuff, right?

Now the Internet: It has no shortage of manifestos that are self-important beyond all perspective. You probably don’t want to risk reading just another “Transcendental Black Metal: A Vision of Apocalyptic Humanism”. The publication of yet another Internet manifesto clearly flirts with a well established tradition of bumbledom, banality and pretense.

The following could all just be an attempt at putting out fire with gasoline. Still, I’ll persevere and hope you find this a worthwhile take on treating what ails any number of literary communities: Drama.

The text portion of this post is published under a Creative Commons 4.0 – Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. Feel free to adapt for your own non-commercial purposes with reference to this post. (You don’t need to ask first, although I’d be interested if anyone other than myself tried to see this manifesto implemented).

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The No Drama Manifesto

Purpose

The No Drama literary group is purposed towards the love of reading and writing, and to its candid sharing with similarly disposed human beings. To that end, it seeks to provide its members with a community that allows them to be open without that vulnerability being taken advantage of; a community where quiet confidences and new ideas can be grown and built upon without interruption by undue drama.

Ethos

Environment

1. We’re here for the words. For whatever reason, even if at times the relationship has its ups and downs, we each have a love of the written word. Whether it’s a fetish for fonts, a nose for prose, or a want to reproduce that feeling we had the first time reading an certain author, the writing and the reading are what it’s all about. All other objectives are down-prioritized to varying extents, depending on their capacity to disrupt or serve the functioning of the group.

The No Drama group seeks to facilitate those moments when a piece of writing really clicks, even if those words and the people writing them are ultimately forgotten by history. Posterity into the future should play second fiddle to poetry and prose in the here and now.

2. No Drama. This would be the ideal, at least. Ego-driven entropy may be the driving force behind some forms of art, but it can be utter chaos for a lot of people, and it’s not like there’s a relative shortage of outlets for the ego-driven entropist anyway.

Now sure, keeping the histrionics at bay may itself generate a degree of drama, but consider the refrigerator. Despite it’s name, the refrigerator heats its environment, and yet we still don’t consider refrigerators futile. We use them because there is a useable space kept relatively cool.

Similarly, the No Drama lit group seeks to create a usable space relatively devoid of egocentrism, purposed to the creation and appreciation of literature. That this may cause a small net increase of drama in the wider universe does not invalidate the venture.

Those affirming this manifesto do not accept that writers and bookish sorts are either necessarily or in large part egocentric. Rather, where there is an overabundance of ego, it is largely due to the initial attraction to egoists, and subsequent repellence of more ordinary folks.

3. Comradery. With allowances made for individual meekness, genuflection is discouraged. The least published member will never be expected to simply defer to the most published, and the most published member will be expected not to expect deference. Self-importance should be checked at the door.

4. Respect the work. It’s one thing to throw deference out the window, and another to disrespect hours, or even a lifetime’s worth of work undertaken in good faith. A bachelor of arts and a cursory reading of fad diet materials isn’t sufficient grounding from which to lecture a biologist on their writings on daily protein requirements. An overconfidence in one’s own rationality and a prejudicial dismissal of the literature is no basis from which to critically engage with well-read feminists on feminist texts. This isn’t simply the absence of deference; this is the presence of arrogance. The message is this: Don’t genuflect to individuals, but do respect real efforts made in good faith.

5. Friendly, but with boundaries. Ask yourself; have you ever been in a public space along with any number of strangers, looked around and then felt any kind of general affection for humanity? If so, would you have there and then, on the basis of that affection, agreed to let those strangers just walk into your home, or use your bed, or watch you shower? “Yes” and “no” respectively? Being well disposed towards others does not require you to surrender your privacy or your private life.

Personal boundaries and personal preferences aren’t something you ever have to apologize for, and the context of a reading or writing group is no exception. You don’t have to date other members. You don’t have to invite them to your birthday. You don’t have to become their friend on social media. That’s your own business, not the group’s.

