Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The Political Reality

I've been talking about "winning and losing" in politics, which is a concept I understand intuitively. For many, that seems very abstracted & too simple. How can such an understanding of political struggle translate into actual events?

Let's hear from Adam Brereton, who's forgotten more about Australian politics than I'll ever know. He wrote this amazing piece after the last election, about the function of Cory Bernardi's ridiculous tome "The Conservative Revolution" as a victory cry for Australian conservatism. If you want a copy of the book to read for yourself, paperbacks on Amazon start at 38 cents, but you can get the gist from Brereton's column.

The habit I've observed in many of my fellow Australians - of viewing ideological conflict as a side-show that plays out on the margins of things that actually matter - strikes me as the greatest asset of our era's revolutionaries. The policies of government, even at their most obligatory or banal, are more important than you, your career, your safety, your assets, & your relationships. Whether you voted for them or not, every decision that gets enacted is the focused will of 27-odd million people. These decisions create the world we live in, in a more profound way than has ever been true before.

Next to these decisions, your individuality is meaningless. Many are awed by the vastness of space, but that empty vacuum is of vanishing importance in comparison to the focused intent of that many human beings. Framing the individual as sovereign, painting politics as childish wrangling among idiots, presenting the movements of capital as mysterious & explicable only to experts, these idioms allow your will to be directed - along with everyone else's - to serve the interests of a powerful few. They are all misdirection designed to maintain power, not for evil, or for good. Just FOR those who can control it. This isn't a conspiracy, it's just governance.

Contrary to what our discourse encourages you to believe, you don't have to sacrifice everything to demand what's right. When a white man tells you that your way of life is threatened by a few hundred asylum seekers wanting to live on a continent with an average of less than one person per square kilometer, you know that's a lie. An intelligent mind asks "but what if I'm wrong?", and a clever leader uses that self-reflection to paralyse moral reasoning. After a lifetime of this, you can barely recall what a moral imperative is. Your fearful self-doubt is a security blanket - it's never led you wrong before, and the consequences for a wrong decision could snuff out everything you've worked for. You're merely being cautious, patient, even-handed, waiting until the facts are in. In reality, you're making excuses for your indifference, while others suffer. A parking fine you didn't earn will throw you into a rage, but an innocent man dying in jail at the hands of police is just a harsh reality of life. Some part of you knows these things don't add up, but it must be reality, because it's What's Always Happened.

It isn't you who gets harmed by your inaction. You're rewarded for it with security, stability, comforts. All you have to do is remain too uncertain of yourself to draw a line, to say "you will not do this. We demand it, and you will comply."

I'm not trying to move you to some dangerous radical activity. Like me, you'll only take risks when you need to. What would you do, anyway? Throw a bin at a cop? Write an angry letter? Donate to a political party? I don't even know, but I'm not interested in whipping you into a frenzy anyway. All I want you to do is pay attention. Know what's happening, teach yourself to exercise your own moral principles, to react with disgust & outrage; the most primal human responses. Do this, so that when your friends & family ask you "does this seem wrong to you" instead of automatically falling back on "who knows" or "I'm not sure" or "I don't really care about politics," you can guide them, behave like a citizen of a nation, instead of being yet another example of the normality of ignorance & apathy, cowed by condescending talk of complexity & dire consequences.

Don't mistake the comfortable continuity of your own life for a lack of change in the nation, or the world. Things are are changing more quickly than they ever have. Revolutions used to play out in gutters red with the blood of patriots in the capital, while everywhere else life continued more or less as normal. Now, a momentary failure of political will in the capital (safely removed from major populated areas, as it was designed to be) sees drastic changes across the entire continent. These changes take hold in a matter of weeks, not decades. No marching armies, no pockets of resistance, no messages carried across country on horseback, no communal bonds of shared history telling you you have every right to resist. Just a handful of white people raising their hand, and people go to jail, can't register their car, are deported from their country, can't get food, can't pay rent. You can no longer opt out of society like our ancestors could. Now, all politics is for keeps, and every change matters to everyone.

