Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Understanding 'nativism' will help us end it (?)

The writer below, lawyer Michael Bradley, makes the procrustean  Leftist assumption that all men are equal. Procrustes was a landlord  in Greek mythology who had only one size bed in his hostelry.  So if someone was too tall to fit into the available beds, Procrustes would cut off enough of the visitor's legs to fit the visitor to the bed.  He was the ultimate "one size fits all" man -- but not in a good way. So Bradley makes the assumption that all immigrants are equal and that they will all fit in well to the existing society eventually. 

But what if he is wrong about that?  Most of the previous waves of immigrants that have ended up as more or less undifferentiated members of the Australian melting pot have, for instance, all claimed a loyalty to the risen LORD.  Might not an allegiance to Allah produce a very different result?  Might not Muslims be an exception to the rule?  Or do all groups whatever have to fit into a single procrustean bed?

Some major groups such as Hindus and Han Chinese fit in perfectly well without any Christian background but that is surely a contingent matter.  Most importantly, their religions don't preach hostility to other faiths.  Additionally, both groups are very business-oriented and studious and consequently tend to do well economically.  So they have a strong positive connection to Australia and no negative push.

But Muslims are not like that.  Any reading of the Koran will tell you that Muslims are commanded to be hostile to non-Muslims.  And, additionally, Muslims tend to be economically unsuccessful and welfare dependent.  So they lack the positive attributes that have caused other immigrants to adapt peacefully and successfully  to Australian life.

So could we possibly entertain the thought that opposition to Muslims in our society is perfectly rational?  When many Muslims make clear their hatred for us and some of them physically attack us, might we not reasonably be dissatisfied with that?  Might we not reasonably think that Australia would be better off without adherents of that religion?

So lawyer Bradley relies on a questionable proposition. But if the equality of all migrants is questionable, Bradley makes another large assumption below that is demonstrably wrong.  He asserts that attitudes to the ingroup and the outgroup march in tandem.  You are only hostile to the outgroup because you have an exaggerated veneration for your own group.

That's also a popular theory among Leftist psychologists.  They even embody it in a word: "ethnocentrism".  It is however a testable theory and in my 20 years as an academic psychologist and survey researcher I tested it repeatedly.  I included in my questionnaires groups of questions ("scales") designed to measure both attitude to the ingroup and attitude to the outgroup.  I had the results of such studies published in the academic journals.  See e.g. here and here. And there is an independent finding that mirrors mine here

On all occasions I found no trace of the expected relationship.  In statistician-speak I found that attitude to the ingroup and attitude towards the outgroup were "orthogonal".  And orthogonality precludes causation. So despite his attempt at moderation, Bradley is simply wrong.

And, equally interesting, I found that there was often little relationship between  attitudes to different outgroups.  A person (say) who disliked blacks would often (say) have nothing against Jews.  More specficially a man who disliked groups on the basis  of their perceived poor hygeine would be unbothered by other groups who had no reputation for deficient hygeine. Different people are bothered by different things and if something that bothers them is prominent in a particular group, they will dislike that group.

So attitude to outgroups is not some monolithic kneejerk response to "otherness" but rather something with a rational basis. And it seems to me that dislike of Muslims falls into that category.  I know of no proof to the contrary.  Nobody attempts to prove it, in fact.  "Islamophobia" is an article of faith.  A phobia is an irrational fear but fear of Muslims has clear rational grounds.  There are daily reports of them blowing up and otherwise killing people. Is there any reason why that does not matter?

The clue is in the name: Reclaim Australia. It's poignant, emotive, speaking of something lost. We're in one of those moments now, when the fear of loss underpinning all anti-immigration movements comes to the surface.

I'm going to avoid the usual loaded terminology: racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia. Instead, I'll use a neutral term to describe popular national movements against outsiders: nativism.

I'm not so interested in name-calling as I am in exploring what causes these perennial outbursts against demographic minorities - noting that the divisions are not always racial or ethnic.

This point in a sense supports one of the nativists' standard defences - that their opposition to the targeted minority is not racist. That is, they do not object to the outsiders because of their race (or religion). The concern is not their defining label, but the behaviours which that label predetermines.

The list of excluded minorities is endless: Romany, Baha'i, Asians, Africans; in every country on Earth, at various points of history those already there have objected to the arrival of others. If you listen carefully today, you can hear in Australia complaints being raised about the incompatible cultural behaviours of recent immigrants from mainland China.

