Apologies

It’s good to have the apology out of the way. It was such a horrible distraction, the failure to apologise such a monumental act of ungenerosity. Nevertheless, and despite its frequent tendentiousness, and despite its ridiculous lumping together of apologies to Muslims for the Crusades and the apology to the aborigines (kids were being removed from their parents until the 1970s), there’s a lot I agree with about this execration of the modern craze for apologies by conservative Theodore Dalrymple.

Dalrymple (AKA Anthony Daniels) suggests that all that concentration on the Big Things of politics and geopolitics about which apologies are given somehow displaces more immediate considerations about whether people are behaving well in their own lives. I can’t see why these two realms might not be though of as somehow reinforcing rather than competing with one another. That is I presume what Noel Pearson would hope for.

But it doesn’t seem to have worked that way. Just the very juxtaposition Dalrymple makes between the Chistian apology to the Muslims for the Crusades and the absence of any call for a Muslim apology to the Christians (for their earlier invasions and depredations) makes the point very powerfully I think. What’s going on here is not really an exchange between equals.  It is some public act of ritual obeisance towards the weak and dispossessed, but one in which the psychology of the strong is always at the centre of the drama – as Dalrymple says a form of gradiosity and self dramatisation for the victors.

Another thought that occurred to me – contra Dalrymple – is that there now are more issues that are big issues. Thus for instance, I find myself constantly irritated at attempts to moralise environmental issues down to ‘personal responsibility’. I’m afraid I can’t be bothered doing my one billionth of the work necessary to make the planet a better place without some feeling that it’s also part of some more collective action. I also give to charity, but would be happier to give quite a bit more as my part of a collective act (that is I’m happy to vote for higher top marginal tax rates, but don’t send the ATO a big ‘tip’ every time I do my tax.)

Anyway, I think it’s a good essay and will reproduce it over the fold in case people want to discuss it.

Note: Because the issue of apologies seems to be a pretty hot button issue, I’d ask people to keep things as civil as they can in the comments.  Otherwise I might delete your comment.

False Apology Syndrome Im sorry for your sins. By Theodore Dalrymple

There is a fashion these days for apologies: not apologies for the things that one has actually done oneself (that kind of apology is as difficult to make and as unfashionable as ever), but for public apologies by politicians for the crimes and misdemeanours of their ancestors, or at least of their predecessors. I think it is reasonable to call this pattern of political breast-beating the False Apology Syndrome.

Mr. Blair, the then British prime minister, apologized to the Irish for the famine; one of the first public acts of Mr. Rudd, the Australian prime minister, was to apologize to the Aborigines for the dispossession of their continent; Pope John Paul II apologized to the Muslims for the Crusades. There are many other examples, and there are also demands for apologies by aggrieved, or supposedly aggrieved, groups.

What is this all about, and what does it signify? Does it mean that at long last the powerful are making a genuine effort to see things from the point of view of the weak, or is it, on the contrary, a form of moral exhibitionism that subverts genuine moral thought and conduct?

Let us examine briefly the apology for the Crusades as an example of the whole genre. It is not exactly a new discovery that the Crusaders often, perhaps usually or even always, behaved very badly. It is not in the nature of invading armies to behave well, even when discipline is strong, morale is high, and control of the foot soldiers is firm; it is no secret that these conditions did not exist during the Crusades, to put it rather mildly.

They were, however, rather a long time ago. The Crusades were an attempt to recover for Christendom what had been lost by force, with all the accompanying massacre, pillage, and oppression that the use of force in those days implied. No one, I think, expects an apology from present-day Arabs for the imperialism of their ancestors, either as a matter of moral duty or political likelihood. We are all born into the world as we find it, after all; we are not responsible for what went before us.

Of course, we may take pride in the culture and achievements of our biological or political ancestors indeed such pride is necessary for the preservation and development of any civilization in which case it is only right and proper that we should also face up squarely to the less glorious aspects of our heritage. But this is a matter for genuine historical scholarship and moral reflection of the kind that leads to a determination never to repeat the crimes, not for sound-bite sloganeering. The world would be a better place if academics in the Islamic world faced up to the fact (and were free to face up to the fact) that their religion does not have a peaceful historical record, just as the world has become a better place because the Germans have acknowledged the recent historical record of their country. If large numbers of Germans, including their leaders, started to say that Germany is what it has always been, namely a land of peace, the rest of the world would have good cause to tremble.

