While everyone’s been watching Trump burn his own face with the arse-gas which he uses for speech, our own government has been quietly stabbing itself in the eye with the stupid stick. Things have got so bad that I’m hearing Peter Dutton, horse-faced mental defective and general bad news bear, being spoken of as ‘leader in waiting’. Actually, I’m pretty certain that Mr Dutton is a fundamentally decent man, if only because he lacks the intelligence for genuine evil, and there’s also the fact that, unlike the current PM, he’s not a mealy-mouthed, spineless coward. But seriously, these basic pre-requisites for membership of the human race do not necessarily translate into qualifications for national leadership.
This government’s record has not been exactly stellar. After sneering at Labor’s inability to retain the same leader for more than seven minutes, they proceeded to roll their own, before limping back into government on the slimmest of possible mandates, and then steadfastly refusing to recognise that their position in power was based purely on sufferance. And now, deep into a lame duck second term, their only clear achievement has been to repeatedly waste our time and money. A startling lack of policy direction, moral leadership, economic management, or even the ability to control the simplest of narratives has marked this as an epoch of some of the most despicable, ineffectual leadership this country has ever endured. And a quick look at our history will reveal that that’s really saying something.
Many people have recently been outraged by proposed changes to 18c, which is possibly the only piece of legislation the greater public knows the name of, but I simply don’t care. A proposition to swap three vague words for two, with as much chance of passing the senate as Pauline Hanson has of passing a grade six English exam, simply doesn’t strike me as worth paying any attention to. And then there’s the ‘omnibus bill’, which represents three solid years of attempting to pass budget measures which have repeatedly been flagged as both unnecessary and unwanted – the clearest example yet that changing the label on a steaming turd only works if Apple are involved. The marriage equality debate, which probably shouldn’t be happening at all, isn’t really happening unless you define a debate as meaningless posturing followed by extreme inaction – all of this is apparently evidence of our tax dollars at work.
What is the current government’s agenda? Nobody knows. What is their vision for the future of Australia? It depends which cartoonish cabinet member you ask. What is our position with regard to the seismic strategic and economic threats a deeply stupid White House presents us with? Nobody has the slightest clue. What, in actual fact, is this government actually for? Apart, that is, from saturating the airwaves with nonsensical nation-building rhetoric, and the parliament with bills they know will be rejected? Why, as Australians, do we put up with such piss-poor leadership? I guess it’s because the only viable alternative government is likely to be just as stupid, in different ways. And as for the minor parties, apart from the current de-facto PM, Nick Xenophon, they’re pretty well all as dangerous as they’re comical.
Beneath all this, however, lies a central uncomfortable truth. We knew, when we voted, that we were unenthusiastically defaulting to party lines without any real expectation of proper government. The voting public is not as stupid as we make ourselves out to be – we had no reason to suspect that any of our available choices would actually achieve anything worthwhile. So what confuses me, is why we weren’t screaming in the streets about a situation where our elected leaders no longer even pretend to serve us, and where even the appearance of government has been sacrificed in favour of narrow factional fights that have absolutely nothing to do with the needs of the people or the state. On the principle that democracy tends to produce the government we deserve, I’d strongly recommend we lift our game or, at the very least, our expectations.
A lot of people find Fred Nile faintly amusing. I understand this, as a casual glance at God’s own MP can leave a mistaken impression of some harmless old throwback shouting into a secular and unresponsive darkness. The truth, however, is far more disturbing.
The Christian Democratic Party (CDP), of which Nile is president, is a small, but potent force in Australian politics. Sure, they’ve hardly any seats in parliament and, like most personality cult parties, the CDP has lost about as many seats as it’s held through endorsed members splintering off to do their own even whackier stuff. But bums on legislative seats is not the whole story by a long shot. The CDP fields multiple candidates in multiple states every election and by-election, not because they expect to win, but because their profile makes them reasonably certain to attract enough votes to receive Electoral Commission funding. You can click the link and do the maths, if you like, but the long and short of it is that parties can draw close to $1.5 million dollars in funding and ‘reimbursements’ by winning a single seat. Add to this the odd few thousand, up to a cap of about $12,000, which candidates receive if they garner at least 4% of the vote, and it becomes apparent that the CDP is a proper moneymaker.