As always, this is self-described not as racism, but as self-defence. The one feature that every successive group of immigrants has shared, from the first Chinese arrivals in the gold rush, through the Italians, Greeks, Lebanese, Vietnamese, Muslims and Africans, to the latest Chinese from China, is the accusation that they threaten our national values. Not because they're inherently bad people, but because there's something inherent in their background, whether ethnic, national or religious, which just doesn't fit.

Pauline Hanson's seemingly permanent exasperation is worthy of deeper analysis than it tends to receive. She says "I'm not racist" often, with conviction. She explained her position with clarity in 2010, when she was selling her home in Queensland and told the media that she would refuse to sell it to a Muslim buyer. Her reason:

"Because I don't believe that they are compatible with our way of life, our culture. And I think we are going to have problems with them in this country further down the track"

Nativists would call Hanson prescient. The current rumblings from Reclaim Australia, the more radical United Patriots Front and nascent political parties such as the Australian Liberty Alliance, echo (in their view) exactly what she warned. Their expressed concern is to protect Australia; their method is to exclude those who don't fit in.

Nativism is a deceptively simple ideology.

It starts with the very human desire to belong. Nobody likes to be on the outer. In the quest for a sense of belonging, we easily attach ourselves to group identifiers - a football team, the cool kids at school, religion, race, nationality - and equally easily ignore that they are artificial constructs. It makes no more sense to seek to define a group of people as "Australian" than it does to distinguish Queenslanders from Victorians, or Jordanians from Iraqis. They're all accidents of history, geography and demography.

Nativist movements have always ultimately collapsed under the weight of their own contradictions.

Reclaim Australia has, to some extent, claimed legitimacy by co-opting Indigenous Australians under its banner, along with some Asian Australians. It doesn't take a lot of thought to see the difficulty of claiming a prior entitlement to Australian soil when, one way or another, your own presence here displaced a culture with tens of thousands of years of incumbency. Whatever the quintessential "Australian" values and way of life the nativists believe they are protecting might be, they sure wouldn't have been recognisable to the Indigenous population of 1788.

Since nativism is really at its core about belonging (it just defines itself by the exclusion of others), it's no surprise that it tends to attract those whose personal sense of belonging is most fragile: the poor, less educated, unemployed, socially isolated, the alienated and disenfranchised. People who feel most keenly that they are on the outer in society are the most vulnerable to the simplistic pull of nativism - the idea that they are among the true chosen keepers of the faith, called upon to protect what we have created from those who would tear it down.

Today's victims of nativism in Australia are Muslims. There may be some violence, perhaps quite bad, before this current surge inevitably subsides. It, like all its forebears, is the final howl of impotent rage from a subset of society whose inchoate fear of change is only a reflection of how unattached to society it really feels.

These people's anger, irrational and misdirected as it is, is real. We can understand it, reject it and try to cure it, without the name-calling.


Australian teacher shortage fears as student numbers soar

The number of teachers leaving the profession has increased at a time the student population is also on the rise, prompting concerns Australia could be facing a teacher shortage.
Key points:

    The population of school students is expected to increase by 26 per cent by 2022

    A recent study found between 30 and 50 per cent of teachers give up their job within the first five years

    Teachers say challenges they face include student behaviour and pressure from the curriculum

A recent report by the Australian Council for Educational Research found that somewhere between 30 and 50 per cent of teachers give up their job within their first five years in the profession.

The population of school students is expected to increase by 26 per cent by 2022 and more teachers will be needed to teach those students, or class sizes will once more need to become larger.

If the ratio of teachers to students continues to fall, Australia could face a teacher shortage, at the very time it is intending to increase its innovation agenda.

Kimberly Crawford said she chose to leave her job as a primary school teacher in Brisbane after five years.

"I was keen to stay in the education sector to a certain degree, but just really felt that I was emotionally burnt out from the demands of a classroom environment," Ms Crawford said.

"There were a large amount of additional needs, I taught children with behavioural difficulties and a wide range of special needs.

"A lot of the time it was dependent on seeking out support yourself."

Merryn McKinnon, a lecturer at the Australian National University, has researched teacher attrition rates and found the level of work teachers are expected to do has increased over time.

"You have this sort of domino effect where the work burden sort of gets passed on and on and teachers' burn out," Ms Mckinnon said.  "So ultimately we're sort of short-changing students in many ways."