But official apologies for distant events, however important or pregnant with consequences those events may have been, are another matter entirely. They have bad effects on both those who give them and those who receive them.

The effect on the givers is the creation of a state of spiritual pride. Insofar as the person offering the apology is doing what no one has done before him, he is likely to consider himself the moral superior of his predecessors. He alone has had the moral insight and courage to apologize.

On the other hand, he knows full well that he has absolutely no personal moral responsibility for whatever it is that he is apologizing for. In other words, his apology brings him all kudos and no pain.

This inevitably leads to the false supposition that the moral life can be lived without the pain of self-examination. The locus of moral concern becomes what others do or have done, not what one does oneself. And a good deed in the form of an apology in public for some heinous wrong in the distant past gives the person who makes it a kind of moral capital, at least in his own estimation, against which he can offset his expenditure of vice.

The habit of public apology for things for which one bears no personal responsibility changes the whole concept of a virtuous person, from one who exercises the discipline of virtue to one who expresses correct sentiment. The most virtuous person of all is he who expresses it loudest and to most people. This is a debasement of morality, not a refinement of it. The end result is likely to be self-satisfaction and ruthlessness accompanied by unctuous moralizing, rather than a determination to behave well.

The effect on some of the recipients of such apologies is likely to be very bad also, for similar though slightly different reasons. Let us take the demand for an apology for the Atlantic slave trade as an example.

I doubt whether anyone could be found nowadays who would mount a moral defense of that trade. That it was hideous and cruel beyond all description hardly needs saying, and what does not need saying should not be said, at least not often, for otherwise the lady doth protest too much.

The demand for an apology supposes that there is a clearly definable person, or group of persons, who can be held responsible for the trade, or at the very least to have been the beneficiaries of it. In other words, the world can be neatly divided into historical oppressed and oppressor, victim and perpetrator.

Most historical situations and their consequences are more complex and ambiguous than this simple schema would suggest, and the slave trade is no exception. For medical reasons having to do with relative immunity to malaria, if for no others, the supply of slaves depended crucially on the co-operation of African suppliers who captured slaves for sale. No apology from their descendents is required. The trade was abolished almost entirely through the efforts of white abolitionists. However discontented with their lot present-day American descendents of slaves may be, they are much better off than they would have been had their ancestors not been brought to America. Are they morally obliged, then, to offer up thanks to the slave traders who brought their ancestors to America?

Thus the demand for an apology for the Atlantic slave trade is a demand that people with no personal responsibility for it apologize to people who have suffered no personal wrong from it. From the point of view of morality, this is a very strange demand.

It isnt very difficult to discern what lies behind it: money, and lots of it. Nor does it require extraordinary powers of prediction or foresight to know who would get the lions share of any such money that was forthcoming.

But even when money is not involved, there are deleterious effects on the recipients of what one might call class-action apologies. Just as those who give them become convinced of their own virtue, so do those who receive them. It is enough that they should be considered victims for them to conclude that they can do no wrong, or at any rate no wrong worth talking about. For what is a personal peccadillo to set beside a great historical wrong?

An apology of this kind, then, or even the supposition that such an apology ought to be forthcoming, exerts a liberating, that is to say loosening, effect upon personal morals. For what can I do wrong to compare with the wrongs that my ancestors suffered at the hands of your ancestors? How dare you even mention it, you hypocrite!

The neat division of populations into victims and perpetrators, oppressed and oppressors, sinners and saints, that public apologies for long-past wrongs both imply and strengthen means that all sense of human tragedy is lost. The situation of the Aborigines in Australia, however, was and is tragic, and would still be tragic even had the settlers behaved from the first in the best possible or morally ideal fashion. (It is not in human nature that they should have done so, least of all in a rough-and-ready and very young frontier society.)

There is no obvious or easy answer to the problem of a Stone Age people who come into close contact with a vastly superior material culture. Neither total assimilation nor preservation in what amounts to a living ethnographic museum is a complete or satisfactory solution; probably such a solution does not exist, which is the tragedy. But a blanket apology and the granting of group economic privileges is hardly the way to cultivate a sense of personal responsibility in a population now decimated by alcoholism and brutalized by family violence. Quite the contrary: psychologically, if not in strict logic, it will allow a man to beat his wife and blame history.

