The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Donald Trump Is Neither Funny Nor Incomprehensible

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It would seem, from a quick perusal of the internets, that we have two and a bit days before the world is either consumed in a fireball of climate change and offended minorities under Trump, or packaged up and sold to CIA reptiles and some numinous body called ‘the elite’ under Clinton. Every kind of publication I follow, from highbrow to low, mainstream to fringe, is relishing the opportunity to dust off their literary educations (such as they are) and get into some John of Patmos style apocalyptic prophesy. Political philosophers are talking about the ‘post-truth’ age, major newspapers are resorting to name-calling, fiction factories like RT and Sputnik have reached new heights of fabricated falsehood and the world in general seems to be devoting a fair portion of each day to screaming at people they’ve never met about issues they don’t understand. So, business as usual, really – just carried on a bit louder.

What’s depressed me most about this presidential race, however, has been the reaction of that subset of the media which caters to the intelligent, the well-informed, and the far more numerous group who incorrectly believe themselves to be both. By far the most common trend amongst what Trump supporters call ‘the liberal media elite’ has been blank incomprehension. They can’t understand why anyone would support Trump. They can’t understand how Trump can be a contender. They can’t understand what Trump himself is actually saying. And these are supposed to be the smart ones? To me, and presumably to the people who support him, Trump’s appeal is obvious. He speaks to the near-universal delusion that the world can be run on something called ‘common sense’. How do we control border access? Build a wall – why hasn’t anyone thought of that? Are we stupid? How do we fix the economy? It’s simple – we just fix it. Don’t worry about the details – that’s just finance nerd trickery. We’ll make more jobs. How do we solve the various crises in the Middle East? Easy – we’ll simultaneously bring all our troops home and bomb the crap out of the enemy, whoever they happen to be. It’s all really simple and don’t let anyone tell you you’re too stupid or too ignorant to work it out.

Because there’s the crux of the problem. It’s the revenge of the nerds out there at the moment. Who is the leader of Islamic State? What limits and powers attach to sovereign status in a rules based world order? What is the net effect of cash supply on the velocity of money? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you’re not fit to run the country, vote, or use the toilet without assistance. And not just that, you’ll be sniggered at and put on a meme. Such is the narrative emanating from the left and a great many people are justifiably fed up with it. Of course they’re going to flock to someone who tells them that they’re not stupid, but rather oppressed by a conspiracy of smart-arses who use big meaningless words and over-complicate things to hide their self-serving perfidy, which is another meaningless big word and let’s make everything great again, y’all.

And to a certain extent, this is correct. Imagine, for a moment, that you are a person who doesn’t believe that trans rights is a real issue. Who feels that calling Hispanic people ‘spics’ is quaint and affectionate. Who’s utterly convinced that women and ethnics are being unfairly advantaged and that the keystone of Western civilisation and its success is faith in our one true lord Jesus Christ. Imagine that you’re that kind of person, and then think about just how patiently a left-leaning intellectual is going to listen to you. Think about just how big a platform you’d get for airing these views. Fact is, if you hold these views, you are guilty of thoughtcrime. They’re unthinkable, and therefore forbidden everywhere but in little pockets of resistance on the internet. And, now, within the walls of the travelling circus tent which is the Trump campaign.

It’s not funny. It’s goddamn heartbreaking. The world has always been filled with people too stupid to lift the seat before they piss, but not until recently has it become de-rigeur amongst the mainstream to mock, belittle and ignore them. The educating mission has died out just as the hillbilly meme is born and now we have a situation where it’s actually become impossible to persuade, largely because we’ve given up talking to each other. Ever since the emergence of complex civilisation, the vast bulk of any population has been more or less mystified as to the actual workings of the state, and it has been down to the people who do know to either cultivate their trust, or keep them in order through force of one sort or another. Well, the existence of a Donald Trump is indicative of a failure to maintain that trust. It’s not hard to see how it’s been destroyed when we consider that trust is impossible without meaningful communication. And when we swap persuasion for condemnation, understanding for mockery and dialogue for self-righteous censorship, any kind of communication becomes next to impossible. We’ve divided into feuding factions, separated by a mutual incomprehension which is at least nine tenths deliberate, and if Trump wins on Tuesday we liberals have only our sniggering, supercilious, breathtakingly arrogant selves to blame.

Still Stopping The Boats, Are We?

