Friday, January 11, 2013

Victims of Middle Class Morality – Aboriginal Prisoners as modern welfare

(Another rant I’m afraid)

It has been a bit appalling recently to hear Australia’s political class (particularly journalists) get on their high moral horse about the treatment of women in India. These are the same people who get equally moralistic about how terrible it is for the Australian government to ‘intervene’ in the even more appalling conditions of Australian Aboriginal women and children.

Middle class morality in the late 19th century led to mission stations to help Aboriginal communities learn ‘self-sufficiency’. The original idea was to train Aboriginal communities to settle and grow their own food, and produce an excess that could be traded or sold for profit and to improve the community. One of my early teachers (who worked on such a station as a Lutheran missionaary), managed to convey the surprise that the ‘whites’ felt when they discovered that people’s of a hunter-gatherer culture had no idea of ‘surplus’. They had spent so many generations just collecting what they needed for that day, and having to abandon any excess for lack of capacity to store or transport it, that the idea of gathering a surplus to trade was too foreign to deal with. They grew only what they needed, and then stopped. The ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ missionaries were stumped.

In the early 20th century, middle class morality was in favour of ‘opportunity’. Both Mission and Government attempted to train men in farming or shearing or herding skills – such as were in demand at the time – and women for jobs as nannies and dometic servants and cooks – again the jobs on offer at the time. In fact the male training went particularly well, and the entire northern part of Australia came to pretty much rely on casual or itinerant Aboriginal stockmen, and benefitted immensely. (Training women as domestic servants could be considered a bit more 'American plantation' thinking in the good old days of the land of cotton I suppose, but I am not sure what realistic alternatives there were for undereducated black women at the time, so I will limit my criticism to a nice modern cringe.) But it was not to last.

Mid 20th century middle class morality led the Union movement to insist on full time work (male single wage families being the concept derived from the Harvester Decision) as the only possible employment choice for labourers in Australia. Punitive penalties for daring to employ casuals or itinerants meant that Aboriginals were offered a chioce. Full time work under union rules, or no work. Unsuprisingly, the still nomadic tribal backgrounds of most Aborigines made this no choice at all. The cynical (me for instance) could suggest that the Australian Union Movement successfully drove competition, from yet another non white race (like the Chinese) who would work for less that whites, out of the marketplace. For the best of motives of course.

Fortunately the federal government had its own fit of morality, and admitted that if Aborigines were condemned to work (or not) in the same conditions as whites, then they would also have to be supplied with the same unemployment benefits as whites. Again, they failed to understand the effects of this.
Naturally, hunter-gatherers still worked on the principle that you only put in the effort needed to survive, and then stopped working. The new government ‘sit-down money’, meant that the amount of work necessary to survive dropped to virtually nothing. So many stopped working at all. The closure of the remaining ‘self-sufficiency’ farming missions was pretty immediate: often due to people simply leaving the tools where they stood in the field and walking away.

At about the same time, the myth of the ‘Noble Savage’ came back into vogue. A group of pompous and self righteousmiddle class civil servants in Canberra decided that the ‘moral’ thing to do was to force aboriginal communities to become more 'traditional communities', by which they apparently imagined some sort of pure and traditional self managing co-ops. Co-ops with communal property, and no individual property rights to speak of. In other words, Communism having proven a disastrous failure amongst the corruption of the modern world, middle class idealogues determined to forcibly impose it on the much ‘purer’ liffestyles of the noble savages.

It will surprise no one to learn that such an ideology leads to disgusting and criminal results, no matter where it is forcibly employed. Australia’s Aboriginal communities are one of the last places in the world to endure such appalling stupidity… along with that other bastion of communist idealism:  North Korea.

Modern middle class morality has it that all the problems of Aborigines are because of ‘white invaders’, and that they would be better off without us. This perspective – which can best be described as the ‘reservation’ or perhaps ‘living zoo’ viewpoint – is of course, mindless ideology rather than reality. 

Hunter-Gatherer societies are violent. Very violent. (Farmers a bit less so, and town dwellers usually much less so, as an inevitable result of the requirements of increased co-operatioin and trade in larger communities.) And ever more shall be so. It takes incredibly wilful ignorance to imagine that a purer ‘noble-savage’ lifestyle would put empahsis on the first word rather than the second.

And so we revile at the ‘stolen generation’ – which is an interesting interpretation under which to lump all the various groups of children taken from violent families, or sent away, or offered apprenticeships or simply abandoned because they were half-castes. (Though there can be no doubt that then, as now, many ‘civil servants’ interpret their authorised powers to suit their own prejudices, rather than what was intended by those who wrote the rules. So no doubt a percentage genuinely were ‘stolen’ from parents who were actually trying to do their best.)

Some pretend even that this was a conscious act of genocide. (Such people apparently being unaware that many half caste children in many tribal commmunities were usually allowed to die at birth, or before government agents could find them.)

So many act appalled at  the very idea of aboriginal children taken away from their families, as though there could never be a reason to take children from violent or abusive parents.

The end result now is that there is virtually no ground upon which abused women or children can be ‘stolen’ from their abusers. No matter how many aboriginal elders and womens groups complain, there is no danger of children being removed from the violence that is inherent in the ‘noble-savagery’ of a ‘hunter-gatherer’ culture. 

This is the place which the moralists who are bemoaning the treatment of women in India have brought us. (I wonder if it is the fact that Indian caste culture is not pure enough to be worthy of their ideological worship that annoys them, or whether the backward elements of Indian culture cannot be accepted because it has not been coerced by those same white middle class socialist moralists?)

Fortunately there is an alternative for modern aboriginal children. Gaol. (Or jail for the modern speller.)
The teacher I mentioned above was somehwat bemused to relate the response of aboriginals from his community when ‘punished’ with a week or two in gaol. “This a good place, next time I bring me brother”.

The Australian did an article recently on the fact that the vast majority of children committed to Dubbo’s jails are Aboriginal. (Though some of them have to offend a dozen times before they get in.) The side comments referred to the fact that at least the teenagers who make it into the gaols are safe from violent abuse by family and relatives, and are even likely to get the 3 nutritous meals a day they have probably never experienced before. (Another article had one aboriginal elder point out that aboriginal youth can and do get a year in gaol for stealing from non-aboriginals, but rarely get charged even with manslaughter for bashing a fellow aboriginal – usually women or children – to death. While a third comments on our refusal to consider the inevitability of our approach.)

It appears that the problem of rescuing children from the violence of their forcibly imposed noble savage society is no longer being undertaken by government agents ‘stealing’ young children. The modern ‘rescue’ comes when the violent and badly abused teenagers escape into the warm embrace of the criminal justice system.

What a tribute to middle class morality.


  1. Hi I came across this place searching for some WW 2 stuff and just wanted to say that this is a great blog andI very much enjoyed reading all your entries :)


  2. I'd come to pretty much the same conclusions regarding this subject. Needless to say, I enjoyed seeing it in print!

  3. Thanks for the feedback. I wish I had time to blog more often.