Australia…

oz_flag I’d be a liar if I said the Australian flag did nothing for me. It’s evocative of good memories from a childhood with just a few.

Memories of my Australian-made bathers from the 1970s, and a barbecue at a beach in Port Lincoln that now hosts expensive townhouses adjoining a marina, are frequently summoned by the sight of my nation’s flag. My father, being a fisherman, wasn’t always home, and when he was home he was frequently moody, especially as the years wore on. But at the beach, he was in his element, and the barbeque was as close as he had to a sacred rite. Southwark Bitter, in a longneck with a green label was the communal wine.

It’s a pretty stereotypical image of Australia, but it’s not one that was inculcated into me via advertising or viral memes, and obviously, it predates the popular hooliganism of flag-capes, vandalism and race rioting that’s been in the ascendant since the 1990s. But it is what it is; bathers, barbeque, beach and booze.

I’ve always been in favour of Australia becoming a republic, although I’m ambivalent about the issue of the flag. I don’t view it as so sacred that I’d oppose it being changed, and yet I’m not motivated to see it go.

Maybe, if I wasn’t as emotionally numb as I am, I’d get up in arms about it. Maybe, if I had a better grasp of my own emotional state, I’d anticipate feelings of loss at the prospect of it going away. I can’t say I know for sure.

The most I can muster from this introspection, is a realisation of how folks more emotional than myself may also be more invested, either way.

Other folks surely see the flag differently, even if only in degree.

More broadly, the concept of Australia isn’t objectively bound just to things that are popularly cherished. It’s not just slabs, thongs, zinc cream and shorts. Australian culture is anything that Australians can experience it as, and that includes the snake bites, the road accidents and the racial violence.

You don’t get to expect that people’s subjective experiences are recounted in a manner identical to your own. Reality doesn’t work like that.

When people complain about Australia on account of their experiences, there always seems to be at least one defensive patriot who’ll attempt to cast such objections as mendacious. Don’t complain, you’re ruining our party! That’s Australia you’re talking about!

It’s a pity that it often doesn’t occur to these people that the solution to this problem is to have an Australia that produces less avoidable, undesirable experiences.

Possibly the pinnacle of irony in all of this, is when people complain that other Australians should “like it or leave”. Clearly the people making this complaint don’t “like it” themselves, and yet they don’t pack their bags.

Where would they go? How would they get there? (If only it was feasible to send them off on rickety fishing boats, the irony would be resolved…)

If you’re going to have a debate about whether Australia is worth celebrating, or if you just want your celebrations to be more authentic, you have to get used to the idea that Australia isn’t just what you make of it from a casual glance. You need to be more outwardly exploratory, and more self-reflective than that.

As I write this, Australia Day 2015 is fading into yesterday. Caricatures, and narrow cultural cross-sections are standing at ease, resting in preparation for their deployment on ANZAC day.

A thousand and one lost identities will drop the clichés until ads for lamb and the like demand their deployment again. The fetishists will take a break from paying superficial homage to the outward appearances of sub-cultures they couldn’t really care about.

Memories of Australia will go unchronicled, their owners partitioned from the story telling – whole facets disappearing with time to the detriment of us all.

And those of us with more acceptable narrative elements will have our reflections reinforced by the presence of Australian flag flip-flops and bikinis – bromides for the comfortable Aussie.

~ Bruce

(Photo Source: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos)

Signs of the alien…

hockey It’s been just over a month since the loveable, cuddly, Shrek-like-grump otherwise known as Joe Hockey, apparently outed himself as an elitist jerk through the simple act of smoking a cigar. Apparently, cigars are the hallmark of fat cats, investment bankers and the like.

This narrative isn’t particularly convincing, and seems to me, more like a facile inversion of former Prime Minister John Howard’s out-of-touch remarks about lattes and chardonnay. I found it just about as convincing when Republicans in the US too, speculated about the dining habits of Al Gore and John Kerry.

In order to be petty enough to both appreciate, and to find confirmation in these kinds of damnation-by-commodity associations, people have to first be pretty well polarised for one reason or another. Welded-on party loyalists, haters, the politically humiliated, the desperate and the short-term-angered.