The False Apology Syndrome flourishes wherever there has been a shift in the traditional locus of moral concern. At one time, a man probably felt most morally responsible for his own actions. He was adjudged (and judged himself) good or bad by how he conducted himself toward those in his immediate circle. From its center rippled circles of ever-decreasing moral concern, of which he was also increasingly ignorant. Now, however, it is the other way round. Under the influence of the media of mass communication and the spread of sociological ways of thinking, a man is most likely to judge himself and others by the opinions he and they hold on political, social, and economic questions that are far distant from his immediate circle. A man may be an irresponsible father, but that is more than compensated for by his deep concern about global warming, or foreign policy, or the food situation in Africa.

A false apology is usually accompanied by bogus or insincere guilt, which is often confused with appropriate shame. The German chancellor, Mrs Merkel, spoke in the Knesset recently of her shame at what Germany had done: this was the correct word to use, and precisely the right sentiment for a German who shared no part of the responsibility for what had happened. Pride in the German musical tradition; shame for what Germans had done in the 1930s and 40s.

Guilt, by its very nature, ought to be connected to responsibility; it ought, moreover, to be in proportion to the wrongdoing that is its occasion. To assume a guilt greater than the responsibility warrants is actually a form of grandiosity or self-aggrandisement. The psychological mechanism seems to be something like this: I feel very guilty, therefore I must be very important.

In some case, it is a substitute for importance, or for a loss of importance. Europe (or at least its intellectual class) now feels more than ever responsible for Africa, precisely because its power over it has waned. If Europe cannot feel itself responsible any longer for all that is good and progressive in Africa, such as modern medicine, roads, railways, telephone, etc., it can at least feel responsible for all that is bad in it, such as starvation, civil wars, and so forth. For it is far better, from the point of view of self-esteem, to be responsible for great evil than to be completely or even relatively unimportant. If in the process of false apologizing the participants render Africans themselves inert and inanimate, responsible themselves for nothing, or nothing very much, that is a small price to pay.

False Apology Syndrome which is not yet found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association or the World Health Organizations International Classification of Diseases, tenth edition is a therefore rich but poisonous mixture of self-importance, libertinism, condescension, bad faith, loose thinking, and indifference to the effects it has on those who are apologized to.

I am, of course, sorry if you disagree.

Theodore Dalrymple is a physician and author whose works include Our Culture, Whats Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses (Ivan R. Dee). His real name is Anthony Daniels, and he divides his time between England and France.
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Gummo Trotsky
Gummo Trotsky
12 years ago

The habit of public apology for things for which one bears no personal responsibility changes the whole concept of a virtuous person, from one who exercises the discipline of virtue to one who expresses correct sentiment. The most virtuous person of all is he who expresses it loudest and to most people.

Have to agree with that – Andrew Bolt is a fine example of the species. Whoops – he was like that before the apology for the stolen generations. Seems that particular notion of virtue might have other origins besides ‘the habit of public apology’.

Thersites
Thersites
12 years ago

This justifiable argument has always been pretty obvious but funny how nobody mentioned or posted it a year ago.

Is it really so long ago that Bruce Ruxton of the RSL was demanding an apology from the Japanese for the war? Maybe apologising for the past is not the hard thing for a politician to do but the easy thing (with apologies to ARL coach Wayne Bennett for drawing on his assessment of Alfie Langers mid season retirement speech years ago)?

Apologising personally for a direct wrong is far harder …..

melaleuca
melaleuca
12 years ago

One of the nasty consequences of excessive “sorry business” in regards to the stolen generations is that state welfare agencies leave indigenous kids in homes that no white kid would ever be allowed to live in. This was reported in the “The Age” a couple of years back but unfortunately I cannot find the link. I also have social workers in the family who have confirmed that such an unwritten policy exists and who have provided me with innumerable stomach churning anecdotes.

The upshot is that we have a new “stolen generation” of indigenous children. These children are in homes that rob them of almost any possibility of leading a happy life by stealing their self-esteem, dignity and access to proper nutrition, health care, education.

THR
THR
12 years ago

One of the nasty consequences of excessive sorry business in regards to the stolen generations is that state welfare agencies leave indigenous kids in homes that no white kid would ever be allowed to live in.

