The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Geopolitics, Kurds, And Problems In Foreign Policy

YPG Sniper in Kobani
Photo Courtesy of The Lions of Rojava

Longtime readers of this blog are understandably confused as to why articles about international relations and security keep popping up here. I understand this, as they’re not funny or satirical or to do with religion or, in short, related in any way to the kind of content that makes this excellent blog excellent.

So I figure I owe you all an explanation. What generally happens is that Tim has a question. It’s usually a bit of the news that he hasn’t had either the time or the expertise to parse for himself, and with a breathless disregard for clicks, popularity, or branding, he asks me to do a long and dull explainer because, for him, it doesn’t matter how many people get the information, so long as some people get it. And not to be forgotten is the fact that he wants to be one of those people.

I wrote an angry piece about the Kurds yesterday with reference to how their consistent abandonment reveals the rotten worm of selfish hypocrisy at the heart of the western project. That’s largely because Tim asked me about them, and I’m absolutely furious about the way we continually break our promises to ourselves and the world, and in doing so cause millions of deaths every year. Deaths that we don’t care about because the corpses are far away and brown. Or just far away – it’s not race that matters here, it’s difference. We don’t care about these people because the media market is biased towards ‘relatability’ or, to put that another way, if they’re not like us we don’t care.

At a time when friends of mine were trying to explain to northern Iraqi villagers, through interpreters, that the rotting arm bone they just dug up out of a mass grave belonged to a child under the age of six, was not a pelvis, and even if it were it belonged to someone pre-pubescent and therefore could not provide sufficient information to determine whether or not it was their child, the great Australian public was entirely consumed by an argument about franking credits, whatever the hell they are.

Today, if I haven’t bounced you away from this page by waggling my finger accusatorily, I would like to balance my anger with some facts.

Historical context is important, but perhaps not primary in this case. Suffice it to say that the victors of WWI promised the Kurdish peoples a state and then reneged on that promise because oil, Wahhabism, and the Cold War. The Kurds then proceeded to carve out their own state by taking the territory of countries not known for their patience or humanitarianism. Fortunately for them, Turkey was too busy ethnically cleansing their immediate neighbours at the time. And Syria and Iraq were focused on trying to create the Holocaust 2.0 by attempting to wipe Israel off the map, and being embarrassingly defeated in the attempt. Basically, the Kurds still exist because everyone looked away.

Kobani

Now, however, we’re looking right at them. Thing is, we’ve been looking at them for longer than most people realise. Every time you’ve seen female fighters in the Syrian intervention, they’ve been Kurds. Every time you’ve heard about the fall of Raqqa, the consolidation of territory in NE Syria, every time you’ve scrolled past a report about yet another shelling of a civilian area, you’ve been looking at the products of Kurdish action in alliance with western forces. I know I shared this statistic in yesterday’s article, but I feel it bears sharing again. 11,000 Kurds have died in operations and civilian massacres directly arising from our intervention. Eleven thousand. 11000. Eleven battalions. But not battalions necessarily – 11,000 including old men, women, children, boys, dogs, cats, more children, male and female combatants, ten year old combatants, sixty year old combatants, and ditto non-combatants. All bulldozed into mass graves or shot in the back of the head behind their houses and in front of their children prior to their sale into slavery. Look at the woman in the picture at the top of this article, and then imagine the worst and darkest thing you can possibly imagine happening to anyone. There is now a one in four chance that a much worse and darker thing will happen to her, and then she’ll be killed. All in support of our mission in Syria. I’m labouring the point because it’s worth labouring.

I also labour the point because it usually has little to no bearing on any foreign policy calculation. In the 2016 election, fewer than 12% of Americans put foreign policy/international relations in their top three political concerns. Let that sink in. In the most imperially extended country in the world, less than 12% of the voting age population gives the slightest crap about what their country is doing abroad.

Mass Grave in Raqqa

And it’s not just the Americans. At a time when friends of mine were trying to explain to northern Iraqi villagers, through interpreters, that the rotting arm bone they just dug up out of a mass grave belonged to a child under the age of six, was not a pelvis, and even if it were it belonged to someone pre-pubescent, and therefore could not provide sufficient information to determine whether or not it was their child, the great Australian public was entirely consumed by an argument about franking credits, whatever the hell they are.

I’ve often asked myself why this is. I think the answer is actually quite simple. Foreign policy is not human. It’s not adaptable to a moral narrative, and therefore cannot provide the necessary level of feels to keep us interested. Any moral narrative about foreign policy is necessarily false. To illustrate this, I like to use the coming of age model.

Your personal morality has to take a back seat because suddenly you’re an adult with other people to consider. And now multiply that moral attenuation by 22,000,000 – that’s what a foreign policy calculation looks like.

Let’s say you’re in your early twenties and straight out of uni. Let’s say you’ve done law or environmental science or geology or arts or anything, really, because what you want to do is to make a difference in the world. Let’s say you’re idealistic and willing to be poor, to sacrifice your wellbeing and your personal interests in the service of a moral mission. And then let’s say you hit thirty and have a couple of kids. All of a sudden, you start considering working for Philip Morris or Telstra or any company that will take you, because it’s no longer just you. You have responsibilities. You can’t decide to starve your children in the pursuit of some abstract ideal. Your personal morality has to take a back seat because suddenly you’re an adult with other people to consider. And now multiply that moral attenuation by 22,000,000 – that’s what a foreign policy calculation looks like.

And now let’s look at the USA. The USA spends ten times more on the military than the next ten countries combined, and each one of those ten countries has a military that could potentially end the world. The US military has a natural three to one capability and strike power superiority over all of their allies combined. They have more than one hundred allies. The USA has the most sophisticated and largest economy not just in the world, but in all of human history. Even with their current president, the USA is a country which could potentially fight the entire world and win.

