In Buddhist philosophy we are warned to counter and avoid “afflictive emotions”. Such emotions are unhelpful because they result in no useful outcomes but have deleterious effects on those who experience them. The sages maintain that the worst of such emotions is guilt. Guilt helps no one and yet can be quite debilitating to those that suffer it.
The attack on Western civilisation uses guilt as an effective weapon to denigrate the achievements of the West by pointing out all its failings. High on the list that we who are the beneficiaries of Western civilisation should feel guilt for, (or so we’re told by the critics,) are colonialism, racism, and our propensity to subjugate minorities and often to go to war. Surprisingly we know no other cultures that could not be tarred with the same brush!
Australia is far from immune to this affliction. For us colonialism has become the nation’s founding, original sin. That sin is exacerbated in the eyes of the critics of Western society because the colonists were white and European. The critics would have hardly raised an eyebrow if the story of Australia’s development in the eighteenth century had involved dark skinned people subjugating other dark skinned people.
Yet before European settlement, that had often been the case. Anthropologists tell us that in the millennia before European settlement a number of waves of invaders had come down from the North West into Australia and established themselves by displacing their antecedents. And this is hardly an Australian phenomenon. It has happened all over the world since recorded history. But the Aboriginal activists seem reluctant to admit that the indigenous people who the British encountered at first settlement were themselves the ancestors of invaders.
So why are we, the Australian citizens at large, supposed to be sorry for our more recent colonisation? The original European colonisation occurred many generations ago now. When it occurred it was an internationally accepted practice. And none of us were instrumental in any way in this process. What’s more, whilst the colonisation was initially promulgated by the British, there have been waves of migration from other lands of people who were not British that are now a substantial part of our population. Should they feel the same guilt?
But to cut to the chase, how on earth does a sense of guilt for the colonisation of Australia help in any way to improve the lot of Australia’s indigenous people? In no way at all! All it does is reinforce the sense of indigenous victimhood which remains one of the major impediments to indigenous advancement.
Now, after colonisation the next most important guilt inducing event was the removal of the so-called “stolen generations” from their families. For some decades after 1910, some indigenous children were removed from their families and put into the care of “white” families or church or government institutions. The prime targets of this intervention were largely children of mixed European and indigenous parentage (called “half-castes” at the time, a term which is now found offensive). The motive behind this callous act was to aid the assimilation of such people into the broader community. In their archaic thinking authorities judged that children with some European blood might more easily accommodate European culture than their full blood kindred. In fact some anthropologists thought at this time that the Aboriginal peoples were a dying race and if left to their own devices might eventually wane into insignificance. But such removal of children was no doubt a traumatic act for those children and their biological families. Yet on the other hand many were also embraced by loving foster parents and prospered. But, all in all, this was a callous act that had racial motivations.
Some of those in the Aboriginal movement maintain that this process was maintained up until 1970, but most of the children removed in latter times from their families were removed because the children were being inappropriately cared for. Evidence abounds that in the remote communities at least, many Aboriginal parents abnegate their parental responsibilities.
Now most of the indignities suffered by the stolen generation occurred two or three generations ago, but we are being constantly told that suffering of that period is a major impediment to the current progress of indigenous people.
(It might be worth reflecting that the appalling genocide and vilification that the Jews experienced in the Holocaust while still vividly remembered by them, hasn’t prevented them from prospering in modern society.)
In 1995, the Australian Government, then led by Paul Keating, launched an enquiry into the forced removal of indigenous children. The report from that enquiry, titled Bringing Them Home, was subsequently delivered to the Howard Government which was somewhat sceptical of the report’s findings and opted to take no action in response. Kevin Rudd was elected Prime Minister in 2007 and as result of an election policy delivered a national apology to the stolen generations in February 2008. Aboriginal activists hailed Rudd’s apology as a great triumph for indigenous peoples. Admittedly it might have made some of them feel vindicated and reinforced their sense of power but it made not one iota of a difference to the lot of indigenous people In fact it might have been a backward step, reinforcing their sense of victimhood which in my estimation is the chief barrier to their economic and social progress.
