Legal Eagle On Rage

By Legal Eagle

I think my response and reading of Germaine Greer’s piece On Rage has emanated from my own feelings about rage. So I thought I might explore rage myself.

Sometimes, rage can be a productive emotion. For example, when I lived in the UK, the school I attended initially told my mother that they thought I was mentally retarded (no one could understand a word I said, for one thing). This so enraged me that I studied like a mad thing for the coming exams. Much to my surprise, I topped the year. There ended any doubts about my mental capacity. And people got to understand my ‘Strine after a while.

Rage against injustice is also important. It frustrates me when I see people treated unjustly and they don’t fight against it or even get angry. A lack of rage implies that somehow, the person believes they deserve to be treated like that. According to my mother, I have always been angry about things I believe are unfair, even when I was very little.

Another way in which rage can be good is that it can provide a release. Sometimes it feels so good to lose one’s temper, and afterwards, you feel quite calm. When I didn’t get articles with a law firm, I smashed all the mugs in the kitchen with law firm logos on them. Then I jumped on the pieces. No one else was in the house, and I cleaned up all the pieces before they came home. Childish, I know, but it felt cathartic.

Sometimes, if I suppress a reaction to something which makes me feel angry, it bursts out later in totally inappropriate circumstances. I haven’t gotten rid of the anger, and it still lurks there under the surface. I’ve had to learn how to tell people that something has upset me without getting angry or losing my temper. It’s much better to get rid of irritation so that it doesn’t fester and grow out of all proportion. It’s also better not to get enraged, but be constructive in one’s comments. You never know what’s going on in someone’s life to cause them to be thoughtless or irritating.

Sometimes rage can be an unproductive emotion. I have a hot temper, and when I see red, I don’t really think things through properly. Like everyone, when I am in a temper, I say things which are hurtful, or I blow small things out of all proportion. Some people lash out verbally at anybody in their path (whether that person deserves to be on the receiving end or not). I try not to do that, but admittedly, I probably don’t always succeed. Some people become physically violent towards others when they are enraged. I’m not one of those people. I tend to take out rage on inanimate objects if I need to respond physically (hence the smashing of the law firm mugs). I’ve known some people who have broken fingers or a hand because they have punched a wall when enraged. That’s taking physical anger out on one’s self!

Some people just seem to be in a permanent stage of undifferentiated rage at everyone and everything. Lad Litter wrote a series of posts a few months back about the scariness of coming across people who are permanently enraged and just want to pick fights with anyone they see. I don’t know what precisely enrages these people, and it is possible that they don’t know themselves. You know the kind of person I mean, though – the guy who just suddenly punches a passer-by in the face because he says that person looked at him in a way he didn’t like. You get a feeling for those people who are hanging by a hair-trigger…or at least, I do.

So rage can be a bad thing, because it can lead a person to take out their anger on those who don’t deserve it, but just happen to be in the path of the angry person. It means that a person can lack logic or fairness. That is the danger of rage.

What happens if you have suffered unfair harm, discrimination or been abused in some way? I think rage is a natural and appropriate response at first. As I said above, otherwise you might just think you deserved to be treated unfairly, and roll over and “take it”. It’s also really bad to try and ignore the bad thing that happened. My own experience is, again, that no matter how much you try to shove it into the background, it pops up again at the worst times. So if someone has been ill-treated, it’s important to actually think about it and face it squarely.

But I also think that there comes a point when rage hinders healing. One can end up nursing the rage to you, making it the raison d’etre of your life. This is when I think it is a bad thing. I speak here from personal experience. A few years back, I got very angry about something bad that happened to me. I raged about it, and generally felt that the world was unfair. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and mulling it over. How could someone do that? Why do that to me? It poisoned my life, because the anger spilled over into everything, and affected my enjoyment of life. I probably took it out on people who didn’t deserve it.

What changed? Well, I went on a holiday around South East Asia for a number of months. There I saw people who had suffered horrifically, far worse than I ever had. They had lost family members in wars and genocide, or lost limbs as a result of land mines. I asked a few Vietnamese people if they felt cross at America. They looked at me curiously. “Why would we feel that? That is in the past. It’s over. Also, it’s not the fault of Americans who come here now. Why would we take it out on them?”

