Tag Archives: politics

Terminal

This isn’t a culture war: although it’s become a long-exhausted joke, the phrase implies some kind of commitment to values above mere partisan loyalty. With the exception of a few idiots, the Liberals and the News Limited hacks are not fighting to impose their personal morality, or that of their own communities, on the rest of the electorate. (I’m sure Tony Abbott has not cut off social contact with his sister, as an earlier form of conservative would have done. Some of my best friends are, etc.)

This isn’t even about ideology, it’s about the end. Complete exhaustion of the ability to articulate a political program which is not about brutality. Battles which are not tactical moves but the clonic twitches in the limbs of an organism which has already undergone brain death.

It isn’t an accident that one of the focuses of this is the bullying of queer kids in school. It seems too obvious to put into words. If you grew up here, you know this. A political system whose only successful policy on either side is the torture of people who can’t vote either side out of office is reduced here to the elements at the core of white male Australian identity: indifference to suffering, contempt for difference, panic fear of tenderness, the schoolyard taunt. The last pathetic tatters to which an idiotic culture clings as it dissolves.

Don’t pay the journalists who peddle this stuff the compliment of reading them, and don’t link to or screen-cap their gibberish, even to mock at it. They’re well-paid careerists who’ve found comfortable posts in the dying print leviathans of the last century, like the bone-eating worms which mysteriously find their way to whale carcasses on the ocean floor. But look, even the worms have courage and perhaps even personalities.

Why The Left Should

Why The Left Should Applaud Brexit
A Tankie Writes

Why The Left Should Shout Huzzah For People Who Literally Want To Stab Them To Death
A blog post in 10,000 words, by V. I. Rationalist

Why The Left Should Have Done The Same Kind Of Degree That I Did

Why The Left Should Read My Blog Posts In Good Faith And Understand Exactly Why They Are Very Wrong

Why The Left Should Do Something That’s Quite Implausible, Psychologically Speaking, And Would  Startle The Shit Out Of Everyone If It Actually Happened, Except Me, Who Would Nod Sagely

Why The Left Should Cease Their Infighting and Unite Against the Common Enemy: My Balls

Rise of Trump shows that I, some Australian Blogger, am Correct

The seemingly-unstoppable ascendancy of orange-haired real estate mogul, businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump in the contest to decide the next Republican presidential candidate has lead many to ask whether this is the rise of a new form of American fascism. But before we ask whether Trump really is another Hitler, we should consider a more important question. How does this alarming scenario afford me, and other commentators, none of whom are experts and many of whom are on different continents, an opportunity to be correct?

There is no doubt that Trump’s confounding of the GOP establishment is alarming, but I would like to position myself as being far more calm and mature than those who believe this is the birth of a hitherto-unseen and poisonous form of American nationalism. Now, I’m not a professional historian. I have no especial qualifications in the theory of fascism and other related forms of totalitarian dictatorship as these were manifested in the course of the twentieth century, and, statistically speaking, neither do you. But we shouldn’t lose our heads simply because the conservative party of the wealthiest and most powerful nation on Earth appears to be having its collective lunch stolen by a blowhard tycoon who is backed by throngs of shrieking, violent racists and who stands to have a long shot at the leadership of the United States.

Let’s consider the significant differences between Trump and Hitler. Hitler, as any schoolchild knows, drew considerable support from the ranks of restive, unemployed and impoverished Germans whose nation had been wracked by punitive war reparations, hyperinflation and needlessly sarcastic musical satirists. Trump’s supporters, by contrast, although they are restive, underemployed and financially, on a global scale, somewhat inconvenienced, show little or no interest in cabaret, with the exception of Wayne Newton. Moreover, as citizens of the United States of America, they come from a completely different country to Hitler’s followers.

Hitler was a painter manqué and former soldier from an unremarkable family whose amoral ideology and extreme racial intolerance brought about the most brutal war of annihilation and genocide in world history; Trump is the heir to a New York City real estate fortune and has shown no particular inclination toward the visual arts. Trump is a serial divorcée with a decades-long reputation for sleaziness who has made highly inappropriate comments about the desirability of his own daughter; Hitler, although he is widely believed by almost everyone to have had a heinously fucked-up sexuality, was childless.