In Victoria, at least, this is a myth. Aboriginals are significantly over-represented in child protection statistics. There are no legal barriers or ‘unwritten policies’ preventing welfare workers removing children from Aboriginal families. Basically, in Vic, workers treat Aboriginal families the same as any other, but have to do visits accompanied by an Aboriginal worker, and must, when placing a child out of their family’s care, seek a ‘culturally appropriate’ (i.e. Aboriginal) placement. There are some other requirements about removed Aboriginal kids needing a ‘cultural plan’ to ensure that remain attached to their Aboriginality, if they wish.

It may be different in other states, but this furphy of Bolt’s is not supported by any evidence in Victoria.

melaleuca
melaleuca
12 years ago

“WELFARE workers in NSW are removing Aboriginal children from their homes in numbers far greater than during the Stolen Generations, and the recruitment of Aboriginal staff has done nothing to stem the tide.

On the eve of the release of another report on the crisis in child welfare, The Australian can reveal that a staggering 4000 Aboriginal children are now in state care in NSW.

This compares with about 1000 Aboriginal children in foster homes, institutions and missions in 1969.

Black children are being removed at 10 times the rate of white children, despite a tripling in the number of Aboriginal welfare workers.

The total suggests that about one in six Aboriginal children in NSW is now a ward of the state. ” http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24695603-601,00.html

Also note this from the above link: “By comparison, numbers have flattened and started to fall in other states, especially in Victoria, which recently undertook massive reform of its system.” (my emphasis)

Note the use of the word “reform”. What this means, according to my inside sources, is that indigenous children in Victoria are being left in homes that would have the RSPCA aghast if they were a dog or a cat.

We have a New Stolen Generation and the theft is being perpetrated by soft left black arm-banders.

THR
THR
12 years ago

You seem to be contradicting yourself, Mel. On the one hand, you claim that mis-placed guilt re: the Stolen Generations has resulted in Aboriginal kids not being protected (an argument parroted by Bolt and co). On the other hand, you yourself have cited stats showing that Aboriginal kids are far more likely to be removed from their parents than non-Aboriginal kids.

Note the use of the word reform. What this means, according to my inside sources, is that indigenous children in Victoria are being left in homes that would have the RSPCA aghast if they were a dog or a cat.

Suppose we assume that this is true – what evidence is there that Aboriginal kids are singled out for particularly negligent treatment by the system? The stats show that Aboriginal families are being over-policed rather than under-policed. Remember also that the business of removing a kid from parents isn’t solely up to welfare workers, but ultimately magistrates. There’s not a shred of evidence of ‘black arm-banders’ having any influence over policy, let alone allowing Aboriginal kids to be abused. Your last line is non-sequitur at its best.

melaleuca
melaleuca
12 years ago

“You seem to be contradicting yourself, Mel.”

You seem incapable of reading, THR. My claims are in respect of Victoria, where indigenous children are indeed removed from their homes at a relatively low rate compared to past removal rates and current NSW rates as per my link.

“The stats show that Aboriginal families are being over-policed rather than under-policed.”

The stats only show that if you aren’t able to interpret stats properly.

Children can be removed from family type X at a greater rate than family type Y without “over-policing” having anything to do with it. Indeed, since removal rates don’t automatically indicate family dysfunction rates, it may well be the case that family type X is relatively under-policed even if it has the most child removals.

“Theres not a shred of evidence of black arm-banders having any influence over policy, let alone allowing Aboriginal kids to be abused. Your last line is non-sequitur at its best.”

I’m unable to provide any hard written evidence because, well, that’s the thing with unwritten policies. All I am going on is what I have been informed “off the record” by numerous social workers with many years experience on many different occasions.

THR
THR
12 years ago

I think your contacts have got it wrong. Even in Victoria, Aboriginal kids are still far more likely to be removed from theri parents – I’ll try to find a link to back this up, but I’ve heard it from Aboriginal welfare workers.

If your connections are so convinced that there is a widespread conspiracy to allow the abuse of Aboriginal kids at the behest of ‘black armbanders’, why aren’t these people going to the Ombudsman to reveal this scandal?

As I’ve pointed out, there are no legal difficulties whatsoever for Vic workers to remove Aboriginal kids, othe than a legal obligation to make a token effort at ‘cultural sensitivity’. Among some workers and agencies, ‘Aboriginality’ is itself considered to be a risk factor. I’m still yet to see any evidence that workers are turning a blind eye to Aboriginal abuse due to ‘unwritten policies’. Dare I suggest it’s because your ‘numerous social workers’ are full of shit.

melaleuca
melaleuca
12 years ago

“Even in Victoria, Aboriginal kids are still far more likely to be removed from theri parents – Ill try to find a link to back this up, but Ive heard it from Aboriginal welfare workers.”

