Monday, July 30, 2007

Pearson: progressive sounding leftist rhetoric has betrayed aboriginal people

Noel Pearson points out that progressive sounding "leftist" rhetoric originating from the tolerant middle classes is a cultural obstacle that aboriginal people have to overcome. Nice folks who want to do the right thing but who haven't thought deeply about the issues or are afraid to take a tough stand. In contrast, Pearson is a tough minded Leftist who can see through the wishy washy rhetoric and is prepared to unite with anyone who is prepared to take real take action in order to improve the situation of his people:
The middle-class producers of culture and ideology often see themselves as the Left. My texts have often been perceived as attacks on the Left. But I support key policies of the Left. In many areas, Aborigines can agree with the Left, including the people who have felt most hit by my criticism. I agree with them on land rights and conservation, trade unions, redistribution and the role of government in guaranteeing equitable health care and education.

The contention of mine that has caused most consternation when I have challenged the Left during the past eight years is that the result of progressive policies can be at odds with the good intentions that inspired them. My aim has been, as Dennis Glover wrote in The Australian yesterday, to "set higher standards for the Left" by critically examining the outcomes of ostensibly leftist policies. It is appropriate to set high standards because the Left's claim to the right to govern rests on its promise to lift the living standard and prospects of the lowest classes.

The challenge of education facing our children should be understood as a class challenge. There are strong class forces at work that are barriers to social advancement.

The main means by which class stratification is maintained and social progress impeded is not by direct and conscious oppressive behaviour by privileged classes. Rather, the forces of class operate culturally. They are embedded in the prevailing ideologies and intellectual currents, popular and niche cultures. Their effect is to cause confusion in the minds of lower-class people about social progress and how it may be achieved, and cause them to behave in ways that are contrary to their interests.

I developed a (provocative) rule of thumb when it comes to examining the nostrums and prescriptions of the middle-class culture producers, who often come from the progressive cultural Left: whatever they say our people should do, we should look at the opposite of what they say because that will usually be the right thing to do. Therefore:

* They say substance abuse is a health issue and should be approached with tolerance.

We say it is a behavioural and social order issue and we need to rebuild intolerance.

* They say education should be culturally appropriate.

We say this should not be an alibi for anti-intellectualism, romantic indigenism and a justification for substandard achievement.

* They say we should respect Aboriginal English as a real language.

We say we should speak our traditional languages and the Queen's English fluently.

* They say our people need to bedefended in a hostile criminal justice system.

We say we need more policing to restore law and order.

* They say our people are victims and must not be blamed.

We say our people are victimised but we are not victims.

* They say we have a right to passive welfare.

We say we do not have a right to dependency and, indeed, we have a greater right to take up a fair place in the real economy.

* They say economic integration is antithetical to our identity.

We say our culture cannot and will not survive as long as we live in the social dysfunction caused by economic dependency.

* They say poverty is our main problem.

We say passivity is our main problem because it prevents us from taking advantage of opportunities to get out of poverty and the resources we get are squandered.

The striking thing about this stark disagreement about what is really progressive is that we are at odds with so-called progressive thinking across vast tracts of policy.

For me it is not personal antagonism that explains the gulf between me and most national indigenous leaders and intelligentsia; it is this fundamental analytical and policy gulf about what is progress and what is not.

Glover is right when he says that I am a man of the Left because my fidelity is to the lot of the underclass, of whom my people are its most miserable members.

It is that I believe liberal and conservative policies have more to contribute to indigenous uplift than outdated progressive thinking.

It became clear to me that some elements of leftist ideology contribute to the barriers that keep our people down. The key to understanding this is to recognise the profound change in the role of leftist theory. When the theories of the Left were originally formulated, the Left was a revolutionary force. However, the Left has merged with power and government. Leftist ideology is integral to the political and intellectual structure of our society.

The challenge for the Left today is to stop assuming that leftist policy by definition is policy that will help the most oppressed. The most obvious example that this is not the case is the rise of a political and intellectual industry that explains, defends and facilitates behaviours that keep people in the underclass. A young Aborigine today who follows the conventional leftist recipes of the past four decades is destined to stay at the bottom of society.

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