Help required – Robert Jaulin on ethnocide – use of his term ‘election’

Robert Jaulin’s view of  ‘totalitarianism’ (in relation to ethnocide) makes very good sense to me – on many levels with life in Australia (from 1788 to the present) and with such classic examples of how former PM John Howard treated First Peoples as ‘objects’ with his government’s NT ‘Emergency’ legislation. Text book stuff – if it weren’t for the pain and suffering of ongoing existential negation for the First Peoples concerned.

“Robert Jaulin defines totalitarianism as an abstract scheme or machine of non-relation to cultural otherness characterized by the expansion of “oneself ” (“soi”) through an election/exclusion logic. The totalitarian machine operates by splitting the universe into its own “agents” on the one side, and its “objects” on the other, whether they be individuals, families, groups, societies or whole civilizations. It proceeds by depriving the later of their quality of cultural subjects through the erosion and finally the suppression of their space of tradition and cultural invention, which mediates their relation with themselves, i.e. their reflexivity. With the mutilation of their “field of cultural potentialities”, as Jaulin calls it, the totalitarian dynamics transforms its “objects” into new “agents” of expansion, reduced to a mock self-relation defined by the horizon of a potential election. However, to become actual this election needs to articulate with a pole of exclusion; thus the need of a new expansion of this universe of non-relation, the universe of totalitarianisms, by definition an endlessly expanding universe whose theoretical limits paradoxically coincide with its own self-destruction.
The election/exclusion logics works by means of pairs of contradictory and, therefore, mutually exclusive terms. Their content may be as varied as the different semantic domains invested by the totalitarian machine: chosen/doomed, religion/magic, truth/falseness, literate/illiterate, savage/civilized, subject/object, intellectual/manual, proletarians/capitalists, science/illusion, subjectivity/objectivity, etc. In all these contradictory pairs, one of the poles “means” to occupy the whole field; but at the same time, its own meaning and “existence” depends on the virtually excluded pole.”


What i do not understand is his reference to ‘a potential election’ – is this a technical term employed by French thinkers or does it simply mean an election (in which people vote)?  Jaulin’s fundamentally important work on ethnocide has never been translated into English and my google searches have not thrown any light on my question.




Warumungu land – 1982 and Native Title 2018

The Warumungu land claim was made under the Commonwealth of Australia’s 1976 Aboriginal Land Claim (NT) Act. I was one of the original researchers employed by the Central Land Council and i worked very closely with the senior lawmen.

It was abundantly clear that they regarded their country as involving far more than the ‘unalienated’ Crown which was available to claim under the Act. Most of their best living country was under Pastoral lease. They had not ceded this land.

When, as Senior Anthropologist (Land Claims), i wrote my part of the land claim book (1982) i included a suggestion that the Aboriginal Land Commissioner – who had to undertake an extensive formal hearing with the ‘claimant’ traditional owners – that he also exercise another of his functions under the Act to examine the extend of likely claims to ‘alienated’ Crown land. See extract below.

This caused something of a stir – not least among a few non-indigenous power brokers back in the Alice Springs Central Land Council office. Eventually i was sidelined from representing the senior lawmen and replaced by a new researcher – steady hands which could be trusted to comply with the existing status quo a la Anglo-Australia.

A replacement land claim ‘guide’ was produced which kept a tight focus on the wastelands of the Crown – land which had not been sought by cattlemen for a hundred years.

Ironically, with the High Court’s recognition of native title in 1992 and the subsequent Native Title Act, there are now investigations required to find out who are the native title holders for some the pastoral leases. These matters could have received excellent coverage in the early 1980s had the proper course of events been allowed to run its course.

Extract from the 1982 Warumungu Land Claim book:

Warumungu 1982001

Native Title notice:

DC2017_003 CLEAN COPYWarumungu 1982001

Bruce (Japaljari) Reyburn

April 2018.





Existential Justice in forms of Representation of First Peoples Ways

Existential Justice in forms of Representation.

When we craft forms of representation of First Peoples lives it is fundamentally important that those forms recognise the place of senior men’s higher practices – law and ceremony.

These matters must be included in order to do existential justice to First Peoples lived realities.

Forms of representation which systematically exclude these higher practices can only make a mockery of First Peoples Ways. To fail to recognise and acknowledge the importance of senior men’s law and ceremonies is to be involved in the established Westernising practices of fashioning false images of First Peoples lives.

Doing this  is akin to constructing an external image of the cell (in biology) while systematically excluding the role of the nucleus.

While including a necessary (must have) place for these higher practices in forms of representation may be able to be justified in terms of Western notions of human rights, the basis for recognising these higher practices comes from what is , ultimately, a more important authority – that of life itself.

