Fascist extremes


The very notorious Milo Yiannopolous visited Melbourne the other day, and very predictably there were demonstrations and conflict at his appearance*. I rolled my eyes and sighed when I saw it on the news, knowing it was inevitable, but hoping for a more meaningful response.

Milo passes for a highbrow among the lowbrow right. In reality he’s just a bunch of re-hashed slogans and reactionary posing – posing it what he does best. It’s enough to excite and incite the easily excitable and often combustible right wing loonies. It does much the same for the left.

More than anything else Milo is an agent provocateur. I suspect nothing delights him more than riling up the ‘snowflakes’ and soft edge of the left. He targets soft options such as feminism, and Islam, using extravagant language and often extravagant gestures. It’s enough to give his hangers-on a leery hard-on, and to whip the left to a frenzy.

This is the pity of it really. Milo is best ignored. He’s not an intellectual. He has no original thoughts. He is a persona. He is a poster child for a position, a provocative and slightly outrageous character designed to stir the pot. That he does very well, and unfortunately, as we saw this week, it’s rare that the left he so despises doesn’t fall for it.

Being of liberal disposition I’m disappointed that so many of similar disposition are so gullible. Starve Milo of oxygen and his message goes no further than a few grubby types. Turn up waving placards and chanting slogans and dead-set that will draw out the fascist element only too eager for confrontation. Once that happens it becomes news, and Milo’s poisonous little message gains traction. It’s dumb, and he aint worth it.

There’s something else about it which troubles me. We live in an age of extremism. Outrage comes easy. Those sort of things are generally dumb, and it’s no different now. One lot yells yes. The other yells no. That’s pretty well it. There’s no intelligence in it, no reason.

So okay, maybe reason is a bit much to ask for, and while I understand and support there are occasions when a stand must be made, when a demonstration is necessary, the best that can be hoped for from it is that a point is made. I wonder what the point was the other night.

In this case I find myself agreeing with something Milo said: that this was an attack on free speech. Unlike others, I don’t believe that free speech should be unfettered – there are limits, and boundaries that should not be crossed. Though I have varying faith in the application of such ambiguous laws, I’d rather rely on them than the skewed perspective of those for and against.

I think Milo is a fool, and his followers worse than fools. I think most of what he spouts bigoted claptrap. As a general principle, however – like Voltaire – I support his right to espouse his views as long as he doesn’t cross those lines. This is what we call democracy. The moment we deny him that right and try and shut him down we become the fascists we’re so busy deploring.

It is a time of extremes, and so often the extremes join at the end of the loop. It’s all reaction and outrage, all personal offence, and no intelligence.

There was an interesting survey the other day about the government we want. People are sour on politics, no surprise there. The surprise was that 20% of respondents were open to a dictatorship – benevolent, I presume. That was a shock to me, though I imagine many have no real conception of what it means. But then, I presume, those who responded like that are open to a dictatorship that accords with their political leanings, either left or right. As long as we’re running the show it’s all good.

This marries up to the behaviour we see at these events, the lowbrow left battling the lowbrow right, the socialists doing battle with the brownshirts, chanting slogans and throwing rocks. There’s nothing democratic in it, and little sense.

* This was a pretty lame event, as are so many events like it. It only ever becomes something more when the drama begins to seethe. In this case the drama of left wing anarchists confronting right wing idiots was elevated by the presence of a large (riot) police contingent, guaranteeing good air time on the nightly news. Not worth reporting, but, how much ‘news’ these days is really worthy of the term? But that’s a rant for another day.

It’s pretty ordinary and depressing, even banal, which is fine until it hits our TV screens and becomes a thing.

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Art vrs artist


On Friday night I sat down to watch American Beauty again. It’s a really good movie, but I was curious to see how I would respond to it in light of the sexual harassment accusations levelled at its star, Kevin Spacey.

It’s always an interesting question, even if a little cliche these days: can you separate the art from the artist?

By inclination, I prefer to view – or respond – to art purely. The reason for that is that so much of our response to art is personal and individual. That’s not to belittle the inspiration for the art, it’s just recognition that once it leaves the artists hands we are free to respond to the art as our nature dictates. That’s unique to every one of us because we have different eyes and ears, each of us brings different histories and perspectives to the encounter, we appreciate it differently. Art by its nature is subjective.

By itself, that’s a purist take on something which is not nearly as simple as that. While our responses are our own, some art does not lend itself so easily to a personal interpretation, and in reality, there are occasions when knowledge of the artist must inform our reaction to his art.

