On politicians and the age of cruelty

3 Jan




Last night for bedtime reading I was flicking through the philosopher Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic.

Seneca was born in Roman Spain about the same time as Christ fetched up in a stable, and for balance, on the back of the book cover there’s this:

Seneca may well be history’s most notable example of a man who failed to live up to his principles.

Be that as it may, Letter XC in part considers the character or lack thereof of politicians. It’s striking that Seneca refers to a “Golden Age” in which politicians were chosen for their character, and in which government was in the hands of the wise:

They kept the peace, protected the weaker from the stronger, urged and dissuaded, pointed out what was advantageous and what was not. Their ability to look ahead ensured their peoples never went short of anything…To govern was to serve, not to rule. No one used to try out the extent of his power over those to whom he owed that power in the first place. 

But with the gradual infiltration of the vices and the resultant transformation of kingships into tyrannies, the need arose for laws…

Reading this gives me some perspective on our current political plight: we are by no means in a unique political situation, though its manner of expression is peculiar to its context. Seneca didn’t have social media, for example from which platform heads of state threaten one another and life on earth with extinction. But the same moral dilemmas are in play. Abuse of power, tyranny, self-interest, contempt, greed, arrogance, stupidity, cruelty and all the vices. Was it ever thus? Is Seneca’s description of a Golden Age nothing more than a doomed attempt at wish fulfilment? It does read like a fairly tale, or a child’s dream of fairness and justice.

It’s difficult to choose, but if I had to single out one dominant characteristic of the Turnbull government, I think it would be cruelty. I was going to write intentional cruelty, then I realised that cruelty is by its very nature intentional, whether that intention is acknowledged or not. I think we have had governments of which this could not be said, and perhaps that was a relatively Golden Age.

Governments such as ours are not only cruel to individuals and groups, they are cruel to the earth in their exploitation of her resources, and their indifference to the catastrophic consequences of this exploitation.

Each new cruelty is justified by the government as an economic necessity, necessary, that is, for the furtherance of the interests of the already comfortable.

For the Turnbull government, power is cruelty. Its members have no other understanding of power, such as that favoured by Seneca and likely regarded by most of us as, after decades of desensitization, as a laughably unattainable ideal. Cruelty has largely become normalised. There are scattered groups who continue to hold out for kindness, but obviously not enough to ensure a government that performs according to those ideals.

I have no idea how we get out of this most ungolden age, this age of cruelty, but I do think the first step is calling it what it is, consistently and unflinchingly. The cruel rarely enjoy being named as such. As Malcolm Turnbull once complained, it hurts when mean things are said about them.

Cruelty isn’t strength, and it is born of weakness. The Turnbull government is synonymous with cruelty. Let’s not call it, or the politicians in it, anything less than weak and cruel.










19 Responses to “On politicians and the age of cruelty”

  1. Barry Waters January 3, 2017 at 4:43 pm #

    Cruelty is not an end in itself for the Turnbull government. It is the device they use to satisfy their ideology. It helps them to balance budgets, stop the boats, ensure there are more jobs and growth, devise new forms of trickle down, ignore New Guinea court decisions they find tediously restricting, delay requests for visas, and fail to respond to the Earth’s need to cope with climate change. Cruel actions don’t satisfy them nearly as much as achieving their pitiful visions of what they believe the world should be.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Jennifer Wilson January 3, 2017 at 5:19 pm #

      That’s interesting, Barry, cruelty as a tool, I hadn’t thought of that.
      Somehow makes it all so much worse…


  2. doug quixote January 3, 2017 at 4:57 pm #

    It is casual cruelty. They don’t really appreciate that they are cruel, or that their actions result in cruelty. Nor do they really care. The brief is to look after their mates, and if others suffer, well that is unfortunate, is it not?

    Seneca tells a fairy story, one that is perpetual to us all – nearly every human being that has ever lived thinks back to a time “when things weren’t so bad as they are now.” Well I don’t. I remember previous governments in this and other countries, and they weren’t much chop either.

    History – honest history – teaches us that times never were better; and often much worse.

    A good but rueful definition of happiness is good health and a poor memory.

    A selective memory is the best sort, but it leaves us to repeat all the mistakes of history . . . and we do.

