I used to buy or borrow Archaeology, the publication of the Archaeological Institute of America. At this moment the reader, recalling, hopefully, my previous writings, knows what to expect. Yes, I noticed that the cancer of political correctness has reached that magazine also.
Consider the correspondence in the September/October 2011 issue, which, for fairness sake, is reproduced here in full:
Samir S Patel’s fascinating article “Australia’s Shackled Pioneers” (July/August 2011) refers to Australia at the time of first European settlement as an “alien wilderness.” On one hand, the arriving British prisoners quite likely viewed their new home in some such terms. On the other hand, calling a place untenanted wilderness gave legal justification to seizing land without regard for indigenous peoples. The British Empire applied this theory in North America as well as in Australia. In no case did native peoples see their homeland as wilderness, and from no point of view was Australia’s status as “wilderness” simple fact, as Patel’s phrasing implies.
James Turner, Professor of Humanities
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana, USA
One could dismiss this as the usual cheap point scoring for the academic political correctness performance card, but if we accept the play with words and talk about ‘legal justification’ then we should try to ascertain the meaning of the words; thought I am aware that for academics trained by Noam Chomsky and Lewis Carrol words mean what they want them to mean, mutatis mutandi.
Anybody who visited, or even read something about, Australia’s interior would without hesitation call enormous parts of it ‘wilderness‘ even today. A ‘wilderness‘ is ‘an uncultivated and still wild region of forest, scrub, bush, desert, etc; a wilderness area‘. The Wilderness Society of Australia‘s ostensible raison de etre is the protection of – surprise – wilderness. Yet professor Turner states as the fact that “In no case did native peoples see their homeland as wilderness…” Perhaps he talked to them via ouija board, but the ones alive today in the bush refer to various areas as a ‘wild country’ without any academic restrains.
Was Australia in 1770 untenanted? A tenant is one who holds land. This obviously cannot apply to the Aborigines, who had always claimed that they do not own land, that the land owns them. Their legends, prior to the land claims litigation, talked about the arrival across the sea from the lands up north. Perhaps professor Turner does not know that the Aborigines were nomads, for whom the estimates for 1770 vary from 315 000 to 750 000 people*. If for the sake of simplicity we accept the number as 500,000 people, then, with the total land area of Australia being 7,682,300 km², it comes to 1 Aborigine on approx. 15 square kilometres. I mention this simply because professor Turner exhibits abysmal and sadly typical academic ignorance of Australia and Aborigines.
I doubt that the British Empire was clairvoyantly influenced by S Patel’s article and used it as a justification for seizing the land of Australia. I realise that such absurd assertions are de riguer in post-modern academia, but they ought to have no place in a magazine aimed at the curious public, for people seeking information based on as solid evidence as is, in archaeology, possible.
And the expected cringing reply from the Deputy Editor Samir Patel:
Dr Turner’s point is well taken. Indeed, Australia’s native people had occupied and managed the continent’s landscape for tens of thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. There is also a substantial body of literature on their interaction with convicts (including the extermination of natives from Tasmania, a little known horror of the British Empire), and how they became a significant part of the penal population in Australia following the end of convict transportation. For the purposes of this story, I focused on the English side of the period, as that is where archaeology leads. As a result, the use of a phrase such as “alien wilderness” was indeed intended to be representative of the arriving English perspective, and not to diminish the Aborigines or to suggest that the land was unoccupied.
Managed? Did the Australian mega-fauna disappeared because of AGW after WWII? Extermination of Tasmanian Aborigines? It seems that neither Patel nor Turner ever heard of Keith Windshuttle or Geoffrey Blainey, two Australian historians of almost non-existent political correctness. Blainey’s Triumph of the Nomad: a history of ancient Australia, Macmillan, Melbourne, 1975 and Windshuttle’s The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume One: Van Diemen’s Land 1803-1847, Macleay Press, (2002) come to mind immediately. To my mind only, of course, because I am not a politically correct academic and I do not know everything.
The Archaeology sacrificed reason on the altar of political correctness, denying the dynamics of evolution in the process. Intellectual cowardice, spinelessness and plain venality are the problems of the post-modern science. I would venture to write that all fundamentalist pseudo Christians and mullahs combined could not have damaged the cause of science as the fin de sicle scientific political correctness managed to do. Fraudsters always seek protection of a group, the more exclusive the better, for such a group tends to jealously guard its privileges and any suggestion that one of the members of the group is dishonest punctures the halo of infallibility, incorruptibility and exclusive knowledge.
Most of the modern scientists rally to the flags brandished by the charlatans amongst them; trembling that here, but for the grace of Darwin, goest I. They may know that a colleague is a crook, but will never say it in public unless of course it would be advantageous to their careers.
Scientific honesty has been buried in the morass of political correctness for a long time. Will the science ever be able to dig itself out from that trench? Or will it require some real scientists in the distant future?
& & &
*/the politically correct figure reaching an absurd 1.25 million