Love in the Time of Terror: Slam at Sydney Film Festival

A shorter version of this post (with proper spoiler alerts) was first published at ACRAWSA blog on 7 June 2019. Many thanks to director Partho Sen Gupta and to Prof Alana Lentin for entrusting me with tix to a film on a Sunday night in Randwick (in the pouring rain! see review, below).

Love in the Time of Terror: Slam at Sydney Film Festival

Review by Ingrid Matthews

[Alert: Spoilers]

Slam is a devastating film. It is devastatingly good, intensely sad, and oh so accurate in its portrayal of racism in Australia.

The camera turns its gaze on two institutions in particular: the media; and law enforcement. It was the unfolding complicity between police and journalists – to co-create a story out of thin air, to fabricate evidence of a fiction flying in the face of facts – that drove Slam home for me. While based further west, I recognised those brightly lit restaurant strips and dank police stations immediately. I live here, and work here, and observe the yawning chasm between perception and reality created by media and the law every day of my life. I could smell that wet road.

The film is set around Bankstown, southern wedge of Western Sydney, an Arab-Australian population centre, urban sprawl of multitudes. It opens with Ameena (Danielle Horvat) slamming straight to camera, the rhythm and cadence of her words not immediately apparent as poetry, or not to this stranger in her world. Her performance is suspenseful, masterful, brave; she speaks the truth of colonisation from power to power, her words grounded in earth and addressed to mother.

The close-up tells us that she is woman, she is poet, and she wears the hijab, before panning back to show an enthralled and applauding audience. Then the scene fades as a cameo by Uncle Ken Canning places us squarely on stolen Aboriginal lands.

A poetry slam and a bustle of neatly clipped scenes – an alleyway, on-screen text messages, a cigarette smoked, a car in the distance through the rain – are fleeting moments with Ameena. For the rest of the film we get to know her indirectly: through her words, her mother, her brother, her best friend; her most private space, a bedroom wall that calls for freedom, a bureau drawer with the heavy wrought iron key to a home long taken. The ghost of her social media presence, while pivotal to the plot, is obscured by the clamour of traditional media voices: the radio news bulletins, the scrum of reporters, the tabloid journalist who constructs a fictional journey as the truth slides away, neglected.

It is through the voice of mother Rana (Darina Al Joundi) and eyes of brother Tariq (Adam Bakri) that we hear first that Ameena is late home, and then gone. Tariq’s responsibilities frame his sister’s disappearance: a late-night phone call from his (their) mum, the menacing thump of his car windscreen wipers, cut only by the intrusive voice of the car radio newsreader. His white wife Sally (Rebecca Breed) comes complete with an impossibly annoying family, relatives for whom holding a gin-tasting substitutes for personality. Their hearty bonhomie, sentimental singalongs and performative loyalty, blur into the background for ‘Ricky’ (his white people name).

Tariq drives alone through pouring rain to a dimly-lit police station. He feels the radio news bulletins in his bones. An Australian military jet has come down over the Syria-Iraq conflict zone and its pilot, who is sure to be white and male, a poster-boy for Australian martyrdom, is reported captured and destined for a gruesome execution. Childhood memories of his own father’s execution crowd his mind.

This tension bifurcates throughout the film. Each encounter is defined by whiteness and otherness. When Tariq reports his sister to the missing persons officer Jo Hendricks (Rachel Blake), he knows the threats of racist violence he has seen directed at his sister online are substantive. But instead he must bat away the flimsy threads from which a story about his sister will be spun.

– Marriage pressure?

– No.

Sometimes people just don’t want to be found, says officer Jo, convincing neither Tariq nor herself.

In contrast to the deceptive frame-up that awaits Ameena, domestic details fill in so much truth about the people who miss her in familiar trips across western Sydney. There is the modest red brick exterior for the Nassers, a cramped kitchen for best friend Hanan (Abby Aziz), a neat semi-detached bachelorette for Jo. The cultural poverty of whiteness is witheringly portrayed, in the heavy luxury of the in-law’s furniture (and conversation), to the sagging balloons strung above a concrete patio at Jo’s joyless family birthday.

Joylessness turns to menace turns to violence when Jo’s ex-partner, the father of her late son who has been killed on military deployment, follows her out, begs for her attention, stakes out her house. His hulking, drunken neediness is terrifying. Unlike the terror narrative imposed on Ameena, this man is less stereotype and more typology, a moving mountain who alchemises pain into anger and turns both on the woman he says he loves.

Meanwhile, Tariq searches the city for clues. He is aggressively rebuffed by her love interest (?) Omar, who has troubles of his own. Omar is a man criminalised by the state for being of middle-eastern appearance. Omar has stories of super-max – for what? Reporters gather daily outside Tariq’s old family home, outside his new family home. He and mother Rana, Ricky and pregnant wife Sally and their six-year-old daughter, become grist for the terror-narrative mill, for the quest to nail that JIHADI WIFE? headline.

As his mother and wife and daughter orbit his responsibility, Tariq orbits the absence of his sister Ameena. The loss of his sister, her absence, is filling with flashbacks.To a checkpoint in the desert, to his terrified younger self, to the loss of his father at the hands of those who are nowhere near western Sydney, but oh so close to himself, his memories, his life.

All this tension around the grieving Nasser family and friends, those who know Ameena, who love her and fear for her, is cut across by the cruelty of crisp newsreader tones, bulletins like bullets, telling Tariq what he already knows, that the Australian state will punish him, a man of middle-eastern appearance, for the imminent execution of the pilot, the son they sent to the middle east in a warplane.

As Tariq snaps, first at Omar and then at the reporters, police officer Jo brushes off her bruises and goes to work. Like the press pack, the police are determined to create a terrorist narrative from a missing woman who wears the hijab and performs poetry. They have brought in the feds, who want a reason for their fancy anti-terror funding. But the personal violence in her life has tilted Jo’s perspective. She stares down the higher-ups, stating that the case remains a missing persons matter, given there is no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Jo’s boss, another white man who directs his anger and perceived inadequacies at her competence and truth, spirals out of control. ‘We are under attack’, he shouts irrationally, attacking her in the confined space of the police station corridor. ‘You made me look like a fool! You look like shit!’

The Nassers, who are in fact under attack from the combined power of the press, the police, and hegemonic whiteness, have to do something. After all, the white in-laws are aghast. They are not racist, butthose people. Left unsaid is the mirror held up: as Tariq struggles with the violence that has invaded his life, he feels their condemnation, the false accusation. It is he, the ‘man of middle eastern appearance’ who has brought this discomfort into their lives, not the aggressive press pack, not the vested police lies, not the person unknown who caused his sister to… disappear.

Wife Sally packs up their 6 year-old daughter and leaves for the safety of her parents house. The white pater familias, he of gin-tasting proclivities, brings in an image-manager spin-doctor called Brian who, grand(dad) announces, ‘will know exactly what to do’.

[The audience laugh, but resignedly. The thought of a white male grandfather and his paid Pr guy knowing ‘exactly what to do’ about the disappearance of a young woman poet of Palestine, an Australian hijabi who fights for freedom from assimilation, whose story is being re-authored into JIHADI BRIDE? They can not bring her back to life, and do not care that she is gone. It is so sad that we laugh.]

Perhaps the most devastating scene of all stems from this intervention. Having lost his father and his sister, his family driven first from their Palestinian homelands and then from their suburban Australian home, Tariq appears at a media conference. He is flanked by Brian the media minder and two Arab men wearing [Islamic skull cap] taqiyah. Australia has been good to us, intones Tariq-Ricky. Education. Security. Freedom.

His recitation echoes the common Australian sentiment, one Jo had also earlier insisted on hearing from him. But Australia has been to good to you, she says, rather than asks. Yes, he replies obediently. The gnawing hollowness – presumably deliberately  reminiscent of captured westerners, recorded for blackmail purposes by executioners overseas – is haunting.

But director Partho Sen-Gupta knows his audience well. Cut to a celebration of new life, bursting with joy, the happy sound of Palestinian pipe, of homeland drum. People are milling, talking, dancing, smiling. Grandma Rana has donned the hijab, smiling despite carrying the kind of melancholy that comes from a world which took your husband on the way to a safer place, only to take your daughter at its destination.

As she reaches out and embraces her son, the police arrive. Jo, who maintained all along that Ameena is a missing person, is there; her colleagues who eagerly collaborated in the fabrication of a terror tale for the tabloids are there too. As the news is delivered, insects hum. Every Australian, no matter our ethnic background, knows that sound.

A special mention before I wrap up my observations of this exquisitely told story.

The sound designer excelled. The insects were essential to placing us between flashbacks, in tacking from the militarised desert overseas to the urban landscape of western Sydney. Men in uniform who pose an existential threat are the common thread. When dream and nightmare blurred with reality, between childhood and adulthood, Australia and Palestine, day and night, it was the insect sounds and birdsong that grounded me in time and place.

The other perfect touch in sound design is the throb of windscreen wipers on those drives through Sydney downpours. That rhythm melded with the heartbeat of baby in utero as Tariq and Sally attend an ultra sound appointment? I noticed. Sally being pregnant, and baby arriving, are not a prominent narrative strand in this film, but are essential to both story and mood, to film and to audience, and to our humanity. Life, after all, goes on.

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No Glory to this Story

According to the ABC election calculator, there was a 0.8 percent swing against the Liberal Party and a 1.0 percent swing against the Labor Party. The Liberal party leader is the prime minister and the Labor Party leader is headed for the back bench.

Where did the votes go?

There was a 3.4% ‘swing’ to the party formed by Clive Palmer. This amounts to 3.4% of the first preference vote, because it was a newly constituted entity after the collapse of his previous foray into federal politics. Palmer is a self-proclaimed billionaire and former financial backer of the Queensland National Party (now the Liberal-National Party) when Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the most racist and corrupt figure in Australian politics, was premier for nineteen years.

Palmer stood a candidate all 150 lower house seats, and preferenced the Liberal Party in a deal that was signed sealed and delivered before the election. His party did not win any seats but presumably soaked up the protest vote and delivered those preferences to the Liberal Party, as his 3.4% was the largest of the ‘micro’ parties.

There was also a 1.7 percent swing to the party headed by Pauline Hanson, for a total of 3 percent of the overall vote. Hanson is a former candidate for the Liberal Party who was de-selected after the ballots were printed, on the basis of being racist, and elected anyway. She did a preference deal with the Nationals, again soaking up protest votes and delivering them back to the Coalition parties, who then won the election.

At the time of writing, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) reported what is called the 2PP vote (two-party-preferred, in fact four parties but that is not the topic today) was at 51.19% to the Coalition (Liberal, Nationals and LNP) parties and 48.81% to the Labor Party. The reported 2PP swing was at 0.84 percent. This means there was an overall swing of 0.84 per cent against the Labor Party and to the three Coalition parties after all preferences were exhausted.

Background to the numbers

Labor typically benefits from Greens Party preference flows more so than the Coalition, but not at a 100% rate. There is always leakage, however, and no love lost between the two. Both parties have a substantial proportion of members and voters who would never preference the other, based on deeply-held principles and ideological commitment.

This characteristic of Greens and Labor voters provides one of several entry points for wedge politics. We often do not hesitate to back a political viewpoint with moral principle and ideological coherence. Yet being passionate and articulate about how the personal is political, and for wealth redistribution or gender equality (for example), are well outside Australian cultural hegemony.

A typically comfortable household, the doctors and lawyers, will avoid discussing political economy (politics/ideology and money/wealth) among anyone outside their own kind (they call this ‘in polite company’ or ‘manners’). The business owners, the people who profit from job agency tax breaks and plumbers who collect subsidies just for employing an apprentice and so on, laugh off serious issues. Yeah mate whatever, I just work hard to get ahead, is the general gist.

In contrast, the preference flow to the Liberals, Nationals and Queensland Liberal-Nationals (LNP) from Palmer and Hanson was probably decisive to the election win. Palmer is the party defined by mining interests and Hanson is the party defined by racism. Neither party won any seats in their own right, or met the minimum 4 per cent of first preferences required to then receive $2.756 per vote. This cash is provided by the Australian public, for the purpose of funding free and fair elections.

