The Ethics Of… Moving Australia Day

Right, so I’m pretty damn sick today, with that particular brand of head cold that makes thinking… hard. So this one’s going to be a bit blunter than usual.

For those overseas, every 26 January we celebrate ‘Australia Day’. It’s basically our national day where we theoretically celebrate our nation, and more realistically go get drunk somewhere (likely the beach) and listen to Triple J’s Hottest 100. It’s the perfect example of Australia’s unique blend of cultures that we simultaneously take great pride in our nation, while also thinking anyone taking great pride in their nation is a bit of a wanker.

It’s complicated.

But beyond the fairly tacky patriotism and public drunkenness the day usually brings out, Australia Day has a problem: the date is chosen to commemorate 26 January 1788, when the First Fleet of British Colonists arrived near where Sydney would be built, claimed the land in the name of Great Britain, and effectively started what has become the nation of Australia.

Small problem with that: there were already people here. And, in standard colonial fashion, the white settlers spent the next 200 years fucking them over as thoroughly as possible. That’s not an exaggeration by the way, our government was still actively discriminating against Indigenous Australians well into the 1980s. Up until 1967 they were actually classed at fauna for fucks sake, and while things have come a long way from then, Australia’s first people still suffer a huge amount of discrimination and vastly worse standard of living compared to pretty much everyone else here.

Big god damn surprise then that they see this annual celebration of that time white folks pinched their land and annihilated their culture as a bit annoying. There been a long running campaign against the holiday by indigenous folk and their political allies, branding Australia Day ‘Invasion Day’ and demanding that the holiday be moved to a different date in respect of the harm said invasion caused.

So far so standard, right? Just another symbolic political debate a few people take seriously and everyone else is happy to ignore.

Well not anymore, because the Freemantle local government declared last week that it is moving its celebrations to January 28 in favour of a “culturally-inclusive alternative” celebration.

Cue the outrage.

This isn’t really all that symbolic here, I just wanted an excuse to use this gif.

Needless to say the decision pissed a lot of people off, including one Indigenous leader who, naturally, has been quoted by every newspaper going. But what there’s been a distinct lack of is a discussion of whether this decision is actually right or not. Because at the end of the day ethics couldn’t give two shits who you are, what authority you hold or whether any of us like the answer; ethics is about the evidence and logic of the situation and if you don’t like where that leads, whoop de do. You’re wrong.

Yeah I know I posted something just 3 weeks ago about how important it is to understand your opponents in order to win them over, but winning your opponents over comes second to being right in the first place. And since thinking right now is like wading through glue, you’re getting the short version.

So I’ve already laid out the argument for moving Australia Day pretty clearly – it’s an annual celebration of the date we started fucking over indigenous Australians and never really stopped.

So what are some of the arguments for keeping Australia Day on the date it is now?

Tradition is the obvious one; this is the date we’ve celebrated our nation for over 200 years now and I don’t see any good reason we should change it now. This one is undercut a little by the fact that we’ve only been celebrating the day itself since 1935 and didn’t make it a national holiday until 1994, but the point still stands – we’ve always done it this way, we shouldn’t have to change it.

Problem is this is a perfect example of the ‘appeal to tradition’ fallacy and doesn’t make much sense. Just because we’ve always done something a certain way doesn’t mean that way is good, much less superior to all alternatives. If a better way is available, let’s just do that instead.

Image result for weird tradition

Tradition!

The next is that the majority shouldn’t be dictated to by minorities; just because the current date of Australia Day upsets a few indigenous people doesn’t mean everyone else should have to accommodate them. We’re a democracy after all, and that means majority rules.

Well for starters, no we’re not. We’re a representative democracy where the majority usually doesn’t rule, but rather selects between groups of people to rule on our behalf. And for seconds, that’s a system of government and has squat to do with ethics. Just because the majority of people agree on something doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, as the recent election of a certain orange muppet should make abundantly clear. Sure the needs of majority must come before the needs of the few, but that’s assuming both those needs are equally valid – if the majority’s needs can be protected while a minority can be helped, then that’s the obvious choice.