On the other hand, I spoke to some people in Cambodia, and asked them if they still felt cross at the Khmer Rouge. They did. Each and every person I spoke to had lost family members, sometimes many family members. One of our guides said after a glass of beer that he still felt very angry. “I’m particularly angry because some of those Khmer Rouge people are in power now. They’re not Khmer Rouge any more. But they haven’t been punished or anything. I think they should go to gaol.”

I think the South East Asian perspective may derive from Buddhism – that the past is the past, and we live in the moment. So there is no point dwelling on the past. As you can see, this has positive and negative aspects. No Vietnamese person I met was angry at Americans generally as a result of the war, although some were angry about specific events or acts. But Cambodians were unhappy with the fact that unjust people were unpunished and their acts of genocide were just left in the past. So it can be bad to just move on from terrible things that happened without giving people some sense of vindication.

From this, I decided that I was going to leave my rage behind and get on with life. But I was going to take the middle ground. It didn’t mean forgetting that something bad happened, and that what had happened was unfair. Indeed, it was very important for me to face up to that as part of the healing process. However, once I had faced up to that, I decided that I had in fact been a very lucky person. No one in my family had been killed or maimed by genocide or war, and nor had I. And in the end, it is true that the best revenge is a life well lived. If I let the fact that something bad happened to me poison my whole life, then in effect, I was letting the bad guys win. I was still being hurt over and over, and still a victim. But if I moved on and lived a happy life, than I won.

I’m not a psychologist or anything. I’m not some kind of self-help addict (generally I despise such things). I’m certainly not an expert on rage. All I can do is take my own life experiences, and think how I managed to move beyond painful things.

That is the attitude I take to indigenous matters too. I recognise that rage is a necessary and important reaction to past and present injustices. To fail to be enraged is to say that indigenous people deserve to be treated badly. I certainly do not believe that: I believe that indigenous people have a clear right to be treated just like anyone else. Nonetheless, I am wary of rage, particularly when it is undifferentiated or taken out upon those who don’t deserve it. I knew an indigenous woman who suffered at the hands of enraged young indigenous men, and she really didn’t deserve to be the butt of their rage. She had already suffered abuse at the hands of her mother and foster parents. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and caused her to suffer a nervous breakdown. She had to be hospitalised for months.

I also don’t think nursing rage to you is a productive thing. Certainly, get cross when you see injustice, but don’t let it poison your whole life and affect your relationships with everyone. You might end up taking that rage out on people who don’t deserve to be victims – whether it be your family or others. Sometimes, you have to decide to move on, so that you can win. Otherwise, you let the perpetrators of injustice and violence win because they continue to poison your life long after the actual event has occurred. This doesn’t mean forgetting the injustice, or ignoring it, or letting it lie. Certainly not. But it might mean deciding that you are not going to dwell on it any more if doing so is actually causing more harm to you than good.

So with indigenous issues, I think it’s very important to remember past injustice and to acknowledge it fairly and squarely. Otherwise there can’t be any healing. But I don’t think focussing on it without looking at constructive ways of moving on is helpful. That is what really upset me about Greer’s piece. I saw it as focussing on rage without looking at ways people could move beyond that. It seemed to me that she had just put indigenous people in an immutable state of rage, and there was not much that could be done about that. She spoke of government and whitefellas making amends, which I think is very important. No healing can happen without proper support or the like. But I also think it’s really important to be positive about the future for indigenous people, even if the present is pretty damn bleak. I didn’t get much of a sense of that from her essay, although as I have said, I refrain from making final judgement until I read her book.

If I tell a student that I think she is worthwhile and can make something of herself even though she’s been badly abused in many ways, then I am helping her to win, and those who perpetrated the abuse have less power over her. That doesn’t mean ignoring the abuse, but it does mean moving beyond being angry at it and into positive action. That’s where I’m coming from.


In the comments thread, an interesting discussion has developed regarding the role of vindication and letting go of rage. This is an important aspect which I have only mentioned glancingly in my account above. Namely, if a wrongdoer apologises for doing wrong (or at least acknowledges it), a wronged person is much less likely to maintain rage about the wrong. The concept of vindication is in fact an important function of the law of wrongs – if the wrongdoer will not acknowledge or admit the wrong, the law forces them to do so by imposing liability.

For example, in the case of Menachem Vorchheimer (mentioned in a recent post) his aim was to get the perpetrators of the wrong to admit that they had done wrong to him, which was an uphill battle. It was essentially all about vindication.