The Australian Council for Educational Research report found even conservative estimates show big increases in the number of primary school-aged children in the next four years.

They estimate there will be an extra 92,000 primary school kids in New South Wales by 2020, as well as more than 100,000 both in Victoria and Queensland.

Teachers say there is a lack of support

Data from the National Teaching Workforce Dataset Data Analysis Report in June 2014 showed the ratio of teachers to students was continuing to fall.

In addition to time pressures and lack of support as described by teachers, the Teaching and Learning Senate Inquiry in 2013 found that casualisation of the workforce was having a harmful effect on the profession.

New teachers were found to be the most likely to be offered short-term contracts, so they were not always offered induction or support.

Graduates interviewed as part of that Senate inquiry said they had left teaching because they were unable able to find permanent jobs.

Kylie Sweeting, a pedagogical coach in a Queensland state school, said her role involves working with teachers who identify as needing support.

Ms Sweeting said that in the past, teachers had received funding and support to go to professional development.

"But then after research was done they found that teachers were coming back into schools and not using what they'd learnt," she said.

She said that so far her role was having more success than other training courses for teachers because she was there long term, coaching the teachers at the school.

Ms Sweeting said the two main challenges teachers have said they are faced with was student behaviour, and the pressure from the curriculum.

"There's always way too much to teach and not enough time," Ms Sweeting said.


The flexible definition of autism -- and its expanding incidence

GPs should be given stronger guidance about how to diagnose autism to prevent "doctor shopping" by desperate families trying to access funding for their children that is tied to a medical ­definition, researchers say.

New, nationally consistent guidelines that crack down on fluid interpretations of the international Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) — the global yardstick for identifying a suite of mental disorders — would push down prevalence rates, which have been climbing dramatically in Australia for years.

The number of those diagnosed with autism in Australia ­almost doubled between 2003-06 and has doubled every three years since, hitting 115,000 in 2012 and likely to top 230,000 in 2015 when survey data is finalised.

University of Western Australia child development expert ­Andrew Whitehouse told The Australian: "Without a doubt the bulk of the increase in autism cases is due to shifting diagnostic boundaries over time. This has been a human-imposed change rather than a biological change over time. That is not to discount the fact there may be a new cause in the modern environment but there has been a wealth of ­research into this and we have not found another factor yet."

The Australian spoke to multiple academics who confirmed a stricter diagnostic regime applied across the country would remove some of the wriggle-room medicos have to fudge diagnoses and eliminate confusion.

Professor Whitehouse, who is also a program director at the ­Autism Co-operative Research Centre, said every state and territory adhered to the DSM-V but the manual set out only broad categories of behaviours. Actual ­diagnoses "varied wildly between states".

"At the moment what we call autism — or at least autism concepts — differs wildly between those states and that absolutely has an effect on prevalence rates," he said.

"I have heard numerous ­stories over many years of families being able to go to a single sole practitioner and receive a diagnosis of autism without an extensive assessment. Moreover, if you don’t get the diagnosis you need then you can go to another and another and another.

"Once you tighten up those ­diagnostic procedures, it just has to have an effect on numbers."

Professor Whitehouse said parents did not automatically want to have their children diagnosed but government funding programs that linked diagnoses with funding created a perverse incentive for cash-strapped families who wanted to access early-­intervention services.

Cheryl Dissanayake, director of the Olga Tennison Autism ­Research Centre at La Trobe University, told The Australian the number of people diagnosed was "flexible" and largely in the hands of people on the frontline.

Professor Dissanayake and colleagues examined data from a federal government support program and found three times as many children aged under five were enrolled in the federal government’s Helping Children with Autism package than anticipated.

The Productivity Commission tried to reckon with rising autism rates as it built the framework for the $22 billion National Disability Insurance Scheme and said it ­believed the rise in diagnoses was at least partly linked to the HCWA program, which had to be propped up with another $30 million in funding after its popularity.

Professor Dissanayake was part of a working party which, in 2009, recommended the Victorian government copy the "best practice" diagnosis model operating in Western Australia which requires a paediatrician, speech pathologist and child psychologist to agree on an outcome.

"That was adopted in Victoria but it was mandated and there is a big difference between requiring best practice and simply ­recommending it," Professor Dissanayake said. "That is the real issue."

The last official data in Australia shows Victoria had far and above the highest rate of autism, about 0.7 per cent compared with slightly more than 0.5 per cent for the closest other state, Tasmania.

