Keith Windschuttle Postmodernism and the Fabrication Aboriginal History. (link via Butterflies & Wheels)
There are two movements in history: There is the empirical, and increasingly scientific, view of history, and there is the postmodern view of history as an artistic narrative.
And no, Historians should not just make up facts to create a pleasing story.
The empirical historian asks the same question Tolstoy asked, What force moves nations? History attempts to collect evidence to determine how societies behave. Historians describe interactions and causal relationships between agents of change. Similar to physics, it studies the interaction between moving objects. It’s ok to have a wrong hypothesis. Open criticism corrects for mistakes and leads to deeper understanding.
Social Science a fledgling science. It combines applied mathematics, economics, evolutionary psychology, biology, and ecology.
There are other groups though, that approach the “social science” in a non-scientific way. They frame the issue as one of social narratives – story telling. There is no objective reality, in the past or present, so any perspective can lead to a separate truth. This includes the Arts and Humanities departments and also Sociologists. They reject scientific explanations of human behavior and fundamentally disagree with the ideas of biologists and other scientists.
This is the artistic view of history. When one looks at a painting or novel, there are an infinite number of interpretations. There is not a single correct view, so any perspective can be valid. This is because the art work exists in an “alternate universe” as interpreted by your mind. Art is a construct according to a philosophical ideal.
The artistic approach has no validity in the empirical world guided by laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. Perception is irrelevant compared to objective fact. Yet history has been contaminated by this postmodernist approach.
I’ll start with the postmodernist view of historical truth and quote one of its advocates, the Manning Clark Professor of History at the Australian National University, Ann Curthoys, who has written:
Many academics in the humanities and social sciences … now reject … the notion that one can objectively know the facts. The processes of knowing, and the production of an object that is known, are seen as intertwined. Many take this even further, and argue that knowledge is entirely an effect of power, that we can no longer have any concept of truth at all.
First, if we can no longer have any concept of truth, that is, if there are no truths, then the statement “there are no truths” cannot itself be true.
Academic historians have argued that the attempt to distance themselves from their own political system cannot be done. According to many, history is “inescapably political”. In tandem with this has come the notion that history cannot be objective because there are no independent vantage points from which one can look down on the past. We can only see the world through the lenses of our own culture, so what we see is inherently subjective. And if that is so, then the pursuit of something as objective as the truth becomes a mere pipe dream. And we have to give up the idea of truth as an absolute concept and substitute a relative idea of truth. Under this notion, different cultures and even different political positions each have their own truths, even if they are incompatible with the truths of other cultures. This stance generally goes under the name of postmodernism.
This could have serious political impact. In Australia, postmodernist created their version of the Black Legend. At least the Spanish had it easy. The Black Legend was Protestant propaganda designed to distort history and paint Spain as the evildoer. Here, the Australian postmodern historians write black legends about their own history.
In particular, Windschuttle describes how they fabricated evidence of Aboriginal resistance movements and mass murders that never occurred.
Here’s one example he cites:
In her book The Aboriginal Tasmanians Lyndall Ryan claims that British colonists killed 100 Aborigines in Van Diemen’s Land between 1804 and 1808. Yet in an interview on Channel Nine’s program Sunday, Ryan confessed she didn’t have any evidence for the figure. I had pointed out that the source her book quoted, the diary of the colony’s chaplain Robert Knopwood, only recorded four Aboriginal deaths. Ryan, however, admitted that footnote was a mistake and said her real source was a report by the explorer John Oxley in 1810. But if you look up Oxley’s report, there is no mention in it anywhere of 100 Aborigines being killed. Pressed on the issue by journalist Helen Dalley, Ryan said: “I think by the way Oxley wrote that he seemed to think there had been a great loss of life from the Aborigines.” Helen Dalley then asked: “So, in a sense, it is fair enough for [Keith Windschuttle] to say that you did make up figures? You’re telling me you made an estimated guess.” Ryan replied: “Historians are always making up figures.”
The documents are fake, but accurate, you see. It gets worst. One postmodernist “cites” a source that says whites killed 10,000 aboriginals. In fact, the cited source said 10,000 whites were killed. This perversion of data creates the false narrative needed to score political points. Border conflicts are inflated with genocidal accusations without proper evidence.
Postmodernist always make up figures. That’s definitely proven.
Their political message is worthless as their fantasy evidence.
This is unfortunate, since the colonization of Australia and the conflicts between Aboriginals and Colonists deserves serious attention. They created a false narrative – a mythology – of genocide, similar to the conquest of South America by the Spanish. The Myths are false, yet persist in the face of empirical evidence to the contrary.