It remains to be seen whether Palmer will receive any other return on his $55 million (according to Palmer) or reported $60 million (relevant reform recommendations here) investment in the preference deal with Morrison. Within days, Palmer was back in the media demanding coal mining approvals and boasting about the success of his anti-Labor advertising and pro-Liberal preference strategy. The ads promoted a non-existent policy (death taxes) on social media (facebook and youtube), as well as major media (newspapers and commercial broadcast) to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

This messaging was echoed by Liberal politicians like Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and the highly compromised backbencher Tim Wilson, which allowed the false claim to leap from fringe advertising to legitimate story. The main dynamic at work here is that journalists are trained to report what people in significant public positions say, and Frydenberg is the deputy Liberal leader and Treasurer. The same phrases – inheritance tax, death duties – are then repeatedly broadcast by the same major media who were enjoying advertising revenue from Palmer. From there, ABC journalists join in on the basis that the Treasurer said it, everybody else is reporting it, thus it is a legitimate story.

There were many microcosm-mirrors of this, but the slogan run by Palmer, to the tune of $55 million-worth despite containing not a skerrick of truth, was legitimised by major media and thus took hold in the mind of the electorate. Like franking credits, it appealed to embedded values. Liberalism says that income/wealth is exactly commensurate with effort (‘hard work’), self-interest is rational, and individuals acting in self-interest produce aggregate social good.

This meritocracy mythology is what Liberals voters say they believe in but, unlike Greens and Labor voters who advocate for equality and justice, Liberals do not passionately defend the myths with facts or evidence, moral principle or ideological coherence. They do not have to, given such widespread acceptance that these false assumptions are true.

I have written in detail about meritocracy myths here; and about the shared ancestry of these political players, located with the Queensland Nationals (Palmer) and the Queensland Liberals (Hanson), the commonalities of colonialism, destruction of country for profit, and neo-nazi rhetoric in the Australian Parliament, here.

To summarise the numbers: the combined first-party preference vote for Palmer and Hanson was just under 6.5 percent. The 2PP swing to the Coalition parties was less than one percent. So the Morrison-Palmer and McCormack-Hanson preferences deals, between the leaders of the Liberal and Nationals parties and the mining and racists figureheads, was more than enough to bring the election home.

But why? Why?

Who would do such a thing? Where does the strategising, the gamesmanship, the idea that everything said by vested interests like media and political players is so critical to ‘informing’ us during the campaign and yet are somehow entirely independent – once the count is in – of the outcome? Who are these people who think they can ride out inaction on climate? Who can stand by as Indigenous and youth suicide skyrockets, as people on welfare are driven to an early grave, as refugees self-immolate?

Why do they hate democracy? And people? The planet? (same thing, same thing)

Hi. Welcome to the socio-political economy of patriarchal imperialism, liberal democracy and industrial capitalism. Hold on to your hats. It is quite a ride. But first, because legal analysis is not the dominant framework of this post (my rundown on the fact that laws are made by politicians here), a disclaimer: what follows does not hold any specific player in any field to any particular action. This in itself is a function of hegemonic whiteness, of patriarchal systems of domination and control, and of law (one area of law in particular, which in times past were satisfied by pistols at dawn).

BACKGROUND TO THE 2019 ELECTION OUTCOME: A HYPOTHETICAL.

People who know me in real life: what do you think happened?

Me: happened? Did I finish marking 100 essays on Native Title (no)? How did my son’s basketball team go on Monday night (big win, 55-27)? Or the tutorial on ‘reception’ of English law this week, voluntarily decolonised because nobody pays for that work (you could have heard a pin drop)?

People WKMIRL: you follow politics and so [paraphrased] I will listen to what you have to say. The question is, What do you think happened? At the election? What went wrong, do you think?

Me: Went wrong? For who? If you are asking me about my politics, I voted for the Liberal candidate.

PWKMIRL: WHAT? I don’t believe you. Never happened.

Me: Yep. I live in a marginal seat. I received a text message from Josh Frydenberg, the Treasurer and deputy leader of the Liberal Party, saying not to trust Labor because death taxes. My vote counts. And as a graduate economist, who understands liberal ideology, I worked through the all the issues and decided to vote for the Liberal candidate.

PWKMIRL: You would never do that. It is just not you.

Me: What do you mean, not me? There is nothing wrong with advocating for abolition of franking credits and then receiving a message from a man with massive socio-positional power and deciding that because I live in a meritocracy he must be right. And then going into the voting booth and putting a number 1 next to the Liberal candidate. I am a casualised working single mum in western Sydney. I meet my full income tax liabilities before I see the money. I pay another 10% when I buy goods and services. Plus I spend that post-tax income on feeding and clothing and housing my three children, all of whom are now people who work and pay tax. They are PAYE workers, so obviously they are directly connected to me as legal persons – humans, corporations, whatever, you know, whatever is a legal person – and because I invested my post-income and post-GST tax in feeding them and keeping them alive, the tax they pay is also tax I paid. That is how it works. I researched it, based on what Josh Frydenberg said about death taxes, and as a graduate economist, I am confident of my conclusions. Because what if my parents leave an estate and I have to pay tax on that? Then I would not be able to be a responsible citizen and self-fund my old age by not paying tax on their estate that they left me which I did nothing to work hard for and I would become a burden on the state by not paying a death tax to the state to fund public education. I would feel so bad if I did not plan for my own old age, by voting against death taxes, so that under the Liberal party I can live off an inheritance that I may or may not get. I mean imagine if I became a burden on the state! Unthinkable. I think the best thing to do to not become a burden on the state is to not pay taxes that may assist people living in poverty oh sorry I mean people who are a great big burden on the state and instead reap the benefits of publicly-subsidised investment properties and publicly-subsidised share portfolios.

So I decided to vote Liberal. Because of what Josh Frydenberg said in a text message. And because if I vote in my best interests, and everybody does what I do, that produces an aggregate social good. Right? Which is fine! This is a free country, after all.

PWKMIRK and online: But I can not imagine you doing that, Ingrid. You are just not the kind of person who would ever do that.

Me: if I did, it would be totally morally neutral, right? Nobody could judge me for voting for the Liberal Party candidate on the basis of what Josh Frydenberg said in a text message. Especially after I saw the same message legitimised by journalists who work for the ABC. After all, I trust the ABC. Plus I can vote for whoever I want and the Liberal Party told me that Labor would bring in a death tax.

PWKMIRK and online: I can not believe I am saying this but did you not know that Josh Frydenberg, despite being the deputy leader of the Liberal Party and the Treasurer of the country, lied about an opposition policy?

Me: oh, did he? Wow! Amazing, right? Because what I did was, I took what Josh Frydenberg said to me in a text message at face value, on the basis that he is a significant and trustworthy figure in a liberal democracy, ie the deputy leader of the Liberal Party and the Treasurer of the country. Then I applied what he said using my knowledge, qualifications and experience ie tertiary degrees in economics, political science, and law; and applied his words also to my fifty years including the last eighteen years as a working single mum in western Sydney whose children are Aboriginal; and then reached a conclusion, based on this lengthy, considered analysis of democracy and capitalism… to determine my vote.

I thought everybody did that?

PWKM and people who do not know me [backing away slowly after I cited extensive expertise and endorsed dominant values, which are mutually exclusive to my principles and values that I have developed over a lifetime]: no, Ingrid. Not everybody does that.

Me: oh, my mistake. But each and every individual vote which was not necessarily determined by the process I described still adds up to an aggregate democratic good, right? The result is the will of the people, yeah? Whether or not any particular voter interrogated what Josh Frydenberg said in a text message sent to their phone about death taxes, influenced their vote, and then turned out to not be a thing?

PWKM and people who do not know me: Stop. Please stop.

Me: …

Them: …

Me:…[deep breaths] None of the following is directed at any particular person. It is what it is: a tiny little bit of what I know, based on those tertiary qualifications from white patriarchal institutions in the disciplines of money and power – sorry, political economy and law – that I mentioned, and happen to have. I worked so hard for those degrees (that’s a little joke for yas).

How was the 2019 Australian Election Won?

There are people who derive income from setting up meetings between politicians and industry executives. Mainly industry, but also every other institution, such as religions, universities, and media. They are called lobbyists.

These people are what political journalists and parties call ‘numbers men’. Yes, men. If there is a woman who is paid millions of dollars to introduce Mike Baird to the National Australia Bank, or Clive Palmer to Scott Morrison? Please. Drop me a name. Look forward to meeting her.

It works like this. The Liberals numbers man – Labor does not have the same business model because unions are organised labour, not business, and therefore false equivalence distraction rhetoric is based on dominant liberal norms as the default and a waste of all our time – sets up a business where he is paid huge amounts of money to put Scott on the phone to Clive. Or Mike on the phone to NAB. Lines up Angus to run it by Barnaby to chat with Matt and Tony.

Whoever. That’s it. That’s the story.

But it is legal? I hear you say. Yes, it is. Are you asking me whether politicians who sit in the parliament – they collect over $200K pa – they talk for living – literally talk, nothing else – will pass a law to make it more difficult for politicians who sit in the parliament to personally financially benefit from being politicians who sit in the parliament?

Hmmmm. Maybe they will. Or not. Maybe I voted for the Liberal candidate in my marginal seat because I was worried about paying tax on a possible future inheritance because I want any wealth they accrued, for which I did nothing, for myself.

Or, who knows? Maybe I am not that kind of person at all.

 

Lies, damn lies and the flatlining economy

There are two main layers to the misinformation that dominates coverage of the economy during this election campaign.

The first is the Coalition relying on major media to report its economic narrative for the entire ‘policy’ component of its re-election strategy. Everything else is meat pies and footy, horserace ephemera, church on Sunday, pub on Anzac Day.

Secondly, there is a complacent and unhelpful view which even well-regarded economists and journalists, who know (or should know) better, are kicking down the road. This is the demonstrably false notion that the Liberals and Nationals lack a policy platform.

There is no truth to the Coalition economic narrative, which I refuse to reiterate, we have heard it often enough. Nor is there any truth to the idea that the Coalition has no agenda.

Lets start with some medium-term context on Australian governments and economic management.

The Australian economy was successfully steered through the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC) by the Rudd Labor government. At the time, Treasurer Wayne Swan explained its Keynesian philosophy, which boils down to counter-cyclical government borrowing and spending, to minimise the hardship and cost caused by steep economic downturns, which cause mass unemployment.

Swan and Labor colleague Paul Keating (later Prime Minister, 1991-1996) are the only two Australian treasurers to be recognised internationally for their economic competency. A detailed Labor-Coalition comparative analysis by economist Stephen Koukoulas (disclosure: former Labor advisor) can be found here; and Tim Dunlop wrote a necessary debunking of the debt and deficit hysteria, after the disastrous Abbott-Hockey budget in 2015, here.

The GFC was caused by neoliberal policy settings that peaked during the Howard era (1996-2007).

Neoliberal policy settings, briefly

Neoliberalism transactionalises human relations, and commodifies identifiable sectors of the population, such as First Nations people, welfare recipients, single mums, disabled people, carers – some of whom are ‘dependant’ children themselves – refugees. Many people belong to more than one of these groups.

Like its classical liberal parent, an ideology designed to rationalise the pervasive inequalities produced by the English class system and industrial capitalism, neoliberalism comes with multiple lies of convenience. ‘Trickle-down’, for instance, is reverse rhetoric. It describes the deliberate movement of wealth and assets up the economic scale as its opposite.

One example is the ‘job active’ network. This Howard-era re-structure, which abolished the Commonwealth Employment Service, is made up of ‘small business’ whose only income is from the government. These private sector entities qualify for the $20,000 tax write down pitched to ‘Tony’s tradies’. The ‘business’ is paid by government for doing ‘case work’. Its employees can authorise cutting an unemployed person off Centrelink income for up to three months, for a ‘breach’ of their ‘contract’.

An unemployed person can receive no service at all, while the agency is paid public money for ‘managing’ them.

The Parents Next program is pretty much the same (see Luke Henrique-Gomes’ work on welfare recipients of many stripes here). A ‘provider’ can authorise cutting single mums off Centrelink for not attending an approved activity like playgroup or swimming lessons. This obviously also impoverishes our children, on top of the social stigma we experience. (Disclaimer: I am a single mum, no longer reliant on Centrelink payments. Reports on Parents Next are viscerally distressing to me. I often avoid these news stories for reasons of residual trauma).

So the ‘provider’ agency can cut single mums, and therefore children, off income support for failing to attend an activity – say baby was sick – that mum was otherwise attending before the ‘provider’ got involved. What happens is, Centrelink puts mum on the Parents Next program, and assigns her to a ‘provider’ who gets government money for having her on the books. This person says oh its okay, tick the box for the thing you are already doing.

The agency then claims cash from government, for mum taking her kids to an approved activity like swimming lessons, which she was previously doing, because she is their mum. But now she is subject to surveillance and compliance, and the provider can cut off her income on multiple pretexts. It is traumatising for anyone, but particularly domestic violence survivors, to be subject to this level of control.

