Stupid white women

greer.jpg
Despite Geoff Honnor’s elegant demolition of Germaine Greer’s egregious Quarterly Essay titled "Whitefella Jump Up – The Shortest Way to Nationhood", and even despite Greer’s figurative self-immolation on Andrew Denton’s program last Monday evening, I continue to feel compelled to write something about it. And blogging being in essence a self-indulgent hobby, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  There might even be a useful purpose to the exercise.  Although most people rightly regard Greer as an ageing, crazed harridan who occasionally produces flashes of insight amongst her embittered, hackneyed polemic, there may be some who might be tempted to take seriously her bizarre suggestion that Australians should all aspire to Aboriginality and convert ourselves by an effort of will from a prosperous western post-industrial capitalist culture into a stone age hunter- gatherer one.

I suspect, however, that most of the people inclined to take Germaine seriously would be the sort of dopey Democrat supporters who nod emphatically and thump the table in agreement whenever they play their old Midnight Oil albums and hear lines like "It belongs to them, let’s give it back"; the sort who’ve never left the comfortable suburbs of Melbourne or Adelaide for long enough to discover that Aboriginal culture (both traditionally and currently) contains vast elements of ultra-violent lore, ritual, practice and superstition that compare unfavourably (in human rights terms) even with the most extreme brand of Islamic Sharia law. Like them (and for similar reasons of wilful ignorance), Greer prefers to see Aborigines through a translucent lens as an idealised group of Rousseau-like noble savages, miraculously possessing wise and beneficent ways in tune with the wide brown land:

As a hunter-gatherer nation, Australia could play a further role in world affairs by making common cause without a hunter-gatherer peoples, all of whom are taking a terrible hammering. Most are isolated from the mainstream, as presently Aborigines are; the emergence on the world stage of a hunter-gatherer nation, with policy aims and initiatives that are consonant with hunter-gatherer values, could be a lifeline for such peoples, and provide useful precedents in their struggle to protect country, heritage and habitat from annihilation. The recognition of hunter-gatherer culture would involve the establishment of networks and institutions where the cultures could be learned in context. For example, Australians are not the only people who practised firestick farming; it would be of assistance to those trying to recreate the prairie ecology of North America to work together with those trying to restore the open grasslands of Australia.


It never seems to occur to Greer, however, that even if her Noble Savage myth were actually true, the hunter-gatherer lifestyle only ever supported a miserable few hundred thousand Aborigines living a precarious existence in small, relatively isolated bands around the Australian continent. There is no way such a system of social or technological organisation could ever support the 19 million people who live in Australia today. Is Greer suggesting depopulation by mass starvation or forced emigration? She doesn’t say, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Even though most of the people likely to be impressed by Greer’s loopy essay are probably beyond rational argument, I thought there might be at least some value in setting out some of the more outstanding passages and then showing where they’re demonstrably based on false premises. Even if it only serves to relieve my own chronic irritation with Greer’s patronising stupidity, it’s a worthwhile exercise from my viewpoint.

My white countrymen appear to be afflicted by a kind of emotional paralysis, a pathological indifference. It is obvious to anyone who gives the matter five minutes’ thought that Australia’s "sophisticated recreational lifestyle" comes at a huge cost in terms of non-renewable resources, water for instance. The senescent bush along the densely populated foreshores will one day exploding firestorms that will wipe out the insurance market and bring the whole shonky economy to its knees. Australians have access to adequate and reliable information about the threat represented by their mismanaged environment, but they remain unable to give a damn.  …


In many ways this passage lies at the heart of Greer’s hypothesis (such as it is).  She assumes conclusively that Australians are raping, pillaging and destroying Australia’s environment, and proposes adopting a "sustainable" Aboriginal hunter-gatherer lifestyle and ethos as the antidote!  Now I’d be the last to deny that Australia has some significant environmental problems, but Greer’s sweeping assumption is simply wrong.  A few minutes study of Environment Australia’s State of the Environment Australia 2001 Report shows quite clearly that the contemporary environmental picture in this country is largely a positive one.  Moreover, it’s improved still further since 2001 because of Queensland’s belated decision to stop wholesale land clearing, and the Federal government’s nascent plans to tackle the problems of the Murray-Darling basin.  This isn’t to deny that serious problems still exist, just to point out that it isn’t the picture of doom and destruction Greer tries to paint.