Take, for a broad example, a painting by that well-known, would-be artist, Adolf Hitler. If you look at it purely as art it’s mediocre. He seems an accomplished draftsman, but there’s no inspiration or insight. But then who looks at a Hitler painting for its artistry? That piece of ‘art’ is no more than novelty. In fact it is the artist who gives meaning to the art, and the result is banal, if not disturbing.

But then you have someone like Wagner, a well-known anti-semite, but who was the composer of dozens of much loved operatic tunes. I’m not a particular fan of Wagner, but I can’t help but be roused occasionally when I hear something of his in passing, and it never occurs to me in listening that he wasn’t a particularly nice man.

These are, as I say, very broad examples to demonstrate very broad principles. What they do is illustrate the point that there is no clear-cut, unambiguous answer to this question. Our reaction to this question is as individual as our reaction to the art itself. As such, I can only speak for myself.

I love artists, and some artists more than others. I’ll binge on particular artists, which is recognition that there is something in that artist that resonates with me as a consumer of his art. There is a connect of sorts, of which the art is the interface. I cannot deny the primacy of the artist, but equally I know that when I engage with a piece of art it is an intimate thing, just me and it in the same room, the same headspace as such, the artist elsewhere, tapping his foot perhaps anticipating my reaction. I am unaware of that. I am unaware of him. It’s just me and the art, and the worlds the art opens up in me when it’s truly great.

It only ever becomes a thing when I walk out of that room. I become conscious. I may stop to analyse what I was so busy feeling. I might wonder and question. My mind will go to the artist. I’ll reflect on them, their personality, their history, I’ll wonder what they were trying to say, and will ponder their life’s work. (I can get very caught up – I’m on Wikipedia at the drop of a hat). That’s the time when I might reflect upon my reflection, but it’s after the fact. The experience, more or less, is untouched.

What it can do is raise interesting questions. There are a lot of dubious characters who have created great art. The question to me is not if I should support that art, but rather how can the mind that conceived of such greatness also be capable of such wickedness? It’s not a moral question, but a scientific one. Is it because, or in spite of? What occurred in their life to make it so? What does it mean?

I think one of the things you understand is that there are few, true absolutes. Creating great art does not make a man great. Doing something wicked does not necessarily mean the man is wicked. There is a world in between, complex and rich and often contradictory, as human nature is. We don’t run on straight lines. We’re not programmed, nor are we even rational much of the time. We are mysteries, and contained in that mystery is both greatness and frailty. (I’m not a believer in ‘evil’, as I think it much to simplistic, two-dimensional an excuse to explain away things we don’t understand and are fearful of facing. I think what we think of as evil is human frailty, much corrupted, to the point sometimes that very little human remains.)

It’s one of the things that troubles me through this epidemic of sexual-harassment accusations. I’m shocked and horrified to realise that these practices were so widespread, angry that there wasn’t someone brave enough to do anything about it, and sad that there wasn’t somewhere for these victims to go where they could have felt safe. This has been allowed, enabled even, because no-one wanted to deal with it, and because those in power were happy to believe it was normal. In the moral outrage these allegations have provoked some of the loudest voices are those organisations that for years likely knew and turned a blind eye. They blow with the prevailing morality, and are hypocrites.

At the same time, I’m troubled because, as I write this, of the litany of accusations announced day after day none as yet have been proved in a court of law. I’m not saying they’re wrong. I’m certain that the majority of accusations are true, and that ultimately the courts will mete out some long-delayed justice. Equally, I’m sure some are fabrications or exaggerations. Regardless, trial by media is rampant, and everyone accused is seen as guilty until proven innocent. I understand the anger and outrage fuelled by years of oppression, but this is not how a lawful society works. There are whole destinies threatened.

In the media hysteria attending these accusations the alleged villains are being painted in lurid, shocking terms. It’s how the media works, and more and more it’s how society reacts, in purely binary terms. It’s crude and unsophisticated, and most importantly, it’s false. A man like Weinstein, for years using his power to prey on those more vulnerable (allegedly), is easily portrayed as a monster. Kevin Spacey (who has lost his job and been written out of another movie on the strength of the accusations brought against him) is painted as a deviant of some sort (because his alleged victims are male?).

If these accusations are found to be true then I hope that the alleged perpetrators are punished in accordance with their crime. No more, no less. We take on these things as if they are absolute values, when they are not. Nor is art. A man may do terrible things and still create sublime art, and that’s the way of human nature. One does not pre-suppose, or negate, the other. Nor are they such polar opposites as we tend to view them in the bi-polar world we have become.

Ultimately it comes down to individual choice whether your appreciation of art is tainted by knowledge of the artist, and that will be more difficult with some artists and fields of art. It’s not easy, but nor should it be absolute.