Nationally, there is also a slow shift in education departments away from requiring ­labels before releasing funding to students and schools, a model that led the rate of autism in Queensland public schools to hit one in 50 in 2010 when the global rate was much closer to one in 160.

A spokesman for Victoria’s Education Minister, James Merlino, said a review of disability support programs was finished and the findings were expected to be presented to the government within months.

In NSW, the state government broadened support for students with disability by paying a loading to students without the requirement of a formal diagnosis.

About $63m has been allocated to schools this year to support those efforts.

Queensland is moving toward needs-based funding while South Australia’s Education Minister, Susan Close, said diagnoses could still be useful.

"While specific support for students with disabilities ­requires a professional diagnosis, in SA there is also support for a range of learning difficulties that is based on what individual children need to be successful, and does not require formal ­diagnosis of disability," Ms Close said.

Australian Medical Association president Brian Owler said that having "consistent guidelines would make things easier" for doctors during diagnosis but added the emphasis should still be on assessing children early.

"It is probably harder early on to make the diagnosis, harder to make a firm diagnosis but at the end of the day, if early therapy is instituted and a child is found later on to not have autism that is a good thing," Dr Owler said.

Professor Whitehouse said greater thought needed to be given to the range of support provided in the early years and during school years.

"We have to think about what those programs look like," he said.

"The mark of a civilised society is how it treats its most disadvantaged. There are families crying out for help, a great big population of them."


'We can't help you': Harvey Norman branch fined for misleading consumers about their rights

A Harvey Norman franchisee has been fined $52,000 for repeatedly telling customers with new but problem-plagued computers that it couldn't help them.

The Federal Court found a Harvey Norman store on the Gold Coast breached two sections of consumer law by falsely telling customers with malfunctioning computers that it had no obligation to provide a remedy and couldn't assist any further without payment.

One woman, whose Sony laptop sometimes failed to start, failed to shut down and was slow, kept being told by a salesperson: "We can't help you."

One man, who complained his new Acer desktop randomly froze and shut down, was told on two occasions: "There's nothing we can do."

Under consumer law, products sold in Australia come with a consumer guarantee, meaning they must be of acceptable quality. If not, the retailer must offer a repair, replacement or a refund.

The proceedings were brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.  "This penalty is a timely reminder to all businesses, whether large or small, that they must not mislead consumers about consumer guarantee rights under the Australian Consumer Law," the ACCC's acting chairman Michael Schaper said.

The latest order bumps up the total amount of penalties paid by Harvey Norman franchisees in regards to false or misleading representations about consumer rights to $286,000.

In 2014, four franchisees were hit with penalties ranging from $10,000 to $26,000 - an Oxley store in Queensland, a Gordon store in NSW, and Mandurah and Albany stores in Western Australia.

Justice John Dowsett said, in imposing a penalty of $52,000 against Bunavit, the operator of the Bundall superstore in Queensland, he took into account that there were more impugned statements than in other comparable cases, the conduct continued over a longer period, and more staff members were involved.

He also took into account Bunavit's sales revenue of nearly $70 million and net profit of $1.2 million in 2012-13 - "significantly larger" than other stores in comparable cases.

In the Bunavit case, the salesperson told the customer with the faulty Sony laptop that they couldn't help her and to approach the manufacturer.

But when she received her laptop back from an Sony-authorised service centre, it had developed more problems. Again, Harvey Norman told her to go back to Sony.

When she got her laptop back for the second time, the DC input wasn't working, meaning she could no longer charge the battery.

Harvey Norman employees then told her the DC input issue was her problem, they couldn't help her unless she wanted to pay, and they were not willing to pay for a refund or replacement.

"The reason is that you did not come to us for the initial repair," a salesperson said.

"If you send the laptop back to Planet Tech to repair the DC input issue, then we will agree to pay for half of the repair costs," the same salesperson said later on the same day.

Only after she lodged complaints with the ACCC and the Queensland Office of Fair Trading did Harvey Norman begin fixing the laptop problems.

Justice Dowsett said broad denials of liability by a retailer may lead a consumer into thinking the persistence required would be "too much trouble, with too little assurance of a satisfactory outcome".

"A great number of electronic devices are purchased by consumers from retailers such as Bunavit. Consumers frequently return such devices, claiming that they are faulty, or not of an acceptable quality," he said.

"A retailer should ensure that its staff members are informed about, and conduct themselves in conformity with, the Australian Consumer Law."


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