Australia: Leftist policies pave kids' road to hell

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Jul 21 15:34:47 UTC 2007

Leftist policies pave kids' road to hell

Noel Pearson | *July 21, 2007*

*THE Calvinist conception of predestination (whether you end up in heaven is
predestined and nothing you can do can alter whether you are chosen or not)
is analogous to life outcomes for the indigenous children of Cape York.*

You can bet that a child from our community will end up poorly educated,
semi-literate and ill-equipped for equitable participation in Australian
society and the economy. The few who succeed are the exception. They defy
predestination, but they are few and far between. This predestination is not
just about what kind of education our children receive. It is about the
place they will occupy in society and the economy. They are predestined to
not improve on the position of their parents or to deteriorate in their
position. If we accept anthropologist Jared Diamond's thesis that Aborigines
have the capacity to be rocket scientists and neurosurgeons, then strong
forces must be at work to prevent social progress on the part of our

I do not think social progress comes naturally. Otherwise providing
education for Aborigines should result in progress. Education is the
principal ladder that allows unprivileged individuals to advance in
capitalist societies. But obtaining a quality education does not come easily
or naturally. While we hope that education would transcend our material
imperatives and realise abstract ideals about human fulfilment, it still
principally serves the economy of the day. In the old industrial economy,
the education system responded to the need for an army of workers with basic
education and skills. The economy and the influential classes had an
interest in workers being trained so the labour force could be productive.

The system also allowed for the advancement of some talented working-class
children. The heyday of working-class advancement produced a meritocracy
that advanced into the middle class in large numbers; witness Leon Davis,
working-class boy from Whyalla, South Australia, former chief executive of
Rio Tinto and chairman of Westpac. The rise of the old working-class
meritocracy was almost a mass movement. Today, for the lowest classes, such
advancement is not a mass movement; it is increasingly sporadic and
isolated. Several decades ago, almost all Australian families were
integrated in working life. The modern economy does not seem to guarantee
comprehensive inclusion.  We have record low unemployment, but the number of
people who depend on welfare has increased. We have an underclass of people
who pass on their outcast status to their children. There have always been
class divisions and underprivileged people. One of the original leftist
ideas is that much of our culture serves class interests.

The educated middle class includes two groups with different societal roles.
Education provides the skills and knowledge to contribute to wealth creation
or to produce and disseminate ideologies and cultures. 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

* 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

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.

Of course the Left has consistently been a strong supporter of indigenous
rights and indigenous people also have reason to support social democratic

There are encouraging signs that the Left is reconsidering its reflexive
support for progressive policies.

If leftist thinkers such as Glover don't effect fundamental shifts of the
kind that Christopher Hitchens and the authors of the Euston Manifesto are
seeking in Britain, then the Left in Australia will continue to be divided
between its political wing and its cultural wing, which will seek to
maintain a baleful influence on social policy. The political wing led by
Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard (who told the Sydney Institute last week that
"the old days of passive welfare for those able to contribute are gone") are
not at all wedded to the outdated aspects of progressive thinking, attuned
as they are to the expectations of the Australian community, but the
cultural wing is still a strong force for stasis and, dare I say it,
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