In their
own words

Listen then take a closer look
Weaving past and present

A rich experience of yarning

This first Yarn brings together Indigenous thinkers from Australia and Wales. We find a wonderful weaving of ideas and lightness in the ways each starting point is explored and the conversation shifts. We offer here a full transcript with time stamps for different sections to follow up with additional materials (our last web page) so you can learn more. Get the sense of the territory our yarners explore by following the quotations or diving into the text.

0:00:00 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Yo. So we’re beginning. This is the start. Hello, beautiful people. The start of our little webinar series. Some cross-cultural yarnings, across from Indigenous Australia to Indigenous Wales. Yeah. You fellows want to jump in? Say who you are and what we’re doing? It shouldn’t all just rest on my side. I don’t know you. You got to talk up, go.

0:00:31 Chels Marshall:

Hi. I’m Chels Marshall. I am situated on Country, up in Gumbaynggirr Country, on the Northeast of Australia, northeast coast. Yeah. And I’m looking forward to the chats and yarns today and the listening.

0:00:56 Beth Smith:

Bore da. Good morning. I’m Beth. I’m from Wales, and I’m from South Wales. And that will have some particular bearings on things, as I’m sure Dave will do the comparison with his North Walian heritage. And yeah, looking forward to talking to you a little bit more about our culture and the way we see things and how that entangles with complexity theory.

It's the sense of being rooted in many paths, which profoundly influence who you are, but also, are constantly changing.

0:01:19 Dave Snowden:

I think probably one of the things I’m known for is saying that complexity isn’t just about mathematical modeling and computing. It’s about people and people interactions. And I think Tyson knows this, but Chels doesn’t. A lot of this original work came from work I did on land rights in Darwin, back in the seventies, which was a really scary experience. So, that link between different knowledge bases is important. And the word Cynefin which I just mentioned now, means in Welsh “the place of your multiple belongings.” It’s the sense of being rooted in many paths, which profoundly influence who you are, but also, are constantly changing. So you can never go back. Yeah. You have to live with where you are. And that was the sort of word I chose to describe what we did. So that’s my.

0:02:13 Tyson Yunkaporta:

So what’s your Cynefin there, that’s in North Wales?

0:02:18 Dave Snowden:

Actually that’s… I mean, you said I had to tell the Welsh joke. It’s less a Welsh joke. It’s more a sort of scary story. I think there are two things about being Welsh, right? One is, yes, I grew up in North Wales. So the mountains of North Wales is where I spent my childhood. And every now and then I forget to give them their respect. So I’ve had eight stitches and two broken ribs and almost died on Tryfan. But I know they’ll never kill me. They’re just teaching me a lesson, to show them the respect the next time. But it was an interesting childhood, because my mother was South Walian like Beth. She came from Cardiff Docks. In fact, she was born above a whorehouse in Cardiff Docks and forged her way out through education.

You’ve got to understand it about the Welsh. We have to find out where you belong.

0:03:03 Dave Snowden:

Studied German in Germany in 1947 and had to wear a passport around the neck so she wouldn’t get raped by British and American soldiers. And then she taught in North Wales where I grew up, and the South Walians don’t like North Walians. We’re deeply tribal. But she took me back to Cardiff every holiday. So I really thought I was a South Walian. But I also lived in Northwest Wales. And everybody in Northwest Wales thinks everybody in Northeast Wales are really Liverpudlians. So this living in different communities, none of which respect you is kind of like a part of that. And I remember once being in the States, and we were working on counterterrorism, and somebody very senior in the US government said, “I found somebody else who’s Welsh working in counterterrorism.” And I remember saying, “Well, where does he come from?” And he said, “That’s what he asked about you.” And I said, “You’ve got to understand it about the Welsh. We have to find out where you belong.” You know… Are you Welsh or are you English is pretty important, right? Are you North or South? That’s important. If you’re South, are you East or West? We’ll get it down to a valley. So we have to find a way that we can have some sort of conflict with you. It’s almost built into the culture, but it’s that geographical identity which is part of it.

0:04:18 Tyson Yunkaporta:

That’s it. And that’s quite subjective. I mean, when Chels said that she’s in Gumbaynggirr land in the north, straight up I’m like, “That’s not North, that’s South.” So yeah. So my family’s located right up the top, like far North Queensland, but I’m currently three-and-a-half thousand kilometers south of there in Melbourne. And kind of sat in front of a machine that I’ve been sitting in front of all day, just moving from one blue square to the next… And look, you’re another. You’re another blue square now. I’m hoping we can-

0:05:12 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Right. Yeah, I’m hoping we can bridge that sort of… There’s a kind of dislocation that comes, this dissociative thing that happens when you’re spending too much time in front of a screen in a dark room. So anyway, I’m hoping we can bridge that and come into this science of relations that we’re all experiencing, that we’re all working in and thinking through this. Yeah, it’s a… Complexity for me is a science of relationships. It’s a method of inquiry. It’s a process of sense-making collectively in the world. And yeah, that’s something that we navigate together. So let’s begin the navigation. Protocols first for… We’ve got to share these stories and have our protocols set up. So that’s why I wanted you to share that joke, Dave, so that we could get a sort of an agenda protocol in place here as well.

0:06:17 Dave Snowden:

What a lot of people don’t realise is South Wales is a matriarchy. If you look in the mines of South Wales and the mines of North Wales, the tradition was, the husband would give his wage packet to his wife on Friday. In fact, the wives would queue up at the pitch head to collect them. And then the wives would give the beer money back to the husband. And then the wives would take the money and look after the community. And that’s a longstanding tradition. But the order of fear for the Welsh male is, you’re mildly scared of your mother. Well actually, you do what your mother says, all right? The old joke, which is, I think the one you wanted, which is a bit sexist, says a boy comes home from school to his mam and says… It’s a mam in Welsh, by the way. We don’t talk about mothers. They’re mams… And says, “I’ve been given a part in the school play.” And she says, “Oh, what is it? That’s good.” And he says, “I’m the Welsh husband.” And she says, “Go back and get a speaking part.”

0:07:17 Dave Snowden:

I like that one, right? Because it summarises it, right? So the order of fear is, your wife is a fearsome factor. Your daughter, and Beth knows my daughter, is more fearsome. You do whatever your mam says. If your grandmother is angry with you, you prostrate yourself and wait for forgiveness. And if your great-grandmother is angry with you, you leave the country and wait for permission to reenter. And that’s the sort of basic cultural thing. But that looking after the community is quite interesting.

But that looking after the community is quite interesting

So I’ll just throw something else in. There’s another tradition in Wales, which is really important. In the mines of North-

0:07:52 Tyson Yunkaporta:

You always throw something else in.

0:07:54 Dave Snowden:

Well, you do as well, though.

0:07:56 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Are you an elder? Are you an elder there or something? Because I told you-

0:7:59 Dave Snowden:


0:07:59 Tyson Yunkaporta:

You definitely talk like an elder.

0:08:00 Dave Snowden:

In the mines of North Wales, the miners built what were called CaBans in the mines. And they’d meet in those CaBans in their dinner breaks to talk about politics and religion. And they’d keep minutes. Because they refused to be treated as just mine workers. And in South Wales, the miners built educational institutes and hired in lecturers to teach them, because they wanted to be educated. And I think that issue about education, and that comes through in your book, is key. And at that point, I’ll stop adding stories to the story and shut up for a bit.

0:08:32 Tyson Yunkaporta:

That’s all good in terms of setting up our governance here, negotiating and navigating our way forward, how we’re going to do it. So what do you all think? Is South Wales coming from a matriarchy there? And Chels, I think your mob’s matrilineal. My mob’s patrilineal, but my partner is from a matrilineal mob. So… matrilineal, that’s how I live.

0:09:02 Chels Marshall:

Yeah, I know. Did we want to do the reciprocal acknowledgement for Country here in Australia and-

Tyson Yunkaporta:

Yeah, I think so. I think we should.

0:09:18 Chels Marshall:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people, we're Australia's first explorers. We're Australia's first navigators, first engineers, first farmers, first botanists, first scientists, first biochemists, first diplomats, first astronomers, and the first and finest artists.

0:10:11 Chels Marshall:

I also will broaden out and take it wider and acknowledge the Indigenous people of Australia and the Torres Strait. And just in the fact that we are spiritually and culturally connected to this Country, and the Country and the islands were crisscrossed by many, many brilliant nations and many different clan groups within those language areas. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people, we’re Australia’s first explorers. We’re Australia’s first navigators, first engineers, first farmers, first botanists, first scientists, first biochemists, first diplomats, first astronomers, and the first and finest artists.

0:11:14 Chels Marshall:

Australia, it’s an old world, and that old world has many, many stories attached to it. And we as Aboriginal people, we engraved these maps throughout the whole country and the whole continent. The earliest paintings and ceremony. We invented unique technologies that were derived from the landscape. Engineered structures, a lot of these predate things like the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge. It’s an old, old country, and our adaption and our intimate knowledge of Country enabled us to endure climate changes and catastrophic droughts and rising sea levels twice.