Whenever the USA decides, for moral or ideological reasons to intervene beyond its own borders, it’s only a matter of time before large swathes of their voting population starts asking, “Why the hell are we bothering?”

And that’s the problem. They have no existential threats – none. I don’t care how much you enjoy screaming about China and Russia, it is a simple, uncontestable fact that the USA has no existential threats outside its own borders. So there’s no incentive to actually complete any foreign mission. Whenever the USA decides, for moral or ideological reasons to intervene beyond its own borders, it’s only a matter of time before large swathes of their voting population starts asking, “Why the hell are we bothering?” So they pull out. They lose winnable wars. They make a massive mess and then wander off back home to argue about the bible or brown people or whether or not it’s right to cyber-bully a sixteen year old girl.

What the foreign policy establishment and the Kurds both understand all too well is that Kurdish survival just does not matter. Like all the people who have lived in the liminal zones of empires, they know that their survival rests on occasionally aligning with the goals of great powers. If it weren’t for the urgent need to discredit Donald Trump at every turn, our abandonment of the Kurds would be a non-story just like the other three times we’ve done it in the past thirty years. In fact, the only person in all of this who’s taking a moral stance is Lindsay Graham. Let that sink in – foreign policy is so goddamned weird that the beacon of morality in this instance is Senator Lindsay ‘I’ll sell my entire nation and its constitution to back Trump’ Graham.

Anyway…

If you’re still reading by this point, I’d like to offer you my sincere congratulations. You’re one of the few people who is actually eager to think in abstract terms about things that are not of individual, but of national and global importance. I’d recommend that you treat this attribute like the opposite of a sexually transmitted disease and make it the work of your leisure hours to spread it around. Because foreign policy is weird and alien and unappealing, but it’s also a very small market. And like all small markets, it can be influenced by an astonishingly small number of people. I’d urge you to be one of those people, so that you can say in all truth that you did a small but significant thing in order to prevent yet another massacre of people who are far away, foreign, largely invisible, and hugely important for the simple fact that they are people.

The Kurds Have No Friends But The Mountains

Photo Courtesy of The Lions of Rojava

Right now, there is no shortage of information on who the Kurds are, where they come from, and why we should support them/not support them, all garnished with either ineffectual bleeding hearts or rock-jawed, chicken-livered foreign policy ‘realism’, and that most disgusting of contemporary products, hyper-partisan and politicised history.

Let’s start with the history. The Kurds are a group of peoples who have occupied a region that saddles Syria, Iraq, and Turkey for a very long time. More of a culturo-linguistic complex than what we might term a uniform ethnicity, scattered, militant, fiercely proud of their turbulent history and their profound impact on the more easterly parts of Europe, the Middle East, and the Levant, they pop up in the historical record as movers, shakers, and warriors from about the Bronze Age onwards. In the wake of WWII, for various reasons ranging from compelling to necessary to foolish, the western powers basically screwed them in favour of peoples who had been closer allies against the Axis. Donald Trump’s ‘they didn’t help us in Normandy’ is probably a garbled version of advice he may have received to this effect.

The Kurds are, however, known within foreign policy circles as the USA’s most effective Middle Eastern ally for a span of at least four decades. It was the Kurds who were abandoned after Desert Storm, who shored up territory and supply lines in Inherent Resolve, and who performed very much the same role in the global war on terror, or whatever we’re calling our Middle East intervention this week. On their side, the calculus has been largely mercenary. Every time we need them we tend to arm and fund them, and strategically-minded Kurdish militants see these episodes as stepping stones to their eventual goals. They know we’re going to screw them – they knew this every time. The tragedy is that the next time we want them they’ll step up, sacrificing their safety and the safety of the vast majority of Kurds who are NOT combatants (I feel this isn’t emphasised enough) in exchange for some crates of weaponry and some shrink-wrapped US dollars. Not because they’re evil terrorists or thrill-seeking soldiers of fortune, but because it’s the only feasible way they have a chance of surviving as a people. And it’s largely their only option because as inconsistent as western foreign policy tends to be, it has been consistent in screwing over the Kurds.

It’s hard to get across just how mercurial and impermanent we look next to a group of peoples like the Kurds. There are fighters in the militia today who have been dealing with western powers since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Their reality is guerrilla warfare, an unacknowledged and tottering, but somehow largely stable state, poverty, and death. All that really changes for them is the stamps on the crates of weapons they’re given. Given this, it’s not really important what anyone says, thinks, or fabricates about their history, their current circumstances, or their mission. The fact is that there is no possibility of constructing a clean narrative of good vs evil in their region without telling some absolutely whopping lies. Some might suggest that this is also true of all the rest of the world too, and that we’d all be a lot better off if we could remember this.

No, what makes the Kurds important in foreign policy terms is what they reveal about us. We have, by their count, used up the lives of 11,000 of their fighters in our anti-ISIS intervention. I believe them. According to them, we owe what territorial stability we have been able to achieve largely to their efforts. I believe them on this too. And now that the USA has a cowardly idiot for a president, they say we’re screwing them yet again. Which doesn’t require belief – it’s a verifiable fact. And when I say ‘we’, I do not just mean the USA. I mean all of us in those countries which have earned the right to dictate global morality by means of possessing most of the weapons and nearly all of the money in the world. The US is not the only ally of the Kurds. Why then, do we not see any European countries stepping in to help? Why is it, then, that other non-NATO countries do not put a ring of steel and fire around their territories, instead of just weeping about it on social media?

It’s because we don’t care. Fundamentally, in places which don’t tend to be explored whilst having brunch in hipster wank-bars, we acknowledge that a big part of the western project is underpinned by people far away suffering and dying in order to guarantee our safety. So while Donald Trump might have done what he did in a stupid, incoherent, and fatuous way, the actual thing that he’s done is consistent with our morals and values as participants in the free and prosperous western world. Our tears are crocodile tears, and our outrage mere self indulgence. What this incident has revealed is not the idiocy of POTUS – that was never a secret. What it reveals is the current moral bankruptcy of the west.

Is this perhaps an offensive or cynical position? It doesn’t stop it from being true. Disagree? I suppose I could prove you wrong, but I don’t want to. Because the thing that occurs to me is that if we all really cared, we’d already know who the Kurds are and what they’ve done for us. we’d already know that Kurdish militia are always hiring, that they bank in all the same tax havens as our rich parents and relatives and are accepting donations. That foreign policy is one of the most susceptible and simultaneously least regarded branches of government. That there is, in fact, quite a bit that ordinary people can do to help, to sway policy makers, or to further the discussion. But the simple fact is that beyond sharing or clicking partisan hit-pieces on social media, we don’t actually care about these people. If we did, we wouldn’t be clicking on articles like this in order to find out who the hell our most consistent and effective allies in the Middle East actually are.

https://www.facebook.com/TheLionsOfRojavaOfficial/?ref=nf

https://www.bellingcat.com/?s=kurdish

https://www.csis.org/analysis/settling-kurdish-self-determination-northeast-syria

Why Some Christians Won’t Suffer The Little Greta

Swedish Climate Activist Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that a religion that has so much to do with children would be pleased to find that Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is making waves on the international stage. Actually, children is probably a bit of a sore point for various churches right now, but what I’m actually talking about is images like this:

And famous quotes like “suffer the little children”, which even people who’ve never read the bible (and we know for a fact that most Pentecostals and Evangelicals haven’t) will be able to trot out on command and more or less understand.

So why is it, then, that Pentecostals like Scomo and Trump’s Evangelical base have been so toxic in their vilification of someone who, regardless of what you think of her means and methods, is essentially on a mission to save the world? Why are we watching conservative Christians pile in on her looks, her voice, her age, her figure, or her parents in what can only be called cyber bullying? The answer, as you might have guessed, is slightly complicated.

I know quite a few members of what I and many others consider to be churches at the insanity end of the spectrum. For the most part, they’re lovely people. Always up for a chat, heavily involved in volunteer and community work, and the picture of sanity and reason when you, say, can’t help but point out the insanity of Christian fundamentalism at a dinner party in a house you’re absolutely certain you will now never be invited to again. For the most part, these people are not just model citizens, they’re model people. So why is it, then, that these same people so frequently and so vehemently plop themselves down on the wrong side of debates such as marriage equality, LGBTQI rights, and climate change?

“So why is it, then, that these same people so frequently and so vehemently plop themselves down on the wrong side of debates such as marriage equality, LGBTQI rights, and climate change?”

The cheap and easy answer is ‘religious dogma’. The narrative which I most frequently see in both the media and in discourse between private citizens is that these people, having elected to believe in a ‘Bronze Age Fairy Tale’, are simply incapable of rational thought so what the hell are you surprised about?

This doesn’t work. It’s probably going to be controversial for me to say this here, but the simple fact is that cognitive dissonance is not the especial reserve of the faithful. We’re all more or less as stupid and irrational as each other – it’s just a question of what flavour of idiocy we prefer. Which means that a belief in God doesn’t actually warrant an assumption of mental and moral incapacity – if it did, we would most of us have to discount any and all beliefs held by our pre-atheist selves. All of them.

It’s not all that relevant to my argument – I just found this uplifting and thought you might too

No. Where the answer lies is in the far more worrying intersection of religion/culture/politics. And especially identity politics. The relevant narrative here is one of victimhood. Many conservative Christians of all denominations see themselves as heroically holding the line on a kind of cultural Alamo. The loss of practising or church-directed Christianity’s grip on our culture and norms is something churches, established and fringe alike, naturally find deeply worrying. And the 101 playbook for churches for millennia has been to mobilise the base when under threat.

Many conservative Christians of all denominations see themselves as heroically holding the line on a kind of cultural Alamo.

So this is how we arrive at a situation where a biblical literalist like Scomo, who supposedly must believe that stewardship of the planet is a sacred duty handed down to him by Yahweh, can deny climate science, promote coal, and attack a sixteen year old girl for speaking her mind. And what’s worse, for capturing the attention and imaginations of the untold masses in a way that he could never dream of achieving.

For a Christian of Scomo’s ilk, ‘globalists’ (which is now a blanket term of abuse for anyone who attempts to be an intellectual and believes in the international system) are godless technocrats who want to dissolve all national and moral borders and create a kind of Huxley-esque Brave New World. What makes this vision of the world so compelling for so many is that it’s half right. ‘Globalists’ do see the second order effect of hard sovereignty and nationalism as catastrophic war, so they want to erode it a little. They do want to create a set of universal norms that are emphatically free of any single religious ideology. I mean, that’d actually be the definition of ‘universal norm’. And ‘globalists’ do definitely want to destroy the Christendom that so many Pentecostals, Evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox, etc. created over millennia of hatred, bloodshed, exploitation, and forced conversion.

The reason they want to do this is because they understand that as miraculous as the west’s achievements have been, they have been intermixed with shameful atrocities to a morally unacceptable level. That the only way forward is to create a world which is like the one where the west was the best, only with room for ‘the rest’. To move past the old gods and old ways which helped to get us here, in the same way that most societies tend to prefer their veterans and their past leaders to live quietly on a farm somewhere instead of remaining obnoxiously visible.

Church leaders have sold this narrative of secular attack so successfully that not only have their faithful bought it, but so have secular progressives.

