I’m Joe Hockey. You’re not.

15 May

Stop the war on the poorTreasurer Joe Hockey’s comments today on the effects of his budget cuts on those less financially advantaged  should convince, if one is not not already convinced, that the conservative, or as some would have it the neo conservative mind lacks the imaginative ability to consider the inevitable complexities of a capitalist society, and is also singularly lacking in any desire to inform itself on the same.

In an interview with Chris Uhlmann on ABC radio’s AM program  this morning, Hockey declared that those strapped for cash will have to realise that a $22 packet of cigarettes will pay for three trips to the emergency room, two middies of beer will do the same, and surely, any parent worth his or her salt will choose the emergency room for the kids over their own pleasure.

When asked how he would fare if  in his twenties, out of work and denied benefits Hockey replied, “Well, I’d expect to be in a job.”

Uhlmann then says: “People on a fixed income, pensioners for example, might find it difficult…they might have to make choices in life.”

Hockey: “Well, we do have to make choices…”

In Joe Hockey’s ideology a packet of cigarettes and a couple of middies enjoyed by the poor is a vice. The poor are not entitled to enjoyment of any kind because they are poor, and poverty is immoral. Immoral people without means can’t expect to have any fun. That’s the price they must pay for their immorality.

Hockey’s own enjoyment of cigars and Grange Hermitage is an entitlement, basically because he’s Joe Hockey and the poor aren’t. Hockey may also be immoral, there are many who might hold that view, but he is comfortably off and immoral, so he is entitled to enjoyment.

Yes, the Abbott government’s awareness of the complexities of Australian society in 2014 is that simplistic. It’s Dickensian. Soon they’ll bring back debtors’ prisons.

If a government cannot afford compassion, it is a government of sociopaths. If it cannot govern with common sense, it is a crazed government. If it is driven entirely by ideology and considers its citizens merely as stereotypes, it is a gravely dangerous government and it ought to be thrown out at the earliest opportunity. If it wages war on the unworthy poor in order that it might protect the interests of the worthy wealthy it’s on its way to becoming an oligarchy.

But hey. I’m Joe Hockey. You’re not.

 

Abbott uses society’s vulnerable as means to an ideological end

2 May

It seems to me that it’s a core conservative tradition to use  the most vulnerable people in society as a means to an ideological end. There are endless current examples of this: threats to pensions, restricted access to Newstart for unemployed youth, destruction of universal healthcare, proposed reduction of the minimum wage and a cap on that wage for the next ten years, all part of the Commission of Audit’s recommendations to the Abbott government prior to its first budget in a couple of weeks.

None of these measures will affect anyone as disastrously as they will affect the poor, and while middle class journalists  on a good wage, some of whom are Abbott’s most vocal supporters,  scream like stuck pigs about the flagged “debt levy” on incomes over $80,000, nobody much is pointing out the ideologically-based, systematic crippling of the lives of those who struggle hardest to keep poverty from their doors.

Conservatives seem to hold the ideological position that poverty is a moral failing, for which the individual is solely accountable, and if that individual has been incapable of taking care of her or himself and his or her family, they’ve no one to blame but themselves. If they do sink into a morass of underprivileged misery then they ought to be able to find ways to redeem themselves. If they don’t manage this feat, they obviously only deserve what little they get, and the conservative will do his or her best to take even that away.

This unexamined belief that the less financially fortunate are immoral and a drain on the prudent is, it seems, impossible to eradicate from the consciousness of the privileged and entitled, who lack any ability to comprehend context, and the myriad forces at work in society that affect the course of a life. This, coupled with the conservatives’ traditional love of a good clichéd stereotype, works to reinforce their sense of entitlement, and their contempt for anyone less blessed than are they.

The conservative disregard, some may even allege contempt,  for those other than (lesser than) themselves, allows them to use rational agents as a means to an end, contradicting the Kantian position that to use others as a means, and not an end in themselves, is to flout the fundamental principle of morality.  Perhaps this is nowhere as starkly obvious as in the current and previous governments’ treatment of asylum seekers. Both major political parties have, for many years now, used boat arrivals as a means to achieve political success, and not as rational agents deserving of consideration as ends in themselves. In this sense, the ALP finds itself on the same side as conservative politicians, something that should chill the heart of any ALP supporter.