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There were always going to be a few options when it came to stopping unauthorised maritime arrivals, or whatever it is we’re calling them this week. As it’s a complex problem, the solutions are also quite complex. For the sake of space and sanity, let’s divide the possible responses into two broad sets: Preventative and Punitive. And just so we don’t accidentally create a false dichotomy, let’s point out, right here at the top of the page, that each solution obviously contains elements of the other. What gives each set of responses its title is emphasis, rather than exclusivity.

Way back in the days before Australia’s somewhat ill-advised experiment with Abbottian Radicalism, we the people were presented with a clear choice. On the one hand, there was the humane, intelligent and nuanced Preventative solution, where government tried to ignore the white noise of xenophobia and make plans which would operate and effect well into the middle and long term (note the careful use of the word ‘government’ – neither Liberal nor Labor get a pass on this particular bucket of vile toxicity). And then there was the Punitive solution, where government would amplify, and in large part create, xenophobic white noise, and undertake actions which can either be seen as courageous and direct, or reactive and stupid, depending on which part of the political spectrum the describer happens to be shouting from.

With breathtaking courage, perspicacity and intelligence, we the people chose the Punitive approach. Bravely, we went forth on a program of deliberate and questionably legal cruelty in order, so we were told, to save lives. We entered into dubious agreements with dubious island governments, militarised and classified what had previously been a relatively benign border control operation and turned a sanctimoniously blind eye to the psychological abuse, beating and rape of the men, women and children we were so virtuously saving from death. All things pass, however, and after a while I think we became less enthused about the Punitive solution. The obvious moral ambiguities, as well as the shockingly increased cost, gave many of us pause. “Who would have thought,” the media said for us, “that a solution which requires significantly greater resources and involves indefinite internment would cost so much more and be so damn nasty?”

I don’t really understand how we of the Australian public, members of a nation and culture I love, could ever have rationalised this to ourselves. Perhaps we saw it as some kind of tough love? Or perhaps we, as a nation, had a momentary lapse of both generosity and courage, and decided in that moment to listen to the mean, reactionary, white supremacist fringe which exists in every Western nation, no matter how wonderful. Suffice it to say, having made this choice we are, for the moment, stuck with it.

What happened, way back in the halcyon days before Rudd Gillard Rudd OMFG ABBOTT WHY WHY WHY Turnbull, was a re-affirmation of one of the oldest principles of Australian politics. We confirmed, in no uncertain terms, that being tough on Johnny Foreigner was still a guaranteed lever for generating popularity. It’s in this context that the recent proposed lifetime ban on boat arrivals makes the most sense. The permanently outraged left is not, I think, alone in being nonplussed and infuriated by the proposal, but there really isn’t any reason for this. With a Prime Minister weakened by factional infighting, low popularity and his own apparent moral and political cowardice, it was really only a matter of time before the xenophobia button was pushed yet again. And it is merely characteristic that it’s being done in such a half-arsed, pussy-footed and tangential way. Half-arsed, pussy-footed and tangential could and probably will be carved on this government’s headstone.

No, Hippie, We Can’t Beat ISIS With Hugs

There has been a lot of embarrassing commentary bandied about in the last few weeks. People who are otherwise perfectly sane have, for some reason, decided to channel the bronze age and declare that the conflict with ISIS is a competition between gods, requiring us to smite the unbelieving wherever and whomever they might be. This ignores, of course, the fact that there is only one god in question, and that the question isn’t really a very relevant one. And who could forget the hate-groups, leveraging the credulity of the public in general and Pauline Hanson in particular in order to pose as grassroots movements of ‘concerned citizens’, instead of revealing themselves to be the white supremacist filth that they really are.

While outpourings of hate and stupidity like these are deeply embarrassing to all paid-up members of humanity, by far the most embarrassing commentary, for me, has been from the hearts and flowers brigade. Now, don’t get me wrong: anyone who’s spreading a message of peace, tolerance and love is generally going to get two big thumbs up from me. And I should also point out that I understand what they’re saying – to wit, that one of the main aims of ISIS is to sow division, and that by coming together we can frustrate that aim. The problem for me is that this is a nuanced message and, as such, has been completely misunderstood by idiots on both sides of the political divide. And it was always going to be.

