Noel Pearson

Ben Chifley Memorial Lecture
Bathurst Panthers Leagues Club
Australia
Saturday 12 August 2000 

"Our society and our culture is not a conspiracy. There are no cynics at the top of the pyramid who use their power to maintain an unnecessarily unequal society. Stratified society is perpetuated because of the self-interest that everybody has in not sinking down."

--Noel Pearson, Aboriginal activist

Excerpt

I have gone back the early thinking about history and society of the nineteenth century international labour movement. A main idea was that social being determines consciousness, that is, economic relations in society determine our thinking and our culture, and that our thinking is much less conscious and free than we think it is.

If we allow ourselves to analyse our society in the way I think early social democrats would, I think we would come to the following conclusions:

Society is stratified. There is a small group at the top that is influential. There is a middle stratum that possesses intellectual tools and performs qualified work. The third and lowest stratum lacks intellectual tools, and does manual, often repetitive work.

The middle stratum consist of two groups with no sharp boundary between them. One performs the qualified work in the production of goods and services (the 'professionals'), the other (the 'intellectuals') has as their function to uphold the cultural, political and legal superstructure that is erected over and mirrors the base of our society, the market economy

I believe that a main function of our culture, from fine arts to footy today is to make people unable to use their intellectual faculties to formulate effective criticism and analysis while still allowing them to do their work in the economy. In this talk I use the word "culture" in a wide sense, including not only art and literature but also our social and political thinking. To intellectually format people, but still let them acquire the knowledge and develop the faculties needed for them to be productive is a complicated process. Therefore our culture is complex and difficult to analyse.

Our society and our culture is not a conspiracy. There are no cynics at the top of the pyramid who use their power to maintain an unnecessarily unequal society. Stratified society is perpetuated because of the self-interest that everybody has in not sinking down. People believe what it is in their interest to believe. Influential people believe that a stratified society will always be necessary for economic growth and development. Their subordinates, the intellectuals of the middle stratum who maintain our culture, sense the cues from above, then produce ideology for the conservation of the current state of things, but are not conscious of the reasons for their actions.

So, the objective function of our culture is to stop people from breaking away from the hierarchy, but at the same time allow them to develop specialised areas of competence and creativity so that they can participate in production and even develop the economy. Our culture treats you in two different ways depending on whether you are born into, or moving towards, the lower stratum or the middle stratum of society.

* * *

How could we be so bereft of solutions today when these negligent thinkers and trustees in the academies and the bureaucracies who most benefited from the welfare state that was created from the sweat and organisation of working people, have had a century to anticipate our current predicament and to prepare us for this day - at the least prepared with understanding?

Those of us who wish for social progress must realise that there are important insights in the materialist interpretation of our history and our culture, which the labour movement unfortunately left behind in favour of the confusions that have preoccupied and diverted those academics, bureaucrats and parliamentarians who became the intellectual trustees of the welfare state and the interests of working people and their families - a responsibility which they grievously failed to fulfil.
 
 

Online Articles:

Spotlight On
Explore

Browse Topics | Site Guide | Multimedia Bookstore | Magazine | Publications | Activists Resources

Political Research Associates

Copyright Information, Terms, and Conditions

Please read our Terms and Conditions for copyright information regarding downloading, copying, printing, and linking material on this site; our disclaimer about links present on this website; and our privacy policy.

Updates and Corrections