First published: 2000
Is this site left-wing or right-wing?
This site has been labelled right-wing by people who identify as left-wing and left-wing by people who identify as right. This probably reflects the lack of agreement about what left and right wing actually is. It may also reflect Convict Creations presenting the past in a way that undermines the status of left and right identities. Specifically, the site is primarily interested in how history influences the contemporary identities of Australians. The influence could be a desire to reject aspects of the past, embrace the aspects of the past, or selectively use aspects of the past to influence the relative status of political identities and/or social groups or Australia as a whole. The “facts” of the past need to be determined in order to understand how and why they have been corrupted for these contemporary purposes. Not only are people of the left and right bothered by being shown they believe a distorted version of the past, they are also bothered by their motivations for distorting the past being questioned.
Explaining the distortions of left-wing historian David Day illustrates the Convict Creations' approach. In 2001, Day wrote an article in the Age newspaper in which he stated that the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 (White Australia Policy) was motivated by right-wing style concepts of racial supremacy. In his own words,
“The law was passed with hardly a voice raised in protest, although there was discussion as to the best way of achieving its objective of racial purity.”
One of the problems of defining the policy as a function of white supremacist identities was that New Zealand Maori and black Americans were allowed to migrate and join Australian Unions. This fact makes it difficult to define the policy as stemming from eugenic thinking that positioned whites as racially superior. That aside, the weight of legislative evidence and public arguments indicates that the Immigration Restriction Act was a left-wing Union initiative that aimed to stop criminal labour, indentured labour and black birded Pacific Islanders undermining workplace conditions. This was also the interpretation of Takao Fujikawa - Japanese researcher into the White Australia Policy - who stated,
" The anti-Chinese movements were caused by economic factors rather than racial factors, commencing in the opposition to further transportation of convicts in the 1830s and 1840s."
Once it was established that Day was not truthful to the past, the question became what aspects of his identity motivated his distortions. One possible explanation was that he was trying to preserve the status of his left-wing political identity by defining a negative aspect of history as a function of a right-wing political identity. An additional explanation was that Day wanted the individualistic status that comes with being a white man apologising for the actions of white men. Not only is there individual moral status on offer for whites who apologise, such actions also build status for whites as the paternal protectors of non-whites. For example, even though books like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird (1960) showcase white racism to black people, they still elevate the status of white people because they have a white hero while blacks are disempowered victims. It is the white hero that the white sees in themselves. Furthermore, showing whites in power relative to blacks also feeds a kind of comforting racial esteem for white people. To their surprise, the white hero fighting for the black victim does not always resonate amongst people of colour. As stated in the LA Times in 2000,
“Carol Ricker-Wilson, a secondary language arts consultant…was surprised to find that white students connected with the novel while many black students rejected it as demoralizing.”
This site naturally gravitates towards nuances in Australian history and culture where there is potential to think of something in a new way. As a result, it is neither left nor right because both ideological spectrums are products of groups seeking homogeneity of viewpoints. This site has considered cultural viewpoints but is very much individualistic in the way it has responded to them.
Posters erected in Tasmania in the early 19th century. The posters aimed to communicate that blacks and whites would be treated equally by the British justice system. While the posters aim to communicate a vision of equality, they position the British as the instruments of power and a colonial life as the aspiration. As it was in the past, in the present people often can not see their own inequality of thinking when making claims of equality.
Can a website be relied upon?
It is often said that websites are not reliable because they can be written by anyone. In truth, this is a website's greatest strength. Because they can be written by anyone, websites are free from many of the corruptive influences that hinder reasoned thought in academic publications and in books. If the site is full of nonsense and rubbish, it will be like millions of websites that are ignored. If it has something worthwhile, it will get noticed. This site has been noticed. Content from this site has been included in three different high school textbooks in two different countries. In addition, it has been recommended as a guide for schools compiling educational material, it has been copied by websites dealing with migration, business and education in Australia, it has been indexed by libraries for future generations, it has been plagiarised by lazy public servants needing to write content for Goverment websites, it has been profiled by newspapers and it has been linked to by more than 9,000 external sites.
While websites can be written by anyone, academic publications and books need to pander to vested interests that fund or promote them. This is the main reason for why it is virtually impossible to explore Australian history or culture without being accused of belonging to a political spectrum.
In the humanities, academics are bound by a peer review system that breeds a culture of intellectual factionalism. Specifically, the number of times papers by academics are cited in the papers by other academics are counted and subsequently used to rank the academic as well as the university that employs the academic. Naturally, academics are more likely to cite other academics that think the same way or who are willing to provide a reciprocal citation. Not only do reciprocal citations help the university, they also help all academics that conform to the theoretical position being promoted in the citations. As the theoretical viewpoint gains popular acceptance, the leaders of it increase their chances of funding, being appointed to government boards, and having their work set as recommending reading in schools. To maintain factional solidarity, academic "discussion" becomes less about the ideas and more about a moral or status position that can exert compliance in the form of supporting citations, or public support.
As well as being shackled by the peer review system, academics are shackled by a funding system. Numerous vested interests want academics in the humanities to come to certain conclusions. If the academics are prepared to come to those conclusions, then their chances of funding are enhanced. If their conclusions are not consistent with what the funding bodies want, then the academic should open themselves to the possibility that their funding may be cut off.
Books can be written by anyone and can bypass the need to be bound by the peer review system, but they are still bound by the interests that either finance the book or promote it. In Australia, many cultural books are funded by the Australian Research Council, which is not always transparent in its funding decisions. Admittedly, it answers to the Federal government, which is controlled by politicians whose primary motivation is their own power. Culture is power.
To escape funding pressures, books can be self-published or published by a private company but when they are, the costs of publication, promotion, and distribution need to be recouped with sales. Here an appealing story is valued over an objective story. For example, the 16.2 tonne stone heads (moai) on Easter Island used to baffle sailors and academics. People just couldn't understand how they were created and put into position on an island without trees to serve as rollers. Then in 1947, Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl spoke to the locals to find out the answers. They told him that Easter Island once had trees, the statues could be easily carved once the stone was wet, and they could be stood upright using a series of poles. Although the conclusions were all very plausible, in the 1960s Erich von Daniken came along and concluded that the stone heads were built and placed in position by intelligent beings (aliens), who left them to be cared for the natives who didn’t understand them. Von Daniken’s book became a bestseller. As a legacy, there are plenty of people today who consider the Easter Island heads to be one of the world's great mysteries and/or, evidence of alien visitation. Von Daniken’s books sold because they gave readers what they wanted, not because they were logical.
Because there isn't a great cost to recoup in the publishing of a website, there is no need to compromise objectivity to increase sales. Furthermore, because the author doesn't need to be cited by someone to gain promotions or opportunities, there is no need to agree with what has already been written. Finally, the webite is not funded by any interest group and therefore doesn't need to consider what messages that politicians or the Australian Research Council want to promote. Consequently, the author has been able to approach the current thought with a critical mind to assess it as objectively as possible.