0:12:01 Chels Marshall:

And it’s always been a place that has needed Aboriginal people. And it always was and as always will be. Aboriginal people can intimately connect to this country. And I just wanted to acknowledge every single Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person that continues to practice and maintain and to enhance our culture on this side of the world.

We invented unique technologies that were derived from the landscape. Engineered structures, a lot of these predate things like the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge.

0:12:37 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Beth, you want to call back?

00:12:44 Beth Smith:

We don’t have anything quite so wonderfully nuanced and I suppose, ritualised as that. I think a point to start from is some of the Indigenous Welsh ways of being and knowing. I’d like to kind of acknowledge from the point of how obscured that they’ve become. And how difficult they can feel to access sometimes, particularly as a South Walian whereby my sense of Welshness is far more obscured than I imagine most people in the North. But just in recognition of kind of the culture, the forefathers, the foremothers, that kind of bring us to where we are. And hopefully Dave and I can help unpick that kind of less attacked and less shared understandings from a more kind of historical and Indigenous Welsh culture.

...some of the Indigenous Welsh ways of being and knowing. I'd like to kind of acknowledge from the point of how obscured that they've become

0:13:49 Dave Snowden:

I don’t think we lost the understanding. I think it was more, we lost the right to articulate it. So the story I always tell, which is my grandmother. I mean, this is an old… Everybody in Wales knows this story. Nobody in England knows it… Around the turn of the last century, the English decided we should be educated. Which is really very nice of them, and we should be grateful. I mean, they tell us we should be grateful, so we know that’s the case. But it had to be in English. So if my grandmother spoke Welsh, and she came from West Welsh-speaking West Wales. Her father was a gamekeeper. She had a wooden badge hung around her neck in the school, which had WN written on it, which is “Welsh Not.” And then she had to catch one of her friends speaking Welsh, at which point she could hand over the “Not.” And whoever wore the “Not” at the end of the day got thrashed by the teacher.

0:14:42 Dave Snowden:

And I still remember, whenever strangers came to the house, she put on this terrible English accent, because she thought Welsh was dirty, and she didn’t teach her children to speak Welsh. And with that, you lose the language, you lose the culture, you lose everything else. And that desire, and you see it in empires, where the desire to conform people’s culture through their language and to destroy their stories is a universal.

...she thought Welsh was dirty, and she didn't teach her children to speak Welsh. And with that, you lose the language, you lose the culture, you lose everything else

00:15:09 Dave Snowden:

Adam Price, who’s leader of the Welsh Nationalist Party, is a good friend, famously wrote a book, which said, “Wales is England’s first and hopefully last colony.” And they conquered us in the 13th century by getting us to fight against ourselves. If you look at every English war, every English invasion of Wales, they had more Welsh troops fighting for them than English troops. Because they exploited tribal differences. And they did the same in Ireland, the same in India, and elsewhere. And that ability… If you’re more concerned about your cultural dominance, you can actually break people up using their own cultural differences as a strength. And you see that all over.

0:15:54 Tyson Yunkaporta:

That’s the only way you can conquer people who’ve got mountains to go to. Otherwise, it’s just all uphill.

0:15:58 Dave Snowden:

Yeah. We survived four centuries. The English collapsed to the Normans in five years. We lasted four centuries, but ultimately…

0:16:08 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Yeah. Well, look… What strikes me about the Welsh is the narrative landscapes that you live in. And that’s something that I can really recognise and connect with. It’s the way… “And this is the mountain where the giant sat down and take off his shoes.” And it’s all there. I’m sorry about-

0:16:28 Dave Snowden:

“By Cader Idris, tempest-torn, Or Moel y Wyddfa’s glory” to quote Dylan Thomas. You have to remember all the-

Tyson Yunkaporta:

Am I allowed to do your accent? Or is that offensive?

0:16:43 Dave Snowden:

It can… We’re cautious about it. And native Welsh speakers, and I’m not one, can tell which valley somebody came from. And the other interest thing about Welsh… I’ll come back to what I think is the key theme in a minute… is the first letter of every noun changes according to the word that comes before it. And it’s actually meant so “Cymru,” which is “Welsh,” which begins with a “c”… If you say the Welsh, it becomes y Gymraeg. And it’s evolved so you can sing a sentence as a word. Which is, if you hear a native Welsh speaker, they speak so quickly because they’re singing the stuff and the words are changing. So they mutate together. And you can tell where somebody came from by the way they mutate the language, which is fascinating.

There are words in Welsh which mean things you can't translate into English. So Cynefin is one. And it's a land-rooted thing.

0:17:08 Dave Snowden:

But I think the big thing also is this concept. There are a whole bunch of words. I mentioned Cynefin as one, all right? Hierath is another, all right? And Beth knows more than I do on that matter. There are words in Welsh which mean things you can’t translate into English. So Cynefin is one. And it’s a land-rooted thing. One of the other interesting ways Cynefin is used is the sheep in Wales pass on to their lambs the boundaries of the land. So we don’t need boundaries, because the sheep know the boundaries. That’s one of the other uses of Cynefin, because it’s this rootedness concept in the terms of the way things work.

0:18.09 Dave Snowden:

So I think that ability of a language to convey concepts is key. And when I got into knowledge management, we worked heavily in narrative-based knowledge. And some of the things we’re trying to do, for example, with SenseMaker in software is to recreate the oral tradition. Because the oral tradition is a living story. It changes as it’s told. And one of the worst things that happened in Europe is, the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson wrote the stories down. So they actually stopped evolving by being told around the campfires. And this concept of narrative weaving a continuous metaphor between people I think is something we’ve lost.

0:18:51 Beth Smith:

There’s a particular saying that always feels really resonant with me, which is “dod yn ôl at fy nghoed” , which means “to return to my trees.” And that is to, in modern, kind of positivist terms, to be in good mental health. But the poetic nature of that language and what it means, and its rootedness to the land feels totally different. And I don’t know how that resonates outside of somebody from a Welsh context. But to return to your trees, to be in your origin, to be at one with your environment, is to be well. I’m sure that probably translates across, I imagine, nearly all Indigenous cultures in terms of the groundedness of understanding and being at one.

That way to store information and knowledge, embedded with people and landscape. It's pretty cool.

0:19:53 Chels Marshall:

Yeah. And that’s beautiful. That’s such a nice, what do I call it? Like a proverb or a word of wisdom. It’s beautiful. And I’ve had a conversation with Tyson before about that, the oral knowledge and that handing down and the place and the situation of where that takes place. And it somewhat is this thing that collapses time and space, because of that nature of it being stored, and often you have friends refer it to, it’s like, Aboriginal people or Indigenous people invented the cloud. And it’s this cloud of multiple people holding multiple components of story. And then when you come together, it’s like this collective knowledge base. And it’s in that realm where that transmission and that participation throughout hundreds and hundreds of generations, then sort of collapses this time and space sort of continuum. Because I could be in that same space through my language and through my story than what my great-great-great grandmother was. And I’m still in Country, and I still see the same landscape and the same features as she did, and have that tradition that’s attached to it.

0:21:21 Chels Marshall:

It’s really beautiful. And you know, that codex of multiple people having that, and Indigenous people being the first inventors of the cloud is where this sort of all gets stored. And if something happens to one clan or one mob, or happens to someone else and you know, or they move on or pass on the story, because it’s held with multiple people, it still contains or keeps its holisticness. And then that holisticness, the identifier is, those features that are in the landscape, like the mountain, tree, et cetera. It’s a very, I would call it simplistic, but some would call it complex. That way to store information and knowledge, embedded with people and landscape. It’s pretty cool.

0:22:19 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Yeah. And so many different modalities. And… But also being held by so many different entities in the landscape, human and non-human. It is, I don’t know what you’d call it, like a distributed autonomous organization or something like that.

0:22:36 Dave Snowden:

I think it links with the identity issue. So-

0:22:38 Tyson Yunkaporta:

It’s there and it’s beautiful.

0:22:42 Dave Snowden:

Wales has a strong tradition of music and poetry. In fact, if you don’t know, Shakespeare’s grandmother was Welsh, and he brought 700 words from Welsh into English, because they said things for him.

0:22:55 Tyson Yunkaporta:

But they passed. He passed for English, didn’t he?

0:23:31 Dave Snowden:

The Welsh started what is called the Eisteddfod, which is in schools as well as nationwide. And essentially everybody comes together and sings songs and recites poetry and competes in public debate. And that’s one of the ways the tradition is maintained. So every year in school we had a nice effort. And you know, I had status as captain of rugby, but I also had status as winner of the debating team. It was considered equally important to be able to speak within your peers as to play on the field. And I think that concept… The poetry allows you to convey things which you can’t convey through simple text, but they’ve got to be told or spoke within communities. And again, I think those “coming together” traditions are really important.

