Friday, January 23, 2009

Noel Pearson (Thanks, Louise!)

Noel Pearson. I've heard of the guy, but don't know much about him.

Let's see.....

Let's learn......

Lord Wiki says Noel Pearson a lawyer and land right activist.

Unlike the previous three Indigenous Australians I researched, Lord Wiki does provide me with a birthday for Pearson. June 25 1965.

Good! I've missed the birthday website.

He's a Cancer and a 7. My husband is a Cancer. I'm a 7. Not only that, the birthday website says Pearson would be most compatible with 1, 5, and 7. My husband is a 1. I think we should invite Pearson over for dinner. My husband and I struggle to find friends we mutually like. Pearson may be our man!

Pearson grew up in the Cape York Peninsula. I'm ashamed of myself because I didn't know what that was. But now I know. It's the Peninsula in Northern Queensland. If you look at a map, it's the triangular like figure on the top right.

Pearson was part of an Aboriginal Community called Hope Vale. It has Lutheran Mission origins.

Lord Wiki says the 2006 population of Hope Vale was 765.

Pearson's father was from the Bagaarrmugu clan and his mother was Guggu Yalanji

Pearson attended primary school in Hope Vale. For high school, he went to boarding school in Brisbane. St. Peter's Lutheran College. This school is another that provides a period of outdoor education. It doesn't last a year though...just five weeks. During that time, the students have no formal academic instruction. Instead, they work on a farm and do various outdoor activities.

After St. Peter's, Pearson went onto the University of Sydney. He studied history and law. For his thesis, he did a study on Hope Vale.

The 1990's theme for Pearson seemed to be land rights. He was appointed to a taskforce that was formed to deal with land rights issues, and he was a legal adviser for the ATSIC. He was involved with the Native Title Act of 1993. I'm trying to understand all this Native Title/Land Rights stuff. It confuses me. This website gives a definition of Native Title. A form of communal title whereby land is not owned but is used by those who have rights over it. Describes traditional Aboriginal rights over land in Australia. I think I understand that. You don't get to own the land, but you can use it.

In the year 2000, Pearson changed his mind about things. He did a lecture called The Light on the Hill, and in that lecture he expressed his changed views. Now this is intriguing. It always fascinates me when someone changes their viewpoints; especially when it's a huge change. Was this a huge change?

In the speech, he's against passive welfare. Is that the big change? Did he used to support welfare? Some of his speech goes over my head. This line is interesting, but I'm going to have to get out a dictionary. It means that even among the lower classes the blacks have few friends because the whites focus their Hansonesque blame and resentment upon the blacks, who are either to be condemned for their hopelessness or envied for what little hope they might have. Hansonesque? I can't find a definition. I see the word used on other websites, but I can't figure out what it means. Does anyone know?

Pearson describes the difference between passive welfare and what he labels proper welfare. He says with the good type of welfare, the working taxpayers collectively finance systems aimed at the their own and their families' security and development. Passive welfare is when there's a complete dependence on government handouts.

I like what he says here. You put any group of people in a condition of overwhelming reliance upon passive welfare support - that is support without reciprocation - and within three decades you will get the same social results that my people in Cape York Peninsula currently endure. Our social problems do not emanate from an innate incapacity on the part of our people. Our social problems are not endemic, they have not always been with us. We are not a hopeless or imbecile people. It's a good counterargument to the racist idea that there's something inherently inferior about Indigenous Australians.

I love this line. I do not thereby mean that the Australian welfare state is a bad thing. It is just that my people have experienced a marginal aspect of that welfare state: income provisioning for people dispossessed from the real economy. I think that makes a lot of sense. And I'm glad to know he's not completely against welfare. But I agree. There's probably good welfare and bad.

Pearson divides society into groups. There is a small group at the top that is influential. There is a middle stratum that possesses intellectual tools and performs qualified work. The third and lowest stratum lacks intellectual tools, and does manual, often repetitive work.