The difficulty comes when the wrongdoer will not admit the wrong. Or the wrongdoer dies. Or the wrongdoing has happened a long time in the past.

If the wrongdoer will not admit the wrong, you can try to use the law to force the wrongdoer to face the wrongfulness of his or her act. But the law is a chancy thing. It can actually make things worse – someone who might have apologised in a non-legal context may become incalcated in a defensive position once a dispute becomes legal, admitting nothing and fighting every point because of the adversarial nature of the law.

If the wrongdoer has died or it’s difficult to work out who the actual wrongdoer really was, then things become even more difficult. And when the wrongdoing has happened a long time in the past, it can be impossible to properly vindicate.

Using the Australian context as an example, the wrongdoing against indigenous people started over 200 years ago, when Europeans first started to settle here. There are so many difficulties with this. Some of the wrongdoing was unintentional (eg, the settlers didn’t intend to kill off vast swathes of indigenous people by exposing them to European diseases). A good deal of wrongdoing was intentional and malicious. By current standards, it is clearly and utterly wrong. But part of the problem is that by the standards of the time, there were supposed “justifications” for the wrongdoing such as terra nullius (well, they don’t really own the land anyway, we can take it) or racist theories (they are savages and thus we can kill them, rape them, dispossess them and generally treat them in ways that we would never treat white people because they are not really human). So there was no acknowledgement or apology for wrongdoing at the time. Then there was wrongdoing which was done with good (or partly good) intentions, such as putting indigenous people in missions and some of the cases of children being taken from their mothers (the idea being to “civilise” the children). I acknowledge that there were much more sinister motives for taking half-caste children from their mothers, but I do think they were often mixed in with other more charitable motives as well. Many of us (including myself) find some of these charitable motives to be repugnant by modern standards, but at the time, the people who committed the wrongs thought they were doing a “good thing”. People didn’t apologise for those acts at the time because they didn’t necessarily think they were doing wrong.

Now we come to the present day and we have a group of people in society who have been wronged since the day Europeans arrived. Clearly, to move on, some kind of vindication is needed. This is why I think Greer is incorrect when she writes in her essay:

To the soul crushed by rage, words like “reconciliation” and “apology” sting worse than taunts.

That’s one of the things which made me react badly to her essay. In my opinion, an apology or an acknowledgement of wrongdoing can actually assuage rage and promote healing. The difficulties are many however. The actual perpetrators of many atrocities and wrongs are long-dead. Some may have thought what they were doing was right, or at least justifiable, even though by current standards it is not. Present day non-indigenous Australians are the inheritors of their actions, but most are not directly responsible for wrongdoing. So the response of many to calls for an apology is, “Well, I didn’t actually do anything wrong. I didn’t want those things to happen and I wish they hadn’t – but it’s not my fault directly.” Personally, I have some sympathy for this view. I actually think a better course of action would be an acknowledgement of past wrongs, and an apology for any present wrongs.

But I have always been concerned that an “Apology” might just be hot air, as it were – words not backed up by action. Therefore I think it’s also really, really important to back up any symbolic vindication with positive action: proper resources, proper schooling, help towards getting jobs, proper healthcare. At the moment, the provision of such things are being hampered by layers of bureaucracy and lack of consultation, as well as the social disintegration of some communities.

The other layer of complexity is that I also think there’s a necessity for apology and healing within communities where indigenous people have wronged their own. Not all wrongs have been committed by non-indigenous people. I think this is one of the reasons Langton and others reacted so angrily to Greer – they were concerned that her theories might be construed as excuses, and thus derail internal community healing processes which are beginning to take place. Her essay, at least, could have been taken to say that the only people who had to engage in apology and vindication were whitefellas, and that it was unreasonable to expect indigenous men to apologise because they were in a state of rage caused by whitefellas. Perhaps she did not mean to say this, but certainly this is how her essay has been taken by some. Internal matters of apology and vindication are a matter for indigenous communities themselves. But I think there is a real necessity for reconciliation within indigenous communities to occur as soon as possible, because for such measures to be really effective, you have to strike while the iron is hot (and the perpetrators are still around). Non-indigenous Australians should support and promote that process where possible.


  1. Posted August 24, 2008 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    “No Vietnamese person I met was angry at Americans generally as a result of the war, although some were angry about specific events or acts.”