History is written by those who show up. Cory Bernardi has written his version of history - do you know what it is? Do you care? You don't like Tony Abbott's decisions, but do you know why he makes them? Could you tell someone why they're wrong? Why not? What is happening in your life that you think is more important than understanding these issues? When you dismiss someone like me who swears & shouts & calls for change, as being unhinged & unstable & lacking perspective, why is that? Why don't you care as well? What makes your calm indifference wiser than my insistent attentiveness?

When you read history, it's a history of politics. That's what in the books - who fought whom, what treaties were signed, who got assassinated, who won the election, where the borders were redrawn. Our lifetime won't be any different. What makes you think you're in a position to ignore these changes? At what moment in recent history do you think these things ceased to matter? Was it around the time telecommunication allowed changes to be enacted remotely, instantaneously? Or was it the time everyone became instantly connected to the minutia of everyone else's life, 24/7? Was it when wars started being fought via remote control from the other side of the world? Was it when we discovered that every inch of the globe had finally been revealed to us, that there were no more worlds to conquer? Perhaps it was it when we realised our very presence was ruining a planet that for our entire history was assumed to be infinite?

Politics is real, it's for keeps, & it's happening every day with a frankly miserable relentlessness. Cory Bernardi knows this, & it fills him with a revolutionary zeal. It doesn't matter than he's a sniveling immoral idiot - he turned up, he joined the winning team, he wrote the version of history that suits him. You can't be bothered reading 2000 words, meanwhile he wrote 200 pages intended to motivate & direct a new generation of political agents. And if he's lucky, 50 years from now, school children will read some version of it.

Everything around you compels you to go to work, to keep your head down, to buy the things you like because you deserve them. Everything around you compels you to avoid the morass of politics that is 90% boring & 10% horrible, & seemingly too massive for you to influence. What are you, compared to 27 million? You misunderstand - Australia doesn't exist to serve you. You exist to serve it, and in so doing, hopefully have the privilege of seeing your will reflected in the world around you. That's what gets Cory Bernardi out of bed every morning. But you don't have a lifetime to dedicate to leadership, like Cory Bernardi does. You have other priorities, so all you can do is pay attention, make demands, be informed, and don't look the other way when someone says or does something wrong.

You'll lose friends, you'll get upset, you'll have a bad time. None of that matters. Nothing you ever do will matter as much as one of the decisions these unqualified sociopaths make every time Parliament is in session. The matter deserves your attention - indeed, your emotional investment. No one's asking you to go to jail, or fall on a bayonet, or burn down a building, yet these are all things men & women have done throughout history for countries lesser than ours, sometimes with the stakes much lower.

All you have to do is pay attention, and treat politics with the respect it deserves. You just have to care about it, because it matters. You don't even have to read Cory Bernardi's nauseating book, & contrary to popular belief, you don't even have to vote.

By and large, people are right when they say only the deranged care about politics, but this should alarm you rather than move you to idle indifference. Politics is not beneath you, you are beneath politics. We all are, and if we don't take part meaningfully, it'll roll right over us and build us a future we spend the rest of our lives despising.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Inherited Entitlement Brings Out The Worst In Us

[This article is an experiment in writing in a particular style, one which I don't especially admire. It shouldn't be taken as representative of my views necessarily, & certainly not of how I write.]

As a child, my white anglo-saxon protestant grandparents served as an excellent counter-point to my white anglo-saxon parents. However, as I grow older and the time approaches for me to have children of my own, I lament the new generation of grandparents as they increasingly fail to live up to the high bar set by the Greatest Generation.

They weren't always perfect, with their casual racism and gender essentialism, but they were colourful characters, possessing a kind of black-and-white morality mixed with almost pagan ideals about virtue. World War II gave them a strange mixture of optimism and pessimism - anything was possible, but at the same time the entire banking system could collapse at any moment. They were stoic, no-nonsense people who taught me the value of respecting my superiors and of unfailing politeness, yet would frequently have a couple of whiskeys at the senior's bar & start singing bawdy songs at the top of their lungs. These contradictory attitudes and behaviours helped me understand that nobody is ever one thing, that even the most white-bread battle-hardened patriot was a patchwork of virtues and flaws, jostling each other to create people who always focused on doing what was right for their family and country. Their approach never made much sense to me, as a child more interested in my Game Boy than stories of the horrors of war, but I learned from them all the same.