There is no point in decrying the lack of humanity and compassion in conservative ideology. Both qualities are regarded as belonging to the bleeding hearts of the left, hindrances to freedom, obstacles to profit. So we find ourselves in the bizarre position of having a Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom, Tim Wilson, who recently claimed that McDonalds has “human rights to own property” and that “spending” is an expression of free speech.

It’s a dangerous situation when a Commissioner for Human Rights equates the ability to spend with the right to freedom of any kind, including speech.

It makes no sense to take any measures that prevent or discourage people from taking care of their health, such as co-payments for doctor visits for example. This will increase the pressure on accident and emergency departments, already stretched beyond their means, and result in people becoming chronically ill, at much greater expense to the taxpayer.

It makes no sense to continue to spend billions of dollars incarcerating a few thousand asylum seekers, for example, when there are many less expensive options  such as allowing refugees to live in, work, and contribute to the community.

It makes no sense to waste billions on a paid parental leave system when the money could be much better invested in increased child care for parents who want to work, but find it difficult to access adequate care for their offspring. Good child care is also an investment in our future: children can benefit enormously from early education and socialisation, a child care centre doesn’t simply “mind” them, it educates them.

However, none of the above is of any consequence to a political party driven by ideology. Humans are, to such a party, a means to an ideological end, not an end in themselves. Obviously, it is much easier to treat the less financially blessed as a means to an end, and if you already believe poverty and disadvantage to be  indicators of lack of morality and worth, why would you care anyway?

You may not agree with Kant’s categorical imperative, but there is something very dark about the Abbott government’s willingness to impose harsh circumstances on those already doing without in this wealthy country. It is easy, Mr Abbott, to make life more difficult for those without the power to protest. It is more of a challenge to work towards an equitable society based not on ideology, but common sense, and respect for everyone’s humanity.

Note: It’s with my tongue firmly in my cheek that I use this conservative image of Jesus.

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Mountains. Foucault. The Abbott. And the shrivelled human heart.

29 Apr

After a lifetime of wanting to be close to the sea, in the last couple of years all I’ve desired is to be inland, and particularly in the Snowy Mountains, where I am right now.

THREDBO FOUR

Yesterday, we walked Dead Horse Gap, a venture that necessitates taking the chair lift to Top Station, an activity I usually enjoy, however the lift was closed so we had to take the Snowgum which was slower and buffeted by very high, very cold winds, which I didn’t enjoy at all, and I spent the ascent struggling to control incipient vertigo while Mrs Chook yelled through the howling gale that I should not look down but at something off to the side and keep my eyes fixed on a particular object, none of which advice helped me, as my brain gradually froze from the combination of icy gales and terror, and I could not absorb her instruction. All I could think was “Archie no liiiike,” a phrase we have all adopted since our second youngest family member took to referring to himself in the third person when in situations that seem unpleasant to him.  “Archie no liiiike” I whined at Mrs Chook, and she patted my arm.

I also felt an alarming compulsion to lift the safety rail and jump. Instead, my water bottle fell from my backpack where I had failed to properly secure it, and I had to be nice to Mrs Chook for the entire day so she’d share hers.

In ways I have not yet found the strength to unpick, this could be a metaphor for much of my life.

There is little to compare with the sense of insignificance a human can experience in the physical and metaphorical shadow of a mountain. The Snowy Mountains are not particularly high, as I remarked to Mrs Chook we were closer to the blue dome in Mexico City, if you could fight your way through the layers of toxic smog, but in these mountains the combination of wild, impersonal beauty, imperious height, absence of human intervention, and isolation works to remind one that we are always and forever at the mercy of the natural world, a reality politicians would do well to acquaint themselves with by, in my opinion, being made to spend a certain number of days every year in a challenging wilderness as part of their job description. THREDBO SIX

 In my gloomiest moments I feel certain we are ensuring our own destruction not through more world wars, but through our abominable disregard and despicable destruction of the planet that provides us with the only means we have to sustain manageable lives. This catastrophic behaviour makes us the most ignorant and wilfully stupid species in the known universe. But there’s no convincing deniers. One might as well attempt to convince the religious that their god is imaginary. When unexamined belief and ideology hold sway, change of any kind is impossible, as these two influences are so mindless as to willingly engage in the perpetuation of their own destruction, rather than question the tenets of their faiths. If you don’t believe me, look at the ALP.