This is not, of course, a rort in any sense of the word. The funding exists for sensible and admirable reasons, but the sad reality is that seasoned political operators will invariably ‘game’ this and any other system around. So what begins as a democratic initiative to encourage worthy candidates to stand again, evolves into a fundraising arm of what I can only describe as one of the most bigoted, non-violent extremist groups I have ever encountered. Fred Nile’s harmless old coot persona does not survive more than a few seconds of scrutiny. His ideas aren’t so much old fashioned as they are Mediaeval. Homosexuality, in his world, is a ‘mental disorder and lifestyle choice’, ‘adoption unnatural’, and any and all forms of fertility or sexual treatment/therapy a gratuitous misuse of God’s procreative design features. And as if this weren’t enough, Nile is said to have resigned from the Uniting Church because it “officially decided to part with a literal interpretation of the Judeo-Christian Bible“.
What I wonder is why this party isn’t given the same treatment as Neo-Nazis or Islamist Jihadis. Sure, they’re not beating up minorities in the street or beheading people on the internet, but their beliefs are at least as regressive and hateful. And how much harm – how many suicides, breakdowns, and so on – are brought about by the airing of their hateful ideas? If the limit of free speech is generally agreed to be the incitement of hate and harm, why do Fred Nile and his Christian Jihadis get not only a pass, but a bunch of our money? It must boil down to the double standard which is operative when we’re dealing with Christian extremists – a result of the fact that, in some ways, our country is still very Christian. Sure, church attendance is dropping, and secularism is a rising force, but as a whole we are still biased towards the notion that familiar evils, like Nile’s, are somehow less dangerous or harmful than exotic ones.
The Iran Nuclear Deal, or, to give it its proper name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has been described by President Trump as “the worst deal ever negotiated”, and likely to cause a “nuclear holocaust”. Throughout the course of his campaign, Trump made repeated references to the JCPOA, telling anyone who would listen that the deal was a “joke”, and that he intended to re-negotiate, revising key provisions, lengthening time limits and generally changing the current plan into a kind of extended penance. As always with President Trump, there is some doubt as to how much, if any, of what he’s said is meant to be taken seriously, but let’s do our best.
Trump has repeatedly claimed that the JCPOA contains no provisions for checking Potential Military Applications (PMA), no safeguards to prevent Iranian weapons development now or into the future, and that it virtually guarantees a nuclear armed Iran within fifteen years, followed shortly by a nuclear holocaust. Unsurprisingly, none of these claims is true.
Let’s first look at the provisions of the plan. PMAs were a sticking point during negotiations, and it became apparent to even the casual observer that the Iranians, beyond a natural unwillingness to share their secrets, were also unclear as to the exact extent of their secret research programs. In the UNCLAS version, very little is said about PMA, but it is nevertheless apparent from various textual clues that the issue was dealt with. Similarly, the provisions with regard to intrusive inspection, the closure of various pathways to weaponisation (enrichment and plutonium), and various other strictures, all point to an agreement which is perfectly competent to achieve its stated aim: a temporary freeze of Iran’s progress towards nuclear weaponry. President Trump, however, does not see it that way. In President Trump’s view, Iran is a “bad” and “terrorist” state, needing to be kept at all times under the mailed fist of US hard power. It’s difficult to see, given this view, how any deal could have struck him as satisfactory.
