A human being is part of the whole…….a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures……
It has been a common theme in much of my writing that we are All as One. In our very essence we are all the same and there should be no distinction between male or female, black or white, Christian or Muslim, Chinese or Celt. All these artificial distinctions are merely accidents of birth. In the lottery of life we were born into inherited circumstances. We did not choose our colour, our race, our nationality or, normally, our religion.
But the essential essence of our humanity is often hidden because of our own egoic striving to differentiate ourselves. Consequently, instead of looking for the common essence of humanity, we put great stock in emphasising those things that separate us.
In the past I have defined Love as “the dissolution of separateness”.
So what drives us to construct this “prison” that Einstein refers to? It is our sense of vulnerability. This indeed is a manifestation of fear. Brick by brick we construct these prison walls and the bricks are made of our frantic desire to be different, to be separate. These bricks are made of race, gender, ethnicity, nationality and so on.
The best of us, who demonstrate unconditional love, identify and thus empathise with our fellow humans. The worst of us denigrate others, ignoring our common humanity, and focussing on those accidents of fate that provided us with those differentiating features of race, gender and so on.
The Reciprocal Rule is common in most wisdom traditions. Christians know it as the “Golden Rule”. The second most important law prescribed in the New Testament for Christians is, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. And of course this means to do so regardless of whether the others reciprocate.
Now you might wonder why I have again emphasised these basic principles that I have articulated many time before. I have done so to provide some context for a discussion about the so-called “indigenous voice to parliament”.
Anthony Albanese, in his victory speech on being elected as Prime Minister, has asserted that advancing the cause of the “Voice” will be a priority for him.
My contention is that doing so will just place another brick in the prison wall that Einstein so aptly identified. I will try and justify that in the rest of this essay.
As a liberal society there should be no place in our constitution for differentiation on the basis of race.
There are a number of arguments posited why indigenous Australians should be given some precedence in our constitution. The first of these purports that, as the original inhabitants of Australia, they deserve some special consideration. Whilst some of the indigenous advocates might opine that Aborigines have occupied Australia “since the beginning of time” we know that that is not the case. In fact, depending on your sources, archaeological evidence suggests that Australia was originally permanently inhabited by a number of successive migratory waves out of Asia, probably commencing some 40,000 years ago. The history of all continents, bar Africa where humanoids seem to have first evolved, is a history of migration and Australia is no exception.
If the length of occupation of the land by your progenitors provides you with some societal benefit, wouldn’t it naturally follow that the descendants of those who arrived in the First Fleet be given greater status than the Italians and Greeks who arrived in the mid twentieth century? Most of us would be appalled at such a discriminatory idea.
Another practical problem that seems to have been studiously avoided is that if we agree to formalise an indigenous Voice to parliament, who will get to elect the indigenous representatives? Researcher, Anthony Dillon, in a private conversation some years ago identified this as “the elephant in the room”. Currently for many purposes we allow people to self-identify as indigenous. Surely a more rigorous process will need to be implemented to validate an individual’s right to participate in such a ballot. I suspect this will be problematic for the Voice protagonists.
Well then perhaps there is an argument that indigenous people should be treated differently in the constitution because of the injustice and disadvantage they have suffered?
For over a century women have complained that they have been disadvantaged in our society as well. Although the more rabid feminists might take exception, most of us would now concede that women have won an equal place with men. We didn’t have to change our constitution to achieve this result. It has been gradually achieved through the implementation of statute law, educating the populace and drawing on the good will of the population at large.
Mind you this has occurred despite a disgruntled feminist minority that has focussed on victimhood.
Still, this begs the question, if we are able to rectify disadvantage based on gender, why is it not possible to do so on disadvantage based on race without changing our constitution.
Maybe it is possible to mount an argument that a “special” Voice is necessary for indigenous people because they are so disadvantaged they cannot use the normal political processes to be heard. Even if that was once the case it cannot be argued that that situation continues to prevail. It is reported that in the newly formed parliament there are 10 representatives that identify as indigenous. Census statistics inform us that we have some 3% of our population identifying as indigenous and now our parliament is comprised of more than 3% indigenous representatives. In this respect our parliament is a reasonably democratic representation of our population. It is the parliament that should provide a Voice for all Australians, including indigenous people. (It was gratifying to see the redoubtable Jacinta Price elected to the Senate at the election. I am sure she will add weight to the proper consideration of indigenous issues in the Australian parliament.)
One of the arguments, as I understand it, that the proponents put in support of the Voice, is that when the parliament is considering legislating laws that impact on indigenous people they should be consulted beforehand. Well of course that is a reasonable position to take. All Australians have the same expectation. This is dealt with in two principal ways. Firstly we expect our elected representatives to ascertain our views and make them known in the parliament. Secondly on the more contentious issues the parliament often holds enquiries and invites submissions from special interest groups to make submissions before committing to a decision. There are already many such groups representing indigenous people who can and already do perform such a role. Is there an argument that indigenous people should have further rights of representation? I am not convinced that there is.
There is also a problem about constraining the Voice to concentrate on specific indigenous issues. It is easy to argue that all legislation effects indigenous Australians. Logically this implies that the Voice must have say on every issue before the parliament.
I have another concern with the suggested process. Despite the fact that indigenous activists like to talk euphemistically about “First Nations”, a term they have appropriated from North America, at first European settlement native Australians were in fact congregated in rather small tribal groupings. These tribal environments hosted many different cultural practices, many different languages and many different histories. It is optimistic to believe that any representative body might reconcile these differences. There are many examples of indigenous people historically struggling to find a unified voice and I suspect that this initiative will not fare any better.
Changing the constitution is an incredibly difficult undertaking. It requires a referendum gaining not only majority support but also a majority support in a majority of states (4 out of 6). The difficulty in achieving this outcome is reflected in the fact that only 8 of 44 national referendums have succeeded. When it comes to changing the constitution, Australians are decidedly conservative.
So I would suggest to the proponents of the Voice that they should take care. In 1999 we had a referendum on whether Australia should become a republic. That proposition was rejected by the Australian populace. 20 years later we still haven’t recovered from that rejection to try again. A referendum loss will surely relegate the proposition of a Voice on to the backburner where it might languish for decades.
My personal perception is that despite considerable good will towards indigenous people, a referendum, if held now, would most likely fail. I don’t believe Australians want there to be race-based distinctions in our constitution, particularly if it offers no clear solutions to the problems of indigenous disadvantage.
In that vein then, finally, I wonder about the underlying justification for the “Voice”.
I was surprised to read that Noel Pearson, who I admire, believes that establishing the Voice is an act of reconciliation. It is not clear to me how this initiative can actually achieve anything much but some sort of symbolic virtue signalling.
I can see little connection between establishing the Voice and making a difference on the ground in the practical issues of indigenous dysfunction like shortened lifespans, increased levels of incarceration, horrendous rates of domestic violence, and poor levels of school attendance and so on.
Rather than being an act of reconciliation, the Voice movement seems to emphasise racial division.
I am sure that the Voice initiative is supported by many well-meaning people. I must confess that I have a great desire to see indigenous people do better. Of course in many areas they are. We see more and more indigenous university graduates taking their places in the professions. The majority of indigenous people have integrated well into mainstream society. Their health outcomes are fine, they send their children to school and they are law-abiding and exemplary citizens
Indigenous disadvantage is largely prevalent in remote communities and some suburban enclaves where indigenous people have opted for separatism rather than integration.
And that returns me to the philosophical considerations I proposed at the beginning. Every step we take to emphasise our separation rather than our commonality surely puts another brick in the wall of the prison that Einstein so aptly identified.