Which is to say, once you can sell this kind of thing to an electorate, you’ve already got them. At best, this stuff’s for shits and giggles, or for preaching to the choir.

At worst, which is often the case, its abject foolishness. (I include in this category, marketing-driven “analysis” that merely capitalises on the political resentment of a target audience in order to sell subscriptions and draw advertisers).

***

Now the budget that Hockey has delivered; that’s doing a lot of the left’s campaigning for it. If there’s anything that screams “Elitist Bastard” louder than cigars, lattes, chardonnay and Perrier ever could, it’s fiscally pummelling the stuffings out of the poor and the aspirational.

This, rightly, has pissed people off. Parents don’t want their kids living with them until thirty, much less are they happy to continue feeding them if fairly paid work isn’t available. Few Australians are willing to be targeted to take the brunt of the current account deficit, much less the many who can’t, or are less likely to be able to afford being weathered by austerity measures.

This is before considering education cuts, and fee hikes, and repayment scams, which a cynical elitist government could conceivably pass off to some extent, as Making Those Educated Folk Pay Their Way. A good raft of the fiscal restraints of the current budget are like this; potentially passable with old-school conservative guile. But a good few also, are clearly not.

At the time of Hockey’s supposed cigar transgression, Australians’ rage over the budget was starting to boil. A month later and it’s now spilling over. But the cigar had nothing to do with this.

***

Policy points are squidgy things. Ordinary folk don’t always vote on them, because they often don’t keep the details in working memory for long before something else in their busy lives comes along to distract them.

This budget of Hockey’s may be an exception though, much as was the Work Choices legislation during the last Howard Government. But if we’re talking about signs of elitism, other than in pure policy terms, and if we’re not talking about whether politicians prefer Iced VoVos over Biscuits Roses de Reims, what else can we turn to for a diagnosis?

***

On Wednesday, Treasurer Joe Hockey told The Sydney Institute that “…criticism of our strategy has been political in nature and has drifted to 1970s class warfare lines, claiming the budget is ‘unfair’ or that the ‘rich don’t contribute enough”, and that “…only in a closed economy, based on old style socialism, can a government hope to deliver uniform equality of outcomes”.

There’s a lot you could say about this purely on the basis of policy points; a mixed economy has been part-and-parcel of the New Left since there was a New Left; the Hawke-Keating government opened the Australian economy to the world more than any other, and few-to-none of Hockey’s mainstream critics actually seek to reverse this, or, one could point out that there is a vast multitude of possible fiscal platforms more equitable than Hockey’s that don’t even approach being socialist.

In short, in terms of policy points, you could point out that what Hockey is saying is unequivocally false; that it’s horseshit.

But being tricksy or false hardly signifies that he’s being an elitist dirtbag. Rather, what it does show us is that he’s either or both foolish, or dishonest. This wouldn’t be telling us anything that we don’t already know.

Currently, opposition leader Bill Shorten is hounding Hockey for his dividing Australians into a cynical dichotomy of ‘lifters’ and ‘leaners’. With little doubt this is something worthy of criticism, the banal outrage element amongst consumer-reader markets not withstanding. Indeed, if only Shorten could be more the media darling on this, that he was during the Beaconsfield Mine collapse in 2006.

What this particular language doesn’t do though, is highlight the very real division between Joe Hockey, and “Average Joe”; that he is not one of us. Hockey’s divisiveness, in this case, is pure demagoguery of the Alan Jones, or 1990s Current Affair variety, and like the politically dishonest and the foolish, the political demagogue experiences little difficulty blending in with us commoners.

Indeed, wealthy demagogues are particularly adept at passing themselves off as battlers or hard workers; it’s a good part of what makes them so politically dangerous.

***

No, it’s Hockey’s remark about 1970s socialism that does the trick, more than cigars, foodstuffs or demagogic bloviation ever could. Outside of the sheer wide-ranging cruelty of this latest budget, it’s this arcane and somewhat abstract point that Hockey makes that best signifies that he is alien to us little people.

Labor could almost be forgiven for not realising it. Almost.

Oh Labor

Despite the achievements of the Hawke and Keating governments, there’s still a fiscal insecurity lurking at the back of the minds of many an ALP member; The Spectre of Gough. Beating back the Global Financial Crisis under Rudd may have exorcised this anxiety to some degree, but I’m sure it’s still there in no insignificant measure.

