William Blake’s ‘The Fly’
Thy summer’s play
My thoughtless hand
Has brushed away.
Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?
For I dance
And drink and sing,
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.
If thought is life
And strength and breath,
And the want
Of thought is death,
Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die.
William Blake “The Fly”
The relevance of “The Fly” to our relationship with the exploited members of the world’s indigenous cultures is more than it might appear to the casual observer.
In “The Fly”, Blake questions the worth of human existence through a comparison between our perceived importance and the objects, creatures and even people that we as human beings consider to be unimportant. The fly represents these objects, creatures, and people.
Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?
It is through these words and the symbolism they create in our minds that the reader is asked to consider their own lives as part of a bigger whole. How do we as human beings reflect upon the less-developed elements of the universe? What makes mankind so superior?
As Blake reflects on these issues, he reaches toward the notion of conscious thought versus the lack of thought, suggesting that to be human is thought and strength and breath. Thought is a process that humanity does not know if the fly has the ability to undertake. On the other hand, the lack of thought and intelligence represents death. Regardless of the shape, size, or species of the creature or individual, Blake asks what the difference is between them intellectually. How can we dismiss such a different individual when we are not the creature or individual himself?
If Blake can see fit to pause, even for a moment, to consider the impact his “thoughtless hand” has on a fly, a creature of so little importance to us as human beings that it can be brushed away without a thought to the impact this action has on the fly, how much more consideration should we as human beings give to the people of the world’s indigenous cultures, cultures and people that we seem so willing to exploit for our own material gain.
Case in point
West Papua is a case in point, a seemingly small and remote area of the world, but nonetheless home to 245 different tribal peoples, each with their own language and culture. The highlands are densely populated regions where bigger tribes such as the Nduga and Amungme live and survive by shifting cultivation and hunting. The Indonesian government has placed and continues to place pressure on indigenous communities and cultures in West Papua.
The appropriation of land for new settlements, forestry concessions, mining projects including oil, gas, copper, and gold and farming, as well as military presence has infringed upon indigenous rights to land, resources and culture.
West Papua hosts one of the world’s largest copper and gold mines, the Grasberg mine in which US based Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold has a majority stake.
Despite this source of wealth, the people of West Papua have remained poor and separatist leaders say Indonesia has plundered its resources with little in return.
Extraction of the mine’s resources has been accompanied by degradation of the surrounding environment, most notably dumping of untreated tailings into the Aghawaghon River system where the Amungme people live. According to the New Internationalists this has resulted in hundreds of deaths within the Amungme community.
Throughout its long history in West Papua, the Freeport mines have relied on security provided by the Indonesian armed forces. The Australian Council for Overseas Aid has reported these security officers allegedly engaging in acts of intimidation, torture, shooting and ‘disappearing’ local people.
In 1999 Tom Beanal, a leader of the indigenous Amungme people who have long fought a campaign against the mining corporation Freeport, made the following statement to the UN Commission on Human Rights:
Any form of negotiations, which are linked to our land and which are being held between the government and Indonesia as well as foreign companies, always occur without the consultation or the consent of the indigenous people of West Papua…Millions of hectares of Papuan lands have been plundered by the Indonesian government and handed over to foreign companies and trans-migrants. Our forests, mountains, sago gardens, indigenous lands, sacred places, all the natural resources are being plundered, squeezed, crushed, and then annihilated…The indigenous people, who are the traditional owners of the lands, are increasingly becoming squatters … because their ancestral lands are being used by governments and companies. The Papuan culture is more and more marginalised, as it is considered inferior…
Special autonomy legislation came into effect in West Papua on 1 January, 2002. Under the new laws, West Papua will receive 70% of oil and gas revenues and 80% of revenue from natural resources such as forestry, fisheries and mining. But many have rejected the package as it does not offer a solution to the infringement on indigenous land, resources and way of life. The long-established Free Papua Movement wants nothing less than a referendum.
According to the historian Eben Kirksey, the word Merdeka or freedom is an important West Papuan political concept and is a key to understanding contemporary Papuan culture and the struggle for independence.
The term unites West Papua’s diverse cultural groups and incorporates concepts of equitable development, environmental sustainability and political independence.
Most Papuans in rural areas desire more than an independent nation-state. They hope for new systems of governance based on indigenous cultural practices. This would include indigenous modes of authority and a social and legal order that combines indigenous traditions of oration with written legislation.
For many West Papuans who struggle for self-determination, indigenous leadership and control of land and resources is central to achieving the right to participate in cultural life.
The Jayapura Five
The Jayapura Five are Papuan leaders Forkorus Yaboisembut, Edison Waromi, August Makbrowen Senay, Dominikus Sorabut and Selpius Bobii.
They led a peaceful demonstration in October 2011, demanding Papuans’ right to self-determination. They were arrested at the Papuan People’s Congress after raising the Papuan ‘Morning Star’ flag and declaring independence. Indonesia’s reaction to this peaceful protest was to respond with customary brute force, inhumanity and injustice. The Jayapura Five now face charges of treason under archaic laws introduced to Indonesia by Dutch colonialists and went on trial on January 30, 2012. They face 20 years to life in prison if found guilty.
Added to this affront is the fact that there has been no prosecution of security forces who brutally attacked that demonstration, killing at least three peaceful demonstrators and beating scores more. A spokesperson for the Human Rights Law Centre in Australia, Tom Clarke, is asking why Australia is not sending legal observers to the trial:
An unprincipled and myopic approach to human rights will fail in West Papua just as it did in East Timor…Australia needs a new approach, underpinned by a principled and persistent commitment to human rights, to addressing conflicts in our region.
