By JR on Saturday, April 02, 2016
Waleed Ali has a good imagination
Waleed Ali is an Australian-born Muslim lawyer. He is the go-to Muslim for the Leftist media. He has a long screed below about how weird Australians are. They are weird because there have been a few media discussions about the right way to describe white settlement in Australia. He seems to think such discussions are illegitimate. Since there is disagreement about it, I would have thought such discussions to be perfectly normal. It is just one of the many things that arise for public discussion all the time.
And there is something to discuss. Calling white settlement of Australia an invasion conjures up visions of an armed force arriving and doing battle with another armed force to take possession of territory. But the white settlement of Australia was nothing like that. The whites who arrived under Governor Phillip in 1788 encountered no systematic resistance at all. Basically, the Aborigines just looked on in astonishment. There were one or two minor skirmishes after a while but that was all. So calling the British arrival an invasion is misleading. And why it is not sufficient to say simply that the British expeditioners "settled" in Australia escapes me. That says nothing about who else might have been there at the time.
So if this passing topic of conversation has any implications at all I would say that it is just another instance of Leftists using misleading language and others insisting on greater terminological accuracy. All the vast implications for Australian souls that Aly writes about are just figments of his imagination.
I grew up among working class Australians of the same British ancestry as mine and I can assure one and all that in that environment, on the rare occasions when it is mentioned, the topic of Aboriginal displacement evokes mild sympathy but absolutely no Angst. Leftist might agonize but agonizing is what Leftists do
Leftists cannot cope at all with carefully expressed conservative thought. Confronted with that, all they can do is stick fingers in their ears or run away. So the focus of their criticism is always on impromptu conservative utterances. They reveal their own limitations in doing that. Waleed Ali does
This "lowest common denominator" representation of conservatives is a common Leftist strategy. I wish I had kept a link to it but around ten years ago I saw a New York Times article about conservatism that was illustrated by a picture of a snaggle-toothed Appalachian. You can lie with statistics but you can also lie with pictures.
And there is in fact an incontrovertible example of the NYT deceiving in that way. When the Trayvon Martin death became a great Leftist campaign, Martin was represented by a picture of him as a nice kid aged about age 11, rather than equally available pictures of him as the sneering thug that he later became.
Every country has its weirdness, its reflex points that trigger spontaneous, uncontrolled actions that look almost comically irrational to the observer. It's the kind of thing you can only comprehend once you know the anatomy.
Take, for example, the United States' permanent weirdness on guns. Viewed from Australia – a nation that embraced gun control with relative (though not total) ease after a single massacre – it's gobsmacking that repeated mass shootings seem only to entrench positions rather than inspire a solution.
It's only when you grasp how guns have become totems of individual liberty and a principled distrust of government – and that these ideas constitute nothing less than the country's very reason for being – that you can begin to make sense of the madness.
So, beneath every weirdness most likely is a revelation. Not about the substance of whatever issue is in play, but about the essence of the nation grappling with it.
For Australia, it's Indigenous history. The US may be caught in a cycle of tragedy and denial, but we simply do away with the cycle. For us it's a founding tragedy, then steadfast denial ever since. The specifics might change – terra nullius, the stolen generations – but the constant is a remarkable jumpiness at the very thought of facing the past. A jumpiness so powerfully reflexive, it doesn't matter how insignificant the stimulus.
This week it's a guide on "Indigenous Terminology" from the University of New South Wales. As documents go, it's resoundingly minor: an advisory list, likely to be read by very few people, that "clarifies appropriate language" on Indigenous history and culture. But that was enough to start the nation's most prolific outrage machines to humming.
"WHITEWASH", boomed The Daily Telegraph, taking particular exception at the guide's suggestion that Australia was not "settled" or "discovered" by the British, but rather "invaded, occupied and colonised". This instantly triggered the talkback reflex, with lines of angry callers – historians all, no doubt – venting with all the gusto Alan Jones or Ray Hadley could inspire in them. For colour, and certainly not content, Sydney radio host Kyle Sandilands joined the party, ensuring the meltdown covered all frequencies.
Where do you start? Perhaps with the Tele's remarkably sloppy allegation that "UNSW rewrites the history books to state Cook 'invaded' Australia". Of course, UNSW did no such thing. The reference to Cook is entirely a Telegraph invention. The guide talks of invasion but doesn't attribute it to James Cook, who had no army with which to invade. It's an extrapolation showing that not only does some editor or other know nothing about the history they're so keen to defend, but that they're also quite keen to rewrite the present.
Or perhaps you might begin with precisely which historical account does the rewriting: the one of "settlement" with its implications of an uninhabited continent, or the one whose language of invasion and colonisation implies the significant resistance of Indigenous people and the slaughter that flowed as a result?
All that history is well trodden. For now, it's the weirdness of this, and what it reveals, that interests me. Specifically: why is this hysterical response so entirely predictable? Why is it that the moment the language of invasion appears, we seem so instinctively threatened by it? This isn't the response of sober historical disagreement. It's more visceral than that. Elemental even. It's like any remotely honest appraisal of our history – even one contained in an obscure university guide – has the power to trigger some kind of existential meltdown. What strange insecurity is this?
An American observing this, perhaps even while carrying a gun, would be entitled to be bewildered. Theirs is a dark history too – one that encompasses indigenous dispossession, slavery and segregation – but it's a history they can hardly be accused of denying in the way we do.
Sure, indigenous American history is frequently ignored, but this is partly because it is buried beneath the sheer tonnage of black history that is so constantly rehearsed. There will be people in the US south who lament losing the Civil War, and who cling to the Confederate flag. But it's hard to imagine a public freak-out because a university wanted to discuss slavery. By now, slavery and its abolition are central parts of the American story. There might be varying degrees of honesty in the way the US tells that story, but it has typically found a way to incorporate its warts.
Why do we struggle so much more? Demography, sure. It's harder to brush aside the claims of 13 per cent of the population than the roughly 2 per cent of ours that is Indigenous. But it's also a function of national mythology.
The US is built on the idea of constant progress through individual liberty. It's a nation that is never finished, never perfect, but always being perfected. Its historical scars are therefore not fatal to its identity. Indeed, they are essential because they allow Americans to tell a story of their own perfectibility. In these hands, slavery is not simply a stain, but a symbol of how far they've come. So, in the process of acknowledging slavery, the US is celebrated, not condemned.
We're not like that. We struggle with our history because once we admit it, we have nowhere to go with it; no way of rehabilitating our pride; no way of understanding ourselves. As a nation, we lack a national mythology that can cope with our shortcomings. That transforms our historical scars into fatal psychological wounds, leaving us with a bizarre need to insist everything was – and is – as good as it gets.
That's the true meaning of the love-it-or-leave-it ethos that so stubbornly persists. We don't want to be improved in any thorough way, because for us that seems to imply thorough imperfections.
Instead, we want to be praised, to be acknowledged as a success. It's a kind of national supplication, a constant search for validation. And history's fine, as long as it serves that purpose. But if it dares step out of line, it can expect to be slapped swiftly with the Sandilands dictum until it changes the subject: "you're full of shit, just get on with life". Then we can be comfortable again.