    Folk from SVN are far more angry with the communists from the north and those who supported them. One of the most important phrases I learnt when travelling in VN for the first time in the late ’80s was “Khong phai Lien Xo” or “I am not a Russian”

    A VN friend’s favourite website is one where o/s VN ring Communist officials back in VN to confuse and annoy them as much as possible before hanging up. All very childish but apparently quite popular!

  2. Posted August 24, 2008 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    The Russians seem to have done their popularity dash in Eastern Europe, too. When I last went travelling around, there was everything from spitting to getting cut up in traffic to outright abuse.

    I remember telling one Russian guy in Prague who spoke good English to pretend to be from an English-speaking country, it was so bad. In the Baltic states, if statues to the Russian ‘liberators’ hadn’t been torn down, they’d been spraypainted with things like ‘monument to the unknown rapist’ (sometimes in multiple languages, for the convenience of tourists). Funnily enough (with the exception of Poland) many people spoke German and had nice things to say about Germans.

    The Poles (with some legitimacy, one suspects) disliked both lots equally, and driving around Poland in a hire car with German plates was, ahem, interesting.

  3. conrad
    Posted August 25, 2008 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    “many people spoke German and had nice things to say about Germans.”

    My bet is that this is in part because the Germans actually admitted they were the bad guys (perhaps this is a collective version of the individual story above!). It’s one of the reasons the Chinese still hate the Japanese — because if you don’t admit you were the bad guys when you were it’s extremely annoying for the other side.

  4. Posted August 25, 2008 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately some of the nice things said about the Germans were not things one likes to repeat in polite company. Let’s just say that quite a few of them involved ‘Hitler had the right idea about x‘.

    It was very disturbing indeed, and especially bad in the Czech Republic, although Croatia and Slovenia were pretty close behind. Sometimes it was gender-inflected, too – the Russians have never been forgiven for their sexual behaviour. One woman so exasperated me that I blurted out that ‘no, they [the Germans] killed all the Jews off instead’. This backfired utterly as she didn’t care a whit about the Jews (Gypsies fared even worse). I formed the view (testable if you dare) that the Germans attacked a despised minority and left the broader society pretty much alone, while the Russian rapes were spread evenly throughout the entire society, leaving a larger pool of people to be very angry afterwards.

    I do think your thesis applies in the Baltic states. The Latvians were (and are) putting up memorials to the Latvian Legion (an SS division) just to piss the Russians off, and it was clearly all about the Russian inability to concede they were arseholes.

  5. A. Atomou
    Posted August 25, 2008 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    LE, with all due respect, you’ve misunderstood Greer’s definition of rage. She’s not talking about anger -which is mostly what you were describing above- but an altogether different phenomenon, one that goes beyond “management” (as in the coined phrase, “anger management”) and one which almost alters the chemistry of one’s body, to the point of no return. There is little possibility of recovery from such an illness, according to her. One can only “manage” the symptoms and alleviate some of the pain but “rage” is incurable. It has permeated through the system and paralysed rationale.
    Add to this that, generation after generation of political egos changing programs, all of which are set to fail and to create more problems -as well as to make profits for whitefella mates and you have a disease that won’t go away until the youth, the new generation, sees a different way. And, to my mind, it has yet to do that.
    According to Greer, what has happened to the indigenous, is like someone chopping off someone else’s arm, then, instead of fixing that injustice, he also cuts off another arm and then a leg and so on, until, progressively there’s nothing left on that victim’s body that will make his living worthwhile. There’s no point in shouting at someone to “get up and fight” when you’ve cut off his legs and left him there bleeding.
    That’s rage.
    Giving him a punch in the nose will just get him angry, raping him will get him even angrier but, will a lot of support, intelligence and time, he’ll “move on.”

    The litany of crimes and the intensity of the crimes that whitefella committed against the indigenous did not simply make them angry. That, I believe, is Greer’s point. There’s a difference between anger, grief and rage. It’s a very technical book.

  6. John Hasenkam
    Posted August 25, 2008 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    There is little possibility of recovery from such an illness, according to her. One can only “manage” the symptoms and alleviate some of the pain but “rage” is incurable. It has permeated through the system and paralysed rationale.

