Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Apologising

Tomorrow Rudd will apologise on behalf of all past governments of Australia to all aboriginals for what were by-in-large well-intentioned interventions carried out by people who are now all dead. This is justified by arguing that current citizens are not being blamed. But it is just not clear to me how anyone can offer an apology for the actions of past actors without illogically, but implicitly, accepting some complicity in the actions that gave rise to the regret. This is particularly evident from the fact that those promoting this cause seek compensations from currently living people.

Not that I necessarily oppose significant wealth transfers but I would prefer them to occur to all disadvantaged Australians.

The problems of child and spousal abuse that are so prevalent today are long-standing issues in aboriginal societies – they were not only issues forced on aboriginals by so-called ‘white racism’. This latter view is leftwing romanticism based on a culture that values guilt over the unvarnished truth.

Aboriginal problems are partly due to a historical racism but they also stem from black neglect and foolish social practises and from the paternalistic view - perpetuated by the apology action - that aboriginals are ‘victims’ whose problems stem entirely from white racism. Australia has done good and bad things to its aboriginal populations but intent was seldom malicious and to require an apology lacks sense other than as a means to prise monetary rewards from non-aboriginal Australia.

I agree with Andrew Bolt the apology will resolve nothing other than to create the potential for a compensation claim. It is purely symbolic action that will not help aboriginal Australians other than by transferring weath. If it fosters the illusion that it has achieved something other than this it will cause harm by deflecting attention from substantive programs. If it further fosters the ‘victims’ view of aboriginal people it will cause further harm.

Aboriginals need to become a part of Australian society with the duties and responsibilities of other citizens. We need aboriginal lawyers, politicians, professors, investors and engineers. We do not need inaccurate and condescending apologies.

I was told today that the university I work for 'fully supports' this apology and was urged to watch the telecast of Rudd’s speech. I can’t recall being asked whether I gave my assent to this unanimous verdict or even whether universities should have official attitudes on such issues. Of course I won’t be watching TV tomorrow.

In the local blogosphere James Farrell attempts to force support for this suspect apology by labelling those who opposes it as rednecks and Hansonites. Larvatus Prodeo has two of the worst posts I have ever seen from this infantile cheer squad for glib romanticism – Robin Hood in Tights hasn’t read Windschuttle – but he is satisfied from what ‘he has heard’ that he is wrong and is happy to dismiss the work as ‘crap’ and an ‘absolute disgrace’. Whatever happened to truth? This is blogging at its most irresponsible worst.

But wearily I expect the apology charade will be used as a litmus test for moral decency and as an index of respect for aboriginal people. Anyone who opposes it will be portrayed as a moral degenerate and seen as a wicked oppressor of aborigines. Watch the nonsense unfold.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mark U says:

This is one issue that I must disagree with you completely Harry.

First, the interventions may have been well-intentioned in some cases but certainly not in the majority of cases, and certainly not by more enlightened standards of today. Children were removed from their parents for no other reason than they were aboriginals (especially if they were half-caste) regardless of their environment.

Second, regardless of intentions of the people that removed them, in a majority of cases the results for those removed was considerable pain and suffering due to removal from parents/families/country and culture. Inextricably linked with this has been a loss of self-respect by those affected. The past actions are still affecting many aborigines alive today.

It is the desire by the majority of aborigines to be given back some of their self-respect that underlies their call for a proper apology.

While some prominent aborigines are calling for compensation, this issue is largely separate from the issue of saying sorry. The apologies from State governments have NOT led to a spate of compensation claims.

I agree that many of the long-standing issues will not be solved by the apology, but they will be less likely to be solved without an apology, because in that situation we continue to deny them our respect and, as a result, any chance for them to gain self-respect.

If you insist on using labels such as "left-wing romanticism" to brand anyone who disagrees with you, I am happy to accept that title in this case. Better a "left wing romantic" than a "mean-spirited right-winger".

Mark said...

I am an interested spectator only in this debate, but I was struck by this comment from Mark U:

"It is the desire by the majority of aborigines to be given back some of their self-respect that underlies their call for a proper apology."

Er, how do you give someone (back) their self-respect? If I think you have done something bad to me or my ancestors and I resent the fact that you haven't apologised, how does this diminish my self-respect?

hc said...

I think Noel Pearson agrees with you Mark and confirms my point that, without compensation, this apology will not confer benefits on aboriginal Australians.

It just does not help even if the claims of bad iuntentions are correct.

conrad said...

I don't see why they shouldn't ask for compensation (with or without the apology -- surely there must be international courts), and I'm pesonally surprised that they've spent so little effort on it so far. The wonders of apathy. Even people that DOCS and the like have done bad things too have tried to sue them.