So of course the Christians cannot suffer Greta Thunberg. She is the figurehead of a movement that they see as aggressively and deliberately sidelining them. The tragedy of it all is that it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s no actual corollary between climate activism and disdain for the religious, in the same way that there is no necessary contradiction between religiously-based social activism and inclusion of secular ethicism. It’s just another case of The Establishment vs The People. Church leaders have sold this narrative of secular attack so successfully that not only have their faithful bought it, but so have secular progressives. We’re now in a situation where both sides of this argument think the other beyond redemption/reason.

Which is a kind of genius, really, as it’s the only way I can think of for nervous power elites to create a situation in which we all fragment to the point of ineffectuality, thus helping them to maintain the particular status quo in which they remain on top.

Religious Freedom – Scomo’s Biggest Meta-Achievement

scott-morrison

Scott Morrison can always be relied upon to fearlessly create change by legislating things which already exist. Take the food adulteration laws he so bravely championed, whereby he created a separate offence for something which already existed as an offence in the criminal code, and then whacked a sentence on it which nobody in their right minds would ever apply. Sure, it’s a double up on an extant law, and sure, its value is purely symbolic, but that’s the beauty of Scomo. He can create reform without the messiness arising from actual change. Scomo is the master of what I like to call meta-achievement. Or to put it in the words of one of my favourite poems/satirical political programs:

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us – if at all – not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

The Hollow Men, T S Eliot

It probably makes more sense if we remember that our fearless PM’s core discipline is marketing. For Scott Morrison, appearance is reality. Gesture is motion, and shape is the same as form. Or, to put that on a level more commensurate with his actual world view, looking like you’re doing stuff is, like, the same as doing stuff.

And this is why I’m pretty relaxed about Scomo’s push to introduce religious freedom legislation. By all accounts (by which I mean his), this legislation will mirror existing anti-discrimination legislation. The same legislation which, when combined with the constitution, actually provides comprehensive protections for religious freedom. Which is the exact thing he’s so keen to appear to achieve. Because in the universe particular to Scomo and the weirdly angry culture warriors who sing his praises, appearing to achieve something is the same as actually achieving something. You can tell this belief is sincere by the way he says publicly, and without irony, that he intends to introduce an anti-discrimination law which mirrors current anti-discrimination laws. He’s not even lying to us – he’s just incapable of living in a world where symbols aren’t the things in themselves. Because, and I emphasise this point in case I’ve been too subtle about it, he is essentially a hollow man.

Of course, there are functional aspects to this action. Scomo is famously and unashamedly a Pentecostal Christian, a faith position which I and every other sane observer feels to be weirdly at odds with having a Bachelor of Science. But then, B Sci grads I’ve spoken too are unanimous in their opinion that that particular undergraduate degree has about as much substance as a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, which is basically best when it’s three ply, soft and absorbent.

You see, Scomo has a rank and file of Christian soldiers in his cabinet and his backrooms, and more importantly, in his support base. He needs must create a symbol of intention in order to ensure that he’s not knifed like the bloke that he himself knifed. And seeing that they’re all happy clappy Christian types, he knows that they’ll be happy with a symbolic gesture which may or may not have actually happened. Given that this is really the stock in trade of the fundamentalist loony… sorry – I mean sincere and dedicated Pentecostal.

So perhaps we should just sit back and enjoy the light show. I mean, it’s not as if anything is actually being achieved – it’s just meta-achievement in the classic Scomo vein.

“Or perhaps we should get on the same page as Scomo on symbols. Because on a level which has nothing to do with his elaborate simulations of leadership, symbolic actions do change reality.”

Or perhaps we should get on the same page as Scomo on symbols. Because on a level which has nothing to do with his elaborate simulations of leadership, symbolic actions do change reality. This one, for example, has the power to change us from a secular and sane country into a cut-down version of evangelical America. From a certain point of view, it might be considered our duty as non-crazy, non-fundamentalist citizens to make it very clear to our symbolically sensitive meta-leader that this particular meta-achievement is offensive to our existing liberties and to the idea of effective and meaningful government.

At the risk of sounding American, we should tell our MPs what we think of this. No, really. Sure, they’ll ignore one or a dozen of us, but they can’t ignore all of us. Or, if a more direct approach appeals, there’s always the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s contact form here: https://www.pmc.gov.au/contact-us

Because as Scomo himself says, he’s listening, and hearing, and if he’s listening, he’s doing.

Latest Vatican Research Findings: Boys Have Penises

The Vatican or, more specifically, The Congregation for Catholic Education, has just released a document regarding the teaching of gender theory. As part of the GBA service, I have read this document so that you don’t have to waste the precious moments of your life doing so.

Plenty of other press organisations have covered the provocative timing of this release, as well as the reliably dissident Jesuit response, but there’s been little to no engagement with the actual arguments as yet, mostly owing to that tried and true journalistic practice of never reading more than the abstract and conclusion of anything, no matter what it is. I, however, believe that there should be little to no engagement with the actual arguments because they’re either not actually arguments, or they are arguments, but they’re stupid.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, beyond the usual guff about love and doctrine, and that curiously unique Vatican style – all technical sounding multi-syllables interspersed, seemingly at random, with sudden bursts of mediaeval English and Latin. I knew that it would basically be a combination of rebuttal book and conversation starter: a set of things teachers can say when confronted with non-Catholic or, as I like to put it, sane views of an issue, as well as a call for academics and whatnot to engage with their position. This kind of polarity is also typical of the Vatican – an open-hearted and sincere wish to listen, combined with a greasy bag of low-down sophistry designed to maintain, at all costs, their doctrinaire view of the world and of themselves. Like an obese contortionist covered in food waste, official Vatican thinking has a tendency to be simultaneously compellingly beautiful, impressively agile, and deeply repugnant.