A parallel model operates for NDIS and aged care ‘packages’. The money is paid to a ‘provider’, which has no income other than from government. The agency head sets up as a small business, complete with brand new cars and computers and smart phones, all tax deductible.

Does the government check that this public money is spent on the elderly or disabled people who are on their books? Take a guess. Are there any consequences if the provider trousers the cash and does nothing for the client, nothing for their carer, for the household? What do you think?

This is commodification of people, real people, who belong to specific, identifiable sectors of the population. If this shocks you, if it is a thousand miles from your lived experience, if you had no idea, the best response is to listen to those who are affected. If you can, offer support. Real, material support.

Also central to neoliberalism is the transfer of public resources to private interests. In this context, financial markets were deregulated beyond any effective oversight, while public assets were sold off to the highest bidder. In New South Wales, then-Premier Mike Baird sold all the information about all the land. This, in a society where land as the source of wealth (Edgeworth et al 2017 p. 2) is the central organising principle of property law.

A religious man and corporate banker, Baird then handed womens refuges built by feminists to the corporate arms of organised religion, like Mission Australia. Hundreds of women, and many children, have been killed by male relatives since then.

We were also told that ‘competition’ would drive electricity prices down when the poles and wires were flogged off. What happened? Widespread price-gouging, with electricity bills skyrocketing at four times the rate of the general price increases.

Meanwhile, across the globe, political leaders allowed the vested predictions of credit ratings agencies to hold enormous, unwarranted and ultimately catastrophic sway over fiscal decisions. This is the real sovereign risk, a term bandied about by economic illiterates who never point to the austerity imposed by the IMF on developing countries, for example, or by the EU on Greece.

That is neo/liberalism (same thing) in a nutshell.

Back to the federal election campaign

The twin failure by legacy media, of uncritically broadcasting the Coalition ‘going negative’ while pretending that same Coalition has no policy platform, is partly a self-fulfilling dynamic. The prime minister endlessly serves up repetitive and dishonest criticism of Opposition policy. He refuses to campaign on his record.

Reporting whatever lies the Liberals tell about Labor is a reversal of the public interest responsibility of the fourth estate. Major media outlets, or its more romantic conceptualisation the free press, are supposed to report what the government is doing, and what the opposition offers in the alternative.

The point is for voters, in a democracy, to have a meaningful choice at the ballot box.

What is the government doing, you ask? How can we glean the Liberal and National party policy platform from all this carnival barking? Well. First, canvas what the Coalition has done over the past five years in power. Then, check whether any Liberal or National Party candidate or representative – whether officially or by the traditionally worst political gaffe of all (accidentally telling the truth) – has repudiated or deferred or suspended or cancelled that policy position (eg Parents Next), the policy that we can all see with our own eyes, if we care to look.

It is not that hard.

The only actual argument the prime minister deigns to put on fiscal policy – other than the stunts and piecemeal announcements designed to dominate the news cycle – is that he, Scott Morrison, has a better one. Better than what? you may ask. Labor Labor Labor, is the answer, and the answer is not an honest one.

A growing list of eye-wateringly expensive allocations – the preferred unit of cash wastage seems to be a half-billion dollars – is sufficient evidence that Coalition claims about its economic management are untrue.

Back in 2014, the Abbott government announced it would slash over half a billion dollars from Indigenous Affairs, and it did. In 2017, the Turnbull government outright rejected the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and referendum proposal for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, by press release. In 2018, the former Nationals deputy leader and Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, approved ‘Indigenous’ funding to mates in the cattle and fishing industries, including to fight native title claims. When questioned, he appeared unable to grasp what could possibly be wrong with that.

On Turnbull’s (and Morrison’s and Frydenberg’s) watch, $443 million was handed to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, a tiny organisation run by a board peppered with mining industry executives. Under Morrison, $499 million dollars were allocated to the Australian War Memorial, which is run by an ex-Liberal Party leader who courts donations from, and sits on the board of, weapons manufacturers.

This was after said ex-Liberal leader Brendan Nelson entertained the idea of memorialising Operation Sovereign Borders at the AWM, an unspeakable proposition.

Speaking of how we have militarised asylum seeker policy, how about that $423 million approved by Home Affairs in a not-open tender to the beach-shack registered ‘security firm’ Paladin? Of course that is in addition to the ten billion+ dollars spent on off-shore detention, including $187 million to re-open and then close the cages on Christmas Island for no reason other than pre-election scare campaigning.

Going back a little further, to when Morrison was co-designing then-opposition coalition policy with James ‘butcher of Falujah’ Moylan, there is the estimated $400-600 million that Morrison and Abbott spent militarising our refugee policy. The rationalisation for this breathtaking outlay is the ludicrous claim that asylum seekers who arrive by boat are a national security threat. There is not one skerrick of evidence for this nasty rhetoric. None.

Add to that the $8.2 billion spent, with nothing to show for river health, on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Incredible that a $10 billion announcement in the dying days of the Howard government, when Malcolm Turnbull was Environment Minister, brought a sounder of swine to snuffle at the trough.

Note the $80 million spent on non-existent water that may or may not have flown downstream to Cubbie Station if there was a flood (see Anne Davies’ extensive body of work on water buy-backs here).

Then there is the mortal injury that is Robodebt. This oppression costs as much to administer as it recovers from welfare recipients, if you only count the dollars. Over 2,000 people have died after receiving AFP-branded notices of government-fabricated debts, according to the department that administers the program. The debt notices only go to working people of working age. In other words, they are probably not dying of natural causes, and they are certainly not dying of old age.

Is it irony that, other than for aged pensioners and veterans, the social safety net has been wholly dismantled? No, it is travesty.

Moving on.

Despite consistently dishonest claims by Liberal and National MPs, most notably chief carnival barker Scott Morrison, negative gearing almost exclusively benefits well-off households. You may have heard of opportunity cost, which I explain to students with the simple adage you can not spend the same dollar twice. The public cost of property owners, via negative gearing and rent assistance, pension asset tests and CGT exemptions, was estimated at $36 billion a year in 2013.

All that foregone revenue is a lot of public housing not built.

And then – deep sigh – what passes for climate policy. Like many others, I have written so much about this, including as a social researcher examining the entrails of the 2010 election, as well as during this campaign. It is desperately disheartening. I am exhausted by the sheer bloody-mindedness of it.

In brief:

The Abbott government repealed the price on carbon and replaced it with ‘Direct Action’, or paying big polluters to modify their plant and equipment. Emissions have increased ever since. Turnbull left this demonstrably ineffective nonsense in situ while his hapless environment minister, the now-Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, fiddled around with a ‘national energy guarantee’, which took out the Turnbull prime ministership. It was never legislated, and is now Labor policy.

Morrison re-branded this deliberately impotent free money approach as ‘climate solutions’. Rebranding is quite literally the only tool in his kit.

So I guess my question is:

Does taking billions of dollars from welfare recipients and First Nations people and PAYE earners and single mums buying school shoes, and giving it to mining companies and landlords and private off-shore prisons… does that sound like a government with no agenda to you? Like a party with no policy platform?

One final point

In February 2017, the Orwellian-named Fair Work Commission – which the Coalition, as with other federal statutory bodies, has stacked with political appointees – cut penalty rates (the top-up pay for working on Sundays and public holidays) to some of the most insecure, underemployed, and casualised workers in the country. A recent McKell Institute report found that if the Coalition are re-elected, some $2.87 billion will be transferred from low-paid workers to business owners and shareholders.

As any economist can tell you, the multiplier effect of $2.87 billion spent by members of low-income households, on essentials and in their local communities, is vastly more beneficial to the Australian economy than $2.87 billion in the pockets of people who have disposable income to spend on shares and overseas holidays and luxury imports.

In addition, PAYE waged workers pay tax before we see it. There are few – basically, no – tax deductions available to casualised workers in the retail and hospitality sectors. Business owners and shareholders, on the other hand, enjoy access to a huge array of tax write-down options.

This means that government revenue will decline as a result of the decision to transfer wealth upwards, in this case from low-income workers to business owners and shareholders. Why? Because we meet our tax liabilities in full, while business owners and shareholders are invited, by fiscal policy settings, to evade and avoid and minimise at every opportunity.

As with the reverse rhetoric mentioned earlier, the trickle-up nonsense so beloved by neoliberalism, this fiscal effect is the exact opposite of dominant economic narratives – about low-income workers and business owners – in the public domain.

To conclude

The 2019 budget, with its fabricated future bottom line, has sunk without a trace. And that is even with Treasurer Frydenberg, as part of his budget sell, releasing a picture of young Josh half-naked on his childhood bed. I am not joking. I wish I was. But it serves as a handy metaphor for this election. The public are poorly served by a campaign where the emperors are fully clothed, while legacy media pretend they are naked.

Imagining A Parallel Campaign

[This post was first published on the evening of 11 April at the group blogging site Ausvotes 2019, which I have signed up to for the duration].

After confidently calling the end of the 45th Parliament on Thursday 4 April (‘as we head towards the final hours of the 45th Parliament…’), the press gallery was forced to walk back these premature statements of fact within 36 hours (‘Morrison likely to delay election campaign by another week…’).

Turns out that ‘sources say next weekend has firmed as the preferred timing’, a prediction from the above article, was also wrong. The ABC News Twitter account posted at 06:37am on Thursday 11 April that Morrison had left the prime ministerial residence to call on the Governor General.

And no, this is not a post about political journalism in particular, or major media generally getting it wrong, although I often do write a lot of words [waves hands vaguely] along those lines.

Instead, I picked the above example from the last week to illustrate why I want to counter the overload of what we call ‘retail politics’ and ‘horserace reporting’. There is no good reason to report that the parliament is over when the claim has not been verified; or that the election will be called on a specific date – especially when it wasn’t.

The Great Moral Challenge of Our Time

There is every reason, in contrast, to report on the significance of climate policy stasis which Australia has endured over the last decade and beyond. Intergenerational equity is an internationally accepted principle that has informed global efforts around biodiversity and environmental sustainability at the highest levels since 1972 (United Nations Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment).

In more recent years, the principle has been supplemented by intergenerational solidarity and intergenerational justice, not least because we have failed to honour this basic commitment to our children.

It is a dismal reality that the current and previous Liberal party prime ministers have used the statement above (correctly ‘declared’ by the last Labor prime minister, Kevin Rudd), to beat up on their political opponents rather than enact meaningful policies on climate change.

Since the Coalition government repealed the price on carbon, emissions in Australia have increased every year (charted by Guardian Australia economics writer Greg Jericho here). Australians have the heaviest per capita carbon footprint on the planet.

And the UN reports that we are unlikely to meet our obligations to the international community, to intergenerational justice, or to the planet. This is so regardless of whatever comforting lies we are told by the Coalition about reaching our Paris targets ‘in a canter’.

Voice Treaty Truth

If climate change is the moral challenge of our time, the Uluru Statement from the Heart is the moral roadmap to our collective future.

Yet after this most gracious of invitations was issued to the non-Indigenous people of Australia, then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull rejected it. He did this five months later via a press release signed off by then-Attorney General George Brandis and retiring minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion.

The Voice Treaty Truth movement encapsulates priorities nominated by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples during twelve regional dialogues and the 2017 Uluru Convention. The near-unanimous consensus from these processes is firstly a referendum to amend the Australian Constitution to include an Indigenous Voice to parliament; and then Makaratta, a word gifted by the Yolgnu, meaning ‘coming together after a struggle’.

That the Voice be constitutionally entrenched is essential, because past institutional representation of Aboriginal people, such as ATSIC, have been created and abolished by successive governments. That Treaty come before Truth is also essential, because the truth-telling must be led by First Peoples.

In other words, the sequencing is integral. I learnt this at Uluru Statement events I have attended, from Dialogues facilitator and Uluru Convention delegates Teela Reid, a proud Wailwan and Wiradjuri woman and lawyer, and Thomas Mayor, a Torres Strait Islander man living on Larrakia lands and union secretary. (Any errors are my own.)

One of the most substantive messages on Voice Treaty Truth is the reality that ‘the people are ahead of the politicians’. Research conducted by Reconciliation Australia found that:

almost all Australians (95%) believe that ‘it is important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have a say in matters that affect them’ and 80% believe it is important to ‘undertake formal truth telling processes’, with 86% believing it is important to learn about past issues (Karen Mundine, CEO, Reconciliation Australia, 11 February 2019).

We are unlikely to hear much about Voice Treaty Truth this election campaign; we typically hear little of First Peoples justice and rights in any timeframe. This does not mean future sovereign relations are moot.