To spell this out – First Peoples Ways, as encountered by Europeans from 1788 to the present, have been shaped as part of this country since long before the advent of European Neolithic societies. The failure of European authorities to properly recognise these Ways in no way negates them as legitimate. 

These First Peoples Ways carry an imprimatur which comes from life itself. They have an existential standing which exists outside of the workings of any European (or other non-indigenous place) authority. They exist as a product of the working of forces operating on a much higher level than those of Westminster Parliaments (for example).

People-without-country are in no position to construct authoritative models of the lives of peoples-with-countries. The Western working class, for example, was created when people were driven off the land upon which they formerly lived and worked. Landless working people may acquire a small block of land, and a sense of identity based on the modern nation-state (their ‘country’) but this does not convert them into peoples-with-countries.  There are two entirely different modes of Being.

Modern forms of production of representations include attempts by some to try to justify First Peoples Ways by relying on entirely Western categories and concepts. To seek to interpret – and seek recognition for – First Peoples practices as form of ‘agriculture’ is one example. Similarly the attempts to recognise First Peoples sky narratives as effort by early ‘scientists’ and ‘astronomers’.

Such well-intentioned attempts invariably result in reinforcing a privilege for the clusters of Western concepts which are themselves the product of European history.  This is done at the cost of making a mockery of the concepts which are the product of First Peoples lived interactions with their surroundings over a much longer period. Key aspects of First Peoples realities are rendered nonsense in the process.

One of the healing challenges for conceptual craftspeople is to move from a modern point of view and to work towards crafting forms of representation which are bi-culturally balanced. That is, the move has to go beyond ‘post-modern’ as well as going beyond ‘modern’.

While there are non-indigenous people who seek to insert their voices into the places life has reserved for senior lawmen, there is a requirement that they defer to the real authorities on such matters. From proclaiming how things must be, in the 21st C the healing move is to respectfully relating.

This attitudinal shift  removes the dominating privileges which Western Ways of life have proclaimed for themselves. In their place the shift has to be from a ‘top-down’ stance to a ‘side-by-side’ mode of cultural partnership. That is, from non-indigenous dominating and manipulating to learning how to relate and to do so be means which systematically recognise the significance of senior men’s higher practices.

The fact is that many Western intellectuals cannot grasp the significance of the higher practices in maintaining a well-tempered cosmos. Their thinking remains grounded in entirely Western unconscious-in-culture; worldview; metaphysic; cosmology (call it what you will).

Consequently they remain within the comfort zones of their own conceptual prison-houses, where (in return for some sort of living) they can fashion the fetishes required to please their modern masters. It is the age of mass production.

The challenge life presents us with in this country is not to render First Peoples lives significant in Western terms but to reform Western thinking in order to better able to recognise (and relate to) First Peoples Ways.

We have to stop looking so hard with entirely Western eyes. Such eyes have a professional deformation.

We have to begin to learn to see with eyes which are properly connected to our surroundings in this country.

This may be a major challenge – but it is not an impossible one.

To a great extent , we (who are not initiated men) can only mark out a space for the voices of First Peoples senior men. We non-initiated cannot complete the picture on our own. We cannot provide the full story. That said, some insights are possible. First Peoples senior men have acted as mentors for anthropologists and others. They continue to try to instill some understanding in our Westernised minds.

Bruce (Japaljari) Reyburn – August 2017

A continent of metaphysicians – and their apprentices

James Cowan (1989 ‘Mysteries of the Dream-time: Spiritual Life of the Australian Aborigines’) has written:


“Recognizing the Dreaming as a living reality, however, demands a fundamental shift in the attitudes of everyone concerned. It requires, firstly, that the Dreaming is seen for what it is: a metaphysical statement about the origins of mankind as a spiritual being.”


Cowan’s words ring true to me. In my analysis of Warumungu systems of relationships – in which Being is signified by Dreamings – it looked to me that the concerns were about relationships of a higher order than those whose conceptions of ‘reality’ were rooted in biology or other Western notions of bodily life.


The origins of mankind as a ‘spiritual being’ however, may suggest that this event was something like the origins of some other cultural feature – say, the acquisition of cooking fire. That is, to suggest a prior condition – some kind of ‘animal’ or otherwise ‘incomplete’ level of existence.


It is far to easy, in these secular times, to ‘blow away’ any reference to man as a spiritual being. Too easy to dismiss. What brand of ‘spirituality’ would you prefer? “Spirituality” is set against materially real in these days – and thus is put in the category of ’unreal’.


In posing the issue as one which smuggles in through the back door what we are attempting to dispose of via the front door, we may fail to properly address the problem which confronts us.