One of the most valuable things I ever learned was to question the structures of my life, rather than blindly accept them as the conventional wisdom that is so often nothing more than an obstacle to fresh ideas and new ways of living, a protector of a status quo rather than any truth, and for that, I thank feminism as it used to be, before it was colonised by capitalism and mainstream politics and reduced to the pitiful shadow of its former self it is today. I also thank Foucault, and I came down from the mountains late yesterday exhausted, and determined to read yet again Foucault (and others) on the limit experience, which is, in short, voluntarily undertaking experiences that seem at first impossible in their intensity, and extremity, whether physical, mental, or emotional, as a method of breaking through the treacherous barbed wires of received wisdoms of ideology, religion and other conservative monoliths, to see what one might discover on the other side. These are times in which it seems to me some of us ought to be doing this, if anything is to be salvaged from the wreckage unmitigated capitalism and the crippling rituals of conventional society leave in their vile wake.

There are no prescriptions for limit experiences, obviously one must discover one’s own personal barbed wire fences and seek a way through them, as I think the Dalai Lama once said, or was it Gandhi, I don’t recall, societal change always begins in the individual human heart, something something, something, and  I think it’s indisputably true. Of course, one does not fight one’s way through barbed wires without incurring injury, which should not deter, because even if the wounds kill you, at least you’ve made your small bid for human progress, and what else is the point of life?

And this to me is the crux of my opposition to Tony Abbott and his ugly gang of repressed and repressive conservative thugs. They are the self-appointed guardians of the status quo, driven entirely by their ideological beliefs, and they will see us destroyed as a society in the service of their ideology. They are at their happiest behind the barbed wires, and they intend to herd the rest of us into secure compounds they determine most suited to the crass stereotypes with which they populate their limited world. They reduce the vast array of human possibility to that which best suits their ideological purposes, with no regard for difference and variation. They are the dark side of human possibility. They are the people of the shrivelled heart, and it is their intention to shrivel all hearts, because the un-shrivelled heart is their greatest enemy.

When I was finally released from that bloody chair lift, I was completely disoriented, I could have been anywhere bitterly cold and miserable, with no direction home. I then found I was faced with a long and practically vertical hike to the beginning of Dead Horse Gap, the icy gales still whipping me about, searing my skin, bringing tears to my eyes, cutting through my clothes. I almost gave up. I knew there was a several kilometre hike across the top of the mountains before there’d be any protection from the weather. There was Top Station just above me, the cafe where I could drink hot chocolate with marshmallows then catch the chair lift down and bugger the walk. But could I look myself in the mirror if I piked? No, I bloody couldn’t. My heart was shrivelled with cold, and the aftermath of fear.  Nobody would give a toss if I did or didn’t do the walk down to the snow gums’ silver skeletons, still recovering from disastrous bush fires, to the last of the summer daisies in the water meadows, beside the Thredbo river swollen with rains, coursing with heart-swelling clarity over brown stones and pebbles and pale, gritty sand.

Why do we do these things to test, to challenge, to overcome, in short, to grow our hearts? And why must we resist with everything in us, Abbott’s determination to make us the smallest we can be?

Because we have to, for as long as we are alive. Because Archie no liiiike the shrivelled human hearts. Archie no liiike.

Archie & Ted

 

 

What the O’Farrell drama really reveals

17 Apr

money-banking-bribe-bribing-sponsors-sponsoring-politically_corrupt-jsh120716lEx NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell had a spectacular fall from grace yesterday, after first categorically denying he had ever received a $3000 bottle of wine from ICAC person of interest Nick De Girolamo, then being forced, after the revelation of a thank-you note in his own handwriting, to admit indeed there had been such a gift, but he had completely forgotten about it.

Whatever the ins and outs of the situation, and I am certain there are many and they are likely rather twisty, what stands out for me is the sense of entitlement that allows a politician to accept, and probably expect, that gifts will come his or her way, simply because the people have elected them to high office.

A $3000 bottle of wine is no small present, and not one most people are likely to forget, if we accept O’Farrell’s explanation that he did indeed lose his memory of it. How many expensive gifts does one receive before one begins to lose track of them, and why should any politician be showered with such largesse in the first place?

What is repeatedly revealed by ongoing ICAC investigations is a long line of politicians from both sides apparently steeped in a sense of entitlement that is rather difficult to understand. They are elected to do a job. They are paid for their efforts. If they manage to stay in office for a few years, they are assured of a generous life-long pension, and they don’t have to wait until they’re seventy to claim it. Depending on their position, there are generous perks. Yes, they work hard if they are any good, but so do millions of other people.