I knew, basically, that it would be very like other Vatican documents from this department. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was how dim-witted it would be. Its attempts to define and answer gender theory reminded me of nothing so much as an octogenarian attempting to use Snapchat. The little tour of ‘gender theory’ the authors take us on is so befuddled, so obviously confused and intellectually outpaced, that it’s almost charming. One of their more risible contentions is the idea that the body, the sex, of an individual is a primary determiner of gender. This isn’t amusing or insane in and of itself, of course – what’s laughable about it is their assumption that gender theorists don’t agree with this. They do. For the same reason that most academics agree that rocks are made of stuff that forms rocks.

And then there’s their central contention – that gender theorists believe that gender is solely down to “human choice”. Now, I’m undecided on whether this is disingenuous or dim-witted, but the strong implication of the language is that this means an individual human’s choice. This is emphatically not an accurate summation of gender theory. Most theories of gender performativity, etc., emphasise the role of social and cultural constructs in the formation of gender. The radical bit is pointing out that these are artificial, and that the individual can and often does have significant agency in determining whether or not to conform to them. Which is actually a near identical position to the one adopted by the Congregation. Which would obviously be inconvenient and embarrassing, so I guess I’m going to opt for ‘disingenuous’ as the word which best describes the logical core of the argument.

Another charmingly oblivious aspect of the paper is its consistent use of the term ‘ideological’ to describe what they term to be the ‘radical’ end of gender theory. In the same paragraph – often the same sentence – as a call for the rejection of “ideologically based” theories, is a call for teachers to promote “doctrine”. One man’s ideology is another man’s doctrine, I guess. But this seemingly genuine lack of self awareness is another example of unexpected charm. It’s like Basil Fawlty – so flawed he can’t see his own flaws which, in certain contexts, is counter-intuitively endearing. The whole Catholic Church is a bit like that, and this comes through very clearly in this pretzel-like grab bag of random half-truths and invalid arguments.

Of course, when once we get past the impressive sounding ‘philosophical’ language, and the big-hearted rhetoric of universal love, the charm starts to wear off. Actual analysis of this document reveals that its entire position is based on a straw man and a false dichotomy. The egregious misunderstandings of gender theory are revealed as not so much befuddled as they are wilfully, shamefully dishonest and misleading. And the notion that only the most radical aspects of gender theory are being taught in schools, and that this represents a cultural crisis, is in actual fact on the same level of sanity as Alex Jones or David Icke. It does not represent reality in any way, and this isn’t because it’s a bunch of doddering confused old men doing the thinking. It’s because the Church is pulling an extremely nasty trick – the same one they’ve been pulling for about 1800 years. “We love you, whoever you are,” this document says, “so please come and talk to us so we can explain to you why you’re not allowed to own who you are.”

The Jesuit priest James Martin hit the nail exactly on the head. Or, to be more Catholic about it, rem acu tetistigi-ed. “Sadly, …[this document]… will be used as a cudgel against transgender people, and an excuse to argue that they shouldn’t even exist.” He’s right – it will be. Primarily because that is exactly what it was made to be.

Hillsong’s Not So Happy Clappy Underbelly

I’m currently working on a story about Hillsong. Given that I only occasionally pretend to be a journalist, this work is going quite slowly, but it is going nonetheless. The working thesis of this story is that Hillsong is in fact a dangerous cult, on a par with Scientology, and even the casual and peripatetic inquiries I’ve made so far have given me enough material to put together this preview.

We like to think of Hillsong as a sort of eccentrically fervent church, a weird and anomalous phenomenon, with beliefs on the insanity end of the stupid spectrum, sure, but just another happy clappy congregation at the end of the day. This just isn’t true. Quite a few people, I’m sure, are aware of the fact that Hillsong is not a church but a for-profit enterprise. This has been made pretty obvious in the past, with their past ownership of Gloria Jeans and their previous Australian head actually saying on Sixty Minutes that they operate for profit. But there are many indications that Hillsong operates on another and far more sinister level as well.

Let’s take the idea that Hillsong is anomalous – a strange but harmless blip on society. It isn’t. It’s the whale amongst a network of Pentecostal churches who share money, lobbying power, and insane beliefs, and a member of one of these churches is our current Prime Minister. What this means is that there is an entire mechanism or network of people surrounding and supporting him in our nation’s corridors of power who are similarly deranged. Okay, maybe ‘deranged’ is a bit subjective, so let’s go with ‘compromised’ instead. We need only look at the tender treatment of these churches in the media, the glad-handing and soft-soaping that both political parties undertake every single election cycle with these congregations, to see that this disturbingly regressive and reason-immune cluster of churches is burrowed tick-like into the highest levels of the Australian establishment. This makes them both mainstream and deeply unacceptable.

But there’s even darker stuff to be found. One of the frustrating things about journalism is that quite a bit of the evidentiary basis for a story is ultimately going to be anecdotal. The idea is to collect enough of these anecdotes – verifiable ones, for preference – to start the sort of evidence avalanche which can properly be termed as data. I’d like to share some of the anecdotes I’ve collected so far. To protect sources and keep my promises, I’m going to have to use alpha-numerics instead of names.

A1 came from a Hillsong family. He was brought up in a high powered Pentecostal community – the kind and level which owned Gloria Jeans. He has a fairly typical story to tell, with the usual catalogue of psychological damage one can expect from an organisation which thinks of shame as a beneficial child-rearing tool. His sexuality was constantly under the microscope, and he was driven from church to church, pastor to pastor, in order to have his most intimate thoughts and actions parsed and examined for orthodoxy. So far, so typical, as far as religion goes. But he also describes the extreme pressure put on him by the church to cut himself off from all secular forms of counselling, instruction, or support. It got to the point where he was being advised not to have any friends outside the church, and not to speak to family members who had yet to accept the church’s embrace. This was my first sniff of cultish practice, and it’s absolutely classic of its kind.