0:23:45 Tyson Yunkaporta:

So to what extent are those songs and stories maps as well? Dave, I wouldn’t mind getting into at some stage. Not necessarily straight away, but-

0:23:55 Dave Snowden:

I think they indicate pathway. It’s… Sorry. We’ll get a philosophical. I think poetry is what Deleuze called a line of flight. It’s a way out of where you are at the moment. What a metaphor allows you to do is to escape from a pattern of meaning by seeing things from a different perspective. I mean, one of the projects Beth and I have just finished for the European Union is using metaphor and art as a way for people to interpret their narratives. Because if you go into an abstraction, you see things differently, and you can’t see things differently if you just stay in the text. You’ve got to move up.

0:24:32 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Well, that’s what ritual is. Yeah. It’s translating those things into metaphors and working with those metaphors in that abstract space, I guess would be one way of seeing it. Country, and just in case people are listening from around the world, Chels and I keep referring to Country and that we’re acknowledging Country, which is an ongoing process through, when you meet with people like this from other Country, it’s not just a paragraph at the start and then you get on with your business, it’s something that you keep coming back to right the way through. And Country it’s the Aboriginal English term other we’ve arrived at, it’s sort of like a capital C and it doesn’t have any articles in front of it, like it’s not our country or the country, it’s Country. We are on Country, we’re acknowledging Country.

So the idea of Country, there's a lot of layers to that, that you have all of your patterns of being, all of your governance structures, your economic structures, everything else is patterned within a landscape and is coming from Country.

0:25:25 Tyson Yunkaporta:

In our traditional languages it’s usually there would be not just one word, it’s usually a few words that sort of describes that. So how I’m thinking of it in my head is translates as our place. But then the word for place is also the word for time, and when you talk about our place, that also means, in our way, that also means our way. So our way, our place also means our way. So the idea of Country, there’s a lot of layers to that, that you have all of your patterns of being, all of your governance structures, your economic structures, everything else is patterned within a landscape and is coming from Country. So Country is where you be, but it’s also your way of being, and those ways of being, they make sure that those laws of the land are patterning through and being expressed through all of your social structures and everything else. And I guess that’s where things get complex.

0:26:31 Dave Snowden:

This is a question on it, because when I was studying narrative, and Mary Douglas wrote a wonderful book on this, so in the Western tradition, you have Aristotle’s concept of a narrative which follows the arrow of time. You have a beginning, a middle and end that people get very upset if you don’t do that, which is why you get the perniciousness of the hero’s journey, which pervades too much of Western thinking.

0:26:56 Dave Snowden:

You then get ring form stories, which are the Arabic form in which the meaning is in the middle of the story, and the story builds and then reverses. And if the Old Testament is actually written as a ring form story, so the meaning is completely different from the way people interpret it, because the lesson is in the middle of the story, it’s not at the end. But every time I talk with anybody, any Indigenous storyteller, it was like the stories never finished. There were times when I said, I remember saying to Auntie Beryl, “Is a story more real than reality?” And it was the only time she thought before she answered something, and she said, “Probably yes, because the story is the meaning.”

0:27:37 Tyson Yunkaporta:

This is Auntie Beryl, Beryl Carmichael from Menindee

0:27:46 Tyson Yunkaporta:

… yeah. she stays out there near Broken Hill.

Dave Snowden:

Wonderful woman.

0:27:50 Dave Snowden:

But I think that was interesting too, it was almost like that there was an… And this is the complexity concept of entanglement, right? You can’t disentangle stories from metaphors, from people from land, I don’t think. And I think that’s what complexity is about. If you take a reductionist approach, you’re always trying to disentangle things and put things in taxonomies. So I keep emphasizing, we deal with typologies, not taxonomies. And typologies are like your metaphor of the hand. You look at the hand, so you see things from different perspectives, and that’s not a Neo-platonist concept. You’re not saying there’s something more real behind the shadows on the wall, but you’re saying, “I have to look at things through different perspectives to understand them.” But that doesn’t mean those perspectives are categories. And I think that’s one of the key things in terms of how do you make this sort of entanglement work for humans?

Gabrielle Garcia Marquez, and that's the idea that interpretation through realities and patterns that are not our own, only serve us to make us kind of more unknown, less free, and more solitary.

0:28:43 Beth Smith:

There’s something for me to be drawn from the work of Gabrielle Garcia Marquez, and that’s the idea that interpretation through realities and patterns that are not our own, only serve us to make us kind of more unknown, less free, and more solitary. It’s actually by putting an Indigenous understanding or taking people out of their own Indigenous understanding is deeply un-liberating, as much as people believe it to be giving people power. That English gave us that English language and we can communicate with probably the biggest chunk of the world in comparison to our tiny, less than a million people who speak our native Welsh language. But those words don’t do justice to how you feel from the inside. There are words in our Welsh language, the patterns of thinking that just cannot be given justice, even through the most poetic interpretations into English language. And I did see the word hiraeth in the chat.

Tyson Yunkaporta:

How the hell do you translate hiraeth?

0:30:02 Dave Snowden:

You can’t translate it.

0:30:02 Beth Smith:

The common understanding of it is a sense of home sickness for a place that’s no longer, or might have never even been. And I think for me that the bit that feels interesting here is that we know that something’s been taken and obscured, and we can feel it, but we can’t find the language to do it justice. And I think again, that comes back to this idea of the Welsh Not having language and articulation removed or obscured. But passing of time, and kind of understand that within kind of Australian Indigenous culture, you first got introduced to the English a lot more recently than we did. And there’s a sense to which we-

There are words in our Welsh language, the patterns of thinking that just cannot be given justice, even through the most poetic interpretations into English language.

0:30:53 Dave Snowden:

If you had come for some advice, we could have told you what they were doing.

0:30:56 Tyson Yunkaporta:


0:30:57 Beth Smith:

A sense of a assimilation on our part, or it feels like such a dim and distant history that it’s very difficult to dig up and somewhat traumatic when you start to do it, given that we’ve benefited so much from assimilating to our own oppressor, in a sense, and to an extent done it to other people.

0:31:23 Tyson Yunkaporta:

And a lot of that comes back to whether or not you’re in agreement with those categories that Dave was talking about. Whether you start to see different perspectives as categories and taxonomies and all these sorts of things. One of the earlier pseudosciences, and we’re going to look up all those old documents, when the pseudoscience of race was being developed, you see all the original sketches, measuring skulls and with these horrible caricatures of faces, and this is the Welsh race, I’ve seen the sketches, is this the Cockney race here and there … you got these beady little eyes, and then you got the Welsh race. And they’re like, whoa.

0:32:05 Dave Snowden:

And it’s worse than that Tyson, they invented a national costume for us in the 19th century. They invented a national costume, so we could dress in it.

0:32:16 Tyson Yunkaporta:

I shouldn’t be laughing at your pain, but-

0:32:18 Dave Snowden:

It’s, it’s its kind of its just crazy that sort of stuff.

0:32:23 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Yeah. We get, we get cultures, culture invented for us and then we have to reproduce that back for that, for that Anglo gaze, it’s, it is very hard.

0:32:34 Dave Snowden:

The identity these days. What facet I mean, we are doing some work in Europe, I mean it was in Bruges, right? Europe is still culturally organised on a Westfalia model. Yeah. The nation state has been imposed on it, but the language doc is not Paris. You know, where, where Beth is now in house and all, yeah. Artus is not Copenhagen. Pressure is not saviour.

...this concept of the ability of an artifact to intertwine itself also with human experience is again, and I think it's one of the real problems is eugenics lives today

0:32:58 Dave Snowden:

So there’s natural groupings of people with that shared history in that shared land still persist, yeah. Over multiple generations in terms of the way it works. Don’t lose that. I think. And there is this it’s one of reasons I find epigenetics fascinating because it gives us a biological explanation of cultural inheritance and it basically says identity isn’t just about genes. Yeah. Identity is about what’s activated or not activated in your body and other people’s bodies by the culture and the interactions you have. And I think, I think that’s happening and what’s coming out of epigenetics is fascinating. And one of the things I love in your book is a concept of the fishing boomerang. I’ve been using that ever since I got the book because the boomerang handles refraction of light. I hadn’t realised that until you said it, but if you use the boomerang properly, it corrects for the refraction of light. Now we also know from material engagement theory, that tools change cognitive functions.

0:33:58 Dave Snowden:

Yeah. So we didn’t develop the concept of abstract number until the Sumerians invented counting tablets. So this concept of the ability of an artifact to intertwine itself also with human experience is again, and I think it’s one of the real problems is eugenics lives today in adult maturity models in organizations. This is a big thing I’m talking about in the moment, the attempt to impose a step change maturity in which only in the enlightenment at the highest stage and everybody else has to be led to it is a modern, basic, standard eugenics. So this idea of something being superior to something else is a terribly pernicious culture. It manifests itself in different ways.

...it means the tools didn't just embed the knowledge, they embedded the ability to teach the knowledge.