True. But they still aren’t removed nearly often enough. As per my above link, they are now removed less often than before due to a “new policy”.

Here’s some sobering stats (pun unintended) that compare indigenous and non-indigenous Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder rates that give us some insight into how bad things really are:

Overall Rate: 0.06 per 1000 live births
Indigenous Rate: 8.11 per 1000 live births

source: http://www.arbias.org.au/Downloads/Loretta%20de%20Plevitz,%20Judy%20Gould%20&%20Terrina%20Smith.pdf

The indigenous FASD rate is 135 times the national average.

Yet we have academic black arm-banders using dodgy surveys to engage in denialism about the indigenous booze problem. This one is an absolute ripper: http://larvatusprodeo.net/2006/07/25/lets-play-amateur-sociologist/

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
12 years ago

OffOn-topic, I like Theodore Dalrymple and I thought that was a great article. I agree entirely with this quote:

Guilt, by its very nature, ought to be connected to responsibility;

I agree thoroughly with his comments about shame as well. I think he is right both on semantics and principle. The point of the political/corporate apology, as I understood it in my (more) naive youth, was precisely as he puts it, ie to acknowledge responsibility, usually for inadequate systems which allowed something that should not have happened to happen.

I hate to raise the issue, but I have always felt uncomfortable ‘apologising’ to the stolen generations. I could never really conceive of it as more than a show, in which case it must be a sham. And ultimately, I could never work out what I had done wrong.

Off that issue, I also agree about his analysis of European victim culture.

Finally, I share his individual responsibility view of the world. I wish we all gave a lot less to the ATO and gave a lot more to charities directly. I think this would be beneficial in about umpteen ways, but most of all, it would be our personal responsibilities with all the ‘engagement’, character-building and other good stuff that people like me think comes with personal responsibility.

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
12 years ago

Both – a part of me can’t help believing that the world would be a better place if the Government did less looking out for people and shifted the burden onto the citizen in his individual capacity.

But another part of me worries about co-ordination problems, and about fashion victims like the LP set giving all their money to friggin Fat Al (although the fashion victim set would probably be only a small minority of actual donors).

So I guess I would like the choice to allocate up to about 20% of your tax bill to a charity of choice amongst a particular group, say Centrelink partners, and maybe a further 5% to a broader group, including things like World Vision etc.

NPOV
NPOV
12 years ago

That’s effectively saying you should get something close to 200% tax credit for any donations made to charity, isn’t it?

As in, currently, if ~33% of my income goes in tax, then if I want to reduce my tax bill by $1000, I have to donate $3000 to charity. You’re saying you should be able to do it by donating only $1000? Meaning that the ATO should throw in another $2000 discount on your income?

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
12 years ago

No discount on income at all. Just think of it as direct democracy, NPOV, and you will feel much happier.

NPOV
NPOV
12 years ago

Damn right there’s a discount – you’re saying that by donating $1000 in charity, then there’s $2000 of your income you don’t have to pay any tax on.
Meaning that you could actually avoid income tax completely if you gave away just a third of your income. And even if only 5% of taxpayers thought such a lark was worth going along with, the government would find itself desperately short of revenue and charities flooded with so much money that the mind boggles at what might happen to it. It would also guarantee an explosion in the number of organisations trying to register themselves as charities, most of which would almost certainly be fronts for siphoning money back to the donaters.

NPOV
NPOV
12 years ago

(Sorry, make that $3000 of your income that you don’t have to pay any tax on. Or $2000 of your remaining income).

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
12 years ago

Um, not really. It is still tax, you are just giving it away directly to, as I specified:

a charity of choice amongst a particular group, say Centrelink partners

Not easy to be a Centrelink partner at all. No funnelling money back to the donaters, for example, because that would cause you to lose your centrelink licence (or accreditation or whatever it is called), as well as your charitable status and constituting fraud.

NB, school vouchers could be implemented this way too.

Also, re this:

the government would find itself desperately short of revenue

Not really, because it won’t have to spend as much. With any luck the experiment would be so successful that government social services would just rot on the vine until there was no more than the regulatory framework left.