Metaphysical spiritual Being


Rather than man as a spiritual being, with origins as developing out of some prior condition, what happens if we regard Dreaming as a metaphysical statement about life as an existential Being, of which we have always been.


That is, in place of a modern materialist interpretation which dominates our imaginary origins – we need to learn to see our true origins as part of life emerging as a signifying being (and that materialist means of interpreting experience are one of the means by which we signify but not one which enjoys are privileged position vis-à-vis all other contenders).


Cowan goes on to say:


“So long as the Dreaming is regarded merely an as assortment of myths that have little more than a quixotic value for the rest of Australians, then the Dreaming will always be demeaned as a metaphysical event. Men and women of goodwill, both European and Aboriginal, must begin to regard the mysteries of the Dreaming as being important in their own lives in the here-and-now. They must begin to see the Dreaming as a spiritual condition, rather than simply as a word denoting the creation-time of Aborigines. Indeed, the idea that Dreaming is an on-going metaphysical, rather than an historical event is the only way this change can be brought about.” (Cowan 1989:119-120)



While I am personally not inclined to become too ‘spiritual’ about all this, I do agree with Cowan that we need to learn to fully appreciate the great and lasting value of the high achievement of First Peoples in their comprehensive mapping of where things fit into life – and of the corresponding challenge for our comparatively simpleminded means of interpreting experience to transcend our own limitations and come up with new systems.


For me the trans-signification of life which is clear in First Peoples systems of signification demonstrates a through-going respect for ensuring that all aspects of life are categorized in their proper place. While modern Western means of categorization produce ‘things’ First Peoples Ways insist that ‘things’ must be in their proper place.


There is not a system in which a natural or material ‘thing’ has an additional message attached (it belongs in this particular niche) but, rather, a highly polished system of categorization which relates a figure or text to its generative context. This is the highest form of art.


Categories within such systems operate on a higher level – one which respects a host of existential factors of the kind modern science insisted on being jettisoned (in order to better understand life!).


Naturalism is a cultural code which seeks to strip other messages away from our means of interpreting experience.


Life as lived, on the other hand, went in completely the opposite direction to that of the parlor games of modern science. It is crucially important that we relate to the rest of life with systems of signification which do not systematically make a mockery out of the whole of life.


In agreeing that First Peoples Ways can be viewed as the collective work of countless metaphysicians (acting as eco-wizards when restoring balance was called for) the way is not necessary opened up for New Agers to assume they can simply embrace First Peoples as kindred spirits.


Acts of cultural partnership presume that relationships are underwritten, and produced by, genuine systems of reciprocity – that is, the balanced exchange of ‘things’ of real value. Expropriating Dreaming runs contrary to the spirit of cultural partnership. Inserting oneself into the position of expert in indigenous Dreaming knowledge is not the way to go.


Rather, re-balancing life carries ‘lesser’ roles. Learning from life’s masters is one such role.


One aspect to the task at hand is to enable and empower those who – as a result of choices made by life itself – have come to embody Dreaming knowledge and law.


Mens songs – in the higher keys of life.


In his book “Dark Emu” Bruce Pascoe says words to the effect  – “we have a chance to catch a glimpse of Australia as Aboriginals saw it.”

I share the spirit of this very important challenge – catching a glimpse or two can serve to restructure entire fields of knowledge by methods which mere data collecting and modern social theorising never will.

Part of the glimpse process is to ‘see’ the western frameworks of interpretation which have to be transcended in order to let some life through. We have to learn to see life in this country on its own terms and not those which systematically privilege modern Western master narratives.

In other words, we have to stop looking at life so hard with our Westernised eyes. These eyes turn dancing forms of energy into inert things.

David Turner has written about his experiences in learning to see with dancing eyes.

Rather than trying to accommodate First Peoples Ways into Neolithic Western categories (farmers, agriculturalists) as Bruce Pascoe does in his book “Dark Emu” I regard First Peoples as being involved in the production of higher level messages of an entirely different type to those which emerged in a Neolithic transformation of part of life.

Life within orthodox First Peoples Ways stands in an entirely different relationship to that necessary for horticulture, agriculture, farming etc. I regard First Peoples as operating on a higher level than agriculture.

The songs and ceremonies of senior men are songs in the key of life – ensuring a finely-tuned cosmos. The songs are higher practices which ensure that the everyday practices which make up our lives are appropriately formed according to an age-old life design. One that has keep this planet of ours in extremely good shape over a vast period of time.

What is striking, in regard to the harvesting of tubers and grains, is that these activities may be predominantly women’s activities. Strehlow Senior noted that the gathering/harvesting of certain roots was the principal food of the women. I am uncertain about the harvesting of grains, but the grinding of grains is certainly something well within women’s domain.

Anthropologists such as Annette Hamilton have written on the existence of these two worlds.