6. Critique is crucial. Some writing groups ban criticism. This is sometimes done in a potentially misguided attempt to stave off abuse, which is itself a serious but ultimately separate matter. Elsewhere it’s done so as not to alienate those with poor confidence, even when it isn’t at all clear that criticism is scaring people off in the first place. Not everyone has a full creative sense of self at all times, and friendly criticism provides information a writer can use to re-orient themselves. Group members should aspire to accept criticism in good faith, and to provide quality critique themselves. Good critique is usable critique, and the process of justifying your writing decisions, even if only to a friendly audience, will help make you a better writer.

7. Editorial should be independent. What information a critic gives can be used by a writer as they see fit. Being open to criticism does not obligate a writer to simply obey their critic. Unless you have a contract wherein you’re actually someone’s editor or publisher, you don’t have a modicum of authority over what they write. Furthermore, should the group create its own publication, content should be keep editorially independent from committee, with the editor aiming to facilitate the free expression of group members in accordance with civil, democratic principles.

8. Professionalism. While not every member will be a professional writer or critic, some basic professional standards should still apply. Intellectual property rights, whatever the licensing details, should be respected. Plagiarism should be subject to a policy of zero tolerance. Membership in professional organizations, where possible, should be encouraged.

Training provided by the group needn’t be vocational, nor necessarily certified – people can learn simply for the sake of learning – but it should be provided by competent trainers with at least some meaningful background in the content being taught. Having a layperson turn up to a WordPress tutorial with the understanding that they can brush up on their CSS, only to find that the trainer doesn’t even know what CSS is, and has only six months experience with WordPress using it to sell herbal supplements, is not the kind of outcome the group should allow.

Exclusions

9. Welcoming, but not self-annihilating so. The word “inclusivity” has to some extent been fetishized beyond the point of its intended meaning, into an absurd and impossible categorical imperative.

If for example, you want your group to be inclusive of victims of domestic violence, then to some extent you’ve going to have to exclude domestic abusers. The logic at base is this: It’s an unavoidable truth that humans have conflicts of interests, and to be inclusive of any group of humans you may at some point have to exclude others. The point is not that you should be universally inclusive, but rather that you don’t exclude people arbitrarily.

Within reason, know what you want or need to exclude, why, and be open about it.

10. Not here to make you famous. Maybe you’ll make it big, but it won’t be because the group tried to make it happen. A love of writing is not the same thing as a love of celebrity, and a writing group that prides itself on its part in raising a member’s stature is a group that potentially does so at the expense of emphasizing the writing.

11. Not here to help make you an activist, per se. This isn’t to disparage activism, but rather to be clear about objectives. A lot of writers try their hands at activism. Writing obviously can be a means to an activist end, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for reasons that should regarded as axiomatic, writing is in and of itself what a writing group is primarily about; it’s in the name.

Further, it’s cynical, if not pathological, to treat activism as a means to service one’s own status as a writer. Even though activism is not the group’s purpose, the group should not want to see worthy causes selfishly co-opted. Whether writing or activism is an individual member’s greater passion, all members should find hypocrisy in regards to either repugnant. Further, this brand of hypocrisy counts as drama.

12. Not here to help you push product. No multi-level marketing will be allowed.

13. Not here to help you harass. This should be a no-brainer, but abuse should not be tolerated at all and should be stamped out fast. If for example a victim of domestic violence joins your group, their abuser should not be able to follow them by joining. Leniency should not be afforded to abusers on the basis of their perceived righteousness – self-righteousness typically having a capacity to motivate and rationalize some of the worst behaviour humans are capable of. The No Drama group is not a “hunting ground” – members who use it as a means to follow others home, or sexually harass, should be kicked out in short order.

Governance

14. Committee work is a duty. The idea of committee work and in particular the politics surrounding it may fill people with varying proportions of awe and dread. But in many cases it’s necessary – depending on context, membership in umbrella groups, paperwork for grants applications and so on may require incorporation, which in turn will require a constitution, and a committee and so on.

So how to prevent too much drama in committee work? A lot of it comes down to how the group views itself and the purpose of its committee. Respect for the office of committee member, and for the executive decisions of committee are a must, but this needs to be counterbalanced. Committee needs to deserve this respect. Committee needs to not overreach, and a culture of reverence must be avoided. Committee members need to be viewed by normal members as being peers performing a few extra duties.

A good committee serves its members and isn’t be there for prestige or advancement.