Should it win government, the ALP has promised a referendum in its first term. So any reluctance by Labor to campaign on the courage of its convictions is surpassed only by the failure of the Coalition to grasp the import of the Uluru Statement from the Heart at all.

It’s the economy, because it always is

Announcing the election date at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Mr Howard said it would be a decision for voters about who they trusted most to look after Australia and its economic future.

“This election, ladies and gentlemen, will be about trust,” he told reporters. “Who do you trust to keep the economy strong, and protect family living standards?” – Sydney Morning Herald, 29 August 2004

I intend to write more about fiscal policy during the campaign. In the meantime, I offer a few observations about the Morrison slogan on economic management, which is a myth based on a lie

First, like his other set-pieces – repeating the Turnbull trek to Tumut, re-branding Abbott’s ‘direct action’ (giving public money to big polluters) as a ‘climate solution fund’ (ditto) – Morrison’s catch-cry is copied from a previous Liberal Party prime minister.

The notion that this government has out-performed the previous Labor government on the economy does not stand up to the most cursory scrutiny. It is an absurd and dishonest proposition that a record of doubling the national debt, while presiding over growing inequality, exacerbated by falling or at best stagnant real wages, is somehow superior to management of the 2008 GFC so deft we dodged a recession.

The Labor economic strategy in 2008, at a time when greedy and destructive neoliberal chickens came home to roost on the watch of a new government, was praised globally, including by no other than Nobel Economics Prize laureate Joseph Stiglitz. For a moment there, everyone was a Keynesian, not that fiscal intelligence has a hope of prevailing in the birthplace of the Murdoch press.

Anyway where were we? Oh yes, the unoriginal branding without substance, and marketing rooted in dishonesty, disseminated by Scott Morrison. In my view, this duplicity and intellectual dishonesty goes to character.

Actions speak louder than words, so what does this sloganeering tell us about Morrison? That the prime minister has no creative thought or problem solving skills, alongside a complete absence of conscience?

As Minister for Immigration and Border Protection he was condemned by the UN Committee Against Torture. As Human Services Minister, as Treasurer, he presided over the most damaging welfare policies of three generations. You have to go back to captain inertia himself, Bob do-nothing Menzies, to find worse treatment of the lowest-income people in our society than by the incumbent.

Like most politics-watchers in this country, I am alert to the ‘preferred prime minister’ polling which shows that voters do not warm to Bill Shorten. And to be honest, I do not warm much to Shorten myself. But that does not matter, because it is public leadership that matters.

Possibly the worst metric on which the average punter could rely is personal judgements formed by journalists whose duty is to communicate policy choices to the voting public.

And that is why I have signed up for Ausvotes2019.

 

 

 

Australian Election 2019 Guide 1: Refuting the Rhetoric

Some time in the first half of 2019, the third conservative Australian prime minister in five years will be compelled to call an election, which his Coalition government will lose. That man is Scott Morrison, the dodgily-selected member for Cook, representing one of the whitest and most racist areas of Sydney.

The career best of Scott Morrison is a thing called Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) which h e co-designed with former army general and now Senator Jim Molan, a man repeatedly and credibly accused of war crimes in Iraq. The multi-billion dollar policy rests on the entrenched false assumption that refugees who arrive by boat to seek asylum are a threat to national security.

There is literally no evidence for the proposition. None.

Like his predecessor, Morrison took the office in August 2018 by a secret ballot in the Liberal Party room. He ascended from chief persecutor of refugees via the Human Services ministry and its vicious and lethal cashless welfare and Robodebt policies; and Treasury, in a government that has doubled the national debt to over $350 billion. His government allocates vast sums of public money, in blocs of up to $500 million, to private sector interests, shell companies, charity fronts, and white nationalist legacy projects which I wrote about here, like $498 million to a war memorial which does not honour the Frontier Wars and $100 million on a single general in France.

Apart from the monumental waste represented by these fiscal facts, we have the grotesque spectacle of a parliamentary press gallery absolutely wedded to continually reproducing and disseminating the ‘received wisdom’ that Coalition governments are ‘stronger’ on the economy and border protection. Their pretzelesque reasoning? Polls indicate that voters believe these lies, so the media can and should keep publishing, rather than refuting, the same lies.

For the record, the last Labor government (2007-2013) was lauded globally by economists like Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz for embracing Keynesian economic policy over austerity and sandbagging Australia from the worst of the Global Financial Crisis. The GFC was in turn caused by the kinds of neoliberal policies preferred by the Coalition, which are based on an entirely discredited and deliberately dishonest fallacy. The laughable ‘trickle down’ nonsense entails conservative politicians beholden to wealthy donors transferring public resources to vested private interests; and mobilising media complicity to disseminate the un-credible fabrication that rich people will share, later.

All of this is underpinned by unconscionable attacks on the poorest people and households and extensive, relentless racism. Racism is, by definition, also a lie. It assigns characteristics to people based on broad categorisations designed by white males. It has no factual or moral basis, which is not to say it has no efficacy: there is a reason white patriarchal societies are so deeply invested in reproducing racist lies for each generation. It works to maintain white supremacy.

In other words, the entire Coalition pitch is a mountain of lies. The Labor Party are by far the better economic managers on every indicator; and Australian-born citizens have committed every designated act of terror, as well as the vast majority of violent attacks not designated as terror-related, on Australian soil.

Recently, some influential political journalists belatedly decided to call out the Australian government on its refugee policy lies and vast costs. Despite the warm praise from colleagues, I am not linking to these half-hearted walk-backs. Above all else, major media protects its own erroneous and injurious decisions, like endorsing the misogynist and xenophobic climate denier Tony Abbott; and valorising the haplessly inept and hopelessly compromised Malcolm Turnbull.

So yes, we are finally seeing a few political journalists call out government lies and dodgy dealings. But. Those same media people are still reproducing the entrenched false assumptions that rely on a substratum of racism, and racism itself is a meta-lie. Just last week, Barrie Cassidy (ABC), Katharine Murphy (Guardian Australia) and Peter Hartcher (Nine Fairfax) – all very senior political personnel at outlets that engaged, progressive voters rely on – do this.

The vanity of the gallery is to assume that voters do not remember previous Coalition campaigns run on racism. From ‘bucketloads of extinguishment’ (superb Wik Peoples doco here) to ‘children overboard’, from the Northern Territory Intervention to Stop the Boats – newsflash – yes, we do. Of course, the goldfish paradigm has a purpose: deflecting from media complicity in debasing public debate and denying racist discourse.

Mainstream commentary invariably infers that Howard and Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison – and their compadres in cabinet and caucus – special mention to walking cadaver Phillip Ruddock and demonic walloper Peter Dutton – dehumanise racialised peoples because racism resonates in the electorate. While this is true, this type of ‘analysis’ also legitimises racist views articulated by powerful figures.

Using racism for the purposes of personal ambition in pursuit of power is a wrong in itself. Yet the strategy of mobilising racism is framed by political journalism as clever and successful, rather than dishonest and harmful.

Such favourable framing stems from basic tenets of liberal ideology. Neo/liberalism encodes self-interest as rational and aggression as competition; and asserts that the individual pursuit of both produces aggregate social good. None of this is true. We are a social species, not lone hunters. Unequal distribution of resources produces excess luxury for some and deprivation for others, not aggregate social good.

Enter the liberal tenet of just desserts: some ‘deserve’ that third yacht, that $40 million mansion, because reward is commensurate with merit. Back in the real world, inherited wealth derived from violent seizure of lands and collaboration with invaders is the predominant determinant of socio-economic standing. But meh, facts. Liberalism is an ideology, and ideologies rely on beliefs. This one was designed to rationalise wealth inequality, which it does by re-branding primogeniture with meritocracy mythology (as I explain here).

While some in the gallery have found their moral compass directs them to call out government lies, this stance is nullified where racist rhetoric is presented as a successful campaign strategy reflecting electoral attitudes, rather than a lie in itself which constitutes an objective moral wrong.

As mentioned, racism itself is a meta-lie; and lies are bad, right? The logic of racism as an objective moral wrong goes further. It is not complex. It simply observes that racism is never harmless. There is no upside to racism. There are gains to white people, huge gains, but white people do not experience racism.

Racism is an essential tool in the neo/liberal project, and we will see this again throughout the 2019 election campaign. The failure by our political media to join these dots is why I am spelling out the wrongs of racism in this way. Context is urgent, because the Coalition is increasingly desperate. When the political leadership is ramping up racist hate, white people in particular must consistently and diligently push back.

Journosplaining and other profitable pursuits

This post is written on the assumption that the current Australian government is defunct. Every outward sign appears, on my reading, to be the tip an iceberg, moving rapidly across the rising electoral oceans, to sink the Liberal Party of Australia. Good.

First, a caveat: I am ignoring the Nationals today because they are already a gerrymandered rump, with less than 5 per cent of the national vote at the 2016 election and 8.5 per cent for the Liberal National Party, which essentially means Queensland.

Like the disproportionate power wielded by former slave-holding states in the US Electoral College, there are many stories to be told about how, for example, the Nationals get to decide who is Acting Prime Minister when the Prime Minister is overseas despite their miniscule national vote. The influence wielded by charlatans like Barnaby Joyce is one; the secret Coalition agreement that quite literally constitutes the government of the country (which the Turnbull government spent 87,000 public dollars to keep secret) is another. Or how about the extreme racism mobilised by ex-Liberal candidate Senator Pauline Hanson, ex-Nationals MP Bob Katter and former Hanson/current neonazi Senator Fraser Anning that is endorsed by the ruling Coalition government.

But. Not today, Satan. Today I am predicting the annihilation of the Liberal Party at the federal election to be held in the coming months if not weeks; and why I do not care if the Liberal Party is wiped from the face of the Australian polity and neither should anyone else. multiple flashpoints support this call: the exodus of Liberal Party women; the relentless, undeniable, heat of this Australian summer; a million dead fish in a river killed by colonial ecocide. Liberal Party members should listen up too. Expand your working knowledge of free market ideology my mates.

A second caveat: I have no personal animus toward the Liberal Party. I do not know anyone in the caucus, and would probably not recognise a Craig Kelly or a Steve Ciobo if he passed me in the street.

Craig Kelly, you may recall, told the only Liberal MP who won a seat at the last election that she should not move to the cross bench but ‘roll with the punches’. Steve Ciobo is quite the character too. He told ABC Lateline, of our first and only woman Prime Minister, that her colleagues would ‘be in a rush to slit her throat’.

I mention these examples because misogyny is constitutive of this government. When it came to power in 2013, then-leader Tony Abbott was lavished with praise by the parliamentary press gallery as ‘effective’ and successful.

This is a hallmark of colonial and patriarchal societies. The vested dominant group admires and rewards kick-down strategies deployed by white males like Abbott. Vicious and dishonest aggression – aimed at women and children, at First Nations and Black people and People of Colour, at the rainbow (LGBTQIA+) community, at people with disabilities, the unemployed, single mums, the casualised working poor – is rewarded with governing power over other peoples’ lives.

That power is then predictably abused, to cause harm to the targeted groups. And five years later, the Liberal Party is on the brink of collapsing under the weight of its own toxic misogyny. Good.

The origins of liberalism and free market theory

Liberal, in ideological terms, means free. The most basic proposition of liberalism is that citizens are free and autonomous individuals who may think, speak, and act as they please unless a properly constituted sovereign government – in our case, the parliament – had passed a law which proscribes the thought, speech or action.

In the formative years (C18-19) of classical liberalism, only land-owning men, some of whom had property in human beings, were citizens. So the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy and English liberalism excluded Black people (who were slaves in this context), peasants/the working class (JS Mill referred to ‘labourers’, or specified ‘agricultural labourers’), women, children, and by association (because they were excluded from land ownership) disabled people and people of colour.

Colonised peoples of all hues were made subject to the laws of the coloniser and simultaneously excluded from representative/participatory democracy in theory and in practice, and from any recourse resembling justice in the justice system.

The general picture is of government by propertied white men, of propertied white men, for propertied white men. It is not unusual for liberalism to congratulate itself for the struggles against its structural norms, successful movements to dismantle its exclusivity like abolition of slavery, and ‘universal’ suffrage.

Men of political organisations such as the whigs tout these shifts as their victories, but it was Black people – slaves and former slaves – it was women – feminists and suffragettes – who put their lives on the frontline, in the face of violent colonial and patriarchal resistance, to secure basic rights in a polity that touts ‘freedom, democracy and rule of law’ as its fundamental values.

There are nations where the relationship between government and military determines national standing; there are forms of social organisation where religion is the predominant factor in the trajectory of history. In the liberal democracies, because resources are distributed by way of what is weirdly and inaccurately called capitalism (given that primogeniture, a constitutive feature of autocratic dynastic monarchy, is still the system by which wealth distribution is primarily determined), the central organising frame is political economy.