0:34:41 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Well, look it, the fishing boomerang thing, I have to tell you, I’ve never told anyone about that, actually. So this is a scoop. This is exclusive. But this, where did I get that knowledge from about the refraction of the light? Where, where did get that knowledge about that fishing boomerang from? I didn’t, I actually didn’t get it from story and it wasn’t passed to me from an old person. It was in, it was communicated through the affordance of the tool itself, you know? So the angle, the angle that I had to make that tool on, and that will was taught to me that… I was, you know, I’m standing at the water using it and I’m going, why is it that angle? You know, when my hand is holding it and my eye is led across, across that angle there. And I notice that if I line up this one with that one that I can, I can, I can throw, I can throw exactly where I need to throw it to hit the fish without having to calculate the light reflection, refraction in the water. You know? So it was even that knowledge was in the object and in my haptic relation with it was an affordance that was built into the peculiar angle of that, of that instrument. And I think that’s great, because it comes back to what Chels was saying before about all the different modalities and the way knowledge is distributed in our Indigenous knowledge systems is quite, I mean it’s just, it’s a beautiful thing.

0:36:14 Dave Snowden:

As well. I mean, Anne Pendleton-Julian and I came up with this concept of what we call dark scaffolding. Yeah. I, if you want to look at an extreme sport, it takes 20 or 30 years for the scaffolding to emerge because it’s a mixture of practice and technology and experience, you can’t just design it overnight.

0:36:35 Dave Snowden:

Now at sixty-seven if I want to carry on walking on hills, I have to pay, I spend more money on my body than I do on my car. Right. I’ve got no cartilage under my knees going out for a walk involves strapping physio tape all over them to keep the patella off the knee cap. But what’s fascinating is if you look at boot technology and if you look at track and pull technology, it’s evolved so it makes you stand in the right way. Mm. You actually don’t have to know it, but it makes you stand in the right way. And I think it’s that ability of humans, but it’s an evolutionary process. It can’t be done overnight. It takes time because it’s this mixture of experience. But I fascinated that’s how you learn to use it because it means the tools didn’t just embed the knowledge, they embedded the ability to teach the knowledge.

0:37:21 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Yeah. Chels, what, what, what were you bringing there?

0:37:25 Chels Marshall:

Oh, I was just going touch on that whole thing of cognitive manipulation from dominant paradigms and how it’s real. It’s a really interesting dynamic when you know, you start to talk to people about why there’s there are different perspectives and world views on some, on certain things. And one of them, what I’m working with a lot at the moment is introducing Indigenous knowledge paradigms as a tool. So even referring to it as a tool to help alleviate or build resilience in adaptation in the face of climate change. So, using that paradigm as a tool and labeling it as a tool, so people then can understand that, okay, it’s a tool that means that we can adapt ourselves to be able to use it and apply it.

0:38:23 Chels Marshall:

And especially in the realm of sustainability and sustainable development. So putting that Indigenous ideology on top of that to go beyond what we all know is sustainable, which is obviously not an Indigenous derived term either. But it’s moving beyond to that point of actually becoming nature and becoming that place and that role within nature as a human.

0:38:54 Chels Marshall:

And I know you and I’ve talked about that before Tyson and I just found it really interesting, Dave, that you talk about these, these changes in, and the referral to a tool. And it was just really interesting that if people will start to acknowledge and see it. And it’s essentially a mechanism or a tool that enables you to be able to then adapt or to change that cognitive behaviour or those, those inbuilt, I suppose, and embedded ideologies that you learn from a child or by learnt behaviour and whatnot. A lot of people find it difficult. And I think if you start to sort of delve into that whole system’s approach and see it as that, it makes it a bit easier to understand. I think.

0:39:56 Dave Snowden:

I think it’s to live and inherited thing as well. I mean, I learned-

0:39:59 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Well, it’s a essentially a psycho technology.

I learned carpentry by building boats with my father…. And that built patterns into my hands and the tools.

0:40:05 Dave Snowden:

Yeah. But I mean, I learned carpentry by building boats with my father. He never taught me carpentry. I just assisted, after five years, I was allowed to actually cut something without him watching me. Yeah. And that built patterns into my hands and the tools. Yeah. And it was one of the metaphors I famously used. You know, if a tool, if you pick up a tool and it fits your hand, it’s a tool. If you have to bio-reengineer your hand to fit the tool, something’s going wrong. And if you have to change your brain to you use that tool, which is a problem with a lot of the things like blockchain and hollow chain, and these computer media forms of interaction, is they require us to, it’s not a co-evolutionary process. It’s an imposition attempt to put into the wrong sort of frame.

0:40:04 Dave Snowden:

And I think that apprenticeship is key, right? There’s so many things we can only learn by doing and watching, we can’t learn them otherwise. It’s just not the same thing. And by making lots and lots of mistakes, I mean, the whole point about the apprentice model is you constantly excuse the language, fuck things up. And that is a key part of the whole process of learning. It’s those micro failures in the controlled environment to which you really learn. And that’s one of the other things story does. Story teaches us about the failures of our ancestors. So we learn to avoid them. And if you destroy that tradition, you destroy the ability to learn.

0:41:28 Tyson Yunkaporta:

You need those coarse retails.

0:41:30 Beth Smith:

I’m really interested in kind of digging a bit more into the idea of trans generational sharing and mutation and adaptation of knowledge and understanding if people want to pile in on that one.

0:41:45 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Mm. Well, I think that’s, I mean, there is an idea. There’s an idea that a culture learns and develops knowledge over many generations, through trial and error. And I’ve never been really one to go in for that sort of evolution kind of theory of cultures. But mostly because of our particular cultural disposition here is that we don’t do trial and error. We have a mechanism to prevent that. But that is not good pedagogy. And that is not a good method of inquiry either at all. Not if you want to survive for longer than 500 years or so. Look, trial and error for us, the mechanism that prevents us from doing that is shame.

You can't learn, you can't master an activity, a skill or any knowledge at all until you can completely inhabit the ontology of the person who knows that.

0:42:33 Tyson Yunkaporta:

So we have that there in our cultures, you are not allowed to mess things up like you can’t… The first time you do something, you have to do it perfectly. And so that forces you into a pedagogy with the master, you might call it. But it’s a bit different. Just give us a minute, Dave, let me get through this one. It’s a very important pedagogy here. It’s very important, because it’s the purpose for story. It’s the purpose for everything. You can’t learn, you can’t master an activity, a skill or any knowledge at all until you can completely inhabit the ontology of the person who knows that. And when you inhabit that ontology then, and you are observing how they do it, then the first time you do it, you will do it perfectly. And you’re expected to do it perfectly the first time.

0:43:36 Tyson Yunkaporta:

And inquiry sort of follows that same way. It means being able to inhabit the ontology of human and non human entities within a system, completely inhabit that ontology and be able to develop almost a theory of mind of that place or that system that you’re coming into and you’re trying to learn about, or inquire about. You need to be able to do that. And that is what story does as a psycho technology. Story is the tool that allows you to inhabit the ontology of a system in our way. So that’s a long way around for saying why we don’t have trial and error sort of baked in as a method of inquiry into our culture.

0:44:10 Dave Snowden:

I wasn’t talking about trial and error. And shame is common, right? The shame I would feel if I couldn’t do the work on the boat right from my father was a main driver. Right? so I wasn’t allowed to execute something permanently until I could do it perfectly, but it was small, micro failures that mattered. It was having the test piece. If you look at Campag, so the famous Italian firm, Campag, so they produce, they produce some of the most beautiful cycle equipment You can get. It’s much nicer than Shimano. And the apprentices end up producing their own task piece, their own machine, which is perfect. So they’re not actually, they don’t finish their apprenticeship until they can do something perfectly. And they’re allowed space behind that. It’s not trial and error. That’s, that’s learning by doing. Right. And it is a different sort of process, I think. Right.

0:45:07 Tyson Yunkaporta:

There’s a distinction. Yeah. There is a distinction. Chels, what do you think about the distinction there before we move into that? How cultures learn, how generations learn?

0:45:19 Chels Marshall:

I was just going to add in there, Tyson. Yeah. At the end, while you’re talking that you here on Gumbaynggirr Country, we actually have a story that explains exactly that and the whole shame mechanism and doing things right the first time. It is a story about the emu and the platypus. And you know, the two boys, two young boys, they were ready to show the clan and the group that they were about to become men and yeah. That they could go out and do stuff because they’ve had these years and years of learning and observing and listening. And, but one thing that they then did was they let the ego come in, and then they started telling everyone how awesome they were at going to collect fish. And that when they come back from collecting fish, yeah, mate, they’re going to feed the village … and feed the clan and feed everyone. And then they went out and then, lo and behold Murphy’s law, they, they didn’t catch a thing. And then that they were so shame. So embarrassed, so shame that, one started running and running and running and just did not stop running and eventually turned into the emu. And then the other one dived into the water. And he kept swimming and swimming and turned into the platypus and never to return back to the clan because they were so shame. Yeah. And that’s something we use with our cousins, we’ll just look at them and go “emu and platypus” like a code word. Yeah.

