Australia: Leftist policies pave kids' road to hell

Felecia Briscoe Felecia.Briscoe at
Sat Jul 21 16:11:33 UTC 2007

I thought this was a very provocative piece.  I pretty much agree with the section of, "They-say....We-say".  What I find interesting is that he characterizes the They-sayers as progressive and leftist, whereas I would characterize the They-sayers as liberal and the We-sayers as progressives.  But how much does the label really matter?  I do think that we need to recognize some of the problems promoted by those who see themselves as emancipators whose policies actually promote passivity and acceptance of the status quo rather than a rejection of the laws, practices, and ideas that continue to exclude minorities. I would go one step further and say that we do need to question our economic system which demands an underclass which is forced to produce surplus value.  As long as our system demands an underclass, most policies no matter how benevolent will be subverted in the name of market. But I think Pearson identifies some beginning changes in that direction. 


From: owner-lgpolicy-list at on behalf of Harold Schiffman
Sent: Sat 7/21/2007 10:34 AM
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Subject: Australia: Leftist policies pave kids' road to hell

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 children. 

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 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. 

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

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, conservatism.,25197,22105969-5013477,00.html
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