NPOV
NPOV
12 years ago

“With any luck the experiment would be so successful…”

…and therein lies the reality of your idea Patrick. I see very little reason to assume it would be successful at all.

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
12 years ago

The Vatical SHOULD apologise for the Crusades, but not to the Muhammadans, but rather to the West; for LOSING! Still, that is what we have Zionists and Americans for. With apologies to Leonard Cohen, First we take Manhattan, then Jerusalem, and Bagdad, then we take Constantinople.

John Greenfield
John Greenfield
12 years ago

As for the Rescued Generations, in 2008 they are being Rescued at FOUR times the rate they were Rescued in 1968.

Patrick
Patrick(@patrick)
12 years ago

Frankly, NPOV, one could preface almost any government policy of the last thirty years with ‘with a hell of a lot of luck it’ll be successful’. So I don’t think my honest assessment of policy success strikes my policy down.

And you do realise that you can’t possibly ‘avoid’ all of your tax by allocating 25% of it?

Nick, I think that is a concern, although I think appropriate registration requirements could manage it. For example a condition of eligibility for both categories could be no more than 0.5% of revenue could be spent on advertising; the taxpack could publish overhead spending per eligible partner and an additional condition could be that taxpayers contributing must not receive more any funds from the organisation other than as wages.
The 20% category could be limited to organisations with a >90% Australian spend, whereas the additional 5% option could be open to a broader range such as World Vision.

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters(@paul-frijters)
12 years ago

yes, I like the piece too and agree with the basic observation, but I am afraid I do find the author somewhat mentally lazy. The observation that historical apologies say more about the apologiser than any historical fact is a neat one to make, but also an obvious one. Ultimately, the author descends into cheap, easy, personal explanations for why a society might veer into wanting to make these apologies. Consider what his explanation of public apologies is:

“False apology syndrome….is a therefore rich but poisonous mixture of self-importance, libertinism, condescension, bad faith, loose thinking, and indifference to the effects it has on those who are apologized to.”

this individual moralising is just so lazy because it reduces a complex group phenomenon to the individual failings of the apologiser, which is neither empirically backed up or reasonable when you think about it. The author firstly doesnt consider where guilt comes from in our societes. When we instill our kids with notions of shame and guilt, is over what supposed ancestors did? No, it is over what the kids did. We tell our kids to feel guilty and shameful about doing something wrond themselves. Hence guilt does derive from personal morality in the sense of being intended to change personal behaviour. The second relevant question is why this personal guilt gets translated at the group level in Western societies to this kind of public self-bashing. Antony may be right that is all personal moral failing of the person apologising, but equally possible is the notion that it is the means of one group of Westerners to set themselves apart from another group of Westeners. A means of the new generation to appear different and better than their forefathers. It might hence be inter-generational. It might not: equally important is a recognition of how our societes as a group have chosen to change the history curriculum. Which group actually gets their hands on the history books via which the next generation is informed about the deeds of the past? This is a question that is not solved by streightforwardly moralising about the individual who makes the apology. In view comes the person writing the history book that the individual read when young, as well as the political support that lead to the particular historical writer. One can also think much harder about the political economy of minorities within Western societies. In other words, Antony Daniels is only at the start of his mental journey, not at the end. The steps he still needs to work out are:

Step 1. What sustains the individual guilt that ultimately still drives this?
Step 2. What are the group dynamics within Western societies, apparently lacking in many other societies, that lead to political pressure towards public apologies, co-opting individual guilt?

And, should you ask whether I have any opinions on this, see here. It mainly talks about step 1, step 2 was too hard for me to get a satisfactory answer.

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

I think you guys are missing the point that although living Western-style Australians are not directly responsible for the widespread depopulation of Aboriginal Australia (which happened before any of us were born), never the less we all continue to benefit from the conveniently large quantity of available land and natural resources that once belonged to someone else. If my grandfather committed a bank robbery and the money diffused out into the family and suppose that only now is the crime discovered (long after grandfather is dead and gone, and the money is spent), should I be asked to pay it back?

Inside a nation (as individuals dealing with other individuals) we operate within a framework of rules that imply moral wrongness for theft or use of force to take advantage of another. Nations themselves and the governments that control them have historically never operated within such rules when dealing with other nations, nor had any equivalent sense of morality (except as a propaganda tool), until relatively recent times. In effect, we are trying to impose a new constraint on governments to ensure groups behave in a manner that would be acceptable at the individual level.

