|Issue No 6||26 March 1999|
Ghassan Hage's White Nation
My Granny Is Seizing Power!
This work deals with the highly topical issue of multiculturalism and, as such, a warning is necessary. It is written for those who are, or aspire to be, members of the intellectual elite.
These are the people who believe that knowledge is the product of hard labour; the people who believe that you need to do a great deal of time-consuming research, read a lot of books and reflect on many difficult philosophical, empirical and theoretical issues to produce intelligent knowledge.
In John Howard's Australia, there seem to be many individuals who feel 'relaxed and comfortable' in talking about issues about which they haven't bothered to read a single researched article, let alone a book. Apparently, 'life taught them'.
In fact, such people are so 'relaxed and comfortable' that they believe that the more someone works at trying to learn about an issue, the more they become pare of an ignorant and arrogant lot: the intellectual elite. The role of this elite is apparently simply to put down naturally intelligent people and find ways to stop them from expressing the truth they capture so effortlessly by merely living.
When I used to visit my grandmother in Bathurst in the late 1970s, she would often make comments such as 'You've been reading too much' or, even more explicitly, "People who go to university become mad." Although such comments helped me reflect on how and why university knowledge clashed with everyday knowledge, I resented pronouncements such as "You have read books, but life has taught me.'
I used to say, "But Granny, I have a life as well you know, and it teaches me, too. Can't you see that books and research provide me with extra knowledge." I was naive even to try.
"The so-called 'intelligentsia' always looks down with a really limitless condescension on anyone who has not been dragged through the obligatory schools and had the necessary knowledge pumped into him. The question has never been: What are the man's abilities? but what has he learned?' To these 'educated' people the biggest empty-head, if he is wrapped in enough diplomas, is worth more than the brightest boy who happens to lack these costly envelopes."
This is neither my granny, nor any of Australia's anti-intellectual populists speaking, but Adolf Hitler. And I cannot help thinking of him when people start abusing intellectuals.
Hitler was the classic anti-intellectual: a man who had enough intellect to be a mediocre intellectual and enough also to realise that he wasn't a member of the intellectual elite.
Like many mediocre intellectuals, he thought he had a natural talent for knowledge, rather than realising how much hard work is put into whatever knowledge people end up gathering.
Hitler was not, however, the sort of person who would just sit there and take it. He was too motivated by dreams of social political and intellectual mobility to allow himself to just sulk and do nothing. So, he found the time-honoured way to 'beat' the intellectual elite.
This is the road often chosen by people who want to be recognised as intellectuals, but who are either not socially equipped to be so or feel they have better things to do than putting in the hard labour necessary to achieve such status.
These people compensate for their lack of knowledge by speaking in the name of 'the people'. The people' becomes such a formula of success for mediocre intellectuals they make themselves - and some others, too - believe that they actually are 'the people'.
The mechanism is very simple:
(1)'The people' already know everything there is to know: 'life taught them'.
(2) Consequently, anything that the 'intellectual elite' says which is not known by the people is superfluous knowledge, if not actively against the people.
(3) Therefore, any attack on the knowledge of the intellectual elite is a defence of the knowledge of the people.
And who else is better at defending the instinctive knowledge of the people if not the instinctively intelligent, mediocre intellectual? In reality, 'the people' are too busy living. In addition, one can be certain that anyone who uses the concept of 'the people' is already someone who distinguishes himself or herself from them.
Driving back to Sydney from Bathurst, I used to feel safe that my grandmother and her ideas would not travel too far away from her, wherever she was ... there ... in her house ... up in Bathurst ...away from the institutions of knowledge and the institutions of power that feed them and from them.
This, however, was the 1970s. Today, and ever since John Howard made Australia for all of us, everywhere I look, whether it be in the morning paper or on the Internet, my Granny is there voicing her criticisms: 'Life has taught me', 'I am worried about the size of the immigrant intake', 'Farming has taught me', 'Ghettoes are worrying'. 'Fish and chips have taught me', 'The state is too biased towards Aboriginal people'! It's a nightmare: my Granny is seizing power.!
It is in this atmosphere that authors of the sort my Granny likes can write political bestsellers. Some can do so by electing Sydney and Beijing's competition for the Olympics 2000 into a competition between simplistically stereotyped national moral characters and by celebrating Sydney's win with an infantile triumphalism (Beijing is polluted. Sydney is clean. 'China lost, nah-nah-nanah-nah.')