G3 was a working girl and meth addict. She was accepted into the church on the back of a ‘chance encounter’ at what can only be termed a crack house in Terrey Hills. Initially, all was wonderful. She received great support in addiction recovery and in other aspects of re-building her life. Things took a turn for the dark when she suddenly found herself steered towards a volunteer program made up of people like herself, formed specifically to target drug addicts, sexual abuse victims, and other vulnerable people for recruitment. This wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem. It’s very easy to see this as an ordinary outreach program, but there are a few key aspects of it which ring serious alarm bells. Like the fact that this outreach sent recovering addicts back into drug dens and haunts to trawl for more members. Like the fact that even when she relapsed (which she of course did multiple times owing to being sent back into crack houses on a regular basis) and began prostituting herself again, the church was still more than happy to accept their twenty percent tithe – insisted on it, in fact. Like the fact that when her parents attempted to move in to support her, strong pressure was placed on them to route money to the church so that they could ‘take charge’ of her recovery. Ultimately, G3 died of an overdose, miserable and conflicted about her faith, on the dirty carpet of a heroin dealer’s living room.

So the next time you see a Hillsong lovie with the cheerful t-shirt and the Christian rock, or a family member or friend considering going along ‘just to see what it’s all about’, please do keep these two stories – two amongst a great many more, some of which involve actual kidnapping and coercion but which I do not currently have permission to share – in mind.

Don’t Take (non-excisable) Drugs

When white middle class kids start dying, we can generally be pretty confident that there will be calls for change.

One disadvantage of this excellent system, however, is that the initial conversation tends to be made up of people who have decided to weigh in on an issue after decades of failing to take any active interest in it. Issues of pill testing, and the looming elephant in the room – prohibition – are no exception. A lot of genuine and laudable emotion is being aired and expended on both sides of what we must laughingly term ‘the debate’, but there is a big – a bloody enormous – gap in all of this. And this comes with the failure to ask a single simple question: “Is there a good reason for the prohibition of narcotic substances?”

Despite the fact that almost everybody assumes that there is, it’s actually far from being uncontested. The origins of prohibition trace back to surprisingly stupid roots. Global substance control has its origins in the US Temperance Movement, a movement which, by today’s standards, is actually quite extremist. It was arguably pretty whacky in its own day too. There’s lots of history on the subject, and it’s actually unusually unanimous when it comes to how and why prohibition came about. Put simply, the discovery of the process for extracting vegetable alkaloids was a major revolution in humanity’s unceasing quest to find ways to both enhance and inebriate consciousness. There followed a period generally known as ‘The Great Binge’, in which cocaine and heroin were found in pharmaceutical, beauty, and fad products, and seemingly everyone in the western world was off their trolley all the time. In the wake of the big world wars, necessary re-definitions of the contract between citizen and state impacted the types of laws being proposed and accepted by most western nations. It’s in these periods we find stuff we’re still very much in step with today. Laws about workers’ rights and safety, grand social security mechanisms, our current attitudes to education rights and suffrage, and also the attempted prohibition of alcohol, and the successful prohibition of most of what we today classify as narcotics. It’s generally agreed that the substances which came under most fire fell into the following categories:

  • Popular with ethnic minorities and the poor
  • Not one of the USA’s biggest exports (tobacco)
  • Largely imported from non-western countries

It’s the first point which needs to be stressed. The prevailing belief at the time was that the poor and ill-educated were helpless children, incapable of stewarding their own lives, and that they also needed their souls saved from the damnation inherent in self-indulgence. So they could get to Christian heaven. It’s arguable, but it’s probably reasonable to assume that a combination of organisational inertia, mission creep, and the kind of amnesia pretty well unique to western cultures is what has resulted in these motives not only remaining unquestioned, but being actually forgotten.

Drugs kill people, certainly. I’d be willing to bet that the chilling statistics around overdose deaths and whatnot are actually true. Pretty well as true as those same (and much larger) numbers that we associate with alcohol and tobacco. But whereas with alcohol it was recognised that its prohibition had resulted in the sudden creation of a murderous and obscenely wealthy new criminal class without causing any appreciable drop in its consumption or its harms to individuals and society, no such thought process has occurred with relation to narcotics. But the facts speak for themselves. Taking only a single case – the Mexican and Colombian cartels – drug prohibition has created a situation in which addiction and usage rates have dropped 0% (and this is using the lowball figures we get from activities that are illegal), and criminal organisations large enough to represent existential threats to actual modern states are running global, multi-billion dollar businesses, with side enterprises in sex trafficking and contract murder. No matter how much we might deplore big pharma’s practices, it’s unlikely that legalisation would lead to, say, Pink Pharmaceutical running hookers from Guatemala, for example. Or killing thousands of people in gang firefights before stringing the dismembered corpses up on telegraph poles.

Put very simply, our current global drug policy is three things:

  • Utterly ineffective
  • Deeply irrational
  • Actively harmful

And you don’t have to take my word for any of that: https://www.unodc.org/wdr2018/prelaunch/WDR18_Booklet_1_EXSUM.pdf

But it’s interesting – very interesting – to note that despite a multi-volume report outlining the manifold failures of prohibition, there is little to no mention of legalisation. It’s all coded into the US friendly phrase ‘harm reduction’. Which is ludicrous.

