From John Ray's shorter notes

March 31, 2014

What a lot of emptyheaded poop!

Reply to an addled Leftist critique of Australian society

Leftist critiques  of Australian society rarely bother me.  They are usually about as profound as my heading above. I am speaking up today, however.  Under the heading "Racism is the fault line that runs through Australia", career journalist Warwick McFadyen has written the article below.  It is  an eloquent statement of nothing that serves only to exude hatred of ordinary Australians.

Let me start with the heading.  I know what a fault line is in geology but what is it in a society?  Is it a weakness?  Is it a division?  I suspect that McFadyen means it as a weakness but if he means that, why not say that?  Using "faultline" amounts in the circumstances only to a failed pose of sociological sophistication.

And the rest of the article is similarly insubstantial.  His chief justification for regarding Australia as racist seems to be a snort someone uttered in his presence back in the early '80s.  The snort was a reaction to a lovely comment about Aborigines from McFadyen:  He wondered about the "odds being stacked against them, and wondered how to help them".  That's it!  That's McFadyen's principal basis for declaring Australians racist!  Thou shalt not snort, apparently.

To this day McFadyen appears not to have realized that the snort was most probably as much a reaction to his paternalism as it was  skepticism about "helping" Aborigines.

And skepticism about "helping" Aborigines is well warranted.  Ever since the missionaries were evicted from the management of Aboriginal settlements, just about everything that could be tried has been tried.  Authoritarian attempts to force them into white behaviour patterns has alternated with Rousseauvian fantasies about how we should simply respect a people who are more in harmony with nature than we are.

And under both approaches Aboriginal behaviour has slid inexorably down the razorblade to a point where  Aboriginal women and children are abused by Aboriginal men on a daily  basis.  People are better behaved in the slums of Bangladesh.

But McFadyen apparently knows best.  He knows how to achieve what no Liberal or Labor government so far has been able to achieve.  The years that have elapsed since that snort have taught him nothing.

McFadyen goes on to evoke the normal Australian reaction to the way township Aborigines behave  and implicitly condemns it.  But he offers no argument why it should be condemned.

He does however finally get to the one episode of "racist" behaviour that Leftists dine out on:  The Cronulla riots, in which young white men from "The Shire" erupted over the arrogant behaviour on their beaches towards young white women by aggressive Lebanese Muslims.  Like all riots it was no triumph of rationality and there was very little organization to it but it was the inevitable result of politically correct policing.  If the Muslims can get away with everything, vigilante reaction will replace proper police action.  But McFadyen tells you none of that.

And, entirely predictably, McFadyen claims that the old "White Australia" policy was abolished by the leftist Whitlam government in 1973.  It was not.  It was abolished by the conservative Holt government in 1966:  "The March 1966 announcement was the watershed in abolishing the 'White Australia' policy" (See here)

McFadyen then dives into the current controversy about "hate speech".  The present conservative Federal government is exploring options for modifying some very draconian hate speech laws enacted by a former Leftist government  Even the eminent Leftist lawyer Julian Burnside QC agrees that the existing laws go too far.  But don't expect McFadyen to tell you that.

If the McFadyen piece had been any more lightweight, it would have floated away.


It was only a snort, a short derisive exhalation of air. But it was enough. I was at a barbecue with friends in Kempsey in NSW. The talk turned to the town's indigenous population. I said something along the lines of the odds being stacked against them, and wondered how to help them. That's when the snort from the acquaintance of a friend entered the conversation, and ended it for me.

This was in the early '80s. I lived there for a couple of years and, in that time, I did not see one indigenous person employed in a job in any business in the town. There may have been. I'd like to be proved wrong. The "Abos" - town jargon had moved on from "boongs" - lived on the edge of town, squandering government money on housing they got for nothing just for being who they were. Useless. When they got handouts, they spent them on grog. They were ungrateful, they trashed houses they got for nothing. They were their own worst enemy.

But the descendants of Europe weren't racists. Just ask them. If you dared. They just saw what they saw, said what they said and believed what they believed. They weren't bigots either. Just ask them. If you dared. Everyone was treated the same, they would have said the colour of the skin didn't matter.

Of course, you can't label an entire town by one epithet. It would be unfair. Prejudiced even. But it was the case that what was unsaid - and bigotry is also silence - assumed the form of an atmosphere in which all breathed and lived. It pervaded life. It shaped words and actions. It allowed bigots to be themselves. It allowed the wordless snort that said everything.

Those people of 30 years ago would be happy to know that this country's attorney-general has blessed their right to be who they were. Senator George Brandis said so in the Senate last week. "People do have the right to be bigots," he told the chamber.

In one sense, of course, the senator is right. No one person, nor government, party or instrumentality should be able to mandate who or what a person wants themselves to be. To do so would be to drill into the core of a person's existence and lobotomise it. They can be bigot, bastard, barbarian - in their own home. That is their right. But outside the front door, concept collides with the real world. Not all people are reasonable, not all people are alert to the consequences of their actions. Voltaire, who may or may not have said I disagree with what you say but I'll defend your right to say it, did say this: "Prejudices are what fools use for reason." How will a reasonable person be adjudged able to judge?

Thirty years on from the snort, surely something, somewhere in the nation has changed? And it has. There has been progress in land rights, steps towards recognition and reconciliation, emergence of indigenous culture into the mainstream and awareness of the breadth and depth of history. But through the journey there has been, and still is, a fault line. It is the fracture that runs through the land, and into it falls all the ugliness of attitude to the otherness of foreigners. We are a brilliant success story of multiculturalism - when it suits. And then Cronulla happens. We march with Michael Long on his Long Walk, and then we gibe and joke at Adam Goodes' expense (and then we make him Australian of the Year).

When the White Australia Policy was given its death blow in 1973 by the Whitlam government, after being chipped away at over the previous two decades, the remnants of the policy didn't vanish, they were merely strewn in little pieces over the ground. An optimist would hope time would wear them into dust. As the political debates, explosions of emotion and argument, set off by Brandis' proposals, again have shown, bigotry, racism and prejudice have gone nowhere. You can't argue with where you are, yet we constantly are at war with ourselves, arguing over which spirit and which place has the greater claim to a kind of proprietary morality.

Brandis' proposal will make it unlawful "for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if the act is reasonably likely to vilify another person or a group of persons; or to intimidate another person or a group of persons, and the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of that person or that group of persons".

Vilify is defined as inciting hatred against a person or group; intimidate means to cause fear of physical harm. The standard will be that of "an ordinary reasonable member" of the community, "not by the standards of any particular group". But then there is this: none of the above applies to "words, sounds, images or writing spoken, broadcast, published or otherwise communicated in the course of participating in the public discussion of any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter".

What? Has there ever been a greater get-out-of-jail clause?

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus tells his daughter Scout: "First of all, if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

I wonder if the owner of the dismissive exhalation 30 years ago ever considered walking in another man's shoes? I suspect not. We could feel sorry for bigots and say they are incapable of ever doing so. They're entitled to be whoever they want to damn well be. They can say what they like. It's called free speech.

It's also a poison that is carried on the wind across the land into our daily lives.


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