You see, the thing about a message that contains a complete idea, and is delivered in the form of a complete sentence, is that it’s always going to go straight over the heads of people who don’t understand the difference between words like ‘Muslim’, ‘Islamist’, ‘terrorist’, ‘immigrant’ and ‘refugee’. Beyond a vague idea that they might be spelt differently, that is. It’s also going to have limited success amongst people whose solution to everything is to buy a hobby farm somewhere and blog endlessly about falling in love with trees, fair trade cocoa beans, or their own goddess powers, or whatever it is small-earther hippies are into this week. The point is that when you know full well that the bulk of your likely audience is going to possess the political sophistication of a recently concussed duckling, there is really very little to be gained by talking to them like they’re grownups.

There is, however, a lot to be lost. Like clarity. Like sensible discussion. Like the ability to avoid the conflation of the related but very different problems that are terrorism and ISIS. Terrorism is a global phenomenon that’s been around for centuries and is probably a symptom of a broader systemic failure arising from the way in which world power is organised. There are people out there who realise this, and who are working on a solution. ISIS is a localised problem, stemming from a number of factors including our own actions in the Middle East, and there are only two possible solutions, neither of which have anything to do with hugs or flowers. We either need to arrange for the total military destruction of the ISIS regime, or prepare for a world which contains a new winner of this century’s ‘most evil state’ competition. Aggressively loving each other in public is going to achieve neither of these outcomes, and it is deeply unhelpful to suggest, even inadvertently, that it might.

So, to all those pointy heads on the right, please try to understand that no sane person is suggesting that universal love is going to result in the military defeat of ISIS. And to all the neo-hippies of the increasingly embarrassing left: There have only ever been a handful of major conflicts that have been won without casualties and using free love in favour of ordnance, and none of these have ever occurred outside of the Disney universe. If we can’t wrap our heads around the basic realities of the current situation, then I’m afraid that we will effectively forfeit any rights we might have in determining our future course. This would represent, to my mind, a disastrous failure of the principles of democracy. It is for this reason that I would urge all good citizens from both the left and the right to immediately book tickets for their return to planet Earth.

It’s Not A Defence Of Islam, It’s An Attack On Stupidity

In the wake of the Paris attacks, social media has once again come alive with people who see no problem with leveraging a global tragedy in order to promote an ideology of hatred. I’d like to say a majority of these people are in the Middle East and are called ISIS, but they’re not. They’re ‘ordinary decent citizens’ who are sick of what they see as government inaction and the ‘liberal left’ being ‘soft on Muslims’.

What I’d most like to say to these people is unprintable. What I’d say next would be, “Take a long look at yourselves.” But when I consider the incoherent and asinine results of their having taken a look at contemporary issues, I lack faith in their capacity for self examination. Or sequential thought. Or coherent speech. So, finding myself the only person in these conversations who is capable of conversation, I am forced to listen to what they have to say and respond to it.

Let’s leave, for the moment, the moronic and borderline insane tendency to speak of a population comprising one and a half billion people as if they were a single, uniform group. And perhaps we should pass lightly over the fact that if we were to convert far right ‘opinions’ into policy recommendations, we would end up with what basically amounts to ethnic cleansing. And let’s ignore, as well, the simple fact that anybody who thinks that our current terrorism problem stems primarily from the existence of Islam cannot possibly be said to understand the problem, Islam, history, or the process known as ‘thinking’. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that screaming blindingly obvious facts into the faces of bigots is neither an effective nor a productive use of time. Let us, instead, focus on the accusation that ‘lefties’ are uniformly in love with Islam and everything it stands for.

This accusation, like everything else that comes out of the mouths of reactionaries, is a distortion and over-simplification of a complex truth. Like many functional mental defectives in history, this interpretation smacks of the sort of mind that is capable of taking political rhetoric literally, and then believing it. And I use the word ‘mind’ loosely. The simple fact of the matter is that Islamist terrorism is obviously going to have elements of Islam in it. Islamist terrorist propaganda is going to use Islamic language and archaic Islamic ideas in order to get its message across. And there are going to be elements of fundamentalist Islam that are actually going to be quite conducive to the idea of blowing yourself up in a market square because you’re a bit miffed about America, or short skirts, or whatever loopy objection to the modern world happens to be uppermost in your diseased mind at the time.

The thing is, though, that this fact is part of a nuanced reality. There is not a single organised religion on the face of the planet that could not be turned to the justification of this kind of activity*. What actually tips the scales is not the nature of the religion, but the political and social realities experienced by its members, the function that determines the likelihood of radicalisation having far more to do with socio-economic status, national self-image, recent historical narrative (both contrived and actual) and degree and type of political oppression. This, however, is difficult to fit on a meme. Much more dangerous than the vague and contradictory tenets of any religion, is the bugbear of every progressive: the insidious human stain that is bigotry.