So when the Liberals concoct an imaginary “Budget Crisis”, and the Australian public reject a perfectly fiscally competent government, you can expect that folk in the Labor party are going to worry about their party’s (allegedly) long-standing reputation for these things.

Only, outside of the political classes, nobody really gives a rat’s posterior about this anymore. The public’s interest for political history isn’t as great as the average party wonk, and is easily subsumed by urgency and practicality. The “Budget Crisis” was such an urgency, and the in-fighting that made Labor appear impractical, was clear, apparent and immediate.

This had nothing to do with the hauntings of The Spectre of Gough.

Similarly, and to my point, aside from the party faithful, and the welded-on, the Australian electorate couldn’t give two farts about Hockey’s venture into the shortcomings of “1970s socialism”. Aside from being factually dubious, which many a wonk will be tempted to address, and aside from alluding to fiscal ghosts, which many a Labor-type may be baiting into defending, it’s just too alien.

Talk of historically closed economies, and the alleged unattainability of attempts at absolute and uniform equality, are at least for the time being, too far removed from the electorate’s immediate concerns, which thanks to Hockey’s callousness, are now many.

If Labor want to take full advantage of the way Hockey has alienated the Australian public, it needs to jump on the arcane and abstruse qualities of his ideations, and use them to portray him for what he is; out of touch with most Australians, and utterly unconcerned with their welfare.

Hockey is far too busy chasing ideological spectres of his own imagining to be worried about us plebs.

A stark, alternative approach, would be for the ALP to continue overlooking openings like these, instead remaining distracted by their own flirtations with the abstract and the tenebrous, thereby opening themselves up to fair speculation that they too, are too busy with other things to care about the little folk. It shouldn’t need saying that I don’t think this is a good idea.

Shake off the fog, the ghosts and the long shadows, Labor. A strong opposition is needed.

~ Bruce

Phraseology for the nervous wonk

Ever had to interview someone politically charged, controversial and intimidating? Do your pals expect you to adhere to a particular political standard? Do you wish to sit amidst controversy all while being kept safe from criticism?

Do these thoughts make you quiver with a nervous smile?

Allow me to furnish you with a few turns of phrase one can use to help defuse such anxieties.

 

Etiquette…

‘You’re obviously very intelligent…’: Translates approximately to ‘please don’t make me look like a fool, I’ll flatter you if you flatter me’. Try to under-emphasise the implicit ‘…but’, so as not to lose the desired effect. May leave a substance of a nutty flavour on your tongue, or the tip of your nose.

‘People say…’: Not to be used as a weasel-word. Do not use with anything inflammatory, or people will want to know who ‘people’ are. This is only a throw-away line used to draw attention away from the fact one was out drinking with the wonks, instead of obsessively researching their article/essay/interview/etc (see ‘fetish’ below).

‘That’s a [any logical fallacy, preferably in latin]…’: To be delivered with the utmost sarcasm when addressing those who loathe analytic philosophers, scientists, engineers, rationalists, et al. Also helpful in the company of friends when the group doesn’t want to admit they feel they’ve been ‘pwned’ in an Internet debate. A morale booster.

‘They’re tone deaf…’: Means exactly, ‘you don’t think they realise that was an in-joke? Oh shit…’

‘Everyone knows…’: Means exactly, ‘I slept in, don’t ask me…’

‘X isn’t a team player’: Translates to ‘X fact-checked my stuff after I published it’. It’s a wise tactic to deploy such a rumor when sympathising with other victims of such ‘fetishized’ behaviour. A bonding strategy.


Culture wars…

‘I have sympathy with the concerns behind the Sokal hoax, but Sokal and Bricmont should have submitted their epistemic criticisms to a peer-reviewed journal.’: All you’ll ever need to know about the Sokal Hoax. Nobody you want to meet will know any more than this.

‘They have a fetish for error checking. They don’t see the bigger picture.’: Which is polite code for, ‘Fuck! They know stuff! Don’t let them work near us! We’ll look bad.’

