Monday, January 16, 2023

Living through the other?

If you look at the website of Zali Steggall, an independent MP, you find this at the bottom:
Zali and her team acknowledge and pay deep respect to our diverse First Nations communities, the Traditional Custodians, Elders past, present and emerging, whose country we work on. We...are committed to nurturing the world's oldest adapting culture and our First People's connection to land, sea and sky.

This type of thing is very common now in Australia. There is a veneration of Aborigines as a traditional people. This stands in stark contrast to the general attitude to traditional nationalism, which is severely criticised as failing the tests of non-discrimination, tolerance, openness, diversity and inclusion. 

It is as if there are two separate tracks of development. A traditional one for certain Aboriginal peoples and a modern one for everyone else. I say "certain" Aboriginal peoples because the same veneration does not apply to the indigenous peoples of Europe. It is applied only to those Aboriginal peoples who might be thought of, in some way, as having a pre-modern culture.

How do we explain this? Usually moral positions are universalised. If it is thought good for Anglo-Australians to give up a distinct identity because it is discriminatory or exclusive it will likewise be thought good for Aborigines to do the same. Or, if it is thought good for Aborigines to maintain a unique sense of peoplehood, culture and relationship to the land, it will likewise be considered a good for Anglo-Australians to do the same.

But in this case we have a puzzling failure to universalise. What is a good for one group is an evil for the other. The difference cannot be explained on the basis of "Aboriginal groups were there first" because, as I have mentioned, this would then lead to a support for traditional people-hood for the indigenous Europeans - which clearly does not happen.

All across Australia people hold meetings where the first step is for the speaker to pay respects to Aboriginal elders past and present. Now, if it is a good for us to honour our ancestors (which I think it is) then this holds true equally for Aborigines and for non-Aborigines. Therefore, if we universalise this principle, the speaker should be paying respects to his or her ancestors or perhaps to those of the people in the room. But, again, there is a failure to universalise this moral precept. It is considered a good for Aborigines alone. 

I would like to suggest three reasons for this placing of Aborigines on a different moral plane of existence from others. All three reasons push toward the same outcome.

The first reason is the one suggested by the American historian Eric Kaufmann, namely liberal minoritarianism. Kaufmann explains that liberalism originally sought to uphold the rights of majorities, but then later on, in the 1800s, turned toward minority rights. This outlook took on a life of its own, forming a kind of emotional reflex in which majorities were looked at negatively as potential oppressors and minorities as victims:

The emotive pairing of majority with malice and minority with empathy began this way. What started as a modest habit of mind has deepened into a reflexive demonization of majorities and lionization of minorities

Kaufmann explicitly connects this to the ethnic double standard:

The result is what I term asymmetrical multiculturalism: ethnicity as wonderful for minorities, poisonous for majorities. This contradiction in the worldview of the left-modernist bohemians established a minoritarian, anti-majority mold which occupies the very soul of today’s woke culture.

What I would emphasise here is that this minoritarianism is one avenue through which Westerners lose a sense of their own positive identity. If you develop this emotional reflex, in which your own ancestors are demonised as oppressors, then you will lose a positive connection with your own tradition.

The second reason is one I have written about at length. One wing of liberal modernity believes that the end goal of politics is a freedom understood as maximum individual autonomy. We are to self-create and self-define who we are. What this means is that having an inherited identity will be cast negatively as a limitation on this individualistic notion of self. Not only does traditional nationalism give us an identity that we don't get to self-define, it suggests that we have duties to a people and a tradition, which also limits an absolute freedom to choose in any direction. For these reasons, modernity turned away from traditional forms of communal identity. To be a modern came to mean losing your place within a traditional ethnic nation in favour of a more individualistic mode of being.

The third reason is the development of technocratic means of regulating society within liberal modernity. Modernity began with a project of using science to conquer nature. However, this desire to impose control through science turned to the idea of the "rational" control of human populations. We ourselves became the ones acted upon, we became the objects of the experiments to manage and to exert control. 

For this technocratic project to work, human communities needed to be made open and accessible, uniform, unified and predictable. Aspects of common life that were embedded in particular or localised loyalties did not fit well. That's why Leon Trotsky condemned the family as a "shut in, petty enterprise" to be replaced by a "finished system of social care". What technocrats want are systems run by experts, that are efficient and where results can be easily quantified. Again, this does not fit well with a traditional communal life, which flourished on the basis of particular loves and loyalties, and so was never going to be a universal, unified managerial system based on bureaucratic expertise. And so modernity, for this reason as well, came to be associated with a disenchanted form of society, one in which deeper bonds and attachments gradually withered away.