I look at their replacements, the so-called " Baby Boomers", and despair. Gone is the world-wearied wisdom of their predecessors, replaced with an endless, high-pitched narcissistic whine about negative gearing and the cost of immigration. Don't get me wrong, my grandparents' generation could be racist as hell, but their racism had a purity to it - a genuine belief that some people were just Better. I never thought I'd come to view this kind of prejudice with the rose-tinted spectacles of nostalgia, but the Boomers have found a way: by framing their own particular brand of self-aggrandising racism in economic terms.

Non-white immigrants, for Boomers, aren't a problem because of differing cultural beliefs, or even an absence of Good Breeding, but instead by presenting an imaginary economic burden. Immigrants are stealing jobs, costing valuable tax dollars, having anchor babies all over the place. This self-interest is the most tiring kind of racism I can think of. Gone are the spurious virtue-based justifications for xenophobia, replaced with the cold, detached greed of the bean-counter. What kind of example is this going to set for my own children? Reducing people to mere economic inconvenience? For my grandparents, the threat presented by the Other was existential. For the Boomers, they're an unacceptable dent in the bottom line.

How can these Boomers be trusted to offer my children a useful counter-point to my own values, as my grandparents did for me? While us sorry Millenials struggle with the tribulations of actual economic difficulty, of a depressed job market and skyrocketing rates of mental illness, how can these self-interested martyrs be relied upon to teach a new generation the harsh lessons of history? My grandparents' generation derived their understanding of suffering from tank warfare, from the Kokoda Track, from the Depression. Boomers are haunted instead by the spectre of The Youth failing to surrender their seat on the train, or having their headphones turned up too loud. The Greatest Generation taught me that unimaginable sacrifices could be made in the interests of safety and prosperity, that you could survive the most lethal circumstances and go on to live an exciting life where every moment is a miraculous gift. The Boomers, inheritors of this hard-won prosperity, will teach my children that even if you have three investment properties it's an unacceptable affront for unemployed youth to expect the kind of free education they enjoyed in the '70s.

If this is the kind of example my children can expect, I despair for the future. Boomers have no concept of responsibility, no concept of hardship. They're softened by technology, with one hand out grasping for middle-class welfare while the other taps an email to The Australian demanding we close our borders to those suffering overseas. The Greatest Generation understood all too well the realities of war, but these Boomers consider refugees nothing more than a cost-benefit analysis that doesn't weigh sufficiently in their favour.

My grandparents didn't teach me to be a racist - my own parents were on hand to put that particular nonsense in its context. They did, however, teach me spiritual lessons. What it means to be an Australian, what it means to pay the cost for prosperity in blood and suffering. What are the Boomers going to teach their grandchildren? To view people as economic inconveniences, to treat young people with scorn for failing to enact the same courtesies their parents earned, and they expect to inherit with no effort? This concept of inherited entitlement is at the core of the Boomer ideology: a constant, justified fear that their own example has failed to garner them the same respect their parents earned the hard way. The Greatest Generation died in droves to ensure their children would have safe access to free education, but Boomers balk at merely paying their taxes. This isn't the example I want set for my children.

I see little reason to hope for improvement. Boomer entitlement is a pervasive influence in our national media, and as my children grow up and use their technology to access their national discourse, I fear they'll be wired-in 24/7 to a narrative of petty economic wrangling and political self-interest. They won't be fooled by the smokescreen of endless think-pieces about public transport etiquette and the ways sharing photos will somehow un-make our presumably excellent national character, but the underlying message will seep in: Australians are greedy, self-absorbed narcissists, inheriting an unearned prosperity that exists only to be squandered, while ensuring none of it is shared with those experiencing real hardship.

My message to these Boomers is simple: grow up, and start taking your responsibilities seriously. Put down your stock portfolios and cease this empty-headed staring at the Murdoch press. Your country is decaying under your sorry influence, and your grandchildren deserve the same kind of gravitas and depth I was fortunate to absorb from my grandparents' generation. Worry less about where young people sit on the train, and more about how they're going to retire after a lifetime with no job security. Stop talking about selfies, and start talking about a lifetime of student debt.

And for crying out loud, stop being suckered by chain emails. You're embarrassing everyone.