Ann O'Dyne said...

re SORRY recompense:
Nobody ever mentions that it was ENGLAND, the Kingdom of England (it is not even a Country) which stole this fabulous island from it’s traditional occupants.
England owes reparation to every one of the descendants.
this could bring England to it’s knees.
First we send back every English-born (non-naturalised) person who is actually IN Australia right now.
All of them
No more Visas or pensions or employment.
It would be declaring war without a shot being fired.
Then, stop any Australian citizen from spending their tourist dollars IN the pissy little Kingdom of England.
We can bring a country to it’s knees without the Dept of Defence.
England owes the Traditional Owners of Terra Australis, and BIGTIME.

Spiros said...

Harry, if one of your colleagues or friends suffers a bereavement, say their wife dies, it is normal to say "I'm sorry". This does not imply that you were responsible for the death. But it is an important statement of empathy.

And of course it's symbolic. But symbolism matters. That is why people feel so strongly about the national flag.

But the apology is also practical in the sense that its absence has prevented the good will that is necessary to make progress in Aboriginal welfare.

You may say that talk is cheap, this was not a costless gesture by the Prime Minister. By making this statement, he has raised enormously expectations that his government will begin to make real progress in improving the lot of indigenous people. Rudd should be applauded for taking this stand.

derrida derider said...

Spiros is spot on. When someone has suffered we say sorry because we are - we wish it hadn't happened. And its worth saying even if we can't remove the cause of the suffering.

Anyway, just what is wrong with people suing for compensation when they have been terribly harmed by a malevolent or incompetent action by government officials? Whitefellas can, why can't blacks?

As for the line put about that it was all well-intentioned, that's obvious bullshit. Having grown up in a rural area with a large aboriginal population I can tell you that white attitudes and the state's behaviour were disgusting even in the 1960s, let alone earlier. Realising that was one of the politically formative influences of my teens.

Mark said...

Spiros, I think there's an important distinction between an apology ("I'm sorry that I caused you hurt") and an expression of sympathy ("I'm sorry that you suffered hurt, [though I'm not responsible]."). I thought the Rudd apology was of the former sort.

Anonymous said...

Spiros, what a ridiculous comment. Did you even listen to the speech? Rudd used the word 'apologise' twice. He did not simply say 'sorry'. When you go to a funeral, do you say 'I apologise for the death of...' Rudd's statement was necessary and long overdue, but please, leave the commentary to the grownups.

JimBob

teajay said...

Is there a legal case in which the evidence for the existence of a Stolen Generation(s) is outlined? Something above and beyond the claims made in the Bringing them Home report? It would be useful to have a set of agreed upon facts that both sides find convincing.

Anonymous said...

JimBob, contrary to what the no-sorry's would have it, Rudd saying sorry did mean that he personally was responsible.

That is obvious.

Back to the Appalachians for you, JimBob. (Cue music from Deliverance.)

Spiros

Anonymous said...

Mark U esponds to the other Mark:

Perhaps my wording is a bit loose. But I would argue it was impossible for aborigines to re-establish any self-esteem so long as non-aborigines as a group were not prepared recognise the hurt that was imposed on many aborigines and say sorry for it.

Just look how deeply moved so many of the aborigines were today and ask yourself if they did not think this was very imprtant to them.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, Spiros. Here's Harry: "But it is just not clear to me how anyone can offer an apology for the actions of past actors without illogically, but implicitly, accepting some complicity in the actions that gave rise to the regret."

Here's you: "Harry, if one of your colleagues or friends suffers a bereavement, say their wife dies, it is normal to say "I'm sorry". This does not imply that you were responsible for the death. But it is an important statement of empathy."

And you again: "Rudd saying sorry did mean that he personally was responsible."

You appear to be confused. For the slow learners: this was an apology, not a simply 'sorry' of the funeral kind (Jesus wept). An apology was appropriate, since it is appropriate for the current generation to take collective responsibility for the acts of generations that preceded it. Human decency demands that we attempt to right the wrongs of our forebears. Spiros, this is what the adults are discussing while you're off obsessing about the finer points of the particular word 'sorry'.

JimBob

hc said...

Mark U, Please read the dignified and sensible response by Noel Pearson above who explicitly denies your claims.

Anonymous said...

After I wrote "Rudd saying sorry did mean that he personally was responsible." I thought about correcting the typo but thought also that anyone with an IQ measured in 3 digits would realise that I inadvertently left out "not" between "did" and "mean".

For the most part, I was right, but for the benefit of JimBob

"Rudd saying sorry did not mean that he personally was responsible."

Spiros

Anonymous said...

Wait, you're standing by your 'this is like a funeral sorry that expresses mere empathy' argument? You're joking, surely? I was giving you the benefit of the doubt. My mistake. Here is the part of Rudd's speech that is apparently beyond your comprehension: "We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country." Yep, just like a funeral. You dope.

JimBob

Anonymous said...

By the way, the grubby little 'back to the Appalachians' remark has not gone unnoticed. A given name is just that: given. It is not a choice. Nor is ethnicity. One wonders how you would respond to 'back to Greece with you Spiros'. Yep, you're a dope, and a nasty small-minded racist dope at that.

JimBob