All this brings me back to our fearless Premier as a case in point. She is, in fact, representative of the people in this case, in that she has a knee jerk, deontological response predicated by personal morality, and an ingrained refusal to think about its actual origins. The thing is, personal morality really doesn’t trump half a million deaths per year world wide. It doesn’t automatically negate the need to think in broad policy terms for a person who’s ultimately responsible for the welfare and safety of a whole state. And, in my opinion (and this is the only actual personal opinion contained in this piece), is like all other personal beliefs, opinions and prejudices, in that it’s a citizen duty to think past and beyond them when discussing matters of state and national import.

Scott Morrison, Lilluputian Soldier Of God. And Strawberries.

scott morrison proves theory of evolution

Just now Scott Morrison has announced that he will kick off the new parliamentary year with a new religious freedom bill, based on the recommendations of the Ruddock Report, which has been deemed so uncontroversial and even handed that it’s not to be released until parliament ceases business. Both of these actions are, to my mind, equally courageous, and representative of just how representative this particular government has been in its long history of operation, stretching as it has over several weeks.

Now, I know the naysayers will dismiss Scott Morrison as a spineless, mindless populist, with a policy focus millimetres deep, but miles wide and covering everything in the path of this last hour’s prevailing political wind. Nasty satirists like Sean Micaleff have pointed out that Scott Morrison is routinely thrown to the ground and hopelessly pinioned when wrestling with the most basic of English sentences, and have made a string of cheap and unfunny jokes about this. I’ve included a link here, for your mature disapproval and censure. But I’m not one of those nay-sayers – I say nay to nay-saying, and in this kind of stance, I’m exactly like my role model, that admirable example of gratuitous Lilliputian aggression, Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

I personally believe that our prime minister is a man of deep integrity and courage. I mean, we only have to look at the strawberry tampering case to see a prime example of this. No sooner had some disgruntled farm worker begun secreting needles into fruit then Scomo leapt bravely into action, publicly eating a carefully chopped and searched strawberry, and then announcing admirably harsh penalties for food adulteration and tampering. Never mind that these offences were already illegal, or that no judge in their right mind would actually apply the new maximum sentence, given the already extant and well used options for escalation already within the criminal code. No, what matters is that our national leader stood fiercely up in the face of adversity and courageously created a single law which doubled up on a collection of laws already in existence, as a symbolic way of showing us exactly how effective he could be.

And as if that weren’t enough, the intrepid Captain Scott Mark II is up to his old acts of derring do once again. This time, he is leaping to the defence of that poor and underprivileged minority, those 94% of privately funded schools which are religious. Now, of course, not all religious private schools are mega-rich elite schools. And it’s nonsense to suggest that the ones which are have a Christian duty to help their poorer brethren instead of foisting their support off onto us, the taxpayer. As Scott Morrison says – we may be secular, but we’re not a godless country. And I heartily concur. I may be an atheist, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in god. The logic there is simply unassailable, and a fine example for the children and educators whose rights he intends to impinge upon for their own good. It’s very simple, really – being simultaneously secular and ‘not godless’ is a classic example of doublethink, a concept from Orwell’s 1984, and Scomo is leading the nation in highbrow literary references by example and not, as some critics say, simply incapable of understanding simple sentence logic. Or words.

And it’s these very critics whom Scotty is defying with his courageous courage in the face of the dire threat posed by people who insist on letting other people think what they like – a right, incidentally, which Scomo has never had a need to exercise, since this would involve that pernicious left wing practice of thinking. The fact is that the sneering liberal elites have directed a storm of utterly unjustified abuse at… well… Scott’s Liberal elites, for defying the will of the people and going against the broader values of the nation. How could our dear leader be a rank and spineless populist when he’s doing something so unpopular? And I agree. This is just like the great battle of the strawberry, fought so heroically in that distant epoch of seven minutes ago when another aggressive Lilliputian – I mean, Liberal – woke up to find himself in C-1 with his hands covered in his mate’s blood.

Nay-sayers may say what they like (presumably, it’ll be ‘nay’), but what Scomo is doing here is identical in terms of political courage, importance, and relevance to the population at large. In a nation where there is no specific prohibition on the provision of religious instruction in private schools, where each state has radically different views on religious instruction in public schools but not a single one bans anything short of single faith proselytisation, and where the law is sufficiently vague and undefined (NSW law, for example, doesn’t really even define ‘education’) that it’s very difficult to see how anything other than the religious protections already implied in the constitution could apply – it is in such a nation that our very own high priest of happy clappy tongue-speaking is proposing a bill to cover the freedoms that religious institutions already hold by de facto.

Now, while this might seem like a waste of time, I assure you it isn’t. You see, under the current system, the school and/or state is deemed to be in partnership with the parents (the children don’t really get a look in here) in the provision of education, with the state being the senior partner. Should a parent object or be dissatisfied with something like, oh, I don’t know, the teaching of young Earth creationism in the face of all reason, evidence, and sanity, then they can either remove their child or have their objection tested in court. This is obviously a gross injustice, and by formalising religious exemptions at a federal level, what Scott Morrison is doing is enshrining the right of any educational institution to program hapless children to think that dinosaurs were planted as a trick by angels, or that gay people will burn in hell forever. And for this, he is certainly a hero worthy of the kind of adulation people in that part of the religious spectrum reserve for great leaders like… well, I can’t actually think of anyone who’s done anything on this small and redundant a scale, so let’s just call him a trailblazer. Scott Morrison should be lauded for burning this path back to the fourteenth century, and I for one am astonished to live under leadership of this stature.