Progressive rhetoric will always push hard to sell the idea that terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, not because it’s the absolute truth, but owing to an assessment of what ‘ordinary people’ will almost always do when given an opportunity to ostracise and vilify people who look a bit funny. Like all political rhetoric, it needs to be taken with about half a metric tonne of salt, because this kind of rhetoric isn’t about information – it’s about reaction. A belief that the left is constantly defending Islam is symptomatic of the inability to understand subtleties that is endemic amongst the ranks of the bigoted. The natural response to an invalid attack on Islam is to attack that attack. This does not in itself amount to a defence of Islam. It is an attack on bigotry.

The unspoken truth of the matter is that most intellectual progressives believe the ‘great unwashed’ to be incapable of separating extreme ideology from the mainstream, or either ideology from the very real men, women and children who are going to have to live with the attitudes formed by what the populist right laughably calls ‘thinking’. An historical understanding of how bigotry forms and takes root is the primary factor informing the liberal response. Progressives believe that the only responsible answer to the specious, absolutist arguments of bigotry is the adoption of a position just as absolute. The assumption is that people who are prone to using stupid arguments are unlikely to understand complex ones.

If you think this attitude is high-handed, smug or condescending, you will find me in complete agreement. Unfortunately, a quick look at the reaction of the right wing all over the world will reveal that, as well as being all these things, it is also accurate.

 

*Yes, including Buddhism. 

The Relative Irrelevance Of Ideology… Explained Through Tinder

When I first heard about Tinder, I was very excited. You see, I’ve never really been interested in having a long term relationship with anyone, and the whole notion of creating a home and filling it with prototype humans has about as much appeal for me as a bareback ride on a machete. Of course, so many people have exactly the opposite view that it’s almost impossible to convince anyone else that this is a sincere or enduring position. People just smile puffy, self-satisfied smiles and say things like: “Well, you might think that now…” implying that my considered choices about my mode of life are just a temporary aberration that will be fixed when I finally decide to be just like everyone else. Maybe they’re right, or maybe not. It couldn’t matter less. What does matter in the here and now, though, is the fact that practically everyone who is single and my age is completely sold on the picket fence and SUV model for happiness, which brings up the practical issue of how to acquire sex without love.

So, Tinder is announced and the concept is one that seems tailor-made for my situation. It’s apparently a community of people who are interested only in “hookups”. Gone is the tiresome business of trying to determine likes and dislikes, political affiliations, compatibility of both the mundane and spiritual variety – it’s just a matter of liking what you see and then arranging to meet. To a person in my position, Tinder seemed to be absolutely heaven sent. A purpose-built community of people who, like me, do not see their future solely in the context of who else will be in it and who are nevertheless saddled with a practical need for temporary companionship. Perfect, right?

Wrong. The problem with Tinder is that it became phenomenally popular. And the whole thing with popularity is that it enforces, with crushing inevitability, the Poisson curve of statistical normality. Completely disregarding the deliberately shallow, hardbitten engineering of the system and ideology behind Tinder, the hookup app became overwhelmingly a dating app. What started as a simple means of obtaining casual sex became, under the pressure of sheer single-minded human banality, yet another place where people emote at each other and look for love. Don’t get me wrong – there is still a minority core of sex addicts and other assorted extremists who wish to use the app in the spirit in which it was intended, but they are  drowned out by the sheer volume of people using Tinder as a low-budget form of eHarmony. Even when they say they’re not.

And this, really, is my point. Systems, ideologies, creeds, faiths – it doesn’t really matter what they are: people will just be people. And it is this fact, so obvious that it attains the status of a truism, that many of us seem to have difficulty understanding. Take the people who think Islam is the root cause of violence and extremism in the Middle East. They smugly quote passages of the Quran, share around images and video of extremist nutbags saying extremist things and then use these things as ‘evidence’ that Islam is somehow intrinsically evil and directly responsible for everything that’s wrong with the world today. The massive, ten million dollar problem with such a view is that it ignores the reality of human experience  – that depressing Poisson curve of normality.

It really doesn’t matter what your religion says – people are pretty much just going to go on being people. Christianity can be interpreted as a mystical creed of universal love, abnegation of the self before God and the embracing of poverty, which clearly explains why Christendom has become one of the most peace-loving and frugal regions of the globe today. No, wait… bad example. Buddhism is a creed of universal love, tolerance and the transcendence of base human impulses, which clearly explains why Buddhist nations like Sri Lanka and Thailand have embraced ethnic minorities and… no, hang on – another bad example.

