Monday, July 24, 2017

Terra Nullius of the Mind - Anyone Up for Change?

“Pleased as we are with possession, we seem afraid to look back to the means by which it was acquired, as if fearful of some defect in our title; or at least we rest satisfied with the decision of the laws in our favour.”

Commentaries on the Laws of England (18th Ed.) Vol. 2.  1823.

King George V, King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions and Emperor of India was the grandson of Queen Victoria.  In 1910 under his seal, the British Parliament passed a series of laws dictating the form and substance of education in Australia – laws that to this day define much of how Australian education is delivered.  This same King and Parliament, during the same period, were operating with the sublime consciousness that determined that Aboriginal children should be wards of the State justifying the kidnapping of children from their own parents.  This same King and Parliament promulgated a series of laws in which the term “Caste” and “Half-Caste” were commonplace.  To this day, the system that King George V put in place in Australia serves as the defining structure for the caste-based education system of Australia in which the elite and entitled are afforded one path to learning while the disenfranchised are ushered into trades and technical skills that don’t require “disinterested thinking” (Sir Eric Ashby, 1946).  
Portrait at Government House, Melbourne

Today, King George V is dead but his legacy is alive and well.  His Education Act 1910 (Law No. 2301 enacted 4 January 1911) put into motion what is now the Technical and Further Education (TAFE) tertiary education system in Australia.  Organized to efficiently provide the labor to extract the wealth of a land colonized under the genocidal terra nullius principle which suggested a land and resources that belonged to no one, technical education was not for the betterment of the mind or of the learner.  Rather, as with the doctrine of terra nullius, it presumed that the rank and file Australian – the common laborer – was as vacant-minded as the land they were trained to pillage.  And missing from the vast reaches of the humanity of the citizens of Australia is the equivalent to Mabo v. Queensland (1992) and Wik Peoples v. The State of Queensland (1996) – the sentinel cases that began to unravel the carnage wrought by the colonial unconsciousness. 

When enacted, the technical education mandate was to confirm basic competency for laborers to meet the proficiency standards for the tasks they to which they were to indenture their lives.  During the Depression in the 1930s, the system took on a broader social mandate as a means to deal with rampant unemployment.  In 1957, the Committee on Australian Universities warned that technical education, “may be led by a false sense of values to try its hand at producing another type, the professional engineer or technologist and so lessen its effectiveness for its own particular task.”  As recently as 1998, the Review of Higher Education Financing and Policy concluded that technical training institutions should teach “competencies and maintain the strong focus on skills and higher education should cultivate attributes.”  And with Liberal and Labor Governments from the 1970s to the present assuring the population that technical education should be seen as an equivalent alternative to higher education at the university level, each of them have failed to add substance to the diaphanous veil of caste separation implicit in the very system they allege to laud. 

For every recognition of the structural inadequacy of the educational and social engineering model, the response is to form a commission, generate a report, and then perpetuate the same social and commercial irrelevance as the preceding, equally ineffective impulse.  To read the history of technical education in Australia is to hear the echo of Charlton Ogburn’s 1957 quote misattributed by an Australian scholar to Emperor Nero’s Arbiter Gaius Petronius (AD66), “we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing...a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing inefficiency and demoralization.”  Ironically, had either the public or the government familiarized themselves with the actual writings of Petronius, they could have encountered the quite apropos admonition, “A man who is always ready to believe what is told him will never do well.” (Section 43 of Satyricon). 

What makes the emancipation of the mind as important as the reconciliation with the First Nations?  What difference would it make if serious reform were contemplated in the education framework of Australia? 

Well, let’s start and the uncomfortable reality that faces the caste system.  Australia doesn’t have – nor has it ever had – a holistically functioning economy.  From the first Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon (1606) that rocked up in Perth to the celebrated First Fleet, to the gleaming titans of today’s skylines in Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney, Australia’s terra nullius legacy has meant that its celebrated history has been that of a price taker – not a market maker.  And while we can localize, assemble, and extract with trained and qualified aplomb, there’s no part of the Australian ecosystem that fosters the ability to integrate synthetic critical thinking with foresight to play in a market leading role at transformative scale.  From mining and agriculture to financial services and defence, Australia’s default posture is to acquire and assimilate. 

