mandating social cohesion

when the only instrument you have is legislation, every problem looks solveable by law. ok, so that’s a variation of an old aphorism but it is one that seems particularly apt for this recent spate of debate about citizenship tests and social cohesion.

first thing, a test will only be useful in determining english skill levels and general knowledge, it does not determine whether the person taking it actually believes or has any particular loyalties for the subject being tested on.

There’s benefits to be had from ensuring people have a common medium of communication, so the english skills part is ok but really, it’s not that difficult to recite by rote the importance of democracy, one’s support for human rights, one’s acceptance of women’s rights and other religions, one’s belief in open, transparent and accountable governence. We hear it all the time coming out of the mouths of our politicians.

Of course, forcing a degree of general knowledge about politics and the structure of it in Australia onto someone who wishes to become a citizen isnt a bad thing. I’ve always thought that a civics course should be mandatory curriculum item in secondary education.

But really, social cohesiveness from the mere passing of a test? It’s laughable.

Social cohesiveness comes from a concerted ongoing effort by all parties to build and maintain trust, by emphasising similarities while solving miscommunication problems with the best of intentions and to refrain from taking cheap political victories by constantly pointing out differences. These things dont come easy, they dont come cheap and they certainly dont come quick.

I personally believe that there’s a limit to how much of it is acheivable anyway. For example, it dont matter how much talking and open heart good will I have for a white supremacist, they aint going to budge from their view that my very skin colour renders me sub-human. Arguably the same would apply for violent islamo-facists and bomb-toting right-to-lifers.

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