What all this means is that there are Westerners now who simply do not have a positive communal identity of their own. It has been lost due to demonisation of ancestors, a radical individualism, and the impact of technocracy.

I'd like to illustrate this by introducing Stacy, a country vet here in Australia. Stacy is one of the nicer leftists I have debated on social media. She was as curious to understand my mindset as I was to understand hers and she did not descend to name calling but remained polite. Our debate began on the topic of the Aboriginal Voice to Parliament. Predictably she was resolutely focused on the idea that Aborigines had been uniquely mistreated historically. I attempted to correct some of what she was claiming, but eventually decided to get to the crux of our differences by probing her for her own loyalties and commitments:

This is what she came up with:

It is not surprising that she went for professional associations as career is something allowed to moderns. But, as to whether she had any deeper attachments, her answer was an "honestly, no":

She went on to describe herself as follows:

But here's the thing. Let's say you are a Westerner and, like Stacy, you have lost any deeper communal identity of your own. Is it not the case, then, that if you wish to live through communal values you must now do so by identifying with some other group who still has them? 

From a leftist point of view, it makes sense to select a "pre-modern" Aboriginal people to do so. First, because the left have historically followed Rousseau in believing that human nature was originally unspoilt and only corrupted by the effects of civilisation. Therefore, Aboriginal culture will be romanticised as being more authentic or enchanted than Western culture. Second, if modernity is marked by a commitment to individualism and technocracy, then the carriers of traditional human values will have to be pre-modern. 

This identifying with Aborigines can be seen directly in the case of Germaine Greer, who had herself adopted into an Aboriginal tribe. The emphasis on Aborigines having a more enchanted culture is seen in the writings of the leftist Australian academic Robert Manne, who described Aborigines as living in,

not an Edenic but an enchanted world, in the technical sense of the sociologist Max Weber. They discovered an intricate social order in which, through the kinship structure, every human being held a precise and acknowledged place. They discovered a world that was filled with economic purpose; leavened by playfulness, joy and humour; soaked in magic, sorcery, mystery and ritual; pregnant at every moment with deep and unquestioned meaning.

This positive evaluation then led Manne to adopt the double standard I wrote about earlier. He very clearly wanted Aborigines to survive as a traditional people, rather than being subject to modernist standards:

...if the traditional communities are indeed destroyed, one distinctive expression of human life - with its own forms of language, culture, spirituality and sensibility - will simply become extinct. Humanity is enriched and shaped by the diversity of its forms of life. It is vastly impoverished as this diversity declines. If contemporary Australians allow what remains of the traditional Aboriginal world to die, we will be haunted by the tragedy for generations.
And so we arrive at the failure to hold to universal moral standards in which what is good for Aborigines is also good for other people. Modernity has left many Westerners devoid of a deeper identity of their own, and to compensate for this loss of significant human values, they have begun to live through the communal identity of others (to some degree through "vibrant" immigrant cultures, but here in Australia increasingly through that of Aborigines).

So what do we do? There may not be immediate solutions, but I do think it is important to challenge the minoritarian narrative which filters reality to always emphasise the idea of Westerners as oppressors. This narrative disconnects people from a positive identity of their own. It leaves them bereft of important aspects of being human, which they must then search for in other cultures. We should take whatever opportunities arise to foster and to express a positive identification with our own tradition. 

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website. 


  1. What an excellent article! For those of us of western/ Anglo-celtic heritage, a further important point of action would be to rediscover our own heritage, tradition and history (the good and bad) and promote and foster the good, true and beautiful found in this heritage. Kind regards Tom

    1. Thank you. And, I agree - the healthy thing would be to do exactly that.

  2. How about René Girard's big picture Mimesis model of human social behaviour? There *always* has to be an out group / pharmakos / scapegoat because this the mechanism we humans have evolved to release cyclic pressure cooker build up of stresses in our societies.

    Girard believed that Christ's sacrifice broke this repetitive cycle of harmony, stress build up, cathartic scapegoating, rinse-repeat. Now obviously and like it or not Christianity in the West is deader than the Norwegian Parrot. And it ain't coming back short of Global Nuclear War's aftermath. Could just be me, but I don't think our 'Social DNA' has evolved us out of the above cycle.