But here’s the trouble with that.  Purchasers of services and technology surrogate their confidence on their suppliers.  The resident talent to approach the world through synthetic systems engineering logic and commercial industrial experience is anemic.  We can spend $150 billion in France, Germany, and the U.S. to defend ourselves against a threat manufactured by those who sell us their defences but when I discuss hydrogen gassing batteries, anti-cavitation propulsion, combined projectile land vehicle vulnerabilities, cyber security, concentration capital risks, or intelligent covaler conductive laminates, I’m met with incredulity, or worse.  In a world of competency-based training (both at the technical and university level), critical assumptions are accepted as stipulated by an anonymous other rather than independently examined or verified.  (The very gullibility Emperor Nero’s chief aestheticist warned against in the first century.)  The two largest defense procurements in Australia suffer from known vulnerabilities (both technical and financial) and the response is inaction.  Over $400 billion dollars are invested in pensions and superannuation funds in the U.S. and U.K. and no one can explain why performance lags retail index market performance (or the undisclosed fees that Australian’s are charged).  In short, the university elite are sure that there’s a technical someone somewhere doing their job and the technical skills masses assume that there’s someone smarter than them looking over the details.  And NEITHER is right or capable of verifying the assumptions.

Someone else.  Somewhere else.  It’s no surprise that a system built by a near Russian oligarch who sat on the throne in Britain in 1910 expressly for the purpose of taking riches from a land he presumed was devoid of any one has failed modernity.  It is sad to see the amount of effort poured by so many into the maintenance thereof.

But what if we had a different narrative?  What if we built the next 150 years about regenerating the land through the engagement of ALL its inhabitants?  What if we explicitly built an economic and social model around the repatriation of value that has been distributed across the globe?  What if we had the audacity to become social and technological innovators and exporters to a world currently in the throes of moral and leadership bankruptcy?  What if we defended ourselves not against manufactured foes that serve ideologues but instead against the predilection to classify, denigrate, and appropriate?  What if our national infrastructure was conscripted to serve as a model for – not an acquiescent beneficiary to – the rest of the world?  Sound interesting?  Has a better ring than “caste”, doesn’t it?

Well, to do so will require more than an overhaul of the education system and its delivery.  It’s going to require each individual to step up and engage in a more thoughtful process.  We’re going to need to learn about the matter and energy around us – not for its export and commodity value but for its regenerative engagement.  We’re going to need to examine our worldviews and the metrics that constrain our insight and emancipate the same to enhance our awareness.  We’re going to need to learn from others – not rote facts and figures but deep structure narratives of new organizational thinking.  We’re going to re-evaluate our values so that we don’t keep running up a real-estate bubble, inflating the already over 180% indebtedness to earnings gluttonous consumption, and indenturing our future for acquisitions and procurements that serve the needs of others oblivious to our own.  We’re going to need to engineer rather than acquire the innovations we use taking advantage of the vast open-innovation resources that the world has laid at our fingertips.  And finally, we’re going to have to seriously decide that our liberty doesn’t come when we diminish and indenture those around us.  It’s time to replace minimum competencies with informed confidences.

Or…we could go to school again on Monday and keep serving an anonymous monarch.  It’s time to choose


  1. And the same here....i embrace your languaging.....bit stoked you are in my periphery!!

  2. Thanks David well said and fully committed to "what if we had a different narrative? as global citizenry." I know how much you love Mother Earth. The New York Magazine 7-9-17 article "The Uninhabital Earth Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think" By David Wallace-Wells is causing a stir. The arctic cap permafrost contains 1.5 trillion tons of carbon. To King George V its an opportunity to exploit while to any rational logic based in humanness a clarion call to change human behaviors. Its time for the crazy ones to bring forth a nonzero logic within your integral accounting principles and intrinsic heritage as human beings. Thanks for being you!


Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave