Acting from belief

Most people when they act with any consideration do so from their beliefs. Those beliefs may be immature or well developed. They may be uninformed and ill-considered – if at all, and subject to personal prejudice; or they may be the result of reading, observation, personal experience and deep consideration.

It’s reasonable to expect that the leaders in our society fall into the second camp. In many instances I think that is true, and historically very much the case. In general this has provided us with leaders who are nuanced, humane and of an intelligence far beyond the norm. That’s as it should be.

Though I don’t question the intelligence of our leaders today, I believe we are going through an era where raw belief is secondary to shallow jingoism. The emphasis has shifted from acting from our beliefs or ideals, from some sort of moral bedrock, to a shallow, opportunistic and ultimately transient re-action to the days events.

There are different reasons for this. I think in general we have dumbed down as a society. Our attention span is shorter, our patience limited. Sound bites rather than informed discussion are now the norm. Our political leaders deal in bold and controversial statements, often with little relationship to the facts, tailored for the evening’s news, and tomorrow’s headlines. That often they have little relationship to the facts is immaterial, and barely commented on, which is symptomatic of our time. With some exceptions our media standards have radically declined. Bald misrepresentations masquerading as opinion have become the de facto standard, particularly in the tabloid press and radio. For way too many Australians these bitter and pre-digested ‘opinions’ are how they come to understand the ‘facts’. Their opinions are not theirs, but rather have been received from others – and generally those who make the biggest noise and create the biggest headlines. It’s all of a piece: sensation over consideration; slogans over discussion; abuse over civility. Even much of our advertising I’ve noticed has become tainted. I wonder where the standards are that should be controlling these excesses.

Given that this is the society today is it any wonder that our political leaders are what they are? The truth of the axiom that we get the politicians we deserve has never been more evident.

Our leaders are curious. As I said, I don’t doubt that either Gillard or Abbott are intelligent people in basic terms. The problem is, one is weak, and the other corrupt.

Gillard doesn’t strike me as an intellectual (a much derided term these days unfortunately). She appears like a woman who has given little thought to the broader canvas, more inclined as she is to calm good sense. She is a sturdy type, a strong nature even if she has been weak politically. I don’t know enough about her to know if she is a student of history or society, if she reads or doesn’t. She strikes me as an occasional reader, too practical to indulge in things of the past. With that though is a stolid lack of imagination. That is her greatest failing as a leader I think. As a deputy she is supremely competent, but from a leader you need qualities that will carry us forward, to follow, to lift us from the bitter rut we have fallen into. Foremost amongst those qualities is imagination. Because she has little imagination there are few ideals that colour her perspective. She acts, not from belief, but from narrow pragmatism.

Abbott is different. He is a reader, a writer, clearly a student of many disciplines. Though he has always been far to the right of where I sit I once quite liked him. In a junior portfolio I was able to dismiss his occasional extremism as harmless Abbott-isms; in many ways he seemed an affable character, and more thoughtful than he portrayed himself to be. His books are well written and well received. Somewhere inside him is a thoughtful man.

Perhaps that’s why I now so despise him. I called him corrupt before and I meant that in the sense that he has happily disregarded the ‘better’ parts of himself in the quest for political power. As an avowed Christian he does little, if anything, to embody Christian virtues, and no Christian charity. A smart man he has resorted in opposition to diss everything. He gives the strong impression that he would oppose initiatives even if he himself agreed with them. He is a man who has happily separated what he believes from how he acts. He is a leading contributor to the hostile political environment we are now subject to. Politics, and society, have degenerated together and if he is one cause of that it is because he has latched onto the tenor of the times. He speaks in violent shorthand, with dubious respect for the facts – the media lap it up, and he reaps the rewards.

I’m an idealist, but I’m not naive. I know being in power is much more challenging than commenting on it. I realise that there are pragmatic realities that must be bowed before, that shortcuts and compromises must be made. I’m also of the belief that occasionally the end might justify the means – but also that both the end and the means must be carefully weighed. The problem with Abbott is that the end for him is to be Prime Minister of this country, and any means will justify it.

It’s a philosophy that has infected our parliament, which has become a bitter and mean spirited place. Just yesterday, Joe Hockey, a fundamentally decent man I think, launched himself at the government with a diatribe that was disgraceful and borderline racist. There is no society in our politicians, and little civilisation.

Curious it is to consider the men standing in the wings on either side of the divide, the former leaders, Rudd and Turnbull are both thinkers, intelligent men with well-defined beliefs. Turnbull I would vote for in the blink of an eye – a reasonable, urbane politician of the old school, inclined to do the best for the national interest than his own – and with some sophistication and intelligence. Rudd had his chance and lost his nerve, but at least he stands for something. I’d vote for him ahead of Gillard.

I should finish by saying Australia is by no means unique in this regard. This is a worldwide phenomena I think. In Obama the Americans have a leader they seem to under-value from afar, a man decent, intelligent and acting from the altruistic desire to civil service. And he believes in things. Opposing him though are the ratbags, the Rupublicans in political disarray as the rabid extremism of the Tea Party raises it’s very ugly head. I have more faith in the good sense of Australians than I do that the Americans will be able to hold off the Tea Party. The Tea Party spells doom to the American state, but that’s an opinion for another time.

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