Peter Sutton in his fine book, The Politics of Suffering, had this to say:
The general outcome of Bringing Them Home was to vitally raise awareness of a relatively unknown negativity in Australia’s past, but at the same time it enhanced victimhood as a basis of positive regard for Indigenous people, and polarised opinion about state or other collective historical guilt. It certainly didn’t put chickens on the table at Docker River, if there were any, and Reconciliation won’t do that either.
To hold out to those suffering the grim realities of certain Indigenous communities the expectation that they will be safer, healthier, less arrested, because of the contracting of a formal Reconciliation package is to offer them goanna oil. Surely by now we understand that to peddle the grand national gesture as a cure for early renal failure and child abuse is not just whimsy-minded, it is dangerous mumbo jumbo. Also it distracts from urgent realities.
The national apology made by Prime Minister Rudd is a prime example of virtue signalling, the point of which seems to be to make public displays of righteousness without addressing the underlying problem. Of course this is not a uniquely Australian shortcoming for Rudd’s apology happened within months of the then Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, carrying out the same empty gesture on behalf of his country’s indigenous population.
The Aboriginal activists would have us believe that as a condition of being Australian we must live in a state of perpetual remorse, an attitude supplemented by regular tribute to Aboriginal culture, where we must depict indigenous culture as possessing some especial purity of truth that sets it above contemporary Australia’s mores.
Now, what a great outcome results from this travesty! Non-indigenous Australians are rendered miserable because of the burden of guilt and indigenous Australians are rendered helpless under the mantle of victimhood.
Surely there can be no winners in such circumstances? But unfortunately there are! The Aboriginal industry thrives on the helplessness of our indigenous population. Our indigenous fellows are fed the line that they have no responsibility for their misfortune – it is all due to colonialism, the stolen generation and the prevalence of racism. If their misery is due to the actions of others then surely the only way out of that misery is to have those others rectify things for them. And all sorts of politicians, government agencies and social welfare groups stand ready to help them propagate their case.
Now, I have a great concern for the welfare of our indigenous countrymen. But I can tell you that I feel no guilt about the colonisation of Australia or indeed even for the stolen generation. That indignities and even atrocities were brought upon the pre-European inhabitants of this land, I have no doubt. But as I have intimated above I don’t see how my guilt will help indigenous advancement just as I see indigenous victimhood won’t help either.
But it is also true that we shouldn’t overstate the problem. Whilst the lives of indigenous people in remote communities are often appalling, many more indigenous people in mainstream Australia are prospering. These people have opted to accept responsibility for their own lives, embraced education, assumed their proper roles as parents and citizens and taken advantage of their economic and social opportunities. In short they prospered because they didn’t identify as victims.
In psychological terms we talk about people who believe that they are able to influence their own paths in life as having an internal locus of control. Those who believe that they are at the mercy of factors outside their control are said to have an external locus of control. As you might expect people who have an internal locus of control are more robust in a psychological sense. So it is clear that promoting indigenous victimhood has broad deleterious effects, both physically and psychologically.
So my fervent recommendation to all concerned is to drop the guilt, drop the victimhood and help indigenous people (who haven’t already done so) to reclaim their own destinies. The only people who would be hurt by this change in approach would be the parasitic members of the Aboriginal industry who rely on indigenous victimhood to further their own selfish ends.
As I completed this essay, I noticed in the press an article on the tragic and growing numbers of indigenous suicides, particularly with respect to indigenous young people. It should come as no surprise that if you convince people they are helpless they will soon become hopeless which of course predisposes them to suicide. Thus indigenous suicide rates are merely a manifestation of the culture of indigenous victimhood. It is time we stopped this futile charade and started encouraging indigenous people to take charge of their lives and regain some meaning, purpose and hope.