Category Archives: Uncategorized

Seeing the Ruins of Brighton

I live in Brighton, which itself is an unusual experience. Being both home to the aristocracy and their rebellious petit-bourgeois offspring it’s rather difficult to account for this non-city of a city. A friend once jokingly referred to it as a ‘town’, pointing out that unlike every great English city it lacks a cathedral. Yet there’s nothing townish about Brighton. For one, it’s too damn busy for a city of only 130,000 people, or 250,000 if you include Hove. That’s another thing: it has a second town off its side, like a resentful yuppie clinging onto their youth (away from the riff-raff). The awfully pebbly beach and its awfully overpriced bars (or do they still count as pubs?) are full on weekends and now most weekdays. Its dreadfully tacky cinema finds its opposite number in an artsy cinema, it has the Lanes – where you can buy antique swords – and the North Laines – where you can buy vegetarian shoes, several kinds of falafel and most ethnicities of food (including Cornish pasties), not to mention ‘the gay area’ of Kemptown, which exudes 1980s more than it smells like bad perfume. From extreme facial tattoos to extreme facial piercings to just flat out weirdness, Brighton is in some sense indefinable. Not as gay as you think, not as white as you think, not as yuppie as you think, but never possibly separable from all these notions.

It’s also a place where you can’t go for a drink without getting asked for money. Not just by our neighbourly charity muggers on the walk up to the station (thankfully fewer than six months ago, perhaps the colder weather got rid of them), but by the homeless and desperate. Every supermarket and nearby ATM has its own few hangers-on, and whether at one of the fancier pubs in the Lanes (where they’ll often come inside to ask) or walking to the next pub in the North Laines, chances are somebody is going to ask for a dime. Sometimes they’re rough. Sometimes they’re good looking. Some have dogs, some have far too many facial piercings to be considered properly employable. Some are in hoodies and approach you, some hang under the awning to yell at you from the darkness. You spend enough time here, you not only recognise the familiar tactics and behavioural patterns, you recognise the damn people.

To speak of poverty amid wealth is hardly a new phenomenon, but one wonders if we are truly entering a qualitatively new world. There are those who live, those who are hanging on and those who just don’t even appear to exist according to any reasonable means of production. Often their only encounter with social institutions is the long arm of the law, chiefly through some bureaucratic cap-wearing projection of state violence who takes it upon themselves to shove aside a man aside because people on the street are the oppressors of society.

If Benjamin talks about seeing ruins before they eventuate, I’m seeing Europe’s right now. What happens here and in America, where major cities such as Detroit now resemble ghost towns, soon flows over to Australia. I’m not looking forward to it.

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Music, Rock, Women

I like rock music. I really like it. I like jazz too, and I like a whole different host of things, but it’s inarguable that I really enjoy rock music. For instance, this (hopefully upcoming) show makes me giggle far too much for my own health.

The opening few seconds are revealing: the explicit connection ‘classic rock’ with testosterone. I know it’s one of those things that are mentioned in SMH or Guardian articles here or there – then to be vociferously denied by rock establishment – but isn’t it amazing just how white and male rock music is?

I know right? 

It’s hardly the first time anybody’s mentioned it, so for a white guy to come along in 2015 and mention it is well, a bit silly to say the least, but it’s one of those things that I think few people who are actually white and male even bother to discuss. ‘Yeah I don’t have many women on my mp3 player but I just don’t listen to that many female artists’ is a sentence that I’ve said unironically. It’s come to that point where I’ve really start to become uncomfortable with what it is I consume, in which bubbles I surround myself. My brother and I in going to metal concerts have always felt slightly strange about the predominance of sub-cultural presence at these events, but I think we should have paid more attention to who else are the fans of all these various musics we listen to.

Take this classic performance of one of Australia’s most famous songs and singers.

I’ll simply quote verbatim the obviously unobjective wikipedia article:

The song features three parts and some critics consider it as one of the most perfect rock n’ roll songs ever,[2] encapsulating the three basic themes of all love songs: (I) Baby it’ll be great once we’re together (Let Your Hair Hang Down), (II) Baby, it’s so great now that we’re together (Oh Evie… I’m nothing without you), (III) Baby, it’s so bad since you left me (I’m Losing You). However, the loss in this case is more tragic than the usual “boy loses girl” scenario – it describes the singer’s emotions following Evie’s death in childbirth.