14. Democratic. After the initial start up period, committee should be elected annually and held accountable by the membership. The membership must not be willfully kept ignorant of the state of the group’s operations. Committee must take reasonable steps to ensure the membership is kept apprised of policy formulation in a timely fashion. The group’s constitution should be published online, made available to members on request via email, and ideally a copy should be brought to all meetings by a nominated committee member.

15. Try before you buy. Prospective members should have to attend a small number of ordinary meetings before they can join as full members, and should only be able to attend a small number of meetings more before they have to become full members. This way both the group and the prospective member can get to know one another before any monies potentially change hands, and a degree of freedom to part ways exists prior to any party feeling overly obligated.

16. Minimalist. Committee, in addition to not editorializing in any of the group’s publications, does not have authority over the content of literature discussed within the group. While individual committee members can participate as ordinary participants, no act of committee should select a book for a reading group. No act of committee can tell a member what to write about.

Creative decisions on collective activities (e.g. themes for writing competitions) must come from the ordinary membership, with committee deferring to, recording and acting upon these decisions. Committee can only reject such decisions on legal grounds, or when they transgress the No Drama ethos, with any disagreements to be raised for discussion at annual elections.

Committee must restrict itself to the practical functions of running a lit. group, plus the duties inferred by the No Drama ethos.

Contact

If you want to keep me up to date on any attempt to implement the above, or you wish to discuss further efforts towards a final draft, or you’re interested in helping establish a No Drama group in Adelaide, feel free to send me an email at:

contact
Photo Source:
CC BY-SA 3.0 Antonio Litterio, 2011.

Book Review: Freedom of Religion & The Secular State

for-blackfordFreedom of Religion & The Secular State, by Russell Blackford.

Publisher: John Wiley and Sons.

Philosopher and self-styled whipping boy, Michael Ruse, once described Russell Blackford as a ‘Junior New Atheist from Australia’. Ruse fancies himself, amongst other things, as a veteran of secular court battles, and an opener of dialogue between believer and non. Good for him.

I’m not sure, however, that Ruse is being wise in dismissing Blackford.

***

Blackford starts from a tolerant Lockean basis for the separation of church and state, justifying this in a historical context, and comparing it to competing theories, before moving forward to argue how in essence, the Lockean treatment is still applicable to modern disputes.

Anyone familiar with Blackford’s small-l liberal leanings, will not be surprised by his arguing against burqa bans, while those looking for black-and-white posturing will be disappointed; Blackford doesn’t deny there are situations where secular contractual obligations may reasonably require, say an employee, not to wear the burqa in a certain space.

Similarly, against ‘New Atheist’ type, Blackford doesn’t treat the religious establishment’s arguments with categorical derision, notionally agreeing that defensible arguments can be made to indefinitely postpone various secular reforms. This especially where the social costs of reform could exceed the benefits of implementing them.

(This kind of utilitarianism may upset more radical secularists – but at least there’s room for difference in this debate.)

Of course, there are various religious privileges that don’t fall into this category, and it is here, after consideration, that Blackford takes a stronger stance. The idea that Catholics can’t become a head of state, in any modern democracy (or for that matter, any modern soft-theocracy), and ridiculous orthodox notions like these, are given the (admittedly polite) rebuke they rightly deserve. (Malcolm Turnbull, and an Australian Republic, appear in-mind whenever I encounter issues like these in Blackford’s work).

The book is incredibly concise. It doesn’t tarry, taking time to make quips – the necessary technical detail is raised, and in a manner amenable to us laypersons.

(Although I wouldn’t have minded a little needling of Alister McGrath, the respect he’s shown in the section on the history of religious persecution, is more in fitting with the rest of the text.)

Again, against ‘New Atheist’ type, Blackford’s effort isn’t remotely populist, at least in as far as populism is a negative – it’s intellectualism accessible to members of the lumpenproletariat such as yours truly (making it a valuable addition to any public library).

Only the most precious could find the tome objectionable. Blackford for example, doesn’t outright dismiss the possibility of justifiable persecution of religion X, by a hypothetical secular state. Those with persecution complexes will perhaps convince themselves, ‘he means me’, whereas more sensible readers will think more along the lines of ‘sarin-gas-death-cult’.