‘The history wars in Australia, like the science wars…’: They are the same, apparently. Otherwise, if this weren’t true, Australian academics would look a lot less cosmopolitan.

‘Culture war Group X is just like Group Y’: Translates to ‘our group is better than Culture War Group X, or Culture War Group Y, so we didn’t need to read any of their shit.’ Further justification for spending time drinking with fellow wonks.


Oz Politics…

‘Well, I’m not ideologically opposed to a mining tax…’: In using this phrase, one wants to emphasise the non-existent ‘…but’ before the point of accidentally committing to anything. No, you do support a mining tax; you’re not any kind of opposed to it. It’s just that the rabid dude with the misogynistic Juliar placard gives you an incentive to sound uneasy about what are your true convictions. It’s either that, or finding a bucket of water to help shoo the spittle-flecked rage zombie away from your car.

‘Kids are smart. They can see through stuff. I’m an atheist/secular christian/modern Muslim/etc, but why not teach creationism in public school science classes if they’re curious?’: This isn’t advocacy for creationism – don’t worry about that. It’s not like you want alchemy taking up time in chemistry classes, climate denialism eating away the hours in Earth Science, or astrology cluttering up SOSE either. The approach is a delaying tactic. It’s a conditional statement. You can always at some later point, claim that the kids aren’t curious, and that way everyone else looks more confrontational and unreasonable than you; both the people who opposed it up-front, and those making creationist demands once The Science of The Flintstones isn’t delivered.

‘I was for the ALP conscience vote over marriage equality.’: Be a person of conscience while also not comitting yourself! No anxiety there. Nobody will notice. Honest.

…relatedly…

‘We need to be bi-partisan about this.’: It may be a white-hot issue where one side is clearly, as a matter of fact, in the wrong, but never underestimate how much time bi-partisanship can save for you to catch up on lost sleep. Let the consensus builders on the ground labour over the details. You’ve got a bender to sleep off.

‘Well, I’m glad you have such an ability to read people’s minds’. Now, you’re supposed to be sarcastic about this. Your expressed concern is that you don’t like people making baseless accusations about motive. Your actual concern is that the person you’re dealing with may know something you don’t. If you passive-aggressively have at them in small cuts, and if you can get others in on the act, perhaps you can wear your opponent down before they get the chance to show how they’re more cluey than you. All of this, while you appear to be acting responsibly. Nice, huh? (Trust me, nobody will realise you’re an asshole for this).

 

Terminology…

‘Secularism’: How religious people are suppressed. To be shunned.

‘Secular Christian’: Someone causing cognitive dissonance best projected back at them.

‘Fundamentalist Christian’: A target, if you’re going to criticise religion, best suited to your ability. A replacement for Stephen Fielding needs to be established for precisely this purpose, but preferably not in a position to start fights this time around. One doesn’t want to have to deal with interested parties with inflamed emotions.

‘Muslims’: All alike. In a good way of course. Flatter them without considering what you’re actually implying by flattering them. Awkward to ask the opinions of – use the smallest possible sample of their opinions. Avoid the accurate polling of. Avoid any polling of. Just say things you guess will sound nice. Pretend to listen when they speak (they’re used to it).

‘Islamophobia’: Something nobody is ever entirely sure what anyone else means by it, yet still something not to be accused of. Play it safe by not disagreeing with anyone using the term. Nod your head when you hear it. Pretend to understand.

‘Jains’: Objects used to show how religion isn’t violent, despite such use implying that non-Jain religion is more violent. Emphasise the former, ignore the implications. Like Muslims, don’t actually ask for their opinions – just talk about them in their absence.

‘Agnostics’: Approachable, non-confrontational, respectful, open-minded atheists.

‘Atheists’: Close-minded scum. Best dismissed. Do not admit you are one (see ‘agnostic’).

‘New Atheists’: What Guy Rundle said. Never disagree with this definition.

‘Deists’: Something from history books you don’t want to read.

‘Equal time’: A media strategy to be avoided in matters of uncontroversial fact, except when you don’t want scary people calling you close-minded, and sending you dead cats in the mail.

‘Science’: To be rallied for, until someone calls you an imperialist. Then rail against.

‘Statistics’: A great way to debunk misconceptions about asylum seekers, amongst other things, up until the point where you’re accused of being ‘reductionist’. See ‘science’.