Problem drinking affected whitefellas long before it made devastating inroads into aboriginal society, and it continues to wreak havoc today. Drinking habits that are well known to be implicated in violence of all kinds, especially domestic violence and child abuse, as well as road accidents, avoidable illness, suicide and premature death, are regarded with a kind of amused tolerance. When we see such behaviour in Russia we know it to be pathological and we can diagnose demoralisation, displacement and despair as root causes, without invoking cop-out theories of alcoholism as a disease caused by genetically inherited factors….

In prissy white-collar 21st-century Australia, a culture of macho hard-drinking still prevails. As Frank Moorhouse says in his essay "The Australian Legend" (1984), "Heroic spree-drinking still characterises males of many sub-classes [sic]. Drinking is a man’s way of crying, as Lawson said." For Moorhouse and Lawson before him it seems obvious that self-punishing bouts of drinking have a strong connection with grief of some kind. For whatever reason it remains easier in most places in Australia to get drunk than to find something half-way decent to eat. In towns like Alice Springs, liquor outlets outnumber food stores by a ratio of six or seven to one. Binge drinking is one of a galaxy of self-destructive behaviours making a continuum with suicide, suicide attempts, drug abuse, reckless driving and self-harming, all of which are rife in the "lucky" country. …


These passages contain so many grossly erroneous claims and assumptions that it’s difficult to know where to start:

  • "Heroic spree-drinking still characterises males …" – In fact Australian Institute of Criminology data show that "[m]ore female drinkers consumed at hazardous and harmful levels than males in every year" between 1993 and 1998.
  • Greer implicitly characterises Australia as having much greater alcohol problems than other western countries.  In fact, the English (among whom Greer mercifully mostly lives) consume significantly more alcohol per person than Australians. Maybe they’re feeling alienated through a subconscious realisation that they stole the land from the Celts. This Australian Institute of Health and Welfare study  shows:

In 1998, Australia ranked 20th in the world in terms of per capita consumption of pure alcohol, with approximately 7.6 litres consumed per person. This corresponded to an annual per capita consumption of around 94.5 L of beer, 19.7 L of wine and 1.3 L of pure alcohol from spirits. …

  • I haven’t been able to find any statistics on Greer’s claim that in Alice Springs "liquor outlets outnumber food stores by a ratio of six or seven to one", but it certainly doesn’t accord with my own fairly close personal knowledge.  Apart from the quite small number of hotels and nightclubs, virtually all liquor licences in the Northern Territory (including Alice Springs) are ancillary to restaurants or supermarkets, both of which are primarily in the business of selling food.
  • Does Australia exhibit suicide statistics higher than elsewhere in the western world (as Greer implicitly claims)?  Well, no.  This report by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care finds that:

Table 9 shows the most recent suicide rates for young people for all 44 countries which provided data for the 1994 edition of the WHO Statistics Annual. This table demonstrates significant variations from the pattern shown by industrialised countries in the previous two tables. …

The Australian male youth suicide rate for 1993 ranks 13th highest compared to the latest figures available for these countries, and the young women’s rate is 25th. If the 1995 Australian figures were used for comparison, Australia would rank 11th for young men and 10th for young women.

  • What about "self-harming"?  Again Greer is wrong in claiming that Australia’s record demonstrates a particular and extreme problem (whether caused by alienation in an "Aboriginal" land or otherwise):

Rates of self-harm and attempted suicide are difficult to compare internationally because of the definitional and reporting problems outlined in the earlier section on this topic. Some studies indicate that the rates of self-harm found in Australian surveys of adolescents are lower than those found in the United States and higher than some found in European studies (Patton et al publication pending, Zubrick et al 1995).

  • Well, how about "reckless driving"?  Greer reckons this is also "rife", and provides further evidence of Aussie alienation from the wide brown land.  This press release from federal Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Senator Ron Boswell claims (based on OECD statistics):

"While a new road safety report shows Australia ranked seventh out of twenty-five member nations for which information was available (based on the number of fatalities per registered vehicle in 1999), around one in three of the 5,569 accidental deaths in Australia during that year were caused by road crashes," Senator Boswell said.

The Benchmarking Road Safety: The 1999 Report, produced by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), used figures from the International Road Traffic Accident Database, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the ATSB to compare fatalities.

"When taking into account the number of vehicles on the road, Australia was one of the safest nations in the OECD in 1999 with 1.4 fatalities per 10 000 vehicles registered," Senator Boswell said.

"In the 25 years to 1999 the rate of road fatalities in Australia reduced significantly (5.8 in 1975 to 1.4 in 1999) compared with both the OECD median rate and the OECD best performance rate.

