[From Chapter One of The Culture Cult]
Should American Indians and New Zealand Maoris and Australian Aborigines be urged to preserve their traditional cultures at all cost? Should they be told that assimilation is wrong? And is it wise to leave them entirely to their own devices?
The Australian example suggests that the answers are no, no, and no. The best chance of a good life for indigenes is much the same as for you and me—full fluency and literacy in English, as much math as we can handle, and a job. In the year 2000 artificially preserved indigenes are doomed.
Since the folly of locking native peoples up in their old-time cultures is plain, but it’s tasteless to say so, governments everywhere resort to the rhetoric of “reconciliation”. This pretends that the problem is psychological and moral: rejig the public mind, ask leading political figures to adopt a contrite demeanor and apologize for the sins of history, and all will be well. Underlying this is the assumption that we’re all on the same plain of social development, divided only by misunderstanding.
This is false. The division is deep—there’s a very Big Ditch between the tribal world and modernity. Until around 1970 governments in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand accepted this fact, and they saw their duty as helping indigenes to cross the Ditch. For that reason they concentrated on better health, education, and housing, and let the chips of traditional culture fall where they may.
That’s how western civilization dealt with its own traditions, creatively destroying those that would not change. Creative destruction is a law of historical advance.
But romantic primitivism swept progressive policies away. Planning for the future and looking forward was out. Looking backward became the only proper way to look. Transfixed by the Culture Cult, a hyperidealised vision of traditional life was adopted, and the effect on indigenes of romanticising their past has been devastating.
On the one hand they found themselves being used as pawns in political games played for high stakes. On the other hand they became the deluded victims of the extravagances of their admirers. If your traditional way of life has no alphabet, no writing, no books, and no libraries, and yet you are continually told that you have a culture which is “rich”, “complex”, and “sophisticated”, how can you realistically see your place in the scheme of things? If all such hyperbole were true, who would need books or writing? In Australia, policies inspired by the Culture Cult have brought the illiterization of thousands of Aborigines whose grandparents could read and write.