    And so it goes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson January 3, 2017 at 5:17 pm #

      I agree, DQ. What is discouraging is how the fairy stories persist, despite all evidence


  3. Fiona January 3, 2017 at 10:34 pm #

    Barry & Doug,

    I agree. Cruelty from this mob is more a matter of “Meh, why should I care provided I’m getting the largest slice of pie?”

    At the same time, Jennifer, I agree with you. It is deliberate cruelty, but deliberate only in being a purported afterthought.

    These horrors know exactly what they are doing. And they don’t give a stuff about the immediate repercussions or the ultimate desolation.

    For them, the wasteland is the only reality.

    Liked by 2 people

    • doug quixote January 3, 2017 at 11:09 pm #

      I don’t think any of us are disagreeing, Fiona. We all see them for what they are.

      Beauty is skin deep but ugliness goes to the bone.


      • Jennifer Wilson January 4, 2017 at 2:17 pm #

        Well, DQ, you’ve just dissed an entire industry that claims beauty comes from the inside.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson January 4, 2017 at 2:16 pm #

      Yes, Fiona, Even if they didn’t intend cruelty, they must at some point become aware of how ppl suffer, so to persist after that point of awareness is deliberate, even if *only* deliberate ignorance

      Liked by 1 person

    • erindippity June 27, 2017 at 3:16 pm #

      Great comment, this.


  4. paul walter. January 3, 2017 at 11:39 pm #

    Cruelty is now overt with politicians. Tehan, Leyjonhjem and several others disgraced themselves in their obvious relish of suffering inflicted on welfare beneficiaries through the new and probably deliberately designed debt reclamation system used by Centrelink which cognitively seeks to imitate a medieval torture rack.

    Having acquired a taste for blood via refugee detention centres and aboriginal deaths in custody ,also perhaps re DV, these cold and vengeful people have become determined that the same process be applied to other categories, although not to to corporate swindlers moving money out of the country in the tens of $billions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marilyn January 4, 2017 at 1:58 am #

      Nailed it, and the other party of trash are silent,

      Liked by 1 person

      • paul walter. January 4, 2017 at 6:13 am #

        Do you see how Brit Labour is white anting Corbyn rather than attacking May. I don’t get modern centrist parties.


        I dont get modern tech either. I got my twitter password changed and still I get from here a stupid request to join Twitter when I am already on the bloody thing. Defeats come for me regualrly as far as tech is concerned,also bombed out trying to get a paltalk thingie up and.

        These things are never convenient if they can be inconvenient.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson January 4, 2017 at 2:20 pm #

          Why don’t you ever talk to me on Twitter then?


          • paul walter. January 4, 2017 at 4:50 pm #

            You have misread my post completely. I have said I have tried to fix things with Twitter, it seems to work, but not when I go to Sheep. Once again, Ive tried and once again the system has doesn’t work.,,or does work at some places but not at others.

            So over computers.

            Liked by 1 person

      • helvityni January 4, 2017 at 10:23 am #

        Marilyn, finally the blame rests on Australian voters; why vote ‘trash’ in?
        Now with Hanson, we have added MORE trash to the heap !

        Liked by 1 person

      • helvityni January 4, 2017 at 3:55 pm #


        I just read an excellent article on asylum seekers by Australian photojournalist Ashley Gilbertson. It appears on John Menadue’s site, It’s heading “I am ashamed to be Australian”. She has since left Australia and this article was first published in the New York Times Sunday Review of December12, 2016…

        Read and weep.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson January 4, 2017 at 2:19 pm #

      PW I don’t know how many times I’ve written this over the years: what they do to asylum seekers they will eventually do to others. Hardly anyone believes this because they are so invested in seeing the victimised as *other*


  5. helvityni January 4, 2017 at 9:43 am #

    What Dutton and Turnbull allowed to happen to Faysal Ahmed was a an undeniable act of cruelty by today’s government.

    Unforgivable. Some Christians at the helm, he conveniently died on Christmas Eve.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. paul walter. January 4, 2017 at 8:19 pm #

    Just watching the 730 report on Centrelink, it seems people present at Centrelink only to be told it cant be sorted at the office, they must phone through. Yet no one seems to answer the phones.

    Of course, many Centrelink staff are off on holidays are off on holidays, yet letters must be answered with three weeks.

    Watching Cenrelink boss Hank Jongen earlier,then minister un-Christian Porter, this evening, I marvelled at the pathology that resorts to this sort of deliberate sadism, it is indeed the universalisation of detention centre pathology.

    Liked by 1 person

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