Don’t Be Sorry!

Often in our day to day lives we go about our business somewhat mindlessly. Without much thought we fall into line with the prevailing thoughts of others and forget lessons we have learnt in the past.

Sometimes we are encouraged to take a point of view we largely disagree with just because it is congruent with the conventional wisdom. After a time, if we continue to act in accordance with this point of view, it will become established as part of our normal behavioural repertoire. Remember that our mind is not so much “rational” but “rationalising” and it will provide us with reasons why it is appropriate to act in this new way.

Often when we yield to the zeitgeist in such a way, we are consoled by convincing ourselves that it is but a minor change without any real consequences. But of course if we continue do so it is not very long before things have almost unwittingly changed drastically.

Now this subtle change agenda has been assailing the values, the history, and the institutions of the West for almost half a century.

Douglas Murray, in his fine book The War on the West wrote:

In a few short decades, the Western tradition has moved from being celebrated to being embarrassing and anachronistic and finally to being something shameful. It turned from a story meant to inspire people and nurture them in their lives into a story meant to shame people. And it wasn’t just the term “Western” that critics objected to. It was everything connected with it. Even “civilisation” itself. As one of the gurus of modern racist “anti-racism” Ibram X Kendi put it, “Civilisation itself is often a polite euphemism for cultural racism.”

Only forty years ago, historians and social commentators were proclaiming the virtues of Western societies and how the Europeans built off the “enlightenment” project to bring freedom, liberal thinking and capitalism to the world, dragging us out of the Dark Ages into a seemingly endless promising future.

In 1985, the historian, J M Roberts published his acclaimed book The Triumph of the West. It was accompanied by a widely praised BBC television series of the same name. At that time most of our academics and our politicians were not apologetic about our history, but lauded it.

But the genesis of another movement had already begun. Back in 1972, the neo-Marxist, Herbert  Marcuse, called for a “Long March through the institutions” By this he meant an incremental seizure of the institutions of free societies in service to an authoritarian and anti-Enlightenment ideology and this is still the project of the left and all the evidence points to the fact that they have been unduly successful!

As a result of this perverse movement Western culture and Western history has been denigrated. As Douglas Murray again wrote:

The culture that gave the world lifesaving advances in science, medicine and a free market that has raised millions of people around the world out of poverty and offered the greatest flowering of  thought anywhere in the world is interrogated through a lens of the deepest hostility and simplicity. The culture that produced Michelangelo, Leonardo, Bernini and Bach is portrayed as if it has nothing relevant to say. New generations are taught this ignorant view of history. They are offered a story of the West’s failings without spending anything like a corresponding time on its glories.

We should be clear what’s going on here. Australia, like other Western democracies, is heir and benefactor of uniquely Western concepts like the rule of law, popular sovereignty, political and religious freedom, free and fair elections, the right to own property, the free market and the universal provision of health services and education.

The benefits of the Western tradition, unfortunately, are not generally accessed by those countries who have not shared this historical foundation. We once collectively appreciated this, but it seems after the anti-Western assault of the left it is now not something we appreciate at all but something of which we are now ashamed.

One of the principal prongs of this left driven assault is the subjugation of our educational institutions to these neo-Marxist ideals. Many of our learning institutions have morphed from being centres devoted to education to centres devoted to indoctrination into leftist ideals.

Educationalist, Kevin Donnelly, in an essay in the book Cancel Culture described how this malignant influence works.

One of the primary ways the cultural left has been able to impose its politically correct ideology on Western societies, including Australia, is by taking control of schools and influencing what is taught, how students are assessed  and how students and teachers interact in the classroom.

While young people are influenced by family, peers, social networking sites and the broader media, it’s their school experience that sets the foundation for how they live their lives, interact with others, the careers and professions they follow and how they relate to the broader society and the world in general.

There is no doubt, as Donnelly suggests that schooling has an enormous impact on the emerging social conditioning of students. More and more this conditioning has been aligned with the neo-Marxist propaganda that seeks to devalue the history and the accomplishments of our Western tradition.