0:46:54 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Always emu, always emu with the narcissism every time.

0:46:59 Dave Snowden:

Western Canada, does something similar. If you’ve ever read Rudyard, I mean, Rudyard Kipling writes beautifully. Okay. He’s a poet. But he writes the Just So stories and he talks about how the armadillo was made. Yeah. In which the tortoise and the hedgehog become a new creature to protect themselves from the painted Jaguar. And those stories tell you more about humans than any other stories because they allow that sort of displacement.

0:47:31 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Hmm. Well, I don’t like Kipling much because I’ve never kippled. Hey, but he…those Just So stories were really, they were a technology that was whether we wanted that or not. That was a technology that was deployed a narrative technology that was deployed to pretty much ruin a lot of our lore in Australia. The Just So stories, all of our, well, all of, all of our dreaming stories were rewritten as children’s fables of that.

0:47:59 Tyson Yunkaporta:

All of our dreaming stories were rewritten as children’s fables and that is “how the kangaroo got its tail” and it… And that very much the old people were happy enough for that to happen because that kind of provided a buffer, a protective membrane around our culture so that people would run up against that and just encounter this childish, childlike lore and then take that away. And then that would prevent them from coming in deeper and taking the actual knowledge. So, you know-

0:48:30 Dave Snowden:

He’s only got one story about Australia, right? Sorry. His childhood. Yeah. There’s one story about Australia. Yeah. I take the point.

0:48:38 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Yeah. Oh, he didn’t write those, but it… they were copied for that. Sorry, Chels.

0:48:49 Beth Smith:

There’s a point. Oh, sorry, Chels.

0:48:49 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Oh, sorry. Beth. No, sorry. I’m half blind. I can’t see.

There’s another wonderful Welsh word…ceidwad, which means to be the keeper of the memory…. It's the person whose role within a tribe or a group is to be the one that brings a bit of history with them.

0:48:50 Beth Smith:

Yeah. Yeah. The point I know that we kind of planted the seed about talking about scale here and that this kind of seems to lend itself to… if we can’t ossify and write things down because it takes away the living aspect of something, how do we scale or how do we do things on a far bigger, more diffuse level without doing that. And there’s another wonderful Welsh word beginning with C, which is called ceidwad, which means to be the keeper of the memory. The historian doesn’t do it justice. It’s the person whose role within a tribe or a group is to be the one that brings a bit of history with them. And actually how in a modern world do we become multiple ceidwad because one person’s history nowadays is probably far more different to another’s. Whereas when we were living in smaller groups, we probably had much more common shared history and we could have a nominated one. And how do we decentralise this to more of a systematic, and as you’ve mentioned, kind of embodied way in order to scale some of these ways of knowing and understanding without it becoming overly constrained by one individual’s understanding.

0:50:10 Tyson Yunkaporta:


0:50:10 Beth Smith:

Or to be ossified in writing and unable to adapt and change.

0:50:25 Chels Marshall:

Example, or an example here is the use of kin or species. And those species then become that foundation of connection between different clans or different mobs and then through the knowledge system and the family, matriarchal, whether it’s through whatever lineage you’re coming from, then that also spreads through as well. And it could be, for instance, my totem or my family’s totem could be related or associated to another mob. So, using those totems as those connecting variables and through landscape, and those systems within the landscape, it’s… And then you start to understand the patterns between people and Country. It’s complex when you start trying to break it down for many Aboriginal people, it comes like naturally, and it’s part of that inherent inbuilt knowing of place and where you are and where you’re going. You know, if you’re going to someone else’s Country you’ll know that this is like a kangaroo mob, for instance, and then that then sort of dictates and enhances your behaviour while you’re in that Country. It’s an interesting process of sharing, knowing.

0:52:12 Tyson Yunkaporta:

It’s never one person, aye.

0:52:14 Chels Marshall:

No, and the interconnection… And it’s through these multiple variables and not just through people or oral exchange, it’s through many, many factors that… And a lot of them do derive from the landscape, which-

0:52:31 Tyson Yunkaporta:

And so you are… So if you are keeping Platypus story, if you hold that story, it’s like everybody holds different stories and different knowledge and knowledge of different totemic systems that reflect different symbioses, in the landscape and in the ecosystem as well. And so it kind of… You end up with your society sort of following the same pattern as that ecosystem, and the knowledge is distributed, and it’s constantly moving as well, and being exchanged, people will approach you when… If they want to go to that Platypus place, or if they need to know something about it, et cetera, et cetera. Now how it scales beyond that, is that those… That forms the clans and your kinship system, which determines who you can marry and which sort of groups you belong to. And Totemic kind of… your meat on your totem and all that sort of stuff.

0:53:25 Tyson Yunkaporta:

So that patent exists at the local level, but it’s also at the non-local level. So when you go up to this other Country, you go north a bit up here, then that… you know where you’ll fit in there, because it’s the same kinship system, same pattern. So you go talk to other Platypus people there, and then they’ll bring you in the right way into that place. And so it scales on that same pattern. It’s able to scale up from the local, to the regional, to the very much larger groups and then even continental and beyond. So, I guess that’s the way it scales. It’s in that fractal pattern where that pattern of the kinship system at the local level is then scaled up fractally in every order of magnitude, as you move through larger system.

0:54:21 Dave Snowden:

Sorry, sorry guys. I was just going to say, the reason it can do that is the primary identity isn’t the individual, the primary identity is the kinship group of the clan and that’s one of the great divides. I mean, one of the big negative things that the reformation in Europe was to assert the primacy of the individual over the collective, and then priests become people of power because they enforce doctrine. Before that, they’re were community reconcilers, they were hegemony, right? And I think that’s one of the key things, all right? Certainly, if you’re Welsh, Scottish or Irish, your identity is your family, your clan, your Glen. It’s not you as an individual, and not formed by your individual self-interest. And I think that fractal identity can’t work and it can’t scale if you focus on individuals and assembling individuals.

0:55:14 Dave Snowden:

I mean, just to throw something else into this, all right. Terry Eagleton is a long term friend, we both edited a Catholic Marxist journal together in the seventies, which shows our Providence, right? He wrote a lovely book called Hope Without Optimism, and another book called Radical Sacrifice. Now, clans can sacrifice, individuals can’t. And that’s one of the big problems with global warming. You know, we have to have hope without optimism. We have to be able to make sacrifices. If everything is about the individual, neither of those are possible.

And it's this identity. You have to feel part of the land, not own the land in order to want to preserve it. Yeah? And you have to feel part of the tribe to preserve the tribe, not to see the tribe as just a mechanism by which you survive as an individual

0:55:51 Dave Snowden:

Yeah. And that’s the switch. It’s that… And it’s this identity. You have to feel part of the land, not own the land in order to want to preserve it. Yeah? And you have to feel part of the tribe to preserve the tribe, not to see the tribe as just a mechanism by which you survive as an individual. And I think those are some of the key switches, which are going to be needed for scaling.

0:56:14 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Maybe that’s how these systems scale through time, as well as space. Through what Beth started talking about before, which is that intergenerational continuity, which… It was a really good thing she threw in there. So, I like it. Because it gave us the other dimension of time.

0:56:37 Dave Snowden:

Cause we know grandparents taught young children and we think the… And it’s linked to brain plasticity. So, we know that roundabout puberty… I mean, we don’t see racism in kids before puberty. Puberty is where it kicks in, because you can’t afford to learn anymore, you got to exploit for the tribe. You know, if you survive to your forties or fifties, you need to go into the wisdom gang. You’re no longer physically fit enough and you will teach and share wisdom. So, what we’ve been doing, this is the work Beth and I have been doing in South Wales, is you put young people together with older people to come up with ideas. So, you’ve got two knowledge bases coming together. And I famously called it the grandparents syndrome. Grandparents will tell things to grandchildren they won’t tell to children and vice versa. Because it’s a teaching relationship, not an authority relationship.

And that concept of trans… And this thing I talked about with Auntie Beryl, which we want to do, is young Indigenous people, capturing stories from older Indigenous people, but then translating them into their lives. So, it becomes a living history immediately, right? And you can only do that on transgenerational.

0:57:50 Beth Smith:

Chels, I felt like you were burning to say something then.

...those relationships about learning and all about respect as well…a lot of the time you do have grandmothers and grandparents with younger kids

0:57:59 Chels Marshall:

So, me? Oh, I was just to say that… And I think that’s agreed. And that’s why intergenerational knowledge transfer is just so important. And it’s important for many, many reasons, but one of those is obviously those relationships about learning and all about respect as well, which is a big thing for Aboriginal people and Aboriginal communities. And a lot of the time you do have grandmothers and grandparents with younger kids and hanging out with younger kids. And that’s the environment and the situation that I was fortunate in learning a lot of things. And the protocols that come with it, also an important thing. And those protocols are things that then are embedded in your psyche and in your behaviour for the rest of your life, really.