Hassan Rouhani, unique amongst Iranian presidents for being more stable than his US counterpart
Now for the safeguards designed to prevent Iranian weaponisation of its nuclear program which, according to Trump, do not exist. Firstly, there’s provisions for inspection, facilities re-purposing from high level enrichment and Plutonium manufacture to power generation, technology, replacement programs for cycling out 20% enriched uranium, the list goes on… And Iran has been pathetically eager to comply. Completion of each action plan has been tagged to the lifting of sanctions and, more importantly, the release of the associated funds. The deal, from Iran’s point of view, is easy to understand. In exchange for restored oil wealth, access to global markets, normalisation of trade and other relations, and a place at the negotiating table, they take a fifteen year halt in a nuclear weapons program which took twenty years to produce next to nothing, and which isolated them so badly that one of their key trading partners was North Korea. President Trump’s belligerent paranoia aside, it’s difficult to see a situation where Iran voluntarily breaks the deal. There’s too much to gain, and at such little cost. And while it is true that Iran could restart weaponisation post agreement, there’s little reason to expect this. A large part of the agreement is clearly designed to end Iran’s isolation – a key factor in their clandestine rush for the bomb.
Trump labelled Iran a ‘terrorist state’ when addressing AIPAC
It’s axiomatic, though, that Christian conservatives cannot see any future in the Middle East without Israel, heavily force-multiplied by the US, maintaining military superiority. A rehabilitated Iran would necessarily change the dynamic. Iran is a natural hegemon – it has ample resources, an educated and numerous populace, access to the sea and a position of key strategic importance. All it really lacks is money. The deal itself, being a UN deal brokered by P5+1, is not US property. Energy hungry P5+1 members Russia and China have a strong interest in its success, as does the UK, who hopes to profit from expanding G/O exploration.
Now that Trump has finished appeasing the GOP’s Zionist donors, the time is ripe for one of his trademark backflips. It’s far from clear whether he can kill the deal (I’d say he can’t), but he is easily capable of killing relations with Iran. Given the likely interventionism of a Trump administration, this would be a critical mistake. Iran has a long (albeit covert) history of co-operation with the USA, and has been a key collaborator in US campaigns in the Middle East. Iranian support, or at least non-aggression, is vital to any operation in Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq. Additionally, Iran has reach and effectiveness far out of proportion with its military power, thanks to decades of investment in power projection by paramilitary and covert proxies. If President Trump really intends to establish safe zones in Syria, escalate the campaign against IS, and generally re-establish US hegemony in the Middle East, all this will be much easier with Iran’s cooperation and assistance. This is a problem for the near future, of course. In the meantime, President Trump should work on gaining better control of his public utterances before the laws of consequence come into proper effect.
Shan Ju Lin, One Nation’s Asian candidate for some seat in Queensland I don’t care about and have never heard of, has been something of a propaganda double-whammy for Ms Hanson’s erratic populist juggernaut. Not only did the visible fact of her ‘non-whiteness’ seemingly put to bed the idea of the party’s racism, her subsequent sacking for making ‘anti-gay’ comments must surely be used by the pointy-headed side of politics as ‘proof’ that One Nation is also free of other forms of bigotry. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Let’s tackle the racism first. Pauline recently embarked on a dictionary-fuelled rant on the meaning of the word ‘racist’, helpfully providing us with a disingenuously monolithic definition, possibly as an exercise in clever sophistry, but more probably as a function of her incompetence with the English language. The fact of the matter is that there are many shades of meaning involved in racism which cannot necessarily be found in a dictionary. Anyone looking for a full appreciation of the term need only perform a few more clicks in Google to discover that ‘racism’ also covers Hanson’s obvious and clearly stated positions of forced assimilation in pursuit of some mythical Australian monoculture. One Nation is racist not because it disdains skin colour or point of origin, but because of its much more insidious and dangerous bigotry directed at other ways of thinking and being – in essence, its intolerance of the existence or even influence of other cultures. In many ways, this is more purely hateful than a simple aversion to black and yellow people, in that it’s more deeply considered, and therefore more disgustingly ungenerous and narrow-minded. So really, the fact of Shan Ju Lin’s heritage is irrelevant – her deep seated and militant intolerance towards immigrants of every kind, and her insistence on dividing them into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ camps on grounds which are frankly insane, reaffirm rather than contradict the bigotry which lies at the heart of the party.