Of course this phenomenon is widespread throughout the Western world. American academic, Stanley K Ridgley in the preface to his fine book Brutal Minds, wrote:

This is a story of one of the great subterfuges in American history. It is a tale of how one of history’s great institutions – the American university – is undergoing an infiltration by an army of mediocrities whose goal is to destroy it as an institution of knowledge creation and replace it with an authoritarian organ of ideology and propaganda.

There are many other examples of how the neo-Marxists have successfully implemented their “Long March” through the institutions. This extends far beyond the education sector,  notably infecting government bureaucracies whose ministrations impact on us all.

In this essay, however, I want to highlight how the distortion of history resulting from this malevolent influence has prejudiced some of our basic concepts of freedom and democracy.

The neo- Marxist view of the world would have us believe that the colonisation of Australia was a malignant enterprise deliberately aimed at the denigration of Australia’s original inhabitants.

Sixty years ago we were taught that James Cook was a brave, enterprising and resourceful man that sailed out of Britain in a small wooden ship to explore the South Pacific and to conduct scientific observations. By any estimation he had to be a figure of deserved veneration.

But this is no longer the case. According to the revisionist history of the neo-Marxists, James Cook is a reviled exploiter of indigenous populations. He is reviled because his explorations provided the platform for the British colonisation of Australia.

Moreover, they portray the British settlers that came after Cook not as mere settlers, but according to these leftist re-writers of history, as fiends determined to subjugate or even exterminate the native population. Hence, the activists call to cancel Australia Day (or at least rename it as Invasion Day). It is hard to take this stuff seriously when many of them are so historically illiterate that they conflate Cook’s first reaching the shores of Australia with the landing of the First Fleet at Botany Bay!

But it was inevitable that Australia would be colonised. Both the Dutch, and latterly, the French, showed interest in such colonisation. Former Prime Minister, John Howard, has declared that perhaps the luckiest thing that ever happened to Australia was to be colonised by the British. Given that it is reasonably certain Australia would have been colonised one way or another, perhaps the neo-Marxists would rather it was colonised by the French, the Dutch or even, heaven forbid, the Chinese!

But it is pointless to debate what might have been. The die has been cast and we need to live with the outcomes. Remember the wise words of the Persian polymath, Omar Khayyamm which were translated thus:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Five or six decades ago, Australians were proud of our history. Yet, just like many countries however, there were ongoing conflicts about injustices related to racism. In my youth racist ideas were reasonably prevalent, but they weren’t confined to the treatment of indigenous people. There were prejudices against Greek and Italian immigrants and an even historical prejudice (going back to the gold rushes) against Chinese people.

But today, after many interventions by governments of all persuasions, most of these prejudices have been eradicated. We are, by and large, a more tolerant society now than the one I encountered in my youth. It is all very easy to stand here today with the benefit of all our cultural and scientific advances and criticise the prejudices of those that went before us. It makes as much sense to criticise these ethical deficiencies of our forefathers as it is to criticise their ignorance of atomic theory or the transmission of infectious diseases. The Enlightenment project progresses on many fronts.

Yet there is still one important race-based issue that we have failed to resolve. There is a significant cohort of indigenous people that lead dysfunctional lives. We know that they have shorter lives, face greater health issues, have fewer of their number in gainful employment, many who have little or no education, are incarcerated in disproportionate numbers, are victims of domestic violence and are more prone to drug and alcohol abuse.

Now some activists claim that this dysfunction is a result of the historical traumas suffered by indigenous peoples. They maintain it is the historic pain of colonisation that has rendered indigenous people unable to take their proper place in our modern democracy.

This is hard to believe when so many other indigenous people are doing well in our society. Unlike those who like to portray themselves as victims of colonialism, this other cohort’s members are full participants in our modern democracy. They are well-educated, send their children to school, contribute as normal participants in our democracy, obey the law and are employed or run their own businesses.

But the self-identified victims have successfully manipulated many Australians to feel guilty about their past and to assume guilt for the purported historic grievances. Now it seems foolish to feel guilty for things for which we had no direct responsibility. And certainly, as an individual, I feel no personal guilt for these past injustices. Nor do I see any likelihood that my feeling guilty is going to rectify anything.