0:59:01 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Well, you’re going to be radicalised by whatever you encounter it when you hit puberty, aren’t you? Because that plasticity that Dave was referring to as well. I don’t think racism naturally kicks in at 13, I think it’s probably more something to do with the fact that’s when everyone’s forced to read Lord of the Flies.

0:59:20 Dave Snowden:

Yeah. I don’t think it… I think it’s the affordance issue, right. It’s actually very difficult for racism to occur until after puberty. But then the brain starts to lock down based on its patterns of interactions. So, certainly when I was growing up, nobody knew which house we were in overnight. I mean, everybody was in different houses and I’m sure the parents coordinated in some way or other, but nobody worried too much, and you played on the street and you had to learn to play with people you didn’t like. Yeah. And you had to learn that survival skill.

0:59:52 Dave Snowden:

Whereas certainly my children, they got driven to homes of safe parents to play with one or two people in controlled environments. So, that ability to adjust to what you are faced with within a community is lost in that sort of fragmentation.

1:00:07 Dave Snowden:

And I mean, my mother only went to university because she was a part of a huge extended family and three of her aunts, fought her case to be allowed to take the scholarship and not just get married. If she’d just be within her family, she wouldn’t have had that cognitive and cultural diversity to give her the right.

...the other point about clans that they give... They enable cognitive sovereignty, to use one of Beth phrases, because they give you diversity of authority.

1:00:26 Dave Snowden:

And I think that’s the other point about clans that they give… They enable cognitive sovereignty, to use one of Beth phrases, because they give you diversity of authority. And if you’re just in a single family, you don’t have diversity of authority. There’s only one person in charge.

1:00:45 Chels Marshall:

It’s an interesting concept and I can only reflect on like personal experience and it’s very true that growing up, I didn’t just have one set of parents, and I tell this to my daughter all the time, I actually had three sets of parents. So, that’s six people. And yeah, you can’t butter up and manipulate six people, especially at the same time. It’s just really… It’s a hard thing to do.

1:01:14 Chels Marshall:

And I say that to my daughter. Just go with it, because if you… And it was always the thing, it just wasn’t worth getting in trouble or doing something outside of the… With your behaviour that you shouldn’t be doing because you wouldn’t get in trouble once, you get in trouble six times and then the whole community and then that factor of shame had come into it as well, the whole community. And it just sort of… It essentially… I see it as giving one the tools or giving one the ability to then be able to cope with differences in diversity, differences in mindset and differences of different paradigms, different religions, different belief systems, because you’re getting this holistic perspective and this holistic nurturing from a very, very young age. And I think it’s really important in that sense.

1:02:27 Beth Smith:

For me, I quite often refer to complexity as being in a state of perpetual middleness. So, when you’re at the start of the journey, you kind of know where you are. You can see what’s around you. When you’re at the end, you’ve got the retrospective coherence, you’ve made sense of what’s happened and you can map it all out. But when you’re in the middle, there’s way more variables. You’ve got history to contend with. You’ve got a future to worry about, and you’ve got what’s going on immediately around you right now. And I’m just kind of getting that sense of… with six parents around you, the variables that are just multiplied and how does that work with the connection to past and future as well? So, when you’ve got…

1:03:23 Dave Snowden:

If you have multiple sources of authority, you have to learn to negotiate power and use power against itself. If you live in an atomistic family, you never learn that ability. Yeah. Because you’re deferring to one authority figure. So, the only option available to you is rebellion and withdrawal. Yeah. And I think that’s, I mean, one of the things that fascinates me on some of the Maori theories of justice, is if your clan will re-accept you, you’re exempt from the legal system. Yeah. So, you have to accept the shaming of the clan in order to go in there. And I think some of those things are really important for us to pick up and take across if you know…

1:04:03 Dave Snowden:

And we know that from what we did on recidivism in prisons before, we focused on measuring the family attitude to the prisoner, not the prisoners’ motivation. Yeah. Because if the family would accept the prisoner back, we knew there probably wouldn’t be recidivism because shame took place in that collective environment. And I don’t think we do enough of that. We don’t… And this is a fractal point. We assume everything has to be universal and context free. We don’t allow context specific solutions to emerge within scaffolding. And that I think that applies to justice. It applies to legal systems.

Because the land isn't universal, humans aren't universal. Everything is context specific, not context free. And the ability to understand and use context is key to scale.

1:04:38 Dave Snowden:

It’s this enlightened myth of universality, which is important. Yeah. Because the land isn’t universal, humans aren’t universal. Everything is context specific, not context free. And the ability to understand and use context is key to scale.

1:04:57 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Yeah. It’s to have an understanding of the local in order for things to be able to scale beyond that. In fact, you need to be grounded in a lot of integrity at the local level.

1:05:14 Tyson Yunkaporta:

I think there’s a difference between authority… Sorry, we’re out of a step with our time here, so often we sound like we’re going to be speaking over each other, but we both started at the same time. But look, I think I just wanted to flag the difference between… And authority too. So like in Chels’… that system she was talking about before, the person that speaks for Platypus law and the Platypus place and the Platypus knowledge and all of the associated knowledge in that system, that person has authority, so they have knowledge of authority. And authority, speaking from that place and for that knowledge, but there’s a difference between that and power. They can’t boss anybody from that authority. You know, they have authority from there, but there are still no bosses because the power itself is still distributed throughout the entire group in the same way that the knowledge is. So, I mean… and I guess this is maybe a way we can start coming into defining terms for systems is that idea of how important it is for things to be distributed within that system, or if that’s a bit of an oversimplification.

1:06: 27 Dave Snowden:

It is one of the big things when I wrote the European Union Field Guide on managing complexity, which is just that, as I said, is, you need to realise, as you go up the management chain, you have less and less ability to make decisions, right? So the high… And you only meet angrier and angrier customers. Yeah.

1:06:48 Dave Snowden:

…but I said, there is one point where you have a major crisis, you have to make decisions. But you make decisions to keep options open. That’s the big thing we said, do not make a decision to resolve the problem, make a decision to keep options open, then distribute decision making and enforce collaboration. Yeah. Because the decision is out there somewhere, to quote that sort of thing. You have to find ways to connect it. So I think that, but this is the… I think one of the big things we got in society at the moment is the concept of authority and power have been separated. Power wasn’t an issue where people had authority and understood the limits of their authority.

1:07:25 Dave Snowden:

You lost that, it became an issue of power. And that’s one of the problems we got with false news. You know, news commentators used to have authorities, have people listen to them. Now they’ve lost authority and authority is the person you spoke to last time in Facebook. So it means nothing.

1:07:41 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Nailed it.

1:07:46 Dave Snowden:

Well, not, not completely. Cause I think one of the issues on scaling is where are the clans? Where are the kinship groups, where are the tribes in a modern world?

1:07:58 Dave Snowden:

Yeah. So one of the things I argued in Britain some time ago, and the Labour party didn’t adopt it, right, which is we should reintroduce national service. Right? So if you want to go to university, you have to serve your community for a couple of years and you can do it in the armed forces. I’m not a pacifist. I have no problem with violence as part of our lives because we got to learn to live with it, which is, by the way, a brilliant point you make in the book about trying to avoid violence is a mistake, but you can also do it by serving overseas, by going and meeting other cultures and doing things. And I was fundamentally formed in my twenties by Aboriginal land riots in Darwin, which was the most scary experience of my life, by the worker priest movement in Buenos Aires.

1:08:45 Dave Snowden:

You come back from that, you can’t take a little Englander attitude anymore. You just can’t see the world from that narrow perspective. But the point is, it was a process by which you understood something, you weren’t taught something in a school. This is coming back to an earlier point. You went through a process by which you learned to see things differently.

1:09:05 Dave Snowden:

And we’ve also lost… I mean, I’ll give my other favourite example. When I… At the age of 11 in Welsh schools, well, not anymore, every week you walk to the front of the class and you were given a card and a motion to debate. Wales has a debating tradition. We produce a lot of lawyers. So, it’s one of our… Lawyers and opera singers are two of our main exports. All right. I’m not sure what that means about us, but we do a lot of that. Right.

1:09:31 Dave Snowden:

But basically, the first time I ever did it, I had to argue for capital punishment, which I think is horrendous. But every week from 11 to 18, we had to argue for seven minutes without preparation on something we might or might not agree with. And that was a brilliant training, because you learn to see things from perspectives by going through those perspectives, not by being taught to be critical. And I think that’s what we’re lacking. And it’s like the… all of the maturity rituals that you see in Indigenous cultures, by which people have to go through on a journey to make a transition. Yet we are losing that concept of learning through journeys in favour of learning through communication of somebody else’s abstraction. So, instead of developing your own abstractions, you actually are forced to take somebody else’s. Yeah. And again, I think that’s that’s one of the key things on scale.

1:10:23 Dave Snowden:

And the other thing I really enjoyed in Darwin is you could have an argument and nobody said you’re not allowed to argue with us. It was like, okay, that’s what we do. Right. And yeah, if you can’t have an argument, nothing can happen, all right? The issue is whether you take it personally, all right?

