The Voice to Parliament referendum has failed. The country voted No resoundingly; only in the ACT did it meet with any kind of general success. I took little pleasure in this victory, knowing that it made our country another shade uglier. So 40 per cent of the country went to bed that Saturday night believing that the rest are incorrigible racists. That 60 per cent woke up on Sunday resenting the aspersions cast upon their character. It does not make for a happy polity, yet rub along we must.
This is the inevitable outcome of progressive overreach, of an attempt to emotionally blackmail the country into affirming a symbolic expression of power, the power of the progressive worldview. The Voice was in many respects an ideational version of the Arc de Triomphe, erected to remind everybody of the rightness of our soft revolutionaries. Aborigines were treated much like civilians in Gaza, as human shields, objects as much as subjects for those who pushed the thing forward. Laura Tingle recently lamented in the ABC that the thing broke down into a dispute between white people. What else could it be, when white people still compose the majority in our country? Aborigines could never meaningfully swing the thing electorally, even if we did regard them as a bloc, which they are not, any more than any other ethnos can form a perfect union.
Our present version of democracy has many problems, but one redeeming feature is the brake the demos can occasionally apply to elite machinations. Perhaps the real referendum was not the friends we met along the way, but a reflection on the way the rest of the country views those insufferable inner-city elites. The clear dissonance between the institutional proof and the social proof our referendum provided is heartening. Virtually every institution – government, corporate, educational – was behind the Voice, and yet it could not prevail. Even in a society as propagandised as ours this demonstrates the futility of total capture, though it might encourage harder means by our home-grown zealots.
The other reading of this is less encouraging. It means that many people quietly resent the governing ethos we’ve adopted, and yet feel powerless to oppose it beyond the quiet sanctity of the ballot box. And, one might think, why ought they? The obligation the franchise demands might be considered by some an unwelcome burden; after all, this is why we vote for representatives, and have elites to begin with. But what to do when all the cultural and apparatchik and commercial elites, those immune to the ballot box, think the same way – and by all accounts appear to hate the majority of those they rule, indirectly or otherwise? This might suggest we have adopted the habits of thought usually reserved for those living in totalitarian states. The result is to live in a state of partial humiliation, where we must assent to things we do not believe to be true, and always watch our words.
And untruths abound. The first untruth is the Pocahontas-inspired belief that Aboriginal communities somehow have a special knowledge about what would benefit them most, and that they are now somehow immune to the incentives that plagued organisations such as ATSIC: the very premise the Voice was based upon. Akin to this is the idea that dialogue and discussion can solve all human problems, that if we just listened a little more, all would be well. I would have thought this idea would have gone out of fashion around the same time as the League of Nations, but it seems to be reinvented by each new generation of liberals. To assume goodwill on the basis of melanin seems foolish, and counterintuitive to anybody who can read statistics and draw the necessary, if unpleasant, conclusions. Further to this is the idea that the Good can only be realised in the language of equality and rights: that all good must have a form of egalitarianism within it as a prime ingredient. Above all, we believe in the erection of symbols, of pseudo-religious cant, and of fooling with language. Where practical matters are arrived upon, we pretend it is not paternalism when really it is its truest manifestation. This might seem appropriate to a society as disconnected from the proximate as many Western polities now are. Such policy can only be performed at a level of scale, with several degrees of separation, by government decree, generally at federal or state level, enacted by byzantine bureaucracies that are often completely dysfunctional. This, you see, lets you off the hook; we can defer our own civic duties upward accordingly. It makes one pine to read the Anti-Federalist Papers afresh.
Then there is the belief that the problems in Aboriginal communities are somehow special and removed from the problems suffered by humanity generally, and require special cures that can only be arrived at by the equivalent of political witch doctors. In this, I am a universalist. If there is more crime, more policing tends to help, as New York demonstrated in the 1990s. There is no subject better guaranteed to make a progressive squirm, and call you names, than to refer to the problem of indigenous crime. The latest weasel word is intergenerational trauma, as though all people living prior to the advent of antibiotics and through the various travails of the twentieth century ought not lay claim to the same thing. The issue of indigenous crime is more often boomeranged back upon general society, as though it is our own failings that cause such things – which, again, is really the purest sort of paternalism, to treat offenders as eternal children. English Common Law is the most robust form the world has seen, and we undermine it to appease misguided consciences at great risk. The types who would do so regard criminals as victims, usually of something systemic, another of our avant garde weasel words. Blaming the victim is verboten, unless the victim happens to be white. Then we squirm afresh to generate the necessary excuses, most of which are furnished for us by the sociology departments of American universities.
Telling the truth in democracies is risky, as Socrates discovered. Thus we arrive at the prime problem of pluralistic societies, that the truth can be arrived at by consensus, that it is ‘somewhere in the middle,’ that it must have no teeth and be suitably palatable, and most of all, that it can’t be mean to anybody. If anything, this referendum demonstrated the state of total dishonesty which we now take as given. The Yes crowd really want to reinvent the country, to abandon the traditional lines upon which we are composed, and use the delicate elements of our history as a petard. That they were hoisted on it serves them right, though I doubt being blown up will slow them down very much. In character they are like the Spanish revolutionaries who disinterred nuns and put their cadavers on public display. Those who pick at scabs have no right to accuse the other half of the country of opening wounds.
Similarly, I am sure many who voted No were not entirely honest about why they did so, because people want to appear to be nice. A country like ours can afford to be a little cavalier with racial issues, at least for now. We are not living in South Africa. If the numbers were different, the attitudes would be harder; spend some time in Port Moresby. Countries are racialised not by matter of legislation but by virtue of having different races within them. This appears to be reasonably true no matter where you live – a lesson we appear intent on learning via first principle application. The future may well be reruns of the Voice, different in form but similar in purpose, applied to all our different groupings, if we are not careful. Our delicate form of civic nationalism, about which and for a brief period we appeared proud, seems to have been dispensed with, in favour of a generalised self-loathing among the historic Australian nation, one that will only deepen in the wake of this debacle. Even if this is not the case among the Everyman, it certainly seems the case across our institutions, and among the young, who might prove the apocryphal aphorism about those who remain socialists after thirty having no brains.
The Yes crowd seem secretly happy that they’ve exposed the country as irretrievably racist. It allows them greater scope to put to work their messianic mission of recreating our country, and you can already see this playing out in the popular media and in the ABC, who I very much wish would have a week of silence themselves. They are counting on the Boomers dying out and the demographics shifting accordingly, and they have been playing the long game for a while. The country will awake to this too late, and by then there will be nothing that can be done about it. Consider the spirit behind the Voice a shot across the bow. There will be more of this sort of thing in the future, not less, unless we have a radical course correction. The first thing we must do is rediscover the virtue of telling the truth, however unpleasant it seems. The truth is liberating, but sometimes comes with hemlock. For now, the Yes crowd have had a taste of it, but it is important not to overstate the victory. They are intent on using wounds to drive their vision forward, and wounds are easier to open than to close.