From John Ray's shorter notes
July 27, 2015
Does Australia lock up too many blacks?
The wail below is written by a lawyer, not a social scientist -- and shows no knowledge of the people concerned at all. All he knows is how to look up simple statistics. When he finds that they look bad what does he do? Does he ask why? There's no sign of it. He just seems to to assume that we are all somehow at fault. That makes him a good Leftist but also what Australians call a drongo -- very stupid.
So as someone who has written quite a lot in the academic journals on race-relations, sociology and criminology, let me point out what is really going on.
Before the arrival of the white man, Aborigines were well adapted to a stone-age life. They had been adapting to it for around 50,000 years so the adaptation was extreme. Their visuo-spatial abilities were (and are) simply wonderful. Such adaptations helped them to capture and eat furry animals. But adaptations favourable to stone-age life are not at all suited to modern Western society. People originally from the Eurasian continent evolved very differently. The much larger population there produced innovation -- and that gave us the modern world.
So how are Aborigines disadvantaged in Australia today? The mother and father of their handicaps is low IQ. They are the race with the world's second lowest measured IQ (South African bushmen are the lowest). They survived by sharpening their perceptual abilities, not their reasoning abilities -- and basically are therefore very bad at dealing with anything new and complex.
I have known many of them and admire good qualities in them. They are for instance very polite, unaggressive and tend to have a good sense of humour. But some of their qualities are good yet also their undoing. In particular, they have evolved as a sharing culture. When some hunter succeeded in bringing down a big animal, it was shared around in the assurance that other such fortunate kills by others would also be shared around. There was no refrigeration so no other system made sense. You COULD not keep your kill to yourself.
So, like other native peoples (e.g. the Maori) the concept of private property is just not there in them. If you want something it seems simply right and just to take it, regardless of a property claim that someone else might have on it. I have seen it happen.
An Aborigine in fact just CANNOT keep substantial assets to himself. He must share any windfall, even if that windfall is in fact the proceeds of his own hard work. So you can see how strongly our concept of theft clashes with Aboriginal instincts.
Then there is the alcohol problem. We have had perhaps 60,000 years to learn how to handle our booze. And even then we sometimes do a rather bad job of it. But Aborigines never had alcohol until the white man came. So their use of alcohol is often catastrophic and lies behind perhaps the majority of their arrests.
I could say much more but the sad truth is, I think, clear: Aborigines are just not adapted to the world in which they now find themselves -- so are constantly breaking its rules. All that we CAN do is to enforces the rules. If we exempted Aborigines we would produce huge uproar and disruption. As it is, some judges DO punish Aboriginal infractions more lightly -- but that DOES produce big criticism. Physical abuse of women and children -- sometimes extreme abuse of women and children -- is a big sub-set of Aboriginal crime. Do we WANT to condone that?
With pitifully simplistic thinking, the drongo below says that better education is needed for Aborigines. Does he have any idea how hard and how unsuccessfully many governments have tried to get Aboriginal children into school? And how is education going to change attributes built up over thousands of generations anyway?
Everything that could be tried to make Aboriginal behaviour more adaptive has been tried and has failed -- from paternalism to giving them maximum autonomy. You won't undo millennia of evolution just by wishing it. The only thing that has ever had much success is when the missionaries ran Aboriginal settlements. Aborigines are a very spiritual people so religion does influence them. But bringing the missionaries back would be impossible. So Aborigines will continue to violate our rules and will continue to be treated like other breakers of the rules -- often by imprisonment
They are locked up often because they often do wrong things. There is no other reason
The US might be the home of mass incarceration – and it is, with 5 per cent of the world's people, it has a quarter of the world's inmates – but America has nothing on Australia in its enthusiasm for disproportionately locking up black people.
Indigenous Australians are imprisoned at a rate 13 times that of other Australians, according to figures collated by the Productivity Commission. That's not 13 per cent higher, or twice as high, but 13 times the rate, 1300 per cent of the rate for the rest of the population. At any one time, over 2 per cent of the Indigenous population is locked up, which doesn't remotely compare with the figure for the rest of us.
The effect of that proportion of people out of one group over time is almost unfathomable, the disruption to the prisoners' lives, their futures, their families.
It's not as if this is a new problem, but it's a rapidly deteriorating one. In 2000, the Indigenous imprisonment rate was merely 8 times as high. Those where the golden days.
So not only do we jail Indigenous people at a far higher rate than even the US imprisons black men, we're speeding things up, putting a greater proportion away. We're increasing this most self-defeating of gaps.
A particular point of Australian difference is our ability to do it harsher for children. For young people, who are meant to be locked up only as an absolute last resort, Indigenous children are jailed at a rate 24 times that of other children.
When Obama turns his attention to a justice system that seems anything but colour blind, the world listens. When Mick Gooda, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commissioner, late last year proved Aboriginal incarceration to be every bit the catastrophe he labelled it, Australia scarcely rolled its eyes. Most didn't even notice.
His figures put the difference in rates at 15 times, and found the reoffending rate for children in detention – 58 per cent within 10 years – was higher than the proportion of children who stayed at school until year 12. "We do better at keeping Aboriginal people in prison than in school," Mr Gooda told the ABC.
If most of us continue to ignore this catastrophe, as the country seems determined to do, we will deepen this social disaster. Every year it gets worse, or merely stays the same, or only marginally improves, is another year squandering the potential of an enormous fraction of the Indigenous population and wasting hundreds of millions across the country on unnecessary incarceration.
The Productivity Commission called out four major factors contributing to this shameful reality – education, drugs, child neglect and employment. We need to fix all of them, but surely education is the low-hanging fruit.
Cutting education reforms, like the short-lived Gonski package, is one way to perpetuate the catastrophe. The absence of opportunity leads, for far too many, to the absence of anything but a life hurt by crime – as both victim and perpetrator.
Go to John Ray's Main academic menu
Go to Menu of longer writings
Go to John Ray's basic home page
Go to John Ray's pictorial Home Page
Go to Selected pictures from John Ray's blogs