The fact that Wright singing this looks like the perfect encapsulation of a 1970s Australian man (essentially white with facial hair) is superfluous in confirming who rock is for and what it is about.

There is a sense of universalism in this ‘original’ rock which is hard to deny: how can anybody deny the haunting lyrics of Pink Floyd’s Time?

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say

Save for that second last line of course.

I saw Time being played by what was a very decent covers band (the guitarist was excellent) at a very bloke-heavy craft beer pub in Horsham, a South English town with a considerably conservative bent. They did it very well, and most people there were singing or at least mouthing along to the lyrics. This is a song which naturally appeals to people: many of them age-wise probably grew up with the band themselves.

White men like music made by white men, is this so surprising? Why is this kind of music seen as so essentially universal, particularly given its reliance on technology, relative newness and incredible contingency on capitalist mode of production in terms of creation and distribution.

Of course, this is precisely what has been argued against forever: whatever qualities or attributes that white men have, they are over-represented and their notions of universalism lead to an exclusion of many other peoples’. More than that however, the cultural attachment to such institutions of music may mean surprisingly little: ponderous reflections on Time in a certain musical aesthetic may be startlingly irrelevant to a woman of colour born in the 1990s. There’s a certain level of bullshit that is pervaded by conscientious white men, of which I’ve been greatly guilty myself: ‘I fully sympathise with the struggles of being a black woman in America, but then why do girls take Beyonce as their role model, whose attachment to racial politics is at best marginal?’ Like many of these cases, it’s less the question itself – hell I still think it’s a valid question, that the memeification of Beyonce by liberal media gives her a completely free pass – but rather the subject and object of questioning. Even such language, ‘giving her a free pass’, is nonsense that I would never hold up any white male musician up to.

I think perhaps it is important to refuse the idea of musical commodities being ontologically neutral however: it is noticeable how female musicians tend to be featured mainly as singers, rappers, or at most, pianists or bassists, whereas men are more often featured as musicians, and on the whole as ‘men’, as part of a band that is bigger than the sum of its parts. But where does one go with this? Only listen to women who write their own songs, or perform with other women? It is a dangerous road to go down when we separate good women from bad.

Like most things I write here, any meaningful or substantial conclusion would render this post irrelevant: a blog is hardly for meaningful contributions to the world (so sayeth Jodi Dean, overlord of all).

Seems like I should be listening more things like this though.

How Does One Appreciate Everything?

Mass media culture produces all forms of dilemmas: politically, economically and morally. Timothy Mitchell is of the opinion that mass democratic movements were only really ever possible because of and formulated through the production of coal. The designs behind the age of oil are exactly what has inhibited democratic culture and movements so successfully from the 1940s onwards, and likely what new social movements worked to subvert. I don’t bring this up to display my political theory bona fides as much as to suggest how easily we absorb the dictates of the world around us that even someone truly questions their predicates, the most staunch communists, atheists and nihilists can’t but help to at least initially reject them.