The Jayapura Five in a hand-written statement released on 3 February, 2012 stated that:
We herewith categorically state that we are not prepared to make any statements or answer any questions that are based on the laws and accusations of treason by the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia, during the current trial for treason. It is very clear indeed that this is a matter between two nations and two states, that is to say, between the Papuan nation and the Indonesian nation, between the Federal State of West Papua and the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia.
Our struggle and the struggle of those who have gone before us and the nation of West Papua and all members of the Papuan people up to the present day is a struggle for the restoration of independence and sovereignty of the Papuan Nation as one of our most basic political rights.
Bearing in mind that the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia annexed and continues to annex, the people and nation of the Papuan people since the TRIKORA command which was proclaimed by the former president of Indonesia, President Sukarno on 19 December 1961 in the city of Jogyakarta and which was followed up by the Indonesian military, from 1962 to the present day, by a variety of measures aimed at preserving the annexation.
Little fly, ‘reflective equilibrium’
Like Blake in “The Fly” we seem to have just brushed the indigenous people of West Papua aside, content that we can continue to benefit from the exploitation of their natural resources without paying heed to their plight as fellow human beings. Unlike Blake though, we seem not to feel a necessity to reflect on the consequences of our actions. Is this justice?
Justice, if anything, is a relationship in which ideas of obligations to each other are at the centre. John Rawls gives abundant recognition to what we ought to do for each other, and how we may arrive at a ‘reflective equilibrium’ about what we at least minimally should do for other human beings. On this point Immanuel Kant argued that many of the obligations we recognise take the form of ‘imperfect obligations’, which though not defined precisely, are neither absent nor negligible. To maintain the argument that we don’t owe anything to others who are not in our ‘neighbourhood’, beyond the virtuous acts of kindness and charity, would make the limits of our obligations very narrow indeed. If on the other hand, we do owe some concern to other people far and near, even if the characterization of that concern is imprecise, then any reasonable theory of justice must include those people within its framework.
As Amartya Sen has argued, a theory of impartiality that is confined exactly within the borders of a sovereign state proceeds along territorial lines that do, of course, have legal significance but may not have similar political or moral perspicuity. This is not to deny that we often do think of our identities in terms of groups that include some and firmly exclude others. But our sense of identities – in fact we have many – is not confined only within the borders of the state. We identify with people of the same religion, same language group, same race, same gender, same political beliefs, or same profession.
These multiple identities cross across national boundaries and people do things that they feel they really ‘must’ do, rather than virtuously accept to do.
Second, the actions of one country can seriously influence lives elsewhere. This is not only through the deliberate use of forceful means, but also through less direct influences of trade and commerce. We do not live in secluded cocoons of our own. And if the institutions and policies of one country influence lives elsewhere, should not the voices of the affected people elsewhere count in some way in determining what is just or unjust in the way a society is organised, typically with profound effects – direct or indirect – on people in other societies.
Third in addition to these concerns, there is Smith’s pointer to the possibility of parochialism in neglecting all voices from elsewhere. The point here is not that voices and views from elsewhere have to be taken into account just because they exist – they may be there but entirely uncompelling and irrelevant – but that objectively demands serious scrutiny and taking note of different viewpoints from elsewhere, reflecting the influence of other empirical experiences. A different viewpoint poses a question and even if in many cases the question may merit dismissal after adequate consideration, that need not always be the case. If we live in a world of fixed beliefs and specific practices, parochialism may be an unrecognized and unquestioned result. Considering the views of others and the reasoning behind them can be an effective way of determining what objectivity demands.
The actions of one country can seriously influence lives elsewhere
The actions of people in Australia, the United States and the European Union, people who regularly benefit from the exploitation of the indigenous peoples of West Papua via the international trade in West Papua’s natural resources, seriously and adversely influence the lives of every indigenous West Papuan. If we see fit to adversely influence the lives of every indigenous West Papuan, is it not only fair and just that we simultaneously give these people a voice in in determining what is considered just or unjust in our own societies, societies that after all directly benefit from their exploitation.
If justice, moral as well as legal, extends beyond national boundaries, then surely those of us, that is all of us in Australia, the United States and the European Union who benefit from the “millions of hectares of Papuan lands [that] have been plundered by the Indonesian government and handed over to foreign companies and trans-migrants…” own an ethical, legal and moral obligation to the rightful owners of those plundered resources – the indigenous peoples of West Papua. If that obligation is indeed owed, which I believe it must, then Australia, the United States and the European Union have a responsibility to ensure that the Jayapura Five are provided with all the legal and political help at the disposal of the beneficiaries of the “millions of hectares of Papuan lands [that] have been plundered by the Indonesian government and handed over to foreign companies and trans-migrants…”
In essence, an, assessment of justice demands engagement with the ‘eyes of mankind’, first because we must variously identify with others elsewhere and not just with our local community; second, because our choices and actions may affect the lives of others far as well as near; and third, because what they see from their respective perspectives and history and geography may help us to overcome our own parochialism.
The Demon said to the swordsman, “Fundamentally, man’s mind is without good. It is simply that from the moment he has life, he is always being brought up with perversity. Thus having no idea that he has gotten used to being soaked in it, he harms his self-nature and falls into evil. Human desire is the root of all perversity.”
Issai Chozanshi – The Demon’s Sermon On The Martial Arts
 Sen, A Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny, Penguin 2006