    So then, given the need for a Pharmakos, who gets to be 'it'? Well it can't be Robert Manne and *his* ethne who as I'm sure you're aware *are* permitted to have a positive view of themselves... in fact if you take exception to it you'll be S18C'ed into living in the street. So there goes the traditional way out (value free just the facts Ma'am analysis, obviously). What's left? Eating one's tail in self-hatred Ouroboros-like? Who needs a prophet? Chuck another one in the Tophet? Because that's what's happening to Us. Hell, one cannot even call 'us' by our ethnic identity without bringing down the wrath of Mordor upon oneself.

    So I think there's two sides to the coin: We as human societies need someone/something/some group to sacralise on a daily basis and we need someone/some group to anathematise when times get tough.

    So, given large target on one's back: walk, don't run to the nearest Bora Ring and claim sanctuary.

    As for me, I'd rather lived as a second-class metic under the Han than take my chances with what's coming down the pike in Australia. Maybe I'm too pessimistic, but I don't see this ending well for the legacy population.

    1. That's an interesting argument, particularly when you write "We as human societies need someone/something/some group to sacralise on a daily basis and we need someone/some group to anathematise when times get tough." I need to think about this - I don't reject it out of hand. I'd only point out that in the later 70s (i.e. my earliest clear memories of Australian culture) there was no felt need to anathematise a foreign culture, rather there were friendly rivalries (Australia vs England, Melbourne vs Sydney, Australia vs NZ). And, even though feminism was around at the time, there was still a surviving culture as well in which Australian men were proud of "our women" and women of "our men" - not yet the widespread anathematising of men.

    2. The Church is not “dead,” and you would have nothing left without your Catholic Capital to Sustain it.

  3. The above also reflects observations made by James Kalb in his work “Against Inclusiveness” where he talks about the disembodied Cartesian approach westerners adopt in relation to their identity. As a result, it is non-Westerners (who do not take this approach and hence retain their tradition and history) who are regarded as “ethnic” and as having interesting and exotic “backgrounds” whereas Westerners have “boring” backgrounds. I hear this all the time. What a shame. Tom

    1. Interesting. I need to take another look at Kalb's book. Thank you.

  4. I would suggest a number of other explainations or perhaps modifications. While the ones mentioned might go some way to explaining why there is no positive affirmation of various European identities, it doesn’t necessarily explain why Aboriginal identities would be celebrated. There are also some problems. For one, the anti-majoritarian view clearly does not prevail very much outside of European populations; I would argue that such a view has been almost completed subsumed into broader anti-European sentiments. For another, does this promotion of Aboriginals truly extend to preventing their deracination? I do not think so. With Aboriginals and other “minorities”, promotion of their own group interests and acknowledgement as a distinct group worth defining and protecting is permitted, but they are not truly protected against being liberalized and deracinated. I would argue that there exist two distinct but overlapping dynamics: an underlying universal liberal dynamic that works consistently to deracinate and erase distinct peoples and a particular hatred of European peoples.

    1) It’s perhaps possible that promotion of “minority” traditional identities is used as a weapon to further undermine the majority identity and thus advance liberalism in the net. It seems a very sure way to deracinate a man by making him promote foreign cultures and peoples over his own.

    2) It’s possible some liberals view the liberalization (and thus destruction) of Aboriginals as being another form of oppression visited upon them.

    3) The anti-human strain of leftism, particularly dominant in environmentalist sects, sees advancement as bad and primitivism as good. Primitive cultures, such as Aboriginals, are thus likely to be celebrated and mythologized.

    4) There are, of course, certain groups throughout European-stock countries that are implacably hostile to European peoples. Promoting other groups, deracinating whites, and forcing or encouraging them to acknowledge and praise ancestors and cultures other than their own serves to weaken them. Naturally, any immigrants (even other European ones) will also support such policies as it is only through a lack of strong identity that they are permitted to remain anyway.

    5) Of course, the aesthetic and superficial trappings of Aboriginals is not really any threat to liberalism, even amongst Aboriginals.

    1. Guest Ghast, I am going to respond to your comment in depth in my next post.

    2. I would add a specification, namely that most forms of “minority promotion” are about forcing them more and more into white spaces, not creating strong and distinct communities of their own. To the extent those exist, it is on the fringes and precisely because they have not yet been subject to the policies of people like Zali Steggall, who would undoubtedly break them up and displace them amongst whites. In short, their “promotion” is more multiracialism, more multiculturalism, and less distinctivess.

    3. It occurs to me that a good example of this is that for all that it is in vogue to claim respect for Aboriginal land ownership, there is never talk of stopping other foreigners from immigrating to Australia and occupying or owning it, something that would surely displace and suppress the Aboriginals as much as British settlement.