Category Archives: activism

The Fujimoto Imperative

My, doesn’t that sound like a particularly bad Robert Ludlum novel (three inch thrillers with three word titles)?

It’s about being able to blot out the horrible thing that is inevitably coming, and do what you have to do in the meantime.  Sisyphus blah de blah, yadder yadder yadder.  In case you don’t know the story;

Shun Fujimoto (藤本 俊 Fujimoto Shun?, born May 11, 1950) is a retired Japanese gymnast.

Shun Fujimoto
— Gymnast —
Discipline Men’s artistic gymnastics

He represented Japan at the 1976 Summer Olympics, where he won gold in the team competition.

Fujimoto achieved fame by continuing to compete in the team event right after breaking his knee during the floor exercise. He scored 9.5 on the pommel horse and 9.7 on the rings with a broken knee, dismounting from the rings from eight feet above ground and keeping his balance after landing on his feet. He “raised his arms in a perfect finish before collapsing in agony”.[1][2] The dismount worsened his injury, dislocating his broken kneecap and tearing ligaments in his right leg. Doctors ordered him to withdraw from further competition or risk permanent disability.[3][4] One doctor stated:

“How he managed to do somersaults and twists and land without collapsing in screams is beyond my comprehension.”[5]

Fujimoto stated that he had not wanted to let his team down by revealing his injury.[6] His completing of the pommel horse and rings events enabled the team to win gold, defeating the team from the Soviet Union by a narrow margin.[7] Later, when asked whether he would do what he did again, he replied frankly, “No, I would not.”[8]


“So we bleat on….”, or Q &A/P&A; the pathological meetings of academics, activists etc

This article outlines the very familiar pathological pattern of meetings at which dialogue is lauded and then slaughtered, the usual attempts to fix the pathologies, and then describes why they usually fail. It closes out with what COULD be done, and why it won’t be (it’s a conspiracy!!)

The pathological meeting

preening macawsWe have all been there –  at meetings (of activists or academics)  at which ‘the most important thing is your questions.’  (e.g. public events or seminars/panel discussions).

The set-piece speeches over-run, with most/all of the speakers exceeding their agreed limits, and so

  • disrespecting their own promises and discrediting themselves,
  • disrespecting the chair (who is either lower status to the speakers and can’t stop them, or equal status and won’t upset their mates)
  • disrespecting the audience.

So instead of, say, 45 minutes for questions and that oh-so-important discussion, suddenly there are only 25.

But wait, then it somehow gets even worse.  Because the so-called “Question and Answer” session runs like this; the chair just asks for a show of hands.  Hands belonging to the ‘usual suspects’ go up.  Mostly (usually) male.  Mostly people with long and glorious records in academia (lots of citations in journals) or activism (lots of citations by police).  These usual suspects then do P&A – Preening (talking about themselves and their pet ideas/ideologies/tactics/causes/concepts) & Attacking (“if you read my paper in…/”But Marx said in 1862 that…”).

Their ‘questions’ (at best thinly-veiled speeches) ramble on, and then the speakers ramble back.  The energy drains from the room.  The clock ticks down. People leave (if it’s polite to do so – happens more at activist meetings than academic ones, in my experience).  Women who realise that their questions are as good as the men’s don’t have the time to get their questions into the room.

The event organisers are happy (people turned up!), the speakers are happy (they got fed!) and a minority of the audience are happy (they got to preen/attack!).  Lots of other people aren’t so happy, but have no way of voicing their frustration.   Over time, they stop coming, either physically or mentally…

The failed attempts to ‘limit’ this

  • The chair pushes notes with ‘5 minutes’ across the table to the speaker, who may or may not acknowledge (old white tenured male versus young female grad student; no contest)
  • The chair asks people to limit their speec… sorry, questions, to two sentences
  • The chair explicitly calls for women to stick up their hands and ask questions
  • Questions are written down and sent up to the front for vetting .