I agree with his observation, but I wonder if the Internet has changed things. In "real life" the groups don't often mix. We often stick with our own kind. But on the Internet, we can't easily tell the difference between the man who is the CEO of a company and the man who cleans toilets. There is the fact that some people have easier, and more frequent, access to a computer and the Internet. That makes a difference. But I think more and more people are getting Internet access. You no longer have to be wealthy or know the "right people" to have a voice.

I find this quote interesting. Our society and our culture is not a conspiracy. There are no cynics at the top of the pyramid who use their power to maintain an unnecessarily unequal society. Stratified society is perpetuated because of the self-interest that everybody has in not sinking down. 

 I think I wrote something about this on my other old blog. People at the top don't usually do bad things because they're wicked and want to cause harm to others. They do it because they're greedy. They're putting their own needs first. Let's take the example of infant formula companies. I don't think the people at the top of these companies say Ha ha ha! Let's trick mothers into using our formula rather than breastfeeding. We want to risk the health of babies. We want to overflow landfills with formula cans! Let's see what kind of tricky marketing we can use to lower the rate of breastfeeding! I think it's more along the lines of them ignoring the harm they cause because they want to make more money.

It's like when I eat a Hershey's chocolate bar. I'm not eating it because I'm wicked and love to imagine slave labor. I don't want to hurt children. But my gluttony gets the best of me. I unwrap the delicious candy bar and enjoy the delicious chocolate. I never think about slave labor while I'm eating. If I did, I'd probably choke.

Pearson talks about culture. He says, On the contrary, they are right in rejecting most of our culture, but they throw out the baby, the useful intellectual tools, with the bath water. Most people unnecessarily have a bad conscience for their lack of interest in culture. They shouldn't. Most of our art, literature, history writing, philosophy, social thinking and so on really is as irrelevant as most people think.

This reminds me of a Young Adult Literature class I had in college. We had a teacher initiated debate about the use of YA lit in place of the classics. If you have a group of reluctant learners, is it better to read Shakespeare with them, or is it better to read modern young adult authors? Romeo or Juliet or John Marsden's Tomorrow Series. Moby Dick or Harry Potter?

Some students scoffed at the idea of not teaching Shakespeare. These students would probably love Ed Hirsh. He's the one who writes the series of books, What Your First Grader Should know, What Your Third Grader Should Know, etc. I think the basic idea of this is we should all know about certain things. It's about having a SHARED culture. And I think there's merit to the idea. I think there's something fun and beautiful about most people being able to spot and understand a certain cultural reference. But I was one of the students who believed it was better to use young adult literature. I think many people in our society shy away from reading and intellectual matters. When we become snobs about it, I think it makes things worse.

Jack was a reluctant reader. Although he learned to read early, he didn't have much interest in books. He didn't even want me to read to him. Yes, I'd love for him to be reading Charlotte's Web. We tried it. He rejected it. I tried Little House on the Prairie. He hated that. Then we tried Captain Underpants. He loved it. Some people would be disgusted with his reading choice. I was just happy that my son was reading.

I'm not a book snob. Book snobs annoy me.

Music snobs do too.

I taught at a preschool in Fort Worth. The director was against any music that's not classical. I think classical music is lovely, but I think it's foolish to discount other types of music. I think it's also somewhat racist since most classical music (at least the kind she approved of) was composed by white men.

That's the thing about classics in literature as well. Most of it was made by Caucasians. I'm always shocked at the arguments against multicultural curriculum. We should be choosing material based on its merit not based on the ethnicity of the writers. It makes me angry when I hear people saying that because what I'm hearing is nonwhite people haven't written anything of quality.

Well, guess what? They have! But a lot of us don't realize that because we're too busy reading all the classics written by white people.