1:10:44 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Well, let’s just-

1:10:45 Dave Snowden:

And by the way that’s a Welsh tradition, I failed to communicate that properly, that in our family, if we were polite to you, it meant we weren’t sure whether we could trust you or not. If we trust you, we’ll have an argument with you. And you have to warn people about this because everything’s fine and dandy and everybody’s being polite, and then one day they just rip into you as a stranger and you don’t realise it means they like you. So, you do have to prepare this.

1:11:11 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Well, look, we have a lot of dreaming stories on this continent that sort of carry a lot of the really interesting, a lot of really, really good knowledge about sort of the power laws and such that you find with scale and economies of scale and basically all those principles of complexity or around diversity and distributed energies and substances and resources and all of these sorts of things. So, basically we have a lot of stories that are about oversized beings. Beings that reach a massive size and start to make a mess, start to make a mess, of the place and there must be an intervention. So other beings must intervene and they have to basically do a big antitrust thing and break that one up. That one has to be broken up into lots of. So if it’s a large catfish tearing up the land in the Murray-Darling basin, codfish, sorry. If it’s a massive codfish, then those two brothers have to kill it and they have to cut it up into all the different pieces, which, and they have to become all many, many different fish species to be spread throughout the landscape and throughout the water system.

1:12:41 Tyson Yunkaporta:

...these beings have to be destroyed, broken down into many smaller parts and those resources or substances redistributed throughout the system.

If it’s like Tiddalik the Frog, who’s, drinks up all the water until he’s a massive being. And another similar story about an echidna doing that way up north. It’s always, these beings have to be destroyed, broken down into many smaller parts and those resources or substances redistributed throughout the system. We have a lot of stories like this. Do you have anything like that from your Country? I know there’s lots of giants, giant law and stuff.

1:13:15 Dave Snowden:

We don’t have many stories about giants like they do in Australia. Yeah. Well, dragons are good things in Wales, not bad things and if you go into modern storytelling, they live in the fire box of Welsh trains. I mean, that’s a beautiful set of stories about Ivor the Engine who has a dragon in his coal box and sings with his whistle in the choir, right only Wales could produce that. Now the Mabinogi is quite interesting because it’s a whole body of legends and stories. It’s very different from the Irish group. And it’s generally about knowledge discovery, so Blodeuwedd and the flowers, which is the one I love. And Alan Gardner translated that into a children’s book called The Owl Service. And we shouldn’t decry children’s stories because it’s a triangular love relationship.

1:14:04 Dave Snowden:

And every generation it’s reborn and they fight again until a generation realises you don’t. And she said she wants to be reborn as flowers, not born as owls. Yeah. And again, so those stories tend to be about those sort of change in those relationships, yeah? In where they work. But I think the size is an important one. And I think of the things I’ve been arguing for ages, which I’m finally think I’m getting across to some people is you don’t scale a complex adaptive system by imitation or aggregation. You scale it by decomposition and recombination.

…you don't scale a complex adaptive system by imitation or aggregation. You scale it by decomposition and recombination.

1:14:39 Dave Snowden:

So you have to break things up into smaller parts and allow them to recombine in different ways and facilitation that recombination is key. And that’s actually the transgenerational point again, right? Find, and this is DNA. I mean, if you look at it, the whole of organic life form comes from four chemicals in different combinations and the trouble is, people love and this is, I think, building on what you said there, and I’ve just used one of those terrible phrases I had to build on somebody else’s argument, right?

You need stability for things to be the right level of granularity, that they combine in different contexts to create something novel.

1:15:08 Dave Snowden:

But people fall in love with their aggregations. So they build bigger and bigger things, right? And then the identity becomes a problem. One of the problems we got in the UK at the moment is we got what’s called muscular unionism. So the English government are trying to say, we have to have the Union Jack above the Welsh Dragon on all Welsh buildings.

1:15:29 Dave Snowden:

Now I was brought up to call the Union Jack, the Butchers Apron, because that was its role in colonial policy. But this desire to hold the aggregate together and not allow it to decompose and recombine is a problem. And that was always my argument in Europe, you have to have something which brings finance and defense together to perform a counter to China and The States. But then within that, you need lots of small countries that can combine in different ways, not four big countries, with lots of small countries.

You need stability for things to be the right level of granularity, that they combine in different contexts to create something novel. And I think that’s the big issue on scaling and that’s a design issue. We don’t design for decomposition and recombination, we design for aggregation and imitation.

1:16:17 Tyson Yunkaporta:

What do you reckon Chels, does size matter?

1:16:24 Chels Marshall:

I find that interest thing, because we have many of those creation stories as well here. And one in particular is a giant kangaroo and yeah, and it sits in the landscape just down the road. And then, we have a giant ‘U’ where the town is actually named after the giant’s knee, which then also represents the river and changing all… I suppose, it’s almost like embedding in language as well. So the, so you’ve got it in language but then you’ve also got it visually. So you can actually, it becomes this tangible entity on the landscape and the tangibility then sort of, reminds you of the intangible component, which is that obstruction of some sort.

1:17:29 Chels Marshall:

Even The Creator that made rivers and mountains and yeah, and then made a language that is attached to the different components of the landscape is also a part of that. So this, I suppose the intent of scaling up before you scale down sort of flows in line with that as well. And then it’s part of that deconstruction and then looking at what is the nexus that’s in-built in each one of those constructs and there’d be a common thread. I can guarantee there’d be a common thread. I’ll call that.

The Creator that made rivers and mountains and yeah, and then made a language that is attached to the different components of the landscape

1:18:14 Dave Snowden:

It’s an interesting thing with imperialism though, because one of the things the English did was to impose primogeniture was to refuse the Welsh the right for primogeniture. Now, we had a tradition, right? I mean, it’s quite interesting in Wales, right? In Welsh Law of Hywel Dda, which is the sixth century, women could divorce their husbands for cruelty and take their land. Yeah. And that was given by Edward The First as an example of why the Welsh were uncivilised because we allowed women that right, right? But the laws allowed bastards to inherit. So the whole of the Welsh tradition is, somebody dies they’ve got eight or nine sons, the sons fight it out, ends up with one of them, it takes about five or six years, but actually the strongest survive. It was that sort of culture. Right?

1:19:01 Dave Snowden:

And, but the English had primogeniture so basically the king inherited to the son. So the thing became bigger and bigger and was no longer related to the ability of the person, because this thing was having power and you could never beat a culture like that with a hundred pound gorilla in the room to use that metaphor and that’s the issue. And I think this is an issue we’re all facing is how do you allow those sort of local units not to be gobbled up by the big thing? Yeah. And they say that’s in all the stories,

1:19:32 Tyson Yunkaporta:

But then it can’t go the other way, because I know that at the same time, the peasantry ended up in a bit of a pickle there in the UK as well, because they were continuously subdividing the family’s common property with each generation, they had to keep subdividing it so that all the siblings got an equal share and then subdivided and subdivided and subdivided until everyone standing on two square meters of turnip field and then they all had to move into the city. That was an oversimplification. But you’ve got to be careful that you don’t go the other way as well. The thing in common, the common problem with both of those was land as capital. I think for as long as you’ve got to land as capital, you’re going to end up with systems of perverse incentives arising and pretty much tipping over your apple cart every time.

1:20:27 Dave Snowden:

And enclosure was key on that. So if you look in South Wales, people lived in rural communities, they partly survived poverty by hunting. Yeah? And then the land got encompassed, right? And the land and the animals now belonged to the land owners. So you have to go to the city, right? To get a job, but then they lay you off if they haven’t got the job and you have to buy your goods from the company store. So they control that. So instead of having a distributed ability for sustenance within a rural community, you end up with a dependent community and industrial community. Yeah? And I say, I think that’s the thing we’re not really working on that.

1:21:04 Dave Snowden:

When this COVID is done, which is quite interesting. I mean, the village where I live now has the best baker I’ve met in my life who’s built a bakery in his garden shed and is selling bread locally and pizzas. Yeah? So you are starting to get this more distributed approach and COVID was one of the triggers for that, but we still haven’t worked out the mechanisms for it. So how can you distribute without the system becoming highly vulnerable to a big predator? Chels’s kangaroo, right? Because the trouble is if you distribute a system, yeah, and that was a problem in Wales. It was a problem in Australia. The tribes could never unite against the colonial power because they weren’t united. They were distributed. Yeah? And they weren’t focused. And I don’t think we worked that out yet.

1:21:48 Dave Snowden:

And blockchain is not the solution to this. That’s the sort of libertarian myth. We can’t do it all with technology mediation. We got to find ways in which we can create different identity structures, which have high resilience. I don’t think any of us have really worked that out yet. We can see pathways to it, but we haven’t worked it out yet.

...getting back to that Indigenous ideology is that you pretty much had to have your micro trade system and the assessment of your resources and the vulnerabilities.

