Rereading my last post, I suppose that I should make it clear that I am not one who believes that the past is always better. It's obviously not.
As a simple case in point, over the last week I have been to two displays of HSC major works at my daughters' school, one on visual arts, the second on design and technology. The overall standard would, I think, have amazed someone from 1961.
Yet while the past is not always better, we can use comparisons from the past to challenge current positions, to pose questions about the way our society and system operates.
If you look at our respective writings, you will see that we are in agreement on the core issue, the need for an Australia that recognises and accepts difference. Where we often part company is in the interpretation of matters, of ideas, surrounding that core point.
Multiculturalism itself is an example.
Neil considers, he will correct me if I am wrong, that the official interpretation of multiculturalism that was dominant for a period was right and proper and blames the Howard Government in part for its decline. By contrast, I have argued that that imposed official interpretation was pernicious and divisive, working against the very thing that it was trying to achieve.
So far we are clearly on opposite sides of the culture wars. This apparently continues in our interpretation of past and current events.
Neil has a strong focus on the need to redress the wrongs of the past and mourns the way in which, as he sees it, certain things are being torn down that were in fact the recently dominant Australian orthodoxy. By contrast, while accepting that there were past wrongs, I have a strong focus on the rights of the past, mourning in turn the way that the imposition of the idea sets of which multiculturalism is part destroyed things that I considered to be valuable.
All this would would appear to place us on opposite sides of the history wars, a sub-set of the culture wars. And that might be the end of the story if our respective blogs were no more than streams of opposing opinions, each reaching out to those who agreed with us. In practice, the fact that the conversation between us is a genuine dialogue changes the equation.
In his multicultural series that I referred to earlier, Neil put forward certain views quoting an official source in part support. I challenged the historical accuracy of the views put forward in that source. Neil investigated and found that I was, at least in part right.
Now this is intellectual honesty of a high order. I found the points that Neil made intensely interesting, generating a stream of ideas that I will write about in due course. Neither of us have shifted our core positions, but we have opened up new areas for discussion and potential agreement.
I must say I do wonder sometimes how readers take the dialogue, including the sometimes very long stuff that I write as I try to explore issues and my own views. All writers, bloggers included, like to be read and my stuff is very often far from reader friendly. In fact, it breaches pretty much every rule for on-line writing.
That said, I find the whole process - both the writing and the reading including all the other blogs that I read - very satisfying.
I grew up in a world of constant intellectual debate, of interest in ideas. To some degree at least, and this is a point I have made before, blogging has recreated that world.
In the relatively short period since I started blogging, I have written far more across the range of my interests than in the previous twenty years combined. Challenged as I have been, I have been forced to constantly extend and to refine my ideas. In doing so, I have built up a body of new writing that itself provides a source of continuing stimulation.
The effects have been quite pervasive. My newspaper reading has expanded as I look for stories, ideas for my own writing. I find myself thinking about issues, responses while having my morning shower. It has begun to re-energise my professional life, an area where I had gone very stale. The burble of ideas is back.
The nearest past equivalent that I can see is my first period as an undergraduate at the University of New England, if without the sound!
There is the same sitting in the Union chatting (visiting blogs to see what is happening, responding). There is the same need to prepare seminar papers and essays (the posts). There is the same external critique and contribution (counter posts, comments). There is the same requirement to listen to (in this case read) papers prepared by others. Then there are the obligatory visits to the library (the internet) to collect material and the same temptations to pursue by-ways, to just browse! Finally, there are the international students bringing new perspectives to issues.
I have said before that blogging can be a liberal education. But it's more than that. At its best, it is in fact an external University in its own right capable of delivering an education on almost any subject area you care to name.
I have been asked whether I would be happy for a piece that I wrote on one of my blogs to be included in a new book on work life balance. I was happy to agree. So in terms of the University of Blogging, it appears that one of the students has achieved that traditional academic dream of having a piece of work accepted for publication!