    Thanks AA. She is right about that buy only to a certain extent. These problems are very difficult to overcome which is why I have argued that we need an entirely different approach. The more I think about this the more I am inclined to the view that we will need often need to intervene at the psychiatric and biological level. This is not just a matter of drugs but also diet and lifestyle. It is extremely difficult to address in the current context because many perceive such measures as “social engineering”, a concept I find laughable because one way or the other we are engaging in social engineering.

    Unfortunately both the Left and the Right still seem to think that the key is “individual responsibility” and freedom of choice. In my world when it comes to helping people overcoming this depth of trauma these are very often useless concepts.

  7. Posted August 25, 2008 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    For example, when I lived in the UK, the school I attended initially told my mother that they thought I was mentally retarded

    Christ the pommies are snobs aren’t they. 🙂

    They should talk considering their downright sadistic mangling of the language.

    I smashed all the mugs in the kitchen with law firm logos on them. Then I jumped on the pieces. No one else was in the house, and I cleaned up all the pieces before they came home. Childish, I know, but it felt cathartic.

    LE -This is what boys do instead of crying. 🙂

    And a lot of them don’t of course do it just to stuff. I’ve seen some of the people on the streets of Melbourne who appear to’ve finally become destitute after decades of welfare and drug dependance hassle and scream at random passer-by because no-one’ll give ’em change. I’m not talking about Aboriginal people just your good ol’ fashioned Aussie bludger.

    I’m also seeing a lot of young lads of varying ethnicity likewise demonstrating insane violence for apparently no reason.

    It feels cathartic because you’ve released something pent up. Naturally. Despite its errors of fact I think On Rage is a valuable book because it’s provoked so much debate. And because, despite its flaws, it does hit the nail on the head I reckon. We’re dealing with very pissed off people. Obvious really.

    I too like to destroy inanimate objects when I chuck a tanty. They deserve it. They know what they’ve done. 🙂

  8. Posted August 25, 2008 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Joining the chorus, I’ll also own up to the destruction of inanimate objects, tee hee. Like LE I have a very strong sense of justice, and when I saw unfairness as a child, I would rectify it by any means possible – including with my fists. I once wrote an essay that won one of those high school prizes that go around from time to time called ‘Sometimes, War is the Answer’ .

    IIRC it was based on the speed with which a clip round the ear tended to solve bullying problems, and then got onto the usual stuff – Chamberlain and his ‘piece of paper’ etc. I think I won purely because it was different (not the usual peace, love and mung beans), and because it addressed the issue of bullying – only just becoming prominent at the time.

  9. Posted August 25, 2008 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Joining the chorus, I’ll also own up to the destruction of inanimate objects, tee hee.


    Considering the recent mass confessions to eccentricity and violence I reckon that , should skepticlawyer dot com decide to conduct a night of merry-making that the host publican should either be advised beforehand to ensure their insurance arrangements are current and adequate or alternatively that said publican is a jerk.

    In any event it could be worthwhile. A lot of fine books are written in prison. 🙂

  10. Posted August 25, 2008 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    My take on this, self-help despised notwithstanding, is that it is better to collectivise rage and anger and whatever other synonym there is, into a more generic concept of ‘attack’, the true opposite of which is not defence, but acceptance. Every attack can be met in one of two ways – defence (attack back, i.e. more attack) or acceptance. Only one will have a good outcome. Attack back can be further divided, into attacking the attacker (or some substitute) or attacking the victim, i.e. self.

    By way of example, LE at school was attacked, called a retard, and had two options. Attack back, either the attacker directly, the school (smash the windows after class, murder the teacher), or indirectly, society (slash seats on the bus, kill kittens) or attack herself (drugs, anorexia, teenage pregnancy). In fact she chose acceptance, saw it for what it was, worked hard, topped the year. It was not the rage that was productive, but the refusal to deal with it by attacking back.

    The kitchen was a classic case of displaced attack back. Attack the work cups. The same outcome could (easily) have been achieved without one broken cup. {BTW, I wonder if missing whatever it was you were denied made any difference to your life, had a negative effect, other than you feeling wounded (attacked), to the extent, as my mother would have said, you do not know your own best interest}

    Reading on… suppression is delaying acceptance, no different to holding the attack. Unproductive rage is attacking back, or attacking yourself. Permanent rage is permanent ‘attack back’, a response to a perpetual state of feeling attacked, as in the paranoid schizophrenic.

