Trevor on Fri, 18 Jun 1999 23:50:20 +0500

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Re: Syndicate: moral responsibility

On 18-Jun-99, McKenzie Wark wrote:

>Interesting question. But consider: if there is no
>collective responsibility, there is no collective
>identity either. If you want to make the statement
>"I belong to X", surely one has to take some
>responsibility for X. One is, after all, claiming to
>be a part of it.

>Sure, one can renounce any part in responsibility,
>but then one is no longer a Serb, an Australian, etc.

>This is the debate that's going on in Australia now:
>can we accept responsibility for a genocide that
>started 200 years ago? If not, then who are we? How
>can we claim the good parts -- this old and venerable
>democracy, one of the oldest in the world -- without
>also its crimes?

Surely there is a difference between ACCEPTING responsiblity and being
ACCUSED of responsibility.

I believe modern Australians are wise to accept responsibility for the
genocide -and to try and compensate the successors of those that survived.
On pragmatic grounds -this is a wise thing to do, because it is indeed part of
their history and denial is not a healthy basis for future development. It
also enhances the possibility of a healthier relationship between the two
cultures, and so presumably is of mutual advantage. Recent immigrants from
countries not involved at the time should perhaps also be prepared to
at least acknowlege the responsibility for deeds done before their arrival by
members (or forefathers) of the group they intend to join -because they
also share in the advantages gained. Being a Brit, I also cannot deny that my
presumed forefathers (and foremothers) were responsible for transporting
people to Australia (and other places) -even though I know of no personal
family involvement. To deny these transportations would be damaging to an
understanding of my background and to my relationship with those that have
suffered from these actions.

On the other hand -this surely does not mean that ANY successor of the
original Australian population has the right to attack and kill me, my
family, any recent immigrant or white Australian because we are ALL
responsible for what happened there (recently -or at any time in the past).

Having grown up in Britain I would certainly NOT want to change my nationality
to that of the country in which I now live. However, by living outside England
-although within the "European Community" I seem to have lost my
"democratic right" to vote in ANY national election. So am I responsible
for the British government -or the Dutch government -or any government?

But what must we think of someone who genuinely believes that by fighting
against their fellow countrymen they are supporting "freedom and democracy"
-who needs to escape because the fight is lost -and then on arrival in a
new homeland discovers that both the new homeland and the side they fought
for were not without their crimes and misdemeanours. Are they then to be held
responsible for the deeds of ALL sides -a "justified target" for any fanatic,
from either side, who wants revenge? What happens then to their "identity"
-with whom must they now identify -can the "old" identity be surgically

Or the children from mixed parentage? Must they shoot themselves for what
mammie's great-great-grandfather did to pappie's great-great-grandmother?

We can also ask "What is a group?". When Adelaid plays Melbourn at football
where is the "Australian identity" which sudenly appears when Australia
plays Pakistan for the cricket cup? Perhaps if Mars invades Earth then both
Serbs and Albanians get to be on the same side!

And what is this "collective identity"? Surely it comes largely from shared
experience? If a country has experienced a civil war -then both sides have
different "collective responsibilities" -but still a "shared experience"
which in a paradoxical way may still unite them.

Surely, a large part of this "communal experience" is formed by the "National
Media" (which in a broad sense also involves the educational, linguistic,
cultural and religious communities as well as broadcasting and publication
media). Not everybody has access to internet -but even if they do, how can
one separate truth from lies, if one does not know who is behind the

Can people, even in an apparent "democracy", be held responsible for their
actions (even when abhorrent) if these are the result of a constant stream
of one-sided propaganda? Who is responsible when schoolchildren start
killing their teachers, their parents and each other? We are all guilty and
we are all (well, almost all) innocent.

If media is the key -then how long will the local "communal experience"
survive in the midst of the global media-wars? Who THEN will be responsible
if there is no localised "collective identity" any more?

While the media wars rage (and we cannot expect them to stop) -how can one
EVER know that the side one is fighting for is the "right" side?

When both sides fight for "Peace", "Justice" and "Truth" -then ANY involvement
is dangerous -and likely to lead to shattered ideals. Unfortunately,
non-involvement does not automatically absolve one from responsibility either.

Personlly, I prefer it when "artists" explore the complexities, the
nuances, the dialectics and the paradoxes involved in the human situation
-in order to produce an intelligent "anti-propaganda" which in the long term
will contribute to a more "responsible" and thoughtful society.  When the
world goes mad, surely we don't need more simple slogans -or more direct
fanning the flames.

The idea of "collective responsibility" may be rather useful for the military
 -because it removes the inconvenient distinction between soldier and
civilian. If we accept it -then in future almost any act of (military)
against civilian populations can be justified. However, rejecting "collective"
terror against groups of civilians (with any collective or individual
does not imply a rejection of (Australian, or any other) social justice.

For our own protection it is time that we started thinking seriously, in
the hope that we will soon be able to behave responsibly, before it is too

Trevor Batten

------Syndicate mailinglist--------------------
 Syndicate network for media culture and media art
 information and archive:
 to unsubscribe, write to <>
 in the body of the msg: unsubscribe your@email.adress