For me, having watched American Beauty again Friday, I still think it’s a great movie, and indisputably a great performance. And I still like Lester Burnham.

What do we learn from this?


I figure this might be one of my more controversial posts, or at least one of the more misunderstood. Misunderstanding comes easy these days.

In the last week there have been a series of revelations about legendary Hollywood movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein. Daily one after another woman has come forward alleging sexual harassment, and even rape. Many of the women are high profile actresses and models. It’s been an eye opening and shocking litany of offences, making clear that Weinstein is a pathetic and obsessive serial offender. At one point I wondered if I was the only person who didn’t have a Harvey Weinstein story.

One of the aspects most disturbing to me is the realisation that so much had been swept under the carpet. I’m no innocent, and tend to cynical view when it comes to the wielding of power. That multiple organisations would choose to view these offences with a blind eye came as no great surprise. What was surprising was that there were so many seemingly influential ‘names’ who had been victim of these offences, but had chosen to remain silent till now.

It’s a regular tale told of how many victims of sex crimes either choose not to report them, or do so and are humiliated by the experience, or disbelieved. It’s a fundamental societal issue, particularly as it seems that sexual offences are far more common than I would have believed. I understand how difficult it is to confront the judicial system after being victim of this, particularly when you have little faith in the process. Unfortunately, by failing to report it makes it harder for the next woman, and it vindicates the actions of the perpetrator, potentially allowing him to go again – as clearly has been the case with Weinstein.

I believed, falsely as it turns out, that high profile actresses would not have the same fears. Even if behind the scenes I thought something would be done, but until the bombshell last week no-one had really spoken out. It’s a sorry tale, and in the wake of it there are thousands of women coming out with the #metoo hashtag admitting to being sexually harassed, or worse. If there is a positive out of this it’s that it has been put under the spotlight, and perhaps with strength in numbers more women will come forward, and the low-lives committing these offences will be properly punished. Only then can we hope to stamp this behaviour out.

As a man, I’m horrified. I’ve wondered if I’ve ever done anything that might be construed as sexual harassment. I can’t think of anything, and there has never been an intention to do anything like that – but who am I to judge?

So, Weinstein, and this is the controversial bit. It’s shocking what he has done, but I can’t help feeling some pity for him. In the first place there is obviously something wrong with him that he should be such a repeat offender. There’s something pathetic about it which speaks to the nature of his psyche. What craving did he seek to satisfy, and why? Many of the stories about him are similar, with Weinstein making unwelcome advances, either verbal, or physical such as walking in naked. For the women it is disgusting, but looking at Weinstein from afar there is something pitiful in it. How does this happen? Where have we gone wrong?

The other part of it is that he’s being piled into right now. Every man and his dog is cracking in. He’s been kicked out of a roll-call of heavyweight industry associations, including the production company he helped found. It’s hard not to be cynical about some of that. I’m sure his behaviour was well known, but tolerated until he got caught out. Now it’s about the optics. Not surprisingly his wife has left him as well. Everything he was, everything he identified with, has been taken from him, and you might say, so he deserves, and maybe you’re right. What is unedifying is some of the glee attached to this.

It doesn’t sit quite right with me. He should receive his just desserts, but right now it’s all outrage, much of it genuine, but a good part of it faux. I don’t doubt the stories told of him, but as it stands they are allegations. I’m not given to hyperbole. I believe in due process and justice. This should be investigated and go to court, and hopefully it will. In the meantime he has been judged and found guilty in the court of public opinion, and duly punished. It amounts to a form of bullying, and – as I said – some of it for cynical reasons.

I can’t help but wonder how he is now, abandoned by his industry, his wife, even his brother, his name turned into click-bait and subject to ridicule. These are our times, everything is extreme – I wonder though what the reaction would be if in days from now he decides he cannot go on. I’m not saying that will happen – it shouldn’t – but what if it did?

It would change nothing of the nature of his crimes, but perhaps there are reasonable questions then about our response to them.

So maybe I’m paranoid, but I don’t like being watched


I’ve just got to put on record my disagreement with the government’s request to access every drivers licence photo and ID from the states. For me it’s another step down the path towards a surveillance state. The justification put forward is obvious – to safeguard us from undesirable characters and prevent terrorist attack. To do that means that we, the citizens, will be subjected to real time facial scanning. There are many who think that’s a small price to pay, including every state government, who have rolled over on this meekly.

Me, I hate the idea of being tracked. I don’t want my face being scanned over and over again as I go about my business. It’s an infringement of my civil liberties to start with, but the practical implications are pretty scary too. The government in the past has made a big song and dance about keeping such details secure, but information has been leaked, and details shared with other government agencies. What happens when this stuff gets hacked? Where is the line drawn – who will have access to this information?

Ultimately there is an existential threat as well. Nearly 30 years ago there was an uproar when the government tried to implement the Australia Card – an ID card. That was a step too far for civil libertarians, and most of the public agreed. The idea was scrapped. Thirsty years on we’ve gone far beyond a simple, dumb ID card. With CCTV on every corner, government access to our metadata, and now this, our personal privacy has been reduced to the size of a postage stamp (not to mention Google, Facebook, tracking, etc). To a degree some of this is unavoidable, but it should be minimised.

This is how it happens. It becomes a domino effect. Once you relinquish that first right the others become further threatened. One after another you lose these things, small things often, but in totality they add up to a lot. That is what we are facing now. Once we have relinquished something we have lost it forever. Where does it end? At what point will we be asked to produce ID on the streets – as only a couple of years ago Abbott’s Border Force did on the streets of Melbourne?

We have given the government the tools to monitor and control us. In the hands of a benign government there should be little to fear, but should we degenerate into an autocratic state then there is every reason to fear that what has been wrought supposedly to defend us, will instead be used against us. In this day and age, who can guarantee that won’t happen?

Hail the individual


Was walking to work this morning when I passed going the other way a tall, slender, stylishly dressed woman. She was about 32, 33, and what I would call handsome, rather than pretty. It was the strong, confident face of someone who has experienced life and drunk it in. It would not be unusual for me to appreciate a woman like that as we passed by, but what really caught my eye on this occasion was her hair.
She had beautiful hair. It was dark, and fell to just below her shoulder, though ‘fell’ is the incorrect verb. Her hair was gently kinked and had an airy quality that immediately put me in mind of the seventies. It was an emanation, a halo of beautiful hair that was impossible to miss. It was a statement in itself, of style certainly, and certainly of individuality.
I felt a thrill just seeing her hair. You go, girl, I thought. I admired such strident independence. She was someone with her own mind, her own view of the world, her own unique way of expressing herself. I wanted to know her, but at the same wished their were more people with such irrepressible individuality.
I really think it boils down to that in the end. There’s no point in being anyone other than yourself all the way through. What joy is there in compromising on your individuality? The highest attainment of selfhood is to understand and embrace that individuality and express it without compunction.
I think there is a real practical benefit of this. Society is such that often we feel obliged to conform to norms which are ultimately quite arbitrary, and often no more than temporary.
That’s especially true within a work environment. We become a part of an explicit hierarchy. We have defined roles and responsibilities. Most of the duties we perform are clearly prescribed, and we must comply with office rules and regulations. We are squeezed on every side.
One of the reasons I managed to climb the ladder relatively quickly is because I rejected much of that. I always had a strong sense of self, had the confidence to speak my mind more often than not, on top of which I’ve always been stubborn. All the same, I’d never have got away with it if I couldn’t deliver.
Still, you have to play by the rules, even if you might stretch them a bit.
I reckon most major advances come from someone having the balls to defy convention. That’s true at work, and I think it’s true in history. I reckon we should celebrate individuality more, and in fact, encourage it.
If nothing else it’s liberating to see someone so completely themselves.

Equal love, equal recognition, equal rights


Last night I watched A Single Man again. I’m already on record exclaiming at what a beautiful movie it is. Visually it’s fantastic, with vivid colours and great angles. It is a work of artistic vision, very personal I suspect, and so often very clever. There’s a knowingness that is true both for technique and content. It feels so real, and at the same time, so true – different things. Some of that is simple, such as the light, and the neighbourhood, familiar to me at least as someone who grew up in a similar world in far

Some of that is simple, such as the light, and the neighbourhood, familiar to me at least as someone who grew up in a similar world in far away Oz. Of course, the truth goes far deeper than that. This is a movie that charts human emotion in the most poignant way. Certainly I, watching it, recognised much that hitherto was set aside in some dark internal place. Movies such as this, and great art in general, bring such things to the surface. They touch on the universal in such a way that is new to us, reminding us of the depth of things we overlook in the busy act of just living. For me, experiencing such things, there is a bracing reminder that that’s what I want, in fact, that’s what is meaningful even in such a melancholy film as this. To feel deeply, truly, both the razor’s edge and the sublime.

