January 24, 2019

Horse 2505 - Australia Day And The Virtue That We Are Signalling

Everyone has an opinion on Australia Day, from Aboriginal peoples who will quite rightly tell you that according to the Crown, the 26th of January marks the day which Australia was formally annexed by occupation (also see the principle in action in Mabo v. Queensland No.2 (1992), to Scott Morrison who thought that it was disrespectful to wear a t-shirt and thongs despite the fact that it's likely to be more that 40°C on Australia Day (which is 104°F); to the Liberal Party who have decided to go full-on culturally fascist with the remark:

The Government is taking action to protect Australia Day from activists.  Click here to show your support for our national day:
- Liberal Party of Australia, 21st Jan 2019

Australia Day is a day for unity and coming together. As Australians, we have much to celebrate, including our freedoms, our values and our unique Australian way of life.
It is a day for looking forward to our future together.
Unfortunately, the Greens and some activists are seeking to divide Australians, waging political campaigns to change Australia Day. Some Labor MPs are also advocating changing the date.
The Government has taken action to stop activist Councils to stop undermining Australia Day, by requiring them to hold citizenship ceremonies on our national day.
Let's celebrate Australia Day. Please sign up here to show your support.
- Liberal Party of Australia, 21st Jan 2019

In other words, the government wants to tell you what to wear and to enjoy a day of compulsory fun. I have to say to the Liberal Party of Australia, which in this case is not acting particularly all that 'small l' liberally, that the most Australian Australian thing possible, is to take the mickey out of a thing and especially the government. We don't do patriotism particularly all that well in this country; nor should we. Being overly patriotic unless it is a sporting is unAustralian.

In the run up to this Australia Day, as we do every year, people on the opposing sides of whether or not we should continue to have this as a day of national celebration, accuse each other of either virtue signalling or perhaps of vice signalling.

I think that virtue signalling in the first place is based on a completely false assumption. That assumption is that somehow (don't ask me how because I don't understand a thing I don't understand), it is invalid to express an opinion unless the person expressing said opinion either takes concrete steps to make it happen, or is a member of the group which the opinion is about. The theory it seems is that the person doing the signalling, only does so because they want to make themselves look virtuous (hence the label of virtue signalling). As a rational (mostly), thinking and feeling indivual, nothing could be further from the truth.
I don't really care about looking virtuous the majority of the time. Especially if I am expressing an opinion on something like government policy, or the provision of services, or complaining about injustice, I know that I have very little ability to achieve action; hence the reason why I am expressing an opinion. Further to that, opinion doesn't even have to be well thought out to be expressed either. By the same token, complaining about virtue signalling is itself virtue signalling. In this case it is saying that the thing being signalled by the other party aught not to be signalled and that the things that they are signalling aught to be.

This bring us nicely to the subject of Australia Day itself and the very essense of what a public holiday is. Unless the public holiday is a public holiday for the sake of having a public holiday such as New Year's Day or the Spring and August Bank Holiday in the UK, then every single public holiday is a government sanctioned case of virtue signalling. It is the government saying that the thing being celebrated or remembered aught to be  celebrated or remembered. In the case of Australia which is a day for patriotic jingoism, it is exclusively for waving the the flag around and being as  Australian as possible.

When it comes to the national day of a nation, that usually indicates some key event in the formation of the nation. France has the storming on the Bastille on the 14th of July, the United States chooses the 4th of July which is the date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Canada Day on July 1st is the date that the Constitution Act 1867 came into effect; but Australia, by virtue of coming into existence on January 1st 1900, chooses not to celebrate that day because it already is New Year's Day.
We could have chosen the 31st of July; which was the date in 1900 when Western Australia voted in favour of Federation in the referendum; which approved the Constitution of Australia Act 1900 and hence the actual formation of the nation but we choose not to. To be fair I'd rather that the virtue signalling being done through the nation day tell the story of the actual formation of the nation; but we can not have that. Instead, it seems to be imperative that we absolutely must choose January 26; and hence celebrate the annexation and the perpetual refusal to ever address the issue properly.

What I find especially worrying is that rather than showing any attempt to be either conciliatory or any spirit of reconciliation, the Prime Minister appears to be doubling down on this refusal to address the story of this nation:

“Bill Shorten can sneer at our history if he wants. He can disrespect having an understanding of what our history means. For years; decades; we have had political correctness in this country which I fear is raising kids in our country today to despise our history, to despise how we have grown as a nation, and I am disappointed that Bill Shorten would want to feed into that.”
- Scott Morrison, 23rd Jan 2019.

I don't know how you can come to arriving at a proper "understanding of what our history means" without first reading it. Coming to terms with the fact that there was an original injury, which has never been corrected and which has been turned into some kind of glorious settler myth as part of patriotic virtue signalling, should be a very big part of "understanding of what our history means".
I will also say that just as a day can be lionised and turned into a vehicle for the kind of virtue signalling that a government wants to do as part of its own agenda, the abandonment of a holiday can also be just as useful. In the United States, the observance of Columbus Day has gradually fallen out of favour a because the day marks the beginning of the waves of genocide (though sometimes not intentional) of the American Indians. For the same reason, I would argue that the continuance of Australia Day as a thing, very much continues to paper over the ongoing actions and injustices by current government towards the indigenous peoples; who are the desecendants of those from whom the land was stolen by annexation.

Going back to the tweet from the Liberal Party:
The Government is taking action to protect Australia Day from activists.
The Government has taken action to stop activist Councils to stop undermining Australia Day, by requiring them to hold citizenship ceremonies on our national day.

This looks very much like the activists are the government themselves. I would argue that the people trying to "divide Australians" and "waging political campaigns" are the Government themselves. This is hideous virtue signalling by a pack of knaves who refuse to understand "what our history means" and by doing so undermine Australia Day itself.
It is worth remembering that this argument goes back to before there even was the Commonwealth of Australia. In 1888, the Premier of New South Wales and the "Father of Federation", Henry Parkes, was asked what if any plans were being made to include for Aboriginal peoples in the celebrations marking the centenary of British colonisation of Australia; to which he replied: “And remind them that we have robbed them?"
This then can only be the thing that Liberal Party wants to continue to say by the observance of this date in particular. January 26 is not the date of Federation; nor the date of the referendum. What our history means, is that this land was annexed and that this event is the virtue that we'd like to signal as a nation.

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