  • Just about the only area where Greer’s assertions bear any resemblance at all to the truth is illicit drug abuse.  The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare study mentioned above shows that Australia’s consumption of illicit drugs is probably roughly equivalent to the US but worse than Canada and most EU countries.  Does this show that young Australians are uniquely alienated by their failure to accept that their forebears stole the land from the Aborigines?  I suspect not.  It’s more likely to flow from the fact that we follow the US "war on drugs" law enforcement model instead of the more enlightened (and effective) harm minimisation strategies favoured in Europe and Canada.

Michael Blakemore in "The Straight Poofter", published in 1984, describes the landscape as "endless and neutral, not hostile to human beings, nor nurturing; just profoundly indifferent", and again we are contemplating another transference; it is Blakemore who is indifferent to country, he revealingly called "landscape". It was not the country that was damned but the settler who felt in his heart that he was damned. His impotent cursing, which has left a legacy in the unequalled degree of profanity in Australian speech, was a classic piece of transference. We hate this country because we cannot allow ourselves to love it. We know in our hearts’ core that it is not ours. …


What makes Greer think Australians "hate this country"?  Is it because she does?  Who knows?  Who cares?  And does Australian speech exhibit an "unequalled degree of profanity"?  It’s fucking bullshit, I reckon.

Most Australians will these days deny that they hate the land, but actions speak louder than words. Try going into a main street bookstore and asking for books on Australian natural history, and you’ll see what I mean. You will be offered a book on gardening (with exotics) or breeding cats or fishing. Substantial books on Australian flora and fauna, ecology and geology are occasionally published, but they aren’t sold. As Judith Wright said in her essay "Australia — Landscape Ancient and Modern" (1984), "our revulsion from the country is still with us, and is one of the reasons for our continued ill-treatment of it". …


Greer seems to have acquired the same matronly disdain for exotic flora as the formidable lady who recently assailed Geoff Honnor about his jasmine and wisteria.  I suspect this syndrome is more related to menopausal factors than alienation in an Aboriginal land.  It also appears to be factually incorrect, at least judging from this Amazon.com list of Australian natural history books (most of which appear to still be in print and therefore presumably selling in respectable numbers).

Essentially, Greer creates a picture of imagined Australian alienation by building falsehood upon gross exaggeration, and then posits her central hypothesis based on that utterly misconceived portrayal:

There is only one way to purge the taint, uncover the secret, and ease the otherwise eternal regret, and that is — not to give the country back to the Aborigines because it isn’t ours to give — to admit that it has been an Aboriginal country all along.

If you have read thus far it should be clear that my object in writing as a non-Aboriginal Australian addressing other non-Aboriginal Australians is to suggest the way out of the predicament in which we find ourselves as guilty inheritors of a land that was innocently usurped by our ignorant, deluded, desperate forefathers. The single step that begins this journey is the simple admission that ours is an Aboriginal country. All of it. Every single bit. Try saying it to yourself in the mirror. "I live in an Aboriginal country." Even the obvious cannot be recognised as true until somebody says it. …


Try as I might, it’s impossible to satirise nonsense like this.  Res ipsa loquitur (it speaks for itself).  The same is true of Greer’s astonishingly misanthropic take on multiculturalism, where she manages to combine standard leftie anti-Americanism with her own unique blend of hatred of Australia:

From the success of these experiments was born the deliberate policy of "multiculturalism" in employment, which means selecting the smallest possible number of people each from the widest available array of nationalities. The new arrivals and have no choice but to learning English, the bosses’ language, and to communicate with their fellow-workers in the language. The pattern is repeated in mining operations in the Pilbara and Arnhem Land, in the motor industry and the steel industry, and in the Ord River and Murrumbidgee Irrigation areas. Nabalco is proud to employ thirty nationalities in the bauxite plant at Gove. There is a legend in the motor industry that workers on the assembly line were deliberately placed next two workers with whom they had no language in common, in order to prevent the development of any kind of worker solidarity. Such even-handedness insured the continuing dominance of the diminishing Anglo-Celt majority, and removed any possibility of the rise of any faction capable of significant insurrection. … With so many contrasting lifestyles, there is only one that can dominate in representation and that is the proto- American, secular, acquisitive, hedonistic insouciance of you-beaut country. The only culture with sufficient depth and reach to counter such heedless complacency is Aboriginality.


Why does anyone take this woman seriously?

