Enunciators of unctuous pieties down under

Dalrymple writes that the underlying function of the manufactured grievance over Australia Day is

rent-seeking by political entrepreneurs who claim they will lead their clientèle to the promised land of something for nothing.

There are

ritual Pecksniffian incantations to aboriginal ownership, or at least first occupancy, of the land on which events—the Sydney Harbour opera, for example, or the celebration of Anzac Day—are held.

The problem, Dalrymple points out, with verbal gestures

is that people often take them with deadly seriousness—language is a kind of gesture—and these ritual incantations will one day be taken as literal IOUs. But the logic of appeasement does not work: every satisfied demand leads to a further such demand, which fails to satisfy, or even to reduce resentment. Of the staking of claims there is no end.

Dalrymple does not mean by this to deny that the history of the aborigines in Australia—as those of Canada and the United States—since the arrival of the Europeans has been, and continues to be, tragic. But

having caused tragedy (or more precisely being the inheritors of those who initiated the tragedy) is not the same as moral guilt, nor is the wound to be healed by turns of phrase which are about as sincere as Iago’s friendship to Othello.

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