It really doesn’t matter what any creed or code actually says – get enough people involved and they will basically screw it up by being themselves. There are constants in human behaviour that can be identified across more than ten thousand years of civilisation and, while the exciting backdrop of philosophies and systems flickers and changes over time, human behaviour does not. I could start a religion today that advocates the worship of Satan, whose primary virtues include rebellion against God and the state and promiscuity. I guarantee you that as soon as it has a large enough membership, it will be filled with people who pay their taxes and raise children in nuclear families. And it will probably contain a fringe element of weird beards who actually read the holy texts and call the rest of the congregation apostates. Sound familiar? That’s because it is – it’s the story of every established religion in the history of humanity. The reality is that people ignore or twist ideology and faith to provide sovereign justification for whatever it was that they were always going to do in the first place. Which is why Tinder is just another dating site, and Islam is just another religion.

A Three Point Plan For Dealing With Muslims In Australia

A deeply worrying number of otherwise rational people seem to be calling, with ever-increasing fervour, for the removal of all Muslims from this country and the utter obliteration of the religion of Islam. They believe that Islam is a cult of death and violence whose continued existence can only mean the eventual destruction of the West. We hear a constant stream of assertions regarding Islamic intolerance, terrorism, misogyny and absolutism, amidst calls to ban the migration or residence of Muslim people anywhere in the world at any time.

I’m not going to repeat here the simple, plain facts of the matter. I’m not going to point out that the fundamentalist proportion of not only Islam, but of every other religion, is miniscule. I’m tired of re-iterating the easily provable fact that terror organisations of every stamp are primarily political and not religious, and that this becomes confusing when we are talking about a part of the world that has not fully embraced the separation of church and state. I’ve become completely nauseated at the prospect of once again highlighting the logical contradiction inherent in believing that all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world are nihilistic terrorists and simultaneously being alive and well and unconquered by Muslim extremists. And I am absolutely sick to death of pointing out that cherry-picking violent verses from the Quran doesn’t prove a single, solitary thing, especially in light of the fact that the same thing can be done with the Torah and the Bible, and that drawing conclusions about Islam on such a basis rests on the (false) assumption that all Muslims are fundamentalists.

So I’m not going to bother.

Instead, what I am going to do is a thought experiment, which, as it involves thinking, will probably seem to pointy-headed fascists like some form of sorcery. Let’s have a look, shall we, at how we would actually enact the wishes of those who wish to see Islam eradicated from Australian culture.

Firstly, the banning of Sharia law. This is pretty easily done – Sharia law isn’t formal law in any Western country, and no Western judiciary is ever going allow it to be written into common law. Any ban would therefore be wildly successful, and an utter waste of millions of dollars in order to outlaw something that is not actually in any danger of being instituted.

Now, the idea of ‘getting rid’ of the Muslims. This could also be done quite easily. All we’d have to do is find the roughly 2 percent of Australians who identified on the last census as Muslims and deport them. Of course, a significant portion of these people were born in Australia and only have single nationality, so we’d be technically making them stateless. As such, removing them from our soil would be illegal, but that’s not a problem. We could just put them in detention centres, or camps somewhere, until we can come up with a final solution.

Then there’s the far more insidious problem of Muslim ideology. Obviously it’s virulent, because radicalisation is so contagious that it’s effected a staggering 300 odd people out of 22 million. Clearly a five alarm, brown trouser time crisis. But how do we fight it? How, indeed, does one kill an idea? We have a few models from history for this. There’s the Maoist method, where we simply round up everyone we suspect of ever having had an idea, as well as all their families, and starve them to death somewhere or, if they can afford the bullet, shoot them in the head. Or there’s the Stalinist method which involves rounding people up into labour camps and starving them to death or shooting them. Or the Pol Pot method… actually, scratch all that. There’s actually only the one method, and it’s about camps and mass executions. Which integrates nicely with the ‘putting stateless Muslim deportees in detention centres’ policy.

And then, finally, we’d have to make sure that Islam could never raise its ugly head again, which would mean banning its practice by law. This would of course necessitate re-writing or amending part of the constitution and destroying the provisions for freedom of religion which exist in law, but we’ve demonstrated again and again that we don’t give a tinker’s cuss about our civil liberties anyway. Of course, having laws about one religion would mean that we would have to institute a kind of religious law to protect the faiths that we do like, but needs must and so on.