Liberal heroes like JS Mill opined that the magical market will correct an aberrant increase in the rise of food prices. The ‘logic’ (ideology) is that unaffordable food will cause the children in poor people households to die of starvation, thereby inclining poor people to exercise ‘prudence’ and produce fewer children. This, wait for it, leads to a lower supply of workers and thus employers ‘competing’ for labour will drive up the ‘price’, which in the ‘labour market’ is wages.

These despicable ideas were imposed in real time on Ireland, killing one million Irish people by starvation and causing the displacement by emigration of two million more. England treated Ireland and her people as a kind of social experiment to test warped ideas from men like Malthus and his acolytes. Its colonial-imperial descendant, the ‘Commonwealth of Australia’, views Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, in the Northern Territory especially, the same way.

Wrong. First Nations Peoples, from Ireland and Scotland to Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand to Turtle Island and beyond, have place-based worldviews already. Look it up. My place and expertise is to criticise the terrible men and their ghastly ideas that inform the paradigmatic worldview of the Liberal Party of Australia, currently (but not for much longer) in government. For example:

[Therefore] it is impossible that population should increase at its utmost rate without lowering wages. Nor will the fall be stopped at any point, short of its physical or moral operation… Either the whole number of births which nature admits of do not take place; or if they do, a large proportion of those who are born, die. The retardation of increase results from mortality or prudence; and one or the other of these must and does exist in all old societies. Wherever population is not kept down by the prudence either of individuals or of the state, it is kept down by starvation or disease… (JS Mill 1848, Principles of Political Economy, Ch 11, On Wages p. 345).

In an age of abstinence as the only reliable form of contraception, Mill is implicating working class male brutality and rape in the way that the #notallmen crowd today desperately try to distance themselves from rapist murderer ‘monsters’. Like how Aboriginal men are framed as sexual predators to ‘rationalise’ the Northern Territory Intervention (white men make rational decisions) which in fact was designed for John Howard to get ‘cut through’ (self-interest is rational) because the electorate had stopped listening to his evil banality and he wanted to win an election.

He lost his seat, and government. Anyway. The general picture of liberalism must be supplemented by specific policy settings based on what our freedom-loving liberals call ‘free market theory’, which in turn is based on a set of spectacularly false assumptions.

An example is ‘perfect consumer knowledge’, where everyone in the used car market is assumed to be able to competently and confidently distinguish a lemon from a genuine low-mileage bargain. This is obviously not true.

Another assumption of classical free market theory is that there are ‘no barriers to entry’ into the market. This infers that I can start a media organisation (borrow money, secure land, buy plant and equipment, employ labour), and ‘compete’ against Fairfax or Murdoch. In this ‘competition’, I will use hard work and entrepreneurial spirit and innovative talent. The ‘most efficient’ of the players – out of me, Fairfax, and Murdoch – will ‘win’ ie make the most money. This is obviously not true.

These are over-simplified examples of course, presented to illustrate the absurdity of the ideology – literally the logic of ideas, where logic encompasses values, because ethics are integral to logic in the Athenian tradition – informing political economy under Liberal Party governance. This is their weltanschauung, the world view to which Liberal Party members purport to subscribe.

All of which brings us back to the existential crisis being felt by institutional power-holders who are touting for the survival of the Liberal Party in the Australian summer of 2018-2019. Why? It does not matter if the Liberal Party collapses under the weight of its own toxic misogyny. That just means that the market for toxic misogyny has dried up, and there is low demand for what the Liberal Party supplies.

Why I do not care if the Liberal Party implodes (and why the commentariat does)

This account is set out to contextualise the announcement by our current federal Minister for Women, Kelly O’Dwyer, that she will not be re-contesting the seat of Higgins at the 2019 election. So what? You may ask. Who is Kelly O’Dwyer? Well, O’Dwyer is a relatively young woman (42) and married mother who the Liberal Party holds up as evidence that they are not a male-dominated chauvinist-ridden organisation awash with vicious bullies.

Except they are, and now they have one less piece of tactical armour – which is the objectified value O’Dwyer represented to the Party – to sustain their phoney claims.

Her resignation announcement is the latest in a series of events exposing the fact that the Liberal Party is made up of unreconstructed misogynists and the organisation is collapsing under the weight of its own toxic ideology. Good.

The starkest indicator, partly lost in the noise of yet another party room-installed prime minister, was the miniscule 11 votes for then-deputy leader Julie Bishop. She is more popular, better-known, and least associated with institutionalised cruelty and budgetary incompetence, certainly in comparison to male contenders Morrison and Peter Dutton. But no party room prime ministership for Julie no siree.

At the time, former military Linda Reynolds put her name to eye-witness accounts of intimidation by party males towards women. Next, the male who was pre-selected in Wentworth, after Turnbull quit and while Liberal Party sexism was squarely in the spotlight, lost the blue-ribbon seat to independent woman Dr Kerryn Phelps. He has been re-pre-selected.

Julia Banks went to the cross-benches.

More men killed more women in horrific circumstances described as ‘domestic’.

Any wonder then that the electorate are ready to give this government a hiding to nothing. And make no mistake, the Liberal-Nationals Coalition can not win.

Enter the journosplainers and other vested interests from hell, intent on telling voters that expressing good riddance to a woman whose party has done incalculable harm to women while she is Minister for Women means that we are mean, and horrible, and haters, see, just ‘scoring political points’.

I am not sure how one disaggregates political points from an announcement that a politician is leaving politics, but according to the dominant narrative coming from politicians and political journalists, this is an objective that voters must in all conscience try to reach. Apparently our responses to the news that a financially secure white woman who chose to join the Liberal Party, who has collected an annual 6-figure salary from the Australian public plus maternity leave that we fought for while attacking unions and impoverishing single mums, just discovered that the Liberal Party hates women.

Righto, Bevan. I should be in her corner when she has never been in mine. You reckon?

[journalist] Shields for Fairfax wrote ‘don’t listen to the haters. Kelly O’Dwyer was a talent and the type of person the Liberal party desperately needs. This is a major blow.’

[journalist] Pat Karvelas at the ABC said ‘not surprisingly twitter is full of anti-Kelly O’Dwyer sentiment but mainstream political parties are at their best when they have strong women in leadership positions…’

[politician] Darren Chester Nationals MP posted Before rushing to score a political point about [Kelly O’Dwyer] decision to not recontest Higgins, just consider the long hours, separation from family & enormous workload for any young parent serving our community in Cabinet. Job well done Kelly. Good luck for the future.

[politician] Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young wrote ‘No doubt good things ahead for [Kelly O’Dwyer] whatever she does next. But a huge loss for the Liberal Party, for women in politics and the country. Thanks for always being a friendly face in Canberra. Good luck for the future!

All of these people hyper-linked to Kelly O’Dwyer, thereby guaranteeing that any replies would be tagged to her account. This snitch-tagging by sycophants directs vitriolic twitter traffic straight to O’Dwyer’s door. The same politicians and political journalists then declared that the online dynamic they specifically enabled, with their high-follower counts and major media platforms, makes voters bad and also social media is bad.

The most rudimentary study of structural hierarchies perpetuated under patriarchy and capitalism, of kick down culture, would predict that legacy media has a vested interest in kicking down on social media; and politicians have a vested interest in kicking down on voters. High-follower twitter account holders with institutional and structural power seek to discredit and de-legitimise the response from punters on social media because they want their world view, their political analysis, their (comfortable, private school fee- and Sydney-mortgage-paying) ‘expertise’ to prevail.

There is a lot at stake, folks. What if the punters elect a government that reduces the massive subsidises funded by the Australian public to the private school fees and private health care budget of very comfortable households headed by politicians and political journalists? I mean then where would we be?

Back in the (real) world, twitter punters were having none of it. We do not have to respect a woman who, as minister for women, saw her government implementing policies that cause massive harm to single mums and their children while she collects a six-figure salary. Why should we?

We do not care if the Liberal Party collapses under the weight of its own toxic misogyny. That has nothing to do with us. It is the author of its own demise and those who fear its collapse are people who benefit from its elitist policies and practices. Why would people who are harmed by the policies of Liberal Party government care if it chokes on its own cruelty, greed, and incompetence and dies? We wouldn’t.

The Bevans and the Pats, the Sarahs and Darrens, are frightened of the extent to which the current Liberal Party meltdown has exposed structural flaws in a system that pays their salaries and mortgages and crystalises inherited capital for their children.

If the poster woman for careerist motherhood-assistant treasurer-liberalism is resigning, what next? OMFG what if ONLY women without children (Gillard, Bishop) can ‘compete’ at the highest levels of politics in Australia? And conservatives STILL reject the most popular and competent politician in the caucus (who is a woman) for a discombobulated clownshow (who is a man)?

Could this mean that white patriarchy still reigns supreme?

If an avowed anti-feminist like Bishop or a phony proponent for [financially secure white] women like O’Dwyer can not hack the pace, do we have to concede that meritocracy is mythology? That coloniality is the constitutive ideology of the nation?

Yes, is the answer to that question. Yes, it does. But never mind. According to their ideology, the Liberal Party will bow out gracefully.

Never mind. Just think of how the Liberal Party treats women, or the car industry

The Liberal belief in free market theory extends to an abstract construction they call the marketplace of ideas. In this imagination, ideology ‘competes’ on a level playing field with all the other thoughts and ideas that humans construct and share with their friends or clan or political organisation or the electorate.

Should the demand for toxic misogyny dry up (or perhaps supply has saturated demand, there is a lot of toxic misogyny out there and value is scarcity after all), a true liberal will welcome this market signal that suppliers of toxic misogyny should and will be driven out of business.

Real liberals will celebrate the potential demise of the Liberal Party as the triumph of free market ideology, and be delighted that a new, less sexist political organisation will emerge to meet the demand for less sexist ideological ‘product’.

On the other hand, a host of vested interests and privileged individuals and groups might insist that the survival of the Liberal Party is a matter of national interest. Oh we must have a robust centrist party/credible opposition, the argument will go, ignoring the fact that the Liberal Party is not ‘centrist’ but a cabal of racist misogynists, and the liberal party is not in opposition but in government, abusing the power of incumbency, making terrible decisions that harm actual people who vote.

Anyone who says this is fine, anyone who can live with their conscience despite persecution of welfare recipients by Centrelink; rejection of First Peoples justice and rights as articulated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart; unaffordable housing, stagnant and declining wages and increasing inequality and casualised, insecure work; torture of refugees and asylum seekers; ecocide; climate denial; and the ongoing transferral of public resources to people and corporations who are in need of nothing, absolutely nothing, whose every material need is met…

good luck mate. You are on the wrong side of morality and the wrong side of history.

I could go on. But this is where we are. Yes, I too was taught to not say anything if I can not say anything nice. So to everyone who supports the continued existence of the Liberal Party, who thinks that people harmed by the Liberal Party should support the survival of the Liberal Party and therefore its capacity to harm us: I hope the door does not hit you on the way out.

An interpretation of the ideologies of the Liberal Party of Australia

Around the time former Attorney-General George Brandis was made High Commissioner in London, I read that the Liberal Party of Australia caucus is an estimated two-thirds conservative and one-third ‘classical’ liberal. The context was the creation of a Home Affairs ‘mega-ministry’, a kind of government-sponsored corporate raid. The new department subsumed some AGD responsibilities, and was generally interpreted as edging out the ‘moderate’ (classical liberal) Brandis to curry favour with ‘capital C Conservatives’ like former Queensland police officer Peter Dutton.

This omnishambles of a Liberal Party in turmoil, endlessly renting and kerning over factional power plays, instead of doing what the Australian public pays parliamentarians good money to do, has rolled through this Coalition government since 2013. When Liberal MP and member for the marginal electorate of Chisolm Julia Banks resigned to join the cross-bench on 27 November 2018, she cited colleagues putting personal political ambition before the national interest. Welcome to the Liberal Party, where aggressive pursuit of individual self-interest is codified as rational, and competitive, by the tenets of its very own ideology.

The day Banks stood to take her stand, legendary Fairfax photographer Andrew Ellinghausen posted a pair of images: one as she left the Liberals centres her among five men in blue and grey suits, all with their backs turned. The other chronicles her arrival to sit on the cross bench among three brightly-dressed independent women.