 I think most of the books I read for high school English were written by white males. People could argue that I could read other stuff in my own time. And I did. I love to read. But what if a teen is a reluctant reader and won't take time to read outside the classroom? I think it's better to give him literature he can relate to. Maybe then he'll learn to love reading and when he's older he may choose to read some of the classics. That's the other thing. I feel we learn the classics too young. I remember not understanding the books we read. I was dependent on classroom discussions and Cliff Notes. The books went over my head. But as an adult, I read some classics independently and was able to understand them. You know, I feel this way also about some modern children's books. I read the books as adults and loved them. I know though that if I had read the books as a child or teen I would have been bored and confused.

Anyway, I've completely gone off on a tangent here. I better get back on track.

Pearson talks about crime in Aboriginal communities. He believes too much emphasis is put on helping the person who committed the crime, and not enough emphasis is put on the victim of the crime. He says, You ask the grandmothers and the wives. What happens in communities when the only thing that happens when crimes are committed is the offenders are defended as victims? Is it any wonder that there will soon develop a sense that people should not take responsibility for their actions and social order must take second place to an apparent right to dissolution. I think he has some merit there.

He talks about alcoholism and how it's blamed on society. I'm one of those people. I mean I see alcoholism as a symptom of being alienated from society. Pearson says, The symptom theory holds that substance abuse is only a symptom of underlying social and psychological problems. And he says, The symptom theory absolves people from their personal responsibility to confront and deal with addiction. Worse, it leaves communities to think that nothing can be done to confront substance abuse because its purported causes: dispossession, racism, trauma and poverty, are beyond reach of social resolution in the present.

I don't completely agree. I think you can believe in the symptom theory while at the same time have hope in correcting things. Blaming others doesn't have to equal personal passivity. Let's say a teenager is sexually abused by her stepfather. She has a multitude of problems as an adult. She can't hold a relationship. She hates having sex. She has nightmares. She has eating disorders. Who is to blame for all of this? Her stepfather. Who is responsible for getting this woman well again? She is. If the stepfather is remorseful; maybe he can help pay for her therapy. But it's up to her to go to the therapy. It's up to her to want to get well. It's up to her make healthy choices.

I don't think the Indigenous Australians should say. It's the fault of the white people! They should apologize and fix things. I think they should say. It's the fault of the white people. But we can fix things. We're a strong people. We might need some financial assistance, but we can work things out.

All right. I'm done reading the speech.

Oh my. I'm still on Lord Wiki. It might be a long day.

Lord Wiki has a chronological list of events. I'm not going to sit here and list all of them. I'll try to pick out the ones that might be interesting.

In December 2005, Pearson publicly criticized the Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions for deciding not to press charges against the police officer responsible for the death of an Indigenous man. And after reading some of the article about the incident, I can't blame Pearson for his public criticisms. What happened is disgusting.

In May 2007, Pearson launched a new welfare program for Hope Vale. The fund provided for home improvements and low interest loans for house ownership.

The following June, Pearson argued for the intervention program in The Northern Territory. It seems he supported John Howard. I can imagine that lost him some fans.

In September, Pearson convinced the Indigenous leader of the Northern Territory, Galurrwuy Yunupingu that intervention was a good thing.

In November, Marcia Langton (one of the stars of The First Australians) came out in support of Pearson's support of intervention.

Lord Wiki has a link to a bunch of articles Pearson has written. Maybe I'll read a few.

This one is about Obama winning the election.

He has some interesting quotes in this article.

White guilt became a source of social leverage for too many black leaders. Obama, like a pantheon of successful African-Americans from Sidney Poitier to Oprah Winfrey, makes a bargain with white America: "I won't hold your history of racism against you if you don't use my race against me.

I think there's some truth to that. But I think it would be foolish to assume that a black American made it to the top only because us white people feel guilty. Do I think race played a part in Obama's win. Yes. I don't think it was just white guilt though. I think we wanted a change. I think we were sick of white males. But did we pick some incompetent loser just because he had dark skin? No. I think we chose someone who had the skills to lead the country. And yes he happened to be black. And yes many of us think that's awesome. In all practicality I have two political parties to choose from. I always choose the Democrats over the Republicans. This time the candidate was black. If Obama was white, I'd still choose him. Now if the Democratic candidate was white, the Republican was black, and I voted Republican....then yes you could say that was completely racially motivated. I love the idea of a woman as President. But there's no way I'd vote for Sarah Palin.