* Image from Salon, which describes Greer as an “impulsive, fatally naive diva of feminism”. Stupid white woman will do me.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
This entry was posted in Miscellaneous. Bookmark the permalink.
20 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Gummo Trotsky
2022 years ago

Hunter-gatherers eh? Or possibly eel farmers?

Ron Mead
Ron Mead
2022 years ago

“Why does anyone take this woman seriously?”

Yes, why are you, Ken?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Ron,

Strangely enough, I did ask myself that very question while writing the post. My only excuse it that she pissed me off, and writing about it gets it off my chest.

Gummo Trotsky
2022 years ago

So, it’s one of those pieces that “… spark debate. The author knows what he or she wants to say, knows how to say it well and leaves the reader with a message … You nod in agreement or you shake your head madly in dissent …” to quote my favourite SWF.

BTW Ken, what’s the significance of putting the Greer quotes in red? And how would you rate the tract’s ballistic properties?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Gummo,

Just to differentiate them clearly from all the other quotes and dot points.

It’s disappointing from a ballistic viewpoint. The volume is so light (120 pages) that you can’t get any decent heft into the throw. I may have to burn it instead.

Gummo Trotsky
2022 years ago

Try holding it vertically, and giving it a lot of topspin. Of course if the binding is cheap, you’ll still have a problem with pages flapping.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

Ken

I agree with Ron. (Christ, I can’t believe I wrote that.) By devoting such energy to debunking Greer, you have fallen into the trap of taking her seriously.

And, BTW, your slandering of the Adelaide Democrats set is unfair. For all you know, they, like you, might think Greer’s essay is crap. Has Natasha interrupted her honeymoon to endorse it? Not that I’ve seen. Has Bob Brown given it the green thump’s up? No.

cs
cs
2022 years ago

“There is a legend in the motor industry that workers on the assembly line were deliberately placed next two workers with whom they had no language in common, in order to prevent the development of any kind of worker solidarity.”

Without going into any of the surrounding interpretation, I must say this was my experience many moons ago on the assembly line. For the first few days I thought it was just me, and that I couldn’t talk to anyone on either side of me because no-one spoke English … but I soon discovered that no-one could speak to anyone. I used to chat to the surpervisor when he came around every now and again, but he couldn’t speak to many people either. It was compulsory to do two additional four hours overtime shifts a week, and during one of these I was always delighted to get a guy next to me who could speak English. It’s an extraordinarily isolating experience … although I have no idea if there was any deliberate policy, yet the circumstantial evidence suggests there was … still, we had lots of strikes …

Richard
Richard
2022 years ago

Chris,

Could it have possibly been that there where just shitloads of employees working there that didn’t speak English? Having managed a large underground mining operation, I found it hard enough just ensuring we had suitably trained and assessed people working in jobs that they were trained for. It would add a huge factor of complexity just to ensure each employee’s preferred language didn’t match his co-workers. You assume too much of the employers.

Cheers,

cs
cs
2022 years ago

I agree Richard, that definitely could have been the reason … I’m only guessing from my experience … but it sure was a weird experience for this little bear, whatever explains it … I had to physically kick the guy under the track to stop him attaching the handbrake cable before I had screwed the handbrake on, cos I couldn’t explain it to him … and there were all sorts of other strange interactions.

EvilPundit
2022 years ago

“I had to physically kick the guy under the track”

Come and see the violence inherent in the system! :)

cs
cs
2022 years ago

Yeah Evil … I’m not having a go here … but it’s true and it was pretty sobering for a 19 year old surfie … but better than being unemployed … or so I possibly stupidly thought at the time.

EvilPundit
2022 years ago

I’m not having a go either, that’s why the smiley. I just found it an amusing statement when taken out of context.

I had a some sobering experiences in my first few jobs as well.

Erik K
Erik K
2022 years ago

I ran across your debunking piece about Germaine Greer quite by accident, and thought you did an excellent job of exposing the vapidness of her pretensions.

Since a good piece of debunking text can be enhanced by a good debunking photo, I suggest you include a link to a portrait of Greer by the Australian photographer Polly Greer that resides at http://www.lightindustry.info/polly_borland/images/photos/20.jpg. It shows Greer, coyly posed in the nude in what looks like a seated yoga posture, grinning stupidly from ear to ear. She is evidently so vain that she has no idea how silly this photo makes her look.