Both Brandis and Turnbull were regularly labelled, and probably were what passes for, ‘moderates’ in the neoliberal alt-right nativist populist Trumpist tribal world, or whatever white patriarchy is called these days. (I have written at length on the myth of moderate Malcolm, for instance here and here, and I warmly recommend this elegant analysis from Ben Eltham at New Matilda). The fact is that their purported moderation did not stop multiple women from reporting that Liberal men bullied them during the most recent leadership change, or, for that matter, men killing women every week, and often children too, in their own homes. Nor did it stop the gendered bullying in the parliament, or the media, or any other workplace or the many homes where it happens, or in public. But there hasn’t been much terrorism so that’s the main thing, according to the Prime and ‘Home’ Affairs minister.

The decline of liberalism in the Liberal Party, which is not worth saving

In this 2013 Fairfax profile, George Brandis is said to have read On Liberty by JS Mill in high school, which is the perfect cover for a deeply conservative worldview masquerading as commitment to individual liberty for all and thus – abracadabra – social equality. He later completed an honours thesis at the University of Queensland titled An interpretation of the ideology of the Liberal Party of Australia.

This is an odd title, because the Liberal Party of Australia houses two distinct ideologies. The most prominent lie the Liberal Party tells about itself – and there are many – is of a Broad Church that can and does accommodate both liberalism and conservatism. It doesn’t, and it can’t. Still, in 2018, those efforts by young George look commendable in a comparative sense. It is almost as though ‘moderate’ has become code for ‘has an ascertainable ideology that informs a coherent worldview, however narrow, naïve, and flawed’.

It can not be said that any parliamentarian among the estimated two-thirds-one-third ratio of conservatives to liberals in the Liberal Party caucus has lately enunciated his (sic) ideology. Or policy platform. Or Weltanschauung.

This is a party that campaigned against Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating (1991-1996) for having a vision for the future of the nation, mocking his platform as the vision thing. A party that offered up the alternative ‘platform’ of a relaxed and comfortable Australia from a man who says he enjoys Bob Dylan for his music not his lyrics… and who thinks saying this shit makes him quirky rather than a vacuous jerk paddling in an intellectual puddle.

In August 2018, this party produced, in yet another leadership coup that wasn’t, a failed figurehead who said he could smile and maybe show a different side if moved from Home Affairs to Prime Minister. That was his pitch. Like the electorate is his wife or something ‘yes, honey I’ve been very busy at work. I promise to smile a bit more.’

That is not a platform. If Peter Dutton decided to re-settle refugees detained on Nauru in Australia tomorrow, nobody – whether for or against the policy change – would care if he smiled or not. When his hour came, the performance of the most powerful conservative in the Liberal Party was egocentric nonsense.

Embedded values

The Broad Church euphemism persists for features it shares with common law theory. The authority of the common law, which is law every bit as much as legislation is law, rests on custom, longevity, and repetition. Common law is not only case law but also the doctrines, principles, rules and so on found in and applied by and handed down via those judgements.

If a legal principle has been around for a long time (in the judgements), and is derived from the social customs and conditions of the local population (as interpreted and applied by judges in Norfolk or Surrey or Kent, a tradition that gifts its name to district and circuit courts) and repeatedly cited and followed (by the judiciary), it has the authority of law. Sometimes, creative interpretation and application of legal norms becomes an accepted legal principle, sometimes in one jurisdiction and not another – or differently in different jurisdictions (Wilkinson v Downton [1897] 2 QBD7s3 57 is a famous example).

According to common law theory, this shows (is evidence? proves? On the balance of probabilities?) that the common law is robust and flexible and relevant, is capable of adapting and changing, to accommodate shifting social values. One obvious flaw in this model is the mono-cultural demography of its custodians, who are overwhelmingly drawn from the ranks of white barristers whose parents sent them to very expensive schools for boys. These are people who tend to have a wife who attends to life outside the law, like children, like bathtime and dinner and homework and birthdays.

This kind of demographic dominance works for corporations avoiding tax liabilities, or wealthy individuals shirking contractual obligations, or celebrities upset about how their craft or character is portrayed in a newspaper. The cast are mostly the same demographic as the judiciary, or in close proximity (maleness, whiteness), and the players have their exits and their entrances. Performing at their leisure or working hard for serious money? Maybe both – who can say?

The criminal law, in contrast, has a starkly different clientele to its practitioners. Prisons are full of poor people, black people, victims of crime and people who did not finish school and who survived child sexual assault, people with disproportionately high rates of mental illness and illiteracy. The lawyers and judges are not in these classes of person.

Some would say that this picture cannot be drawn without a neoliberal framework, and I don’t disagree. But the more I think about it, the more it seems to me that distinguishing classical from neoliberalism seems redundant. The tenets all look the same.

I was talking to a colleague and friend about data integrity recently, and specifically about those terms and conditions everyone is compelled to tick, which are basically caveat emptor, buyer beware. Data harvesting by tech giants, disguised by nonsense individual freedom and choice rhetoric, exist because neoliberal governments do not know what to do with behemoths like Facebook and Amazon. Those terms and conditions are the C21 equivalent of the perfect knowledge ascribed to consumers by free market theory.

All of which brings us back to that Broad Church of liberalism and conservatism, a euphemism perfectly suited to the Liberal Party, with its inherent dishonesty, phoney religiosity, and those values. Conservatives are very attached to custom, longevity and repetition. They will rationalise any old nastiness with ‘it has been this way for a long time’. Liberals, too, use this rationalisation, but even closer to their hearts are free market values like ‘rational’ self-interest and aggression disguised as ‘competition’. The fantastic fiction of this is that selfish pursuit of personal utility by individuals ipso facto produces aggregate social good.

No, it doesn’t.

Central organising principles

Recently I was invited to an Honours workshop because a star graduate, whose thesis I supervised, was giving a talk on getting his research published in an academic journal. For his conclusion, the student had constructed a case study in the form of three fictional judgements in the NSW Supreme Court of Appeal. He created a ‘constitutional trust’ as authority for the judiciary to not apply a law which abrogates fundamental common law principles (Serious Crime Prevention Orders, for the record). He did very well.

I went along, and added a few words about how I observed that his research really fell into place when he landed on his constitutional trust, which is not a real thing (it was meticulously researched and anchored in real law). Like students and everybody, researchers have different ways of learning and interpreting as we go about the knowledge business. For me, locating the central organising principle/s that found and shape whatever it is I am writing about – law, patriarchy, colonialism, etymology, citizenship, liberalism, conservatism – is the key. It unlocks. It opens the door.

For example, for a student using feminist analysis, it is useful to know that the central organising principles of patriarchy are domination and control. I learnt this from philosopher and novelist Marilyn French (Beyond Power: On Women, Men and Morality, 1983) as an undergraduate in the late 1980s. Many years later, the work of distinguished Professor Aileen Moreton Robinson (2004) showed me to comprehend patriarchy and white supremacy, in its Australian form in particular, in The possessive logic of patriarchal white sovereignty: The High Court and the Yorta Yorta decision.

Obvious as it sounds (now), etymology and semiotics fell into place for me as soon as I could articulate that language encodes values, that there is a reason for phrases like mother country, mother tongue. Lex, lexicon, words of the people, law of the land. In English, and under patriarchy, this means a mass of disprovable and thus dishonest assumptions underpin much communication, whether among monolingual native English speakers or everyone who communicates with us.

Similarly, common law theory came into sharp relief when I landed on the source of its authority in custom, longevity and repetition. In among the many intriguing and intelligent readings in law that have crossed my desk, are centuries-worth of gibberish theorising origins of law and sources of its authority. It takes the patience of a saint more saintly than the immersion-baptism fetishist Augustine of Hippo (354-430), or the religious violence apologist Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), to wade through it all.

The set literature is dominated by men, so the proposition that human ideas spring from human brains, which are grown inside human bodies, something I have personally done three times, is not sufficiently male-centered. It takes effort to locate texts on intersectionality and critical race and feminist jurisprudence, by scholars like Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw and Carol Pateman. It also takes effort to birth and raise human beings with a mind of their own.

Ideology, and a polity lacking honesty in principle

Eventually, I arrived at the comparison between central organising principles of liberal and conservative ideology: meritocracy and primogeniture. Liberals claim that the distribution of power and wealth – political economy – is organised by merit. They think that stating the merits of those at the top of social hierarchy validly explains their position of power. This is meritocracy mythology. Conservatives, in contrast, think that birth into privilege – again, power and wealth – is a valid means of organising society, of determining who can exercise decision-making authority over the rest. This is primogeniture.

An ideology is the logic of ideas, the articles of faith underpinning specific policy positions and the codification of those policies into legislation. That legislation – laws – then impose conditions on, and threaten sanctions against, the subject population. Making laws is what governments do. So the coherence of the underlying logic, and ethic of the underlying values, is not immaterial. This is the why, and how, the conservative-liberal composition of the Liberal Party caucus produces irreconcilable ideological incoherence, and thus poor governance and therefore also bad law.

Meritocracy is demonstrably false. It is a myth built on lies, yet liberalism chooses to stick with its disprovable propositions rather than implement structural changes that would make it more real. To know the demographics of the executive levels in all our institutions – industry, politics, media, religion, whatever – and still believe in meritocracy requires belief in white male superiority, which is social Darwinist nonsense. White males dominate all our institutions because they are better at everything? Have you seen Barnaby Joyce on the telly?

The central tenet of conservatism, primogeniture, is relatively useful in that it carries explanatory power. Lots of executives, whether in the public service or universities or cabinet (for example), can be identified and explained by their inherited wealth, socio-positional power, and unshakeable belief that this qualifies them for high office. But neither conservatives nor liberals defend primogeniture anymore, or not so in so many words. Some openly defend British monarchy, but not that birthright is a valid basis for choosing who gets to govern over the population.

So Liberal ideology asserts an obviously wrong and morally dubious meritocracy mythology which its members claim explains existing hierarchical social organisation. Conservatives subscribe to a view which explains the hierarchy much more realistically – born to rule – but which is no longer socially acceptable to publicly defend.

Despite the ‘transactional costs’, funded by the Australian public, as Liberal Party MPs sort through their emotional attachment to basic and mostly unformed ideology, these standpoints are not intellectually irreconcilable. For instance, the Broad Church allegory can be understood in terms of the pivot to positivism attributed to Scottish philosopher and unreconstructed scientific racist David Hume (1711-1776).

What is, and what ought to be

Hume questioned whether there is a necessary connection between what is and what ought to be. He critiqued natural law philosophy for assuming, and not adequately explaining, the logical leap from lex talionis, law of the natural world, to how the social (man-made) world ought to be. This was not new of course, what is? Aristotle wrote of political justice as part natural part legal; Justinian had universal and civil law; Aquinas developed his typology around an eternal law from the heavens, a divine law on earth, and human law by society. Most of this thinking was directed at human exceptionalism, differentiating us from the beasts and creatures (etc), and the goal of placing us at the centre of the universe.

Conservatism and liberalism stem from these philosophies. Primogeniture explains how things are (our form of social organisation puts property-owning white males into positions of power, who deserve to rule), and meritocracy explains how things ought to be (positions of power should be held by those with merit, therefore the dominant group deserve their position). But ideological adherents refuse to flip their perspectives. Thinking that meritocracy produces the hierarchy we have ignores abhorrent bio-essentialist implications. Are white men from wealthy households innately better suited to governance? Genetically? No? But they dominate the executive. Why? Because primogeniture.  Conservatives, meanwhile, feel compelled to not publicly mention that the dominance of white men from wealthy households is entirely consistent with their world view.

Again, these positions can be reconciled intellectually. Both can be explained by white patriarchy and just deserts theory, for example. Patriarchy seeks domination and control, including for its own sake. Just deserts theory says the ruling class, in this case by white men, are validly placed at the top of social hierarchy – deserving of the power they hold – whether on merit or by birthright. So, that was easy.

But in the Liberal Party, the problem is intellectual honesty, intellectual capacity, courage and integrity. Liberal Party politicians are not even game to attempt ideological coherence in their public pronouncements. They prefer simplistic slogans, message manipulation, outright lies, and varying levels of verbal bullying.

None of this is new either, of course. It can be traced to its tories-vs-whigs political ancestry (the English Civil War), to catholic-vs-anglican christian sectarianism (Henry VIII and the papacy) right through to the disgusting transactionalism of present-day performative religiosity by Morrison, Turnbull, Abbott and Dutton (Pentecostal, Anglican-turned-catholic, Catholic, and mason-like protestant).

They all do it. The point is not to legitimise faux-Christianity, but to point to the constitutive problem of the Liberal Party, which is the broad church lie. This is not an organisation which can accommodate differing ideologies. It is an organisation whose members will fight to the death over ideology alone, when most players do not even understand the ideology each is defending, because pursuit of self-interest is the only tenet they picked up.