And then there’s the curious case for dismissal of homophobia. This should emphatically not be seen as evidence that Pauline Hanson is in favour of gay rights. Shan Ju Lin herself stated that she issued the Tweets because One Nation had “no policy” with regard to marriage equality or LGBTI rights beyond a vague declaration of support for a plebiscite on marriage equality. No, what we’re seeing here is nothing more than a beleaguered chief of staff trying desperately to hold on to control of the party’s narrative. The recent farcical goings on with Rod Culleton, the persistent insanity of Malcolm Roberts and Pauline’s own unfortunate delusional belief in her ability to speak comprehensibly have seriously eroded any capacity for positive messaging. This is clearly a party engaged in frantic damage control in order to maintain whatever vestiges of credibility which remain to them before they field another bunch of whackos, this time for the House of Reps.
And, in true One Nation style, they are going about this by weeding out crazies, oblivious to the starkly obvious fact that a One Nation shorn of lunatics will be a party without a single, solitary member.
This is the ACL’s idea of an ‘argument’. Note the complete absence of logic of any kind.
The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) is a frustrating organisation, not least because of its militant parochialism and refusal to accept that positions based on a combination of Christian revanchism and bigotry are, in fact, revanchist and bigoted. Its tendency to bleat out an utterly fabricated narrative of persecution, its insistence on blaming some amorphous ‘left wing media conspiracy’ for reverses generally caused by its own media incompetence, and its startling inability to pursue or even to form any kind of logically coherent argument are all extremely annoying. And Lyle Shelton, their managing director, is the kind of attention-seeking, self-pitying, incompetently grandiloquent noisemaker who makes the fists of all right-thinking folk become seriously itchy.
So, given just how annoying they are, it’s not hard to understand why someone blowing up a van in their carpark could immediately be put down to a targeted attack. I myself thought it highly probable, given how I feel every time Shelton opens his stupid gob or mashes ineffectually at his keyboard. And I wasn’t alone in this. There are huge sections of the voting public who apparently take ghoulish glee in attributing any and every act of non-domestic violence to Muslim terrorism or Muslim immigration or Muslims in general, possibly because a narrative as inherently irrational as Islamophobia requires quite a lot of fodder to sustain. Within twenty minutes of the first run of the the story, thousands of comments claiming that this was definitely the work of Islamic State and that the leftard libtard media was deliberately suppressing any mention of this, had engulfed certain pointy-headed and ill-spelled corners of the internet. Incontrovertible, iron-clad arguments like: “It was a quiet area, so it must have been a terrorist attack” were helpfully formulated, presumably to assist the police in their investigation, and not to muddy the waters with irrational reactionism. Quite a valuable contribution given that the poor, helpless counter-terrorism and security experts of the world tend to be stuck with the idea that mass casualty attacks are generally conducted in busy areas at busy times of day. In order to cause mass casualties. Such narrow, blinkered thinking was obviously much enriched by the public’s insightful contributions.
In any case, during the initial phase of this story, the ACL actually had my sympathies. It doesn’t matter how mendacious, petty, bigoted or deluded one’s beliefs are – no law abiding organisation deserves to be the target of political violence. Shelton’s initial Twitterings were mostly generous and politic, though his comment, “hard to believe this could happen in Australia” sounded an ominous warning of the stupidity to come. And my word did he deliver. It appears that in the wake of the explosion, his first and admirable priority was to see to the welfare of his staff, which meant cutting short his holiday and returning to Canberra. In view of the fact that the building was empty at the time, and that none of his staff were injured or killed or, presumably, present at the time, this seemed a little odd. But then, if someone blows up the front of your building, it makes sense that you should repair immediately to the scene. It appears, however, that upon his return he did little other than stand in front of cameras and say stupid things stupidly to the media.