I woke up this morning to do some research, and found myself with a desire to listen to The Band, before quickly becoming distracted by the idea of listening to Prince’s original recording of Purple Rain – a classic, which is shockingly hard to find on the internet. I’ve been getting more and more into Prince’s back catalogue as of late, and beyond Purple Rain, 1999 and Dirty Mind there are some absolute classics. Maybe this is displaying my relative naivety, as Prince has always been an incredibly popular act with many successful records, but it still is a shock to listen to Controversy for the first time. It need not necessarily all be fantastic, but the raw energy, musicality and idealism behind Prince’s music is still staggering.
Is this even saying very much? Prince is a great artist and has sold many records; he’s one of the biggest names in American music and influenced almost everybody alive in R&B. He has a lot of records behind his name and many more under protégés and pseudonyms, one could spend a lifetime trying to discover all there is behind the enigma of the Purple One.
Yet this is precisely the point: one could easily do that, but is this a life worth living? At what point do we have to reconsider the forces of the posterity and the internet and reconsider precisely how we consume our art, media and entertainment? Visual arts and philosophy have long been lampooned (although predominantly celebrated) in their worshipping of the works of dead white men, and to a fair extent we do attempt to deal with the works of the present: there exist countless contemporary art galleries (which don’t only deal with abstractionist art but do actually feature ‘normal’ visual arts like paintings), and given the somewhat personal nature of philosophy, it is inevitable that we discuss the works of living authors: see Žižek, Butler, or even somebody like Hilary Putnam. Can the same really be said for music? What precisely is there to stop me going through Prince’s entire discography, in some vain effort to achieve true Princiosity?
Of course for many of the young this is precisely what must be avoided: we can certainly dig the albums of our parents but we shouldn’t let them define us. This is certainly true on the surface, but I find that in practice this is often too newly focused. Of course the music charts-based radio stations are hardly anybody’s idea of culture, but one also worries if there is a particular cult of the new in ‘youth’ radio stations. In attempting to be open-minded, they often discursively cultivate a particular form of sound, one which new acts themselves undoubtedly reproduce. There’s no panacea of the new, no point at which we really cut off the influences of the past.
Yet is this not exactly what the creators of these past masters would have been consuming? I recall a moment, likely four years ago by now, in which my drum teacher, discussing his idol Tony Williams, confessed that it is very likely he’s listened to more music than Williams ever did in his lifetime, probably several times over. Yet the man is no slave to Williams, condemned to endlessly repeat Emergency! over and over in his brain, in his sticks. (For the record, Emergency! would be a terribly trippy way to conduct one’s self.)
Perhaps this speaks to the power of creativity over pure consumption. Many of us are ‘fans’ of music without being musicians, or at least active ones, and perhaps it’s in the act of synthesisation that we can truly transcend these differing narratives and trends of music. We often forget that creativity begets creativity more than style begets style. And when we create, we do create new pathways, capabilities and conceptions of the world. It’s somewhat unrelated, but this is brilliantly captured in this Young Turks video, by Karl Rove of all people.

Of course we’re not all songwriters, and one needn’t necessarily pick between two modes of consumption. It’s very easy to leave the radio on during the day and put a record or a CD on at night. We can even listen to Prince on the way to a gig featuring live, local music. While there is so much music surrounding us at every moment, there is seemingly no choice but to follow Simone de Beauvoir: acknowledge the ambiguity, understand that the world will never quite make sense to you and then proceed to act anyway. At the end of the day, music is going to change in ways we can’t even begin to appreciate it. We will never be able to understand all of it, and any attempt to do so will end up marginalising those forms we don’t consider music – rap, electronic, metal, jazz and classical all particularly suffer in this vein. If I like Purple Rain, I like Purple Rain. As long as I don’t fool myself by pretending that it’s anything more, maybe that’s winning.

On Asylum Seekers, Justification and Morality

I’m going to talk about refugees. I’m not going to talk about boats, I’m not going to talk about detention centres, and I’m not going to talk about human rights, international conventions or the United Nations. In reality, as much as we claim to care about these issues, they bare little reality to what actually concerns and motivates the half of the population that opposes successive governments’ policies towards asylum seekers. When people quote statistics, recall dates and use legalistic language, they seek to justify an argument that they have already aligned with. To tell you the truth, most of the time when people use figures in written arguments I tend to suspect that they insert them into pre-written articles.

I don’t really want to talk about all of this, because up until six months ago, like most people in Australia, I had never met an asylum seeker. Incidentally, it was at the same event that I also first met an Indigenous person. I want to stress this, because we must never at any point forget this: physically, economically and politically, what happens to asylum seekers lies out of almost all of our lives that we cannot begin to claim to be affected by it. I met an asylum seeker, who was an interesting person; I ate, drank and went to bed. My life wasn’t changed at all. Why pretend it does?

I feel that many arguments made about how important this issue is tend to exaggerate our own individual importance, as if there’s some kind of debate that we need to win, using legal opinions from international agencies and even Treasury statistics. These arguments can’t be made in anything but bad faith: these issues just don’t affect us in this way. There’s no reason for us to care for the reasons that are stated. It’s a waste of money, sure, but it’s not that much money. It annoys our international allies, yes, but it doesn’t annoy them that much. It distracts from the other business of government, yes, but it doesn’t distract from it that much. Even the mainstream media occasionally lets slip of the fact that this issue is a relatively minor one. To argue strongly from these bases is misguided at best.