The complementary opposition between men’s and women’s social universes is certainly a highly marked feature of First Peoples Ways in Central Australia. Of course, there is a fully functioning form of co-existence between these two social and cultural universes.

In modern Western Ways, especially at this time, the movement for accepting women into the core of men’s domains, is regarded as the right and proper path for life to take. It is not necessarily how things function in other viable socio-cultural life formations.

I have pondered before – in light of contemporary cross-cultural alliances – if the conceptual distance between the women’s world – a fully cultured world without a shadow of a doubt – is somehow closer to that of the modern secular worldview. And this closeness and system of alliances results in senior men being excluded from their rightful place in life.

As i travel in Central Australia i am struck by how much of what is on public display about traditional Dreaming narratives is from the women’s side of life. This is a very rich tradition and exists on a high existential level as a complement to the secret-sacred law of senior men. But much of the secret-sacred law of senior men remains restricted to initiated men and is not so readily visible.

This is no reason to treat it as non-existent.

Traditionally any male who had not been initiated was, irrespective of his age, still a ‘boy’ in the eyes of the senior men. Much of the present debates about First Peoples rights are conducted by people who are not initiated into the original system of laws carried by senior men.

I also fail detect any substantial respect for senior lawmen on the part of at least some non-indigenous feminists including those who presume to be able to talk about the rights of First Peoples, men included. Much of the modern human rights agenda is based on presumptions about rights which apply only to peoples-without-countries.

While posing as a cross-cultural dialogue, discussions about First Peoples rights far too often conducted in English by people who find no discomfort in the lack of the voices of senior indigenous lawmen in these discussion, but who also feel no compulsion to learn the languages spoken by surviving senior lawmen.

In other words, where we should be hearing the voices of senior indigenous lawmen speaking in their own languages, an entirely Western monologue by privileged people fills the entire space with talk of ‘the nation’ and similar bounded categories entirely alien to the world-views of First Peoples.

The voices of senior men need to be heard in their own right – not as interpreted by others (included me). The task for people like me is to create spaces for their voices to be heard by Western ears.

To hear the voices of senior lawmen we have to leave our modern comfort zones and go the extra mile. I believe the rewards will be well worth the effort for those of us who accept the major life challenge of regaining our singing cosmos.

Still not hearing voices of senior lawmen in Constitution recognition mix

Mainstream media SMH

‘Noble compromise’ will emerge on Indigenous recognition: Pearson

Noel Pearson predicts clear proposition to emerge from Indigenous constitutional convention

Mr Pearson said the Mundine proposal resonated with his long-held belief that self-determination, correctly understood, is about our peoples’ right to take responsibility. “That is what constitutional recognition should structurally encourage and enable,” he said.

He told Fairfax Media he had attended at least seven of 12 Indigenous dialogues leading up the the convention and is “staggering pleased” with what has emerged, and with the leadership shown at the dialogues by Pat Anderson and Megan Davis.

“We’ve had very significant Indigenous female leadership over the decades, but I think this is the one time where I think two women have really carried the leadership on this process,” he said. 

“I see next week as 12 pieces of the jigsaw from all parts of the country coming together into a united position, a single whole. The outcome I’m hoping for is a very clear statement of what Indigenous Australia wants in a reform agenda.

Full story

Yes but what do the Central Australia senior lawmen have to say?

Still waiting to hear from them.

Next – results of National Referendum Convention at Uluru May 24-26 #GetTheFullPicture

The extent to which the present Referendum Council’s Recognise process has engaged with Warumungu and Alyawarra senior lawmen in Tennant Creek remains unclear to me.

The generalised reply to my question to the Central Land Council about this specific issue (posted on this blog) has done nothing to reassure me that these crucially important men have been properly informed and enabled to participate on their own culturally fair terms. The CLC response is the sort of reply i get from evasive politicians.

However, as i am presently in Wollongong, NSW, i am a long way from events on the ground in places like Tennant Creek. I will be in the Central Australia in June and hope to travel to Tennant Creek then.

Delegates for the very important National Indigenous Referendum Convention gather at Uluru in just a few weeks (May 24-260. I see this is also deemed a First Nations Convention, but the role of First Nations and the selection of their delegates is also obscure.

I feel the delegates deserve a fair-go to show what they can come up in relation to this most difficult of vexing problems in this country – proper recognition of First Peoples (as cultural partners and on terms which are acceptable to them).

So, with some signs of movement on treaty issues at the State level, i look forward with deep interest in what comes out of that Convention. Ideally something we could all get behind and support. Wait and see.

This country is long overdue for some deep and effective healing after the massive damage done to life here by the soul-destroying methods of British colonisation.

Country is life’s eternal soul. First Peoples are country!