Abbott redefines “human” to exclude vulnerable

29 May

I don’t know if anyone else is feeling traumatic fatigue as a consequence of the unrelenting assaults on truth and decency perpetrated by the Abbott government.

Where to start, recovering HECS debts from the dead, lying about the circumstances that led to the death of Reza Barati in the Manus Island riot; $111 million cut to CSIRO while $250 million given to school chaplains; Abbott and Hockey’s persistent efforts to sell their draconian budget as “fair” when anyone who looks for more than a nano second can see it patently is not, favouring, as it does, the rich, while demanding that those who have little give more than they can bear from what little they have, must I go on?

One thing all the government’s ideologically inspired torments have in common is their attack on human dignity, be it the dignity of asylum seekers, of disabled people, of pensioners, of students, of women who are unfairly disadvantaged, of the young unemployed, of the children who will be born into generational disadvantage as a consequence of this government’s policies, must I go on?

Attacking the human dignity of just about everyone, in fact, except the comfortably off and the rich, causing me to conclude yet again that in the conservative mind, the only human who deserves to conduct their life with dignity is the human with power and money.

Which one of the bastards said it is necessary to break eggs if you want to make an omelette?

Denial of human dignity discredits the worth of any cause that needs such denial to assert itself… What may be true for omelettes becomes a cruel lie when applied to human happiness and well-being.*

The ideological assumption from which many, if not all of the Abbott government policies are born, is that if you find yourself in a position where you need government assistance of any kind you are exiled from humanity, that is, they have redefined human to exclude the vulnerable. Indeed, you are not vulnerable at all, as the conservative mind does not accept the notion of vulnerability. You are a bludger, a scrounger, an importunate failure whose existence can only serve to drain the resources of the successful, and this has nothing at all to do with the circumstances of your life, or the society in which you attempt to live it. To the conservative mind, vulnerability equals immorality.

No evidence is ever presented by either politicians or the media who support their ideology, to substantiate claims of bludgers sitting on couches living the high life on the dole. No evidence is ever provided to substantiate the stereotypes of profligate youth, lazy mothers, thieving pensioners, criminal asylum seekers, people faking disability, et al, all of whom apparently exist only to deprive the successful and the powerful of what they claim to have worked their arses off to achieve, that is, depriving the humans who deserve to survive, and survive with dignity.

The value, the most precious of human values the sine qua non attribute of humanity, is a life of dignity; not survival at all costs. *

Yes, Prime Minister Abbott reassures his audiences, this is a hard budget, it will be hard but it is necessary. Yes, Prime Minister, this is a hard budget and it is hard on those who can least afford the pain it will bring. It is an attack on the vulnerable, an attack on human dignity, a disgraceful, undisguised war on anyone who is not, in conservative terms, successful.

And if Bob Ellis is right, though I dare not hope, I dare not, it will bring you down so hard on your unsellable arse that you will never get up again.

The world found nothing sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human, wrote Hannah Arendt. And neither does the Abbott government.

 

*Zygmunt Bauman

The Budget: All cruelty springs from weakness

19 May

Cruelty springs from weaknessIt can’t be denied any longer, conservatives really do believe they have no responsibility to the vulnerable, and it is perfectly acceptable to the Abbott government that those who can least afford it endure the most harsh of financial limitations.

This piece in the Sydney Morning Herald reveals that while high income couples stand to lose scarcely at all, families on benefits may lose up to 10% of their income. Known as “Detailed family outcomes,” this information was withheld from the budget, contrary to custom, by Joe Hockey, obviously because it reveals the Abbott government lie that everyone will be doing their fair share of the heavy lifting allegedly required to get the budget back on track.

Abbott also stated in an interview with Alison Carabine on Radio National Breakfast this morning that the highly paid, such as politicians, judges and senior public servants, will suffer a pay freeze for twelve months, costing Abbott something like a $6000 addition to his $500,000 plus benefits salary package. Not even the most witless among us could possibly believe this can be in any way comparable to the situation of a young person without resources denied Newstart benefits, and low-income families and pensioners having to choose between a middy, a treat for the kids, the doctor’s bill, and medicine, for which they will also have to pay more.

Pensioners also stand to lose extras such as free car registration, and reductions in rates, water and electricity. These concessions were made available to the people in the community who were recognised as vulnerable and needing assistance by governments unlike this one, governments who were capable of making such acknowledgements.

The question I am waiting for a journalist to ask the Prime Minister and the Treasurer is, why are they placing an intolerable burden on the most vulnerable while the wealthy are called upon to do comparatively very little?

What is it in the conservative psychology that makes such unfairness acceptable to them?

No country can afford to be governed by people who hate and fear vulnerability, as do these Australian conservatives. Far from being adult such people are dangerously immature, incapable of understanding any life experience other than their own. Convinced of its superiority, this government asks little or nothing of those best placed to contribute to the country’s needs, while demanding that those least able, relinquish what little they already have. In other words, the Abbott government is determined to punish the vulnerable for their vulnerability.

All cruelty springs from weakness, declared the philosopher Seneca. Wealth and power do not guarantee strength of character, and it’s hard to detect that quality in Abbott and Hockey. Strength of character requires the ability to identify vulnerability and refrain from taking advantage of it. Hockey and Abbott have indeed identified the vulnerable, and have proceeded to take the most appalling advantage, of the kind they would never dream of imposing on the wealthy and comfortable.

Conservatives are, in general, weak and cruel. Our government is weak and cruel. We are in dangerous times, with this weak and cruel government. As we have seen with the treatment of asylum seekers in this country, (and this has been demonstrated by both major parties) once the bar has been lowered for the treatment of a particular group of human beings, it is very easy to escalate ill-treatment.

This budget is devastating for the vulnerable, and pays no mind to their survival. This budget will lower the bar on the treatment of vulnerable people in our society. It will become easier to treat them even more harshly, to consider them even less worthy, to demonise them as threats and parasites, just as has been done to asylum seekers in the last fourteen years. And in the way of things, as history has demonstrated over and over again, ill-treatment becomes normalised, and scapegoats become the bitter focus of a community’s fears and discontents.

Beware of cruel governments. They will only become more cruel. Because they are, at their heart, cowardly and weak, and when the cowardly and weak attain power, the vulnerable will be the first they destroy.

In his own words: Abbott brings our democracy into disrepute.

17 May

 “It is an absolute principle of democracy that governments should not and must not say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards. Nothing could be more calculated to bring our democracy into disrepute and alienate the citizenry of Australia from their government than if governments were to establish by precedent that they could say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards.” Tony Abbott, August 22, 2011

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink

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.

conservative-re-write-conservative-values-politics-1361875456

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.

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