I love what Pearson says here. For both the emphases of responsibility will be different. For whites to take responsibility, they must not dismiss racialism as a real social evil, and they must understand that past discrimination left a legacy. For blacks to take responsibility, they must wake up to the fact that racism does not present the kind of barriers to full citizenship that it once represented and that it is not a catch-all explanation for all of their problems.

I think that's a brilliant statement. Both groups have to make changes. Although is Pearson trying to say there's no racism or discrimination anymore? I don't think he's saying that. But if he is, I think he's being a bit naive.

In this article, he talks about Sorry Day. He seems to believe that the apology was more about a fight between Howard and Rudd than a genuine apology...if I'm reading this right. He says, So let's not get too caught up with the "this is an act of decency whose time has come" line. The imperative for the apology was a product of cultural war. If that was not its original intention, then it immediately became a weapon in this war.

I think it's along the lines of look, Howard is an asshole. He won't apologize. But I will! Was the apology from Rudd sincere, or was he just trying to make himself look better than Howard?

I love his line here. There is no doubt a majority among the political leadership and ordinary white Australians hope the country will be able to, to use the Prime Minister's words, move on. There are two ways to take this hope. The first is ominous: that it represents a hope to dispose of the apology in as decent (and politically and financially cost-free) way as possible, and to put the subject into the "box ticked" compartment. The second is optimistic: it represents a necessary start for a genuinely hopeful era in indigenous affairs.

I'm not sure I agree with everything Pearson believes. But I like the way he thinks. I think he expresses his arguments very well. I can see merit in his viewpoints even if I don't believe in them. But I do agree with the one above!

I disagree with Pearson here.

One of my misgivings about the apology has been my belief that nothing good will come from viewing ourselves, and making our case on the basis of our status, as victims.
We have been -- and the people who lost their families certainly were -- victimised in history, but we must stop the politics of victimhood. We lose power when we adopt this psychology. Whatever moral power we might gain over white Australia from presenting ourselves as victims, we lose in ourselves.

You know, I think I've actually read this editorial before. I'm not sure when though.

Anyway, I don't think seeing oneself as the victim is necessarily bad. It's only bad if people refuse to take responsibility for their future.

Pearson says, The truth is the removal of Aboriginal children and the breaking up of Aboriginal families is a history of complexity and great variety. People were stolen, people were rescued; people were brought in chains, people were brought by their parents; mixed-blood children were in danger from their tribal stepfathers, while others were loved and treated as their own; people were in danger from whites, and people were protected by whites. The motivations and actions of those whites involved in this history -- governments and missions -- ranged from cruel to caring, malign to loving, well-intentioned to evil.

I'm sure that's very true. There was a variety of experiences. But that doesn't mean there wasn't a stolen generation and that they don't deserve an apology.

One of the things I learned this summer, through all my personal drama, is that relationships are complex. I learned (by reading various self-help books) that it's okay to be angry at people. I learned that just because you're angry at someone doesn't mean you don't recognize all the good they've given you.

Saying sorry to the Stolen Generations does not mean we ignore the fact that there were many white people who did good during those time periods. It does not mean we ignore the fact that some children were rescued and not stolen.

I'm tired and hungry. This is already very long so I'm not going to venture far from Lord Wiki land. But I do want to see some opposing opinions. I'm going to see what the Green Left has to say.

They say Pearson has drifted to the far right. I can see how they'd think that. I'm not sure I'd put him on the far right. But I do think he's far from the far left. Maybe he's in the middle. I don't know. I think the Green Left is too quick to dismiss him. He may have ideas that make them uncomfortable. And I don't agree with all he says. But I do think SOME of what he says makes sense.