Yet it is obvious that we care. There is something about this issue that is so visceral: it could never have otherwise been so politically important if a significant majority of the population didn’t care. The fact that 40-50% of the population abhors it is likely what aids the conviction of the 50-60% in its necessity. It is a proven election winner and government toppler. And all over an issue which less than 1% of the population experience in their day-to-day lives.

For realistically, the only experience any of us have ever had with this issue is through television and newspapers. I recall a moment in 2009 in which ‘boat people’ had once again become a political issue. I recall with great sadness, the utter despair that rang deep within my soul at the prospect of facing this issue once more. I had thought we were well and truly beyond it. And little did I know how far down the rabbit hole we were still to go.

It is this moral dimension which is what we choose to never explore. There’s a very profound emotional violence which occurs when one is the unwitting conduit of violence. Sometimes it’s more direct: we as Australians have directly benefitted from imperialism by the very land on which we build our mega-houses. Yet at other times it has less meaning. Somehow even the barbaric nature of imperialism is at least comforting in the sense that it provides some form of narrative. But how does one oppose the violence of (for example) the My Lai massacre with any degree of articulation? There of course was a meta-narrative: America and its allies (including us, of course) were opposing Asian peoples’ self-determination, and they more or less succeeded with regard to Vietnam. Yet nothing truly explains what transcendent violence occurred that day. It’s raw, it’s ugly, and any attempt at justification – good or bad – belies the extreme moral truth of the situation.

It tries to make sense where there just isn’t any. When we knowingly deport people to certain torture and death, when we jail children for years, when we turn blind eyes to our instigation of riots, there is certainly some governmental reason behind this, certainly. In terms of achieving policy outcomes, it makes sense to implement these decisions, primarily through demeaning ‘boat people’ and acting as some form of ‘deterrent’. Yet behind this? What reason is there to do this? What threat do these people offer, what meaning do their lives have vis-à-vis ours? There lies nothing. No reason. No argument. Just a policy.

Yet this is precisely the opposite of what we see in the arguments of Labor, refugee advocates, human rights lawyers and even the Greens. They give this policy a reason, if a negative one. The Coalition’s policy (formerly Labor’s) is bad because it ‘alienates Australia in our international relations’. It ‘diminishes our credibility’. It ‘doesn’t meet our obligations’. It ‘costs us money we can’t afford’. We are against it because. Every time we use this word ‘because’ we cowardly shirk the honest truth, one which we’re incapable of expressing: we are against this because we don’t want to live in a country which does this. We are against this because it is moral suicide. We are against it because it is ethically unjustifiable. We are against it because it feels bad and we want it to stop. We’re against this because we are. We just are.

Every system of ethics starts from some absolutes, but damn near all of them include the idea that torture and murder are wrong. There is no because. There just is.

At the end of the day there is little we can really do ‘for’ refugees. They’re just people like the rest of us. Is there that much you can really do ‘for’ any other stranger? At any rate, they don’t need things done for them, they need things done against them to stop. We need to do less, not do more. These are capable people, not wards of the state, at least not until they’re wound down and deliberately manufactured to be, courtesy of our corporate partners at Serco and Transfield (and everybody’s favourite mob at G4S). How can we even begin to contemplate the idea of raising our children in a world in which such monstrosities are not only permitted, but actively condoned?

Unfortunately what has been proven is that simply being angry and upset by this issue won’t change very much. There’s a profound impotence at foot, when we march in the streets. I don’t wish to attribute any causal reasons for this, but perhaps we could begin by at least properly understanding why it is that we want to do something in the first place. We should at least recognise as sickening is the need to consult statistics and international bodies to distort our very basic sentiment that what’s going on is fucked up and I want it to end. I don’t want to get up in the morning and read about the fifty people who drowned at sea and the hundred that we’re going to lock up. I don’t want to watch a riot on TV. I don’t want to hear about the deteriorating mental health, the self-harm, the suicides and the deported torture and murder. Enough.

 [I’ll write about Moral Debt another time. For now, enjoy some Martin Luther King.]

Courage is Contagious, Writing is Pointless, so is Life.

And so I’m reluctantly back to writing. Not that this is anything new: anyone who’s ever known me will know that I have what some unbearable teacher would’ve described fifty years ago as ‘the gift of the gab’, and those who like the sound of their own voice will surely love the flow and cadence of their own text.

