Monday, March 27, 2006

This way up

The most endearing feauture of the Melbourne Commonwealth Games was the closing ceremony. It wasn't the usual line-up of clichés about "even though we wiped out the indigenous community, we're now amicably multicultural" that caught my attention. Nor was it grating cat squeals masquerading as "the best of Aussie music" that pricked my ears. Rather, it was the upside down globe of the world displayed, with Australia at the top, and Europe and North America at the bottom. It reminded me that I still want one these maps on my wall.

I first came across the concept of the upside-down map in 2003, when reading an article by world renowned arch-atheist humanist to the point of religiosity, Richard Dawkins. He was quoting a science-fiction novel where one of the voyaging astronauts said, "Just to think, it's springtime back on Earth!" This, he posited, was a parochial arrogance about one's part of the world being not just the centre of the universe, but the universe itself. Of course it wouldn't be spring for people who lived in a different hemisphere. The term would even be an alien concept for people who lived in the Tropics where there are only wet and and dry seasons.

In the distant unforeseeable future when I have little sprogs gnawing at my ankles and being sick on my expensive Savile Row tailored suit, I'll put up one of these maps in their rooms. Hopefully, they'll grow up with an inquisitive mind, not soaking in orthodoxies like a rancid sponge. An upside-down map lets the world know that not everything is absolute, but that many things are constructs of man. And these constructs become conventions, which in turn become gospel. We accept things as they are and ask no questions.

For as long as European explorers have "discovered" other parts of the planet, Europe has been atop the map of the world. These explorers had gone "south" to the dark continent, and the East Indies via the Cape of Good Hope. As far as the were concerned, they were going to the bottom of the world. These conventions have stuck, and we now all have to abide by them. If you fly planes for a living, or captain trawlers, it might be a good idea not to rebel against the status quo just yet. I doubt your passengers will accept "challenging orthodoxies" as a valid excuse for flying them to Andes, instead of the Rockies. But be aware, be very aware.

ps People in Britain should watch Dispatches on Channel 4 this evening. Sorious Samura becomes an "illegal alien" in Living with Illegals. Guaranteed to be harrowing viewing.

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