So, to sum up – in order to effect the policies of people who think Islam is dangerous and should be banned, we need to enact the following provisions.

  1. A program of non-judicial detention and deportation against people on the basis of their faith
  2. The attempted genocide of a group of people who we have decided are ideologically unacceptable
  3. The institution of religious law

None of which should be very difficult as we currently have a live, working model of such policies from which we can observe and learn. It’s called ISIS, and it operates in Northern Iraq and Syria. I suggest that those who wish to see these kinds of policies enacted should fly immediately to Raqqa or Erbil so that they can learn exactly what it is that they are asking for.

If You Don’t Like Australia, Just Leave

If you don’t like Australia, why don’t you just leave? It’s a habit amongst many on the left of politics to dismiss people who say things along these lines as ignorant, racist and reactionary. Which, if you think about it, is pretty reactionary in itself. I think that the idea actually deserves a little consideration. And no, I haven’t lost my mind or suddenly become a racist, but I am rapidly losing all tolerance for the mindless, hysterical reactionism that is coming more and more to define our political discourse. So let’s think about this for a moment.

Let’s say you suddenly wake up in a country whose core values and laws are such that you can no longer abide by them. As I see it, you then have three options. You can:

  1. Whinge about it endlessly
  2. Become an insurgent
  3. Proceed in the general direction of ‘away’

If you are the sort of person whose first and only reaction to problems is option 1, then I’m afraid you’re dropped from the list of people who actually matter. So let’s move on and talk about option 2. Taking action in this way presents the western world with a challenging dichotomy. On the one hand, we have a long and proud tradition of civil disobedience as one of the safeguards of democracy, and there are many elements of our culture that would seem to actively encourage this. On the other hand, however, we have learned, since the latter half of the 20th century, to develop a whole new level of abhorrence for politically motivated violence. Should you become a political insurgent in this country, there is a very good chance that you will establish a new Guinness World Record for ‘Shortest Career in History’. In short, option 2 is a non-starter.

Which brings us to option 3 – leaving. I understand that for many people this seems unthinkable. It’s a very expensive process, for a start, and on top of that, many people who would take serious exception to Australian values were born here. So the question is not only how they are to leave, but why they even should. For me, the answer is simple. If you disagree violently with the values of your native or adoptive country, then it is by far preferable that you leave it rather than causing harm to the people with whom you share it. The world is a big and varied place and, whatever your values, there is a very good chance that you’re going to be able to find a corner of the globe where most people agree with you, no matter how crazy you might be. And if it matters that much, people generally find a way. But as pointed out, this is a major and often expensive step. So how should a person determine when it is no longer possible to stay here?

I think the test is a simple one. Firstly, identify the core values of the country that you live in. In the case of Australia, these values would include pluralism, tolerance and freedom of worship. If you find any of these values to be completely unacceptable, I’m sorry, but you probably don’t belong here. If you can’t tolerate the idea of Muslims trying to live and worship freely in our country and you think that the entirety of the Islamic religion should be expunged from the Australian community, then I’m afraid that you fail to share some of this country’s most fundamental values. That brand of intolerance really belongs elsewhere, like the Aryan brotherhood controlled wing of a US prison. Or the training camps of organisations like Al Qaeda or ISIS.

Tonight, the chairman of the Parramatta mosque, Neil el-Kadomi, is going to tell his congregation that anybody who doesn’t like Australia or Australian values should just leave. I wish to mirror this call. If you can’t get on board with the core Australian concepts of acceptance, tolerance and religious freedom, then you should pïss off too.

Russia and the USA: Competing Visions of History

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When Vladimir Putin first came to power in 2000 he began to attract attention for all the wrong reasons. Various world leaders described him as ‘unsophisticated’, ‘crude’ and ‘breathtakingly ignorant’. It was noted that he had next to no understanding of history or politics and that, on some levels, he was basically a conspiracy theorist and holocaust denier. To be fair, his background as what amounts to a secret policeman probably wasn’t the best preparation for suddenly being rocketed to the leadership of one of the world’s key nations. Dragging people out of their beds at midnight in order to beat them with socks full of birdshot is an absorbing occupation, and doesn’t tend to leave much time for studying the finer points of world history or international diplomacy.