    Vindication. This gets harder for me. I think that there is actually no, or virtually no, benefit for the victim, who by waiting for the apology before ‘accepting’ the situation is actually maintaining the rage. The admission of wrongdoing will likely only confirm the victim state, not relieve it. People say they can move on, they do, but my observation is they take the anger, now well confirmed, with them, albeit usually at a different level. Where compensation is involved, there festers delayed anger resolution (mental healing) but also delayed (of what may have become exaggerated) physical healing.

    Perhaps obtusely, I think the benefit of admission of wrong is primarily to the wrong doer. We know this from our own domestic lives.

    The indigenous situation is entrenched in an out of control cycle of attack and attack-back that almost brings me to the point of despair. The theoretical aspects as I see them involve: ‘white attack’ (no need to elaborate); ‘black attack’, on the white man (spears, hate), but mostly on themselves, mostly by the male, on self (drugs, alcohol) women, children. I have not read GG’s book, only saw the LL interview. AA well describes the situation; I however do not believe there is no cure.

    The psychology of attack is very complicated. For example, my brother-in-law is a Territorian. He believes white man did little or no wrong; the land was idle and wasted. He believes (electoral) voting should be according to export earning capacity. He believes stray Indonesian fisherman should be shot (killed) from the air. Reason: they will bring disease and take our land. Unravel that one. I am the one with unresolved anger about this.

  11. A. Atomou
    Posted August 26, 2008 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    Spot on, wanderer! Particularly with your observation that “the benefit of admission of wrong is primarily to the wrong doer.”
    According to my understanding of the history of saying sorry, of apologising, it is a relatively late invention and one that came about with, most probably, Christianity and which initially, was a dogma of contrition and repentance, of penitence and of absolution of sins, directed only to god, because -according to the theology- only he can give it. This dogma has caught on in the Christian societies, beginning with the serfs saying “sorry” only to their masters (and their god) and eventually, but slowly, trickling down the hierarchy to the bosses from their workers and then to the rest of the hoi polloi, where it became a “polite” (connection to the greek word “polis”) thing to do in English society, to “apologise” to someone one has wronged.
    The word “apologise” is also interesting, in that it does not mean in english what it means in greek, where to be asked to apologise simply means to put your own version of the even: to explain yourself.
    The dogma of “saying sorry” then, has very slowly spread to other countries colonised by the British. The dogma was but the sentiment behind it has yet to catch up, due, mainly, of course, to the fact that, in the main, the powerful do the wrong and the powerless have to suck it and shut up. There are no adverse consequences, no ugly repercussion for the powerful in saying “sorry;” and -in spite of the outrage shown by many rednecks in this country when Rudd made his “apology” – we see no penitence on his part, or on the part of the wider whitefella population. Alas, we see nothing more than an exhibition of “poilitical remorse” and bugger all recompense or, more usefully, some commitment to a different pattern of behaviour.
    “Sorry” is still used by the bourgeoisie who expect the prols to accept it and to obey by the rules of the dogma -the “saying sorry” dogma- particularly the rule that states, “once your wrongdoer has apologised you ‘move on’.”
    Sometimes, this is possible but not always; In the Greer’s telling of the history of whitefella-blackfella relationship and treatment, I can’t for the life of me see how we can expect the wronged to recover and to become strong enough to ‘move on,’ provided that there is somewhere to move on to. The wounds are still far too fresh. The damage is still very raw and very painful. The wrongdoing is going on to this very day: witness the mindset of even this “apologising” Rudd Govern’t which still thinks that punitive action is an incentive, rather then a careful visit to the patient’s history and environment where the source of the disease might be found and, perhaps, checked. No, we must punish the parents (by our own fascula, our own stick) if their children can’t make it to school!
    What’s the answer for the aborigine? As you put it so eloquently, either attack or attack-attack.

  12. A. Atomou
    Posted August 26, 2008 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Oops, the very last word should, of course, be “back” ie, attack-back. I am saying sorry… please move on!

  13. Posted August 26, 2008 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    The theology that God is the source of all forgiveness is flawed, fatally flawed. Any God worth his salt (a lot of salt) is by my definition perfect, and perfect means inviolate and beyond offence. Still, it was good idea at the time, coming in as you point out to help underline difference, ranking goodness with class, up to the ultimate con of the divine right of kings. Of course, anyone judged less good than oneself makes for that wonderful feeling of being gooder (one for LE). We do it everyday.