The peak gesture of guilt in this country, occurred fifteen years ago when then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on behalf of the Australian people made an apology to indigenous people. I can see no evidence that this has helped the lot of indigenous Australians in any way at all. In fact, as I shall shortly explain, I believe it has probably made things worse.

Regarding the effectiveness of apologies, Douglas Murray in a recent article in The Australian newspaper wrote:

As a number of the most serious and profound ethicists of the last century have agreed, an apology can only work when it comes from someone who has done a wrong and is accepted by someone who has been wronged. If it comes from someone who has themselves done no wrong and goes to someone who has not actually been wronged then the deal is a fraud. If such an apology is offered and accepted it is a fraud on both sides. Someone who has done no wrong is pretending to be speaking for the dead. And people who have not suffered any direct wrong are pretending to be able to accept an apology on behalf of people they did not know.

Murray’s reasoning makes perfect sense to me. But beyond this it is apparent to me that the activists don’t want to be reconciled. They want power. They leverage their power from their sense of grievance and victimhood. So no matter how often we say sorry they can’t afford to forgive because it would erode their power base.

Now there is another reason why we must be careful about how we deal with these activists. I began my essay with this statement

Often in our day to day lives we go about our business somewhat mindlessly. Without much thought we fall into line with the prevailing thoughts of others and forget lessons we have learnt in the past.

Let me remind you of one of the lessons we have learnt. Over a hundred years ago psychologist B F Skinner, the founder of behaviourist psychology, taught us that behaviours that are rewarded are more than likely to be repeated. If indigenous activists are rewarded for posturing as victims we unwittingly encourage them to continue their posturing as victims.

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  of what 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. Unsurprisingly, we know no other cultures that could not be tarred with the same brush!

So then let me draw my conclusions.

A sense of guilt for the colonisation of Australia doesn’t 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.

Would a removal of this sense of guilt moderate our efforts to help disadvantaged indigenous people improve their lot in life? Of course not! I don’t feel in the least guilty for historical injustices but I have tried, as well I may, to progress the welfare of indigenous folk. It is because, as researcher Anthony Dillon often implies, I share their humanity. I think of them primarily as human beings As a result neither their race nor their history are of much concern to me. And it seems quite obvious to me that our society would be enhanced if we disregarded history, disregarded race and dealt with each other just acknowledging our common humanity. And in this common humanity let us try to help the disadvantaged whoever they are.

In many ways the Voice proposal is designed to perpetuate the notion of historical victimhood of indigenous people, which as I have explained above is more than likely to just accentuate the debilitating sense of victimhood.

8 Replies to “Don’t Be Sorry!”

  1. Hi Ted,

    Thanks again for your essay on this important current topic.

    Two thoughts in all this:
    The fundamental issue seems unresolvable: a society that adheres to equality before the law cannot constitutionally privilege particular groups of its citizens.

    And, as Thomas Sowell said, ” Where visions conflict irreconcilably whole societies will be torn apart.” Unfortunately, I fear it is too late. Whichever way this referendum goes, we are already a divided country.

    1. You make good sense Barbara. Right from the beginning I have opposed the Voice on principle. Our liberal democracy relies on all being treated equally under the law. In my mind it is not racist to say indigenous people shouldn’t be granted a special voice to parliament – it is merely democratic.

      And who could possibly argue with the fabulous Thomas Sowell?!

      Thank you for your comments.

  2. You’re on the money with this one, Ted. Suggest Gary John’s book “White Man Dreaming”, which analyses in depth how the three major aboriginal enquiries: Hindmarsh Island, Deaths in Custody and Stolen Children, all of which failed to prove, created a victim mentality.

    1. Thanks Paula. Gary Johns is indeed an impressive man. A couple of years ago he came to Rockhampton and invited me to have coffee with him. I enjoyed his company immensely.

      And what a coincidence . I had just finished posting my essay on my blog site when you newsletter came in. I was surprised to see that you had quoted Douglas Murray just as I had!

      Thanks for your feedback.

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