In the last decade Mr Putin has taken himself to school. References to Putin in various memoirs, interviews and Wikileaks revelations show us an arc of evolution for the Russian leader. Sure, he still believes that the Allies deliberately held back in WWII in order to sap Russian resources ahead of the coming peace, but it seems he now agrees that the holocaust took place and no longer believes that Americans are hiding aliens in Fort Knox or wherever. Let’s pause there a minute: Putin believes that the Allies, especially the USA, strategically held back on their assault of Germany so that Russia would be in a weaker position at the end of the war.

We in the West are far too quick to laugh at foreigners. We look at Chinese military parades and the blatant lies they tell through their media outlets, we see golden Kalashnikovs and Gaddafi’s Amazon bodyguard, we hear the bizarre proclamations of African leaders and see their funny costumes and we watch videos of Putin riding horses shirtless and pumping iron in the gym and our first and last reaction is to laugh and assume that they’re just crazy. They’re not.

If we were to set Russia’s history to music, the piece would be used exclusively for funerals. From its first appearance in recognisable form, Russia has been informed by its trauma. It’s aggressive imperial phase can be seen as a direct response to the horrors of Mongol invasion and extortion. Since then, their whole history can be seen as a process of squaring off against the greatest powers in the world and losing. The collapse of the USSR, its second (or third, depending on your definition) attempt at security through empire, is just the latest incident in what could be described as the longest, darkest, coldest winter in the world. For Russia, life is hard and every hand is turned against it.

So how crazy is it, then, to have a culture that worships strength of all kinds? Even to the extent of reacting positively to your shirtless Prime Minister knocking back vodka and doing chest flies? And just how crazy is it to have a foreign policy made up of equal parts of paranoia and bluster? And can we really, in light of their entire history, find it difficult to understand a historical world view that casts Russia in the light of a perpetual victim? It’s not really crazy at all. We in the West are plagued by similar historical delusions. Like the delusion that the war crimes in WWII lie exclusively in the Axis camp. Or the delusion that what the world fixates on when it watches us is our individual freedoms, rather than our power and aggression. We think of ourselves as a beacon of light, hope and freedom but, if we were to attempt to look at Western civilisation from the outside, we’d see a story of greed, exploitation and unending, savagely aggressive warfare. We have the same kind of delusions as Rome. We have winner’s delusions. Russia, for obvious reasons, does not.

Why should anybody care? We should care because we are currently watching the almost exact repetition of a cycle of history. It’s not hard to see our recent failure to enfold the new Russia into the international cool kids’ club as primarily a failure to understand their perspective. Our smug, superior dismissal of Putin’s ignorance and victim-philosophy can be taken as an analogue of the broader relationship. We failed because we don’t really understand the kinds of trauma they have experienced, or the kind of mentality and world view that they can create. We offended and alienated them even as we attempted to embrace them and, somewhat more egregiously, invited them to play a game with us without explaining any of the rules. We expected them to instantly start behaving like a world citizen whose security and wealth made compassion and restraint affordable. And then we had the gall to be perplexed when they did not.

So now we see a Russia that has given up on its brief experiment with global citizenship. The walls are going back up and they are once again securing their border and hinterlands as a buffer designed to desperately hold on to security in a hostile world. It’s the aftermath of Genghis Khan all over again, the cold war 2.0, the realisation of every gloomy dream of persecution the Russian polity has ever had. And while a significant portion of the blame for this rests on their own inability to see past this, a good part of it also belongs to us.

Maybe we’re happy to just let Russia wall itself off again, to search for its living in those parts of the world made up solely of countries we advise our citizens to avoid, but it’s not a good sign for the future. Our inability to understand the wounded national soul of Russia is a symptom of a broader failing which, left unaddressed, will taint our attempts to engage with Cuba, the Arab world and the bulk of East Asia. Because Russia doesn’t have a monopoly on the losing side of history, and nor is it unique in its wariness and resentment of the West.

 

 

De-Radicalisation Case Study No 2

Recently, the de-radicalisation handbook went out to the nation’s schools. In order to provide teachers with a better understanding of the warning signs of radicalisation, the book contained a single case study involving Karen, who becomes an alternative music fan and treehugger. It occured to me that more might be required to help this important work along, so I have provided another case study, thus doubling the effectiveness of the booklet.

Tony (half his real name)

Tony Abbott

Tony grew up in a loving family on Sydney’s affluent Northern Beaches. Then, upon leaving school, he went to uni at a well-known centre for establishment indoctrination. He got involved in violent sports and student politics, and began hanging around with right wing conservatives. At the foreign training camp he was attending, some alumni were known to have mocked poor people for fun and committed sex acts on dead pigs.