Erik K
Erik K
2022 years ago

Whoops – that should have read ‘Polly Borland’.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

mmmmm – what is wrong with dreaming? what is so satisfying about nit-picking? It is a rambling succession of ideas – some of which might have real merit – if taken in the spirit they are given. The connection between us and country is vital – we are of the country it is in our souls.
To be unaware of this is to be bereft – that’s what she is talking about. She doesn’t hate Australia and she doesn’t want us to be hunter gatherers She seems to want a discourse that begins with belonging and ends with a palpable result. I think this essay is an attempt to add impetus to the sense of nationhood that is Australian/Aboriginal/ a piano/ or whatever you wish to call it. This country expands my heart in my chest. I need it. That’s what I understand from the essay – that I’m not the only one beside a few of my friends and a load of blackfellas that feels this way about OZ.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

mmmmmmmmmmmm Well I liked it. I liked the rambling dreaming sense of possibility for Australia. I always have preferred dreamers to nit-pickers and nay-sayers. I wish you lot would employ those considerable intellects to examining the essay in a positive way. Is there not one good idea in the whole lot? The country is the beginning of belonging and our consciousness of that might be missing a little or a lot. This country makes me make a big breath of completenes and it happens everywhere – except WA because I haven’t been there, but I bet I’ll get the rush when I go there too the rush and the stillness.

jen
jen
2022 years ago

Man I thought the first one went walkabout silly old gin

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Jen

There are aspects of Greer’s work that are stimulating, interesting ideas. But they’re obscured and undone (for me at least, and obviously from public reactions, many others) by her poisonous negativity and contempt verging on hatred for contemporary Australian culture. If you look at the reactions when “Jump-up” was published, you’ll find that the condemnation was almost universal and not confined to cynical blokes around 50.

Greer’s contempt for us (Australians) would be worth taking seriously if it was actually based on anything resembling an accurate appreciation of the facts. It isn’t, as my post sought to demonstrate. Instead, she seems to have developed a fictionalised mental picture of Australia, magnified and frozen in time in the early 60s when she left for England. It’s sad really, because she remains a smart woman with some good and challenging ideas. But, in any realm of serious discourse, you can’t expect to be taken seriously if your work exhibits such a radical disregard for the facts. It isn’t simply “nit-picking”.

You’re right that there’s an interesting and potentially constructive debate to be had around issues like respect, sensitivity and closeness to the land, and whether the inner calm/acceptance that traditional Aboriginal people exhibit (when not affected by drugs or alcohol) could be assimilated to good effect in the dominant western culture. But the thinly veiled contempt in Greer’s work, and its plethora of factual errors, made sure that didn’t happen.

BTW my intuition about whether Aboriginal calm/acceptance (or its Zen equivalent) could viably be incorporated in the dominant culture is, probably not if we want to continue our current level of material progress. I suspect that capitalism is driven psychologically by its participants’ inner dissatisfaction, striving for the further fields that are always greener, the need to achieve to demonstrate social worth etc etc. They’re uncomfortable, corrosive values, and it would be good if we can evolve a better way e.g. a playful zen-like joy in productive, challenging work, generated from an inner calm and (in part) from an understanding that our individual lives and achievements are transitory, and that their value lies in contributing to the evolution of the Whole rather than in “one-upping” each other. But I suspect that this mindset can only develop when most people are engaged in work that isn’t mind-numbing and repetitive (e.g. production line, menial service industry, truck-driving etc). Zen and the art of flipping hamburgers seems pretty unlikely. Fortunately, it’s possible that technology will soon reach a point where machines will more efficiently perform all of the drudge tasks. That’s when things might get interesting.

But note that these factors are universal to western capitalist society. They’re not unique to Australia. There’s nothing about the Australian version of 21st century western liberal democratic capitalist culture that makes it legitimately subject to the false invidious comparisons Greer draws with Britain, Europe and America. These (alienation, corrosive extreme materialism, lack of a spiritual dimension and common ethical understandings) are issues that are common to all of us. However, if Greer had said that Australia’s geographical isolation, fragile landscape, partly surviving Aboriginal culture, material wealth, harmonious multicultural society etc etc potentially give us some special advantages in evolving a more spiritually satisfying post-modern culture, I would agree with her wholeheartedly. But she didn’t. It’s easy to alienate an audience, much harder to carry them with you where you’re advancing difficult, challenging ideas. Greer failed because she can’t free herself from her own corrosive contempt for the society she left. It’s a pity.

trackback
2022 years ago

Blognotes

Winds of Change has more on Capt. James Yee, the Muslim US Army chaplain who was arrested on charges of espionage. Army Capt. James Yee was taken into custody by U.S. military authorities September 10 at the naval air…