1:22:07 Chels Marshall:

Yeah. I think what it, a component of it is where you look at these micro economies and as opposed to macro or global economies and getting back to that Indigenous ideology is that you pretty much had to have your micro trade system and the assessment of your resources and the vulnerabilities. And it’s almost like testing that with your neighbours. And if obviously if it’s shit, they’re going to tell you it’s shit.

1:22:43 Chels Marshall:

And, and it’s then that relationships between each that then was essentially the foundation and the formation of being able to have that closed economy or that tight economy. And then obviously that then spread further. But it wasn’t on a scale that depleted resources, because obviously there was law that was attached to how far you would go and that was law also to reproduction and it was also law attached to your movement and where you could move and go.

1:23:14 Chels Marshall:

So it’s those components, I suppose, that then you, where these, when you use economies as the, the macro economy works because they’re resilient and they’re adaptable. More so than something that’s at a larger scale. You’ve got less people, more ability to be able to maneuver them. Whereas I think as you start emulating out, you lose that ability to be able to I don’t want to say it’s not control but being able to have those relationships and those networks that are founded on similarities in resources.

1:24:04 Dave Snowden:

Now one of the things I learned in Kakadu in the Seventies, and I need to be careful here because one of the things I discovered in Broken Hill is telling white fellow stories that they repeat, which aren’t true is actually a game. And I understand that, right? So one of the things I got taught in Kakadu was gifting is not the same thing as exchange. All right? And I’ve been fascinated by that ever since, because a gift is something you give to a community to be a member of it, but it’s not a mechanism for exchange. It’s a boundary condition.

1:24:37 Dave Snowden:

And I think one of the things I’m interested in terms of economics is, is that a sustainable model? Because the minute you have a means of exchange, whether it’s money or blockchain, the person who owns the means of exchange has the real power rather than the thing it’s representing. Whereas gifting cultures don’t do that. Gifting seems to me a more localised phenomena, but I’ve never fully understand it. I just remember from a whole series of conversations in Kakadu, that seemed to be central, certainly to ways that those people organised. Yeah? Is there, wasn’t an exchange? It was an entry barrier. If you didn’t gift, you might be excluded, but the gift wasn’t then reciprocated, except in a more general sense.

1:25:18 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Well, what you’ve created is a relationship and that’s what the exchange is for. And that’s the purpose of the economy, traditional economy is to increase relatedness. So we do, here at the Indigenous Knowledge Systems Lab. So one of our founding members here is John Davis, he’s from the Bunya Mountains and so the Bunya Mountains, that’s been a site of big gatherings for lots of different tribes from, they’ll come from thousands of miles, all to come and gather in that place every three years. So it’s a site of embassy. And so there’s this concept, concept because Wanju from there that we kind of employ in the labs and he translates it as collective sensemaking. So it’s that way that we have of pretty much, and we’ve been modeling that tonight with what we’ve been doing with these two different mobs coming together and trying to do some collective sensemaking together from these very different cultures. Yeah.

1:26:38 Tyson Yunkaporta:

So that’s what we kind of, that’s what we build that on. And, but that’s also the basis for an economy and for trade, because that big keystone species, there is the Bunya tree, which fruits every three years in abundance and that’s what people come for. And that’s that mother’s milk and everything else it’s so that’s the big thing that’s traded and there’s an abundance of it. And so, and that’s what forms the basis of that economic system there.

1:27:12 Dave Snowden:

And there’s an irony here in that one of the things I’ve been trying to do is to get funding, to investigate that. Yeah. Is how can you build gifting as a microeconomic tool from which you can rebuild society? And gifting, of course, also includes the gift of the land and the gift to the land, which is the important bit.

The gift itself can't be where the value is. The value is in the relation and tracking those relations, which is what a currency is supposed to be doing.

1:27:31 Tyson Yunkaporta:

If the gift itself, isn’t the commodity. The gift itself can’t be where the value is. The value is in the relation and tracking those relations, which is what a currency is supposed to be doing. Beth, I want to hear from this matriarchy too, from Wales.

So this idea of kind of non-extractive or non-depletion type economies, which I think is again fundamental to pretty much all Indigenous cultures, as far as I'm aware, to not take more than the land can sustain.

1:27:48 Beth Smith:

A kind of metaphor that comes to mind for me and that’s the jockey’s only as fast as his horse. And that if you don’t look after the horse, you’re not going to go very fast. So this idea of kind of non-extractive or non-depletion type economies, which I think is again fundamental to pretty much all Indigenous cultures, as far as I’m aware, to not take more than the land can sustain. And I think that same thing applies to human wellbeing and the economy. That a disgruntled and un-looked after workhorse isn’t going to be a very fast horse. So yeah, recognizing we’ve got three minutes left, I’ll leave it on that.

1:28:41 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Nice. Well, Chels and Dave, you want to wrap up with some thoughts?

1:28:48 Dave Snowden:

Let me go first, then Chelsea can have the last word, which I think is probably a good thing right? In this community. I think one of the terrible things Australia and the UK are doing at the moment, it builds on that last thing, is if you want to do a university degree in something which industry wants to buy, it’s cheap. If you want to study the humanities, it’s too expensive and that’s all about, we’ll take people out to university, we’ll exhaust them for 10 years. We’ll throw them on the scrapheap and replace them. And only the elite will be allowed to understand the bigger picture. Yeah.

1:29:21 Dave Snowden:

And the UK’s going down the same route. And I think that’s one of the fundamental injustices. I come back to where I started with the CaBan of North Wales and the Workers Educational Institutes in South Wales. If you don’t allow people to be educated in things which are abstractions above the level of material need then they lose power. And that’s also where stories are common abstractions. And I think that’s what we got to address because otherwise we’re into a really bad place in the future.

…on the fringes of, and the margins of dominant society. And it's that strong intergenerational awareness of knowledge and ecological processes and change and exchange. And yeah, that essentially builds socioecological resilience and moving into the unknowns…

1:29:50 Chels Marshall:

I’ll emphasise on what Beth sort of was talking about. Just this Indigenous societies operating on those small scales and it’s all about that sustenance of livelihood. And a lot of them, and it still occurs on the fringes of, and the margins of dominant society. And it’s that strong intergenerational awareness of knowledge and ecological processes and change and exchange. And yeah, that essentially builds socioecological resilience and moving into the unknowns of climate change and the political agendas attached to that. We are in this dimension of where collectively we have the ability to shift and change paradigms and some of the ways that we operate and manoeuver in our place, in our space.

1:30:57 Chels Marshall:

And that to emulate out then to others is important. And for [foreign language] which is my place and my place in Country the first thing is about that unity with the environment and in its holistic and symbiotic nature, that culture of law that’s embedded within the environment, that then is embedded simultaneously in me. The geographic relationships that reinforces that belonging in place and with my neighbours and mobs around me and those that are connected through kin and that endurance over many generations to be able to have that intergenerational knowledge transfer and keep that continuing going through time and space.

1:31:50 Chels Marshall:

And then emerging from that is that distinctiveness around culture. And then those cultural paradigms that are attached to that, the systems of knowledge, that emerges out of that. And a lot of them are systems of knowledges in sustainability. And it’s that equity to living systems and the language attached to that equity in the living systems. I think, in my place, in my [foreign language] and Country, and within Australia, and being an Indigenous person, they’re the key things that I absolutely love about my culture and about Australian Indigenous cultural systems. I just think that they’re fantastic. And I think if these dominant paradigms sort of, through the power of people could shift and change, and we start looking at new world paradigms, I think that would make me a very contented sort of person by the end of my cycle. Yeah. In this realm.

1:33:15 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Nice. Well, it’s that big message there is that the equity is in those living systems. And I think that’s equity in every sense of the word, which is great. What a great way to start this series. Just thank you all so much. This is really good. Thanks for the wise words, Chels, and the, just the rigor that you always bring. And thanks, Beth, for just that, for adding the dimension of time to the sort of flat plane of space, that we were occupying until you brought that in, which was really good. Yeah. I think that really enriched things. And thanks of course, Dave, we’ll continue with many of these, I hope, with lots of different people coming in and yarning, I’ve just been such a big fan of your work. And I never thought I’d have a chance to speak to you, let alone do something like this. So it’s pretty remarkable. And that’s…

…that big message there is that the equity is in those living systems.

1:34:15 Dave Snowden:

Highly reciprocated, Tyson. I haven’t imagined that. So it’s been cool, but thank you for creating the session as well.

1:34:22 Dave Snowden:

Yeah. Somebody had to do that. And you took on the burden.

1:34:25 Tyson Yunkaporta:

I had very light hand, of course, because nobody boss bela me. We can’t have our bosses run around in here. That’s that’s the first protocol right there. Well, thank you all so much. It was, what a mad way to start. Absolutely beautiful and many more and many more to come.

1:34:50 Dave Snowden:

They’re all yours again. Thanks.

1:34:51 Chels Marshall:


1:34:53 Beth Smith:

Thank you. See you.

1:34:56 Tyson Yunkaporta:

Everyone say goodbye in their language.

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