Thursday, April 30, 2009

Notes on futures past

Yesterday, the Star-Bulletin printed an article about Gov. Lingle's demand that unions accept furloughs of 37.5 days (over one year or two, the timing was ambiguous). Retirees medical benefits would be cut. One faculty member estimated that this amounts to taking a 15% wage cut.

I attended an informal meeting yesterday that was called by two futurists, Jim Dator and Ira Rohter. Their thesis is that the current recession will not end with the world returning to what it once was, but that Hawai`i's economy will continue in depression conditions. Fewer tourists, less government money, isolation from the rest of the world due to the cost of oil, fights over water and food. It was a grim picture, indeed, and certainly put in perspective many of the arguments currently in the air at UHM. They tried to present the material in positive terms, but they seemed exhausted by it all.

Witi Ihamaera spoke last night; he's been our Citizen's Chair this semester. Amid the heaviness of this late semester (talk of limited futures, Asian Settler Colonialism, budget cuts at the UH), he offered us a critical lightness. Most memorable was his story about how his grandmother taught him to read the western tradition critically. He had us recite two nursery rhymes, "Jack and Jill" and "Little Miss Muffet," and then showed us how his grandmother took them apart. "Why is Jack wearing a crown?" "Why is Miss Muffet afraid of spiders?" "Why do they not have Maori names?" Witi read his own first fairy tale, a "once upon a time" story he wrote at age 10, which had the maiden run off to marry the dragon in the end. And then he told the story of how a whale came to him in NYC (swam up the Hudson, it did!) and inspired him to write Whale Rider.

Both the futurists (in their dour way) and Ihamaera (in his witty one) put forth positive critiques; although they suggest that something is lacking in our way of looking at the world, their way of addressing it is to suggest possibilities, not foreclosures. While my colleague argues (in the second link above) that alliances between Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians are not possible, and while there are reasons she does this, many of us want to see futures in which communities are formed across differences (and wounds). Our very futures may depend upon it. But if we learn to read like Witi and his grandmother, in a way that is at once critical and welcoming, there's a chance. Let us tend our very real gardens.

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