Some say the Liberal Party is done and personally I do not care whether it is or not. Something will rise, phoenix-like, from its trash ashes. My kids and I have survived a helluva a lot of vicious Liberal Party policy, and will again. But if the Liberal Party is gone, I will be the first to dance on its grave. Good riddance, horrible people. May all your imputed dividends and negative gearing be abolished.

Predicting an election driven by racism is against the public interest

It is not in the public interest to predict a ‘race-based’ election, which in real life means a racism-based election, like the losing campaign that Matthew Guy ran in Victoria this weekend. That his strategy was a monumental failure is not in doubt: the Liberals are likely to lose up to X seats to the incumbent Labor government which faced conservative cheerleaders – like the Murdoch-owned Sky News and Herald Sun – running negative media every week, every single day, of that incumbency.

I have never lived in Melbourne and have no particular connection to Victoria and am not here to commentate on the ins and outs of the state election. But I did happen to notice a few Canberra press gallery journalists writing commentary and analysis on the risk or implications or meaning or whatever of a federal election campaign next year potentially run on racist settings.

These were (obviously) columns written with one eye on (and no certainty of) the Victoria election result, columns designed to appear prospectively pro-neutrality and retrospectively predictive. I realise that sounds as confused as all get out, so here it is in plain English:

Political journalists, and many others, believe that Australia is racist. And it is. Ask any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, ask any person of colour. Hegemonic white Australia has a racist mindset; and white dominance of the polity means that Australia is a racist place to be. But there is more to this country than the dominant narratives.

Two things.

First, on election day – with compulsory voting – everybody gets their one vote. Nobody has to do what their boss at Friday drinks wants, or that laydee on the P&C says to do, or racist uncle at Christmas reckons is the go, or the most annoying bloke at the BBQ tries to dictate from behind the tongs. We are Australians and we will rise at 4am to bake and wrap and cook (mostly women) or stroll to the local public school in thongs with the dog (mostly men) at 4pm and cast a vote for whoever the fuck we want to and nobody ever EVER stands on the corner with a gun when we do so.

Second, our commitment to egalitarianism, mythological as it may be, outweighs other national narratives. The Liberal Party might think it is smart to run what media call dog-whistling and what anyone with a clue calls racism, but it is not smart, and here is why. We might be racist, hell, Australia is a racist place, on every credible measure. But we do not want to think of ourselves as racist; and we do not want our political leaders to legitimise racism to the extent that Matthew Guy was prepared to try and do.

The Victoria election result can be understood as a comprehensive rejection of racist campaign strategy. This is a good thing; but it is not the end of it, because so many people who cover elections had placed their cards on looking smart and analysing racist campaign strategies while calling it something else, like ‘dog-whistle’ this or ‘law-and-order’ that. It is not smart to predict the presence of racism in Australian election campaigns – anyone can do that – but it is wrong to cling to discredited predictions for the sake of personal ambition.

We have been here before, when white saviour Brian Harradine sold out Native Title supposedly to save the country from what we have seen time and again already: a racist election. White media had it covered, in that self-fulfilling-prophesy lowest-hanging-fruit way that is the most obvious prediction of all.

Is the Australian electorate as receptive to racist politicians as we are told by people whose job is to attract readers to their analysis of racist politicians?

It is worth remembering that the 1967 referendum was the biggest landslide in Australian electoral history. Nothing and nobody, before or since, mobilised Australian voters like the promise of meaningful change in the relationship between First Peoples and colonial-settler Australia. No political party could dream of a 90% majority vote, but that is what the electorate delivered up to the only vote on race – literally –  that we have ever held.

 

The “embassy issue” will not go away

There was no issue until it was made into an issue; and there is no question that Prime Minister Scott Morrison heard what he wanted to hear, and did what he wanted to do.

What he heard and acted on, according to Morrison, was advice from ex-ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma. This is a man billed by his colleagues as the best and brightest of Liberal Party recruits, an opinion duly amplified by major media outlets. Yet his advice was so spectacularly poorly conceived – or poorly received, or both – that a month later it is still the chemtrail of Australian politics: a toxic threat, spun out of thin air.

As good an account as any of how the prime minister lit this flaming mess is from Katharine Murphy, the Guardian Australia political editor. There is more backstory of course, there always is, but Liberal Party factional in-fighting already gets way more attention than it deserves. From where I sit, the entire caucus is not worth a jot; and costs the Australian public a fortune in salaries and phone bills and jet travel and pork, for negative return on our investment, for nothing at all in the national interest.

Domestic politicking on Israel and Palestine inevitably stirs up anti-Arab and Islamaphobic feeling as well as anti-Semitism. It mobilises unhelpful interventions from people like Malcolm Turnbull and Bob Carr, people who posture as experts on matters which they failed to address while in office, when they had the power to effect positive change. That political reporters buy into their legacy protection racket is equally irritating, but the crux is that when these voices dominate debate, no real progress is ever made.

There is no excuse for Sharma advising the prime minister as he did; and no excuse for Morrison not knowing, if indeed he did not, that announcing a re-think on moving the Australian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is highly problematic.

Morrison had been in office less than two months at the time, and the by-election to choose a replacement for his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull was a mere five days away. Most commentators immediately noted that the seat of Wentworth has a significant Jewish bloc of around 12 per cent of voters; that strict adherents of Judaism would have likely cast pre-poll votes due to our elections being held on a Saturday; and that Jews are not a homogenous group of one mind on Israel, or Palestine, or pro-Zionist policy settings.

Oh, wait. Nobody said anything about Zionism. Nobody ever does.

The Holy City

I once spent two days in al Quds Jerusalem. The only places I saw outside the Old City walls were transport interchanges as I made my way from Ben Gurion airport (where I was later detained at length for perceived Palestinian sympathies) and back to Jaffa Tel Aviv. These Old Cities are incredible, like Uluru is incredible. I could feel the antiquity, a cellular memory buried deep in blood and bone.

I am not Arab or Jewish, or Christian or Muslim or Armenian or Greek (quarters in the Old Cities). The closest any of my forebears come to an ancestral connection is stirring renditions of the eponymous – and fictional, but the English are good at that – hymn Jerusalem. And I have the same bodily response to hearing bagpipes and the yidaki didgeridoo. Maybe I just feel sites and sounds, the way some people see auras. More likely the lessons learnt from Aboriginal friends and family, scholars and tour guides, are universal; lessons like listening to country, whichever country or whose country I am on.

Either way, my politics are grounded in universality and not in exceptionalism, or nationalism. These ideologies illuminate the embassy issue that wasn’t, until it was. This  utterly unnecessary nonsense is consuming political capital in Australia, in 2018, in the dying months of a Coalition government, thanks to advice the prime minister says he received from former ambassador to Israel and failed Liberal candidate Dave Sharma.

The Zionist position on Al Quds Jerusalem is of an eternal, undivided holy city and capital of Eretz Israel. At the opening of the newly relocated US Embassy, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said

The truth is that Jerusalem has been and will always be the capital of the Jewish people, the capital of the Jewish state… The prophet, Zechariah, declared over 2,500 years ago, ‘So said the Lord, ‘I will return to Zion and I will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth’… God bless the United States of America and God bless Jerusalem, the eternal, undivided capital of Israel.

There is no place in this Holy City for a shared capital with a sovereign Palestine, and no place for self-determination of the Palestinian people, under military occupation for over 50 years. There is more biblical imagery in the same vein [full English text here], designed to flatter baffled belligerents like Donald Trump.

The Netanyahu position puts the lie to Morrison’s claim that his embassy announcement on behalf of the Australian people supports ‘the two-state solution’. Al Quds Jerusalem as the eternal undivided capital of a Jewish state, and the international consensus on a two-state ‘solution’ (to ‘the conflict’), are mutually exclusive propositions. Morrison is ignorant, or lying, or both; and government ministers are now doubling down on this internally incoherent line of argument, in complete contempt of voters and whether we have any understanding of the relevant issues.

The Australian Embassy Issue

There is no real way of knowing if Scott Morrison understands the implications of his announcement. The man is a chronic motor-mouth, the more he blathers about listening and hearing the more you suspect he is incapable of either, or both.

Perhaps Morrison is a committed Christian Zionist, and is across all the politics of an ‘eternal undivided’ capital of Israel. Most Christian Zionists are from the same kind of Pentecostal sect to which Morrison belongs. Alternatively, all politics is local (see O’Neill and Hymel, 1995). Maybe Morrison was driven exclusively or largely by the Wentworth by-election. The major media outlets reported the embassy news as retail politics, but failed to interrogate the legitimacy of mobilising foreign policy for domestic purposes.

This is not unusual. When the prime minister decked out a big blue campaign bus without calling an election, the political press explained this was because the government is threatened in marginal seats in Queensland. Which we know. What the electorate really need the press to do is what we can not: directly question the legitimacy of a politician using government power and money – the political economy of conservative incumbency – to shore up his margins and splash the pork about.

Similarly, many predicted that the embassy announcement would jeopardise bilateral relations with Indonesia; and were widely lauded for doing their job. In certain circles, foreign affairs are the holy grail of seniority and mastery. The foreign affairs editor at the Murdoch-owned The Australian is incapable of not mentioning this kind of vanity. For instance, the presumed foreign affairs ‘inexperience’ of Barack Obama and Julia Gillard consumed many airtime hours and column inches; the obvious foreign affairs ineptitude of men like Donald Trump and Scott Morrison barely rate a mention.

Then there were the leaked ASIO memos showing that Morrison announced without consulting security agencies; Senate estimates concessions that Morrison did not work with DFAT diplomats or the Defence Minister; and that military chiefs found out after media briefings. This is important, but not for the reasons we see in most analyses. The claim is that announcing a potential embassy move may increase security threats in an actuarised world, where the pseudo-science of risk predictors funnels billions of dollars in funding to the military and security agencies.

It will increase the risk of terror attacks, the claim goes, which relies on the false assumption that Palestinians are inherently violent. Palestinians are no more violent or non-violent than any ethnic group: there is no violence gene. The reasoning here is bio-essentialist nonsense, and anyone amplifying such ugly untruths ought to be ashamed.

This messaging, however, coincides with why Zionism goes unreported: its ideology is in fact very violent. As mentioned above, Zionism is characterised by nationalism and exceptionalism: Zionists believe that Israel is the Jewish Homeland, on the basis of Chosen People exceptionalism. There is no place for the Indigenous Peoples in the Zionist worldview, not Bedouin, nor Palestinian or Arab. Many Israelis say Arab and not Palestinian to erase the identity and existence of countrymen and women.

The metaphysical – the Zionist belief system – is backed by extreme physical force in multiple forms, including the renewed military assault on Gaza immediately after the UN voted on Palestinian leadership of its G77 last month. As with targeting civilians, collective punishment is a war crime (Geneva Convention Art 33).

The predictable post-UN vote attacks by Israel on Gaza were apparently not predicted by diplo-genius Dave Sharma. The Liberal candidate unconvincingly told Australian media and Wentworth voters that our government’s embassy announcement was in anticipation of the Palestinian bid to lead the G77. This is straight up hasbara, and in terms of his by-election campaign, would convince nobody and please only rusted on Zionists, voters who would have voted for him anyway.

In other words, the policy is wrong, the rationale is wrong, and the domestic politics were also all wrong. The whole thing is an avoidable disaster, from the leaked texts between Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne to the official deployment of Turnbull – by Morrison – to represent Australia at an oceans conference in Bali and smooth over the mess, which then blew up in their faces.

Sharma has not been tapped for his role in all this, but he should be, because he has constructive knowledge of the fall-out: if he did not know, his socio-positional status says he ought to have known. This is the one piece of advice on the public record that we know he offered to a sitting prime minister, the first ever Pentecostal one in Australia, during a by-election in which he was the government candidate. Sharma is not Jewish, yet his much-touted resume shows that he should know this is not about his ambassadorial credentials, or capacity to raise funds for the Liberal Party.

It is personal, because religion is personal, because ideology is personal.

When Morrison stood at the despatch box in parliament and shouted in the face of former Attorney General Mark Dreyfus QC that Sharma knows more about Israel than anyone on the opposition benches, it was personal. When Josh Frydenberg went on the record to state the anti-Semitic record of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, it was personal. Major media are not noting the ethno-religious identity of Frydenberg in every report, of course, as is always done when Aboriginal people speak on Aboriginal policy, or feminists speak to reproductive rights.

This erasure of inherent biases is privilege. No Arab, no Muslim, no Palestinian gets to speak on Israel or Gaza or the West Bank or terrorism without being labelled in a way that invites audiences to dismiss their expert point of view. Meanwhile Israeli Defence Forces terrorise Palestinians on a mass scale every single day of the week and nobody highlights whether or not major media outlets’ Jerusalem-based foreign correspondents are Jewish.

