When ignorance fails


Bit of a bombshell yesterday in the ICAC (anti-corruption) hearing in NSW when the NSW premier was called to the stand and revealed that she’d been in a lengthy relationship with a former parliamentarian accused of dodgy dealings.

Naturally, it caused an uproar. Most were flabbergasted by the news. A good many said that she must resign (but with different motivations), while others claimed that her personal life shouldn’t come into it.

I don’t really want to comment on the rights and wrongs of it. It’s the human interest angle that fascinates me. Generally, I’m of the view that the personal lives of our politicians have no bearing unless there’s evidence of criminal or corrupt behaviour, or if it risks the integrity of the office. Everyone’s entitled to a life of their own, and if they choose to engage in behaviours a bit different to the rest of us, it’s nobody’s business but their own.

For me, morality barely comes into it, though I might form an opinion on someone if something saucy is exposed. Having an affair with another man’s wife or if you’re into threesomes, or even if you get a blow job from an intern in the Oval Office, should make little material difference to your ability to do the job.

Gladys is ‘guilty’ of none of those. She’s a single woman who found companionship with a fellow parliamentarian. I’m sympathetic towards her. While others rail at her foolishness or accuse her of corruption, I see a person subject to the same very human whims and desires as most of us.

It’s very simple for people to look at everything through a political prism. In that way, everything becomes good or evil, and there are hard lines – and rules – that separate one from the other. That’s why you see a lot of grandstanding and people getting on their high horse, because the landscape has become so toxic, and because, for many, this represents opportunity. Some will rail against this in one person but excuse in another.

There are more sensible commentators, thankfully. They are independent-minded and clear of the muck. A lot of them are sympathetic but declare that Gladys should probably go because she’s perceived to have turned a blind eye to the dishonesty of her partner.

I doubt very much Gladys is corrupt. I think she has limitations as a leader, but I’m not sure that integrity or dishonesty are among those. Her faults, in this case, were human. If she chose to overlook his faults, she did so as a woman, not the premier of the state. She has a heart too, and hopes and fears and the need for comfort and the desire for love. Unfortunately, this may be one of those occasions where the premier can’t be separated from the woman.

Whether she survives this or not, I think her leadership has been fatally wounded. In politics, perception so often becomes a reality. In this case, the truth is that she was intimate with a man shown to be corrupt, and who tried to use her to further his own cause. I truly believe she wanted nothing to do with it, but she did nothing to stop it. Ignorance is not always bliss.

Uncle Don


I dreamt last night that I was Donald Trump’s ‘nephew from Australia’. I went to visit him, and we went on a road trip together and hit it off fine. At one stage we’re walking side by side along a busy road with a lake on the far side of it. It’s pretty, and we’re talking and as we go along, he takes my hand in his. Though I’m in my early twenties, I accept it as a fond gesture. And in fact, all through my dream my experience of Donald is that he’s a friendly, generous and fun to be around sort of guy. And actually, quite a basic character when you strip away all the bullshit – which is an awful lot.

I woke with this dream in me and didn’t know what to make of it. Then I thought some more and it didn’t seem so strange.

Like much of the world, I despise Donald Trump, but I also pity him. It seems a generous position given all the terrible things he’s done, but when I look at him, I see a man terribly out of his depth. He’s not smart enough to know it, and certainly not to admit it, and so he blusters and pontificates to hide his ignorance and to supposedly portray the sort of character he wants to be. Unfortunately, the real tragedy in this is that he’s been allowed to get away with. He’s a prime analog for the emperor with no clothes, and so he swans around naked while his cronies and the corrupt and imbecilic who follow him fall over themselves to exclaim what a splendid suit of clothes he’s wearing.

This is one of the diabolical aspects of these times. I don’t know of any other era when someone so profoundly incapable would attain such a position of power, and maintain such power throughout. It says a lot about the fierce polarisation of ideology these days when someone so inadequate and dangerous is preferable to the power-brokers behind him than some liberal alternative. And it says a lot about the usual checks and balances in society that have allowed this – a critical media and an educated electorate.

I wonder sometimes in his reflective moments – if he has them – if Donald suspects he might be such a strawman? Does he ever look in the mirror and realise he’s a terrible fraud?

I think the truth about Donald Trump is that he’s not very bright (and has probably some form of Alzheimer’s), was badly brought up, and learned early it was more important to bullshit and bully and barge your way through than to get your hands dirty. I suspect he’s a man without any real values or convictions.

He certainly has a history of bigotry, but I suspect little of it is firmly held. It’s more a matter of convenience or some perverted sense of being cool, which I think is important to him. He’s a populist carried away on the tide of his own narcissism. Everything is status for him, and he can’t bear to be seen wrong or ignorant, which is why he invents such fantastic tales and why everything is always the best or biggest. He’s really a child who somehow has become the most powerful man in the most powerful country on earth.

That’s just my opinion and none of it excuses his behaviour, though it might explain some of it. If not for all the bullshit he might be a reasonable guy – but then, there’s a lot of bullshit.

Without fear or favour


I don’t really want to comment on things like this, but sometimes I just can’t bite my tongue.

Yesterday, there were two government press conferences. One was for about 15 minutes, the other for ninety. One is occasional, the other is daily, as it has been for months. In one, the government refuses to answer questions they don’t like and turn on the reporter; in the other, every question is answered, and the press conference doesn’t end until the items have finished. One was a federal press conference, Morrison accompanied by Dutton, and the other was the Victorian government, with Dan Andrews responding.

Yesterday afternoon, there was a storm across social media as punters turned on the reporters asking questions at the Victorian press conference. They were accused of being rude and disrespectful, of interrupting the premier’s response, of banging on about the same questions again and again, seeking the gotcha moment. Some abuse was personal, and doubtless, much of it was informed by partisan beliefs – but not all.