I’d given up on writing blogs after a while. We’d kinda moved into a post-blog era generally on the Left, and in my own case I simply have far too many with far too few posts with far too many delusions of grandeur. Setting up an Australian ‘Young Turks’ was simply too much effort, especially as the older I get the more I realise how little I know, particularly with regard to news and current affairs. It makes sense that I’m becoming more and more the philosophy student, as I’ve increasingly realised that while the real world fascinates me to no end – I implore people routinely to care about what’s going on around them – I’ve honestly realised that the immense concern with on-the-ground specifics no longer interests me. The world’s too rich and interesting to specialise. Continue reading Courage is Contagious, Writing is Pointless, so is Life.

The Banality of the March in March

[Note: It’s annoyingly necessary in Australia to repeatedly point out that for the purposes of all my writings, ‘liberal’ refers to a broad ideology of liberalism which encapsulates most mainstream thought in its various guises, from Greens social democrats to right-wing conservatives. The capitalised ‘Liberal’ refers to the party.]

[Note #2: There’s a lot I wish I had time to clarify or otherwise explain. A lot of this, particularly toward the end, is heavily based off my research and writing for my Honours thesis, and undoubtedly some of the complexity I hoped to have demonstrated there is lost within a 1500 blog. If anybody feels I’m being dismissive or glib, please let me know and allow me to elaborate.]

So somehow, unknown to a lot of people, the March in March became a ‘thing’. It’s confusing, relatively nondescript, and genuinely surprising. It wasn’t here, now it’s here, and we need to think about it.

The March describes itself with delightfully vague language:

A peaceful, non-partisan citizens’ march and rally at Federal Parliament to protest against the current government’s policy decisions that are against the common good of our nation. This signifies the people’s vote of no confidence in policies of the government that go against common principles of humanity, decency, fairness social justice and equity, democratic governance, responsible global citizenship and conserving our natural heritage.

As far as I can work out from puff pieces and from its very strange Facebook-imitation website is ‘grassroots’ – as in lacking any real organisational structure, as opposed to being democratically organised – as well as being for social justice and against the direction with Tony Abbott is taking Australia. Okay so vague and self-important, but not uniquely terrible. Besides it does appear to be a very real ‘awakening’, at least in the sense of people getting off their behinds to get up and make some noise – what’s the problem Angus?

The issue with this is that, as awful as Abbott’s government has been, attempts to ‘react’ to it come off as relatively insincere. While the Tory cronies have certainly wasted little time in gutting public services, preparing privatisations and appointing terrible people to important positions, there is very little that conjures a visceral reaction, outside of the asylum seeker issue. You can point to Tim Wilson being appointed the Human Rights Commissioner, you can argue that all these royal commissions into unions are political attacks to undermine the Labor Party and the working class, and certainly the discussion surrounding Qantas and other public institutions is disquieting.

In this sense, it’s admirable that people are to protest what they see oncoming. A deeply radical right-wing overhaul of the Australian public service is in the wings, and the Coalition is looking to institute it as soon as is electorally plausible. Certainly, is this not the time to stand up and prevent, even reverse this right-wing revolution?

There is certainly a place for generalised protest. Shit ain’t right and shit needs fixing. And a lot of shit is shit. And it’s certainly much better that people do something about it, no matter how meaningless, rather than reinforce their own passivity. Baby steps are important, and rallies are highly important for their social functions and their ability to get the base mobilised – if you don’t preach to the choir they’ll never sing. But the issue comes when this becomes a mere replacement of actual action, or even clarification of message. For instance, while Occupy’s lack of hierarchical structure was in some senses its greatest strength, its lack of any real message was also an issue. Yes, the message of income inequality and corporate and political malfeasance rang loud and clear – despite the pantomime act of Democratic politicians – “what do you want? we can’t hear you! we’re so confusion!” – but there could’ve been at least some general list of demands or even political values – raise the minimum wage, pass an immigration bill immediately, abolish private campaign finance, etc. are all ideas that liberals and anarchists alike can get behind. Yet beneath the veneer of a stationary movement, little was done, and all the state had to do was lean a little to wipe away the entire edifice – see Norman Finklestein for more.