Why should politicians be permitted to accept any gifts at all? Expensive gifts are clearly offered in order to seduce politicians to particular ways of thinking and acting that will benefit the donors. How can this be justified in any circumstances ?

What O’Farrell did or didn’t do matters, of course, and there will continue to be lengthy speculation on his actions and his character. For mine, the urgent issue here is the culture of entitlement that dominates and inevitably corrupts our politics, to the degree that we now measure the worth of politicians according to their likely level of corruption. Forbidding all gifts to politicians would go some way to addressing this entitlement culture.  When gifts come from those whose sole aim is to influence decisions in their favour, there is no question but that they must be declined.

By the way, if you need a good laugh, this exchange on Lateline last night between Gerard Henderson of the Sydney Institute, and journalist Kate McClymont on the O’Farrell scandal, is hilarious.

Am I a feminist? Or why a woman without a label is like a fish on a bicycle

15 Apr

FishOnBicycleAnd we have yet another article on feminism, this one titled “Am I a feminist?” prompted, it appears, by Senator Penny Wong’s call to all Australian women to identify ourselves by that label, because a woman without a label is like a fish on bicycle or something something something politics.

The most interesting comments in this latest feminist selfie come from Paula Matthewson, who points out that Senator Wong’s real intention in exhorting us to proudly embrace feminism  is likely to be entirely politically motivated, rather than springing from warm fuzzy feelings of sisterhood strong enough to cross the political divide. That is, the good Senator doesn’t really want ALL women to be feminists, because if Liberal women identify as such, Labor loses the high moral feminist ground. Matthewson also rightly reminds us that it is not in a conservative’s nature to be an activist, therefore feminism would seem an anathema to Liberal women, something Wong must be aware of, making her call for feminist unity somewhat disingenuous.

Matthewson’s observations settled on my soul like a dank cloud. I took to my bed, where I embarked on a period of extended navel gazing that led to me discovering enough lint, as my good Twitter friend @newswithnipples put it, to felt a blue tie.

I have long suspected that feminism has been so thoroughly co-opted by capitalism and politics as to be rendered utterly meaningless. To understand as well that Penny Wong has now become the Alain de Botton of feminism is, frankly, more than I can stomach, and confirms my worst suspicions.

As de Botton dumbs down complex philosophical concepts into mere self-help twaddle, so forces beyond my control have dumbed-down feminism to “issues” of having IT all, self-actualisation by way of cosmetic surgery, and the freedom to be who we want to be, whatever the hell that means, ask Alain de Botton.

When a movement degenerates into mental masturbation about who is entitled to be in it and who is not, and disingenuous political exhortations to the effect that everyone should be, it’s a sign the movement has ceased significant movement. Like the ALP, feminism has disappeared so far up its own fundament, it’s blinded by the shit in its eyes.

Abbott’s tyrannical silencing of 1,892,100 possibly critical political opinions

9 Apr

GovernmentThe recent directive from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet on the lack of freedom of speech public servants have as private citizens, includes the expectation that government employees will dob in colleagues they believe are criticising the government.

This report in the Guardian, linked above, begins with a declaration by Tony Abbott before he became PM:

There is no case, none, to limit debate about the performance of national leaders. The more powerful people are, the more important the presumption must be that less powerful people should be able to say exactly what they think of them.

I’m baffled as to why this noble sentiment isn’t applied to public servants. Engaging anonymously on social media is no protection for them, as is evidenced by the sacking of Immigration Department employee Michaela Banerji who tweeted critically of the department using a pseudonym, and lost her job.

In subsequent action, Ms Banerji argued that there is an constitutionally implied freedom of political communication for public servants, however, the prospective costs of prolonged legal action caused her to withdraw and settle out of court, leaving the claim untested.

There are some 1,892,100 public servants in Australia, accounting for 16.4 per cent of the workforce. None of them are permitted to offer personal political opinions critical of the government on social media. It is unlikely that this restriction will be challenge by an individual. The government has deep pockets and access to the best advice, when it comes to defending legal action against it. Yet it would seem a matter of urgency that a challenge to such tyranny is launched.

It is tyrannical to forcibly silence critical political opinion with the threat of loss of livelihood. While no one can reasonably endorse public servants using knowledge obtained in the course of their work to criticise the government of the day, general personal opinion, of the kind expressed by Ms Banerji in her tweets ought to be permitted, unless the government is so insecure it cannot bear scrutiny.