In response to this tirade of criticism, journos rose up to rebut the fairness of the opprobrium, and decry the instances of personal abuse. They pointed out that it’s their job to ask tough questions and to hold the government to account.

In principle, I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think there’s any place for personal abuse, whether you’re a journo or not. And certainly, it was welcome news to hear that they knew that their job was to keep the bastards honest. In reality, I felt disdainful and maybe a little bit disgusted. It seemed terribly precious as well as being tone-deaf. And not a little hypocritical.

This isn’t a golden age of journalism. It seems odd to write that in the week that Jonathan Swan has been lauded worldwide in his takedown of Trump in a personal interview. It was undoubtedly a masterclass, but perhaps it rings louder because that sort of performance is such an outlier these days? There are good journalists these days, but many fewer than there were even twenty years ago and, for the most part, the style is much different.

I doubt it’s escaped many how ironic it is journalists complaining about personal abuse when so many – and so many particularly the Murdoch media – takedown members of the public so routinely, and without compunction. Smears and innuendo are part and parcel of so much of modern journalism. I think this plays into the mentality of the time – quick grabs, controversial takes, tabloid headlines, clickbait and a general preference for the shallow over the deep.

For someone who’s been around long enough to know that it used to be different, it’s very sad. But many of these journalists parlay that as their business – to turn around and complain when it’s turned back on them verges on the absurd.

There is a deeper issue here, which so many of the critics yesterday attempted to make.

In Melbourne, you have a leader that answers every question posed to him respectfully, and who is subjected to journalistic bad manners and media intrigues and who is routinely criticised.

In Canberra, you have a PM who is selective in when he holds a press conference, and who has a history of being rude and obstructive and refusing to engage with the question or the reporter – and he gets away with it!

Andrews answered hard questions yesterday and took responsibility. Compare it to Morrison at the time of the bushfires when he was questioned, responding with the excuse “I don’t hold a hose, mate”. Witness how often he refuses outright to answer a question with an “I reject the premise of the question.” End of story – and he gets away with that as well. Yesterday he refused to answer questions from one journo, while Dutton turned on a journo asking a question he didn’t like.

This is the problem. We can all see how these leaders are held to a different standard of response. Andrews might be better served if he adopted the same tactics as the PM. The PM bullies the press gallery, and they’re too cowed to speak out. Andrews is reasonable, and so they show their claws. It’s pathetic.

There’s no argument in journo’s asking tough questions – but don’t pick and choose when you do it, and to who. Don’t wave that as your excuse when so often you fail to live up to that standard. Wake up! We see it!

The underlying issue here is media bias. Almost every media outlet these days is to the right of centre, even The Age. It’s particularly political when it comes to the News Corp newspapers – the Herald Sun here in Melbourne, and The Australian nationally, as well as the various regional issues. News value is weak, it’s all about creating clicks, controversy, and relentlessly driving an anti-Labor agenda. What that means is that they’ll amplify issues on the left and suppress the same problems on the right – so they go hammer and tongs against someone like Andrews, and play nice with Morrison.

In service of this, the government will brief their mates in the media against the Labor parties – such as yesterday, for example, when a false story was fed to The Australian about projected infections in Victoria. It’s rubbish, but it has the desired effect.

This is what we’re dealing with in Australia – and in the UK too, and to a degree in the US also. It’s insidious and undermines democracy. Abusing journalists is small time in comparison to this, and might actually be a wake-up call.

More need to wake-up.

NB. It’s telling also that journalists rose one and all yesterday in outrage against their accusers, but failed to fire a shot when one of their own – Emma Albericie – was treated so deplorably during the week by the ABC and The Australian. But, that’s right, she’s accused of being a lefty.

 

I’ll stand by Dan


I’m generally of the view that there’s no point in arguing with idiots. That eliminates a lot of social interaction for me, though I note that many diverge from that policy. Each to their own. One of the defining features of our times is that every moron has a platform now and – in my observation – the more moronic the intelligence, the more likely they are to shout it from the rooftops. Very democratic and not in the least enlightening. Like I said, I try and give them a wide berth.

Not everyone’s an idiot. There’s a lot of smart people around, and even online. They have views worth listening to, even when you disagree – that’s another area where I diverge from the rank and file. I like differing perspectives because they make me think and question. I may adjust my own opinion as a result, or respond with a considered and polite rebuttal. I’m happy to engage with them because it’s an exercise in free speech and I may learn something. I realise I’m very old school in this regard when for so many these days disagreement signifies stupidity and very often evil. There’s no grey area.

I’ve been engaging in civilised debate for the last month or so with someone I know and think is a smart fella. Moreover, he debates because he has a genuine concern about the subject at hand. In the past, we’ve found each other in accord on most things, and it’s only recently that we’ve come to opposing views about Dan Andrews and the virus gripping Melbourne.

This has become a very contentious talking point these days. He’s blamed by many for the emergence of the second wave. That anger is stoked by the news corp press, who take every opportunity to beat up anything negative of Labor and suppress anything negative of the LNP. Equally, there are many passionate Victorians, and even those outside the state, who are supportive of Andrews.

Now, he recognises that the media is bias, but has become very hostile towards Andrews. I take a different perspective, but, in any case, I ask him what does he want to happen? And who is there to step in? I urge calm, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, it’ll all come out of the wash, right now let’s concentrate on getting things right now. It’s a civil debate, and we admitted what a pity it was we couldn’t do it over a bottle of red.

But then, someone else joins in, one of those dickheads not worth responding to, who called Andrews an arsewipe and anyone – such as me – who supports him. That killed the debate there and then.

I think my friend has become a little fixated, possibly because he can’t understand why so many people are in favour of Andrews. I think he’s misread the situation and is missing the subtleties, which can happen when you get so het up. I started to tell him why so many people were supportive – but then I thought, why bother? But here it is, for posterity.

Why does Andrews maintain such support?

  1. For many Victorians, and even Australians – he has vocal support Australia-wide – he embodies many of the qualities we want in a leader but have been deprived of for so long. He’s a smart, demonstratively decent human being to start with. He’s a great communicator, calm and very patient. As premier of the state, he’s driven a bold and successful agenda, and become known as someone who gets things done. He’s of a progressive bent, and of strong character. And not even his most bitter enemies could decry his work ethic. Through the bushfire crisis and this he’s seemingly turned up every day to do his bit. He’s the leader we want to believe in, and that earns him a lot of Brownie points.
  2. While the media has been responsible for inflaming tensions and demonising him, the more discerning members of the community recognise it for what it is: a political hatchet job driven by Murdoch and his minions. On top of that, in Victoria, the Liberal opposition is pretty feral. Whereas in the rest of the country the opposition parties have been generally supportive in a time of crisis, the Libs here have sought to disrupt, and have been very destructive of the status quo. For a lot of us, we’re over all that. There may come a reckoning one day, but today’s not the day – there are more important things to get done. I think that’s a general feeling the community (the Libs have shot themselves in the foot). Andrews gets some sympathy in the face of that.
  3. Many of the same people wonder why treatment isn’t partial. When the Ruby Princess docked in Sydney and let off dozens of infected passengers then anti-government rhetoric was subdued because it was a Liberal government responsible – depending who you talk to, either Dutton or the NSW government. Sad as it is, the media drives much of the narrative and it infects the community – no news that. Up there they buried it; down here they amplified it. This is about fairness.
  4. I think there’s general admiration for his stoic refusal to keep going. I think many believe he has a genuine concern for their welfare – he’s on their side. That’s a rare feeling these days. While some hate him, he engenders trust in many others. And the question becomes pertinent: if not him leading us, then who? There is no-one.
  5. Most of the drama is related to returned travellers and mishandled quarantine, for which they blame Andrews. A lot of the reports are sensationalist, and I don’t there’s a clear idea of what happened except, it seems, the security guards misbehaved. There’s a lot of complexity about this, and there’s an inquiry in progress to get to the bottom of it. Many say that Andrews should’ve resigned over this – my response is per point 3 &4, and to suggest that we wait until the inquiry is concluded before we rush to judgement.
  6. Much of the criticism Andrews draws about this is why he engaged security firms rather than the ADF. This is a nonsense complaint that only makes any sense after the fact. Victoria was not the only state to use security guards, but the only state that suffered from it. Surely, the security firms were engaged in good faith to perform duties that they’re specialist at and which they’re being paid to do? Only later does it become evident that the firms had marginal competence and breached the terms of their contract. That was not something any reasonable person would anticipate – bearing in mind that the Federal government uses private security firms to manage refugees – so there’s a strong precedent.
  7. I think everyone accepts that there will be missteps and misjudgements in an emerging calamity such as this. They’re inclined to forgive to a degree, though we’re now looking at 100+ deaths and climbing out of the second wave. That may be re-evaluated in the fullness of time.

Much of that aligns with my thinking. The only caveat I have is that if the inquiry finds that government ministers were culpable (most likely because they failed to react appropriately or oversee the operation effectively), then heads should roll.

I don’t think it is the time to be changing much and in fact, I think much of the commentary has been destructive to public confidence and unity. It’s led to confusion and empowered malcontents to do as they please. I think there are a lot of others who should be in the sights. However, down the track, when the facts are known, justice – whatever it is – must be seen to be done.

I despair


The other night I spat the dummy and posted a rant to Facebook. What tipped me over the edge was the most recent round of cuts inflicted on the ABC by the government. There have been cuts just about every year since the Coalition came into power, despite the explicit promise back in 2013 by Tony Abbott that there wouldn’t be any – a brazen lie. The national broadcaster, ingrained in our culture, cherished by many, and lauded most recently over the bushfire season because it ‘saved lives,’ has been the subject of an ideological battle because they fear the combination of good sense and balanced reporting is damaging to their brand. And, to a degree, they’re right. They accuse it of being bias towards the progressive side of politics, but the truth is the ABC has been bending over backward (too far) to appease an unreasonable government. The real damage done is that most people who watch the ABC are educated, intelligent and reasonable – and what educated, intelligent, and reasonable person is going to look upon a corrupt government but with disdain?

It accords with a general theme of this government, sponsored by the hard right and the diabolical IPA. I’m utterly convinced that the primary goals of this government are to maintain power by any means and to reshape society to ensure that they stay in government for years to come. To do so they must disarm their natural foes – the intelligentsia, the educated, the progressive. To achieve this they diminish the channels in which their foes can express or be heard. They manipulate university funding so that quality will inevitably decline, and tilt it away from the humanities subjects that teach critical thought and historical perspective. They’ve long been an enemy of science, ignoring it altogether in the case of climate change, and sidelining it generally – the CSIRO, our peak scientific body and an absolute treasure trove of invention, had further cuts inflicted this week as well.

It’s all about dumbing down the nation and making it compliant so they can say and do what they want without scrutiny, and so that their mates get a free ride. You might think I’m overly paranoid and cynical, but the existence of a Donald Trump as American president shows anything is impossible – and much of this is right out of the Trump playbook. (The government even gave a job to the former head of Trumps border force last week).

Anyway, this is what I said:

I don’t know where to start. The government’s been after the ABC for years, and the latest cuts might have terminally gutted it. This is on top of more cuts to the CSIRO today, and the farcical changes to university funding last week. I’ve had it with a low-brow government that devalues science and learning, and hobbles diversity of expression. Don’t tell me it’s not political. It’s a fucking disgrace, and I haven’t even started on the environment and climate change. I’m calling it out. This will kill the society we cherish and I’ve had enough.

It was a bit more emotional and less measured than usual, but it stacks up.

It’s funny I put it on Facebook, where it’s more common to post cutesy memes and photos of nights out than it is anything too political. Twitter is the home of the crackpot rant, but that’s probably why I didn’t post it there – I don’t want to be just another Twitter crock jumping on my soapbox, and something like this wouldn’t raise an eyebrow there. On Facebook, it has more impact because it jars more and because the people who’ll read it know me personally. Many of them agree.

I’m seriously concerned about what’s happening to this country. Many of the things I love about it are being eroded by government and a mendacious media. Much of what I value and believe is being trashed by an anti-intellectual government more concerned about their wellbeing than the wellbeing of you and me. The fabric of this place is being frayed by constant snips to it. Disgracefully, these most recent cuts come under cover of the coronavirus and in a time when services like the ABC and CSIRO are most needed, and when we should be investing more – if only for the good of the economy – not less.

I was willing to hope that the government and Morrison might have learned something in this crisis but, to be honest, I never really believed it. I was right to doubt. Now’s the time for the opposition to throw away the rulebook and stop playing nice. This is the future of the country we’re talking about; there are no second chances. It won’t happen though because they’ve lost their purpose as well as their cojones.

The new puritanism


It’s hard to argue that the world hasn’t degenerated into absurdity. Nincompoops like Donald Trump get elected, followed by characters like Boris Johnson. The US lurches from one embarrassment to the next, while England commits virtual suicide by voting to leave the EU. Climate change accelerates while half the world denies it, or seeks to build more coal stations. Australia burns while the PM holidays, a pandemic the like of which none of us has seen for a century cripples the world economy, kills thousands, and turns our lives upside down while nincompoops keep on nincompooping. Then, a noble cause erupts on the back of a tragedy. The Black Lives Matter rally’s take off, not just in the States, but across the world, and there’s hope that it might drive real change, but even that is hijacked by the absurd and the ridiculous.

As I was discussing with a friend the other day, it’s been a tough two years for the thinking person.

I’ve held off commenting the last few days because what’s the point? But some of this just needs to be recorded for posterity. These things really happened.

So, where do I start? I guess the tame end of it is the ongoing controversy about historic statues across the world. Some of it is perfectly reasonable, and high time at that. One thing revealed through this is how many complete cunts there’ve been in history, and damn the context. King Leopold II of Belgium, for example – hard to imagine a more evil bastard than him. Then there’s sundry slave traders and small fry racists and dickhead characters here and there probably not worthy of commemorating, and no loss.

But it’s the nature of these movements that they’re broad and indiscriminate. They’re ruled by outrage and emotion, not by sense. They get carried with a sense of overweening virtue matched by historical necessity. The combination negates anything reasonable, and the cause loses shape, control is lost, and statues are defaced on principle, regardless of notoriety. And the problem with all this is not just that it’s pretty mindless, but that it threatens to trivialise what are worthwhile goals, and possibly even discredit them.

You may not like it in your seething, hot mess of emotion, but the fact is that you’ve got to win the hearts and minds. That’s your battleground, not the politicians – they’ll go where the votes are, and if you sway the hearts and minds of the middle-class, you’ll drive change. And the middle-class want to believe.

Through this period, society has woken up to what’s happening and reacted to it. A lot of it is opportunistic and almost laughable. Some may be sincere, but there’s a lot that is ridiculous. Take, for example, the Fawlty Towers episode Don’t Mention the War, which hit the headlines last week because it was pulled from TV screens in Britain. Now, the point of shows like this is actually to poke holes in the shallow aspirations and behaviours of the Basil Fawlty’s of this world. It’s a farce with a big slice of satire. It’s not promoting bigotry in this case; it’s exposing it. Predictably, John Cleese reacted in horror to the news, and ultimately the program was returned to the screen.

The classic movie Gone With the Wind is not so lucky. That was withdrawn from screening also because of its depiction of slavery. Where does this end? It may be a work of fiction, but the civil war, and the slavery they fought over, is a matter of historical fact. And if that movie what about the hundreds, thousands of movies – and books! – that portray unsavoury facts. It may be an unwelcome reality for many living today, but most of history is full of things to disapprove of, but you can’t just go and ignore it. The ancient civilisations – Egypt, Greece, Rome, etc., all had slaves. Serfs were a thing until a few hundred years ago. Then there are countless wars and oppression and violence perpetrated throughout this time. Where does the line get drawn? On what principle? On whose?

There’s talk of returning Gone With the Wind to the screens with a caveat before it starts. I assume that would count for hundreds of other programs also. Fine, if they must, but I wonder how much of that is necessary? Who watches GWTW as a how-to guide to slavery? Or to celebrate it? While acknowledging that we’re living through the stupidest time of the modern era, few people are so dumb as not to realise what they’re watching – a representation. And this is the danger of censorship – for this is what we’re talking of here – it’s anti-education when what we need is more education.

How are people to understand if they don’t see the context? How are they to appreciate history if we don’t represent it to them? I may be an idealist, but I reckon the best education is when one sees and learns for oneself. Knowledge comes when we make up our own minds, not when a popular construct is thrust down our throats.  Deny us that, feed us some politically correct codswallop, and we learn nothing.

I expect some common-sense to emerge out of all that, but just as I was beginning to relax, the latest news hit me. A preening bottleshop owner in Melbourne chose to signal his divine virtue that he would no longer stock the beer made by the brewer called ‘Colonial’. Get it? Colonial! We’re against that here.

For fuck sake, it’s just a fucking beer, and there are other interpretations of the word anyway. This brewer is innocent. Not racist. He just makes a decent beer. Now he’s the victim of this nonsense.

There’s been a predictable backlash, but the brewer is in a no-win situation. Either he continues trading as Colonial, and cops abuse for it, or he changes the name to something more politically acceptable and gets canned for giving in to the bullies. How did we ever get to this point? Because everything is one extreme or the other.

I don’t care one way or another what they call their beer, but I think it’s an unnecessary and trivial distraction from the main game. I want change. It’s overdue. We need reform and acceptance and education. That needs to happen in a practical sense – policies, laws, compensation. This other stuff is nonsense that runs the risk of alienating the cause. For many, I suspect, it’s the look of it that matters. For them, it’s the violence of expression that counts more than actual change. And if change eventuates, it’ll be derided nonetheless, or they’ll find some other target to attack. There’s a lot of look at me these days, and a lot of it’s cowardly and dishonourable.

This is what happens when you get purists – nothing is ever enough. And what we have today is a puritan class of the noble woke. If you’re not a part of their team, then you’re worthless. If you don’t agree with them, you’re obviously inferior and quite possibly wicked. They set the standards and broach no contravention of them. If you prove to be unacceptable to their cause, you’ll learn about it swiftly. Judgment is quick and violent, and a pile-on ensues. It’s nasty and unconscionable, in many ways.

Here I am – in many aspects, most perhaps, I believe in the same ultimate goals, but it’s the methods and their conduct I so often find unseemly. Yesterday, I watched online as somebody I think little of made a faux pas and then clumsily sought to extricate themselves from the mess. This was a so-called person of the left, but with some history – not someone I’d trust a lot, but then I wouldn’t care that much either. My policy is to steer clear of people like that. Everyone has an opinion. As long as it’s not too evil I don’t care much, and I can’t be bothered debating with them. That’s not the view of the mob. She was set upon as if by a pack of hyenas and torn apart, likely to never recover. I didn’t agree with her either, but gee, her sin wasn’t worthy of the punishment.

Then there was another, one of their own, excused for aberrant behaviour a few years back because he’d ‘fessed up and issued a public mea culpa and three hail Mary’s. He made himself abject, basically, and because of that – and because they like him, he’s cute, after all – he was forgiven.

I’d have told them to fuck off; I don’t need your forgiveness, you can shove up your arse. And that’s even if I did end up admitting my error. We have to live with ourselves and live up to our god if we have one, but I don’t see why any of us must kowtow to another.

Perhaps this is one reason it aggravates me so much. Not only is it anti-reason, it’s anti-individual. Many of these, not all, are not themselves. They’re a construct – a simulacrum – of who they want to be, or how they want to be seen – what is expected of them. In becoming a part of the collective something is sacrificed – an individual perspective, an independent mind. The urge to belong and to be seen as a good team player has a corrupting effect when we do or say things against nature just to join in. This seems encouraged, but it’s everything I don’t believe in.

I’m of the view, old-fashioned as it may be, that we should be teaching people how to think, not what to think. Give them the tools, the principles, the basic building blocks of knowledge, and they’ll come to understanding, and even wisdom, in their own way. And it will be much truer. That takes some strength of character, but I’m of the belief that if anyone learns right they’ll know in themselves the difference between right and wrong. That’s where it should come from – from inside. From being your true self. That’s what every person should aspire to – to be completely and truly themself.

But I digress.

The militant left is insular and hypocritical. And sickening, in a way. They demand obedience and suffer from many of the excesses they claim of their enemies. I want to believe, but I’m a moderate and believe in reason and just cause. For the priggish and shallow they’re complexities they have no time for, and they lack the self-awareness to know it. And a sense of humour, that’s rare too – but to appreciate humour you must appreciate light and shade, and that’s what’s lacking.

Without judgement


So, the latest is that Winston Churchill is being brought to heel by the woke forces of the earth. Revisionist commentary now has him classified as a racist and his statue duly defaced. How much that actually means is an open question. In Bristol, the statue of an eminent slave-trader ended up at the bottom of the river, and good riddance to him. But then, so too was a statue of Gandhi – Gandhi! – vandalised because he too – and who knew? – was a racist. I guess that sums up the collective mentality of the mob in heat.

I’m not here to defend Churchill – he doesn’t need me – but rather to deplore the recent practice of dragging down significant figures. It’s mindless and simplistic and bloody arrogant, too. It’s symptomatic of an era when critical thought is barely a concept, and it’s all about the raw feels.

Churchill was racist, much in the same way as many of his generation were. That’s not to excuse it, but it places it in context. The younger Churchill had something in common with Boris Johnson, I reckon – a gift for self-promotion, high self-regard, and a tendency to put their foot in it. That’s where the comparison ends. Even on his worst day, Churchill had more class, wit and intelligence than Johnson on his best. And anyway, the young Churchill matured.

There’s no doubt that Winston said some awful things, and made some stupid mistakes. Some of them were pretty racist, certainly by today’s standards. But, you know, he did some pretty good things, too.

What man is without flaw or fault? Look hard enough, and there’s always something to find. I’ve no objection to a fair appraisal, but to be fair it needs to embrace the man as a whole. That doesn’t happen a lot these days. Individuals are picked apart and every flaw magnified under the social media spotlight. It becomes fashionable to join the throng laying into the victim of the day – as if no-one else has ever erred, and regardless of the legitimate achievements of the victim in question.

In this era of extremes, every misshapen part is taken as the whole. There’s no nuance or critical judgement. To transgress one more invalidates every achievement, or so it seems. Churchill is a racist, and therefore a bad man – never mind that he stood alone against the forces of fascism. Never mind that he uplifted a generation by his example and by his rhetoric. Never mind that he actually opposed the bad guys doing evil racist things. No, in the new accounting it comes a distant second to the evils of his person. Wait until they hear he was a misogynist as well!

Anyone with any sense knows that Churchill was a great man. The world would undoubtedly be a different place today without him, and possibly quite radically so.

I’m not excusing Churchill, and I’m certainly not downplaying racism. What I’m calling for is a bit of balance and common sense. We need to learn how to see people in their totality, as once we did.

None of us is faultless. If you want the truth of it I’m probably a little racist myself (though I tend to think much of what is called racist is actually rooted in cultural difference), not by intention, but by instinct. I’m sure I’ve made racist comments in the past or looked upon someone differently because they were different from me. Again, it’s not who I mean to be, but I haven’t always been as virtuous as I am now. I know in places far distant that I’ve gravitated to my countrymen on occasion because we came from the same place, which is perfectly understandable while clearly showing a cultural bias. I guess that makes me imperfect, but human – hands up who isn’t?

We’re complex beings formed by our experiences and torn in conflicting directions by the forces around us. We absorb and deflect. We submit, and we defy. We develop and grow. If we are to accept that as true then we must also accept that people make mistakes, they act without judgement sometimes and sometimes without knowledge, they change.

We love pulling down tall poppies. There’s joy in exposing their feet of clay. It makes us feel grand. It’s cheap and nasty, though. Who among those tearing at Churchill could hope to do half of what he achieved? Wiser to understand none of us is perfect – and to measure the man on his actions.

 

I’m adding this addendum a day later after thinking about it overnight. I don’t retract anything I wrote yesterday, but in and amongst this mess I think there’s a great opportunity to come to terms with our past. We can’t disavow history, but we can hope to better understand it as something more than written down in books. I commented yesterday that Churchill was a man of his times – and it’s his time, and other times, that bear consideration.

If we are to take Britain as an example, for all their rich and storied history, for every victory, there was a loser. Many of those losers were weaker civilisations and peoples – weaker militarily, that is. That is the story of the times, of colonisation and imperial might, and the subjugation of the many for the economic benefit of the few (some things never change). It’s time that Britain – and other nations – to acknowledge that past, which includes slave-trading. You can’t change history, but you can face it square on (without prejudice – we can’t go down that path). This is what happened, this is what we did. It’s an exercise often proves cathartic for individuals, and may do also for nations. Certainly, the victims of this would applaud it.

Australia has wrestled with similar questions for many years now with regard to the aboriginal people. There was a breakthrough in the early nineties when the Federal Labor government pushed through Mabo, which was a landmark case of recognition. More symbolically, the Rudd Labor government issued a long overdue apology to the aboriginal people for the ills done to them by successive generations of white Australia. Nothing has happened since then, largely because we have a Liberal government who believes in little of this, unwilling to admit to fault or responsibility. It’s time now for formal recognition of the indigenous people in the constitution by way of a treaty. In this time when the headlines scream Black Lives Matter and myriad stories of violence and mistreatment, addressing these matters to put in place legal protections to prevent and redress is overdue.

There are plenty of statues being pulled down which don’t deserve to stand, but the bigger picture is not the individual, but the society that made that individual and allowed for them to flourish. It’s not about denying that history – it’s done, it can’t be changed – but understanding it and the context in which it belongs. This would be a healthy outcome.

The rebound


I’ve been setting myself to write a post looking ahead to when we get out of lockdown, and everything returns to relative normality, though the normal will be different from what we knew before. I wanted to anticipate what the opportunities might be, tempered by what I thought the Australian government might do. In truth, I wasn’t looking forward to writing it. I feel I must because it’s so much a part of me, but I felt fearful that the opportunities might be squandered by the usual dumb fuckery we saw before. If I didn’t write it I didn’t have to face it – but you can’t live like that.

I’m glad I delayed writing because late yesterday a huge, somewhat unbelievable, government update reached the news services.

Way back in March the government committed $130B to help us through the pandemic in the form of support and subsidies, mostly in the form of Jobkeeper. Lo and hold, the government let it slip yesterday that thanks to some sort of accounting error the amount required was only $70B – a full $60B had been removed from the books.

How this actually eventuated is a bit of a mystery. The government claims the forecasting was off, blaming in large part how forms were filled out. It doesn’t add up, in terms of the sheer amount of dollars, or in common sense. The story is unlikely and, even if true, would account for only a fraction of the absent dollars. In any case, they should have had a much better of what was needed long before now. As the opposition has pointed out, this is something that could have been seen from space.

Not surprisingly, the Treasurer has framed this as good news – a windfall, as such. Normally you’d say a saving of $60B was great news, the problem, in this case, is that money needs to be circulating in the economy to stimulate activity in depressed times like these. You can’t just stick in the bank and thank your lucky stars because we’ll be worse off.

Now, if they play it right, it can be a good news story. The obvious thing to do now is to right the wrongs of the original policy and extend job keeper to casual workers, students and universities, foreign nationals. They were excluded for all sorts of reasons that were ridiculous as well as unfair. Now we have the dollars, let’s plug that hole.

There’s a reasonable clamour to do that, but I’m sceptical the government will respond. It has a tendency to dig its heels in once it’s made a decision, especially when they’ve done it on ideological grounds, such as on this occasion. What so many commentators fail to grasp is that for the most part, this government – and Morrison especially – make decisions based on politics, not the common good.

The exception to that has been the response to the pandemic, and many have chosen to believe that might be the new model going forward. I’d like to believe that too. The problem is that it was the state premiers that forced the federal government’s hand, and a huge dose of pragmatism when they realised that ideology wasn’t going to win the day (we can be thankful for that – Trump’s America is the other side of that). Credit where it’s due, Morrison made sacrifices, and though the package was deeply flawed, it was much better than doing nothing, and we’re better off for it.