So Josh Frydenberg can invoke the Holocaust and nobody points out that he is the first Jewish Liberal Party MP in the House of Representatives. I do not much like writing about all this, because of the genie-in-the-bottle effect. But I will say: what Frydenberg is doing can not and will not help his people. It is not possible to put Israel Palestine into the public debate without producing intractable hostility and increasing anti-Semitism.

Political journalists are acutely alert to this inevitability, yet remain compelled to report what Morrison said and did (he is the prime minister) while not necessarily compelled to remind readers or listeners of Sharma’s role (unless or until pre-selected for the next election, Sharma is basically nobody).

Realpolitik

As Na’ama Carlin eloquently explains here, the ‘embassy issue’ was unworkable from day one, a cheap political stunt. It was an insult to Jewish communities, in Wentworth and beyond, with its simplistic and offensive presumption that Jewish Australians are single-issue and pro-Zionist voters. Not all Jews are Zionists, and not all Zionists are Jews.

At a march for Gaza at Sydney Town Hall in 2014, I was standing next to a woman and boy who I guessed to be mother and son, or maybe auntie and nephew (she was about my age, he was 13 or 14, the same age as my younger son at the time). When a group nearby set up their stall and unfurled a banner Jews Against The Occupation, she asked (I think, in Arabic) They are Jews? The boy replied in English They are Jews but they are not Zionists.

I tell this story not only because it would probably have taken me twenty sentences to communicate the same point. I work at Western Sydney University, where high-level multi-cultural and bilingual competencies are the rule and not the exception among the student body. I tell it because the young teen boy had a better grasp of Israel and Palestine than can be detected from the public pronouncements of the Australian prime minister, from the collective wisdom of the parliamentary press corps, or the advice of a former ambassador and Liberal Party candidate in an electorate with more Jewish voters than any other electorate in the country.

Australia, our white supremacy is showing

In the days after the night before a senator used nazi rhetoric in the Australian parliament, I watched carefully to see who would say what about possibly the most straightforward question in public discourse: is nazi rhetoric bad? Is it wrong?

The answer is yes. This is both objective moral fact and global consensus. Yet there are places in the world where nazi rhetoric is acceptable public discourse. One of those places is the micro-party headed by Australian politician Bob Katter.

On Monday week (27 August 2018), the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), our national broadcaster, will provide Bob with a panel show timeslot to explain away how his colleague using nazi rhetoric in the Australian Parliament is really no big deal and also ‘magnificent’.

 

 

This decision is wrong, and dangerous. Before I say why from my perspective, I want to point to Put Away Your Ball, This is not a Game by Karen Wyld at IndigenousX and Australia is Racist, But not in the Way You Think by Natalie Cromb at NITV-SBS. That Karen is a Martu woman and Natalie a Gamilaraay woman is not a coincidence. The collective moral authority of Aboriginal women in this country is grounded in the ontology of cosmos, kin and country, and also applies to racist discourse.

A Platform for Racists on the National Broadcaster

The QandA tweet above features George Cristensen, a Nationals party MP who in July 2015 told a neo-nazi rally in Mackay that we are ‘at war with radical Islam’. It also features Pauline Hanson, a former Liberal Party and later eponymous One Nation candidate, who told a neo-nazi rally in Rockhampton she is ‘against Islam’ because there are ‘places in Sydney, the streets that the police will not go into. We do not want sharia law in Australia’.

None of this has any basis in fact. Their hate speech is freely available online.

Then there is Bob Katter, who sat as a Nationals MP for 23 years, and ten years as an independent, before establishing his eponymous ‘Australia Party’. When a One Nation defector signed up, the BKAP parliamentary presence doubled. On debut, the new recruit called for a christian european migration policy to which ‘the final solution’ is a popular vote to ban Muslim immigration.

For this effort, party leader (of two) Bob Katter called a press conference and said the speech was ‘gold’ and ‘magnificent’ and he stands by it ‘one thousand per cent’. News organisations across the country, of course, reported the ‘final solution’ speech and the endorsement. Half the breakfast television programs also invited the newly notorious senator on, to deny and deflect and dismiss, to minimise and justify his nazi phraseology, and to build his brand. When ‘the final solution’ was placed in its historically accurate, objectively true context, which is literally Hitler, the senator complained that he was ‘taken out of context’ and being silenced.

The parliament and the polity

Now I do not give a fuck what Bob Katter and his fair weather friend have to say, on migration or any other policy. I am, however, deeply invested in whether the Australian polity, the electorate, the political class, the government leadership and journalists and reporters and commentators, know what to do when faced with real live nazi talk.

The correct response is unambiguous condemnation and no further correspondence will be entered into. The correct response is to immediately announce policy, process, and regulatory changes that do not require extended debate or legislation. Some examples are: standing orders to limit hate speech and parliamentary privilege; commitments to not accept nazi-sympathiser votes on any bill and to not give them a pair on any vote; announcing that BKAP will be put last in every preference deal in every single seat across the country.

Such measures could be announced with bipartisan support while a more substantive response is developed. All it would take is political will. But politicians are power-seekers like corporations are profit-seekers. Neither major party will put the national interest ahead of political ambition or political agenda, even though shutting down nazi rhetoric is in the national interest.

There is nothing unusual about the parliament operating contrary to the social good, or even what we might assume is consensus morality (before the apologists go to work). Like all our institutions, the parliament is dominated by able-bodied and married white males from comfortable backgrounds. This demographic are the last people on earth to understand what life is like for everybody else, because our society is shaped by them in their own image and to further their own interests.

First Principles

To bring together these two strands, of real-time events and the response, this last point is crucial. Like corporations and political parties and governments (and bureaucracies and religion and universities), media organisations are dominated by the same demographic, with the same vested interests. The media also has public interest obligations as the fourth estate in Westminster systems.

I have written about this in more detail elsewhere, but briefly, the first estate is the church, the second the landed gentry and the third is the commoners. These institutional power arrangements are manifest in the House of Lords (knights temporal and spiritual, dukes and archbishops etc) and the House of Commons which, up until the twentieth century, was comprised solely of property-owning men without aristocratic titles.

On Gadigal lands, for instance, Phillip handed a glebe (now Glebe) to the church of england within months of his fleet landing at Warrane (now circular quay). Wherever the invading military – captain/governor and marines/redcoats – massacred First Peoples and seized their lands, the church was there like a faithful dog to get its piece (with apologies to dogs).

The task of the fourth estate is to report the actions of the government and policies of her majesty’s loyal opposition. This obligation is at the heart of democratic principle, because if the people are not informed of government action and alternative policies, the system of government becomes in effect a one-party state, which is undemocratic.

Everybody operating in this domain is acutely aware of incumbent power above all other considerations. This is because the central organising principles of white patriarchy are domination and control, up to and including pursuit and maintenance of domination and control for its own sake. This is why most political media scrutinise opposition policy as though they are in power, and report government announcements as though meaningful action has already achieved the [stated] policy goals.

I am alert to how basic these explanatory statements sound. One reason for going over all this is my own pedagogy, which is based on first principles. When students (I teach future lawyers and police officers) lose sight of something as fundamental as equality before the law, or presumption of innocence, it is harder for them to comprehend the structure and function and direction of the law and legal system.

First principles are also an entry point for distinguishing ontology from epistemology, or deontic ethics from moral relativism. It is not difficult to accept that equality before the law is good, or that nazis are bad. What could be more straightforward? Yet the predictable rearguard action from mediocre white males with positional power bestowed by patriarchal institutions – universities, media organisations, conservative incumbency – are out here right now minimsing and trivialising nazi rhetoric as though it does not pose a serious threat to society because it does not pose a threat to them.

Get real, mate

The sheer volume of nazi apologia, and equally repulsive praise for weak rebukes of nazi hate speech that has been disseminated by Australian media this week is quite overwhelming. On the one hand, it is business as usual. The Commonwealth of Australia, in contrast to the 65,000 years of human histories and connection to country on which our nation state is built, is constitutively racist.

By this I mean that racism is woven into our social fabric, racism is a central organising principle of Australian hegemony, racism can not be disaggregated from the Constitution which federated the then-colonies, nor from the invasion which enabled the colonial project. These are not contested claims, or disputed facts, or up for slippery usage by dominant voices who revel in imposing category errors on public debate.

Anybody can read ss. 25 and 51(xxvi) of the Constitution and see that race is constitutive of the Australian nation state by the authority of its founding document. There is no need for revisionism or reactionary nonsense or not-fair whining about anachronistic arguments. It is all right there in black and white, in the English language, in the meaning of the word constitutive and in the provisions of the Constitution itself.

On the other hand, that the dominant response is an enabling of nazi rhetoric, by treating it as a legitimate topic of debate, is to some extent quite shocking. Clearly not everyone assumes they would join the resistance if the time came, but I always did, and I still do. There is no mistaking ‘the final solution’ speech in the senate, so the mistake is assuming that incumbent power can, and will, stand up to nazi speech for what it is.

First principles come in handy here. If you know in your bones that nazi talk is bad, there is no compulsion to entertain nazi apologia. In contrast, those who are deeply invested in positional power and the status quo are hugely frightened by the possibility that the masses will mobilise against whatever has brought us to this point, this current state of affairs, this reality of nazi speech in the parliament in 2018. Are they somehow complicit? Should they admit it? How did this happen on their watch?

The answers are yes, yes, and because they have no fucking idea.

From Malcolm Turnbull to Peter van Onselen, from Richard Glover to Peter Hartcher and Katharine Murphy and Cathy Wilcox, the collective and aggressive denial from the political class – the leadership and the media – the reporting and the commentary – has been a wall of stubborn ignorance, complicity, equivocation, and denial.

A potted timeline of the nazi discourse

Senator Fraser Anning: the final solution… is a ban on Muslim migration.

Punters: this is nazi speech. He should be unambiguously condemned.

MP Bob Katter: this speech was solid gold, magnificent, I agree one thousand per cent.

All of commercial television: Mr Anning/Katter, welcome to the program.

ABC television: Bob Katter ‘has a right to be heard’. Here he is on our next panel

[Narrator: there is no ‘right’ to be heard under any Australian law].

Malcolm Turnbull: most successful multicultural nation freedom democracy rule of law.

Political journalism: great rebuke! Well done, Malcolm.

Parliament: racism is bad.

Media: Yay political leadership! Australia is good for saying racism is bad!

Richard Glover, ABC host: *sniff* it was so moving how [the first ever] Labor Party Muslim MP and the [first ever] Liberal Party Jewish MP did hugs Australia is truly great.

Punters: *eye roll* wow like a Muslim and Jewish man both of whom happen to be white in the 21st century you say? Amazing. So. Tolerant.

Professor of politics and ABC host and panellist Peter Van Onselen on twitter: Nazism is considered a branch of socialism.

Twitter: You are wrong. Nazis are bad and your tweet is bad.

Van Onselen: the vile abuse I have received on twitter is bad. I will not reply further except to journalists from major news outlets here is my op-ed in a national broadsheet on national socialism.

Punters: Stop doubling down on your defence of nazis.

Paid employees of major news outlets: I hate how twitter piles on to good people because they purportedly (sic) got something wrong [like saying nazis are socialists].

Twitter: oh for fucks sake. Nazis are bad, nazi rhetoric is bad, defending nazi speech is bad.

Legacy media: twitter is bad. There are trolls on there. Here is a black woman whose lived experience of vicious and violent racism validates the white man who is sad and wrong.

Applied morality

I am not trying to be funny. Some things are not funny, like rape, and racism. I know this, because there is no way to do rape or racism without causing harm to other people. This is one of the great efficacies of first principles: setting your moral compass to true north. Applied morality is ethics, and ethics is about other people.

Our culture insists that having a conversation produces solutions for a more just society. This can be true, but it is false when the conversation is exclusive, hierarchical, and wedded to the central organising principles of domination and control. Add in the assumptions that selfishness (‘self-interest’) is rational and universal, and that aggression (‘competition’) is success, and the conversation is quickly derailed by the most dominant and controlling participants.

So here is the thing. If application of your morality causes harm to others, the trick is to keep it to yourself. Whether professor or edgelord or political journalist, some conversations (and personal opinions, and proclaimed expertise) are not only devoid of value but also cause harm to other people. If your moral compass points to defending nazi speech, or debating the definition of nazism, or telling the public we should have a conversation on the ‘merits’ of hate speech, it is malfunctioning.

The right thing to do here is stop talking.