Lyle Shelton, proclaiming his organisation’s suspect martyrdom.
By the end of the day, the ground was laid out as follows. The Canberra police had interviewed the suspect, who was unknown to police, and therefore presumably to domestic intelligence, and who said that his sole aim was to “blow myself up”. This, and the host of other factors militating against the interpretation of this event as an attempted mass casualty attack led the police to conclude that there was “no ideological or political motive” behind the explosion. Shelton, of course, wasn’t at all happy about this, and by evening he had proclaimed that the police had been too quick to jump to conclusions, jumped himself to the conclusion that the ACL was the victim of a terror attack and blamed the Greens and other parliamentarians for inciting anti-Christian terrorism by using the word ‘bigot’ to describe his bigoted views.
And then, of course, the story faded from view. This is partly because the only sources of credible information are a tight-lipped police command and a man with burns to 75% of his body, but mostly because the ACL is basically not all that important. Sure, it’s loud in its claims to represent the Christian community, but there isn’t any real evidence that it does. Its base, purportedly largely made up of Pentecostal and non-conformist churches, does not in fact support its views on marriage equality. Its measurable impact on elections is negligible to non-existent. To an informed observer, the ACL’s principle role is to be trotted out in front of the cameras whenever journalists want to provide the appearance of balance by padding out a panel with a talking head from the lunatic Christian right. And this represents, for me, the single most frustrating thing about the ACL – their persistent and unfounded delusions of adequacy. On no level do they actually contribute in any meaningful way to the debate on any issue, but their notoriety and fatuous self importance means that they have a profile which is all out of proportion to their relevance.
So, in the unlikely event that there’s anyone out there who actually is planning an attack on the ACL, I would urge you to reconsider. Not only would such an action be illegal, immoral and inhuman, it would also be of material assistance in backing their delusional narrative of persecution. They’re just not important enough to attack. In fact, I’m convinced that they’re not even important enough to respond to. Like every other screaming toddler, I firmly believe that the best tactic by far is to simply ignore them.
It’s hard to imagine Peter Dutton being at the top of anything, except perhaps a list of the mentally defective, or the podium at a suicidal horse lookalike contest. Such, however, is the nature of hackneyed metaphor that we now need to imagine Peter Dutton at the top of a wave, iceberg, or some other mobile maritime feature, in order to see clearly what it is that he’s about – something, incidentally, which he seems utterly incapable of doing himself.
Mr Dutton’s recent remarks on Lebanese immigrants were, from a certain point of view, ill-advised, idiotic and frankly appalling. From another point of view, however, they were immensely enlightening. Various analysts are (correctly, I think) putting down his recent rhetoric to the emboldening Trump effect combined with the ongoing war between the right faction of the LNP and everyone else. This is all very interesting, and I think a valid way of interpreting and understanding events, but I don’t think it goes far enough. It is both satisfying and enjoyable to be outraged by his troglodytic bumbling about free speech, ‘honest conversations’ and ‘realistic assessments’, but it’s important to remember that he has a point.
Just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, he just happens to be right about the urgent need for Australia, as a country, to have a serious conversation. We need to talk about how it can be that after a snappy two hundred years we can still believe that xenophobic politics is anything other than a smokescreen designed to whip up popular frenzy and votes. We need to talk about our inherent tendency to racism, and our simultaneous compulsion to furiously deny that it’s any such thing. We urgently need to talk about how we’ve ended up with an electorate which consistently spews up pond-life like Dutton, Hanson, Roberts, Nile, etc. as political leaders. And the whole world needs to have a long and serious conversation about allowing the hysterical catharsis facilitated by internet anonymity to colour debate on serious, life-affecting issues.