Eventually, Tony became fully immersed in the world of right wing politics and entrenched himself in a safe Liberal seat where he took his religious jihad out on the hapless Australian people. Tony eventually became Prime Minister and during his time in office spent every waking hour attempting to strike terror into the hearts of the people. He said at the time that he felt like a soldier for the righteous, and that he was trying to do the right thing for society. Tony became completely cut off from reality and, just after he left office, some de-radicalisation brochures that he had inspired were published.

We Don’t Seem To Know A Damn Thing About Defence

gun_dog

I have a bit of a reputation as a party animal, and last week I confirmed it by spending an evening combing through the public submissions for the 2015 Defence White Paper.

This can be quite an informative exercise as industry groups, town corporations and academics across a range of disciplines tend to chime in on what they think should constitute our defence priorities over the next five years. But I don’t just do it for the education  – the vast majority of those sorts of submissions are written by the same people who contribute to the various policy and defence think tanks that I follow (like I said – party animal). No, what I read the submissions for is the pure comedy gold that happens when you ask a bunch of ordinary people to describe what they see as a coherent and future-proof defence policy.

While I applaud the participation of these people as a positive step towards increasing community participation in the business of government, I applaud it even more as a way to break up some rather dry reading with moments of hilarity, incredulity and downright insanity. Here’s a list of a few of my favourites.

  1. An infantry division should be deployed to defend the Hume Highway near some town in Queensland. One paragraph of this submission is dedicated to the strategic importance of the Hume at this particular point, and the rest of the dozen or so pages are an outline of the local businesses that would be ‘willing to support’ an influx of 10,000 new customers in uniform. The submission makes no comment as to where we are going to get enough soldiers to form multiple divisions.
  2. New Zealand isn’t pulling its weight, so we should pull their weight for them. Possibly by invading them.
  3. Something about nuclear missiles and ‘tracking satellites’ replacing all conventional forces. It was hard to spot a thesis in this one, possibly because a tinfoil hat may have been worn while this particular submission was being written.
  4. A complement of beachable concrete submarines filled with petrol should be built in order to guarantee our fuel supply in the event of an invasion. It’s unclear where the fuel to fill them is to come from, but on the plus side, it’s pointed out that a concrete tube full of petrol would make a useful seaborne battering ram.
  5. The Marrickville Peace Group suggests that we void our treaties with the USA because they keep getting us into wars. No comment is made on how we are to organise the defence of our trade routes all by ourselves, but much detail is provided about joint Australian and US military exercises, presumably on the assumption that the authors of the Defence White Paper are unlikely to be aware of them.

Now, this isn’t just an exercise in being snide ignorance. I don’t need the internet for that – I mainly do my snideness in the real world. Which might explain why neither one of my two friends is currently speaking to me. The thing is, these people aren’t especially ignorant. From what I can tell, they’re fairly representative of the average level of defence knowledge of all kinds of intelligent and well-educated citizens of Australia. Time and time again I find myself confronted with exactly the same misapprehensions. Like the mistaken belief that the ability to indefinitely hold off a massive amphibious invasion of Australia is at all relevant to our defence structure. Or the belief that the threat to our North means a threat of invasion, rather than a threat of regional instability. Or the idea that our degree of interoperability with the USA is undertaken for any reason other than sheer, absolute necessity.

It seems odd to me that a country so rightly willing to celebrate its military is, on the whole, so woefully ignorant about it. The recent debates on submarine and surface combatants are a good example. What debate, you say? Exactly. Outside of think tanks and specialist forums, hardly any strategic discussions have appeared in the public discourse. There’s been a lot of politicking, but next to no discussion of the issue on its merits. Which is worrying.

There seems to be a perception in this country that defence doesn’t matter, either because we’d be screwed instantly or because the Yanks will save us or both. This is ridiculous. We have a highly trained, highly skilled, well-equipped defence force that needs to be carefully steered in order to maximise its effectiveness. On top of this, the idea that defence policy is measured solely on the basis of some hypothetical invasion is sheer foolishness. Defence is a layered and complex issue, with far reaching ramifications that touch on everything from climate change to humanitarian relief to the regional balance of power.

Which leads me to conclude that there are two potential alternatives moving forward if we want to be better pleased with our defence policy.

  1. The Australian people finds some way to educate itself to the point where it can discuss defence without proposing the invasion of New Zealand or concrete submarines.
  2. The Australian people just give up on the idea and leave it all to the experts.

I, personally, would be very sad to see option two come into effect.