On The Sudden Love Of Bush

(AP Photo/Dennis Cook) 

This is not an article about the demise of the Brazilian, but rather of the sudden outpouring of bipartisan love for George H W Bush. Now I’m definitely not saying that this is completely inexplicable. Former President Bush was an undoubtedly moral man, and an important one. The Bush family belong, though in a very different part of the spectrum, in the same space as the Kennedy clan when it comes to great American dynasties. And Bush’s life after office was arguably exemplary, with friendships that reached across the aisle, across class boundaries, and which he leveraged for various altruistic and civic causes. And when it comes to his flaws, his affection for political expediency when it came to negative campaigning and dog whistling, his antediluvian attitudes to race relations, drugs, and foreign policy, these are certainly being remembered as well. One of my enduring memories of Bush is of him waving a bag of crack at a camera in the oval office, Bush having mobilised the Secret Service to buy him an astonishing quantity in Lafayette Park. I remember wondering if those agents actually believed Bush’s explanation of why he wanted the stuff, and also, given how quickly and easily they made the purchase, how often they’d had to do this in the past.

Bush’s war on drugs was an utter catastrophe, and as far as that goes, his legacy is people who went to jail in his administration and are still there for crimes like possession, and an appalling body count. And then there’s the natural targets of any war on drugs in that region. It’s really not too difficult to draw a straight line from US interventionism in the cartel homelands to the caravan pressing up against the US/Mexico border today. Quite a few people are also pointing out his attitudes to abortion, birth control, gender equality, LGBTI rights, AIDS, and a raft of other issues which are hot button topics today. Actually, I can’t just let the AIDS thing go as a casual mention. Bush’s response to the AIDS epidemic was classically inept and moralising, and it’s very easy to describe his do-nothing prudishness as lethal to a great many people. But context needs to come into play. Bush’s attitudes on these issues were not actually that far from the median for the time. It’s an unpalatable truth, but for those of us who were alive and sentient in those days, it’s not too hard to remember that our current and highly laudable embrace of all things minority was, in fact, far from being a mainstream or median belief at the time.

And here we come to the nub of all this affection for his memory. Whatever else he was, George H W Bush was a gentleman, in the patrician sense of the word, and as such, while it was always possible to disagree with him, it was never really feasible to dismiss him as an insane bigot. For me, his service record, both military and civilian, softens the lens through which I remember him. His publicly known attitudes to what relationship there should be between a president and the state, a president and their government, and a president and their citizens, were highly admirable. This is a man who very clearly did the best he could to serve his country and his people according to his own lights, however dim or bright we might consider those lights to be. So it is definitely by contrast that we surround him with the halo he currently enjoys.

And that’s really it, isn’t it? In contrast to the current POTUS, even Dubya’s starting to look good. To be completely honest, a faeces-coated burning sofa on a garbage pile looks statesmanlike and intelligent next to President Trump. But I really don’t think this should take away from the essence or core of this outpouring of feeling for the last of the warrior statesman presidents of the USA. I personally deplored George H W Bush’s politics, and disagreed, often vehemently, with almost every one of his broad policy positions. Such is the right and prerogative of everyone resident in the western world, given that every one of us is directly impacted by the direction and character of any POTUS. But George H W Bush never once gave the impression that he’d forgotten or didn’t care about this. He operated with integrity, courtesy, and an earnest desire to serve something other than (or as well as) himself. And what this does is present a stark and deeply depressing counterpoint to the current ‘leader of the free world’. So yes, I’m happy to go with the love for Bush, because what it really signifies is my profound disapproval of Trump.

It’s Okay To Be (Far) Right

scott-morrison

I accidentally support far right causes all the time. Just the other day, I saw a friend of mine beating a black person across the road and I raised my hand to admonish him for his political incorrectness but, would you believe it, I forgot to actually wave it around and it ended up looking like a Nazi salute. And then there was a few weeks ago when I was walking through the city and, abstractedly whilst thinking of this and that, as you do, I suddenly realised that I had accidentally scrawled the Neo-Nazi ’88’ on every flat surface I had passed. I, of course, had been contemplating on infinity, but because of the curvature of the earth and parallax error I’d done my infinity signs sideways. And only yesterday I was teaching one of my students when she asked me if the holocaust was wrong and, being distracted by the sheer volume of non-white people passing up and down the street, I misspoke and said ‘no’. Could have happened to anyone. These little errors are so normal and natural, and I can only thank my weirdly Middle Eastern white male god that nobody with cameras was around, as that’s the kind of thing that can end careers and ruin lives for no reason at all in this PC gone mad kind of world.

And this is why I deeply sympathise with the senate amidst the spurious media beat up of their accidental support of a Pauline Hanson motion using a far right white supremacist slogan. How could these people, people whose business, by the way, is politics, have known that such a motion might have been racist? How could anyone have divined that a motion passed by one of the senate’s most eloquent and statesmanlike senators of sanity might be located at the gibbering and drooling extreme end of the far right? I mean, really, who could have known this?

This is just another of those unfortunate accidents. The government, worried that their crazy Christian fundamentalist pick for PM might not be far right enough for the far right silent majority we hear so much from, were innocently dipping their toes into the cesspit of race politics when they suddenly found that their hard right faction’s views on race and politics were not as popular as they thought they might be. Now some cynics might point out that these people have been consistently wrong, and some might even utter the libellous opinion that the conservative faction of the Liberals is a miscellaneous grab bag of bigoted lunatics, but they would be wrong. This is exactly the kind of innocent mistake anyone could make.

So we have a decision to make some time next year. Do we support these hard working warriors for the cause of the much marginalised middle class white male, or do we give in to the leftist extremists and let spurious considerations like slavish devotion to unrepresentative views on religion, a laudable but innocent tendency to discriminate along the lines of race, sexuality, and religion, and the natural and inevitable state of being bought and sold by their large corporate donors – are we going to let little things like this get between us and the kind of good government we used to get in the 1950s?

Well, I guess that’s up to you.