What we probably don’t need to talk about so much is what names we should call each other, or whether Dutton should be sacked on the grounds of gross incompetence and utter incapability. His job as Minister for Immigration is simply irrelevant next to his real role as hard right political mouthpiece, and that is probably one of the most important topics for ‘honest conversation’. How can we be okay with paying people to serve the public good while they prioritise factional contests above the needs and safety of the people they purport to represent?
I don’t know that getting Peter Dutton sacked is going to help. The fact is, they’ll just replace him with someone better at this kind of rhetoric, as it’s hard to imagine anyone who could very well be worse at it. The real rot exists within the base of the movement atop which he is perched, and although I hate to say it, that base is at least partially formed by a significant portion of our population. I don’t know if talking’s going to fix anything, but I’m damn sure that name-calling and meme generation isn’t. Shall we attempt a dialogue now? After all, we’ve tried everything else…
I’ve been seeing a lot of right wing and libertarian triumphalism on the internet these days, and fair enough too. We of the liberal elite, of which I am apparently a member despite living several rungs below the poverty line, have richly deserved our comeuppance. We have been calling you names and sneeringly accusing you of idiocy and stupidity for quite a while now, and I think you all definitely deserve your moment in the sun. You showed us. Okay, not particularly emphatically, but it doesn’t matter if it’s an inch or a mile, a win’s a win. And no, I’m not being patronising by quoting “Fast and Furious” instead of a more highbrow source – I sincerely mean it.
The thing that worries me, though, is that you seem to think that you’ve won something. I’m sorry, but the truth is that you just haven’t. If the measure of victory was the removal of smug, self-serving elites from the corridors of power, what’s been achieved here is not so much a victory as a swap. Trump himself belongs to an elite – I would have thought that was staringly obvious – and it’s one that’s significantly nastier and more grasping than the one which was rejected at the polls. He’s a part of the business elite, a group which will say anything to get what they want and then, unsurprisingly, do anything to achieve same without any real reference to any connection between the two. What you’ve chosen is definitely not someone who thinks of himself as a tribune of the plebs – what you’ve chosen is a charismatic CEO. Think about that for a second.
Add to this the man’s manifest incompetence. His bumbling unfamiliarity with political systems and processes may have been endearing in campaign mode, but it’s going to be a flat-out nightmare in office. And then there’s his belief in an America from the past. I’m not going to say that this will definitely fail, but I will say that it’s a massive, reckless gamble. It’s not just that the market forces which the right so worship have already rejected the industries that Trump seeks to revive, it’s also the fact that he’ll be trying to push these changes against the prevailing currents of the entire world. This could be seen as brave and radical, or, from my side of the fence, retrograde and stupid, but no matter where we sit on the political spectrum we can all agree that it’s going to be very, very risky. And it’s not his own money and future he’ll be gambling with. It’s yours. Assuming, of course, that the revivification of the urban manufacturing base wasn’t just another part of his sales pitch, like the vast majority of the things he’s said during the campaign.
My point is that there’s pain coming. And for me, a member of the liberal elite, it’s mainly going to be emotional pain. The world we’ve painstakingly been trying to build has taken a massive leap backwards. Okay, so we’re all sick of internet feminists and the perception that every prize and benefit should go only to one-legged Cambodian lesbians, but there’s a tragic irony in all of this. Yes, there was a loud and often juvenile focus on minorities, but the point of liberalism is to build a world in which everyone can safely live and prosper. And everyone necessarily includes you. But enough of my problems, really, because it’s not me and my kind who are going to do the most hurting. If this new experiment in populism goes the way I think it’s going to go, then the big losers are going to be the same people they always are. The working poor. The uneducated. Middle America. It doesn’t matter if the powers that be are left, right, in, out or shake it all about – when things go bad, it’s always the same people taking the shafting. Remember that, please, as we move on to my next point.