In being concise, the reader isn’t treated like a dolt – ridiculous interpretations aren’t endlessly qualified against, and this does at some points leave the text open to spurious readings. No doubt at some point, somewhere, a close-reading paranoid, working away in their bunker, will uncover in Blackford’s little tome, the kernel of a ‘New Atheist’ conspiracy to enslave the religious, and crush human flourishing.

Most of us however, should be able to sleep soundly, all the more for not having had our time wasted or our intelligence insulted.

***

I’m left wondering, because I’ve never seen anything like it, how Michael Ruse has made a contribution to the secular public debate at anything approaching this quality. Correct me if I’m ignorant.

More importantly, the Australian discourse on secularism seems wanting. The history of debate surrounding the issue of federally funded school chaplains, erecting their ministries (under a different name) in public schools, seems impoverished after reading Freedom of Religion & The Secular State.

I’m left wanting yet again better justifications from politicians, and much more challenging counter-arguments from the beneficiaries of the current arrangement. It’s not just that I think people have been wrong, I think the debate has suffered from low expectations – the media has been especially compliant in allowing tripe pass as informed comment.

Freedom of Religion & The Secular State will raise your expectations.

This shortfall in discussions of secularism is framed against a bleak political backdrop; Lindsay Tanner’s Sideshow, and George Megalogenis’ essay, Trivial Pursuit, can meaningfully lament the dumbing-down and privileged insularity of Australian politics of the age, without resorting to populism, all with the general approval of political wonks. For its part of the broader political debate, Blackford’s treatment of the secular state is met with a needing polity.

I doubt that this is significantly less true in most other modern democracies.

I want for people to read this important book.

I want the Greens to read it. I want the major parties to read it. I want Bob Carr to read it it to see if he thinks it could be a worthwhile subject of discussion in the training of Young Labor members. I want to see the moderates in the Young Liberals to read it to see how it could inform their politics.

I want unionists to read it to see how their views on workplace discrimination are influenced.

I want secular Jains, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Anglicans, Unitarians, Buddhists, and all the other colours of the theist rainbow, to read it.

I want you to read it.

Rating: 5/5

~ Bruce

Note: For those free in Melbourne, this Thursday night, the 12th of April at 6:30pm, Russell Blackford will be appearing at Embiggen Books with Meredith Doig and Graham Oppy to discuss how Australia can move forward as a secular nation. Secularists of all stripes are welcome – theist or non – and I’m planning to be in attendance myself, which means I’d better get back to packing!

A stage in the continued emergence of literary sensibilities…

It’s been a colourful few weeks since the quiet start of Rousing Departures. I’m still graduating back into the swing of things, mind you; getting a feel for all the buttons and switches, all while exploring a few new avenues of literary experience.

A good part of the fun has been Embiggen Books’ recent #bookshopsaredead event on Twitter. Essentially a light literary exercise, the gist is to come up with variations on book titles that reflect the changing state of the industry – what with the electronic book taking sales away from flesh, blood and paper booksellers.

‘Schrödinger’s Bookshop by John Gribbin #bookshopsaredead #bookshopsarealive’ was a pet favourite from my own attempts, and Warren’s ‘Do Booksellers Dream of Electric Books by Philip K. Dick’ was particularly apt. Also existentially angst-inducing was Russell Blackford’s apocalyptic ‘The Bookshop At The End of The Universe by Douglas Adams’.

There were of course, a number of other wonderful contributions, no less enjoyable, only I don’t want to repeat myself and I’m running out of the effulgent language I’d need to describe them all. Call me overly sentimental, but I feel from my end as if the experience has been comparable at least to some of what the ‘pussy is bullshit’ episode from Hitch-22 (the one that had Salman Rushdie producing ‘Octobullshit’) had to offer its participants.

Unfortunately for Embiggen, prior, and giving context to this fun, a sewer pipe burst at their new Melbourne location only a few weeks after opening. With a forced temporary closure, the chosen theme is deeply ironic. I hope the black humor has at least been as good for them as it has for the rest of us!

