Almost inevitably it seems, we woke up on 26 January to see pictures of a bronze statue of James Cook lying on the ground having been sawn off at the ankles causing it to topple from its plinth. It seems as though the perpetrator of this act of vandalism believed he was making some sort of statement of protest against colonialism.
Cook, of course had little to do with colonialism. In 1770 after completing a scientific observation of the transit of Venus in Tahiti under the orders of the British Admiralty, Cook had then been requested to explore the Western Pacific for the fabled Great South Land on his homeward voyage back to England. As a result he became the first Englishman to explore Australia’s east coast.
In 1644 the British privateer, William Dampier had already landed on Australia’s west coast which the Dutch had previously discovered and christened as New Holland. Dampier spent some months exploring and charting the coastline and established friendly relations with the native population. He had intended to circumnavigate the land he had happened upon but had to abandon the attempt due to the poor condition of his ship, the Cygnet.
By the time the British decided to establish a penal colony in Australia, encouraged by the gentleman scientist Joseph Banks who had sailed on the Endeavour with Cook on his 1770 voyage, Cook was already dead having been killed by the natives of Hawaii in 1779.
Cook has been unnecessarily vilified. I reported in a previous essay how a ten year old girl I know was taught by her teacher that Cook was an evil man who kept slaves!
In my youth we were mostly proud of our British heritage. We marvelled at the bravery of the British sailors that risked so much to finally arrive on these shores and the subsequent settlers who established the British colony in New South Wales that eventually morphed into Australia. They had to learn to survive in a hostile country that was very different to their homeland. And then we learnt in our history classes of other brave men who explored the interior of our land paving the way for others to follow and expand European settlement into the far corners of the Australian continent.
Today, of course, the woke disciples of identity politics will describe this history very differently. Instead of the British “settlement” of Australia they talk about the British “invasion” of Australia. The language suggests violence and dispossession. As I explained in a previous essay, the British settlement could hardly be described as an invasion. The subsequent spread of European settlement was a gradual process over a century or more. There were no doubt atrocities committed by both the European and indigenous populations. But by and large the rule of law applied and the wilful taking of indigenous lives by the settlers was severely punished.
This false narrative of invasion and dispossession is reinforced in our universities and schools. In fact this malignant narrative has gone even further. There were recent reports of pre-school children being taught that Australia was “stolen” from indigenous people.
Following the diktats of woke ideology underpinned by the propaganda of the Left, colonialism is depicted as a manifestation of white supremacy where the British are the obligatory oppressor and the Australian indigenous peoples are the oppressed. And what’s more they assert that power dynamic is unchanged today, and it’s never going to change until indigenous people regain their sovereignty over this country.
If you dig deep into Critical Race Theory which the activists rely on to justify their victimhood, you find rationality itself is being questioned. The writer, Christopher Rufo reports:
In Critical Race theory: the Key Writings that Formed the Movement, law professors Gary Peller and Charles Lawrence III made an aggressive case for demolishing the existing conceptions of knowledge, which Peller suggested serve as a form of “academic colonialism” that placed white cultural norms over minority alternatives..
Following the radical critique of Black Nationalist sociologists, Peller proposed that “objective reason or knowledge could not exist because one’s position in the social structure of race relations influenced what one would call knowledge or rationality.”
Typically this problem is manifested in this way. For example Senator Jacinta Price maintains that most indigenous people have in fact benefitted by the colonisation of Australia by the British. An activist on hearing this is likely to say, “This is offensive.” If you ask why it is offensive, he is likely to say, “Because I feel offended!” Now the activist, because he has assumed victim status, looks for opportunity to be offended. There really doesn’t have to be a reason!
As Rufo asserts:
Critical Race Theory was never designed to reveal truth – it was designed to achieve power.. The real history of the discipline is not a story of intellectual discoveries but of its blitz through the institutions.
But when it comes to race relations there is an even more fundamental reason to take stock and consider more rationally the historic roles of both the colonisers and the indigenous population. To put it bluntly we are all products of our unchosen history.
There were no doubt injustices perpetrated by our ancestors on indigenous people. And indigenous people committed some atrocities against the settlers. But it is not just that today’s generation should be held to account for the activities of our ancestors whether European or indigenous. It does us no good to allow our unchosen histories to colour our relationship with each other for ever.
It is instructive to trace how race relations between the indigenous community and the rest of us have developed over the last hundred years.
Originally, I suggest, society was motivated to ensure that all members of our community, including indigenous people, were afforded equal access to the rights and privileges of belonging to a democracy. Now, in the twenty-first century that outcome has largely been achieved. But that is no longer enough. The activists are seeking special rights for indigenous people. One of the major initiatives in this direction was of course the Voice referendum, which fortunately failed.
The activists cite endemic racism as a major cause of indigenous disadvantage. But this is greatly overstated. Researcher Anthony Dillon maintains that while there are some racist Australians, the citizens of Australia are not systemically racist.