We have received a loud and clear message about connection. Smart-arses like myself allowed ourselves to drift so far from the reality of plurality that we stopped listening to huge blocs of people because we were too busy shouting about inclusiveness. I see the irony, and I take the point. But a Trump in the White House is not a win against that kind of thing, it’s a wildcard. Things are very unlikely to get any better in the long term, or possibly even in the medium or short term. Because the real war in politics is not between left and right, it’s between the powerful and the powerless. I agree – the political establishment no longer serves the needs of the people. But neither does the corporate or business establishment. In fact, they’ve been screwing we the people for longer, and with much more thoroughness, for the majority of this era. The thing to remember is that division is the easiest path to power for the unscrupulous. Right wing populists climb fissures in the electorate to achieve high office. If we truly want a system and establishment which serves our needs, we can’t allow that to happen – we must, must, must create a situation in which we actually choose our leaders from amongst the best candidates, instead of whatever the hell just happened at the last election.
So, for the hundredth time – can everyone please just stop with the childish shouting and start listening to each other?
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.
You may have heard recently that there has been a bit of a kerfuffle about the Safe Schools Program. For those who don’t know what that is, Google defines a kerfuffle as “a commotion or fuss, especially one caused by conflicting views”. Google also tells us that the Safe Schools Program is an initiative that aims to make life a little easier for LGBTIQ students in Australian schools. Or, in the words of the people who actually run the program, it seeks to provide:
a suite of free resources and support to equip staff and students with skills, practical ideas and greater confidence to lead positive change and be safe and inclusive for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families.
School can be a tough place, and never more so than for those who are a little different. School kids have an extraordinary gift for spotting someone who is a little different, and an almost supernatural talent for making them feel like absolute cräp for it. One country’s different is another country’s normal, but if you’re reading this and you’re Australian, you know who I’m talking about.
Also, anyone who isn’t thin, white, middle-class, or good at sports. But it’s not quite that simple. Sometimes, you even get bullied for being too good at sports. Mostly if that sport is golf. And, just to make things extra confusing, the reasons people are bullied can change over time. Terrence’s Shirley Bassey impersonation went down a treat in Kindergarten… in high school, not so much.
Haha, very funny. Right?
No. Not even a little bit.
Bullying is a scourge on our collective character, and a major, if not the biggest, contributor to youth depression and suicide. And today in Australia, one of the easiest ways to find yourself on the path to depression and suicide is to have the apparent misfortune of being gay, lesbian, transgender or intersex. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center analysed a number of studies on LGBTI suicide rates, and estimated that between 30% and 40% of LGBTIQ youth have attempted suicide. And a study by the US government found that LGBTIQ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Just stop and think about that for a second. Between 30% and 40%. Four times more likely.
This stuff doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. LGBTIQ kids aren’t just mopey little whiners who need a cement pill. They’re pretty much exactly like the rest of us, except for the fact that society loves to remind them that they’re not.
Once you understand all that, the Safe Schools Program starts to make a little bit of sense.
Well, unless your name is Cory Bernardi. Or David Ould. [EDIT: David Ould is approximately 100 times better than Cory Bernardi].
Some of you may have seen the excellent 2014 SBS series called Living With the Enemy. If you didn’t see it, it was a six part series that explored “the fault lines of social cohesion in Australia”, with each episode exploring “a different topic dividing Australian opinion by asking people to live with others whose lifestyles and beliefs directly contradict their own”.
One such fault line was marriage equality, and one such person with a contradictory lifestyle was an Anglican minister by the name of David Ould. As part of the show, David was required to not only live with, and attend the wedding of, Michael and Gregory, but to also host them in his own home (or at least, in a caravan on his driveway). I was lucky enough to know Michael, and was at his house during filming, where I met David and spoke with him for some time. We ended up keeping in touch, and he was nice enough to ask me around to his house for dinner, where I met his delightful family, and we spent some time discussing marriage equality.
My friend Michael will probably not like me saying this, but I like David. I find him interesting, and easy to talk to, and I genuinely believe that his heart is in the right place.
But that doesn’t mean he has any idea about statistics.