    Isn’t the trickle down trickling right on down; now you start with sorry, to confirm your goodness: “Sorry, but do you mind not standing on my foot”.

    I don’t agree about Rudd’s apology. For me it was a genuine, and moving (tears I mean, down the cheeks), statement of error. The response, in white and black, can’t be immediate. Still, the chalk is on the board. What is terrifyingly difficult is that pre-Agriculture people (and I mean that as a compliment, in that with agriculture came gathering and permanence, came ownership, came ..) were plucked into the 19/20th C in 100/200years; that’s compression of nuclear metaphor material.

    I did say I believe it is curable, but confess to that being at statement of belief. I do think that little progress can be made till we begin to see us as them, and do to them as we would want done to us. Sorry, if that’s a bit biblical, it’s not meant so.

  14. Posted August 27, 2008 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    Thanks LE. For aboriginal life and culture try Voices of the First Day, Robert Lawlor

  15. John Greenfield
    Posted August 27, 2008 at 10:28 am | Permalink


    But who can actually be “sorry” for British settlement of Australia? I most certainly am not. I think it is an amazing success story for civilisation; something to be proud of.

    Ggiven the chance should it be done all over again? Absolutely! And expanded to other god-forsaken primitive parts of the planet. It would save them all busting a gut to get to Britain, the US, Canada, and Oz!

  16. Posted August 27, 2008 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Hang on a bit John Greenfield. Without entering into the quicksand of “sorry” (which at least should be split into 1. “sorry’ it happened 2. ‘sorry’ how it happened, most punters dealing with the latter, you apparently not seeing any difference), if the “god-forsaken primitive parts” you mention should include, broadly speaking, Africa and the Middle East and the Subcontinent, then one could be excused for thinking they are in the mess they’re in because of British settlement, not in need of it to save them.

  17. A. Atomou
    Posted August 27, 2008 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    wanderer, I’m certainly not saying that Rudd’s apology was not heart felt or genuine. Neither is Geer; and as for shedding a tear, both I and Mrs At shed quite a few, also, seeing the importance many of the indigenous people had placed upon that event. But then I also shed a tear or two when I saw some Olympic competitions and the elation clearly felt by the winning contestants. The two events are quite closely related, in fact, and that is why they both tug at one’s emotional strings: They are the “ends” of a struggle, often a very long one. Win or lose, the “end” is always emotional. For the aborigines, it was an enormously long struggle, over 200 years long. Intense, painful, rage-building struggle to get to just that point: the Govn’t, the politicians, said “sorry” not for all the crimes their predecessors (right up till the present) committed but for one single crime, the majority victims of which are now dead, namely, that of stealing generations of their youth. And that’s all that wonderful speech was about!
    It meant an enormous amount to those victims who were still alive and to those other indigenous people who thought that that speech was the beginning of something new: of a new treatment, of a new, fairer way, of the undoing of all the other crimes. But it was not a remedy for anything. It was not a cure; it was an appeasement, a bedside chat by a doctor who had just minutes earlier ripped out your vital organs.
    I know that a great many whites would have felt a sense of relief that this particular event took place, that someone had the audacity and courage (it’s disgusting to think that courage was needed in the first place) to put a compelling and honest speech together and to deliver it. I, too felt that relief.
    But I did not feel the remedy. I did not feel the “katharsis” that lots of exuberant whitefella journos raved on about. I did not see that anything was given back to the indigenous. I did not see how you could “unrape” someone, “unmurder” someone, “untorture” someone.

    Greer, pointed all that out: the effect of all those other crimes will not be remedied, primarily because they can’t. A blown-up arm will not be cured, will not be replaced by a new arm; a shattered dignity will not recover. Apart from the physical impossibility of it, the mental rage will not allow it to happen.
    All we can hope for is that the whitefella-dominated govn’t will stop the charade, the corruption, the racism, the denigration, the hatred and begin building for the new generation: Schools, hospitals, roads, transport, jobs – whatever it is whitefella is enjoying. Let the sharing and acceptance begin in honest, let the severe racism and white-supremacists views be quashed and, in time, the younger generation of the indigenous folk will be distanced enough from the atrocities suffered by the parents so as to be able to build their own identity, an identity which will not be harassed by their invaders.

    In the meantime, for the older generation, we can do our bloody best to give them comfort and an outlet for their rage, an outlet that does not refute it but one that makes it less painful for them.