There are obvious problems with this concept, although in principle it is an excellent idea. First problem, how far do we backdate the application of a modern concept to people who never knew that such an idea would be coming along?

Second problem is the fundamental problem of all group responsibility and group punishment. To say that “White Australia” is collectively guilty of the current hardship suffered by Aboriginals, is in effect also saying that Muslim extremists can legitimately hold all Australians responsible for our government’s oil wars in the Middle East and that the Bali bombing was justified punishment of the Australian collective (even though the individuals who lost their lives were not directly involved in the crime for which they were being punished). Similarly, Israel would logically be justified in randomly destroying the homes of Palestinians and pushing them off their land as collective punishment for terrorist rocket attacks.

I don’t feel comfortable with the implications of collective guilt. I do feel that we have a collective responsibility to at least avoid the mistakes of the past and do something positive for our future. Having divisions within our nation and an Aboriginal population who can neither be a nation unto themselves, nor successfully integrate into our existing system is an obvious problem for all Australians. This means that we want to declare that government policy (now) be held to the same moral standards that individuals are held to, regardless of the fact that we can’t change the past. We should also accept that when government policy goes wrong, we should concentrate most importantly on getting it back on the rails so things don’t get any worse, then reserve punishment for those individuals who led us astray by advocating poor policy.

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

I believe that Patrick’s direct democracy system is similar to some European countries forcing taxpayers to select from a menu of officially recognised churches and donate some chunk of their tax to one of those (no doubt there’s an overly complex formula for the chunk size, like there is with all other tax matters). There are various arguments about what is a workable system for selecting churches to be officially recognised for this purpose (Jedi never seems to make the list). I vaguely remember that Norway ended up with a lot of Humanists this way because all the Jedis, Ninjas, Pirates and Pastafarians were forced to pick something from the list and the Humanists were clever enough to jump the red tape and cash in bigtime. Germany made quite sure that only respectable miracle-worshiping religions get on the list, but maybe you can opt-out with sufficient effort.

Does this religious tithe contribute to any charitable good works? No idea, not sure where and how to look it up.

For NPOV’s benefit, you confuse a tax deductable expense (e.g. Paul Keating’s 150% tax deduction for R&D) with what is a genuine tax. The church tithe of Norway is a genuine tax: you don’t actually exchange money for goods, they just take the money. You just happen to get some choice over which particular church gets your money.

There are some outline notes here covering various European countries — http://www.iheu.org/node/2584

melaleuca
melaleuca
12 years ago

“I think you guys are missing the point that although living Western-style Australians are not directly responsible for the widespread depopulation of Aboriginal Australia (which happened before any of us were born), never the less we all continue to benefit from the conveniently large quantity of available land and natural resources that once belonged to someone else.”

I have have much sympathy for that argument. But let’s not forget some stark realities:

– all Hunter-Gatherer societies end up being invaded and colonised. That is the price they pay for not evolving. English colonisation turns out to be a far better option than most of the alternatives and accordingly the first Australians are in some sense “lucky”.

– H-G life expectancy is generally estimated to be around 30. While indigenous life expectancy is today almost 20 years less than non-indigenous life expectancy, it is nonetheless much better than it was prior to colonisation.

– 70% of indigenous Australians partner with someone who is not indigenous. The category of indigenous Australian is fast becoming obsolete. http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/08/14/1029113955646.html

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

The only people who can judge whether they are better off or worse are the individuals themselves who find themselves in a given situation. If someone feels that a strong cultural identity is more valuable than a longer life expectancy, I’m not quite arrogant enough to tell them what value system they should use in regards to their own life.

70% of indigenous Australians partner with someone who is not indigenous. The category of indigenous Australian is fast becoming obsolete.

Yes, and their languages are dying rapidly too. I would have trouble recommending that anyone put in the effort to learn a language spoken by a few thousand people worldwide with essentially zero literature written in that language. But then I also accept that there are others who do want to put in the effort for their own reasons, and I can respect that. If statistics and common sense suggest that the whole issue will become moot in a generation or three, then no great harm in offering some short term assistance to make like a bit easier in the meantime. We could argue about the best way to offer assistance without dictating lifestyle choices, but that’s a much longer and more complex argument.