This anagram website says an anagram for Noel Pearson is a lone person. Interesting. I think that fits. When you have controversial opinions, you stand alone. I think anyone that is not on either side of the extreme ends up feeling a bit isolated. We practiced attachment parenting with Jack. We used a sling. We breastfed him past infancy. We let him sleep in our bed. We didn't send him off to preschool. This put us outside mainstream society. Mainstream people saw us as radical. But I'd go to (the mothership of attachment parenting) and would feel alienated from the other parents on there. Because.....We let our child eat artificial flavors. We let our child eat white sugar. We circumcised him and we vaccinated him. When you're in the middle of two extremes, you feel rejected from both ends.

I guess the question is whether or not Pearson is rejected from the far right. The Green Left seems to think he has become a hero of the far right. Is that true? I don't know. I can imagine maybe he's accepted by the center right. I'm not sure about the far right. I think the problem with the far right and the far left is they have a George W. Bush attitude towards things. You're either with us or against us. And you need to be with them all the way. Otherwise you're seen as a traitor.

I think how this blogger summarizes the left and right attitudes towards the Aborigines. Hence, in Australia what is known as the "Right" promotes indigenous responsibility. What is known as the "Left" promotes indigenous rights. Usually, the "Right" and the "Left" righteously denounce each other. The "Left" (eg. the Greens) says that the Howard government is "callous', "brutal", "lacking compassion". The "Right" says to the "Left" - you are not facing reality, drug abuse, welfare dependency and child abuse in aboriginal communities are realities that simply have do be dealt with.

Okay this is totally off the subject, but this blogger (in a more recent post) has a link to a New York Times editorial written by the controversial Muammar Qaddafi. He has some very interesting views about Israel and Palestine. I like them. I don't know much about Qadaffi, but Lord Wiki does have a quote from him condemning Israel. In this recent editorial, he has some very wise opinions on how peace can be achieved. Did Qaddafi like Pearson change his viewpoints on things? If so...I bet while some people appreciate his more moderate approach, other people might see him as a traitor.


  1. he is such an articulate man and expressed himself so well. I also like that he is willing to have different, controversial views than a lot of the Aboriginal community, even if I don't always agree with I really admire him for speaking his mind and making people think more deeply about the issues.

  2. oh and the hansenesque comment refers to Pauline Hansen,now theres a controversial woman!!

  3. wow. awesome, awesome post. i don't even really know where to start. but i wanted to reply re: aboriginal birth dates. i could write a thesis on this..and have written a paper or two. the best way to give a bit of quick history is to guide you to this link --

    hope it sheds a bit of light... =)

  4. I love it when you go off track. It's like having a conversation with someone and post seems more personal.

  5. The way I look at it, when people retreat into being victems to avoid responsibility for their lives then, yes, it's a very bad thing. When people hold on to being victems to avoid moving forward, then it's a bad thing.

    But no, it's not a bad thing to recognise that someone was a victem, as long as they don't stay victems unable to move on.

  6. Louise: Thanks for clearing up the Hansonesque thing. I never thought of that! I agree with you about Pearson. I think we feel the same way. He has some controversial views, but I think they're well thought out. I don't know I agree with all of them, but I respect them.

    Michaela: Thank you for liking the post. And MAJOR thank you for that link. It totally explains things. I feel sort of dumb for not considering that. It makes perfect sense. It's really sad though.

    Anja: Thank you so much.

    Mistress B: I totally agree.

  7. Hmmmmmm.....I stumbled across your blog by accident - researching Noel Pearson as part of my long-time interest in indigenous issues in my country - but it looks very interesting. Gonna finish reading this another time (study beckons) but I just wanted to say how fascinating and pleasant it is to read such in depth material about Australia from an outside perspective - I hope you get your citizenship some day (in a strange symmetry, I have always wanted to live in the States),


    J. Tafra

    P. S. That quote about Obama making a bargain with white America is actually originally from Shelby Steele I'm pretty sure

  8. Joseph,

    Hi! Thank you for reading! I think there are a few of us Americans and Australians who want to live in the other country. Have you had a chance to come here yet?

    You might be right about the Obama quote. I might have misread something!