Watching, there is a heart-rending scene early in the film that made me think of the looming same-sex marriage plebiscite here in Australia. George has just heard on the phone that his dearly loved partner has died in a car accident. He is undone, but holds it together in a very British way while talking to the far away cousin of his partner. George is lucky to be told at all, and it is clear that the family view his connection with shame – it is only this cousin, Ackerly, who has been decent enough to do the right thing. George inquires about the service, and is told that the service is for ‘family only’. He is not wanted there. Though George has shared his life for 16 years with their son, he is not of the family, and is an embarrassment they want nothing to do with. It is truly awful, if not downright ugly.

George must mourn alone, without even the solace of a service to bid goodbye to the person he has loved above all else. He is bereft, without even the comfort of the dogs they shared and loved so much – they too were victims of the accident. He has gone from perfect happiness to devastated isolation in the course of a short phone call.

This scene to me is a neat parable illustrating what we are voting for next month. Everyone is capable of love, and in our willful hearts, there is no division between love for someone of a different, or same sex. Love is independent of us all and can’t be legislated on. Where we do discriminate is how we recognise that love, and it’s that legislation we come to battle over. This story is all about recognition. The right to recognise the love and relationship of two people regardless of whether they are of same or different sex, indeed, the opportunity to celebrate it. It is

This story is all about recognition. The right to recognise the love and relationship of two people regardless of whether they are of same or different sex, indeed, the opportunity to celebrate it. It is time we reached out to say that you are as equal as us, and what you feel for your partner is no different in nature from what we feel for ours. Any argument to the contrary seems ugly and bitter and just downright wrong. A no vote cannot be abided.

Who in their heart would deny George his grief, or indeed, his love? It is a truth that can no longer be ignored.

If you’re a bigot you’re a prick, no saying otherwise


I figured out about a month ago that anyone who opposes marriage equality is basically an arsehole. Or dumb. Or both. Being a well-brought up middle-class kid meant that I gave the benefit of the doubt up to then. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion after all. But truth is just as everyone is entitled to an opinion then everyone is entitled to disagree with it. You might think it a step too far name calling as a result of that, but I’ve got no time these days for well-mannered reticence. That describes pretty well who I’ve become in recent years. I’ve always been blunt, but these days it verges on the brutal – and I’m fine with that. Sometimes things just are and you have to call them for what they are.

And so I’m willing to proclaim it – anyone who believes that two people in love of the same sex don’t deserve the same rights and respect as two people of different sex in love is just a fucking narrow minded bigot, and I don’t care how they dress it up.

The no side of the equation throw up a lot of simple-minded and uneducated reasons why it should be opposed. Believe me I’ve listened to them and read their opinion pieces. I may not agree with what they say, but I’m always prepared to listen because I want to understand. I’m a rationalist, and I give them the benefit of that. I’ve yet to come across a single opinion of substance. Most of it is raw prejudice – be it based on religion or bigotry – dressed up in self-serving justification. The bottom line is that they don’t like the idea of two people of the same gender getting it on, and are prepared to impose their ugly worldview on society.

I’m sick of it, and want nothing to do with those people, simple as that. If someone stands up and tells me they’ll be voting no to the plebiscite then I’ll tell them what I think, and with some relish.

Now this is an attitude some in the no camp are using to justify their position. I read another opinion piece by someone this morning saying they would be voting no because the debate had been too one sided and in favour of yes. Well, there’s both a logical reason for that, and some wilful blindness.

If most of the commentary has come out in favour of marriage equality that’s because most Australians are in support of it. It’s simple arithmetic. There was also the inference that the debate had become tawdry, and this is just rank hypocrisy.

I may rail against those nay-sayers and I’m happy to call them a prick to their face, but it’s not the yes side of the argument perpetrating outright lies and misinformation, engaging in inflammatory bigotry by suggesting that same-sex relationships are un-godly, or will lead to child abuse, and it’s not the yes vote re-printing vile posters from neo-nazi organisations. In fact I’ll go so far as to say that this is a vile allegation that proves that anyone against equal rights is an utter prick.

Bigots I can understand. Religious nuts I understand. Morons I understand. Supposedly measured and intelligent people who claim to be indifferent to the result but will vote no for spurious reasons of discrimination I don’t understand. For someone to come out against something they claim to be sympathetic to for such narrow (and cock-eyed) reasons is deplorable. If I were to take it at face value then it’s hard to understand why someone would choose to cut off their nose to prove a point not worth making: it’s selfish to the point of idiocy. I doubt that. I reckon they’re just one of those people deep in their soul uncomfortable with the idea of gay love. It creeps them out, not that they would ever admit to it, to others, or to themselves. Easier to find an excuse to justify a reason to be out of step with society.

Well, you’re both dumb and a prick. You can tick that off as more justification, and burn for it.