I get the same vibe from these movements and protests. Abbott is bad, okay. We get that, and we’re all worried about the future. The Australian public are as well – he’s never been a popular opposition leader or Prime Minister. But the fact is that for all our hand-wringing about what might or will occur, Abbott’s period of leadership has not been altogether so entirely different from Labor’s. Different in tone? Undoubtedly. Radicalisation of some policies, and moderation of others? You got it. Entirely different in policy outlook… I’m not so sure. As far as commitment towards free trade agreements, minimalist climate change policy, civil liberties, foreign policy, taxation, etc., there is substantial and historically unprecedented overlap between Liberal and Labor. To claim to seek significant redress for the harm he has done rings hollow and fundamentally misunderstands the dynamic of the Australian political system. Indeed it buys into the greatest lie of any two-party system, that either of these two parties are that different.

In this capacity, I’ll be blunt. What I see is a significant group of individuals who, long silent during Labor’s period of governance, if not completely content with their policies, now suddenly find themselves with a voice and with a social conscience. Abbott is disliked by many Australians, and so his leadership is an easy one to pick on. Indeed I’ll be even blunter. I think this has less to do with protesting government policy than more out of an instinctive distaste for the phrase “Prime Minister Tony Abbott”, a man whose Catholicism, machismo and boorishness is a massive turn-off to the many WASPs and city folk who would much rather a PM of culture, class and respect (ie: the warm plutocratic arms of Turnbull). And now, bastions of Democracy and Freedom™ that they are, they are using their democratic rights to Make Their Voice Heard, that Not In My Name Tony, I Will Not Stand For What You Are Doing To Australia.

In this sense, I am unsure what is different between these people and the protesters in Egypt. They don’t particularly want democratic decision making and action as much as they want to be ruled by their team. If this seems like a bold statement, then keep in mind: at no point are the failures of the Australian government as a whole ever articulated. At no point is there reference to systemic issues, asides from the fact that the Bad Government is doing Very Bad Things. Despite how Bad these Things are however, it is decidedly relevant that they appear to have relative bi-partisan consensus.

But it is not simply that is dishonest, but that this blind-spottedness renders their main argument relatively meaningless. If Abbott and whatever other villain is the issue, than what’s the cure, asides from ‘vote Labor’? It’s not always fair to ask for an alternative from protesters – they’re just indicating what they dislike, and that’s very fair in a democratic society. Yet this is the crux of the point – there’s no real focus point of disagreement here. Again, to give these people credit, reacting against neoliberal policies is difficult due to the vagueness and all-encompassing nature of neoliberalism – as expressed in this excellent piece by Rafi Alam. But this reaction is not a broad rejection of government policy of the last thirty years, instead it is a “Get Out Abbott Now!”. It’s regime change, not policy change, let alone a policy revolution.

In this capacity they’re akin to Tea Party protestors, who themselves were unfairly maligned at least in their initial phase. Many people have real grievances, and are deeply worried about the future of their own lives, and their own country. That’s to be understood and their efforts to speak out to be applauded. And well it’s easy to affix a lot of problems to a figurehead or to a government as opposed to an overall systemic issue, particularly one that encompasses your own complicity in a variety of issues. Yet pity and understanding do not a good political message make. As I quoted MLK in my last blog: love without power is sentimental and anaemic. He could have also added ‘confused’.

Ultimately the most striking issue is that such protests completely lack any understanding of solidarity. It is not the joining of the battle of the social democrats with the far left against our common enemy. It is not a sudden instance of solidarity, an attempt to ‘reverse neoliberalism’ (a phrase incidentally that I loathe using), and a realisation that we must all fight this good fight, as much as an expression of communal contempt for part of the population an the government. In this sense it’s the opposite of solidarity. It is the active disowning of political responsibility. It is the attempt at a legacy of “Well I wasn’t for it and I made my voice heard!”, before going back home and carrying on business as usual. This is the political attack that does fade into the night, that does wither away. It is the act of cognitive dissonance, to swipe aside our own complicity in the system. You can’t disown what you’re fundamentally a part of, and it is only until we understand how we ourselves turn the cogs of the system that we are able to get anywhere.

So this Sunday I’m going to 4 Pines and I’m going to get drunk. It’s pretty much the same degree of mental annihilation as the March in March.

Tales of Tone and Faubus

[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.