Embiggen Books, demonstrating considerable morale, have taken the product of this spree of words to artfully produce a number of beautiful posters, displaying them across their storefront during the closure. Producing something looking a little like this… (I’m flattered). Continue reading “A stage in the continued emergence of literary sensibilities…”

Book Review: The Australian Book of Atheism

The Australian Book of Atheism, edited by Warren Bonett.

Publisher: Scribe.

The answer isn’t self-evident; ‘what need is there for a book on atheism with a distinct Australian perspective?’

With this question in mind I made my purchase via the editor’s bookstore, Embiggen Books. Not because I was sure of an answer, but precisely because I wasn’t, the purchase was mandated.

With the various Otherings; the specter of the ‘New Atheist’ monolith; the fearful Easter sermons and the often boilerplate News Limited response, there’s clearly utility in compiling an anthology of varied atheist views, even down under in laid-back Australia.

But why Australian atheists? Being Australian doesn’t make you any more or less of an atheist, and vice versa.

***

Some way from the introduction, nestled away at the end of the discussion on politics, the editor makes his case proper; the inappropriateness of Australia’s apathy toward religion – particularly where sectarian interests are embrangled with tolerant secular politics – is what demands the expression of particularly Australian, godless perspectives.

But Australians are laid-back about these things, automatically providing us with tolerant, secular pluralism, right? Atheists elsewhere in the world look to Australia with envy!

If The Australian Book of Atheism has anything to teach you about this, the answer is ‘no’: Taking it easy, and taking ‘taking it easy’ for granted as far as religion is concerned, can permit if not precipitate sectarian politics.

Bonnet rightly highlights the absurdities opined by apologists like Prof. Tom Frame and Paul Kelly, who hysterically re-cast criticism made in good faith and fair humour, as catalysts for the erosion of religious rights and an eventual decline into secular moral nihilism, and even the bogey man of social Darwinism. This is truly Glenn Beck territory, yet a book from an atheist perspective pointing out how wrong it is to see this paranoia running mainstream, risks being marginal.

Anyone who pays serious attention to human rights will know that the affinity for outlawing blasphemy usually finds expression in the repressive treatment of minorities, often accompanied by a self-pitying assumption of victim status by the majority. The latter attitude, majoritarian self-pity, which Bonett identifies in Frame and Kelly and justly describes as the ‘endangered species fallacy’, is again, Glenn Beck territory. While the degree of this repression may not be as much in the developed world as elsewhere, particularly not Australia, Bonett’s book still manages to position itself on high moral ground against popular moral panic.

Many examples given elsewhere in the book are less abstract and are all the more confronting because of it.

While you may debate the emphasis, and question some of the facts given by Max Wallace, and similarly the interpretation of points of contention raised by Clarence Wright, early in the reading you’re palpably confronted with historical and social truths that must shake secular apathy to the core. Thanks to Wright, I’ll never look at S116 of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution the same way again, nor take for granted its (flawed) capacity to grant rights equally. (Nor for that matter, the long grasp of Thomas Aquinas).

Of course, none of these facts occur in a contextual vacuum.

The role of religious apathy, and affirmative irreligion in shaping Australian history (not just the roles in our history that happen to have been filled by the godless) has been overlooked, according to Chrys Stevenson.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Historically, serious academically-minded Australian religiosity has woven its way through much of the middle class; the section of society that’s penned much of the nation’s history. Rather than being a peccadillo of well-off naturalists as it’s often portrayed, Australian atheism has, according to Stevenson, a rich working-class tradition. Perhaps this could be why it doesn’t see due representation in the narrative.

Identifying more strongly on the grounds of class than religion, I like to think that all else being equal, I have more in common with working class Christians than, middle-class atheists. I find Stevenson’s contribution, and her call to further investigation, an invitation to have this self-identification refined, if not challenged.

Commendably, and giving hope for the future of her project, there doesn’t seem a hint of fudging for the sake of apologia, rather the opposite. The particular ugliness of much of Henry Rusden’s thought (specifically his actual social Darwinism), is brought to the fore as an example of the dark side of Australian atheist history. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

***

Tanya Levin and Hon. Lee Rhiannon would dominate the autobiographical entries, if not for the powerful way in which the powerful experiences of Dr Collette Livermore are communicated; the story of someone coming to terms with life after leaving the faith, and Mother Teresa’s order. No disrespect to Robyn Williams, David Horton or the always entertaining Tim Minchin (all well worth a read), but the competition in the personal accounts is just that good.