Even were it not for all these serious distinctions between Hitler and Trump, the most vital difference is one of timing. Hitler happened in the olden days and was ultimately defeated in a series of events which, calamitous though they were, are progressively disappearing from living memory, and which ultimately serve as a reassurance to people like me that our comfortable lives have been safeguarded by a long historical process which we were fortunate enough to end up on the winning side of. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is happening right now, and any suggestion that he is quite a bit like Hitler has to be fought against with every instinct and fibre of our being, lest that reassuring sense of comfort be disturbed.

Besides, Trump, even though he is a notorious career racist who retweets praise from actual Nazis, has been endorsed by America’s most well-known member of the Ku Klux Klan and seems to have a lock on the candidacy, is not a seasoned political operator like Ted Cruz, a wily Republican vampire about whom I first heard three weeks ago. It may be too soon to say for sure, but if I repeat the phrase “the GOP establishment” enough times and with an appropriate sense of measured conviction, signs are that events will show that this armchair observer is right.

Five Fantasies about Tony Abbott

The fantasy about distributism

Abbott’s relationship with B A Santamaria, still a compulsory mention in every op-ed about his political character, implying that he represented some strain of mainstream Australian conservatism which opposes free-market neoliberalism. Look, I like G K Chesterton as much as the next guy (if I were to meet Abbott, my first question would be, “do you like Chesterton?” and my second would be “what do you think of his anti-semitism?”) but this idea is as much a fantasy as The Man Who Was Thursday. The last positive traces of distributism in Australian political life were probably the soldier’s settlement schemes of the twentieth century: intended (by Santamaria and others) to breed a race of stout yeomen capable of resisting the corruptions of modern life, actually resulting in some of eastern Sydney’s drearier tract housing.

In reality, there’s no Australian conservative movement of any significance which opposes capitalism. (This is why I don’t like to call them ‘Tories’: Australian conservatism starts with Locke, and any attempt to pretend otherwise is just cosplay.)

The fantasy about social conservatism

Speaking of B A Santamaria, much of his later career was devoted to plaintively challenging the huge, progressive shift in the ability of the state to police sexual behaviour which took place in the last two decades of the twentieth century. This rout of social conservatism was so dramatic that we’re still in the swirling confusion after the battle, and the stupider members of the right are still running around with Cory Bernardi, unaware that they’ve lost.

All that Abbott could do in this field was shore up Howard’s rearguard action against marriage equality, which is doomed anyway, as eventually we’ll need to recognise marriages ratified by other jurisdictions. There’s no suggestion that the LNP at a State level are going to change anything in this regard.

There’s a really interesting story to tell about how mainstream conservatism came to a rapprochement with the decriminalisation of homosexuality, a reform which up until the 80s they (and a large part of the ALP) had been firmly against, but a conservative tradition as unreflective as Australia’s is unlikely to tell it.

The fantasy about the boats

The fantasy about what’s actually happening under the veil of operational secrecy; the fantasy that the Dickensian legal trickery of extraterritorial detention won’t eventually fall apart at the seams; the fantasy (from the nice left) that all of this is somehow a radical degeneration of Australian law and morality, rather than a continuation of its traditional racialised brutality.

The fantasy about an Oxford education

The English, when they speak of Oxford, talk mostly about class. Australians, of either political persuasion, talk about brains, despite the fact that the Rhodes Scholarship has no particular academic entry standard above what’s normally required. It’s rather touching. One thinks of the Rhodes Scholar as a stock comic character in such nostalgic entertainments as Max Beerbohm’s Zuleika Dobson, and wonders what Max would have made of Tony.

The fantasy about ‘economic management’

Here’s a scary thought: Abbott and Hockey weren’t exceptional, the remnants of an otherwise competent and sane conservative party at the end of some dreadful process of Faulknerian decline. They were perfectly representative Libs, running on nothing but half-inarticulate social prejudices and Baden-Powellish ‘character’. Turnbull had to get rid of them before they completely wrecked the fantasy of the Liberals (also based on half-inarticulate social prejudices) as the party of (stop laughing up the back there) fiscal responsibility and (look here) reform.

Chesterton on Fascism

That in my normal journey towards the grave this sudden reappearance of all that was bad and barbarous and stupid and ignorant in Carlyle, without a touch of what was really quaint and humorous in him, should suddenly start up like a spectre in my path strikes me as something quite incredible. It is as incredible as seeing Prince Albert come down from the Albert Memorial and walk across Kensington Gardens.

As someone who pored over SPY in the late 80s, I feel the same way about Donald Trump.

