[This began as a Facebook post, I soon realised I had to expand this, at the expense of sleep. And with me, trying to wake up early to play piano. Alas.]
I’ve long thought this, but I’m going to come out and say it: “fuck tony abbott” is utterly useless as any kind of verbal protest. It misunderstands both a) who our enemy is and b) who Abbott is as a political figure and how such sentiments are constitutive of who he is in the first place.
What I’m getting at is that why ‘fight’ somebody whose key strength is the ‘fight’. Abbott said it just as well himself: you don’t want a ‘wimp’ running the government. He is about strength. And while it could be argued that it’s worthwhile trying to challenge his strength face-to-face, it’s also an undeniable reality that it’s a pretty difficult task. Even if popular messages can cut through, it still remains that the government has the chief weapons of propaganda onside. Even if fairfax and the abc are pretty aggressive against the coalition [i]because they are being refused access[/i] we should never underestimate the media’s pattern of conformity and aspirations of mediocrity – not to mention how most people within the media hold similar views to the politicians. Not to mention that as ‘strength’ goes, the government wins hands down. The state has what Weber described as ‘the monopoly of the legitimate use of force’, and it would take a lot to end that.
But why should we buy into a narrative of strength? That’s what Abbott wants. That’s not to say we go the whole other way though. Martin Luther King had a great phrase about ‘love without power is sentimental and anaemic’ – and certainly while these displays of sympathy for asylum seekers are to be welcomed, there’s something awfully self-serving about the ‘not in my name’ line, because it essentially just attempts to eschew blame by refusing to acknowledge our own complicity. All of this is very much in our name whether we admit it or not.
So what’s the other option? We have to bring down this man – although again not just this man, because only in Abbott’s wildest dreams is he a central political figure rather than a culmination of contradictions – but not in the language he understands. In the language that all of these people just can’t possibly understand – in a way that makes them appear foolish, doddery and borderline insane. People of such sensitivity that they can barely tolerate the concept of disagreement, whose egos are so fundamentally weak that they became enraged when anyone begins to contradict them. We’ve already seen this with that faux-ABC debacle – how dare you question the military ever! – and on the veracity of Morrison as a minister.
I’ve been thinking for a while recently that our problem is imagination – that we should really think long and hard about what kind of society we actually want, in some utopian socialist way. To some extent, I still believe part of this – left narratives of ‘reversing neoliberalism’ are vague at best – but on the other hand, there’s a real camaraderie around these annoyingly sincere Greens people – their sincere hope is what I find annoying on a personal level, but in reality actually a very warming sign. But perhaps what we lack on the imagination front is the vision of a different kind of political front.
That is to say, we have to fight on what territory our opponents are unfamiliar with, what they have difficulty in responding to, what they simply do not understand. We should not be fighting this fight as Tone wants it, nor as the recruitabots at the ALP want it to be (yeah fuck tone for implementing harsher versions of our own policies guys!), but rather should take it to a level they do not understand. We have our values of love, of compassion, equality and freedom – but also of duty – but these must exist in more than abstraction, lest they exist only as ideals and pure hobbies. These must be tools with which we use to connect to others, to bolster and propagate norms and ideas beyond what the standard proceedings are. These values can and should be much more than reactions to power, than reactions to strength, but rather form their own relentless momentum towards realising their potential.
Put simply: I want to do to Tony Abbott and to anybody who stands in my way what Charles Mingus does here to Orval Faubus:
Who is Faubus? Nobody knows and nobody cares anymore outside of this excellent Mingus tune. Mingus took once-Governor Faubus and discarded any shred of respect the man might have held to others. A bumbling, stumbling, Klan fool is how he was depicted and how he’ll remain in history. This is what all people who ostensibly wield power fear – they fear being made fool of, of being laughed at. Power is something that thugs understand – it’s why we always say that bullies only understand strength. But we’re not hoping to ‘beat’ these people, to get ourselves elected – we’re hoping to change the way things are done. Getting Tony Abbott out of office is not my immediate priority, because regime change is meaningless without policy change. We need to undermine all hegemonic basis of the whole concept of ‘strength’, so that grandstanding politicians appear to be little more than huffing and puffing Faubuses.
There is no grand conclusion here: this did just start off as a thought bubble after all. But I think these concerns remain deeply relevant and indeed central to our task going ahead, if we do wish to not only save but enforce our ideals. Even this terminology – ‘save our values’ – is anaemic. Our values don’t need saving: they need to tap into our daily world. They need to define our politics, how we live, and they certainly need to define our culture. I’m not suggesting a satirical jazz song is going to fix the world, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.
I’m going to give it a go myself.