Indeed, the women find almost equal representation in this book, which is an improvement over many, many texts, and they certainly hold their own in the quality of their writing and argument; an appreciation of which is really mandated of the reader.

Education gets a good looking-over, with Hugh Wilson of the Australian Secular Lobby exposing the state of affairs in Queensland’s not-at-all-secular public education system. Moving along, Prof. Graham Oppy’s take on ‘Evolution vs Creationism’ in Australian Schools is a bit heavy on respect for Ian Plimer for my tastes, although yes, Plimer could amongst other things be called the ‘most spectacular opponent of creationism in Australia’ [emphasis mine].

This criticism not withstanding, Oppy’s contribution is illuminating even if you’re already relatively well-informed on the various attempts to squeeze creationism into Australian schools. Furthermore, Prof. Oppy’s analysis demonstrates true erudition on the politics of the matter as concerning the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), which is refreshing and much-needed given some of the recent moral panic surrounding the authority.

Kylie Sturgess writes of her experience as an atheist employee of a religious school; the dodging of awkward, tangential points because you’ve got other things you should be focusing on; the apathy about difference that kicks in when you just need a break; the anxiety that perhaps differences if unexamined will get in the way of what you’re supposed to be doing, and the hope that the force behind the lack of conflict will effectively put an end to the issue of difference.

To me, this is familiar territory because it also describes experiences I’ve had as an atheist volunteer in religious not-for-profit organisations. Yet the author expresses these difficult concerns with such clarity, I suspect most readers won’t need similar experiences to take something away her contribution.

Australian pluralism does rely largely on the logic of the law, but reform, better interpretation and application, all require insights into political realities as well. The kinds of experiences Sturgess illustrates are I think a necessary part of any serious consideration, both when generalised and in specific settings such as education. Often the perspectives of ‘the Other on the inside’ are overlooked by simple way of organisational reality, which makes a book that publishes them all the more important.

***

Topics progress to matters social, political and philosophical, which the general reader may find more familiar.

Dr Leslie Cannold is as anyone familiar with her writing would expect, educational on the matter of abortion in Australia, and the role of religion in shaping discussion of the topic and realisation of its politics.

Dr Philip Nitschke’s ‘Atheism and Euthanasia’ is a must read for anyone seriously supporting the right to die peacefully, Australian or not, atheist or not.

Rosslyn Ives continues the contemplation of living and dying, in a way that will be familiar to anyone who’s spent any significant amount of time looking after the disabled (Ives is a carer, in addition to being the President of the Council of Australian Humanist Societies). Her treatment of the philosophy of Peter Singer is informed and accurate, and given the context of the disabled (Ives is a carer), this is especially important; Singer’s views as they pertain to care for the disabled in particular have been routinely misrepresented by both religious and allied reactionaries.

The detail of Ives’ perspective fleshes out humane concerns for quality of life shared by many good Australians, but in ways seemingly not apt to reduction by pundits to cheap allusion. I think in this respect Ives may perform better as a spokesperson for quality of life than even Singer or Nitschke.

Dr Russell Blackford, in ‘Atheists for Free Speech’, convincingly and with an unflinchingly rational approach, deals with freedom of expression in Australia as it pertains to religious matters. This is undertaken with a welcome degree of sobriety that seems all-too-often absent from such public discussions; firm but fair, and sane.

Too often these matters are caught between hyperbolic, knee-jerk, credulous accusations of hate crime on one side, while on the other, syphilitic rhetoric is imported from foreign culture wars to frame the Australian situation as being as dire as it is in a supposedly sub-caliphate Europe. You’ll get none of this paranoia from Dr Blackford.

***

If there’s anything about the book that I can seriously object to, it’s that the implications of its perspective aren’t drawn out in sufficient detail in matters concerning Aboriginal Australia. An area of concern so substantial that any book with a broad Australian focus will be at odds to explain an absence of consideration.