The Laughter of Triumph

William Hone

The Laughter of Triumph: William Hone and the Fight for the Free Press, Ben Wilson I affix the above cartoon of mine from 2009 not out of any exaggerated idea of its merit, but as evidence that I knew who William Hone was before reading Ben Wilson’s 2005 biography. The mathematician Augustus De Morgan’s strange anthology of circle-squarers, the Budget of Paradoxes, which I read when I was a student, includes a chapter on Hone: De Morgan was an adolescent in the 1810s, when Hone was put on trial for his satirical pamphlets, so reading Wilson’s account of a once-famous figure who is now all but forgotten was like re-encountering a friend from childhood.

Hone was a Fleet Street publisher and reformist who collaborated with the cartoonist George Cruikshank and was a friend of Hazlitt’s: he was put on trial in 1817 for his pamphlets, which satirised the corruption of the Government by parodying church liturgy. The Sinecurist’s Creed; The Political Litany; The Late John Wilkes’s Catechism of a Ministerial Member: the actual satires are as leaden to modern ears as their titles. The prosecution, led by the notoriously severe Lord Chief Justice Ellenborough, made the error of depending on charges of blasphemy, rather than sedition. Hone defended himself over three days, largely by reading out previous parodies of religious texts, several of which had been written by Tories and none of which attracted a similar charge. Hone had already fought a battle to have a fair jury – the chapter on how juries were rigged by governments is remarkable in itself – and the case was literally laughed out of court, and was an important step on the way of bringing the previously theoretical freedom of the English press into existence.

Wilson’s biography is enviably well-written and researched. It tells the story not just of the trials but of Hone’s life, which gives an interesting angle on the history of Regency Britain and the popular movement which led to the great Reform Act of 1832, which eliminated the rotten boroughs which had ensured that parliament was controlled by the wealthy. There is a great deal of backslapping wank written about “eighteenth century classical liberalism” these days, and it is good to be reminded that in England in the actually-existing eighteenth century, parliamentary democracy was a sick joke, most people on a public income were benefiting from sinecures doled out by relatives and mates (Tim Wilson is an authentically eighteenth-century figure in this regard) and parliamentary privilege was interpreted to mean that any journalist who criticised a Minister could be prosecuted for criminal libel. Hone’s trials ensured that English freedom of the press was more than just an empty slogan, although it didn’t result in its being actually enshrined in a law: I suspect that its establishment of the legitimacy of parody and satire survives to this day in common law jurisdictions.

Incidentally, Wilson claims that in the UK, political satire all but died out after the 1820s and didn’t revive until the 1960s – the long intermission is one of the reasons why Hone was forgotten. (The edition of De Morgan’s work I found at a second-hand bookstall in 1989 was from the 60s, gussied up with an awful psychedelic cover.) The near-constant complaint that “satire is dead” may be because the 60s wave, which certainly influenced Australian satire, has retreated into the senility of Leunig. We may have an exaggerated idea of how common good satire is, and of how long it lasts.

PS – if you’re interested in more about Hone, the William Hone BioText is an excellent web archive. The remarkable Bank Note, designed by Cruikshank and Hone as a protest against the first paper currency introduced in England, is worth looking up if you’re interested in the history of capital punishment, convict transportation and fiscal policy.

Sydney

One of the rules of Sydney is that you are only supposed to speak about your part of it, so here goes: I grew up in the west, have lived in the inner city and the inner west, studied in the north, went to school in the outer southwest, worked in the Sutherland shire, which is where half of my family live, and have spent enough time in the east to thoroughly lose the chip on my shoulder about it.

All these places were and are inhabited by drongos, derros, bible-bashers, wowsers, wankers, ockers, snobs, molls, junkies, airheads, revheads, dickheads, bogans, dags, ratbags and bludgers from every imaginable part of the world. (Yes, even the Shire.)

In my lifetime, the city’s material environment has been homogenised by franchises and rising standards of living – when I was a kid, most of the roads in Granville didn’t have kerb and guttering, and the flashest car you were likely to see was a Holden Statesman – and its population has become ever more diverse. (Yes, even in the fucking Shire.)

All this is by way of illustrating why it is that when people talk about ‘western suburbs’ or ‘the Shire’ or whatever, as if that means a single homogeneous chunk to be used as an element in political debates, I think they sound like idiots,* or, even worse, pollsters.

*When I was young I used to generalise about Sydney areas all the time and my Mum used to try to correct me. She was right.