In recent weeks there have been discussions about racism in Australia, particularly with respect to indigenous Australians as a consequence of the committee report on proposed changes to the constitution and then as a result of the appalling incident in Canberra where dissidents from the so-called aboriginal tent embassy confronted the prime minister and the leader of the opposition in an aggressive manner. In the aftermath of these incidents, a number of Australians who either questioned the proposed changes to the constitution or spoke out against the unseemly behaviour of the mob behaviour in Canberra have been accused of being racists. This is an unfortunate impingement on the notion of free speech. It is similar to the indignity that Salmon Rushdie has experienced in trying to speak at a writer’s festival in India. He was excluded by the Indian government trying to appease a Muslim minority. What progress can we make in the world of ideas if we silence those who have a different opinion to us? Such interventions seem to me to be instigated by those who have no confidence in their ability to argue rationally in favour of their particular belief.
Most every human problem of the mind can be linked to ego. The famous psychologist, William Glasser said, “All psychological problems, from the slightest neurosis to the deepest psychoses are symptomatic of the frustration of this fundamental human need for a sense of personal worth. The depth and duration of the symptomatic problem (phobias, guilt, complexes, paranoia, etc) are only indicative of the depth and duration of the deprivation of self esteem.”
Unfortunately for many of us our race, our nationality and our religion have become props to our fragile self-esteems.
This is certainly the case for that debilitating psychological disorder of racism. It all starts from the premise that whoever I am, whatever racial (and similarly whatever national or religious) origin I have, I want to feel special. As a result we have people making such inane utterings as, “I am proud to be … (Australian, English, American, Danish, Canadian, ..) or whatever.
This is misguided thinking. Whatever race or nationality we belong to is but an arbitrary accident of birth. I am not into pride, (it has more downsides than I have the time to go into here and I believe I have dealt with it in previous blog essays) but how is it possible to feel pride over something over which, we personally, had no control?
Am I proud to be Australian? Of course not! Am I pleased to be Australian? Yes indeed! This is a great country to live in. We have a society that is freer than most. We live in a nation with many physical blessings. We have a robust democracy. We have opportunities to live out our lives in meaningful ways. But all these wonderful benefits have been conferred on me from an accident of birth. I have had little to do with the development of such benefits and I have inherited them as a marvellous boon. I am grateful for all of that. But I don’t feel pride.
Then what about race? To the best of my knowledge my progenitors were Scottish, Irish and Swedish. I have some interest in learning about my forebears but I can’t in all honesty say that any significant part of my sense of identity as a human being resides with them.
And except for some very isolated communities, the notion of race is always compromised by the inter-breeding of the peoples of the earth. If I maintain my Englishness, for example, I ignore the fact that my ancestors might have been Jutes, Picts, Romans, Celts, Franks or whatever.
Even the Aboriginal notion of the “First Nations” (an unashamed plagiarism from the North American indigenes) has to deal with this.
The indigenous population that the invading settlers encountered was certainly not a nation or even nations. They were a myriad of small tribes with not much in common with their neighbours with whom they were in frequent conflict, and often with different languages and cultural mores. This is easily evidenced in modern times by the myriad of protagonists that seem to appear for land title claims.
This erroneous sense of identity is ubiquitous. As Robert Ardrey in The Territorial Imperative wrote,
“this place is mine; I am of this place,” says the albatross, the patas monkey, the green sunfish, the Spaniard, the great horned owl, the wolf, the Venetian, the prairie dog, the three spined stickleback, the Scotsman, the skua, the man from La Crosse, Wisconsin, the Alsatian, the little ringed plover, the Argentine, the lungfish, the lion, the Chinook salmon, the Parisian. I am of this place which is different from and superior to all other places on earth and I partake of its identity so that I too am both different and superior, and it is something that you cannot take away from me despite all afflictions which I may suffer or where I may go or where I may die. I shall remain always and uniquely of this place.”
When I understand who I really am (not my body, not my mind, not my name, not my profession, not my possessions, not my thoughts, not my race, not my nationality, not my family, not my tribe, not my religion, not my politics, and so on) all the physical manifestations of my identity fall away. Consequently, my identity is then not derived from accumulation of wealth, career success, or alignment with this or that political party, nationality, religion, profession, race or whatever. It will be seen that the continuing sense of “I” is derived from a growing ‘awareness’ of that core part of one’s very being which itself enables each of us to observe the ongoing conscious processes we call “our mind”
So race and Nationality (and many other things we give undue emphasis to) are merely accidents of fate. These are largely unimportant things.
What then is important? Well as I have said many times before, how we choose to interpret the world – what meaning we give to it. For, after all, the world has no meaning other than that we choose to bestow on it.
Perhaps our only act of freedom, and certainly the most important determinant of our sense of well-being is our choice of world-views. Any world-view that would give us solace living on this earth admits that there is only one race – the human race.
Those that rely on a sense of their race to conflate their egos are gravely mistaken. Those who would denigrate others on the basis of their race are even more greatly deluded.
Now I am concerned about the disproportionate disadvantage suffered by indigenous Australians.. Our civil society is advanced by the progressive contest of ideas. Whenever we seek to silence those who disagree with us by censoring or repressing their ideas, we are admitting that our own ideas can’t be defended rationally. And because our sense of self which has depended on an attachment to such ideas is fragile as a result we can’t afford to have the ideas challenged.
Now I am concerned about the disproportionate disadvantage suffered by indigenous Australians. I am supportive of any reasonable measure to improve indigenous health, education and employment and I have over the years in my own small way tried to advance these worthy causes. But I can’t for the life of me believe that labeling anyone who does not agree with the activists as “racist” helps in any way to overcome such disadvantages.