This usually fails because;

The speaker (by definition high status) thinks they are the most important person in the room, the P&A folks thinks their contribution is the most important and women who were thinking of asking a question are now being patronised, tokenised and ghetto-ised, which tends to intimidate and demotivate.  The vetting tends to get done along Party Lines, and isn’t this supposed to be an open forum anyhow?

What could actually happen (any 2 of these innovations would be transformative. Doing them all in one session would probably blow people’s minds).

Why none of these innovations will happen

Humans don’t do change; ‘We’ve been doing it this way for years, it works’

Event organisers like being able to get elite speakers along, it makes them look important. They are providing the captive audience/ego-fodder for the elite speaker.

Panellists like treating the audience like ego-fodder.  It’s one of the tacit rewards of being high-status.

Some of the audience LIKE being ego-fodder, sleeping with their eyes open and entering into a tacit agreement of passivity with the organisers.

[None of this needs to be conscious to be perpetrated and perpetuated.]

These innovations would undercut the power of our lords and masters. They would resist, and not like the entrepreneurs who were trying to take away their privileges.  They wouldn’t necessarily be able to articulate it, but they’d know it nonetheless…  Career-limiting move for the innovator, therefore, and for little or no gain.  Thus do sub-optimal social ‘strategies’ and rituals continue…

“So we bleat on, boasts against the current, boring stiff ceaselessly into the future.

Our #climate – personal stories, global change; #excellent art on despair and hope

At its best our species does courage, creativity and trust.  At its worst it excels at greed,stupidity and violence. Last night Melbourne Playback Theatre Company (MPTC) displayed enormous quantities of the former to illuminate one symptom of the latter – climate change.

The event’s format captured our dilemma nicely.  The first half was taken up with brief speeches from a climate scientist (Prof David Karoly), a renewables proponent (Stephen Bygrave), an activist (Isabella Morand) and a writer(Marita Davies).  Each spoke from the heart about what concerns them, what drives them. Each was able to impart a sense of danger and urgency without despairing.  There was then time for a few questions, which they dealt with pretty well.

So far so conventional – we’ve all been at these sorts of events, with a sage (or three) on the stage, an audience that is ego-fodder,

all premised on the ‘information deficit’ model.  But the second half of the evening broke important new ground.

Danny Diesendorf of MPTC had the audience shouting out words that described their thoughts and emotions based on what they heard so far, and riffed briefly and intelligently on these.  Then the real fun started – the four actors and two musicians on the stage would ‘act out’ (zero preparation time) what they’d just heard from the audience, in movement, song and speech. [Declaration of interest – they did my ‘smugosphere‘ brilliantly].

Finally, Diesendorf asked for people willing to come up on stage and ‘tell a story’.  They would choose one of the four actors to be them in the forthcoming performance, and then Diesendorf would gently and expertly probe, getting the audience member to give concrete details that the actors could work with.  My friend Toni was first up, and the story of her time in Peru, working with locals while the glaciers melt, was beautiful.  David Karoly’s wife spoke of the support networks that academics need (hopefully not as extreme as Jacques Derrida!). The last story, on the subject of class, consumerism and desire for comfort, was brilliantly executed and a suitably ambiguous point on which to end.

The level of technical proficiency among the actors and musicians was, naturally, extremely high.  This sort of high-wire work demands enormous skill and courage.  When it is done well-  and the gods are smiling –  it looks easy and effortless. It most certainly is not.

MPTC has been around for over thirty years, (think Improv and Boal) and this is the first – but surely not last – time that they’ve tackled the every-growing elephant in the ever-shrinking room.  It would be incredibly powerful if one or more of the big environmental beasts (I’m looking at you, Australian Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace, The Wilderness Society etc) would work with MPTC to take a show like this ‘on the road’ around (regional) Australia. Soon (yesterday would be good).

PS The question of sustained and sustainable activism came up.  Given there are at any one time a small number of people ‘active,’ it’s really important to welcome ‘new’ people when they turn up at an event/protest, thank them for coming, find out what they can offer. Otherwise they just walk away to do something else, and they’ve been decruited. Yes, decruited. Decruited, got it?