    Greer’s book is a brilliant analysis of that phenomenon.

  18. Posted August 27, 2008 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    And expanded to other god-forsaken primitive parts of the planet. It would save them all busting a gut to get to Britain, the US, Canada, and Oz!

    Mmm well alright. The original Australians I don’t think were interested in getting anywhere. Is it worthwhile mentioning that the so-called God-forsaken bits of the World (eg the Middle-East) often aren’t?

    The imperial expansions, enslavements, conquering, occasional genocides and general nasty business can be regarded as a necessary evil provided you’ve got enough distance from the Horror and’ve been able to enjoy the benefits.

    I can say quite confidently that I’m glad my ancestors were subsumed by the British Empire because a. the Empire’s not around anymore to make my life miserable and b. I’d rather not be painting myself blue and jumping about i’th’ bracken in furtherance of worshipping trees or some shit.

    But two things.

    First many Aborigines are not enjoying the fruits of post-colonialism as yet.

    Second the world sorta kinda decided that conquering other peoples’ countries is WRONG NOW. This is, I think, a step forward to a higher state of civilization.

    It’s just that Israel was the last one. No Tibet was the last one. Um no Iraq was the…

    No Iran and then we’ll stop.

    Forgetaboutit! (Stoopid monkeys)

  19. John Greenfield
    Posted August 28, 2008 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Adrien/Legal Eagle

    I am not sure you can maintain BOTH that you are content and happy with where history has ended up – our lives today – while also wishing things had been different. Or am I missing something here?

    My argument admittedly reads like “trolling” deliberately provocative, etc., but my point is I don’t give a damn about people who died hundreds of years ago, whether they are eskimoes, Prussian nobleman or my own Anglo-Cletic-Koori kin. I really don’t.

    I am fascinated by the past and by history and love applying analytical frameworks to the evidence we have, delighting in patterns I might spot OR impose, etc. I could not care less about the individuals among the hundreds of thousands Ghengis Khan mowed down in Persia or Iraq or the Carthaginians or the Catholics tortured by Elizabeth I blah, blah, blah.

    OTOH, I DO care about any awful stuff that is happening today that our modern day knowledge and ethics might be able to influence. I also care about the “injustices” experienced by folks who are still alive. But 200 years ago? They are interesting, but not worthy of any emotional investment.

    Ironically, there is far too much retrojecting contemporary ethics and knowledge onto situations in the past; a process I call temporo-ethical imperialism.

  20. Posted August 28, 2008 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    I am not sure you can maintain BOTH that you are content and happy with where history has ended up – our lives today – while also wishing things had been different. Or am I missing something here?

    Yep. You’re missing the fact that I never said either of those things. I don’t think LE said so either.

    I don’t give a damn about people who died hundreds of years ago

    Neither do I really. I care more about things like the burning of Alexandria’s library. Cleopatra’d still be dead even if Antony hadn’t taken too much to getting pissed.

    With respect to the Aboriginies however the disaster started 220 years back and continues. In the past this wouldn’t be an issue. That it is now reflects the fact that in some small ways we’re better than our ancestors.

  21. John Greenfield
    Posted August 28, 2008 at 5:29 pm | Permalink


    Sorry, it was Wanderer who “seemed” to say that. I most definitely care about those segments of the current aboriginal population – and let’s be honest here it IS only a minority – that is enduring horrible circumstances, as I do any other people who are having a shitty time. But as far as 200 years ago, my attitude is “Suck It Up”! This idea that “we must come to terms with our past before we can move on” is just kooky psychobabble.

  22. Posted August 28, 2008 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    “we must come to terms with our past before we can move on” is just kooky psychobabble.

    Well yes but not entirely. The way I’d put it is: remember that hole you fell in yesterday? Well it’s very important to remember where that hole is. Know why?

    As for the Culture Wars stuff. I think that’s all solved by a professional adherence to the historical profession, its empirical principles and the full and frank exchange of views in an open society. The more explicitly ideological history is, the less you can trust it.

  23. John Greenfield
    Posted August 28, 2008 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    If you said that in a History seminar today, you’d be eaten alive! I tell you, these History departments have been taken over by kooks!

  24. John Greenfield
    Posted August 30, 2008 at 12:11 pm | Permalink


    That it is now reflects the fact that in some small ways we’re better than our ancestors.

    How very Whiggish of you!

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