These are authors who believe that reading four or five books - as opposed to those who don't read any and those who read 'too many' - and using the word 'scholar' to describe every person who agrees with them (even when those 'scholars' haven't published a single academic work on their supposed subject of expertise) give them definite answers about the world.
They write confidently, and without blinking, about how Australia can become an 'eco-superpower' with its 'green corps': a kind of politically correct, post modern version of the 'one day my nation will be great' story, and which, of course, cannot happen until we deal with the internal enemies (Asian crime, Asian ghettoes and anything to the left of the Liberal Party wets). Some also write of the international conspiracy represented by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
Luckily, the Olympic committee was not on the look out for moral pollution when 'China lost'.
If there is a single important, subjective feeling behind this book, it is that I, and many people like me, am sick of 'worried' White Australians ¾ White Australians who think that they have a monopoly over 'worrying ' about the shape and the future of Australia.
They are constantly finding a source of concern: look at how many migrants there are, look at crime, look at ghettoes, look at tourists. Such pathological worry is that of people who use worrying to try to construct themselves as the most worthy Australians in the land: 'Nobody cares but us real Australians. That's why we are worried and others aren't.'
Why aren't migrants worried about ghettoes and about immigration and about crime? The answer is, of course, because they are not really committed to Australia. Paul Sheehan (1998) gleefully publishes in the first pages of his book Among the Barbarians a list of people who criticised him - some of whom ended up receiving hate mail - and excerpts of what they have said.
But far be it from him to allow this to make him think that maybe he shouldn't be so confident about the truth of what he has written. In fact, the published criticisms simply work to confirm Sheehan's view that multiculturalists are only worried about multiculturalism.
Only 'real' Australians, fine, 'aggressive', and 'fire-loving' Eucalypts' like him are worried about Australia.
Paul Sheehan's discourse and many other from Geoffrey Blainey to Pauline Hanson provide clear examples of the pervasive national fantasy analysed in this book; a fantasy centred around a 'white and very worried about the nation subject.'
It should be remembered, however, that worrying can be the last resort of the weak. There are many people for whom worrying is the last available strategy for staying in control of social processes over which they have no longer much control.
My grandmother, funnily enough, was also a great worrier. She spent a lot of time worrying about everything: she worried about Australia, she worried about the Catholics in Lebanon, she worried about my marriage and she worried about me driving on the highway to Bathurst.
It was her worrying which taught me that this is what people who are losing control over their social life (overly represented among the elderly) do to compensate for their loss.
They worry themselves back into the processes from which they feel they have become alienated. (This is probably a factor in explaining the inordinate number of elderly people who feel alienated from national processes in the ranks of the White-and-worried-about-the-nation Hansonites.)
In a book which advocates the ethical importance of the intellectual art of listening and understanding even to the most unsavoury views, I want to think of the anti-intellectual elite people who have recently invaded the Australian public sphere as a family problem.
This is also how I will be treating all those who express Hansonite views in this book - even if some of them may not like to think of me, with my very woggy name (if only they could hear my accent!), as a family member.
And after all, like most people, I loved my Granny.
Extracted from "White Nation - Fantasies of White supremacy in a mutlicultural society" by Ghassan Hage. Published by Pluto Press, 1998
Interview: Jeff Shaw - Keeping the Peace in NSW
We talk to the Carr Government's best minister about his plans and aspirations for a second term.
Unions: Labor's IR Promises
Read the full ALP Industrial Relations policy. Only on Workers Online!
History: A History of Struggle on the Wharves
As the first anniversary of the Reith-Corrigan assault on the waterfront approaches, we remember that it was only the latest in a long line of attacks on the union.
Review: Rats in the Ranks
This Australian political masterpiece about the battle for power in an inner-city council is well worth going back to.
Campaign Diary: It's Time For a Real Labor Government
A returned Carr Government must use its increased majority to promote a genuine Labor agenda rather than just clinging to power for another four years.
View entire latest issue
© 1999-2000 Labor Council of NSW
LaborNET is a resource for the labour movement provided by the Labor Council of NSWURL: http://workers.labor.net.au/6/a_guestreporter_granny.html
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005