‘Reductionist’: Shit involving numbers and squiggly lines, but not feelings. See ‘science’.

‘Fetish’: When someone does something you don’t like, once, it’s annoying. Any more than once, and its a fetish – to be written off as such.

‘Left-wing’: A grouping best not defined until you want someone excommunicated.

‘Right-wing’: The grouping of people you disagree with, including disagreeable people who call themselves ‘left-wing’.

‘Libertarian’: A sin-bin for people kicked out of, or not wanting to be, in either the left or right-wing.

‘Civil libertarian’: Someone who fights for equal rights. Alternatively, a scapegoat for the Global Financial Crisis when one is intimidated by more radical wonks.

‘Free-market fundamentalist / liberal absolutist’: Normally of the far right-wing, but when convenient, a term applicable to ‘civil libertarians’, irrespective of their actual views.

‘Non-political person’: A political person, only when they can’t hear you talking about them. Someone to be humoured in-person.

‘The status quo’: Something not to be criticised in the proximity of ‘non-political persons’.

‘Foreign correspondent’: Someone having earned the right of entry to more wine bars than you.

‘Ethics’: Either the name of a nit-picking department, or a field of study it is polite to suggest people, of all persuasions, are equally good at.

‘Homophobia’: Hating, or desiring to repress gay, lesbian or bisexual people. Unless done by the right kinds of religion, or done in the name of thinking of the children.

‘Misogyny’: Something other groups do more than your own. You were only kidding.

‘Racism’: A conventional word there’s little confusion about, leaving little room for colourful interpretation, or equivocation. Avoid using when you anticipate having to defend an accusation. Instead choose something more exotic and vague so you can never be wrong, or called upon to present evidence.

‘Social Justice’: When your lecturer’s, or favourite radical columnist’s enemies, get their comeuppance. Alternatively, only when not contradicting this, when the disadvantaged get a leg-up in life.

‘Multiculturalism’: The only model ever devised to help people from different backgrounds get along. Only one version of this model exists. Somehow, somewhere, someone smarter than you must know what this one model is, and what it means, and you defer to them in all things multicultural, except when making accusations. Any attempts at the nuanced discussion of, are to be viewed with suspicion, and interpreted as categorical attacks upon. Invoke liberally in defence of your views, and the views of others agreeing with you.

‘Orientalism’: When people represent the interests, aspirations and cultures of the East, and the Middle East, without consultation with the media and/or persons of these cultures. Except when saying something patronising about them. Don’t be an ‘orientalist’; be patronising.

‘Media literacy’: Something you always have the good fortune to be at the pinnacle of. A continuum by which to judge everyone else.

‘Dog-whistling’: Something a political journalism goddess like Annabel Crabb would infer only after observing a politician long enough to couch their rhetoric in the relevant contextual details. Something you allege to conveniently dismiss people smarter than you, out of hand. Anything can be dog-whistling. ‘Some Christians like ice-cream.’ – Why that’s code for people to marginalise Christians! Egad!

‘Annabel Crabb’: The lady whose effigy sits atop your Christmas tree. *Sigh*

‘Hipster’: People other than you, who ironically believe they were listening to Daft Punk before you. Have a substantial cross-over with political wonkdom on Venn diagrams of inner-city types. Used Venn diagrams before they were popular with mathematicians, including John Venn.

‘Irony’: Anomie.

‘Sarcasm’: Any form of snark not unintentionally ‘ironic’.

‘Camp’: Kitsch.

‘Kitsch’: Camp.

 

Conclusion

Now you may have noticed this advice puts you in a position to contribute approximately zero new analysis to the political scene. Screw that. The point is that you don’t come across as a trouble maker (even if you are one). This is good for your career, and it’s your career that matters, isn’t it?

Of course, after you’ve established a niche, you may need to break from it once you’ve tapped all it has to offer, in order to go on to greener pastures. If this happens, consider that you would have by then, put yourself in a wonderful position to capitalise on a conversion narrative, decrying all of the above.

Some think-tank would want you, somewhere. It’s all good.

Relax, and don’t take things too seriously. Merry Christmas.

~ Bruce