A robust and confident government should not fear robust critique. Politicians need to be reminded that they have their jobs only because the electorate allows them that privilege. Stifling dissent will never endear governments to the citizenry. Part of a politician’s job is to weather the inevitable storms of criticism, and if they are too weak to do this, they are too weak to govern a country.

Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom, Tim Wilson, has this interesting take on the responsibility of public servants to the governments that employ them, noting that respect and civilising behaviour are the admirable goals of speech conduct codes.

As Mr Wilson once tweeted that protesters should have a water cannon turned on them, his notions of civilised behaviour are likely unreliable:

@timwilsoncomau Walked past Occupy Melbourne protest, all people who think freedom of speech = freedom 2 b heard, time wasters … send in the water cannons

Wilson also draws a comparison between criticism and respect, which to my mind is totally false. Respect does not, and never has implied inevitable agreement or lack of criticism. It is a very dangerous conflation Mr Wilson makes, and it is especially concerning that the Commissioner for Freedom (I still don’t know what that means) seems unable or unwilling to consider the complexities of competing rights.

My sympathies are with the many people I know who work for the government. To live in the knowledge that one must be constantly aware of one’s speech for fear of losing one’s job is not how one expects to dwell in a liberal democracy. It is absolutely unacceptable that so many Australians must live this way, with the additional fear that a colleague may at any time dob them in. I am at a loss as to understand just what kind of society the Abbott government envisions for our country. The tyrannical silencing of so many people because it is too weak to withstand critical commentary, does not augur well.

If any public servant wants to be an un-named source, he or she is very welcome on this blog.

Don’t blame the victim for society’s failures

2 Apr

New legislation introduced in Victoria makes not reporting child sexual abuse a criminal offence, however, some victim support groups fear women in a domestic violence situation whose children are being sexually abused by the violent partner may be charged and imprisoned if they do not report that abuse.

At first blush the legislation appears to apply primarily to organisations, however support groups are concerned criminal charges could be laid against individuals within the family who have knowledge of the abuse and do not report it.

News Limited journalist Joe Hildebrande today added his opinion to the discussion: “Frankly to say that you’re going to not report a case of child abuse or child sex abuse by your partner because you are scared for your own safety, I’m sorry it’s not an excuse,” he said.

In my own family, my mother took no steps to protect me from sexual abuse by her husband for over five years. She was also violently abused, and the situation was at times so dire we both feared for our lives. I’m fairly certain that my mother’s fear was not just that she would be harmed if she reported her husband to the police, but that he would seriously damage or kill our whole family.

For many years I was unable to understand why my mother did nothing to protect me, and after having my own children, I found it even more difficult to understand. I also understand the state of mind of a woman who is subjected to ongoing physical, psychological, emotional and sexual abuse by her partner, and that one of the consequences of this is an inability to take any positive action at all. Obviously, this state of mind is not easily understood by people who have never experienced it, hence the all too familiar question, why doesn’t she just leave?

Much as I still struggle with having been unprotected by my mother, I can image little worse than her being charged and imprisoned for that failure.  Neither do I regard her fear for her safety, and mine, as an “excuse” for her lack of action.

I am very, very weary of the moral judgements made against women who live with violent partners. The main reason women do not just leave such situations is that there is nowhere safe for them to go, and apprehended violence orders are not worth the paper they are written on. Unless society is willing to provide many, many more safe houses for women and children, and far more support in terms of rehousing, finance and protection, women and children will not “just leave” and cannot “just leave.”

What there is no excuse for is domestic violence and the sexual abuse of children by perpetrators. Victims cannot prevent these crimes. Society can have a far more powerful impact, if there is the political will. Minister for Women, Tony Abbott, has so far had nothing to say on the topic of domestic violence, which is to my mind the most pressingly urgent matter in women’s and children’s affairs.  Some leading feminists are, unfortunately, focused largely on the lack of female CEOs and each to their own, however, when we consider that after some four decades of feminism the domestic violence statistics have not improved one iota, I have to wonder exactly what are women in positions of power and influence actually doing about this?

What I do know is that to blame and punish women such as my mother for not protecting children such as myself is to my mind an admission of defeat, and a victory for every perpetrator. A woman who is already suffering horribly, who is aware that her child or children are suffering horribly and is too afraid for their safety or lives to speak out, is not the problem here. The perpetrator is the problem here, and the society that by its despicable lack of adequate action allows these horrors to continue.

 

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