None of this convinces me that they’ve changed their spots. There’s plenty of evidence already that they intend to return to the neo-liberal agenda of before, even though it’s discredited rubbish. (I should write on that one day – the torrid, nonsensical economic doctrines of Friedman and Hayek that have ruled the world for too long). There’s talk, as always, of reducing taxes – that is, company tax and to the top tax brackets, and not to those where it might make some economic good, the people who’ll spend it. There’s talk, as always, of labour reform – basically making it easier for companies to hire and fire and negotiate. That’s very IPA, though of course, the business council go on about this like a broken record, regardless of economic circumstances.

These are mindless, ideological driven notions. Add to that the latest climate policy, which is all about half-arsed, recycled solutions and promoting gas, rather than addressing the issue at its root. And this is after a summer of bushfires and a plethora of really attractive renewable energy options. Play this right, and Australia might boom, as well as clean-up – but that won’t happen under a Liberal government.

Why is that? For the reasons, I said before – because most of their decisions are made on political grounds. So what makes this political? Well, the sad reality is that the hardcore of their political support and donations come from fossil fuel companies. That’s their base. You could almost say that’s their constituency. The government doesn’t govern for you or me, it governs from them because through them they have power. In that, they’re cheered on by News Limited and Murdoch, who has everyone running scared.

I’ve banged on about this for years – political donations are a blight on our democracy. They corrupt it literally, and visibly so. They’ve created a culture where glad-handing and corruption has become almost second nature. Unfortunately, what government is going to ban the hand that feeds it? What government is going to introduce the means to police and prosecute their own corruption? Self-interest rules, and maybe I sound like a cynic, but I think more accurately I’m a realist – and it kills me.

There is a hard rump of rabidly conservative ideologues in the party, most of whom belong to the IPA. The IPA is a toxic force in Australian politics. The pity of it is that they haven’t got an original idea between them. They swallowed whole the Friedman/Hayek doctrine and extended it to social economics as well. They’re a bunch of unimaginative drones who get wound up every day to spout the officially decreed propaganda. They prance around full of self-righteous confidence in their suits and none of them with the wit to consider anything else. They were lost when the pandemic hit because none of it was in their books. Here’s a bunch of paint by numbers goons incapable of colouring in outside the lines.

I despise them, as you’ve probably figured, but I’m not alone in that. They get a platform they don’t deserve and contribute nothing of value.

So, I’m pessimistic, and that feeling is accentuated knowing that we have the rare opportunity to re-make things. The public is on board with that, too. We want things to be different.

That’s my small hope, that society will have moved beyond the old ways and won’t accept them anymore. I think the old, prevailing economic doctrines have been exposed as being false, and I hope the pendulum begins to swing back towards the much more sensible, and user-friendly Keynesian doctrines. People are fed-up with climate policy that doesn’t suit them, and hardline economic policies that exclude the less fortunate. We’re living through a time of inclusion. The barriers that held us apart before have been dismantled because now we all live the same – privilege and entitlement have gone out the window. We’ve become closer to each other, and to ourselves. We’ve recognised the value of things.

I reckon there will come a change, I’m just not sure it’ll come as soon as we want it. This is the opportunity for the Labor party to seize upon had they the gumption – I doubt it. Already we, the people, are talking about different ways of living on the back of this. These are the possibilities, to remake the work/life balance, to provide better for those who need it, to set in place human-centred policies around climate and tax, to open our minds to opportunities we would never have considered before – such as a living wage.

I’m pessimistic about this government. I don’t think they have it in them to change, nor the talent to do it. I’m not over-impressed by Labor either, but they’ve got more ideas, at least. Regardless, I think the tide is turning back because of the experience forced upon us. I think we will reject what doesn’t fir anymore, and that will change the scale of our political landscape. What we need now is a visionary to lead us there – but visionaries are hard to find.

Mob rules


Very recently there was controversy when the NYT’s Alison Roman – an eminent cooking journalist – in an interview decried the efforts of Chrissy Teigen in the same area, and accused Marie Kondo of hypocrisy for selling products while espousing minimalism. They were cack-handed and graceless comments. They were particularly unfair on Teigen, because they were unreasonable, and because Teigen – an open and generous soul – had been supportive of her.

It’s the nature of things that this very quickly became an online spat. Teigen expressed disappointment and surprise but was forgiving. I don’t know of any response from Kondo. Of course, there was no shortage of people outraged on behalf of others and willing to take up verbal arms in defence – and offence – of others. Very quickly it became a one-sided pile-on, again, very typical of the online world today.

I read from afar, mildly curious and generally sympathetic to the offended parties, Teigen and Kondo. Roman’s comments were harsh and unfair. But then I felt a twinge of pity for Roman as the collective moral outrage of Twitter descended upon her. That was that, one of those controversies that pass until the next scandal happens along. But then, today, I read that the NYT had given Roman a leave of absence from her weekly columns.

The general consensus was that she had been basically sacked because of her outspoken comments. From reading the NYT’s comments on this, I might easily understand it as them giving her a break. But, anyway.

This is a very typical confrontation between free speech on the one hand and woke politics on the other. I was surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, that so many supported this ‘sacking’. Some were claiming that Roman was guilty of racism and had to go.

I’m firmly on the side of Teigen and Kondo here, but at the same time, I’d be horrified to think that Roman might have lost her job over some silly comments. I’m strong on the free speech side of this equation, because, you know, democracy, and I think it’s very a dangerous path we take when we seek to hush the voices we disagree with. And it’s bloody unfair when organisations are bullied into complying with public opinion.

Had Roman vilified either Kondo or Teigen on racial grounds, or abused them outrageously, then, of course, I think her employment would be at risk, much as mine would be if I did the same. Like it or not, we represent who we work for, and bigotry of any form is not to be condoned.

I don’t think that’s the case here. Seems to me Roman was disparaging Teigen much as a professional might an amateur. A little bitter and unseemly, but human. As for Kondo, I read that as a throwaway comment, probably hinting that she was looking to commercialise on a philosophy in contradiction to its principles.