But this cuts both ways and brings us to argument number 3; this is all just a case of political correctness (gone mad, naturally). As we’ve discussed before on here, that term is pretty much meaningless these days, but overall what’s meant by this is that this is purely a matter of Aboriginals getting offended by Australia Day, and we can’t ethically use something as subjective as offense to dictate how other people should behave.

This is a pretty solid criticism – there’s no question that the people who want Australia Day changed to a different date are offended by its current form. And since offense is subjective and therefore ethically irrelevant, let’s ignore that factor completely. Do those people have an objective/valid reason for being offended? The whole ‘celebration of fucking over the original inhabitants’ thing we talked about earlier is pretty on the nose, but at the same time celebrating it doesn’t actually harm anyone, does it? And if there’s no actual harm caused by the current event, then the only damage is offense, which is subjective and therefore can be ignored.

That’s a solid chain of reasoning – despite the blind patriotism the day might inspire, no one sees Australia Day as an excuse to go out bashing minorities. In fact it usual serves as a celebration of new citizens, which is pretty damn inclusive and progressive. But that said, there’s no denying that Australia still has a very deep problem with discrimination towards Aboriginal people, nicely illustrated by the reaction to the suggestion that we change the date of Australia Day. Far, FAR too many people defending the current date did so by arguing that ‘racism is over’, that the evils of colonisation ended centuries ago, and that the current social problems suffered by Indigenous Australians are their own fault and not the responsibility of current generations of white folks.

australia-day-dont-blame-current-generationsCase in point

Such arguments betray a pretty deep ignorance both of the discrimination/racist facing Indigenous people and the fact that while current generations didn’t steal the land themselves, they continue to benefit from that theft, which in turn continues to screw over Aboriginal Australians even today.

So while the current date of Australia Day doesn’t harm anyone directly, it’s a pretty big symbol of white Australia’s refusal to accept that we didn’t just screw over Aboriginals back in the 1700’s – we’re still screwing them over and it’s our responsibility to work with them to fix things. The opposition to changing the date of Australia Day – indeed the howling fury at the very idea – demonstrates pretty clearly that this is not a responsibility we are willing to accept yet, which in turn makes a pretty solid case for rubbing the historical facts in our faces until we wrap our heads around them.

So far all of these arguments to keep Australia Day on the 26th aren’t really arguments for the current date, so much as they are arguments against having to do anything. So why do so many people want to keep the event where it is? Well no one seems to be too clear on that, but if I had to guess I’d go with the fear that changing the date will somehow ruin the event.

Again this is a pretty legitimate concern; Australia Day as it stands is, despite being on such a shitty date, a pretty harmless and largely positive event. Sure some wankers get their flag-wearing on, but overall it’s generally a day to hang out with family, listen to some tunes and occasionally feel appreciative of being born in a first world country. Change the date, especially for such a political and sensitive subject as Indigenous Rights, and the whole thing could end up tainted by race politics and cease to be the laconic day of rest that it currently is. And I get that! I enjoy a day off in summer as much as anyone, and despite what you may expect from this blog, I too get worn out from constant politics in my face all the time.

Image result for TRUMP & CLINTON

It was hard to believe how much this mess took out of me, and I don’t even live in the USA.

But here’s the thing guys; Australia Day is already political and has been for a very long time. You hardly noticed and it hasn’t exactly stopped anyone from having a relaxing day off before this. Yes forcing a political agenda on a public holiday is annoying, but in practice how will changing the date of the holiday actually affect your average Australian? They’ll still get a day off. They can still do whatever they want on that day, the same as they always have done. And if they find the politics of the new celebration annoying or objectionable, they can easily avoid those politics. And in the meantime our nation will finally show Aboriginal people the respect of not celebrating a great historical injustice every year, and anyone who wants to embrace this message will get the chance to understand exactly what that injustice was and how it continues through to this day.

Australia Day is meant to be a celebration of everything that is great about Australia, but the date is currently marks is not part of what makes Australia great. If we are celebrating this nation then we should choose a date that includes all Australians, and doesn’t make our original inhabitants feel more excluded than they already are.

 

 

 

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