The fabulous American sociologist, Thomas Sowell, Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, maintains this is true of the American population also. He writes:
Similarly, it can be especially hard to kmow about the current incidence and consequences of racism when racists do not publicly identify themselves. Moreover, people who have incentives to maximise fears of racism include politicians seeking to win votes by claiming to offer protection from racists, or leaders of ethnic protest movements who can use fear of racists to attract more followers, more donations and more power.
Now if you look closely at the Left’s intention with respect of its promotion of identity politics, it is revolutionary insofar as it wants to replace individual rights with group-identity based rights. In this way traditional values and principles are eroded.
So whilst we began the process of liberating indigenous people by breaking down the social and legal impediments to their full participation in modern society, we have now come to a point where we are talking about special constitutional recognition, treaty making and so on. Whilst we started with an exercise which aimed for reconciliation, the Left have led us to consider endowing this minority with special privileges that seek to provide another divide between indigenous people and the rest of us.
Now while I have made the argument that the Left have waged a cultural war of identity politics which has resulted in minorities gaining special privilege whilst assuming victim status by using the example of race politics, you can see parallel circumstances in the evolution of gender politics.
Just as the original motivation of ensuring racial equality was driven by the democratic principle that all citizens should have equal rights and there should be no differentiation on the basis of race, the women’s liberation movement was motivated by the same principle so that there was no differentiation on the basis of gender. Now while some of the more militant members of the women’s movement might deny it the original goal has largely been achieved.
But just as the struggle for racial equality has been usurped by a determination to replace individual rights with group-identity based rights, so too has the struggle for gender equality been similarly usurped. Gender identity which once encompassed the categories of male, female and homosexual has now proliferated into dozens of categories each of which claims its own victimhood and striving for its own particular privileges.
Now, whereas once this undemocratic movement was largely confined to our universities and the “woke” government departments, it has now infiltrated our large corporates and sporting organisations. As their students mature and take their place in the world of commerce and industry and gravitate to positions of influence in all sorts of organisations, the ethos of “wokedom” taught in our schools and universities is spreading its tentacles wider and wider. As we have recently seen many such organisations are taking an ideological stance on such issues as race and gender identity.
As I intimated before, consequently our democracy is being stealthily eroded. The basic tenet of democracy is that we are ruled by the majority decision of our citizens. But with the adoption of identity politics we are allowing the majority to be subject to the whim of minorities.
The woke proponents of identity politics clog the airways and dominate social media. Consequentially there is often a superficial impression that all of us support this subjugation of majority rights to victimised minorities.
It is not often that Australians are given the opportunity to express our opinions in a democratic way on these divisive identity issues. Fortunately the Voice referendum gave us such an opportunity and the woke proposal that indigenous people should be conferred with greater privileges than the population at large was resoundingly defeated.
Whilst the media and its concentration on woke issues might have you believe otherwise, Australians are inherently conservative. If we had a referendum on whether Australia should celebrate Australia Day on 26 January or whether transgender women (biological males) should not be able to utilise women’s toilets and changerooms I believe there would be resounding support.
The Left’s diabolical infiltration of our education institutions is now paying great dividends for them.. The bright young things that were first indoctrinated have now graduated and progressing in our organisations into positions of authority and influence. Over time the original ideology has been transformed into the concrete practices and policies of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) which are now ensconced in many of our larger organisations.
As Rufo has written:
They created a circular self-reinforcing system that created its own demand and installed a new universal class of ‘diversity officials’ across the institutions, which seeks to break down old protections of individual rights, colour-blind equality, and private property and replace them with a substitute morality and system of government based on the principles of critical race theory.
As a consequence people are often hired into such organisations not because of their competence but because of their race or their gender.
So now you can see that there has been a significant erosion of our democratic ideals over recent decades which has seen the concept of individual freedom yield to the notion of group identity politics. A pertinent question to ask is how this could have happened without our concurrence. The truth is that conservatives have been asleep at the wheel. They have been reluctant to engage the Left on such cultural issues. In some respects they have been too tolerant. Many of the incursions into our freedoms have started with minor changes. So the conservative response has been, “Oh, that’s not want I would like but it is not too bad. I’ll leave it go,” And that laissez faire attitude has empowered the Left.
But the principle here is an old one. In the 1940’s, the Stalinist dictator of Hungary, Matyas Rakosi, coined the term ‘salami slicing’ to describe his step by step approach to dismantling the political opposition. Even if you cut very thin slices off a salami, eventually you have eaten it all. So unwittingly we have been the victims of ‘salami slicing’ which eventually has modified our culture in favour of providing special consideration to minorities.
Now let’s be clear, it is not as though I have no sympathy for the undoubted difficulties that confront people in some minorities. It is just that I think it wrong to abandon our democratic principles in trying to address those difficulties. Identity politics is about creating victims and then proffering that those victims can only be assuaged by giving them rights and privileges beyond what ordinary citizens are due. In this way our democratic processes are thwarted by countering the notion that we should all be treated equally with the proposition that group identity trumps our democratic rights enabling minorities to receive special consideration.
It is undoubtedly true that some people from minority groups suffer real disadvantage and I am sympathetic to providing them assistance. But individuals in the majority group also suffer disadvantage. So let us respond because of their individual needs rather than as a result of their group identity.