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Manufactured guilt

Anglo-Australians ashamed at their ancestors’ colonialism should follow the logic of their beliefs

2 March 2013

9:00 AM

2 March 2013

9:00 AM

‘I was trying to prove a point that Europeans had colonised the world, and as a result of that, we see a lot of evil today.’ So said African-American student and convicted murderer Nkosi Thandiwe in his trial in Atlanta for shooting dead a white woman and injuring two others. His major at the University of West Georgia is — wait for it — anthropology. One thing he learned there, he says, was hatred of whites.

We know all about gun violence supposedly provoked by television or video games or, in America, according to the liberal media, by the availability of the guns themselves. But by anthropology? It is sadly so, and ought not to be surprising.

‘Europeans … colonised the world, and as a result of that, we see a lot of evil today.’ For succinctness and accuracy that summary of what is actually taught in anthropology, history and no doubt other courses in Western universities could not be bettered. It is the fundamental assumption on which the worldview of a generation of students is being formed. It is not confined to universities. We saw it here, as we do each year, on Australia Day, a ‘national day of shame’ according to the Age, delivering its annual exhortation to a collective mea culpa:

… the day that marked the theft of a land (terra nullius), the day that marked the theft and abduction of a people, of a culture … a day that stands as a reminder of massacres  …

The academic staff at the University of West Georgia who used Nkosi Thandiwe as a tabula rasa on which to imprint their views are no doubt high-minded Obama-voting liberals who pride themselves on their open-mindedness and intelligence. Presumably then they are intelligent enough to see that they are the problem they inveigh against in their courses. Their ancestors caused all the trouble, but it is they themselves, accepting as they do the theory of guilt by descent as manifested in sundry apologies for the past, who must now be held responsible in their own eyes for stealing someone else’s country — in their case the United States, but by extension throughout the former colonial world, wherever nations have evolved from white settlement. It certainly applies here, as the Age article makes clear in its reference to theft.

The expiation of theft necessarily implies restitution. If someone is illegally occupying your house, it’s natural to want them out. It’s no help if they stay on inside in possession saying how shocking it all is that the legal owner is deprived of his property while continuing to deprive him of it.

That would seem to be obvious, but the guilt-stricken in education and the media just don’t get it.

Why doesn’t just one university lecturer specialising in the history of colonial and imperial ‘exploitation’ set an example by taking the restitution option? Why does he not gather up his librarian/philosophy-tutor wife, withdraw their two kids from their high-achieving inner-suburban high school, hand the keys of their recently refurbished Glebe or North Fitzroy terrace with its twin studies, ‘kids’ space’, Provençal kitchen and wine cellar to a needy Aboriginal family — not of their acquaintance because they wouldn’t know any, but selected for them by ‘indigenous affairs’ bureaucrats — and shake the stolen dust of this country from his invader-descended feet?

It wouldn’t matter where they all went. The important thing is that they clear out. Go home. It might be difficult to work out where ‘home’ is, and even more so to get a visa to settle there, particularly in Britain or other likely countries of their forebears’ provenance, but that would afford them a valuable insight into what it is really like to be dispossessed instead of just lecturing about it. And surely the joy in their hearts that they had liberated themselves from the taint of connivance in the continuing occupation of someone else’s country, that they had helped just that little bit to undo the harm of past centuries, would be more than compensation for the inconvenience of living out of a suitcase.

Perhaps they could go further in expiating their guilt and offer themselves into slavery in the Middle East or Africa. Their reward would be first-hand experience of genuine subjugation, as distinct from the alleged subjugation that the contemporary historical imagination accuses the white races of imposing on Aborigines, African-Americans and so on, lecture-room denunciations of which have stoked the anger of who knows how many students.

Such was in essence the solution recommended a few years ago by a Melbourne clergyman, Canon Peter Adam, who announced that the only thing to do if we were ever to right the wrong of European invasion was for us descendants of the invaders to repatriate ourselves to wherever our wicked forebears came from (though the canon’s own presence in the departure lounge has not so far been noted).

Why will this not happen? Why is there no rush to the airport? One reason is that the guilt professed by the bien pensant is phony and a fad. It’s an academic fashion of highly ideological origin — you could loosely characterise it as ‘Thus spake Derrida; so said Saïd’ — and it fills a void once occupied by pride in Western achievements. We now affect to despise those achievements and to feel ashamed that part of the price of them was colonial expansion. Teaching younger generations that the nation most of them were born in is an illegitimate and exploitative construct is one way of feeling less guilty. It helps that you can persuade yourself that by simply drawing attention to past sins you are doing your bit to atone for them.

We can be certain, though, that no pedlars of white guilt in education or the media will decide that full atonement can only be made through restitution and that they are therefore required by justice and their own logic to remove themselves from a country in which they have no right to be. Such people may have lost faith in the achievements of our society but they have not lost their taste for the material comforts those achievements confer.

And instead of the artificial guilt, perhaps a pang of sincere guilt would not go amiss — guilt that if your lecture-room theories have inspired your students to exact vengeance for the evil committed by ‘Europeans’, you personally might have helped deprive an innocent descendant of those Europeans, possibly a distant relative of your own, of her life.

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