It’s worth noting that Teigen has come out and expressed her dismay at Roman losing her job – and that Roman had made an apology of sorts earlier.

I get a sick feeling sometimes witnessing the pile-on that occurs online. I agree with the sentiment sometimes, but the outrage is disproportionate and the demands extreme. I like to think I’m a reasonable guy. I’m liberal by nature. I’m forgiving too, knowing that every one of us has flaws and all of us deserve a chance to make things right.

It seems to me that many crave the opportunity to criticise and abuse (which is often ironic). There’s a self-righteous purity that verges on certainty. It’s a sign of the times when society is effectively polarised and the extremes subject to rage and the unreason of the mob.

 

A different Oz


I was in my weekly zoom party last night, and the conversation turned to what happens when we come out of lockdown, months from now. That’s a common question, and the answer will be different depending on where you are.

I hesitate to claim that C-19 is now under control in Oz, but infections are in marked decline, and deaths slowed. By comparison to many parts of the world, we’ve got it good. I’d put that down to three reasons – closing our borders early to affected countries, though this was inconsistent. The size of the country and the relatively low population density. And, finally, the decision to isolate, which came later than it should, and only when pressured by the states, but which happened before the virus had the opportunity to reach critical mass.

In stark terms, we can consider ourselves lucky when we look at the diabolical situation in the States, and the only slightly less horrible situation in parts of Europe, particularly the UK now. They’re yet to reach their peak, and there are claims the already swelling death toll has been underreported drastically. One consequence of this, I would expect to see is social fracturing. When the glue that binds us together is weakened then, anarchy begins to prevail.

There is no threat of that here, but there’s no doubt there’s a mountain ahead of us even after we conquer the virus.

There’s been a lot of talk about the mounting deficit. I understand but think it’s beside the point. There was no other option to spend the money (and would do well to spend a little more to plug the gaps). When there’s no other choice, it’s not worth the argument. And though it’s a huge amount of money Australia, unlike most of the world (perhaps only Germany as well placed), was in a good position to absorb it. It’s not pretty, but we’ll manage it.

This is where talk comes to what happens afterwards, and here the conversation separates into the economic and social possibilities.

Morrison speaks of a snap-back to where we were before when all this ends as if we could just wind back the clock and adjust to the settings we had in place before. Not only is this practically impossible, but it’s also hardly desirable, and I think many people are now realising this.

One of the unfortunate ironies of the present situation relates to the federal election last year when a key Labor party policy was to end franking credits and put the savings into health and education. This got a rough ride in the parochial press and had the government, predictably, accusing them of being socialist. Fast forward not even 12 months, and we’d have been a lot better off with that money in the health system, and the government itself has reverted to socialist policies to insulate the economy.

I think it’s fairly obvious that come the end of this that hand-outs of this type must be closed off and the money returned to the public purse. At times like this, I think back to the perfectly reasonable mining-supertax Labor tried to get up only for it to be demonised by News Limited and attacked politically by Abbott and co. If only…and we’d be a much richer nation now.

In any case, I think there’s been a social re-balancing throughout this. We’ve learned to value things again. A refreshed spirit of egalitarianism means we’re now applauding the people forgotten before – nurses and doctors, checkout chicks and postal workers, and so on – the people keeping us going through this. I don’t know if hand-outs to the haves – which we’ve sleepily let go by – will be tolerated now.

This is the predicament the government faces. It has adopted policies antithetical to their innate beliefs. That must be a bitter pill to swallow, but kudos to them for accepting it. The bigger challenge will come when they seek to reverse these policies and revert to type. It won’t be easy, I don’t think it would be productive, and I don’t think the people will buy it now.

There are different takes on this. I’m a little more pessimistic than some. Cheeseboy expressed it last night when he said the experience has exposed consumerism and rampant consumption as ultimately hollow. What point a fridge that connects to wi-fi, but to possess it? As I postulated a few weeks back, as he said last night, we were swept up in the ritual of lifestyle and entitlement. Having much of that denied to us has forced us to confront the basics of our life. We’re learning patience because we must, and to be present in the moment, and gratitude for what we have. I’d like to think something authentic is emerging out of this – but at the very least I think we’ve come to reassess what real values are.

Cheeseboy believes that the government must acknowledge this and that things will be different. I half agree: things will be different. I’m sceptical of the government, though. I’m sure the RWNJ’s – quiet throughout this crisis (it’s not prudent to pipe up with their toxic views) – will emerge and seek to hijack the Liberal party, as they have for years. I doubt there is any evidence or undisputed facts that could sway them from hard-wired belief. They don’t engage in argument or debate. They’re fanatics who brook no other perspective. Come the end of this they’ll certainly want to return to the time before – back to denying climate change and sticking up for their pals in the mining industry; back to neo-liberal economic theories that dismiss human dignity and value; back to denying compassion and cutting services; back to a view of the world, and history, that elevates the haves and dismisses the rest.

I’ll be interested to see how Morrison responds to this. I don’t know that he has the spine to resist, even if he wanted to – but maybe he’s had his road to Damascus moment. I think there’ll be members of the party emboldened by the change in atmosphere who’ll seek reform – but can they prevail? In all of this, I expect the Australian public to have firm views on what they will and won’t accept.

What we don’t want is to revert to a parliament of narrow point scoring, where politics trumps truth. I think as before, as a people, we were sick of it, but to such a degree that we disengaged from it. I don’t think we’ll take it again, but now perhaps we’ve been roused to action.

Maybe I am an optimist, after all.

There are a lot of answers to be found, and when we get through this and in what state, no-one can say. This talk is likely premature and many more twists and turns to come. And what’s true today may not be tomorrow. All of that, but one day it will end, and no matter what we wish for, the world will be different. We can make it a good difference. This is a chance to reset, as individuals, and as a nation.