According to stated and implied principles, what happens to land rights if they are challenged on the grounds of scepticism to Aboriginal religion? Does the rejection of Terra nullius as a legal fiction override this, with at least the establishment of a treaty required to grant standing to the sceptic or any other claimants?

Should, and how would, a separation between church and state coincide with a divide between Commonwealth and native title?

How would these matters have panned out in cases such as the Hindmarsh Island bridge dispute if said principles were applied?

What would a liberal, secular, Enlightenment-based treaty look like from an atheistic perspective?

According to principle, what is to be said about Christian imperialism and Enlightenment free-thought as they pertain historically to the treatment of Aboriginal Australians?

How does a non-indigenous atheist go about putting their secular hand forward in the spirit of reconciliation, with those who aren’t necessarily in all instances secular? What does a non-indigenous atheist do when such motions aren’t welcomed by the other party?

And what do Aboriginal atheists have to say about any of this (and more)?

The Australian Book of Atheism is a first-run of a new perspective, and it can be forgiven a lot for this reason. But even when not damning (I don’t think in this case that it is), recognition of the relative omission of the way this perspective views black politics warrants mention for the sake of future projects in the same vein.

***

The tone of the book is laid-back in a way one would expect of authors from a nation laid-back about religion, but the arguments and the concerns are anything but. The mode then is calm and seriously considered – an abundance of critique leveled with a quiet confidence that will have certain readers clutching at pearls. I suspect though, that its reception by the rest of us will be sober, as is fitting.

I’m left leaving Bonett’s book with a sense of its Australian qualities, but also with the realisation that it’s a first dip of the toes into new water. It gives a good kick in the complacency; a call for Australians with tolerant, secular values to wake and stop blithely assuming they know their country so well as to be so unconcerned.

It’s an excellent if not un-flawed starting point for a new discussion of an aspect of Australian identity and politics; a return to, and a clarification of, past issues unresolved that will be familiar to jaded political wonks and cultural critics alike. The Australian Book of Atheism justifies its perspective and its reason-to-be, all while heralding further debate.

I hope to see more books published along these lines.

Rating: 4/5

~ Bruce

(Photo Source: Warren Bonett).

Dear Borders

Sorry Borders, but I can’t see myself shopping from you anymore. It’s not working.

You know, I used to snob you off once. Like the way cynical young lefties can be repelled by a Big Mac, I was repelled by you.

When I saw You’ve Got Mail, I wanted Meg Ryan to snap Tom Hanks’ neck when her character found out who her Internet boyfriend was. I was backing the underdog. I didn’t like mega-chain-stores.

But hey. That’s just me being a cynical lefty with pie-in-the-sky ideals. I had to snap back to reality at some point and Borders is part of the reality of anyone strolling down Rundle Mall looking for books.

Borders, when you first came to Adelaide, I knew that at least in the US you had a reputation for being a corporate pig. I knew about the way you shut down Michael Moore in the 1990s when he used the dirty word. “Union.”

I remember hearing in 2001 and 2002, the tales of Borders employees in the US who had been subjected to intimidation to coerce them against union activity. This isn’t the kind of stuff that endears you to someone who protested against the various “waves” of IR reforms brought out by Peter Reith only a few years earlier.

But hey. We have and had different IR laws here in Australia, even if it was Howard’s lot in power at the time. I could rationalise us getting closer.

And then the ladies started wanting to hang out at Borders. Like it was the movies or something.

I don’t know about fashionable hangouts, but I know what I like. Women.

So that’s how I was broken. Like some weak willed husband in denial about a kind of perverse mutual attraction with the neighbour’s wife, I let the flirting begin.

By 2003 I had weakened further. I started to go into Borders with people who’s names I can remember. My friends.

Apparently my friends didn’t get the missive about the IR concerns. They had however, checked the other bookstores for what they wanted first and their foray into Borders was only ever a single way-point between locales in a night out.

At this point, I’d never spent a cent. You hadn’t given me reason to. Then in 2006, with a younger brother about to get into Uni, I was on the lookout for Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit as a Christmas present. He’d enrolled in a degree in the humanities.

Dymocks in Rundle Mall didn’t have it in. So that’s how you got me to fess up some cash for the first time.