David has a blog, which is almost as good as this one, and in his latest post, he addresses the Safe Schools Program, or more specifically, whether or not it is justified, based on the number of LGBTIQ students in Australian schools. The Safe Schools coalition, it seems, has been lying about how many LGBTIQ students there actually are. Their website claims 10% of students are LGBTIQ. David Ould says otherwise, via a Baptist minster named Murray Campbell. Murray is happy to admit that determining the proportion of LGBTIQ people “is near impossible”, but nevertheless feels confident enough to tells us that, while
Safe Schools want us to believe that 10% of the population have same-sex attraction, most scientific studies put the figure under 4% (and that includes bisexual people), and other research suggests even lower.
Helpfully, David provides some stats of his own, sourced from a recent commercial from Medibank Private, which you can watch for yourself below.
David did some analysis, and concludes that Medibank is trying to tell us in a “subtle way” that “30% of households with children are same-sex households”. He bases that 30% figure on a number of observations:
There were, on a rough count, 10 various households with children.
Single-parent families, who make up about a quarter of Australian families with children, only got one clear representative in the video.
Of the ten families three were clearly same-sex.
I have to say, it looks a little damning for Medibank. Based on those observations, it really does look like they are trying to tell us that 30% of households with children are same-sex households. That’s clearly not true, so it made me wonder what else they got wrong, and I did a little analysis of my own:
Based on my analysis, there were two households with children that didn’t have any parents whatsoever. I can only conclude that Medibank is trying to claim that 22% of Australian children are currently living out their dream of starring in a real life Lord of the Flies.
One of the nine families with children had four children. That’s 11%, compared to only 5% of Australian families having four or more children. Medibank is trying to convince us that there are way more four child families than there actually are. I can’t believe they would do such a thing.
That’s not the worst of it though. The worst thing I found was that 100% of the children in baths were really happy. And we all know that can’t be true.
I like this style of analysis. I wonder if I can turn it around, and analyse David’s analysis?
David claimed that there were 10 households with children. I counted exactly nine. He did say it was a rough count though, so perhaps I can forgive him.
David also claimed that there was only one single parent family. There were actually three, which puts David out by 200%. Hmm.
Finally, David said that there were three same-sex families in the video. There were actually only two, which puts David’s figure out by 50%.
Based on these results, and applying David’s own analysis technique, I am free to conclude that 67% of anything David tells us is wrong. Very, very wrong.
That’s probably not fair though, is it? I’ve based that off only one of David’s blog posts, and one is hardly ever a good sample size. In fact, pretty much the only time that a sample size of one has any kind of statistical significance is when you survey yourself to find out what you want for dinner. To get a better indication of the true state of affairs, you should probably take the largest sample size you can. Like, perhaps, every television commercial and print ad from the last 100 years.
LGBTIQ people have been living in the shadows for a long time, and have only recently started poking out their heads for some time in the sun. Unfortunately, some people in our society see a gay head poking out, and have a desperate need to smack it back down, like some giant, real-life game of wack-a-mole. Apparently, lots of people would rather pretend that LGBTIQ people don’t exist. Don’t believe me? Just look at some of the YouTube comments on the Medibank video:
Is it any wonder that a program like Safe Schools is needed, and 30% to 40% of LGBTIQ people attempt suicide? Given how long LGBTIQ people have had to hide in shame, is it really that hard for us to see them in a frikken health insurance commercial?
Besides, isn’t the bigger concern the high number of children who live in families with no parents at all? Shouldn’t we check how they’re paying their mortgages? Can we send someone over to make them eat their vegetables?
Or maybe, just maybe, we could stop for moment, relax, and recognise that there are people out there who want to end their lives because our society has told them that being themselves isn’t good enough. And maybe there are a few things we could do to help. Like give them a little recognition, in a single, 30 second commercial, in amongst the millions of commercials that have completely ignored their existence. Because maybe, just maybe, that will give a few people a better chance at being happy.
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.