Dymocks, where I had bought most of my popular science books from back in the 1990s. Dymocks, where I bought Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment for my mother. Dymocks, who had an association with SBS as far back as when it was the best channel on telly (WTF were they thinking taking Des Mangan away from Saturday nights?) Dymocks, where I would browse the sci-fi and fantasy section with friends after school so long ago.

All it took was a moment of weakness and I jumped over the fence for a quicky with the neighbour’s wife – an analogy that only works if the neighbour’s wife is a corporate lawyer and my own wife is a super-sexy music teacher who practices cello in the nude.

All along the signs were there and screaming “NO! STOP! IT’S WRONG!”

One of the things in a relationship that I think is a benchmark of health is the way you prepare food for your loved ones. I love to cook for mine and if I couldn’t do it properly, I’d do what I could to minimise the consequences of my failed gastronomy.

Dymocks doesn’t try it. You have a Gloria Jean’s in store and even though I’ve never bought anything from them, the fact that they donate to Mercy Ministries leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Just seeing their little shop while looking for books is like passing through the kitchen on the way to the corporate lawyer’s bedroom and seeing a bottle of some harsh Nescafe roast.

At least this ugliness is at the back of the store and has nothing to do with the business that we’ve had. Back behind those escalators, those escalators that like the legs of a beautiful woman, lead up to… CDs, DVDs and non-fiction. That’s where you caught me the first time. Where I broke my fidelity.

But like all doomed affairs, there comes a point when the cheater is given a moment of pause. A pause to realise that what you are doing is wrong.

borders01It’s not just the lovely legs your escalators mimic, Borders. Your layout is probably the best of a bookstore anywhere in Adelaide. It’s very attractive. But Dymocks’ isn’t anything to turn your nose up at and besides, layout isn’t everything.

A few weeks ago I bought Dexter by Design by Jeff Lindsay, from you. Up until earlier this evening, it sat with receipt and the copy of Dubliners I also bought, when I decided to plonk them into a new bookshelf I’d recently purchased. It was then that I noticed that I’d been charged $36.50 for a book with a $21.99 sticker on it.

Now, I could probably take the book and the receipt back in and get the difference refunded. You might say that leaving you over a fifteen dollar discrepancy is a bit trite, which would be true if that’s what I’m on about.

Back in the mid-1990s, I met a girl at that wonderful music store of the time, Verandah Music. She led me up the stairs at the back, up to the vinyl section with me in tow… Jaw agape.

I wouldn’t turn my nose up at many a woman’s body, but from that angle she had one of the best layouts I have ever seen. Everything in the right proportion and positioned perfectly as if a sculptor had spent years in the decision making process.

Borders, your store layout and everything that you have got going for you is like her legs and arse. Beautiful.

Thinking everything was going fine, I went with her to the park lands. I opened a bottle of champagne, she lit up a joint and we relaxed and started to get to know each other (not in the biblical sense obviously – it was daylight.) Things inevitably gravitated to the topic of politics.

“The Port Arthur Massacre wouldn’t have happened if we all carried guns like they do in America”, she said…

Anyone in sympathy with my progressive leanings will, as I did, see this as somewhat of a facepalm moment. While I didn’t literally put my face in my palm (the little man in my Cartesian theatre did), I allowed things to progress politely while allowing my executive functions to successfully cockblock me.

Borders, that fifteen dollar discrepancy is the facepalm moment. The point at which I take a reality check and realise that I’ve been doing something very silly in seeing you behind Dymock’s back.

So I’m having to call an end to our affair. No more perusing that philosophy section to see if you have got a copy of The Critique of Pure Reason that doesn’t come with side-notes and explanations. No more impulse shopping while waiting to see if Shermer’s Denying History will make it to your shelf.

No more denial of why I avoided you in the first place.

I’m going back to Dymocks if she’ll still have me. For you and me, it’s over.

~ Bruce

Bruce Everett is an Adelaidian with odd tastes in books, who struggles in not giving in to corporatism and banal franchise while making his income stretch to accomodate his principles. He still struggles to live down his cheating on The Muses through his affair with JB HiFi down the other end of Rundle Mall.